For the last year or so I've been doing library and other events, talking about my two mystery series and the life of a writer. I expect and get the usual questions. How do you write? With a computer or a typewriter or pen and paper? Do you write every day? Even on holidays? Where do you get your ideas? Do you have an agent? These and other questions come so often and so predictably that I barely think about the answers, but this weekend I found myself thinking about one in particular. Do you write every day? What exactly does that mean, to write every day? And what does it mean to the non-writer in the audience asking the question? Does it mean the same thing?
This is Memorial Day and a holiday on Monday for those with jobs that require someone to show up at
Every year, on the day before Memorial Day and Fourth of July, I pull out my great-grandmother's flag and promise myself I will hang it up on the porch in honor of those who fought to defend our country. Sometimes I forget and the flag sits on the chair in my bedroom until late at night, when I put it away, gnashing my teeth. But today, in 2015, I remembered, and got the flag up there soon after nine o'clock. The flag has 39 stars, and my mother recalled watching my great-grandmother sew on the last star when she was a little girl, before World War I. The flag is fragile, so I don't put it out on windy or stormy days.
Getting the flag up this year bodes well for my working memory because it's the first on my list of things to do today. Writing this blog is the second.
This blog fulfills the requirement of writing every day, but what about the days when I never write a word, in a blog or story or novel? What else counts as "writing every day"?
At the beginning of a new work I make a list of the main characters I think will appear in the novel, usually about four or five, not including the series and support characters. When I have my list, I think about names and pull out naming books as well as lists of names I've developed over the years. The characters start to take shape in my imagination and I jot down physical or psychological characteristics that intrigue me. Is this writing?
When I was first starting out, years ago, I was well aware of my weaknesses. I could capture the emotional content of a character, and depict the behavior of children, but I doubted my abilities in writing dialogue. With that in mind, I read writers who could carry an entire story in dialogue, and read them to see how they did it? Is that writing?
I have published thirteen short stories featuring Anita Ray, the Indian-American photographer sleuth in my India series. After a particularly successful panel, a member of the audience will ask where they can buy a copy of the stories. All the stories were published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine or Level Best Books anthologies, so I have the rights to them if I want to compile them for a book of my own. I've looked at the stories and considered possible arrangements, and searched among my own photographs for a cover image. Is that writing?
The fourth book in the Anita Ray series will be coming out in spring 2016. I've just finished reviewing the copy-edited manuscript, accepting the corrections of my editor and adding a few things here and there. Is that writing?
One of my longstanding habits is to clean off the top of my desk after I finish a story or novel. This means going through all the papers and books and notes that accumulate while I'm composing, keeping some, returning the borrowed items, and filing the rest. If I didn't do this, I'd have my own stand-up desk, situating my computer atop stacks of paper two-feet thick. Is this writing?
When I was in graduate school, working on my dissertation, a colleague used to call all this "other"
So, on this glorious Memorial Day, I will be writing in some way. And I hope you will also be doing something you love.