Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Window onto my Writing Life

By R.J. Harlick

In the previous blog, I gave you some insight into how I became a writer, this week I’ll open a window onto my writing life.

From the moment, I penned the first words for Death’s Golden Whisper, I knew I would have to set aside a time for writing and follow it, otherwise given my penchant for putting off today’s tasks until tomorrow, I would end up never finishing anything. I established mornings as my writing time and amazingly, to me at least, I followed it. Eight books later, I still adhere to a set writing time, though the ‘when’ has changed.

Now when I'm in creation mode, i.e. writing the first draft, I devote the first three days of the week to writing, leaving the rest of the week for other activities. I have found I need long stretches of time to allow me to fully immerse myself into the story and the characters. When in revision mode, I can easily handle the editing interspersed amongst other activities.  

The same goes for vacations. I never do any first draft writing when away. But that doesn’t mean that I am not thinking about the story. In fact, I like the break, because it gives me an opportunity to step back and see the story for the words, something I have difficulty doing when totally immersed in the writing. I can handle revisions anywhere. When I spent a few weeks in France last fall with my husband, I devoted an hour or two a day to the revisions for my upcoming book, Purple Palette for Murder.

It used to be I would jump into my writing first thing in the morning.  Now I ease into it. I like to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, followed by a walk with my two dogs. Only then do I pull up my latest book in progress onto my computer screen and begin writing. I will admit that when the words are painfully slow in coming, usually in that nefarious middle when I have no idea what Meg should be doing next, I find myself too easily distracted by email, online news and Facebook. At times, I’ve been forced to turn-off the WIFI in order to stop myself. Heaven forbid.

I’ve also found, that where I write is important in the creation phase. The words seem to flow much easier in a comfy chair at my cabin in the woods than at my city townhouse. Likely because there are fewer distractions and the view from my writing chair is pretty much the wilderness setting Meg is exploring, apart that is from those occasions when she leaves her Three Deer Point home for other Canadian wildernesses. You noticed I mentioned chair. I gave up writing at a desk four books ago.

In every other book I send Meg on an adventure to a different part of Canada. She has flown to Baffin Island in Canada’s Far North, to Haida Gwaii on Canada’s west coast. And in the latest book, Purple Palette for Murder, she travels to the Northwest Territories.  I did it in part to add variety to the series and also to satisfy my love of travel, because I’m a great believer that one can’t write about a place unless you’ve been there. Travelling to these far-flung places has become an integral part of my writing life. Before I sit down to do the actual writing, I usually spend about a week at the new location, talking with as many people as I can about the area and the people living there and exploring the areas Meg will explore.  Sure, I could do this via the Internet, but I have found I learn things I never would’ve picked up online and the trip usually provides all sorts of ideas for the story.

My writing life also includes the many events I participate in to promote my books, such as library readings, literary festivals, store signings, mystery conferences and, of course, writing blogs.  But I’ll save their discussion for another time.

I will however bring up one further thing that has become integral to my writing life and that is exercise. Writing is all about sitting, sometimes for many hours at a time. As we are told by those in the know, sitting for a long period of time isn’t good for one’s body or one’s soul.

I try to practice as much yoga as I can with one formal class a week and shorter home practices on other days. When the weather is warm enough, I like to do a weekly 1.5 to 2 hour bike trip on one of Ottawa’s fabulous bike paths. When it’s too snowy and cold, I use a stationary bike. It used to be for a couple of times of week, but lately I’ve upped it to daily sessions. I mustn’t forget the dog walking, twice a day for a good thirty minutes. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But I am basically a sedentary type and easily slide into inaction, as I did this past summer, when I was so caught up in finishing my latest book, that I forgot to exercise. I am paying for it now, so I’m back into the exercise regime and feeling considerably better for it.

When I finish a book and send it into my publisher, I rarely dive into the next book. I like to take a break and enjoy my freedom for a month or two or three. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in writing mode. I am invariably tossing around ideas for the next book and beginning the research. 

And that is the stage I am at right now while I wait for the edits to come back from my publisher.  Just hanging out.....it feels so good. But I am beginning to get the teensy weensiest bored, so I think I'll be starting the next Meg Harris mystery soon.

I'd also like to offer super congratulations to my fellow Criminal Minds, Catriona McPherson and Terry Shames for their Lefty nominations. Way to go, ladies!


Paul D. Marks said...

Good stuff, RJ. It's always interesting to see how different people approach writing and the writing life. Of course, it's always nice if one has a cabin in the woods :)

Cathy Ace said...

Good insights, Robin. Thanks for this. Always interesting to see how we all approach our writing life so differently. It helps me realise there's no "right way" and that we all have to find our own groove.

Unknown said...

Great settings! And great reminder to start exercising. It's time to get outdoors again :)

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