DEBORAH CROMBIE: Where do writers get their ideas?
This is the questions readers most often ask (and I am endlessly fascinated by the answers, because they are always different.)
The second is, "How exactly do you get those ideas?" (Meaning is there some magical process by which those ideas are delivered.)
Well, my friend Karin Salvalaggio (and her friends) are here to tell exactly how those ideas come about. And Karin should know--here's what the Richmond Times-Dispatch has to say about her fourth Macy Greely novel, SILENT RAIN:
"Salvalaggio, whose trademarks include intricate plotting and stark but affecting prose, scores another triumph."—Richmond Times-Dispatch
SILENT RAIN has been all the buzz on the crime writing scene the last few weeks, and with good reason. It's fabulous!
Karin, I might add, is my polar opposite. I live in Texas and write books set in London. Karin lives in London and writes books set in Montana. But we both have to come up with a method for getting those words down on paper. (She is also my best London research pub crawl pal, and, yes, there is such a thing.) Here's Karin to reveal her secrets!
KARIN SALVALAGGIO: 'Eighty percent of success is showing up’. – Woody Allen
Most people seem impressed when I tell them I’m a published author. I’ve noticed that the words ‘crime novelist’ are an added bonus, but more on that later. It’s rather nice that our profession is still held in such high regard. I therefore believe it’s important to maintain a bit of mystique. When asked where the motivation to continue writing comes from I nod sagely and say silly things like: ‘The ideas come and the next thing I know I’m swept away’ or ‘There is a bit of a struggle until I find that all-important tipping point. After that the book almost writes itself’.
All of this is, of course, a load of bollocks. There is nothing mystical about motivation. Much is down to establishing good habits and setting realistic goals, but sometimes even that fails to get the engine turning over. A writer’s life isn’t glamorous and mornings can be cold. Most days I’m home alone in my dressing gown clutching a bowl of muesli as I sit in front of a laptop. I subscribe to the notion that ideas are like buses––you wait for hours and then three show up at once. You’re not going to get very far if you’re not there to catch them. But it’s not always easy to find the motivation to stay ‘seated’ when your deadline is months away and sunshine is pouring through your office window. Cue the sound of the neighbors having a cheeky early afternoon glass of wine. It’s all I can do not to leap out the window.
Thankfully, there are many ways to jump start the process. I belong to group of writers on Facebook. We occasionally have ‘word races’. Participants publish their word counts at the end of the session. I’m highly competitive so will crank out in excess of 2000 words an hour if focused. Not all of it will be usable. In fact some of it will go straight to the bin, but remember what I said about ideas being like buses. There’s something I forgot to mention. You not only need to be sitting in that seat to catch them you also need a lot of buses.
I asked some of my author friends what they did when they were struggling with motivation.
Claire Fuller admits to having a big problem with motivation, especially with first drafts, whether that's novels or articles. She often has to trick herself – ‘Claire, you only have to read the paragraph you wrote yesterday’. Hopefully reading it will make her start writing. Or she resorts to bribery: ‘when I've written 500 words I'm allowed to stop and have lunch’. Claire’s debut Swimming Lessons is published by Tin House in the US.
Dinah Jefferies experienced a devastating lack of motivation as she wrote her fifth book. ‘It was truly uncomfortable and lasted three months, during which time I sat at my desk and continued to write my first draft. Once it was down, I then had something to play with. Since then the edits are proving really rewarding and I'm glad I stuck with it’. Dinah’s earlier book, The Tea Planter's Wife is published in the US by Crown.
Considering her legendry output it would be wise to listen to Louise Beech’s heartfelt advice. ‘I motivate myself with chocolate digestives. Fantastic for my words - fatal for my figure’. Louise’s second novel is entitled The Mountain in my Shoe.
Kerry Hadley sets aside 90 minutes and just writes. ‘That's it. No phone, no FB, no talking or daydreaming, just door-closed-leave-me-alone-I'm-writing-time ... I don't word count - that's not important. If I fancy doing more, I do, if not, I don't. Apparently, according to Oprah, it takes 7 days to form a habit like this (and 30 days to overcome an addiction.) I've found this to be a much more satisfying way of producing something than, say, a daily word count, or sitting in blank hope for the day.’ Kerry’s novel The Black Country is published by Salt Publishing.
Author Rachael Lucas finds it almost impossible to write without a deadline, so she asks her agent to give her one ("I want four chapters by next month"). ‘First drafts are the worst thing for me. Once I have something to play with, I'm much better.’ (The State of Grace will be published by Feiwel and Friends in the USA in 2018)
Vanessa Lafaye finds editing much easier than writing, so she tricks herself into getting started by thinking that she’ll just read the last thing she wrote. ‘Usually that works, but not always. I like to read the book reviews in The Sunday Times. The reviewers' comments always spur me on, hoping I won't make the same mistakes they criticise in others' work - I'll make different ones!’ Vanessa’s debut At First Light was published by Orion in 2015.
Christine Breen also finds editing much easier. She thinks her training as a copy editor is a double-edged sword. ‘When I'm stumped I turn to some of my favourite women writers like Elizabeth Strout, Alice McDermott, Ann Patchett, Deborah Levy and Anne Tyler and reread passages to jump-start the stalled engine.’ Her Name is Rose was published by St Martin's Press.
Author Kerry Fisher tells herself that it's like having a huge piece of homework hanging over her and that she’ll feel so much happier when she’s done it. She also has a minimum word count of 1000 words a day and forces herself to do them. ‘Sometimes I'll be there on a Friday night at 7pm with the wine waiting downstairs, thinking '73 more words'...I write the expected weekly word count on my calendar, allowing a few days off here and there for impromptu family crises. If I fall behind, I make myself work weekends to catch up. The one thing I cannot face is a deadline panic (teens leaving revision till the last minute puts the family under enough stress without me joining in.)’ Kerry’s novel The Silent Wife is published by Bookouture.
And all very useful advice from Karin's writer friends, although my favorite bit is definitely the chocolate digestives... (Brit-speak for chocolate-covered-sort-of-graham-crackerish cookies. There really is no American equivalent. But they are delicious, and perfect with tea, and very inspiring.)
Here's more about SILENT RAIN--
Grace Adams has spent three years trying to move on—mentally, physically, emotionally—from the traumatizing events of her past. But it’s not easy when the world is morbidly curious about the crimes that shaped her childhood, when despite her changed name, people still track her down for the sensational details. Now in college in Bolton, Montana, the one person Grace has trusted with the truth about her past has betrayed her. The bestselling novelist Peter Granger wants to use Grace’s story in his next book, regardless of how desperate Grace is to keep the details to herself. And then, on Halloween night, Peter Granger’s house burns to the ground and his and his wife’s bodies are found inside.
Montana state detective Macy Greeley is sent to Bolton to handle the investigation into the fire and deaths…which soon appear to be arson and murder. It doesn’t take Macy long to realize that Grace isn’t the only one whom Peter Granger has betrayed, and there are no shortage of others in town who took issue with him and his wife. What at first looked like a straightforward investigation is poised to expose some of Bolton’s darkest secrets, and the fallout may put more than one life in danger.
KARIN SALVALAGGIO received an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck at the University of London. Born in West Virginia and raised in an Air Force family, she grew up on a number of military bases around the United States. She now lives in London with her two children. Silent Rain is her fourth novel.
REDS and readers, what do you do to get motivated?