Sometimes you just have to admit defeat. No matter how hard you try, there’s simply no time to write. This September was like that for me. My granddaughter’s birthday, a major ceremony for my daughter-in-law, a trip to London and Paris, paying my respects at the Queen’s funeral, the New York Write to Pitch Conference, my regular Gotham classes. And chemo. I looked at the calendar and thought, this is going to be impossible. And yet, I still found time to write, and here’s how.
Every night, I examined the next day’s schedule and tried to figure out some micro-moment when I could write. Then I gave myself a writing question to answer.
1. When I was on the airplane, and had a bit of time, my question to myself was: How did my protagonist meet her husband? This wound up being so important. I’d always thought they were high school sweethearts, but turned out they weren’t. Turned out they met at a Christmas store. Trust me, that’s important to the book.
2. When I was at my granddaughter’s birthday, I had absolutely no time to think (nor did I want to), but I did have a few minutes at the hotel where I stayed and I asked myself, what type of clothes does my protagonist wear. I’d thought she’d wear black all the time, but I realized she’s someone who works with old books. They get dusty, so she wouldn’t want to wear black. She wears gray.
3. At the Queen’s funeral, surrounded by such a peaceful and reverent crowd, I focused on emotion. What does it feel like to mourn? What does grief feel like? It wasn’t so much somber, as respectful. I found myself paying attention to the way parents were being so gentle with their children, trying to get them to understand how they felt.
4. Paris was about food. My protagonist loves to eat, and so I perused menus, trying to figure out what she might enjoy. There was one particular tarte. 🙂
5. For some reason, I always get a lot of writing done at chemo. I go once a month, and I have to sit still for three hours. It’s the only time I can think of that I do sit for so long. (My doctor told me they’d be happy to let me use the chair whenever I want, but I said no thank you.) But I always save tough questions for chemo days. My protagonist is getting older and worrying about what that means. So this is a good moment to explore hard questions.
As the month comes to an end, I find myself surprised at how much I’ve done. I’ve come to a much better understanding of my protagonist. I’ve fleshed out some details that I wouldn’t have thought about. And I’ve had a fabulous time. 🙂
Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series. Her stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The MWA anthology, Crime Hits Home, in which she has a story, just won an Anthony Award. She teaches novel-writing at Gotham Writers and is on the staff of the New York Write to Pitch Conference. www.susanjbreen.com