How I Write

I try to write everyday. I don’t have a set number of words, but I try to advance the story I’m working on in some way. It might be a scene or part of a scene, an exchange of dialogue between two characters, or I might outline the next chapter. I need that daily feeling of accomplishment. If I miss a day I feel guilty, which probably sounds crazy, but that’s the way I am.

I still have a day job in advertising. I’m a partner in an agency, so my time writing fiction is somewhat limited. I try to get in a couple hours of writing during the workday, either first thing in the morning or late afternoon, or both. Then I typically write after dinner for a couple hours until I’m too tired to think.

I remember sitting in the living room writing the first couple pages of Quiver while two of my kids, Alex and Max, were doing their homework.

I write longhand on a lined yellow legal-size pad with a Pilot Precise V7 pen. I’ll write a page and then start making notes, in the margin. I usually write a chapter, and then transcribe it to an Apple laptop, my home computer, or the Apple Mac that’s in my office.

At home I write sitting in a chair with my legs stretched out on an ottoman. I know some writers who drink or smoke weed when they write. I have to be clear-headed and alert. I can’t listen to music, either. I have to have quiet. My father (Elmore Leonard) told me he once wrote eight pages of Valdez Is Coming, a western, sitting in a room while a group of us watched a football game on TV. How¹d he do it? I can’t imagine.

After I write a chapter and transcribe it to the computer, I print it out and start editing. Writing is rewriting. The way I figure it, I write five pages to get one clean finished page.

My office is only a mile from where I live, so if I¹m writing at home and there’s too much noise, or I’m having trouble with a scene I drive to my office. The change of venue often helps me look at a scene from a slightly different angle. It¹s amazing. What¹s also amazing is after I write a chapter, I might read it and think it’s good. And the next day I’ll read it and think it’s awful. How can my point of view change in less than twenty-four hours? But it does.

I write in scenes, picturing my characters like Im watching a movie. The characters move the story along with shifting points of view. If I write a scene and it doesn’t work, I’ll rewrite it from a different character’s point of view, and it often works a lot better. I usenames of friends and acquaintances fairly often, which helps me develop a character quicker, and roots me in reality. Once the story gets going, it’s almost as if the characters take over. I don¹t know what they¹re going to do. The main thing is, I keep my nose out of it. I don’t want the reader to detect my presence.

When I’m really into a story, hitting on all cylinders, I think about it constantly, in the shower, in the car, while I’m playing tennis. I even wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. I keep a pad and pen next to my bed and jot them down. The next morning I open my eyes and read the notes. I either think wow, that’s not bad or I think, huh? Where did that come from?

I write a draft of a novel and line the chapters up on my dining room table. I check the numbering sequence and the number of pages in each chapter. If I ever write a book that has more than forty chapters I’m going to need a bigger table.

When I’m finished with a novel, I give it to a group of friends I trust and ask for honest opinions and reactions. After I pass that test, I send the manuscript to my agent and editor, and mix myself a vodka Martini.