Sunday, July 10, 2011

How I write

by Lucy Burdette

My girlfriends have been sharing such lovely and wise posts about their writing processes. Unfortunately, mine is basically slow and tortured and altogether boring-not the best fodder for interesting blogging. However, I did think of two things to tell you that dependably move my stories forward.

The first is no revelation: Plant butt in chair and write. Remain there until I hit my predetermined word count. Lately I've been trying for around a thousand words a day. If it takes two hours to write those words, then YAY!, I have time to do other things that all sounded more appealing as I fended them off while writing. On the more painful days, especially when I don't know where I'm headed with the story, it might take seven or eight hours because I've checked my gmail inbox every five minutes. And then remembered there must be some urgent laundry to do or the dog needs walking or I can't go one more minute without organizing that messy kitchen drawer. But I try to stick with it and to ignore the voices in my head telling me this is the worst dreck I've ever written. Because I know I can always (almost) fix it later.

The second important part of my process is visiting the scene of the crime, either before or while developing the story. (And I'd be the first to admit, this is no hardship when it comes to Key West.)

A research outing might go like this: As I'm wandering through the crowds at the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square on the Key West harbor, I spot a tarot card reader set up at a card table, wearing a deep blue turban with an enormous teardrop rhinestone bisecting his forehead. My mind begins to spin. What if my protagonist, Hayley Snow, is addicted to having her cards read because she's insecure about making her own decisions? And what if her tarot reader sees a card scary enough that even he gets rattled? And what if Hayley uses what she thinks she sees in his reactions to dig herself into deeper trouble? And so Marvin the card reader is born as a character. Only then one of my pals says 'who'd go to a psychic named Marvin?' So I change his name to Lorenzo, but later he admits that he grew up as Marvin but who'd want their cards read by a guy with that name?

Then, as I'm walking and biking around Key West, I notice that homeless people are everywhere, including perched on the stone walls around Mallory Square watching the performers and the tourists. After all, if you had to spend your nights outdoors, you might choose the tropics too. And I think about how they blend into the scenery, but probably notice all kinds of things that visitors wouldn't see. And so Turtle, the homeless guy, is born into the story. One rainy night he takes shelter in a party sailboat moored on the Navy Mole and inadvertently sees the killer coming and going. He would never voluntarily go to the police with this information, but Hayley might worm it out of him.

So with those ideas and story fragments, I go back to my desk and apply seat to chair again. All I can say is: Isn't it a miracle that books get written as often as they do?

Lucy Burdette is the author of the forthcoming Key West food critic mysteries, launching in January with AN APPETITE FOR MURDER (NAL). Please please follow her on twitter or facebook or check out her website, where the artwork is gorgeous and the recipes to die for.


  1. What a fun peek inside your head, Lucy! I love your tarot card plot progression. It sounds great to me!

    I've had similar situations happen, often when I'm driving. I can't tell you how many exits I've missed b/c I left my head three miles back, deciding how that hitchhiker's past could fit into my current story!

  2. Great post, Lucy ... refreshing to see someone write about inspiration!

  3. I loved this post too. It is so serendipitous (i.e. random!) how things happen to happen.

  4. I'm a firm believer in butt in chair, Lucy. The only problem is, I find that the more industrious I am about my writing, the wider my butt!

  5. Lucy, I think we have the same writing process! Butt in chair, 1k words a day (please, please), and all that urgent laundry that needs doing and equally urgent emails that need answering. Great post! I'm deeply in the midst of a manuscript and trying to put that "this is dreck" voice on mute. Oh, and, yes, it's a miracle any books ever get written. (How does that happen???) ;-)

  6. Thanks for the comments girlfriends! Lauren, that's a good post for another cycle--how do we keep our bodies and minds strong for the journey?? I'm a big believer in exercise classes--I can get away with a lot less that way:).

    Susan, only 600 words today and here I am checking the book club's so hard, isn't it? Back for more, crack that whip....