Michael Haskins

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Question: what is writing. Answer:

I was asked by a friend how I write when I write and for how long. A lot easier asked than answered. I have read of writers who work eight-to-10-hours a day, sometimes six-days a week, in front of the computer. Wow! If I did that, I could get a book done in three months. I am not sure how good it would be, not with my shortsighted thought process.

Like many writers, I have a job that pays the bills and then my real job, writing. So, at the end of the day I can be all juiced up and write for a few hours, or I can be exhausted and maybe read what I’ve written earlier and do a little editing.

I thought about this recently, like Memorial Day Weekend when I thought I really had a productivity rush. I wrote about 3,000 words between Saturday and Monday. And, that’s after editing it down the next day, before continuing.

First, you need to understand that writing is not sitting in front of computer and typing words onto the screen. There has to be some organization, planning, thought. Without those items all I’d get on the screen would be a mishmash of meaningless words, or maybe a few useless sentences.

So, I tried to explain to my friend that when I am sitting at the Hog’s Breath smoking a cigar and sipping a drink, I am writing in my head – sometimes. I maybe working on a solution to a problem I'm having moving a chapter forward.

Here’s an example from the book I am working on now, a sequel to “Chasin’ the Wind,” called “Free Range Institution.” I am near the end of the story and wanted to put a little action into the few chapters preceding the water chase, seaplane landing, and shootout.

It is early a.m. and most of the protagonist’s friends involved in solving the murder and keeping themselves from being victims are hiding out at a bread-and-breakfast inn in Key West. Three of them just shot up “Doctor-feel-good vitamins,” yeah amphetamines mixed with B12. They’ve been up all night and still have a long day ahead.

But, that’s another blog.

I want to take them to Harpoon Harry’s for an early breakfast, it just feels like what they should do, but the Colombians and local bad guys are looking for them. So I am thinking about it, smoking a cigar, and walking around. I think about dumping the chapter for something better. But what?

Harpoon Harry’s is on Caroline Street in Key West. It’s a small breakfast-lunch diner and the walls are glass doors that open onto the street. Service begins at 5:30 a.m. and it’s still an early dusky morning in the story, so I put them there. Something has to happen. You have to trust me on this, but because of who two of the people in the group are (one a friend of protagonist Mad Mick Murphy) there is one guy parked across the street for security.

By the time I am sipping my Jameson’s at the Hog I can almost see the action. I take out my little notebook and make notes to myself – I don’t trust my memory and keep it handy, along with a small tape recorder in the Jeep for when I am driving and can’t write things down. So what do I come up with?

If you like this let me know. The Colombians drive by, notice Murphy and just start shooting up like they’d do back home; Cocaine Cowboys, riddling Harpoon Harry’s with automatic gunfire! (I can see it happening) By the time they’ve made the turn onto Caroline Street the security guy has jumped into action, and shot up the car, causing it to crash. Now we’ve got Harpoon’s torn up, a car with some (maybe) dead Colombians and, for sure, someone’s gonna call the cops.

Hey, maybe one or two Colombians climb out of the car and there’s an additional shootout! Getting more action than I counted on.Not what the good guys wanted or what I planned on.

I hadn’t thought of that, but, the story takes on a life of its own and as a writer I have to move forward with it. Just because it’s been outlined or noted in my little blocked-out points I scribble on pads of yellow lined paper with ideas that go from common sense to way wild, doesn’t mean it’s gonna be that way. Kind of like life.

Writing is about killing and betrayal and it ain’t easy to do all that while sitting down at home in front of a blank screen – not for me anyway.When I drive around, sometimes as far as Florida City (three hours north), I often solve a problem I’ve had difficulty with in the novel or come up with some wild idea that helps improve my story. I have had these great solutions while driving and often long after a chapter has been written, so I have to go back to rewrite it. It always seems to work better.

So, to me, writing has a lot to do with thinking things through, discovering new twists and turns to what I thought I’d worked out and sometimes having to make a good guy bad or a bad guy good. It doesn't hurt to have a good cigar while doing this.

There are times I wonder who is writing the novel, me or the damn characters I’ve created.

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