Head down, pen to paper

You want to know how to become a successful writer? Look at what Ian Rankin has to say on the matter.

TO PLAY THE FOOL was the first book I wrote under contract. Sixty pages or so into it, my mother fell down and broke both her wrists. She could do nothing for herself. My husband was in China and my siblings both had full-time jobs’e2’80’94fortunately my kids were in school during the week.

And I wrote. I used that book as a retreat from the long hours spent feeding, dressing, and entertaining a person whose arms were frozen. An hour here, forty minutes there, I would retreat to my writing quarters and look up weird quotes that could be used by Brother Erasmus in his convoluted manner of communication. For five weeks (and three days, but who’e2’80’99s counting?), until the giant casts were replaced by smaller plaster that started below the elbow, my life was words and service.

A broken-wristed mother is, of course, nothing compared to the diagnosis received by the Rankin family. I cannot imagine the grimness of the thing. But I can understand the impulse to crawl inside your head and put words in order, just to feel in some sort of control. Another time I had a building project going on literally all around me. We had just moved, we were building a small house in the back, the main house was in packer’e2’80’99s limbo until we could move my mother into the new place, and I wrote. Skil saws, men’e2’80’99s voices, trucks and hammers and continual interruptions when consultation was needed, and I wrote.

You ever seen a small baby fast asleep in a place so noisy your ears hurt? That’e2’80’99s your basic overstimulated writer, too, hunkered down in the corner of the room over her writing pad.

There are, of course, things that get in the way of writing. I don’e2’80’99t do well at ordering words into existence when I’e2’80’99m sick, for example, and when I’e2’80’99m on the road for a book tour, I figure that I’e2’80’99m working one full-time job, promoting the book; I have the right to coddle myself and put the other job on hold until I get home.

Of course, this from a writer who last took a holiday in 1999. (Five days in Maui, if you really want to know, and yes, it was gorgeous, sitting on the beach counting waves, nary a research topic in sight.)

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