Wednesday: on writing

Rather, on non-writing.
One of the most frustrating things about being a writer is when you can’t. I’m not talking about being blocked by internal inabilities—“writer’s block.” I’m talking about what Lao Tse (he must have raised small children) called the “the ten thousand things.”

I was spinning along just fine with the current novel—working title, Garment of Shadows—when I was forced to hie me to Santa Fe for Left Coast Crime. Which was lovely, but unlike Hawaii two years ago, I had no time to work. So, fine, it was a working holiday, and a change is as good as a break and all that, except that I came home to find the pass pages of Pirate King waiting for me, which took a week. And then yesterday, a meeting at the Santa Cruz library, which was also lovely but being in the middle of the day meant that nothing else got done but chores.

All of which means that today is the first time in two weeks that I’ve been able to pick up the book, all 70 pages of it, and try to remember where the hell I was going with it.

There is, in fact, a benefit to picking up a piece of work that’s had time to go very cold. Perspective is gained (albeit painfully—rough drafts can be rough emotionally as well as grammatically: i.e., God, I’m a crap writer) and interesting, potentially useful details noticed. The strengths of those 70 pages may be flitting, undeveloped, and largely hidden behind the waffle, but a fresh look at the material not only brings a new point of view, it can offer an invigoration to the writing just at the point it is needed within the book.

So, now that I’ve fulfilled my promise to post this Wednesday on Writing thought, I will:

1. Finish reading the printout of the novel’s first quarter
2. Go take a swim to let my brain wrestle with possibilities
3. And then tip open my laptop and get writing again.

Unless, of course, I’m interrupted by another of the ten thousand things.


  1. Ted Crosfield on April 6, 2011 at 9:10 am

    I had the good fortune to randomly select “A Grave Talent” from my local library’s mystery section. I spend five minutes picking up five books, usually by title, and since they are returnable I don’t feel compelled to read a book I don’t like. I really enjoyed “A Grave Talent” and I am delighted to find that you have written many more books since 1993 and now I have to hope that the library has more of your books in stock. Thank you for a stimulating and mind-opening book.

  2. TheMadLibrarian on April 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    OOoooohhh, new novel-in-progress! Please edify us as to details as soon as practical!

  3. strawberry curls on April 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Love the title for Russell #12 — “Garment of Shadows” sounds sinister and quite intriguing. Great news that it is starting to appear on the page. Here’s hoping RL stays at bay long enough for you to get though your first draft.


  4. RussellHolmes on April 6, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    *IS* “Garment of Shadows” a Russell book?

  5. bani on April 7, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Zadie Smith wrote somewhere (in The Believer I think) that when you finish a book you should lock it away in a drawer. Take it out after two years and see if it’s still any good. 😉

  6. Nikki on April 7, 2011 at 8:56 am

    I have the same problem with getting sidetracked, ending the day looking around, scratching my head, and realizing I’ve written nothing. Be cause so many of us over at the Books and Writers Community on Compuserve were having this problem, I came up with a thread where we post our daily word counts. You’d be surprised how knowing you have to say you wrote nothing and be a Wall of Shame-er will spur you on to at least open a file and get a few sentences down. Here’s the URL to the April Wall of Shame thread, if anyone is interested:

  7. Aaron Paul Lazar on April 7, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Laurie, I can so relate… Because I wrote a ton of books before I tried to get them published (Five glorious years…go figure, but I was having so much fun!), I know the pure joy of simply being able to create. Sure, I had the usual 10,000 family and day job things interrupt the flow, but at least in my free time I could simply live the lives of my characters. My sixth book of 15 has just been published (FireSong), but now my publisher wants to catch up with me. We’re putting out 3-4 books per year until that happens. That means… constant editing, constant promoting. Sometimes I can’t imagine a day when I’ll write fresh again. But I must. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

    Thanks so much for sharing your life with us. I’m very excited about Pirate King, and now this new book. Is it a Russell? Or a new Kate Martinelli book? I love both series and can’t wait for my next fix.

    Have a great weekend!

  8. Kate on April 8, 2011 at 4:28 am

    C’mon Laurie, don’t keep us in suspense – is it a Russell? 🙂

  9. Laurie King on April 8, 2011 at 5:37 am

    Yes, this will be Russell 12, in ‘012. I decided I wasn’t finished with Morocco, so it opens in Fez. And goes from there…

  10. Mom of 6 on April 9, 2011 at 11:19 am

    “Unless, of course, I’m interrupted by another of the ten thousand things.”–LRK

    With each one of us having our own ten thousand things, we’re bound to find not only common ground, but also things that perk our curiosity and prod us to read on. Another author with only, say, fifteen hundred things might not write such interesting stuff.

    So happy to hear there’s another Russell on the way!

  11. La Donna on April 10, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    “… opens in Fez …” so now we all sit wondering if being in Fez is how Pirates ends. OR if there is a mysterious blank (think of the visit to Japan that has been dangled in front of us for 3 books) during the time in Fez. OR if they never actually went to Fez but were headed that way at the end. OR ….

  12. Kristin Freid-Krupp on April 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Dear Laurie, no way to thank you for your Sherlock and Russel series. I have fallen in love with Mr.Holmes. So I am cheating on Mary and my husband.
    Is this possible??? I ask you. May all the saints and angels and muses bless and keep you. Happiness to you in this season of miracles. Easter and Passover.
    Warmest Regards,
    Yours, Kristin
    P.S, of course I am a frustrated scribbler, well look how old Gramma Moses was. (smiling here) Hope that in my 40’s is not the death knell, (can not spell, words that is.)

    • Laurie King on April 16, 2011 at 5:37 am

      Hi Kristin, fictional cheating is of course possible, but rarely counts in the real world. I wish you luck with your writing, and no, 40s is by no means too late, I was 41 when I first published.

  13. Anne Aube on April 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Thank you so much for such stimulating entertainment. I love how I find threads and pull a little and see where they take me. I started with (in the stacks) “GRAVE TALENT” Yum yum. Then I had to know more about you and I found Mary and her man. WOW! So lucky am I just finished Russel 1 and so I have lots to go….I am a fast reader but I also like to savour. 3 Kates down, love them too. Thank you so much I use to write in my youth it was all I ever wanted to be all my life but it was never encouraged….I look at my old writings 3 novels 7 outlines and it was hard but alast when I read your work I realize I do not have the talent. Thank you so much for this great story. Rebecca Eaton of PBS MPT should consider making a PBS series. What a period piece it would be. Especially now that mystery is wrapped into it. How do I make this happen Ms King? It should happen for you..your to good not be visual as well. Your new fan in Canada. All the best. Good writing may it come with ease.

  14. Fang on November 17, 2011 at 9:42 am

    sounds like it will be good cant wait!

  15. Kathy on April 19, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I just recently stumbled upon the Russell series, and have read all but two which are on hold at my local library.

    The most recent was Pirate King, and I just have to admit (to someone who will understand;my family doesn’t) to laughing aloud at the part where Russell tangles with her hammock while being watched by “dangling pupae with startled faces”. That presents such a humorous picture to me that I am chuckling even now.

    I am so looking forward to the next book. Hope it is soon.

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