Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I'd never heard of English novelist, Nancy Mitford, until I listened to today's selection from The Spoken Word. Quite full of herself, that one. And her family! The liner notes say: "As one of the six aristocratic Mitford girls, Nancy Mitford was prominent in high society in the 1920's and 20's. Her sisters included Unity, an admirer of Adolf Hitler; Diana, who married the British Fascist Oswald Mosely; and Deborah, who married the 11th Duke of Devonshire." Talk about dysfunctional.

She did, however, say something that resonated. She talked about how she got into writing: "I started when I was 23 because I wanted to make one hundred pounds. I made the money and got into the habit."

Much of writing is about habit, isn't it? Sitting at the computer each day, staying put even when the words get tangled into an awful mess on the page. I have a couple of habits that are part of my process. One is doing the NY Times crossword puzzle at the start of my day. It's fun, challenging, and occasionally frustrating but it helps me get into a more playful mood about the work. The other is that I do most of my revising off of a hard copy. I do tiny things on the screen, of course, but there's something about seeing the words on paper, turning pages, that is important to me. If I'm working on a picture book, I always dummy it out, a lesson my good friend, Ann Whitford Paul, has drummed into my head.

Lately, a new habit has been to work for a few hours then pack up, taking my laptop to the local coffee shop to write. This is a trick I learned from Dave Patneaude and, at least for right now, with this WIP, it's working.

This dog is always ready to learn new writing tricks -- what are yours?


  1. Please don't forget Jessica Mitford, my favorite of the Mitford girls, who became a communist, moved to the US and married a civil rights lawyer, left the communists party, became an investigative journalist, wrote The American Way of Death, and was active in East Bay (California) politics until she died. A great lady.

  2. I think I want to try the coffee shop idea. We work alone so much of the time, it might be nice to write in another setting besides my office--a busy, noisy setting. To tell you the truth, I don't even begin writing until eleven or later most days. But then I often write until 5pm. I usually write in my journal for a half-hour after breakfast, or read, until it's time to leave for the gym. I do a 9:30 class most weekday mornings--yoga or step. I feel that the workouts energize both my body and mind for the writing afternoon ahead. Or at least that's what I tell myself!

  3. It took me years to discover that "write first thing in the morning--before you're even conscious!" just doesn't work for me. I am at my best in the afternoon, so that's when I write. Plus, I'm usually working at my paying job in the mornings, so that makes this schedule work even better:) I also do my best work at or near my great-grandfather's desk that I inherited when I was seven...which was about the time I decided I wanted to be a writer. Coincidence? I don't believe in them:)