Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Odd Quirks of Writers

By Donnell Ann Bell

"Don't explain why it works; explain how you use it."
- Steven Brust

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the writing process, e.g. superstitions and quirks, and I’ve come up with a theory. It might not be scientifically conclusive, but I suspect I’m not far off. Perhaps some curious sort will apply for a grant to determine the outcome. Meanwhile, I’m running with it. I’m convinced each writer’s process is as individual as fingerprints.  

I’m often amazed at writers who say, “My process is x, y, and z. Do it this way.” Often, people give in, only to say, “I tried that – didn’t work for me,” “I write in the mist,” “I outline,” “I’m character-driven,” “Your book won’t be any good if you don’t plot your novel from start to finish.” How many times have we heard statements like these? 

Storytelling has been around since the beginning of time. And, certainly, the caveman didn’t have a critique partner staring at his wall carving, demanding, “Really? The T-Rex ate him? What was his motivation?” 

Each writer has to find his own way.  Whether you write better in the morning, prefer to work late into the evening, write every day, or on the weekend, it’s your job to find your process, to find what effectively works for you.

In talking to people, I discovered some of their processes are actually quirks.

One author lights a candle, slathers lotion, and puts on music.

Another must have absolute silence.

One writer bakes cookies. (Sorry, I’m sworn to secrecy and can’t give out his address.)

And, of course one wiseacre (Mike Befeler) said he can’t write until he turns on his computer.

As for quirks, I think I have one that’s unusual. If I create a character, I have to use him. Whether or not I use the manuscript, if I create a character that has done nothing wrong, save the plot fell apart, I leave him―or her― with the solemn promise he or she can try out for a future role. (Maybe I was a producer in a former life, who knows?)

I did that in my upcoming November release, BETRAYED. I wrote my character Nate Paxton for a role in an unpublished novel, Bad Timing, which took First Place in the Pikes Peak Writers Contest, by the way. I wasn’t enamored by the manuscript, but I was taken with Nate. He’s a vice cop and he’s a great character. So, I asked if he wanted the part in BETRAYED, and surprise, surprise, he did!  

Now the female protagonist in Bad Timing is all bent out of shape and claiming I’m playing favorites. Not to worry, as soon as I find the right storyline, she’s got the lead. 

One thing that is etched in stone, and probably evolved from the caveman, is that WRITERS WRITE. Good luck finding your process, your quirk(s), and creating those magical stories we all love to read.  

About the Author: Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart® finalist who previously worked for a weekly business newspaper and a parenting magazine. Her debut novel The Past Came Hunting became an Amazon bestseller, reaching as high as #6 on the paid overall list. Her second book, Deadly Recall, brought to you by Bell Bridge Books, reached #1 on Amazon. Learn more about Donnell


  1. Nice post! I enjoyed the humor in it, and I totally agree with the insights. Every writer's process has got to be unique, or everyone would be churning out identical novels. I try out suggestions I read, but I always end up bumbling back to my own way (which would take a whole post to explain, so I'll leave it at that.)

  2. Donnell, thank you for the great post that reminds us to get back to the roots of storytelling. Writers get caught up in reading about writing instead of the act of writing. Not to say craft isn't important, but craft means nothing without the seed of a great story/character. Perhaps if we spend more time working on our preferred condition for writing (quirks/rituals) instead of a preferred formula, more words would get on the page.

  3. I agree! It's so fascinating to hear the myriad ways writers create a finished product. For a while, I was convinced each manuscript had its own fingerprint, too. It seemed each was created differently (for me), but I think I've found my rhythm now...until the next manuscript. LOL

  4. I totally agree...we all have our own method. I have tried plotting but it doesn't work for me. Well, other than giving me a full body shiver just typing the word.

    I too save characters. I might not plot but I do character development before I start writing. By the time the first sentence is typed we've bonded...sort of. I'll save them for a later book.

    My quirks? I write in silence, and for romance scenes that include sex? A bag of M&M Peanuts is almost a requirement. :)

    Great post.

  5. Excellent post, Donnell. Once a writer feels confident that what she's doing works for her, she should stop listening to everyone telling her what to do, what she's doing wrong, and how she should write. She's obviously found the path that works for her, and she shouldn't confuse the issue by trying to change in midstream. I don't plot, and I've noticed I've been very selective on reading about craft. That might be a mistake, but that's what I'm doing. Is that a quirk? I don't know, but I'm sticking with it. I can't let others play with my head anymore.

  6. Hello everyone, glad you could relate to the post. Do you remember when we first started writing? Not only did I not know about writing groups, I had no understanding of point of view or any aspect of craft. I truly thought people sat down and wrote a book. As a matter of fact, the first book I wrote took me three months. These days, it takes me considerably longer because I found out about writing groups, POV and other aspects of craft.

    I'm grateful to writing groups because I've grown as a writer. But like Polly mentioned above, if you have a process and it's working, don't let somebody interrupt that mindset. Because the moment you do, uncertainty invades as well.

    Writers write! thanks for dropping by!

  7. Donnell, I always find it frustrating when I hear writers pontificate about the one and only right way to write. Each of us has to find what works best for ourselves. Good for you for setting the record straight.

  8. Hey, Donnell. Your post gave me several chuckles. I appreciate it. I'm a rule follower, so I was constantly trying to find the one set of rules so I could follow them. Well, low and behold, there are different sets of rules on just about everything! I finally figured out everyone has to do what works for him/her. It may take experimenting to find what that is, but then settle in and write those books. I don't get to do what works best for me often, but when I do, I can crank out those words. A retreat setting is great for me.

  9. Marsha, at one time I was a complete rule follower -- trouble is, there are so many rules, and they're all contradictory. So somewhere along the line you have to decide, I'm just going to write this book. Good for you on the retreat. I like quiet and no distractions... but again, you have to do what works for you :) Thanks for commenting!

  10. Writing has no rules except for knowing how to spell the words you use to tell your story and a general knowledge of correct grammar. When my very first book sold to Avon I'd written it by simply sitting down and doing so.Later on I discovered I neEded a synopsis so I didn't wander off, but that was later and that was me. Whatever a writer needs to tell a good story is the only rule, providing she/he knows how to spell and understands grammar. Jane Toombs

    1. Excellent, Jane. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  11. Thanks, Donnell, for a great post ... and to all who replied. I have always been one to keep on learning. I love learning! But there comes a time when I need to take the advise friends have given me over the years. "Stop learning (or taking classes) and just DO IT." I will never stop learning, but it is definitely past time to do it. Thanks for letting me know that there is no right way... I'll find my way. Maurine Bettner


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