I think most writers prefer composition to planning or editing or marketing. Just sit down and write, right? For me, it’s important to get into an environment where I am alone. Or if not alone, it’s important to be in a place where no one around me is talking or listening to music or watching Dexter on Netflix. So I prefer to write at night when the kids are asleep, or during the school day. I have to have a tanker of coffee. And I have found that I write better, I’m more productive, when I use my little Netbook. It’s slow. It’s like molasses on the internet. And that’s great because I don’t need the distraction of the internet. If I’m away somewhere, Microsoft Word and Excel are all I have open. So I settle in, and just write.

I like to start by reading what I wrote the day before, remind me where I was. Then read over my outline for that chapter, so where I’m going. Then I start a conversation with the characters. “This is your situation. What will you do? What is true to your nature? You don’t know about the garbage you’re about to run into, but how might you handle it when you do?” I think of people who inspire me, good or bad. What would they do? I try not to imagine myself in the conflict because then all of my stories would be the same. And since most of us think we’re pretty reasonable creatures (most of us are wrong), all my stories would be boring.

If the chapter is really funny, or really sad, or loaded with some other kind of syrup, I try to to throw some other spices into it. Can you have a blooper at a funeral? An argument? Who wants to read about a normal funeral, anyway? They’re sad and quiet. Can your scene about a funeral be more awe-inspiring or respectfully funny?

I’m pleased if I write 1,000 words a day, excited if it’s 1,500, and exhausted if it’s 2,000.


Some of the writers I chat with in Writer’s Cafe asked recently how well dictation software works for writing novels. I would never try that, as the software could never understand the difference between what I’m saying and what I’m meaning, in my opinion. But I have “Dragon Naturally Speaking,” and I think it could be useful for the first step I take in novel writing, which is Concept.

There’s no structure to the concept stage. It’s just about blurting out everything that comes into my head about a story. Getting it all down so I don’t forget. Last night I was brushing my teeth when I got a great idea for how to solve the problem of travelling to planets in other star systems. So I ran back to the computer and typed in the idea. Normally I apply this kind of idea to an existing story idea. I looked to see if I had any stories about travelling to other planets, so I could use this idea as the means to travel there. But I don’t have any stories about people going to other planets. So I saved it as a text document in the folder for a sci-fi epic I plan to write one day.

The concept stage can be a couple of paragraphs or a couple of pages. It’s rarely longer than that. If I read my notes back to someone, they should make sense, but maybe not a lot.

I was talking to my oldest son a few years ago about story writing, structure, Act I, Act II, Act III. It was a 300 mile drive, so we had lots of time to hammer things out. We started with a silly concept idea. What if you had a big spill of oil or grease in your kitchen or garage, and you poured kitty litter all over to absorb the goo, and from this you got a monster that tried to eat your family? So we went over what the family might be like, what the monster’s motivation might be, and how this would create conflict for the family. Who changes and who stays the same? Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? What if the monster turned out to be the good guy? It was a lot of fun.

Sometimes two or three concepts can be attached to the same story. Sometimes a new concept requires a new folder. Some of these come from dreams I have. Some come to me when I’m out walking, or cooking dinner, or washing dishes. They almost never happen when I’m sitting at the computer, trying to think up something new.

The key is to write them down, even if they’re silly. If you decide later the idea was stupid, it’s easy to hit delete.


Beginning to compose the crescendo for my novel, Fugue in C Minor, currently 68,000 words into it. A lot of things are about to happen in the narrative. The pacing has to be just right. I am really enjoying this novel.


An exceptional child, a curious loss of memory, and a tall thin stalker who claims to have the answers. That’s Fugue in C Minor.

The manuscript is up to 56,000 words now. I’m speeding up in my old age.

Update on Novel

So I went on vacation, spent some time in California, saw my oldest son who’s in the Navy, drove a gazillion miles there and back, and didn’t write a darned thing in my novel until last night. But now it’s at 48,000 words and moving forward again. I’m having fun with layers. Novels are like onions.

Writers’ Quirks

I have read that many athletes have quirky things they do to prepare for a game or meet, from wearing the same pair of socks til they lose, or going through a specific routine. The announcer for our local NBA basketball team has a very specific routine he goes through in the player introductions before a game.

But when you write, if you write (or if you paint or sculpt or make chess pieces), what routine do you go through?

I like to get all of my chores done first, eat my pasta, drink my coffee, have some peace and quiet. And then I get out the Netbook and start writing. My big computer is more comfortable, but I seem to get into writing mode when I get out the old brown Netbook.

What are your quirks?

Working on Fugue in C Minor

I imagine painters don’t start their work at the top of the canvas and slowly move to the bottom. They probably work in layers. That’s what I am doing with my next novel. I paint a general image “this is what happens.” From there I fill in the dialogue, “this is who says what.” Then I add the narrative “this is what they are really thinking, and what the narrator wants you to know.”