I recently watched a writing master class given by Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame (and fortune). Dan writes suspense/thrillers, but his books also have a strong mystery element. I’m toying with a mystery premise (Miss Fisher meets Jane Austen), so I wanted to hear what he had to say.
The class was interesting, and also a good review of some basic writing wisdom: Try to write in an internet-free zone, or at least during internet-free times. Know when to ease up on the research because before you can sell those books, you have to, um, write them. Find a process that works for you, and then work that process without getting too hung up on tropes, fads, software, trends, or spiffy new equipment.
Dan writes in the early, early morning hours, from 4 a.m. onward, and one of his suggestions was to “set the table for breakfast.” He did not mean to literally lay out a place setting for the first meal of the day, rather he meant that before closing the document for the day, add a few lines about where the scene is heading or what needs to happen next. Leave yourself some questions or clues that will get your mind moving into the story when you first sit down.
I know one writer who purposely stops her words for the day in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a paragraph, in the middle of a scene. If defy anybody, writer, reader, or neither, to sit down in front of that document and ignore that incomplete sentence. Anthony Trollope wrote for three hours every morning, with his pocket watch open on the desk before him. If he was in the middle of a word when the clock struck 8:30 am, he stopped writing.
What stands out for me about these writers is that they are all successful. I suspect the “setting the table for breakfast” habit not only closes a writing session with the subconscious noshing on the next scenes, it also begins the writing session with all kinds of creative compression. I set the table for breakfast the way Dan Brown does, with a trail of bread crumbs into the next scene. I also try to read over my pages for the day last thing before bed.
Before I get out of bed in the morning, I turn my waking mind to the writing objective for the day and ask myself: What about this scene makes it essential to the book? How can I make this content surprising to the reader rather than predictable? I try to not be in a hurry to get out bed (luckiest woman in the world, that’s me), but to be patient with my imagination, until I can feel the ideas beginning to flow in a direction I want to capture in words.
Then I scamper downstairs and get writing. I do though, pause long enough to punch the microwave start button, because part of my setting the table for breakfast routine is also to prime a cup of jasmine green tea, so that all I have to do in the morning is hit start, and I can get to the writing.
How do you, mentally or otherwise, set the table for breakfast? To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card, because cyber-everything will soon be upon us, and we’ve all been good this year.