Edgar-winner Laura Lippman’s latest novel, Sunburn, is the author at her best, and once again proves she’s a force to be reckoned with in crime fiction. Polly Costello walks out on her husband and young daughter and ends up in Belleville, Delaware, where she meets Adam Bosk, who knows more than he’s telling. As Polly’s past comes crawling back, this story of revenge and redemption reaches a boiling point. Lippman shares five writing tips.
Writing is a sedentary gig unless one has a treadmill desk. But I have long believed writing and working out are complementary disciplines. And it’s not just that moving counterbalances the effects of sitting in a chair for so many hours every day. I’ve long believed that the work-out life has lessons for the writing life. I’ve “solved” a lot of books while at the gym, in part because I’m not trying to solve them at that precise moment. When you’re loose, focusing on a physical task, it’s amazing what can happen in your head. And it turns out that a lot of advice given to people who want to exercise will also work for those trying to establish a writing routine.
1. Show up on a regular basis. If I waited to be inspired to go to the gym, I’d never get there. I schedule my exercise time, I schedule my work time. This is especially important if you have a day job as I did while writing my first seven novels. Commit to the time, write it down in your calendar as if it’s obligatory. Don’t wait for the muse, a notoriously unreliable personal trainer. Show up, do the work. Even regular exercisers have bad days, but no one sweats — sorry — a humdrum workout. So what if your breathing was ragged, your joints a little sore? The effort wasn’t wasted. The same is true of desultory writing days. Even the words you throw out have contributed to your final goal.
2. Switch up. Our bodies are notoriously good at learning how to make any physical task easier over time. As writers, we also settle into ruts, doing things the way we’ve always done them, not challenging ourselves. So shake it up from time to time. But be ruthless about what works for you. I once experimented with trying to speed up by doing multiple drafts of each chapter. I ended up three months behind schedule.
3. Eat right. A malnourished body can’t perform well. Writers who don’t read can’t write well, it’s that simple. The more you read, the better you read, the better you’ll write. The upside is that you can’t read too much and even “junk” reading can be constructive.
4. Be accountable. Set daily, weekly, monthly, annual goals. They can be word quotas, a commitment to spend a certain amount of time at your desk. One writer friend told me he aims for only a page a day — but he works for eight hours and it’s a highly polished page. At the same time, you have to be realistic about what you can achieve. Those couch-to-marathon programs are good templates for beginning writers. Within 24 weeks, according to one website, a healthy person can go from being sedentary to running 26.2 miles. Someone who manages 500 words five days a week would produce 60,000 words in that same time period.
5. Cool down. Since 2006, I’ve taught in the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise. In my class, students who are up for critique are not given their manuscripts back for at least 24 hours. I tell them I want them to do anything BUT write in the hours following their workshop sessions. It’s human nature to be overwhelmed, to feel intractable. There’s also an impulse to leap in and try to fix everything immediately. I feel that way, too, when I receive my editor’s notes. I need a little time to recover. I’m not saying editors are always right, but the notes, at the very least, should open a writer’s mind to the idea that something isn’t working. So I take a walk, literally and figuratively. Charles Dickens was famous for walking, perhaps up to 20 miles a day. In my complicated household, I can’t carve out the time to walk five hours a day, but I can always find 20, 30 minutes to clear my head.
And, yes, I am considering a treadmill desk for 2018.