Monday, July 03, 2006


There is a famous story about a prominent Hollywood studio head who saw one of his writers with his feet up on his desk, gazing out a window.

“Why aren’t you working?” he snapped

“I am working,” the writer replied.

An extreme example of this was the way Rex Stout said he worked. He thought about a future novel at odd times during the day. While he was shaving or being driven or in a waiting room, he’d get the novel set in his head. When he had it done, the rest was just typing.

When I first started writing, the ‘work ethic’ was so ingrained in me I felt if I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t working. The result was I didn’t think enough beforehand.

It took me years to realize how much impact my environment had on my creativity. In some places the walls closed in making me nearly brain dead. In such cases a change of scenery is necessary. Nowadays, the easiest place for me to write is in a Bangkok bar/massage parlor with plenty of ladies roving around.

Writing classes always stimulated me to produce something. Way back, when grades meant something to me, I took College English. During the course I railed against writing ‘in class’ themes as being unfair. The instructor’s position was that writing under pressure was part of real life.

Of course an ‘in class’ theme was part of our final. The subject: Describe the philosophy of Thoreau and what he was doing in Walden.

Easy, huh?

Well actually it was. The whole thing came to me in a flash. This is what I wrote:

Thoreau saw life as a deep rut in a road with no ending and no beginning

In going to Walden he was climbing out of the rut, onto the road. From there, although he still could not see the beginning or the ending, he could see the rut for what it was.

But that doesn’t prove anything. Writing a theme in class is still unfair.

For a long time I had plotting problems. When I tried to plan ahead my mind sort of dulled out. Sometimes, if I had trouble sleeping, I’d start plotting a novel in my head. My brain would go into a coma and sleep came immediately.

Then I audited a creative writing course at UC Irvine. It was taught by a prominent local novelist. I heard many student stories. In every story I saw ways to improve the plot. Some of the improvements I offered were radical and one was literally breathtaking, changing a scary story into a horrifyingly scary story. So I learned I could develop plots in the right circumstances.

The ending is far more important than the beginning. Never start unless you have a strong ending in mind, or unless you plan to do four or five drafts.

My next major effort is a mystery novel. I’ll post it all right here.


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