The Method to My Madness: Writing Edition
By Anthony Neil Smith
It begins with coffee. Every day begins with coffee. Only two cups, with cream and fake sugar, as I settle down to watch some news while my eyes adjust to the new day.
Then I approach the shrine of my goat head skull and make sure the sunlight strikes it just right, thus ensuring me that my pleas to my pagan muse have been accepted, and the writing will go well.
Wait, did I actually just write that down? Where’s the delete button?
No matter. It’s not like that at all (the coffee is, but otherwise…).
I used to think I was a morning writer. Maybe I still am. But lately, it’s become “whenever the mood strikes.” Once I’m finished with work at my day job (I’m an English professor), it’s time to tap out a few pages. Or one page. Or a paragraph. Never at night, though. My pagan muse hits the sack early.
I like noise while I do it. I need a soundtrack. Pandora radio gives me plenty of variety on that front. But some books-in-progress require a specific sound – 1980s metal, or 1970s singer-songwriters, or ambient electronic, or flamenco guitar, or alt-country. It all depends. Yes, it all depends.
I need a character first, before I can write anything at all. I have no clue what the plot is until the character makes him or herself known to me. For instance, it took me a long time to realize my lead character in the novel CASTLE DANGER: WOMAN ON ICE was a transgender woman. He began as a frustrated, angry man, and I had to discover why he was so upset. When the answer showed up, the rest of the book started to flow. In THE CYCLIST, I needed both lead characters to talk to each other in order for me to figure out what was going on between them. So the first chapter is pretty much an online video chat.
The first fifty pages come fast, usually. Still doesn’t mean it’s a book, though. It’s almost as if I need those fifty pages to determine if it will become a book. I’ve got lots of abandoned ideas – twenty pages, thirty, fifty. And then I worry about running out of ideas around page one hundred. But like the old adage says, I can only see the road right in front of me, but I can drive across the whole country that way. The book reveals itself as it goes. Maybe I can sometimes get a few chapters ahead of it, but the questions always catch up along the way.
Is it magic? Not really. It’s work. It takes tapping into that part of you that can remember your dreams, and sometimes even control them a little. It’s a ton of frustration. It’s just a part of my day. I often wonder what people who aren’t always thinking about the next writing project do with their time. I wonder what it’s like to never stop thinking about the writing, even when you’ve told yourself to take the day/week/month off.
There are no days off. A writer is forever and ever looking over the cliff, wondering what it would feel like to jump.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
About The Author
Anthony Neil Smith is a Professor and the Chair of English at Southwest Minnesota State University. He is the author of various novels. Originally from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he now lives on the frozen prairie with his wife, two needy dogs, and two sneaky cats. Check him out on Goodreads or over on be-ebooks. His newest book, The Cyclist, is out tomorrow!