How On Earth Do Writers Write

My usual state of affairs after the ferrets and dogs wreak havoc

I mean, how do they find the time, the solitude, the quiet? Do they have little cells hidden behind walls only accessible by pulling the candlestick on the mantle for a door to slide open? Or, do they banish family to outer Mongolia during the long hours typing away? I know the now famous story of how Mary Higgins Clark faced horrible tragedy, her husband dying of a heart attack in front of her,  and her mother-in-law upon seeing her son, collapsing and suffering the same fate. But Clark had tons of children to feed, so every morning at the crack of dawn she’d sit down and write until it was time to rally the children and go to work at her day job. So if she could find time and solitude to do it, why can’t I? I mean, I’ve no kids running around, the husband is at work, what’s the problem?

Louie picking out his next read

Dogs. A mother. Ferrets. Books. What? These reasons not good enough for you? You think dogs and a mother and ferrets and especially books sound really lame as an excuse? True. I lack discipline. I remember interviewing Laura Lippman, now a bestselling crime fiction author, about her writing habits, and she related a very strict modulated day . She stated clearly that always, no matter what was going on around her, or in her life, she spent 5 hours each day writing. 5 hours??? Good grief. 5 minutes is going good for me. And she’s writing intricate plots, psychological suspense! I’m only trying to push out another article!

So , again, what’s the problem? For example. This morning I awoke far too early for me, meaning around 8AM, and decided to get a head start on something, anything. I figured, well, hey, bring in the laptop and fiddle the keys around a little–it will let sleeping dogs lie. I gingerly slide out of bed, taking care not to accidentally brush my  toes against either dogs snoring at my feet. I make it as far as the bureau, and up shoots both heads, querying as to ‘what the heck are you doing? Don’t you know it’s too early to get up?’ I reassure them, stating ‘Go back to sleep, go back to sleep, I’ll be right back.’ Oh, didn’t y0u know? My dogs are skilled in five languages: Reassuring, Chastising, Commanding, Dinner Announcing, and Trick or Treat. They tend to be less capable of understanding Chastising and Commanding, for mysterious reasons. Anyhoo, off I go into the workroom, literally a foot away, and bring back my ancient Mac. They’re both in the same position, same spots, same puzzled expressions on their tousled hair heads. As I return to bed with computer, the one dog calls off his vigilance and relaxes back into Sleepyland. I am confident the other will do the same. No. He leaps down and turns to an area he has piddled at before, in my room, and now I’m up like a jack-in-the-box admonishing, ‘no no no!’ He goes around in circles, another bad sign–that’s his cue for number two. Now I know that I’ve got to get him outside, pronto. This dog apparently wasn’t trained to to his business in grass like normal four legged creatures. Or, our theory, he wasn’t trained on a leash by his original owner, because that’s how I have to walk him, and his fellow Bichon, having no fenced in back yard. The reasons why are of no value when the race against doggie do nots is at hand. I throw on some clothes while wrangling him away from his favorite spot, and keep him occupied while I try to locate my gardening clogs in vain. Out I go, no shoes, into the dew filled yard, and await the prize he’s trying to give me. That’s a typical dog interuptiss.

Lucky, the latest rescue dog, who loves everyone, and pees everywhere
Judy Bolton as a baby

The mother has an infinite ability to talk. She talks to me as I try to leave the house, hand on door nob, reading from the newspaper some article I *must* know about, such as how badly the Phillies lost again.  She talks during TV shows, usually exactly at the moment hush toned conversations revealing the entire sinister plot occur, which I miss, because she’s reading the latest obituary notices, especially pointing out those who were my age when they died. She talks as I’m trying to do chores, usually standing exactly where I need to go, to mop the floor, or retrieve some object, or to prevent non piddling dog from eating the mailman when he arrives. She is constantly reading out loud. Besides the newspaper, she will recite the TV guide, the the fine print on bills, even a list of resources on debt management off the web. So, what’s the big deal you ask? You aren’t trying to write at these junctures in time. No, I’m trying to finish various tasks so I can then go and write! And then there’s the, “I know you’re writing, but I just need to tell you this” moments. I gave her strict notice that when I’m writing, I need to be left alone. I need to concentrate. I need to complete sentences I’ve started with an idea in mind, that disappears once she prattles on about some cranky participant in her exercise class who wouldn’t clam up during her instructions on rotating arms. But, to little avail. She feels there’s always room for a teeny exception, especially when there’s an especially outstanding abode on House Hunters, the TV show for people with no life, and a great deal of home envy. For this, she’d needn’t disturb her settled self from her lounging chair. Her dulcet tones can be heard in Pittsburgh, shouting, ‘pick number three, pick house number three!’ Or, ‘I am so sick of granite counter tops!’ Oh, so am I mom, so am I.

Ferrets are self explanatory, if you have ferrets. If not, think curiosity of cats–on steroids. There’s a reason the phrases, ‘ferreted out , or ferreting out’ exist. They can go where no man has gone before–example: into closets climbing your hanging shoe holder to reach the top shelf where they promptly knock down everything you have carefully stored up there. Or: they scratch at the underlining of your box spring bed until they’ve created a hole big enough to crawl through and sleep, as though in a hammock. Or: they take great pleasure in finding out how many of my free standing stacked books they can dislodge in one shot. Answer–all of them. In other words, they are a handful to manage, and sometimes being the ringmaster of their circus leaves little time for writing.

Archie Goodwin's review of the book

Books. How could books possibly deter me from writing? They are everywhere. Everywhere. My workroom looks like a tropical storm flung volumes around until they settled on the most inconvenient spots, such as: computer tops, where my feet need to rest under the computer, on top of the printer, scanner, dog bed. They’re on the work table, under shelves, on shelves, around shelves, they even become shelves if there are enough of them. And there are enough of them. Sometimes the room is so crammed with books, the one dog is afraid to come in, the entrance space is so small. And this is but one room. I don’t need to continue, do I?

So, there’s my problem with being able to write. Most real writers would; persevere, carry on, muddle through, bite the bullet, keep writing come hell or high water, dig in, either sink or swim, work from dawn to dusk, work until the cows come home,  go with the flow,  sweat blood, try until they scrap the bottom of the barrel, continue even if there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell.  If I’m lucky I’ll have it made in the shade, make hay while the sun shines, if I get lemons, make lemonade. Or if I’m not, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, because it is what it is.

And if I can’t find anything better to write than all those fantastic cliches, I’ll be shit out of luck.

My loquacious mother and author and friend, Lisa Scottoline