Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What I learned from Laura Lippman

Today I went to a luncheon hosted by Houston's Murder By the Book where the guest speaker was author Laura Lippman. As she talked about her writing process, I was relieved to hear a few things.

She said book ideas come to her two ways. One is a lightning bolt idea, where she just suddenly knows what the book will be. The other is by strings, where she's sort of picking up threads all the time, knowing they'll become a book when she finally weaves them together, but she's not necessarily sure how that's going to happen.

I really liked having the string approach articulated by somebody who knows what she's talking about. I'm definitely a stringer. Validating.

Someone asked if she already knows how the book will unfold from the outset. She replied that she always knows the "central secret" but that some of it is a surprise to her. "No surprises for the writer, no surprises for the reader," she quoted an unknown author as saying. Apparently that quote has been attributed to so many famous writers, nobody is sure who really said it.

I thought that over for a while. So, it's okay that I know the central secret but not exactly how I'll eventually show it? Hmph, I thought. Validating.

When I wrote Final Approach, I didn't write those pages in order. Mid-way through Chapter 4, for example, I might get an idea for a scene that would occur much later in the book and go off on a tangent and write what later became Chapter 28. I did this enough times that it later became a huge challenge to bridge the gaps between random scenes that had little to do with each other. Bouncing back and forth in time was too hard, so I promised myself that next time I'd write the pages in order. The problem with that, though, is getting stuck. With my earlier time-travel approach, if I got stuck in one chapter I would just fast-forward to a later chapter. At least stuff was making it to the page. But I digress. The point here -- even very experienced writers don't always know what's coming in the next scene. Validating.

I left with a swift reminder of why it's important to seek out other writers. For me, it's validation. I don't know what the take-away message was for anyone else in the room, but for me it was: Writing is hard work for amateurs and professionals alike. Stories don't come with a big red bow on them. And, like science and engineering, I suppose, sometimes the best products result not from one's original ideas, but from unforeseen ones that spring up along the way.

I learned another very useful morsel too. Houston's Briar Club serves awesome pecan pie.

1 comment:

  1. Keep the book. Send me my pecan pie.