Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My First Guest - Margot Kinberg

I'm thrilled to welcome my very first guest post by the astounding Margot Kinberg. Margot's blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist is a wonderful site crammed full of Margot's encyclopedic knowledge of the crime fiction genre. If you haven't visited, please do. Margot is also the author of two mystery novels, her latest being B-Very Flat.

Thanks very much, Elspeth, for hosting me. You’re very hospitable : ). Writing is actually a dangerous thing to do. Oh, not because of any real physical danger (that is, unless you’re writing while driving or operating heavy machinery). No, it’s those writing demons. They appear from what seems to be out of nowhere, and they attack when you least expect it. So if you’re going to be safe out there as a writer, it’s as well to have some ways to deal with those demons. Here are a few writing demons I’ve faced.

The “No Time to Write” Demon

This is a particularly powerful demon for people like me who have “day jobs.” Like a lot of writers, I work full-time. And then there are family obligations, pets, and, oh, yeah, little things like laundry, food and bills. It’s not easy to set aside large blocks of time to write. So I don’t. I wish I could, but that’s not my real life. And even if I do set aside, say, an entire afternoon for writing, that’s almost always when the dog gets sick, the computer crashes or I blow a tire.

Instead, I write in small dollops of time. Even fifteen minutes is enough to sketch a scene, write some dialogue or start planning a chapter. It’s not much, and sometimes, I’m happy to even have fifteen minutes. But it’s something.

I also try to plan time to write. Again, not easy. But I’ve found that if I promise myself that hour after dinner, or that hour in the morning before anyone else is awake, I’m more likely to get it done than I am if I just say, “Gee, I’d really like to get some writing in today.”

I’ve found that it works best for me to be realistic about how much I can write at one time. It means my work doesn’t go as quickly as I’d like, but it also means I don’t punish myself unduly when it doesn’t.

The “I’m Not Making Any Progress” Demon

This one’s related to the first demon. They often visit me together. Most of us would like to make much more progress, much more quickly than we do. I know I would. But really, what do we mean by, “progress?” How do we measure it? For me, that’s the key to dealing with the fact that my work isn’t going as quickly as I’d like.

I consider it progress when I write even one more sentence than I had. I know that may be a nice, juicy rationalization, but it is helpful on those days when I’m convinced I’m never going to get my manuscript done. I even congratulate myself when I go through what I have written and catch and fix some stupid mistakes I’ve made. That’s progress, too.

The “I Can’t Think of What to Write” Demon

Creativity isn’t like gasoline, where you can just fill up when you’re low on fuel. It’s a most fickle muse that always shows up when you aren’t prepared, and has the bad taste to send you to voice-mail when you most need it. When I’ve set aside time to write, but the muse is stubbornly silent, one thing I do is reread what I’ve written. I can make revisions, feel proud if I like what I’ve written, and feel smug that I’m actually writing. Sometimes I even see the muse peeking out at me as I re-read, and I can get going on new parts of the manuscript.

Another way that I cope with this particular demon is work on other aspects of the story (character names, physical descriptions, settings and so on). I work on my story frame, too. That way, I’ve still used my time productively even when the muse is looking over someone else’s shoulder.

Sometimes, I get a visit from the muse when I’m in a meeting, driving, eating dinner or cleaning up. Even Agatha Christie said that the best time to plan a story is when you’re doing the dishes. When that happens, the last thing I want to do is turn away Madame Muse with no acknowledgment. So if I can, I make a note to myself on an adhesive note or even an envelope. I’ve even been thinking of getting one of those voice recorders, so I can record ideas while I drive. My ‘cell ‘phone’s got a recorder, and I do use that once in a while, but it doesn’t allow for long recordings, so if I use it, I have to keep it brief. If I’m with someone when I get an idea, I ask her or him to remind me of it: “When we get to _____, remind me to write that down, OK? I wanna use it in my book.” Most people are really flattered to be a part of the writing process.

The “Help, My Story’s Fallen and It Can’t Get Up” Demon

Writing a high-quality story is not an easy thing to do. I don’t know of anyone who can do that the first time without any revisions, changes or re-thinks. If I did I would be convinced that writer wasn’t really a human. When my story lies writhing in agony, begging for mercy, I usually do one of a couple of things (that is, once I’ve realized it’s going no-where).

I often get really helpful ideas from others’ writing. So I read. A lot. Sometimes, I’ll be inspired by something I’ve read, and that gives me a whole new twist on my own writing. In fact, that’s what’s happened with the book I’m working on right now. The plot needed work, and I got what I think is a very good idea from another book I read, so I’ve gone back and re-worked the story. I think it made a big, positive difference.

Another source of help for me when my story flounders is that I talk about it with my family and friends. I tell them about the story (OK, not the spoilers, but the basic gist) and get ideas from them. I don’t use everything they tell me, but often, I get helpful insights.

I’ve also learned to be unafraid of making major changes – even going back and starting all over. Sometimes, a story stalls because it was wrong from the beginning. I think writers have to be willing to let their stories go if they’re simply not going to work. That’s easier to say than do, because we do get attached to our stories. But sometimes, it’s necessary.

The “I am Never Going to Make it as a Writer” Demon

This one is a tough one, because we can all think of writers whom we see as more talented, more prolific, or more successful. I know I can reel off a list of names without any effort at all. That’s especially true of writers who haven’t had their work published yet. So what does a writer do to keep the faith?

I think the answer to that question is different for everyone. For me, a few things help. One is that I have a very supportive family – I love that about them. I also have some wonderful beta-readers who have faith in me. They tell me when my writing needs work, but they are also members of my “cheering squad.” I’ve also got a group of writer friends (many of whom I’ve never even met in person : ) ) who are going through the same things that I am. That helps. I get a lot of support and help and so many terrific ideas from other writers.

Another thing that helps me is that I keep a blog. When people are nice enough to comment on a blog, that’s a helpful reminder that you have something worth saying. Blogs are also useful ways to connect with other writers, to share your own ideas and (let’s be really pragmatic here) to build interest in your own writing.

There are other writing demons, of course; I’m sure you have your own. What demons have you faced? What do you do about them?

Again, my thanks, Elspeth, for having me. And the wine and chocolate were scrumptious. I promise I threw the wrappers away.

Is anyone really safe? Not necessarily. At nineteen years old, Serena Brinkman, an undergraduate violin major at Tilton University, seems to have a very secure future; she's got good looks, money, people who love her, and rare musical talent. She's also got a coveted Amati violin, a musical rival, friends whose secrets she knows, and an obsessed fan.

Serena's dreams are shattered when she suddenly dies on the night of a major music competition. Serena's partner, sure that her death was not an accident, asks for help from Dr. Joel Williams of Tilton's Department of Criminal Justice.

Williams, a former detective, becomes convinced that Serena was murdered, when he learns how unsafe her world really was. As he works with the Tilton Police Department to uncover the truth, Williams finds that Serena's looks, money, and talent, far from securing her future, made her a target.


  1. Ooo Demons- don't like them but, of course, like all writers I have them and Margot has hit most of them right on the head, next time please hit harder and we might just put them out of their misery! But seriously thanks for this post. Sometimes these demons stop us in our tracks and it's good to get some prespective.

  2. Great post... I identify with the time demon the most. To counteract it, I carry a notebook with me at all time. I writer at odd times and feel more productive.

  3. I own more notebooks now than I did in high school! Also use a small digital recorder. Those took care of time but the other demons -- not so much. One demon at a time I guess. *sigh*

    Giggles and Guns

  4. Margot, great post. Those demons can be pesky things even if you only write blog post. The "I Can't Think of What to Write" demon visits me very often. Like the way to battle them. :)

    Elspeth, thanks for hosting Margot.

    Thoughts in Progress

  5. Lauri - Hmmm.. putting them out of their misery! I would *love* that!! Wow! Great idea. But as you say, we all have them, so yes, it's nice to get some perspective on them.

    Lou - I like your idea of a notebook. I'm sure that's awfully helpful to you. I should start doing that. If I could just remember where I keep my pen *sigh* ; ).

    Mary - I like your attitude of one demon at a time. There are enough of them, I think, that trying to conquer them all would be way too hard! Thanks for that point.

    Mason - Thanks for visiting me here : ). I do get assailed by that demon - frequently. Good to know I'm not the only one...

  6. Yes, the demons often want to assume control. Sometimes it's hard not to let them. Keep a positive attitude and never let them win. Good post.

  7. Carol - Thank you : ). You put that so well, too; it really is all a matter of control Do you let the demons win, or do you choose to stay on top. Not an easy thing to do, but I agree that keeping a positive attitude and not giving in is the best way to beat those demons.

  8. I have the “why am I doing this demon” who I’m sure is closely related to all the other demons you mentioned. When I actually confront him, I find I’m doing it because I’m having fun and he goes away…for a while.

  9. Jane - Ah, yes, the "Why am I doing this?" demon. I've met that one, too, actually. I like your way of getting rid of this pesky demon: remind yourself that it's fun. Writers write because they couldn't imagine not writing. There's such fulfillment in it and yeah, it's fun, too. Good reminder, too, to enjoy the journey.

  10. Hi Margot. Great post. Those horrid demons are everywhere. At least I don't get visits from the "lack of ideas" demon. I'm always writing new first pages for new novels, even before I'm finished with the current wip. Lots of first pages in my files. Hmmm. I wonder if I could sell them and make a little money that way. :)

  11. Nice post, Margot! (Thanks for hosting her, Elspeth!). Thanks for introducing some more demons for me to worry about--I didn't have enough.

  12. Pat - Thank you : ) LOL! I think it would be great if we could make some money with our wonderful first pages! I admire your ability to come up with lots of wonderful novel ideas; I truly respect that kind of creativity.

  13. Alan - Thanks for the kind words. And hey, why should I be the only one to battle those demons? Share the love, I say ; ).

  14. I believe I'm on a first-name basis with most of these demons - they're certainly very familiar. I have found that each time one of them makes a return visit that they're bigger than the last time. I need to develop a better relationship with the 'Believe in Your Own Abilities' fairy.

    Thanks for visiting, Margot!

  15. Elspeth - You are a most kind and hospitable host. I am thoroughly enjoying my visit, and I promise I will remember to pack everything before I leave ; ). I would love to meet that "Believe in Your Own Abilities" fairy, too. If you do run into that elusive fairy, please introduce me; there's a dear!

  16. Now, where can I find someone to exorcise my writing demons!? Today, I found someone. I found your article very helpful. Thank you.


  17. Clarissa - Why, thank you! That's really very kind of you : ). I'm glad you found my scribbles helpful.

  18. The not-getting-anything-written demon is one I know horribly well! But like you, I get a lot of help and support from blog friends all over the world. And tomorrow my holiday begins so most of my obstacles (and bad excuses) will be gone in July.

  19. It's that last one that's the big killer. But writing isn't really about making it--it's about writing. Of course, making it would be nice.

  20. Dorte - Oh, I know you're at least as busy as I am, so I thought you would know that demon! I hope you thoroughly enjoy your break, and that you'll be able to focus on your writing - and relax a bit, too.

    Terry - Oh, you put that so well! It realy is the writing that makes it worthwhile. But yeah, making it would be wonderful. I try to focus on the writing part, but sometimes...

  21. My biggest one right now is I don't know when to stop rewriting it.

  22. Patti - Oh, I have the exact same problem! When's it good enough? When's it the way we really want it? I have to think about that one...

  23. Thanks Margot! And thanks Elspeth for hosting her!!
    My demons are those of self-doubt and of a certain kind of loneliness which arises out of being emmersed in my writing for long periods of time. One of those demons feeds the other and then I feel bad. Luckily I have the neccessary angels to work with too. The angels of friendly voices (here in cyberspace and in the so-called real world); the angels of reality which tell me - one word in front of another - rewriting is writing and the most important statement 'I chose this'.

  24. Jan - I so like your concept of angels! They really are the best way to beat back those demons, aren't they? And I think self-doubt plagues a lot of writers; I know it does me.

    Hmm.. writing as loneliness - yup, that one, too. Good thing there really are angels out there : ).

    Karen - Thank you : ). That's really quite kind of you. And yes, ELspeth is eerily on-target with those sheep (those sheep, those sheep, those sheep!!!). I like your idea of tapping that source of energy when one has access to it, and "incubating," if that's the word, when one doesn't. Not everyone has that luxury, but when one can, I think that's probably a very healthy idea. Thanks for it.


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