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How I Try To Write

I am a huge procrastinator unless I have a sudden inspiration that comes out of nowhere, I am in the middle of a project, or I have a routine such as a weekly column. Otherwise, I may not write a word for weeks at a time, and when I am determined to start again, it is pure torture and I would do just about anything to not have to sit in front of the computer and put words on paper.  Every fiber of my being pulls against the idea until I HAVE to write something—until something fills up inside me and I have to put it down. It’s like I have no choice in the matter, and it has always been that way—I write because I have to write. It is something inside me and I have to let it out,

I have journals dating back until third grade with poems and sayings and little stories. Poor Mom. She had to read them all. And later, I never wrote in journals about things like, “I hate that boy and my parents are jerks.” Everything was a story. But by that time, middle and high school, I guarded them like the queen’s jewels and never let a soul read any of them. I still keep journals with stories and sometimes snippets of them are used in columns I have published or in books. I love when that happens because it feels like I haven’t wasted so much time and paper.  But actually, I think the journals were to prepare me for the writing that I needed to really do—to work on and craft and (horrors) re-write many, many times.

I write fast, which is hard to believe, since it took me nine years to complete My Husband Ran Off With the Nanny and God Do I Miss Her. But writing a book is so hard for me not only because of the re-writes my Nazi agent forced on me, but because it is like a gigantic puzzle and all the pieces have to fit just right—the characters, plot, what happens to everyone has to work and it is like not being able to see the forest through the trees.  I used to lay chapters on the floor and make sure they transitioned the right way and then I would read it and go,” Damn! What happened to Jackie the Jack Russell?” or, “I really burnt the kitchen down in February?  Was I kissing Alex and sleeping with John on the same day? What a slut!” And I would have to change it all around. You also can’t have a character just disappear into space. Everyone has to have some kind of resolution. I may never write another novel again. It was traumatizing!

I believe habits and rituals really help get one back into the writing mode. I wrote for four years at the White House for President Bush Sr. and that was crazy. You wrote like a fanatic from 7 a.m. until God only knows when, depending on his schedule and how many disasters were happening at once. But it was the most exciting time of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was very exciting and sometimes you had long deadlines such as a day or two, and sometimes a triple red dot would arrive meaning you had to write the entire speech and have it on the President’s desk in two hours. The boss did that to me the very first day and I went into the bathroom and got sick. I didn’t stay in there long because the clock was ticking. Then the nurse called and said my daughter had a tummy ache and wanted to come home. “Tell her forget it!” I shrieked at the nurse. She hated me ever since. But that was exactly when I decided I missed the nanny much more than my lazy, cheap, cheating, arrogant husband.

So after doing serious writing for the White House, I started writing my book, which is much more in the humor vein. What really helped is I was offered a humor column in a Long Island Newspaper and that got me in the habit of writing at least two articles a week, many of which became part of the book. But when I have no structure and when I am not in the habit of getting up and finishing an idea or a chapter that I had been thinking about all night, you can’t drag me to the computer to write. It’s weird that it comes and goes.

There are times when an entire day goes by and I have felt like I had been writing for five minutes and when I stop I kind of float around as if I had just polished off a few glasses of Champagne. There are other days I can’t get anything right and I keep getting up to do anything besides sit back down to write.

I write mostly late at night, about 11 p.m. until 2 or 3 a.m. The day is too distracting. But when I am in the middle of a project such as a book or screenplay or article, I hit it early in the morning, and then at night.

I also listen to George Winston first. It gets that part of the brain flowing. And I try to exercise. But right now as I try to promote my book, which is an entirely different endeavor that I find basically so overwhelming and confusing that if I hear the word social media one more time I could sock the poor person who mentioned it, I don’t write at all. In fact, Kate asked me to do this months ago. So, it’s all, for me, a matter of habit and getting whatever part of my brain that still exists to get out of its own way and let the characters speak for themselves and take me places they want to go. You can’t boss them around too much, and you certainly cannot have your parents in mind when you are writing.