The Writing Life

The itchiness of the ever-present Muse, his constant pervasion of one’s dreams, waking thoughts, imagination, always there prodding the writer onward. As a Sherlock Holmes author, I know how lucky I am to have this inventive Muse in my life and to share a similar awe to Dr. Watson’s. 

Proof for the all-out characteristic of writers. Madeline L’Engle put forth in her journals, that when she is not writing one wouldn’t like being around her. I have an inordinately fertile imagination yet it is difficult for me to visualize that lovely gentlewoman being bustled up to her writing room by her family. Yet, am grateful for their understanding.        

Living the commonplace (as Holmes calls it) aspects of my life are difficult, I steal time to do so. By his literary proliferation, I surmise that Issac Asimov was married, and these aspects taken care of by another (actually there were two Mrs. Asimov’s.) I live alone and dream of a Mr. or Mrs. Hudson in my life. Though he or she would find me as difficult to tidy up as Holmes and as attentively focused elsewhere. I take advantage of delivery services, so abundant in our day, and when down to catsup usually wrangle a day away for whatever needs refilling in my larder. I cook once a week and freeze to reheat. Like Holmes I know what a good meal tastes like, yet my senses are otherwise occupied and eating is secondary to writing a novel.        

“MAGIC TIME” is a wonderful quote to have on one’s computer. The quote on the top of my computer monitor is a reminder to stay focused and keep out of all the drama swirling around us: “Hey, man, just play the gig.” Credited to Floyd Pepper, the sax player of Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. The quote on the bottom of the monitor is from a young Arthur Conan Doyle, “Fear not and put it in print!” If I follow that sage advice the drama surfaces in my mysteries. And Doyle’s courageous certainty carries me.

The very few times when my energy did flag in the production of These Scattered Houses I would take a complete break. Walk away from my desk and not return until the next day. I take a page from Sherlock Holmes and let go of doubt and questioning, and let music in. I’m not a musician, yet can carry a tune and love to sing. I spend the day singing from Stephen Sondheim’s sheet music. Not the same as listening to music while doing other things. Become involved in it as a musician would, a bit of a challenge to grab your attention away from your writing. Singing “A Little Priest” or “Another Hundred People” with my own version of theatrical flair does it for me. It is not always easy to express oneself through another medium especially when stuck. It takes courage and bravado. Usually this is exactly what’s needed in my writing in these moments. Passion leads me on as an author, passion for the story, the characters and the journey of the novel. Without it, it’s best to drive to the beach or the mountains let go, think of something else, and it will find me again.

Thank you, Geri, especially for the Know Yourself and the Forgive Yourself sections. Whether one is in the rhythm of the creative impulse or not, number one is to take care of oneself. Get enough sleep every night. Take all those supplements. Eat healthily and regularly. Do your favorite exercise. It all seems a cliché but we are creative spirits inhabiting greyhounds and both need to be tended. My favorite exercise is to walk at least an hour a day in my hilly local park, where I can also enjoy the change of seasons. But tell that to my Muse! Daily self-care makes a difference to brain cells. I dare one to try writing without them!         

About those stories that aren’t accepted, first, they have to be submitted to the right audience. And even then, something in your story may not sit well with the reader, this could be anything. In Sherlock’s stories, for example, it is always a challenge when writing a new story about such a well known centuries-old literary character. As Jeremy Brett said,  everybody has their own image of him.         

Thanks, again, Geri, for a well written and much-needed discussion of the writing process. I choose to see it all as part of the process. There is no downtime, just time to be reminded we are human. And that Muses don’t eat, sleep or clean.

Inspired by a blog post by Geri Shear: How Do You Stay The Distance?

Gretchen Altabef is an MX author of Sherlock Holmes novels. Mondadori Publishing has contracted to translate her novels into Italian. Ms. Altabef strives to emulate Dr. John Watson’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary style. The first, These Scattered Houses, is in Holmes’ own voice and resourcefully chronicles the last two months of his ‘great hiatus’. The second in the series is, Remarkable Power of Stimulus. After 3 years away, Holmes finds London awash in murders, No. 221B under siege, anarchists threatening Paris, and the return of Irene Adler. Fully aware he is being watched by Moriarty’s men, Holmes steps out of the cab into Baker Street knowing he will find Watson’s friendship and unerring aim are as dependable as the British Rail.

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