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  • David Q. Hall

The Task of Writing Stories

In personal conversations, book clubs, occasional writing events, people often ask me:

How do you write your books?

Do you outline everything on paper or computer first?

How do you come up with ideas for your stories?

Do you often suffer from ‘writer’s block,’ and not know how to proceed with your story?

There are lots of questions about “How do you do it?

I have an author friend whose favored method of writing his stories is to have an idea to start with, maybe a few characters and a dramatic event to begin in a particular setting, start writing, and “See where it takes me. I never know just where it’s going to go, but I’ll know how it ends when I get there,” he smiles.

I have a writer friend who makes an annual “pilgrimage” to Key West and hangs out at old Ernest Hemingway haunts. He seems to feel like the physical connection “inspires” his writing, like some ancient muse. (Although maybe it’s more of a relaxing, tropical setting that helps his writing?)

But me? Well, I confess to being a very “in my head” kind of person and writer. I usually have an idea, an approach, an initial setting and key characters, a particular method of murder, for example, and it all swirls around in the back of my head, among the musty old mental stacks where some wizened librarian spirits hang out and scurry to pull ideas off of creaky shelves, carting them up to the front desk of my mind. That process can go on for weeks, even months.

But over time, a story somehow gets sorted and bound. By the time I sit down at my computer to write, I often know how it should start, important events and twists and turns that should occur along the way, and how it’s going to end, wrap up. It’s not exactly a mental outline, but perhaps a mental construction of key parts, start to finish.

The writing of the actual manuscript at my computer is mostly a matter of filling in all of the details to complete the formulated construction. And counting on my editor to smooth out the roughly written spots that need polishing.

I am definitely not qualified to teach others how to write fiction. My limited experience suggests to me, at least, that there is no one way, no required “method” to write stories. It seems to me very much a matter of what seems to work for you. And how your own mind works comfortably and effectively. The important thing, it seems to me, is if you want to write, do it. Be open to help and advice, lean on a good editor if you can, get ideas from others whose writing you admire, and venture forth!

But always remember, it’s your story. And you have to tell it however seems good and right to you. And as I told my editor a while back, if you share it with three professional editors for evaluation and comment, you’re apt to get four different opinions on how it should be written. All valuable perspectives, in all likelihood, but no one way to write.

Write ON!

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