Sunday, August 11, 2013

Getting in the Mood to Write

 Papa writes in Africa...

(Author's Note: The International Thriller Writer's Association asked me what I do in order to get in the mood for writing...Here's what I came up with.)

If you were to ask Ernest Hemingway what he did to get in the mood for writing, he might come back at you with a rather macho and dramatic response like, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit at your typewriter and bleed.” Or he might tell you that one’s mood has nothing to do with the all important task of “biting the nail.” He might even say, “Writing is like mass. God gets mad if you don’t show up.”

I think it’s safe to say that as masterful a writer as Hemingway was, the actual process of writing did not come easy for him. He had to work at it, mining the right words, gem by precious gem, until just the right meaning and feel of a sentence was conveyed. In order to ensure that he was “in the mood” for writing day in and day out, he kept a rigorous schedule of waking at dawn and writing until noon. He would then reward himself with fishing, shooting, playing baseball, or simply heading out to his favorite watering hole like Sloppy Joes for a couple of drinks. He never wrote much more than 250 words per day (about a single double-spaced page), and he always stopped at a place where he knew he could pick up again in the morning, thus guaranteeing that he’d be able to continue to write.

I’m not even going to pretend that I belong in the same class as Hemingway. But like him, I do make my living by sitting at my typewriter (Or Lenovo ThinkPad anyway), and bleeding. I don't teach and I don't have another job to supplement my writing income. Making a living at writing words on a page entails two things. The first is that you have to be good, either by sheer talent or by force of will. The second is that you become prolific, at least to a degree that can guarantee you enough of an income to live according to your own idea of what constitutes a decent quality of life. That said, I need to write and have published a certain amount of novels that can guarantee me a steady stream of income for a long, long time (I’m still I my forties). Just what is that magic number of books? I’m not sure yet, but I know it will be more than 20. Currently, I’m writing my 16th, so I’m almost there.

But writing book after book is a lot of hard work (I’m a journalist too, so my daily word count is up there, believe me). That said, getting in the mood to write doesn’t even enter into the equation. I get up to write at least six days a week no matter what mood I’m in, no matter where I am in the world. It’s a discipline I maintain in order to ensure success, and it’s no different from the discipline a surgeon or a lawyer or a brick layer or even a priest maintains. A brain surgeon doesn’t wake up on any given Tuesday and tell him or herself, I’m not in the mood to operate today. He just does it, and does it to the very best of his ability. It’s the same for me. I don’t get writer’s block anymore than an accountant gets accountant’s block. This is something they will not teach you in writing school.

I also don’t require solitude or even absolute quiet. I’ve written in airports, on planes, trains, in boats, and in cars. I’ve written in Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, Africa, Egypt, China, the jungles of South America, and in the suburbs of Albany, New York. I’ve written when my wives were bearing our children in the hospital, and I wrote five pages of a new novel only hours after my father dropped dead from a heart attack. I write on my birthday, on Christmas, and Easter. I write on weekends. I write if my significant other is angry with me and tossing my shit out the window, and I write if I’m hung over. I wrote on September 11, 2001, and I wrote on the day we killed Osama Bin Laden. I suppose I will write on the day I die. It is the one thing in my life that is constant, never changing, and loyal beyond the possibility of betrayal, and it is the one thing that is as certain as the sun that also rises on each and every morning. And as for my mood? Well, my mood has not one goddamned thing whatsoever to do with it. 



  1. vince,

    “mining the right words, gem by precious gem, until just the right meaning and feel of a sentence was conveyed” is a gorgeous line. i so enjoy reading your writing which is always, and i hope this comes out correctly, an arresting blend of bravado and eloquence.


  2. Great write-up! Writing is a talent, and it must not be wasted. As with everything that we had been entrusted, we should let it grow and share it with the world.> life long learner