5 writing tips: Laura Lippman

The latest novel by Laura Lippman, winner of Edgar, Sunburn, is author at her best and proves once again that she is a force to be reckoned with in detective fiction. Polly Costello leaves her husband and young daughter and ends up in Belleville, Delaware, where she meets Adam Bosk, who knows more than he says. As Polly’s past returns, this story of revenge and redemption reaches a boiling point. Lippman shares five writing tips.

Writing is a sedentary job unless you have a treadmill desk. But I have long thought that writing and working were complementary disciplines. And it’s not just that moving counteracts the effects of sitting in a chair for so many hours each day. I have long believed that the practice life had lessons for the writing life. I have “solved” a lot of books at the gym, in part because I am not try to solve them at this precise moment. When you’re free, focused on a physical task, it’s amazing what can go through your head. And it turns out that a lot of the tips given to people who want to exercise will also work for those who are trying to establish a writing routine.

1. Introduce yourself regularly. If I waited until I was inspired to hit the gym, I would never make it. I plan my exercise time, I plan my work time. This is especially important if you have a day job like I did when writing my first seven novels. Commit to the time, jot it down in your calendar like it’s mandatory. Don’t wait for the muse, a notoriously unreliable personal trainer. Show yourself, get the job done. Even regular athletes have bad days, but no one sweats – sorry – mundane training. What if your breathing is choppy, your joints a little sore? The effort was not in vain. It is the same with days of disjointed writing. Even the words you speak contributed to your end goal.

2. Put yourself in place. Our bodies are notoriously good at learning to make any physical task easier over time. As writers, we also settle into ruts, doing things the way we’ve always done them, without questioning ourselves. So shake it every now and then. But be ruthless about what works for you. I once tried to speed up by doing several drafts of each chapter. I finished three months late.

3. Eat well. A malnourished body cannot function well. Writers who can’t read can’t write well, it’s that simple. The more you read, the better you read, the better you write. The advantage is that you can’t read too much and even “junk” reading can be constructive.

4. Be responsible. Set daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals. It could be word quotas, a commitment to spend some time at your desk. A writer friend told me he was only aiming for one page a day – but he works eight hours and it’s a very neat page. At the same time, you need to be realistic about what you can accomplish. These couch-to-marathon programs are good models for beginning writers. In 24 weeks, according to one website, a healthy person can go from a sedentary lifestyle to running 26.2 miles. Someone who manages 500 words five days a week would produce 60,000 words in the same period.

5. Cool down. Since 2006, I have been teaching at the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise. In my class, students who are ready for review do not receive their manuscripts for at least 24 hours. I tell them I want them to do anything BUT write within hours of their workshop sessions. It’s human nature to be overwhelmed, to feel intractable. There is also an impulse to go out there and try to fix everything immediately. I also feel this when I get the notes from my editor. I need a little time to recover. I’m not saying editors are always right, but the notes, at the very least, should open a writer’s mind to the idea that something is wrong. So I walk around, literally and figuratively. Charles Dickens was famous for walking, perhaps up to 20 miles a day. In my complicated household, I can’t find the time to walk five hours a day, but I can always find 20, 30 minutes to clear my head.

And, yes, I am considering a treadmill desk for 2018.

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