It's cheaper than therapy. Writing lets me explore different parts of my personality similar to what I imagine actors go through. I can go to some dark place and then come back. It's a thrill to be able to do that, when it works the way it's supposed to. The journey can also be scary and exhausting because you can learn things about yourself. But when everything clicks just right, there's nothing better, nothing more exhilarating. And like any other addict I simply have to go back for more.
I usually do my best stuff early in the morning when I first wake up. I start my writing day between four and five o'clock. Sometimes I've got some big idea that I need to get down on paper and sometimes it's just a matter of reviewing the previous day's work. A good writing day for me lasts ten or twelve hours. It's a very blue collar approach to craft, which makes sense I suppose considering my background, my work-a- day New England roots. To me the important thing is to punch in mentally and physically, to get my ass in the chair and shut everything else out and be ready when the muse stops by for a visit. She can be very elusive and so I want to be prepared.
Location is pretty important to me. I am such a robot, a creature of habit. If you take me out of my routine I can get rattled. So there is a small room attached to the garage where I bang out my stories. That's where I typically do the bulk of the really tangible, hands-on writing. But having said that, there is a part of my process that is at least equally important and that I do anywhere and everywhere. Once I get an idea for a story stuck in my head, I noodle on it constantly. This drives the people in my life crazy because I can become very distant and distracted in all other aspects of the day-to-day. So a lot of the pre-work is done inside my head while I'm driving on 101 or digging a ditch or mixing a drink or whatever.
For years I was a pen and notepad guy. I'm such a terrible typist (I still hunt and peck) that it just didn't make sense to me to get in front of a keyboard until the very last minute. But as I've grown as a writer it has become clear to me that I do much of the writing inside my head anyhow. So when I finally do sit down at my laptop computer now, it's really to spit the story out, to record it. It's already mostly developed and just needs some tinkering here and there, and that process plays well with my two-finger typing because it's slow going and allows me to ponder every word.
My stories are almost always character-driven. So I'll be sitting in a bar and maybe the guy next to me says something that kick-starts me for whatever reason. I'm a real people watcher so then I'll study him and build some context around what he said. There are some fascinating people out there. Ideas are everywhere. Snippets of conversation like that, something in the newspaper, a memory from my own life. Finding ideas isn't the challenge. The challenge for me is figuring out which ideas are worth developing right now, which should be put on the back burner, which should be tossed aside forever. And, of course, how to marry an idea with the other elements of fiction.
I've had some pretty good luck on my own in the smaller markets with my individual short stories and of course placing my books with some excellent independent publishers, but I sense that getting an agent would be helpful in terms of getting to the next level of success. To really breaking into the industry and getting the opportunity to get big stuff published on a regular basis. That said, I don't have an agent yet. It's tough to find somebody who you can trust, who truly believes in you and your work, and who you'll let shit on you from time to time. It's all about the relationship. I want to find an agent who will be with me the whole rest of my career. It's a long-term commitment as far as I'm concerned. So I'm being picky.
Write because you want to write. Not because you think you can make money at it or because you think it's going to get you laid. Find another way to pay the rent and just keep on writing. In order to support my writing habit I've been a construction laborer, low-level farmhand, warehouseman, waiter, short-order cook, towel boy at the Y-I've had a million shitty jobs, but each one was just so I could afford to write. Eventually I think if you have the right combination of talent, luck and perseverance then everything else will fall into place (and even if it never does, keep on writing anyhow). Remember that writing isn't just the act of putting words on paper, it's also sending your completed stories to literary magazines for publication, entering fiction contests, basically flooding the market with your best material—the business side of writing can be just as important as the creative side. No agent or editor or publisher is going to come looking for you, you have to make yourself visible. You have to put yourself out there. And you have to read. Make time every day to read what other people are writing or have already written. Read the classics, the popular stuff, the crap, whatever. It doesn't matter. If for no other reason than to experience the feeling that only a good piece of writing can spark-and to remind yourself why you've got such a hard-on to be a writer.