Monday, March 30, 2015

My Writing Habits by Kay Kendall



By now I’ve been writing fiction long enough that I’ve learned to trust my own inclinations. I used to believe I had to do everything the way the experts suggested. Over time I’ve learned that on some points the experts differ.

For example, while most advise that a first draft should be ripped through quickly, without editing as you go, I cannot do that. I just can’t. I always felt guilty about that, since I was doing things WRONG. Finally one day, lo and behold, I began to learn about other authors who are like me. At least one bestselling author and I share a pattern—beginning our writing day by editing what we write the day before. What a relief.

Here are some other habits I have learned to trust as well:

Just because you’re writing your own book, that doesn’t mean you can stop reading other ones. In fact, I’ve read more, not less, since I began to write fiction. I submerged myself in the mystery/suspense genre for almost two years before I started Desolation RowAn Austin Starr Mystery. Picking up the tricks of the trade by osmosis suits me better than gulping a dozen dry how-to tomes. Of course, I read those too!


“Brilliant” thoughts are fleeting. I must pin them down before they get away. Because I write about the sixties, I often find character traits and plot points when reading obituaries in the New York Times, for example, and if I don’t capture those flashes of insight, they will leave me. 

I annotate my clippings and put them in my bulging notebook. Some ideas I saved for my second book—Rainy Day Women, out on July 7. Others will fit in the third or fourth of my Austin Starr series. I’ll be delighted to find the clippings a few years from now when I start writing the relevant stories. My mind is like my bulging notebook, and sometimes things fall out because of crowding. It’s far easier to keep the physical clippings together. Or online digitally.

Whatever exercise I did before I became a full-time writer is even more important now. Health gurus are adamant that sitting all day is a terrible habit that can lead to early death and/or dementia. Besides, when I’m on my exercise bike, I zone out and then, given enough time, ideas for my writing zone in. The mind-body connection is worth protecting with sufficient exercise. Even when I’m on a deadline, I try to stick to this rule. However, it’s time for a true confession. I have trouble with this one, actually walking the talk.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” When I first saw that quote on a coffee mug for sale at Whole Foods a decade ago, I was too scared to pick it up. How dare I think I could write a novel? But I forced myself to buy that mug, and after using it for two years and writing my first manuscript, I began timidly to call myself a writer. I began to have faith that I would finish a book and eventually get it published.

Now I have faith I will complete new books because I have done two. I have pushed through the dark times, “getting by with a little help from my friends.” Footnote to the Beatles for that one, plus maybe you can tell by my book titles that my amateur sleuth Austin Starr is a huge fan of Bob Dylan.

In conclusion, once you have begun writing, just do not stop. As we used to say back in the day, just keep on truckin’.

--Kay Kendall


Kay grew up in the bucolic Flint Hills of Kansas but dreamt of returning to her father’s ancestral home of Texas and also of becoming a latter-day Nancy Drew or John le Carré. Instead, higher education and circumstance led her down a long and winding road (footnote, the Beatles) to graduate studies in history at Harvard, to Canada, international corporate communications, work in Russia, and finally, finally, her beloved Texas.

Today Kay is an international award-winning PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Now she writes historical murder mysteries. Growing up during the Cold War, she recalls the drama of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) installed near her hometown in Kansas. A fan of historical mysteries and spy novels, she sets her own stories during the Vietnam War, a key conflict of last century not already overrun with novels. 

She says, “In my debut mystery DESOLATION ROW, I explore what life was like for a typical young woman—not a headline maker, not a Hanoi Jane or Angela Davis, but a moderate who nonetheless got swept up by history’s tides during the turbulent sixties. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.”
Kendall’s second Austin Starr mystery, RAINY DAY WOMEN, will publish in summer, 2015. A short story “Strangers on a Plane” launches on January 26, 2015, on Kindle. It is part of a collection of 13 Kindle stories called THE PROMETHEAN SAGA

1 comments:

Jackie Houchin said...

Thanks for this encouraging post by one who "has been there."