The Mistress of Pennington's Tour

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Welcome to my blog site, Rebecca! Really great having you here.

In the Zone

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to hear three bestselling mystery writers on a panel discussing their work and why they still enjoy the task of writing. The three writers, Robert Crais, Stephen Cannell and Michael Connolly are certainly prolific and I was eager to see if I couldn’t pick up at least one nugget of wisdom to help me in my own endeavors. I wasn’t disappointed. To listen to them speak, you can understand why they have become so successful.

Cannell told us that he writes everyday. EVERY SINGLE DAY. He started his career in television and since he was expected to put out a script every single week, he said it became such a habit that he has trouble if he can’t produce some sort of work constantly. Now this is a very busy man. He was just starting out on a tour for his latest book and he admitted to us he would be hard pressed to keep up writing every day, but he’d find some way to do it. His writing comes first and he told us he gets to it first thing every morning. He gets something down on paper to start his day before he moves on to anything else. Crais told us that he gets so involved with his characters that he often hates leaving his work and sometimes resents when he has to go on to other duties—like having to break away to come speak to us! Connolly is the same. He is a former newspaper reporter so to him that writing habit has been with him all his life.

What if you don’t feel like writing? What if the scene is getting away from you? While these writers all had their different ways of getting through trouble spots, at other conferences, I’ve heard Nora Roberts say over and over that writing is a job. If you’re serious about your work, you’re going to make time to do it. Even if you’re producing something you don’t entirely like, you can always go back and edit. I’ve always discovered that even though I think the work I’m turning out is terrible, if I get myself going, later I’ll go back and look it over and realize, gee, that actually works. As Nora says, you can’t edit a blank page!

Going back to that panel discussion, I got another nugget of wisdom about working with characters. I’ve often felt like I build my characters as though I’m constructing a friend, someone I want to spend time with and get to know. Crais described to us what he calls as getting “in the zone.” It revolves around becoming so deeply involved in the story you’re telling that you feel like you could be part. You’re more than just an observer sitting in the corner watching the events play out—you’re along for the ride, sitting as the invisible partner along with your characters. That’s why he hates to leave his writing, because he hates to leave that world and his characters.

What a great idea, and yet the more I thought about it, I realized that’s one of the great things I enjoy about being a writer. It allows me to visit a completely different world where I can live with my characters and get involved in things I might not ordinarily get to do. This is the fun part of writing, taking off to that imaginary place in our brain as we construct a fictional world where we can then take the reader to visit.

I guess that’s what we all try to do with our writing, taking the reader to a far away place, whether it be right downtown in the mean streets of the city or the dark underworld of vampires and werewolves. We can only take others along if we first go there ourselves, visit and see what it’s like and really get a feel for it. That’s getting into the zone—building that world in our head with our favorite characters and going on an adventure with them in that world we created.

All three writers also gave a hint of how they work to create those other worlds and I was pleased to hear they do what I often do. Robert Crais put it the most simply, “We steal.” They take conversations, events, ideas and parts of people all around them, just snippets of things that they place into their books. But it goes beyond just stealing ideas or parts of a person’s personality. It takes that writers’ imagination to pick up on something that can be everything from the mundane into the fantastic and whip it into a story.

It takes getting into that zone of imagination, and I have a feeling it’s why those writers are so successful. Each one of them admitted they could hardly wait to return to the worlds they share with their characters, and that shows in their work. Right now I’m working on a mystery set in New Mexico, and now that I’ve really gotten to know my characters, I can hardly wait to get back to it and see what’s going to happen next.

Becky Martinez is an award winning former broadcast journalist who writes novels and short stories in the romantic suspense and mystery genres under the name Rebecca Grace. Her latest romantic suspense novel, Deadly Messages, was published in February 2010. Her first romance novel, Love on Deck, was an Aspen Gold finalist. She also contributed a short story to The Trouble with Romance, a 2007 New Mexico Book Award anthology finalist.

She is co-author of the writing book, Ten Steps to Creating Memorable Characters and teaches workshops on writing and marketing. She currently lives in Littleton, Co. Her website is

Loved this, Rebecca! How great an opportunity, to be able to listen to three of the best thriller writers in the world! I must say, I am exactly the same, I need to write every day or I either feel incredibly guilty...or incredibly tetchy, LOL! Leave a comment on your feelings about finding 'the zone', Rebecca and I would love to hear from you...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rachel and Rebecca,

    Thanks for sharing a recap of the panel, Rebecca. It sounds like a fabulous event.

    I envy those who write every day. There are days I simply don't have the time as I juggle a full-time job and various other "real" life intrusions. I do love those stretvhes of time when I really can get in the zone and accomplish a lot.