Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Guest Blogger - Ellen Crosby

I have a habit of getting some of my best writing ideas the moment I get up from my desk to take a break or catch up on something that needs doing around the house. More often than not it’s a repetitive chore like chopping vegetables or folding laundry, but I also write while driving in my car (only at red lights!) and there is a water-spattered notebook on the dressing table next to my makeup bag since my muse has a thing about showing up in the middle of a shower. Last weekend when “Snowmageddon” dumped more than two feet of snow on the D.C. metro area, I ended up with more than a sore back and tired arms from two days of shoveling: I roughed out much of the plot of my new book, the sixth in my Virginia wine country mystery series based on vineyard owner Lucie Montgomery.
            Between now and Halloween when I turn in a final manuscript to my editor at Scribner, my characters and their story will constantly live in my head. I’m a planner and an outliner—a couple of books ago I also began keep a rough daily diary devoted to nothing other than the work-in-progress. I buy cheap hardcover notebooks; lately I buy a 5.5 x 8.5” spiral notebook made by Piccadilly at my local Barnes & Noble after a bookseller pointed them out to me on the bargain shelf. Spiral because I’m left-handed and it’s easier to write; a different cover design each time so I can tell them apart. I date my entries and switch ink colors—hey, why not have fun with it, right?
            In those notebooks I try out character names, work on biographies, mind map, and strategize new ideas—stuff like that. I’ll write about a plot problem that has emerged in the latest draft and figure out possible ways to solve it. What I don’t do is keep reference information or notes from some of the experts who help me in the daily diary; those go in a loose leaf notebook where I can retrieve them and, once I turn in the book and finish all the rounds of copyediting they do at Scribner, file them for possible future use. The diaries are just in-the-moment scribbles and doodles; nothing I want or need permanently.
            My practice of writing about my writing, documenting my ideas and thought processes in an organized system, stems from my background as a journalist (primarily of feature stories)—where there is no such thing as taking too many notes, capturing too many sensory details, or recording too many direct quotes during an interview. And once I move from plotting and planning to writing, I borrow a trick from novelist Stewart O’Nan: the practice of physically keeping the last few pages I’ve written with me whenever I’m not at my computer. O’Nan wrote an essay in an excellent book called Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide published by Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism (I recommend it for fiction writers, as well) explaining how the habit of carrying your manuscript on you–even a single piece of paper or an index card—meant that in those stolen minutes all of us have every day we can advance our story, capture a fleeing thought, and, most importantly, keep the momentum going on the current project. For me, it makes the next session at my computer that much more productive, minimizing start-up time. Don’t ask me why it works, but it does.
            As I write this, the local weather forecasters are calling for another ten to twenty inches of snow tomorrow. That means more shoveling . . . and plotting. But first, someone please pass the Motrin.                
            Ellen Crosby’s Virginia wine country books are: THE MERLOT MURDERS, THE CHARDONNAY CHARADE, THE BORDEAUX BETRAYAL, and THE RIESLING RETRIBUTION, published in hardcover by Scribner and paperback by Pocket Books. Look for THE VIOGNIER VENDETTA in August. More about Ellen at and on Facebook at Ellen Crosby Books.


  1. Ellen,
    I get some of my best ideas the minute I'm washing my hands or doing the laundry. LOL


  2. What a great blog. I have visions of your notebooks everywhere as bright splotches in your home. I love the shower notes. It does seem that things tend to get solved while hands are busy with mind-numbingly boring tasks. LOL. I guess they do have their uses after all.

  3. My notebook addiction secret is now out! I'm always on the lookout for new ones . . . and color is fun!! Thanks Mare and Pamela!


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