Thursday, April 21, 2016

Views from the Irish Writing Desk

My writing spot waiting for me every morning.
By Lisa Alber

Between last month's post and today's, I spent nearly three weeks in beautiful Ireland--my fourth trip, in fact, and the best one yet. I had a list of research topics for the third County Clare mystery (2017) that I'm calling "Touch of Death." As an example of my research, I hit four hospitals in search of information about care for coma patients, psychiatric nursing, and end-of-life care.

(Aren't you curious about #3? But you've gotta read #2, Whispers in the Mist first. Coming August!)

If you thought our health care system was nuts--try Ireland's! In the end, I got what I needed and decided on what I could fictionalize for the sake of storytelling.

You know what I was mostly about in Ireland? Being. Just being. The joys of slowing down, of going deep into my writing rather than struggling to fit it in, fast fast fast, so fast that I often don't get a chance to savor the creative process.


In my exalted state of being, I got over a massive "block" (in quotes because I don't actually believe in blocks--call it denial) that had lasted for about three months. I was stuck at about 50K words on my first draft. I wasn't feeling it--at all. Now I understand that my well had dried up. The bloody Sahara. Desiccated. Arid. Powdered. Mummified.

OH man. The trip saved me. It really did. And I fell into the most luscious, perfect kind of busy, which is to say, occupied but not swamped, making progress but not overwhelmed. You know what I mean?

I fell into a routine that went something like this:

Every morning little Aidan sat on my lap
for a bit to point at things outside.
Morning-->Noonish: I parked myself in the B&B's light and airy sunroom munching on breakfast (veggie omelet most days) and sipping coffee. Letting myself stare out the window. Over the course of my trip I noticed many things. The arrival of robins and loads of songbirds. Blooming lesser celandine. The farmer who drove by like clockwork. Rainbows and hail and sun and wind and rain and mist and even snow!

In the midst of all this gazing, writing happened. And pretty soon, I was over my "block." I'd spend my mornings writing, travel journaling, curating my photos, doing some online research (in the Irish .ie domain--much better results than I'd been getting in the States), collating research notes. The writing work part of my trip--but it didn't feel like work. Heaven!

Noonsh-->Late afternoonish: Most days I had research tasks. I did a lot of driving, which I didn't mind. I'd stop and grab shots. I'd talk to the Voice Memo app. I met up with two detectives who'd helped me with my debut novel, Kilmoon, and that was a blast! They loved receiving signed copies of the book. I'd wander off the beaten track, driving down bumpy little roads. I'd also visit tourist spots.

What a way to greet the day!
Depending on how quick the research and exploring went, I'd often drop by my favorite coffeehouse, Ginger Lou's, for more writing and a chat with the owner. By early evening, I was often at the Roadside Tavern or Cooley's House pub drinking a pint (or two) and chatting with the locals (local color!). That could last for hours.

Evening: After a full and pleasant day, I was content to hole up in the B&B, reading, doing little research/writing tasks, relaxing.

So now I'm back to reality (I still have a day job, alas, as so many of us novelists do), and I'm doing my best to ride the writing high. So far, so good!

Every day like clockwork.

The trick, I think, is learning how to keep the well filled in the midst of an overly busy life with two jobs, family stuff, life stuff, everything stuff.

I've been telling everyone who will listen that I'd prefer to live a slower deep life than a faster skimming-the-surface life. Have you noticed that modern life tilts us toward the latter? So I've been thinking a lot about how I can get some of that slower, deeper in ...
My writing spot

What do you do to keep your well filled? Any tips and tricks welcome!


Edith Maxwell said...

What lovely post, Lisa. I've been wanting to go to Ireland for a long time, and you've further convinced me!

I think we do need to refill the well. I jettisoned the day job three years ago - but then acquired two additional multi-book contracts, so I'm still really busy. But my mornings are my creative time, and after that I go for a long walk, during which the plot holes fill and scene problems resolve, and I spend my afternoons in other authorial pursuits - blog posts, arranging speaking events, and so on.

Hope you can retain a sense of that slower pace as you get back to the busy life!

Lisa Alber said...

Hi Edith! Thanks for commenting -- your real life sounds dreamy. That was essentially my Ireland trip life. Alas, day jobs! I love how the book contracts came along after you quit your job. What that saying, Jump and the net will follow? :-)

Stacie Eirich said...


This was a fitting read for me to find today, as I've been contemplating my writing space and often look for inspiration in the environment surrounding me. Ireland is a definite on my dream travel list -- for now, I'm surrounded by the oncoming heat of summer in Louisiana. :-) Your Irish writing space looks exquisite, and I agree that we need the slow, deep life rather than the fast, skimming one. Our family obligations, "day" jobs and the press of modern life can seem all consuming, but thankfully we writers are blessed with imaginations and the power to use them. :-) Stacie