writing tips for busy people at Red Cup Agency

Georges Simenon, a prolific novelist, wrote most of his books while staying in hotel rooms. You would think that it stressed him out — he was running a tab, paying for the room. But there also was isolation and focus. There was nothing to do but write.

He brought along a telephone book to help him make up character names, and a map of the area he was writing about so he could name places correctly. He had something called a planning envelope, which sounds impressive until you learn what was actually in the envelope.


Here is a fragment of an interview with him from an old Paris Review article.

INTERVIEWER: What has gone in the planning envelope? Not an outline of the action?

SIMENON: No, no. I know nothing about the events when I begin the novel. On the envelope, I put only the names of the characters, their ages, their families. I know nothing whatever about the events that will occur later. Otherwise, it would not be interesting to me.”

He starts the book by jumping off a cliff. Just the basic facts about his characters. He is doing it in an anonymous hotel room.

Consider that most of us work hard to get our workplace just so, even a virtual workplace. Yesterday I devoted several hours to organizing my next book project, setting up workflows, writing summaries and outlines, noting what I had already written and what I needed to do, booking time in my calendar to write, selecting colors and icons in my writing apps. I surrounded myself with my writing world.

Creating comfort like that can lead to writing well. To write, I need quiet. A horizontal surface that doesn’t wobble. Music. Coffee. Pencils. Really sharp pencils, and mechanical pencils, and scratch paper, and desk notebooks in red and black, smaller pocket notebooks, lighting and climate controls, a view of a mountain, and fresh air accessible by a door that opens on a terrace. Ok, I need a lot.

But being uncomfortable also makes for good writing. Writing on a deadline is horrible, but good writing has been made that way. The comforts of hotel rooms as writing studios are illusory, anyway. Yes, people make the bed and bring food, but you are away from your usual contexts and comforts. You are seeing new people. There are new social patterns and sounds. The path to the elevator always seems to change. You have little choice but to live in the world you are writing about.

Deadlines and even disorientation can be useful. Once I was on a plane with a network correspondent on our way to a story. He was pacing in the aisle, muttering to himself. He passed my seat and said garble garble write this down. I realized that he was talking himself through the story, narration, interviews, soundbites, everything. I scribbled as fast as I could. By the time we landed, he had written the whole thing in his head.

Writing on a deadline like that, even on a plane, or in bed by the glow of an iPad when your spouse is asleep, trying to type quietly, these circumstances create pressure, an illicit thrill that pushes writing to a higher level.

Thanks for reading,


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