My daily writing output runs erratic. Some days I’m a scene machine, other days I agonize for hours on a sentence I end up deleting. I’m positive I missed something in the writer’s handbook—the password to the club, the secret handshake, or a hoodoo brew to make my fingers fly over the keyboard (and I’m not talking coffee.) In an effort to find a clue to consistency I became a process junkie. I love hearing how others work, especially writers like Daryl Wood Gerber, the award-winning author of two mystery series who writes thrillers in her spare time. What is spare time?
Today marks the release of To Brie or Not to Brie, the fourth novel in the bestselling Cheese Shop Mystery series Daryl writes as Avery Aames. I coaxed Daryl/Avery into sharing her process and a few of her writing secrets with me.
RS: Four novels in three years, another release coming in July, and a thriller in the pipeline. Do tell—how do you organize your daily writing process?
DWG: First, I set up how long I have for the whole book, from outline to finish, adding in a full reread, and then another reread. Once I’ve established that, I start a book. I wake around 5:30 to 6:00 and try to write for 2 hours without any interruptions. That seems to be best for me. I’m almost in my dream-state at the time of the morning. The negative voices have not yet gotten hold of me. I follow an outline that has the basics of a scene/chapter laid out. If I get “stuck” at any time, I might reread the chapter before and see if that spurs me to write the new chapter. If that doesn’t work, I get on my feet and pace and ask questions about conflict. Where is the conflict, where is the love? And then I ask what if…? If that doesn’t work (you’re getting the idea that writing is not easy!!), I take out my timeline outline and fill in details. [That timeline includes things like all the cheeses or cookbooks I reference, clues, red herrings, etc.] At least I’m writing something. Around 8 I break for breakfast, exercise and email. I try to get back to writing by 10 a.m. and write for 2 more hours. Understand, I’m not a machine, so there are many days where this schedule gets shaken up. But putting my rear in the chair is so important. In the afternoons, I often go to a coffee shop, slip in my earpods, turn on classic or jazz music, and go through what I wrote in the morning. Those moments are total delights.
Do you always follow an outline or will you let characters veer off on their own?
DWG: I follow an outline, BUT a character can veer and they often do. It’s like having a road map. I feel comfortable going from point A to point B, but if I see a nice picnic spot on the side of the road I might stop. If there’s a sign for a wine or cheese tasting down the road, it’s a done deal. LOL. Sometimes my characters “tell me” that they have to diverge and I do listen. I’m not a writing tyrant.
One of the writing mantras I heard early on was read, read, read. What are your reading habits? Do you read for pleasure or consider it part of the job and take notes?
DWG: This depends. I read for pleasure when I’m on vacation. I have a couple of authors that I buy specifically for vacation reading. When I read for work, meaning I need to learn from a style or I’m reading to judge a contest, I take notes, I dog-ear pages, I underline. I can be quite the student when necessary. I’ve learned so much from other writers. I try to grasp voice and tone, and I weigh why that book is a bestseller and the other one (sold at the same time) is not. It’s important to understand all aspects of the business.
DWG: As an actress, I learned how to take rejection. I was talented, and I was successful and, yes, I was lucky, too, but there were times I cried myself to sleep wondering why they didn’t “like” me. The whole worth thing comes into play. Regarding the series, another producer put my idea into action and made it a hit. I was thrilled to get through the door at the time. Writing TV and then screenplays, I really started to understand the three-act structure. I still apply that to my work. I try to have thrilling chapter ends so the reader will turn the page and not “switch channels” during the commercial break.
I love your “switch channels” theory!
I have a few short questions left to get to know you even better—
Mac or PC? Mac.
What else is on your desk? Books, bookmarks, and inspirational sayings. A microphone so I can record a chapter or short story. There’s a “Say Cheese” mug (it’s new). On the other side it says, “Life is great; cheese makes it better.” ~Avery Aames
Complete silence or background music? I love music. I can write in complete silence, too.
Favorite writing snack? Chocolate – Hershey’s Kisses or Dove Dark Chocolate.
And for fun? Swim, walk, golf, practice ballroom dancing in my kitchen…great floor! Gardening, cooking, reading, taking photographs
Most embarrassing song on your iPod: “I Honestly Love You”…but Hugh Jackman is singing it.
Fave film: Romancing the Stone, It Happened One Night, Godfather.
Guiltier pleasure: Wine and cheese
Guiltiest pleasure: Wine and cheese and chocolate – in bed.
Hah! Sounds like the perfect end to an exhausting day. I think I’ll try your early rise and on the computer trick to see if my internal editor/critic will stay behind in bed for a few hours. And for full disclosure, I admit I occasionally sing “I Honestly Love You” out loud with the radio in my car.
Thank you so much for taking us behind the curtain into your process, Daryl. I wish you continued success.
As AVERY AAMES, Daryl writes the Agatha Award-winning, nationally bestselling Cheese Shop Mystery series featuring a cheese shop owner who cares about family above all else. Set in the quaint, fictional town of Providence, Ohio. As DARYL WOOD GERBER, she writes A Cookbook Nook Mystery series featuring a cookbook store owner who is an avid reader and admitted foodie. Set on the coast of California & debuts July 2013. Daryl’s short stories have been nominated for the Agatha and other awards.