August 12 – 18: “Besides the empty room, what else do you need to get into the writing mood?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Stephen King suggests a closed door, and a degree of isolation, to get into writing. This week we ask ITW Members Amy Gail Hansen, Lisa KesslerVincent Zandri, Greg Herren and  Amy Christine Parker, “Besides the empty room, what else do you need to get into the writing mood?”


butterflysister PB CBorn in the Chicago suburbs, Amy Gail Hansen spent her early childhood near New Orleans. She holds a BA in English from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A former English teacher, she works as a freelance writer and journalist in suburban Chicago, where she lives with her husband and three children. THE BUTTERFLY SISTER is her debut novel.

lake13Greg Herren is an award-winning author and editor who lives in New Orleans. His most recent novel for young adults, LAKE THIRTEEN, will be released on August 20th. To learn more about Greg, please visit his website.


TheGuilty2 (2)Vincent Zandri is the No. 1 International Bestselling Amazon author of THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT FALLS, THE CONCRETE PEARL, MOONLIGHT RISES, and more. He is also the author of the Amazon bestselling digital shorts, PATHOLOGICAL, TRUE STORIES and MOONLIGHT MAFIA. Zandri’s publishers include Delacorte, Dell, StoneHouse Ink, StoneGate Ink, and Thomas & Mercer.

moonlightLisa Kessler is an award-winning author of dark paranormal fiction. Her debut novel, NIGHT WALKER, won a San Diego Book Award for best Fantasy-Sci-fi-Horror, and many other awards. Her short stories have been published in print anthologies and magazines, and her vampire story, IMMORTAL BELOVED, was a finalist for a Bram Stoker award. Lisa lives in southern California with her husband and two amazing kids.

gatednewcoverAmy Christine Parker writes full-time from her home near Tampa, Florida, where she lives with her husband, their two daughters, and one ridiculously fat cat. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @amychristinepar

  1. If you were to ask Ernest Hemingway what he did to get in the mood for writing, he might come back at you with a rather macho and dramatic response like, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit at your typewriter and bleed.” Or he might tell you that one’s mood has nothing to do with the all important task of “biting the nail.” He might even say, “Writing is like mass. God gets mad if you don’t show up.”

    I think it’s safe to say that as masterful a writer as Hemingway was, the actual process of writing did not come easy for him. He had to work at it, mining the right words, gem by precious gem, until just the right meaning and feel of a sentence was conveyed. In order to ensure that he was “in the mood” for writing day in and day out, he kept a rigorous schedule of waking at dawn and writing until noon. He would then reward himself with fishing, shooting, playing baseball, or simply heading out to his favorite watering hole like Sloppy Joes for a couple of drinks. He never wrote much more than 250 words per day (about a single double-spaced page), and he always stopped at a place where he knew he could pick up again in the morning, thus guaranteeing that he’d be able to continue to write.

    I’m not even going to pretend that I belong in the same class as Hemingway. But like him, I do make my living by sitting at my typewriter (Or Lenovo ThinkPad anyway), and bleeding. I don’t teach and I don’t have another job to supplement my writing income. Making a living at writing words on a page entails two things. The first is that you have to be good, either by sheer talent or by force of will. The second is that you become prolific, at least to a degree that can guarantee you enough of an income to live according to your own idea of what constitutes a decent quality of life. That said, I need to write and have published a certain amount of novels that can guarantee me a steady stream of income for a long, long time (I’m still I my forties). Just what is that magic number of books? I’m not sure yet, but I know it will be more than 20. Currently, I’m writing my 16th, so I’m almost there.

    But writing book after book is a lot of hard work (I’m a journalist too, so my daily word count is up there, believe me). That said, getting in the mood to write doesn’t even enter into the equation. I get up to write at least six days a week no matter what mood I’m in, no matter where I am in the world. It’s a discipline I maintain in order to ensure success, and it’s no different from the discipline a surgeon or a lawyer or a brick layer or even a priest maintains. A brain surgeon doesn’t wake up on any given Tuesday and tell him or herself, I’m not in the mood to operate today. He just does it, and does it to the very best of his ability. It’s the same for me. I don’t get writer’s block anymore than an accountant gets accountant’s block. This is something they will not teach you in writing school.

    I also don’t require solitude or even absolute quiet. I’ve written in airports, on planes, trains, in boats, and in cars. I’ve written in Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, Africa, Egypt, China, the jungles of South America, and in the suburbs of Albany, New York. I’ve written when my wives were bearing our children in the hospital, and I wrote five pages of a new novel only hours after my father dropped dead from a heart attack. I write on my birthday, on Christmas, and Easter. I write on weekends. I write if my significant other is angry with me and tossing my shit out the window, and I write if I’m hung over. I wrote on September 11, 2001, and I wrote on the day we killed Osama Bin Laden. I suppose I will write on the day I die. It is the one thing in my life that is constant, never changing, and loyal beyond the possibility of betrayal, and it is the one thing that is as certain as the sun that also rises on each and every morning. And as for my mood? Well, my mood has not one goddamned thing whatsoever to do with it.

  2. I have nothing to chime in to this conversation, but felt the urge to blunder in and say, Vincent, that last paragrapth was absolutely wonderful!

  3. The empty room. Oh god, how I dream of one of those! There would be an enormous desk with giant dry erase boards lining the two walls on either side of it for plotting, a row of bookshelves built into the wall behind it, and a large picture window overlooking mountains or a lake on the wall opposite it. Ideally I would be hunched over that desk thinking big thoughts and writing furiously, my pen barely able to keep up with the words spilling out of my brain and onto the page. The door to that room would be thick and completely sound proof and utterly invisible to anyone besides me. Sigh.

    In my writing world this space doesn’t exist (which is probably true for most of you too, and if it isn’t, well, please don’t tell me about it). I write at my dining room table most often, my notes and piles of notepads strewn out around me with no door to speak of just an arched entryway that leads into the rest of the house. Children and one giant meowing cat wander in and out on a regular basis and there is always a fight, the TV, or the ever-ringing phone serving as background noise. If I’m under deadline and I really need to be focused my only other option is the café at the local Barnes and Noble–or a place like it–where there is still no door to my space and where people are yacking far too loudly on their cell phones. Noise is a given as are disruptions.

    Like Vince, I write full time and need to make a certain amount on each book so closed door or no closed door, I have a deadline (professionally and financially) and I am going to hit it no matter what it takes. I have a daily goal and I have to get it accomplished whenever and however I manage it. This means sometimes writing while one daughter is in gymnastics class or brainstorming plot points while waiting to pick the other daughter up from school. I end up working at night almost as often as I work during the day. The only constants I have are my computer, my pens, my tunes, some headphones, and my legal pads (since I write my first drafts longhand). However, maybe this is my “closed door”–this little laundry list of writerly tools. The ritual of unpacking these things and setting them up wherever I am seems to shut out the world just as effectively as an actual, physical door could. When they are out it is writing time and I am writing. Period. The words flow or they don’t, but the process of writing is always in play. This happens partly because I need to make a living and partly because I want to remain a working writer more than just about anything else in the world and if that means writing on top of a moving train or on the back of a galloping horse I will find a way to do it. Closed doors aren’t something I need. The only thing I really need is the determination to write.

  4. Vincent, I love your mention of Hemingway. I wish I had your ability to write even in moments of emotional stress, whether it’s “good” stress like the birth of a child or “bad” stress, like your father’s death. I have to be feeling balanced emotionally to write. I need to be at peace with myself and others for creativity to flow.

    So of course, book two has taken a HUGE derailment with the recent release of THE BUTTERFLY SISTER. All the promotion (including the post I am writing at this moment) and e-mails and book signing hoopla has kept me from the page. I know I will get back into the swing of things soon but I am riding out am emotional wave right now.

    I see value in taking breaks from writing when needed. My novel came about from spurts of intense creativity balanced with breaks full of reading and pondering. I don’t regret this ebb and flow, because it brought me to the right place at the right time. I call it following my instinct. Sometimes, not writing (and doing other things–like cleaning, walking, and especially reading) is just what I need to let my mind solve a plotting puzzle. I just follow my heart and the answers/creativity comes.

    I do need quiet, though. The other morning, my husband was eating cereal so loudly, I left the room to write elsewhere. It sounded like he was grinding rocks. Oddly, background noise like the television or a café (espresso machine) does not affect my concentration, so maybe it’s a selective need for quiet. Or maybe I just hate the way my husband eats cereal.

    I also need to pre-think to write well. That means, I’ve written the scene in my head–while walking or cleaning or driving or taking a shower–and then get it down on paper. Those writing sessions always flow best because my mind was given time to dream up a scene before I actually had to commit it to paper.

    My house is much like Amy Christine Parker’s house. Kids. TV. Phones ringing. The only good times to write well are first thing in the morning when no one else is up or when my kids are napping. As I said, I do like my quiet. But I will say that writing new material requires more quiet/solace than revising does. I can edit in the midst of kids crying, but building a scene from scratch is best done when the only sound I can hear is the tap of fingers on the keyboard.

  5. An empty room is my dream.

    My workspace is currently in the kitchen of my apartment, in what is supposed to be the ‘breakfast nook.’ I have my desk there, a filing cabinet to my left and a two shelf bookcase to my right–where I keep whatever research materials I need for whatever projects I am working on at the moment.

    The most important thing for me to be able to write is music. I have a docking station/stereo for my iPod on my desk right next to the monitor of my computer, and I have several playlists for music I like to have on when I’m writing–each playlist has about four hours of music on it.–and I alternate between them.

    As weird as it sounds, I do like having my workspace in the kitchen. Whenever I get stuck, I get away from the desk and clean–do the dishes, unload the dishwasher, laundry (the laundry room is at the opposite end of the galley style kitchen)–and while I am doing those kinds of mindless chores my mind wanders and I then I can get back to my writing.

    It seems to work, as I’ve been producing work like a maniac for the last few years.

    But my dream would be to have my own office space, with rows and rows of bookcases…someday that will happen.

  6. Hey there!

    Sorry to be a day late to the party! This topic is at the forefront of my mind these days as the deadlines crowd in one me! LOL

    I actually don’t write in an empty room. I share an office with my husband who also works from home, so headphones are a must. Before I start working on a new book I put together a playlist of music that reflects my characters and the mood of the story I’m setting out to write.

    A fun side-effect that I’ve discovered is that the music works on me similar to Pavlov’s dog. I can receive edits back from my publisher for a book I haven’t looked at in months, and the second I hear the music from that playlist, I am transported right back into that world, and those characters.

    As far as my desk goes, it’s crazy messy, and the window is actually behind me, but I think it helps to keep the distractions down. Instead, I face a wall with certificates my books have received and a huge Rocky movie poster with the tagline, “His whole life was a million-one shot…” That always fires me up again. 🙂

    Eventually I’d like a larger desk with more room and a better comfy chair, but would that help me write more? Probably not.

    For me, the music is definitely a must to get in the mood to write…

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Lisa 🙂

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