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David Desmond – How I Write

How I write, or why it’s important to step away from your desk now and then

by David Desmond

I wrote my first book when I was ten years-old. Well, perhaps the word “wrote” is a bit strong. You see, even at that young age I loved books, and for some reason I was convinced that I would have the ability to put together an extended narrative. Unfortunately, after I had folded fifty sheets of paper in half, tied them together with string, and drawn a spaceship on the cover, I realized that I didn’t have very much to say.

It was not until many years later as I was completing my PhD in Clinical Psychology that I experienced my first success in the world of publishing. At the time, I was on a stroke and dementia fellowship at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York and I had written an article on the effects of certain medical conditions on memory and thinking skills. That article might seem to be a pretty effective cure for insomnia, but, I can assure you, for those of us in the field it was a hot topic.

Consistent with our only half-joking philosophy at CPMC that “we don’t read books, we write them,” many more publications followed, and although I felt some satisfaction when I saw them in print, a lingering doubt gnawed at me that spending hour after hour in a decrepit office churning through statistical analyses was neither making the best use of my abilities nor bringing me the feeling of personal satisfaction that would derive from less structured and formulaic work. In fact, self-exploration and personal growth are irrelevant to scientific writing because the numbers and not the scientist tell the story.

I continued to harbor a desire to write a novel but without any formal plan when fate intervened. One day, as I was waiting in line to check in for an Air France flight to Paris, I saw before me the man who would become the inspiration for the character of Kenneth Keen in my first satirical novel, The Misadventures of Oliver Booth, which follows the title character, a shady and narcissistic antiques dealer, from Palm Beach to Paris as he tries to cheat a wealthy widow out of her fortune.

He was very tall, skeletally skinny, and wearing sunglasses and an imperious look as he pointed out his nine perfectly matched and pristine Louis Vuitton suitcases to the clerk, My suspicion that he was an interior designer was confirmed when I spotted him again the next day at the Marché aux Puces, the upscale flea market in Paris, as he bullied a group of cowering flunkies, one of whom held aloft a silver tray with a single tiny cup of espresso for him.

Something about that man spurred my imagination, and as I sat in a café the following morning I proceeded to type out a 50-word synopsis of The Misadventures of Oliver Booth on my cell phone that remained essentially unchanged as it expanded into a 20-page outline and then the 200-page novel that was later published. Remarkably, that book’s recently published sequel, Oliver Booth and the Evil Socialite, which follows the title character from Palm Beach to New York as he becomes involved in the world of high-end real estate and embroiled in a battle with a socialite who is not all that she seems to be, also began with a similar moment of inspiration and a synopsis typed into my cell phone.

I have been asked many times how I come up with my characters and the situations in which they become involved, but I’ve never really been able to answer that question adequately. The secret, I suppose, is that I try to live my life and experience the world and the people around me, and the stories then seem to write themselves.

I’ve never really understood the appeal of novels that rely heavily on fantasy because reality is actually far weirder and far more interesting than any fantasy could ever be. Of course, the physical act of sitting at a desk and typing on a computer (or on the rare occasion putting pen to paper) is unavoidable, but a writer’s mind is always working, even when one is away from a desk and occupied with other, more mundane activities. I’m lucky that I haven’t (yet) experienced writer’s block, but it seems to me that it is most often caused by trying TOO hard to get the words down on the page.

Staring at a computer screen is, if anything, a hindrance to artistic productivity, but stepping away from the computer and from the physical act of writing, exposing oneself to new people and new experiences, and permitting the subconscious to work unencumbered can permit quite remarkable progress. Perhaps that’s why there are so few novels written by ten year-olds (or neuroscientists). They just don’t get out enough.


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Genre – Fiction / Humour

Rating – PG

More details about the book

Connect with David Desmond on his

Website http://daviddesmond.net/

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