Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


by Stephanie Black

It drives me crazy to have someone looking over my shoulder when I’m writing (unless the word peeper is too young to know how to read). Even if I’m writing a boring little e-mail, I don’t want someone watching the words appear on the screen as I type them. Wait until I’m done, and then you can read it. Why does it bother me so much to have someone observe the writing process? My husband suggested it’s like having someone crawl into your brain. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe I’m just neurotic. Or insecure. Or something.

I am less paranoid than I used to be years ago, long before I completed my first novel. I was so nervous at the thought of having my husband see my writing that I would name my story files as though they were letters to my family (this was in the pre-email days when I actually wrote whole letters now and then), figuring that such letters wouldn’t interest him, and thus he wouldn’t be likely to open one of the files. Yeah, it sounds silly now—my husband is a very nice man and wouldn’t have looked at my writing files if I’d simply have asked him not to—but I was very shy about what I was doing.

These days, it’s not news to anyone that I have a bunch of writing files on my computer, and I no longer give them code names. In fact, I frequently leave writing files open, just minimizing them so they lurk at the bottom of the screen. If I’m working on a file frequently, I’m not going to shut it down every time I leave my computer. This was never much of an issue until recently, when people have started crawling into my brain. See, if I have a writing file open and someone clicks on the Word icon to write their own paper, my file might bloom to full size automatically (depending on what other files are also open), tempting the person to have a sneak peek.

I could try to ban people from my computer--it is MY laptop, after all--but it wouldn’t work. With two high schoolers, one middle schooler and one elementary schooler, the computers in the house are in high demand these days. It’s amazing how often computers are needed for schoolwork these days, particularly since the curriculum for high school seniors seems to involve a great deal of instant messaging and occasional episodes of Psych (ha!). Often, more than one child needs to use a computer at the same time, so my laptop gets pressed into service.

I’m currently brainstorming the plot for my next novel, so my brainstorming file is often open. I really do not want people reading my brainstorming file. I need to feel free to jot down ideas, no matter how stupid, and to keep writing ideas until a plot emerges—which can take a while. But lately, I’ve found notes added to my notes. Where I had written something like, “What does (protagonist) want?”, a new answer was now provided for me: “Just a small piece of turtle cheesecake.” “Who is (character)?” I wrote, and came back to find out something along the lines of, “She’s a girl in my chemistry class who teaches rich people to play tennis and is surprisingly nice, considering how popular she is.” And I’m already getting critical feedback— “I don’t like your characters’ names,” my daughter remarked to me last night. Aargh! Okay, fine. I'm not attached to the names yet anyway.

I guess I’m going to have to start closing my file if I don't want eyeballs peering at ideas not yet ready for a public debut. Otherwise, I'm going to keep returning to my file to find new notes, such as last week's “I think I’ll write a biography of some inner demons.”

Then again, the inner demon thing is not a half bad idea. Maybe I should leave the file open and see what else my daughters come up with.


At 10/08/2008 1:36 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I'm similar--no one can look over my shoulder when I'm writing. I don't mind anyone reading it as soon as I walk away, but not while my fingers are on the keyboard.

Once I even froze when a toddler--who couldn't write her name, let alone read--tried to look at the screen of my AlphaSmart Neo when I was typing in the dance class lobby.

It's a sickness.

At 10/08/2008 4:34 PM, Blogger Traci Hunter Abramson said...

I'm glad it's not just me! I hate having people read over my shoulder, and the worst lately seems to be my elementary schooler. The only thing worse is when I have an idea I want to get down and someone is using my computer. Almost makes me want to invest in computers for the whole family....ALMOST, but not quite.

At 10/08/2008 5:49 PM, Blogger Josi said...

Me too, it really bugs me. And I try really hard to keep the kids off my laptop--it's mine, mine, mine, mine, mine! But it doesn't always work. Lucky for me they think it's all pretty boring stuff so they don't bug it much. One time, though, I got on and found a single sentence. "I love Josi more than soap" it was from my husband and knowing how much he values soap and cleaning projects in general, it was a great compliment. I felt bad when I deleted it once I finished the book, but it stayed with me at the bottom of my screen for nearly 40,000 words :-)
BTW, you're kids are funny.

At 10/08/2008 6:07 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Stephanie, let me first thank you for your book suggestions - while I did pick up 2 of them, it was the book that I found in the same section of the library that is really working for me. - How to Write a D(arn) Good Mystery. It's been really, really great for me. Unfortunately, he's not an advocate of brainstorming as a process, except in a very limited space.

So, I'm at the point now where I have a basic plot, but it's really lean. I think maybe I could use a little brainstorming to come up with some extra story lines and twists and red herrings.

Anyway, just wanted to thank you for your help and support.

Also, the typing while someone is watching is bad, but I hate people watching while I'm on the phone. I even go to another room to place a takeout order. Makes me extra nervous. Writers are hermits, right? ;)

At 10/08/2008 7:34 PM, Blogger Stephanie Humphreys said...

I can't type at all when people read over my shoulder. Usually I stop and give them the evil eye until they leave. The "crawling in your brain" is a good theory. For me part of it is also, I've had people tell me to make corrections as I type. Not on spelling, but in my actual thoughts. That drives me crazy. If they want to say something a certain way, they should do their own writing.

At 10/08/2008 7:42 PM, Blogger Inkblot said...

I also can't stand people reading as I type. Once I've finished typing and walk away, no problem... But /as/ I'm typing? *shudders* No, thank you.

I'm amused by the responses your children give you, though. It's like having living, walking muses who can drop by at any time :D Hehe.

At 10/08/2008 11:23 PM, Blogger Nancy Campbell Allen said...

I totally agree. Can't write with people reading over my shoulder. I even have a hard time sometimes when people I know read my finished books. I find myself cringing.

As for brainstorming, I do it all longhand. Carry it around in my purse, that kind of thing. Then, when I feel a story start to gel, I start on the computer.

Your kids really are funny. You should print those pages and stash them away in a journal somewhere. Makes for fun memories.

At 10/09/2008 12:19 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I really should write down the things my kids say so I don't forget them. They crack me up.

Jon, I'm going to have to put the book you recommended on my Christmas list. I haven't read that one, but it looks intriguing. Good luck with your mystery!

I'm delighted to find out that other people get as twitchy as I do when someone watches them write!

At 10/09/2008 1:30 PM, Blogger Tamra Norton said...

I don't like people reading over my shoulder as I write. But once I've finished a chapter (I edit as I go, btw--it's my process and I'm sticking to it) I often hand a printed chapter to one of my teens or college kids to read over. Their feedback is always so helpful.

I often leave files open at the bottom of the computer but have yet to find any interesting feedback of love notee. I'm a little envious! :)

At 10/11/2008 11:09 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Me too!!! And I am a selfish cow and never allow anyone, not even that hot babe man I married, to touch my laptop unless it is a dire emergency. You're a good mom to share. Once my daughter found a manuscript left open on my computer and decided to write my ending for me. Everyone died in a volcano. I don't think I'm going to let her write any more endings for me any time soon.


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