Write or Wrong Part 7: Melinda Clayton can breathe just fine, thank you…

I’m honored to have author Melinda Clayton as the guest blogger today! She is one of my favorite authors! No, seriously! She really is. I would like to note that Melinda and I have never met face to face. Several years ago I was in Robin Tidwell’s bookstore. She handed me Melinda’s first book and told me I should read it. I gave a big fat frowny face based on the book’s cover alone. It was a brown cover with a dulcimer and a moonshine jug on it that was out of focus. Robin turned the book over and pointed to the back and said, “Trust me.”

I read the description and immediately thought, “This is what this book is about!?”  I bought it, started reading it, couldn’t put it down, and have since read almost all of Melinda’s other books and will continue to read anything she puts out. I have also suggested her books to numerous others! I like to say she’s a modern day Flannery O’Connor.  And this just goes to show that you definitely can’t judge a book by its cover.

Melinda has since taken back the rights to her work and republished her books herself with new fantastic covers that really fit the storylines. You can find all of her books here! And you can find Melinda on the web here.

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Shannon recently ran a guest post from author Robin Tidwell, in which she states, “My so-called writing process starts with procrastination.” Boy, I was glad to read that. It was not only a refreshing bit of honesty and candor, but also a much-needed validation of my own writing (or non-writing) methods.

Here’s the thing:  I don’t always love to write. Some days, I don’t like it at all. In fact, I can go weeks without writing anything more than email responses and Facebook status updates. Sometimes, I’d rather paint the living room. Or clean the window blinds. Some days, I avoid my desk and refuse to fire up the computer.

melindaDuring those spells, I hear other authors speak of their love for writing and think I must be missing something. “Writing is like breathing,” they say. “I can’t live without it.” Or, “I live to write. Writing is my life.” Always? I wonder. Do you always feel that way? You can’t breathe? Really?

Don’t get me wrong; I love making up stories. Those days I’m not writing? I’m in my head. I’m plotting and planning nearly nonstop. I get up in the middle of the night to jot down notes so I won’t forget. I tear out of the shower sopping wet to grab pen and paper before I lose my train of thought.

It’s not the story part I dislike, it’s the writing part. Because it’s never simple. It’s never as clear-cut as sitting down at my desk and typing away in a Word doc. No, there’s research to do first. If I want it to be raining in a certain town on a certain day, is it really raining on that day? If I need a character to have a medical issue, what would the warning signs and symptoms be? If my protagonist sets out on an overnight drive to reach a loved one before she catches a flight, exactly how many miles is the trip? How long will it take? Is there such a flight?

It’s those things that keep me from my desk, that keep me from getting the words on paper. The story might rattle around in my head for months, nearly complete from start to finish, but I know I can’t write it until I do the research. It’s important, to me, to make sure all my facts are right.

I want the reader to experience the story as if he’s a part of it, and that can’t happen unless I have my facts straight. If I have my protagonist drive three hours along I-4 to get to Orlando from Daytona and the reader knows it only takes two, that’s a problem. That takes the reader away from the story, and I don’t want that to happen.

Story-making is fun; research, not so much. I know there will come a day when the characters get tired of running around in my head, when they demand to be released. When that day comes, I’ll start Googling plant diseases and bail bonds. Until then, however, they’re just going to have to be content in my head. Meanwhile, I can breathe just fine, thank you.


  1. I’m glad I’m not the only writer who (a) avoids writing, (b) researches details most readers won’t notice in they’re not correct, and (c) thinks about characters and stories everywhere but at the computer. As for research, in one story, a man drives a known distance between two towns while listening to a specific CD on his truck’s tape player. I timed out the trip and the songs he heard, because I didn’t want the song that was playing when he arrived at his destination to require a longer or a shorter trip.


    • Exactly, Malcolm! It has to be right, doesn’t it? And there’s some satisfaction in knowing it’s right, but it does (for me, anyway) limit the freedom I sometimes feel when writing.

  2. I totally agree! First off, I go months without writing, something very few other writers seem to admit to. And the research is a big hurdle. I have a very poor visual memory and a much more highly tuned emotional sense. So I can get the characters emotionally “right” but have to agonize over stuff like, “what’s the nearest highway to this character?” “How would this character commute to work?” What does the neighborhood I’ve set the story in *actually look like*? That’s the part that makes writing heavy labor for me. I want it to be right. And then, historical fiction becomes even more of a challenge. Although perhaps people scrutinize contemporary realistic fiction more…

    • That’s exactly what I go through, Gabriella. I want the “map” in my head to work out on paper, whether that’s an actual physical map of the fictional town, or the weather, or…anything, really. “That’s the part that makes writing heavy labor for me.” That explains it perfectly.

  3. Reblogged this on Gabriella West and commented:
    It’s been such a quiet January, so I wanted to kick thing off here by reblogging one of the Write or Wrong posts on writer Shannon Yarbrough’s site. Write or Wrong is an excellent series where contemporary writers speak candidly about their writing process. My own guest post in this series is scheduled for this coming Thursday! (And it won’t be about process because for some silly reason I can’t write about that…)

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