For many aspiring and veteran storytellers alike, the process of writing can be daunting and frustrating. “Writer’s block” is a real enemy to the creative process, just as fear of the blank page can be too.
On Thursday, Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. at St. Columba Episcopal Church, mystery writer Michael Haskins will help us understand why this is and ways to get around it. The talk is the finale in the Friends of the Marathon Library Speaker Series. Using his own life and the evolution of his signature character, Mad Mick Murphy, in many examples, he will discuss how he takes the madness and mystery out of his creative writing process.
“I’ve always wanted to write. I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway,” laughs Haskins. “After discovering Hemingway and reading about him in magazines, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a great way to live.’ His life was as exciting as his novels and short stories, and it fascinated me.”
A self-described “very bad student” in high school, Haskins became enamored of Hemingway’s short stories because they were easier to read than his assigned schoolwork. From there, he got into short story writing, which evolved into his signature mysteries.
Since then, he’s chased his dream through the character he’s best known for, Mick Murphy. Like Haskins, Murphy found himself on the west coast and in Mexico, often getting into trouble. When Haskins moved to Key West in the late 1990s, he moved his character as well.
He draws on real people, places and things to add a sense of familiarity and realism to his stories. Versions of his favorite bars and restaurants sometimes make cameos in his books, but he also takes the artistic liberty of “manipulating facts.” Street names from Los Angeles, where Haskins lived for a spell, intersect with Duval Street in his Key West novels. To his amusement, people often ask him to point out that intersection on real maps of the Southernmost City.
His talk will touch on all of this and more. He will discuss the art of writing and how it is a very personal process. “We each might do it differently, and that’s normal,” said Haskins of the creative endeavor. “There is no one way to write.” The most important thing, he said, is to “sit your butt in a chair with an empty computer screen and just start writing.”
Haskins offers up real-life examples from his author friends to illustrate his point. “I have a friend who doesn’t write until his wife and kids are asleep at 10 p.m. He just continues all night.” Another writer shuts off the lights and writes pages and pages of extensive notes in the dark that eventually morph into a book.
As for Haskins himself, “Because of my study of Hemingway, I like to write in the morning and then rewrite in the evening. And read in the afternoon, or else the writing cuts into my drinking.”
He again emphasizes, “Don’t let the fear of a blank page stop you from starting. Lots of times when you look at that blank page, you worry, ‘Is this gonna win me a Pulitzer or will someone make a movie out of my book?’ There is nothing more intimidating than sitting there having your brain go 100 miles an hour while your fingers sit still.”
He urges again. “Just start writing, because you’ll probably throw away the first 10 pages, sometimes more. Just start, and you’ll find your own process that works for you.”