Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Let’s say you’re working on an MG novel that takes place in a forest and you’ve been writing for three to four hours.  When you get up from your desk and walk across the room, there should be leaves in your hair.  Your slippers should be dirty from hiking the trails along with your main character.  It’s time to get dirty, time to imagine your fictional world so vividly that the landscape gets into your pores.  Or almost!!!
If you’re working on a novel set on a farm, this should be a normal conversation between you and your spouse.
         “Honey, why do you smell like a chicken coop?”
         “I’ve been working on my novel, dear.”
This should alarm your spouse.  He should say to a co-worker, “I don’t get it.  Every time my wife sits down to write she ends up smelling like a chicken coop.  We live in downtown Hoboken.  Hoboken isn’t zoned for chickens.  What is going on here?”
You’re getting dirty.  That’s what’s going on.  You’re so deep inside your novel you start breathing its oxygen, not ours.  When it rains on your main character, you need an umbrella.  If you’re writing a book that takes place on the beach there should be sand all over your desk.  You should need to take a shower every time you’ve finished writing.  If there’s a blizzard going where you live but your book is set in the desert then you should be getting sunburned.  (Don’t forget to slather on the Coppertone before turning on your computer.)

If the sensual world of your novel is that alive to you, or let’s say it almost is, can you imagine how moved the reader will be when they enter that realm?
Get dirty.  Get as dirty as a five year old building a sandcastle.  Get it all over your face and hands.  Get dirty with the splendor of the world that you constructed, the forest you created all by yourself, the beach you built one rainy afternoon, the city that sprang from the depths of your soul.  Get dirty and have fun with it, just like a ten year old skipping through the woods.
And for those of you working on fantasy, the same applies to you.  My book ‘You Can’t Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please’ is fantasy but the New York City in my story was so vivid in my imagination I stank like a subway for a year and a half.

Get dirty!  Do it for yourself, do it for your dream, do it for the sake of literature.  Get dirty!


  1. To dirty! I mean great post, I feel so inspired.

  2. But James, what about Henrietta the six-foot chicken from THE HOBOKEN CHICKEN EMERGENCY?????

  3. Ha, ha!

    My husband will answer to the names of any of my male protagonists or romantic leads (from my YA novels).

    He will not answer to the names of villains, though.

  4. And here I thought you were suggesting we actually go out and play with the chickens and get dirty, which is something I do a fair amount. Instead you're telling me that whatever mess I make right here on my desk is a plus--LOVE!!!

  5. Now I need a shower. Great post, James. Thanks for sharing and reminding us to dive in head first.

  6. A great post. It's inspired me to go and write outside! :)


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!