29 May 2021

I Have a Few Questions

Our guest columnist today is my friend Adam Meyer, a screenwriter and fiction writer. His TV credits include several Lifetime movies and true-crime series for Investigation Discovery; he recently finished his first thriller, Missing Rachel; and he is the author of the YA novel The Last Domino. Adam's short fiction has been nominated for the Shamus Award and has appeared in Crime Travel, The Beat of Black Wings, Malice Domestic: Murder Most Theatrical, and other anthologies. He also has stories upcoming in Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Diabolical, Groovy Gumshoes, Mickey Finn 3, and more. Please join me in welcoming Adam to SleuthSayers!
— John Floyd

I Have a Few Questions

by Adam Meyer

I've often wondered: why am I usually so wiped out after a long day of writing?

I'm just typing words, after all. My father was a construction worker, who spent his days climbing skyscrapers. When he "rested his eyes" during TV show reruns at night, he'd clearly earned the rest. After a long day of work, I haven't done anything more physically taxing than dash to the kitchen for a handful of trail mix. So why am I so wiped out?

Over the years, I've come to realize that while the physical component of writing may be minimal, the mental piece of it can be intense. And what is it that's so tiring, so draining, so utterly exhausting?

Simple--it's the questions.

My daughter is eight now, but I can still remember when she was just a toddler. Back then, everything was a question: Why do we have to pay for the food before we leave the grocery store? Why are there traffic lights? Why can't I have ice cream every single day? (Come to think of it, that last one still comes up.)

As writers, we are perpetually living in this question phase of our lives. I can remember as a teenager, the very first time I started trying to draft a short story. Staring at the screen of my primitive Atari computer, I asked the question: what's the first line going to be?

After several minutes of puzzling this out, I went with the tried and true, "It was a dark and stormy night." Phew. At last, I was on my way!

Alas, more questions lay ahead, ready to ambush me. What was the story going to be about? A man and his cat, I decided. Great, now I was ready. But wait, what was I going to call this man and his cat?

It didn't take long to realize that the questions were not going to stop. In fact, they were built into the process. And experience has not made this go away. In fact, the more I've learned about writing, the more questions I seem to have.

From the very moment a new idea pops into my head, the questions begin: who is this piece going to be about? Why would the character do this or that? What is the conflict they're facing? And how am I going to resolve it?

Another question I find myself asking is how much space I'll need to tell this story. Have I come up with an idea that will sustain six or eight thousand words? In that case, it's a short story. But if the idea feels bigger and more complex, then maybe I have a novel or a screenplay. So which is it?

Over time, if the idea really starts to gather momentum, I have to consider the biggest question of all: is this something that I really want to write?

When I was younger, the answer almost always seemed to be a resounding yes. These days, it can depend on a variety of factors. What's the potential market? How long will it take me? What other deadlines do I have that I need to consider? 

If those answers satisfy me, I find myself asking one more question: have I written something like this before? I hate being bored. Then again, taking on a new challenge makes the writing more fun. But is this project too far out of my comfort zone?

Of course, I've learned that at some point I need to put the pre-writing questions aside and sit at my laptop. But that only invites a new series of questions: What's the first line going to be? That depends. Do I want to start at the beginning of the story, or somewhere in the middle?

Even if I've outlined a piece, the questions continue to come up, because what seems like a better idea always pops up. But is that idea really better? And which choice is most consistent with my characters?

As every writer knows, there's nothing better than finishing a draft. It's not just the sense of accomplishment, but also the feeling of utter relief. It's like dropping your toddler off at pre-school. For a few too-short moments, you actually get a break from the questions. But then … revision.

What is revision if not a series of questions one needs to ask about the manuscript? Yes, I've narrowed the choices considerably by this point. I've decided to focus on this character instead of that one. I've laid down the track of the story and followed it to what I hope is its natural conclusion. 

However, I still go through line by line and scene by scene and make sure that everything adds to the story. I also ask myself (again) if there is a better choice to be made. Sometimes it can be as simple as changing a word, other times it may mean adding a new character to a scene or shifting the point of view.

Of course, that leads to the final question, the one my eight-year-old is still likely to ask on long car rides: are we there yet? In other words, is this project done? At this point, I may bring in writer friends that I trust for feedback. OR I may just decide that I've had enough and move on. 

After all, I've been hard at work. And I'm tired, so very tired, of asking questions.

Adam and daughter Leah, writing away
Adam and daughter Leah, writing away

That said, I have some questions for you--what do you tend to think about most before you write or while you're writing? Which questions are the easiest and hardest for you to answer about your work?


  1. Interesting post, Adam. I think I've found myself asking all the questions you mentioned, at one time or another. The one I ask myself first, though, when I'm starting a story, is "What will these people be doing?" Right or wrong, the plot's usually what I tackle first, because what I want most as a reader is a good STORY.

    One of the hardest questions, for me, is where to send a certain story, once it's written. I've been lucky in that most of my stores eventually find a good home, but it's not always the first place I submit them to. Maybe my question should be "How do I get smarter about choosing the first market to submit to?"

    I always enjoy an inside look into an author's writing process. Thanks for giving us this peek.

  2. Great piece, Adam! You've come at the writing process from a perspective I haven't considered before, and it's always refreshing and stimulating to see someone do that.

  3. I'm exhausted just reading this, Adam. I don't go through the question process like you do. I just get ideas and if I think they're good I email them to myself. And then I get more ideas that build upon them, prompting more emails. I don't find myself asking questions unless I'm thinking, what freaking plot can I get for this random idea. Sometimes I'll have a setup in mind and no plot. That's the only question I find myself asking over and over again. Everything else seems to come organically.

  4. Great interview. I've read Adam's short stories and they are amazing!

  5. Thanks John for your comments, and for the invitation to write this column! I'm with you on putting plot first -- I find it hard to write if I don't know where the story's going, and as a reader I always want to be gripped by the story. Finding the right home for a story is always key, and it seems like you've done a pretty good job overall. Thanks again for bringing me in to try this column!

  6. Thanks Josh, I appreciate that -- and thanks for reading!

  7. Barb, that's so interesting to me about the email process you go through with yourself! I can relate to what you're saying about ideas building -- for me, that usually happens with longer projects, like novels or screenplays. The spine of the short stories often come in a flash of insight -- but then, well, the questions :)

  8. I'm with Barb. The ideas come organically and I wouldn't dare question how or why. Bill

  9. How odd now that you've brought it up… I put in a lot of advance planning and research, but once I start writing, it's more like I'm playing a movie in my head.

    But I agree. Heavy labor can be tiring, but brainwork can prove exhausting.

  10. An interesting way to look at the process, Adam. I have a critique partner who is asking those very questions of me in my current WIP. She asks questions I didn't think of--a real treat when one is pushing toward a deadline and wants to make sure the story and characters work.


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