Writing Routines

Mary Higgins Clark’s Writing Routine: “Really, writing is my sole talent.”

Mary Higgins Clark was an American author, best-known for her mystery & suspense novels which have sold over 100 million copies in the United States alone.

Really, writing is my sole talent. I can’t sing, can’t sew, never had a sense of rhythm, could never throw a ball except when it went off the field. The one talent that the legendary godmother left in my cradle was to be an Irish storyteller.

Interview With Mary Higgins Clark, Author of New Novel ‘I’ll Walk Alone’ | AARP Bulletin

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In 1956, Mary Higgins Clark sold her first short story for $100, after six years and 40 rejection letters. “I framed that first letter of acceptance,” she recalled in an interview with Writers Write. Titled “Stowaway” and published in Extension Magazine, the story was inspired by Clark’s experience as a flight attendant on the last flight allowed into Czechoslovakia before the Iron Curtain fell.

After her husband, Warren, passed away from a heart attack in 1964, Clark was left with the responsibility of earning a living, raising five children, and pursuing her passion for writing at the same time.

During those days, Clark juggled her day job as a radio scriptwriter and working on her first novel, Aspire to the Heavens, which was published in 1968. During a 2011 interview with Maureen Mackey, Clark recalled waking up at 5am every morning to squeeze in some writing before her kids woke up and she had to go to work.

I would slam the windows — I like a cold bedroom; my kids used to call it my igloo — and I’d flip up the heat. I would go downstairs with a nice bundly robe and make a pot of coffee. And for one hour and 45 minutes every day, I would write. It was better than any other writing during the day, when the phone’s ringing every two minutes. Then I would put the manuscript and the typewriter aside and get the kids up. I’d feed them breakfast, not waffles in the toaster — I would really feed them! And I dealt with all of the questions in the morning: “Where is my homework?” “Where is my school uniform?” “Where is this?” “Where is that?” The children were out of the house by 20 minutes to 8, and by a quarter of 8, I was getting into the commuter car and heading into New York City.

Interview With Mary Higgins Clark, Author of New Novel ‘I’ll Walk Alone’ | AARP Bulletin

While Aspire to the Heavens didn’t sell particularly well **— Clark also only received a small advance — the fact that she managed to publish a full-length novel gave her confidence to keep writing.

Clark completed her second novel, Where Are the Children?, in 1975, with the publisher Simon & Schuster agreeing to purchase it for $3,000. A few months later, the novel’s paperback rights were sold for $100,000. Since then, Clark has become one of the best-selling authors in history, with each of her 51 novels selling millions of copies in the US alone.

Mary Higgins Clark’s daily writing routine

In a 2000 interview with Writers Write, Clark described her writing schedule as a successful author; one that looked completely different to her routine in the 1960s.

I like to hit it early, before the phone starts ringing and all the craziness starts. We have four houses, which is really amazing to me, and makes for a lot going on. (You know, I was raised in a three room apartment, after my father died.) So before all the non-writing business of the day starts, I like to get up and get right to work. I get a cup of coffee, and go to my office which is nice and quiet. Once I get started in the morning, it flows easily after that. I like to get started on the next book as soon as possible, so I don’t feel rushed. The last two books I had to start rather later than I had wanted to, so I really felt the deadlines. Right now, I’ve already started the book for next year. It will be easier to do four or five pages a day now, so that the book will be well underway by Fall. Of course, publicity for the current book always takes up a fair amount of time, so this time I’m bringing a computer with me on tour.

Conversation With Mary Higgins Clark | Writers Write

She typically writes on her computer, although she prefers writing longhand when going on long trips. “It’s not worth it to lug a computer around, because the battery only lasts two hours on a laptop,” Clark said. She’s also revising her work constantly as she goes along, sending 25-30 pages at a time to her editor as she completes it — “By the time the publisher gets the last chapter of the book, the entire book has been edited.”

I have a need to write. There are people who would like to write, there are people who have a genuine talent for writing, and there are the rest of us — those of us who become known, who truly need to write. And it is a need, like eating or brushing your teeth. We write in the morning, we write in the afternoon, we write on the back of a piece of paper, we get up early, we stay up late, because we simply are compelled to write.

Interview With Mary Higgins Clark, Author of New Novel ‘I’ll Walk Alone’ | AARP Bulletin

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