The Writing Habits of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie stamp Isle of Man 2006

Dame Agatha Christie earned her place in The Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist in the world with sales of over four billion books. She is also the third most widely translated author, beaten only by William Shakespeare and the Bible.

Reassuringly for anyone struggling to follow in her footsteps, after four years working on her first novel, even she was rejected by all the leading publishers of her day, before The Bodley Head press took a chance with her.

It seems the writing process was not easy, even for such a prolific writer.  When asked how she went about her writing, Christie said “There is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off.”

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Agatha Christie 100 years Infographic

Celebrating the Centenary of The Mysterious Affair at Styles
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Plotting ideas

Agatha Christie liked to keep an exercise book to hand for jotting down plot ideas and would carefully organize her notebooks with labels. She still managed to lose track of where she had jotted things down though, as she invariably had half a dozen notebooks on the go at the same time.

One of the first authors to understand her commercial genre, she would start with an idea for a method of murder, then move to the murderer and come up with an interesting motive.

Only then would she start plotting all the other suspects and what may motivate them. It was fairly easy then for her to devise the all-important ‘clues’ and plant a few false trails.

She said plots came to her suddenly. She was always on the lookout for a “neat way of covering up the crime so that nobody would get it too soon.”

Agatha would then go on long solitary walks across Dartmoor to think over her plot ideas and saying her dialogue out loud. At other times she said she would be walking along the street “when suddenly a splendid idea pops into your head.” She would also study the newspapers, looking for details of what she called “a clever bit of swindling.”

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Agatha Christie

10 Quotes by Agatha Christie on Writing
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Developing characters

Agatha would observe people in restaurants and social gatherings as a starting point of creating her characters, jotting down their mannerisms and phrases. She had a strict rule about not using recognisable real people and felt strongly that the writer must always “make up something for yourself about them.” She once said that the only time she tried to put a real person who she knew well into a book, it wasn’t a success.

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Agatha Christie - wikimedia commons

See also: 10 Quotes by Agatha Christie on Writing
(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
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Longhand and a favorite typewriter

She often worked on her favorite Remington Victor T portable typewriter on a sturdy table, as she didn’t have a study until late in her career. Part of the secret of her astounding productivity was that she usually worked on at least two books at the same time.

Agatha also tried dictating to her secretary, Carlotta Fisher, but felt much happier writing in longhand and then typing it out, as this helped her keeping to the point.

In her later years, after she broke her ‘writing wrist’ she also used a Grundig Memorette dictaphone and said “It is odd how hearing your own voice makes you self-conscious and unable to express yourself.”

Reprinted by permission from The Writing Desk; contributed by Tony Riches.

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