Gaudy Bath

My favorite part of the writing process is plotting. Next favorite? Revising. I’m weird that way. When I start plotting a new storyline, I use the simple “What if…?” technique. What if Letty found a bloody sock on her floor after one of her clients left his therapy session? What if Letty ran into an old friend who pretended not to recognize her? What if the murderer was a one-armed librarian who, after a lifetime of shushing people, decided to silence them forever? (All fake what-ifs, by the way, although I kind of like the psycho librarian one.) It starts like that and then I just follow the trail of more what-ifs making life more complicated for Letty and, hopefully, adding suspense and complexity to the story.

Strangely enough, the first what-if in my writing career came not at a desk but in a bathtub one day while I was reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers—a lady who ranks right up there with Dame Agatha in my heart. I was first introduced to Sayers when Gaudy Night was an assigned read in a women’s study class in college. Although I’m not at all an anti-feminist, it was still the best thing I got out of that class.

Gaudy Night is a mystery about a poison-pen writer who sends obscene and abusive letters to the students and professors of Harriet Vane’s alma mater, Shrewsbury College. As the threats gain in intensity, Harriet calls in Lord Peter Whimsey to help her stop the prankster before it’s too late.

On a deeper level, Harriet Vane goes through a self-examination process regarding the choices she’s made in her life, her decision to continue writing mysteries, especially in light of her own past (read Strong Poison if you want to learn that), and her tumultuous relationship with Lord Peter.  Sayers writes, “[Harriet] had written what she felt herself called upon to write; and, though she was beginning to feel that she might perhaps do this thing better, she had no doubt that the thing itself was the right thing for her. It had overmastered her without her knowledge or notice, and that was the proof of its mastery.”

Back to the bath…

So, there I was, reading about Harriet’s decision—no, compulsion—to write and I realized how deeply that sentiment resonated in me. There were differences, of course. For one thing, despite loving to write and, of course, read, I’d never have believed I could write a book. Honestly, it just never occurred to me. To me, authors seemed like some strange, mystical beings that flitted through the shadows and hid from “regular” people in caves and dark woods. Kind of like fairies, but with pens and paper. Or, I guess, laptops, which would require long, long extension cords. (My metaphor is falling apart.)

So, as I lay there soaking, I dared to asked myself “What if… I wrote a book?” The image felt as fragile as the lavender-scented bubbles softly popping all around me. (I didn’t have kids then. Bubble baths are now a distant, almost decadent memory.)But I held on to it, toweled off, and did what every good reader does when confronted with a new idea—I ordered up a bunch of books so I could read about writing. And eventually, still hanging onto that pivotal, new vision of myself, I started writing.

I hope one day that I might give that gift of encouragement to someone who, for whatever reason, thinks he or she just isn’t good enough to reach for their dream. Heck, I’d even settle for the “Well, if she can do it, I know I can” variety of inspiration.

My advice to them would be: whatever it takes, follow that what-if.


Author: donnawhiteglaser

Donna White Glaser is the author of The Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery series. Like her main character, Donna is a psychotherapist and lives northwestern Wisconsin. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband own a residential construction company where it’s Donna’s job to deal with any overly emotional, what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-put-roof-trusses-up-in-a-thunderstorm? clients. Strangely enough, she often comes up with ideas for creative murders and hiding bodies during business hours. Currently she is at work on the fourth Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery-THE BLOOD WE SPILL. Donna would love to hear from you via her website at or on Twitter: @readdonnaglaser.

8 thoughts on “Gaudy Bath”

  1. Like you, I use the “what if” technique — it’s amazing where that will lead you — I’m also a plotter – with notecards. But my favorite is actually revising — this is truly where my world and my characters come to life! So glad you were inspired to become a writer!


  2. Great post. I actually tried plotting my last novel – and wound up with a very “thin” story, so now I think it’s time to chuck the notecards, re-read and flesh it.out. 🙂 I actually like all phases of writing – first draft, revising, and final edits – because each gives me something different. And I guess I had my own “what if” moment when I lost my job in 2011. “What if I just took the summer off and finished the doggone book?” The rest, as they say, is history.


  3. One of my favorite posts so far! Thank you for sharing this. I’m a pantser, but I suspect–although I’m still in denial–that I’m starting to see the attraction of plotting. I’m definitely going to revisit some Sayers, too. It’s been too long! Very grateful you got inspired to write.


  4. “What if I wrote a book.” And we’re so thankful that you did! I think baths are places where creative ideas pop into our minds.

    I’m a plotter, too, but while I’m doing it, I feel like I’m not really working. Maybe if I plot in a bath.


  5. What a wonderful post! Completely in tune with the idea of fictional writers “resonating.” So glad you decided to write. I love your books.

    ps: The psycho librarian is David Lynchian…I swear I had a Twin Peaks flash (heard the song, saw the colors of the dream sequences) when I read your description! Scarily cool. You should write that.


  6. With all of this bath time plotting, I’m thinking we should design a notebook with plastic pages and waterproof markers. Marketing opportunity? Love the “what if” question. Keeps things fresh!


  7. Great post! I tried pantsing it for my first novel – thirteen revisions later I went back to plotting. I use What if too. When I do my first plotting I ask myself what five things have to occur in each third of the book. Then I use what if to drill down from there until I’m finally connecting the dots. Thanks too for the reminder about how great Dorothy L. Sayers is. Gaudy Night was the first of her books I read too. I now have the whole set and love them all. Glad she inspired you to write.


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