Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Best Writing Advice Ever

Jenn McKinlay, Donis Casey, Rhys Bowen, "pimping" our latest books

I, Donis, did an event last week at a library in Sun Lakes, Arizona, along with Rhys Bowen and Jenn McKinlay. If you are a lover of cozy mysteries, Dear Reader, you are familiar with both of these best-selling authors. The crowd was enthusiastic and the panel was lively, and I had a great time talking about writing, the writing life, our books, characters, you name it. At the end of the session, a woman in the audience asked if had any helpful advice for aspiring authors, and Jenn McKinlay replied, “Don’t think too much.” Just keep writing.

That is the best piece of writing advice I’ve heard in a good long while, and one that I need to take to heart. The most important thing is to get those words onto the page. You can fix it later. You can have the most brilliant idea every conceived on God’s green earth but what separates the men from the boys is the ability to get it down on paper in an effective way.

Both Jenn and Rhys are not just talented, they are disciplined and effective. Both of them produce two or three (or sometimes four or five) books a year, and they are wonderful books, too. Rhys, whose Royal Spyness and Molly Murphy series are two of my favorites, has been writing professionally for all of her adult life, and with any art, the only way to get to Carnegie Hall is to practice, practice, practice. One of my favorite adages, and one I repeat constantly, is that you can study music theory until you have a Ph.D., but unless you practice the violin until your fingers bleed, you’ll never be a virtuoso.

Jenn told the crowd that she writes a book from beginning to end without stopping, without making any corrections. As she writes she keeps a list of things she will go back and fix once she has the first draft finished. My technique is similar. I always intend to write from beginning to end without stopping. If I get stuck or can’t quite figure out what to do next, I just write something, a filler, or leave a blank and plow onwards. Get that first draft done. By the time you write the last word, the story may have taken quite a turn from the way you thought it would go when you were writing the beginning.

But now you have something to work with. You can go back, if you need to, and craft the beginning to fit the end. You can cut out all the blather and redundancies that you put in there on the fly. You can tighten up that saggy middle and add another clue that will make things clearer.

I know all this very well and this is what I tell anyone who aspires to write a book. Yet sometimes I’m not so successful in taking my own advice. I’m working on a manuscript right now, and I keep obsessing over one particular scene. I sit down every day to go, go, go from beginning to end, but for the past several days I keep going back to a family dinner and messing with it. Big mistake, and I know it. If I get the whole story down, the dinner scene will resolve itself. So today my fervent resolution is to take Jenn McKinlay’s advice and not think so much. To hell with the dinner scene. Onward to the end!

The eighth Alafair Tucker novel is on the publisher’s schedule for release in November. My deadline for the complete manuscript is April 20. That is the day that no matter what, I’ll be forced to pronounce the book done and send it in to her. Sometimes this is the only way a book ever gets finished. You simply have to turn it in.

I’ll get it done. I always do.


Irene Bennett Brown said...

You'll get it done, Donis, as you always do. And I know what I want for Christmas, Alafair Tucker #8!

Irene Bennett Brown said...

You'll get it done, Donis, as you always do. And I know what I want for Christmas, Alafair Tucker #8!

Anonymous said...

Very good advice from a wonderful writer--thanks for sharing!

Donis Casey said...

I appreciate your faith in me, Irene. And you are right, amreade. Whatever she does obviously works.

Eileen Goudge said...

Excellent advice, Donis. It's the only way to go. Otherwise we'd all be forever stuck at Chapter One, Page One.