years ago I sold my first novel. Now a
decade and twenty-one books later, it’s a good time for some reflection
on what I’ve learned.
1. I know much less
about writing now than when I started.
As an aspiring novelist, I thought I was downright good. At least I was
certainly far more talented than other aspiring novelists. I thought
when I sold my first book, my journey of learning the craft would end.
I’d have made it. But that’s when my learning truly
I know I’ll never stop digging deeper into the craft of fiction. The
more I learn about the craft, the more I understand how very, very hard
it is, how demanding it is. And the more I see how little I know.
2. Writing to deadline
is entirely different from writing before having sold. On a
deadline I have
to write—whether I’m sick, tired, or just sick and tired. Whether I
feel creative or not. As an aspiring novelist, I relied on inspiration.
Now I rely on perspiration. Then I could quit, walk away if wanted. Now
I cannot. Now I must rely on knowledge of the craft more than ever,
because day to day, inspiration can be coy and ephemeral.
3. I can write a good
book even when I’m not feeling passionate about writing.
Sure, I’d rather feel the passion. But it’s not always there. This is
where the rubber hits the road. It comes down to dedication and
knowledge of the craft. Dedication means an unwillingness to settle for
less quality than I’m capable of producing. Knowledge of the craft
requires constant study of plot structure, characterization, dialogue,
etc.—the basics of Story.
4. I need other
novelists. Writing is a lonely occupation.
I’m in my cave—before my computer—most of the time. I need social
interaction with people who understand me. I need to kick around ideas.
I need to vent and rant and rejoice with others in my profession.
5. A review is merely
one person’s opinion. When it’s
positive, I can rejoice in that. If it’s negative, I can say, “Okay, it
wasn’t for her. But many others like it.” And perhaps that negative
review makes a point I can learn from. I will never please everyone.
What I can do is work as hard as possible to please my readers and my
6. Always write for
the smartest reader. As a suspense
author, I’m writing for a wide variety of readers—from those who’ve
never picked up a suspense to those who are avid suspense fans. Readers
not used to suspense aren’t familiar with its conventions. They haven’t
yet learned the complexities of foreshadow and red herrings. Avid
suspense readers know these conventions well. If I wrote even to the
median of these two extremes, I’d be writing beneath the clue-hunting
level of avid suspense fans. They’d be bored. And after all, that end
of the spectrum is where the majority of my target audience lies.
Plus—the smartest readers of my genre are the ones who will keep me on
my toes. If I can surprise them with my twists, entertain and enthrall
them, I’ve accomplished something.
a schedule for writing and stick to it. In today’s social
media world, even for a full-time writer it’s so
easy to procrastinate. I have a set time for dealing with Facebook and
Twitter and e-mail and blogging. Then it’s time to write.
8. I view the world
differently than those who don’t write fiction.
The “normals” look at the world and see what’s there. I see what isn’t.
What could be. The what if. I see a drop of dew glisten on a spider web
and tuck away the memory as a future metaphor. I see a cargo hold in a
private plane and think, “You could hide a corpse in there.” (Yes, I’m
warped—blame it on my genre.) I eavesdrop on conversations, memorize a
stranger’s unusual gait, notice faces and expressions. Everything in
the world is fair game for a story. Even my own pain and weakness. Especially
my own pain and weakness.
9. Never take my
readers for granted. With Twitter and
Facebook it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with fans. And if a
reader e-mails me, I always answer promptly. I consider it a great
kindness for someone to contact me and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed
one of my books. Of course it takes time to answer. But they deserve a
response. Besides, without readers, where would I be?
10. Give my talent to
God. He created within me the ability
and yearning to write in the first place. Therefore it’s not a huge
step to believe He knows best what to do with it. And when I have a
problem in my writing, which is often—well, hey, He hung the sun and
moon. He can surely handle this.
Soon I’ll be writing my
twenty-second book. And I’ve entered my
second decade as a full-time novelist. No doubt I’ll revisit this list
in ten years.