Until I sat down to write this guest post, I hadn’t really thought in terms of “lessons I’ve learned along the way.” “Along the way” suggests I’ve gotten where I’m going and might stop, and although I’m a string of short stories and seven novels along the way, I hope I haven’t reached the end yet. Also, I know that I still have a lot to learn. But I do like lists, and I have learned a few things along my writing road. So I put the things down and gave them numbers, and then I revised them (see number 18, below) so I ended up with a nice, round dozen and a half. A piece of advice before you read my list, though: keep a pinch of salt handy (see number 4, below).
- If you don’t already have them, grow a thick skin and a sense of humor.
- Take interest in the world around you – in news items, community activities, and the details of other people’s lives. Be nosy. Eavesdrop. Carry paper and pen or pencil so you can take notes. Be the one at the party sitting quietly in the corner watching. Be the one listening to that guy talking on his cell phone, loudly, in a public place. Read obituaries. Take pictures.
- Join a writers group, either one that meets regularly in person, or an online group. Don’t let a writers group stifle or paralyze you.
- Listen to advice, but take it with a grain of salt. Anyone can tell you how to rewrite your story or novel. That doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. The only ones you need to please are yourself and the editor you’re trying to sell to.
- Believe that miracles can fall into your lap in real life. Work hard to make sure your lap is in the right place, at the right time, to catch a miracle.
- Go easy on the miracles in your writing. Don’t settle for convenience and a string of coincidences to wrap up a story.
- Be egalitarian. Treat your villains the same way you treat the rest of your characters. They all need believable motivations, actions, reactions, and dialogue. You want readers to sympathize just enough with the villain so they’re lulled into ignoring obvious signs that she or he is rotten to the core.
- Play fair with clues in your mystery, but do let your characters run with scissors and pointed sticks.
- Assume the role of a stage director when you’re writing. Your job is to make the surroundings (location, season, era, predicament, etc.) believable.
- Read, read, read. If you don’t read, how can you write?
- There’s a sort of postpartum depression that happens after finishing a manuscript and sending it off to the publisher. Let yourself have time to decompress, but try to have another project ready to jump into so that you don’t end up wallowing.
- There’s also a danger of too much navel-gazing after a book comes out because of all the hoopla surrounding that really cool, momentous day. Keep your head and keep moving forward.
- Promote your books on social media, but do it without shouting “Buy my books!” Instead, share your interests, your hobbies, your milestones, your funny bone, and the pictures you’re taking in number 3, above. Did the picture I posted on Facebook that my husband took of me typing while wearing the cat in a baby carrier sell more books? Possibly not, but I write humorous, character driven cozies, and the picture offers a glimpse of my personality. Three hundred and sixty one people “liked” the picture, seventy four commented on it, and sixteen shared it. Those numbers aren’t way out there, but they show that people were paying attention, and the ones who liked, commented, and shared that post were, in effect, promoting for me.
- Remember your manners. Be kind, treat people the way you’d like to be treated, and say thank you when you should.
- Combining a day job with a contract to write a series will consume most of your waking hours. Making the combination work takes stamina and a love for ignoring housework.
- Show up for the job.
- Don’t give up.
- Revision is the key to success.
The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” She’s the author of the award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, published by Penguin/NAL. Molly’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990. After twenty years in northeast Tennessee, Molly lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois.
Buy link for Knot the Usual Suspects, book 5 in the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries: