By Sue Ann Jaffarian
I have never taken a writers' class or joined a writers' group. The only books on writing I've ever read are Stephen King's On Writing (can't recommend it enough) and The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes, which I read nearly twenty years ago. I own a copy of Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, but haven't read it yet.
I've always heard a murder mystery must have a dead body on the first page. To that I say, Bite Me!
I've always heard a good writer avoids using "said." Really? Tell that to Mr. King.
I write. Period. Unfettered by rules and constraints, except for those of good grammar, spelling and sentence construction, I put the words in my head on to the page. That process might not work for everyone, but it works for me and has for more than 17 books. My head is filled with ideas, plots and dialogue, not with do's and don'ts. They, the rules not the ideas, can suffocate the creative process if one is not careful.
The best learning tool a writer has at his or her disposal is reading books by other authors, both good and bad. I can honestly say that I have learned as much from bad books as I have from the best. The difference is I seldom finish a bad book. Nothing makes me shiver with authorly excitement more than reading or listening to a book that is so good it makes me swoon with aspiration; that maybe one day, with hard work and attention to my craft, I might, just might, touch the hem of that other writer's prose.
Another thing, I seldom read books similar to my own. I write a ghost series but have only read two other ghost books. I write a vampire series but have never read a vampire novel. I also try to keep my intake of cozy or cozy-ish books at a minimum. I do everything I can to leave my voice clean and particular to me. I know I'm missing out on a lot of good reading by doing that, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to keep my voice untainted, even unconsciously.
On Writing aside, the best writing advice I've ever read was from Chuck Wendig, which goes under the category of wish I'd said that: