Friday, November 30, 2018

Sacrificing to the Gods of Writing

What obstacles, if any, did you encounter on your road to becoming a writer? And how did you overcome them?

by Paul D. Marks

Starting out to be a professional writer is scary. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Different ones for different people, though there are many that we all have in common. I’ve always done some type of writing of one kind or another, starting with poems and songs, non-fiction and then screenplays, writing for radio, short stories and novels. Each one had its own set of issues and concerns. I never sold a song or poem, but bands have performed some of the songs.

To begin with, I had to learn to read and write English that could be understood by others. That sounds silly, but try reading things that some would-be writers write and you’ll see what I mean. But the lack of decent writing skills is really for another post. Luckily I learned these things in school and was able to improve those skills over the years. And this will sound silly, but I had to learn to type. I took a typing class in high school. I was bored, but there were a lot of girls so I liked that. After high school I didn’t use it for a while, but eventually I started to write and the typing skills I learned came back very quickly. And I’m a pretty good typist when I want to be. But often when I’m writing I’m just flying so I don’t care about typos. They can always be fixed. But I can touch type and that makes life a hell of a lot easier for someone who wants to be a writer.

Here are some things we all have to deal with at one time or another:


We’re all scared of rejection. Some of us handle it better than others. For some that fear either keeps them from finishing something in the first place or sending it out if they’ve finished it. If you send something out and it gets rejected it’s as if someone says your baby is ugly and them’s fightin’ words. Still, it’s something we have to deal with. It’s okay to be scared. It’s not okay to let it paralyze you into doing nothing. When I was starting out and got rejections it only strengthened my resolve to “show them”.

When I started out I don’t think I realized how much one had to sacrifice to be a writer. I don’t know about other people but for me it’s extremely time consuming. And I was very driven to be successful. That meant spending a lot of time at the typewriter (in those days). And that meant sacrificing other things I wanted to do sometimes, including hanging with friends. And I know it damaged some of my friendships. People who aren't into writing don’t understand the dedication it takes.

Sometimes I might want to procrastinate, so I would go out with friends. I’d even clean my apartment. Women I dated often commented on how clean my apartment was “for a man.” Well, it was less painful to do that than sitting down at the typewriter and opening a vein, to quote Hemingway.

I know a lot of people who want to be writers. They have an idea, it’s the greatest idea in the world. It will make millions. But they don’t have the discipline to put their butt in a chair and work on it. And ideas are a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere.

So, we have to sacrifice many things to the Writing Gods to overcome these obstacles. And the things we need to learn early on are discipline and motivation. I think I’ve touched on discipline above, but we also need to be motivated. We need to want to say something and have something to say. And if we believe that enough, we should be able to find the discipline we need and make those sacrifices.

I also had to learn how to focus on the job of writing. It has its moments of glamor and fun but the actual writing part is often sitting in room by yourself trying to create something out of nothing. As I’ve probably mentioned here before and definitely in other places, when I started writing I had romantic visions of Hemingway and expats on the Left Bank, sipping absinthe and talking about things that matter. So I tried drinking and writing, but I just wanted to play. And then I tried hanging out at Joe Allen’s a bar in LA, but that wasn’t writing. So I quickly figured out that I need to be in my home office in a chair, working on projects.

And these days with the internet there are certainly distractions that you don’t even have to get up to procrastinate. I love looking things up – research – jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink. I love looking at rock videos and other things on You Tube. And sometimes I do get distracted. But ultimately I return to work and do what I need to do. So you need to maintain focus and shut out the outside world – figure out how to do that for you.

Dealing with stupid people
Another obstacle to overcome is dealing with petty and stupid people. People who want to change your voice or don’t see your vision. People who don’t know who fought on which sides in World War II. People who tell you that your story doesn’t work because people don’t take trains anymore. Don’t do what I did on several occasions and tell them what jerks they are to their faces. It’s not good for your brand. Fight for what you believe in in your work and compromise on other things. Learn to compromise!

Never argue with stupid people. 
They will drag you down to their level
 and then beat you with experience.
 –Mark Twain

I think one of the biggest obstacles that I had to overcome was life experience. Many people go from grade school (or whatever it’s called today) to junior high (or whatever it’s called today) to high school (or whatever it’s called today) to college (or whatever it’s called today) to graduate school (ditto) and then want to be writers. But what do they have to write about? Maybe that’s why there’s so many retreads out there? It’s good to have lived a little bit of life outside of school to both give you something to write about and perspective on it.

So that’s my two cents on the subject. What about you?


And now for the usual BSP:

I’m honored and thrilled – more than I can say – that my story Windward appears in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler, which just came out this week. I wrote a blog on that on SleuthSayers if you want to check it out: .

I’m doubly thrilled to say that Windward won the Macavity Award at Bouchercon in September. Wow! And thank you to everyone who voted for it.

And I’m even more thrilled by the great reviews that Broken Windows has been receiving. Here’s a small sampling:

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element

"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:

"This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:

"Broken Windows is extraordinary."

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Writing (but not a book).

Life - What obstacles, if any, did you encounter on your road to becoming a writer? And how did you overcome them?

By Catriona

This spring, my sister, niece and great-nephew came to visit and I dragged them to the railway museum in Sacramento. I always try to make guests go there; it's one of the best, most interesting, most well-conceived and executed specialised museums I've ever encountered. But a typical conversation goes like this:

Guest: What will we do today?
Me: Let's go to the railway museum in Sacramento!
Guest: Trains? Really?
Me: It's great!
Guest: I didn't know you liked trains.
Me: I don't! Particularly. That's how great this museum is.
Guest: So . . . Napa?

But with a twenty-month-old baby boy in tow, I carried the day. He loved it. He stood in front of every train and delivered the same thoughtful analysis - "Choo-choo". Or rather, every train except one. There is a train in the museum that's so huge a little boy of not yet two literally couldn't see it. He could see the shiny black wall in front of him, reaching to a dwindling point on either side of him and up into the sky above him but he couldn't perceive it as a train. He didn't mind. There was a cute little steam engine on the other side of the room. He could see that and knew exactly what he thought of it. "Choo-choo."

The first obstacle on my path to being a writer was much the same. My house was full of library books when I was a child. And I read every day from the age of four. Books were treasure. Books were miracles. Like beaches and stars. 

By age seven, I knew better. Books had another name on the front as well as the title and I knew what the name was. The author. I now knew that books were written, like paintings were painted and music was composed. But somehow, at the same time, the idea of people doing the writing was unthinkable. However something as perfect and thrilling as a book was made, it was nothing I could ever understand. I could no more imagine the process than the baby could see a monster train six inches from his nose. 

When I was a bit older - old enough to know that Daphne Du Maurier lived in Cornwall and Jane Austen wrote on a round table - I wasn't much closer to clearing the hurdle. At age ten, say, I knew that writers were real people. Just not people like me. No one I knew had written a book. And I didn't know any authors. (And those two statements were still distinct). I might not have been able to describe what made a writer but I knew it was something to do with being posh, confident, English (Agatha Christie had a lot to answer for) and most likely dead.

What made the difference, in the end, was a class in the school library when I was thirteen. The librarian talked us through the back of the title page - copyright date, printing history, publisher's address - and it hit me like a thunderclap. I finally understood that all a writer had to do was write words on a piece of paper (and I could do that). They didn't need to understand how make pages stick together at the inside or make covers be the same size front and back. 

Daft as it sounds now, that librarian that day in the school library sent me flying over the first obstacle on the writer's path. I believed I could help out the makers of books by providing the words and that someone else would do the mystifying bits.

Every time I see a cover design, read a royalty statement, listen to a discussion of meta-data and algorithms, or peek at a marked-up proof, I feel the same. I'll keep doing the easy bit and feeling grateful that someone else keeps all the pages the same size.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Life is like a... by Cathy Ace

Life - What obstacles, if any, did you encounter on your road to becoming a writer? And how did you overcome them?

I see my life as being in several parts; being a writer is one part, but it’s not my “whole life”, so I’m happy to talk about it as part of my life. However, if I was asked what part of my life I couldn’t live without, it wouldn’t be writing – so I suppose I should make that clear. My family and friends make my life worth living – my writing is the chocolate-covered strawberry on the cake (I don’t like cherries!).

I was fortunate to not encounter problems in my early life – such as learning problems, family background or social issues – that meant I wasn’t able to acquire the basic fundamentals to allow me to consider becoming a writer; I learned to read and write at the appropriate points in my life, and was encouraged to do so by my family, and teachers. I also had access to wonderful local libraries, so was able to become an early and eager (OK, greedy!) reader. Not everyone has those advantages. I was lucky. 

I’ll also tell you I earned my living by writing from the age of twenty-two. I worked in advertising and public relations, so wrote every day, to deadlines, about topics I’d have to research for clients, and working to a brief. It was fabulous training for the fiction writing I do now. 

That said, whilst I do see differences between what I did then, and what I do now, the “becoming a writer” part of this week’s question is tough to answer, because I faced no obstacles at all – being a writer just means you write. It’s becoming a traditionally published author of crime fiction that’s the difficult bit!

To that question – again, I was very fortunate. I self-published a collection of twelve short stories, then a collection of four novellas and sent them off to a publisher, who asked me to send them a manuscript for a novel, which I did, and it was published. It all sounds simple. And – compared with what many face – it was. I was in the right place at the right time, approached the right publisher with the right writing, using the experience I’d built over forty-five years as a reader and twenty as a professional writer. That’s all it took!

Nope – none of this “being an author” thing is easy. What I faced won’t be what others have faced. And whatever our individual stories and journeys, here are some things I believe are true for all: you’ll be a better writer for being a better reader; you’ll only “find your voice” if you think about what you want to say, and practice saying it. The world of publishing is changing quickly. The paths of those authors whose work I admire might not exist now, or in a couple of years’ time. So be flexible, and keep reading, and writing. I did, and I am. That’s all we can do.

BLATANT SELF PROMOTION ALERT! A collection of four novellas, featuring Cait Morgan, the WISE Enquiries Agency and DI Evan Glover has JUST been published! Please check out more information and buy links CLICK HERE

I'd be honoured if you'd consider reading my work.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Learning to be a Writer

The question we are answering this week is, “What obstacles, if any, did you encounter on your road to becoming a writer? And how did you overcome them?”

Terry Shames here:

I could take up the whole week answering this question, but I’ll try to keep the obstacles I encountered to a few.

1)    Myself. People often tell me they are amazed at my output. I feel like a slacker in comparison to some writers, but in comparison to myself when I was younger, I guess it’s pretty good. But having reasonable output did not come easily. It took me years to get over being….okay, what’s the word? Lazy? Not exactly; but close. I was always a a hard worker. I started working to buy some of my own clothes when I was 12. In high school I knew if I wanted to go to college, I’d have to pay for it myself, so I worked afternoons and weekends during school, and full-time during summers. I worked while I went to college. I have always had a good work ethic. But the kind of lazy I’m thinking of is the kind that lets me off the hook for working hard toward a personal goal. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t have the rigor to really push myself to become good at writing. Which leads me to the second obstacle:

2)    Kidding myself. I somehow had the idea that when I got around to writing, all the words I wrote would be golden. When I finally decided to get serious about writing, I kept a cartoon on the door of my office. It showed two babes soaking in a hot tub. One says to the other, “I’d write a book, too, if I just had the time.” The cartoon was an admonishment to myself. When I was in my twenties and thirties I wrote a lot. I wrote half-books, half-stories, story ideas, twenty pages of books. Get the picture? I was fooling around. I told myself that if I actually wrote a book, it would be good. I just had to get around to doing it. I remember having a conversation with Roger Hobbs about his first novel, Ghostman, which won critical acclaim. He told me that he had written a few other novels, but that he didn’t think any of them were good enough to submit. What a concept! If only I had had the same understanding of quality when I was his age (he was twenty-six) I might have made things a lot easier on myself.

3)    Not doing my homework. What this amounted to was not having any understanding whatsoever of the publishing industry—and not doing the work to gain that understanding. Again, it was that particular brand of laziness that afflicted me. The first book I ever wrote was a science fiction book. When I had written about half of it, I chose a publisher at random, sent a  few chapters to them, and….wonder of wonders, they said they liked it, and asked me to send the rest. I was so terrified that I didn’t write another word for almost a year. And I never got back to them.  If I had done my homework, I would have known not to send anything until the whole manuscript was ready, or at the very least I would have been honest and told the publisher that I was only halfway through with the book. As it was, I squandered an opportunity to have the book judged fairly. I wish I could remember my thought process, but it’s clear in retrospect that I hadn’t paid enough attention to what it meant to work at writing and publishing.

4)    Or rather, this is 3) plus. Still not doing my homework. Finally I decided to dig in and really write. I wrote one book after another, got one good agent after another, and nobody could place the books. There are so many things I did wrong with this—so many obstacles I created for myself—that I’m still amazed that I ever managed to get over it.. Instead of working with an agent who had shopped my book, the next time I wrote a book, I looked for a different agent. I suppose to be fair, none of them had impressed on me that they would work with me to perfect my next project, but from my end I simply moved on. If I had bothered to find out about agent/writer relationships, I would have known to work with the same agent on the next project.


5)    The usual. I got over those personal obstacles by attending some mystery writing workshops, joining MWA and Sisters in Crime, and working with a very serious writer’s group. all of which taught me a professional approach to being a writer. The lesson, in short, is to write the best book you can write, have it critiqued, send the work to agents who are right for your manuscript. And you have to persevere.  By taking myself seriously, I finally I found a home for my books.

 There’s not enough room to write about the question of how much of my obstacle creation was laziness and how much was fear. But what I do know is that whatever the root of my problem, had I been more professional I might have overcome the obstacles sooner. I wish I could go back and tell myself that a professional approach might have short-circuited what became a years-long slog to being published. So bottom line? My biggest obstacle was myself.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The publishing date of my next Samuel Craddock novel, A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary, has been delayed. I will update readers as soon as the new date has been firmed up. Stay tuned!