This week I’m thrilled to welcome debut novelist Karen Whalen as she shares her insights into the writing process. So whether you are brand new or have been published for years, I’m sure you can find something helpful in what she has to say.
Have you ever re-written in your mind a sentence or a scene you’ve read in a book? Or imagined a better plot twist or character trait than what the author provided? Or an ending that would be much more satisfying? If so, you might be a writer and you need to give yourself a chance to find out.
Don’t hole up in your office with your laptop, though. At least, not entirely. Join a writers’ group. This is the single, most important advice I can give. Search for groups in your genre. For me it was Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Colorado Writing School. There’s nothing as wonderful as being part of a community of writers, the most helpful folks I know. Just being around other writers will make you feel like one, too.
Take writing classes and attend writing conferences. Learn the craft. Character arc, motivation, conflict, goals, plot structure, dialogue. Anyone can learn to write, but not everyone has a story to tell. If you have the imagination to come up with a story, plus the necessary writing skills, you are on your way.
Join a critique group. As I said, fellow writers are a helpful bunch. I often swap manuscripts and provide critiques. By commenting on others’ work, I become better at analyzing my own.
Read books on writing and read other books as examples. You can google the top ten books for writers and come up with several lists, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will send you my list. But you can also learn from reading your favorite books. What did you like about the protagonist? Are there phrases you loved? Write those down. Make a list. Tape the list to your desk. Their words will inspire you. My writing instruction books are highlighted, underlined, and speckled with sticky notes, and after I put them down I forget what I read. But the characters and words from the books I love stick with me.
There is a time to hole up in your office. Set aside time to write and don’t let anything interfere with your writing schedule. Some writers insist on a thousand words a day and get caught up in word count. I’ve never been one of those. While I was working forty hours a week at my day job, I set the alarm for five-thirty and wrote for two hours every morning. I’m no good at night, but managed to finish two manuscripts in two years in those early hours. I decided to work part time and changed my writing schedule to ten hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my days off from my day job. Then I quit my job. Financial planners, and others who like to spend money and pay their bills and such, will tell you never, never quit your day job, but I was in a lucky position where I could. My friends said that since I was retired I could met them for lunch and join volunteer groups. While that sounds lovely, I explained that I was not retired, but had a full time job writing. I know writers who have small children and write around naps and while in lines at the grocery store and doctor’s office. I envy them that ability, but I need to write when I’m alone, except for my dogs who are great fans of mine.
Please, don’t be one of those who says he or she has a book in his or her head, but has never written it. Because then, you’re not a writer. I don’t know the statistics on the number of people who say they want to write a book but never do, but I imagine it’s high. If you’re a writer, then write, and join a writers’ group. You’ll find me there.
Karen C. Whalen is the author of the Dinner Club Murder Mystery series. She worked as a paralegal at a law firm in Denver, Colorado. She has been a columnist and regular contributor to The National Paralegal Reporter magazine and has hosted dinner club events for a number of years.