Advice for new or aspiring writers. Part 2!!
By David Darling 2021-02-02
Part 2 of 2
I had an opportunity to reach out and ask several well-established authors and writers for advice for new or aspiring writers. I know the power of advice and encouragement. The right words can motivate, inspire, and renew confidence in your abilities or a project. I am honored that the following authors have responded and agreed to answer a few questions. I hope their words offer guidance to the reader; they indeed were to me.
International and NYT Best Seller, Deep State and Savage Road (The Hayley Chill series)
The best advice for new and aspiring authors? (I got a Top Ten answer! Awesome.)
1. Be fearless.
2. Listen to music while writing.
3. If you're ever feeling uninspired at the start of a writing session, read a few lines of a true Jedi master. Then go!
4. If you're not surprising yourself, you're not going to surprise your readers.
5. Words have texture, i.e., writing isn't typing.
6. Leave out all the stuff people don't wanna read. (Elmore Leonard said that.)
7. If you're a new writer, outline. Save improvisation for when you're a true Jedi master. (This one is non-negotiable.)
8. Don't show your new work to more than one other writer. If it's some good shit, they'll help you with the next step, i.e. an agent.
9. Punch up, not down, but never more than one or two weight classes above your own. Know your weight!
Do you believe in Writer's Block?
“Block. Like ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster, and love at first sight, I've never experienced it. But I think some of the tips I've outlined above are in service of avoiding ‘stuckedness.’ So... see above.”
How are you handling the transition from Screenwriting to Novels?
“I've enjoyed myself so much more with book writing I sometimes get paranoid that I'm breaking a couple of laws doing so. I am the proverbial pig in proverbial clover. That is, quite content.”
Author of Little Secrets and other novels, including JAR OF HEARTS, won the Thriller Award and was shortlisted for the Anthony and Macavity Awards.
The best advice for new and aspiring authors?
“The best advice question is always a tough one, because there are so many things I want to tell new writers, and so many mistakes I made that I want to save them from making. But there's one conversation I had with an aspiring-to-be-published writer that sticks with me. She needed advice on what to do next. She'd written five short stories, had worked on them for a year, and she believed they were really good, her best work ever. Which was wonderful – it's great to have confidence in your work! I asked her when she planned to send them out, and she said, "When they're finished." It turned out none of her stories had an ending yet – she'd only completed 70% of each of them. I told her to pick one, and finish it. One imperfect story that's finished might get her published. Five incomplete stories that are the greatest thing you've ever written won't. So my best advice is: finish your work.”
What was your hardest scene to write?
“There's a scene in my last book, Little Secrets, where the mother who's spent a year searching for her missing child goes to a very dark place emotionally and engages in an act of self-harm. As a mom myself (and my son was the exact same age as the little boy in the book at the time I wrote the novel), it forced me to imagine a scenario that was my own worst fear, and how I might deal with it if it actually happened, down to the tiniest detail. It was a difficult scene to write, and even after multiple drafts, it remained a tough scene to read back. How do you deal with the emotional impact (on yourself) as you are writing the story? Writing scenes like the one I just described can deplete me emotionally. It also doesn't help that all my books are dark thrillers. So I try to balance that out by immersing myself in lighter stuff after I've finished writing for the day. I'll decompress by watching a lot romantic comedies, and cheesy reality TV works just fine. I'm not above admitting that I'm big fan of the Real Housewives of Orange County and Beverly Hills!”
Author of The Body Man and The Troy Evans Series
Best advice for new and aspiring authors?
“Never quit. Seriously, that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard. However, another thing I like to share is write for you. If you create a story to please or possibly impress someone else, it’s likely your task will fail, this is especially true if you don’t believe in what you’ve created. When you sit down to write a book, make sure it’s the story YOU want to tell. If you are passionate about what you write, there’s a good chance it will come out in the story, and others may share in your excitement. Agents want to sign authors they believe in, stories that ignite their desire to sell the manuscript. Also, learn everything you can about the publishing industry. Remember it’s a business. Plain and simple. Nobody publishes a book only because they like the story; they agree to publish your novel (and take on the inherent risks/costs) to make money. If you treat the entire process as a business, you have a better chance to succeed. The first step is to write the best damn book you can. The literary graveyard overflows with half attempts and “almost” finished manuscripts. Don’t add one more incomplete book on top of the heap.”
How important is pacing of a story and how should it reflect the genre?
“This is a really good question. First, before I answer, study the best writers in the genre. How do they organize their prose? What is the flow of their narrative? Do they have long chapters/short chapters? What sets them apart from other writers? Second, often publishing tends to be very formula driven. If something works and makes money, the industry rewards others who do the same. Learning from how others succeed is a valuable lesson for up-and-coming authors. Third, speaking for the thriller genre, your pacing is critical. You need to find just the right balance between action and narrative. In my opinion, if you go jump from one action scene to another, you will exhaust the readers and possibly turn them off. However, on the flip side, if you don’t have enough action, you didn’t write a real thriller. The keyword is balance. Most successful thriller authors (think Clancy and Flynn) achieved success when they combine action and narrative. Learn from the masters, and consider your first book (or maybe three) to be an apprenticeship.”
Developmental editor, Thriller Columnist, author and writer. Guru in the thriller genre as well! If you have a Mitch Rapp question, THIS is your man.
Should new writers try and write a story about a trend or keep to their own ideas?
Honesty, I am a big believer in “write what you want to read.” Forget trends, because the market is always changing and it’s impossible to hit a moving target. It’s tempting to write what you think might sell, BUT you can also get yourself in some trouble that way because the publishing winds are always changing! So, go with your own ideas and flesh out what interests you.
What advice would you give to new writers/aspiring authors?
A big one is to write every single day. Every. Single. Day. Writing is very much like a muscle that you need to work out and challenge. The more you do, the stronger that muscle gets. So, write. A lot of newer authors hit roadblocks or keep going back to edit what they’ve already written. Don’t do that. Just get the story out of your head and onto the page. First drafts are supposed to be bad. Always remember, “you can edit bad pages, but you can’t edit blank pages.” So, get the whole story out, then you can go back and edit and revise and fix what’s there.
What are some of the best troupes in thriller writing, that never seem to get old?
Honestly, it’s played out, but it’s also necessary—and that’s the damaged hero. Nobody likes perfect, it’s why Batman is more popular than Superman. Right? A damaged hero allows the writer to do things they couldn’t otherwise get away with. For example: how much violence is needed, and when is it too much? Well, when your character has undergone a serious emotional hardship, all bets are off. A perfect example would be Jack Carr’s hero, James Reece, in The Terminal List. That book is literally about a former Navy SEAL killing government officials. Why is that okay in the minds of readers? Well, because they killed his team and his family. Therefore, his actions are justified (at least as far as the story goes).
If Reece only, say, lost his job, his reaction—killing everyone involved—would make him the bad guy. See the difference? So, in a lot of ways, the damaged hero works better and makes them more relatable.
Finding that backstory for your protagonist is key.