Over the past few years, I've been interviewed several times (click here for the latest). I'm always amazed at the things I learn about my characters and my writing when I'm forced to answer questions I hadn't thought to ask myself.
After doing a few of these though, I can almost predict the questions. Nearly every interviewer wants to know where the inspiration to write came from and what prompted me to write this particular book. The answers to those two questions rarely change, but one question that has appeared on every interview is the one about words of advice I would give to an aspiring writer.
One thing I didn't think of when I wrote my first novel, "Silenced Cry" is reader expectation. Of course at the time there wasn't any. No one except for a small group of crit partners had ever read my work. But now that two books are published and both have gained a nice readership, there is far more pressure to make sure the third book meets readers' exectations. Will the writing draw him or her in? Is the plot interesting and the charcters believable? In other words, will readers who enjoyed "Silenced Cry" and "The Devil Can Wait" like the next book as well or will they be disappointed because by now, they've formed expectations and I better deliver.
I've spent the past several weeks working on book three in the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, and inspite of knowing my voice and my characters, I began the writing process by reviewing key reference books with a focus on the skills I wanted to sharpen. I researched and wrote the usual back stories, developed the plot and subplots, and found it useful to read the chapters in the first two books that readers pointed out as thier favorites. So now that I'm in the thick of it, I decided to take a look at that list of tips to see what else I could add to it. Here's my latest:
1. Nothing worth doing is without sacrifice. Are you willing and ready?
2. Don’t skimp on reference books. Invest in several good ones. They’re the lifeline to good writing. Keep them next to your keyboard and use them often.
3. If you don’t know the answer, look it up. (Gads, I sound like a mom, huh?)
4. Don’t depend on others to teach you. Research the heck out of whatever it is you want to understand. It’ll sink in better and stick with you longer.
5. Never stop learning. It’s the key to keeping ideas fresh.
6. Know the mechanics of writing. Practice them until they become second nature to you.
7. Find your voice. It’s what will make you stand out from the crowd.
8. From beginning to end, the quality of the story depends on you. There are no magic wands, no shortcuts, or easy answers only hard work.
9. Love what you do and it won’t feel like drudgery. This is where #5 will come in handy.
10. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few selfless souls who will guide you along the way. Network, give back, and pay forward as much or more than you have received because you never know where the road will lead or who you’ll meet along the way.
11. The limelight is brief so remember your "please" and "thank you" (see #10).
12. Listen to the advice given by those whose works you admire, but be sure to give your inner voice equal time.
13. Falling in love with your words can stifle improvement.
14. When in doubt, cut it. Be ruthless with your edits (see # 13). Save the ideas behind the writing. What won’t work today, you might be able to tweak tomorrow and use someplace else.
15. Find a critique group that will offer constructive feedback. A fresh pair of eyes is critical to a polished read.
16. Learn to balance your activities and say “no” to the things that rob you of your writing time.
Okay, if you don't like any of those, how about: Success doesn’t fall from heaven—you make it. No one is going to hand you that publishing contract. You have to work for it and not just when the mood strikes you . . . and speaking of writing, I’m off to work on mine!
* * *
Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008) SILENCED CRY (2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)