My father could never resist the allure of gadgets—inside-the-shell egg scramblers, shiatsu massage pillows, battery-operated hand-held cooling fans—anything that offered easier, more effective or just more fun ways to do things captured his attention and often his wallet. He would proudly show off his newest find, usually saying “Look at this. It’s pretty neat!”
Inevitably such purchases wound up gathering dust in the back of a cupboard, or relegated to a garage sale table where another seeker of coolness on a hot summer day, or perfect scrambled eggs could succumb to their attraction.
While I did not inherit his susceptibility to the siren song of ShamWows or snow cone makers (another sibling received that gene) I am a victim of a variant strain. I find it extremely hard to withstand books, articles and webinars that promise the best, most effective, most insightful, must have, must learn, must do, fail proof methods for writing.
My office bookshelves are lined with titles like Writing the Modern Mystery, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, How to Write Killer Fiction, You Can Write a Mystery Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel, and many more. Each offers the reader a method, a formula and in some cases charts, graphs and diagrams that if applied correctly will lead to a well crafted, well written book for even the most rank amateur author. Intellectually I know such promises are seldom fulfilled; emotionally I find them hard to ignore.
I can never quite accept that while there are definitely basic elements common to all good writing, and certain rules that should be followed, particularly in the mystery genre, there isn’t any magic formula. In other words, once you’ve studied and internalized the ground rules, you have to find your own way to do the work.
I’m almost finished with the first draft of the third Leah Nash book. Envious of other authors who are able to churn out three or four or more books to my one per year, I decided to do things differently this time. The book du jour on writing that caught my attention emphasized the importance of pre-planning and outlining, and suggested that adhering to its method would speed the writing process and require less revising. Unfortunately, I’ve never been a very good outliner. Creating a step-by-step approach to the story brought out my tendency—never too far from the surface—to over explain and risk drowning in detail.
The more I tried to map out plot points, raise stakes by rote and follow my outline, the harder and more tedious the writing was. Eventually, I fell back into more familiar rhythms, and my writing speed began to pick up. I am now closing in on the end of a first draft. Once again my quest for the perfect writing process has eluded me. This draft, like the others, will require multiple revisions and much editing. On the other hand, flawed thought it may be, it’s a process I’m comfortable with and it seems to work for me.
So, although like my dad, I will doubtless be tempted by the promise of the next shiny new thing—in my case writing advice books—I’m going to close my eyes, hum softly to myself and walk on by. Unless, of course, I see one that looks, as my dad would say, “pretty neat.” Then, maybe, I’ll just take a little peek.