How hard can it be?

I always knew I’d be an English major. I was, oh, twelve when I decided this. See, I loved reading. And I could tell a good story (well, I thought I could and my best friend agreed). I wasn’t too sure what I’d do with an English degree. I had a vague idea that I’d be a lawyer.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. But I digress.

When I was in eighth grade, my best friend and I teamed up to do a comic. She drew, I wrote. And I started thinking, “Hey, I’ll write a book and become a best-selling author.” So I wrote some really bad fantasy fiction (today they’d call it urban fiction) with a character who was a complete Mary Sue.

Yeah, didn’t become a best-selling author with that one. Again, I digress.

Fast-forward about ten-ish years. I was married and the urban fiction of my youth was a distant memory. And The Hubby, God bless him, asked, “Why don’t you write a mystery? You like to read them.”

And a light bulb went off. And I wrote the start of a cozy. Life happened, I put it in a drawer. Eventually, I lost a job and The Hubby said, “Why don’t you finish that book?”

Well, I was unemployed and really – how hard could it be? I could tell a story, right?

(I will pause while all the writers who follow this blog laugh hysterically.)

Good, you’re back. Nervous, but proud, I took my finished manuscript to this group called Sisters in Crime. And my education in mystery writing started. Things I wish I’d known:

  1. You can’t start a story with chapters and chapters of set up. Well you can, but it’s dead boring.
  2. If you’re going to write a mystery, at some point you have to learn to plot – or apply the principles of plotting to your raw draft.
  3. It’s not just about being able to push a noun against a verb.
  4. There’s a lot to learn when you first start out. And as soon as you think you’ve learned it all – there’s a whole new set of things to learn.
  5. Being an author is only partly about the writing. You have to learn to market yourself and the book. Don’t like it? Don’t expect to sell a lot of books.
  6. As soon as you think you’ve figured out how to market your current book, everything changes and you have to start all over when it comes time to market the next book.
  7. But as hard as this sounds, you don’t have to do it alone. The writing community, and the mystery-writing community in particular, is full of wonderful, generous people who will help you learn how to plot, write a character arc, drop a red herring, market your book, cheer you when you succeed and prop you up when things aren’t going so good.

Come to think of it, had I known all this I’d never have started writing. Well, had I known everything except #7. But if I’d never started, I wouldn’t have gotten to the most important thing I wish I had known:

It is all totally worth it.

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Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for fifteen years in the corporate world, but finds making things up is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, her short fiction has been published in online magazines Uppagus and Mysterical-e. She has also had stories included in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales, Blood on the Bayou (the 2016 Bouchercon anthology), Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at http://lizmilliron.com, find her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/LizMilliron, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

10 thoughts on “How hard can it be?”

  1. Great post, Liz! Gosh, I remember the first novel I wrote–it was a YA fantasy that opened with a dream sequence and then with the MC describing her appearance by looking in the mirror, both major faux pas. Oh, the things we learn 🙂

  2. “pushing a noun against a verb” … absolutely right! I can’t even begin to count the number of people who think that’s all it takes to write a book. I envy you that you knew at such a young age you wanted to be a writer. I was an avid reader and had a pretty good grasp on spelling and grammar, but honest-to-goodness, it never once crossed my mind I could be a writer. Writers were other-worldly creatures who lived on pedestals in spectacularly glorious far off kingdoms, full of mystery, isolation, and ivory towers. Not some goofball kid in Colorado. I was a full-grown goofball adult in Colorado before I realized writers were … can you believe it … just regular people!

  3. Indeed it’s worth it! The fun part for me is that we keep learning along the journey. Life is preparation for writing the next book.

  4. Kate – the things we write when we don’t know any better, huh? I found that urban fantasy years later and I absolutely cringed.

    Becky – yeah, people just don’t know. But yes, writers are human too!

    Sue – absolutely. Constant learning is what keeps it fresh and fun.

  5. Love it. Still chuckling over pushing a noun against a verb. Some days that’s the best part. You hit it right on the head. You said everything I wish I could have said.
    Wonderful post, Liz

  6. So much yes! I did not want to be an English major, because my mother is an English teacher, and from the moment I could talk, people told me, “You’re going to be an English teacher like your mother!” So, of course, I was a Biology major. Until my senior year, when I became an English major. Still struggling to build the confidence to focus on my writing, in spite of having two stories published, but I’m working on it. Great post!

  7. Terrific thoughts!

    I remember finally learning how to write but still being in awe of those who were published. When Colleen Coble talked about still cleaning toilets I was shocked. Really? Really???

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