Tips for Get Out from Behind the Keyboard

Really have. Yakkety Yak.

You have time. In fact, you need time to make a metaphorical tour.

So sneak out the back door, quit your job (by hammering that keyboard) and talk about things other than writing that you can do to advance your career. Come on. . .come with me. I’m the thug on the sidewalk with the engine running.

Come on, let’s go for a ride.

More than a year ago, we were talking about the dreaded white site here in WITS. We talked about the elements of the story such as plot, character, setting and denouement. But there’s more you can do to grow as a writer, maybe a lot more. And this can be a fun ride.

What else can you do to improve yourself in the arts and crafts that we all love so much?

On this journey, we will pass by huge gatherings with thousands of people, classrooms with students taking notes, and small groups of like-minded writers. We turn on the radio and navigate to the edge of the world of writing.

We will study conventions, courses, writing groups and have a good time!

I’m glad you’re here for the ride. We’re leaving.

Participation in a convention

Once upon a time, I was sitting in the opening speech of a large writing convention and I heard an agent from New York say: “True writers are not at conventions-they are at their desk, they write.”Yes, friends and neighbors, I heard it and I really knew the speaker. We had shared a ride from the airport, among other contacts.

Well, after biting the hand that fed him, he tried to get back to what he had said by explaining how good the conventions are. He wasn’t there next year.

But . . . Could this be true? Could he have been right?

No! I’m not buying it. I think that ” real authors-published and unpublished- go to conventions to listen to lectures, talk with readers and have fun, share in the community.

It’s an understatement to say that there are many, many conventions to choose from. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of all shapes and sizes. Here are some excellent ones.

  • Bouchercon is the great of the world of secrets
  • Worldcon in the world of science fiction
  • Romantic writers from America are having another big party

All of them have thousands of participants and all of them present the biggest names of their writing university. The smallest for mysteries are Left Coast Crime and Men of Secret. Note: the latter has been virtual for two years.

So, how do you choose?

Forget about the analysis in terms of localization, cost, time, blah, blah, blah. I say to get the authors present. If that means skipping a year to budget the writer you really want to see, do it.

One time I took a leave of absence from work to listen to a writer I admired while he was lecturing at Goldenwest College here in Huntington Beach. He didn’t draw a very good crowd, maybe a dozen, and I stayed close afterwards to thank him. . . and ended up sitting for almost half an hour filming the breeze with Frank Herbert. Dune, this is from Frank Herbert.

I told him how I had read Dune when it was serialized by Analog; he asked me about my stories (the first one had appeared by analog) and it was incredible. Years after, I was able to tell this story to his son Brian, who was happy to add him to his collection of anecdotes about his father.

I say, look for the authors you want to see.

And they often learn unexpected nuggets of information that they would never have discovered otherwise.

The first time I went to an event called Men of Secret, I saw 500 Secret readers in the room—90% of them were women. And I thought: well, this is my audience! This information alone was worth the price of admission.

Take a course

Note that I’m talking about body classes here in person, not virtual ones. We get behind the keyboard, remember? Cruise, interact with other authors. That said . . .Of course, you can learn a lot from a good writing course. On the one hand, homework will force you to write. But-choose carefully. For example, I attended a “Creative Writing 101” course at a local community college and found that I didn’t match the 19-year-olds who met a GE requirement.

As with conventions, my advice is to look for a teacher with references that respect you. If she writes her kind of book, it’s a big plus.

Join a writing group

Absolutely, for a number of reasons. A-You will receive feedback. Listen, my wife has taught English throughout her career and she is still my first reader, but she is my wife.

An editorial group is a double-edged weapon, because in addition to feedback, you need to provide your own.

When I was talking about my wife, one of her friends, a teacher colleague, once asked me to read her romance novel and comment on it. After the usual warnings, I agreed. I examined it the way I would for any story by a budding writer, and to be honest, I had to tell him that it needed work before I could send it to the agents. After a while she talked to me, but she never asked me for advice again.

But I had told him! I warned her that I knew only one way to maul, and she assured me that this was what she wanted. You need to learn how to evaluate the feedback you receive.

Here is my rule of thumb for evaluating comments: if they all say the same thing — you are right.

I wrote the presentation text, the back cover copy of my new book and I really liked it-funny, interesting, it would make people want to read the story. My editor sent it to several readers and authors.

“This is too long.”
“That gives too much.”
“It’s boring.”

I loved it, but I threw it without thinking.

Be ready for everything in one review. A critic fired a gun at me. More about this exciting episode after.

The common denominator for all these

Pro-exposes you from behind the keyboard.

Con-See Pro.

That’s right, ultimately you could spend all your time in courses and conventions and never type ” Once upon a time. . . “And even less” the ending.”

One of my best teachers, critics and readers is a writer named Paul Bishop, author of Citadel Run, Tequila Mockingbird and others. He told me about a woman in his class who was willing to start her secret for over a year, “as soon as I found out what the FBI building looks like.”

I suppose she’s still waiting.

Back to the history of firearms

Oh, okay, I promised to tell the story of the gun.

Inspector Bishop sat with me and read his comments on my thriller Read Them And Cried. He’s retired now, but at the time he was on the LAPD. He lowered his hand into his boot and pulled out a small revolver to show me something about the weapon.

Here’s another rule of thumb: if the critic does this, pay attention to what he says!

I assume that you will choose a combination of the above and that you will do as much or as little as you see fit. But there’s one thing I know you’re going to do. You guessed it.

The Only Thing You Should Do . . .

Read! Read like crazy. Read like a writer. Read!

Disassemble a book, as I did one of Bob Crai’s thrillers. I’ve already talked about it. I really admire Bob Crais’s work, and when I moved from science fiction to writing mysteries, I disassembled one of his novels entitled Lullaby Town.

Remember how, in the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is warned not to look behind the curtain? Well, I looked. I broke this book scene by scene on 3″ x 5″ cards. I read it as a writer. I loved the book then and I do now, but I can’t go back and read it again. I know it all too well. Sigh.

I’m a confirmed guy from the book. I love to keep the printed pages, carefully insert bookmarks, write my name on the cover.

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