Becoming a mystery writer? I’m still working out the kinks. NOT becoming a mystery writer? Boy, do I have some experience there, which I lay out in this blog in The Strand Magazine, and reproduced below.
Top Ten Tips On How NOT To Become a Mystery Writer…
Are you a mystery lover with a yen to write your own novel but unsure how or where to start? Do you have a great character or winning plot in mind but just can’t get past an opening chapter or two? Rest easy: banishing such dreams is easier than you think. Over the years, I’ve developed several tried-and-true tips to keep from ever putting pen to paper or fingertips to keys. Follow these suggestions and I guarantee that your book, no matter how surefire the idea, will never see the light of day. Without further ado, I present my Top Ten Tips On How NOT To Become a Mystery Writer.
No. 10: Do NOT read and read and read for enjoyment and edification but also to study the techniques of other writers. Do NOT delve into not only mysteries but a myriad of other arenas such as science fiction, westerns, fantasy, literary fiction, romance, young adult, poetry and—don’t even get me started—the universe of nonfiction. Much better just to see what’s on Netflix tonight.
No. 9: Do NOT haunt your local library, weekly if not daily, to check out reams and reams of
books on all the above topics and more, books with which to fill your bookshelves, coffee tables, nightstands, kitchen counters, piano benches, living room chairs, and tops of the toilet tank (not to mention your e-reader, CD player, and phone). Spend your time noodling around on the Internet instead.
No. 8: Similarly, Do NOT frequent bookstores, especially independently owned shops, and whatever you do, NEVER pledge not to leave such an institution without having purchased a book. Doing so will only serve to remind you of the value of the written word while allowing these stores to insinuate themselves into the fabric of a community as mainstays of writerly fellowship and intellection conversation, not to mention fun places to get coffee and talk favorite authors.
No. 7: Do NOT make a practice of reading books about writing, and especially books about the craft of detective and mystery fiction, since there’s no better way to learn the traditions of the genre, develop your own style, and absorb tips for writing efficiently and creatively. Good examples of books you should NEVER read include Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir; Writing Mysteries by the Mystery Writers’ Association of America; Lawrence Block’s Writing the Novel from Plot To Print to Pixel; P.D. James’s Talking About Detective Fiction; and Books To Die For, edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke.
No. 6: Do NOT attend readings by authors, writing workshops or crime fiction conferences where you can hear from professionals in person, not to mention have the chance to ask them questions at breakfast, in the elevator, or hanging around the bar—and often all three—and then suffer through their responding with compassion, good humor, and heartfelt hopes for your success. Never, EVER attend events such as Magna Cum Murder in Indianapolis; Killer Nashville in, well, take a guess; and any event hosted by a Sisters in Crime chapter.
No. 5: Do NOT read mystery blogs and subscribe to mystery magazines (especially, for goodness’ sake, The Strand Magazine); do NOT follow writers you admire on Twitter; and do NOT join listservs, Facebook groups, and other online communities dedicated to mystery writing. Doing so will only make you feel part of a greater conversation, give you multiple sources of support, and lead to a sense of shared solidarity when the going gets tough. Please—just say no.
No. 4: Do NOT, when you finally start writing, dedicate a goodly and consistent amount of time every day to your efforts, whether it be early in the morning, late at night, in the middle of the night, on your lunch hour, or riding the bus, Uber, or train. Instead, take a casual and erratic approach to “jotting down some ideas” from time to time. This is a proven method to avoid making headway; I recommend it highly, and from experience.
No. 3: Do NOT hesitate to tell your partner, spouse, friends, parents, workmates, second cousins, and persons you meet at cocktail parties about your work in progress. Since nothing drains the life out of an unfinished piece of fiction faster than talking about it at length, this is the perfect way to ensure you never complete your first piece of crime writing. (Did I mention also talking to the mail carrier and your favorite bartender?)
No. 2: Do NOT make writing a priority in your life after family, work, and friends. Whenever possible, add commitments to keep you from composing, including but not limited to: sending a record number of Christmas cards; hosting this year’s family reunion; volunteering to keep the neighbors’ elderly dog while they’re in Europe; eradicating every gosh-darn dandelion from your yard; and coaching in the underprivileged kids’ polo league. The more, the merrier!
And finally, my No. 1 tip for on how NOT to write a mystery novel: Do NOT devote not just months but years to honing your craft, developing a style and working and reworking manuscripts. Growing a thick skin and adopting the mindset that you’re involved in a life-long creative endeavor is one of the best ways I know to achieve success. Avoid this at all costs. The alternative, after all, could well be publication.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins has been trying not to be a mystery writer since he accidentally pulled one of his mother’s Erle Stanley Gardner paperbacks off the top shelf at age eight. Despite his most sincere efforts, The Hunt, his fourth novel about an ex-Ohio State quarterback turned private eye, will be published April 15.