A routine case of (writing about) murder…

Failed night owl? Me too. Fear not, there’s hope for us all, especially when it comes to finding time to write, as I explain in this week’s Killer Nashville blog, reproduced in its entirety below.

As I like to say, I’m a reporter by day and a mystery writer by earlier in the day. Most mornings I’m up before 5 a.m. After breakfast, dog-walking, and perusing the headlines on my phone and in the paper, I write from about 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. before changing hats and heading to the office.

It’s a challenging routine, but in my experience it provides the minimum amount of time I need — combined with four to five hours on Sunday mornings — to put together sentences that make some semblance of sense, not to mention figuring out whodunit, why, and where that body should go. (The latest book in my series about an ex-college quarterback turned private eye in Columbus, The Hunt, came out in April)

As a failed night owl, my regimen is built around early mornings. But over the years I’ve developed strategies for maximizing writing time that I think apply whether the view outside your window is lightening with the coming day or darkening with the setting sun. Until I write that bestseller or Netflix comes calling with a series proposal, here are some of the rules I follow as I navigate my two jobs.

Separate church and state. In times past, I tried warming up my brain once in front of the computer by reading a couple websites, trolling Facebook and pecking out an email or three. No more. How many status updates does a guy need first thing? These days, I focus my morning’s work on the writing task at hand — sit down, open Word, locate manuscript, read the prior day’s output, and then proceed with new material. Along the way, I’ll open a web browser to check a fact or two, but I resist the temptation to peek at Twitter just yet. All the ancillary writing tasks — the blogging, the email, the research — I reserve for evenings when the spirit is willing but the brain cells are sagging. No matter how much time your own schedule allows to write or what time of day, those minutes are too precious to squander on clickbait.

Farm sustainably. One of our family mottos is “don’t farm too close to the edge of the field.” Meaning, we try not to fill our days so full that there’s no room for occasionally just sitting around and doing nothing. Pouring a second or third cup of coffee. Reading. Watching a show. Taking a nap. I try to follow a modified version of this as I write. That means leaving open the possibility of pondering for a minute or two rather than just pounding away on the keys. Yes, in my experience, it’s possible to write for two hours without ceasing. But inevitably, the result is lacking. Writing requires reflection. A few moments or more spent considering a plot point can save a couple hours later when you realize the point wouldn’t fool a fifth-grader, let alone a discerning crime fiction fan.

Take a breather. This is related to the prior point, but on a macro level. Balancing daily writing with work and family obligations is one challenge; producing a manuscript under the confines of this schedule is yet another. One approach—and possibly the best one—is keeping at it seven days a week until you’re finished. Afterward, celebrate by walking away from the computer for a few days or weeks while you catch up on all those household chores that piled up while you were mentally away. In order to preserve familial harmony and keep the house from falling down around me, I’ve chosen that path with a small detour: giving myself permission to take Saturdays off from writing. The downside is that by pausing mid-stream, especially if the words are flowing, I risk losing momentum. And, to be honest, that’s happened more than once. The upside is both a chance to catch my breath—what bliss to start the day sipping coffee and just reading for a change—and to wrestle the chaos of home owning back into a semblance of order. Where did I put that screwdriver?

So far, it’s a system that works for me: focus on the work at hand; give myself time to ponder as I pound the keys; and take a break once a week. Now if you’ll excuse me, my alarm is going off. It’s time to move that body from Point A to Point B . . .


Welsh-Huggins, a long-time reporter at The Associated Press in Columbus, Ohio, is the author of the Andy Hayes mystery series, featuring an ex-Ohio State quarterback turned private eye, including Fourth Down And OutSlow Burn, and Capitol Punishment (called “nicely plotted” and “a perfect read in an election year” by Publishers Weekly), along with nonfiction books about the death penalty and domestic terrorism. In the fourth book in the mystery series, The Hunt, Hayes searches for a missing human trafficking victim as a serial killer stalks prostitutes on the streets of Columbus, Ohio. When Welsh-Huggins isn’t writing he enjoys running, reading, spending time with family and trying to remember why having a dog, two cats and two parakeets seemed like a good idea at the time. More information is available at andrewwelshhuggins.com

Top Ten Tips On How NOT To Become a Mystery Writer…

 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 noTop Ten Tips On How NOT To Become a Mystery Writer...vel: 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.

What happens in Nashville . . . #mysteries #crimefiction #thrillers #killernashville

After spending much of your time alone in front of a screen–or typewriter, or pad of paper, or clay tablet, etc.–there’s a kid in the candy shop delight in attending writers’ conferences. Or is it more akin to parole? Either way, last weekend’s Killer Nashville conference (my first) was no exception. I heard presentations from novelists I admire, like William Kent Krueger and Janet Evanovich, got mistaken for thriller writer Kevin O’Brien multiple times–what an honor!–and met lots of like-minded people doing cool things, like fellow private eye author Elena Hartwell, who writes the Eddie Shoes series set in Bellingham, Washington. I introduced several folks to my series from Swallow Press about Columbus private eye Andy Hayes, and talked about a standalone thriller I’ve written–more on that soon. To steal a line from Hartwell: who knew murder could be so much fun? Next up: the Ohio Library Council convention in late September. Stay tuned for details . . .

My doppelganger?

Kevin O’Brien: my doppelganger?

With Elena Hartwell, August 2016

With Elena Hartwell on the “Blurring the Line Between Fact & Fiction” panel at Killer Nashville

Thank God It’s Monday! #writing #crimewriting #mondays

“To be successful at anything, you only have to work half a day. That’s all. It doesn’t matter which twelve hours you choose…”

That was writer Billy Bob Billy (William Robert Williams), during the “Using Your Day Job To Fuel Your Writing” session on Saturday at this past weekend’s Killer Nashville writers’ conference, and it’s today’s get-the-week-started quote. Thank God It’s Monday!

 

No mystery here: I’m counting down to @KillerNashville #mysteries #crimefiction

It’s even better than Area 51: “Session 51” at  the Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference, this Sunday, Aug. 21, at 11:15 a.m in the Magnolia Room, titled “Blurring the Line Between Fact & Fiction.” Along with Sarah Wisseman, Philip Cioffari, Elana Hartwell and Paul H. B. Shin, I’ll be discussing how to properly integrate facts, historical figures and events into manuscripts, and how to do so “organically”. Here’s the schedule for the entire weekend; stay tuned for details on book signing times and locations. Hope to see you there!

Marketing 101010101… #tuesdaywritingtips #writing

When I saw the lead item in Jim Warren‘s daily media coverage round-up on Monday, I was tempted to celebrate by holding a hashtag burning party. “Journalists, beware: Twitter is less potent than you assume,” read the headline on this absolutely terrifying story that suggests that Twitter generates only about 1.5 percent of traffic for typical news organizations. Whoa. You mean thousands of people aren’t hanging on our every Tweet? You mean I could actually get back to reporting for a while? And more to the point of this blog, why am I bothering tweeting about my mystery novels? Who’s reading my daily doses of 140 characters, anyway?

As anyone who’s dipped their toes into the rushing waters of modern book marketing knows, an active social media presence is either an engaging perk or necessary evil of getting the word out about your writing. Either way, it’s mandatory. It’s about building a brand, which sounds hokey but like it or not is part of the new reality in publishing. And despite its echo chamber qualities, Twitter is part of that process. Twitter, and so much more. For those of you who, like me, find the marketing aspects daunting at time, Killer Nashville guest blogger DiAnn Mills recently ran down a checklist of the must-dos when publishing a book, and it’s a must-read. While these aren’t writing tips per se, they’re tips every writer should consider before, during and after putting pen to paper or keyboard to pixels.

As she says, “So let’s crawl out of our cave mode and discuss ways to approach the scary monster called marketing and promotion. I think you’ll find it can be easy and even enjoyable.” Even, let’s hope, something we can tweet about later.

 

 

 

It’s not that big a stretch #tuesdaywritingtips #writing

Tip No. 27 on today’s episode of #tuesdaywritingtips: Getting warmed up to write.

When I started running in the 1970s, conventional wisdom had us all stretching like preening flamingos before each workout. Not stretching, we were warned, would cause problems ranging from chronic injury to the heartbreak of psoriasis. Today, the thinking is nearly reversed, with most experts agreeing that while a little muscle warm-up isn’t a bad thing, the best and most important time to stretch is after a work-out, and not just the touch-your-toes variety, but a full set of exercises working on as many parts of your body as possible. (This philosophy was best summed up by the late exercise guru Jack LaLanne, who quipped–minus an expletive–“Have you ever seen a lion stretch before it attacks?”)

Conversely, I used to be adamant about not warming up before writing, defined generally as ignoring the Internet, email, Facebook and my horoscope and getting right to it. From a time-saving perspective there’s a value to this, and occasionally, especially when I sit down at night, I tend to plunge right in, reasoning that I’m already awake and (hopefully) full of ideas. When it comes to the morning, however, I find anymore that easing into the job at hand is not just a procrastination tool, but a way to bring my brain up to what little speed it has left. Typically, I start with a glance at my various Twitter feeds, which range from a collection of my Associated Press colleagues’ tweets, to state and national news outlets, to journalism-related entities and finally mystery writers (Mystweeters?). Next, I skim several websites devoted to mysteries and mystery writing, currently consisting of: The Strand Mystery Magazine, Crime Fiction Lover, Killer Nashville, Mystery Scene and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Finally, I turn to letsrun.com, a website that covers the sport of running, where there is very little posted about stretching before workouts and, unfortunately, way too much about doping scandals. From there I might peruse Facebook and my personal email on my phone before facing the inevitable, opening up Word, brushing the beads of blood from my forehead and starting in for the morning.

So far I’ve avoided serious injury with this routine, although I still suffer from the heartbreak of adverbitis from time to time. Maybe I’ll just peak at the web to see if there’s a cure out there…