As a general rule I don’t re-post pieces on one blog that I’ve posted on another blog. It just doesn’t seem fair to the reader. So, why am I making an exception with this post you may ask?
The answer is simple. It’s not so much the repetition of a blog post—though I did run much of this in the August version of my 19th of each month post on the blog site of my publisher (Poisoned Pen Press)—as it is excerpts from the introductory lecture I gave my freshman, sophomore, and junior college students last January to kick off a four-week, five days a week, two hours per day course entitled, “MYSTERY WRITING UNMASKED: Techniques, Tactics, and Trends.”
After coming across a series of blog threads addressing the “mystery writing life,” I decided why not toss my empty headed hat into that public ring. So, here’s what I’ve culled out of a two-hour lecture and spruced up to succinctly state what I see as expressing my take on what I believe should be the underlying purpose of a course on creating a writing life. Here goes:
- This course is all about you, about showing you what to expect, and where to find your highs among all the lows while you seek to attain whatever measures of success you’ve set for yourself as a writer….
- I see four stages in the development of a mystery writer: Wanting, Struggling, Attaining, and Enduring. Through each stage you should strive to maintain one common thread: keep writing a joy, never a burden. If you start from the proposition, “Writing is a lousy way to make a living but a wonderful way to make a life,” it makes sense to work at keeping your life’s driving vice a joy. In fact, I think that’s a pretty good overall bottom line principle for building a successful life in general: Find joy in what you do….
- I’m here to help you find what makes you tick as writer. Let’s call it your writer’s soul. Or for those of you without a soul, your writer’s center. It’s different in each of us, but if I can somehow get you to trust your writing instincts, to run along behind them as they lead you to God knows where (or Bruce Almighty), perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll have played some small part in helping you find that place within yourself that will bring you joy in the writing aspects of whatever career you land in, no matter how far it may be from the literary arts.….
- We’ll study the elements of a mystery, look at some of the great ones, but not in significant analytical detail because there is no way to do that in a four-week course. Great writing requires reading great works, that’s how we learn. It’s up to you to pick what you like. No one can do that for you, only suggest....
- Then there’s the writing side to this course. Every day, no matter what other assignments I’ve given you, I expect you to turn in one page a day—that’s 250 words—of that mystery you’ve always wanted to write. I suggest you take care to involve a subject that interests you enough to dedicate a year of your life toward weaving that subject into your mystery. Pets, cars, farming, history, plumbing, Masons, your job, partying, or whatever else is fine as long as the theme holds your interest….
- A purpose of those daily 250 word submissions is, of course, to allow you to practice what you learn in this class. But I have a more significant reason. Writing is a craft practiced around deadlines and if you fall into the habit of waiting until the last moment, you will suffer great pain. Publishers, editors, judges, businesses, governments, bosses, all impose deadlines. In the real world many different things can fall due on any given day, obligations back up, bottle up, and attack your time. One day you’ll have one thing to do, the next day ten. So you best learn to schedule (perhaps write 500 words one day to free up the next?) and follow at least the semblance of a routine. If you do, you’ll meet your deadlines, and life will be good….
- If you’re serious about writing you best learn to treat it as a 9-5 job. Should you already have one of those, regard writing as your second—at least until you’re lucky enough to be financially independent for any number of reasons, most notably an understanding, supportive, gainfully employed partner or spouse, and can move it into first position. But no matter what your circumstances, never forget the primary directive: Keep writing a joy!