The Writing Life

Seems to me I am an odd choice to speak to a writer’e2’80’99s conference. I’e2’80’99ve never taken so much as a class in writing, not since checking off the English requirement in junior college, and frankly don’e2’80’99t even know the right technical terms for a lot of what I do.

However, the 75 or so folk who paid good money for the Corte Madera mystery conference this last weekend seemed happy enough to receive my meanderings about historical fiction and characterization in general, and LOCKED ROOMS in particular. And I got the chance to have leisurely conversations with friends I rarely see, from Lee Child to Cara Black, meet new writers (and would-be writers), and to have dinner at a house with one of the most gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay that you could imagine, the complete panorama from downtown to Bridge to Marin hills.

So what did I say? Simple rules:

To be a writer, write. And read.

Write your passion, not what you think sells. Write for yourself, not for others out there somewhere. If you love it, chances are better that others will, too.

Give yourself a break. Writing is hard, and if you feel like taking a day off, take a day off. If you end up taking so many days off that you start talking about writer’e2’80’99s block, look at why’e2’80’94I generally find that when clearing the tool shed and cleaning the oven seem like a good ideas, it’e2’80’99s because the back of my head knows there’e2’80’99s a problem looming, and it’e2’80’99s digging in its heels at being painted into a corner.

And a related topic to unanticipated problems: If you’e2’80’99re an outliner, if your mind is happy to visualize the bones and then clothe them in flesh, by all means draw up an outline and write around it. But there are many of us whose minds just don’e2’80’99t function that way, who can’e2’80’99t see where we’e2’80’99re going until we’e2’80’99re there. And the only way of knowing which you are is to try it.

Simple rules, perhaps obvious rules. Still, it must be confusing for students to hear me say that I spend longer in the rewrite than the first draft, then listen to Lee Child saying that he doesn’e2’80’99t think rewrites are valuable because they just end up robbing the story of its vitality.

Worse, both he and I are right. For us.

I suppose that the most valuable thing I can say to all you writers out there is: Good luck.

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  1. KB on July 11, 2005 at 11:13 pm

    Laurie, I’m so glad you’re still sharing your thoughts on writing with us. I just recently discovered your blog and was afraid you were doing it just while on the road. So, thank you for that, first of all.

    Secondly, it’s good to hear your thoughts on the mechanics of writing, and I’m sure the conference attendees felt the same. It makes no difference to me that what you suggest is different than what someone else says….we are all different and certainly our writing styles are as well. It’s just good to hear that it’s “ok” to be different!

    I’m about 31,000 words into my second attempt at a novel and frankly, any encouragement I get to continue is welcome. So, thank you, again.

    Please continue to write–novels and blogs and anything else you want! I just got Califia’s Daughters in the mail today and am off to read it.

    Did I say thank you too many times? I mean it–thanks! Kim

  2. Anonymous on July 12, 2005 at 4:37 am

    Well, having been mentioned in passing in previous blogs as a person attending the Corte Madera writers’ conference, will I refrain from comment? Absolutely no way. I am a very novice writer and found the conference terrific. I found about it at the book launch when Elaine Petrocelli said “and if anyone has even the faintest desire to write a mystery, you should attend this conference.” Elaine is one of the owners of Book Passage bookstores, with an 800# of 800-999-7909 for anyone interested in attending the 13th annual conference in July 06. The thing which perhaps I appreciated most was the flavor of the thing. As a hopeful writer, one ponders, if I joined this community, would it be comfortable? This conference fostered and achieved an atmosphere of support, praising the positives. So helpful. Laurie’s stuff was excellent, of course. I also especially noted her idea of using context around a character to round them out, as well as their appearance and dialog. Also heartened by “write what you love.” thanks!–Meredith T.

  3. Anonymous on July 15, 2005 at 7:05 am

    And in future I will proofread and refrain from using the same word twice in one sentence. sigh. but let’s keep writing, anyway. –Meredith T.

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