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5 Writing Tips from a Master

This past week I had the opportunity to hear the great David Morrell speak twice – first for the Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers and then at Genre Fest, which was sponsored by RMMWA, along with the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Colorado Authors League.

Both times he really blew me away with both his knowledge of the writing world and what it takes to become a bestselling author. He would know something about being a bestselling author as the father of Rambo. (he even told us the story of how he came up with that iconic came for his character in First Blood).

I’ve heard him speak before at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference and this time was as great as the first time I listened to his ideas and thoughts on writing.

1.      Don’t chase the market – This makes sense because so many people today seem to think that it makes sense to go with what is already out there. But if you think about it, the most successful writers are the ones who find something new. Suddenly it hits and takes off and that first writer might become a bestseller. The imitators are seldom remembered and don’t make it big. Instead of aspiring to be the next J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer or E. L. James, go after your own bestseller with your own original ideas.  By the time you try to catch up with whatever is hot today, the market will have moved on to the next big “thing” and that author will be famous

2.      Write for yourself – Write what you want to write and your own personality and style will come through. Just like following the market, you can’t make yourself into someone else. There are certain things you know, certain style that you bring to your writing that allows your work to be different. Pursue that and you will find you can become a better writer and you will also have an individual book you can be proud of.

3.      Write to your emotions – Morrell discussed his life and how his life journey has always dictated his writing.  As a child and young adult he was struck by the television program Route 66. His comments spoke to me because I not only recall that television program about two young men wandering through the country but I remember our first big family trip that made me want to travel more was along Route 66. To him, the fact they were both orphans spoke to him as an orphan who also wanted to get out and travel around. But those beginnings took him from Canada into studying to be a writer at Penn State. My own writing journey took me traveling to various cities around the western US to work. But as he said, his life and his emotions still play into his writing. And I find that mine do too. If I don’t cry over the happy ending to my romance novels I feel like I’ve let my readers down. I want them to leave the book with some sort of feeling and if I can’t feel it, then I’m not putting my all into my writing.

4.      Listen to your daydreams – He said that writers are notorious day dreamers and that is so true. When he said that, there were so many people nodding their heads in the room. We all knew what he meant. These stories come into our heads and they won’t go away. We have characters coming to us and asking to have their stories written. People who don’t relate to their characters or their stories don’t become writers. He says to listen to those daydreams, think about them and what they mean and then write, write write.

5.      Study the craft of writing – His final point was to study the craft of writing and to continue to study it. As a teacher he is always learning and he is also always teaching. He recommended we look for the books in our field and learn more about what we are writing. His enthusiasm had me wanting to re-read the work of Hemmingway as well as my old favorite mystery writers. 

The other thing I witnessed, though he didn’t say it, but I’ve seen it at other conferences and even in the time he took to talk with me, was his willingness to chat with the other writers and  to just talk the craft with them.  I remember the advice he gave to and other writer about writing short stories and using them to learn to hone the craft.

He also talked about research and how much time he devotes to it and he has done that with his latest books, Murder is a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead. Both are obviously well researched and he discussed how he read so many books from the 1850s as well as studying that time period. But he not only read books, he used what he learned from those books to bring his own stories to life, using that information in his setting and bring it to life for his own readers.

What great information! As I have told others, I could just listen to his ideas and his knowledge over and over. By studying other writers and how they work, we can all become better writers. As David Morrell says, we must always be learning.


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