Lessons from Other Authors

I’m constantly learning about, re-examining, adjusting, and experimenting with the writing craft. In the process, I pass on information to other writers in the hope that it will be helpful to someone else. Through the process, I’ve learned that a writer needs to be in the right place at the right time to receive helpful advice. One of my favorite things to hear in the feedback I receive is that my post came at exactly the right time. I’ve even found that I’ve been given sound advice, but it sometimes takes years before I’m ready to put that advice into practice. For example, the first time I heard that if I wanted to have a career as an author I needed to create a website and a blog, came two years before I started this blog. I wasn’t ready before that.

One of the things I enjoy doing is listening to other authors talk about their passion, their interests, their habits, their writing journey, and the tips they have for other authors. The thing that I’ve really started paying attention to in the last few months is that there are so many similarities and just as many differences. If a best-selling author gives a blanketed statement on what every writer should or shouldn’t do, you can bet there’s another best-selling author with the exact opposite advice. It doesn’t mean one piece of advice is good and the other bad, I think authors make blanketed statements about writing because that is their truth. It’s just not every writer’s truth.

Regardless, I have found that there’s something to be learned from every author. Eventually, when an author is speaking about what they are passionate about, there’s something that resonates with me. Whether it’s writing advice I already knew but needed the reminder, or something I’d been thinking about myself recently, or even something new that hadn’t yet occurred to me but came at just the right moment. Even those moments where I disagree with the advice, but stewing about it brings me to a revelation about my writing. These are all gems that I look forward to hearing when listening to an author speak.

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of listening to a couple of authors talking about their writing journeys and the writing craft. I thought I’d share some of the things they spoke about that struck me and maybe they will resonate with some of you as well.

I went to an event called Literary Connections, put on by a nearby community college. The first speaker was Sharman Apt Russell, a nature/science writer from New Mexico. One of my favorite things she said was about how the industry likes you to limit the genre in which you write to just one, but she’s always been a person of many interests, so she says she’s a promiscuous writer. She writes about what interests her, regardless of the genre the story may fall.

Here are some other interesting pieces from her speech that I wrote down:

  • Harmonious, complex, and interconnectedness is what writers are trying to recreate. Writing is a way to engage with the world and it helps clarify what we’re thinking. Writing is about discovering things about the world and about ourselves.
  • Writing is hard because you set high standards and you don’t always meet them.
  • When it comes to writing, do one thing at a time.
  • The trick is finding the easy and natural path for your writing.
  • When you write something, it can have more meaning than you are consciously aware, and the full meaning of underlying themes may not be revealed until the piece is done.

The second author who spoke was Craig Johnson from Wyoming, and he writes a series that was turned into the TV series “Longmire.” I believe his 13th book in the series came out in September. If you ever have a chance to listen to him speak, he is quite the entertainer.

Here are some of the points I wrote down from his speech:

  • On getting in your own way: A writer will start writing once they finally run out of excuses. Every writer has an editor who tries to strangle the writer before he ever gets started.
  • On writing descriptions and settings: I need to know about environment, not inventory.
  • You think you know what a book is about when you start writing it, but you really don’t know what that book is about until it is finished.
  • Being an author is a lot like being an astronaut. The odds are against you.

 

Have you been to any events within the last year where an author spoke, whether at a conference, book signing, literary event, etc.? What was some advice or experiences that they spoke about that really resonated with you? If not in person, is there a book on writing or a blog post that had advice that really resonated with you or changed the way you approached something in your writing.

Since this is my first post for this year, I want to wish you all a beautiful, productive, and successful year!

6 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Hmm, this is tough to reply to because I tend not to stay away from books that talks about writing and I tend not to listen to writers anymore. Sometimes a quote may talk to me and I may read some blogs on writing, but I tend to do my own thing anyway.


    1. // Reply

      It’s a tricky balance. There’s so much to learn from other writers, and yet so many ways to be pulled under by the amount and type of advice available. That’s why I look for the gems, and filter out the advice that is not for me or that may be harmful.
      I must confess that I recently quit reading a writing book that ends up on just about everyone’s top writing books to read. I felt like the author spent more time trying to tear down writers and diminish the value of writing and writing achievements. Every gem I found, I had to run through a filter to find the message that was helpful. It turned out to be more negativity than I could handle, so I finally gave up reading it.


  2. // Reply

    Sounds like you had a good experience. The last con I attended, I went to 8 or 9 panels and only gathered any kind of real benefit from one. The others seem more like “bla bla bla, by the way, buy my book.” And then turn around and harp about self-promoting indie authors, haha.

    It was amusing if nothing else.

    Sounds like you picked up some of “the right stuff” at the event. Sometimes it’s just a tidbit that I garner from an author that makes a good catch-phrase or idea in my head. Like your blog, I was resistant to using twitter for years. Now it’s my favorite engagement platform. I was also shy about self-pub for a long time before someone told me to “just put it out there” at exactly the right moment. You can’t build an audience if you have no books! I’m still building that audience one reader at a time, but now I get excited about putting a new idea out in the world, instead of worrying about who’s going to like it and who won’t, and I keep a few in the closet for lit agents too, but I want to let my stories shine. I wonder what my back list would look like if I simply started putting stuff out 12 years ago.


    1. // Reply

      The interesting thing about the event is that there were very few writers in the audience. Most were readers who were fans of the authors’ works.
      There are a lot of conferences that have very introductory information for people just getting into writing. I usually catch a few good bits of information though. And regardless, I usually feel pretty inspired being around other writers. Conferences are a great place to connect with other writers, and some of them have great information to share. Although, I’ve also encountered writers who are…there’s no kind way I can think of to say this…full of themselves. I become interested in another author’s work if it’s in my favorite genres, or by getting to know them, talking with them, and getting to learn about their writing process. I naturally become interested in their work through our shared passion, even if it’s not something I might normally read. I think some writers like to put the horse before the cart though. Or maybe they’re better at marketing than I am, but that technique doesn’t work for me.


  3. // Reply

    Personally, I always feel like I’m learning lessons from other writers because I read blogs and books about writing. For the most part, I feel the one lesson writers always tell each other is to never give up – keep writing and reading, always.


    1. // Reply

      I’m glad you brought up the common lesson of never give up and always read. Even when you’re reading a book that’s not about the writing craft, you’re still absorbing so much information about the writing. Whether you’re learning what to do, what not to do, learning about the world, or seeing things in a new way. And it’s not always on a conscious level. It’s those things you learn while reading that intuitively make their way into your own writing.
      And never give up…there are so many well-known authors who had to struggle and keep with it before their work was accepted. Had they given up after the first or twentieth rejection, we’d never have the opportunity to appreciate their work.

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