Sunday, July 09, 2006

Saturday event/On writing advice

I had a lot of fun speaking to the OC chapter of RWA on Saturday. Always good to see writers helping other writers, and you'd have a hard time finding people who have a more collegial spirit than the members of OCC RWA. I had the pleasure of seeing some writers I hadn't been in touch with for a while, and also to see Michelle Thorne of Bearly Used Books/A Great Read. Michelle sponsored a signing for me in the early days of my career, so it was good to reconnect. (Her store in La Puente will have signed copies of my books if you're looking for them -- contact her at or call (626) 968-3700.) Charlotte Maclay provided an entertaining and informative morning session, and I was glad I had a chance to hear it.

The event was well-organized, thanks to Bobbie Cimo and other OCC RWA officers and volunteers. And I deeply appreciate the immediate support the OCC RWA writers gave to the Crime Lab Project. I talked about writing and about forensic science, two subjects I enjoy discussing.

Although you've heard plenty from me about forensic science, I haven't spent much time on this blog talking about writing, in part because there are so many writers' (and agents') blogs out there that focus on writing advice. Even if some of what I read on them makes me cringe, it may help you or be of interest.

I'm sure I'll be tempted to reflect on writing here at some point, too, given the amount of time I spend writing and how important it is to me. I'm just as sure that if I give in to this temptation, I'll find myself dining on a nice fat slice of a humble pie of my own making.

It's so easy to sound ridiculous or pompous (or both) when trying to describe a creative process. While there is certainly common ground among writers -- or at least, patches of ground that groups of us share -- writing is also a highly individual, usually solitary endeavor, and many of us who engage in it are not certain it can be entirely explained to others. One writer's gem of wisdom seems like costume jewelry to another.

On the other hand, when I've spoken to groups of writers or taught courses on writing, I've found the experience energizing -- and instructive in its own way to me. And I still find myself quoting or thinking about things said in truly inspiring and insightful talks by other writers I've had the privilege to hear -- among them, Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Nancy Pickard, T. Jefferson Parker, Tony Hillerman, Mary Higgins Clark, Dick Lochte, Donald Westlake, Ross Thomas -- and a young but talented and thoughtful writer, Christopher Rice. And Lawrence Block's books on writing not only kept me going when I was working on my first book, I still find his advice worth rereading. I highly recommend these books to any of you who are writing.

Block is a master of crime fiction, and I noticed that on the section of his Web site where he talks about his writing books, he says,
...I never meant to set myself up as an authority on the writing of fiction --- there is no such thing --- but I found that, much as writing makes one a better reader, so did writing about writing have a salutary effect on me, both as reader and writer....
I suppose that's one of the reasons I occasionally find the nerve to offer writing advice, or to pass along good advice I've heard elsewhere -- thinking about such things helps me sort out what I'm doing, and gives me a greater appreciation for the skills and artistry of others.

While I dither about what I'll put on the blog, if you want to see the part of my Web site where I offer some writing advice, visit Not From Mt. Sinai and Three Rules for Writing -- feel free to take it or leave it. In fact, if you find it discouraging, please do leave it.

In the meantime, I'm going to follow some good writing advice I've heard from many writers over the years and make my writing time sacred -- I'll be away from the blogs for a few days, while I make more progress on a current manuscript.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Hope the writing goes well Jan. "One writer's gem of wisdom seems like costume jewelry to another." I think one of the things that encourages me the most, in hearing how other people approach things (which often does sound ridiculous) is that it gives me hope that I'm not insane. Nobody I knew when I started out approached writing like me. You have to have an outline, you have to do x number of words each day and no more, you have to do full character bios before you start page 1...

Rules, rules, rules. I was so relieved when I read that authors all did things differently. It gave me the confidence to ignore bad advice and do things the way that worked for me.

Jan Burke said...

Yes, I think many of us suffered from being told how to write -- mostly by people who didn't.