Guest Post by Deborah Coonts
Tips for Writers, Sort Of
By Deborah Coonts,
Author of Lucky Stiff
Let’s get this out right up front — I have an authority issue. Rules and me, we mix about as well as fire and gasoline. So, if someone tells me how to do something, odds are, I’m not going to follow that path. The results are usually either brilliant or disastrous. I am very familiar with the latter, but not so much with the former. But at least I did it my way (yes, I feel a song coming on). After trying many professions (some had no appreciation for independent thinkers, imagine that), I finally landed on writing — primarily because, as you might have suspected, I am eminently unemployable. Curiously enough, I’ve discovered that writing is what I should have done all along.
You see, I’ve always loved stories. But, I wasn’t born a writer fully formed. I know you find that hard to believe, but it’s the truth — although I make stuff up for a living, I never lie. Anyway, when I started writing I was as clueless as a politician with a camera phone and a Twitter account. So, I did what everyone else would do — I just sat in a chair and typed “Chapter One.” Then . . . nothing. I had no idea how to tackle something as intimidating as a novel.
So, I baled and hit the Internet. Curiously enough, I found some “rules” for writing a novel. The first one was “write what you know.” Well, letsee, I was a single parent, frazzled and over-worked tax lawyer, living in a very conservative and snobbish small city in Colorado. Hmmm, didn’t sound like good fodder for a bestseller.
The next rule was “write what you read.” I loved romantic suspense. Maybe I could be Sandra Brown — or at least have her wardrobe? This at least got me scribbling madly. But, alas, I was not Sandra Brown. I wasn’t even a marginal romantic suspense writer. Darn.
Okay, next “rule:” Write what you can imagine. Much better. So, I imagined an overworked young woman who was Head of Customer Relations at a large Vegas Strip hotel with a former hooker as a mother, an absent father, and Vegas’s foremost Female Impersonator as a best friend. This story I could write! And it became Wanna Get Lucky?, my first published novel.
Along the way, I’ve developed my own set of “rules” for writing a novel — truisms all learned the hard way.
RULE ONE: GET DIVORCED, QUIT YOUR JOB, SELL YOUR KIDS
(I warn you, a slightly used teenager will bring nothing on the open market. Ditto the slightly used husband.) Writing is an all-consuming passion, an exacting taskmaster. If you don’t understand that last sentence, pick another form of self-flagellation other than writing — there are many, or so I’m told.
RULE TWO: LEARN THE BASICS
Writing is an art form. Asking someone to teach you how to write is akin to asking Picasso to teach you how to paint. He can teach you the basics of color, composition, media and whatever, but the expression — the part that makes it art — is up to you. The same goes for writing. Learn the basics of sentence structure, active voice versus passive, showing not telling, and the particular narrative nuances of your chosen genre, then quit taking lessons. Find your uniqueness and let it flow.
RULE THREE: KILL YOUR EDITOR (no, no, not that one! I’m referring to the INTERNAL one!)
Self-editing as you write will kill your story. The goal of the first draft is to get words on the page — as many words as you think might be helpful. Trust me, it is MUCH easier to take words out than it is to add more later. I don’t know why that is, but it is.
And that voice in your head that says you can’t do this, that you can never write a complete novel, much less a good one? Strangle that little SOB right now, BEFORE you begin. You will thank me later. Actually, I prefer donations in lieu of gratitude.
RULE FOUR: NEVER TRUST YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Even if you don’t owe them money, your family and friends will all tell you that your novel is wonderful. Don’t trust them. Find a group of writers — published or not, but make sure they know what they are talking about and their motives are pure — share your pages. You read theirs, they read yours, then you CONSTRUCTIVELY offer and receive unbiased opinions. This can be a goldmine. It can also be a very negative experience, so choose who you listen to wisely.
Put your butt in the chair, power-up the computer and write — everyday. I have written on planes, in casinos, at coffee shops in airports, skanky hotels when I was too tired to remember why I was even there, at family gatherings (a great way to keep out of the fray), in the park, at the gym after being defeated by the Stairmaster . . . in short, my daily word count goal is non-negotiable. I don’t care what your excuse is, you can find the time. I am the Queen of Procrastination, and if I can find a few hours each day to play with words and imaginary friends, so can you. And, some days my imaginary world is much more fun than the real thing. Bet yours is, too.
RULE SIX: ENJOY
Have fun. Play.
© 2011 Deborah Coonts, author of Lucky Stiff
Deborah Coonts, author of Lucky Stiff, says her mother tells her she was born in Texas a very long time ago, though she’s not totally sure — her mother can’t be trusted. But she was definitely raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer. She currently resides in Las Vegas, where family and friends tell her she can’t get into too much trouble. Silly people. Coonts has built her own business, practiced law, flown airplanes, written a humor column for a national magazine, and survived a teenager. She is the author of the Lucky O’Tool Las Vegas adventure series.
The first book in the series, Wanna Get Lucky?, has been nominated by the Romance Writers of America for the 2011 RITA awards in the categories of Best First Novel and Best Novel with a Strong Romantic Element. Her second book, Lucky Stiff, was published in February 2011.