I’m delighted to welcome Patricia Stoltey as today’s guest blogger. Pat and I first met in 2009 on Dani Greer’s Blog-a-Day web site, and we reconnected recently on Facebook. Her story is a great illustration of my favorite maxim from the I Ching: Perseverance furthers.
Four Things I’ve Learned About Writing Along the Way
by Pat Stoltey
I’ve been dabbling at this writing thing for a long time. A few short stories here. Bad poetry there. The beginnings of one novel, then another. A whole stack of ideas, first sentences, even a few first pages for at least three novels. Enough printed paper to fill a banker-size file box.
Oh, the books I’ve read on writing and the writing life. Wondering what it would be like to get published. Attending a workshop, a weekend writing retreat with readings and critiques, then my first mystery fan convention. I had once lived in Muncie, Indiana and had graduated from Ball State University, so when BSU sponsored the first Magna cum Murder, I registered right away–as a fan. That wasn’t too bad. I had the wonderful good fortune to sit at a table with my box lunch and meet a relatively new mystery writer, Susan Wittig Albert. I consider Susan my muse because that’s the day (in 1994) I resolved to become a writer. She is a lot more productive than I am, and she is still my inspiration and favorite author.
It took quite a few years, thirteen to be exact, to finally see my own first mystery in print. My husband and I had moved to Colorado in 1998 and I had joined Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers soon after, attending their annual conference as an unpublished writer. That’s where I eventually found the editor who would acquire my first novel and three more after that.
In the twenty-three years since I made that decision to be a writer, I’ve learned a lot. Because of the changing nature of the publishing industry, the learning will go on. The following four lessons have been the most important to me.
- It’s critical to learn the basics of grammar, punctuation, and style. Once learned, we can break some of those rules with intention to make dialogue more authentic or ramp up tension in an action scene. An agent or editor can tell the difference. If you want to be traditionally published, you need to know the rules before you break them.
- The right critique group or critique partner can speed you through your journey toward publication. I have been lucky enough to belong to an outstanding critique group since the end of 2003. The group formed from attendees at a novel writing class, and even though the membership has changed over the years, the current members continue to work diligently toward publication with some happy successes. We are all serious about becoming better writers.
- Learning a solid self-editing process is extremely important. I do my self-edit in stages that worked so well I developed a “Self-Editing One Step at a Time” workshop for Northern Colorado Writers. I also published the series as posts for the Blood-Red Pencil blog a few years ago. A top-notch self-edit, however, is no substitute for a professional edit of your manuscript. If you find a traditional publisher, professional editing will most likely be part of your contract. If you plan to self-publish, you’ll need a developmental and copy edit if you want a polished final product. I will not name names of the sloppy writing that has found big success, but can assure you it won’t happen very often. Besides, would you want your author name associated with the label of “sloppy writing?”
- If you have a story you care about with all your heart, never give up. I have a novel coming out in December 2017 that I started in 2006, rewrote five times until I wrote the life out of the characters, went back to version three, and after one more edit, submitted it to the new Frontier Fiction line at Five Star/Cengage. I cared about the story and the characters too much to let it go. Needless to say, I gave my happy dance shoes a workout when that contract was signed.
These aren’t the only things I’ve learned along the way, but I’ll save more for a future post. Meanwhile, keep on writing.
About Pat Stoltey:
Pat Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth novels, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders. Standalone thriller, Dead Wrong, was a finalist in the 2015 Colorado Book Awards. A short story, “Three Sisters of Ring Island,” appeared in the 2014 anthology Tales in Firelight and Shadow. Wishing Caswell Dead is scheduled for release December 20, 2017. A former accounts payable manager, Pat began writing seriously after retirement. She has lived in Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, and the south of France, but now she’s resident of Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Katie Cat, and Sassy Dog.