Advice for New Writers

By Judith McCarthy, author of The Marrying Kind

The Marrying Kind“Write about what you know,” the old saw goes, so It only seems appropriate that I write regarding new writers, as I am one myself. Recently, I treated myself to breakfast—every so often, I like to break that unflinching diet of mine and have a short stack of pancakes, bacon, and eggs. Just as I thought my delirium over such normally-forbidden delectables couldn’t get any better, an extremely handsome man was seated by the hostess at the table adjacent to mine. Oh joy, oh rapture, he actually struck up a conversation with me when he heard the waitress ask me about my new book—which I’d mentioned to her last month, when I’d needed a cholesterol fix.

Handsome—who, as it turned out, is a PILOT—was interested in writing a book of his own, but alas did not know where or how to begin. And, he suffered what Bloom called, “the anxiety of influence,” convinced that nothing he ever wrote could possibly match the authors he enjoyed reading. And, of course, he was reading 18th and 19th century American and British fiction, primarily. I saw his dilemma! In my own case, a Ph.D. in American Lit with a heavy emphasis in Victorian British Lit and more than a passing interest in Shakespeare, Milton, Austen, and the Bible, not to mention Kurt Vonnegut and Agatha Christie (I’m eclectic—what can I say), and who knows what else—have left me miserable over approximately 1000 first pages to 1000 (unfinished) first novels.

Knowing (or believing, at any rate) that I could never rise to the level of those whose books and stories I’d enjoyed, I decided once and for all to take Nora Roberts’ advice and sit my butt down in a chair 8 hours a day for 2 months and see what I could produce. You may be the judge of the value of my first novel: I am certainly quite critical of myself and cringe in places where I got loose and gassy, and cry in places where the funny didn’t happen as planned. BUT, all self-deprecation aside, here is what I am proud of: I did it. I wrote a novel. I saw it through to publication—no easy feat. I LISTENED to my editor, who gave me a fantastic writing lesson—after all, the editors here at Crimson Romance have the depth of experience—what did I know?! I wasn’t about to fight them.

My recommendation to all wannabe writers is as follows:

1. Do it. If you can write a sentence, you can write your novel.

2. Separate yourself from what you write. You are a beautiful being of light, who is going to live forever! You are not your writing, certainly not as you are learning your craft.

3. If you separate yourself from your writing, take criticism and editing to heart and make requested changes. Trust the editors who spend TIME helping YOU to become a better writer and to write a better book.

And, if you do these things, consistently and over time, your writing will progress; for writing, as I tell my college students is a PRACTICE. You will never write that first novel without understanding the value of your practice in this craft and commit to see it through. As for me, Crimson Romance has kindly accepted a second novel—this one a vampire thing. I am working on trying to create the best vampire story I can, one that explores the darkest recesses of the human soul. And, again, I have chosen a subject that forces me to deepen the practice of writing.

Are you a writer — or wannabe writer? What do you think of Judith’s advice?