A Hard Thing to Do

Writers' tips and tricks? I like reading them but don't often apply them. I like learning big new ponderous meaty techniques but quickie solutions aren't something I normally embrace.

But there are two easy writing tips I love and use to this day. One is to not not write just because I'm stuck (thank you, Roger Ebert).

And the other? A bit harder but so worth it.

Tony Hillerman -- yep, as in famous mystery writer Tony Hillerman -- once spoke at one of my university classes. He got to talking about his own methods, and he said this: Stop writing while you're having fun.

We were all like, "awww, Mr. Hillerman! But when you're having fun writing a scene or a conversation or a moment, well, dang it, that's the best part! That's when everything is working!" (We weren't that rude to our visitors, but, you know. Writing students can be a mouthy bunch.)

But the author was correct. If you stop writing when you're stuck and frustrated, it can be chore to return; you can't find the inspiration or energy. But if you stop when everything is butterflies and kittens, you just can't wait to return to those butterflies and kittens. Those butterflies and kittens haunt you, luring you back. (Okay, I had to type that because I like the image of scary butterflies and haunty kittens.)

Do I put this into practice with the Wilfair books? Almost always.

I've almost never finished a Fair and Gomery moment in a single sitting. Even if I'm dying to type it all out, I usually close everything down before I reach the scene's finish. It's a delicious frustration, for sure, but I think the time away from the moment, whether it is a few hours or a day, is beneficial. I'm thinking about it, and thinking about how I can improve what I've written, and it all grows and flowers in my mind.

So, Mr. Hillerman, you were right: I cannot wait to get back to it.

It's kind of good advice for life, actually. I have warm memories of the parties I've departed while I was still having a great time. Perhaps this tip has other life applications, too. Pause and step away before you reach a point of frustration, regardless of the task or event.

photo: Kristin Nador


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