Back to School for This Writer!

Mystery writing books for blog

My kids are going back to school this week and in a sense, so am I. It’s been an interesting transition from a career that focused on non-fiction writing to fiction. So, while I work on my current project and develop a couple of new ones, I’m focusing on learning even more about the art of fiction.

The books pictured above are just some of the guidebooks I’ve been turning to as I hone my fiction writing skills. In particular, I’m so glad I found “Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path” by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. Nancy Pickard is one of my all-time favorite mystery writers with lots of books under her belt. “Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path,”a writer’s guide and self-help book wrapped into one, identifies struggles that any writer will find familiar but possibly not articulated in quite this way.

For example, the authors talk about everything from “Unhappiness” (having a creative urge sneak up on your life) to “Wavering” (we all know what that’s like) to finally, “Fulfillment” which may mean something different for everyone. I highly recommend this book to any writer in any genre – it’s full of inspiration, humor, excellent practical advice and warm encouragement.

Real, live feedback from another writer is hugely valuable as well. I’m now on my second mystery writing class through that wonderful group, Sisters in Crime Guppies. Through my current online writing course with best-selling author Linda Rodriguez, I am learning about plot, character development and the big one – revision. Linda is a highly effective teacher and mentor. Again, I highly recommend Sisters in Crime to anyone writing mysteries.

Recently I enrolled in Mystery Writers of America University, a day-long course featuring such luminaries as my idol and fellow Chicagoan Sara Paretsky and the highly talented, award-winning Hank Phillipi Ryan (a fellow Sisters in Crime/Guppy), among others. I can’t even begin to imagine the rewards of taking this class but you can be sure I’ll be writing about it at a future date.

The act of querying my novel to agents has been an incredibly educational experience, too. I’ve received feedback of all kinds, though I’m happy to say it’s been mostly positive and encouraging. That alone has been instructive and I never would have grown and learned as much as I have without querying my manuscript. I know my current manuscript and future writing will be the better for it. If you’re afraid to query, don’t be. I don’t think I’d be as far along the path as I am now if I’d stewed over my manuscript for much longer than I did before submitting. Querying is a great teacher – if you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. After a few tweaks to my current manuscript, I’ll be right out there again with you.

And of course there is reading fiction – but like a writer, not just as a reader. I think most of us read a lot before sitting down to write. That’s probably how most of us got sucked into writing in the first place. Reading like a writer is just one new level of enjoyment because I am appreciating my favorite authors in a whole new way. If the writing looks effortless, it definitely wasn’t.

I’m not forgetting the entire online world of terrific writing resources, many of which I list on this site. Click here for the link. One I particularly love is Helping Writers Become Authors. I get several useful articles nearly every day from this site! I also have a Pinterest board where I collect a lot of articles about writing. Click here to find my Advice for Writers Pinterest board.

What about you? How do you continually teach yourself the art of writing? Any resources you’d like to share?

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