Don’t overthink it, just write it

Published 7:06 pm Wednesday, August 8, 2018

It’s hard for me to give advice on how to be a better writer. Most of my tips just sound too simple or obvious.

I’ve been reporting the news at the Suffolk News-Herald for the past 18 months, but it’s only recently that I’ve actually felt competent enough in my writing to give any tips.

That’s partly why I enjoyed covering the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival last Saturday at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. I like talking to authors, editors, former journalists and everyone else that shares the same writing obsession.

Email newsletter signup

It seems like every author has at least one sound bite of wisdom, so I asked a few authors at the festival for theirs.

John DeDakis, a writing workshop leader at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md. and a former CNN senior copy editor for “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” made the case everyone is a storyteller with at least one story that’s fit for an audience.

He said that’s it’s just a matter of “tapping into your subconscious and finding out what’s lurking in there.”

“I think the most important step is just to take stock of who you are as a person and what you’re interested in, and if there is a desire to write you’ll find a way because you can teach yourself,” he said.

I asked the same question to Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner, the festival’s headlining authors. Harris has 30 years of industry experience and is best known for writing the Southern Vampire Mysteries – adapted for the popular HBO television series “True Blood” – and Kelner is a fellow award-winner with her own successful bibliography of novels and short stories.

Kelner argued that it’s about enjoying the writing process while staying persistent and that a writer’s interests should lead them to fun opportunities.

“Half of my career has been, ‘that sounds like fun,’” Kelner said, which in her case included seven urban fantasy anthologies that she edited with Harris.

“You have to take the offers that come your way,” Harris added. “Some of them work out and some don’t, but you always learn something.”

There was one thing Harris said that stuck with me.

“You have to just sit in your chair and work. You can’t make excuses to not finish (what you’re writing),” she said as she described rookies jumping from one unfinished idea to a seemingly better one. “You have to finish. If you finish, you’re a writer.”

There’s more to it the deeper you get into writing but I think that’s how it always starts. You type past the hesitation and doubt to finish a draft as fast as you can. It doesn’t matter how rough it is if you take the time to revise, revise and revise some more.

Any piece of writing can be improved. It’s just a matter of getting through that first draft.