I Learned My Lesson Well*

Writing LessonsAny writer will tell you that it’s not an easy thing to do. Ideas come often enough (although frequently not when you’re actually anywhere near a keyboard where you can make a note of them!). The challenges come in other aspects of writing, like making the time to finish that novel, or working your way out of a plot mess. And then, what do you do once your novel’s finished?

I’m hardly a world-famous author, but I have learned a few things about writing that aren’t always covered in creative writing classes and degree programs. If they help you, too, or give you some insight into what it’s like to be a writer, then I’m happy to have been helpful/informative.

Here, then, are….


Some Things I’ve Learned About Writing


Find Your Own Writing Pattern

I have a pattern that works for me. I write early in the morning. Ridiculously early. I’m the one whose home office light is on well before the earliest dog-walkers on the street get started.

When I plan a story (and yes, I’m a planner), I start with the characters. Since I write crime fiction, that means the victim. Then I go on from there.

I go straight to keyboard as I write. Trust me, if you saw my handwriting, you’d have no trouble understanding why. Even I can’t always read it.

Those are just a few examples of the patterns I’ve developed for myself. The important thing to remember is that they won’t work for everyone. We’re all different, and in my case that’s a very good thing. One of me is much more than enough.

You can’t get the deep satisfaction that comes from writing if you’re fighting your own patterns. So I think one important thing to do is work out when you’re most able to focus, and which steps are best for you. Sometimes that means not doing what you read about in a blog post or a book. It means trusting yourself to learn your rhythms and your ways of going about the writing process.

That said, though, it’s also important to….


Learn From Others

One of the great things about writing is that it’s not a zero-sum game. So there’s a wealth of resources available. One of the ones I like best is the Writer’s Knowledge Base. It’s a searchable treasure trove of all sorts of articles and blog posts on all aspects of the writing process. There’s also Writer’s Remorse, which includes articles, interviews, and much more. There are also dozens of online writers’ groups, seminars and classes where members share advice, information and so on. Most of them are either free or cost very little. Just perfect for a writer’s budget…

There are plenty of face-to-face opportunities for learning from others, too. Critique groups, writing retreats and writing conferences are just a few of the many ways to find out what other writers are doing. Again, most of them aren’t expensive. And they’re great reminders that you’re not the only one whose characters won’t cooperate, and whose plot threads closely resemble the Gordian Knot.

The best way to learn what other writers do, though, is to read. A lot. The more I’ve read, the better I think my writing has gotten. I may even do something pretty good one of these times…


See Writing as the Profession it is.

Writers (well, most writers I know, anyway) aren’t in it to get rich. Which is a good thing, since trust me, you don’t earn a Ferrari income if you’re a writer. And therein, as you might say, is the challenge. Writers do what they do because they love it. They are passionate about telling stories. That’s what makes the best stories so good. But writers aren’t always as well-versed in the business side of writing, at least not at first.

The thing is, though, that today’s writers have to be aware of themselves as businesspeople. Writing is a business in which the product you promote is…your work. If you want people to know about you, to buy your books and enjoy them, and want more, you have to be able to manage that business.

One way to do that is to take some business and marketing seminars or workshops. You can also get business and marketing ideas from library books, journals and other reading. It’s also worth the investment of time (at least it has been for me) to get a clear understanding of business software and the information that’s available from author management sites such as Amazon Central. The more comfortable you are with handling business details, the better informed your business decisions will be.

There’s also the matter of making wise decisions about publishers, agents and publicity professionals. Part of it is deciding whether you’ll self-publish, go with an independent publisher, or choose a more traditional publisher. One difficult lesson I learned the hard way is that it’s important to do the ‘homework’ involved in sifting through the many publishing options and choosing the best one.

And then there’s the marketing and promotion part of writing. I’ve found a few things to be very helpful in doing that marketing without (I truly hope!) being (too) obnoxious about it:

  • My blog – I think a blog is a really valuable way to reach people, learn from others and keep everyone updated on your writing. The blog has a page all about my writing, and it also has links to other sites where I have…
  • A Social Media Presence – Twitter, Amazon Author Central, Google Plus, and so on are all effective tools for reaching out. I think a consistent social media presence is essential for communicating with readers, publishers, agents, and other writers. Don’t have a lot of technological savvy? There are lots of professionals who can help you set up your presence.
  • Business Cards – It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and the humble business card can go a long way when you’re visiting bookshops, libraries and other places where you want your books to be positioned. They’re also convenient when you travel. Of course it’s important not to be annoying and tiresome. It really is. But you never know whom you’ll meet. A business card is still a handy little tool…


Streamline Your Life

The most important part of being a writer is, well, writing. This means setting aside time to do just that, and putting energy and focus into the task. But a lot of writers also have ‘day jobs,’ and it’s not always as easy as you’d think to just write. That’s especially true if you have family and other personal obligations. But there are things I’ve found that help to streamline things.

  • Take advantage of tools such as automatic blog feeds. Mine, for instance, feeds automatically into my Twitter, Amazon, Linked In, Facebook and Goodreads accounts. No need for me to take the time to do it manually.
  • Streamline your home life. The crock pot is a very good friend to writers.  So are recipes that you can make and freeze. I’ve found a few dishes that require minimal prep time and can be ignored during cooking. This frees up a lot of time. Of course, it also means I have to be sure to set the kitchen alarm to go off when the food is ready. Otherwise, I could very well be so stuck in my fictional world that I don’t pay attention to the time. That tends to have a charring effect on whatever I’m cooking…
  • Say, ‘no.’ You can’t accept all invitations and projects that come your way. You can’t be on every social media site, either. Well, I can’t, anyway. So it’s important to choose your invitations, projects, and so on very carefully. Remember: writing time is precious. It’s what writers do.

And the most important thing I’ve learned?



Write every day. Even if it’s just one sentence. Even if it’s just ending punctuation. Write. The more you write, the better you get.

There are other things, too, that I’ve learned about writing. But this post has already gone on long enough…

If you’re a writer, do you have any lessons to add?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rick Nelson’s Garden Party.


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34 responses to “I Learned My Lesson Well*

  1. Excellent tips, Margot. I especially like the ‘don’t try to fight your own nature’ piece of wisdom. Just because someone else can write really early in the morning or late at night doesn’t mean that you have to if you are barely awake and write rubbish… As for me, I do wish I could write something in all the little 5 mins here and there, while I am waiting in the car or at the doctor’s etc. but it only works for a scrap of verse, not for my novel.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Marina Sofia. I’m glad you found this post worth reading. The thing about writing is that it takes time to develop confidence in one’s own rhythms and patterns. But you’re absolutely right that just because one writer does well with a certain pattern doesn’t mean all writers should do the same thing. We’re all unique, and I think that fighting our own patterns just expends energy that’s better put into, well, writing. You’re not the only one, by the way, who has trouble writing in cars and offices and so on. I jot ideas down, and perhaps scraps of dialogue. But scenes? Nope. That’s much harder.

  2. What great advice! This is better than I received in my writers’ workshop at UC Berkley so many years ago. Now I might be able to overcome inertia and get some writing done. Thanks a million.
    And, on another note, I’m hosting a reading challenge at Beyond Eastrod; perhaps you would be willing to pass the word to the legions of your followers. Read more about the challenge at this link:

    • I’m glad you found the post useful, R.T. And if you have a story (or two, or many) in your soul, I do hope you go ahead and write. Remember: inertia also means that a body in (writing) motion tends to stay in (writing) motion…
      Thanks also for letting us all know about the reading challenge you are hosting. Folks, let’s go check it out!

  3. Oh boy can I relate to the charring effect on food. One time I was so engrossed in my world that I turned rib eye steaks to dust. Literal dust on the grill. I didn’t even know steaks could do that. LOL Anyway, I’m up very early too. I love that time of morning to write. 🙂

    • I didn’t know that about steaks, either, Sue! Yikes! Yes, that’s the kind of thing I’m likely to do if I don’t use the kitchen timer or at the very least the alarm on my telephone. Once the muse is sitting beside you, it’s hard to get up. And I love the early morning, too. It’s quiet and peaceful. And when you’re a writer, nobody sees if you work in your nightgown and bathrobe… 🙂

  4. Great advice, Margot and thanks for sharing. 🙂

  5. This is a great post, Margot. Thanks for sharing and so true – writing is and art form and like all art it needs to be practised. When people ask me which is my best book, I always say the last one I wrote, because I hope I’m always learning and improving. 🙂

    • Thanks, D.S. 🙂 And I know just what you mean about getting better just by doing it. I’d like to think that my work’s better now than it was, simply because of the act of writing, if nothing else.

  6. This was very interesting, Margot. I don’t write but I do have a close friend who writes books for young adults and children. I recognize a lot of your tips from listening to him (although like you say, every writer has things that work for them). I think the internet has provided great resources for writers.

    • Oh, I think it has, too, Tracy. And you’re right; each writer is different, so that different things work for different people. I’d be interested to know what your friend has found works for him. We can always learn from each other.

      • I forgot to come back and answer your question, Margot. My friend also enjoys writing plays and he has taken part in a play writing class for a couple of years. He gets a lot out of that, with the feedback and learning from others work. On the other hand, I don’t think he uses the internet, blogs, social media, very much. Just not his thing, I guess. And it can be a lot of work.

        • I think you’re right, Tracy; it can be a lot of work. Thanks for sharing the way your friend goes about writing. I always like learning how other writers do what they do.

  7. Excellent advice, Margot. I’m intrigued by your mention of business cards. I’ve used them occasionally in my day job, but never thought about using them as a writer. But you’ve got me thinking…

    • Thank you, Martin. What I like about business cards is that they are flexible and portable, and they aren’t expensive. You can even design your own at some sites, for not a lot of money. Like you, I use them for my ‘day job,’ but I also (try to remember to) carry some with my writer identity as well.

  8. Col

    Makes me glad I just read – hat’s off to those who write though!

  9. I was just making that point about starting with a character to someone last night. Starting with plot is always a mistake for me. I have to hear a voice in my head. Lately that voice has been absent.

    • I know what you mean, Patti. I’m the same way about starting with character, rather than plot. I’ve tried to do it the ‘plot’ way and it just doesn’t work for me *sigh.*

  10. Great tips, Margot! Especially “Streamline your life,” which I’m going to need as I struggle through my own work of fiction.

  11. Lots of these are good tips for other things in life as well as writing, especially the bit about finding your own pattern. I’ve spent years explaining to various bosses and organisations that I think more creatively in the afternoon and evening than the morning – the good ones accommodate individuality and let people arrange their own schedule and work flexibly wherever possible…

    • Thanks, FictionFan. You have a good point about the advantages of a work environment in which people can arrange schedules that suit their individual patterns. It definitely encourages better morale and more productivity.

  12. Great advice Margot. As a mature age student when I started uni I had to learn to listen to my own rhythms and accept my own way of doing things – I went to lectures on how to write an essay, how to plan, use diagrams to plot, etc it felt so alien but I persevered with the “correct way” of writing and it was such a struggle but I did it – once. Then I went back to my own way – which is read, read, make mental notes, use post it notes to mark interesting points in books, then just write, usually after midnight…no plans, no drafts…eventually I was confident enough to allow my husband to read some of my essays – he is a great proof reader. Trying to force yourself to be something you are not doesn’t work does it ?
    PS Love the reference to Garden Party a timeless song.

    • Garden Party is a great song, isn’t it, Carol? I’ve always liked it. And thanks for sharing your experience. It really shows, far better than I could, how much better people do if they find their own patterns and rhythms for getting work accomplished. This post is, of course, about writing, but I think FictionFan is right that finding your own pattern is important no matter what your career.

  13. Very interesting and helpful post Margot.

  14. The biggest lesson I learned lately is that sometimes we need to take a break from writing and focus on more important issues. We should not feel guilty or anxious, but just go with the priorities.

    • I like that lesson a lot, Pat. It’s really quite important. Writing may be an important part of what the writer does, but it isn’t the writer’s entire self. Sometimes the rest of that self needs some attention.

  15. Great post, Margot, especially the good advice about finding one’s own pattern in writing. I’m sometimes asked where I get my ideas, and my response is a mild chuckle before I give my answer: ideas are the easy part; the challenge is settling on one idea and following it through the tortuous, sometimes tortured way to finish a story that makes sense that readers will find entertaining and want to read.

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