This past weekend my spouse and I set doubt and fear aside and took a road trip.
Like many others who live distant from kin, it had been a too long since we’d seen our families in person. We kept to ourselves here in Maine for the duration, visited with dear ones on Zoom and Zoom alone. As we waited through the winter months for our vaccination numbers to come up, we planned our first foray into the world beyond the Piscataqua River bridge.
Over nearly 20 years, we’ve traversed the highways to Massachusetts and Philadelphia many, many times. But after Covid-19 turned routine chores like grocery shopping into tactical missions, we found ourselves a bit anxious about staying safe. Friends who’d driven back and forth to Florida shared their strategies. We read a bunch of stories on the internet. Eventually we devised what seemed like a solid plan.
We took along food and water so as to avoid entering stores along the way. We did our homework about which hotels live up to their sanitizing promises. A specific tote bag was set aside for disinfecting products, masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. We stopped for fuel either where we could use a card at the pump or where an attendant fills the tank for you (e.g., at the throwback full-service plazas on the New Jersey Turnpike.)
Still, it felt a bit intimidating to head out into a world still being rocked by the pandemic, through places where so many people have died and so many still are falling ill, where many fewer people are fully vaccinated than here in leads-the-nation-in-jabs Maine.
In the end, it was fine. A wonderful trip, in fact. Our preparation served us well. While I suppose something unexpected could have happened, we came to realize we were safe and pretty much in control of the experience.
Sunday afternoon, as we drove through (interminable) Connecticut, I found myself ruminating about how a post-pandemic road trip was similar to writing a book. (How many of you wondered if I’d get around to talking about writing?)
Before I wrote my first novel, I worried about everything there was to worry about, and a few more things besides. Would Joe Gale and his friends and enemies who were so vivid in my mind come alive or be cardboard characters on the page? Was the plot I’d crafted in my head enough to hold readers’ interest for 350 pages? Would the process of writing hold my interest for 350 pages? Assuming I finished the book, could I trust my friends to tell me if it was deadly boring, or would they lie and tell me it was terrific? If the latter, how would I find people to read it and tell me the truth?
Preparing to write my first book was in many ways similar to gearing up for our recent road trip. I read and read and read the work of good crime writers. I took a few classes and went to a bunch of conferences, which allowed me to meet other writers who had published books. When I asked for their advice they were invariably generous with their knowledge and experience.
Once I had my doubt and fear under control, I committed to a writing routine that complimented my day job. It turned out to have two basic elements: (1) park butt in chair as often as possible and (2) write.
I hope the readers of this blog who are contemplating starting their own writing journey take this as encouragement. If you do the necessary prep work, you can go anywhere you want to go.
My advice: First, read a wide variety of writers. Reading deeply makes you a better writer.
Second, treat yourself to craft books like Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, but don’t overlook the contributions of MCW’s own Kathy Lynn Emerson. If history is your thing, her How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries is a treasure trove of information, and her marvelous new essay collection, I Kill People for a Living, is full of great advice.
More information on Kathy Lynn’s books can be found at http://www.kathylynnemerson.com/
Third, look for classes and writing groups in your community. If you live here in Maine, the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance is a great resource, particularly its statewide Gather events. Go here for more info: https://www.mainewriters.org/gather.
If mystery/crime is your genre, you might join the local chapter of groups like Sisters in Crime https://sincne.clubexpress.com/ and Mystery Writers of America https://mwane.org/ both of which offer connection, community and a variety of other benefits including craft classes, many of which are offered online.
Fourth, consider attending writing conferences, a fabulous place to meet other writers and learn about the business. Here in Maine we’re looking forward to Maine Crime Wave in June (see the schedule and sign up here: https://www.mainewriters.org/maine-crime-wave ). And in November, the New England Crime Bake will take place in Massachusetts (probably hybrid this year, so you can go in person or participate virtually). FMI: https://crimebake.org
But like our recent road trip, after all that careful preparation you need to start your engine and go. You don’t need a cooler or a road trip playlist for this journey. There are no shortcuts, and no alternate routes. Just park your butt in a chair as often as possible, and write.
Brenda Buchanan is the author of the Joe Gale Mystery Series, featuring a diehard Maine newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. Three books—QUICK PIVOT, COVER STORY and TRUTH BEAT—are available everywhere e-books are sold. These days Brenda’s hard at work on new projects.