Writing conferences are always stimulating for me and I am a big fan of smaller conferences where the smaller venue gives writers a better chance to talk and to visit with the headline authors who are giving workshops. Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Tony Hillerman Writer's Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a smaller conference with several hundred writers and would be writers in attendance. What a great experience! I only attended for one day, but it was so jam packed with information, I came home with my head spinning.
Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the day was hearing from the "the father of Rambo," David Morrell, but action-packed military thrillers were not on his agenda for that day. He discussed his latest book, Murder as a Fine Art, which is historical mystery, but still packs plenty of action. As part of that discussion he provided a fine lesson in writing and being a writer. He told us there should be one of three reasons for writing and none of them had anything to do with making money or simply chasing the market place, which so many aspiring writers do.
The three reasons can be very fulfilling to any writer, even if you don't get sold or make millions:
1. Write for yourself. This had to do with having a story you want to tell, something you want to impart to others. He has written plenty of thrillers, but he wanted to try something different so he turned to Victorian England for his latest book. It was a personal choice that spurred him, and he says you as a writer should look for those sort of personal decisions. Look for what you want to write or experiment with and go for it.
2. Write to learn something. If you want to do research on something, or if you want to explore a topic, what better way to do that than to do research and then write about it. He is well known for his well-researched books and just from the way he described the work he put into Murder, it was obvious he wanted to learn something about the period, the people and the setting in Victorian London. He urged us to look for something we want to know and then to learn about it and write about it.
3. Write to express a part of yourself. This can be a good way of letting go of the past, or searching for the future or digging deep inside of yourself to say things you might not be able to say in another way. I've always felt that writing can help a person (me) express things I might not otherwise do. Want to tell off a nasty boss? Kill him off in your mystery. Wish there were things you had said to an old boyfriend? Put them into a romantic scene. Wish you had been stronger in a certain situation or wish you had just broken down and cried your eyes out? Let your characters do it in a book. All the emotion can be useful when you're writing a story.
All three made perfect sense as he discussed how he had started researching his book from one angle, as research on writer Thomas de Quincey, a friend of Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth who was known for writing Confession of an English Opium Eater. de Quincey was an influence on writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But the more research he did, the more he found himself going in a different direction until in the end he pulled in de Quincey's daughter as one of his main characters, telling the story from her eyes, using her perspective.
But what struck me was his willingness to stop and talk to everyone and to provide advice to writers of all ages. When I stopped in the book store he was talking writing to a group of young people. Earlier he had been very willing to discuss with me and a friend why he finds short story writing so difficult, but why he likes to do it. She was expressing a concern about attempting to write a short story and his advice was, "go for it." I'll be writing more on what he had to say about short story writing in a future blog.
In fact I'll be writing more about the entire day. But at the end of the day the main thing I kept thinking about was Morrell's comments. Write for yourself. Make that your goal and you won't be disappointed if the sales aren't there or if the reviews are bad. Know at the end of the day you've learned something and you've improved and pleased yourself. I went home ready to write!