Over the years, I've attended amazing writing conferences and studied under bestselling authors such as Steve Berry, John Saul, Gary Braver, and James Rollins.
As a former journalist, I'm good at taking notes - and often get slotted as the "minute taker" in most meetings. Years later, I can still read my home-made shorthand and it's easy to decipher the gist of what's being said, even if I can't translate entire paragraphs.
Perusing the notes I'd taken at various conferences over the years was like an unexpected boost to my motivation yesterday. Not only had many of these authors provided useful (and complimentary) feedback, but they also provided a plethora of advice.
I've often blogged about Steve Berry's 8 Rules of Craft - I've read them so many times each is committed to memory. (Write tight!) And though I've often debated with other writers about their validity, I remain a loyal student. I DO believe you can't break the rules until you learn them. There's a reason Steve continually hits the NY Times Bestseller list.
But it wasn't his rules that caught my attention this weekend. Instead, I stumbled upon notes I'd taken from listening to James Rollins.
James is one of those success stories that create immediate writer envy. Discovered at the Maui Writer's Conference (sadly, the MWC has come to an end), James wrote several books under the pen name Clemens before venturing into his now awe-inspiring Sigma series (and a handful of amazing stand-alone books.) For his full bio, and impressive list of successes (movie deal! YA books! script adaptations!), you can check out his website at www.jamesrollins.com.
While his books always seem to inspire me, it was actually his advice that reminded me of how much I miss seeing him. He's a straight shooter with a generous heart. Truly, he wants to see people succeed. I've leaned more than once on his list of ways to create sympathetic characters (available on his website) and looked to his action scenes for how to craft them in my own work.
But there's two phrases I jotted down several times in the last five years, both accounting for some of the best writing advice I've ever received.
As in - be specific. Specific places. Specific makes of cars. Specific details that ground the reader in authenticity.
But perhaps more importantly is this gem:
I give myself permission to write crap today.
It's the phrase James often sticks to his computer while working on the latest WIP, a reminder that every sentence doesn't have to flow the first time. Doesn't need to be perfect or poetic. Doesn't even need to make sense.
Both sticky notes are posted beside my computer (along with Steve's 8 Rules of Craft). Specificity I can wrap my head around.
It's the second piece of advice I need to work on.
The Book In My Bag Today: Another One Bites The Dust, Jennifer Rardin