Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tip O'Day #443 - Secret Formula for Success

Guest blogger Kim Shaw on ‘writing well enough to be published.’

Now there’s an idea to chill the blood of any aspiring author. Writing well enough. It’s the monster under the bed. It prowls the murky fringes of our psyche, just waiting to shred our self-belief - for what exactly is ‘well enough,’ and how do we achieve that? Do I? Can I? Will I ever? And that’s before we even get to the P-word, that magical talisman to rescue us from the pits of aspiration and transform us into a Real Author. Did you guess yet that the fantasy genre is my comfort zone?

So is there some alchemic formula that will turn our base scribblings into the golden nuggets that publishers dream of? I sincerely doubt it. The multitudes of published how-to and rule books might be a place to start, or the myriad online writers’ sites or critique groups, where opinions are as varied as the membership. It will get you thinking critically about your own writing.

Actually, no - don’t start here. It’s bound to be confusing, and certain to awake the monster. Come back later, preferably armed with a torch and a broadsword. My torch is called Story and my sword, Passion. I know - it doesn’t quite have the ring of Excalibur, but together they might have something going on. Story + Passion = Real Published Author? Maybe...

Here is the formula I’m brewing up. It’s a regular sorcerers’ potion of analogies, but alchemy is all about trial and error, right?

Read. Simple. Read for pleasure, as much as you can, as often as you can. Read outside your comfort zone. Learn by osmosis. It’s much more fun that way. Then, when you do apply fingers to keyboard, all the basic tools you need will already be at your command. Having made the decision to write, you might then go back later (much later - once you have your own story and new-born voice) and try to figure out what exactly it was that you loved about a certain author’s style. It adds to the tool-kit. If I could pick just one ingredient for writing ‘well enough’, reading would be it.

Write your story. Story trumps all, in my book. Give yourself permission to fall in love with it, with your characters, their world. If you don’t love them, who else will? This is the arcane magical ingredient in the formula. Be passionate - there’s plenty of time to get cold and ruthless later. We all have some poetry in us when we are in love.

Write everything, now. I’ll borrow Steven King’s analogy here, since it appeals to the archaeologist in me. Excavate the entire thing from the depths, every last bone and tooth. Marvel over this wondrous thing you discovered, without trying to define what type of dinosaur you have until you can lay the whole thing out on the slab. Then switch on those unflattering lab-lights and proceed to the science - but don’t forget to hurry back to Read.

Learn the Rules at some point - it doesn’t have to be before you start writing, but know them well before you submit that manuscript, or make a conscious choice to break them. Invite the Rules in for coffee, slouch around in comfy chairs and debate the merits and applications, take some notes. Take note of the notes, and edit hard. But don’t let them Rules overstay their welcome. You have better things to do - writing and reading for passion and pleasure.

A final thought... The world of publishing is changing so fast that the keepers of that P-talisman are having serious trouble with their own formulas. It would not surprise me in the least if something were to explode - messily, and quite soon. I try to keep that in mind as I chase the big P. For now, I’m going with S + P = RPA.


  1. Very good points, and I like your images and use of humour too.

  2. Thanks, Gideon, and best wishes to the Sockpuppet clan. In case you're interested, I'm always on the lookout for guest posts from book lovers, whether writers, readers, agents, editors, etc. Pls email me at montananovels@yahoo.com if you'd like more information.