Why not you? The best lessons I’ve learned as a writer / Julia McDermott

As writers, one of our most valuable resources are our fellow writers. It’s what makes conferences, like Killer Nashville, so beneficial. While technical knowledge is crucial, whats just as important is staying motivated and having a positive state of mind. This weeks Killer Nashville guest blogger, Julia McDermott, discusses how you can learn from your mistakes, stay motivated, and better yourself while you learn the craft of writing.

Happy reading!
Clay Stafford
Clay Stafford
Founder Killer Nashville
Publisher / Editorial Director Killer Nashville Magazine

The same year that quarterback Russell Wilson led the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl (2014), I signed a publishing contract for my first suspense novel, Underwater. Wilson, a “short” quarterback by NFL standards, famously quoted his dad as inspiring him by asking, “Why not you?” When the acquisitions editor at a major mystery/thriller imprint discovered my self-published novel and approached me with an offer, I was surprised and thrilled. Then I thought, “Why not me?”

Years earlier, I sat down to write the first page, and I’m still learning the craft of writing. But I’ve learned some lessons along the way:

  • To keep focused. To work every day. That, as Woody Allen said, 80 percent of success is just showing up. So I show up even when it’s hard. If I don’t write, I work on plot or characters, do research, or just revise what I wrote yesterday. No matter what, though, I stay focused on my work in progress.
  • To remember the most important ingredient in my story: conflict. Bad things happening. Personally, I don’t like confrontation, but professionally, I need it. Some people have a hard time getting along with others, and in maintaining relationships. Those people inspire characters in my novels. In Underwater, that character was Monty, the villain; in Daddy’s Girl, my latest suspense novel, it was Valerie, the protagonist.
  • To be humble. To throw out whatever doesn’t work. To change characters’ ages, personalities, backstories, etc. To understand what readers liked about my last book, and what they didn’t like. And to discard the elements that fell short or disappointed.
  • To try new things–and when they work, to stick with them. I joined writers critique groups and organizations, and other groups where I might meet readers, artists, or other authors. I accepted invitations to speak to groups about my books, and I got active on social media. I asked bookstores and merchants to host me to do book signings. The best part about them is serendipity, not sales. At a signing in Roswell, Georgia, last spring, I struck up a conversation with AJC sports writer Jeff Schultz after he bought one of my books. Weeks later, I was talking to his friend, AJC editor Suzanne van Atten, about writing a “Personal Journey” article for a Sunday edition of the paper. It was published on July 10, 2016.
  • To remember that my book is a product. I want people to buy my content–flock to my content–in whatever format they want to read it in. I want them to like it so much that they tell all their friends about it so they will buy it, too. But it’s not as much about the money as it is the readers.
  • That whether I submit my work to traditional publishers, self-publish, or do both (and I have), to make sure I’m proud of my work. But to be open to my editor’s comments, to trust her, and to make all the necessary changes.
  • To get my log lines down and to keep it short. I served on a panel once where an author was asked for the log line for her first and only book. She uttered a rambling, run-on sentence that was more a paragraph than a line. When she was done, I blurted out, “That’s a long log line!” Here’s my log line for Daddy’s Girl: A spoiled, entitled princess risks it all to join a technology startup, loses it all, and then embarks on a mission of revenge and retribution. Here’s my two-sentence one, for Underwater: An Atlanta CEO is guilted into funding an expensive spec home by her devious brother, who plans to flip it. Then the market plunges and sends the family into a downward spiral of deceit and danger.
  • That “authors look like normal people, but aren’t,” according to one of my readers at a book festival. I dress for the job, and for me, that’s usually a dress or something nice. For others, it may be more casual. I met author Grant Jerkins at a multi-author reading I was invited to participate in last summer, and before the event began, I spied him perusing my books. I didn’t know who he was. I spoke to him as if he were a potential buyer, and judged him based on his clothing, which was casual. When he got up to read as the final author, he brought the house down with his phenomenal, funny story. He may have looked like a normal person, but he isn’t. He’s a talented author.
  • Not to pay attention to negativity or indifference. Maybe some people doubted whether you could even write a book. Maybe they discounted your accomplishments, or weren’t impressed when you got your first book deal. Maybe they didn’t read your book, or only skimmed it. Maybe they scoffed at the fact that writing a book takes work and time. Some of the above has happened to me. But I pushed through it and didn’t pay attention. I’ve learned to gravitate to those who are supportive and to disregard the rest.

I’ve got more to learn, and I’m drawn to others who will share what they know. I met Georgia author Terry Kay at a literary festival that we both participated in, and he’s become a mentor to me. I’m committed to challenging myself as a writer, and to producing my best work. And I keep asking myself, “Why not me?”

Julia McDermott is the author of psychological thrillers Daddy’s Girl and Underwater, French travel/romance Make That Deux, and creative nonfiction All the Above: My Son’s Battle with Brain Cancer, awarded Finalist – 2016 Georgia Author of the Year Award. Underwater was a Nominee for the 2015 GAYA, and for the 2014 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. Julia grew up in Atlanta, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and spent her junior year in the south of France. A member of Sisters in Crime and the Atlanta Writers Club, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and family. Visit her online at juliamcdermottbooks.com

(To be a part of the Killer Nashville Guest Blog, send a query to contact@killernashville.com. We’d love to hear from you.)

Thanks to Tom Wood, Arthur Jackson, and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s blog.

For more writer resources, visit us at www.KillerNashville.com, www.KillerNashvilleMagazine.com, and www.KillerNashvilleBookCon.com.

And be sure to check out our new book, Killer Nashville Noir: Cold-Blooded, an anthology of original short stories by New York Times bestselling authors and newbies alike.

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