Growing as a Writer

In a recent email exchange, a good friend and mentor said, “One nice thing about writing is the learning never stops. Ever.”


Experience is a great teacher. In previous posts I’ve written about lessons learned from my first four novels. Each story, one way or another, pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to grow as a writer.

My fifth novel, The Case of the Missing Drag Queen, is a little different. The story is smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone. The mystery is made up, but much of the rest is loosely based on my recollections* of gay life in 1982 Lexington, Kentucky. Any resemblance to real people or places is entirely coincidental.

(*Subject to gross distortion, embellishment, and milking for comedic affect)

The learning for novel number five took place on the front end. Using the three-act structure to build the story around the main character’s journey was a first that worked out great. Figuring things out on the front end took hours, but saved months. The major plot points stayed more or less the same, but character and chapter details changed, sometimes dramatically, but never out of line with the central plot.

I broke my (bad) habit of spending hours and hours tinkering with what I’ve already written instead of adding new chapters. Not going back more than two or three chapters was a huge challenge, but the payoff was finishing the first draft in less than four months rather than the usual twelve or more. I’ll fix all the little things after the first draft, so I only have to do it once.

Knowing what came next in the story kept me writing. Instead of waiting for big blocks of time, I wrote for at least an hour almost every day. Especially around the climax of the story, I did well to add 100 words, no matter how long I stared at the screen. But those dribs and drabs add up.

Another first: Nobody has seen more than the first few chapters. Feedback means a lot to me, and I hate to waste it on early drafts. I’ll read through one more time after the first draft is done to iron out little wrinkles before I send it to beta readers and the publisher.

My goal was to finish the first draft by the end of September. I almost made it too. Beyond any doubt, I’ll finish in October — most likely in the first week or two. I’ll keep you posted.