I don’t know if you’ve ever heard crime thriller author Robert Dugoni speak at a writers’ conference, but if you ever get the chance, I suggest you listen carefully and take notes like I did. He has a lot of great advice to share, as you’ll see in this blog post.
He started with two simple pieces of advice:
- Follow your dreams, and the money will come. Follow the money, and you’ll lose your dreams.
- Immerse yourself in the community of writers. Surround yourself with, and make yourself available to many, and many will be available to you.
Here are some other nuggets of advice he offered:
Stop worrying about finding an agent and focus on the writing. Think of that as your job. Consider that old saying, “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”
Dugoni changed his mind-set to stop worrying about agents and put his focus on how to improve his craft. It helped him improve his writing overall.
When he gives presentations now, as a published author, he’s literally showing other writers the mistakes he made before he made those changes.
Dugoni suggested that the friendships we make with other would-be authors can really benefit us in the long run:
Meeting people is what makes a conference like [the PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference] worthwhile. At a conference like this, you might be sitting beside the next J.K. Rawling. You might be sitting beside the next Dan Brown. Why wouldn’t you want to make friends with that person?
It takes time to build an audience, and the only way to do that is to write more books. You must also get to know the people around you, because they might be someone who can help you down the road. And we all need help in this business.
Who do you need to connect with first? Yourself. Understand who you are as an author. Know the background you come from. Dugoni’s mom used to make her kids read books if they said, “I’m bored,” and that’s why Dugoni began to fall in love with stories.
Understanding who you are helps you discover the best story you can write. You can’t write honestly until you honestly know who you are and where you come from.
So ask yourself these questions:
- Where were you raised?
- What’s your religion? How does it impact you?
- Did you serve in the military? Did you see combat? How did that affect you?
- Are you married? Single? Do you have children?
- Who are the people who influenced you most in life?
Dugoni’s dad made a profound statement about worldly things: “It’s just stuff.” So to Dugoni, family is what matters.
My Sister’s Grave is one of Dugoni’s best novels. At its core, it’s about relationships. Dugoni brought into that story the lessons he learned growing up in a household with four sisters.
Unlike television, reading is interactive. Reading is collaboration with the writer’s mind. So as an author, you’re trying to write a book that your readers can identify with. That’s when people start talking about your book, start saying to people, “Hey, you really have to read this.”
Dugoni addressed common fears and flaws among novice writers:
As a writer, you must get past the fear of the skeletons in your closet. All of your characters are of you (created by you), but they are not you. So don’t be afraid to let your characters out.
Become a detailed observer of people. Don’t just talk about a character’s hands; offer details. Do they wear a ring? Do they have callouses?
Don’t just tell the character’s eye color. How do they use them? Do they wear too much eye makeup? Do they squint? Do they look down when they talk, or do they look people in the eyes?
Ask your characters the same kinds of questions you would ask strangers, if you could. If they have pierced ears but they don’t wear earrings, ask your characters if they regret getting their ears pierced.
You can’t develop your characters unless you really know and understand who they are.
Here’s an exercise you can do: Write five things that would make your character stand out in a police lineup.
Dugoni also talked about writer’s block:
One method to get a story moving, is to get your characters talking, because dialogue inspires action.
When you get writers’ block, it’s possible that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. So do some research and you might find it helps. If that doesn’t work, go get some exercise. That may help get the endorphins moving and jump start your muse.
If you’re ever writing and you’re wondering why your characters are doing something, that’s a red flag. A character’s motives need to be believable.
We control the writing, so take pride in that. Make it as good as you can possibly make it, and understand that this is why you’re here.
Also, don’t be afraid of failure. Failing is the first step to success. We all go through it. You can either give up or push through it. Don’t let it keep you from doing what you really want to do.