Everything I Need to Know About Writing, I Learned From Jim Butcher

Freelance Writing Services I’m fatigued by a crazy summer, but simultaneously excited about stuff coming down the pipe. Perfect time for reading (re-reading in this case) what my mom calls “sunburn novels.” You know, the kind that aren’t high literature, but perfect for an afternoon in a lounge chair getting too much sun.

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels may be my favorite of this kind. It’s a popular, fun series that can be best described as “Harry Potter for grownups.” Going through them again with a business writing coach’s eye, I found a variety of lessons all writers should internalize and apply…

Focus on What’s Important

Butcher understands that the character and the world are the most compelling aspects of his stories…and he spends his energy on developing them. In your writing, identify what you do best and give it everything you have. People will forgive you for weakness in other areas.

Don’t Worry about Perfect

The Dresden novels are B to B+ writing from a prose standpoint, sometimes even B-. Lots of “rookie mistakes” the pros warn us not to make, like overly emotive adverbs and the dreaded “bookism” dialog tag. Guess what? Nobody cares. Because he focused so well on the things he excels at, Butcher gets away with imperfection.

Stick With What Works

I’m not saying Harry doesn’t grow and change from novel to novel — in fact, his character arc is one of the best I’ve seen in such a long series. But the basic structure of most of the novels is the same. Butcher realizes what his fans want, and continues to deliver.

Constantly Seek Connection

If you can’t connect with a reader, you won’t sell any books. In the case of Dresden, Butcher plays with well-known myths, legends (urban and ancient), stories and pop-culture references. The result is a shared vocabulary that gives his stories more weight because of the connection.

 

Any other Harry fans out there? What else can we learn from Butcher’s longest-run character? The best coaches in the business of writing are the folks who’re doing exactly what we wish we were.

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I’ve Been Thinking…

Freelance Writing Advice I spent the last week camping and thinking about stuff I learned at the Willamette Writers’ Conference. Turns out I’m doing a lot of things right, and a bunch of stuff wrong.

Take this blog, f’rinstance. I do good topics, or so I’m told. Writers find it useful. Some non-writers find it interesting. But my SEO is terrible, and I’m using last year’s formatting. I also do too little to build up a following and reader participation.

In my writing, I make good money working on a variety of topics. But I’ll be grinding away like a well-paid, happy cog unless I start building a personal brand based on a specialty.

I enjoy my fiction, but need to get more serious about it if I ever want to be published. Which means looking harder at self-publishing, e-publishing, and other options for getting that first book out there.

Lots of work to do, and I want to make y’all a part of it. Seems like, as I research new topics and begin new projects, I can walk you through my process and we can all learn together. Be on the lookout for series on:

  • Launching a niche blog
  • Proposing a non-fiction book
  • Learning post-Penguin SEO
  • E-publishing fiction
  • Submitting a finished young adult novel
  • Changing how this portfolio works

And whatever you guys want to learn about. What topics would be most useful to y’all? Comment below with your thoughts.

 

Rogues’ Gallery

Freelance Writing Services I spent the weekend at the Willamette Writers Conference. I’ve already talked about conferences here and here. This was such a fantastic event, I’ll talk about it in detail — and about some conference strategies — in later posts.

But I’m goin’ camping. Meanwhile, writers should check out the people below. These were presenters or others I met this weekend whose influence will improve my writing and my career. They’ll help yours, too.

John Ellis is an SEO god. I do SEO writing professionally (among other things). Other SEO pros have contacted me based entirely on having seen the quality and effectiveness of what I do. Comparing me to John in this topic is like comparing me to Royce Gracie in grappling. Seriously, check his stuff out.

¬†Larry Brooks writes books, and approaches his writing with the mind of an engineer and the experience of a marketing trainer. He delivered the most useful and actionable presentation of the conference — and is gifted at convincing right-brain creatives to adopt left-brain organization for better writing and faster processes. His site is full of free advice, good enough that I already bought his book.

Melissa Hart teaches travel writing. No matter what the snotty guy who knows a pithy quote might say, she not only teaches — she does. And her energy makes you want to know how to do it, too.

Kelly Williams Brown is an up-and-coming writer. She has a blog, which is now a book that made her a ridiculous pile of money — and is being turned into a TV series. She’s a competent writer with a gift for building platform. More importantly, she’s an inspiring example of what you can do with modest talent, a timely idea, and the will to follow that idea with passion and determination.

 

That’s all for now. I’m off to swim and hike and stuff with my family.

Thanks for listening.

 

Professionalism, (Yet) Again

I’m excited.

On Friday, I’m hitting theWillamette Writers Conference. Three days of classes, networking and writing geekery. It’s gonna be fun. In preparation for this event, I took a class from Cynthia Whitcomb about pitching story ideas to editors and agents.

At the class, I was again struck by the value of professionalism — in two ways.

INSIDER TRICKS

Every time I work with a professional in any industry, I notice they do something obvious that I never would have thought of. That something saves them time and money, and helps them get paid. It’s fair to say I’ve spent the ten years since realizing this watching pros carefully to accumulate a repertoire of those tricks.

I am a professional writer, but not a professional pitcher. At the workshop, I learned a handful of trade terms and an efficient presentation format that would never have occurred to me. I also found out that it’s totally cool to essentially buy a lottery ticket by pitching my novel to Hollywood.

Never would have thought of these things. I’m a better professional for learning them. Seriously, people, go to classes and conferences.

LOW BARRIER FOR ENTRY

Here’s the other thing I learned at the class. I’d known it before, and talk about it occasionally, but it was really underscored for me during those hours. Apologies to my classmates (and if I gave you by card there, I’m not talking about you) — but the competition is really sad.

I was amazed by the number of people who showed up unready to learn, dressed inappropriately for the task, unprepared for what the class blurb said we were going to to. We even had one student show up ready to pitch a product other than a book or screenplay.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they’re fantastic people and very good at their day jobs — but unless they start treating their writing like a career, they’re going to stay in those day jobs for a very long time.

As writers, those of us who act like professionals have an enormous advantage over the rest of the pack. Show up on time. Turn in on deadline (or communicate well when you can’t). Dress well. Accept feedback. Don’t be rude.

 

For me, the class was a perfect one-two punch to get me psyched for the days ahead. On one hand, I learned skills and tricks that prepared me for my task. On the other, I got a reassuring ego boost by seeing how my competition treats this particular game.

How about all of you? What have continuing education, workshops and conferences taught you about what you do? Comment below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

 

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons