Helpful hints from masterclass with Mark Billingham, crime writer

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E G Logan

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I found a masterclass with Mark Billingham, crime writer (on The Novelry website, subscription only), both encouraging and useful. I can't post a link, though maybe you can find it elsewhere, and I didn't take close notes, so the following is from memory only...

He said Writing was not a mystical thing – it was a craft, and we could all improve our work continuously. He produced a definition with the force of an electric cattle prod. Writers, he said, are the people who finish books. As opposed to the dabblers and diletttanti (my words, not his) who have the electronic equivalent of a drawer full of yellowing unfinished manuscripts under the bed – ouch! (That touched a nerve.) Writers buckle down and bash away.

Another helpful/comforting comment: Billingham quoted someone I've forgotten (sorry) suggesting that as writers we can usefully omit those chunks that as readers we tend to skip over. I took this to mean the tiresome, but possibly necessary, joining text between scenes – which I've always hated writing and found difficult to make 'flow naturally'. Supported by Billingham's words, I shall go away and omit some now...
 
Could very well be Elmore Leonard.

Billingham also quotes James Lee Burke as saying 'A book is finished when it no longer rattles'. His point being that it is possible to over-work a manuscript, tinkering and toying with it to a ridiculous degree. The example he gives is a book whose writing took seven years – which for B means it has to be 'a bloody good book'.
 
Another helpful/comforting comment: Billingham quoted someone I've forgotten (sorry) suggesting that as writers we can usefully omit those chunks that as readers we tend to skip over. I took this to mean the tiresome, but possibly necessary, joining text between scenes – which I've always hated writing and found difficult to make 'flow naturally'. Supported by Billingham's words, I shall go away and omit some now...
I wholeheartedly agree with this. When my writing is lagging, I often skip ahead to the next scene, thinking I'll come back later and fill in the bits I skipped. I rarely end up filling in those bits. Turns out I don't need them. Which is why they were hard to write--they were boring. LOL!

In my current WIP, I've done a super detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. A first for me (usually my outlines are much looser). I'm finding it's helping me skip those dull bits, because I can look at the plan for each chapter and say, "Here's the exciting bit that has to happen in this chapter. Now, how can I make all this other boring stuff happen off screen?" So far, it's saving me time and frustration.
 
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