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Practical Advice for Beginning Fiction Writers


I’m not a grizzled veteran of fiction writing. POISON PILL is my first work of fiction, and I began writing it in November 2010. I cannot offer decades of experience, but I’m still close enough to the beginner’s stage to remember my mistakes (and repeat them – so please consider this a “best practices” compendium as opposed to an honest representation of my writing process).
Write every day. In my experience, writing is surprisingly similar to playing an instrument. It’s the mastery of the unsexy, plodding nuts and bolts of the craft that will allow you to produce beautiful, ethereal art. Growing up, I studied to be a classical pianist. It wasn’t a hobby — it was a three to four hour a day commitment. A break from playing, even for a couple of weeks, produced a noticeable drop in my technical ability. I’m now seeing the same thing with writing — step away from writing fiction for a month, and the prose doesn’t flow as well. The characters sulk and don’t talk to me. Writing feels like hard work. On the other hand, writing becomes much less effortful if I do it every day (even after just a couple of weeks). I see my characters moving and doing things, and I just hurry and report on their activities.
Learn from the greats. In my day job as a lawyer, I write a lot. But I also don’t reinvent the wheel. If I need to write a brief, I find a good brief that discusses the same issues of law and crib liberally. That’s OK – that’s considered good form in lawyering, and it saves the client lots of money. In the process of rewriting the briefs that came before mine, I see the construction of the argument, I ponder why they chose to order the issues in the way that they did, I notice the phrasing that gives a point its persuasive punch. I learn.
I don’t suggest you crib from a writer you admire for your fiction — that wouldn’t be OK — that would be plagiarism, copyright violation, and just plain bad juju. But I do suggest that you read the books you love in a forensic manner. Why is a particular paragraph so effective? How are characters introduced? How much space is devoted to the description of the setting vs. the action or the dialogue? Try reading aloud and/or copying the text either longhand or by typing it – I promise you’ll see patterns that you didn’t see by simply reading with your eyes.
Write what you’re passionate about, not necessarily what you know. Write about the stuff that doesn’t let you sleep at night. The writing process is arduous enough and can seem low-reward enough that if you’re not interested in your subject, you won’t go the distance. You can always do research and find answers, but you cannot manufacture passion that isn’t there.
Write as if no one will ever read it. In order to write great fiction, you have to write the story you’re living with honestly. It may have embarrassing parts like the shmexy stuff, or the curse words, or describing your mother-in-law’s loud belching. It may require that you revisit a painful episode from your own life, like a rape that you’ve told no one about. Unless you’re a sociopathic narcissist, the thought of someone reading what you wrote with this kind of candor is paralyzing. So pretend that you’ll erase the novel as soon as you’re done writing it. Can you delve into that difficult scene now?
Write first, edit later. POISON PILL was started as a National Novel Writing Month novel (www.nanowrimo.org). I made a commitment to write a 50,000-word first draft during the month of November. That works out to 1667 words a day (including Thanksgiving). At this pace, you don’t have time to write a sentence, ponder its ugliness, erase it, write a different sentence, erase it too… You write garbage and it stays and it adds to the word count. Quantity is the name of the game. This insanely compressed deadline is brilliant at silencing your inner editor, and suddenly you are free to write. You can’t edit what you haven’t written, so don’t worry about the niceties now — just get that first draft out of your head and onto paper. Or into a computer file.
And finally…
THE FIRST DRAFT OF ANYTHING IS SHIT. That’s not me. That’s Ernest Hemingway. A copy of this quote is framed, and has been standing on my desk since the first day I sat down to write POISON PILL. I draw strength from it daily.

M. A. Granovsky uses her background as a cancer biologist and lawyer, and her international travels, to craft fast-paced, intricately plotted capers, where the protagonists rely on their wits rather than their brawn, and the body count rises only as much as is necessary. M. A.'s writing is influenced by her life-long passion for observing and understanding human behavior, and provides a window into the worlds of scientists, attorneys, and financiers, the passions and fears that motivate them, and the unintended consequences of untempered competition.

She currently lives in New York City, but has lived in many other places, from the exotic (Wilmington, Delaware), to the normal (St. Petersburg, Jerusalem), to the entertaining (Florence -- in a convent). While it's difficult to be the new kid on the block repeatedly, this nomadic existence - in terms of geography and career - continues to yield a rich vein of thriller plots.
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