Sue Grafton revisited
Cleaning out my computer files this weekend I came across my report on Sue Grafton’s keynote talk at Murder in the Grove, a conference in Boise,Idaho in 2000. Warm, witty and accessible, Grafton was generous with her advice and experience.
One of her memorable utterances: “Things I hate to see: ‘He looked like Harrison Ford.’ You have readers who don’t know who he is. That’s lazy writing. Don’t compare your characters to actors. If you have this in your manuscript, take it out.” (And there went my first chapter.)
Grafton’s keynoter was “Ten Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Writing When I Was First Starting Out.” (Quoting Sue Grafton now, thanks to what’s left of my high school shorthand.)
1) An idea isn’t worth anything if you can’t execute it properly. Nobody is going to pay you for your idea unless you can bring it to life on the page. But don’t talk about it. Sit at the machine at your desk. Offer that idea some care and protection.
2) You should expect resistance. I have written for 40 years. Recognize that resistance is part of what you are doing. I do self-hypnosis for getting past rejections. Writing is really about play, joy as well as struggle.
3) There isn’t any magic. The magic is within you. We need to tap into that. After A IS FOR ALIBI, I said, This can be the shortest alphabet in history or you can set your butt down and do this job.
4) You have to give it all away. You cannot fake it. Put everything you have on the line.
5) You are in this alone. Writing is about being by yourself. It’s not about your children, parents, significant other. It’s about you. That’s a joy once you get through the anxiety. Be very careful about writers’ clubs. They make you comfortable. That teaches you to be dependent on six people. Writing well is to be in touch with your own intuition.
6) You don’t write the book, the book writes you. Get out of your own way. Allow the book to come through you.
7) Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t get too comfortable. Don’t start pandering to the reviewer to get more press and attention. The free world does not hang in the balance. You are just writing a book.
8) It’s all right to be afraid. It’s important to be in touch with your fear. Usually what I’m afraid of is making a fool of myself. So you get a rejection. SO WHAT? You are still alive. BIG DEAL. How do you think kids learn to ride bicycles? WHO CARES? I do a lot of bad writing in the privacy of my home. It doesn’t make me a bad person; it just makes me a working writer.
9) It’s not about the money. It’s not about publication. It’s not about getting an agent. It’s about writing.
10) You have to take responsibility for where you are. You made all the decisions that got you to where you are. If you don’t like it, make different decisions. Above all, you work from passion. I would just like to write the book I would like to read. (End quote)
“V is for Vengeance” is #22 in Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mystery series. Her Facebook page is at