I decided to write full-length mysteries to learn, as I told myself, how to write long. I’d read that the writing became much easier after you’d written 100,000 words. No more of this writing a couple sentences or maybe on a really good day, a couple of paragraphs. I wanted my writing to flow instead of coming out in erratic spurts.
Agatha Christie was my favorite mystery author. Back in ninth grade when we read one of her books for school, Ten Little Indians, I collected everything she’d written. I analyzed a couple of her books to see how she’d constructed her plots and wrote ideas for scenes on note cards that I used in my first book. The ideas were often as simple as “somebody dies” or “Sheriff suffers a setback” until later when I figured out what was going to happen. The note cards outlined the whole book and became quite elaborate over time. I even tacked the cards up on the wall so I could move them around.
I have to say thanks to my friends who were in that writing group with me. My writing was terrible but they were patient with me as probably no one else would have been. I finished one book and wrote a large part of another while the group survived.
We met at least once a month during those years. I was writing on the weekends or in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, usually finishing my pages only a few days before or even the night before we met in Towson.
The first chapters were torture. I rewrote the first chapter over and over again. I can still remember some of those beginnings and I didn’t end up with the one that I kept until after I was revising the book to send it out. There was one weekend when I finished a complete chapter of the book; I think it was Chapter 3. Something opened up inside of my during that chapter and the writing was better too. The next couple of chapters that I wrote didn’t pour out of me in the same way but I knew that my dream was possible and I finished that book at the end of two years. Not bad for a weekend writer.
My writing style became clearer as I wrote more and more and the simple sentence structure that I used in my college English classes changed into a better variety of structures. I know that my teachers meant well. It’s just that it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I wrote simple sentences for my college courses, nobody complained so I picked up a few bad habits. At least after I’d written a full-length mystery, I wasn’t writing as many flat sentences as I’d written before. Writing mysteries wasn’t my goal, writing a novel like Mansfield Park or Anna Karenina was. I just didn’t have a clue how to write a literary novel and I needed some basic skills although I still don’t see the harm in writing different genres from time to time.