Art In Fiction

Five Writing Tips from Art In Fiction Authors

January 11, 2021 Carol Cram Episode 21
Art In Fiction
Five Writing Tips from Art In Fiction Authors
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to the Art In Fiction Podcast!

In this episode, I've compiled advice from nine of the authors interviewed in Season 1 of the podcast.  You'll learn five smart tips from Syrie James, Barbara Linn Probst, Maggie Humm, Stephanie Storey, Jeanne Mackin, Stephanie Cowell, Helaine Mario, Barbara Quick, and Patricia Morrisroe.


Tip #1: Write what you love to read 

  • Syrie James and Barbara Linn Probst talk about writing and reading what excites you.


Tip #2: Find a mentor

  • Maggie Humm shares her experience with writing courses and working with a mentor.


Tip #3: Trust your gut

  • Stephanie Storey talks about trusting your gut.
  • Jeanne Mackin discusses what to do about that editor in your head.
  • Stephanie Cowell reminds authors to stay true to their vision.


Tip #4: Develop a thick skin and a sense of humor

  • Helaine Mario recommends staying true to the story you want to tell.


Tip #5: Write for the love of it

  • Barbara Quick and Patricia Morrisroe talk about making a living as a novelist.

Press Play now and be sure to explore to find novels by our featured authors.

Syrie James:           
Barbara Linn Probst:     
Maggie Humm:      
Stephanie Storey:         
Jeanne Mackin:         
Stephanie Cowell:         
Helaine Mario:           
Barbara Quick:           
Patricia Morrisroe:        

Link to 20% Off for ProWritingAid

Music Credits
Intro music: Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle
Ad music: The Feverfrom the album Full Moon.
Composer: Gregg Simpson, performed by Lunar Adventures. 

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Also, check out the Art In Fiction website at where you'll find over 1800 novels inspired by the arts in 10 categories: Architecture, Dance, Decorative Arts, Film, Literature, Music, Textile Arts, Theater, Visual Arts, and Other.

Thank you!

Carol Cram:
Hello and welcome. I’m Carol Cram, your host for the Art in Fiction Podcast. Back by popular demand are more writing tips that have been shared by my guest authors. If you’re a writer, I guarantee you’ll learn some useful advice, and if you’re a reader, you’ll gain insight into how successful authors do what they do.

Since launching the Art In Fiction Podcast back in July, I’ve had a marvelous time chatting with 19 novelists about the many ways in which they’ve been inspired by the arts. I’ve also enjoyed talking about the writing process, including topics such as researching, marketing, and staying motivated.

The five tips presented in this bonus episode focus on how writers develop their craft. Nine authors talk about the crucial roles played by mentors and reading, of trusting that hard work and perseverance eventually pay off, of the importance of developing a sense of humor, and finally, of writing for one reason and one reason only. Find out what that reason is in Tip #5!

So let’s get started.

Tip #1: Write What You Love to Read

When I start writing a novel, one of the first things I do is ask myself if it’s the kind of story I’d pick up and read. If the answer is yes, then I know I’m on the right track. 

Syrie James, New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, shares her take on why writers need to be readers.

Syrie James: I always say to first of all, read what you love to read and write what you love to read. So, whatever it is that excites you, when you sit down with a novel, that's probably the kind of book you should write and they say, write what you know, and it is true that if you write it something that is autobiographical, the words come very, very quickly. You wouldn't believe how fast they flow from your pen, but that isn't necessarily the only kind of story you can tell. 

You can research a completely different story about a real person or a fictitious person, and still infuse them with aspects of yourself and of people you know, and make them come alive. And I also tell people, if you really want to write, you can't do it in a vacuum. You can't do it without a great deal of study and practice. 

Very few people, I think, sit down without any education about how to craft a novel and write something that's actually readable. So attend writing workshops, read lots and lots and lots of books about the craft of fiction and understand that, just as a brain surgeon doesn't operate without a lot of schooling, you can't write a novel without learning the craft and it can take years.

Carol Cram: I’ve also discovered that one of the best ways to develop my own voice as an author is to read the work of authors I admire. Barbara Linn Probst, author of Queen of the Owls, inspired by the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, agrees.

Barbara Linn Probst: First of all, you have to have a story you're burning to tell. If you don't have that, you got nothing. And you have to accept that the first draft, maybe even the first book you write, is going to suck and be patient and put on your big-girl pants. When, you know, as they say, read, read up, read really well-written books. See how they did it.

Carol Cram: I just love that advice—to read up! Read authors who write the novels that you want to write and who write them better than you can—or at least at the moment! The more you read, the more you will learn. I don’t think I’ve ever met an author who isn’t also a voracious reader.

Tip #2: Find a Mentor

Most authors have one or more readers who they can count on to give them unvarnished feedback. They also credit the influence of at least one mentor with helping them overcome the many challenges posed by writing.

I’ve been super fortunate to have worked with some excellent mentors over the years. A good mentor is one who is supportive but also who doesn’t pull any punches. A good mentor understands intimately the craft of writing and knows how to help authors be the best they can be. Each mentor I’ve worked with encouraged me to dig deep and not be satisfied with what comes easily. To this day, I frequently repeat one of my mentor’s favorite sayings—trust your reader. By that she meant that readers are smart and don’t need everything spelled out for them.

Related to finding a mentor is taking creative writing courses. Here’s what Maggie Humm, author of Talland House inspired by a character in To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, has to say about the value of taking creative writing courses and finding a good mentor.

Maggie Humm: The really main advice is to do a creative writing course. I mean, Americans do this much more routinely than is common in the UK, especially with people my age, but I mean, it's an immense help to be with a group of like-minded people, writing novels, to have a tutor to work through your novel again and again and again. It was just amazing. It was just, it really changed my whole thing. My novel became completely different, also much shorter, which was good. 

Another thing that I find very helpful, it's based in the UK, but I'm sure there must be hundreds of North American versions, which is I did a mentoring course after the diploma with the literary consultancy. And I think you can do it without actually physically having to be in the UK and then you get a mentor and you can sign up to whatever package you'd like, but the mentor reads the novel. 

And I did that for structure. Because the only thing about a writing course is, you're doing 5,000 words at a time and you lose the structure. People on the course, they don't see the whole novel, so they don't see how badly structured it might be or might not be. They're focusing on individual scenes.

Carol Cram: And speaking of structure…, 

Tip #3: Trust Your Gut

Writing a novel is a solitary pursuit and fraught with doubts. One of the most challenging aspects for me is figuring out which bits to keep and which to discard. The old adage to kill your darlings is all very well, but which darlings should I kill? 

This is where trusting your gut comes in. Ultimately, the novel is your novel with your name on it. This means that you have to believe in it, which sometimes means that you have to trust that little voice in your head that’s telling you what’s working and, more importantly, what is not working.

Here's what Stephanie Storey, author of Oil and Marble and Raphael, Painter in Rome says about trusting your gut.

Stephanie Storey: But, I think more and more as I'm writing further and further, I think when I was younger, I didn't trust my gut enough in, in what I was putting on the page.

And I didn't trust my gut when it was screaming at me, Hey, look at that. That's not working. I was more likely to ignore that voice in my head, hey, that's not working and think, Oh, that's good enough. 

Don't ignore the voice in your head that's saying, Hey, that one thing's not working. Go back and make it better. So listen to that screaming voice in your head, even though it's exhausting and you're on your 1,286th draft, listen to the voice in your head telling you that the place that you fear is not quite working. If you have that fear in the back of your head it's not quite working, listen to that voice now because you're going to have to fix it eventually anyway, so do it right.

Carol Cram: Closely allied to trusting your gut is the advice to ignore the editor in your head. Here’s what Jeanne Mackin, author of The Last Collection and The Beautiful American, says.

Jeanne Mackin: Turn off the editor in your head who's saying you can't do this. That's not good enough. I don't like that sentence, especially if you're in the first draft. Ignore all of that and just keep writing.

Carol Cram: Such great advice! You can bring that editor back when you’re revising a novel, but not while you’re writing the first draft. Get the words down on paper or on the screen without self-censure. 

When I’m writing a scene, I sometimes set a timer and then just write the scene that unfolds in my head without worrying about getting the words exactly right. I put myself in the middle of the scene and imagine that I hear the voices of my characters, see what they are seeing, and feel what they're feeling. Sometimes, I start a sentence and then abandon it, carrying on with a new sentence without stopping to delete the unfinished sentence. It doesn’t matter! I can always go back and fix anything that doesn’t work. 

The important thing is to free my mind from self-criticism and to just write.

Stephanie Cowell, author of several novels inspired by the arts including Marrying Mozart, has this to say about asking others for advice while still remaining true to yourself.

Stephanie Cowell: Yes. ask people for advice. If you want to give your book out to others to read, you should. I mean, if you look in the acknowledgements of almost any published novel, you will find thank you for my first readers, my second readers, my third readers, you know, my husband, my agent, and this huge list of people. 

If people say something and it doesn't ring very true to what you want to do, remember it is your novel in the end, because everybody will have different opinions. And if someone says something and it doesn't ring completely true to you, wait to hear from two or three or four other people. If they all start saying the same thing, you might want to just pay a little attention to it. 


Time for a short break.

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Carol Cram: Welcome back! So, you’ve written the best novel you can write, had it professionally edited and proofread, received feedback from several beta readers, and sanded the words until they shine. Finally, the novel is published and you hold a copy in your hands. 

Now what? 

Tip #4: Develop a Thick Skin and a Sense of Humor

While many readers will love your book and write great reviews, the day will come when you receive a negative review. It’s a fact of life and true for every writer, even bestsellers. So what can you do? Helaine Mario, author of Dark Rhapsody and The Lost Concerto, two thrillers inspired by music and visual art, shares her advice.

Helaine Mario:  Even when you think you're done, you're probably not. And that brings you to having a thick skin and a sense of humor, you know, because it's, you'll, you will have people that don't like your work and you hope that they'll just find something they like somewhere, but, but don't give up. Don't let those negatives stop you. Don't give up. Keep trying. And you learn that you cannot please everyone. 

Finally, last but not least, don't apologize. Just tell the best story you can tell and be true to yourself. That is what has worked for me.

Carol Cram: That’s excellent advice for writing and for life. Do your best.

Tip #5: Write for the Love of It

And finally, why exactly are you writing? If your goal is to make a lot of money, you may want to rethink your priorities. While I’m all for making money, I’m aware that writing is a risky business. Yes, you may become a top seller and rake in millions. You may also win the lottery.

But much more likely—whether you’re self-published or traditionally published—is that you won’t get rich writing novels. So, while making money is a laudable goal, it can’t be the only goal. Find another way to pay the bills and write because you have to write.

In Episode 19, I chatted with three novelists who wrote about classical composers—Barbara Quick, the author of Vivaldi’s Virgins; Stephanie Cowell, the author of Marrying Mozart; and Patricia Morrisroe, the author of The Woman in the Moonlight. Our conversation veered into the sometimes touchy subject of money-making and its relationship to writing novels.

Here’s what Barbara Quick has to say.

Barbara Quick: I didn't at all understand is that there's maybe a one in 1 million chance that a poet and novelist can ever make anything approaching a decent living.

So my piece of advice is make sure that at least one adult member of your household has a salary and health insurance and, you know, even better, a pension because you'd better just be willing to write for the love of writing. There are, most likely, absolutely no financial rewards involved. You know, if you want financial rewards, get a different profession, but the emotional rewards of writing for me have, they've not only been enormous, they've been absolutely salvational. They have kept me alive and full of joy at being alive.

Carol Cram: And finally, here’s what Patricia Morrisroe says about the same subject.

Patricia Morrisroe: So, I mean, I applaud people who would sit down for so long with the question mark of, am I going to sell it? I mean, that takes such enormous fortitude. So I think for somebody contemplating that, there should be nothing else you really want to do other than write a novel because it's very, it's increasingly tough to get published. Advances are really not what they were, although surprisingly more and more people want to become writers. So I think it's, yeah, have a plan because I know growing up and living in New York, friends who are writers and friends who are successful writers and honestly, very few of them make a living.

For me, it's always been the process of writing, the process of learning and the process of writing, which I love. And if anything happens down the line, that's wonderful, but I don't really expect it.

Carol Cram: So there you have it, five great writing tips from some of the authors I’ve chatted with on the Art In Fiction Podcast. Here again are the five tips:

·        #1 - Write What You Love to Read

·        #2 - Find a Mentor

·        #3 - Trust Your Gut

·        #4 - Develop a Thick Skin and a Sense of Humor

·        #5 - Write for the Love of It

How are you going to apply this advice to help you write your novel?

I’d love to hear your questions, your comments, and your advice. Go to Art In Fiction at and click the Contact tab. 

Be sure to check the show notes for the link to a 20% discount on a subscription to ProWritingAid, a wonderful editing tool for writers.

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Thanks so much for listening!


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