A Recipe for Better Writing

suzanne2 My guest today is S. M. Harding, author of twenty-four published short stories, photographer, and editor of Writing Murder, a collection of essays by Midwest crime and mystery authors. The handy primer on the art of crime fiction is based on a successful lecture program held at Jim Huang’s The Mystery Company.

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I’m a “seat of the pants” cook, always adjusting a recipe for my own taste. So please make what adjustments you will of what follows.

My recipe for better writing begins with full cups of the three Ps: patience, persistence, and practice.

Patience isn’t passive – it doesn’t mean sitting back and waiting for something wonderful to happen. Finished your first draft of a story or novel? Don’t fire it off to an agent or magazine; let it sit a bit on the back burner. Wait until it’s out of a fresh writing mind and cooled a bit.

After you’ve left it awhile, go back with an editor’s eye. Look for spelling, grammar, syntactical errors; look for how well the story hangs together; look at setting, characters, suspense, dialogue, plot, and pacing.

In the interim, look for a writing group, either locally or on-line. Take a writing course at a local college or find a writing workshop. Go to a conference. Join Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America (there’s also organizations for writers who concentrate on thrillers, PIs, etc.) Find some good writing books like Writing Murder (OK, I’m biased, but this is the book I wish I’d had when I began writing fiction). Another I always recommend is Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin. The section on POV is worth the purchase price alone. Magazines like The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Poets and Writers give craft tips that you can take back to your manuscript.

Persistence means you keep writing, no matter what. Not everyone is going to like your plots, your characters, or your voice. Listen to what the rejection letters say, use those suggestions to improve your writing. Love what you’re writing enough to keep on, no matter what. And that includes what life hands us.

Practice, practice, practice. Make time for your writing, do it every day. A great way to practice is the short story. Think of the investment of time in comparison to a novel! Writing in the short form also forces you to think about every word – if I don’t need it, out it goes. Short stories also makes you increase your plotting capability – crime and solution in 5,000 words, please. They also allow you to try out different characters, a different voice, or a familiar character in a completely different world. Short stories give you publishing cred – and may even result in a query from an agent (honest!).

So, whatever the word that starts with “P,” the bottom line is write, learn to self-edit, get feedback from readers who write well.

writing murder 001Then add big dollops of creative juices, a sense of achievement, and desire to get better.

And above all, enjoy every moment!

Purchase Writing Murder from the Indiana Writers Center.Purchase Writing Murder from Barnes & Noble.
Purchase Writing Murder from Amazon.com.

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Great advice, S. M. and thank you for visiting. Anybody have any questions for her?

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Look in the dictionary under the letter “P”. Pick a word at random and build a short story outline around it.



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “A Recipe for Better Writing

  1. Beverle Graves Myers

    March 18, 2013 at 9:56am

    To me, persistence is number one, and possibly the hardest to achieve. We live in a world of so many temptations and distractions that compete for our time.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Suzanne M. Hardng

      March 18, 2013 at 1:45pm

      And sometimes, we just get tired. You know? But what’s the alternative? I’m a photographer, too, and I don’t want my work thrown out when I die! Same with my stories. So we keep on truckin’.

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      • Author

        Marian Allen

        March 19, 2013 at 8:54am

        Suzanne, thank you so much for visiting the blog and sharing your insights. I hope you’ll visit again!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 19, 2013 at 8:53am

      Beverle, one also needs persistence to just keep on writing and submitting, or writing and self-publishing. There are so many obstacles and discouragements, so many other hopeful writers competing for readers’ attention. Now, more than ever, a writer has to love To Write.

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. Jacqueline Seewald

    March 19, 2013 at 6:28am

    I agree with persistence being most important, but patience is crucial too. My recipe is write it, put it away for a while, then go back and edit after seasoning.


    Jacqueline Seewald

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 19, 2013 at 8:56am

      Jacqueline, you are so right! Just after one has written something, it’s too easy to read it with what one MEANT TO SAY in mind. When one reads at a later point, the gaps and inconsistencies show. Humbling and instructive!

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  3. Susan Oleksiw

    March 19, 2013 at 9:20am

    The three Ps cover it all. I don’t think there are any overnight successes, just writers who kept on working year in and year in. Good post.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 21, 2013 at 9:44am

      There ARE overnight successes, but not enough to consider relevant. ANYTHING is possible in a quantum universe, but that doesn’t mean we should all jump off buildings because it’s marginally possible to land unharmed, right?

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply

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