Thursday, March 18, 2010

Working Stiffs Welcomes Alan Orloff

Working Stiffs today welcomes guest blogger, Alan Orloff!

Thanks for inviting me today, Paula—I’ve always wanted to be an honorary Working Stiff!

If you're a writer, I'm sure you've been given plenty of writing advice. From other writers, from readers, from writing instructors, from editors, from agents, from your mother, and from the barista serving you latte at the local coffee shop where you toil because it's too freaking noisy with the kids at home.

Any of these "tips" look familiar?

Query agents

Don't query agents

Write in the morning

Write at night

Get Matt Damon to play your protagonist in the movie version (um, okay!)


Don't outline

Listen to your characters

Whatever you do, for Pete's sake, don't listen to your crazy characters! I mean, come on, they're crazy!

I know, confusing.

[Aside: When I found out the theme of this month's blog (best writing advice), I didn't know which morsel of advice to blog about. So I decided to do what I usually do when faced with a complex decision. Leave it to chance. I spun my Wheel O' Advice and it landed on, "Always ask for chopsticks with your take-out Kung Pao." Which, although good advice, didn't have anything to do with writing. So I spun it again, and it landed on GET HELP!]

I don't know about you, but I wasn't born knowing how to write a novel and get it published. I've had to learn what to do every step of the way. So I listened when people told me to get some help.

Some suggestions:

Take a workshop. I started with an Adult Ed writing class, and moved on to a few workshops at a local writing center. An excellent way to learn the nuts and bolts of writing from experts.

Read some writing books. There are plenty of them out there, covering everything under the sun: writing techniques, inspiration, how to get an agent, how to fire an agent. Many are not worth the time, but two of my faves are Stephen King's ON WRITING and Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD.

Join a critique group. Not only will you get feedback on your writing, you'll learn a lot (a ton!) by reading and critiquing other writers' work.

Attend a conference. They're great places to learn about both craft and the writing business. If you have a specific question about something, there's bound to be someone there with the answer (mystery writers are the most generous bunch of twisted psychos in the world). It's also a great place to network. You never know, someday those other writers may become part of your support group.

Join a professional organization. A terrific way to learn more about the business of writing. What could be more enlightening that talking with other writers who have already accomplished what you are setting out to?

Writing and publishing are already hard enough. Do yourself a favor and get all the help you can!

Alan Orloff's debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, will be released in a few short weeks by Midnight Ink. The first book in his new series, KILLER ROUTINE - A Last Laff Mystery, featuring Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past, will be out Spring 2011 (also from Midnight Ink). For more info, visit


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great tips, Alan! It's great that there are so many resources out there and such a large writing community--we don't have to figure it all our by ourselves anymore!

Mystery Writing is Murder

PatRemick said...

Thanks for visiting Working Stiffs, Alan, and for the great advice!

Joyce Tremel said...

Welcome to the Stiffs, Alan! Excellent advice!

Gina said...

I don't really have anything to add, I just wanted the chance to do the secret verification word: boxlygoo.

Laurie said...

Excellent advice, Alan, and welcome! It's true, we're lucky to have so many writing tools available to help us with our craft.

Jenna said...

Thanks for visiting, Alan! Good stuff.

Paula Matter said...

Welcome, Alan, and thanks for visiting today!

And a big thanks to Annette who came to my rescue afer I had problems uploading Alan's great post!

Anonymous said...

Alan - Thanks for the very good advice! We're all in this together, and the more help we can get from each other, the better!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice Alan! I can't believe how much I've learned from the online community - amazing people!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Congrats, Alan and good stuff.

Can I add one which you touch on?


Alan Orloff said...

Thanks for inviting me today, Stiffs! It's a pleasure to appear on your terrific blog.

Writers, and mystery writers in particular, do make up a great community. I think we're fortunate to live in the Internet Age, where it's so much easier to ask for, and get, advice from other writers and bloggers (of course, the Internet is also an insidious procrastination deveice, too! Darn you, Internet!)

Annette said...

Welcome to the Working Stiffs, Alan. If I'd have known you wanted onboard here, I'd have asked you long ago.

And, Paula, you're very welcome. I'm having one of those days where stuff is out of my control, so I was glad to find something I COULD fix.

Anonymous said...

I agree . . . great advie. If I had known NOT to try learning it alone, I could have cut that 5 year road down to 2 or 3. So follow Alan's advice. SEEK HELP!

Elspeth Futcher said...

It's wonderful we don't have to do this alone! I'd like one of your Wheel O'Advice, though, that sounds fairly nifty.

Is there another wheel for 'This is What Happens Next'?

Alan Orloff said...

Thanks Annette and Drue! Elspeth, I think it's more of a medieval "rack" than a wheel.

Patricia Stoltey said...

All good advice. I'm especially fond of critique groups. I love mine.