I can’t let February pass without acknowledging a great mystery/suspense writer of our century. Phyllis A. Whitney, who passed away in February 2008 (age 104), wrote over 75 books.
When I compiled my wish list of out-of-print books for Christmas, I had several Whitney requests. Mystery of the Crimson Ghost, a mystery for teens, was at the top. But my online “wishful shopping” revealed that Whitney also wrote three books about writing.
At the Friends of the Library book fair last weekend, I found a near-perfect copy of Writing Juvenile Stories and Novels by Phyllis A. Whitney!
The contents of the 1976 book are dated. Whitney argues the use of a typewriter over hand-written manuscripts and mentions an up-and-rising field called Young Adult novels, but I still gleaned timeless insight into her writing success.
Phyllis A. Whitney Tips on Writing
1. Hobnobbing with other writers will not make you a writer. And don’t spend so much time thinking about writing and “getting organized” that you forget to write.
2. Plenty of writers work all day and still manage to make time to write. Fortunately, “a writer’s office is under his hat; he can take it with him” even when he’s at a different job.
3. Blank on story ideas? Don’t wait for them to appear. Pick a subject, even if it doesn’t interest you, and start researching it. You will find something about it that does grab you. Or read the book of Proverbs in the Bible—it’s filled with hundreds of basic plots.
4. Writers need uninterrupted think-time when developing a plot. Stretch out on the couch, make your mind go blank, and focus on a story idea for an uninterrupted time. Afterward, your subconscious will continue to mull over your thoughts—and probably come up with something even better. Do not regard these subconscious gifts lightly.
5. No matter your outlining style, when you get stuck, written notes can renew your acquaintance with the storyline and get you back on track.
6. All stories have four possible beginnings: narrative, dialogue, one character thinking, or one or more characters doing something. All four have pros and cons. Whichever you use, your reader has to quickly find a character to care about.
7. Good stories are not written, they are rewritten.
8. Never forget that you won’t be a published writer this time next year unless you get busy on another book.
9. Every writer faces periods of discouragement, waiting to reach the next level. You plod along day after day at one level, with no sign of improvement or progress. Then, one day you seem to have taken a step up to the next level. So keep reaching forward.
10. Writers often stay young more successfully than other mortals do. Perhaps it is because no person with a keen and lively interest in life can really grow old.