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The Best Writing Advice from SWW Authors


Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
~ Emerson

What better writing advice than that given by a published author?

In the course of interviewing SouthWest Writers’ authors for this website, one of the questions I asked was, “What advice would you give to beginning or discouraged writers?” Here are the answers compiled from ten of the interviews posted in 2015.

The publishing world is competitive, but writing shouldn’t be. No two writers will ever tell a story exactly the same way. Don’t be afraid to help those around you, or to learn from others. If you’re not improving and having fun as a writer, you may as well move on to something else. One of my characters once told me, “If you ain’t havin’ fun, you’re just wastin’ space.” That has become my motto. ~ Sarah Baker

Bumblebee physiology is inconsistent with flight, so instead of flapping their wings up and down like a bird, they wave them in a figure eight pattern. Unwilling to walk from flower to flower, they achieve their goal by working with the laws of physics to find a way to fly. It’s the same with writing: if one avenue doesn’t pan out, find another. ~ Olive Balla

Writing can be a box with rigid structures that are demanding and restrictive to one’s creative nature. On the other hand, writing can be as fluid as the ink that flows unto the paper. It can become a vehicle that opens up doors to new worlds of possibility and to dreams that have never been expressed. My hope is that every writer who feels the need for more freedom chooses the latter. ~ S.S. Bazinet

Don’t wait until it’s perfect, because it’ll never happen. Obviously, it’s necessary to do a thorough job editing, but it’s too easy to get hung up on minor things and never get the job done. ~ Susan C. Cooper

Just begin. Trust yourself and your words. Forget many of the things you learned about “rules.” As Mark David Gerson suggests in The Voice of the Muse, there are 13 rules. The first is: There are no rules. The story exists and you are the vehicle which carries it. ~ Elizabeth Ann Galligan

Discouragement is part of the writing game. So is perseverance. And perseverance will eventually win (think Thomas Edison). My advice: Keep honing your craft. Join a critique group and learn to take criticism; after all, they’re readers, and writers need readers. Realize your writing isn’t sacred and not to be changed in any way; remember, you can’t see mistakes in your own writing—you’re too close. ~ Larry Greenly

Don’t give up. Find publishers who’ve issued books similar to yours. Develop a great query to send them, one that will get their interest enough that they’ll even read your submission. Create a first page that grabs them. ~ Joyce Hertzoff

People who write are called writers. People who wait are called waiters. I’d advise you to write every day, if only for the sheer pleasure of it. Don’t worry about the Great American Novel, etc. Enjoy what you do! Or find something else to do, life is too short. ~ Robert Kidera

Learn to reject rejection. Get used to the idea that there is going to be a lot of rejection along the way. The secret is to never give up. If one person tells you no, ask someone else. Someone, somewhere, sometime will say yes. Move on to the next person. Someone is waiting to say yes. ~ Gale O’Brien

Set both weekly and monthly goals/deadlines for yourself. Write them down and work diligently toward achieving them. Buy an appointment book and schedule time for writing, rewriting and research. Your “great expectations” will be easier to achieve when you have established in writing what they are. ~ Shirley Raye Redmond

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

Image “Light at End of Tunnel” courtesy of lkunl /

An Interview with Author Susan C. Cooper

Author and artist Susan C. Cooper worked as an environmental engineer for 17 years after earning a BS in biology, MS degrees in physiology and geological engineering, and a Ph.D. in physiology and biochemistry. Born and raised in Milwaukee, she now makes her home in Albuquerque. Her first book, The Truth About Mold, is in its third edition. Football Facts for Females, published in 2014, is her second book. You can find Susan on Facebook and her website

FootballFactsForFemalesWhat is your elevator pitch for Football Facts for Females or If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em?
Starting with the basics and merging into more complex details such as strategy, this book combines information about football with humor to make it fun to read. It also includes a chapter about the importance of choosing a favorite team and players and how to do that.

What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to improve my relationship with my husband Randy, a relationship that was really quite good—except for football season. Many years ago, Randy was willing to learn about classical music for me; why couldn’t I do the same thing for him with respect to football?

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I started writing the book nearly 20 years ago, when there was no Internet, only newspapers, magazines, and books—and all of which were written without humor and assumed the reader already spoke footballese.

I found an agent, who took all the humor out of the book (except for the glossary), and he found a publisher. But when Football for Dummies was published, my publisher lost interest. I shelved the manuscript temporarily, but it was always at the back of my mind. Then Randy and I went to Craig Duswalt’s RockStar Marketing Bootcamp—which has its own publishing house. I started working on the manuscript again, revising and updating it. My last hurdle was my own fault caused by my perfectionism. I didn’t want to send the manuscript in to be published until it was perfect. One of my new friends from the bootcamp pushed me to go ahead and publish it. I did.

One of the endorsements on the back cover is from football legend Joe Theisman. How did that come about?
Craig Duswalt is distantly related to Joe. He suggested it. So I sent Craig a copy of the manuscript, and he sent it to Joe. I also have a testimonial from sports newscaster Jim Nantz who wrote, “Super job, Susan! Kudos!” That came about because an elderly man at my church bought a copy for his daughter—and fell in love with it. He bought another copy to send to Jim Nantz with whom he sometimes corresponds. (I received this testimonial after the book had already been published, so it doesn’t appear in the book itself.)

I have received a couple of other testimonials that are important to me. One was from one of my reviewers who worked at the House of Football. Levi Doporto has played the game, coached it, and refereed games. He was amazed that a woman could write a book about football—and not sound like a woman. He learned a number of new facts about football, and every time he questioned something I wrote, he looked it up and found I was right. (How cool is that?!) The other important testimonial was from James Malinchak, a motivational speaker known as the “big-money speaker.” He’s friends with Joe Theismann and was also impressed with Football Facts for Females. He told me how much Joe loves the book.

What inspired you to become a writer?
I’m afraid I’m not the typical writer who just has to write or she will die. But I’ve been writing (and editing) for many years—grant proposals, a chapter of a book on rickettsial diseases as a ghost writer, translations of several scientific papers, two theses and a dissertation, articles for publication, reports and other documents as an environmental engineer, etc. Later, I wrote articles about restaurants for PrimeTime and articles about art and photography for The Pastel Journal. When I worked for the board of REALTORS in Albuquerque, I wrote two articles every week for the local real estate magazine, helped develop a course on mold, and wrote the first edition of my book about mold (The Truth about Mold), along with an online course for continuing education for REALTORS®. Writing was just something I did.

You’ve been a member of Toastmasters for about 30 years. How has participating in that organization helped you in your writing and publishing journey?
Toastmasters has helped me develop confidence and given me a better insight into using humor effectively (which I couldn’t use in any of the three editions of my mold book, but I certainly did use in my football book).

Who are your favorite authors and what do you admire most about their writing?
Janet Evanovich for her humor. James Patterson—I love any author who writes well enough to keep me from putting the book down. I love his short chapters and his ability to keep me reading because of the tension he puts into his chapters. And his productivity? Holy cow! Even though he has so many co-authors working with him, his novels are all consistent with those characteristics and interesting plots. And they’re never boring, even though he obviously uses a pattern for his novels.

Why did you decide to take the indie route to publication?
Opportunity led me to publish The Truth about Mold with Dearborn/Kaplan, a standard publisher that focuses primarily on books dealing with real estate and finances. For my book about football, I tried the whole mess of looking for an agent nearly 20 years ago, and I just didn’t have the energy to do that again. Football Facts was actually published by RockStar Publishing House, a kind of hybrid of indie and traditional publishing. They have everything available in house—you just have to decide what you want done, and then pay for it. It turned out to be an expensive proposition because the book was longer than what they usually publish, and has a lot of illustrations, an index, and a glossary. I am pleased with the overall product, but I’m looking forward to publishing at least one book via CreateSpace and not having to pay an arm and a leg for it.

TruthAboutMold180And now to The Truth About Mold, your 2013 book full of important facts about…mold. There’s a running joke at many SWW meetings where many writers (especially Jon Miller) make reference to mold when they’re plugging their own books. Many visitors to SWW meetings probably don’t understand the reference. Would you like to explain?
Somehow, I am able to make mold funny, even though mold really isn’t funny but can be a serious problem. I’ve done that enough at SWW meetings that a number of our members (like Jon) have picked up on it and embellish it. And I absolutely love that feedback, which they all seem to know and appreciate!

So far you have published only nonfiction books. Do you have plans for fiction projects? What are you working on now?
Randy and I are working together on a novel titled Moment of Death based on an idea he had years ago. Randy has been a sculptor for about 20 years. The main character in Moment of Death is—big surprise—a sculptor! One of his clients dies because of a freakish set of circumstances, teaching him a valuable lesson to use in his sculpting. We’ve been working on this novel for a long time and are hoping to finish it this year. I also want to write a book about mold for the public—one with humor in it but covering some important information that is often not talked about. After taking one of Betsy James’ courses, I discovered the snark in myself and that writing fiction is even more fun than writing nonfiction. Last year I wrote a science fiction novel. It’s something I still want to get back to and publish. I have also written other stories I’d like to develop; there are a couple of them I think have a lot of potential.

What advice do you have for writers still striving for publication?
“Don’t wait until it’s perfect, because it’ll never happen.” Obviously, it’s necessary to do a thorough job editing, but it’s too easy to get hung up on minor things and never get the job done, especially for someone anal with perfectionist tendencies, like me.

Also, beware of critique groups and how you deal with them. Yes, they can give you invaluable insights into your book, but remember it’s YOUR book and your ideas, not theirs. You have to make the decision as to what you want to say instead of allowing yourself to be led astray by the ideas of other members of your group.

And if you’re a writer who gets discouraged, like I do, I find it helps to read. I have books I’m reading on each of my two Kindles, my cell phone, my iPad, and my Galaxy tablet. (And I always have at least one “real” book going.) I’ve read good books and really bad ones through my Bookbub subscription, but even the bad ones are useful—”this is what a writer shouldn’t do, and here’s a good example of why.” Or “here’s something that works really well. Great idea.”

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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