9 things about writing.


1.       Notice everything. The world is filled with sounds, smells, textures, and fabulous stories unfolding all around you. Take the time to notice, and keep something handy to jot down new thoughts/ways to describe that sensory input as it comes to you. Sometimes, when I really let myself experience any given moment in time, I’m overwhelmed by all that’s going on. Life is a series of amazing moments.

Snapped this hibiscus on my school campus, walking a kid to class. Took two seconds to capture this beauty forever. It's all around us, all the time.

2.       Write what interests you. I ended up writing “crime/suspense mysteries with a romantic twist” which I never expected to do in my younger, more literary-ambitious days. I started no less than 5 novels before I finally finished one in a genre that kept my own interest long enough to write 350 pages of it. (I also LOVE reading these kinds of books, but honestly never thought I could write them. Shows what I know!)

3.       Write about themes that touch something deep inside. I became a therapist for a lot of reasons, not least of which is my desire to help others heal—but there’s another side to me that wants to kick some abuser ass, and it’s that part of me that Lei, my crime-fighting detective, “actualizes” as we say in the biz. Course, it took me three books with her for me to really understand WHY I was drawn to the themes I was, and to really own them, shucking off cognitive dissonance.

4.       Write whatever you feel like. Don’t try to write something only for it to sell. Write poetry, essays, novellas, series, flashfiction, fanfiction, bumper stickers… it’s all practice and part of the body of your work, and you never know what piece will lead to something else.

5.       Be brave. Think of it as “touching universal themes”—write about pain, pleasure, rage, and joy from the depth of your experience. FEEL the experience as you write about it. There’s no getting away from exposing yourself when you’re a writer. Course it doesn’t all have to be agony and ecstasy; a good description of that niggling, drafty suspicion that your pants have burst a seam is also universal.

6.       Persevere. I had no idea how really, truly difficult it is to get published. I could way more easily have done a doctoral degree—that also requires a lot of study and writing, but at the end when you’ve fulfilled all the requirements, they HAVE to give you the little paper with “doctor” on it. At the end of every considerable, unpaid, and even paid-for-professional-editor effort you can still get, “Thanks for letting me have a look at this. However, it’s not right for our list at this time” (a nicely worded rejection. Many are less kindly worded.) What’s my advice? Cry. Rant to friends about the obtuseness of everyone not getting your obvious genius. Then, get back in front of the computer and revise, rewrite, and never stop learning how you can improve. Humble out. You don’t know everything even when you think you do. Oh, and nothing is ever actually finished until it’s in print. And now, with self publishing, you can continue to revise and reissue your backlist!

7.       Make room in your life. Most people have at least toyed with the idea of writing a book, and NaNoWriMo has been a part of fulfilling that dream for many. If you’re going to be a “professional” writer (and don’t give up your day job just yet) you need to have actual time behind the computer built into your life. Study what works for you to produce words on the page—spurts of productivity with a deadline, daily goals, an outline, a laptop at Starbucks—figure it out and plan it in. For me it’s setting goals for myself, scheduling time (I work six days a week, so NOBODY gets to whine to me about not having time) and then DO IT. I get most done on what I call “retreats”—stretches of time when I step out of my regular life and into the world of my characters. A writing day for me is akin to a spa day—a wily tactic for luring the muse out to play. On the other hand, the dearth of time I have creates an urgency that people with more may not feel. If so, fake yourself out.

Worked paddling into Torch Ginger, Orchids' upcoming sequel.

8. Mix it up. Get out of your comfort zone and try some shit–scuba diving. Kiteboarding. At the very least, cross country skiing and snorkeling! Fill the creative well of your mind with experiences upon which to draw when you write. One thing I did with my novels was write down random activities we have here in Hawaii–and I try to work several of them into the Lei books, to help show what life is like here. It adds authenticity to have actually DONE some of the activities.

I love inventing worlds. Worlds where writers are cool.


9. Have fun with it. Along with being brave, be silly. I'm doing a romantic suspense right now–it's so fun to write I feel naughty! Especially all the gratuitous sex scenes I'm throwing in there, just to spice it up. A lot will probably end up on the “cutting room” floor, but keep motivated by having yourself a literary twinkie now and again.



Get writing, get living– and no excuses. This is your life you’re spending, and worlds are waiting to be born through you.

17 Responses to “9 things about writing.”

  1. Amberr Meadows

    These are some terrific pointers, Toby, and I agree completely. I love how you’ve actualizing your feelings into books. I’m looking forward to reading your latest. 😉

  2. Adam Collings

    Thank you for sharing these 9 tips. You’ve given me plenty to think about. It’s great to find a professional published author who still has a ‘day job’ and struggles with finding time to write. I sometimes feel as though I’ll only really ever be able to be a ‘proper writer’ once I retire in about 30 or 40 years. You give me hope.

    • toby

      Aloha Adam, never give up. Keep the flame alive-life it is always changing and room will come if you’re looking for it.

  3. Edward Owen

    Excellent blog and some very good pointers. I often have good intentions by I have ADD and my muse cannot seem to keep me in line (no, not even with her whip). It’s depressing when I realize that if I added all my Twitter posts together, I would have several full length novels, albeit with rather sketchy plots. Then I read a post like this and a little spark lights up in my head and I write a response which IS writing, after all, and then I feel better… or I go eat some cookies, then I definitely feel better.

  4. K.C. Woolf

    Fabulous post, Toby! I’m still finding my way in life-with-a-new-job but even now my mind keeps working things over and solving little problems with the manuscript.

    Still, I feel I need to take a retreat of my own again soon. Good thing the holidays are coming up! 🙂