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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar for them, 'Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction.'

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.
  • By Victoria Mixon

    Dear Editor, I am ready to begin my second book after spending over two years on my first novel. New characters that have been swimming around in my head for months, scenes I know exactly how to write, a climax that is spectacular – they are all there, and yet I’m hesitant, daunted by the work that is ahead of me. Is this normal? Does this desire to protect my sanity from my art mean I don’t have the chops to be a writer?—No Van Gogh

    You poor people. Who’s been teaching you there are “signs” you “don’t have the chops to be a writer”?

    There are signs you don’t have the chops to be a mail carrier in early twentieth-century Africa. That would be a severe disability at judging distance and a tendency to clip trees when you fly too low over them.

    There are signs you don’t have the chops to be a spelunker. That would be claustrophobia, terror of the dark, and nightmares about being buried in an earthquake under tons of crushing earth and rock.

    There are signs you don’t have the chops to be an alligator wrestler. That would be the existence of alligators.

    You know what you have to do to be a writer? Sit at your desk putting words on paper, reading great literature, and studying the craft with all your heart and soul for about twenty years. This can be boring as hell for someone who’s not really interested in that stuff. But chops? You don’t need no stinkin chops. All you need is obsessive-compulsion and a sincere fascination with such a thing.

    Now, I’ll tell you two years is not really long enough to learn the craft. So if the novel you’ve been working on for two years is the first writing you’ve done, be aware you’re probably not finished with it.

    It’s possible your reluctance stems from a subconscious knowledge of this, and you’re afraid to move on because you know the first project isn’t completed. It’s possible all you need is permission to start on a new project while that one’s going cold in a drawer.

    No Van Gogh, buddy?—You’ve got my permission.





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    8 Comments

8 Responses to “Having the chops to be a writer”

  1. LOL Love this.

    I like the simple ‘writers write’ axiom. If you don’t write, or don’t enjoy writing, then don’t be a writer. That easy. The ability is sort of irrelevant.

    I’m not No Van Gogh, but I sort of wonder if the question is less, how do I know if I should be a writer, and more, how do I know if I am/will be any GOOD?

    And that’s where the twenty years come in.

  2. “All you need is obsessive-compulsion and a sincere fascination…”

    I love this. 🙂 Great post.

  3. A writer once gave me some good advice: Don’t be afraid to suck. Fear of sucking stops you from writing in the first place and then you’re doomed. But if you write and it sucks you can always make it better, or start a new project with the lessons you’ve learned.

    GREAT article, Victoria. I always love reading these.

  4. Kathryn said on

    Go for it!!! Sanity is over-rated.

    And alligators like marshmallows.

  5. Terrific post, as always. You know you’re a writer when you can’t help doing it. Like a child who gets obsessed with something. sure they keep falling flat on their face, but something pulls them back to have another go, wiser and wilier.

  6. Right on. I can certainly identify with this person.
    Finished my first novel last fall after beginning it eight years prior; got serious about finishing it two years ago. After lots of polishing, it’s finally in a condition that is generating some positive response from queries and submissions.
    That’s a lot of years with no financial payoff yet, which makes it hard to get going on the next one. But I’ve found it far more enjoyable to start a new novel than to just keep polishing the last. After a while, thinking about the thing is just too tiring.
    After a few years of some success with magazine writing, I told my wife that finishing a novel is like building a house when the only thing you’ve built before is a dollhouse.
    Hopefully the next house will be much easier…

  7. Ah, yes, those darn writer chops. Agree that we don’t need no stinking chops, just a day by day persistence to sit at our desk and write.

    Though now I have a hankering for pork or lamb. 🙂

  8. My favorite part of this article is your statement about two years not being enough to finish the novel. Aaah, a sigh of relief. I’ve been beating myself up lately after reaching the two year mark a couple months ago. I’m still trudging forward on the first draft and am at the 3/4 mark. It takes a long time to work through since I am studying and reading along the way. This manuscript will be much richer as a result of the extra time it’s taken me and all that I’ve learned while studying the craft. Loved the post, Victoria. Again, a sigh of relief washes over me.




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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, forthcoming from Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.

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