From Reader to Writer: Tips from a Master of Suspense

In my constant and nearly obsessive pursuit to understand the craft of creative writing, I’ve given the Masterclass platform a try. I’ve had mixed feelings on the classes, finding that the advice tends to be more vague and open-ended rather than hard concepts and techniques. I started out with James Patterson’s lessons then meandered between both Judy Blume’s and Neil Gaiman’s lectures before finally connecting with a class from suspense master, Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code.

I’ll admit to you right now that I’m not aiming to be the next Agatha Christie. When it comes to novels, I don’t write suspense, thrillers, or mysteries (I’ll save that kind of writing for our interactive mystery night events at the library). But in terms of both resonating and applicable advice, Dan Brown threw out some real gems.

Here are a few tips that might help you in your creative process without having to shell out the subscription fees.

Be Tough on Process, Gentle on Output

By this Dan Brown talked about how the process and practicality of writing is more important than the actual writing itself. With any kind of creative endeavor, it’s so easy to be tough on oneself about the quality, the content, or the tiny details, but Dan says to focus that tough-coach energy on getting to your desk every day and being firm about the practical goals of when and how often you will work. Gentleness and forgiveness with oneself needs to be applied to what happens when you’re actually there. If you got to your laptop or notebook today to work, you’ve done your job. What actually happened on the page isn’t nearly as important.

Give Crazy Ideas a Chance

In other words, write the wrong thing in order to write the right thing. This is definitely where I’m at with my work. Writing requires a lot of decision-making. Everything from how a character develops to how the story unfolds is entirely up to the writer. I tend to get stuck on what the “right” decision is for the story, but Dan Brown recommends giving crazy ideas a chance, especially in the early stages of a project. Writing the weirdest or wackiest ideas first without worry of someone’s judgement is the best way to get to those answers that feel the most beneficial for your story.

“Write like no one is watching…because no one is watching ”

Dan Brown

Set the Table for Breakfast

Whether you plan to be creative in the morning, afternoon, or evening, Dan recommends “setting the table” for the next session’s work. This means if you’re wrapping your day’s work by finishing a chapter, go ahead and start the paragraph of the next chapter. Give yourself something to pick up from when you sit down the next day so you aren’t just staring at a blank page or need to go back and re-read everything to remember where you left off. Give yourself as much of an upper hand for tomorrow’s work, and even if the work you added ends up in the trash bin, you’ve at least provided a spring board to start for the next day.

The subjectivity of writing can be both a gift and a curse. Unlike dancing or singing which has a defined and regimented technique, writing can be interpreted in so many ways, and the techniques that work for one writer don’t always work for another. However, I’ve found that the best way to figure out what methods or advice work for you is to listen and try them. Go forth, creator, and be both tough and gentle, crazy with new ideas, and prepared for the work that’s waiting for you.

Alyssa Larue
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Author: Alyssa Larue

I am the teen librarian at DPL and the epitome of a book nerd. When I'm not producing our teen or tween short films or getting glue everywhere while making a teen zine, I can usually be found with my nose in a classic, historical fiction, or fantasy read!

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