Advice and Reflections from Author Rory Miller

I recently emailed Sgt. Rory Miller, author of the Meditations on Violence and Violence: a Writer’s Guide, about any advice he could give us on writing and publishing. He has just finished up his second print book (due 2011) as well as a book he wrote during NaNoWriMo.
Sgt. Miller sent me the following response, and I wanted to share it with all of you:

“I liked writing as a kid, got too busy to do it and didn’t start again until my wife decided to get serious and got recruited by a local writer’s group.  Almost all of the group were professional writers, and I can’t stress enough how much difference that made.  The feedback was rarely vague or about likes or dislikes.  It was almost always about execution and coherence.  The good writers saw writing as a skill, not as an expression of a muse.  Amateurs believe in writer’s block.  Pros don’t.
My wife got me involved and it drastically helped my writing, not just for books and the fiction I was writing at the time, but even in writing reports.  A well written report has a very different effect on a jury or hearings officer than a poorly written one.  The choice of a telling word over a serviceable one was huge.
My writing advice is pretty limited: decide if you are writing for yourself or an audience.  If for yourself, do whatever you want but never, ever expect other people to care or like it.
If you are writing for others, know who those others are and practice, practice, practice.  You need lots of honest (and informed) feedback to improve.  Honest, because if people are too nice you can think that things work that don’t and strengthen bad habits.  Informed, because an amateur may be able to tell you that something didn’t work but it is a big leg up if someone can tell you WHY it didn’t work.
Publishing is a whole other ugly issue.  Fiction publishing is largely a crap shoot.  There are lots of people who want to be fiction authors but the paying short story market is drying up.  With the changes in publishing it is too easy to submit a manuscript and the big houses are gutted.  The big publishing houses have also cut staff and most of the agents out there are actually failed editors who may have no more expertise or connections than anyone else in any business who was “let go.”
Non-fiction magazine articles with pictures still seems to be the way to break in.  Big, diverse market.  Pays fairly well.  Helps if you have some reputation, expertise or can sell yourself in the cover letter.
Non-fiction books… I know how that is supposed to work and don’t really know anyone who did it the ‘right’ way.  It’s a good market for ‘experts’ (real, fake, imaginary…) who can write, and some who can’t.  Most of us knew a published author in the field who liked our stuff and passed it on to his publisher (without knowledge or permission in my case.)”

Edit: For more from Sgt. Miller check out his site at http://www.chirontraining.com or his blog at http://chirontraining.blogspot.com

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One Response to Advice and Reflections from Author Rory Miller

  1. Atxatlarge says:

    Thomas,

    Well played sir! Exactly what this blog needs to be noticed. Miller made some excellent points. Audience interest is perhaps the best.

    From this, I would encourage you to turn it into a q&a to make it more readable, ie section it off.

    Thanks for putting in the legwork, even though you’re ankle is torn up from martial arts.

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