Guest Blog: Julie Smith

Sometimes scheduling craziness can occur.  This was one of those times.  I was told this had to go up a different date than today so I was surprised to see an email this morning that said different.  I apologize to Julie and I won’t hold up her guest blog any longer 🙂 Enjoy everyone!


Be True to Your Book (And don’t digress!)

I recently read that 83 per cent of the population wants to write a novel. Could that even be true? It reminded me of the time I was researching a book on Twelve Step Groups and read that 99 per cent of us are codependent. At first, it seemed crazy, and then I ended up thinking it was too low an estimate!

Judging from conversations I have with people I meet, the same might very well be true with potential novelists. Or, as I like to call them, “pre-published” novelists. I invented that term years ago as a kind of rah-rah encouragement to help people believe in themselves, in the reality that they really could be published someday. But now it’s literally true. Because, with the help of Amazon or Lulu (or any number of others), everyone can be published. And self-publishing no longer holds the stigma it once did.

So the only thing really standing in anyone’s way any more is actually writing the novel. Such an interesting process! Because you can’t really go to school to learn—unless you count MFA programs–and to be completely honest, I’m disappointed in most of them. Why? Because most focus on the short story, not the novel. Still, you can take courses, and you should. But the ideal would be to serve an apprenticeship with a journeyman writer.

I’m hoping WRITING YOURWAY has a bit of that feel to it. It came out of a writing course I began to give after publishing some twenty novels. My students were starved for professional feedback, and for inspiration—for a way to start. That’s the main problem, just knowing where to start! Or how to start.

The thing is, every writing teacher has a different opinion as to what a writer’s method should be. And I mean a strong opinion! They’d have you believe there’s only one right way, but how can that be when there are dozens of writing teachers? Hold it here, said Aunt Julie (aka me).  These guys have got to let up on these kids (aka first-timers) and let them find their own way. But they weren’t about to, so that’s where I came in. Said I to myself.

I was oh-so-careful to make sure everybody knew you didn’t have to outline, nor did you have to free-form it, you didn’t have to write in the morning, you didn’t have to set yourself a certain number of hours per day, you didn’t have to write on weekends, you could pretty much make it up as you went along. Know how I learned my own best method? I took a two-month working vacation in an isolated place with no TV and no Internet, nobody to talk to, and no schedule. That’s how I learned I can do more and better work between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. (that’s right, P.M.) than in the other twenty-two hours combined! But not everybody has that luxury, so they pretty much have to depend on trial and error.

Well, anyhow, the students got that, and a lot of other stuff, but when their manuscripts started coming in, I saw they needed a lot more work on first chapters. Hardly anyone does first chapters very well, even published writers. I’m in the process of getting a lot of my work digitized and I’ve seen some pretty embarrassing stuff—that I wrote myself. And that got published.

So now I’m heavy into don’t do as I do, do as I say! And here’s where I get pushy, like my colleagues. Oh, yes, even Aunt Julie has her rules. Here are three, for first chapters: No exposition, no digressions, no flashbacks. Think about it—wouldn’t that improve most first chapters?  So here’s what’s happened–I’ve turned into a one-woman campaign to give everyone a better read, as well as give pre-published writers a straightforward, flexible system.

I can also tell you the Number One way to wreck your novel even if you do everything else right. Coincidentally, it’s also the Number One way to wreck your marriage or friendship.  Can you guess what it is?

Here’s a hint: I’m not gonna lie to you; that wouldn’t be honest.

Got it? It’s dishonesty! Author manipulation. Not being true to your characters. Just as damaging, novel-wise, as not being true to your spouse.


Julie Smith is the award-winning author of twenty novels and as many short stories. She’s a former reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the San Francisco Chronicle,  as well as a veteran of her own online writing school, plus an editorial service she founded with two other writers. She’s also taught writing at the  University of New Orleans and in numerous private seminars. During her long career as a novelist, she has created four mystery series, including two set in New Orleans where she lives, featuring homicide detective Skip Langdon and poet/P.I. Talba Wallis. In 1991, she won the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel. Counting all the novels, all the stories in all the anthologies, the odd essay, and a progressive novel or so, her publishers include just about every big publisher– Ballantine, St. Martin’s, Tor, Walker & Company, Knopf,  Doubleday, Avon, Harper-Collins, Berkley, Warner,  and Oxford University Press– plus some smaller ones, including Akashic Books,  Carrol&Graf,  Allen &Unwin, Taplinger, and Four Star.

Her latest book is a how to writing book titled Writing Your Way: The Great American Novel Track.

Visit her website at  Follow her on Twitter at!/booksbnimble and Facebook at  She welcomes your email at



WRITING YOUR WAY is a no-nonsense, jam-packed book on writing fiction that came directly out of the author’s belief that most writing teachers need to cut their students a little slack. Edgar-winner Julie Smith’s approach is to help you find your own writing method, not bombard you with “unbreakable” rules. But make no mistake, she’s going to give you plenty of how-tos—on plot, character, setting, voice, point-of-view, dialogue, pacing and marketing.  As well as plenty of practice exercises. And lots of motherly advice.

She also thinks most writing books are so absurdly padded they’re a waste of students’ time. Or they’re all about getting in touch with your inner writer so you can finally get started. WRITING YOUR WAY is for the pre-published novelist who is way past that. It gets right to the point. Offering nuts, bolts, and marketing methods, it’s a thick, dense concentrate of wisdom learned from years of actually… writing. Smith’s the author of dozens of novels and short stories and the founder of Writers’ Track, a method of teaching writing by conference call. She has also taught fiction both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

 Buy it now at:

Misty graduated from Capital University in 2005 with a degree in English Literature. She is an avid reader and is the owner of The Top Shelf

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Misty graduated from Capital University in 2005 with a degree in English Literature. She is an avid reader and is the owner of The Top Shelf