5 Pearls of Wisdom from New York Times Bestselling Author Elizabeth George

pearlElizabeth George is one of my writing gods. Way back when, when I was fresh and bouyant with ignorance, I registered for my first writers retreat. Only Elizabeth George would do out of a list of stellar author instructors. Never mind that I hadn’t fulfilled the prerequisite (the fiction basics workshop), I wasn’t budging.

Her workshop ended up being the best thing I’ve ever talked my way into. Elizabeth’s teaching style and her perspective on the writing craft resonated with me. I found myself signing up with her again. And again. I couldn’t get enough.

This week I’ve had a blast reviewing my workshop notes and Elizabeth’s feedback on various pieces of writing. I could write the world’s longest blog post about what I learned from her. I have so much good stuff to choose from that I’ve decided to include only verbatim quotes. This narrowed my choices down quite nicely.

1. “You have the story and the talent. Now put them together and run with them.”

Optimized-With Elizabeth GeorgeThe clouds parted, a golden calligraphy pen dropped down, and permission from on high arrived. I was worthy. Over a decade later, this message still hangs on my bulletin board.

There’s nothing wrong with getting affirmation from outside sources. With mastery comes confidence (most of the time, hopefully, maybe), and mastery takes time.

2. “Get up and face the day, every day, to do what it takes to be a writer.”

Discipline, baby, and lots of it. Elizabeth said that with talent, passion, and discipline you will get published, and with discipline coupled with either talent or passion, you’re likely to get published. But talent and passion with no discipline? Forgettabout it.

3. “The people who get published are the people who don’t give up.”

This is good old perseverence. I like putting #2 and #3 together when I’m in the throes of a talentless hack funk. The winning trifecta equals passion, discipline, and perseverence. Got talent? Bonus! But not necessary.

4. “Trust the body. Ignore the committee.”

You’ve felt the tingle (not that tingle, jeez), haven’t you? The excitement that registers in your body before your brain knows what’s going on? Yes! Aha! You can trust this feeling. It never steers you wrong. Your inner committee of sad-sack nay-sayers and bullies? Ignore them.

I have trouble with this one, that’s for sure. Sometimes I can’t tell what’s going on in my body because the nay-sayers are so loud. Still, I keep trying.

5. “The thing about writing that I believe is important to remember is that the writer has to be able to switch positions constantly, not only in order to express herself with a fair degree of artistry, but also in order to step into the reader’s shoes to see if what’s written is also something that will track for the reader.”

This is about orienting the reader. About clarity. About objectivity. So that we can look upon our work from the point of view of a reader, and thus be able to edit ourselves. I use readers to provide objective feedback. They provide the “huh?” comments. That said, I’m always trying to improve my skills in this area. Ultimately, we may write shitty first drafts for ourselves, but we must revise for readers.

Bonus pearl of wisdom: We are where we’re meant to be.

I know I’ve got this bonus pearl written somewhere, but I can’t find it, so I can’t verify it, so I can’t put quotes around it. In essence, wherever we are on our writing journeys is where we’re meant to be. This is a nice life lesson too.

Have you received affirmations that you’ve hung on your bulletin board (or fridge, or …)?

Elizabeth George is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 novels of psychological suspense, one book of nonfiction, and two short-story collections. Her work has been honored with the Anthony and Agatha awards, the Grand Prix de LittÉrature PoliciÈre, and the MIMI, Germany’s prestigious prize for suspense fiction. She lives in Washington State.

Her newest Detective Lynley novel just came out. (I’m so excited!) It’s called JUST ONE EVIL ACT, and you can check it out here.

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Lisa Alber is the author of KILMOON, A COUNTY CLARE MYSTERY (March 2014). Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging at Lisa Alber's Words at Play round out her distractions. Visit her at www.lisaalber.com.

12 thoughts on “5 Pearls of Wisdom from New York Times Bestselling Author Elizabeth George

  1. Elizabeth is a great teacher. I enjoyed her wit and humor too when having Elizabeth as an instructor at the Maui retreat one year. Many people along the way have graciously affirmed my writing, usually exactly when I needed it. Funny how that happens! The best part of being published are the wonderful emails I receive weekly from people who have connected with my book. You have this to look forward to, and I am smiling at the joy you will derive from it! Let’s face it – publishing is a tough business. Those little rays of affirmation make it all worthwhile.

    • She’s a wonderful teacher. I’ve always been so grateful for everything I learned, especially craft-wise. Character analyses, causality, so much! I still go back to her writing book at the beginning of a new draft (and during revision).

      Congrats on your affirmations! I’m looking forward to hearing from readers. 🙂

  2. Ooh, I love this: “Get up and face the day, every day, to do what it takes to be a writer.”

    And “We are where we’re meant to be” is so freeing. Elizabeth George seems like an amazing writer and mentor.

    • I do consider her a mentor, Natalia. When I looked back over her feedback and edits this week, I was chagrined (so much to learn, have I improved since then? fuss fuss fuss worry worry worry) and rather amazed. I wish she still taught — I’d continue to take her workshops. (She might still teach workshops, actually…I should check!)

  3. The affirmation I have framed next to my bed actually came from a fortune cookie. It’s says, “You will become an accomplished writer.”

    I got it out of an honest-to-god Chinese take-out fortune cookie.

    • Susan, wow! I always get the cliche’d ones like, “Life is what you make of it.”

      At this point, you could cross out “will become” and replace it with “are.” 🙂

  4. Elizabeth was a speaker at a mystery writers’ conference I went to earlier this year. One thing she said that resonated with me is to “read up.” Instead of reading books and asking or being discouraged by how such crap could be published, “read up.” Read books that you aspire to write because they are so good and well written. I’ve shared that little gem with many other writers whenever they start telling me about the poorly written/plotted book they are currently reading and bemoaning the fact they remain unpublished.

    • Thanks for visiting, Debbie! I like this pearl of wisdom a lot, and I’m going to remember it. “Read up.”

      Let’s be honest, it’s difficult not to get disheartened (bitter? whiny?) when we read some of the stuff that’s getting published while we remain unpublished. I’ve been there. Ultimately, Elizabeth’s right. Best to read what inspires us rather than what pisses us off. 🙂

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