Friday, April 19, 2013

No Magic Pills

 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: If Reed Farrel Coleman is in a crowded room there's an easy way to find him. Listen for the laughter. Wherever he is, he's making people laugh with this droll humor and laser wit.

Reed is now wincing, probably, as he reads this. And thinking: "laser" wit? I'm sure she could have found a better word.

We teach together at MWA University, and it's such fun to be in the audience for his honest, irreverent and well, also reverent class. He loves writing, and the process of writing, and the reality of writing. And he's not afraid to give his fellow writers his trademark hit of tough love.

 No Magic Pills

I had a therapist who used to say that there were no shortcuts, that there was no substitute for doing the hard work. In other words, there were no magic pills. I’m not sure I believed her until I got it in my head to make myself into what I always dreamed of being—a writer. And I thought therapy was supposed to help you get less crazy! Silly me. But the fact is that my therapist was right. There are no magic pills and that regardless of the choices you make about process and routine, regardless of the genre or subgenre you choose to work in, there is one double-sided, inescapable fact: there is work to do and you must do it. Or to quote Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

The thing my therapist, Yoda, and I are getting at is that doing is its own reward. I am not telling you that you shouldn’t fantasize about spending your millions or signing autographs. On the contrary, fantasize away. But I would urge you to find satisfaction in the act of writing itself. Enjoy the rainbow instead of looking only to what may or may not be at the end of it. It took me many years to figure that out, to let the act of writing become self-reinforcing. Once I did, my writing not only became easier, it became better. I learned to focus all my energies—most of them, anyway—on the words I was putting down, not on the end product. Each day’s writing became an end unto itself as well as part of a greater whole.

The adjunct of this notion is that you should avoid falling in love with what you produce. As I once told an editor: I have my writing and I have my children. I try to never get them confused. Your words are not precious. They are not revealed knowledge. Realize that editing is almost as important as the writing itself. And in this less-than-brave new world of e-self-publishing, you must really have the discipline to work hard at your craft and be willing to polish your work until it’s suitable for submission to an agent or publisher.

 Don’t let fear of rejection drive you to self-publishing. I am not saying that self-publishing is inherently bad, though I will always have some reservations about it. What I am saying is that new writers in particular should not turn to self-publishing as a means to avoid rewriting. Criticism and rejection are part of the career, so embrace them instead of trying to avoid them.

If at the very early stages of your journey as a writer, you are open to these few suggestions, you may find that you won’t need those elusive magic pills after all.

HANK: Where are you on your writing journey? We'd love to hear. We'll give a copy of ONION STREET  to a lucky commenter! 

And to celebrate Reed's newest book--and Reed's journey as a writer..there's a party! (Kind of exactly what we need right now...)


Called a “hard-boiled poet” by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the “noir poet laureate” in the HUFFINGTON POST, Reed Farrel Coleman has published sixteen novels and one novella. He is a three-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year and a two-time Edgar Award nominee. He has also won the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards. Reed is an adjunct professor of English at Hofstra University and a founding member of Mystery Writers of America University. He lives with his family on Long Island.


  1. Hey Reed,

    If writing were easy, I'm not so sure I'd bother.


  2. Hi Reed, I'll take your advice, especially the no-self-pub bit. I have the enjoy-it part down with only a little problem in the do-it portion. Tonight I used the Facebook tab to check a series of six emergency emails and texts from my employer in Boston. Not that I would avoid them, not now especially, but they don't stop coming until you press a code key that confirms your receipt and understanding. I forgot to turn FB back on and wrote almost 2,000 words before I realized it wasn't on.

    Thanks, Reed. Thanks Hank.

  3. I know both Reed and Stephen (comments above) are wonderful writers because they make it look so easy.

  4. Please, Newton, Wellesley, Boston area JRWs please let us know you are okay.

  5. Ain't that the truth. And I'll make one additional comment on your post - editing can be, and often times is, more important than the writing itself. If it reads like writing, your book isn't ready for mass consumption because it's not a story yet. Thanks for the great reminder for my Friday morning. Great post.

  6. A wise man once said, Listen to Reed. (And I'm always quoting you quoting Yoda...)

  7. Marianne in MaineApril 19, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    I'm totally in awe of writers.

    Thank you, all of you, for giving us your work.

  8. Reed is an original, a sui generis... I have always enjoyed being with him - and always knew I was learning something wonderful when he spoke! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  9. Hank, I think your description of Mr. Coleman, especially the "tough love", hit the nail squarely on the head. One gets the feeling that you can take him at his word with both praise and criticism and that is worth a lot.

    I have been lucky enough to have read an advanced reader's copy of "Onion Street" and it's terrific. (So much so that I have posted a review on Amazon, something I do only for books I love.)

    As "Onion Street" is the prequel (but the eighth book he's written in the series) to the Moe Prager books, if any of you are new to his work, you could easily start here. But then you'll want to read them all!

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

  10. Hi Reed! I thought for a moment there that you said Yoda was your therapist:-) Maybe Yoda IS your therapist--that's certainly great advice, especially when applied to writing. I've told aspiring writers for years that you write because you can't imagine NOT writing--not because you want to be famous. A book means an awful lot of hours spent at the computer, so you had better like the process.

    And we ALL need editing, even those of us who have written many novels. I'm sure there's a Yoda quote for that!

  11. Great advice, Reed! It does seem hard for students to understand that editing is writing, maybe the most important part of writing. I look forward to your book.

    All Boston Reds and backbloggers, I hope you are all safe and stay that way. I know Hank will be out reporting the hunt for the at-large suspect. Stay safe, Hank! As soon as you can, all of you, check in and let us know you are okay, please.

  12. “Do or do not. There is no try.” --- That Yoda certainly is smart. Looking forward to reading your book . . . .

  13. Yup, okay..working from inside....more to come.. love to you all...

  14. Hank, Boston must be like a ghost town. How weird it has to be. Good luck to law enforcement for finding that young man and figuring out what they were thinking with their horrific acts.

    No magic pill, indeed. If writing was easy, everyone would be doing it. But it isn't.

  15. Love Reed Farrel Coleman and his work and he knows this. So I hope, Reed, you won't take offense when I say some of us who are self-published did ALL the things you suggest and still decided to go the self-published route. I took two years to write, rewrite and have edited my "Whimsey." My own personal feeling is that the traditional route is for a younger debut author than me.

    I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of ONION STREET and loved it every bit as much as I knew I would. It's a great addition to the Moe Prager series for those of us who are big, long time fans, but it's also a great place to start for those who haven't discovered Moe yet.

  16. Congrats on Onion Street Reed! We're sorry your excellent essay got short shrift yesterday--I love your advice. And love hearing about the wise therapist too:)