Saturday, June 13, 2020

Getting your Writing to Flow in More Ways than One ~ by Matilda Swift

One of my first memories is of talking about a story I’d written at six years old. The story was just a short, simple piece about a journey to my grandparents’ house, and the teacher chatting to me about it made comments I no longer recall. But I do remember the feeling of being a writer – that I had taken ideas out of my head and set them down.

I wrote that first story about thirty years ago, and since then, there have been countless stories, novels, rewrites, prize shortlists, crises of confidence, and every other tricky step on the writer’s rocky journey.

I didn’t start writing my first cozy mystery until I was thirty-two, and I didn’t even know what one was until I was thirty-three. A friend in a critique group told me that my couple of chapters of a small-town murder mystery was actually a hugely popular genre, and she encouraged me to look into it.

A light went on. I’d spent decades reading Agatha Christie, watching Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, and every other amateur sleuth available on daytime TV. To me, those types of stories just seemed normal. As everyday as the air I breathed. I didn’t even consider them a genre. But they were all cozy mysteries.

Whenever I remember that lightbulb moment, I think of the story David Foster Wallace told about an old fish swimming by. The old fish passes a couple of younger fish and asks them, ‘How’s the water?’ The young fish are confused, and they look at each other and ask, ‘What’s water?’

I was like those young fish, so utterly immersed in mysteries that I didn’t even see them. Before I started writing a cozy mystery, I’d spent decades trying and failing to become a writer. It was only when I realised what water I’d always been swimming in that I finally made any progress.

Looking back over all the other bottom-drawer novels that failed to come together over the decades, I realise that they’re all murder mysteries. Some are literary, some have a sci-fi spin, and others are supernatural. But they all revolve around a murder and an amateur’s attempt to solve it. It took me a long time to find cozies, but they’ve always been trying to find me.

When I talk to writer friends who are stuck, my advice is always to just try something. Start writing and see what comes out. Find what you keep coming back to, and home in on that. Even the mistakes are well worth your while.

As well as writing cozies, I also run a publishing imprint that makes books for English learners in Hong Kong. The opportunity came my way, and I went with the flow. I’ve written and edited over 130 kids' books in the past eighteen months, and it’s taught me more about story structure than anything else I’ve ever done.

If there’s one thing I know about writing, it’s to find your flow and go with it.

Listen to Matilda Swift's podcast episode here.

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