Even when Christine Finlayson was earning her bachelor’s degree in environmental science and her master’s in water resources, she knew what she really wanted to do was write about the environment, especially water.
“I was always very drawn to writing courses,” she said. “I wanted to be the person who was writing about what the scientist was doing or working with kids to teach them about the environment.”
And that’s what she did, working first in environmental education, and now freelance writing and editing.
Her debut mystery novel, Tip of a Bone, takes place near the water and was published in September 2013 by Adventure Publications, best known for books on nature, field guides, and cookbooks. And now mysteries with an outdoors and environmental theme.
Learning to Write a Novel
Novel writing is different than other kinds of writing. Christine, like many others, learned to write a novel by doing so, going to conferences, taking classes and submitting her work to critique groups. It took years to finish her first novel.
“I really had to rely on the three Ps of writing,” she said, referring to persistence, patience and perseverance. “At least 20 times, the plot changed, characters changed, the emotional story changed.” She advises new authors to keep in mind that both the writing and the selling of books is a journey, not a sprint or moment in time. It’s important to enjoy that journey.
Give Extra Care to the Beginning
“When I first started writing, I had no idea how critical the first line and first page were,” Christine said. She stresses the importance of immediately grabbing the attention of agents and publishers. “As a reader, I’m more forgiving and will read 20-30 pages before I set it down. They won’t.”
She found a blog called Miss Snark’s First Victim that helped her not only understand how important it is to grab an agent’s attention immediately, but also how to do it.
“The site focuses on the first 250 words of your novel,” Christine said. “There are online contests and critiques. You put up your first 250 words, and people write to say what they would change, if they would keep reading, how intrigued they were.”
She took her first line and first page through dozens of drafts and finally settled on one that felt right in her gut. It grabbed my attention when I read it.
Applying the Lessons Learned
Christine is working on her second novel now, and she resolved at the beginning of the process to be more organized. She created a scene outline. “I haven’t stuck to it entirely,” she said. “My characters take it in new directions, but the frame is there. Knowing where the story is going at the end has helped to be more efficient.”
Advice to New Authors
Christine’s first piece of advice is to think of your novel writing experience as a marathon, not sprint. “Be patient,” she said.
Second, think of the process of writing, getting published and selling books as a collaboration, not a competition with other writers.
“The idea of building up someone else’s work doesn’t diminish your own,” she said. “I try to support other authors by giving positive reviews, featuring books on my Facebook page or blog and doing joint press releases. I’ve joined writing organizations and helped people who are trying to get published. It’s important to think of it as a whole bunch of readers and writers, and we can all work together to keep books going.”
Finding Joy in Everyday Life
In addition to her writing and other creative pursuits, nature provides inspiration, peace and joy for Christine. “I was on a writing retreat two weeks ago. We had a cabin on the river. Taking breaks to go out and watch the water go by helped me feel refreshed. Nature makes me feel like I’m part of something much bigger. My own problems feel insignificant because I realize there’s this whole amazing world out there.”