Guest Chick: M.E. Browning

Ellen here, and I’m so happy to welcome back one of my favorite authors and people, M.E. Browning. And boy, does she have some valuable tips to share…

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Writing

By M.E. Browning

  1. Writing 90,000 words is easy, it’s putting them in the proper order that’s challenging.

Occasionally, I unearth some of my earliest writing… and cringe.  But those early words serve as affirmation that attending classes, joining a critique group, studying craft books, and reading award-winning and popular books—which by the way, don’t always share the same titles—has definitely upped my game. When I first started writing, structure was something that had a door. Thankfully, I’ve expanded my thinking since those early words. Aristotle recognized that stories had a beginning, middle, and an end. The best storytellers sense the cadence of a tale: they control the rise and fall of the action. Perhaps most importantly, the best writers learn the rules and capitalize on opportunities to break them.

  • You can’t edit a blank page.  

The quote is attributed to Jodi Piccoult, and it’s true. You can’t edit a blank page. Staring at it won’t help. Trust me I’ve tried. An empty page is intimidating and it’s psyched a lot of writers out. But at some point, you’ve got to commit. Give yourself permission to spew codswallop across the page. It’s okay, because…

  • Revision is your friend.

One of the things I love about writing is that I can take as many whacks at getting it right as I need. Unlike, say, brain surgery. You definitely want your surgeon to get that right the first time.

  • Writing drunk only works in movies. 

However, tea (or your caffeine delivery system of choice), is crucial.  Without tea, I would never have moved beyond lesson #2—not because I couldn’t formulate the words, but because I’d lack the energy to type them. What you do after you achieve your wordcount is up to you. Personally, I’m partial to a French 75. I like the bubbles.

  • Procrasti-baking is a real thing. 

When I get stuck, I bake. My closets get cleaned, the baseboards get wiped. But here’s the thing. If you’ve ever read the short story “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen, you know the most mundane tasks often reveal the most profound insight.  Clean grout is a just a bonus.

  • Read—and not just the things you like.

The Great Gatsby was my albatross—I didn’t care for it in high school, and it left me cold as an adult—heretical, right?  Well, at the suggestion of a writing instructor, I revisited the novel. Only this time I re-read the story armed with a pencil—and I came away with a far different impression.

Fitzgerald was a master of compression. In 181 pages, he told a story of love, betrayal, murder, broken dreams, and the hazards of chasing what one wants at the expense of what one needs. 

Perhaps it’s poetry that leaves you cold. I’d argue that no one knows the value of exactly the right word more than a poet. You want the right words.

  • Write.   

I know, this seems obvious. Yet how much time have you frittered away talking about writing instead of actually putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard? How adept are you at ignoring social media? And don’t forget to play. Experiment with point of view, tone, genre. I like to try new things in short stories, but regardless of the length or genre, be fearless in your word choice. Discover your voice. Why? Because as we’ve discussed, you can’t revise an empty page, and practice truly does makes perfect.

  • The universal is found in the specific.

Consider the axiom: War is hell. Intellectually we all know that, but it isn’t until we follow the plight of a soldier as portrayed in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, or witness Scarlet O’Hara shake her fist at the sky and vow she’ll never be hungry again that we care.

  • Show don’t tell is a common writing trope for a reason.

Entire lectures have been dedicated to the topic, and it doesn’t always apply (because well, rules are meant to be broken), but Anton Checkhov put it best; “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

And finally? 

Be humble, be gracious, be tenacious. Writing is solitary, but it can’t be accomplished in isolation. Join Sisters in Crime (shoutout to the Guppy Chapter!), or Mystery Writers of America, or the group at your local library. They’ve all got great resources and classes. I’ve found the writing community to be incredibly warm and welcoming. But as a writer you will be rejected, a lot—and from a multitude of sources: agents, editors, reviewers, award-judges, and readers may all at some point decide your writing is not for them. That’s okay. Think about your taste in music or art. There are styles you gravitate towards and those you avoid. The same is true of any creative endeavor. But you cannot—MUST NOT—reject yourself.

  1.  There are a lot more than 10 things to learn.

Readers, what lesson have you learned? Tell us below, then go grab some tea and get busy!


BIO: Colorado Book Award-winning author M.E. Browning writes the Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction. Visit to learn more.

ABOUT THE BOOK: In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer.
The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished.
Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture.
As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts and her worst fears. Now, it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.


Random House:


29 thoughts on “Guest Chick: M.E. Browning

  1. Thanks for the list, Micki. My fave entry is Write! – there is no creativity without action. My least fave is Show, don’t tell. Too many writers do too much showing, which bogs down a story; sometimes the hero just has to jump into a car and takes off after the perp. If details are included they should be relevant; maybe the glint of the moonlight n the broken glass alerts our detective to an important clue, or distracts the killer so the hero can tackle him.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve learned all those, Micki. Plus Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” You don’t have to write the whole book in one fell swoop. Just write the next chapter, the next scene, the next page, the next paragraph. As long as you keep moving forward.

    Now to refresh my cup of tea…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post, Micki! I’m sure all of these points will be of great help to the many writers out there who are diligently penning brand new novels for NaNoWriMo this month. (The blank page–so true.) I loved your point about beverage choices. I remember a a book in which a very well-known romance writer advised that the way to go was wine and candles. I’d be out before page 2, and the house would probably be burning around me. (Now there’s a good novel opening…) Thanks so much for visiting Chicks today–and also for introducing readers to the very intriguing Mercy Creek.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s truly my pleasure to chat again with the Chicks!
      My hat is off to those who have accepted the NaNoWriMo challenge! That is not a feat for me, and I am in awe of those who succeed.
      I do enjoy candles and wine, but when I get into the flow of writing, everything else fades into the background. Like you, I imagine I’d suddenly realize that something other than a nicely scented candle was burning….


  4. Great post, Micki! I relate to #1 — It’s easy to write 90,000 words, it’s getting them in the right order that’s the hard part! I tend not to write the book in order. I write whichever scene is clear in my head and figure out where to put it later. I think I may be doing it the hard way!
    Thanks for hanging out today with the Chicks — and congrats on the new book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Vickie. I’ve done my fair share of writing out of order. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do. Sometimes the images in my mind need to be captured. I may need to tweak it later, but often, it comes out on the page so vividly, that the revisions are minimal.


  5. This is beautifully conceived and written, just like everything you do, Micki. What a pleasure you are to read!

    I’ve learned that while writing may be a solitary pursuit, we need community. We were made for each other, and that includes the business of writing. Maybe *especially* in writing.

    Congrats on the latest, Micki! You know I’m a fan, and I can’t WAIT to dig in! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Kathleen! The feeling is mutual. Community is so important! I really began to see that when we were both nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. I didn’t see any of us as competitors, but rather friends to travel with on an incredible journey!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Becky, from the moment I first began writing, I was amazed by the openness of the crime writing/mystery community. I’m a long-time member of Sisters in Crime and the Guppy Chapter. I know I’m a better writer because of the contacts I’ve met and classes I’ve taken along the way. I’m happy to share the bits I’ve learned!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “The universal is found in the specific.” So very true. Which is why a well-written song lyric or line of poetry can sometimes change your life.

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks today, Micki! And congrats on your latest book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leslie, I don’t think anyone can quite capture an emotion like a songwriter. I’m in awe of their talent. It was pleasure to be an honorary chick today and thank you for the well wishes!


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