Category Archives: Journalism

Bouchercon lessons

Bouchercon book haul — well, some of the books I picked up, anyway. Copyright 2015 Peg McNichol

Earlier this month, I had the good fortune to attend the Annual World Mystery Convention’s annual reader-author conference, better known as Bouchercon.

Being both reader and writer, I veered between those roles in my attentiveness to authors talking about why and how they wrote their respective books (in many cases, series of books).

Here are a few tips I picked up on the writing life — something I’m working on daily with intermittent success:

  • Good writers read regularly and aren’t afraid to read a wide spectrum of genres.
  • Every writer has his or her own process, but: having a writing routine is an essential building block.
  • Figuring out what process works for you can involve testing and rejecting patterns — up early and writing before anything else happens (a la Elmore Leonard); or waiting until the family is asleep and grabbing 15 minutes on weeknights, a few hours stolen from each weekend; or something in between.
  • Whatever you write needs, like bread, a period of rest and inattention before editing begins.
  • The best work is well-edited. In the words of so many editors and Stephen King: “Kill your darlings.”
  • Editing is a process best left until you finish what working writers refer to as “the shitty first draft.”
  • If you don’t start writing, you’ll have nothing to edit and nothing to publish.
  • Done is better than perfect.
  • You’ll never satisfy every reader. In fact, you’ll probably disappoint or even offend some or all. Write anyway.


Photo by Peg McNichol | No use without image owner's express permission
Grandma’s Teeth Garage, by Peg McNichol

Someone I love like my own child shared a message starting with “Look at (a group)” followed by “a blog has claimed.”

Whenever I see such quotes, I see a story in desperate need of thorough fact-checking.

“Look at (random group),” really? File that phrase under “root of pretty much every conflict in the history of humankind.”

Dig deeper. What is the writer or speaker really saying? What does he or she really mean?

Every news/information consumer can choose to:

1. Join the mob by suspending disbelief, repeating the story with reactionary rhetoric and inflammatory embellishment, advancing any propaganda.

2. Stand on a firm foundation of reason and core values, using deliberation to assess a story’s accuracy.

Ask the most important question of yourself and the storyteller: “How do you know?” Then make sure the proof goes beyond “a blog has claimed” or “so-and-so said/wrote.”

If the story is online, follow each of the links embedded in the text. Verify the facts from a variety of sources, even ones you don’t necessarily hold as accurate.

You may find the root of the most outrageous tales. You may find the truth ~ or something in between.

What you do next with that information defines you more than the story itself.