Climbing the Writing Mountain

By Melissa Lenhardt


A few weeks back, I hit send on the manuscript for the third novel in my historical fiction series, ending a whirlwind year of writing and editing. There were moments, many moments, when I had serious doubts I would survive with my mental faculties intact. (There’s some debate among my friends and family if my mental facilities are intact in the best, normal circumstances, but that’s a topic for another post.)

In 2015 I wrote two novels from scratch, edited three for publication, edited one for submission and finished another I’d started in 2014. I attended four writing conferences and the Texas Book Fest. My stay-at-home mom responsibilities never end, nor do they take a vacation. If I had a job outside the home, I would be curled up in a corner in a catatonic state today instead of on a flight to Left Coast Crime. Hats off to the thousands of writers who manage to do it all. You make me want to take a nap.

What did I learn in 2015?

Deadlines are my friends. I laughed when my agent told me the deliverable dates for the sequels to SAWBONES. Two novels in a year? Ain’t happening. My MO for writing, until last year, had been starting a story, getting 40-50K words in, moving on to another idea, and coming back a few months, sometimes years, later. I had never, NEVER, taken a story from idea, to first draft to final draft without interruption. That’s a rather horrifying admission, truth be told. Hand to God, I didn’t think I could do it, and I had weeks and weeks of 2 a.m. panic attacks as a result. It didn’t help that I barely had the germ of an idea for Book Two. Book Three? LOL.



The panic attacks weren’t getting the book written, and they sure as hell weren’t getting rid of the looming deadlines. So, I put my head down and wrote. I sat down at the computer daily with no idea where the story was going but somehow the ideas and words came. (Another lesson: writers never run out of ideas, but some ideas take more coaxing than others. Give it a kibble, i.e. lots of chocolate and ice cream, and it’ll come around.) The coaxing pays off: when I hit send last night, it was two weeks before the third MS was due.

It’s important to have a support system. I’m an advocate for critique groups, not only for the benefit of improving your writing and learning to give and receive criticism, but also for the community. When you sign with an agent and sell a book, it will be critical to have other writers you can talk to about what you’re going through. Even the most supportive and understanding family (which mine most definitely is) won’t be able to talk to you about the minutia of navigating the publishing world. Besides my agent, I have four or five writer friends who I call, text and email with regularly. They have all talked me off the ledge more than once in the past year. I absolutely wouldn’t have survived, or met my deadlines, without them. How do you meet these wonderful people? Critique groups, writing organizations such as Sisters in Crime, RWA, MWA, and attending writers’ and fan conferences.

Failure is more terrifying than a blank page. I’m not what you would call a driven person. Competent? Yep. Reliable? I like to think so. Competitive? Only when I think I’m good enough to win. Watch out if I ever play Trivial Pursuit with you, is all I’m saying. Last year, the threat of failing was real. I pushed myself creatively and productively in ways I never had before. My 2 a.m. panic attacks weren’t merely about the lack of ideas or the fickleness of inspiration, but about how mortifying it would be if I didn’t hit my deadline. Creating and maintaining a reputation as a professional, reliable and amiable author is not only critical to the editorial relationships I currently have, but also to the editorial relationships I will have in the future.

In publishing, I’m not competing against other authors, because those other authors have readers who will like my books, and I have readers who will like their books. I’m competing against myself, against the last book I wrote. I want the next book to be better, and the next one to be better than that one and on and on. I want to sell books, obviously, but success isn’t just the number of books sold. It’s readers enjoying the characters I’ve created, being upset over the length of time until the next book, recommending the book to their friends and family, asking me to speak to their book club. Success is having a bookseller who doesn’t know me recommending STILLWATER to me. Success is making friends with other writers and paying forward all the help and encouragement they’ve given me. Success is my husband reading my book and saying, “You’ve found your calling. I’m so proud of you.” Honestly, anything beyond that is gravy.

Though 2015 was a challenging year in so many ways, I met my goals and proved to myself that this writing thing might just work out. I’m ready for what’s next. Bring on 2016.

About Melissa: Melissa Lenhardt writes mystery, historical fiction, and women’s fiction. Her debut novel, STILLWATER, received a starred review from Library Journal and was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest. Her short fiction has appeared in Heater Mystery Magazine, The Western Online, and Christmas Nookies, a holiday romance anthology. She is a member of the DFW Writers’ Workshop and vice president of the Sisters in Crime North Dallas Chapter. Her debut historical fiction novel, SAWBONES, will be released on March 29, 2016.

Life in Death

Yesterday, member Pamela Skjolsvik was interviewed for the NPR program, "Think" to discuss her recent book, DEATH BECOMES US. 

Death Becomes Us

Per NPR, 

For most of us, death is a topic we'd rather not think about. There are some people, though, whose professions require them to confront death every day. This hour, we'll talk about the lives of funeral home employees, EMTs and death-row inmates with Pamela Skjolsvik, author of "Death Becomes Us." 

Think is a daily, topic-driven interview and call-in program hosted by Krys Boyd covering a wide variety of topics ranging from history, politics, current events, science, technology and emerging trends to food and wine, travel, adventure, and entertainment. 

Check out the podcast of the interview here.  

Foundations, Facade and the Future

This year marks my seventh year with DFW Writers’ Workshop; that sort of commitment is usually reserved for spouses and favorite T-shirts. But here we are, you and me. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but at the same time I don’t really remember life without you.

CSceUlrU8AEHfc-.jpgLooking back on my very first Wednesday, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d one day serve on the Board of Directors. I remember walking into an ongoing read in the foyer. At that time, I had my first novel in hand and merely needed someone to point me in the direction of a publisher. If only.

So here we are, seven years later, and I’m in much the same position except there are a few more manuscripts to cart around and I’ve had the greatest education $100 a year has to offer. MFA be damned. I have the Workshop.

This past year was a busy one for the board. We updated and strengthened the bylaws to give the Workshop a solid baseline. We modified our bank relationship to improve our financial management. We rolled out a new website that allows us to promote our members with ease and offers our members the opportunity to schedule their own events. We streamlined online registration, membership renewal, and our membership management – all of which has resulted in some serious growth. (When I read over that paragraph, I realize how amazing it can be when you let loose a gang of passionate volunteers on a project…apparently you really can move mountains.)

As for this year? Well, for starters, there’s the world-class DFW Writers Conference in Fort Worth on April 22-24. Again, that’s thanks to some tireless people working for something they love: Jennifer Duggins is leading the charge. In addition to that, we hope to bring a regular newsletter to the fray, some extra offerings to the calendar, and a few more member perks, including (but not limited to) the official launch of the Speaker’s Bureau and The Writers Bloc.meeting.jpg

And after all that’s done, we’ll find ourselves in 2017. It’s a milestone year for us: since 1977 we’ve been “writers helping writers.” Four decades of reading and critiquing. Two score. Forty years!

There’s celebration in order, and it may require you to put aside your Wednesday night uniform and don a tie or heels. (Note: I’m fully prepared for Alex Martinez to be wearing a graphic T-shirt that only looks like he’s wearing a tie.) But either way I promise it’ll be worth it. DFW Writers’ Workshop only turns forty once, and I can’t wait to see you there.

Until then…well, actually, until next Wednesday,


DFWWW President


Perfecting Your Prose at SMU

Learn how to perfect your prose with DFWWW Member, Tex Thompson during her 5-week class at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. 

From Tex: 


It's the timeless tragedy of 8th-grade English: most of us spend our formative years alternating between abject terror and fathomless boredom, and smother whatever we learned about subordinate clauses as soon as we escape high school. Years later, the sad result is that many aspiring writers struggle with the essentials of good writing – and even excellent, experienced writers are often left working from gut instinct: we know what we've written is effective, but can't articulate why.

Perfecting Your Prose is... terror and fathomless boredom, and smother whatever we learned about subordinate clauses as soon as we escape high school. Years later, the sad result is that many aspiring writers struggle with the essentials of good writing – and even excellent, experienced writers are often left working from gut instinct: we know what we've written is effective, but can't articulate why. 

  • all about 'micro'-level writing
  • suitable for writers of all skill levels
  • an opportunity for you to submit your writing for peer & professional critique
  • a great investment in your work!

Perfect_Your_Prose_Image_2.JPGIn this class, we're ditching the sentence diagrams to focus exclusively on the grammatical, rhetorical, and linguistic concepts that writers of ALL skill levels can use to take their work to the next level.

Starting in week 1 with the smallest molecular unit of writing – the word – we'll work our way up through phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and scenes, dissecting each in turn to discover what makes them tick. From participating in interactive discussions and presentations to revising first draft fiction and analyzing the work of A-list authors, you and your peers will work together through a variety of activities designed to make sure you finish the course with gold-star confidence in your knowledge of English – and a handsome vocabulary of writing-specific terms that you can use to continue improving for years to come.

Click here to register. 

Reviews Reviews Reviews

Three DFW Writers' Workshop members have received outstanding reviews from several publications this month. 


Horror Underground on Russell Connor's GOOD NEIGHBORS

A lot of books and authors are compared to Stephen King, especially fiction that showcases the dark side of the human condition. Good Neighbors is easy to compare as such, but I think that Connor’s writing has enough of its own voice that it doesn’t need the comparison. Click to read the full review. 

Austin American-Statesman on Melissa Lenhardt's STILLWATER: A JACK McBRIDE MYSTERY

Melissa Lenhardt of North Texas lays the foundation for a dangerous, romantic and seedy world with the first in a series, “Stillwater: A Jack McBride Mystery”...You want to know what is going to happen and how it’s going to go down. Click to read the full review


(The Pedestriennes: America’s Forgotten Superstars) is very easy and enjoyable to read. Most people will have very little knowledge or awareness of endurance walking, but should find this book to be interesting and even amazing. Click to read the full review. 



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