Dame Agatha Christie, known for her mystery novels and the now-iconic detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, enjoys ongoing status as the world’s best-selling author.
Christie’s habits have much to teach writers about both the craft and the career of a successful writer. Here’s some advice gleaned from the life and habits of Dame Agatha – along with some links to additional information to help you utilize that advice today.
1. Be a good observer
According to those who knew her, Christie “listened more than she talked, who saw more than she was seen,” and she was reported had over 100 notebooks where she jotted details. Those notebooks that have survived have been analyzed and, in the book Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, traced forward to the plots and characters they inspired and offer a glimpse into the process of a brilliant and prolific
In Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the character Hercule Poirot (who would go on to become one of the favorites) was inspired by the Belgian WWI refugees who settled in her hometown. Her second book was inspired by a conversation the writer overheard in a tea shop.
Whether it’s the cadences of natural dialogue or the personality tics of a particular character, good writers draw from life and in order to do that, you have to observe.
2. Turn your dull day job into an asset
Christie reportedly started writing mysteries partly because she had a tedious volunteer job dispensing drugs for the Red Cross during WWI. During WWII, she worked in a hospital pharmacy and parlayed the gig into extensive research about poisons.
3. Get feedback on your work
Even though she was an accomplished writer, Christie got feedback from others. According to her grandson, Michael Pritchard, she used to read her first drafts to the family after dinner, “one or two chapters at a time… I think we were used as her guinea pigs at that stage; to find out what the reaction of the general public would be.”
Learn how to get constructive feedback for your book-in-progress, on this site.
4. Understand your book contract & watch the bottom line
Christie’s first book was published by John of Bodley Head, who signed her next six books as well. Like many first-time authors, she later realized how unfair and exploitative the deal was.
To fully understand your own first – or third – book contract, check out the Author’s Guild for tips and advice.
And remember this quote from Dame Agatha herself: “There are doubtless certain unworldly people who are indifferent to money. I myself have never met one.”
Professional authors need to watch the bottom line.
5. Get yourself a good literary agent
Eventually, Agatha Christie found a literary agent, Edmund Cork, of Hughes Massie. Cork who got her a new publisher — William Collins and Sons, which is now today is HarperCollins — who gave her a better book deal.
6. Delegate and utilize technology
Though not rich most of her life, Agatha Christie managed to have household help and childcare – and she used a then-revolutionary Dictaphone to dictate her novels and had them transcribed by others.
To preserve time for writing, how can you delegate chores or use technology?
7. Keep challenging yourself as a writer
Needing a change of pace and not content to write only mystery novels, Christie wrote women’s fiction under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott and also wrote stage plays.
Bonus rule: To be used with caution
A little scandal never hurt anyone? Read more about the original “Gone Girl”‘s life to see how a teensy bit of unexplained craziness may kept Dame Agatha in the news 😉
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