7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe, author of THE AMERICAN CAFE) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. 

Sara Sue is excited to give away a free copy of his latest novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Joetta won.)


Sara Sue Hoklotubbe is the author of the Sadie Walela
Mystery Series. Her new release, The American Café
(April 2011, University of Arizona Press), has been
described by Library Journal as “a good pick for
Tony Hillerman fans.” Sara is a Cherokee tribal
citizen who grew up in northeastern Oklahoma,
and uses that location as the setting for her
mystery novels. See her website here.


1. The first step is the hardest. When I started writing, I had no idea what I was doing. Finding myself in a new state with few job opportunities, my husband encouraged me to do something I’d always wanted to dowrite. I took his advice and at the age of 44, I bravely enrolled in a six-week writing class at a local community college. The instructor changed my life the first night of class when, unable to pronounce my name, he held the roster in the air and said, “That’s a great name for the front of a book.” The subliminal message stuck. I was on my way to being a writer.

2. Prepare. I followed that short writing course with two more, soaking up every ounce of instruction like a sponge. I read everything I could get my hands on about writing. I subscribed to Writers Digest and every other writing magazine I could find. I joined a writing group and found a critique partner. We met regularly to read and discuss our work. With every step, I grew as a writer.

3. Practice.
It sounds like a tired slogan, but the old adage about repetition proved to be true. The more I wrote, the better my writing became. I learned to use active instead of passive verbs. Choosing random words from a dictionary, the leader of our writing group challenged us to produce a coherent story in three to five minutes. I learned the importance of revision, continually stretching myself as a writer. Finally, I decided I wanted to do more. I wanted to write a book.

4. Write what you know.
One of the first things a writing student hears is to write about the familiar. After spending twenty-one years in the banking business, one would hardly be surprised to learn that my first book, Deception on All Accounts, begins with a bank robbery. Being a Cherokee tribal citizen, my protagonist became a Cherokee woman named Sadie Walela. The setting became the unforgettable place of my childhood; the characters took on the idiosyncrasies of people I had known or met.

5. Take a note. I started carrying a journal with me everywhere, recording anything and everything I thought I might be able to use later. Eavesdropping on conversations in restaurants gave me insight for realistic scenes in The American Café. Reading current events in small-town newspapers gave me additional ideas for the rural setting I was using in my mysteries.

6. Be persistent. After polishing the manuscript until it sparkled, I delved back into my writing resources to figure out what to do next. Writer’s Market taught me how to write a query letter, and then how to search for a publisher. I submitted everywhere. I learned that rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the work is bad, it means that writers and publishers are like two parts of a puzzle, each seeking the other unique interlocking piece with which to create a masterpiece.

7. Be inspired. I credit much of my success as a writer to divine intervention, a supportive husband, a positive outlook, and a lot of hard work. I am inspired by a quote by Seminole artist, sculptor, state and tribal leader, Enoch Kelly Haney. When speaking about the art of sculpting, he said: “Since I have no training … I have no limits.” This marvelous concept spoke to me when I first heard it and still resonates with me today. I didn’t know the rules of becoming an author, but with a lot of encouragement I truly discovered there are no limits. A piece of artwork hangs next to my desk that depicts a bear swiping at a hummingbird with his huge paw while the tiny bird hovers near the bear’s face. The title is Face of Adversity. On those days when I don’t think I can write another word, I look at that little bird defying that giant bear and know that I can.

The road to becoming a published author has not always been smooth. I’ve experienced a lot of bumps, a lot of rejection, and there have been many days when I questioned why fifteen years ago I chose such a hard profession. But when I recently received my first author copy of The American Café, touched my name on the cover, and saw my words printed on the pages inside, I forgot how hard the journey had been. Then there it wasa blurb from Carolyn Hart on the front cover. It doesn’t get any better than that.


Don’t let your submission be rejected for
improper formatting. The third edition of 
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synopses, proposals, book text, and more.
Buy it online here at a discount.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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16 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

  1. Valerie Norris

    The "no limits" quote struck a deep chord–I sometimes despair of my lack of formal training, no MFA, etc.–but then I look at my "minor" successes and tell myself again that I can do this. I have done it.

    Thank you for this!

  2. Joetta Russell

    I am excited to read a book from a Native NE Oklahoma native. As far as writing, I have always wanted to write and publish. I feel encouraged when I see people still trying and knowing I am not alone in my attempts. Thanks.

  3. Carol M

    I’ve always enjoyed Tony Hillerman’s stories so I’m sure I would like your books, too! Thank you for the giveaway!
    mittens0831AT NoSPAM aol dot com

  4. Pat Browning

    Sara Sue, your post is a veritable roadmap for writing a book. I hope I may quote parts of it from time to time. As an Oklahoman who is part Muscogee Creek, I’m always looking for mysteries with an Oklahoma setting and Indian characters. Books like yours are few and far between. Thanks for writing them and good luck!
    Pat Browning,Author of ABSINTHE OF MALICE

  5. Judi Maxwell

    I’m always on the lookout for mysteries with a Cherokee background. I’m looking forward to reading yours. Virtually the only Cherokee word I know is "walela".

  6. Kay Martinez

    Loved your post, Sara Sue! Your books sound great and I’ve just added them to my "want list." Great quote by Enoch Kelly Haney and one I want to not only remember but put into action!

  7. Laurie Outlaw

    "I have no training, therefore I have no limits." My new mantra! Thank you Sara Sue. I am soon to be 50 and just taking my first baby steps toward writing. I have been making stories up in my head all my life, but never realized how hard it is to actually write them down. These 7 Things I Have Learned posts are a treasure trove of good advice, and SO encouraging!

  8. Jolie Rishel

    Oh Sara Sue! I keep reading these posts looking for error’s I’ve been making in my own journey. Trying to fine tune my own process. Your story, your advice, has hit so close to where I am. Perhaps your words are this writers subliminal message. I’m going to believe they are. Thank you!


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