October 24, 2011

Made It Moment: Michele Dreier

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:57 pm

Edited For Death

This Moment takes us back before the reviews, before the reader reactions, before the offer of representation, or publication, or decision to publish. Before the things that constitute Moments for so many. Instead, Michele Dreier mines her writing journey for that time when how to create the story we’re meant to finally clicks into place.

I can remember when this took place for me. It was, as Michele, suggests life-changing. Certainly it forever changed the direction of my work and passion.

In Michele’s case it became her Made It Moment.

Michele Dreier

I’ve always written, although I haven’t always wanted to.

In high school, I got sucked in by the siren call of science and didn’t even take Senior English.  When I started college, I was coerced into registering for an honors English class which I took, just because.

This wasn’t right, I was a chemistry major and had a four-year plan plotted out.  It didn’t include any liberal arts beyond what was required for General Education.  I was going to take chemistry, physics and math and get a high-paying job as a research chemist.  Oh, the future was rosy…until I met Organic Chemistry.  It was NOT love at first sight.

To escape, I began hanging around the journalism department because I had a friend on the college paper.  I discovered that the j-school people had w-a-y better parties and talked about w-a-y easier classes, so I ditched my first passion and took up with Liberal Arts, which was to become my life partner.

It hasn’t always been a perfect marriage.  I’ve spent a large amount of time writing, but not necessarily what I wanted to write.  Early on in my journalism career, I was assigned “policy” stories, short feature stories with a slant from the publisher—who was more conservative and far richer than I.

When I wrote a series on rape—not a popular topic at the time—it was held until the City Editor, Managing Editor, and Executive Editor could read and approve it.  When I wrote a series on women and credit, it had to get vetted by the Business Editor.

But I believe in the “write what you know” adage, so when I began to write fiction my choices were either a non-profit CEO or a newspaper editor.  Not running into a lot of murder and mayhem in the non-profit world, I began to write the first of the Amy Hobbes Mysteries, with a protagonist who’s a newspaper editor.

I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and ended up with a completed manuscript of almost 90,000 words, which I then forced friends and family to read and shipped off to begin the search for an agent.    Oddly enough, it was rejected. And rejected. And rejected.

I finally put myself and my baby into the hands of a writing coach.  She helped me get some focus, hammered me to cut the “chat”—her term for the information dumps and paragraphs of description which didn’t move the story along—and pushed me to “show, not tell,” a mantra that I’d used for years working with reporters.

After another rewrite, I started on the second batch of agent query letters and had several tell me that there was too much “newspaper stuff” that no one wanted to read.  I was discouraged.  If no one wanted to read about “newspaper stuff”, why was I writing a story about what I knew?

Until one day when I was talking to my daughter.  As I think my daughter is a very cool person, exceedingly bright and reads even more than I do, I trusted her to tell me the truth.  She’d been going along, reading chapters and rewrites, copyediting and critiquing and giving me good advice, but she was tired of it.  One more time, I asked her what she thought I was doing wrong, or maybe not doing right.

She looked at me and said, “Just write one story.  You have two of them here.”

That was my definite “I got it” moment.  Others had good critiques, but they said things like, “You have to much about working at a newspaper in here,”

My daughter finally understood and said, “One story.”

With that simple statement and idea, I immediately saw what was wrong; I’d wrapped “The Story” up in so much information, wanting to flesh out my protagonist, that I had a bi-polar book—one that was trying to go down two roads at the same time.

Now when I sit down to write, I look at two inspirations I have taped to my monitor. One is “Keep your eye on the prize.”

And the other is three simple words: “Write one story.”

Michele Dreier’s first career was in journalism, and she spent seven years as a staff writer with the San Jose Mercury News. After returning to Humboldt State University to work on a master’s, she fell into her second career as a non-profit administrator.

Michele has spent time as a reporter and editor for daily papers in California. She was the city, metro and executive editor for newspapers in California’s Central Valley. During this stint, she was a judge for three years for the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association Better Newspapers competition and won two awards for directing Investigative/Enterprise stories.


  1. ‘Just write one story’ – it sounds so simple, but we lose sight of that when we are building the world and the action. It is so easy to lose sight of that simple point.

    Comment by Connie J Jasperson — October 24, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  2. Wow. Isn’t it funny when something finally clicks! What a great story. And wonderful advice to any writer.


    Comment by mountainmama — October 25, 2011 @ 7:20 am

  3. How awesome that your daughter was the one who gave you the ‘Got it Moment’! Thank you for sharing, Jenny and Michele!

    Comment by Pamela Brennan Albacete — October 25, 2011 @ 11:36 am

  4. What I love is your persistence. Your desire to improve. The fact you never, ever quit.

    Thanks for a great (and timely) post, Michele.

    Comment by Peg Brantley — October 25, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  5. I too was a liberal arts lover, in my case, Theater Arts, so I understand the lure of the field completely. I feel like, as I’m working on second draft, that I’m having little “ah ha” moments all the time about what I need to change.

    I love and appreciate that you kept at it and never gave up.

    Comment by Karyne — October 25, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

  6. Enjoy reading it as always. Thanks.

    Comment by Lisa wharton — October 25, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  7. Good insight, Michele. Thanks Jenny.

    Comment by Pamela DuMond — October 25, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

  8. I think it’s so easy to be tempted off your story path. Great advice and lovely Made it Moment.

    Comment by Johanna — October 25, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

  9. Thanks everybody for all the great comments! And thank you, Jenny, for having me on Made it Moments!

    Comment by Michele Drier — October 25, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  10. It was a great Moment, Michele, and I am so happy you shared it! Thanks to everyone who visited today…

    Comment by jenny — October 25, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

  11. Loved your story! Thanks, Michele.

    Comment by Susan — October 25, 2011 @ 10:24 pm

  12. So simple. So sensible. Great advice. Liz

    Comment by Elizabeth C. Main — October 26, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

  13. So awesome when something finally clicks :) Great post.

    Comment by Elisa — October 26, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

  14. Great post. I can certainly empathize with your struggle to make the transition from jounalism to novels. I worked as a news reporter/editor for eight years and had to include one journalist into my continuing mystery/suspense series, although she’s not the protagonist. I’m glad that I began my writing career in journalism because it taught me brevity as well as how to zero in on the important aspects of the plot.

    Comment by Jean Henry Mead — October 26, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  15. Writing nonfiction as well as fiction myself, I know how different the two areas are. But as writers, I believe it’s healthy to diversify. It is good to have others read our work and not write in isolation. Sometimes, they see things that we miss because we are too involved in our own stories.

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — October 27, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

  16. Very good way of putting it. Great advice.

    Comment by JR Tomlin — October 28, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

  17. Dear Jenny, Thanks for having Michele featured in your blog.
    Dear Michele,
    Thanks for being open to sharing your experience with writing. Your daughter’s advice to just write one story was sensational and simple.

    Do something fun to celebrate your love of writing!

    Joan Y. Edwards

    Comment by Joan Y. Edwards — February 8, 2012 @ 10:59 am

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