Expert of the Week: Brian McKinLey

Brian McKinley


What is your professional background?

I’ve been writing ever since I was old enough to put words together on paper. There was never a time when I didn’t have a story in my mind that I was writing or working on. Ironically, aside from high school English and creative writing classes, I never got much formal education in writing. It was something I learned by reading others and by doing.

My only “professional” writing job was a brief stint writing costume descriptions. Every other job I’ve had has been to pay the bills. Though, when I worked overnights as a security guard, I did use the time to get a lot of writing done.


What sparked your interest in writing?

As I mentioned above, I always seemed to have a desire—even a need sometimes—to entertain others with stories. I made up stories as a child to show my family and friends and writing them down seemed the best way to preserve them. It’s hard to explain any other way, the desire has just always been there.


How do you, “get in the zone,” when you are writing?

I try to go out somewhere like a restaurant or café where I don’t have the distractions of home around me. I have playlists that I make up for different characters and so I usually put in my earbuds and listen to music in order to put me into my characters’ emotional space. Other than that, it’s really just making myself do it.


What do you like most about being a full-time author?

Sadly, I’m only a full-time author right now because I’m unemployed elsewhere. My goal is to get to a point where I make enough from my books to live on, but I’m not quite there yet. I do love being able to set my own hours and work on my own schedule.


What is the most common mistake you have seen others make when it comes to communicating in the written form?

The most common mistake is passive voice, which I think happens a lot because it sounds more “literary” to new writers and they want to sound sophisticated. Unfortunately, it makes writing dull and saps energy from your story without you (or the reader, most times) from being aware why. It’s hard to master writing actively, and even I still accidentally slip into passive sometimes, so it’s good to have your work looked at by an editor who knows what they’re doing.


What books would you recommend for improving one’s writing skills?

The best two books I ever read on the subject are still Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and Stephen King’s On Writing. Both are short and packed with practical, no-nonsense advice on writing clear, engaging, and concise prose.


What else have you found to be useful for your art?

Read as much and as widely as you can. Stop worrying about originality, just express every idea you use in your way. I look at everything in my life as potential inspiration for a character, a scenario, or even just a way to express a feeling.


How are you leveraging social media to promote your books?

I’m on Facebook almost obsessively, I’m trying to use Twitter again with the help of a marketing genius named Steven Byrd, and I have a website and blog. I give just about everything a try, but I tend to abandon certain sites and outlets if I don’t see any results.


What advice would you give to someone looking to become a writer?

Don’t do it! It’s a trap! Seriously, it’s a path filled with disappointments and blows to your self-esteem. The only reason to be a writer is because you feel that you have to, that you are driven by the need to share your stories and characters with the world. There’s no quick money to be found here, and even those who succeed often can’t sustain a career. So, if you’re not committed to the point of obsession, I would reconsider.


Check out Brian's site, buy his books on Amazon, like his Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.  For aspiring writers, Brian recommends Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and Stephen King’s On Writing.