Being Beheaded on the Writer’s Block

Welcome to Raya’s Dungeon

Chamber 04

 Being Beheaded on the Writer’s Block

 (Originally written in 2004 by Sandra Bell Kirchman – updated at bottom)

As many of you know, I am back hard at work on my new novel…a quota of 1,667 words per day (or 50,000 words in a month — it can be done, cuz I’ve done it).I have also received many questions and requests regarding writing…unfortunately, the quota doesn’t allow me the time to answer individually. I hope the following will be acceptable. Putting it in Raya’s Dungeon will trap the unwary…er entice the gullible…er lure the…never mind. Just so it will be readily available for anyone who wants to refer to it. It is a compilation of links and tips for writers, wannabe writers, possible writers, would like to be writers but don’t want to write, and even professional serious writers…or any variation or combination thereof.MY WRITING: I have been writing off and on for *cough cough* years now…have been a print journalist, correspondent (stringer), national newsletter editor, freelance writer, video performer and writer, radio announcer (and wrote my own on-air scripts), radio commercial writer, promotional writer, online writer, and so on. I have sold my writing to police magazines, newspapers, anthologies, in-house and trade magazines. I have sold very little of my fiction (fiction is one of the most competitive markets there are — very difficult to break into), but fiction, especially speculative fiction, is my real love.

  
Being beheaded at the writer’s block

WRITER’S BLOCK:

One of the greatest scourges known to writingkind is the dread writer’s block. This horrible affliction originates from the early school years when teachers told you that your writing sucked…or that you had to follow their narrow little guidelines…or you lost points when your literary efforts were marked down because of poor penmanship.
 
Thus, part of you says…IT… MUST… BE…PERFECT. And it’s not…it never will be. So you stare at the blank page for hours…or distract yourself with all kinds of fascinating time sinks, like research that becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to an end… or cutting your toe nails, planting peonies, playing endless solitaire, calling your ex-girlfriend 3 times removed cuz no one else is home to talk to, and so on. This will then let you say, in all honesty, that you just didn’t have time to write. Of course, deep down you know this is the biggest bunch of **** that ever got deposited in the Great White Gulp, but, in your mind, it is an acceptable rationalization.
 
OVERCOMING WRITER’S BLOCK: It goes without saying that the only way to become a writer is to write. If you wait for the perfect time to write, you will never be a writer. I know, because I spent a good part of my life waiting for “the perfect time.” You know what? It never came. There was ALWAYS something that I could use to keep me from writing. It was only when I called on all my inner resources and MADE myself write, that I actually wrote. All the planning, and organizing, and researching, and finding the best tools, the best lighting, the best plots, the best feedback, the best time of day, the best…well, you get the idea…did not work. Only making myself write on a REGULAR basis worked.
Some of the best fiction stuff I have ever written, which earned personal comments, requests for more of my manuscripts, and encouragement (but no sales alas) from publishers such as Doubleday, was written when I was working two jobs. I got up at 5 am every morning…got a cup of coffee, let the dogs out, and wrote for a solid two and a half hours. Then I would shower, dress and go to work. These early morning sessions comprise some of not only my best literary work but my fondest memories. I loved writing that way…I was up at an ungodly hour when everything else was still…and since I was already up, I might as well write. I did, and my unconcscious unlocked itself to let flow almost perfect prose.
I don’t have that discipline anymore. Not even for the blessed Muse will I get up at 5am…so how to achieve that flow of words onto my page (monitor)? Perhaps you don’t have that discipline either. How can you overcome this block that keeps you from being the best-selling author that you know you really are?

Well, first you have to know that you not only WANT to write but are DETERMINED to write. You must need to write more than you need to…cut toenails, plant peonies…and so on. If you don’t, then you are a hobby writer. And that’s fine. You can write when the whim takes you…it will amuse you and your friends…and you might even sell a piece or two here and there. But it is unlikely that you will become a professional writer, earning your living by writing.

Secondly, you have to hone the tools of your trade…you have to know and use words properly and with authority. Yes, grade school English grammar was a bore, but it gave you tools to build with. Refamiliarize yourself with the tools of your trade…the building blocks of the English language. If you see words you don’t know, look them up. That doesn’t mean you have to intersperse your writing with very erudite words (no, not the EverQuest class), but you do have to know what your words say and how they build moods and themes and drama and suspense.

Thirdly, you have to…write. You may not have the 5 am discipline I was talking about earlier…but you have to have some time to write regularly… and that takes writing discipline. Last year, I discovered how to do that… given that the first and second provisos above were valid for me (and they are), then the third one should have been easy. But it isn’t…I have to work at it. Here is one thing that really helped me.NaNoWriMo: This stands for National Novel Writing Month, which happens to be November of each year. A very wise person who was aware of the problems besetting writers came up with the idea of a contest to challenge writers to…write! Chris Baty, a writer himself, knew that writers lay themselves bare…open their innermost thoughts and feelings to the public…often criticized, scorned, and, worst of all, rejected.

I think it was Somerset Maugham, who said you cannot be a real writer until you have collected 1,000 rejection slips. Each rejection is a step to success. In any event, rejection is hard to take, no matter how many you get. And it even stops us from writing….so….

NaNoWriMo is open to anyone…professional, amateur, hobbyist. It is not so much a contest as a challenge…to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I decided a couple of years ago to try it. In doing so, I was forced to throw out all my previously cherished ideals…research until I knew my subject backwards and forwards, absolutely perfect writing, characterization, rewriting, recharacterization, replotting….handing out my stuff to others to read, craving the kind word or approval, so I could write some more. It had the reverse effect though. Once I got the praise I looked for, I stopped writing. In NaNoWriMo, I didn’t have time to look for praise…I had to buckle down and write…1,667 words a day to give me 50,000+ words at the end of 30 days.

I succeeded because this “contest” didn’t judge my efforts on merit…or style…or perfection…or even being first. It judged me on whether I fulfilled the original criteria…a totally original novel, no part of which had been written before (although it could be based on other ideas), fiction rather than non-fiction, and 50,000 words in length…during the prescribed length of time. Period.

I was free. I was also a little crazy (ask my husband). And I did it…as my blurb on the novel states:

This online version is the original, unrevised version, fueled by panic, gritty determination, and 22 gallons of coffee, littered by unmade beds, uncooked meals and unspoken conversations with hubby. I have written novels before…never one in 28 days. I didn’t know I could do it. Now I do.

Since I know I can do it…I’ve done it before…and it wasn’t half bad either, I can do it again (which is what I am doing now).
 Here are some other helpful links, writing job leads, and encouraging sites that have helped me.

Witchcanery - front cover

"Witchcanery" by Sandra Bell kirchman

March, 2006, update: Four years later, I am in the process of getting this very novel (Witchcanery) ready for publication. [First edition was published July 1, 2007; second edition was published October, 2008.] This is exciting because it will form the foundation of a new business venture for me, FantasyFic.com. If you are interested, you can keep an eye on its progress here.

So, if you think you want to write and don’t know if you have what it takes…try the NaNoWriMo contest next year in November. It doesn’t cost anything and it doesn’t hurt to try. (Note: registration opens Oct. 1st of every year…go here to have a look at this year’s winners and some of the contributions.)

OTHER HELPFUL LINKS:

1. Freelance Work Exchange – this place gives you one job lead a week for free. You can also sign up for a 7-day trial period for free. After that, it is $19.95 a month. I found it worth it – most of my non-fiction writing job leads came from there.

2. Writers Net – this place is VERY worthwhile. It is 100% free. In addition to a free email address (with @writers.net as the identifier), it also gives you a spot to list yourself and your writings for prospective clients to see what you have. My writer’s bio is listed here. Through this listing, I have received writing requests from book acquisitions editors and others wanting writing done. If you are serious about writing, I highly recommend you list at this site. 

 3. TJobs – this is a new one that I haven’t explored very much. You can be listed on this for $10 a year. Looking for the jobs is free. Very reasonable.

4. WritersWeekly – this is my favorite online writing ezine and is free. It bills itself as the largest circulation writing ezine in the world – I believe it, because it is fun, packed with tips on writing and the legalities thereof, and also has a fairly extensive market database. Additionally, it publishes lists of markets to beware of, and stresses (one of my pet peeves) how writers should not write for free. Although the ezine itself is 100% free, it has many features such as offering writing contests ($5 to enter), ebooks for sale, online writing courses, etc. I highly recommend this enjoyable and helpful online newsletter.

5. Writers Market Online – I highly recommend this resource for any writer serious about selling his/her work. This prestigious, award-winning publication is the best market source available in the world, and has all kinds of markets, from consumer mags to book publishers to literary agents to trade mags. It has tons of information about each source, including how much each one pays, address, submission guidelines, needs, etc. It also has a handy little online gadget called a Submission Tracker. This is where I list all my writings, where they have gone, any follow-up needed, etc. It keeps me and my writing organized. The service costs, I believe, around $30 for the online edition only (I bought the hardcopy which includes the online edition – for about $45). If you are serious about selling, you need this service/book.
 

6. One last thing for people who want to perfect their craft…I took the Institute of Children’s Literature course and graduate course a few years back. Writing for children is the most exacting part of any kind of writing, since the rules are quite strict about what and how to write for various ages of children. It was the best thing I ever did…and I had already been writing for a number of years. It gave me discipline and helped me start selling my fiction writing. If you are interested in honing your skills, I can highly recommend Institute of Children’s Literature (physically located in Redding, Connecticut, but now with an online presence as well). 

7. Oh, and if you happen to spot copies of the monthly magazine Writers’ Digest, pick ’em up. They are fun, full of good tips on various kinds of writing, and have good, researched markets. They sell for about $3 each, I believe.

8. Writing blogs – There are tons of writing blogs, many with excellent advice, from many different perspectives.  I haven’t visited a lot of them, but I know of them, and the ones I have read are very good.  Just search for writing blogs and you’ll come up with more than you can handle.  One of them will appeal to you and help you out of your writing funk.

For everyone who has a yen to write…do it…do it now! You may have only an anecdote in you…or you might have the great American (Canadian/ Australian/whatever) novel in you. With online writing markets being more and more available, now is a good time to write. Don’t expect to be covered in glory or money anytime soon…but start. One day you very well may be covered in both…

February 2011 update:  Lots of things have happened since Witchcanery was published.  I have organized, edited and did the layout for two anthologies as well as contributing a story to each.  The first anthology, In the Shadow of the Burr Oak, did so well that it sold out two print runs.  The second anthology, Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories, was released in October, 2010, and has been very well received so far.

I will be glad to help with writer’s tips or markets or whatever else I know, if I can. Much as I’d like to read your work, I simply don’t have the time. But if you are having difficulty with a passage or need suggestions on how to deal with an unruly character, I would be glad to help…post your request here or send me an email to raya at fantasyfic dot com.

If you have any ideas or tips of your own to help with writer’s block or other aspects of writing, feel free to list them here or link them to your blog.

 
All of the foregoing text is original and copyrighted © 2004 by Sandra Bell Kirchman. All rights reserved. Copying for personal reference only is permitted.
 

 
   

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14 responses to “Being Beheaded on the Writer’s Block

  1. Sandra,
    This was an excellent article. My what an accomplished woman you are!
    I give you so much credit for jumping into the National Novel month this February. I’ve thought about it – but never done it. How many pages is 50,000 words? I think 1500 words a day is manageable. I’m going to a writer’s retreat at the end of March and they expect us to complete the first draft of out books (50,000) words in one week! I need all the positive reinforcement I get for that.

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    • Thank you for the compliment and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Just to clarify – NaNoWriMo takes place in November of each year, and to reach 50K words, you need to write every day for 30 days 1,667 words. As for the number of pages, it depends on your manuscript…if you double space, you can count on approx. 250 words per page = 200 pages total. If you single space but put spaces between paragraphs, you can count on approx. 350 to 400 words per page = approx. 150 pages total. If you single space with no spaces between paragraphs, that’s about 450 to 500 words per page = 120 pages approx.

      Fifty thousand words in a week is a huge amount. I did it in a month and thought I was doing great (I actually did NaNoWriMo three times). Hopefully you will have a good deal of it done already. I LOVED doing Nano. It frees up your subconscious mind and lets you just soar with your writer, that delicious space that all writers love but find hard to achieve. Picture nearly a whole month of that. The reason is that you plain don’t have time to research, or agonize over the right word, or take the luxury of pondering for a day or two. You will be simply amazed at the good stuff you write. The first Nano produced Witchcanery; the second and third Nanos produced Battle Cleric, which I am still working on (3-book series).

      Writing like that (as fast as I can without worry about how it looks or flows or sounds, but just giving it, is the way I like to write anyhow. The trick is to discipline myself while I am doing it. But I do try, and when I do, I am usually very glad I did.

      Good luck with your book, Angela. If I can help, let me know.

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  2. Sandra,
    I’ve just taken a quick look-see at your blogs and portfolio. You are SUCH an accomplished writer, journalist, blogger! Not only are you prolific, but your sites are well-organized and make sense, too. I am learning so much from you. Writing pieces for children is a dream of mine, so I look forward to coming back to spend time with some of those in your portfolio. Gotta run now, though: Trying to make it to the barn for a ride before the snow returns; then several of my horsey friends are gathering to watch “Secretariat” later today. Perhaps that will lead to fuel for my “Animals” blog. Janet

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    • Wow, Janet, thanks for your complimentary words. Writing for children is a joy. It’s almost like writing for adults (I was best at young adult stories), except there is no blatant or gratuitous sex, and the violence is kept to a reasonable length. Young people are sharp, though, and you have to keep that in mind when you are writing. The one thing they don’t have that adults do is as much experience in life. So I try to include realistic life experiences that the kids can relate to.

      I used to do quite a bit of riding – had my own horse – when I lived in Southern Ontario. I was actually training to be in the Royal Winter Fair Horse Show (jumping) in Toronto. However, I had an accident and hadn’t recovered fully by the time the Horse Show rolled around. I haven’t ridden for years now, but I remember it fondly.

      Good luck with your “Animals” blog. The peek I had at it was fun and informative. I will be there every time you have a new post, that’s for sure!

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  3. Sandra,
    I’m so glad you reposted this article from 2004 so I could read it! I learned so much. Great information and resources. I’m continually impressed by the professional nature of your blogs. I, on the other hand, confuse my words XD

    How are you turning fantastyfic.com into a company? Keep us updated on all your projects. I wish you lots of success.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Haley. Don’t worry about confusing words, though. Every writer does from time to time. My biggest confusion of words is substituting “with” for “will” – I don’t know why, but I have to watch it. Have you proofread one of your own books yet? I have – and I was amazed and shocked at how many small boo boos slipped by, not just once but even after several times (I went over Witchcanery a zillion times until I was so sick of it…well, that’s another story). But everyone does it.

      Fantasyfic.com isn’t exactly a company. It is a division of Imagination Enterprises Ltd., which is the umbrella company my husband and I started to cover all of our various projects: hubby’s painting business, my writing in its various forms (journalism, articles, income from selling my books, etc.), and also my web design business under the name Two Bells Web Design. I’m not all that good at the latter, lacking good technical training, but people seem to like my designs, so I have a few loyal customers.

      Thanks for your good wishes. I too wish you success–I can hardly wait until your historical novel is finished. I am predicting success in selling it…it’s a good one 🙂

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      • Sandra, I have proofread my manuscripts until I was sick of them as well–and I have the same problem as you, There is no way I can catch all the little mistakes. That is what beta readers are for. Unfortunately, with my blog posts I have no editors. I’m just doing the best I can and sometimes my brain needs more sleep and/or coffee before it works properly 🙂

        Thank you for the kinds words about my novel. I hope you finish your novel soon. I like a good fantasy read. Then once you publish it I hope I can interview you to promote your book.

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  4. Another lovely and very informative post! THANKS for resharing this post and adding the updates. I’m stealing those little tricks as soon as my own blog is old enough to have “re-posts.” 🙂

    Your stories of your writing life are perfect for reminding me that to grow as a writer I have to work as a writer. I tried the NaNoWriMo this past November and failed horribly at it…I was in the midst of starting my own business then, too. So, trying to build a writing career took lead over me doing any writing; kind of sad commentary, but I’m into a writing groove now. This year, I hope to block out the time. I think it will make all the difference for me in proving to myself I can write a novel. Thanks also for the leads you provided for helping with writer’s block.

    I look forward to your next installment…til then…
    Cheers,
    Hobbit Queen

    Like

    • Hobbit Queen, I wouldn’t say that you failed horribly at Nano. If you wrote anything at all, you succeeded in getting your toes wet in the Nano waters. Next year, it will be easier, especially now that you know the discipline required to meet the challenge by the end of the 30 days. Also, you know how to be more prepared in your home life to meet the quota of 1,667 words per day.

      I read somewhere that Chris Baty, the founder of Nano, chose November specifically as the month for NaNoWriMo because it was a busy month for people. If they could juggle Thanksgiving, Christmas preps, being plunged into the depths of college or high school, business reports required before year-end, etc., and still manage Nano, then they were indeed committed to their writing.

      And since your writing rocks, I don’t see any reason why you won’t be successful in 2011. Not that you need to be a good writer to succeed at Nano; you just have to be committed to churning out 50K words in a month 🙂

      Like

  5. Oh thank you so much for this post! I read it the day you posted, but didn’t have time to thank you! Well, I am a blog writer , a writer of oral presentations and if I get my act together I will write some health related booklets, a far cry from a true writer. As I was reading, you actually brought me back to my art school days…yes, before I became a biologist I dreamed of being a painter. Artist block, criticism and fear of failure turned me to the other side of my brain, from artist to scientist. So much of what you were saying is true for my painting, sometimes I just had to draw even when I didn’t want to. If I waited for inspiration I was never going to get anything done. Now I wait for the moment, hence the lack of new artwork in the house…I’m too busy trying to figure out the money makers to pay the bills! I thoroughly enjoyed your post and you really did inspire me to write, even the little bit that I need to do to keep me engaged in the world of health and wellness.
    cheers!

    Like

    • Oh, Kristin, never give up your dream. I’m not an artist at all, although I love to doodle. But if you have the talent and the urge, you MUST make time for it, even if it’s sketching. Carry an art sketchpad around with you and when you have a few moments, sketch something. Then later, when you have a little more time, immortalize it (if it’s worth doing in your eyes) in paint or water color.

      You are one of the rare people who seem to excel out of both sides of your brain, allowing you to be creative and artistic, as well as practical, efficient, and scientific. People usually tip the scales on one side or the other, but to have them perfectly balanced is a real gift.

      Thank you for opening yourself to my article and letting it inside. It seems to be a bit of a healing for you. And thank you for your kind words. I knew there was something special about you when I went to a food blog. It’s an excellent one as we both know, but I really have never been much into food, recipes, and the tons of information all us humans need to assimilate in order to eat healthily. You rock! 🙂

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      • I forgot to mention that, if you write material for others to read…and they read it, then you are a true writer. It takes writing skill to write excellent material like you do, whether it’s a blog, a booklet, a promotional paragraph, or whatever. You are a writer. I don’t believe that people need to be paid to be a writer; I believe that writers write for people to read. If that occurs that the person who wrote the material is indeed a writer.

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  6. Oh gods, now I’m researching and seriously considering freelance writing. Thanks a lot, lol. Expect some one-on-one questions once the seedling of an idea takes root and begins to grow.

    Excellent article, as always.

    Like

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