Category Archives: Exercises

A Dark Writing Secret That I Have Never Shared Publicly

Mastering 15 Habits of Great Writers – Day 4 – Practice

Remember I told you a few days ago that I was participating in Jeff Goins’ workshop on acquiring 15 habits that great writers practice.  Well, today is Day 4 and the key word here is practice.  But it isn’t quite the kind of practice I figured it would be…au contraire!  It turns out I have to put something written out in public, not necessarily to succeed, but perhaps to fail.  I don’t HAVE to fail to complete this practice accurately, but the chances are good I WILL fail.  Not exactly inspiring, what?

But wait, the point isn’t to fail, it’s to…uh…actually, Jeff explains it better than I do in his early morning email to us:

Nothing is the worst thing you can do. Because it’s passive. And writing is active. It requires your fully conscious self. You need to show up and show us your gift.

Until you do that, you’re just practicing in private. Playing around. Kidding yourself. Don’t do that. It’s time to put your work out there — not because you’ll succeed. Quite the opposite, in fact. You’ll probably fail. And in the failure you can learn.

So do it. Now. Today. Fail fast, and then tell us what you learned. This will be messy, no question about it. That’s okay. Because practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes habits.

Jeff also suggested that one thing we could do to put it out there, among a number of good suggestions, was to describe in our blog a time when we failed and what lesson we learned from it.  This story comes from my distant past, a few decades ago.  Take note of the passage of time here, because that is important.  Also important to my story is Jeff’s own tale about learning to become a professional here.

I remember those mornings well.
(Photo credit: © Caraman |

I’m setting the scene now for my tale.  Picture this…a youngish person, determined to become a writer, not yet having learned that she already was a writer.  Payday-type work was interfering with this goal.  So committed was she at the time that she decided to get up two hours earlier than her usual getting up time and devote them every day, from 5am to 7am, to writing.

I remember those mornings well.  The coffee was set on a timer every night, and the first awareness was the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, followed by an immediate awareness of a full bladder.  The dogs thought I was crazy to get up so early and dashed briefly outside to take care of their own bladders.  They immediately went back to bed while I pulled out my word processor and started to transcribe my notes from the day before.  The silence of the early morning filled my soul, and I was released to my writing like a greyhound dashing after the electric rabbit.

Oh, how I loved my stories and my characters.  I wrote first in longhand (from years of practice) and then transcribed what I wrote, revising as I went along.  I hadn’t learned how to compose at the keyboard yet.  I wrote two novels this way and sent them off to publishing houses, without results, other than a few standard rejection slips.  I always had another novel in the works so I didn’t get too discouraged.  But it was hard.

With the third book, I poured my heart and soul into it.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to see blood stains on the pages from the depth of being at which I wrote.  When it was finished, I proofread it within an inch of its life, typed it up all nice and tidy, and sent it off with hope in my heart, which at the time was in my mouth…not a comfortable state of affairs.

After a few months, I got a reply back from a well-known publishing house.  With trembling hands I tore open the envelope and read the contents.  I had to read it twice before it sank in what the editor was saying to me.  She had LIKED my novel.  It was a personal letter, not a form rejection slip.  The editor praised my character development and dialogue.  She also liked the story itself.  However, she found the ending too convoluted for the age segment the story was aiming for, and would I be willing to revise the ending more to what she had in mind?

Would I?!  Was she kidding me??  I started right to work that afternoon.  I believe I was too excited to eat supper and certainly too keyed up to sleep much that night.  But I still got up in the dark at 5:00 the next morning and went at it with all the enthusiasm I possessed.  I just knew this was going to be my big break.  Reluctantly, I put away my writing stuff at 7:00 and got ready for work.

This went on for a few weeks, and finally I had the redraft finished.  I sent it off again, with a letter addressed to the editor who had originally written me, explaining the previous circumstances in case she had forgotten in the interim.  My heart was singing with joy as I waited the next couple of months, bounding to the mailbox, every time I heard the mailbox lid clank open and shut.  After the third month, my heart wasn’t quite so joyful.  I sent a brief follow-up letter asking if they had received my manuscript.

Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Finally, about six to seven months later, I received an envelope from that publishing house.  I had to take a few deep breaths before I could bring myself to open it.  I pulled out the letter, then sat in stunned silence.  I couldn’t believe it.  Tears slid down my cheeks as I tried to read it again.  It didn’t matter how many times I read it, it still stated the same thing.  It was a FORM rejection slip, not even bearing my name or the title of my manuscript on it.

For a while, the pain was too intense to feel much else.  It seemed like evil people far away had murdered my baby.  I got terribly emotional, and finally the rage came.  How dared they treat me like this, after I had, at their specific request, spent days and sleepless night and my heart’s blood, trying to fulfill their order.  Not even the courtesy of a reply from the editor, nor even my name on the letter of rejection.

Photo Credit: © Junjie Lin |

Unfortunately, the hurt and the rage lodged themselves inside me, just above my ribcage and slightly to the west of my heart.  Sometimes it felt like indigestion; sometimes it felt like an emptiness that couldn’t be filled.  I decided that publishing houses didn’t deserve to see my work.  I started to concentrate more on my journalism and the odd short story.  It pains me to say that I didn’t send out one more manuscript to a publishing house after that.  Even considering doing that made me feel sick to my stomach.  That was my dark secret.

Honestly, it did not occur to me once that, although the publishing house did not have a particularly good bedside manner, my behavior from then on was less than professional.  It took Jeff’s article that I linked above and read just today to show me how I had probably undone my own writing career.  I was somewhat successful in my journalism, winning an award for a series of health articles.  I met with small successes in the self-publishing of my novel Witchcanery, both in awards and modest sales.  But I never did gain that high-flying recognition that a bona-fide publishing house gives a writer.  And I missed that.

I am a writer, but not what I envisioned all those decades ago.  I’m much older now, and without the energy I used to have.  But the more I participate in this workshop, the more I think that perhaps it’s just my habits that need revamping.  It’s been a long time since I have felt such hope…this time for me as a writer and not some outside recognition.  That will come.

Yesterday, one part of the exercise was to write down a phrase about what I personally am that makes me feel good.  I hit upon a phrase, which shall remain my own mantra, but which makes me grin every time I look at it.  This alone tells me it’s not too late

~ ~ ~

I want to thank everyone who’s read this far for…um…reading this far.  It’s a lot to get off my chest, but I had to do it publicly.  Each one of you is part of the public.  Soon, I hope, I’ll be giving you as much as you’re giving me.


Farewell, Dolly, My Love

This is Day 3 of the 15 Habits of Great Writers workshop.  We were to get up two hours earlier than usual and write non-stop–no reading email or scanning news, just write.  It’s a lucky thing my dogs woke me at 6:15 am because my husband forgot.  I dragged myself out of bed, then remembered why I was getting up and got all happy.  I couldn’t wait to get to my computer because, for once, what I was writing was just for me. 

We could write anything we wanted, and I decided it would take too long to sort out my long-neglected WIP, so I wrote a flash fiction story instead.  It took me 1.5 hours to write it and proof it.  It is just under 1,000 words, and I thought you would like to see it.


Farewell, Dolly, My Love

by Sandra Bell Kirchman 

Sighing, Benny walked up the steps of his front porch and sat down at the top.  She’d said no.  How could she have turned him down?  After all the practising he had done, the right way to court a lady, the affection he had showered her with.  Surely, she had known his intentions.  How unkind of her to keep on receiving his suit and his little presents, then rejecting him.  Anger stirred briefly.  She’d said she was considering her options but had decided to eliminate Benny as a prospect.  He was too short, she’d said.

Anger dissolved as fast as it had come.  No use getting mad.  She was right; he was short…she was taller at the shoulders than he by a couple of inches.  Height or lack of it never mattered to him, but he guessed females were different.  He stared across the park to her house, wondering what she was doing now.  The sun shone like a beacon of hope, ignoring his broken heart.  She was probably sunning herself in her backyard.  She loved finding a good sunspot to lie down in and let the heat bake her bones.

The favored suitor was likely that Frenchie down the street, what was his name?  Monsoor Pee-air?  Some silly thing like that.  Benny had seen him running in the park, quite the athletic jerk, always running and jumping and showing off.  But he was taller than Dolly.  Such a shallow thing to break his heart over.

Used under CC license from Roland’s Photostream – Roland Tanglao

He got up, shook himself to clear his mind, deciding against going into the house just yet.  He didn’t want to face anyone, least of all his family.  If they sensed he was going through some kind of crisis, they would turn themselves inside out trying to help.  He couldn’t face that sort of sympathy right now.

Trotting around to the backyard, he found his quiet spot under the burr oak tree right at the end of the yard.  The property backed onto a golf course, separated only by a chain fence.  Fortunately, no one was playing.  Too early on a Monday morning probably.  He was surrounded by quiet green, which soothed his spirit.

He sat and tried not to think of Dolly, the way her eyes shone when she was happy, the blonde sleekness of her, the cute uptilt of her nose.  He shook his head.  This was not what he wanted to be contemplating.  People who noticed said it was puppy love and how cute was that?  Benny knew differently.  Puppy love, be darned.

And now his heart was in two pieces, still beating in his chest but leaving him less than fully alive.

Mom appeared on the back step and called, “Benny, come here.  Mom has breakfast for you.”

The last thing in the world Benny wanted was food.  He considered not going in.  Without her glasses, Mom was nearsighted as three blind mice and wouldn’t see him if he stayed still.

“Benny, where are you?” Mom called again.  Benny heard the irritation in her voice and remembered she had an early doctor’s appointment that morning.  He didn’t want to upset her.  Even if he had said goodbye to Dolly’s feeble “I hope we can still be friends” speech, he still had Mom and Jeff and Chris and his friend Angus a few doors down.  Well, Angus was just Angus, and Jeff and Chris were still kids, but Mom was the best person in the whole world.

Slowly, he got to his feet and shook himself, then ambled up the path to the back door.

“There you are!” Mom exclaimed.  “You haven’t been out all night, have you?  You look bedraggled.”

Benny didn’t say anything.  He walked past Mom into the house.  He walked passed his breakfast and into the living room, reached the couch and lay down.  Mom followed him and stood in the doorway for a few moments watching him with a worried look.

Then, grabbing her purse, she hurried to the back part of the house.  Benny lay still.  He could hear her talking to Jeff, the oldest boy.

“You’re in charge for a couple of hours, honey,” she said.  “Make sure Chris eats his breakfast.  And keep an eye on Benny, will you?  He seems out of sorts…hope he’s not coming down with something.”

“Sure, Mom,” Jeff replied.

Jeff was a good kid.  Benny had helped raise him the last few years.  Mom needed lots of help, because Dad had been really sick at the time.  He knew they all sort of depended on him.

As if he knew Benny had been thinking about him, which was a relief from not thinking about Dolly, Jeff came into the living room.  He patted him on the back and murmured, “What’s the problem, old fella?  Got spring fever?”

Old?  Him, old?  It hadn’t occurred to him that people might view him as old.  Maybe that’s why Dolly had spurned him…but no, she had said he was too short, not too old.

Jeff scratched behind his ear and Benny couldn’t help wriggling with pleasure.  His ears were nearly always itchy because of the hair that grew inside them.  He loved having them scratched.

“You’ll be all right, Benny,” Jeff assured him.  “Just relax and have a nap.  Your breakfast will still be there when you get up.”

Benny sighed, sat up and scratched a rib itch, then stood and circled for a moment, looking for the perfect spot.  He found it and lay down, nose tucked neatly under his tail.  He could not think of Dolly later.

Copyright © 2012 by Sandra Bell Kirchman
All rights reserved.

I Believe in My Writer Self

Sandra Bell Kirchman’s office

I am a member of the Mastering the 15 Habits of Great Writers workshop.  Today is Day 2 and brings with it the word BELIEVE to meditate on.  This isn’t your ordinary BELIEVE but an opportunity to believe in myself as a writer, deep down in the very core of my being.  That, of course, is where I have the problem.

I can accept the concept that I am a writer (although it is still a little shaky).  This workshop has done wonders in encouraging and supporting me in that regard.  But the belief part is a little trickier, because it is a leap of faith and involves what defines me.  I have dozens of examples of my writing, so it isn’t that.

Here’s the kicker.  I have trouble believing in my core being that I am a writer, partly because it comes easily to me.  Don’t get me wrong…great writing doesn’t come easily, just writing.  I have this very bad habit of discounting anything that requires little effort on my part, and there are a few.

Because of the meditation I have done today, I have come to the conclusion that I am discarding belief in many important aspects of the definitive me:  writing, editing, English language, public speaking, being of service, enthusiasm, support, and so on.  The things that don’t come easily to me seem to rise to the top as the ones I prize:  knitting, cooking, singing, visual arts, dog training, and so on.  However, taking a look at the two lists, and pretending that I am not me for a moment, I see that the first list is the one that nurtures me; the second is merely a list of wants.

Tools of the writing trade

With that revelation, which just happened today, I believe I can move forward.  It’s no good discounting a trait because it comes easily.  I should welcome it joyfully because I don’t have to struggle so much to be me.

Fortunately, Jeff Goins, the writer who is facilitating the workshop, has also provided a way to help put my belief into practice.  Tomorrow morning, all of us in the workshop need to get up two hours earlier than our usual time and use that time to just write.  No checking emails, or wandering off to read blogs, or scanning the news.  Just write.

One of the members of the community shared that this reminds him very much of his baseball career, in that practice is what makes the difference between being okay and being great.  Out of that, I put together that committing myself to do is believing.  How about you?

Declaration of love – I AM A WRITER!

Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

Listen closely, so you don’t miss it.


I used to be embarrassed to tell people I was a writer.  This was because it was immediately followed by questions from them like, “What have you written?”  “Would I recognize  your pen name?”  and the worst…”Are you famous?”  They all made me cringe.

So I stopped saying it for about 15 years.  And I stopped writing what I loved to write…fantasy fiction.  I half-heartedly pursued my journalistic career, tried radio, giving lectures, paralegal work, but very little in the way of fiction writing.  I thought I couldn’t have the name if I didn’t play the game.  This led to thinking that I probably wasn’t good enough anyhow.  What little writing I did do seemed to corroborate what I was thinking, which resulted in more years of not writing and not feeling satisfied inside.

Witchcanery – 1st edition

Then, at the urging of my husband, I left my job as the news editor for an online gaming site.  I took up the writing of a book I had started from an idea I developed in a short, short story contest.  It was a crossover fantasy fiction novel, with some science fiction thrown in.  I had loved the short story, and I was rapidly falling in love with the novel, which I had named Witchcanery.

I self-published it.  It did so well, that I turned it over to another publishing company to publish a second edition.  Then my past caught up with me.  All the projects I had gathered about me to keep me from writing demanded completion.  I was caught.  So I started this blog to help me keep my hand in about writing.  That helped some, but it also added more work to keep me from my fantasyfic writing.

Finally, I said ENOUGH.  I will write.  And you know why?  Because I AM A WRITER.  And I had to get serious, because keeping away from writing was making me ill, which of course took away more time from writing.

So far, I have departed from most of my volunteer work and am disposing of my small web design business.  I am learning to say no.  And I am intent on finishing my one business writing project, so I can write.  The challenge offered by Jeff Goins has fired me up again, and my spirit will prevail.  The trumpets sound and the golden curtains part as the words blazon themselves in the sky and in my heart.


 * * *

The foregoing is the exercise for Day 1 of the 15-day program to master 15 habits of great writers.  The challenge today is to declare I am a writer in public.  For more information click on the Participant badge in the sidebar to the right.

Baffled by Writing Conventions and/or Tricks of the Writing Trade?


Image via Wikipedia

What areas of writing would you like insight into?  What stops you in your tracks when you’re writing like a house afire?  What elements of fiction writing would you like clarified?

This is the place for some answers.  Please list your questions in the comments of this post.  Then I will select one (or more if I have time) a week and answer it from my years of experience as a writer and editor.  I will also invite others to publish their experience in those areas.  You can ask more questions as we go along.  When we’re finished, if you don’t have a helpful answer (and you have to be honest :P), I will write a limerick just for you 🙂