Category Archives: Raya’s Dungeon

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


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, 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.)


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 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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Lonely Hearts Club for Unattached Pronouns

Raya's DungeonWelcome back to Raya’s Dungeon, Chamber 3.  In Part 1, we talked about Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers.  These boo boos can cause unintentional hilarity.  Now, comic writing as an art gives writers a great feeling when we have achieved it.  But to cause people to laugh when we don’t mean it sounds the death knell on our lovely dramatic piece.  Part 2 deals with another way to make people laugh when we mean them to shiver, cry, or hold their breath.  I give you…

Unattached Pronouns…or Distanced Antecedents

Here we are talking about it and they and other unattached pronouns that refer to absolutely nothing in the sentence and give entirely the wrong meaning. Better to have too many proper names or real nouns than pronouns bouncing around with no social conscience and very little sense, lonely and misunderstood. (Yup, real life again.)  Take a look.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, the breathtaking backdrop for the Serena Lodge. Swim in the lovely pool while you drink it all in.  (Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww!)

Mt. Kilimanjaro, the breathtaking backdrop for the Serena Lodge. Swim in the lovely pool, relax and drink in all the beauty of your surroundings.

We tear your clothes by hand.

We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.  (That’s what makes us the tearminators! muahahahaaaaaa)

We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We clean each piece of clothing carefully by hand.

Tired of cleaning yourself? Let me do it. (Ooooh, kinkyyy!)

Tired of doing the cleaning all by yourself? Let me do it.

Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for antique lover. (If he’s as antique as the bed, he ain’t getting far!)

Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for a lover of antiques.

Wanted: Unmarried girls to pick fresh fruit and produce at night. (They don’t want much, do they?)

Wanted: unmarried girls to works nights, picking fresh fruit and produce.

See the man with seventeen necks!!

In a clothing store: “Wonderful bargains for men with 16 and 17 necks.” (Dressing for their jobs at a sideshow?)

In a clothing store: “Wonderful bargains for men with neck sizes of 16 and 17.

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come foreward and lay an egg on the alter. (What? The Easter Bunny was busy?)

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come forward and place an egg on the altar. (Notice I couldn’t help correcting the two typos either – it’s a congenital condition lol)

In a Los Angeles dance hall: “Good clean dancing every night but Sunday.”  (That’s why the hall is packed on Sundays.)

In a Los Angeles dance hall: “Good, clean dancing six nights a week. Closed Sundays.

So, when you’re finished your writing, put it aside for a minimum of an hour.  One day would be better.  Then take it out and read it.  What looked like deathless prose to you now reveals its hidden laughs.  Enjoy them, then change them, so your prose will now have more of the effect you intended.

Coming up in our next article is Missing or Mutilated Modifiers.  They look horrible, really horrible and not for the faint of heart.  But then, that’s what dungeons are for.  muahahahahaaaa

Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers…Unattached Pronouns and Distanced Antecedents…Dirty Dangling Participles…and Other Messy Mouthfuls.

Welcome back to Raya’s Dungeon.  Today we are visiting Chamber 3:  MUTILATED, MISPLACED AND MISSING MODIFIERS…UNATTACHED PRONOUNS AND DISTANCED ANTECEDENTS…DIRTY DANGLING PARTICIPLES…AND OTHER MESSY MOUTHFULS.  We’ll have four visits altogether.  If you are stout of heart and not squeamish at the sight of a writer’s life’s blood, after a brief introduction, we will be visiting *gasp* Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers.

By popular request, Raya’s Dungeon is featuring a selection of side-splitting and highly inaccurate offerings to illustrate what exactly a misplaced modifier, unattached pronoun, and a dangling participle are.



Man trying to communicate

Before we dive into our mirthful mayhem, let’s take a look at what writing is supposed to do. Anyone? Anyone know what writing is supposed to do? hmmmmm…yes, entertain, that’s a good one. Yup, inform. But what is the basic thing that writing needs to achieve. YES!!! oh yes!! *pumps fist in the air* COMMUNICATE…the more clearly the better. If we don’t communicate, we don’t…really, we don’t exist. We can do all we want but where is the satisfaction unless we communicate? Humans are social creatures and, without communication, our existence is solitary and to some extent unfulfilling.

And we writers…we are the communicators. So let’s all repeat the Hippocratic oath of writing…I promise to excise dirty dangling participles, to exterminate uncoordinated clauses and massacre misplaced modifiers. Good!!! Now on to finding out what these miscreants are.

Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers

A modifier is anything that gives some details about something else. I won’t go into whether it is adjectival or adverbial or even noun phrase modifiers, because I can hear the bodies hitting the floor as I even mention them. Instead, let’s resort to hormones…good old standbys:

Modifiers are like teenagers: they fall in love with whatever they’re next to. It’s up to you to make sure these modifiers are placed next to something they ought to modify!

Put another way, make the meaning clear, so that your readers don’t fall out of their chairs laughing, especially when you didn’t MEAN to be funny.

Here are some examples of what we’re talking about. Study each sentence in red for a minute, try to figure out WHY it’s funny, and see if you can come up with a better sentence than I have in small print beneath the original. These hilarious offerings are more common than you think; actually, mending mutilated modifiers could become a life-long hobby.  By the way, ALL the examples are advertisements or signs taken from real life…

A superb and inexpensive restaurant. Fine food expertly served by waitresses in appetizing forms. (So don’t drool on the waitresses.)

A superb and inexpensive restaurant. Fine food in appetizing forms, expertly served by our waitresses. (Okay, I got a little creative here, but the meaning is much clearer now, albeit not quite so funny.)

For sale: an antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers. 
(How rude!)

For sale: an antique desk with thick legs and large drawers, suitable for lady.

Wanted. Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink. (Good lord, what are the other cows like?)

Wanted. Man who does not smoke or drink, to take care of cow.

Have several very old dresses from grandmother in beautiful condition. (Way to go, granny!)

Have several very old dresses in beautiful condition from grandmother.

Mixing bowl set designed to please a cook with round bottom for efficient beating. (Nothing like beating those round-bottomed cooks!)

Mixing bowl set designed with round bottom for efficient beating to please a cook.

3-year-old teacher need for pre-school. Experience preferred. (Is it just me or are teachers getting younger and younger?)

Pre-school teacher needed for 3-year-olds. Experience preferred.

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community. (Don’t go away mad, k?)

Remember in prayer the many of our church and community who are sick.

On a New York convalescent home: “For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church.” (They have homes for this?)

On a New York convalescent home: “For Episcopal Church parishioners who are tired and sick.” (This one is tricky…I would actually rewrite this whole thing, but I suspect they wanted to conserve space).


Dancing Bones



. (Nothing worse than hootenannies in the graveyard — and what the heck is a letter lout??)


 I bet you get the idea by now. All of the above examples were misplaced modifiers.


* Lonely Hearts Club for Unattached Pronouns (aka “Distanced Antecedents) – Part 2 to follow tomorrow.
* Missing or Mutilated Modifiers – Part 3.
* Dirty Dangling Participles – Part 4.

Thanks for reading.  If you like these articles, please vote.  To support the ongoing effort, your subscription would be very helpful (see top right of page below calendar).

The Terrible Cries of the Traumatized Comma


The Terrible Cries of the Traumatized Comma

Welcome to Raya's Dungeon - enter if you dare muahahahahaha


The traumatized comma

Probably the MOST maligned punctuation mark in the history of the English language, the comma has been abused, misused, kicked, neglected, and otherwise dealt terrible damage to. And yet it is not a mob [game talk for the enemy in battle], but a veritable fount of helpfulness and aid to breath-saving. Yes, breath-saving. Without commas, we would have to talk non-stop, racing until we reach the period before we can take a breath. And yet, the comma is the hardest working punctuation mark YOU’ll ever see.

I’m not going to go into all the uses of the comma right now because there are too many of them. However, I’ll take a few so that you can start today to save the comma from all this abuse.


No, I am not talking about the next exciting adventure of the Sopranos on TV nor your electrical wiring setup. I’m talking about words and using them in series. Always use commas to separate a list of things in a sentence, such as: I love to eat hot dogs, corn bread, and liver and onions.

In the above example, the comma sets off the items in the list. In modern usage, the comma before the first “and” is optional. You could have written…corn bread and liver and onions.” However, in this instance, it makes the meaning clearer to have the comma before the “and.” This example also illustrates when you do NOT put a comma before the second “and” –i.e. this second “and” (which, by the way is called a conjunction because its only purpose in life is to join words)–when the item referred to is a unit, i.e. liver and onions is a unit.

You can also have a series of phrases, and even full-fledged sentences, which, again, are separated by commas to keep the meaning clear. (Note: In some cases, you get the shy semi-colon (;) which can be used to keep the phrases or sentences separated–however, the semi-colon is not as hard-working as the comma, so we will deal with this miscreant at arm’s length–and mercilessly–in another chamber.)

 My favorite pastimes are playing MMORPGs, walking in the park, and rollerblading with my friends.

 Once you get the hang of punctuation, you can use commas like a pro, you can create masterpieces of sizzling dialogue, and you can dazzle your readers with your unique style.

 Okay, how about a series of adjectives that modify the same noun?  The rule is…if you can replace the comma with an “and,” then you put in a comma, eg: The sly and evil rogue backstabbed his way to success. This is therefore eligible for commatization (made-up word alert!), thusly: The sly, evil rogue backstabbed his way to success.

If, however, you can’t replace a supposed comma with “and,” then you leave the comma out, eg: The cloak cost 50 gold pieces at the tavern. You cannot insert “and” between “50” and “gold.” Therefore, no comma.

After thinking of ALL the uses of the comma, I decided not to go any further here, because I can already hear the bodies hitting the floor as they drop from boredom. However, the comma is probably the most important punctuation mark (perhaps excepting only the period) in the English language.

Super Comma getting ready to work her magic powers.

Therefore, for homework (no no no, I musn’t use that term)…um…for a special excursion into the wonderful world of the superhero COMMA (not to be confused with COMA), please run through the above list of very helpful hints on when to use the comma. Don’t let the names of the word parts bother you any more than you let the names of the different ways to slay your enemies in your favorite MMO bother you. I’m sure you recognize the result, if not the names they are called…remember them. They just may save your dying prose some day.  

If you have any questions about commas, please don’t suffer in silence…put them in a comment below or email me at raya at fantasyfic dot com.