Monthly Archives: July 2013

Writers Conference in West Virginia


Writers Conference in West Virginia.

You don’t want to miss this chance to learn how to move from WRITER to PUBLISHED AUTHOR.  Click on the link above to learn more.

 

Or go directly to the link below to sign up and save your space!

http://acornbookservices.com/Writer_to_Published_Author.html

Advertisements

Guest Post from Bob O’Connor


Better late than never.

Bob O’Connor gave me a guest post months ago, before my shoulder surgery.  I was a bit self-absorbed with shoulder surgery, getting a divorce, and a few other things that made me a little less than sane–like finishing the novel.

Poor Bob. He didn’t know all that stuff. He just knew his blog post didn’t appear. At last, here it is! And isn’t it funny how timely the message is!

The From Writer to Published Author Conference is coming up. My book is to be released in several weeks. Maybe fate had a hand in the scheduling.

I can say this–good things come to those that wait. Thanks, Bob, for providing one of the good things!

Bob Oconnorauthorphoto

http://www.boboconnorbooks.com/

Being Your Own Publicist

By Bob O’Connor

You are a published author. Congratulations.  Now you can sit back and bank your royalty checks.  WRONG!

Now it is time to shift gears and start promoting you and your book. Here’s what you need to do. It’s a three-step process.  It’s relatively easy, but it takes WORK.

  1. Print some business cards with the cover of your book on it. Think about all those people you talk to who are not ready to buy your book at that instance.  How do they find you when they are ready to make the purchase?  If nothing else, you need a business card.
  2. Set up a website.  The business card should send them to a website where they can purchase your book.  Look at mine at www.boboconnorbooks.com for suggestions.
  3. Do at least one thing every single day to promote your book.

That’s all you need for success. Any questions?

OK, perhaps I should elaborate.  I published my first book in late January 2006.  It is called “The Perfect Steel Trap Harpers Ferry 1859” and is a historical novel about the John Brown raid.  Using steps one, two and three above, and lots of old fashioned WORK, I sold have sold over 3,000 of those books since 2006.

As of February 2012, I have written 7 books and sold over 7,000. Most I sold myself. The sales did not come from Amazon or any other place.

How does an old guy (I’m 66) who still works for a living (don’t quit your day job) and writes in the evenings and on weekends, sell so many books?  The secret, now that I have a business card (for each book) and a website, is item #3.

Would you like some examples?  Wherever I am traveling to on any particular day for a book signing, I check on the internet and find every library, historical society and book store en route, going one way and coming back another way.  And I stop at every single one. 

I had a meeting in Washington, DC on a recent Thursday night.  On the way I stopped at book stores in Sterling, VA, Fairfax, VA, Woodbridge, VA, several in DC, and ones in Gaithersburg, MD and Kensington, MD.  At the book stores I introduce myself, check to see if they have my books, signed copies if they are already in stock, convince them they need to stock all my books if they don’t have them already and offer to do a book signing for them. 

That particular day, several stores ordered my book on-line while I was standing there.  One asked me for dates I had available and booked a signing right then.

Another day I was attending a book signing in Gettysburg at 5:00 pm.  I left the house at 8:00 am, stopped at book stores in Hagerstown, MD, a public library in Chambersburg, PA, Mont Alto campus of Penn State University, another public library, and Gettysburg College.  At the schools and public libraries I was offering to give presentations, which I do for free, because they allow me to sell books.

On another night I had a ten minute interview on a local access cable TV channel.  On the way I stopped at two book stores and two public libraries.

On other days I search the internet for Civil War Round Tables, book festivals, radio stations who specialize in interviewing authors, and any other opportunity to sell books.  I check for Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs, and other opportunities to speak to seniors and retired military groups.  Many small towns have book clubs that are open to local authors.  Use your imagination.  E-mail them and offer to do a program.  Keep the offers flowing on a regular basis. 

I also look for non-traditional places to sell books.  One of my most successful endeavors has been to hook up with Weis Markets, a grocery store chain.  I do book signings in their regional stores on Friday nights with great success.  They print fliers and put up posters in the stores.  They surround me with samples of food from their party trays.  Shoppers who are grabbing the free food get to hear me talk about my books.  In one store, I sold 34 books in three hours. Grocery stores often sell books, but have a much smaller inventory than your major book stores.  And the grocery stores also get good community reaction because they are supporting local authors.

In book stores, I use a pop-up display with my picture, the covers of both books, a sentence about each book, and in large letters –“Book Signing Today.”  Many times in book stores, people have no idea I am an author or why I am sitting there. The pop-up sign has increased my exposure dramatically. 

It is pitiful the signage that authors have even at major book festivals I attend.  You would be surprised how professional a small sign from Staples print center looks and how inexpensive it can cost.

One author at the Philadelphia Book Festival was wearing a sandwich board to call attention to his new book.  Be creative – he certainly was.

I ALWAYS send a press release to the local newspaper before any appearance. I send a listing to their calendar of events too.  And it is not a generic press release.  I tell the newspaper readers how their readership is tied into the story of the book.  It helps that my story is historical fiction and includes only characters that are real and were really part of the actual event.  And that my appearances for my first book were only in the area within about 100 miles each direction of Harpers Ferry.

And ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have books with you at all times. One day in the summer several years ago I stopped in Hagerstown, MD at the visitors center to see if they had books I hadn’t signed.  The lady behind the desk was in a panic.  She said two busloads of people were out in the parking lot waiting for a mechanic to fix one of their two buses.  She asked me to entertain them. 

I stood on the curb and talked to 90 people who were on a Robert E. Lee tour of the area.  What a coincidence — Robert E. Lee happens to be the man in charge of the capture of John Brown, the main character in my one book!  I held up my book and talked for about ten minutes, and then sent them into the visitors center to purchase the book. The lady there sold out of her 15 copies in minutes. But others wanted to purchase the book and have it signed too.  Not to worry.  I ran to my car, drove to where they were already waiting in line, parked and opened my trunk.  I sat on the rear bumper, signing books.  I sold another 21 books, throwing the money in the trunk because they were coming at me so fast.  It helped that I am a former Boy Scout who believes in the motto “Be Prepared”.

I have met authors who sell a couple of books each year.  When I ask them what they are doing to promote their book, they kind of hang their head and admit they haven’t been “real busy” lately.  As you can see, I have been “real busy”!  I am startled to find out that many authors I meet don’t even have a simple business card that you can print with any computer in ten minutes with a box of business card paper from your local business supply store.

I admit, I did 108 appearances in 2011 (check my website for suggestions, there’s a calendar of my appearances from 2006-2011 on my book signing page).  The average number of appearances I would say other authors I have met this past year have made to promote their book is about five a year (and there are certainly some exceptions).

I don’t tell you that to brag or to try to be better than you.  I tell you that because if I can do that, you can do that. You can do that if, by chance, you want to sell books!

In June every year, I go to Illinois to attend Heritage Days in Danville, IL where the character of my second book lived.  I drive and have appearances and book signings going and coming home.

Last year I was scheduled for book signings in public libraries, book stores, and even a senior citizens facility. I was gone 12 days to Danville, and did 11 appearances.  I checked with clubs and organization in the cities I would be in to find out which ones have meetings on the day I would be there.  I called book stores and Chamber of Commerce and libraries.  Most were thrilled that they are getting a free program.  Several paid my overnight accommodations in their city.

I look for magazines and newspapers and write articles that their particular readership might like that relate to the subjects of my books.  A recent article in Battlefield Journal (a publication for Civil War enthusiasts) was about the main character in “The Virginian Who Might Have Saved Lincoln.” An article I wrote about the seven men who escaped the John Brown raid appeared in the Appalachian Trail Magazine, because their escape route followed what today is the Appalachian Trail. I look for publications that would be interested in my particular books.  Obviously publications like Field and Stream and Science Digest are not within my target market, so I will not be contacting them.  But those publications certainly might be within the target readership of your books.

I also use Google search with key words such as “John Brown” to find out when events are taking place I can connect to. A recent play called “Robert E. Lee and John Brown” was playing at the Wayside Theater in Virginia. I contacted them and got four book signings and an opportunity to go on stage after each presentation to talk about John Brown with their “John Brown” actor.

An author friend wondered out loud the other day what her publicist had done for her lately.  One thing he had done was to get her an interview on a radio station in the Midwest.  I asked her the call letters of the radio station where she was going to be interviewed, and contacted the radio station myself.  (A simple “google” function on the internet gave me the station contact information.) I now have an interview scheduled with the same radio station I set up myself. 

I don’t have to ask, because I know what MY publicist did for me today!  That’s because I am my publicist.

Even writing this article, I am promoting my books to persons who might not otherwise know about them and sending those authors to my website for more information.

Am I getting paid to write this?  No.  I don’t usually get paid for my articles.  But they let people know about my books and the articles all list my website where there is information on how to purchase my books.

Where I live people are amazed that I get so much publicity. I teach a Publishing Class at the local Adult Ed Program. I sent the newspaper a press release that I was teaching the class. When the article appeared, other instructors wondered why the Adult Ed people only promoted my class. They didn’t promote my class. I did.

I get publicity because I work at it. You can do it too, but it takes effort. You have to decide if you are “real busy” doing other things or “real busy” seriously promoting your book.

So I have to ask you — when are you going to start seriously selling your book?  Do you have a business card?  A website? Look at mine at http://www.boboconnorbooks.com. What did you do TODAY to promote your book?  Got questions? E-mail me at author@boboconnorbooks.com .

Happy book selling.

Guest Post from Jim Denney, Part 2


Conquering the 8 Great Fears of the Writer’s Life: Part II

Jim Denney

 JimDenney-2013-small-72dpi

In an online video, Anne Rice said, “What has always helped me is something a novelist friend of mine, Floyd Salas, told me in Berkeley years ago. He said, ‘Go where the pain is.’ What Floyd meant was write about what hurts. Go back to the memory that causes you conflict and pain, and almost makes you unable to breathe, and write about it. Explore it in the privacy of your room, with your keyboard. Go where the pain is. Don’t be afraid of that.”

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, puts it this way: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” This brings us to the next great fear of the writer’s life. In Part I, we looked at the first four fears:

Fear No. 1. “I’m afraid I have no talent.”

Fear No. 2. “The blank page scares me—I’m afraid to begin.”

Fear No. 3. “I’m afraid I can’t complete my novel.”

Fear No. 4. “I’m afraid of the risks of the writer’s life.”

Now we look at one of the most paradoxical fears writer’s battle. Though we supposedly write to reveal ourselves—our thoughts, beliefs, insights, and dreams—we simultaneously fear to expose our innermost selves on the printed page:

 

Fear No. 5. “I’m afraid to reveal who I really am.”

For many writers, the worst nightmare imaginable is self-disclosure. When you write a book or story, you often expose more of your inner self than you realize. The more honest you are as a writer, the more you reveal. So it is only natural for writers to wonder, “What if I reveal too much? And what if my readers don’t like what they see?

In A Year of Writing Dangerously, Barbara Abercrombie recalls asking a group of writing students if writing felt “dangerous” to them. The students all agreed that it did. When Abercrombie asked why, one student said, “Writing is dangerous because you might get caught.” Abercrombie summed it up: “Caught, found out, exposed. The stuff of nightmares . . . our secrets exposed, our inner life and imagination up for inspection.”

Don’t fear the truth within you. Don’t fear the painful memories that are dredged up by your writing. When you unlock the truth within you, your writing comes alive with honesty and originality. You are finally giving your readers what they need, want, and deserve. You are giving them the gift of yourself.

Harlan Ellison explains his approach to writing this way: “I want to dip up the fire, and I want to put it on paper. The closer I get to the burning core of my being, the things which are most painful to me, the better is my work.” Heed Harlan Ellison’s example. Embrace the burning truth within you—then express it boldly and honestly through your writing.

Great writing can be painful in its honesty—but it’s a healing, surgical pain. Pediatric surgeon and prolific author Bernie S. Siegel began writing to heal his own pain of dealing with the suffering of children on a daily basis. “Scalpels and words are instruments which can cure or kill,” he once observed, noting that he started keeping a journal when he found it increasingly hard to remain a surgeon, dealing with the deaths of children. “If you cannot bring forth your feelings,” he concluded, “they will destroy you.” And Les Cuadra, author of Crystal Heroes, put it this way: “The truth is like a scalpel that cuts, and causes a bleeding that usually heals.”

By simply recognizing your fear of revealing yourself and facing your pain, you can disarm those fears. You can now say to yourself, “I know now why I’ve been timid and fearful. I know why I have resisted writing. I’ve been afraid to reveal myself. Yet I became a writer so I could speak my truth. From now on, I’ll push past my resistance and fear. I’ll dip up the fire from the burning core of my being, and I’ll fearlessly put it all on the page.”

 

Fear No. 6. “I’m afraid I’m a one-book writer.”

Novelist Julian Barnes (Arthur & George) once told an interviewer, “The great fear after writing one book is you are only a one-book writer.” This fear is yet another manifestation of that universal affliction among writers, self-doubt. After the first novel is written, self-doubt says, “What if I have no encore? What if I only have one book in me?”

The solution to this fear is to trust your Muse, your unconscious mind, your talent, your training, and your experience. If you wrote one novel, you can write another. In fact, having achieved that goal once, you should be in a much better position to do it again—and to do so more effectively and brilliantly.

Suspense writer James L. Rubart, author of Rooms and Book of Days, recalls that after his first book was well-received by critics and readers, he worried that it was a fluke—and that his second novel might not measure up. “The response to Rooms was so strong I was definitely nervous when Book of Days came out. That whole ‘I only have one book in me’ thing. But a lot of people liked Book of Days better.”

In fact, Rubart says his mastery of the craft increases with each novel. “It took me six years to write Rooms,” he recalls, “two years to write Book of Days, five months to write The Chair, ten weeks to write Soul’s Gate . . . and I’m on pace to finish the novel I’m working on right now in six weeks.”

Wendell Berry is a farmer, antiwar activist, novelist, and poet. He remembers the sense of unease he felt after his first book was published. He has learned to embrace that uneasy feeling and to anticipate the unknown adventures ahead. “I am discomforted,” he says, “by the knowledge that I don’t know how to write the books that I have not yet written. But that discomfort has an excitement about it, and it is the necessary antecedent of one of the best kinds of happiness.”

Don’t fear that you are a one-book writer. Having written one novel, you know you can write another. Relax in the confidence and mastery you gained from that achievement—and prepare to conquer even greater challenges in the future.

Jim denney Book 1 Writing In Overdrive - small

Fear No. 7. “I’m afraid I might fail.”

We fear the failure that comes with rejection. We are afraid of putting our work in front of editors and readers. We are terrified that they will condemn our work—and us with it.

Margaret Atwood tells the story of how, in 1983, she spent six months in a fisherman’s cottage in the picturesque English seacoast village of Blakeney, Norfolk. Her plan: To write a complex and richly detailed dystopian novel. Her problem: The scope of the novel intimidated her. She found herself spending most of her time bird-watching, reading bad historical novels, and nursing chilblains caused by the cold damp weather. The one thing she didn’t do was write. She later referred to that time as “six months of futile striving.”

Atwood found herself blocked by fear of failure. Her vision of the novel loomed so large in her mind that she spent six months not knowing where to begin. Finally, she did what every successful writer must do in order to overcome the fear of failure: She wrote. She began to write bits and pieces of the story. She began to write characters and conflict and dialogue. It didn’t all hang together at first, but that didn’t matter. After six stalled months, she was finally producing pages again.

“I grasped the nettle I had been avoiding,” she later recalled, “and began to write The Handmaid’s Tale“—eventually her most acclaimed and successful novel. Her advice to anyone who is paralyzed by the fear of failure: “Get back on the horse that threw you, as they used to say. They also used to say: you learn as much from failure as you learn from success.”

 

Fear No. 8. “I’m afraid I might succeed.”

This is the most paradoxical fear of all. We want to succeed—yet many of us fear success as much as we want it. You may wonder why anyone would fear success. Answer: For the struggling writer, success is the great unknown. We ask ourselves: Will success change my life? Will I have to do media interviews? Will my familiar life become different and more difficult? It’s so much easier to hide at my keyboard, pretending to be a writer, than to actually achieve literary success.

We writers also resist success because we fear that once we achieve it, we may not be satisfied with it. We resist success because, deep down, we suspect we don’t deserve to be successful. We resist success because we lack confidence that we can sustain it. Or we resist success because we fear that, once we are successful, we will no longer be motivated to write.

Irish novelist Anne Enright put it this way: “I have no problem with failure—it is success that makes me sad. Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. I have thrown out more sentences than I ever kept, I have dumped months of work, I have wasted whole years writing the wrong things for the wrong people. . . . I am more comfortable with the personal feeling that is failure than with the exposure of success. I say this even though I am, Lord knows, ambitious and grabby.”

Those who are afraid of success often settle for second-rate goals. Too timid to dream big dreams, many writers settle for halfhearted daydreams. We defend ourselves against disappointment by setting our sights low, and by refusing to care deeply about becoming a writer.

Anne Enright suggests that the solution to the fear of success is to dream extreme dreams, to set high goals for your art, and dare to pursue those goals for all you’re worth. “I still have this big, stupid idea,” she once said, “that if you are good enough and lucky enough you can . . . [write] a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail.”

We may all, as writers, be doomed to fail in the pursuit of our grand, idealized dreams—but so what? If our dreams are so vast and glorious that we cannot help but fail, then let’s embrace our impossible dreams and spend ours lives fearlessly pursuing them.

You never know. If you shoot for the moon, you may at least get over the fence.

 

Write fearlessnessly

A young writer recently told me she was considering independently publishing her novel. I said, “That’s great. Indie publishing is a time-honored path to becoming an author. I’ve published in both the indie and traditional worlds myself. The list of indie authors includes some celebrated names—Dickens, Poe, Twain, and Whitman, to name a few. Why are you choosing to go indie?”

“Traditional publishing scares me,” she said. “I’m afraid of having my work judged by agents and editors.”

“If you choose indie publishing, that’s fine,” I said, “but please don’t base your decision on your fears. Make a decision based on your strengths and your courage. It takes courage to be your own publisher, to market yourself, to go on social media and interact with your readers. If you think agents and editors are tough, wait till you see your reader reviews on Amazon! Whether you submit your work to traditional publishers or you choose to self-publish, it takes a lot of courage to be a writer.”

In closing, let me suggest a few ways to bolster your courage to write:

• Study the lives of successful writers, learn about the struggles and obstacles they overcame—and especially the fears they conquered to achieve their dreams.

• Attend writers’ workshops, conferences, and classes to sharpen your skills and build your confidence.

• Join a writer’s group for people who are serious about the craft. Critique groups are especially helpful in toughening you to receive constructive criticism.

• Learn to view every challenge as a voyage of discovery; transform fear into adventure, anxiety into excitement.

• Don’t be a perfectionist. Don’t obsess over what editors and readers may think. Instead, have fun! Creativity should be joyful, exciting, and exuberant. Think of writing as finger-painting with words. Shed your inhibitions, become a child again, make a glorious mess, and just write.

• Write freely and write quickly. It’s paradoxical but true: The best solution to the fear of writing is writing. As Emerson said, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

To be a writer is to suffer fear—but great writers are not ruled by their fears. They are driven by their passions and strengthened by their courage.

Live courageously. Write fearlessly. Be brilliant.

 

_______________________________

Jim Denney is the author of Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly. He has written more than 100 books, including the Timebenders science fantasy adventure series for young readers—Battle Before Time, Doorway to Doom, Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Lost in Cydonia. He is also the co-writer with Pat Williams (co-founder of the Orlando Magic) of Leadership Excellence and The Difference You Make. A veteran of both traditional and indie publishing, Jim is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Follow Jim on Twitter at @WriterJimDenney, and follow his blog at http://unearthlyfiction.wordpress.com/.

 

jim denney Book 1 Writing In Overdrive - medium

 

Guest Post from Author Jim Denney


It is always a pleasure when an experienced author shares thoughts here to help the rest of us. Today author Jim Denney guides us over the bumpy path called a writing career. This is Part One of two.

JimDenney-2013-small-72dpi

Conquering the 8 Great Fears of the Writer’s Life: Part I

Jim Denney

You know about the literary achievements of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte (Jane Eyre), Emily (Wuthering Heights), and Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall). These three sisters produced many enduring classics of literature.

But there was another Brontë whose name you’ve probably never heard: Branwell Brontë, the brother of the three Brontë sisters. The four Brontë siblings were close in their early years. As children, they engaged in fantasy role-playing games and collaborated on complex stories about an imaginary realm called Angria.

As an adult, Branwell often talked about the grand novel he intended to write, based on the world of Angria that he and his sisters had created. But while his sisters produced their masterpieces, Branwell only dabbled at writing. When his sisters urged him to show fragments of his novel to a publisher, he refused, saying he couldn’t bear having an editor toss his writings into the fireplace.

In the fall of 1848, Branwell Brontë fell gravely ill with tuberculosis, aggravated by delirium tremens from alcoholism. He died on September 24 at age thirty-one. After Branwell’s funeral, Charlotte Brontë wrote of her brother, “I do not weep from a sense of bereavement … but for the wreck of talent, the ruin of promise, the untimely dreary extinction of what might have been a burning and shining light.”

Branwell Brontë died knowing he had wasted his life and his talent. He never wrote his grand novel. Why? Because he was afraid of rejection, afraid of failure, afraid of committing his literary vision to paper and submitting it to a publisher. His fears were the same fears most writers face to this day.

Writers who conquer their fears go on to enjoy successful careers. Writers who fail to master their fears are doomed to end their lives in Branwellesque obscurity. Don’t waste your life and your talent. Don’t be paralyzed by fear. Instead, learn about the eight most common fears writers face—and how to overcome them:

Fear No. 1. “I’m afraid I have no talent.”

Many writers fear making a terrifying discovery: “I don’t have what it takes to be a published author.” Another name for this all-too-common fear is self-doubt.

Self-doubt afflicts writers on an epidemic scale. It causes more suffering among writers than writer’s block, eyestrain, and carpal tunnel syndrome combined. Self-doubt is the fear that we might not be as talented and creative as we thought. It’s the nagging voice in your head that says, “Why do you waste so many hours alone at this keyboard? You can’t do this. No one will ever read what you write.”

I know you’ve heard those voices because every writer has heard those voices—even your literary heroes and role models.

Anne Sexton won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her deeply personal poems about relationships and depression. Yet her fears nearly kept her from becoming a poet. She had an opportunity to attend a poetry workshop conducted by the renowned John Holmes—but the thought of exposing her poems to criticism terrified her. Afraid to register for the workshop, she asked a friend to register for her and to go with her to the first session. Within a dozen years of attending that workshop, Sexton was one of the most acclaimed poets in the world. But before she could earn these honors, she had to conquer her fear and self-doubt.

By avoiding the risk of writing and being judged, you actually risk everything. As Erica Jong put it in How to Save Your Own Life, “The risk is your life. Wasting it, I mean. It’s a pretty big risk. . . . And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. Life doesn’t leave that many choices. It’s really very harsh.”

How do you conquer the fear that you’re not good enough, the fear of being judged? You simply do the work. You write. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, even if you are fearful, even if you think your writing is so wretched that even your own mother would trash it, write.

Novelist Ayn Rand urged writers to adopt the mindset of relentless professionalism, regardless of self-doubts. She said, “You can be professional before you publish anything—if you approach writing as a job and apply to writing the same standards and methods that people regularly apply to other professions.” She dealt with her own self-doubt by pretending she worked for Hank Rearden—the ruthless industrialist in her novel Atlas Shrugged. Rearden, she said, “would not tolerate it if I told him, ‘I can’t work today because I have self-doubt’ or ‘I have a self-esteem crisis.’ Yet that is what most people do, in effect, when it comes to writing.”

Another accomplished writer who has suffered from self-doubt is Stephen King. In On Writing, he observes, “Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job. It’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There is plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.”

His solution: Write quickly. King explains, “With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. . . . If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind . . . I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.”

To slay self-doubt, write fast enough to stay ahead of your doubts.

Fear No. 2. “The blank page scares me—I’m afraid to begin.”

We all have authors we idolize. Because they write so brilliantly, we assume they are confident, even fearless. But our literary role models struggle with the very same fears we do, including the fear of the blank page. John Steinbeck wrote in his journal, “I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line.”

Before Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez could sell 30 million copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude and win the Nobel Prize for literature, he had to work up the courage to write the first line. “All my life,” he said, “I’ve been frightened at the moment I sit down to write.”

Margaret Atwood, the celebrated author of The Handmaid’s Tale, has won many literary awards, including the prestigious Booker Prize. Her greatest fear as an author: “Blank pages inspire me with terror.”

A few years ago, I taught a writer’s workshop. After one session, a young woman came to me and said, “I can’t get started. I know what I want to write about, and I know my characters—it all seems so perfect in my head. But when I try to write the perfect opening line, nothing comes to me—nothing that feels good enough. Without a brilliant first sentence, I can’t write the rest of the story.” What’s the solution to blank-page-ophobia?

First, understand that this fear comes from an inordinate and unhealthy perfectionism. You’re listening to your inner critic. Perhaps you’re even listening to the voice of some writing teacher in your past, someone who told you it’s absolutely crucial that you rivet your reader’s attention with a knockout first sentence.

Well, yes, your first sentence is important—but it doesn’t have to be the first thing you write. Why not save your first sentence for last? Write your entire first draft before you even think about what your first sentence ought to be. Once the novel is written, a brilliant first sentence may just come to you.

Second, get the words and story down any way you can. Bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult said, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” And Dorothea Brande advised in her classic book Becoming a Writer, “Simply start working. If a good first sentence does not come, leave a space for it and write it in later. Write as rapidly as possible.”

Third, in first draft, give yourself permission to write badly. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t expect first-draft perfection. Have fun, play, and finger-paint with words. It may be messy, but so what? You’ll clean everything up later in rewrite. I’m sure you’ll even come up with an inspired, riveting opening line.

Jim denney Book 1 Writing In Overdrive - small

Fear No. 3. “I’m afraid I can’t complete my novel.”

Writers often build up a mental image of the novel they want to write—an image that is so grand and brilliant and complex that it becomes intimidating and self-defeating. We say to ourselves, “The novel I picture in my mind is so rich in theme, so vast in scope, that I don’t feel capable of writing it. I’d better wait until I acquire the skills to do it justice.”

The writer who has never written a novel before may lack the confidence that he or she can go the distance: “I don’t know how to begin. I’m not sure I can sustain the middle. I doubt I can write a worthy ending. I’m defeated before I begin.”

These are the same fears Ray Bradbury faced in January 1953 when he signed a contract to expand his novella “The Fireman” to novel length, 50,000 words. A short story writer, Bradbury had never written a novel before. The deadline was two months away, in mid-March. Bradbury was so intimidated by the scope of the project that when the deadline passed, he hadn’t written a single word. The publisher extended the deadline to April 15—and Bradbury missed that deadline as well.

The publisher gave Bradbury an extension to June 15—the author’s last chance. Paralyzed by fear all through May, a desperate Ray Bradbury finally went down into the basement of the UCLA library in early June. There, the university kept rows of coin-operated typewriters. Every half-hour, Bradbury fed a dime into the typewriter’s meter. Over a nine-day period, Bradbury wrote 25,000 words which he added to the 25,000 words of the original novella. Bradbury’s first novel, Fahrenheit 451, was born—and he met his third and final deadline. But first he had to overcome the fear that he wouldn’t be able to finish his book.

When the inner critic say, “You can’t do this,” tell your inner critic, “Maybe I will and maybe I won’t, but if this novel defeats me, it won’t be because I didn’t try. Now shut up. I’m working.”

When a project intimidates you because of its size and complexity, break it down into bite-size pieces. Divide it into scenes or chapters or daily word-count goals. Focus on today’s tasks today, then maintain that same focus day after day, and you’ll ultimately get your novel written.

I recommend two excellent tools for breaking down big long-term projects into a series of short-term objectives: (1) James Scott Bell’s excellent book Plot & Structure and (2) Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake” method at AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Ernest Hemingway once told an interviewer, “Once you are into the novel it is cowardly to worry about whether you can go on the next day. . . . You have to go on. So there is no sense to worry. You have to learn that to write a novel.”

Fear No. 4. “I’m afraid of the risks of the writer’s life.”

Writing is an inherently risky proposition. When you write, you take personal risks, artistic risks, and commercial risks. It’s almost impossible to achieve distinction as an author if you are risk-averse. As Kurt Vonnegut once observed, “Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of a writer.”

Playwright and novelist A. R. Gurney (The Cocktail Hour and Sweet Sue) recalls the time when he taught literature at MIT and wrote plays on the side. A novelist friend told him, “You gotta start calling yourself a writer, you gotta start thinking of yourself as a writer. You’re never gonna get anywhere if you don’t take yourself seriously.”

Gurney reflects, “I found it very hard . . . to call myself a writer. I called myself a teacher. . . . It was very hard for me to accept the public mantle of being a playwright.” Once Gurney was able to confidently call himself a writer and embrace the risky life of a writer, his self-image was transformed—and his writing career shifted into high gear.

In a 2010 article in The Los Angeles Times, novelist Dani Shapiro described the three most frightening risks she faced in her twenty years of writing: “The writer’s apprenticeship—or perhaps, the writer’s lot—is this miserable trifecta: uncertainty, rejection, disappointment. . . . Every single piece of writing I have ever completed—whether a novel, a memoir, an essay, short story, or review—has begun as a wrestling match between hopelessness and something else. . . . Call it stubbornness, stamina, a take-no-prisoners determination, but a writer at work reminds me of nothing so much as a terrier with a bone.”

You have to be that terrier. You have to chomp down on that bone and refuse to let go. To be a writer is to battle fear and doubt, and to risk uncertainty, rejection, and disappointment.

If you would achieve your dreams, you must risk, you must endure, and you must never give up. Dare to believe that your purpose in life is to write—then dare to write that first sentence. Persevere, keep faith with your dreams, and dare to complete what you started. Stop endlessly revising your manuscript—declare it finished and share it with your critique group. Then fearlessly subject your work to the brutal analysis of agents and editors—and the reading public.

Above all, dare to say to yourself and others, “I am a writer.”

In Part II, we’ll look at the four most surprising and paradoxical fears of the writer’s life.

_______________________________

Jim Denney is the author of Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly. He has written more than 100 books, including the Timebenders science fantasy adventure series for young readers—Battle Before Time, Doorway to Doom, Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Lost in Cydonia. He is also the co-writer with Pat Williams (co-founder of the Orlando Magic) of Leadership Excellence and The Difference You Make. A veteran of both traditional and indie publishing, Jim is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Follow Jim on Twitter at @WriterJimDenney, and follow his blog at http://unearthlyfiction.wordpress.com/.

jim denney Book 1 Writing In Overdrive - medium

For Good Luck


Kirin kiss cropped

 

In several Asian cultures, there is a mythological beast called the Kirin. According to Wikipedia, the Kirin heralds the arrival of a wise sage or illustrious ruler. It’s appearance is a good omen and brings the one who sees it prosperity.

 

Not only did I see the Kirin, but I kissed him when we discussed the late summer release of my novel Dead with Envy and my short story “Strange.” Seems that kiss had a powerful effect; the Kirin’s eyes blazed! He promised me lots of readers and a successful new career as a best-selling author. Wow.

 

He urged me to get cracking on my next murder mystery, One Way Ticket to Las Vegas. Alrighty then!!

 

A Stroll Down Memory Lane


A year ago I wrote the closing segment to a story circle featured on Cameron D. Garriepy’s blog. The story, called “The Reunion,” can be found here:

http://camerondgarriepy.com/join-the-the-story-circle/the-reunion-june-2012/

If you have ever found yourself in an awkward or embarrassing situation, you will identify with this story. It’s a quick read–perfect to go with that morning cup of coffee.

A year later, I am ending another storytelling experience. I am wrapping up my first novel. I met with Acorn Book Services Friday. An editorial review of the manuscript is imminent. That is the last step before publication.