Category Archives: Guest Blog

Lauren Carr Seminar: Writers in Bathrobes


Want to learn the ropes of the writing/ publishing business? Want to work from home? Then you need this! Top Selling Mystery author Lauren Carr is going to be teaching all this and more in historic Harpers Ferry, outside Washington, D. C., in March 2015.

Here’s an excerpt from her e-mail!

BIG NEWS: I have just scheduled to conduct a SIX HOUR workshop in
March at the church called: AUTHORS IN BATHROBE. I am still working out  the details, but this workshop will break book promotion down into an understandable format for writers. Even if your book is not out yet,
then this will include things that you can do now to get the ball
rolling for sales when you book is released.

Focused completely on using the internet to promote your book and your
writing career, the workshop will include no less than an hour on
Twitter and an hour Facebook. (My own sales drop 10-20 percent on days I don’t tweet!) It will discuss the importance of a website and how to set
one up without breaking your budget. What is a blog? What goes into a
blog post. Virtual book tours. It will even cover the basics of an
author bio and what makes a good profile pic.

It will be 9 to 4 on Saturday, March 21. Lunch will be included. Price
is still being determined.

You are the first to hear this, so spread the word.

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Guest Post–The Hook or The Gimmick


Notes from the Margins: The Difference Between A Hook and A Gimmick

Every executive will tell you that in order to grab their attention in a pitch or a script, you need to have a great original hook. Your hook is that special THING that defines what the new, original and commercial angle is on your concept. It’s the element of your story or storytelling that will make your script stand out and make the exec say, “I get it.”

Your hook can come from numerous places. It could be conceptual, it could be plot-based, it could be your location, your type of characters, your backdrop, your time period or setting or world, your theme, the characters’ goal, the consequences or stakes of the action in the story, etc. Truly elevated projects often combine two different hooks to make the story more dynamic or have a hook with an intellectual or emotional depth to it that takes the story to another level.

But these days, writers often get confused between a hook and a gimmick. And the two are not the same thing.

A hook is usually story-based. It is something ingrained and exploited in the plot and/or premise of your script. A gimmick is a cheap trick used as a selling tool to make an audience think there’s something different about the style or experience of the project but usually has very little to do with the substance of the story.

The hook of Twilight is that the teen love story was set against the backdrop of an ancient war between vampires and werewolves. The hook of Non-Stop is that it’s a mystery heist film and a hijacking action film set 35,000 feet up in the air. The hook of the Oscar-Winning Her is that it’s a love story between a man and his operating system set in the near future.

Creating the hook of a story is the screenwriter’s job. Creating or exploiting the story’s gimmick is usually the job of a marketing department. Very often a project’s gimmick may come from its hook but a great gimmick will NEVER mask or excuse a poor story.

The films that do the best these days within the studio system are ones that have a strong story and hook AND a strong connected gimmick that can be used to sell it to its target demographic.

Gravity did well based on the gimmick of how it was shot and how the technical aspects come across in gorgeous 3-D surround sound theaters but also how that gimmick was used to enhance the emotion and hook of the story – one woman, trapped alone in space, fighting to survive.

Pixar’s Wall-E had a wonderful hook of a lowly love struck robot that must save his crush and the world. But the gimmick of Wall-E, and what many were talking about, was how half the film had no dialogue and was also a message movie about consumerism and a cautionary environmental tale.

The 1985 cult classic Clue had a great story gimmick in that its whole third act is 3 different alternate endings with different possible killers confessing until the truth is revealed. Tonally, it worked great with the rest of the story and added more twists and turns to the climax of the film.

But when the story is poor, gimmicks usually don’t work and often backfire.

Perhaps the best example of this is Movie 43, one of the worst abortions to ever happen on screen which currently sits at 4% on rotten tomatoes and won big at this year’s Razzies. It was a series of disturbing short films directed by big names and starring even bigger names that were connected by an insanely flimsy set up. The gimmick was basically – look at all these huge name stars we got together, it MUST be good, right? But alas, it was not.

From Justin to Kelly (I’m sorry Kelly, I still love you) was a project born out of gimmick rather than story. The studio wanted to capitalize on the popularity and possible real-life romantic relationship between its two biggest reality stars at the time and Kelly’s growing musical following. I’m guessing the writers spent exactly 4 days on the script.

Battlefield Earth had a not-so-secret gimmick in that it was obviously connected to Scientology and it put this gimmick above story. And any time you put gimmick above story in the concept and development stage, your movie is doomed.

Bad Grandpa used the proven gimmick of the Jackass-style gags and physical pranks to lure people to the theater thinking that’s all it was, but it was actually an attempt at a narrative feature that just happened to have a half dozen of those hilarious pranks in it. But the gimmick was stronger than the story and was the only thing promoted in the trailers. Did it do really well at the box office? Yes, it did. I’m not saying a gimmick CAN’T work – only that it usually doesn’t if the story isn’t equally strong if not stronger.

I recently had a client whose story was a pretty straightforward spy/comedy with some decent story twists but then the third act was basically a Choose Your Own Adventure gimmick where he thought audiences would be able (collectively) to choose which version of the ending they wanted to see. Obviously this gimmick wouldn’t work in theaters for 1000 logistic and financial reasons. But it didn’t work on the page either because it made the writer’s vision for the story unclear and unresolved. It made the whole resolution of the story confusing and unsatisfying.

I had another client who wrote the same script twice – once as a comedy, once as a drama – and thought that studios would make both versions for both audiences. The only major difference was that the comedy had about 10 more decently funny lines in it. There are concepts that could potentially work in two different genres, but you need to know which is stronger and which you feel more comfortable writing. The gimmick of having written two versions of the same plot was what he thought would entice agents instead of the story itself, which was incorrect.

A handful of years ago, I had a pitch session at a conference where the writer donned a large rubber butt as a hat and pitched the sales gimmick of his concept instead of the story. Even if the story and pitch were brilliant it wouldn’t have mattered cause all I was staring at was a large rubber anus like it was a third eye. I can guarantee that pitch would have gone better without the gimmick. In fact a general rule I always give new writers pitching is leave the gimmicks at home – they never help and usually make you look all the more amateurish. And I feel the same about writers who employ gimmicks on the page instead of really crafting a compelling story.

There is a difference between a marketing or production gimmick and a writing gimmick. The former is something the writer has very little say about. Studios will very often turn an otherwise perfectly fine 2-D film into a 3-D extravaganza because the ticket prices are higher and they think the 3-D gimmick brings people to the theaters. Dolby Digital 3-D Surround Sound, Smell-O-Vision, 4-D, not to mention Marvel and Disney’s gimmick of incorporating many of  their Avengers characters into all their different films so that audiences think they need to see ALL of them in order to follow the stories. These would be more production and marketing gimmicks.

Brilliant marketing gimmicks included those created for Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, both of which used the angle that they may or may not be true stories and it used its gimmick of casting utter unknowns to play into that.  Paranormal’s marketing campaign also included the creepy, grainy “night-goggle” footage of people reacting and screaming in fear while watching the film. Very effective. They took what was different about the hook and story and translated that into a masterful marketing gimmick. But the gimmick did not damage or derail the story.

Sometimes the gimmick of a project is in its casting and that’s also something the writer usually has no control over. The Expendables, Escape Plan, Righteous Kill, Grudge Match, Scream, and romantic comedies that reteam beloved duos like the upcoming Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore film Blended are all films whose gimmick was the casting and not the story. In some of these cases, the story or action was strong enough to compliment the gimmick. In others, not so much.

But this is why it’s so important for writers to create a hook and story that can overcome bad casting or bad production or marketing gimmicks and sell on its own merit. You need to know what is special and sellable about your concept and hook, and the answer to that needs to lie organically within the pages of your story. If it doesn’t, then you’re not writing smart enough and you’re relying on others to figure out what is great about your script.

Guest Post from Jim Denney, Take Two


At Fay Moore: I Want To Be a Writer, we are fortunate to have published authors share insight into how to move forward as writers. Today Jim Denney, author of Writing in Overdrive, has been kind enough to offer some advice in his second appearance here on the blog.

Denney book cover Writing in Overdrive

Write Every Day

By Jim Denney, author of Writing in Overdrive

“The only thing you need to know about writing is that you must do it. The rest is just showing up.”

—Jeff Goins

I love to write. I begin writing every day, almost as soon as I tumble out of bed. Writing is not merely my daily habit, it’s something I can’t wait to begin.

But I haven’t always been this way. When I was in my twenties, writing was a chore. I wanted to write, but I resisted and procrastinated and made excuses for not writing. It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I began building a daily habit of writing. Today, I can’t imagine going all day without writing. It’s actually more difficult for me not to write than to write.

If you struggle with resistance and procrastination, if you want to write but find it hard to drag yourself to the keyboard, I know how you feel. I’ve been there. And I want you to know you can learn to love writing and make it your daily habit. But before writing becomes your love, it has to become your discipline.

Begin by viewing writing as your profession—even if you have a non-writing day job. Stop calling yourself an “aspiring writer” or a “wannabe writer” or a “weekend writer.” Tell yourself, “I’m a writer,” period. Once you accept the fact that you are a professional, you will begin to treat writing as a profession, not a hobby.

Now that writing is your profession, recognize that you are your own employer, your own boss. And part of your job as your own boss is to get yourself to work every day. No one else will do it for you. You have to set regular, working hours for yourself, and you have to show up for work on time every day. As the boss, you must be ruthless with yourself about keeping your writing time inviolate.

As John Steinbeck wrote in his journal while writing The Grapes of Wrath, “In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established. … I must get my words down every day whether they are any good or not.”

When building a habit, it helps to write at the same time and place every day. Your unconscious mind learns to associate that time, that place, with the creative process. Whether you write a desktop computer in your office, on a laptop computer in your secluded garden, or in longhand in a notebook at a café, build a daily habit.

You may say, “I’m so busy with my job and my kids that I only have fifteen minutes a day to write. What can anyone accomplish in fifteen minutes a day?” Well, if you write every day without fail for fifteen minutes a day, you can accomplish quite a lot.

Fifteen minutes a day adds up to 91.25 hours per year, or the equivalent of more than two forty-hour work weeks. That’s a lot of writing time. And by writing every day, even for just a quarter hour, you will boost your creativity enormously. You’ll remain focused on your novel, your story, your characters, and your goals every day. You’ll find you are thinking about your story when you wake up, when you’re in the shower, when you drive to work, when you’re at lunch, when you drive home, and before you go to sleep. That added focus on your story magnifies your productivity and creativity in your fifteen-minute sessions. You may find yourself feeling so inspired that will keep writing for thirty, sixty, ninety minutes or more. And you’ll build some excellent daily writing habits in the process.

Most important, you’ll build a deep love for writing that will carry you through the rest of your life. Build a daily habit of writing—and watch writing become the dream job you love.

_______________________________

Jim Denney 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. His latest book for writers is Writing in Overdrive: Writer Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly. A veteran of both traditional and indie publishing, Jim is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Follow Jim on Twitter at @WriterJimDenney. He blogs at http://unearthlyfiction.wordpress.com/.

Guest Post from Author Cindy McDonald


Cindy is the author of The Unbridled Series of books: Hot Coco, Deadly.com, and, her latest, Against the Ropes. Cindy says of herself and her work:

For twenty-six years my life whirled around a song and a dance: I was a professional dancer/choreographer for most of my adult life and never gave much thought to a writing career until 2005. Don’t ask me what happened, but suddenly I felt drawn to my computer to write about things I have experienced (greatly exaggerated upon of course) with my husband’s Thoroughbreds and happenings at the racetrack.

In her guest post today, Cindy speaks to us through the voice of one of her characters. She shares the trauma of living with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Cindy’s website is http://cindymcwriter.com/.

Cindy McDonald w- mother

MEMORIES OF PRESQUE ISLE

It is late fall. I have never visited the beaches of Presque Isle this late in the year, after the leaves have abandoned the trees, and their sinewy branches reach toward the grey skies like dark skeletons. The waves crash into the shore, as the seagulls dip and dive over the vast water of Lake Erie. I loved this place growing up. I still love this place—almost as much as my mother loved it. There is something mysterious about Lake Erie, especially standing here among the silent beaches, void of children’s laughter, lifeguards blowing whistles, and parents calling after their youngsters to stay within a certain distance of the shore. It is surreal. It calls to me.

My name is Jen Fleming, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled when Eric West suggested a trip to Erie, Pennsylvania to visit the wineries, stay at a lovely Bed & Breakfast, and walk the beaches of Presque Isle during the off-season. Eric is an imposing man. His life at Westwood Thoroughbred Farm leaves him little time for such getaways. He is also a very observant and caring man, and I have no doubt he could see my melancholy. He wrapped his arms around me in my office at the racetrack where I am a nurse, and whispered in my ear, “A trip through Pennsylvania wine country and a walk on the beach should perk you right up.” Hmmm, as a matter of fact just the suggestion was enough to perk me up. I hugged him tightly swallowed up by his warmth and sensitivity to my needs.

We arrived in Presque Isle Saturday morning.  I wasn’t prepared for the power it would have over me, the emotions that would coil through me, when I realized that my mother would never again see the lake, walk the shores, or build sand castles with her grandchildren. You see my mother is eighty and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

I can still see my brothers and me jumping the waves, and running to the old battered blankets lying in the sand that were designated for the lake. My mother would tell us about her childhood. She used to come to the lake every year and spend several weeks with her cousins who lived in Erie. She would tell us how they swam in the lake until their lips would turn blue from the chill. She has no recollection of her cousins now. She barely recognizes me or my brother when we go to visit her at the nursing home facility once a week. My mother never accepted the death of my father seven years ago. And I watched helplessly as she fell farther and farther into the abyss of confusion and denial. My older brother and I tried to get her involved in church activities or community service projects. The answer was always the same: “No, I don’t care to do that.” My mother was always a rather standoffish person. She didn’t have many friends—my father was her world.

As time went on she became more and more reclusive and aloof and confused. My life is crazy and my brother’s work schedule is nuts. We did our very best, but she was so very obstinate. Finally my brother, who lives next door to my mother, would call me with frantic stories of finding my mother in the yard looking for my father. Her hairdressers and manicurists would contact me as well to inform me of her confusion, and their concern for her driving. I had to take her car keys—she was furious. I wanted to keep her in her own home as long as possible, but it was becoming impossible. She hated the day nurses we hired to care for her—she only became more agitated and hard to deal with. My brother insisted that she needed more care than we could provide. He was right, only I felt that I had failed her on some level, that I hadn’t done enough to keep her mind healthy.

The day we took her to the nursing facility was one of the worse days of my life. No matter how lovely the facility or how wonderful the staff, a daughter’s place is in the guilt and the guilt consumed me. I would visit mom two and three times a week only to face an angry woman who couldn’t remember or focus on anything. She would insist that I call her dad and tell him where to come pick her up. She was worried that she would be late for school. She wanted to know why her mother hadn’t called in days. I was beside myself at how to respond. At the end of my visits she would chase me to my car screaming, “You get me out of here, Jennifer! You’re heartless!” The staff would have to gently subdue her. It was horrible to say the least.

Finally the big melt-down happened. I had gone to New York with some girlfriends to see some shows and take in the city. My brother assured me that all would be fine while I was gone, and that I really needed time away. Mom was very rough on me, and yet kind to my brother when he visited. The very first night that I was away the nursing home called—mom was out of control—hallucinatory. They had moved her to a psych ward at a nearby hospital for counseling and medication adjustments. I was horrified. The guilt welled inside me like a swollen spitting volcano. They said she had been transported by ambulance. My mother had never been in an ambulance or in a hospital for that matter—I could only imagine how frightened and confused she was by it all, and my guilt ripped viciously at me once more. And then the second phone call came—my brother had had a heart attack. I thought I would split in half with angst.

When I returned from New York I visited my brother who was doing just fine—he would make a full recovery. Thank you, Lord. It was time to visit mom—alone. I met with her counselor in his office for an hour and a half before being escorted into the psych ward. Her counselor stayed for the visit as a mediator. I was relieved. Overall our visit was pleasant—the counselor saw to that. When it was time for me to leave she became agitated, but the counselor insisted that she remain in the room until the nurse came for her—I didn’t think that would work. It didn’t. As we approached the nurse’s station I could hear her calling my name. I turned to find her pushing her walker down the hall calling out to me, “Jennifer! You come back here! You take me home right now!” Anxiety churned inside me.  I turned to the counselor and asked, “What do I do now?” He simply said, “It’s time for you to leave.” He took me by the arm and shoved me into a supply closet. Seriously? When I turned, I came face-to-face with a nurse who seemed very accustomed to the sight. Moments later, the counselor joined me in the closet. Really? Smiling he waved at me, “This way.” I followed him to the other side of the closet to a door that led into another part of the hospital, and back to his office where we talked for an hour more.

My mother stayed in the ward for one week. They completely changed her meds and I was informed by her counselor that I was a “trigger”. I filled her with the need to go home. I was told that I should only visit once a week and never alone—I should visit with my brother. Oh yeah, that was a huge guilt trip for me, but its working. I visit mom every Wednesday evening with my brother. The visits are pleasant. She is calm and the staff says she is much improved. I’ve let go of the guilt—I had to or it would’ve eaten me alive. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease—not only for the patient but for the family as well, and learning to cope with Alzheimer’s is almost a disease in its self.

The breeze from the lake is chilly, and Eric pulls me close. My eyes betray me, filling with tears. I wish mom could see the lake like this—she would love it. I must hold on to my memories of mom and the lake, for in the end it is the memories that we cling to—the happy times that help to fill the darkest moments of Alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses I know that I will have to cling tightly to those memories—memories of walking the shores of Lake Erie hand in hand with mom.

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/.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/.

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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.