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Guest Post from Jim Denney, Part 2


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

Jim Denney

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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.

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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.

 

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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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Guest Post from Lauren Carr on Grammar


Now, every editor has a thing or two or three or dozen, in which they will not trust their knowledge, but will look it up in their style manual every single time. For me, the question of a proper name ending in “s” and used in possessive is one of those things. The Chicago Style Manual called for this possessive to be “s’”, not “s’s”.

Lauren Carr photo

Well, the author said I was wrong and that it is supposed to be “s’s”.

So, I looked it up again, not just in the Chicago Style Manual, but several sites on the Internet. Not only did I discover that the answer varies in the Chicago Style Manual depending on which edition you use, but I also found a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States had gotten involved in this very argument while writing a decision on a case! Even the justices disagreed! Clarence Thomas (who should know since his name ends in an “s”) declared that it is “s’”.

I let the author have the last word and changed all of the possessive references for this character to “s’s”.

Then, upon proofing the book, the author brought in his daughter, a technical writer, who declared that it should be “s’”, without the extra “s”.

So I had to change it back.

Many people who are not in the business of writing, editing, or publishing fiction fail to realize that many of the grammar and punctuation rules that we were taught as being carved in stone really are not—especially when it comes to fiction.

Since working with new writers on their first books, I have been amazed by how many have friends who are grammar teachers, or professional technical writers, who suddenly come out of the woodwork when it comes to proofing (not editing) their buddy’s first book. These friends are more than ready to criticize how the book has been edited. Unfortunately, these friends, who are well meaning and probably have the apostrophe rules down pat, are not experienced editors of fiction, which is as specialized, and different, as technical editing.

If you needed a heart transplant, would you ask your neighbor, who happens to be a brain surgeon, to perform the operation or to stand by in the operating room to second guess your heart surgeon?

My point in this post is not to gripe (maybe it is), but it is also to educate new writers, and readers and reviewers, that when proofing, or reading fiction, what we would call “basic grammar and punctuation” is not really so basic when it comes to editing fiction.

Example: Can you imagine Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn written in the Queen’s English? Well, it isn’t. If a high school language arts teacher had gotten her hands on that novel …

Editors of fiction have to take the author’s voice, the character’s point of view, the reading audience, and how the general population reads novels into consideration when it comes to editing a novel.  YA audiences read present day erotica differently than readers with a more educated palate will read a sweeping historical epic. As a result, the editing needs to be adjusted accordingly. 

Sometimes, due to the character’s point of view and the circumstance—like a climactic scene—the passage will call for fragmented sentences that would make your eighth grade language arts teacher’s hair curl.  Or maybe another passage will call for long run-on sentences.

Now, this is not to say that when it comes to writing that we should toss out our high school grammar books and let anything go. No, that is not my point.

When reading fiction, I have found that I have grown to become more forgiving of what previously I would have viewed as blatant grammatical errors, because maybe in some style manual somewhere this error is not incorrect. Unless it is a glaring misuse of the words there, they’re, and their. That I cannot forgive—or is the Supreme Court of the United States arguing about that, too?

Guest Post From Lauren Carr–Never Say “Please Don’t”


Never Say PleaseDon’t: Three Books in Twelve Months

By Lauren Carr

A couple of weeks ago, Fay’s post, Three Books in Twelve Months, made me laugh and blush, both at the same time. The laughter came not so much because she mentioned my accomplishment of writing and publishing three books in the span of twelve months (Shades of Murder, Dead on Ice, Blast from the Past, not to mention Beauty to Die For & Other Mystery Shorts ,an anthology), but from embarrassment.

Ironically, less than two years ago, I wrote a blog post pleading with independent authors not to strive to release multiple books a year.

In that article, I had explained that the wonderful breakthrough for writers to easily and inexpensively publish their books has become a double-edge sword: No longer are we dependent on the gatekeepers in New York to make our books available to readers.

The other edge of the sword is that since anybody can slap together a book and publish it, the market has been hit with an avalanche of bad books. I define “bad books” as unedited books filled with typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors, poorly formatted (either ebook or print), and/or unprofessional cover design.

My post went on to explain the math: At the time of this article I was writing and publishing one, maybe two, books a year. I go through several drafts:

  1. Reviewed by a fellow author for flow of storyline and loose ends after no less than three rough drafts.
  2. Rewrite after said review.
  3. Edited by professional editor.
  4. Proofread
  5. Layout & formatting
  6. Proofread
  7. Corrections based on proofread
  8. Release

Let’s say I release two books in a year. In that same year, another author whips out five books without any review by someone who would give him honest feedback, nothing more than the benefit of his MS Word spell-checker as far as editing, and a cover slapped together by a twelve-year old neighbor.

Math: That is five bad books to two good ones. Let’s go further and multiply it by ten. Out of a total of seventy self-published books, we have fifty poorly done to twenty well done.

The result: Quote from one reviewer: “Looking for a good self-published book is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

I had written that blog post in response to recently releasing one of my books and discovering that some bloggers who had previously reviewed self-published books had only recently shut their doors to independent authors. One reviewer told me that the problem of new authors whipping out books without any review or editing had gotten worse in the last few years. Another blogger, who does accept self-published books, compared it to mining for a gem in a pile of rocks. It’s exciting to find a good book because there are so many bad ones.

As an author and publisher on a mission to change the perception of self-published authors as second-rate, I am horrified by this development. The marketplace has been hit with an avalanche of bad self-published books. As quickly as doors to publishing are being opened, doors to promoting us are being closed and it is the fault of some of our own members.

The message in my blog post: When one writer cuts corners in quality in order to rush to publish his book, he doesn’t hurt just himself, he hurts all self-published authors.

Yes, I released three books and an anthology in twelve months last year. I am at a new high in my career as an author. The reviews and sales on my books have been stupendous. I am thrilled every day to check my sales and author ranking on Amazon, where I am regularly listed in the top one-hundred of police procedural & cozy mysteries.

My previous post was not to tell authors to refrain from striving for the same goal, which is how some authors took it; nor am I being judgmental by saying that there are a lot of bad self-published books out there. That assessment is from reviewers and bloggers, not me.

Multi-book years can be done—but I do beg other self-published authors to please, for the sake of all independent authors, do it right. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

Get an editorial review done. This is extremely important. An editorial review provides feedback on your storyline, plot, and those elements that reviewers and readers are most likely to comment on: One-dimensional characters, loose ends in your plot, lack of research, bad ending.

Have this done by someone who knows the genre, reads books, and is not afraid to hurt your feelings. Don’t take your book to your grandmother who would never hurt your feelings. These reviewers are called perfect readers. Most published and successful authors have them. My publishing company Acorn Book Services provides editorial reviews for a fee, but if you know someone who meets this criterion, maybe someone in your writers’ group, then you can have it done for free. Author Cindy McDonald is my perfect reader.

Get a good editor. Getting a good editor is like looking for a good hair stylist. They are hard to find and when you find one that you can work with, don’t let them go. Every editor is different. Some are light editors who don’t make a lot of changes. Others are heavy-handed and make a ton of changes.

Proofread, proofread, and proofread!  For all the work that you put into your masterpiece, nothing can ruin the whole project more than typos that you would have caught if you had simply proofed it. It looks sloppy. You cannot proofread enough. (As a publisher, I say you can. There does come a point where I have to tell every author, “Let it go!”) As a self-published writer, I implore you, proof your book at every stage. Proof it in hardcopy at least twice. Proof it after it has been formatted. Stuff happens during formatting. If your book is in print, sit down with a pen, put yourself in the mind of the reader, and read through it.

Proofing Tip: If you have a friend who is willing, ask them to proof your book in the final stage. At this point, you will have seen and read through it so many times that you will be unable to see mistakes. A fresh pair of eyes at this point will prove invaluable.

Have a professional looking cover. Like typos, a cheesy cover can repel readers. If you cannot afford to hire a real graphic artist, then at least study tips on the Internet for what makes a professional looking cover. There are dozens of sites that offer these tips and they cost you nothing. Go to Amazon and study the covers of the top-selling books in your genre.

You may be asking, how is it possible for me to release so many books when I put so much into them, and do it well, in a course of twelve months?

As you can see on my list of tips, at many points, my book is off in someone else’s hands. While Cindy is reading one of my books for an editorial review, I’ll be working on the first draft of my next book. After a re-write of the first book, I’ll send it off to the editor. While that book is gone, I’m working on the second book. I am always working on a book but it is not always the same book.

Yep, it takes a lot of work, by a lot of trusted professionals, to publish a lot of books. Also consider this. Ten years ago, none of this was possible.

Isn’t it great?

Fay’s Note: HEY, LAUREN– YOU FORGOT “A GNARLY CHRISTMAS.” IT’S BEEN A GREAT YEAR! Keep up the good work.