Today is a very special day. It is time for me to tell you all about the ebook I’ve been working on, The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer. The ebook is based on this post, with a slightly altered list of commandments.
Each commandment has been more fully explained, with exercises designed to help you become more fully committed to your writing. This ebook will give you all the tools necessary to plan the next stages of your writing career, including three potential schedules for you to base your own on. If you’re looking for help to make the transition from hobbyist, this is the ebook for you.
This ebook isn’t a comprehensive guide for becoming a successful writer, but it will walk you through the process of laying a foundation for your career. That said, this book isn’t quite finished yet. First, I’m looking for your help.
If you have committed to one of these commandments–you’ve written every day for the last six months and finished a book, or you’ve found and learned to work with a critique group–and it’s helped you grow as a writer, especially if it’s helped you make money writing, I’d love to hear from you. I’d like to add one short personal story from a different writer to each commandment.
This will be a free ebook given to my subscribers. Those who contribute their stories will be allowed to give the ebook to their own personal blog subscribers as well. This is your chance to be officially quoted in an ebook, and to get your name in front of my readers. If you’d like to share your success story, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m also looking for feedback. I’d like one or two people who in the process of laying the foundation for their writing career to give me feedback on the book and the exercises within so I can make any improvements. The ebook is now finished, but everyone needs a second pair of eyes on their writing. I’d like that second pair of eyes to belong to one of my readers. If you’re interested, once again just email me at email@example.com and I’ll tell you what kind of feedback I’m looking for. Copies will be sent for feedback at the end of this week to any interested parties.
As for the new name of this blog: I’ve had such wonderful suggestions and there was a little conflict because the most popular name is taken by someone else, so I’ve decided to extend voting until Friday, when I’ll also be explaining in more detail my plans for the new site. Vote here.
What do you think of all the changes around here? Are you eager to read The Ten Commandments of the Serious Writer?
Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat revolutionised my writing–or rather, my storytelling. It’s primarily a screenwriting book, but the principles apply just as well to fiction. My favourite part is the Beat Sheet: a list of elements making up the classic Three Act Structure.
Snyder is quite exacting about the timing of these elements, down to the script page number. A story can be more flexible than a film, but this still provides a great sense of timing. Your Act 1 doesn’t necessarily have to finish at precisely 25%, but if it finishes at 72% it’s a good indication that your pacing is off (or your story needs to be a lot longer.)
Some writers find the concept of structure constricting, but for me it was liberating. I would often find myself with cool characters in an interesting scenario, and then sit there wondering what should happen next. Keeping the Beat Sheet at the back of my mind helps me realise what HAS to happen next. It provides a natural progression for the story.
Snyder’s 15 point Beat Sheet can be found here: http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/
The blog section of the site also provides some fascinating breakdowns of films, which are well worth a look. Once you know it’s there, you start seeing this structural skeleton everywhere–it’s like having X-ray Vision.
I use a 12 point adaptation of the Beat Sheet, and it’s served me very well–even for very short stories. To show a working example, my dark fantasy Never Leave Me, recently published at Daily Science Fiction (free to read here: http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/magic-and-wizardry/michelle-ann-king/never-leave-me) is only 1,280 words long–but the Beats are still there:
Normal World: MC’s current struggles, in their current environment.
The opening paragraph is a reference to fairy tales, both to set the tone for the story and to introduce Katrine’s problem: the reality of her ‘happy ever after’ hasn’t matched her expectations.
Inciting Incident: An event caused by the Antagonist that changes the situation.
The Antagonist here is Aron–even though he doesn’t know it. He provides opposition by not being the kind of husband Katrine really wants. He sets things in motion by going hunting and leaving her behind.
The Challenge: MC debates what this means & what to do about it.
Katrine makes Aron swear not to leave, but it’s not enough–she’s not satisfied. She wants to guarantee it.
Start the Revolution: MC takes action towards achieving their goal.
Katrine goes to the village witch for help.
Reactions & Progress: MC learns info, gains skills, discovers problems.
Katrine learns that the spell she wants does exist, but the witch won’t perform it for her.
Midpoint of No Return: A game-changer, risk or revelation that raises the stakes.
Katrine kills the witch and takes her magic.
Setbacks & Complications: Antagonist fights back, MC is demoralised.
Aron is horrified by what she’s done. Their relationship sours.
All Is Lost: Defeat. The Goal looks lost.
The marriage breaks down completely: Aron no longer loves her and Katrine no longer wants him to stay–but the spell keeps them together.
Bonus Whiff of Death: an image of rotting fruit.
Dark Night of the Soul: Emotional reaction to the All Is Lost moment.
Demonstrating the flexibility available to a short story, the whole beat here is contained in a single line: Katrine wept, and he did not comfort her.
The Comeback: MC decides to give it a final go.
Katrine tries to break the spell.
Final Battle: MC fights the Antagonist.
Unable to loosen the magical binding, Katrine attacks Aron and kills him.
New World: MC in their new situation.
In Never Leave Me, this beat is not actually on the page. It’s still in the story, but it takes place totally in the reader’s mind–which is probably why people have found it so haunting. As is so often the case, the scariest monsters are the ones you don’t describe.
Michelle Ann King writes SF, dark fantasy and horror from her kitchen table in Essex, England. Her stories have appeared in various venues, including Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra Magazine, and Untied Shoelaces of the Mind.
She has worked as a mortgage underwriter, supermarket cashier, makeup artist, tarot reader and insurance claims handler before having the good fortune to be able to write full-time. Find details of her stories and books at http://www.transientcactus.co.uk
Next week I’ll be following one of my new rules for productivity–I will take breaks from Dianna’s Writing Den–so I thought I’d gather up some posts for you to read during the week I’ll be away. Today’s posts are all about writing fiction.
Circumlocation at it’s best or worst–at Live Write Thrive will tell you about the concept of circumlocation. Hint: It’s similar to overwriting.
Worldbuilding: Coming of Age Rituals and Coming of Age over at Marshall Ryan Maresca’s blog discusses the many different options for coming of age rituals.
Sci-Fi Deak Style is the first of a new series of posts on the Penumbra blog about “science that doesn’t work well in science fiction… But has to”. This post introduces the series and the conundrum many science fiction writers face when trying to write a great story.
Readers Owe Writers Approximately Zip-Nada-Zero over at Terrible Minds is an excellent post about what readers don’t have to do for writers. This is also one of my favourite blogs, but be warned, it’s usually very profane.
Hopefully this will keep you reading all next week. Have a lovely weekend and I’ll be seeing you on the 29th.
Last month, I became a published author for the second time. You’d think I’d feel successful, wouldn’t you? I have two books with prestigious houses, both of which received excellent national reviews; I’ve been anthologized and gotten awards, been flown by Random House on book tours and chauffeured around by media escorts, been interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.
And yet, like every other writer in the world, I can name a thousand others who’ve achieved more. Much, much more—whether it’s money, fame, acclaim, awards, or a combination thereof, there’s always someone who leaves you in the dust.
Success, I learned with my first book, The Territory of Men, is a moving target that can cripple you with frustration. One day, for example, 75 people would come to a reading; the next week, in another town, eight might dribble in. I’d open my email one morning to find a great review in The Washington Post or USA Today, and an invitation to teach at a prominent conference. Then my inbox was empty for a month.
The longer your book is out, the more sporadic the attention; if you don’t publish another, it can fade away altogether, like a photograph of a fabulous event no one remembers.
Two years after my first book, I started a family, and for a long while, stopped writing. Meanwhile others continued to revel in success! For years, every Sunday morning I’d sit with my empty notebook while reading the steady cascade of achievement in The New York Times Book Review.
When my marriage fell apart, and I lost half custody of my son, I moved to an isolated cabin in the Sierras. For the next year I healed by walking in the wilderness and writing words on the page. Those pages became my next memoir, The Forest House. While I loved writing the book, I wasn’t looking forward to the publication process, and all the stress over whether it would succeed.
What helped was my peer, Alison Singh Gee, whose lovely memoir, Where the Peacocks Sing, came out at the same time. Even though we were ostensibly competitors, we were also friends who had much in common: we both teach college writing and are mothers of one young child. We even blurbed each others’ books. As reviews came in we’d “like” the links on each others’ FB pages; and we’d comment on the gleaming photos of our book covers. During our book tours we’d post promotional blogs about our respective events.
Yet over the months, we emailed and called each other privately. I knew her worry, understood her hopes and disappointment, and she knew mine. We’d both taken those long drives to bookstores on school nights—all the while wondering if more than a handful of readers would show up—and felt the same weight of the piles of ungraded papers and mounting chores waiting at home.
I shared the disillusionment that comes from watching your Amazon sales rank ebb and flow, then ebb again. I’d also tasted the same bittersweetness of the mixed review.
It was as if this time, with Alison, I had a constant reality check. She helped me see through the smoke and mirrors of the author’s “glamorous” life.
Like travelers on an escalator we’d wave to each other as we moved up and down the fickle ladder of success. We both know there’s a place you have to reach—no matter what stage you’re at as a writer—where you feel that someone else’s success is your success. If you can get there, it’s a wonderful, liberating place to be—and from it your own work will soar.
And so when Alison’s book was praised in Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine, I was happy for her; and when I was asked to do a guest blog for The Huffington Post, she cheered for me.
What I’ve learned over the past decade is that envy can poison your creativity—it’ll stain your writing like blood spilled across a page. It implies not only deprivation—something is missing in our world—but someone else has what we don’t. Looked at so simply it’s not hard to imagine envy has its roots in childhood. My son is in the first grade, and I’ve seen the raw expression of envy in children’s faces: I want what you have—give it to me!
The ultimate antidote for envy, which comes from our basest selves, is gratitude—which comes from our highest.
For it’s only from a place of plenty that we have something to give. And that’s what writing is, in the end—a gift, one we have and one we give to others.
No, it’s not an easy solution. Like any good habit, gratitude takes work. I have to remind myself to do it, and then it’s often grudgingly at first. So I’m grateful to the writers who write such wonderful stories and poems and articles, who’ve enriched my world with a lifetime of pleasure and enlightenment.
I’m grateful to my friends like Alison who remind me that I’m not alone, that my best is good enough, and that most of all, the words I write are worth it.
Bio: Joelle Fraser is the author of the memoirs The Territory of Men (Random House 2003) and The Forest House (2013). A MacDowell Fellow, she has an MFA from the University of Iowa. She teaches writing and lives in northeast California with her son. Find her at http://www.joellefraser.com.
You can purchase a copy of The Forest House here.
Many writers speak of writer’s block, an inability to create new work or to finish a project. They discuss a mental wall stopping them from reaching the creative part of their brain. Hundreds, probably thousands, of articles have been written about writer’s block, what it is and how to cure it.
Yet there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of writers who don’t believe in writer’s block.
I take the middle ground on this one. Writer’s block could be anything. It might be all in your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Often it’s a symptom of other issues in our lives or the story we’re working on. Other times it’s just an excuse for not wanting to write. What’s important is moving away from the term “writer’s block”. You have to figure out what your specific issue is and deal with that. By figuring out the underlying issue, you can overcome it and eliminate your block.
I’ve created a list of possible causes for writer’s block and how to overcome them. Even if you’re not suffering from “writer’s block” now, figuring out what usually causes your creativity to stop flowing allows you to create systems to stay creative. So take a look at this list and figure out what you can do to overcome your “writer’s block”.
Possible Causes/Treatments for Writer’s Block
Cause: story flaws– sometimes the cause of writer’s block isn’t you, it’s the story you’re working on. It could be that your story isn’t structurally sound. It could be that you’ve chosen the wrong viewpoint character. You might need to do more research to flesh out one of your ideas. There are all kinds of reasons why you might get stuck on a particular story.
Treatment: figuring it out– the first thing you have to do is figure out whether or not your main problem is a story issue. Analyze your story. Are all the events in the right order? Do they all belong to this story, or does one of them stick out like a sore thumb? Is your viewpoint character the right one to tell this story? Or are they unsure of what’s going on or just plain irritating? Have you done enough research to write about these issues/in this time period properly?
Read through what you’ve written so far and ask yourself these questions. Once you’ve figured out the issue, there are many ways to solve it. You might take out a scene that sends your story in the wrong direction, switch viewpoint characters or take a day to do research. Sometimes a story is just not meant for you and you’ll realize you can’t write this story at all, or that you can’t write it now for various reasons. It’s okay to put these stories away and move on to something else. I personally have a four book series perfectly outlined that I probably won’t write for another ten years. The important thing is that I kept the notes and that I’m always working on other projects.
You can always come back to it. If the story is really causing you heartache and you don’t know why, maybe it’s time to move on.
Cause: perfectionism– perfectionism is creativity’s worst enemy. Often we get bogged down in our desire to be “perfect”. Millions of dollars are spent on perfection, but the irony is that there’s no such thing as perfect. For one thing, nothing can please everyone, so even if it’s perfect to you, it won’t be perfect to the next person. Besides, people are imperfect, and thus our creations are imperfect.
Treatment: give yourself permission to write crap– and remember that you don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to. Remember that first drafts are always crap. Second and even third drafts are usually crap too. Some people spend twenty years editing one book. I’ve already spent seven working on one, and I know that the draft I’m working on is still imperfect and always will be.
Perfectionism can not only stop you from writing a draft, but it can stop you from submitting. Admit that at some point you need to stop editing and start submitting. I personally know that I have almost reached that point with Moonshadow’s Guardian. I’m working on a submission package and preparing to let it go, knowing that it is not perfect now and that it never will be.
Tell yourself it’s okay to write crap. Know that nothing you create will ever be perfect and instead focus on making it the best you can make it. Write a note to yourself explaining that all first drafts are crap and that it will never be perfect, and tape that to your desk. Every time perfectionism slows you down, remind yourself: you’re not perfect and you never will be. Your work will never be perfect. Neither was Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter wasn’t perfect. Twilight definitely wasn’t perfect. You don’t have to be perfect for people to love you and your work, so stop trying so hard to reach this impossible ideal.
Cause: burnout– at this point in my life burnout is the most common reason for me to feel uninspired. It’s caused by doing way too much and starting way too many projects. This is getting more and more common as people work harder and longer hours, as we are constantly expected to be available via smartphone and to take on more responsibility in order to keep our jobs which never pay enough. Sometimes burnout is caused by a demanding boss, but often it’s ourselves who cause it. We take on too many commitments. We underestimate how long things will take us. We don’t give ourselves time to recharge.
Treatment: relax– sometimes all you need to do is take a break. Go for a walk. Take a hot bubble bath. Read a book purely for entertainment. Start saying no to unnecessary commitments. Take regular time for yourself. Sometimes all you need to get creative again is a little me time. In today’s busy world, it’s hard to carve out time for yourself, but nothing could be more important for a writer.
Make yourself–and your creativity–your first priority. If you don’t care for yourself, who will?
There are all kinds of real issues that writers call “writer’s block”, but the important thing to remember is that all of them can be overcome. All you have to do is figure out what your problem is and get to work.
What usually causes your writer’s block? How do you overcome it?
I’m always on a quest to get to know my readers better, so today I’d like to hear from you:
Do you read primarily fiction or non-fiction? Which do you prefer reading? Which do you prefer to write?
Answer in the comments below and feel free to ask me a question of your own.
One of my goals for this year is to write twelve guest posts(my first one went up here last Friday). I also recently decided that I’d like to accept more guest posts here.
I put quite a bit of effort into figuring out how to accomplish these goals when I realized the answer was right in front of me. So, after some careful thought and planning, here is the solution:
The Great Guest Post Exchange
Here’s how this is going to work: I’m going to write a guest post for your blog and in return you’ll write a guest post for my blog. We’re going to commit to giving each other high quality pieces because we don’t want to ruin each other’s reputation. We’re not going to set strict deadlines because these aren’t paid pieces and life gets in the way, but we’re going to get these posts to each other within a month of making the commitment. If for any reason one of us can’t finish their post within that month, we’ll talk about it and create a new deadline.
We are going to post on each other’s blogs and promote our respective posts. We are going to respond to all the comments on our respective blog posts because that’s what professionals do.
Here’s how this won’t work: I will not automatically accept your post because it is there, and I won’t expect you to accept my post just because it’s there either. I will not publish substandard posts or posts that don’t help my readers in some way, and I hope you will follow the same standards on your blog. You will not re-publish your guest post for 30 days after it goes live on my blog, preferably not at all. I will not re-publish my guest post to your blog for the same amount of time, and if you’d like to feel exclusive I won’t re-publish it at all.
I am your colleague, not just a publicity outlet.
All that being said, to participate in the Great Guest Post Exchange, please either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your proposal OR leave your email in the comments below. Feel free to also ask any questions or raise any concerns you might have about the Great Guest Post Exchange.