Fear of Writing

Oh, we feel it. Man, do we feel it. I’m sweating just looking at this page:

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by Charlotte Rains Dixon (WordStrumpet.Com)

When I was invited to speak to the Living Writer’s Collective in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, my topic was the Fear of Writing.   The subject was enthusiastically received, with several writers sheepishly admitting to me that they suffered from it (and Lord knows I’ve dealt with it off and on throughout my career), so I thought I’d adapt part of my talk here.

I’ve identified two broad arenas that your fears of writing might fall within:

Process

This is when you fear sitting down and putting words on the page.  You might not think that you actually have this fear, because fear is a sneaky beast that masquerades as all kinds of other things.  Like suddenly needing, desperatelyneeding, to do laundry.  Or mop the kitchen floor.  Or go grocery shopping.  Or do just about anything but get to the page in the time you’ve allotted to write.

The fear of the writing process can also pop up once you’ve actually gotten to the computer.  There you sit, facing that wonderful blank screen.  When you get tired of looking at the screen, you gaze out the window.  And then maybe you go grab yourself a cup of coffee and stare out the kitchen window for awhile.  I’ve got news for you–all this staring is not writing.

Or, has this ever happened to you?  You are writing along, lost in the process and suddenly your fingers come to a halt.  You’ve written something that’s threatening to the old ego.  And now you’re terrified.  All was fine one minute and then next, well, it’s not.

Product

Product fears gather around putting your work out in the world.  What if you’re rejected?  What if people don’t like your book when it’s published?  What if you get a bad book review or your mother reads it and is shocked?  What if you wrote a thriller about a murdered and people think you have first-hand experience with crime?  The what ifs go on and on and on, and many of them are as silly as the last one I listed.  But here’s the deal: fears are often silly.  But they take on enormous power despite this.

So what’s a person to do?

Antidotes

Here’s the bad news: the only way out is through.  Well, it may not be the only way out, but it’s the best way out.  Yup, to get over your fear of writing, you must write.  And then put it out in the world, even when you don’t want to.  In so many ways this is counter-intuitive and probably not at all what you want to hear.  Wouldn’t it be just so much easier if there were an actual program you could take that conquered your fear of writing without you having to do any writing?  Well, that program is, you guessed it, writing.

Here are a couple ways to approach it that might help:

–Try freewriting.  This old favorite really does work.  If you do it correctly, it bypasses the conscious mind and taps you into something deeper, beyond fear.  The way to do it is this: pick a prompt (any prompt, it doesn’t matter), set a timer for 20 minutes, and then write.  Write without stopping, even if you are writing the same word over and over again.  Keep the flow going–it is this that subverts the fear.  And don’t worry about staying on topic, you probably won’t.  When you’re done, underline or highlight anything that you might find useful and use this as a starting point for another writing session.

–Chunk it down.  Many of us writers are big-picture people.  We look at a project and see the whole thing all at once.  This has many advantages, but a big disadvantage is that it can be overwhelming.   Remind yourself that you only need to look at your project in little bits.  Make a loose outline and take one line of it at a time and write to that.  Then take the next line, and then the next, until you have a rough draft for each item on the list.

–Take time for process time.  In a book called Around the Writer’s Block, author Roseanne Bane talks about how important process time is to writers.  By this she means things like journaling, or morning pages.  It can be a conundrum: take precious writing time to journal or get right to the project at hand?  But studies have shown that taking time for process writing helps you beat writing resistance on a consistent basis.

–Approach it playfully.  Try some fun writing exercises every once in awhile.  Open a dictionary at random and fun your finger down the page.  Use the word you land on as a prompt.  Combine it with anothe word and make the start of a sentence and then use that.  Cut up old manuscripts into long strips, one line to a strip and put them in a box. Choose one and use as a prompt.

–Write something different.  I know I get stuck on thinking that I must work on my novel and only my novel.  But last fall at a workshop I tried my hand at Flash Fiction and loved it.  Writing that could be a quick warm-up to displace your fears.  So could writing Haiku.

–Remember to write and let everything else fall into place.  Because it will.  Your job is to put words on the page.  This is the best thing to remember when you feel that fear of putting your work out in the world, or of submitting it to editors or agents.  Your job is to write.  It’s not to worry about what people are going to think of the final product.  At the heart of it all, you just need to write.

Sage words. Except that our fear is primarily of the very need to write. We’re terrified of this addiction. What can we do? Anybody?

5 Tips To Getting Published

Some helpful words from an internet writing guru who doesn’t know we exist…oh, the humanity of it all!

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by Charlotte Rains Dixon (Wordstrumpet.Com)

So, as most of you know, my novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behaviordebuts on February 12th.

The road to getting published was long.  Veeeeerrrrry long.  And I learned a few things along the way, like what it takes to get a book out into the world.  So today I look at 5 tips that allowed me to finally succeed at that.

Here’s the deal: you all know the basics of how to get published, right?  You research agents and publishing houses that might be a good fit for your book, write a stellar query letter, and then you send it out.  And send it out again.  And again.  That process hasn’t changed, even with the advent of indie publishing (which is a whole different process), and it’s not likely to any time soon.

But what you might not know is what lies beneath the above process, the mindset that you need to develop in order to find success in the publishing marketplace. And that, my friends, is what this article is about.  This mindset is in some ways as important if not more important than anything else, because developing a strong underpinning to what you do as a writer will carry you through your career.

So, here’s to a publishing mindset, which takes:

1.  Willingness.  You need to be willing to do the things you think you don’t need to do–like establish an author’s platform while you are writing the book.  You need to be willing to master social media, start a blog, begin connecting with your future audience.  Long gone are the days when all writers had to do was sit back, write and let their publishers do all the marketing.  You’ll be expected to participate, and it’s going to be a lot easier if you get a head start.  Agents and editors look at things like your blog, and your social media presence these days.

2.  Consistency.  There’s nothing sadder than coming across a blog whose last post was six months ago.  Or a year ago.  Start your blog and be consistent with it.  Get on Twitter, and keep tweeting.  Polish your query, and keep sending it out, even after you’ve been rejected a gazillion times.  Work on your WIP regularly, as often as you possibly can. It’s the writers who keep at it who eventually get the win.  I know, I’m one of them.

3.  Determination.  Are you going to quit the first time it gets hard to accomplish your daily quota of pages or word count?  Are you going to stop the second you get a rejection?  Are you going to give up when you can’t figure out how to format your novel to indie publish it?  You better not, because both of those things will happen a lot.  To be a successful writer takes determination and perserverance in spades. If you don’t force yourself to do whatever it takes to send the work out, your words will remain stashed in a drawer.

4. Creativity.  You can be the most lyrical writer in the world, but if you don’t find ways to plant yourself in front of the computer, the words won’t get written.  It all begins and ends with the writing and if you put the writing first, everything else will take care of itself.  Master techniques to get your butt planted in that chair.

5.  Craziness.  To commit yourself to a writing-centered life and vow to get published takes a bit of craziness.  It just does.  It’s ever so much easier to be content at a 9-to-5 job, come home, eat dinner and turn on the TV.  Not you, because you come home, eat dinner, and turn on the computer to write, with no guarantee that anyone will ever see those words.  That’s crazy, isn’t it?  So be it.  I happen to believe it’s also the most important thing you can do, crazy or not.

How about it?  What do you think is the most important mindset a writer needs to have?

**If you’re interested in learning more about publishing, I’ll cover what I’ve learned in the bonus session of my Get Your Novel Written Now class.  Registration is now open, with early-bird pricing in effect until the end of the month.  Register now.

Hey, Charlotte’s got a class. We recommend it. Tell her TVWriter™ sent you. Yeah, that’ll do it.

Fundamentals of Fiction

One of the web’s most thoughtful writers writes about fiction on her way cool Wordstrumpet.Com blog:

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by Charlotte Rains Dixon (Wordstrumpet.Com)

Novel writing is much on my mind these days.  If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my debut novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, is due out February 12.  Not only that, but next week I’ll be in Nashville to talk to a local writer’s group and give a workshop about Scene and Structure in fiction.  And, to top it all off, I will be once again offering my teleclass, Get Your Novel Written Now, in March (though early-bird registration is open).

So, yeah, novel writing is on my mind, big time.  And as I proof the final copy for Emma Jean, as well as continue to work on my next novel, I’m reminded of what it takes to actually write a novel.  Which, let it be known, is a lot.  Even though its about the most fun you can have, ever, it is a lot.  But the actual writing of every novel has a starting point.

Fundamentals of Fiction

And that starting point is the fundamentals of fiction.  A writer desirous of penning a novel could do no better than to begin with the basics.

So what are the fundamentals of fiction?

You can get all kinds of answers to this question. I was in a workshop in Nashville last September  and when a fellow instructor asked this question, we got about a dozen definitions. But, and this is a big but, it is possible to winnow the fundamentals down to five main areas, and these are the areas I’m going to consider today:

A. Story

B. Character

C. Setting

D. Style

E. Theme

Let’s look at them each briefly.  (Briefly because this is a blog post, not a class or an Ebook.  And one could write volumes about each fundamental.) Here goes:

Story. An editor recently told me that story is the basis of fiction. I know, a no-brainer. Except I argued that character is the basis of fiction, because I believe that all stories grow out of character.  But all this is really a chicken and egg thing.  Suffice it to say that without story, you don’t have a novel.

Character. What I said above. To me, all stories start with character.  Who is your protagonist?  Your antagonist? What are your character’s problems?  Their deepest desires?  What gets in the way of those deep desires?  How does one character’s deep desires confict with another?  And so on.

Setting. Where do your characters live and work? What’s their world? Do they live in the big city or the country?  Maybe an alternative world?  A different planet? Setting also comprises the things that surround your character, like their furnishing, their books, and so on. And don’t forget that setting also includes time.

Style. This is your voice. It’s the way you put words together in a sentence, the way you arrange sentences and so on.  My favorite quote about style is this, from editor Chris Roerden: “A writer’s voice gets buried in ineffective writing habits.” Much of this is last draft stuff, working with word choice, looking for active verbs, etc.

Theme. What’s it all about? What is the thematic statement you’re making? Too many would-be novelists over-think this. Start where you are and let the theme emerge as you write. Trust me, it will.  I have to admit, I’m a bit laissez-faire about this, because I’ve seen it emerge in the writing over and over again.

What do you think?  Do you agree with this definition of the fundamentals of fiction?  Or would you include something else?

Essential Conditions for Writing Success

Our essential condition for writing success is a workable definition of “success.” But Charlotte Rains Dixon is more pragmatic:

writing_stuffby Charlotte Rains Dixon (Wordstrumpet.com)

What, exactly, are the essential conditions for writing success, you ask?

Here’s a hint:  only you can figure them out for yourself.

Let me explain a bit about the type of conditions I’m talking about here.

Last month (I guess it’s actually last year now) I took an afternoon workshop from a fabulous woman named Janet Connor.  In it she told the story of how she went from making an appointment to consult with a bankruptcy attorney to making $12,000 in one month.

Janet figured out the secret to manifestation.  And that secret is this, from Thich Nhat Hanh: “When the conditions are sufficient, there is a manifestation.”  Turns out this is also, in slightly different words, of course, wisdom from Jesus and the Buddha and probably a whole host of other wise figures as well.

Once you get the underlying conditions of your life in order, all else will follow.

Janet’s conditions are of a spiritual nature, things like saying her prayers out loud every day.  I think it’s a wonderful idea to figure out what your spiritual conditions for a fabulous life might be, but our topic here is writing.  And I believe the concept of uncovering the conditions that will call forth your best writing (and thus, I also believe, your best self) can be enormously beneficial as we start this new year.

Only you know what your conditions will be, but to give you a little boost, I offer up my own as an example:

–Deep journaling every morning.  This is not the same as morning pages, at least to me.  Yes, I do them first thing every day and yes they are free-form and uncrafted.  But my morning pages tend to devolve into to-do lists and minor rants about what’s wrong with my life.  My deep journaling is more exploratory, more questioning, more connected to spirit.

–Write at least one hour every day on my own projects.  As a writer and a writing teacher, I do a lot of workaround writing.  I read and comment on manuscripts.  I write blog posts and newsletters and guest posts.  I create workshops and classes.  I love doing all these things, but sometimes my own writing gets pushed aside.  And so one of my conditions is to spend at least one hour every day writing, really writing, on my own projects.

–Breathe.  Sometimes I become conscious that my breathe has caught in my throat.  Yeah, not a good thing for a writer, seeing as how the communication chakra is located in the throat.  How can I hope to write freely if I’m not breathing freely?

–Ask for help.  When things aren’t going well, I need to remember to ask for help.  I intended this to be about asking for help from God (or spirit, if the word God makes your nervous, or goddess, or universe, or Allah or your higher self) because that always seems to work.  But as I started writing about it, I realized that asking for help can take many forms.  Requesting that a trusted friend read a manuscript, or hiring a coach.  The idea is to be willing to be humble enough to ask.

Those are my conditions.  Now you might be wondering how to go about figuring out yours?  Mine have revealed themselves in two ways:

–Through writing.  No, duh.  For a writer, the best way to discover anything is to write about it.

–Through meditation and prayer.  Sometimes I think that my most powerful meditation is actually through the act of writing.  But irregardless of that, I still do my best to find time to sit in silence every day.

So, how about you?  Does this idea of conditions appeal to you?  Do you know what your conditions might be?

12 Ways to Kick-Start Your Writing

If there’s one thing new writers love, it’s articles about getting their reluctant/fearful/who-the-hell knows selves to actually write. Charlotte Rains Dixon, doyenne of writer-advisors, offers her take on how we can all kick ourselves in the pants:

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by Charlotte Rains Dixon (wordstrumpet.com)

We are writers.

And writers write.  No matter what, we write.  No matter if the world seems like it is going crazy or if we’re going nuts within, our job is to write. To pour it all out on the page.  To be chroniclers and bear witness.

And yet.

Sometimes this writing, this flinging words at the page, is beyond us.  And no matter how hard we want to do it, we just don’t seem to be able to.  The words won’t come.  We can’t drag ourselves to the page.  We sit at the computer and stare off into space.

But here’s the conundrum: when you’re a writer, the only thing that makes you feel better–the only thing that makes you feel like yourself again–is to write.  So when you’re not writing, you feel even worse.  Oh, it’s a vicious, mean cycle, I tell you.  And the only way out is to get started writing again.

So, herewith, I present you with 12 ideas to kick-start your writing.  The only thing you have to do is experiment with them and see which one works for you.  Promise me you’ll do that next time you’re stalled and not just sit pretending to write when you’re really playing Spider Solitaire.  Because one of these ideas will lead you back home again.

1.  Switch it up.  Write by hand if you’re used to doing drafts on the computer, or vice versa.  Every time I get stalled on my novel, I switch to writing in a spiral notebook, et voila, the words flow once again.  It’s magical.

2.  Choose a random word from the dictionary.  Combine it with another word or use it as a one-word prompt.  It works great if it’s a word you don’t know because then your mind can go in any direction it wants.

3.   Use a sentence box.  This takes a bit of advance preparation.  Cut apart old manuscripts into sentences and put them in a bag or a box, then draw one when you get stuck and use it as a prompt.  You can also do this with words and draw several, then string them together.

4.  Pick a prompt.  The key with prompts is to pick one, any one, without thought or emotional investment.  And then just write like crazy.  Don’t try to stick to the topic of the prompt, just write and see where you end up.  I’ve got tons of prompts on this page.

5.  Use the first line of a favorite poem as a prompt.

6.  Use the last line of your WIP as a prompt.

7.  Re-read your recent work.  If this doesn’t get you back in the flow, go over notes you’ve taken.  Look through notebooks you’ve compiled about the work.  Maybe something will strike you in a new way.

8.  Read a book on writing.  Often I don’t finish reading writing books because I get so many ideas from them I go to the page and never get back to the book.

9.  Draw a card for guidance.  You can use a Tarot deck or one of the gazillion types of guidance decks from various authors.  I once went to a psychic who used a regular old deck of cards.  Have no idea what she saw in them, but the reading was fantastic!

10. Create a ritual.  Light a candle, put on some soothing music, drink a glass of water–whatever works for you.

11.  Cut out images to inspire you.  I describe this in more details in my free Ebook, Jumpstart Your Book With a Vision Board, which you can download to the right.

12.  Doodle to get your mind going.  I’m a doodler.  I doodle when I listen to lectures or in meetings.  It doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention–to the contrary, it keeps me anchored in the moment.  Lately I’ve been reading about the positive effects of doodling, and I think it’s beneficial for writing, too.

Those are some of the ideas that work for me.  How about you?  Do you have any sure-fire kick-starters that you rely on to get you going again?  Leave a comment and share.