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‘Behind the Writer’s Curtain’ Category

  1. A Pep Talk for Writers Who Think They Suck

    June 19, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    “I suck at writing!”

    How many times have you told yourself that behind the writer’s curtain? Or publicly, on Twitter, in a forum, or to your best friend as you gobbled down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia?

    I’m here to say, “You don’t suck.”

    The fact that you’re writing means you’re putting in effort. Nothing sucky about that.

    Now, you might be a beginning writer. Nothing sucky about that either. You’re learning. Genius rarely happens when you pop out of the womb.

    I took golf lessons in college. I love watching a golf game on television. There’s something meditative about all that green, the sports announcer whispering about club choices, the placid ponds that dot the grounds. But out there on the course with my own club, I spent a lot of time in the bunkers, and hollering, “Four!” as my ball sailed into another student’s thigh.

    I could moan, “I suck at golf!” But I refuse to accept that label. I haven’t yet mastered the swing. If I wanted to, I could invest years practicing my swing, but frankly, that doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather watch golf than play it.

    So, are you saying you suck at writing because you don’t want to expend the energy? Do you want an easy out? Do you want to throw in the pen?

    If so, claim it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t want to put in the work. Be honest. “I’d rather read, than write!”

    But if you want to study the craft and improve, if you want to write every day, you’ll discover that some days your writing vibrates with energy, and other days when it’s just “meh.” Some days you’ll read your work and say, “hey, that’s pretty good,” and other days when you want to rip it in half and grind it under your heel. Your writing will surprise you and embarrass you, inspire you and depress you, move you and bore you.

    That’s how it goes. Up and down. Sometimes sideways.

    Now, If you’re an old hand at writing and you play the “I suck” card, well, my friend, you’re not playing with a full deck. I implore you to set aside your work for a day and go out and play. Then come back and read it again.

    I guarantee—you’ll find something in those pages that shines. One sentence. Grab it, and use it to start a freewrite. Put the new pages away for a day, come back and read what you wrote. Find another shining sentence, use that as the start of a brand new freewrite, and keep going until you hook into something strong.

    Let’s say you just started blogging, and after a post or two, you’ve run out of ideas. The words you write sizzle out after three paragraphs. Do you suck? No! You’re learning how to blog. Maybe you don’t have a solid idea of what to blog about yet. You need time to experiment, discover your topic, discover your voice. You will. Keep at it.

    Let’s say you labored over a short story, or a book, and sent it off, and it was rejected. Do you suck? No! That particular journal or publisher wasn’t right for your work. Or you had too many typos, or cliches, or a passive voice. Or the story didn’t grab the editor. All of these things are fixable!

    Research journals or publishers to find a better fit. Submit again. And again and again and again. Have a good editor go over it with a red pen. Rewrite, if need be. Don’t use the “I suck!” excuse to avoid the work. Yeah, it can feel draining, and frustrating, having to rewrite and resubmit after you’ve invested oodles of time in the darn thing. So take a break. Recharge. Then get back to it.

    Takeaway this week:

    To learn more about submitting to literary journals, and what an editor wants, read this.

  2. When the Words Won’t Come – How to Write Again

    June 12, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    Writing can bring us pain at times. But not as much as the pain of not writing. Not-writing is a pain that bores into your psyche, drills into your bones, your soul. You can’t just not write. Yet when you sit at the task behind the writer’s curtain, nothing comes.

    What do you do? What do we all do, we who call ourselves writers even when we can’t write, when all we have to offer is this pain? Our wallet of ideas, words, images, characters, plots, metaphors, similes…empty.

    We need a writer’s bank account to draw on.

    During the fat times, when we’re bursting with ideas, when the energy of writing is flowing like an eager river, tumbling, rushing over boulders and dirt, gathering up everything in its path—during those times when we have more writerly goodies than time, we need to bank them. Save them.

    I call these write-aheads.

    Then, when the lean times come, and they do come, we have something to draw on. We open that folder of write-aheads and read a few documents, and find one that sparks something, and we tweak it. Noodle it. Expand, revise, mold it.

    Invest in some good story prompts. 

    Write a list of them yourself, or buy, borrow, or steal a book of them. Here’s one: The Writer’s Idea Book. Grab a prompt and write fast for five minutes. Grab three and link them together, quick, quick, for fifteen minutes. Sprint to the finish line, then take a breath.

    Whew! Fifteen minutes of writing. Better than none.

    Borrow words.

    Read. Other writers have provided words. Take them in. Absorb them. Let them entice you, excite you, stimulate your thinking. You’re filling the account with juice. Take their words, write them down, let them be a springboard to rebuild your own account. You’re not claiming the words as your own, you’re borrowing, so you have something to work with. See what avenues they lead you down. See what they collect. See what grows.

    Ask for a loan of support.

    Tell your tribe of writers that you’re flat broke and you need some advice. They’ll be eager to expand their experience by sharing it with you.

    “Yes, I’ve been there, too. Here’s what I did…”

    Do your writerly banking elsewhere

    Sometimes it takes going off the beaten track. Writing something foreign to you. A song lyric. A radio drama. A haiku. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or if it’s something not even a blind man would want to see. Doesn’t matter. The important thing is to throw some words on the page and fire up new neurons in the brain. The old ones need a rest.

    You’re not alone!

    Above all, know you’re not alone in this pain. We’ve all been down that road, kicked the dust with our round-toed sneakers hoping for a little rain, a little somethin’ somethin’ to unbreak the dam.

    It’s not a mirage ahead. There’s a real well full-up with ideas. You’ll stumble into it again. Have faith!

  3. How to have Faith in your Novel-Writing

    March 6, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    Writing, rewriting and editing a novel requires faith in your abilities as a writer. But what if you don’t have that faith? How do you maintain it when it lags? And do we really need faith to succeed as a writer? I asked myself these questions as I grappled with my own faith behind the writer’s curtain. Here are my answers:

    What does it mean to have faith in your writing?

    It means that you hang onto your belief in your talent, even when the critics rip it apart. You hang onto that rope that tethers you to the chair, to the keyboard, to the notebook. And when the critics snip away at that rope, you make it stronger—through practice, through learning, through experience.

    Some might say it’s not faith we need, it’s an idea so strong that it won’t let us go, it drives us to the keyboard, keeps us awake at night, shows up in our dreams and our observations, and shadows our conversations.

    That’s faith. Faith in an idea.

    What are the signs that you don’t have faith in your writing?

    You stop showing up. You find other things to replace the importance of writing in your life. Like filing your nails.

    You blame it on writer’s block.

    You know you lack faith when you write something, and immediately, as the black letters crawl across your screen or page, you condemn the words to the trash bin. You tell yourself you don’t have the chops, the juice, the genius to write a novel. So you stop.

    If you had faith, you’d keep writing. You’d let that voice have its say and then you’d write past it, leaving it hollering in the dust of the road with its battered suitcase until it’s just a tiny speck, and then a memory.

    Sayonara, sucker!

    What can you do if you lose faith?

    If your faith lags, you need to clip a winch onto it and haul it—for a mile, a day, a week, six months. You’ll want to set the load down and sleep for a good long while, but keep hauling that massive weight until one day you realize that it’s not heavy at all. It’s light as dandelion fluff. All you need to do is protect it with your heart so it doesn’t blow away and disperse. But if it does disperse, remember this: it will plant new seedlings of faith for you to find. And you will find them: in the encouraging words from a fellow writer, in the advice from a mentor, in a renewed perspective when, after time, you pick up your work and read it from a compassionate heart and see the possibility.

    When doubt creeps in, when it opens the door and slips through and darkens your view of the work, If you don’t see that doubt for what it is, you’ll lose perspective. To get your perspective back, you’ve got to push doubt aside. You’ve got to rise above that shadow and find one glowing sentence. Aha! There it is. I knew I had it in me.

    Why is faith important? Can’t we just write anyway?

    Ah, but will we? If our goal is to get published or to have eyes other than our own read our work, will we hand it over?

    If you don’t have faith in your writing, who will? Certainly not the busy commuter at the train depot looking for an entertaining read on the spinner rack. Certainly not the housewife who relishes the ten minutes she hordes to read a chapter, sitting at the kitchen table. If you don’t have faith in your writing, you won’t attract that publisher who, in an alternate reality, is eager to get your work into the hands of that housewife, that commuter. You won’t even set foot in that alternate reality, because the reality you’re creating is only as good as your faith in your ability to write.

    Why bother filling the chair with the weight of you?

    Because you must. To build faith.

    How do you get faith if you’ve never had it?

    You earn it through doing the work. You write a draft and read it, and it stinks. It’s certainly not worthy of that rack at the depot. Doesn’t matter. That’s part of the process. You’re a toddler learning to walk. You take a wobbly step and drop onto your backside. Do you give up? Do you stay put? No, you crawl a bit, get up, fall, get up, totter two steps, fall, get up, and on and on until you’re so old that you’re back on her backside; but by then you’ve experienced the world. You know. You have faith in the process.

    So, writing is a process. You write two sloppy paragraphs and then you’re stuck. You get a cheering section to urge you on. You write two more paragraphs and eventually you finish a piece and then write another and another until it all starts to click, and one day when someone gives you critical feedback it doesn’t topple you. Because you have faith that you can improve.

    But be warned: even when you have faith, it will be tested. You’ll cry when someone critiques your work. You’ll rant. You’ll be ready to admit defeat. You’ll kick your chair and neglect your computer and then you’ll discover that the person who critiqued you had a kernel of valuable advice. When you look at it from a different angle it gets your synapses firing; you’ll want to start writing again. Or you’ll discover that the person in that online writing group, who said your work is boring, is a fifteen-year-old boy! What does he know about life yet?

    Plenty, maybe. Or not so much. But you’re not about to throw away your talent because of some fifteen-year-old you don’t even know.

    That’s the attitude you need.

    Any last thoughts?

    It’s my belief, and I want you to hear this good and clear, it’s my belief that if you have an idea that holds your interest longer than a minute, an idea that grabs you and shakes you to the core— something you can’t kick away—if you’ve got this idea, and you know the language of which you speak, and the elements of your craft, and you want to spell out this idea, you want to share it with others, sit down and start writing. Sit down with this idea that has you by the tonsils, and squeeze out a description. A sentence. A paragraph. A scene.

    Writing a novel requires faith. Faith that the words will come, the idea will hold interest, the characters will appear real and dimensional, the conflict will grab the reader, the book will get published. Faith that whatever you write is worthy, and that you have the talent to make it so.

    Well, that’s a truckload of faith, you might say. But I’ll tell you straight up: it only takes a seed. Belief.

    Belief is telling yourself it’s so. Telling yourself it’s so is putting words in your head. Putting words in your head is something we do all the time. So why not choose the words you want to believe?

    Who says you can’t write a novel?

    Well, plenty can.

    Make sure you’re not one of them.