“One Page a Day . . .”

Writing in Overdrive by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive
by Jim Denney

The following is an excerpt from my new book for serious writers, Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly.

One of the most acclaimed novelists of the 20th century is Sir V.S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad) Naipaul. A Trinidad-born Briton of East Indian descent, V.S. Naipaul is the author of such acclaimed works as A Bend in the River and The Enigma of Arrival. He was knighted in 1990 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

In his early life, he received a great deal of encouragement and writing instruction from his father, journalist Seepersad Naipaul. In fact, the father dreamed of becoming a novelist himself. But the senior Naipaul never completed the manuscript he worked on for many years, and he died never knowing his son would one day achieve the success that eluded him.

V.S. Naipaul succeeded because he was intensely committed to his craft. He would arise while it was still dark and write thousands of words before sun-up. Writing was his unbreakable daily habit.

Naipaul’s father, by contrast, lacked the all-important qualities that every successful writer must have: serious commitment, serious focus, and serious self-discipline. A chronic procrastinator, the father promised himself that “someday” he would get his novel written. He made many excuses for not writing.

Father and son often exchanged letters about the writing profession, and V.S. encouraged his father to become more disciplined as a writer. “Your experience is wide,” V.S. wrote, “and if you write merely one page a day, you will shortly find that you have a novel on your hands. … Stop making excuses. Once you start writing you will find ideas flooding upon you.”

But Seepersad Naipaul wouldn’t take his son’s advice. He’d write a few short stories, submit them to magazines — and sink into a deep depression when the stories came back rejected. Sometimes he became so discouraged that he’d stop writing for weeks at a time. Meanwhile, V.S. wrote dozens of short stories, submitted them again and again, received rejection after rejection — but refused to give up. As he explained in a letter to his sister, “This is my apprenticeship, and one expects rejections.”10

V.S. Naipaul became a Nobel laureate. His father died without achieving his dreams and fulfilling his potential. What separated these two writers? The son was serious and focused on his goals, the father was not. If you want to write brilliantly by writing in overdrive, then approach your craft with a serious concentration on your goals.

Let Your Words Pull You

Writing in Overdrive by Jim Denney

Writing in Overdrive
by Jim Denney

Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, talked about his need for speed as a writer. He set a daily goal of ten pages per day, or about 2,000 words. This would add up to about 180,000 words over three months — and three months, he said, was the maximum anyone should take to write the first draft of a novel. Any longer than that and the story begins to go stale in the writer’s imagination. “Only under dire circumstances,” he observed, “do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He wrote one dystopian science fiction novel, The Running Man, in a single week.

King described the euphoric sensation of being in a creative flow and writing quickly: “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. 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. If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, 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.”

Stephen King knows. The faster you write, the more confidently you write. You must write fast enough to stay ahead of the doubts. When you write quickly, when you enter that inspired state of creative flow, you’ll find you write brilliantly.

Detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler put it this way: “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” So let your words pull you. Let your creativity and confidence flow through you. Write brilliantly. Write fast. In Writing in Overdrive, I’ll show you how.

Do You Have the Fire?

In Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Lawrence Block retells an old story.

A young musician approached a world-renowned violinist. “Master,” the young man said, “I want to pursue a life in music. I know I play well, but I don’t know if I have the talent to become great. If you give me encouragement, I’ll devote my life to music.”

This article is an excerpt from QUIT YOUR DAY JOB, a sound, strategic plan for building your career as a full-time writer. Author Jim Denney has been a full-time, self-employed writer since 1989.

“Play,” said the master.

The young man poured his heart out through his violin and played every note flawlessly. Then he waited for the verdict from the lips of the master.

The master violinist shook his head. “No,” he said. “You lack the fire.”

The young violinist was shattered. He walked away, depressed and despondent. He set aside his violin and studied for a career in business.

Years passed. One day, he heard that the old violinist was in town to give a concert, so he went to the master’s hotel room to call on him. When the master answered the door, the businessman said, “Years ago, I played for you and asked if you thought I had talent.”

“I think I recall you,” the master said uncertainly.

“You said, ‘You lack the fire.’ I was bitterly disappointed, but I had to be realistic and accept your judgment. So I chose a career in the business world, and I’ve become very successful. But one question nags at me: How could you tell that I lacked the fire?”

“Oh, I can’t tell anything from hearing you play one time,” said the master. “Whenever a young musician plays for me, I say, ‘You lack the fire.’”

The businessman gasped with outrage. “How dare you!” he sputtered. “I played my heart out for you! I looked to you for encouragement, and you shattered my dreams! How could you do that to me?”

The master was unmoved. “I said you lacked the fire and I was right. No one could have kept you from your dreams—if you had the fire.”

Do you have the fire to be writer? If you lack the fire, nothing can help you. If the fire burns in you, nothing can stop you.

If you are a writer, you will write.

The Blog Hop Tour

Ten Questions for “The Next Big Thing”

A lot of my author friends have been doing the “Blog Hop” tour, in which we all answer the same set of questions about our newest (or future) releases. My thanks to award-winning suspense novelist James L. Rubart, author of Rooms, The Chair, and Soul’s Gate for pointing the way to my blog.

Thanks, also, to Dorothy Love, author of fine Southern historical fiction, for linking to this page. Dorothy is the author of the Hickory Ridge series, including Beauty for Ashes and Every Perfect Gift.

1. What is the working title of your book?

Actually, I want to talk about a series, not just one book. My Timebenders series, first published in 2002, has just been completely revised and updated, with Books 3 and 4 debuting on Christmas Day 2012. Plus, I am currently writing a brand-new book in the series with the working title War of the Electronic Brain.

The first four books in the series are Book 1: Battle before Time, Book 2: Doorway to Doom, Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Book 4: Lost in Cydonia. These books are for middle grade readers, ages 9 to 14.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for the Timebenders series came from my son, who was a kindergartner at the time (he’s now working on his master’s degree!). One day, he came to me and said, “Daddy, would you write a book with me?” I said, “Sure. What kind of book should we write?” He said, “I want to write a book about a time machine and dinosaurs.”

So we started working and we wrote a little each day for a week or two, then we forgot about it for a while. A few years later, I took a fresh look at the pages we had written, and I decided to finish the book. That first book was Battle Before Time, and the publisher asked me to write three more. Last year, I got the rights back from the original publisher, and I updated and rewrote the books, and Greenbrier Books has reissued them with stunning new covers.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

The Timebenders series is science fantasy for young readers. I deliberately chose titles that would have a campy, pulp-science-fiction feel.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a science fiction fan. When I was five years old, my favorite TV show was a space opera called Space Patrol. It had spacemen in space suits with fishbowl helmets spouting dialogue like “Smoking rockets! A cosmic storm!” And my favorite cartoon at that age was Popeye, the Ace of Space, in which Popeye battles space aliens on Mars.

In elementary school, I searched for science fiction books in the school library, and was ecstatic when I discovered A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle on the “new arrivals” shelf. I was only nine, but the scientific concepts and appealing characters captured my imagination. (I wrote about the impact of that book on my life in a recent op-ed piece.)

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My protagonists in the Timbenders series are in their early teens. To play Max McCrane, I’d cast Zach Mills of Super 8 fame (with round-lensed eyeglasses, Zach is Max). The perfect Allie O’Dell would be another Super 8 alum, Elle Fanning (with the addition of red hair and braces). C. J. Sanders, who played a young Ray Charles in Ray, would be well cast as Grady Stubblefield. For villainy, either Max von Sydow or Christopher Plummer would make an excellent Dr. Delyrius, the evil alchemist in Doorway to Doom.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Here’s Book 1: Battle Before Time in one sentence:

“Boy inventor Max McCrane turns a rusty orange Volkswagen into a time machine and takes three friends across time and space to battle a deadly dragon in a place before time began.”

Here’s Book 2: Doorway to Doom:

“Max and friends go back in time to an ancient kingdom ruled by evil King Wyvern and Max must either serve the king or doom his friends to a horrible fate.”

Here’s Book 3: Invasion of the Time Troopers:

“Max McCrane is hijacked into the past by scheming Luna Skyes, and his friends are chased through time by robot warriors of the fourth dimension, the Time Troopers.”

Here’s Book 4: Lost in Cydonia:

“A frightening miscalculation sends Max and friends to Mars, where they encounter an ancient secret guarded by strange blue-skinned creatures, the Timelings.”

Here’s Book 5: (working title of work-in-progress) War of the Electronic Brain

“Max and friends go back in time to Los Angeles in 1942, and must foil a plot to attack America and change the outcome of World War II.”

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agency.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

My first four Timebenders books were each first-drafted in about six to eight weeks (each is about 45,000 words long). Once the first draft is written, there’s a lot more work to do—additional drafts, substantive editing, copyediting, first proofs, and second proofs.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I set out to write the kind of books I enjoyed when I was a boy—a wild roller coaster ride through time and space. I wanted my readers to have the same experience I had when I was a boy reading A Wrinkle in Time, The Martian Chronicles, and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

As time travel fiction, the Timebenders tales are part of a literary tradition going back to Washington Irving, H. G. Wells, and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. There’s even an echo of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Lost in Cydonia.

And, of course, there’s a great tradition of adult time travel literature that I’ve enjoyed over the years—classic short stories such as Robert Heinlein’s “All You Zombies—” and “By His Bootstraps,” Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner’s “Vintage Season,” and Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier,” to name a few. Great time travel novels include Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol series, Gordon R. Dickson’s Time Storm, Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time, David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My son, who was in kindergarten at the time, inspired the Timebenders series. That’s why the first book in the series is dedicated to him.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I vividly recall the writing process of the first four Timebenders books, especially Book 2: Doorway to Doom. I was a couple of chapters into the second book when we were attacked on 9/11. At first, the horror of that event disrupted my creative flow. At that time, some of my writer friends actually stopped writing for a few weeks. I had a tight deadline, so I had to keep writing. I wrote with the cable TV news blaring in the background, so I could keep an ear open for news developments.

As I wrote, I kept coming up with new ideas, including a new ending for the book. Later, I realized that most of those new ideas had to do with darkness. My mood was dark, and it showed in the writing. I added a scene where Max, my protagonist, was tossed into a dungeon by the villain, Dr. Delyrius. I added another scene involving Max’s friend, Allie, threading her way through an underground maze by torchlight.

Even though the scenes dealt with darkness, they demonstrated the light of faith, hope, and courage. A number of readers have written to say that those scenes are their favorite passages in the whole series.

I recently gave an extensive interview that provides more background on the writing of the Timebenders series. You can read it at Random Writing Rants.

Thanks for stopping by on the Blog Hop Tour. Check out the Blog Hop interviews by these fine authors:

Southern historical writer Dorothy Love (author of Beauty for Ashes)

Fantasy novelist Jill Williamson (author of By Darkness Hid)

Science fiction writer Steve Rzasa (author of The Word Reclaimed)

The Grab 15 Principle

A writer’s worst enemy is procrastination.

You don’t punch a time clock. You have no boss to answer to. If you’re going to get that novel written or meet your daily word quota, you’ve got to be a self starter.

There are many reasons writers procrastinate. For some, it’s self-doubt (“I don’t know if I can do this”). Others are intimidated by the size or complexity of a novel (“I don’t know where to begin”). Still others are plagued by obsessive perfectionism (“I can’t start until everything is just right”).

The cure for procrastination is to box yourself in and leave no escape route. You must give yourself no option but to write your daily quota of words. That’s how you turn the dream of writing full-time into a daily habit.

This article is an excerpt from QUIT YOUR DAY JOB, a sound, strategic plan for building your career as a full-time writer. Author Jim Denney has been a full-time, self-employed writer since 1989.

I’m a full-time writer with over a hundred published books to my credit. Writing is my day job. But if you’re still working at a day job, you may find it hard to carve out a daily writing time. You might be struggling to find the time to write every day. If so, I have good news for you. It’s called The Grab 15 Principle.

I learned The Grab 15 Principle from my friend Bert Decker and his wife Dru Scott Decker. Bert is the founder of Decker Communications, Inc., and the author of You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard. Dru is a consultant in customer satisfaction and time management, and the author of Finding More Time in Your Life. Dru originated The Grab 15 Principle and it has absolutely revolutionized my life.

The power of this principle is its amazing simplicity. Anyone can do it. Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you have a novel to write, but you’ve been finding it impossible to free up a big chunk of writing time. The solution: Stop waiting for a big chunk of time. Instead, commit yourself to writing that novel in bite-sized chunks of 15 minutes a day. Make a commitment to “Grab 15” minutes of writing time every day.

Your best 15 minutes might be in the morning when you get up, or late at night before you go to bed, or during your lunch hour. But whatever you do, make sure your head doesn’t hit the pillow at night until you have spent at least 15 minutes working on your novel.

Don’t tell me you can’t do it. Everyone has 15 minutes to spare out of a 24 hour day. You can set your alarm earlier, go to bed later, skip Wheel of Fortune, or spend a little less time phoning or tweeting or Facebooking. We all have places in our daily schedule where time slips through the cracks. By practicing The Grab 15 Principle, you’ll stop hemorrhaging time and start making progress toward the goals that really matter to you.

I know this principle works because I have written entire novels in small, daily blocks of time that I carved out around my regular writing schedule. It sounds too easy, but there are several reasons why this principle is so powerful.

First, those 15-minute snippets of time add up. If you Grab 15 every day, you will magically add at least 91.25 hours to your year. That’s the equivalent of more than two 40-hour work weeks that have been added to your life with hardly an ounce of inconvenience.

Second, The Grab 15 Principle boosts your creativity. It keeps your head in the game. Every day, you’ll spend at least 15 minutes concentrating on your novel. You’ll remain focused on your goal day after day. Ideas and insights will come to you even when you are not writing—when you’re driving, in the shower, or drifting off to sleep—so keep a notebook handy. All of that added creativity and focus helps you make the most of your 15-minute writing sessions.

Third, once you get started on a Grab 15 session, it’s hard to stop at 15 minutes. When you’re on a roll, you want to keep going—and that bonus writing time will move you even faster toward your goals.

Fourth, The Grab 15 Principle builds good writing habits. If you’re not a full-time writer but you want to be, this is a good way to acquire a daily discipline—and a good way to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to be a professional writer. The Grab 15 Principle will help you build a daily habit that soon becomes hard to break.

So try The Grab 15 Principle. Test-drive it for a couple weeks or a month. Then drop me a line and let me know how you like it. I’m betting you’ll tell me that this simple tool has revolutionized your writing life.

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Update, December 27, 2012: Thanks to my friend, suspense novelist James Scott Bell, I learned that this column on the Grab 15 Principle was highlighted by journalist Porter Anderson, who writes on leading edge issues in the publishing industry. Read Anderson’s column, “Writing on the Ether.” Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute. As a journalist, he has worked with the CNN networks, The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other outlets. He contributes to Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blog and to Writer Unboxed. Follow Porter Anderson’s column at JaneAnderson.com.

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The Grab 15 Principle is just one of the many practical ideas

The Grab 15 Principle is just one of the many practical ideas and insights in Jim Denney’s Quit Your Day Job!: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer. A Writer’s Digest Book Club Selection, available at Barnes and Noble and at Amazon.com in trade paperback and Kindle ebook editions.

“I Eat Rejections Like Popeye Eats Spinach”

William Saroyan in 1976

William Saroyan in 1976

Before author and playwright William Saroyan made his first sale, he wrote dozens of short stories and sent them to every paying fiction market in the country. Eventually, every one of his stories was rejected by all the magazines. He had collected nothing but rejection slips.

Undaunted, Saroyan simply turned right around and sent the same stories to the same publications—and the second time around, they started selling. Why? Because there was a high turnover rate among junior editors who sifted the slush piles at those magazines. The second time Saroyan sent out those stories, they went to a whole new round of editors. And you can do the same, because there is still a high turnover rate in the publishing business today.

Submit, submit, submit—and if your work is as good as you know it is, you will sell. As Lawrence Block put it in Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, “Once you’ve got a story to the point where you think it’s worth submitting, you must submit it and submit it and submit it until someone somewhere breaks down and buys it.”

Mystery writer Donald Westlake (Bad News, Don’t Ask, and The Ax) used to paper the walls of his apartment with rejection slips. The day he sold his first story to a magazine, he celebrated by ripping those rejection slips off the wall—all 204 of them! At the time of his death in 2008, Westlake had more than a hundred published novels and nonfiction books to his credit.

Science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov observed, “Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them.” And another science-fiction writer, Brian Stableford, said: “The vital point to remember is that the swine who just sent your pearl of a story back with nothing but a coffee-stain and a printed rejection slip can be wrong. You cannot take it for granted that he is wrong, but you have an all-important margin of hope that might be enough to keep you going.”

British mystery writer Alex Keegan is the author of a number of novels featuring private investigator Catherine “Caz” Flood. His titles include Cuckoo (Anthony Award nominee, best first novel, 1995), Vulture, Kingfisher, Razorbill, and A Wild Justice. His short fiction has appeared in print and online magazines, and has been adapted by BBC Radio.

Alex Keegan has made a careful study of rejection, and has arrived at a startling statistical conclusion: If you make a persistent attack of the markets, you can develop a highly consistent and predictable ratio of sales versus rejections. “It’s a fact,” says Keegan, “that the more you submit, the more you will be rejected, but . . . you cannot fail if you work at your art, if you read, read, read, write, write, write, submit, submit, submit.”

A great antidote to the discouragement of rejection is the encouragement of a writer’s group. In January 1997, Keegan started a “Boot Camp” of committed but mostly unpublished fiction writers—eleven founding members, only three with any publishing credits. It was a hard-nosed, tough-minded, no-excuses writing group. The demands: each member must produce one short story every two weeks. The story must be submitted to the group for critique, then rewritten and submitted on the open market for publication. Though all eleven members professed a desire to write professionally, few had produced much output during the preceding twelve months, and even fewer had submitted any stories for publication.

But the rigorous demands of the Boot Camp changed that in a hurry. During the first year, 1997, the eleven Boot Campers racked up an astonishing number of sales—85 stories sold for publication either in print, online, or on the radio. One Boot Camper won the BBC World Service’s Short Story of the Year award. Keegan sold his fifth novel that year—and he sold forty short pieces. Each sale, regardless of medium, was designated a “hit.” The following year, 1998, Keegan and his fellow Boot Campers racked up over 200 hits. In 1999, over 350 hits.

It stands to reason that more submissions would result in more sales—but more submissions also means more rejections. “In 1997,” he said, “I had more rejections than in the previous forty-nine years of my life. But rejections are side effects, meaningless.” What mattered was that Keegan was writing an enormous volume of stories, and he was submitting them. If they came back, he instantly resubmitted them. Keegan made 168 submissions in 1998, which returned 107 rejections—but also returned 43 hits.

Keegan kept a spreadsheet of his submissions, and was able to calculate a “hit rate”—a ratio of sales per submissions. He found that he was consistently selling one time out of every 3.5 submissions (which was a bit higher than the “hit rate” of his fellow Boot Campers, one sale for every 4.5 submissions—and much better than his average at the beginning of his writing career, when he averaged a sale for every thirty submissions).

Many writers view rejections as bad news, or even as a personal insult. Not Alex Keegan. He views rejections as feedback. Sometimes an editor would append a hand-written note, giving Keegan insight into ways to make his work stronger and more salable the next time around. Most important of all, he knew he had a consistent batting average, and every rejection just brought him one step closer to his goal.

“I can count,” says Alex Keegan. “I know that three rejections mean a sale. I welcome rejections. . . . I eat rejections like Popeye eats spinach.”

The moral of the story: Never accept rejection as final. Keep working at your craft, keep writing, and keep submitting.

Ten Things You Love, Ten Things You Hate

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury in 1975

It’s one of my favorite pieces of writing advice from Ray Bradbury, and it’s blindingly brilliant in its utter simplicity. If you want to identify the ideas you should write about, the themes you can write passionately and believably about, follow this advice:

Make a list of ten things you love, ten things you hate, and ten things you fear. Write to celebrate the things you love, and write to destroy the things you hate and fear.

Bradbury put it this way in an interview with his biographer, Sam Weller:

“You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.”

[Interview with Sam Weller, “Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203,” The Paris Review, Spring 2010, http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6012/the-art-of-fiction-no-203-ray-bradbury.%5D

Bradbury expressed his advice this way in a 2001 keynote address at the Point Loma Writer’s Symposium By the Sea:

“Make a list of ten things you love—madly!—and write about them. Make a list of ten things you hate—and kill them! And make a list of the things you fear, your own personal nightmares, and write about them. And then the accumulation of other things that you’re not sure actually happened to you, but intuitively you write about them, as in my book Dandelion Wine.”

Bradbury also had a potent little nugget of advice for those who wrestle with writer’s block: “If you have writer’s block, you can cure it right now by stopping what you’re writing and doing something else.”

Excerpt: How to Punch Your Way Through Writer’s Block

“Books have bad patches. . . . The important thing is to get through
them,
to get the words down however ill-chosen they may seem. . . . I tell myself that
I’m going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always
tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and
tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took

the day off, and I’ll have avoided guilt and at least kept my fingers limber.”
—Lawrence Block

This thing we call “writer’s block” is a different experience for different writers. For some, it is an inability to generate ideas—imagination at an impasse. For others, it’s a lack of inspiration and motivation, an inability to get started, a sense of terminal procrastination and ennui. Sometimes writer’s block is that sense of malignant self-doubt we feel after having our work rejected, ignored, or savagely criticized.

In essence, writer’s block is simply not knowing what to write next. The ideas, scenes, and words you need are just not there. Fortunately, writer’s block is quite treatable. You just have to know a few techniques to become re-inspired and re-ignited as a writer. Let me share with you a few “block-busting” techniques I use to punch through writer’s block. I’m sure they’ll work for you.

Writer’s Block-Buster Number 1: Withdraw briefly. Sometimes pushing too hard can block your imagination. To write, you need to be relaxed, free, and uninhibited. So take 20 minutes away from your keyboard to adjust your focus. Lie down and put your feet up, close your eyes, clear your mind, pray, meditate, or daydream. Or get some exercise. Or take a hot shower. Or listen to music.

As you relax, your subconscious mind will keep working on the story. You’ll find that inspiration and ideas will seem to pop up in your mind out of nowhere. Suddenly, you’ll know exactly what you need to do—and you’ll have to hurry to your keyboard to set it all down. When your conscious mind withdraws, you give your subconscious mind freedom to play. Try it. You’ll be amazed at how creative you become when you simply take a short mental break from your writing.

For the rest of this article, go to Writer’s Block—What Is It and How Can You Avoid It.

And read Jim Denney’s first two articles in this three-part series:

The Need for Speed: How Does Writing Faster Make You A Better Writer?

How to Write Faster in Seven Easy Steps

Excerpt: The Need for Speed—Learn to Write Better by Writing Faster

From my article “The Need for Speed: How Does Writing Faster Make You a Better Writer?” Part 1:

“The faster I write the better my output. If
I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing
the words instead of being pulled by them.”
—Mystery writer Raymond Chandler

Some years back, I submitted a novel proposal to a publisher. The publisher replied, “We’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is we want to publish your book. In fact, we’d like to sign you to a four-book series.”

Well, that wasn’t just good news, that was incredible news. So how bad could the bad news be?

Pretty bad, as it turned out. For starters, the advance they offered was (to put it politely) modest. The deadline they offered was humanly impossible—they wanted me to write four books in four months. Oh, and one more thing—the contract contained a $100 per day fine for late delivery.

Read the rest of the story and learn how you can write more brilliantly by learning to write faster at Random Writing Rants.

Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly

A candid, no-nonsense appraisal of the daily grind of the writer’s life, QUIT YOUR DAY JOB lays out a sound, strategic plan for building your career as a full-time writer. Author Jim Denney has been a full-time, self-employed writer since 1989.

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
—Lawrence Block

The following is an excerpt from my book on writing for a living, Quit Your Day Job: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer (Linden Publishing, 2003, and a Writer’s Digest Book Club Selection). The book is available in paperback and as an ebook at Amazon.com and in paperback at BarnesAndNoble.com.

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A young woman came up to me after a workshop where I spoke on writing for a living. “My problem,” she said, “is that I never finish anything. I’m so afraid someone will see a mistake in my story that I go over it and over it, trying to make everything perfect. I write a paragraph, and then I rewrite it and rewrite it before going on to the next paragraph. Sometimes, I can’t even get started on a story. I know what I want the story to be about, and I know my characters and my plot. But until I can think of the perfect opening sentence, I can’t write the rest of the story.”

Obsessive perfectionism is deadly to good writing. It not only keeps you from finishing a book or story—it can even keep you from starting. If you are obsessed with writing the perfect book, you’ll end up with no book at all. The solution: Give yourself permission to write a bad book.

I give myself that permission all the time. When you are okay with the idea of writing badly, you allow the words to flow. A lot of them will be lousy words, formed into wretched sentences. But some of them will be good. A few will be great. You simply keep the good words and delete the rest.

The beauty of writing on computers is that you are not writing on paper—you’re just shoving electrons around. Your words are not chiseled in stone or even typed on paper.  Until you actually print out your manuscript, your sentences exist only as invisible traces on the ferromagnetic coating of your hard drive. So what have you got to lose by writing a bad sentence?

In the old days, a writer used to sit at a typewriter, with crumpled paper overflowing from a wastebasket, with scores of paper balls littering the floor. Back then, if you wrote a bad sentence, you defiled a sheet of paper. Today, if you write a bad sentence, you just highlight it, tap one key, and make it disappear. So relax. Have fun. Write badly. Brainstorm. Experiment. Throw some really awful sentences on the screen, then read them and laugh. Then think about it. Some little notion of genius may lurk in one of those bad sentences. A horrible sentence may give you a clue to a classic line that will live forever. It happens all the time. . . .

You want to write the perfect book? Then put perfectionism to death. Snuff it. Terminate with extreme prejudice. Give yourself permission to write badly—and soon you’ll be writing brilliantly.

This excerpt is from Jim Denney’s Quit Your Day Job: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer (Linden Publishing, 2003), 120-121.