Horror for Writers. What are your greatest fears? How can you keep those horror stories from happening to you?
Maybe this episode can help.
Welcome to the Write Focus, a podcast for writers at all levels who want to improve their skills. We focus on process, productivity, craft, and tools.
Just in time for Halloween, The Write Focus has 5 horror stories that any writer can face. While these can happen to anyone, a bit of due diligence now can prevent great unhappiness later.
We’ve all heard the list of what writers shouldn’t do:
· pester well-established writers for a newsletter swap or hashtag them in an announcement, in the hopes that they will spread your own announcement on.
· Make public our jealousy about other people’s success.
· Claim an honor that wasn’t deserved (like your small story in an anthology that became best-selling only because a best-selling author had the first story in the anthology). You then go on to claim best-selling status—when it wasn’t your story that sold the anthology.
· Claiming an award or a skill that’s not really an award or a skill.
· Not doing your research—your story gets factual information totally wrong or you never bother to look at basic writing information. You want other people to answer your questions quickly rather than spending the time to discover the answer for yourself.
These are all DON’Ts. They burn bridges, but they are not truly horrorifying.
Here are the 5 major Horrors that Writers can Face. These are true horrors that can send you into panic.
First major horror. Falling into Writer’s Block.
That’s a definite fall. We never expect writer’s block to happen. We wake up one morning and we can’t put words on the paper.
I’ve sent myself into Writer’s Block a couple of times. Once was when I was looking for a better / easier / faster way to get a novel written.
People tout outlining and blocking out scenes. That doesn’t work for me. It stymies me. A couple of years ago it stymied me for three solid months. Only when I abandoned the blocked scenes did the words surge back. I added a new character’s voice as a subprimary, and writing his scenes without plan broke the block.
Outlines must kill the surprise and curiosity that I need to get through the sloggy middle of a novel. I need that surprise and curiosity to get through the hardest part of writing.
My FIX for this mistake? I am still trying to ignore everyone else's solutions for writing and just doing what should come next for the story I want to tell. Remember, I understand story structure, so I understand pacing—which is what story structure is. I do have one structure that stays in mind while writing. That gives good guidance. I talked about it in the previous episode.
What about other kinds of writer’s block?
In my book Think like a Pro, I listed three reasons that writers tumble into writer’s block. Writer’s refusal. (That’s the one I previously encountered.) Writer’s procrastination. Writer’s inertia. All but inertia can be easily overcome. Take a quick break. Try writing something completely different for a few days. Then come back to your project and write the first sentence then the next and the next, aaaannnd the block is passed.
I’ve also experienced procrastination. Although my conscious brain didn’t tell me that something was wrong with my story, my subconscious did and refused to let me work on that story. I would sit down to write, and in 5 minutes I was off working on something else. I was procrastinating on the focus for that time. Once I worked out the problem, I returned to my focus project, and the words poured out. This will happen with you as well. Follow where your brain goes, but also bring it back to the primary project.
The third type of writer’s block is Inertia. That is a true bad boy. Inertia is more than unwillingness. It resides in stagnation or depression. Many creatives have experienced inertia in our coronacoaster plague year.
For stagnation, take a break from your current writing and do something completely different for a brief while. For depression, change your eating and hydration and exercise habits. These habit-changing activities may require three to six weeks to overcome the depression.
This is not clinical depression, that is something else. For that kind of depression, you seek professional help.
Maybe a life change is driving the depression. After a death—a family member dies or a divorce occurs or a job is lost, a house completely burning down, the economy tanking or a worldwide pandemic—we experience the emptiness that swallows everything, a huge blackhole that sucks in everything.
Time is the only thing that will get you through the inertia. Just keep trying to write. One day the words will start pouring out.
Here’s a second horror for writers. Losing your work. Crash and Burn, in other words.
Losing your file on the hard drive has happened to some writers. They take a break from their primary project to finish something about another one—such as edits and more. Before you know it, many files have intervened between you and the primary project, and you can no longer find it in quick access.
Or one of the those life-changing events occurs. When you have time to recover, you temporarily forget the project and launch into another one.
Whatever happens—and I’ve heard writers talk about finding old forgotten stories on their hard drives, something causes that file to fall into disuse.
If we don’t set up proper systems for organizing documents, any file can become lost by everything that comes behind it.
Losing it on your hard drive doesn’t mean that it’s lost. You just can’t find it easily. Sometimes we can have so many documents on a drive that the whole system can be overwhelming. Sometimes we can have so many VERSIONS of the same document that we lose track of the last one.
Last thing First, don’t make so many versions of the same document. If you want to save the original one as distinct from a later one, then give them completely different names. Or print out the original one. (You can always recycle the paper later.) Call one rough, call the second draft, call the third final. Use a system. Make a note of your system until the system becomes habit.
Second, create a folder for each project. This is easier now than from the old days when files and folders could only have 8-character names.
Making saving a constant behavior. Every time you go to a new page, do a quick save. CTRL S.
When you finish for a particular writing session (even if you have multiple sessions throughout a day), then do a full save. What do I mean by a full save? Save to more than one place.
Don’t just save to the Cloud or your Hard Drive. Save three separate and distinct electronic copies EVERY TIME. I use my hard drive and two more separate places, a flashdrive and a separate hard drive.
Reliance on the Cloud doesn’t suit me. Until three years ago my local internet service was highly unreliable. If I had saved to the Cloud, I would not have been able to access my documents. Now when the internet goes out, I turn my phone into a HotSpot. Unreliability of the internet service means that I don’t depend upon it when I want to write.
I’ve been around computers since the mid-1980s. I can remember using MS-DOS, but not for long. I remember the advent of the Icons to find files. I remember being excited about WYSIWYG, What You See Is What You Get with printing, that is, the way it looks on the screen is the way it will look when it comes out of the dot matrix printer. I remember being totally excited when the memory drives of computers did not require you to put in a floppy disk to start the program and save work to another floppy disk (an endless round of in one disk then out in order to put in 2nd disk for saving, then out and in, out and in, over and over in order to save documents). I remember Windows 3.1; I fell in love with that operating system and its Word program. Great days.
Since I’ve been around computers for that long, I know that electronic files get corrupted or can decay. (Magnets!) I know that computers crash. Sometimes when computers crash, the open document is corrupted. Sometimes the crash fries everything. So, have multiple places to save documents. I also print out, chapter by chapter, and sometimes half-chapters.
I’m paranoid. Raising my right hand here to swear to it. And I know how to recycle paper.
Even after I’ve uploaded a project to the distributor, I keep a hard copy as well as three backup copies. That’s four electronic copies: hard drive, two thumb drives, and an external drive, whether that is the cloud or a secondary hard drive.
Here’s the third Horror, which is related to the final project I just uploaded. Uploading the wrong thing to the book distributor.
As for uploading the wrong thing, well—just take it down and put it back up. If the rough version goes out when the final version should have, apologize and upload the correct version. Some online distributors allow you to mark something as a revised copy. Give your readers the steps to make the correction to their devices—just in case they do not have automatic revisions checked for their accounts.
Mistakes do happen. Usually when we are stressed or rushing to get things done. Slow down for the really important things. Speed through things when you aren’t at your writing desk. You can recover lost time by avoiding one of your daily checks of social media.
If you make a glaring and public mistake, with that apology, explain what happened and how. When we admit mistakes, people forgive more easily. Should we go along without recognizing our mistakes or ignoring them, we’re burning bridges with our readers. We are human, and humans make mistakes. Admit it and move on.
Another side of uploading the wrong thing is creating the wrong promotional post for the wrong book or the wrong day. A good calendar can keep this one straight. If you do wind up promoting as new a book that came out four years ago, follow up with an Oopsie Post. Wonder in the post the reason that book was on your mind. Here’s an opportunity to engage with readers.
And that’s the whole point of social media posts: to engage with your readers. So be human, admit mistakes, apologize, and open your writing self to questions and comments.
A third side of uploading the wrong thing is uploading content that’s full of errors, such as a promotional post. Even when we read and re-read and read again, mistakes will slip through. As soon as you spot it, delete the post and create a new one. People may screenshot your errors—but really, you should be held accountable for mistakes in a post only if you are purporting to be perfect.
And is anyone perfect? No.
If the screenshot shows up—and it may, some people are jackasses who keep receipts—then apologize and use it as an opportunity to thank the person. Be gracious—even if the person is a jackass. BTW, you don’t have to point that out. Other people will notice who is the jackass and who is not.
We’re on to the 4th Horror, each one more terrifying than the one before. This one is Revision Hell
I will tell you about one horror story of a manuscript.
Before I started my epic publishing journey, I had one novel that I continually played with, writing the whole thing in pieces.
Jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Which also had a major problem called "VERSIONS of the SAME SCENES". This is not good, people.
Some scenes had over SIX versions. Different points of view. Or the same point of view with different opinions about the events. Or the same purpose of the scene but different events in the scene. Or the same events but different outcomes.
As I finally put the novel together, I would lay out all the versions, highlight where the differences were, then start trying to figure out which version was the best one. Then I would decide what should be left out, what needed to be melted in with the other details, and what actually belonged earlier or later in the novel.
Pulling that MS together was a nightmare. I don’t pull my hair, but I wanted to.
I am still happy with the final manuscript, but for weeks I stressed about tying everything together into a cohesive novel, about meshing and melding the best parts of those different versions to create a coherent scene.
I had a second manuscript that I had tinkered with in the same way over several years, with versions of the same scene while the sequel elements between scenes were not written. When I decided to finish that MS for publication, I did not want to repeat that long summer of writing horror. So, to approach the revision, I didn't try to pull the scenes together.
I knew the goals for the scene. I would skim the old scenes for ideas and ... then I wrote completely new words and shredded the old as each scene finished.
I finished that book in less than six weeks as opposed to over three months. I’m also very happy with that novel.
Finally, 5th Horror. Screwing up your author brand
One simple way to screw over your readers is to annoy the heck out of them. How do you annoy readers? 1] You write cliffhangers. 2] You present the story as one thing when it is something else. Wrong cover for the genre, wrong book description (this can be an honest mistake from our lack of clarity about what we are actually writing). However, adding an opening to hook the readers when that’s not really what the story is about, such as having a spy thriller opening while the novel is actually a simple romance—that screws over the reader. Do you think they will trust your next book description? The 3] is my pet peeve: Writing characters that are TSTL too stupid to live (classic example: running upstairs rather than out the kitchen door). Or presenting a character as brilliant but they make the same mistake over and over again, like using their credit card repeatedly even though they know they’re being tracked by sinister villains.
Another way to screw over your readers is to argue with a reviewer, either by complaining about a one-star review in a public post or by starting a back-and-forth heated exchange with a book blogger or reviewer. You’re not going to make followers with this behavior. You WILL make people think that you look down on your readers.
The truly horrible way to screw up your author brand occurs with a public post over something much more serious than simply annoying readers with a TSTL character or a cliff-hanger when they expected a completed story.
In the past decade, a well-known and celebrated writer claimed a religious stance which offended quite a number of people. To me, that stance was antagonistic to the violence in his best-selling novel. One didn’t match the other. Why was extreme violence acceptable to him but the other behavior was not?
Recently, one famous national writing organization was littered with racists and misogynists in the upper echelons. People complained, but action against the racism and misogyny was lacking. The perpetrators were giants in the field, well regarded, in positions of power for the national publication and the national awards ceremony. Then another famous national writing organization tried to cover over its racism with backroom dealings. Exposure of its behavior hit the headlines first, and the zeitgeist forced changes there. Those changes trickled into other organizations and on into conferences that writers attended, including the first one mentioned. Once enough people see a change that needs to happen, those changes do occur.
You and your circle may believe or talk the same way, but when you take a public political or social stance, realize that your small-circle beliefs can backfire on you. You see, you don’t know who your readers are. You may think that you do—but not really.
If someone posts or tweets something that makes you personally angry, something that steps on your pride, before you fire off a response, take a step back. Count way past 10. Go past 10 minutes. Pride is a deadly sin, remember. Think about your readers. Put yourself in their shoes. Who do you want to offend? Do they want to hear about which candidate you support? Or what you consider moral and ethical? Or do they just want to hear about your writing? Will they want to hear political, moral, ethical stances 10 years from now?
Your readers may not stumble across you at this very moment in time. Once out of the proper time context, meanings change. Your books will last as long as a digital copy or a paper copy is out there. Your opinions may change over time, in ways that you may never anticipate.
Here’s the thing: Once you post something into the ether, it’s going to be there. And people today are savvy enough to get “receipts”—screenshots of your jackassholery. If you are desperate to put your political or moral or ethical stance into the ether, then do so in such a way that separates your stance from your author brand.
Savvy readers will figure out your belief system from your stories, anyway. What’s interesting is how many writers reveal a personal belief system contrary to their author brand persona. Most savvy readers, though, won’t say anything unless you do something that triggers them. Most readers just want entertainment, not political activism. They need escapes from the stresses of the world. They don’t want the world’s stresses stomping into their escape.
Am I saying that you shouldn’t take any public stand? No. But land on the side of moderation, on compromise and consensus, rather than a scorched earth policy. If your public stance triggers a backlash, don’t whine about it. Either deal with it or learn from other perspectives.
Here’s the thing, the real and honest true thing. Whatever you do, give other people’s opinions the same consideration that you want for your own. Treat everyone equally and fairly. You don’t have to be gracious, but you should be cordial. Inform yourself of other perspectives.
What do you do when you’ve burned your author brand to the ground?
You can hide under a different pen name.
Or you can apologize. A simple apology, not one that slides around and makes other people at fault for your wrong-thinking. Then figure out why so many people state that you are wrong.
Maybe you are wrong. Maybe you are right and they are wrong. Whichever, you weren’t treating people equally and fairly or cordially. And that’s your guiding behavior in life as well as in the writing world.
That’s it. I’m running overlong, so this summary is brief.
First, Writer’s Block has a purpose; analyze what it is—because you’re never truly blocked. Not if you can tweet or write an email. Second, organize yourself on the computer. Use a calendar. Tidy your desk. Save copies in multiple places. Third, we all make mistakes. We’re human. Apologize and move forward. Don’t hang out in the past. 4th, Revisions can be terrifying, especially if you have multiple versions of the same scene. Get the highlights then draft anew. Finally, most importantly, don’t screw over your author brand. Treat your readers as the intelligent beings they are—they bought your book, didn’t they? Treat everyone equally and fairly. Pride is a sin; don’t let it send you to the fiery pits of Hell.
That’s it. That’s all for this Writer Horror Stories.
Join us next Wednesday for The Write Focus. We have to finish the six steps that takes an idea to the tangible product in a reader’s hands.
If you find this podcast helpful, please drop a comment at email@example.com. Resources mentioned in this episode are listed in the show notes, with links or enough info to find it.
Thank you for joining us. Write on.
Three Types of Writer’s Block :: M.A. Lee Think like a Pro https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DYMYQNJ/
Link to the Podcast: https://eden5695.podbean.com/e/1-4-whats-horrifying-for-writers