The Non-Literal Act of Self-flagellation

The act of severely criticizing oneself can be, and often is, part of the writing life. The road to publication includes enough criticism of our work from other people. And yet, frequently, we are our own worst critic.

Self-flagellation can be the voice inside our head telling us we suck, that our writing sucks and that we will never get published because of how much we suck. It can migrate to bringing up personal failures like rejection, the inability to finish what we started writing, taking too long at what we’re trying to accomplish or even telling ourselves to give it up, since clearly we’re just a fraud with big dreams that are never going anywhere.

This type of behavior is truly counter productive and can hinder us even further from achieving our goals. Yes, making an effort and actually writing is the only way to finish a book and move forward in the quest to get published. Punishing ourselves for lagging behind in our goals won’t help us get there faster.

A very wise advice columnist once wrote that if we feel we must be punished, then ten lashes with a wet noodle should be enough to appease our guilt. After that, it’s more important to put our guilt behind us, and to move forward.

Remember: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  Winston Churchill

Contests You Didn’t Win: What’s The Next Step

Contests are an excellent way of receiving feedback. Not winning can make accepting that feedback hard to take.

You’ve bent over backwards to polish your work for a contest entry. It’s taken time and effort, re-writing and polishing your work to make sure it fits the contest rule requirements but you’ve done it. When the results of your efforts fall short of the mark and you don’t win, or even make it past round one, it’s very disappointing.

What next? Everybody’s different. Me: I’ll need a bit of time to sulk, remind myself it was an exercise in self-improvement and learning, then get back on that horse and ride some more.

Also, and most importantly, it’s time to take the next step in your writing journey. I have two manuscripts in progress at the moment. I will choose between the two and decide which to finish writing. (Gotta have a finished product to get anywhere with it.)

My next step will include finding an editor who will work with me on that finished manuscript. Unless I win the lottery sometime soon, I know I won’t have a limitless amount of money to spend on a professional editor. That said, an editor will likely take me to the next step in getting an agent and/or a publishing contract. Here’s hoping!

Personal Demons

Personal demons: we all have them; though I’m sure there are those who won’t admit it.

My own personal demon in writing, and sometimes in general, is self-doubt. Yup, I can be sitting at my computer, typing away, the writing flowing like water, the words feeling worthy of being read by someone other than me and bam … my fingers stop, my mind blurs, and the nasty buzz of self-doubt sneaks in to attack.

I hear the words of ridicule, criticism and degradation in my head: ‘Who do you think you are, writing a book?’ ‘Who are you trying to fool? That sucks, and nobody will ever see any merit in it, so stop, already.’ ‘If anybody ever sees this trash, they’ll laugh til they cry, this is so badly written.’ ‘You should really delete anything you’ve ever written, because it’ll never get published anyway. Why are you bothering?’

Harsh, but true. It happens more often than it should, but it’s a personal struggle for me. What helps? Encouragement from people who care about me; the will to persevere no matter what; and the determination to beat my own demons.

Bring it! And tomorrow I will write some more.

When in doubt … don’t submit!

Writing and completing an entire book is a huge accomplishment. It requires time, energy and perseverance. The next step to the completion of the writing is of course to re-read, revise and edit the book. And once a writer has done all of that, the next logical step is to begin the submission process in order to get the book published or to self-publish. Maybe … but not so fast.

Yes, a writer should be able to revise and edit their own work, making it presentable enough to send out and begin the querying process. And with the many changes that have taken place in the world of publishing, it would seem that writers have more avenues than ever to get their books published.

Before sending out a query, with or without a sample of the writing, depending on the agent or publisher you target, consider having an editor look at your work. This will likely cost money, as reputable editors almost always charge for their services, as they should. It is however possible to have an editor look over your work through a contest win, trial offer, through a writing course or during a conference.

A good editor can advise you on how ready your completed manuscript is for the big wide world. Better to send out a polished product than to end up missing the mark once your work is in front of an agent or publisher.


‘Be’ an Iceberg

What do icebergs have to do with writing anyway? Quite a bit actually if you know about Ernest Hemingway’s famous ‘Iceberg Theory’ which is also known as the “theory of omission”.

‘If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.’ Ernest Hemingway

This is an amazingly clear description of the principle of ‘show, don’t tell’ in writing. Instead of telling a reader all about what our characters think, know, realize, remember, want and so on, we should be using action as well as sensory details such as smell, taste and sound to draw readers into the story.

There will always be some ‘telling’ that takes place in a book, especially during dramatic or action scenes. As with any art, a balance of pace, rhythm, even tone can make a story flow without ‘overwriting’ or explaining every moment.

Trust your reader to ‘get’ what you’re trying to convey to them and let your characters draw them into the story by their own experience on the page. Keep extraneous details from crowding out what’s important and ‘be’ an iceberg.