Writing Fiction By Example

Learn to write fiction by reading and analyzing excerpts from published novels.

Self-Concept Against the World: Easy Idea Generator

Self-concept Trumps Every Other Power

Self-concept is one of the strongest powers on earth. Self-concept is more powerful than all the nuclear missiles because it is a person (who owns a self-concept) who ultimately controls the nukes. Self-concept _is_ character. It is the essence of what you are searching for in your stories. People act from the foundation of their self-concept. They follow actions that are based in the belief of who they are. Your characters -- if they are to be real -- must do the same.

Three Points to Convince You of the Power of Self-Concept

Maybe you need a little convincing that self-concept is such a powerful thing. I will offer up three examples.

  1. American Idol - That's right. American Idol is a perfect example. Consider those terrible, awful, singers who sound worse than a cat with its tail caught in a door. One of the judges, like Keith Urban might ask, "Well, how do you think you did?"
    "I think I killed it," the contestant answers.

    The horrified judges stare. Blink. Blink. The cat with its tail caught in the door has evidently grabbed their tongues. They cannot speak. Why would this obviously terrible singer believe he is good?

    One reason: self-concept.

    Maybe the singer is joking? Sometimes you see the judges laugh because they cannot believe the singer is serious. "You don't really believe you are good do you?"
    The smile slides off the contestant's face. "Uh, yeah. I love to sing. I don't know how to do anything else." Self-concept is about to take a beating.

    It is at this point, the contestant either cries (full on blubbering) -- realizing that maybe the self-concept is incorrect. Or, the more fascinating and often occurring response is that the contestant becomes angry.

Self-concept erupts. "Who are you to say? Some people like this kind of thing. My mother loves to hear me sing."

"Are you sure? Is she usually in the same room when you are singing? Maybe she's out at the grocery store or something."

More anger.
Then, J Lo tries to ease the contestant down, "Baby, it's a no." The soft sell. Get the crazy guy out of here and make sure he gets his meds before he kills us all. Now that his self-concept is bruised and battered, anything could happen.

  • Adolf Hitler is a good example of a self-concept gone terribly wrong.

    There are, of course, a great many other evil people whose self-concept has gone crazy and they've been able to convince others that they are in fact some kind of power in the world.

    I hate to mention Hitler but he is a very good example of the power of self-concept pushed to its limits. To understand what I mean by that, imagine if Hitler early on had come to himself and considered how terrible his ideas were.

    If he had, for even a moment, questioned his self-concept and everything he believed about himself, he never could've carried out his plan of evil.

    This is true for all the evil people in the world and it is why evil people do not believe themselves to be evil. No, instead their self-concept is that they are doing something that no one else has the will to do.

    This is true for you evil characters also. None of them will be carrying out an evil plan because they believe it to be evil. If you write that kind of story it will fail to grab your readers.

    Self-concept is what drives the mother who gently cares for her children (she believes she is a loving mother and it is her purpose). Self-concept is the same thing which drives a leader in combat to take a hill to protect his men (he believes he was made to protect the ones under his charge).

  • Consider your own self-concept.

    Imagine that you believed you are a writer. If you believed it, then you'd be churning out stories with no thought of whether you'd be successful.

    I can prove that with a thought experiment. Suppose an editor from Penguin Publishing called you and said,

    "I've read your blog and your writing is great. My company is prepared to pay you $80,000 + royalties for your first novel."

    Instantly your self-concept would convert and you'd think, "I'm a writer." But, if you wrote before that phone call, you already were a writer. You just hadn't allowed your self-concept to be fully formed in that area because you were looking for affirmation.

    We tend to believe things about ourselves that we want to believe and that we hope are a part of our self-concept. We tend to reject those things strongly that we don't want to be a part of our self-concept. It is why self-concept is the most powerful thing on earth.

    Imagine the Opposite of Your Self-Concept

    Now imagine if someone attempted to tell you who you are:

    • Hey, you're the lady who loves big slobbery Saint Bernards, jogging in the rain and eating oysters. Yes, that's you.
    • You're the guy who knits, owns four cats and does the daily New York Times crossword puzzle. You like to sleep in late and you're not interested in getting a job. That's you, right?

    If these are not true of you, you balk. "Are you crazy? That's not me at all."

  • Okay, so you are now saying, "No, I'm just not writing that much because I don't have any good ideas." That's what this article was about in the first place, right? So now I'm going to give you the key that will help you generate as many ideas as you want.

    Step 1: Think of a subject that contains some action.

    I'm saying to include action just so you can write about people doing something. Here are some subjects that include action and I promise I'm making them up right now:

    1. knitting
    2. gardening
    3. hacking computers
    4. playing a sport
    5. stamp collecting
    6. miniature figure painting

    I like those last two because in my mind they are so fabulously boring. I mean do you think you could write a thriller of mystery and intrigue about stamp collecting? Well, I'm going to show you how to do that.

    Step 2: Push Character Up Against His/Her Self-Concept

    What we need is Herman, an inveterate philatelist who is mid-thirties but still lives at home with his mother. He loves stamps. He knows the historical story behind each stamp how owns. He stares at them for hours memorizing small details of each. You learn that his stamp collection is worth a huge sum of money, but that doesn't matter to Herman. He loves stamps.

    Meanwhile he pines away for the girl next door who is gloriously beautiful. (I'm having to tell here instead of showing you guy's tongues fall out of their mouths as she walks by, because telling is faster for this summary, but believe me, she's a knockout with curves in all the right places.)

    Herman has a discussion with her as she's arriving home late one evening and trying to get rid of the guy who took her out.
    "Why do you go out with him if you don't like him," Herman asks.
    In a moment of honestly she explains that the gentleman has a huge net worth -- "that's right, Herman, he's rich and I like being pampered. I suppose you think I'm terrible" she says and brushes his face with hand.
    "I could never think you're terrible, Ophelia."

    Ophelia gets into her house leaving Herman to contemplate. Instant realization of what he must do lands inside Herman's mind like a boulder smashing through a wall: I must sell my stamps.

    They're worth millions. Ophelia would marry me.

    But, he loves stamps? Now the faltering of the self-concept. He has to alter his self-concept. Sell the stamps, get the girl. But the stamps are the essence of who Herman is and his entire meaning in life.

    Of course, you know how this is going to play out? Herman is going to sell the stamps, spend his money on wild living with the painted lady and then lose her too. Then, where will his self-concept be? Completely trashed. No stamps. No beautiful girl.

    That kind of conflict could cause a character to become a complete monster. I've given you an amazing tool here, if you'll take it and use it you can generate a plot from anything.

    If you've found this helpful, I ask you to simply buy my book Fiction Writing Gems (only $2.99) at amazon -- see sidebar item. It's filled with ideas to help you write better.

    Keep on learning, keep on writing.

    ~Roger Deutsch

    Dictionary Or Story

    What's The Difference

    What's the difference between a dictionary and a story?

     Answer: Structure

    The story contains structure. Structure is created by words falling in patterns, known as sentences, which create meaning.

     Without Meaning, What Is There?

    Without meaning, few people will read. That is why few people read the dictionary straight through.


    Coherent Structure

    Could a lack of [coherent] structure be what is wrong with our writing?

    Could it be that when people read our stories they have difficulty finding meaning?


    If the reader cannot understand our obvious meaning, is it possible that they are getting lost?

    Are they losing their purpose while reading our stories, ending up feeling only as stimulated as if they are reading a dictionary?


    Why Do Writers Often Believe Structure Is Evil?

    I think it's because structure often reminds us of 11th grade English class, the research paper and all those outlines and notecards. Structure attacked us. It often represents a lack of creative freedom.


    Readers Crave Structure

    However, the reader craves structure. Why? Because readers don't read everything. Instead they want to read specific details about a specific topic.


    What Do Spider Monkeys Have to Do With Anything?

    For example, suppose you are looking for information related to spider monkeys.

    Googling: "spider monkey"

    returns: "About 1,390,000 results"


    As a reader do you really want to read through all those results?


    Only Relevant Info Please

    No, you'd much rather pick up a book or article that provides you with relevant information about spider monkeys.


    What if, in the middle of the article you are reading on spider monkeys that the author suddenly starts talking about clothes dryer repair. Mine just broke and I had to take it apart. There are a lot of pieces in there.


    Good Structure Is Good For Everyone

    So, even if your 11th grade English teacher has traumatized you into thinking structure is detrimental to the creative process, I believe thinking about structure in this way can be very helpful and help you write better articles, books, and stories.

    Yes, even fiction benefits from it.

     Keep on Learning, Keep On Writing.


    That's Not Writing, That's Typing

    That's not writing, that's typing.
    ~Truman Capote - commenting on Jack Kerouac's books / style.

    This article (blog entry) could be considered Part 2 of my previous Saber Slice, Write Like You're Baking Cookies (link)

    Jack Kerouac - Beat Writer
    Jack Kerouac was a journalist / novelist who brought the beatnik generation to the masses. And for that, he became famous.
    Have you read any of Jack Kerouac's novels?

    If not I suggest that you, at most, browse them via Amazon.com's samples.
    Check out his novel, Big Sur (amazon.com link where you can read an excerpt)

    Big Sur is a novel, but if you read Kerouac's memoir, On the Road -- his most famous book -- you'll discover that the main character seems to be a thinly veiled rendition of the author.

    Stream of Consciousness
    In either case, both are written as a stream of consciousness. There are no periods. Try and find one. He uses other forms of punctuation, but the entire story is just one rambling spew that hops from one subject to another.

    No Spider Monkeys
    Readers are screaming, "I do not want to know everything about everything. I just want to know everything important about your story."

    Which brings me to the two reasons I won't read his books and two reasons I enjoyed the excerpts I did read.

    Two Reasons Not To Read the Drivel
    1. It is depressing.

    The voice of the main character is so miserable that you literally feel his hang-over (constant) force itself into your veins. Read a few pages of this and you'll come away feeling like everything sucks.

    I know, I understand. Back in Jack's time everything in the media was hunky dory and Leave It to Beaver and all that, so he was on the cutting edge of depression and all that. It just doesn't work for me. I like to think positively.

    Reading this stuff feels like you're trapped inside the prison of the character's head. And the thing is, the character isn't healthy. Muy enfermo, amigo. Muy.

    2. You can't tell where it's going. Is this going to lead somewhere good? Not with this character's voice. Who could withstand the torture to find out?

    This is the kind of book that you definitely want to read a physical copy of, so you can mutilate it as you read it. At least throw it across the room.

    Will Everyone Feel That Way?
    No. There are obviously people who will (do) think Kerouac's books are high art and are fantastic. However, the average reader won't. That's good and bad, isn't it?

    Huge Marketing for 40 Years
    The point here is that he does have a limited audience even though he has been pushed by a major publishing house for over 40 years.

    Limited Audience
    So, if you're writing like him and getting nowhere, but thinking, "hey, there are people out there who like this stuff," but are wondering why most people aren't paying attention

    Two Reasons to Read This Stuff
    1. So you don't write like that.
    Best reason to read this stuff is so you understand how it affects the reader.
    Read the excerpts then don't do what he did.

    Use it a little
    Okay, after my hyperbolic statement above I guess I can say that it can be cool or funny to use this stream of consciousness writing in extremely short snippets.

    2. Publishing History
    It is very interesting to see what the market has accepted in the past. It becomes a narrow-lense view of that era and gives you an idea of how things were changing in the culture.

    If this is your style, then your market is probably going to be smaller. Do you often digress into a stream? That's fine (or even great) for first drafts.

    I just suggest you take that raw work and mold it so you are actually writing instead of just typing. Why? Because it'll make your writing better and create a broader market for your work.

    Write Like You're Baking Cookies

    If you were to mix up a batch of cookies to share with friends, would you want them to eat them? Absolutely.

    My wife made cookies for me to take to a gathering of friends yesterday.

    Did Anyone Eat Them?

    When I came home she asked, "Did anyone eat them?"

    She was very excited to learn whether or not people had enjoyed her work.

    I told her that everyone had at least one and they were almost gone when I left. She smiled and said, "That's great."

    No baker wants his/her work to be ignored.


    Baking Without A Recipe

    When we begin to bake cookies we may not use a recipe. We may just jump in and bake. There's a lot we haven't learned, but we feel confident that people will like our cookies.

    We go into the kitchen and mix up a batch of chocolate chip cookies which come out looking like petrified wood.


    "Try these," the young baker says and pushes a plate of them toward his closest relatives. "I just made them."


    The baker's mother takes one and bites into the dry burned lump and wonders if the crunching sound is a tooth breaking. She quickly washes the cookie down with some milk.


    "Uh, those are delicious, honey. Next time though, how about if I give you a hand?" She lays the cookie down.


    The young baker looks at the cookie laying on the plate. "Aren't you going to eat more?"


    "Well, uh...they are a good try, but they're a little dry," mother says. "I have some recipes--".


    "No, no, these are great," the baker insists. He picks up the cookie and pushes it toward her. "If you eat some more, you'll see how good they are. The beginning isn't always so good until you eat more."

    Weeks later he can't understand why no one has eaten any more of the cookies.

    Eaters and Readers Have Expectations

    Eaters expect chocolate chip cookies to taste a certain way. If they do not taste as expected, then it is possible that we have not made chocolate chip cookies.

    Same thing with writing. Is it possible that if people are not reading my work it is because it is something different than they are expecting? How do you fix that?

    Start With A Recipe

    You start with a recipe. Write [bake] in an expected way. Once you learn the recipe, you can alter it in [certain] correct ways, to make it your own.

    Do Recipes Limit Creativity?

    At first recipes may limit creativity, because you are just following instructions that someone else has done before you. But, later, when the recipe becomes a part of you, because you've made it so many times, you are able to innovate. You are able to make changes that transform the recipe something new. Then, you own it.

     Probably Innovation, Not Creation

    Most likely the new writing you will do will be innovation. Innovation means taking something that exists and altering it so that it is a new thing.

    Since you are taking something that exists and altering it, you will need to know -- thoroughly -- all about common techniques, processes, and tools that currently exist.

    Once you learn enough of these basics and make them a part of you, you'll be empowered to see beyond the recipe. True creativity will erupt.

    Why Not Creation

    True creation would be an entirely new type of writing. Maybe creating a new language or something.


    Here's a totally new creation of a new type of writing I'm making up right now called a Faiku (fay-ku fake-u).

    Fillix manung dollia impf

    Seecue trollid anka salf

    exim impid affle dar

    How many people do you think will read that?

    Probably only me.

    That's because readers have expectations of what they'll be reading.

    How does knowing all of this help?

    A Plan

    It helps you create a high-level plan.

    Now you know the importance of learning the basics of good writing.

    Once you learn how to implement the basics of good writing, you're writing will become clearer, more digestable. As your writing follows common expectations your possible audience will grow. As your possible audience grows, your readership will grow.

    No More Petrified Biscuits

    Your readership will grow, because you understand the importance of giving the reader what she wants, instead of cramming your petrified biscuits down her throat.

    Empathy For Readers, Transforms Writing

    Understanding the balance of author's creativity versus reader's expectations will cause you to write with empathy for your readers. Your desire to write things that people want to read, driven by care for your readership will totally transform your writing.

    Ultimate Writing Success

    That care will feed your readership and drive your ultimate success.

    Ultimate Creativity

    Once you've established your readership and they know who you are, you will again be able to innovate and do new things that your readers will be more likely to swallow.

     Starting with a recipe becomes the ultimate plan for success and creative freedom.

    Keep on learning, keep on writing.


    8 Steps To Brilliant Fiction Writing

    1.) Write Clear
    Know what you want to say. Say it. Clear writing is brilliant writing. Specifics follow.

    2.) Write Scenes
    Once you know what you want to say, decide which details you must show in order to communicate that message. Since a fictional story communicates its message by showing, you need to write the story in scenes. Since you are going to write the story in scenes, plan the outcome of your scene before writing it.

    This circles back to point 1, know what you want to say.
    Knowing your scene-ending outcome will provide you with a clear point to drive toward, so that you may allow your characters to act it out.

    3.) Show, Don't Tell
    When you begin to say it in a story, stop and show it instead. Do not tell me Bob is brilliant, caring and handsome. Show me.
    Showing is going to take longer, but that's because your reader will see Bob come to life, instead of just having you -- who may be unreliable -- tell him.

    Terrible: Story Sample 1

    Bob was a nice guy. People thought Bob was handsome. Bob was very smart.


    Better: Story Sample 2

    At 6:30am Bob yanked his front door open and hurried to his car. He looked at his watch and wondered if he'd arrive on time for his meeting with the eccentric client. As he placed his hand on the door handle of his BMW, he heard a whining sound coming from somewhere at the front of his house. He turned his head and
    paused. Again, a high-pitched whining came from behind the bushes.

    Directed by the sound he walked to a shrub at the side of his house and found a Chihuahua licking its front left paw.
    "What's wrong little pooch? Did you get hurt?" Bob looked at his watch again, then bent down and picked up the dog and carried it next door. He rang the doorbell and after a few moments the door opened to reveal a woman with auburn hair, rubbing her eyes and yawning.
    "Hello, Ms. Yates," Bob held the small dog up and smiled.
    "Oh, Peaches," the lady said. "You bad little puppy. Did you get out again." She took the dog and hugged her tight.
    "I think she may have gotten hurt," Bob said, looked at his watch again, then showed her the wounded paw. As he removed his hand, it brushed against her arm and he noticed how soft her skin was. Their eyes met and Bob looked away. He could barely stand to stare into those beautiful green eyes.
    "You're so kind, Bob," she said. "Would you like to come in for some, uh...coffee." She smiled and her eyes darted to the left. "You know you are always welcome here."
    Bob blushed, looked at his watch again and fumbled with it. "I have to get to a meeting."

    4.) Allow Your Reader to Experience
    Do not interject feelings and commentary into the scene too much.

    In the example, the reader learns and determines for himself (and thus believes) that Bob is a nice guy who attracts beautiful women (at least one). That is why we show.

    This is exactly how our brains work in real life.
    When you tell your child not to run in the house, she doesn't fully believe it until she's running and falls and hurts herself. We learn via experience. Allow your reader to experience. Don't lecture him all the time.

    5.) Write the details
    Closely related to show, don't tell. Since you are showing, you are going to need to describe the significant details. Do not allow your brain to wimp out.

    No Wimping Out, Brain
    Your logical brain will attempt to override your creative brain by telling it that it is ridiculous to be so specific. Yeah, well, tell that to one of the great artists who've painted individual hairs while painting portraits. Details grab readers.

    Now, here are some specifics on writing clearly.

    6.) Use Strong Verbs, Abhor Adverbs
    Convert all of your weak verb adverb combinations into one strong verb.

    Not: spoke roughly -- Instead: yelled, snapped
    Not: took quickly -- Instead: snatched, ripped, jerked
    Not: struck soundly -- Instead: punched, jabbed, slammed
    Not: threw gently -- Instead: tossed

    7.) Kill the Adjectives, Use Acting
    : sad man -- Instead: slumped his shoulders and eyes filled with tears
    Not: angry woman -- Instead: Her eyes opened wide and as she yelled, spit flew from between her teeth.
    Not: vicious dog -- Instead: The dog's head lowered and the hair on its neck raised. It stood still and growled, then erupted into a barking fit.

    8.) Watch the Action
    Imagine watching a movie where a guy sits on a stool and tells you about a story. Wouldn't that be lame? Here the director has the ability to show you the story play out, and instead he has a guy sit on a stool and use words to explain it to you.

    Unfortunately, that's what a lot of authors do. They sit on a stool and tell about something, when they should show it happen.

    Terrible: Bob felt sad as he was walking down the street, but suddenly a vicious dog was running at him.

    Better: The lady slammed the door in Bob's face and he turned and walked further down Lindle avenue. His head hung between his shoulders and he mumbled to himself. He heard a dog barking up ahead and raised his head. A German shepherd, teeth bared and hackles standing straight up, ran at him. Bob's eyes widened and he looked left, right and then back at the approaching dog.

    You're Soaking In It Now
    Soak these ideas in and allow them to become a part of your writing. It'll make you a better fiction writer.

    Keep on learning, keep on writing.

    Would completing an entire novel of 300 pages answer all writing questions?

    All You Need To Do Is Write, Right?

    Many writers say that to learn to write, all you need to do is write.  

    Let's imagine that for a moment.  Julie drafts her 300 page novel and starts submitting it to agents and editors.  It is rejected by all fifteen publishing houses and agents she submits it to.  What then?

    Unfortunately most editors and agents do not provide much feedback that will help.  How can Julie determine what is wrong with her novel?

    Some writers might answer that no one can tell Julie what is wrong with it.  However, it seems odd if numerous people seem to indicate that it is not good that there are no criteria to base the criticism upon.

    A Basic List of Things To Check

    What things might Julie look at more closely to determine what is wrong with her novel?  

    1. Is the writing clear?
      1. Can the reader tell what is actually happening in the story?
      2. Can the reader easily tell who the main character is?
      3. Do sentences transition from one thought to the next clearly?
    2. Does the writing show the actions playing out before the reader's eyes?
      1. Yes, this is the show-don't-tell cliche, but it is true.  How do you solve this?  The author must see the scene playing out in her mind's eye before she ever attempts to transcribe it onto paper (screen).  Watch the scene play out and then write down what you see, just as a journalist who is reporting the real-life events.
    3. Is the protagonist likable?  Has the author chosen to follow a character who continually does things that the reader doesn't like? 
      1. Even books that follow a despicable main character provide something that the reader likes.   
      2. Take a fresh look at what the main character does and says and ask some friends if they think s/he is annoying
    4. Does anything happen in the story?  Do your characters just seem to sit around and think?  Is it difficult for a FTR (First-Timer Reader) to determine what the plot is?
      1. In a movie if the audience doesn't know who the main character is and what she wants in the first five minutes they become lost and restless and may leave.  As writers we probably get about 1 or 2 pages.  Be blunt.  Make sure the reader knows what your story is about.
      2. What is your story about?  It is about a character who must have something and the conflict that creates in his life and in the story.  Yes, every story is about that. 
    5. Voice - Are the sentences you're writing structured poorly.  Do you leave odd sounds in the reader's mind from your phrasing?  Is your writing just plain difficult to work through?  Do you vary sentence length or does your writing sound monotone?  
      1. Read your story out loud to yourself in a place where no one else can hear you.  You will instantly understand if there is a problem with your writer's voice.  Did you find some sentences which were difficult to enunciate? Change them.

    Learn To Evaluate Your Own Writing

    Completing your novel is of utmost importance because you cannot learn to write without getting a body of material behind you.  However, once you write you are going to have to learn how to evaluate your own writing so you can tell when and where it isn't as good as it shouldn't be and the places where it is really good.


    Can You Learn To Write? pt2 (Cannot Attain Perfection Doing Nothing)

    Are you stuck?  Do you say you love to write, but you don't actually write? Here are some things to consider, which may help.

    No one has ever become perfect by doing nothing. 


    1. Have you stopped, because you don't believe in yourself?

    Start with belief. If you don't believe you can achieve a task, then you'll never even begin the first steps of the task. For example, I don't really believe I can paint a beautiful painting, so I do not even attempt it.

    However, there is no way to ever know if you are good without actually doing the thing. If I never gather the materials and make an attempt at painting, it is obvious I'll never succeed as an artist.

    If I don't believe I'll never take the actual steps.
    Do you believe in your writing? Is there anything there that is good enough to begin to believe in? I'm sure there is. Even if there is not much, then you can begin to grow by doing a few exercises each day.

    2. Have you stopped because you no longer believe in your project?

    Is your project boring you?

    Did you think you liked the project and now you've lost interest?
    That can happen for two reasons:
    i.) It's not a subject your heart finds interesting. You thought it was great, but now you really don't like the story or the subject. It happens.
    If that is the case then make a decision. Either leave the story behind or write the story and fin

    ii.) Now that you've researched it more the subject / angle wasn't really strong enough to follow.
    If this is true, drop the project and start the next one on your list. Move forward. Allow yourself to drop the dead weight and move on.

    There is another reason you may have stopped writing.

    3. You're afraid to finish because if you do, it will be obvious that you are not a great writer.
    I think most beginning writers fear this. What if you spend a year on a novel and then it is trash? What if no one likes your story? If you finish and learn that you are no good, then it'll be obvious you are not a writer. If you learn you are not a writer, then your dreams will be gone. So by not writing, you believe you are protecting your dream.

    Change The Point Of Your Writing
    If you're going through this, you need to change the point of your writing. Reframe your work.
    Instead of thinking, "I must complete my novel so that I am discovered this year",

    decide that your point is, "To mentor myself in writing."

    The only way to learn is: write. So, write the novel. Give yourself permission to write terribly. Then, go back and read it again.

    If you can't read your novel a few times, then no on else is going to want to read it even once. It's your baby.

    Anyway, go back and rip the writing apart as if someone else wrote it, then change it.

    Examine Yourself: Learn About Yourself
    Learn from the good parts. Examine yourself when you wrote poorly. How did you feel about yourself and your story. Examine how you felt, what the conditions were when you wrote brilliantly. This redirects your focus and gets you out of evil critique mode. Give yourself the compassion you would give someone else.

    Do a little at a time and you'll begin to see success. Grab on to those successes and encourage yourself. Now, it's not about being perfect. It's about finishing and writing better than you did before.

    Take A Moment and Consider These Thoughts
    Really think about what I've said here. Do you feel encouraged? Then know and believe that with that kind of encouragement you will see a series of successes.
    It is possible.

    Now, go and write and complete and feel the peace of finishing. It is possible, but it will never be perfect. That is normal.

    Keep on learning, keep on writing.
    ~Roger Deutsch

    Great Debate: Can You Learn To Write From a Book?

    It's the great debate of writers around the Internet:

    Can someone -- specifically a book -- teach you to write?

    Stated another way:

    Is it possible to learn to write from a book?

    To answer that question, I think we need to examine the answer to another question:

    What would a book about writing teach you?

    Instead of getting all bogged down in details like grammar, characterization, plotting and the rest, I believe we should start out at the highest (most abstract level) and move from there.

    In an effort to do that, I break all writing problems down into two categories:

    • Emotional
    • Technical

    Each of these challenges is huge on its own. The problem is that many books meander all around both of them as they attempt to teach one or the other. If you've been writing very long and have watched yourself, you probably have learned the truth that one can cause the other. However, maybe you're not convinced that those are the correct categories to consider. Let me show you why they are.

    As a writer, you most likely fall (mostly) into one of the following categories:

    1. You want to write, but you find that every time you do, you end up being (gladly) distracted from the work.
    2. You want to write, but you find that you have no ideas, because your mind wanders.
    3. You write a lot, but it has no cohesion. It's just a rambling thoughts.
    4. You write quite a bit, but you never finish anything.
    5. You write quite a bit, but you can't tell if it is good or not. Also, when you ask a friend or relative to read your writing, they don't get very excited about it.
    Note The numbering doesn't indicate any level. It is simply provides me with a way to refer to them further along in the article.

    If you do not fall into any of those categories, then you are a successful writer who is most likely published, or will be published when the right person reads your work.

    The Rest of Us

    If you fall into any one of the first four categories then you have an emotional writing problem. Oh boy. I just opened a can of worms. Please Note:I'm not saying you (necessarily) have an emotional problem. I'm saying you have a writing problem that is based in emotion.

    First Three Categories, Very Similar

    The first three categories indicate you are distracted by situations in your life which may be unresolved. When you go to sit downa and think (write) your mind races to these things and distracts you. As you ponder those things -- which may be painful challenges -- you mind wants to flee the situation. This is all very normal. In other cases maybe your mind wanders to those emotional things and distracts you from the subject of your writing. However it works, they are all actually the same problem and they are rooted in your emotions.

    Category Four : Self-Confidence

    Category four is a problem of self-confidence. I don't know much about Norman Mailer but I do know that in the following quote he summarizes this writing problem perfectly.

    "Writer's block is only a failure of the ego."

    If you do not believe that what you are writing matters because it is not written well, then you will question the work itself. You will question yourself. At that point, the Ego collapses and without meaning very few people can soldier on.

    Bad News, Good News

    The bad news is that no one except you can fix your emotional writing problems. No one can really convince you that your writing has meaning. You have to believe that for yourself.
    This is truly the case of the Master of Peace, sitting on the hill who looks at you and says, "It is over, Grasshopper, when you determine it is over."
    That really is the ultimate truth. However, I do have something more to offer you here.

    The good (even great) news is the emotional writing problems can very often be overcome by focusing on getting better technical skills.

    Category Five: The One With A Solution

    Getting better technical skills helps in two major ways:

    1. Providing valuable distraction
    2. Building your self-confidence

    I'll touch upon these lightly -- since this article is getting too long for a blog post -- then later I'll write another article which goes into more details related to these.

    Whatever your emotional challenges are, they are important. However, you have to distract yourself from them so you can concentrate on your writing. A few ways to do that are:

    • Do an extreme analysis of your writing from a technical viewpoint
      Slow down. Write each sentence as you sound it out. Read it aloud. View each sentence as it builds upon the previous. This focus will distract you and suddenly you'll be cranking out draft.
    • Learn a new technique from a pure hard-technical standpoint (like writing clear description) and then implement that technique in your writing. Focus on nothing but one small piece and write it.
    • Write an extremely short piece while telling yourself only going to show yourself. It's just for fun. Focus on every sentence. Examine how beautiful language is and concentrate on specific details. The emotional challenges will melt away.

    Confidence Booster

    Obviously, if you learn some new techniques and practice them until you are happy with them, then you are going to feel more confident and again many emotional challenges will melt away.

    There's much more to talk about, but I'll continue it in my next article. Hope you enjoy and grow from these ideas.

    Keep on learning, keep on writing. 

    ~Roger Deutsch

    Don't Try To Publish, Try To Write

    Many people -- I don't call them writers -- try to publish their book, but few try so hard to write them.

    Get On the Team, Yet Never Play
    That would be like trying to get on the Boston Celtics basketball team without ever playing basketball.

    Focus on the activity (writing or basketball). If you don't like to write or play basketball, then getting published or getting on the team is about getting rich, not about writing or basketball. And, though it does happen, it is weird.

    Lead, So Someone Will Follow
    Here's the deal. Stop focusing on getting published. Instead, focus on getting people to read your book. Writing is like anything else. If you want people to follow you, start leading.

    People Followed Jordan, Because He Was Great
    Think about Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan played great basketball for himself. People saw him enjoying basketball and playing at an amazing level and they followed him. No one had to convince people to follow him. Why don't you try that with your writing?

    Here's how you do that.
    How To Get People To Read Your Book
    1. Make sure you have a 3 sentence concept so you can tell them about your book in 30 seconds.
    2. Beg them to read 5 pages.
    3. Tell them this exact statement:

    "I've written my first crappy attempt at my first crappy novel. Somewhere in my heart I feel like it is good, but it's crappy. Even though it is crappy, I'm begging you to read five pages and rip it apart. I will print it for you and give you a red pen and then I'm begging you to read it and destroy it with the pen. If there happens to be anything that you like, then let me know. If, by some odd chance you like it and you want to read more I will have more but if it is as crappy as expected then I won't bother you with this chapter or book again. Oh, also I promise not to get upset at all. Is it a deal?"

    100 People?
    After you get 100 people to read five pages (does not have to be the same five pages) and you've edited them according to your best ability, then go and try to get published, but no sooner.

    If you can't get 100 people to do that, why would you ever think you could convince more people than that to actually read your book? If you can't get 100 people to read your book, then no publisher would ever publish it, because they can't afford it.

    Keep on learning, keep on writing. (Keep on questioning.)

    ~Roger Deutsch

    Get Jaded, To Write Great Queries (and Stories)

    If you're serious about getting published, at some point in your writing career you will have to write a query letter to an agent or an editor.  When you do, how will you get their attention?  Knowing what it is like to be an agent or editor who has to read submissions is a very powerful tool.  Here's how you can know.

    Two Pages, 100 Novels

    Have you ever read two pages from 100 novels in one sitting?
    I have, and it was extremely -- painfully -- instructive.

    Here's what I did:

    Library Staycation

    I went to the library and randomly picked out books from various genres. I picked everything; romance, literary, mainstream, sci-fi, western, historical, etc. I chose genres I liked and didn't like.  Very similar to what an editor / agent has to suffer. (Yes, I said suffer. Read on.)

    I did all of this work for my book project : Fiction Writing By Example (Learn to write fiction by analyzing excerpts from 26 published novels).

    Important Lesson
    By the time I was done, I learned an important lesson, although I was the epitome of jaded:
    from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jaded
    1 : fatigued by overwork : 
    2 : made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by surfeit

    Dreaming of the Good
    Each time I'd open a book, I would dream of it being well-written, interesting, anything that would keep my attention for two short pages. Keep in mind that these are published books. 999 out of 1000 of the books the editors / agents receive aren't even as good as these.

    [-- If you really want to experience an editor's / agent's life, try reading 100 excerpts from self-published authors online. I've done that too, and afterwards my wife found me hiding under the bed, sucking my thumb and mumbling incoherently. :-) --]

    Switched My Process
    After getting through the first fifteen books or so, I became so annoyed with poor level of writing I decided to select only books that were best-sellers, had well-known authors, or were from authors who had published more than one book.

    Maybe 1 Out of 5
    However, even doing this, I found that only about 1 out of 5 was something that would keep my interest for two pages. Even after paring the books down, most of them were unreadable; terrible writing, disjointed ideas, rambling and/or uninspired.

    Never Read Again
    I was angry, annoyed, irritated and disgusted. Why are these books published? What is the deal?
    At one point, I honestly never wanted to read another novel again.

    After the 100th
    When I completed the last one, it wouldn't have made me sad if 99.9% of the publishing companies fell off the side of the earth and their books with them.

    Agents and Editors Experience

    Imagine how an agent or editor, who does this every day, feels? No wonder they become so jaded. No wonder it's difficult to get through to them.

    They Already Know
    Agents and editors have read it allThey know what you're going to say, before you even say it. My point? Stop beating around the bush.

    So many of the lame beginnings I read, were so abstract and clouded you could tell the author didn't know what s/he wanted to say.

    Be Boldacious

    To make your query better: Be bold!
    Write only what you mean and only what you want to say.
    Stop beating around the bush, because the editor/agent already knows what you're going to say anyways.

    Say Something Different
    Do you have something different to say? Or, are you just trying to say, "I'm the next J.K. Rowling. I have a fantasy."
    Or maybe you're saying, "I'm the next Stephenie Meyer, I have vampires."

    The Editor / Agent Is Already Gone
    By the time you've said that, the agent/editor is already gone.

    Mystery Is Often Writer Confusion

    Find out what you really mean.

    Many (most?) writers don't even know what they mean or what they think. That was obvious in many of the 100 Beginnings.
    While reading those 100 beginnings, I would scream (inside my mind, since I was in the library), 

    "Please say something that I can understand. Be obvious!" 

    Most of the time, mystery written into queries and stories is simply there because the author doesn't know what s/he is talking about.

    The editor / agent already knows you don't know and is already gone.

    2 Steps to Great Queries

    Step 1 : Get Jaded, Baby

    If you're trying to write a great query, I highly suggest you first go and read the beginnings of 100 novels. Get jaded, baby. Once you are, you won't even want to write and you specifically won't want to write crap or boring uninspired stuff, because you'll know there is too much of that out there already.

    Step 2: Write Your Novel In 10 Lines

    Write your novel as a flash fiction. Super flash.
    Does your novel sound interesting in 10 lines or do you want to say, "Oh, but if you knew this part, then you'd like it?"
    Do you have to say, "Oh, it's like [famous author's] so you'll like it when you read more."

    Eventually Success

    If you were to really go through this process you'd step outside the boundaries of the amateur writer and become a professional writer. It works and will help you get noticed and published. You'll become an industry insider, because you'll be thinking with the mind of an editor/agent.

    It'll open up a lot. Try it.

    Keep on learning, keep on writing.

    ~Roger Deutsch