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I Have to Stay at Home, I Have All this Free Time, So What's the Holdup Now?

It couldn't be any better for struggling writers. Covid-19 and you are supposed to stay home. Can't go to work, and many are being paid just the same. On top of that will be the stimulous pop if the state governments can manage to get out of their own way. Now we can really get some writing done, right? . . . right?


And now comes that moment of discovery. It wasn't your spouse or your parent urging you to get a real job, it wasn't the neighbor's dog barking, it wasn't that medical condition, the kids raising hell, nor was it all those people out there who really needed your help to raise awareness of whatever. What is keeping the words from getting written now?


It is called "fear." Most persons know what this word means both as noun and verb. If you don't know, look it up. Some folks attempt to deal with this paralyzing emotion through acronyms: FEAR: False Events Appearing Real, or, FEAR: Fuck Everything And Run! For writers and those wanting to write, it presents itself as word-jam, sometimes referred to as "writer's block." Sometimes it takes the form of wooden, totally expressionless writing. In all of its forms it is the writer standing four-square in his or her own way. To avoid facing that truth we point to a thousand different irritants and inconveniences that are the "reasons" the words aren't getting written.


Fear plugs up the creative process, and there are billions of excuses for your fear, and some proven ways out of it. Robert A. Heinlein's famous cure for writer's block was to (1) pick a word, any word, and put it on the paper (or screen, nowadays); (2) pick another word that makes sense placed next to the first word; (3) pick a third word that makes sense when placed after the first two words; (4) repeat as necessary.


The point is to tell your little blockage that, whatever it does or wants to do, the words are going to get written nonetheless. When I began writing, I got through this blockage by assigning myself 1000 words per day. I had to get that many words on paper before I could quit, even if all I wrote was my own name, or "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." After awhile, I got bored writing nothing and began writing something.


The biggest fears jamming up my words were (1) Am I wasting my time? (2) What will please readers (reviewers, editors)? How can I avoid making any mistakes? You will note that none of these fears have anything to do with story telling. I have a new set of questions now. (1) Is this a character I want to know? (2) Is that character in a place I want to go? (3) Will becoming this character and bringing it through its trials and victories be sufficient reward for writing this story? If I get three "yeses," there is never a word jam.


Find a character you want to follow, climb into your character and its setting, live the story, and scribble down your diary notes along the way. That is the thrill and the joy of fiction writing. If all it is to you is a way to get approval and put beans on the table, you may as well be jammed or get into academic writing. They're pretty much the same thing. See, in academic writing, you show what you know. In fiction writing, you show what you feel and what you think. In academic writing you display the facts and suppositions you have collected. In fiction writing you display who and what you are. That is what makes it so scary, and what makes it such fun.


Thanks to the Covid-19 bug, you have the time. All you need is a character who can drag you bodily into his, her, or its story. Go write.

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What About This Blog?

For writers & readers. For writers, this is stuff I've learned, am in the process of discovering, and stuff that is imparted to me by other writers. For readers, I believe the more one knows about what goes into the writing of a story, and into the life of being a writer, the more one appreciates an author's writings.

This is a two-way blog. Your comments on the blogs are welcome, as are your questions. Comments on blogs can be made directly on each blog entry. For questions and comments not related to specific blogs, use the eMail link below.

Barry B. Longyear is the first writer to win the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine Series, his works include the Circus World and Infinity Hold series, Sea of Glass, other SF & fantasy novels, recovery and writing instruction works, and numerous short stories.