Writers' Circle Newsletter Archive
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October 10, 1998
October 20, 1998
November, 1998

October 10, 1998

Good morning, all! I'm sitting here looking out the window and
feeling the cold ocean breeze coming in through the screen. It
promises to be a lovely day. Good thing, too, because I have playoff
tickets. *grin* My Padres. . .ahhhhhh

But enough of that. On to the business of writing.

When I decided to send out these email "newsletters," it was not with
the intention of doing some sort of "club update," though there will
likely be a bit of that. Primarily, I'd like to focus on tips and
hints for getting more out of your writing, and for making it easier
and more fulfilling for you to spend more time with your pen
(keyboard) in your hand.

So this time I thought a good starting point would be some good books
and magazines on the subject.

First, two essentials. Most people buy these for help in choosing
markets for their work--I buy them because of the incredible articles
by published (and famous) writers.

The Writer's Market: Published annually, and available in CD-ROM
format as well as in woodpulp format (my husband's word for paper),
this book is the definitive guide to the markets for writers. (The
Poet's Market and The Fiction Writer's Market, both published by the
same people, are as good.) But my favorite parts are the articles on
the mechanics and commerce of writing. And a book I love even more
for its articles is:

The Writer's Handbook: Published by the magazine "The Writer," this
one is a gem every year. Believe it or not, I buy them used at the
bookstore, just to get the old articles. An article in the Writer's
Handbook (1990 edition, I think) actually changed my life with respect
to writing. I will track the article down and point you to it in the
next newsletter (October 20). But my point is this: Think of these
books as an opportunity to sit in a room with your favorite author and
hear her/him answer the questions we all have: "How do you do it?"
"What motivates you to endure the solitude and hard work of writing?"
"How do you make your characters so vivid?" You know the ones.

Writer's Digest: I get this one in woodpulp, but they have a website
I just discovered, too-- http://www.writersdigest.com This magazine
is light and readable and practical. They run contests in every
issue, (some legit, some money-making ventures, which are clearly
identified) and they focus on dozens of new and emerging markets every
month. The articles are straightforward and very function-oriented.
Your left brain will love this magazine. And for your RIGHT brain,
try these two:

The Writer: No slick graphics like Writer's Digest--This one is pure
text. Longish, important articles about the craft of writing. Many
of them end up in the Writer's Handbook (see above).

Poets & Writers: (http://www.pw.org) To me, this is the pinnacle of
poets' magazines (but it's great for other writers, too). Look at it
online and then somehow, some way, you must manage to get hold of it.
Go to the library; go to Barnes & Noble (we will soon have a bookstore
on our site); go anywhere, but get this magazine. Especially if you
have writing already prepared for publication. The contests in this
magazine are top-rate and all legit. The articles are thoughtful and
thought-provoking. I really can't recommend it highly enough, and P&W
is a non-profit organization supporting writers, so you really can't

By the end of the coming week, all these resources will have links on
our webpage, but I wanted to tell you about them myself. They are
dear to my heart, and when I'm all alone in my writing chair, staring
at the same sentence I was working on twenty minutes ago, I will
sometimes pick one of them out of my collection and spend a few
moments communing with the writers who have already done it: written
and written well and gotten published. This motivates me. I hope it
will do the same for you.

Next time: (October 20)

--The article that changed my writing life forever
--A tutorial on "freewriting," my daily writing practice

Until then, keep writing,


October 20, 1998

Hi, Writers!

Lots to get out of the way today, so let's get to it. And I'm tired as
can be, so please excuse any errors, for which I take all
responsibility. Anything that's good, though, that's me, too. *smile*

--ANNOUNCEMENTS: Wednesday night will be the next Writers' Circle chat.
This is a weekly event, as you probably know, and we'd love to have you
there. If you are willing to be an alternate moderator in case ten_spot
or I can't attend, please talk to us in chat. (8:30-10:30pm, Eastern
Time) And thanks so much to all of you who have attended so far.
You're a smart, funny group, and ten_spot (husband and partner
extraordinaire) and I really have enjoyed meeting you.

--A couple of you have received invitations to have your work displayed
on the Writers' Circle website. I hope you will accept and return your
information to me soon. The site is lonely without you. And if you
haven't yet gotten my comments/invitation in your email, please be
patient. I take quite some time to comment thoroughly, but I promise to
get to all your submissions by the end of the month.

--Because of the tremendous response to this Writers' Circle thing,
ten_spot and I have decided to put some real effort into making this a
working enterprise. We've chosen the name serene_rebel Publications,
and will be publishing an e-zine in the near future, along with an
anticipated small-press venture for paper publishing. I have scored
some help with the logistics of printing and computer equipment, and we
will start soliciting ads as soon as we get to the point where the page
doesn't look like a 4th-grader slapped it together. (No insult to all
the 4th-graders out there intended.) If anyone wants to volunteer some
time and expertise to this site, please let us know.

--This newsletter is going out late (grrr, I hate that) because I was
frantically searching for the article I promised you last time. Well, I
didn't find it, but never fear--I will go get it at the library for next
time. For now, you will have to content yourself with the very
practical advice at this site: http://www.inkspot.com/bt/craft/ It is
very useful information for beginners, but I picked up a tip or two, as

And now here is my article of (I hope) useful writing tips for the day:

*~*~*~FREEWRITING--The Zen of writing practice~*~*~*

Several of you have asked me about my writing routine: do I write
every day, do I get published a lot, how do I stay motivated to write?
The answers are: Yes, even if it's only my daily practice; No, not a
lot, but enough that it supports me when I need supporting; and Stay
motivated? I don't.
What? I don't stay motivated to write?? Nope, not all the time, I
don't. In fact, I really don't care much for the process of writing, as
I have said to several of you. But here's the thing--I realized early
in my writing life that there is NO SUCH THING as writer's block.
You heard me right. No such thing.
There are circumstances and resistance and laziness and simply not
wanting to sit and commit myself to writing, but there is no such thing
as writer's block. And if you will follow the steps below, you will see
that this is true. This technique, which I call "Freewriting," but
which is known by many, many names, will break through any resistance to
writing if you will embrace it and be faithful to it.
You can probably skip this next part if you happen to have available to
you a copy of the wonderful book, "Writing Down the Bones," by Natalie
Goldberg. (©1986, Shambhala, Boston) Most of what I learned about
freewriting came from a college professor named Beth Sherman, but I
later became convinced that she had to have been exposed to the Goldberg
book at some point. The methods are nearly identical. And it couldn't
be simpler, from a purely logistical point of view:

Freewriting will astound you in its ability to turn the inner
critic (that voice inside you talks you out of writing because you're
"not good enough") off. The inner critic is essential to the editing
process, but simply deadly during the writing process.

In freewriting, there are only a few rules:

Rule #1: Set a timer. Doesn't matter if it's 5 minutes or an
hour--do whatever time you can, or feel like doing. You'll be doing
it every day if you want to really benefit from it, so the amount of
time depends on you.

Rule #2: Choose a topic or question for yourself. It can be
anything--a current writing project, a story you read in the paper, or
just something that's rattling around in your head.

Rule #3: Write until the timer goes off WITHOUT STOPPING!!!!! You
cannot pick up your pen except to start a new word. If you can't
think of anything to write, try writing "Keep writing, keep writing,
keep writing," until you think of something. And let your mind go
where it wants, and write that down, but keep coming back to your
chosen topic. When the timer goes off, finish your thought and put
your pencil down. Or if the muse has struck, go ahead and keep

Rule #4: Because you are not allowed to stop writing, you are also
not allowed to cross anything out or erase anything.

After you do this for a while, you will start to see your real inner
process coming out. I'm telling you, you will be amazed. Remind
yourself that none of this will ever be graded or judged by
anyone--think of it as body-building for your writer-muscles. It's an
exercise. Sometimes good writing will come out of it, but the main
thing is to get in the habit of allowing your writer-self to write
before letting your editor/critic-self get a crack at it.

I tease my husband all the time about what we call my 90/10 rule. I am
convinced that 90% of everything that comes out of my pen is crap, so I
try to write in as great volume as I can stand so that 10% that shines
will amount to something over time. And trust me--if you don't write it
down, no matter how stupid it initially sounds, you will lose it. Even
my "I like to compose in my head and THEN write it down" husband will
concede to that. *smile* After all, I think we have all had the
experience of getting an idea, deciding to write it down later, and
completely losing it.

Finally, freewriting can help you get in the practice of taking your
random thoughts as gifts, things to be cherished as a part of your inner
being. Really quite wonderful, when you think about it, and you can do
this in as little as five minutes a day.

******Next time (November 10)*******

-------The ARTICLE I keep promising you.
-------Loads of writers' LINKS.
-------Some tips on MAKING WRITING PAY.

Keep writing,


November, 1998

Hi, Writers!

--ANNOUNCEMENT: Wednesday will be the next Writers' Circle chat.
This is a weekly event, as you probably know, and we'd love to have
you there. If you are willing to be an alternate moderator in case
ten_spot or I can't attend, please talk to us in chat. (8:30-10:30pm,
Eastern Time)

This week’s newsletter will be fairly brief, unless you count the
article below. I’ve been promising it to you from day one, and I
finally tracked it down. Changed my whole outlook on writing and the
business of writing, and I hope it makes a difference for you, too.

A couple of notes: First, this is the only piece of King’s writing I
have ever read, so I can make no comment about the quality of his
writing, at which he seems content to poke fun. And second, I believe
that the educational and non-profit nature of this newsletter places
it into the “fair use” area of copyright law, but if you know of a
reason I should seek permission for reprinting this article, please
email me and I will rectify the situation.

(Article reprinted from the 1989 edition of The Writer’s Handbook--I
entered the text by hand, so any errors are my fault.)


By Stephen King

I. The First Introduction

That’s right. I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’
school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to
pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction,
and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how
long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or
so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story,
and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue,
should not count in the ten minutes.

II. The Story, or, How Stephen King Learned to Write

When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a sophomoric thing which
got me in a pot of fairly hot water, as sophomoric didoes often do. I
wrote and published a small satiric newspaper called The Village
Vomit. In this little paper I lampooned a number of teachers at
Lisbon (Maine) High School, where I was under instruction. These were
not very gentle lampoons; they ranged from the scatological to the
downright cruel.
Eventually, a copy of this little newspaper found its way into the
hands of a faculty member, and since I had been unwise enough to put
my name on it (a fault, some critics would argue, of which I have
still not been entirely cured), I was brought into the office. The
sophisticated satirist had by that time reverted to what he really
was: a fourteen-year-old kid who was shaking in his boots and
wondering if he was going to get a suspension. . . what we called “a
three-day vacation” in the dim days of 1964.
I wasn’t suspended. I was forced to make a number of apologies--they
were warranted, but they still tasted like dog-dirt in my mouth--and
spent a week in detention hall. And the guidance counselor arranged
what he no doubt thought of as a more constructive channel for my
talents. This was a job--contingent upon the editor’s
approval--writing sports for the Lisbon Enterprise, a twelve-page
weekly of the sort with which any small-town resident will be
familiar. This editor was the man who taught me everything I know
about writing in ten minutes. His name was John Gould--not the famed
New England humorist or the novelist who wrote The Greenleaf Fires,
but a relative of both, I believe.
He told me he needed a sports writer and we could “try each other
out,” if I wanted.
I told him I knew more about advanced algebra than I did sports.
Gould nodded and said, “You’ll learn.”
I said I would at least try to learn. Gould gave me a huge roll of
yellow paper and promised me a wage of 1/2¢ per word. The first two
pieces I wrote had to do with a high school basketball game in which a
member of my school team broke the Lisbon High scoring record. One of
these pieces was straight reportage. The second was a feature
I brought them to Gould the day after the game, so he’d have them for
the paper, which came out Fridays. He read the straight piece, made
two minor corrections, and spiked it. Then he started in on the
feature piece with a large black pen and taught me all I ever needed
to know about my craft. I wish I still had the piece--it deserves to
be framed, editorial corrections and all--but I can remember pretty
well how it looked when he had finished with it. Here’s an example:

[note from serene_rebel: in the original, the corrections are shown
on the page as hand-drawn editor’s marks. I did my best to duplicate
the effect of the markings.]

Last night in the [deleted: well-loved gymnasium of Lisbon High
School] Lisbon High School gymnasium, partisans and Jay Hills fans
alike were stunned by an athletic performance unequaled in school
history: Bob Ransom {deleted: , known as “Bullet” Bob for both his
size and accuracy,] scored thirty-seven points. He did it with grace
and speed. . . and he did it with an odd courtesy as well, committing
only two personal fouls in his [deleted: knight-like] quest for a
record which has eluded Lisbon [deleted: thinclads] ‘s basketball
team since 1953. . .

When Gould finished marking up my copy in the manner I have
above, he looked up and must have seen something on my face. I think
he must have thought it was horror, but it was not: it was
“I only took out the bad parts, you know,” he said. “Most of it’s
pretty good.”
“I know,” I said, meaning both things: yes, most of it was good, and
yes, he had only taken out the bad parts. “I won’t do it again.”
“If that’s true,” he said, “you’ll never have to work again. You can
do this for a living.” Then he threw back his head and laughed.
And he was right: I am doing this for a living, and as long as I can
keep on, I don’t expect ever to have to work again.

II. The Second Introduction

All of what follows has been said before. If you are interested
enough in writing to be a purchaser of this magazine, you will have
either heard or read all (or almost all) of it before. Thousands of
writing courses are taught across the United States each year;
seminars are convened; guest lecturers talk, then answer question,
then drink as many gin and tonics as their expense-fees will allow,
and it all boils down to what follows.
I am going to tell you these again because often people will only
listen--really listen--to someone who makes a lot of money doing the
thing he’s talking about. This is sad but true. And I told you the
story above not to make myself sound like a character out of a Horatio
Alger novel but to make a point: I saw, I listened, and I learned.
Until that day in John Gould’s little office, I had been writing first
drafts of stories which might run 2,500 words. The second drafts were
apt to run 3,300 words. Following that day, my 2,500-word first
drafts became 2,200-word second drafts. And two years after that, I
sold the first one.
So here it is, with all the bark stripped off. It’ll take ten
minutes to read, and you can apply it right away. . .if you listen.

IV. Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully
1. Be Talented
This, of course, is the killer. What is talent? I can hear someone
shouting, and here we are, ready to get into a discussion right up
there with “What is the meaning of life?” for weighty pronouncements
and total uselessness. For the purposes of the beginning writer,
talent may as well be defined as eventual success--publication and
money. If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if
you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then pair the
light bill with the money, I consider you talented.
Now some of you are really hollering. Some of you are calling me one
crass money-fixated creep. And some of you are calling me bad names.
Are you calling Harold Robbins talented? someone in one of the Great
English Departments of America is screeching. V. C. Andrews?
Theodore Dreiser? Or what about you, you dyslexic moron?
Nonsense. Worse than nonsense, off the subject. We’re not talking
about good or bad here. I’m interested in telling you how to get your
stuff published, not in critical judgments of who’s good or bad. As a
rule the critical judgments come after the check’s been spent, anyway.
I have my own opinions, but most times I keep them to myself. People
who are published steadily and are paid for what they are writing may
be either saints or trollops, but they are clearly reaching a great
many someones who want what they have. Ergo, they are communicating.
Ergo, they are talented. The biggest part of writing successfully is
being talented, and in the context of marketing, the only bad writer
is one who doesn’t get paid. If you’re not talented, you won’t
succeed. And if you’re not succeeding, you should know when to quit.
When is that? I don’t know. It’s different for each writer. Not
after six rejection slips, certainly, nor after sixty. But after six
hundred? Maybe. After six thousand? My friend, after six thousand
pinks, it’s time you tried painting or perhaps computer programming.
Further, almost every aspiring writer knows when he is getting
warmer--you start getting little jotted notes on your rejection slips,
or personal letters. . .maybe a commiserating phone call. It’s lonely
out there in the cold, but there are encouraging voices. . .unless
there is nothing in your words which warrants encouragement. I think
you owe it to yourself to skip as much of the self-illusion as
possible. If your eyes are open, you’ll know which way to go. . .or
when to turn back.

2. Be neat
Type. Double-space. Use a nice heavy white paper, never that
erasable onion-skin stuff. If you’ve marked up your manuscript a lot,
do another draft.

3. Be self-critical
If you haven’t marked up your manuscript a lot, you did a lazy job.
Only God gets things right the first time. Don’t be a slob.

4. Remove every extraneous word
You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try
your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And
if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can’t find the
point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again. . .or try
something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft
You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your
encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet,
throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier
than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy
to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have
to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions
to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so
here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby
making sure you have it right--and breaking your train of thought and
the writer’s trance in the bargain--or just spell it phonetically and
correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go
somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you
find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or
Cleveland? You can check it. . .but later. When you sit down to
write; write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and
only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

6. Know the markets
Only a dimwit would send a story about giant vampire bats surrounding
a high school to McCall’s. Only a dimwit would send a tender story
about a mother and daughter making up their differences on Christmas
Eve to Playboy. . . but people do it all the time. I’m not
exaggerating; I have seen such stories in the slush piles of the
actual magazines. If you write a good story, why send it out in an
ignorant fashion? Would you send you kid out in a snowstorm dressed
in Bermuda shorts and a tank top? If you like science fiction, read
the magazines. If you want to write confessions stories, read the
magazines. And so on. It isn’t just a matter of knowing what’s right
for the present story; you can begin to catch on, after awhile, to
overall rhythms, editorial likes and dislikes, a magazine’s entire
slant. Sometimes your reading can influence the next story, and
create a sale.

7. Write to entertain
Does this mean you can’t write “serious fiction”? It does not.
Somewhere along the line pernicious critics have invested the American
reading and writing public with the idea that entertaining fiction and
serious ideas do not overlap. This would have surprised Charles
Dickens, not to mention Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner,
Bernard Malamud, and hundreds of others. But you serious ideas must
always serve your story, not the other way around. I repeat: if you
want to preach, get a soapbox.

8. Ask yourself frequently, “Am I having fun?”
The answer needn’t always be yes. But if it’s always no, it’s time
for a new project or a new career.

9. How to evaluate criticism
Show your piece to a number of people--ten, let us say. Listen
carefully to what they tell you. Smile and nod a lot. Then review
what was said very carefully. If your critics are all telling you the
same thing about some facet of your story--a plot twist that doesn’t
work, a character who rings false, stilted narrative, or half a dozen
other possibles--change that facet. It doesn’t matter if you really
liked that twist or that character; if a lot of people are telling you
something is wrong with your piece, it is. If seven or eight of them
are hitting on that same thing, I’d still suggest changing it. But if
everyone--or even most everyone--is criticizing something different,
you can safely disregard what all of them say.

10. Observe all rules for proper submission
Return postage, self-addressed envelope, all of that.

11. An agent? Forget it. For now.
Agents get 10% of monies earned by their clients. 10% of nothing is
nothing. Agents also have to pay the rent. Beginning writers do not
contribute to that or any other necessity of life. Flog your stories
around yourself. If you’ve done a novel, send around query letters to
publishers, one by one, and follow up with sample chapters and/or the
manuscript complete. And remember Stephen King’s First Rule of
Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don’t
need one until you’re making enough for someone to steal. . .and if
you’re making that much, you’ll be able to take your pick of good

12. If it’s bad, kill it
When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it
comes to fiction, it is the law.

That’s everything you need to know. And if you listened, you can
write everything and anything you want. Now I believe I will wish you
a pleasant day and sign off.
My ten minutes are up.