Tag Archives: Submissions block


The title says it all.  GREAT WRITERS ON THE ART OF FICTION:  FROM MARK TWAIN TO JOYCE CAROL OATES  is a book I’ve wished existed for several years now.  Imagine my joy when I discovered that James Daley had edited together a collection of essays by famous 19th & 20th century writers from North America and Great Britain.  I consider the book a major bargain at a cover price of only $8.95 from Dover Publications.

The list of writers in the book reads like a who’s who:  Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Kate Chopin, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Eudora Welty, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Wallace Stegner, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood.

This is not a “how to” book on writing.  It’s more a broad survey about what famous writers in North America and Great Britain have thought about the art of writing over the last two hundred years.  The essays vary from simple advice to new writers, to complex analyses of style.   So each reader will find that a different set of essays appeal most to him or her.  There is something here for everyone–no matter where they are in their journey as a writer.

For me on my first reading of the book, Sinclair Lewis’ “How I Wrote A Novel On The Train And Beside The Kitchen Sink” was the one that spoke strongest to me this time.   I am glad I purchased this book so that I can reread this essay at my leisure.    I’ll share a sample, but I encourage reading the entire essay to savor Lewis’ acerbic commentary.

…”I think my present life is intolerably dull, and I do want to write.”

“Very well then, I’ll tell you the trick.  You have to do only one thing: Make black marks on white paper.  That little detail of writing is one that is neglected by almost all the aspirants I meet.”

He–and especially she–is horribly disappointed by my cynicism.  He–and often she–finds nothing interesting in making marks on paper.  What he, she, it, they, and sometimes W and Y, want to do is to sit dreaming purple visions, and have them automatically appear: (1) on a manuscript; (2) on a check from the editor.  So he, and the rest of the pronouns, usually finds the same clever excuse:

“But I simply can’t seem to find the time…”

Mr. Lewis then goes on, in a blunt manner, to demonstrate the inherent weakness of this excuse.  As far as he’s concerned, one needs only 1 hour day of writing, six days a week, to get started as a writer.   And if one can’t get an hour, then seize whatever is available, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day.    For the writer who writes 15 minutes a day, gets far ahead of the wanna-be writer who does zero.


I think what I love most about Pushcart’s COMPLETE ROTTEN REVIEWS AND REJECTIONS, edited by Bill Henderson & Andre Bernard, is that it lifts the veil of mystery between writers and the publishing world, and shows us just how human we are all are despite our attempts to become omniscient.   Mistakes get made.  Critics and editors get cranky and misunderstand an important book.  Writers insult other writers.

Any writer who is feeling timorous about submitting his or her work should consider reading this book.  Reading the nasty reviews and rejections other writers have received was an excellent antidote for self-pity.  The book also provides a peek into history, since Bill Henderson made an effort to include rotten reviews going as far back as 411 BC.

I don’t want to spoil the fun of what is inside, so instead I’ll quote from the back cover:

Alice in Wonderland was greeted with “a stiff overwrought story.”  Reviews of Moby Dick cited Melville for “tragic-comic bubble and squeak.”  Classic rejection slips were delivered to John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold: “You’re welcome to Le Carre–he hasn’t got any future,” and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years,”…

My one gripe is that the book has no index, and since the excerpts are not arranged chronologically or alphabetically, I have to randomly flip around to find the author or quote I’m looking for.

This book combines the three separate Pushcart editions of ROTTEN REVIEWS, ROTTEN REVIEWS II, and ROTTEN REJECTIONS.  So you’re getting three books for the price of one.  A great bargain.

Jerrold Mundis’ HOW TO GET OUT OF DEBT

Freelance writer Jerrold Mundis wrote my favorite book on how to deal with writer’s block, BREAK WRITER’S BLOCK NOW, which I blogged about last year.   Well, he also wrote my favorite book on how to deal with debt and cash flow, called HOW TO GET OUT OF DEBT, STAY OUT OF DEBT, AND LIVE PROSPEROUSLY, Revised Edition.

I’ve heard it said that a writer needs to pay off all unsecured debts (such as credit cards) and save up a year’s salary before quitting a day job.   HOW TO GET OUT OF DEBT can help with any debt problems and also provide guidance on tracking monthly expenses to start saving.

The methodology of the book is based on the principles and techniques of Debtor’s Anonymous (DA).   Mundis was a counselor for DA for a number of years before he wrote the book.   So the book focuses on keeping it simple–the psychology of debting, taking care of debt, and making budgets.  If you’re looking for a book on investing, this isn’t it.

I read the book over a year-and-a-half ago, and tried out the techniques.  They worked very well.    All our unsecured debts are now paid off, for which I’m very grateful to DA (for developing the methods in the first place) and Mundis’ book.

The one part of the book I disagreed with was completely getting rid of all credit cards.  I kept just one credit card, locked away, and learned to save up the money to pay for a purchase before putting it on the credit card.  However, if someone cannot keep from abusing credit cards, I can understand why Mundis urges all credit cards must be canceled.

The book is also interspersed with tales of Mundis’ life as a freelance writer (writing both novels and non-fiction).  Since he’s made his living that way for almost his entire career, these brief asides made for fascinating reading.  Here’s an example:

… I spend the morning developing an idea for a magazine article, type up a proposal, and send it off to an editor.  That is an action I can take, that part is mine.  What happens afterward–the result–is totally beyond my control.  The editor may give me the assignment.  She may ask me to rework the idea and submit it again.  She may reject it but ask me to submit others.  Or she may reject it without comment….

It is the very concern with results–usually played out in an imagined negative scenario–that inhibits most of us from taking action in the first place…. Thus, paradoxically, we eliminate any possibility of a positive result because of our fear of a negative result; we never achieve what we desire because we don’t take the action that might turn that desire into reality….

The above two paragraphs are a handy quote to share with anyone who has had trouble with submissions block.

There are other behavioral techniques that Mundis briefly discusses towards the end of the book that can be used to improve one’s productivity as a writer.   An unexpected fringe benefit.

Dealing with Submissions Block

As I’ve talked about before in previous posts, I’ve had trouble with writer’s block and submissions block, which is why I like to post about them in the hopes of helping some other writer down the road.

The writer’s block problem I was able to successfully deal with a couple of years ago.

My final steps in dismantling submissions block only happened about a month ago.  Until then, I could count the number of submissions I’d done to fiction editors over my entire life on my fingers (no toes needed).   This blockage continued for years despite getting requests to see more of my work from former editors at Asimov’s and Tor.   Instead I ran away as fast I could.

The truth of the matter is that I had a phobia about showing my work to other human beings, and until it was dealt with, I wasn’t going to go anywhere.

In the end, it took what psychologists call “desensitization.”  Like someone afraid of spiders, I had to to develop a detailed campaign to slowly dismantle the submissions block.

And so I did.   I started this blog as a way to deal with the problem, and as the block fades away, I suspect this blog will change.   I fell silent here for almost two months as I dealt with the severe stress of getting queries out in an organized determined manner for the first time ever.

I find that rejection itself is okay, and I can deal with it fine.  The mundane reality of rejections is much less frightening than the bizarre phobic fears I once had.

Elizabeth Berg’s ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN–A Great Beginner’s Guide to Writing

Take a moment and try to remember how it felt when you decided you wanted to try writing fiction by yourself for the first time.   You don’t know anything about point-of-view, story and character arcs, acts and beats, query letters and synopses, etcetera.   You had no experience with conferences or critique groups.  Everything about fiction writing was new and strange.

Elizabeth Berg’s ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN: The Art of Writing True (ISBN 978-0-06-092929-9) is a great book for those making their first tottering steps on the road of writing.   It’s the book I recommend to people who’ve expressed an interest in doing fiction writing, but have no clue where to start.

What I love most about the book are the chapters on voice (Ch. 3 ), writing exercises (Ch. 4 ), and writing with passion (ch. 5).   The book gets the reader writing on a regular basis–which is half the battle right there, since writers must write in order to get better at their craft.  I’ve seen new writers get distracted in reading too many books and sitting in too many lectures, and not doing enough writing.  I’ve been guilty of getting distracted myself, and this book got me back on track.

If you’re a more experienced fiction writer, most of the book will be “old news” to you.  However, I think Ch. 3 & 4 & 5 still have advice and guidance useful to the semi-pro (which is probably why they’re my favorites).  Struggles with voice never go away.   Here’s a favorite quote from Ch. 3 In Your Own Words:

I believe that one of your most important jobs as a writer is to be true to yourself, to honor your own notions of what you believe is important to your life and to that of others….I’m sure you’ve heard, countless times, “Write what you know.”  I would change that to “Write what you love.”  The knowledge can be learned; the passion can’t be–it’s either there or it isn’t.