An Analysis of Effortless Story Writing

“That story wrote itself,” I’ve sometimes said. But I exaggerated; it didn’t really happen that way. Still, it got me thinking. What if a story could write itself?

I decided to find out. Being rather sciency, I reckoned I’d conduct a careful and thorough experiment. I would give a story every conceivable chance, every possible opportunity, to write itself. Not because I’m lazy, you understand. This was for Science.

It’s time to shift the tone of this blog post to scientificalic language, lest you start to suspect I’m some kind of…not scientist.

Laboratory Setup – laptop still not writing

Ahem…the laptop was positioned in a roo—I mean—laboratory accustomed to having stories written in it, at a temperature of 24° C at normal atmospheric pressure. The laptop was turned on, plugged into a 120-volt alternating current power source, and word processing software was accessed.

The experimenter then left the laboratory and engaged in other, non-writing activities. These included cleaning other rooms, mowing the lawn, reading books, making and consuming lunch, and driving around town on various errands.

After a period of 8 hours and 24 minutes, the experimenter quietly re-entered the laboratory and discovered that a story had not been written. Even a part of a story had not been written, not a paragraph, sentence, word, letter, or punctuation mark. Neither had any new computer files been stored.

To gather more data, further opportunities were presented to the laptop on subsequent days. Longer time periods were tried, durations up to 73 hours and 53 minutes, with the same result. The experimenter engaged in a wider variety of non-writing activities, at greater distances from the laptop. Some trials were conducted with the laboratory door open, and some with it shut. Actual writing occurred in 0% of these cases.

Similar experiments were conducted with ink-filled pens and reams of blank paper. This served to eliminate the laptop and its software as the causal factor. Despite every opportunity and considerable time provided, the pens created no marks on the paper.

The experimenter tried to “spur” or “seed” the process by writing a first sentence, and allowing both laptop and pen to merely complete the story. These attempts likewise resulted in failure.

Numerous graphs were developed to document the results of these trials. They are not included here because the independent variable refused to depart from the axis; that is, the results were 0 in every case. 0 writing produced no matter what other quantity was being tested.

One common factor in all these trials was the experimenter himself. He therefore consulted several other writers and 100% of them reported the same outcomes in their “experiments,” though their trials were far less scientifical, with no white laboratory coats anywhere in evidence, and they had utterly failed to note the temperature. Mention of them here is included as anecdotal evidence only.

The experimenter is therefore forced to a surprising, though tentative, conclusion—it may be possible that stories do not, in fact, write themselves. The creation of stories appears to require the active participation of a writer. Significant participation actually, in every written story so far. At least this seems true for stories involving this single experimenter.

Further research is clearly indicated to validate or (hopefully) disprove this conclusion. Perhaps some necessary initial condition was overlooked, some nuance of temperature, pressure, time duration, or distance. Maybe positive results might occur under certain lunar phases or planetary alignments. A breakthrough may well await some future experimenter in this exciting research field.

For the advancement of Scientificness, this experimenter encourages others to conduct similar trials, particularly those authors writing in the same competitive genres as this experimenter. Feel free to send your own scientilic trial results as comments to this blog post by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Steps Toward Becoming a Writer

Are there discrete steps or stages between non-writer and writer? Do all writers tread the same path?

I got thinking about that after reading Ani Chibukhchyan’s guest post on thewritepractice.com. She claimed to have passed through seven stages in becoming a writer, and guessed all writers climbed the same set of stairs.

Her stages were: Keeping your writing to yourself, Wanting to share your writing, Hiding behind a pen name, Waiting for permission, Coming out, Insecure introductions, and I am a writer.

With due respect to Ms. Chibukhchyan, the steps I went through don’t entirely match hers, though there is some overlap. Moreover, I suspect there are considerable differences in the stages among all writers. Here are the steps I took:

Step 1. My novel will be a best-seller.

I had the world’s best idea for a novel. Sure, I’d never written anything for publication before, but how hard could it be? After all, getting a killer idea was the most important and difficult part, right?

Step 2. Writing is harder than I thought.

It turned out, having a “killer” idea was not the most difficult part. Not even close. My prose was so bad, even I couldn’t stand the stench. I needed help. I went to writer’s conferences, read how-to books about writing, joined critique groups, and took writing classes. Good! Now I was on my way.

Step 3. When will this %&@!^# novel ever be done?

Novels, it seemed increasingly clear, are long. Reading a novel took some time, but nowhere close to the time it took to write one. Who knew? I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote some more. Before I knew it, twenty years had passed. That’s no typo; I meant twenty (20) years.

Step 4. Should I try short stories instead?

At some point in those two decades, I wondered if I should try something else. Short stories might not be any easier, but they were…well, shorter. Perhaps I could get a few shorts published, establish a vast readership that way, and they’d be clamoring for me to write a novel.

Step 5. Do I dare submit this?

I was done with my first short story, and my finger hovered over the Enter key, the button that would submit the story to a market. Was it ready? Was it my best work? Should I spend a little more time editing? Had I caught all the errors?

Step 6. Drowning in rejections.

After overcoming the fear of submitting, and after embracing Robert Heinlein’s Rules, I submitted story after story to market after market. At one point, I had fourteen stories out there. Problem is, I was getting nothing but rejections. All nicely worded, but still. Dejection set in, along with the feeling that I just wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Until…

Step 7. Wow! I got accepted!

There’s nothing like that first acceptance. If only someone could bottle and sell that feeling. First comes the acceptance e-mail, then the contract, then some edits to fix, and then seeing the book come out, with your name in it! I’ve had over thirty more acceptances since then, but still get excited with each one.

Step 8. I’m a writer.

Well, I’m a short story writer, anyway. No novel yet. No movie deals. No legions of adoring fans (that I know of). Still, I’m several steps above where I started. It feels good up here.

More steps remain for me, I’m sure. I’ll update my stair-stepping journey in a future blog post. What have your steps been like? I can almost guarantee the steps for you will be different than they were for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Writer, Know Thyself

How well do you know yourself? I came across a wonderful post on this topic by Joanna Penn, guest-posting on WritetoDone. I’d like to take her basic idea in a different direction.

As Joanna said, the phrase “Know Thyself” has an ancient lineage, going back at least to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece, but possibly further back to ancient Egypt. It has various interpretations, but for today, I’ll take it to mean that wisdom begins by looking inside.

If you aim to be a writer, able to write convincing tales about characters who are unlike yourself, you must first understand the person from whom these characters will spring.

Why? It’s the filters.

Let me explain. So far in life, you’ve observed the real world and many people for several years. In your mind, you have a model of that world and those people, but it’s not a perfect model. It doesn’t match the real world exactly.

Every sensation of the world has to pass through a filter in your mind, a filter you built over time based on your experiences. It consists of your stereotypes, biases, personality, political views, gender, education, occupation, etc. The filter through which you see the world is your unique perspective based on who you really are, and it is distorting the view you see.

If you write a book, you’re writing through that filter about a world you see and characters you see. Once published, the book is out there, part of the real world for readers to enjoy. When a reader reads your book, she understands and interprets it through her own mental filter.

It’s possible that, despite all this filtering, many readers will enjoy your book and you’ll earn lots of money. If so, it will be in part because your words reached through the filters and entertained readers.

It’s wise, therefore, to take an introspective look at your own filter, to study it with as much objectivity as you can. Who is this person who wants to be a writer, who would write words describing people and who would comment on the human condition? In short, who are you?

Joanna Penn’s blog post makes some great observations about attributes that most writers have in common. But I think it’s just as important for you to understand the specific attributes unique to you.

How do you do that? You could take a few days off, get away from the world as best you can, and write down what you know about yourself. You could take a personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Five Factor Model, or some other measure.

If you do this, I’m certain you’ll find many of the attributes Joanna Penn listed will be true for you (a loner seeking recognition; one who’s scared, doubtful, and creative; one who believes in finishing projects and striving to improve; one who knows the dark side of life).

You’ll find out much more than that, things that make you feel proud to be you and things you wish weren’t true. You will see facets of yourself that are average and facets that are far from the norm.

This project of learning about yourself can benefit you and your writing in several ways:

  • You may find things about yourself you’d like to improve;
  • You’ll know about those parts of you that are unusual, and realize that connecting with readers may take an extra effort;
  • You’ll understand that your characters have personality filters too, and by writing about the world of your story as well as the thoughts of a character, you are revealing something about that character’s filters.

Good luck! And now, excuse me, it’s time for me to get to know—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Analysis of Writer and Non-Writer Morphs

A significant proportion of the Homo sapiens species does not write fiction, leaving that task to a tiny sector of the population that writes all of it. Today we examine this phenomenon and these particular creatures, and draw what conclusions we can from the available data.

Observations indicate the vast majority (greater than 99 percent) of adults within this species do not write fiction. The fiction-writing and non-fiction-writing fractions have not split off as separate species, and seem unlikely to do so. The distinction between the two is behavioral only, so we may define the fiction-writers as the FW Morph, and the others as the NFW Morph. Other sub-species terms such as breed, race, cultivar, ecotype, and strain are not as applicable as morph.

Note: We are only comparing those Homo sapiens who write fiction and those who do not. The term NFW should not be confused with those who write nonfiction books.

FWs and NFWs coexist and both share a similar global distribution pattern. Evidence shows the two morphs consume similar food, display no distinctive appearance differences, and often cohabit and interbreed without apparent preference for their own, or the other, morph. Resulting offspring mature into FW or NFW in the same 1% and 99% proportions, respectively. No statistical correlation is observed regarding passing on the FW trait to offspring. For example, two NFW parents may produce a child who matures into a FW.

In general, the species puts significant value on the education of its young. Nearly all juvenile Homo sapiens are trained in fiction writing, and are encouraged to create their own stories between the ages of 8 and 18 years. Thus, nearly all have the capability to become FW as mature adults, yet few do.

Behavioral differences between the two morphs are significant, and some of these differences are documented below.

  1. Obviously, FWs spend considerable time writing fiction, and NFWs spend no time doing so.
  2. FWs are more likely to read books (both fiction and nonfiction), and to read more often, than NFW.
  3. FWs react in varied and bizarre ways to the acceptance of a submitted story by an editor, and to the arrival of a box of the FW’s own books. These apparent rituals (dancing, fist-pumping, inordinate consumption of alcohol or chocolate have been observed) are thought to be celebratory in nature, but further studies are indicated.
  4. FWs make frequent attempts to discuss their stories with NFWs, rarely with a favorable outcome. NFWs often appear bored, or make some attempt not to look bored. The FW either fails to notice or expresses bewilderment. In extreme cases, an argument ensues and the two separate, usually for a temporary period.
  5. FWs occasionally seek out the company of other FWs. Perhaps this is because they are so rare, or perhaps they understand each other better than they understand NFWs.
  6. NFWs apparently are capable of creative thought and retain vestigial memories of early fiction-writing education. Sometimes an NFW will suggest to an FW that the FW write a story around the idea the NFW just had. FWs almost never do this, and instead suggest the NFW write the story. The NFW will almost never do that.

Since FWs produce a unique product that NFWs consume, and since NFWs produce all other products needed by FWs, an economic exchange relationship has developed. The amount of wealth earned by a given FW apparently depends on the popularity and demand for that FW’s stories among the NFWs.

In an economic sense, it is fortunate that FWs are in the minority; otherwise they would have to pay NFWs to read their books, rather than the other way around.

To the author’s knowledge, this is the first significant study of these fascinating morphs and their interactions in the wild. Clearly, the need for more comparative studies is indicated. Confirmation or refutation of the observations made in this analysis is sought by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

5 Signs of Leximania, the Love of Words

Most writers love words. They adore the sound of them. They revel in learning new words. They marvel over a well-turned phrase. Do you?

I’ll define Leximania as an intense love of—bordering on obsession with—words. It’s not necessary to have leximania to be a writer…but it helps. After all, to a writer, words are like a sculptor’s clay, a composer’s musical notes, a painter’s palette and brush. Words are the tiny bits of noting which, when joined, make literature. They’re the atoms of a writer’s universe, so it’s understandable if writers take an unusual level of interest in them.

When one of my daughters entered high school, we gave her a dictionary for her birthday. That evening, she came to me. “Dad, I think I found a mistake.” She showed it to me, and, sure enough, there was an error in her dictionary.

I was very proud of her. That’s what I’m talking about—not just finding the mistake, but paging through the dictionary, maintaining an interest in the words and definitions, and getting lost in them long enough to notice the mistake. That’s Leximania.

In Chapter 31 of Theodore A. Rees Cheney’s book on editing, Getting the Words Right, he says, “Unless you become a work geek, you’ll have trouble making it as a writer.” He defines a word geek as one who listens to other people’s use of words, both spoken and written; one to whom a dictionary is a friend; and one who delights in discovering and using new words.

There’s a time in our lives when we’re all leximaniacs. Between the ages of 18 and 36 months, you were learning 10-20 new words a week. At that age, you loved learning new words. When you heard a word, and learned what it meant, you rolled it around; you sounded it out; you used it.

Back then, you had particular fascination for words that were fun to say, including abracadabra, blob, banana, baboon, balloon, cuckoo, hocus-pocus, itty-bitty, kitty-cat, knickknack, mumbo-jumbo, teeny-weeny, teepee, topsy-turvy, yo-yo, and zig-zag. Note the interest in rhythm, alliteration, and repetition.

At some point, your vocabulary growth spurt tapered off. Most of us decide we know enough to get by, and don’t bother learning many new words after that.

For writers, leximania either never subsides, or is renewed at some point. However, it’s expanded beyond a love of fun-to-say words. It now includes obscure words with precise definitions or connotations that are perfect fits for a story in progress. It includes unusual parings of words that convey just the right idea. It includes words that give a sentence almost poetic rhythm and flow. It includes short, abrupt words to end a sentence with punch.

To sum up, here are some common symptoms of leximania. Do you:

  • Turn to a dictionary or thesaurus for one word, and end up lost in the book for ten or more minutes?
  • Read or hear an unfamiliar word, look it up, and use it several times that week?
  • Listen to people speaking and try to detect their repeated words and phrases, the rhythm patterns of their sentences?
  • Make a conscious and systematic effort to build your vocabulary?
  • Pause while reading a book to repeat a word or phrase and just admire the author’s genius in word usage?

If you answered yes to two questions, you may have the early onset. Three affirmative answers confirms the diagnosis. Four or more ‘yes’ responses suggest a severe, and probably incurable, case…one from which you don’t seek a cure.

Leximania, though rare, isn’t harmful and may actually extend your life. If you ‘suffer’ from it, my advice is to consider becoming a writer. Ending disclaimer: I’m no doctor, I’m just—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Top 10 Best Things about Being a Writer

Every week this blog reveals deep, mystic secrets about how you can become a best-selling author. See what you’ve been missing by posting cat photos instead of checking out my site?

But why should you want to be a writer in the first place? That is a question never answered in any of my posts…until now.

I interviewed every author on this planet (had to limit it, I only had a week), and compiled each of their reasons for being a writer into a vast database. Then I used artificial intelligence software to analyze those data and order the list by response frequency.

Either that, or I made up some reasons myself. One of those two methods, for sure.

Without further agonizing delays or obvious stalling tactics, I present, in the style of David Letterman, my Top 10 List of the best things about being a writer:

#10. Friends aren’t just friends—they’re character ideas.

#9. Free hobby; it only costs your time…and your sanity.

#8. Don’t like this world? Create your own.

#7. Get back at your Language Arts teacher by breaking rules she taught you.

#6. Commit crimes, but don’t do the time. (So long as they’re fictional crimes.)

#5. Free exotic vacations! Well, you go there in your mind, but you can visit outlandish places, like Antarctica, the Moon, the year 1850, Imaginationia, or even New York City.

We’re down to the top 4 best things about being a writer:

#4. Built-in excuse for insane behavior. “You’re a writer? That explains it. You’re free to go.”

#3. What other people call loafing, you call working.

#2. Sweet revenge on everyone who’s ever wronged you. Kill ‘em in your books.

And the number one top best thing about being a writer:

#1. Writer’s conferences—in the wee hours, hijinks ensue. A few shenanigans also.

If that list doesn’t make you want to be a writer, then you’ll have to make up, I mean compile, your own. Or you can go back to posting cat photos, it makes no difference to—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Quit Your Job to Write Full Time?

Raise your hand if you hate your day job. Haven’t you had enough of meetings, projects, deadlines, office politics, commuting, performance reviews, and dealing with jerks? Sure, there’s a steady paycheck, health care, and someday a retirement package, but those are small compensation for all the stress and aggravation, right?

You’ve been writing fiction as a hobby at home for some time now, and have sold a few stories, received payment as a published author. What if…

Yeah. What if you quit that 9-to-5 grind and became a writer full-time? Freed of the hassle and pressure, able to write all day every day, you would craft higher-quality stories, right? You could crank out best-selling novels.

Yeah. You’ll be your own boss. There will be book signings, major interviews, and book launch parties. You’ll get an agent to do all the negotiating. When those advance checks and royalties roll in, you’ll hire an accountant to keep track of it all. You’ll get a faster car, and a new house. On an island.

Um, yeah. You’re hesitating. After all, that day job is the devil you know, and writing full-time is a leap into the unfamiliar. Those best-sellers aren’t guaranteed, are they?

You know you want to write full-time, so it’s a question of when, not whether. How will you know when the time is right? What are the signposts you must see before taking this off-ramp in your life? Here is my list of ways to know you’re ready:

  • You’re ready for the productivity increase. You’ve been used to writing on the fly, using time you stole from other aspects of your life. When you write full-time, that will be your new job. Now, time won’t be your problem, unless you waste it with nonessential activities. Do you have a long list of story ideas, ready to go?
  • You’re ready for the lifestyle change. Now, when your alarm clock rings, it’s time to wake up. As a full-time writer, you’ll set your own hours, but it will be tempting to stay in bed. Chances are your day job involves plenty of contact with other people. Your writing job won’t; there will be long hours of all-alone time. Maybe you’re used to several restaurant choices for lunch; for a full-time writer, lunch awaits in the fridge.
  •  Your housemates and dependents are ready. Your decision may affect others. What do they think of this? Do they understand you’ll be working at home for long hours and you require quiet conditions? Do they have unreasonable expectations of the chances of achieving fame and fortune? If your income takes a downward trend, will they suffer?
  • You’re ready for the financial changes. You may have been used to a steady salary; prepare for an erratic income with good years and bad ones. You’ll be self-employed, so there will be tax changes, too. That employer-obtained health care goes away, so be prepared to pick up those costs. Don’t forget your 401K, either.

While researching for this blog post, I came across some must-read sources. Mark (M.K.) Gilroy has a short but informative video about the financial aspects. This NPR interview of author Sonny Brewer discusses how your day job may still end up influencing your stories when you shift to full-time writing. Jeff Yeager’s guest-post on Brian Klems’ blog provides ten great questions you should ask yourself before quitting your day job. A post by Holly Lisle relates her experience, both good and bad, when she made the switch. Aurora M. Suarez interviewed romance novelist Ines Bautista-Yao about her fears, her preparations, and the lessons she learned. Check out each of these posts.

Are you ready to quit your day job to write full-time? It’s a difficult decision, I know. I can’t make it for you, and you have to decide based on the facts and feelings in your particular situation. Perhaps this post has given you some things to think about before you decide. That’s the hope of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

13 Ways You’re Writing Wrongly

Inspired by K. M. Weiland’s wonderful post, “How Not to Be a Writer: 15 Signs You’re Doing It Wrong,” I decided to make my own list.

My list differs from hers, since it’s borne of my own experiences. Moreover, I’m sure there are plenty of unlisted items I’m still getting wrong, that hinder me from greater success.

Arranged in rough order of the writing process, here are a baker’s dozen ways you’re writing wrongly:

  1. You’re not actually fitting one word up against another. In other words, you’re not writing any fiction. Maybe you’re easily distracted, doing too much research, talking about being a writer while not writing, or just intimidated by the prospect. Doesn’t matter. If you’re not writing, you’re never going to be a writer.
  1. You bought your limousine and mansion before the advance arrived. Let’s set some realistic expectations here. Most likely, you’re going to labor in obscurity for a while, probably years. First time best-sellers are very rare. Heck, best-selling authors themselves are rare. Only a tiny percentage of writers support themselves with their writing.
  1. You’re copying someone else’s style. After all, (you’re thinking), if it’s working for James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, etc., then it should work for you. Inconvenient fact—readers already have a Patterson, Rowling, Roberts, Grisham, etc. Create your own style.
  1. You’re sure the rules don’t apply to you. I’m talking about those pesky rules of English and the rules of literature, stuff like spelling, grammar, and story structure. All those rules are for mere plebeians, not you, right? Actually, you’re really supposed to know them. As for always following each rule to the letter, see item 5 on my list.
  1. You obsess about following the rules. You’re now a walking dictionary and could qualify to teach English at Harvard. You chiseled the rules onto granite tablets and now pray before the tablets twice daily. Why are your stories not selling? There’s an overarching rule you forgot—you’re supposed to write stories people want to read. If some rule of writing is keeping you from telling a great story, break the rule. Just don’t go too far (see item 4).
  1. You quit before “The End.” Around the world, desk drawers and computer file directories bulge with half-finished stories. If you would be a writer, you must finish your stories.
  1. Your epidermis is on the thin side. In other words, you don’t take criticism well. The most mundane comment from someone in your critique group or from an editor will either set you off in a bout of inconsolable sobbing or high-minded ranting at the imbeciles that surround you. Get a grip. They’re not attacking your personal character; they’re trying to help you improve your story.
  1. You inhabit a world that’s just too slow to recognize the wonder that is you. How frustrating that must be, to cast your gaze at the mortals about you and see them not bowing before the genius in their midst. Well, genius, here’s a word you might look up: patience. Recognition, if it’s to come at all, will come in time.
  1. You revise edit reword amend change adjust vary redraft alter rephrase modify wordsmith rewrite your story endlessly. Sure, that story will be perfect once you work on it a bit more, just add this and delete that, change the POV character, throw in some better verbs and adjectives. It seems like it’s never quite right. True, it never will be perfect, but it could be good enough.
  1. You defy Submission Guidelines. What’s with all these editors, anyway? Each one has a particular format for story submissions, and each format is different. That’s too much trouble for a great writer like you. Your story is so superb the editor will overlook how you flouted a few guidelines, right? Nope, wrong again. Obey those guidelines.
  1. You never click ‘Submit’ or ‘Send.’ That’s because if you do, some editor might actually see your precious story, might read it, and might not like it. Better to keep your story safe with you, in your home, where nobody can ever criticize it. Uh…no. Show your baby to the world. It will be okay.
  1. Rejections are reasons to revise edit reword…rewrite your story. An editor has rejected your story, perhaps even explained why. To you, that’s a sign you must rewrite it before it can be good enough to submit elsewhere. No. Go ahead and submit it elsewhere immediately. (However, if an editor rejects your story but says she’ll accept it if you revise it in a particular way—ah, that’s the sign that you should rewrite and submit it to her again.)
  1. You’re relaxing after submitting a story. There, you just sent your story on its way. Now you can kick back and wait for the acceptance, the contract with the six-figure advance, the launch party, the book tour, and the TV interviews. Sorry, no. You’re supposed to be a writer. Start writing your next story already.

Avoid those pitfalls and you’ll be on your way to becoming a published writer. Best wishes in all your writing efforts, from—

            Poseidon’s Scribe

December 25, 2016Permalink

The Cure #2: Writer’s Block

Long-term readers of this blog will recall I’ve written about writer’s block before, both here and here. I divided the difficulty into two types, major and minor. I’ve discussed the symptoms of both types but only discussed the cures for minor writer’s block.

writers-block-2Today, I’ll delve into major writer’s block (MajWB) and its cures. I define MajWB as the state of being unable to start writing a new work, a condition of long duration. It can last for years and can end a writer’s career.

I’ve never suffered from it, and hope I never do. It must be especially devastating to those for whom writing is their primary source of income. One thing we can rule out in discussing MajWB is the current work in progress; it’s not a matter of being stuck in a plot hole, or being dissatisfied with certain characters. MajWB is the state of not being able to perform any creative writing whatsoever.

With Minor Writer’s Block, I considered that the block was most likely a symptom of something else, an effect. To resume writing, the blocked writer should work on the cause.

Although the causes of Minor Writer’s Block can be large or small, the root of MajWB can only be large. Nothing but a significant event or condition can cause you to be unable to write.

If we assume a writer has MajWB, then presumably there was a time when he or she was writing, and then a later time when not writing. In between, something happened; some significant change occurred. These changes include:

  • A major illness or disease
  • Major depression
  • An ended relationship, whether by death or other cause
  • Financial straits
  • A feeling of failure
  • A feeling of inferiority in comparison with previous success

Whichever of these it is, it must be addressed, not the inability to write. The writer needs to examine what it is about the cause that is resulting in a block. I have no magic pill here, no universal cure-all. Each of these causes will be different, as will the writers involved.

Some authors may be able to resume writing by remembering why they became a writer in the first place, and returning to that frame of mind. Others may find it useful to use the event causing the block as an inspiration for further writing. That is, they could seize the raw emotions of the disease, depression, lost love, etc., and incorporate them in stories.

If some perverse writer’s demon told me I had to endure major writer’s block, but I could pick the cause, I’d choose the last one—the belief I couldn’t live up to past success. This can afflict writers who produce best-selling first novels. It might be difficult to recapture that achievement. At least that one presupposes there has been past success!

You can find out more about writer’s block from reading this post by Ginny Wiehardt, this post by Jeff Goins, this list of famous author’s comments compiled by Emily Temple, and this Wikipedia article.

I believe cases of MajWB are rare, so you should never have to deal with it. Still, forewarned is forearmed, and now you’re both. Although I’m no doctor, I am—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 13, 2016Permalink

What Is It With Authors and Their Pets?

Many authors have pets. I thought I’d speculate why that’s so.

File:Cat August 2010-4.jpg by Alvesgaspar
by Alvesgaspar
dog
by Habj

 

 

 

 

 

I did a little online research and came up with the following table of authors, their pet type and breed, and the pet name or names, if known. For the data in the table, I’m grateful to the bloggers here, here, and here.

Author Pet Type-Breed Pet Name(s)
Michel de Montaigne Cat
Samuel Johnson Cat Hodge
Elizabeth Barrett Browning Dog – Cocker Spaniel Flush
Edgar Allan Poe Cat Catterina
Charles Dickens Bird – Raven

Raven
By Quinn Dombrowski
Grip
Jules Verne Dog Follet
Mark Twain Cat Bambino
Edith Wharton Dogs Mouton, Sprite, Mitou, Miza, Nicette, Mimi
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette Cat
Gertrude Stein Dog – Poodle Basket
Hermann Hesse Cat
Virginia Woolf Dog Pinka
William Carlos Williams Cats
Raymond Chandler Cat Taki
T. S. Eliot Cat
Edith Södergran Cats Totti (favorite)
Dorothy Parker Dog Misty
Aldous Huxley Cat
William Faulkner Dogs
Jean Cocteau Cat
E.B. White Dog – Dachshund Minnie
Ernest Hemingway Cats (23) Snowball, Uncle Willie
Jorge Luis Borges Cat
John Steinbeck Dog – Poodle Charley
Jean Paul Sartre Cat
Wystan Hugh Auden Cat Rudimace
Tennessee Williams Cat Sabbath
William S. Burroughs Cats Fletch, Spooner, Ginger, Calico Jane, Rooski, Wimpy, Ed
Tove Jansson Cat
Julio Cortázar Cat Theodor W. Adorno
Doris May Lessing Cats El Magnifico
Charles Bukowski Cat
Ray Bradbury Cat
Patricia Highsmith Cats and snails

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By Jürgen Schoner
Jack Kerouac Cat Tyke
Kurt Vonnegut Dog Pumpkin
Truman Capote Cat
Edward Gorey Cats
Mary Flannery O’Connor Peacocks (~40)

Peacock_Plumage
By Jatin Sindhu
Manley Pointer, Joy/Hulga, Mary Grace
George Plimpton Cat Mr. Puss
Peter Matthiessen Cat
Maurice Sendak Dog Herman
Philip K. Dick Cat Magnificat
Jacques Derrida Cat
E.L. Doctorow Dog Becky
Joyce Carol Oates Cat
Stephen King Cats and Dogs Clovis (one of the cats)
Neil Gaiman Cats Coconut, Hermione, Pod, Zoe, Princess

Obviously, the most common pets on the list are cats and dogs. However it’s notable that Charles Dickens had a raven; Patricia Highsmith kept snails; and Mary Flannery O’Connor make peacocks her pets.

Before conducting my research, I assumed authors would have clever or literary names for their pets. After all, they know how to choose words carefully. That’s why, in my table, I included pet names where known. However, for the most part, authors name their pets the same things most people do. Maurice Sendak named his dog for Herman Melville, but that’s the exception.

There are websites now for today’s authors to post entries about themselves and their pets—notably here, here, and here.

Why do authors keep pets? Likely for the same reason other people keep pets—companionship. Pets can serve other functions, of course. Dogs can protect a home or assist the blind. Cats can rid a home of mice.

Still, I think certain aspects of pet companionship appeal to authors in particular.

  • Writers spend considerable time away from others, and prefer silence or soft instrumental music while writing. Human voices (even singing) can be a distraction. Pets will lie or sit quietly for long periods.
  • A pet will provide a relaxing break from writing. Often the pet determines these intervals. But it’s thought animals may sense human emotions, and sometimes the pet might detect that the writer needs a break.
  • A writer can use a pet as an unbiased and uncritical sounding board. A pet will listen patiently while being read to, and provide no feedback. The writer has the benefit of an audience, with no need to feel self-conscious about the poor quality of a first draft.
  • A pet can serve as inspiration for a writer who is writing a story about a similar animal. The writer can observe a pet’s movements, habits, and general personality, and incorporate these in the story.

There must be other reasons as well, and I urge you to comment and offer some.

As for me, I do not have a pet. Some years ago, I kept several fish in a nice aquarium, but I gave that up. I’m allergic to animal hair, but some dogs and cats are hairless, so that’s not a real barrier. Who knows, someday a pet might offer its own special companionship to—

Poseidon’s Scribe