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One of the questions that one hears in Writers’ Groups, especially online, is, “How do you beat Writer’s Block?” The simple answer? Write. I know, I know, easier said than done. How do you write when you’re blocked? you say. It’s the same thing you do to “Write your way outta the Trailer Park” per se.
WRITING YOUR WAY OUT OF WRITER’S BLOCK
I don’t keep a Journal or a Notebook. Those two things have always been a source of Tyranny for me. I buy blank books for Journaling, and Notebooks for, um, Notebooking. But I’m too inconsistent to Journal on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. So, those Journals and notebooks are a source of near-crippling guilt for me. Plus, in recent years I’ve developed diabetic neuropathy in all ten fingers. Writing longhand hurts. I can type on my laptop or phone and it’s tolerable. But pen and paper, or worse pencil and paper, are too painful. I save those for short pieces like poems, song lyrics, index cards, and Post It notes.
My solution? I get out my laptop and I write what Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron both call “Morning Pages.” But, sorry Dot and Jules, I don’t actually write them in the morning. I write them whenever I find the time. I write them at night, sometimes after Midnight, so that could qualify as Morning. But, for me, the Morning part of Morning Pages is more a suggestion than a Commandment.
I don’t do mornings well. Writers writing at the crack of Dawn? Ha! Only if we’re still up. Am I right? You know I am, my fellow scribes and/or degenerates.
HOW MORNING PAGES WORK
Okay, now that we have things defined a little better, here’s what you do wit your Morning Pages. You write whatever you feel, think, wonder, whatever. Natalie Goldberg, in “Writing Down The Bones,” called Writing Practice. And what Natalie suggested was this, keep the hand moving. Keep the fingers typing. Keep the pen or pencil moving on the page. If you don’t know what to write, Natalie said, then write THAT. Write, “I don’t know what to write. This is stupid, my head hurts and I’m a nauseous. I can’t believe I have to write this stupid page for the next ten minutes…” Do this for, you guessed it, 10 minutes.
That’s what former Poet Laureate Rita Dove calls, “A Ten-Minute Spill.” Don’t edit yourself as you write, don’t stop to correct spelling and grammar mistakes,
Write RELENTLESSLY for 10 minutes. In fact, if you want to be more productive as a writer, NEVER let your Writer and your Editor write at the same time. As Peter DeVries said, “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.” For 10 minutes, Let it fly, baby. When your 10 minutes are up, stop. Later on, you can experiment with 15 Minute Spills, 20 Minute Spills. I’ve done a 60 Minute Spill before, but it was terrible.
When you start doing the 15 Minute or 20 Minute Spills, set a Pomodoro Timer AKA a Tomato Timer. These timers are usually set for 25 minutes. It’s a common Office Productivity technique to do timed-spills of 25 minutes. They call these 25 minute spills Pomodoros, with a 10 minute break between Pomodoros.
But, hey, we’re writers, not office workers. Let’s set our Pomodoro Timers to 10 minutes to start. with 5 minute breaks between each Pom. Four Poms to the set and we’ve done 40 minute of writing in one hour. Later, we can do 20 minute Poms if we want, or even full-out 25 minute Poms with that 10 minute break
I don’t mean to use the Pomodoro Method with Morning Pages. Using that method will come later.
HOW THIS HELPS WRITER’S BLOCK
How do you use Morning Pages, and Freewriting, to help your Writer’s Block? Simple. Once you start writing your Morning Pages, you’ll find it natural for your mind to transition from, “I hate this. I don’t know what to write…” to “What if an alien became Pope? IS the Pope an alien, hmm,” or even something like, “It occurred to me that my Protagonist has TOO much backstory. If I cut that out of the story and gave my Protagonist more of a Mysterious past…” Those things will happen once you learn how to Free-write.
That’s how I do my Morning Pages. I keep my morning pages private. It’s okay to write Laundry Lists in there if I must. But I’ve ALSO given myself permission to cut-and-paste any story material I want to use or to develop. More on that in the section below.
Freewriting works apart from Morning Pages or from the Timed-Spill Method. Professional writers use a technique known as “Writing your way into the story.” It works like a Timed-Spill, but it’s not timed. Call it an Untimed-Spill. You write any old thing until the story or the scene starts working, then, later, you cut out the warm up material. If it’s good stuff, cut-and-paste it into a Tickler File, or even into a dedicated Word doc labelled “Story Ideas” or some such title. Because, as my old friend Helen the Hoarder used to say, “Ya never know.”
Remember, fellow scribblers, writing is supposed to be fun. If you’re a writer and you’re not having fun WHILE YOU’RE ACTUALLY WRITING, then stop doing it. Or better yet, do what you have to do to make it fun again. Fall in love with storytelling again. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination. One day, maybe when you’re a Multi-Zillion Selling Author with-a-capital A, you’ll realize what so many successful Artists have realized before you:
The Journey IS the Destination.
Keep reading, and keep writing,
Hello, there, I’m Chris Jay Becker. I’m a veteran writer. I’ve written everything from screenplays to mystery/crime novels to stand-up comedy. I’ve also written ad copy, radio and TV commercials, telemarketing scripts, and website and blog content with or without SEO. I’m also a freelance editor specializing in both Fiction and Non-Fiction Kindle books. Let me know what you need written, edited, or both.
There’s something great about writing for ten minutes completely off the top of one’s head. There’s no time for thinking, no time for self-editing, just putting pen to paper or fingers to keys. Just write what you’re thinking as you’re thinking it. Like the title says, a little off the top. It’s kind of a funny expression that you would say to your barber or stylist, but, in this case, it means A Little Off The Top of your head. Note, also the happy coincidence that the first three words of the phrase just happen to be “A Little Off.” Coincidence? Yes. Like I said, a happy accident. It works for me, though. As Tom Robbins once said in an interview, If it works, it works. My ten minutes is not even up yet. Keep typing. There we go, there’s my timer.
What This Website Is About
This is the Official Website and Blog of Writer, Comedian, and Content Creator Chris Jay Becker. But we would this site to be a resource for other writers through CJB’s “A Writer’s Life” Blog, and through the Writers’ Resources links .
We hope that fellow writers, editors, and readers will find value on this website that will help them in their journeys, and with their writing lives.
Keep Reading and Keep Writing.
MY NEWEST SCHEME
Today, May 1st, 2022, just happens to be my birthday. BUT… it’s not because of another birthday that I’m setting this new goal, a goal that would normally be a New Year’s Resolution, it just happens to be 5 months too late for that, but at least it’s the 1st of the month so I can run this 12-Month Plan from THIS May Day until May Day 2023, and then I’ll see what I’ve accomplished.
HERE’S THE IDEA
The Idea is based on Heinlein’s 5 Business Rules:
- You must write.
- You must finish what you start.
- You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
- You must put it on the market.
- You must keep it on the market until sold.
DEAN WESLEY SMITH’S BOOK
This is explained best by Dean Wesley Smith in his book “Heinlen’s Rules: Five Simple Business Rules For Writing.”
In this highly-recommended book, Smith recounts how he, as a fairly-experienced short story writer, discovered Heinlein’s Rules in a 1947 how-to book, and he accepted Heinlein’s challenge. Note that Heinlein never says how much to write, he simply says “You must write” but, to me, the word “daily” is kind of implied because we’re writers, and that’s what we do.
Smith applied it thusly: he pledged, on January 1st, 1982, to write one story per week. He wound up writing 44 stories that year, made his first sale in early 1983, and he has never looked back. Note that he’s written 44 stories, keeping them constantly “in the mail” and had probably finished a few early 1983 stories before he made his first sale.
Others have suggested an alternate track of one short story every 2 weeks.
Since I’m old enough and have been a writer long enough, to realize that Heinlein’s Five Rules are really nothing more than a motivational tool. They’re not an Unbreakable Covenant, I will be flexible with my goals.
But here’s what I will do: I will start off with the One Story Per Week goal to start out. If I need to scale back to One Story Every Two Weeks somewhere down the road, I can do that.
I know myself well enough to KNOW beyond the shadow of a doubt that if I start with the Biweekly goal hoping to ramp up to Weekly in a few months, it will never happen.If I start out doing the Weekly Story Goal, and life intrudes, other writing jobs interfere, or I run out of story ideas, I can drop back to the Biweekly Story Goal. Either way, in one year, I’ll have 25 to 50 stories written.
Things could change quickly, though. I just contacted a publisher of Westerns about my nearly finished short Western novel. If they want to publish it, then I may be locked into churning out a new Western novel every month or two. The publishing cycles for such Western publishers seem to run like that.
If I decide to tackle a BIG project, it will probably be writing a big, 80K to 100K Blockbuster Thriller. That’s the one project that I would put all my other projects on hold for. I’d do like Jim Grant, AKA Lee Child did when he wrote his first few Jack Reacher novels… take up to 6 months to write one, then, after short break of a week or two, start writing another one. For a Blockbuster Thriller that’s going to be designed to find me an agent and a Big Six publisher, as opposed to toiling away writing a half-dozen niche Indie Crime novels , writing two a year should be fine. That is IF they are, indeed, bestsellers.
Til later, friends,
Keep Reading, and Keep Writing,
CHRIS J. BECKER?
I’m Christopher J. Becker, but you can just call me Chris. My pen name/stage name is Chris Jay Becker. I never go by Christopher… too stuffy and prissy, IMHO, and there are far too many guys, and girls, named Chris Becker in this world, so a middle name or initial was necessary. Chris J. Becker bores me, I keep my middle name private, so an old friend back in Washington State said, “Why don’t you spell OUT your middle initial… J-a-y. Chris Jay Becker?”
CHRIS JAY BECKER
I liked it because of writers Stephen Jay Gould, and Bruce Jay Friedman, plus Chris Jay was also my “Billy Bob” name, which made me laugh, and it also serves as a tribute to many great Texas Singer-Songwriters like Billy Joe Shaver, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Robert Earl Keen. That’s why, when I recorded my first Americana album, “My Story…And I’m Stickin’ To It,” (Blue Revolushun Records– 2001), I used Chris Jay Becker as my recording artist name, and Chris Jay Becker is listed as the songwriter for those songs with ASCAP. I am both an ASCAP Writer-Member and a Publisher-Member as Hallelujah Street Music…. which I usually style as “Hallelujah! Street Music.”
CHRIS JAY BECKER… THE BRAND
With so many others named Chris Becker in the world, becoming Chris Jay Becker also opened up huge branding opportunities for me: chrisjaybecker as an e-mail brand was available for me at Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, iCloud, Outlook, pretty much everywhere, and chrisjaybecker.com was readily available, as you would know since that’s the site you’re on right now.
CALL ME CHRIS
When I published my debut Crime novel, “Death In The Fastlane” in 2011, Chris Jay Becker was my byline, as it is with my other Amazon titles. Whenever I sell a short story, I have to tell the editor NOT to put just plain Chris Becker or Chris J. Becker as the byline. Chris Jay Becker is my brand name.
But, when you’re talking to me, or if you message me, don’t call me Chris Jay. It’s just Chris, or Beck.
Or C-Beck. That’s my “J-Lo name.”
Or even CJB. That’s my “JFK name” ;-). CJB Drive has a nice ring to it. CJB Boulevard?
I also sometimes use the British nickname for Christopher, which is Kit, i.e. Kit Marlowe, Kit Smart, Kit Lambert, Kit Harington, Kit Carson. I’ve used Kit Baker as a pseudonym once or twice, with Baker being the English translation of the German-surname Becker. Why the hell not? Kit Baker sounds like an Elizabethan scoundrel, and it’s ambiguous enough, gender-wise, to use for stories that need a feminine-sounding pen name, such as Romances and Cozy Mysteries. More on these things in a later post.
Keep Reading and Keep Writing, friends.
My promise to the Reader:
1. I promise to be clear, honest, and concise.
2. I will write with a sense of humor, even the piece is frightening, scary, or strident. On second thought, I’ll throw in some jokes then, too.
3. I will write with a sense of awe, a sense of wonder, and sense of the phantasmagorical if at all possible, and sometimes, even when it’s not.
4. My influences include The Three Rays: Raymond Chandler, Raymond Carver, and Ray Bradbury. They also include novelists like Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Garcia Marquez; screenwriters like Bill Goldman, Kevin Jarre, and the Coen Brothers; and even advertising copywriters like Michael Masterson, and Bob Bly. They’ve all been great teachers. 5. My Journalism School training taught me the value of What Makes a Story, Dog Bite Man… No Story. Man Bites Dog… now THERE’S a STORY.
6. I will not limit myself to one way of telling a story. If a new story demands I fresh approach, I will do what I need to tell that story in a new way.
7. I promise to use a diversity of voices to tell these stories. I will create multicultural cast of characters, especially in a my Western stories.
8. I write Fiction… including Mysteries, Science Fiction, Westerns, and Literary Fiction. I write Web Content and Blog Posts. I write Direct Market Ad Copy, Reviews, Comedy Material, Memoir, and Personal Essays. And I will write whatever else the Universe sends my way.
9. I will write some of the above… Web Content, Blog Posts, Ad Copy, Reviews, Comedy Material… for money. I’ll write the rest of it… Fiction, Screenplays, My Comedy Material, Memoir and Personal Essays… for love and fun. If any of those works start paying off, bonus!
10. I promise listen to my readers, to hear what moves or doesn’t move them in my writing.
11. I promise to help newer writers if I can, to encourage them to keep on writing, or to offer a few tricks of the trade
12. Finally, I promise to Keep On Writing.
SERVICES FOR HIRE:
Direct Market Copywriting.
E-mail Sales Letters
Website Copy with maximized SEO
Radio/TV Ad Scripts
Stand-Up Comedy Material
THE GREATEST WRITING MAXIM THAT HEMINGWAY NEVER SAID
“Write drunk, edit sober,” it’s an often-quoted bit of advice generally attributed to Ernest Hemingway. This pithy quote is all over the internet. You can buy Write Drunk Edit Sober posters, Write Drunk Edit Sober coffee mugs, and Write Drunk Edit Sober t-shirts, often accompanied by a photo of Papa Hemingway himself.
Write drunk edit sober. Never mind that Hemingway never actually said it. It’s actually a paraphrase of something 1960’s novelist Peter De Vries had his main character say in his 1964 novel “Reuben, Reuben.” in that book the character, a famous drunkard poet Gowan McGland, says, “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober…”
You remember De Vries… he’s the guy who said, “I love being a writer… what I can’t stand is the paperwork,” another quote which has often been attributed to everyone from Hemingway to Capote to Groucho Marx. Poor De Vries is the Rodney Dangerfield of American novelists… the Quotation Gods never give him any respect.
Here’s the full McGland utterance:
“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”
Write drunk edit sober. To quote Yosemite Bear when he saw the double-rainbow, “What can this MEAN?”
Let’s dissect the chief elements of McGland’s fictional utterance, because there is just so much there:
Okay, most of us have done this, literally, at one time or other. For me, it’s a load of fun but it rarely produces readable copy. The whole Blakean ideal of a derangement of the senses in order to produce Art… it seems to work on some levels for some of us. In my personal experience, getting even a little out of ones head works well for short pieces like poetry, song lyrics, jokes, or story ideas. It doesn’t work at all for me when it comes to writing long stretches of story.
Then again, what intrigues most of us about this whole idea to “Write Drunk Edit Sober” is the realization that Hemingway, De Vries, or whomever we choose to believe said this maxim, was not necessarily trying to say to write drunk in the literal sense, but, rather in a broader metaphorical sense. As Charles Baudelaire wrote, “Get drunk, with wine, with poetry, or with virtue as you please.” Our “drink” may not be drink at all… it could as easily be good food, good company, Love, Romance, Sex, God, or even good old-fashioned sleep-deprivation. In other words, STOP OVERTHINKING THINGS… WRITE without editing yourself. The editor part of you will do his or her job later. Never write and edit at the same time. Even if you have your story all planned out with maps and flow charts and outlines when it’s time to write, then just blow, man. Jam it out. Let yourself get into the white-hot zone of creation. Just jam it out until the words refuse to come out any more. Then put that writing aside ’til at least tomorrow. For now, write like Dionysus/Bacchus on a wine bender, let the rhythm, the music, the colors, the smells, just wash over you like a warm forgiving Sea.
Next, we’ll look at the Apollonian half of the dichotomy. The Soberness. The Editor. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun too. As the saying goes: Writing is Art, Rewriting is Craft.
EDIT SOBER, WAY MORE FUN THAN IT SOUNDS
Alright now, people. This here’s where the rubber meets the road.
You’ve already hammered away at your latest masterpiece, AKA, the WIP, and you wrote it three-sheets to the wind, drunk, plastered, bombed, or at least an approximation thereof (I’ve heard T.M. works great, as does good old-fashioned Speaking in Tongues.) Remember it’s Write Drunk, Edit Sober, so you Wrote Drunk, or at least out-of-your-skull with or without chemical assistance.
So now you’re left with a brilliant-in-spots steaming pile of words.
What to do what to do what to do?
Another Jager Bomb? Later, dude.
Write Drunk, Edit Sober.
It’s coffee time, or Red Bull, or Monster, or Rock Star. But NEVER Diet Rock Star, that offends my sensibilities. I mean, NOBODY ever said, as a child, “When I grow up, I wanna be a DIET Rock Star. Buy me a low cal guitar, Daddy.”
Anyway, it’s time to Edit Sober.
So how do I do that?
Here’s Big Daddy Becker’s Five-Step Program (You were worried I was gonna say Twelve-Step Program, right, ladies? Relax there, Drunky McGee.)
1. READ YOUR COPY ALOUD:
Nothing helps iron out awkward prose like the good old ham-actor’s “Line reading.” You should write they way you speak, anyway, so this is a major step in that direction.
2. CHECK FOR MOVING BLOCKS:
These are paragraphs that make sense, but not necessarily WHERE they are now. Would this paragraph make more sense down the page a click or two, preferably with the other paragraphs that are on the same subject matter. The problem with Writing Drunk, is we have a tendency to “Shoot all over the tree.” So get those disparate threads of thought and put them where they belong. Sing that old Sesame Street song to yourself,”One of these things is not like the others/one of these things does not belong…”
3. CHECK FOR HOMOPHONES:
Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently and mean different things. Watch for these:
Too, Two, To
The problem with sound-alike words? Spell-check is not gonna catch them because they are actual words which are spelled correctly, but are being used incorrectly.
Which brings me to my next point…
4. RUN A GRAMMAR CHECK:
This is always a good idea. However, there are times when perfect grammar makes for stiff writing. So read your corrected copy aloud again.
5. SLEEP ON IT:
Put your copy aside overnight. Edit it again in a day or two when you’re no longer in the white heat of creation. Have you ever re-read one of your stories weeks, months, or even years later only to be pleasantly surprised at how good it is? I have. I’ve even gone so far as to say, “Wow. I actually WROTE THIS? This is pretty good.”
Letting a piece cool-down overnight also helps you put on your editor hat. I love being an editor. I have often fantasized about being a great editor like Maxwell Perkins, Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, or John Campbell. Using the element of Time to separate your own writing from your churning creative brain allows you to edit your copy as if you were not the writer. Be the sober Max Perkins, let that drunken Thomas Wolfe stay home in North Carolina nursing his hangover while you’re in your Manhattan offices sharpening your blue pencil.
Get to it, baby.
It’s Time for an adventure: enjoy great Cuban food and drink with me this Friday night at Iowa’s only Cuban restaurant, THE LOST CUBAN
You and I have often discussed the fact that we’re each bored with the dozen Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and other restaurants in the area, and I’d heard of the Lost Cuban, so it was on my short list of places to try.
BECAUSE GOOD FOOD ISN’T ALWAYS EASY TO FIND.
So, I recently tried the Lost Cuban, Cedar Rapids sole Cuban restaurant. I’m so very glad I did.
The Lost Cuban is located in Cedar Rapids newly-revitalized downtown. I arrived after 6 pm, which is, happily, when the downtown parking meters and parking garages turn Free, so parking was a breeze.
The host was friendly and seated us right away, explaining the specials and taking our drink orders as we were seated. The restaurant is geared more to the lunch crowd, so it was brightly-lit with high-topped tables and stools, but the lack of atmosphere or mood-lighting was forgiven as soon as we tasted the food.
GOOD CUBAN FOOD IS HARD TO FIND
The owners use the best and freshest ingredients available, and he uses recipes that were handed down from generation to generation in his family. As they put it, “Straight from abuelas recipe book to your plate.”
I’ve had some great Cuban Sandwiches before, but that was in larger, more cosmopolitan cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, so I didn’t know what to expect from a Cuban restaurant here in Iowa. I need not have worried, the pulled pork was amazing, tender and juicy, and better than the pork at those bigger cities, and the Cuban bread, which was baked fresh on the premises, was wonderful. They even offered a pineapple habanero sauce that complimented the pulled pork perfectly and made my taste buds dance just a little.
My companion tried the slow-cooked Ropa Vieja, served with sides of yuca, plantains, and black beans. She said it was the best Ropa Vieja she’d ever tasted. Cuban Ropa Vieja is a delicious shredded flank steak marinated in tomato sauce with bell peppers, onions, garlic, and brown sugar and cooked slowly for at least 4 hours. Ropa Vieja is Spanish for Old Clothes, but the taste is amazing. Comfort food at its best.
Other specialities include fresh baked Cuban Bread, and Mojo Roasted Pork. All marinades and sauces are made from scratch.
You’ll love The Lost Cuban.
I’ll pick you up Friday at 7:00 PM.
P.S. They also have a newly-built full service Bar. The Mojitos were fantastic.