Creativity and Beating Writers Block: An Interview with Eva Shaw
January 2, 2003
This interview did not take place on the website due to technical problems. Instead, Ms. Shaw answered a list of questions presented to her offline. While it might not have been as much fun as being there, she provided some great insights on the creative process! Hopefully she can make it live, another time.
Mary Rosenblum, Long Ridge Web Editor
Look for "prolific" in a dictionary and one of the definitions will be Eva Shaw, Ph.D. Check "best selling" and "award winning" too. You might also see Eva’s name there as well.
As an author and ghostwriter, she’s produced more than sixty books, which have garnered rave reviews and won prestigious awards. Her articles have appeared in those national magazines you see at the supermarket and scores of e-zines, newsletters and newspapers, too. She writes a monthly column for www.simplejoy.org and ghostwrites syndicated columns for a nationally known health expert. At last count, she’s written well over 1000 articles. With this impressive publishing record, some writers might slow down. Not Eva. New books are underway and articles are being published monthly.
Eva is a lively, engaging and highly sought-out speaker. She’s passionate about writing and that shows when she’s in the role of writing mentor and teacher. At conferences and events throughout the United States, her presentations draw standing-room only crowds who seek her advice on writing and publishing. Unlike other well-published writers, Eva happily shares the tricks of the trade and how, you too, can become as abundantly creative. With the sure-fire steps she outlines, every writer can be published.
Thousands have taken her writing classes in colleges and universities and now online. They are living their dreams. They are now published writers because they’ve taken Eva’s advice, read her books on writing and enrolled in her courses. Her books just for writers include Writeriffic: Creativity Training For Writers, The Successful Writer’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles, Writing the Nonfiction Book, Trade Secrets, Ghostwriting: How to get into the business.
Some of her books include Shovel It: Nature’s Health Plan (a five-star choice on Amazon.com and with reviewers including The Washington Post and USA Today), the award-winning, highly acclaimed What To Do When A Loved One Dies, The Sun Never Sets, 60-Second Shiatzu, Resumes for Women, 365 Reflections on Love and Friendship, 50 Wooden Crafts to Make with Kids and Eve of Destruction.
A full-time writer and writing teacher, Eva lives in Carlsbad, California with her husband, Joe, and their newly adopted Welsh terrier "Buttons." In her spare time she indulges in gardening, volunteering, hiking, and reading.
While Eva wasn’t able to join us, thanks to cyber gremlins, she answered the questions I thought that members of the audience might ask. So here they are, Eva Shaw’s take onCreativity and Beating Writers’ Block. My questions are in blue. Her answers are black.
Mary Rosenblum, Long Ridge Web Editor
1. What is writers block?
Writer’s block is any hurdle that stops us from writing. Whether it’s real or imagined, if it’s keeping you from creating then it’s worthy of attention. I believe that writer’s block is real, however, I’m a working writer with deadlines and a mortgage. Rather than stumble for months with writer’s block and since I like to eat three meals at day (at least!), I’ve found ways to beat it. Writer’s block if often caused by 1) fatigue. If I’m tired or frazzled or worn out because of illness or troubles, I’m not going to be creative. There’s no doubt about that. And 2) by insufficient preparation. If I have no clue about that which I’m writing, I’m going to have a hard time. Sounds silly? Here are some tips—research, rest, take time off, re-read your work, send a thank you note to someone who has been kind and/or supportive and then refocus yourself. Every profession has times of self-doubt, but I wonder if the dry cleaner has dry cleaner’s block. I definitely hope my hairdresser never starts doing my "do" and stops half way because she had hairdresser’s block.
2. How do you avoid writers’ block? Ways to avoid it? Yes, practice your craft. Write every day and learn how to become a better writer. It’s frustrating to attempt to create a gourmet meal if you’ve never cooked anything but Campbell’s soup. Likewise, it’s frustrating to attempt to write a novel or essay if you have trouble writing an articulate e-mail.
3. Do you recommend any exercises to deal with it? Yes, in my writing journal/workbook "Writeriffic" (Writeriffic Publishing Company, available at www.writeriffic.com, 866-244-9047), you’ll find oodles of writing prompts and techniques to get the muse in action. Try this, choose an item and then for five minutes write what you might do with 100 of the item. "With 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d feed…" "With 100 dogs, I’d probably go mad, but would…"
4. How do you wake up your muse? Read, take classes, attend conferences but whatever you do WRITE. Writing as an addiction and hobby, profession and career, isn’t for wimps. That’s why it’s called work…it takes determination and energy to write. Not every day will be a good writing day, not every day will you discover wonderful sparkling prose coming out of your brain. It takes work…but I believe that we all have a God-given creative side and can tap into it. I highly recommend doing at least one non-writing non-creative or creative thing every day, from walking to painting, anything that make you happy. I love to walk, and put on four miles a day. While I walk, I think of plots or characters and article ideas and publicity for my nonfiction books. I also keep healthy and maintain a healthy weight. Find out what works for you.
5. What do you do when the words don’t come? Get away from the computer or your journal and do something really nice for another or yourself, call another writer for a SHORT chat, visit the bookstore, get some water, garden and pull weeds, play with your animal companion. You are not a bad writer if words do not come; sometimes you’re simply a tired writer.
6. Does health affect your writing? I’m an energetic woman and yet, I’ve had some health issues in the past that have put a strain on my writing. When I’m ill, I usually come into my office to write (my home office) and there’s always something to do, something to work on. This really does make me feel better. I think as much as health, we writers need to make sure we have a good supportive chair, proper lighting, and ventilation and eat regularly.
7. How much is my family support or lack of it going to affect my writing? In a perfect world, every writer would have a wonderful family, spouse and great friends who adore every word written. In our world, that’s simply not the case. If you do not get the support from your loved ones, then carefully find someone who you can bounce ideas off of and/or trust with the latest draft of your work. Remember, creativity scares people. Everyone knows how weird us writers can be, so be gentle with your family when they do not understand your writing. BUT do not stop because they do not support you.
8. How can you get your family to support you? There’s never a single way, but since the Golden Rule is pretty darn complete you might try that. Are you supporting their lives and hobbies and new adventures? If you are not, perhaps that’s your answer.
9. How do I deal with rejection slips? If you’ve never heard the word "no" before, well you’ve just read it now. That really is the worst that can happen. An editor might say, "No thanks." This is not a rejection of YOU but rather a statement that your work isn’t right for that editor or agent. If you let "no" stop you, then sorry, you will not become a published writer.
10. Can you recommend any good books to spark my creativity? Yes, Writeriffic: Creativity Training for Writers by me…yes, this is shameless self promotion, but why would I not recommend the book that I slaved over and that has inspired thousands of my online writing and traditional university writing class students! I also love The Courage to Write, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing and The Artist’s Way.
11. What are some good sources for publishing? Writer’s Market is THE source, and you can access lots of magazines and online ezines by searching on the ‘Net. Be sure to save all the magazines you read and see how your work or genre might fit into those.
12. How can you find an agent? What do agents really do? If you want an agent, be sure to read Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers ad Literary Agents by Jeff Herman, available at bookstores and libraries. You can find an agent in this reference book but I recommend attending writing conferences and networking with other writers for referrals to their agents. Remember, an agent works for you and a good one can bring you work. Agents represent your writing (only books) to publishers and they’re also there when problems occur, should that happen, later on. For instance, if I was having trouble with a publisher who was not making books available at book signings, I would call my agent and ask her to straighten this out.
13. How many drafts do you do before you’re finished? At least 10…sometimes many more.
19. Can critique groups be bad for a new writer? Yes, critique groups can be bad…and waste an emerging writer’s time. If you hang out with time wasters, you can become one.
20. What happens at a writing conference? Come and visit my site, www.evashaw.com, and click on "In Person" to see where I’ll be speaking in the next six months…at many writing conferences. At writing conferences, you’ll meet and mingle with scores to hundreds of writers, publishers, agents, editors and experts. I believe they are valuable to writers of all levels IF the writer wants to improve his/her craft. At most conferences there are workshops and lectures, always great food, time to talk one-on-one with publishers and agents, and the motivation for any writer is outstanding. Find one that meets your budget and then give it a try.
21. Have you ever had your writing rejected? Zillions of times. At first it hurt. I’ve found rejection is a lot like aerobic exercise. At first, especially if you’ve been sedentary, exercise is a killer—everything hurts, including your butt muscles. But after consistent exercise for say a month and many workouts, you no longer have aching muscles. The same is true with rejection, if you keep at pitching your work, the rejections hurt less. They still come to me…tomorrow or maybe Monday I’m going to revise an article I’m reading for a leading health magazine because the editor, who accepted my query and loved my idea, now wants a total restructure of the 2500 piece. Will it be better this time around? No, but it will be different and if I want to sell this article and I do, then as a business person, I work to please my customer (who happens to be the editor).
22. Why do query letters fail? Because there isn’t a strong hook. They fail because the writer hasn’t used the 5W’s and the H* to itemize what she/he will include in the article. They fail when the writer takes on a topic that is too big for an article. The fail when the writer cannot explain why he/she should be able to write the article. They fail because a writer doesn’t send them or quits sending them before finding the right magazine.
editor’s note: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How….
23. How can we learn to write effective hooks? This is a favorite topic with me. I give this exercise in my online writing classes and in the traditional university ones, too. Get a copy of Reader’s Digest (not to send your articles to, because as you know they rarely by original material) and read the hooks on the articles. Notice the techniques that are consistently used and which most appeals to you. Study a number of issues and then look at the hooks for the articles in magazines you want to write for. Duplicate the styles.
24. How can we stop that internal critic? Put him/her in a large box—do not drill holes in the box as that can defeat your purpose. Next trash-pick-up-day, put the box at the curb. Wave goodbye. OR, read The Courage to Write, by Ralph Keyes or The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. You can also send your critic to me, P. O. Box 524, Carlsbad, CA 92018, www.evashaw.com, and I have ways of dealing with even the peskiest of them.
25. What makes a good writer? Tenacity. Do not give up. My first book, 60 Second Shiatzu, was rejected by 49 publishers. Old #50 bought it and with that publisher it went into 9 printings, it was sold and published in 13 foreign countries, Simon and Schuster bought it for distribution throughout the UK, Quality Paperback Book Club published in 5 or 6 times, and a few years ago Henry Holt Publishers bought the rights and with six months of the first printing it came out again. So if I’d given up with five rejections or 25, I wouldn’t have had that publishing success, that money (royalties are GOOD) and that story to tell. My book Shovel It: Nature’s Health Plan was criticized by a number of publishers and rejected. I didn’t give up and since it’s been published, it’s been praised to no end in USA Today, Washington Post, San Diego Union Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Country Living Gardener about 100 other publications. If you know you must write, write. If you have doubts, write. Only you can make yourself a successful writer or a writer who only talks about "someday."
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