Writing Hurts Like Hell: How to Write a Novel When You Don’t Have Time to Write a Short Story


For years I’ve been threatening to turn my writing workshop into a book. I get emails from friends and former students taunting: “We’re not afraid of no book. Go ahead…do your worst.”

They all use these exact words. With every email I felt worse and worse. I lost valuable beauty sleep, sank into deep depressions that would go on and on for minutes. I flew off the handle at people for no reason:

People: Hey, Biff, how you doin’?”


It was time to do something. It was time to get off my ass and write the book. I mean, over the years I’d prepared detailed notes for each class so that, if anyone missed a class, the notes would bring them up to speed. It was just a matter of putting those notes into a document and calling it…a book! Too easy.

Or so I thought.

When I started putting it all together I realized that I still had a lot of writing to do. In fact, by the time I had a publication-ready manuscript, it was almost a complete re-write. I changed the order of things, dropped material that was appropriate for a live workshop but not for a book, re-wrote some bad writing and made it worse and added material that fleshed out the book with information that all would-be writers need.

I taught this workshop for ten years through UNB’s College of Extended Learning. And it was a blast. It started off bad with me teaching people how to write and giving boring lectures on literary stuff until I realized that I couldn’t teach people how to write. Writing is something you learn by writing, re-writing, writing some more and re-writing until the writing is finished and it’s the best you can do. Anyone can do it, but it takes time…and it hurts like hell. It calls up demons of self-doubt, makes demands on your time and, at times, frustrates you to the point that you don’t even feel yourself pulling hairs out of your head.

So, I thought, I can’t teach people how to write. So what can I do? It started to dawn on me that there was something. I’d been through all the hell of starting novels and dropping them, seeing one great idea after another plunge into nowhere, fighting off the self-doubts, cutting myself off from friends and loved ones, agonizing over pages of pure crap. I’d been through all this and eventually came out with one novel after another and actually had them published.

What I could do is show people how to get through the hell…show them how to avoid the pitfalls and wasted time, how to handle the self-doubts, how to fit the writing into the time slots of their lives and come out of it all with a finished manuscript.

I changed the format of the workshop. I held the first class in the classroom they assigned me on  campus and after that we headed into the city…into bars, malls, studios, people’s homes, coffee shops, parks. We had a live class on the college radio station, we had a class in a hot tub. There were more discussions. There was no talk about grammar. I focused on teaching people how to think like writers and see the world through a writer’s eyes. After a couple of years of this, word got around and the workshop gained the attention of magazines, newspapers and radio stations.

And I kept threatening I was going to turn it into a book someday. Well, I finally did. It doesn’t have the discussions, it doesn’t have the meetings all around the city, and I dropped some of the topics that didn’t fit directly into getting that first manuscript finished. Will the book make it easy for busy people (or anyone) to write a book? No. Writing will always hurt like hell, but the book will show anyone who really wants to write a novel where to start, what to do and how to do it. It will show people how to defeat their self-doubts, build confidence in their creativity and become writers.


Writing Hurts Like Hell: How to Write a Novel When You Don’t Have Time to Write a Short Story is available at Amazon in Kindle format. Don’t have a Kindle reader? No problem. You can  download the Kindle app for just about any device free of charge here.

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