You Know More Than You Think

The old saw about writing is that you should “write what you know.”

In one way this is complete and utter bull-hockey. If authors only wrote what they knew, we’d never have cell-phones (based on Star Trek communicators) or Waldo’s (those hand grip things you can control from a safe place, based on the same idea from… I want to say Heinlein) or virtual reality (Hello there, Mr. Gibson) or even the USA (Thank you, Mr. Jefferson.) Authors create worlds of new inventions, solve age old problems, and generally let their minds extrapolate beautiful futures from what they’ve learned.

On the other hand, it’s completely true. Writers write about small family dramas, about political maneuvering, about growing up. No matter where these things happen, here or in outer space, they’re still things we know. If my romantic couple has a screaming fight, but they’re trapped in a space ship (car) and she can’t just pop outside, they have to deal with it. If the kids are annoying, you give them something to play with (though it might be an interactive holodeck rather than a spinning top.)

Writers know more than they think. You know more than you think. You know about love and loss and grief and friendship. You know about struggling through an endless day and walking out in the sunshine. You know that frogs come out in the summer and fireflies flickering on the back porch means the weather has changed over from spring. You know that your mother and grandmother can fight even if they’re fighting over nothing. You know that your grandfather is quiet but whispers hilariously mean things into your ear at parties.

You know emotions and conflicts and what it’s like to hold the hand of your first girlfriend. You know what it’s like to get home after a ten hour day of putting out metaphorical fires and just wanting to curl up in your bed and drink half a bottle of wine.

So, take what you know, those conflicts, emotions, and muddled up relationships and put them on a space-ship. Drop them into the middle of a war-zone. Have your kick-ass soldier find out that his dog died while he wasn’t there to comfort him. Then, tell me that truth.

Then submit the darned stories and let other people see them.

PS: Still seeking essays on the fandom life for our Star Wars edition of Fandom Universe. Deadline is April 1st (no joke). Release will be May 4th.

5 TED Talks you should hear

*Nervous laughter* Oh, it’s my week again already? Um, I have ideas, some of them are a little too prone to earth shattering rage — like my response to The Guardian’s investigation of a possible black-site in Chicago. Way to get rid of that corrupt and horrible image Chicago PD. Good on ya, bastards.

But you know what? I don’t want to flail in incoherent rage at the perfidy of the Chicago PD. So, instead, I’m going to offer up 5 TED (et al.) presentations I think everyone should watch. Some of these are from TED itself, others are from independently organized TEDx Conferences. All of them are excellent and useful.

Body language, the power is in the palm of your hands | Allan Pease | TEDxMacquarieUniversity

The skill of self confidence | Dr. Ivan Joseph | TEDxRyersonU

Brené Brown at TEDxHouston

Want to sound like a leader? Start by saying your name right | Laura Sicola | TEDxPenn

The evolution of juggling | Jay Gilligan | TEDxHelsinki

What’s *your* One Thing?

Okay, here’s something you won’t see me do too often on this blog, I’m going to recommend a business productivity book. Hey! Wait! Come back here. It’s a good one.

In fact, What’s Your One Thing? by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan is not just a business book. (Though I’ve been arguing that writers do need to think like business people for ages.) It is an excellent book for life in general and for artists and creative people of all stripes.

What it boils down to is “What is the One thing you can do right now that will help you reach your goal?”

That question is a focus question. You have to make a very specific answer for it. You can’t have a to do of 10 things. What is the One Thing that must get done right now to make your goal attainable. Of course, you also need to have a goal and actually think about and create a progression from here to there. I’m not re-capping all the steps, just the biggies. READ the BOOK.

Follow up? Why aren’t you doing that thing?

Second step, after this focus question, is to make time for that one thing and to guard that time jealously. Keller and Papasan suggest a four hour block in the morning. I would adjust that to a four hour block whenever you are at your best. If you’re a night owl, carve out a slice of time at night. If you’re a morning person, do it in the morning.

I say, if you can’t do four hours right now, carve out half-an-hour. If you can’t do that, you don’t actually give a shit about your goal and need to find one you *do* care about.

Make that time, that precious, precious time, and do it every day, five days a week. Your goal will get closer and closer. And once you spend 2-3 months carving out your time, it will be a habit and you’ll feel *wrong* when you don’t spend the time on your goal. After that, it’s inertia and time to work on the next habit you want to create.

Time, repetition, habit. Train in new habits, and over-write old ones.

When I say guard that time, it means, work without distractions. Turn off the internet. Kill the phone. Do not move away from whatever your task is until it is done.

One task a day, that’s not that hard right? Write 5 pages. Hell, write 5 sentences. Whatever the goal is, hammer at it every day.

But first, read the book. It’s worth the time.

crossposted at : A Gaming Girl’s Take on Life

The Crescendo

  1. increase in loudness or intensity.

In writing, we call it a climax generally, but that’s not exactly what I mean either. The crescendo is not the climax of the story; it’s the build.

Let’s talk about suspense. Hitchcock tells us that suspense is showing the audience something that the main character doesn’t know. For example, showing the bomb under the chess table where the two ambassadors are playing. (Or scientists — pretty sure that was in a MacGyver episode.) The audience knows there’s a bomb and a timer and they’re tensed up waiting for the hero to rush in and save the day or for the two ambassadors to be blown to kingdom come.

Easy for a movie director to say right? But we’re writing.

You can throw on a prolog with the situation. You can jump between POV’s so that we see the villain and the hero at the same time. You can drop a ton of exposition to let us know why we care about the McGuffin. (No, don’t do that last one. Please don’t. It will make your editor want to beat you with a writing guide.)

Or, you can build a crescendo. This means raising the stakes, beat by beat, until we hear the thunder crash, and you can settle into a small valley or respite. (I am looking at this sentence and I want to smack myself for it, so let me make it a little clearer.)

We start with

  • situation 1 — bad happens, hero deals, lull while we wait for
  • situation 2 — worse happens, hero deals, lull on a slightly tenser note while we wait for
  • situation 3 — absolute rock bottom worst happens, hero deals,
  • situation 4 — hero confronts the main villain and triumphs/dies
  • and explanation, return to home/love/whatever
  • final resolution and/or set up for the next story.

Does that look even vaguely familiar? It’s very loosely the five act structure. This is important and you should try to dredge it up from high school English class.

It would look mostly like a James Bond film. Opening on the end of a mission to set up that there is major action going to happen and our Bond is good at dealing. Start of the next mission. Dead Bond-girl. First confrontation with the enemy. Bond is captured! Bond escapes. Bond confronts the enemy. Avenges the dead girl and completes his missions. Kisses not-dead Bond girl and prepares for the next mission.

Escalation… increasing intensity.


The Importance of Note Taking: A Cautionary Tale.

Today’s installment on The Art of Procrastination is cross-posted from my blog here, because I’m super not interested in writing five blog posts this week. Fair warning, there will be moments of language.

The Importance of Note Taking: A Cautionary Tale.

The list of projects I could walk you through, that died on the vine due to my inability to take appropriate notes is just… It’s staggering, honestly. I have entire books that I stopped 20k from the end of that I can’t finish because I don’t remember where they were going anywhere. I have projects I started and did all the world building for but didn’t bother to write down the actual plot–that’s the easy part, why would I write that?–that may never see the light of day.

I mourn them. Any one of them could have been it. It could have been the book that revives The Great American Novel. The book that made me the darling of Sophomore English teachers everywhere. The book that–

You’re right. That got a little out of hand.

The point is, creative people are fucking ace at building the project that never happened into the one. I hear this from people all the time. I had the greatest book idea once, but I didn’t write it down. And this isn’t the part where I turn into a giant hypocrite and tell you not to do that. That it’s wrong to trumpet about your lost swans of awesome. It is. And also, I promise you, annoying as shit to literally everyone else in existence. But I’m not going to tell you that. Nope nope nope.

I’m going to tell us that.

Some things are universal to the creative experience. I suspect a certain propensity for whinging might be one of those things. Also, a certain lack of planning. But that’s good. We know this. We know we don’t always think ideas through all the way, and we don’t always plan enough in advance. We know wherest our dragons reside, we can avoid them if we cannot outright smite them.

Step One to Avoiding the Dragons:
When you tell yourself you don’t need to write it down because it’s so brilliant you will remember? You are a dirty, dirty liar who lies. Write it down. No, I don’t care. Write it in lipstick on your forehead. No excuses. Avoid the Dragon.

Step Two to Avoiding the Dragons:
Carry a notebook. Get an app for your phone. Shove napkins into your pockets and steal bank pens. I personally am pretty fond of Evernote, my husband carries a moleskin and sharpie pen for his crazy inventor moments. I wrote the first three chapters of a book on bits of left over receipt paper while I was supposed to be working, once. As high tech or low tech as you want it, Step One works a lot better if you’ve got something handy to take a note with.

Step Three to Avoiding the Dragons:
NO EXCUSES!  Seriously. The impetus for this post comes from the fact I was getting out of the shower and figured I’d write it down later. There is no later. I don’t care how crazy you look. Do it!

Step Four to Avoiding the Dragons:
Pay attention to the quixotic, seasonal nature of your dragons. When I first started writing, my Alpha Dragon was unhealthy editing habits that meant I was never actually writing. Then my Alpha Dragon was leaving incomprehensible editing notes, because clearly I’d remember when I got there. At the moment, my Alpha Dragon is probably the ellipsis. But I know that and I’m working on it. Once that’s done, I’m sure they’re be something new. Probably my tendency to rehash the same themes over and over.

Step Five to Avoid the Dragons:
Don’t let The Fish Story get in the way of actual work. In all things in life, the best you can do with a failure is to learn from it. Embrace the Fish Story. Extract the bits of it that make you feel like it could have been the one (if you can remember them). And then move on.

There you have it. Beware the Dragons.

The Jedi Mind Trick–The Art of the Short Deadline


Cover art just makes everything more real, doesn’t it? Up there is the shiny, new ‘temporary’ cover for The Fandom Universe: A Galaxy Far Far Away. I’m sure you have questions. I probably have answers. It’s a match made in heaven, right?

Why is it a ‘temporary’ cover?
Because ideally we’d love for someone to submit us cover artwork. This is a publication all about Fandom, and while our layout department is super excited about this project, they aren’t the fans we’re looking for.

So that’s for fanfic and stuff, right?
Nyet. The Fandom Universe is a whole series of works about Fandom. If you want a full accounting of what we’re looking for, check us out here. The short answer to ‘what do you take’ is we take essays, poetry, and artwork about life in Fandom. This does include fiction, but not fanfic. If you’re confused you can always ask. We’re happy to answer questions about submission practices of all stripes.

Does it pay?
The Fandom Universe pays one special, numbered print copy per contributor. For A Galaxy Far Far Away the only other way to get one of those is to come buy one from us at AwesomeCon in May!

So what’s the Jedi Mind Trick?
Because we’re aiming to hit digital shelves on May the 4th, 2015 (it’s a fan thing, shush) our deadline for contributions is a little on the shorter side–April 4th. Two months is plenty of time (I’m doing the Obi-Wan thing, you’ll just have to trust me).