Pro Tips on Beating the Block

November 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

On Facebook, my friend Sarah shared Rookie Magazine‘s article “Getting Unstuck: Writers’ Thoughts on Writer’s Block,” and there is so much great advice in it, I had to share it here.

Because I’m a huge Browncoat and a fan of all things Joss Whedon, my favorite part is advice:

I wasn’t sure how to start this, so I did anyway. I’ve faced plenty of writer’s block in my time, though maybe less than some. I’ll lay out whatever rules for dealing with it that come to me. I think I’ve already laid out the first.

Control your environment. No one comes or goes. You’re alone, with enough time not only to write but to fall into the place of writing, which can take a while. No internet, no phone. Play music. It can amp the mood and separate you from the people on the other side of the door. (I listen to movie scores when I write. Nothing with lyrics—too distracting. Modern movie scores are very drone-y, in a good way for writers. Just sustained emotion. Hans ZimmerRachel PortmanCarter BurwellMychael Danna…there’s tons.) Make sure your desk faces the right way. (I have to face the room, not the wall.) Not too much clutter…it all matters.

Start writing. You can overthink anything. You can wind yourself up into a frenzy of inertia by letting a blank page stay blank. Write something on it. (Don’t draw something on it. The moment I doodle on a page I know nothing else will ever go on it. The blank page is scary, but it’s also sacred. Don’t mar it.) Anything can be rewritten—except nothing.

Be specific. You want to write something. Why? What exactly are you going for? Whether you’re at the beginning or the middle or the last damn sentence of something, you need to know exactly what you’re after. Verisimilitude? Laughter? Pain? Something that rhymes with orange? Whatever it is, be very cold about being able to break it down, so even if you walk away, you walk away with a goal.

Stop writing. Know when to walk away, when you’re grinding gears. This is tricky, because it’s easy to get lazy, but sometimes straining for inspiration when it’s not there is just going to tire you out and make the next session equally unproductive. I believe that Stephen King once likened it to kissing a corpse. But then, he would. Walk away, relax, and best of all…

Watch something. Watch, read, listen—it fills the creative tanks, reminds us why we wanted to write in the first place, and often, it’ll unlock the thing that’s missing. That doesn’t mean you’ll see something and subconsciously steal from it (though it doesn’t 100% NOT mean that), it just taps into the creative place a blocked writer can’t access. Very often I’ll see a movie that’ll completely inform what I’m writing, which will bear no resemblance of any kind to that movie. I’ll just know how I want to feel when I’m writing it. (Episode 10 of season three of Buffy: totes indebted to The Last Temptation of Christ.)

Have a deadline. I would probably never get anything written if it weren’t shooting next week. I’m a terrible procrastinator, which means the adrenaline of last-minute panic is my friend. (It’s all that kept me afloat in school, I’m sad to say. My attention has a disorderly deficit. There was no acronym for that when I was little.) But you can create deadlines of your own. Friends are good for this. Make yourself mutually accountable—you have to deliver such-and-many words by this-or-then time, as do they. You might not always (or ever) hold to these, but they can help you remember that your writing may matter to someone besides yourself.

Have rewards. I’m talking about cookies. Actually, I’m finishing with cookies. What matters more? Earn them, then enjoy them.

OK then. Good luck!

No, wait. Good writing! No—happy writing.

Ack. No! Um…and thus I have argued that the main causes of…blech.

This is Joss, signing…what? No.

Bon appetite! Rosebud! Nobody’s perfect! To infinity, and…I give up. I’m never gonna find the right ending.

I’m gettin’ a cookie.

And that’s just one of the ten writers in this fantastic collection of advice. Go read the rest and be inspired.

While I’m at it, I’ll share another thing that inspired me today. As you may recall, I’m a big fan of Paolo Bacigalupi. He’s one of a very few writers whose work I will read just because he wrote it. I’ve read everything he’s written (to my knowledge), and I’ve never been disappointed. He is, in short, in my personal pantheon of writing gods.

And then I spy his recent posts on Twitter:

@paolobacigalupi: Fucking short story. Fuck fuck fuck. #despair. Fuck.

@paolobacigalupi: It’s entirely possible to make your story worse. This, I know.

@paolobacigalupi: Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

And then this happened:

Which just proves, once again, that the pros have the same problems the rest of us do. They’re mortal, and if they can do it, we can do it.

So let’s get to writing, then! Er … I mean … COOKIE!

The Grapes of Wrath: The Series

November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ever wonder what might have happened if John Steinbeck had published his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, in today’s publishing climate? Today’s Wondermark has the answer:

You should all thank George Schober for sharing this.

Writing about Reading: The Last Colony

November 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

After the disappointing Ghost Brigades, the second novel in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, I was hesitant to continue with The Last Colony. But because Redshirts was so very good, I forged ahead, and I’m glad I did.

In The Last Colony, we are reunited with John Perry, the hero of the first book. Perry and Jane Sagan, the heroine of the second book, are now retired from the Colonial Defense Force and living on a quietly rural colony, along with Zoe Boutin, their adopted daughter. Also living with them are Hickory and Dickory, two members of the Obin race who have been sent to guard over Zoe.

This strange little family is soon asked to leave their quiet life to lead the new colony of Roanoke. They don’t want to do it, but are talked into it and soon find themselves with small group of colonists on a ship bound for a new planet. Literally from the moment they lay eyes on the new world, things begin to go wrong. Soon, Perry discovers he is in greater danger than he’s ever faced, and the lives of everyone in the colony depend on his decisions.

The Last Colony is a far more engaging story than its predecessor, and I enjoyed the twists and turns along the way. The only nit I have to pick with the book concerns a subplot about the native population of the planet that pops up, seems like a game changer, and then is dropped and never mentioned again. Despite that, however, I really enjoyed this book. Like Old Man’s War, The Last Colony is good, solid space opera.

I picked up the last book in the series, Zoe’s Tale, to see where the story would go next … only to find that it was the same story told in The Last Colony, retold through Zoe’s point of view. The first few pages were enough to tell me that this book probably wasn’t for me, and skipping through it confirmed that suspicion. You won’t be seeing a review here anytime soon.

Instead, I’ll be returning to a novel I read and enjoyed many years ago, but about which I cannot recall any details. (This describes many books on my shelves; I have a terrible memory.) The book is Mike Resnick’s Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future, and it is more space opera, which is a subgenre I am immersing myself in right now because I am writing one. I’m on the lookout for more great space operas to read, too, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Dave Borcherding

Need a character quick? Just click!

November 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

The folks over at GalleyCat shared their 15th NaNoWriMo tip, and it’s definitely worth bookmarking. It’s a site called Fake Name Generator, but it generates much  more than just a  name. As GalleyCat says:

You can quickly sketch a new character from scratch with this handy tool. The Fake Name Generator will create a name for you, giving you lots of bonus information for fictional characters: birthday, age, profession, height, weight and even blood type.

Some of the details are kind of odd. Why, for example, would I need a character’s full credit card number with expiration date and verification number? I suppose someone might want to put that in their novel, but I’ve never seen it and am not sure why it would be a good bit of detail to include. I would rather have more useful details that it doesn’t include — hair color, eye color, etc.

Regardless, Fake Name Generator is a great tool that will save you from staring off into space for an hour, trying to come up with a character who only appears in one scene. Check it out.

Writing about Reading: The Ghost Brigades

November 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

John Scalzi’s The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to Old Man’s War. Whereas John Perry was the hero of the first book, he is barely mentioned in this one. The action this time focuses on Jane Sagan, ass-kicking Special Forces soldier, and Jared Dirac, a new recruit to the Special Forces. Jared was created from the mapped consciousness of a traitor, in order to find where the traitor had gone and what his plans are. Three alien races are allied to attack the Colonial Union, and Sagan and her Special Forces have been tasked with finding the traitor and sabotaging the alliance before that attack happens.

So that’s the basic mystery that drives the book. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unnecessary diversions along the way that really slow down the pace. It felt like these sections were padding, included only to stretch the story to novel length. I was quite frequently bored by sections of this book.

Happily, I’m well into the third book in the series, The Last Colony, and so far it is a much more compelling read. While there are references in it to The Ghost Brigades, I don’t think you have to read the latter in order to follow the story in The Last Colony. If you’re a completionist (like me), you’ll read The Ghost Brigades anyway. If not, you can safely skip from Old Man’s War to The Last Colony.

Can’t hit your NaNo word count? You’re not alone!

November 15, 2012 § 5 Comments

When I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo in the past, I’ve always faced what I call the “spectre of the professional writer.”

In other words, I’ve always had a vague unease as I struggled to meet my daily word count. It manifested itself as a sinister voice that whispered, “If you can’t pound out 1,667 words a day for a month, how do you expect to be a professional writer? The pros bang out much more than that each day!”

Thanks to the medium that is Twitter, however, that is one worry that no longer haunts me. Earlier today, I spotted a tweet from Charles Stross that said:

I am a horrible failure, only wrote 1300 words today.

To which Warren Ellis replied:

@cstross oh die in a fire charlie

And then this exchange happened:

Yes, those are some of the luminaries of contemporary science fiction and fantasy — professional writers, all — saying that they, too, have trouble churning out the words.

The lesson here is not that you can slack off your NaNo word count. The lesson, young padawan, is that professional writers have the same troubles we do, but they never stop writing.

Now, don’t you have a date with your keyboard? I know I do.

November 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

There are too few markets for science fiction and fantasy short stories. Help keep this one alive!


Many Whatever readers are fans of science fiction and fantasy, which means they have probably heard ofClarkesworld Magazine, the Hugo-winning science fiction magazine, which has published some genuinely excellent fiction in its run. Clarkesworld is owned and operated by Neil Clarke, who I can vouch for from personal knowledge as being one of the nicer folks in the genre. Neil has unfortunately has had a stretch of hard road recently, including a heart attack and (very recently) being let go from his day job. He’s keeping as optimistic an attitude about these things as he can, but optimism will only go so far.

Clarkesworld is an excellent magazine, and it’s also a story market that pays more than the SFWA minimum for professional-level sales, meaning that it’s a good market for writers, too. You can read its content for free on the Web site, but there’s also…

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