Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goals for 2010

Here are my writing goals for next year. Achievability is crucial, so I have a plan to meet each goal. I have also looked at contingencies and challenge goals (because I am an overachiever).

#1 -- Get my completed fiction published

Sell Zombie Proof Fence
Okay, so I might not have 100% control of this, but here is what I can do:
  • Keep it in the hands of agents. If one set doesn’t take it on, query the next set.
  • Put it in the hands of publishers. Simultaneous subs don’t fly with most publishers, so this is a serial process--one publisher at a time. One has a partial now. I have three more in the queue so if the first doesn’t like it, it goes to the next.
  • Revise. Have good feedback on the lastest draft, and the MS is over-length for the target market. That means another draft. I hope to do this with the editorial inputs of a purchasing editor, or at least an agent, but it will see another draft this year.
  • Advertise. Through blog, Twitter and Facebook, make sure people know it’s available. In 2009, these forums netted one Agent requesting full MS, and one publisher requesting a partial. So, yes, the web presence helps.
Sell short stories
This is an ongoing process. I had 4 short story sales last year, 2 of which were published, 2 still pending. To quantify this goal: Sell at least 4, at least 1 to a pro market. Here is what I can do:
  • Submit existing stories. I have ~12 stories done. Keep them in the mail, and if one is rejected, submit to another market that same week (challenge goal: resubmit in 24 hours).
  • Write new stories. Duh. New material, showing my best writing. These are the ones with a realistic chance of selling to a pro market (as most of my existing stories have already done those rounds).
  • Advertise. Same as above, but the goal is more to generate traffic/sales for my publishers than to sell my work. I want people to read my fiction, and I want the publications I appear in to be successful and to benefit from publishing my work.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Summary of 2010 goals

Started listing goals this morning, thinking about why each goals mattered, and how I would achieve them. This resulted in pages of material--too much for a blog post.

Instead, here is a summary. I will follow with details about each of these as the rational for the goal, and the strategy to achieve it may be of interest.

2010 Goals:
  • Sell Zombie Proof Fence
  • Sell 4+ short stories. 1+ to pro markets
  • Write another book
  • Write 6+ short stories
  • Blog weekly
  • Help other aspiring authors

There you have it folks. My next few posts will delve into these in a little more detail.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Mandala in 2010

Dear Readers,

Here is what I am planning for this blog in the coming year. I hope you find it interesting, and if there is something you would like me to write about, drop a comment.

On writing a book
Will walk through the writing of a book:
  • The planning,
  • The outlining,
  • The character development,
  • The opening,
  • The ending,
  • And writing the first draft.
  • (maybe) delve into the editing process
This will include general advice, and observations and status reports on my own writing of a short book (targeted at Middle Grade Readers, so only ~40K words).

Writing 101
Will begin a writing 101 series, providing my perspective on various aspects of writing and the tools that work for me, including outlines, work habits, revision, proofreading, marketing, career development.

Status on my own writing
Status on my own writing, including the marketing, revision, and I hope publishing of Zombie Proof Fence; as well as status and news on short stories, sales, and the misadventures of the Writer’s Bloc writing group.

So that is the plan. I hope you find this useful or at least entertaining and will join me for a fruitful and fun 2010.

Advice for the New Year

Here is my New Year’s Advice, this is targeted at writers, but applies to everyone:

  • Tip351 - Year's end-a good time to ponder what you have written this year, and what you plan to write with the next.
  • Tip352 - Keep your goals realistic -- if you reach too far, you will disappoint yourself and that is difficult to recover from.
  • Tip353 - Why not break yearly goals down into monthly goals. See? Much less intimidating.
  • Tip354 - Planning: break monthly writing goals into weekly goals. Keep these loose so you can respond to events in your life.
  • Tip355 - Build a spreadsheet to track progress against your goals--success only counts if it is measured against failure.
  • Tip356 - Now you have a target. What do you need to reach it? More writing time? More know-how? More support? Make a list.
  • Tip357 - Take your list of needs and look at each--how will you meet this need? Is this realistic? Who can help?
  • Tip358 - Are you part of a local writing group? You should be. The new year is a good time to join one--or start one.
  • Tip359 - What did you NOT finish this year? Is important to finish it? If not file it away and don't worry about it anymore.
  • Tip360 - Almost the new year. Why not start early? Get your list of next year's goals and tackle the first one.
  • Tip361 - Look around your writing space. How can you make it better? Do so.
  • Tip362 - Music is a great way to modulate your mood--which helps the mood of your writing. Find mood music for your project.
  • Tip363 - Family is often the writer's first and best support. Thank yours, and support their passions as they support yours.
  • Tip364 - Writing creates flab. Magical flab. Make a new year's resolution to exercise you body and mind.
  • Tip365 - Writing can be lonely. Surround yourself with enjoyable people to welcome the new year. You may take this one day off.

There you go, have a happy new year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unapologetically Strong

Had an interesting discussion on “unapologetically strong” female leads, which seem to be popular of late. It’s an interesting label. But what does it really mean?

A man who is unapologetically strong is what? Pushy, unconcerned about the feelings and needs of others--a jerk in other words. This is not a good choice for protagonist as readers are unlikely to sympathize with such a person.

So is that what an unapologetically strong female lead is? A jerk? And if so, why do so many people like to read about characters like this? It seems to me that a person who behaves with callous disregard for others is a poor choice for a protagonist whether male or female.

Don’t know--but a strong character is certainly someone readers can connect with. Strength can mean uncompromising, determined, stubborn, driven--many things that people respect and admire. However, for such a character to be sympathetic, someone a reader is going to bond with, someone a reader wants to spend 400 pages with, then this strong person needs to be concerned about the needs and feelings of others. Thus, a strong but sympathetic protagonist is probably not unapologetic.

Curious how others define this and what their reading experience is like.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Book Review: Writing And Selling The Young Adult Novel

Review of: Writing And Selling The Young Adult Novel by K. L. Going

Who should read this book
New writer interested in YA
Journeyman writer curious about YA

Who should not
Experienced writers

This is a good starting book -- about 70% of the content is writing 101 stuff--the kind of things you might see in writer’s digest, or on the writing track at literature or genre convention.

Only about 30% of the content is relevant to writing YA vs. writing in general. It gives a taste of YA, the kind of stuff that is interesting for people deciding whether or not to write YA. However there is no meat--this will not help someone writing YA write it better.

Also, the format is gimmicky--arranged as ‘periods’ to mimic high school. The gimmick adds nothing, and I found it annoying.

Bottom line
A good starting place for a beginner.

Friday, November 27, 2009

You finished NaNoWriMo, now what?

It’s revising time!

You’ve won NaNoWriMo. Wow. Now you have 50-70K words of...what?

Something...maybe something good; but rough, cluttered, inconsistent, even embarrassing in places--not something you can do much with...yet.

The next step is to revise. But where do you start? How do you do it? What do you focus on?

Here are three books that will help to answer these questions and more:

Revision And Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

This book rocks.

Scott begins with twelve chapters on core story elements you should check and enhance while editing, including Characters, Plot & Structure, Scenes, Dialogue, etc. He then offers three chapters of advice on the process, and finishes with “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” which runs 39 pages and provides a structured walkthrough of everything discussed previously.

This had the most influence on my revision process and has some really good advice, and a sound theory of fiction that can be used for plotting, outlining and writing in general.


The only downside: much of the info in this is duplicated in his other book Plot & Structure, so you really don’t need both.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

This is a series of workshop-style exercises that can be used to revise a manuscript (and are also good in the formative stages to solidify an outline). It covers things like multidimensional characters, inner conflict, stakes, complications, subplots, fixing low tension scenes, and pitching your completed work among others.

These exercises are a good bridge between a 1st draft and a second draft, and most of them assume you have a finished manuscript to use in the exercise. They also compliment (and have a slightly different flavor from) his book: Writing the Breakout Novel, which I also recommend.


The downside? It will take while to get through the exercises, and another read-through and draft will be needed to pull the vivisected novel back together again, though it will be much stronger. Second, his other book: The Fire in Fiction is mostly redundant information.

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

This book has some great tips and techniques for focusing in on character, layering in depth. Especially for NaNoWriMo works, going back and taking another pass to expand, enhance and evaluate the characters will make a rough story a strong novel. This book has good tools to make characters multidimensional, dynamic and to help portray emotions in more subtle, engaging ways.

This is also good for general theory, as well as a reference to use during the planning/outlining phase.

There you have it, three ways to turn your NaNoWriMo productivity into a novel you can be proud of.

Monday, November 9, 2009

If Not For the Day Job

I want to talk about Day Jobs. Day Jobbery as Mr. Lake likes to say. There are some sharp differences between Full Time Writers and Day Jobbers. Let’s examine some of those.

It’s hard watching full time writers through blogs and Twitter--they get so much done in just a few days...and they squander so many hours on silly crap. Often, I think to myself, “If only I had the luxury of that much time...I could draft a book in month. I could finish a book in three. A couple years of that pace and I would have at least a few successful books out there.”

The implicit assumption here is that I would be a more successful writer If Not For the Day Job. But is this true?

Basically, I spend the majority of my time and mental energy in a different field, trading time and talent for a paycheck. The money is nice. There are other benefits as well. But is it worth it?

Let’s examine the merit or lack thereof of writing full time, vs. writing in addition to another profession. I will look at several factors:
  • Writing/Productivity

  • Experience/Knowledge

  • Interesting Characters


Full Time Writers get to set their own schedule. They can spend hours, days, weeks researching. They can put in enough hours to finish any size project in a reasonable amount of time. They have the luxury (advantage?) of completing a project while the passion and the core of the idea are still fresh in their minds. Best of all, they can produce several books in a year.

As a part time writer, it takes weeks to get simple revisions done. Months to get a draft done. Years to finish a single book. At this point, it would appear that all the cards are stacked in favor of the full time writer.


Full Time Writers are versed in writing. Any other knowledge comes primarily from other books...research. For the most part they have little experience or in-depth knowledge outside of writing, especially those who wiled away their education on BFAs and MFAs (though sometimes those beloved souls can string pretty words together...all in a row).

Day Jobbers bring all the experience and knowhow of their profession to the table. Take my Day Job for example. I am versed in a profession, a culture, multiple technologies, and I am plugged into emerging trends and technologies as they happen...not months or years after the fact when it’s captured in a book. However, this depth will only be in one field, one facet of life. For the rest, Day Jobbers have to find time to do the research, and having less time available, the advantage seems to go to the FTW again.

Interesting Characters

Full time writers work alone. They may meet interesting people, but only the social butterflies really do much of this, and most writers tend to be a bit on the introverted side.

Day Jobbers are surrounded daily by fascinating, quirky, ridiculous, and sometimes ridiculously intelligent people. All of whom are fodder for characters and interesting studies in human nature and interaction.

Having a day job puts a writer into slow motion, but there appear to be many advantages to Day Jobbery. I don’t see either path as being the ‘best’ as both have advantages and disadvantages.

What do you think?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hardcopy Read-Through

Heard this advice a few times. After a thorough on-line proof, went through printed version with a blue pen (red makes me feel like I’m in high school) and did line edits. Interestingly, when reading on paper I found a lot of extra words that could be cut, several typos, and some character voice issues that never stood out reading electronically.

I guess the point is, the advice to read a paper version is good. It resets some part of the brain and helps you to see the words differently.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writing Advice: Blending

Here is a tip for all you part-time writers:

As a part time writer, I have to write in fits and starts: An hour here, a half hour there. To be productive, I seldom review old material or outlines during these shorter sessions. Instead I just pop open a file, pick a spot and start writing (sometimes reviewing a scene or two to remind me where I am).

This works well if I have thought about a particular scene, image, character or idea that goes in that area. Often, I will jot down a page or half-page of notes throughout the day, and use these as an outline for that session.

However, these fits and starts lead to a lot of disparate groups of words, sometimes repeating things, sometimes not connecting well to each other.

So, when I have longer sessions, 3+ hours, I will often use them to blend things I have already written. Starting at the beginning of a chapter or section and weaving all the random bits together. This works out kinks and holes in the plot, removes redundant bits, gives language and dialogue coherent feel to the dialogue and wording and sets up a rhythm in that section. I don’t count this as a separate draft, it’s just part of the process I use for each draft.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is Writing Selfish?

I recently skipped a family vacation to write.

This made me wonder--am I being selfish?

For a successful, best selling, multi-millionaire writer, this is a no brainer. For a mid-list author, this is a good question, and for an aspiring writer (like me), it is kind of a daunting question.

Having mulled it over a while, I have not found a good answer.

Let me know what you think, and how you balance writing with other parts of your life.

The cost to others

To be successful, I must write often. My strategy is to write every day. In the last year, I have only missed one day. However, these daily writing nuggets are typically small -- 1/2 an hour, an hour, two hours if I get lucky.

About once a week, I get to supplement these nuggets with a larger block of time. I try for 4+ hours, my wife often pushes back trying to limit this to ~2 hours. These large blocks are vital, necessary to work through especially difficult bits and to tie together the accumulated nuggets.

Here are a couple articles that articulate why writers (and other makers) need these big blocks:

A discussion from a writer’s point of view If you hate meetings, and the original article, which is from a programmer’s point of view: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

So what impact do these writing habits have on other people in my life?

I get up early to write. Sometimes I stay up late to write. I do not write during family time. So, the net effect is that I spend less time with my wife in the evening, and give up TV primarily, and sometimes sacrifice sleep or exercise. A small but noticeable impact on others.

The big block time has a larger impact. This time is squeezed out of time typically used for family or social activities, as well household projects and (gag) shopping. If you look at a weekend as having 4 periods: AM/PM, AM/PM, then my weekend only has 3 periods because one is absorbed by writing.

And, as previously mentioned, I use a part of my vacation time to write instead of, well, vacationing.

Add this up, and there is definitely a cost to the other people in my life, especially my wife and children.

The benefit to others

But what do they get in return, and is this a fair value?

So far, not much. Writing makes me happy, relaxed, and agreeable, but I have not made much money, nor do have anything published that would impress a non-writer (so my wife doesn’t get to brag at dinner parties...yet).

When I have more published, there will be three benefits for other people in my life: a bump in income, status/recognition, and the one I think is most important: a life lesson that dreams can be achieved with persistence and hard work. This last is an important lesson for my children, as I hope to inspire them to take charge of their lives and live their dreams.

There is also a benefit to the readers, the consumers of my writing. Entertainment at least, but hopefully more than that. I try to pose challenging questions, try to offer some insights on life, and try to offer a message of hope...but it will be a while before enough of my writing is out there for this to be assessed, and as the producer I am not the one who will judge this value.

So, I am undecided. My writing has a cost incurred by the people around me, very little benefit to them so far, but it has the potential to reward them for putting up with it for so long. Is writing selfish? I don’t know.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A note on music

Even though it has been almost a year, the music I most often listen to are the 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later soundtracks. They have a great feel and instantly set my mind in the right frame. The play count on those tracks is at 128.

I also found industrial German bands whose sound and lyrics are good for the mood -- Heimataerde, the album Gotteskrieger; Diary of Dreams, the albums Nekrolog 43, Nigredo and One of 18 Angels.

For a more upbeat mood, I listen to a few tracks from the Halo game soundtracks, and interestingly (because it is really far afield from zombies), I also find the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack is good for getting me into the spirit of this book.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Two good ways to kill a writer

Recently, I heard a podcaster on the Dead Robot’s Society Podcast advise people to only work on stories they were passionate about and to switch projects when their passion fades. This may work for a few people, but for most people, especially the new and aspiring writer, this is a bad idea, one likely to lead to failure.

Over the years, I have watched dozens of aspiring writers stop writing. Several of these people were very talented (some far more so than me), yet they stopped writing after just a few years, sometimes just a few months. I also know a number of writers who have struggled for an inordinate amount of time with little or no success, people with stacks of unpublished stories and incomplete novels.

There are two behaviors these people have in common. The first is only writing when they feel like it (or when they feel inspired). The second is only working on a project they are passionate about, which leads to starting many projects but finishing few or even none. From what I have seen, both of these behaviors are surefire, almost inevitable paths to failure.

For a writer, especially someone new, the hardest part is simply getting the work done. You have to write, and you have to write enough to learn how to tell a good story. Even ignoring the learning curve, it takes most people a year or more to write a novel, and a month or more to write a short story. After this, they have to edit it and market it until it gets published. Anyone who stops mid way through is left with nothing. Nothing at all.

I have also observed two behaviors that correlate with success better than any others. These two things enable aspiring writers to complete the work they start, and, over time, lead to publication. The first is to write every day (or nearly every day). The second is to write to the end, finishing each story or novel that is started--and I don’t mean finishing a rough draft, I mean finishing a polished, professional, saleable draft.

Of the successful writers I have talked to and heard talk, 95% write on a set schedule (most writing every day) and many talk about working each project to the end with about 60%working only one project at a time and about 40% working multiple projects simultaneously. I happen to be a multiple project writer, but never more than one book at a time.

So the two habits of failure are:
-- Write when you feel like it.
-- Write what you are passionate about.

And the two habits of successful writers are:
++ Write every day, no matter what.
++ Work each project until it is finished.

Two more for the advanced class:
++ Submit finished work until it sells.
++ Hone your craft with short stories, when they start selling, move up to novels.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tools -- MS Word 101 and 5 reasons to make it your writing tool of choice

New and aspiring writers always want to talk about tools, thinking for some reason that a piece of software is going to make them a better writer. I do not think that is the case, but choosing good tools will certainly make the process easier.

In tool discussions, one thing I notice is a great deal of Word bashing, as if MS Word is somehow antithetical to writing or even to being creative. A recent Word bashing session on the I Should Be Writing Podcast inspired me to write this article to dispel the myth, advocate Word as an excellent tool for writers and provide some pointers on using Word.

First, Word is the most readily available word processor, the defacto standard, and is one of the most capable on the market. It also happens to be the tool I have chosen after evaluating dozens of others and I just know you want to be like me--your personal hero.

Aside from turning my computer into a typewriter, Word has five powerful tools that make it ideal for writing: styles, the document map, comments, templates and macros. They are listed in order of utility and ease of use, with Macros being the hardest to master and providing capabilities only power-users really need.

The first key feature, and the easiest to use, is Styles. These are simply pre-set formatting choices that can be selected with a single mouse click. In Word 2007, just select the paragraph or phrase you wish to format and click on the style you want in the ribbon bar. Easy. Power users can create their own styles and modify existing styles to fit their needs. Using the Heading 1, 2, and 3 styles builds an outline into your document that can be seen in the Document Map and used to automatically generate a table of contents. I also have custom styles for hidden text like outlines and paragraphs I have cut but may want to reuse. Macros (below) can modify styles with a single mouse-click allowing an entire document to be instantly reformatted.

The Document Map shows an outline of your work in a sidebar (provided you have used the Heading 1, 2, and 3 styles mentioned above). This map serves as a good reference and by clicking on a heading in the map, Word will jump you immediately to that position. My preference is to use Heading 1 for chapters, Heading 2 for scenes, and Heading 3 both for key plot points and to track completion of parts of my book. To track work, I prepend Heading 3 titles with asterisks: *** = unwritten, just an outline; **=rough; *=drafted, needs proofread; and no stars means that section is done.

Comments are a wonderful feature. You can add comments in Word that show up as thought balloon off to the side of the page. You can put whatever you want in them. They don’t show up when you print the document (unless you tell Word to include them), and comments are easy to remove if you need to mail an uncommented file to someone, say an editor. Even better, your first readers can add comments, which you can merge into your working copy for reference during revision. I use comments for almost everything, inserting the date first, then whatever I need: character notes, things to fix or check, plot or world notes, whatever thought I want to capture, but don’t want in the story itself.

Templates are good for insuring standard manuscript format and saving time when starting new projects or files. Once you have a document formatted the way you want, simply strip out the content (perhaps replacing it with instructions for each area) and save the document as a template. Later, you can select this template when you open a new document, starting out with the set-up you like rather than starting each new document from scratch. My standard template has the correct font, a section at the top for notes, history and a list of things to do, my contact information, page headers and page numbers, all set up and ready to use as soon as I open the file.

Macros are programs or scripts. These take a little more finesse and skill to use effectively, but give Word the flexibility to do almost anything you want it to. If you perform a task over and over, you can record it as a macro, and then play the macro when you need to, letting the computer do the work for you. I have macros that show and hide my headings (since I don’t want them in submitted manuscripts), remove comments from a document and clear formatting from a selection. I have all of these mapped to buttons on my Quick Access Toolbar, so I can perform any of these tasks with a single mouse-click.

A warning on Macros: Macro behavior can be a little temperamental and the record function doesn’t always record what you expect. Because of this, I highly recommend thoroughly testing new Macros before you use them with your precious novels or stories. For complex tasks, you may need to manually debug or manually write the macro, a task which involves editing code in Visual Basic. A good skill to have, but not one common amongst writers.

So there you go. MS Word 101, and five good reasons to make it your writing tool of choice.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kindle 2 Review -- as a reader and as a writer

If you shop Amazon, you have probably been assaulted by an unrelenting barrage of advertizing for the Kindle. If you love books, you have probably heard of it. If you live in a cave, read on because this is something you need to know about.

I received a Kindle-2 for my birthday. I love it--though the price is still a bit high for what you get (I will explain that in moment). This is a wonderful device for an avid reader, and it is also a very useful tool for writers.

Why I love it:

  • The Kindle (and probably any other electronic book) offers a very compact way to store books, and a pleasant way to read them. It is small, light and has long battery life.
  • The screen is small, about 2/3 the size of a paperback book, but it offers high contrast and is very readable under almost any lighting condition.
  • The font size is easy to change. I usually use a small font during the day, and switch to a larger font at night (tired eyes, lower light). A friend who is visually impaired loves it because he can easily read content using the larger fonts.
  • It can hold a ridiculous number of books. I currently have about fifty books and about over a hundred samples loaded, and the capacity is barely dented. [you get less mileage for .mp3 and .pdf files]
  • You can load your own documents to it.
  • Unlike a book, you never lose your place, you can set bookmarks wherever you want, you can clip text and download it to your computer, you can make notes as you read.
  • Unlike a book, it has a built in dictionary and free web access (direct line to Wikipedia).
  • My favorite feature: you can download samples for free. I love this as I can try a book or new author for free. The samples are generous, 20-30 pages, and give a feel for the book. If you don’t like it...delete it. If you like it, you can buy the whole thing right from the Kindle.

Why I love it as a writer:

  • You can easily put your own work on it.
  • For me, this offers three benefits:
  • First, it helps me to read as a reader when I am revising. When I read my stuff on the Kindle, it looks like the ‘real’ books I read on it. I can see exactly how the work looks on the page relative to other books. This helps me see what is working and what isn’t and it distances me from the work so I can evaluate it more objectively.
  • Second, it allows me to carry my work with me wherever I go. This lets me do read-throughs (and take notes) anywhere, anytime.
  • Third, it allows me to show people my work.
  • The only down-side to this is that the formatting is dicey--it took me about 8 iterations to find formatting that came across readable on the Kindle and it was a trial and error thing...I don’t know why it finally worked, and I don’t know why earlier formats failed. In addition, features such as tables of contents and headings seem twitchy and you do not appear to be able to choose your own font.

Why it is not a good value:

  • The Kindle is VERY expensive. Other devices in this price range offer a ton of features (email, games, color screens, large amounts of memory, music, voice recording, configurable content and displays).
  • Kindle books are VERY expensive. They cost more than paperbacks. As they are ‘free’ to print and distribute, this seems odd. Is Amazon insane? Or are they trying to rip us off?
  • Kindle books have none of the benefits of a traditional book -- they cannot be shared, traded or borrowed. They have no residual value after purchase.
  • The Kindle is a beta product, still a prototype (even the Kindle2 and DX). About half the features are “experimental”. So why does it cost as much as an iPhone?
  • The keyboard is hard to type on (much harder than smaller devices like Blackberries and cell phones). Keys are unresponsive, and the keyboard takes up 1/3 the total length of the unit. A flip out keyboard or touch screen would work much better. Expect disappointment if you want to type longer notes or try to ‘write’ on it.
  • It is a heavily marketed profit making machine for Amazon. Amazon makes substantially more profit per book on the Kindle than it does for a conventional book. As you might imagine, this incentivizes them to try and push everything toward the Kindle.
  • It marries you to Amazon as they are the only source of Kindle content distribution.


  • I genuinely think this is the future of books. There are a lot of kinks to work out, and Amazon needs to normalize the price points and marketing strategy, but in ten years I think this kind of device will have supplanted traditional print.
  • I enjoy, use it every day and will probably continue to do so.
  • It is also a valuable writing tool.
  • When it falls below ~$150, it will be a good value. At $259, it is still luxury priced
  • When Kindle books fall to the $3-5 range, they will be a good value.
  • I predict 3rd party books will become available, and I predict more free content will become available, both of which will make the Kindle a better value.
  • For now, it's a buy for writers, a buy for book fanatics (the 2+ books/week readers), a pass or gift for everyone else.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rant: Strunk and White -- a blight on the English language

A writing topic I often find myself in arguments about is the merit and validity of the oft-cited reference The Elements of Style. Mandated by high school English teachers everywhere, this is apparently the only grammar reference many writers own.

I hate it. I have always hated it, ever since it first left a foul taste in my mouth my freshman year. Oddly, most writers--well, greater than 51% of the writers I have had this conversation with--adore it. They worship it. They cite it as an authority on grammar. Which it is not, and which it was never intended to be (really--just read White’s introduction).

Like most religious schisms, these discussions ultimately go nowhere. The Strunkians go forth grasping to their chests a dog-eared copy of the worst book ever written on the English language, while the rest of us go on to learn grammar and adopt our own styles.

Anyway, people with grammar expertise far superior to my own have now thoroughly and irrefutably debunked this horrible book. They explain its many grotesqueries and weaknesses eloquently and in great detail so I will refer you to the primary sources rather than trying to paraphrase:

Nuff said.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Hump

The hump is a terrible problem I face every day. In order to be productive, in order to write well or to make real forward progress, I have to work long enough to get over the hump. This usually takes me about an hour. After that, I’m into it. My mind is churning away and some wonderful stuff comes out...but that first hour is pretty much wasted.

This kills me when the only available time is less than an hour. It very hard for me to generate anything worth keeping in these short sessions. Sometimes I can do it. Sometimes I can crank out 500 beautiful, clean, in character, in voice words in 15 minutes. But not usually. More often the first fifteen minutes is figuring out where I was. The next half an hour is the mental and emotional struggle to get over the hump. In the last fifteen minutes I usually see the first copy worth keeping start to flow.

My solution is to shoot for 2-hour blocks (or longer), or to psyche myself up and focus on one thing before sitting down. With the right focus, the sprints usually work, however I am most productive when I can work without interruption for 5-6 hours. Past about 6 hours I run out of steam. If I am interrupted for more than a couple minutes, my mind will slip out of gear and find myself back at the bottom of that hill, having to climb up over the hump again.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Writing resources: Podcasts

A wonderful resource for writers has emerged in the last few years: the audio podcast.

A podcast (for those of you living in caves to escape the zombie apocalypse) is a downloadable radio show you can listen to on an ipod or other mp3 player. Writing podcasts have interviews with authors, advice on technique and other topics that are talked about by the host or cast. They’re a good way to hear how other people do things and to learn about careers, ongoing projects and tricks used by your favorite authors.

The nice thing about a podcast (vs. a book, video or web-site) is that you can take it with you anywhere, and you can listen to it while doing other things. I listen to podcasts when I workout, when I drive, while shopping and when I’m doing busywork at the day job. This squeezes dead-space out of my day, allowing me to think about writing and learn during times that are otherwise wasted.

As far as content goes, you can find just about anything, from fiction markets (Escape Pod, Drabblecast), to author interviews (AISFP), to grammar (Grammar Girl), to insane rants by total egomainiacs(unlisted to protect the innocent).

My two favorites, are Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing and I Should be Writing. Both are well produced, interesting, informative and motivating.

Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing focuses on author and editor interviews with some commentary from the hosts. Shaun Farrell puts it together and it is cohosted by Sam Wynns. They have a good mix of big names and on-the-rise authors and some interesting interviews with editors.

I Should be Writing is a bit more personal, with the host, Mur Lafferty, focusing on her writing. She spices it up with author interviews and seems to be doing more interviews. She also spends a lot of time on listener feedback and questions, which is nice if have a question about something. It is also inspiring to listen to her progress as she started the show as a beginner and just last year had her first book come out.

There are dozens of writing podcasts to check out, but these two are the best I have found.