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If nothing else, this should prove the truth of my recent tweet: “The easiest thing about writing is thinking of ways not to.” Because if there were ever a good excuse for not writing, being able to say “I’m the President of the United States and I’m too busy to write,” has to rank near the top.*

On the other hand, writers have a lot of qualities that one would want in a president. Let’s see now…

  1. We’re patient. We’re used to fighting great odds for a long time without any apparent progress.
  2. We plan ahead. Okay, some of us operate by the seat of our pants, but by the time anyone else knows it, we’ve finished the job and made it look seamless.
  3. We know how to listen. Writers don’t write books, characters do. We just transcribe.
  4. We can take criticism. Actually, we don’t have much choice, but then neither does the president.
  5. We’re used to bad press. Not every review is positive, and we learn to ignore them. If this seems inconsistent with no. 4, then…
  6. We can handle contradictory ideas simultaneously. One beta reader wants the story to go this way. The other wants the story to go that way. Both might be good, but which is better?
  7. We know when to stop. Sometimes a story near and dear to your heart just isn’t coming together; you have to be able to put it aside.
  8. We can work with co-equal branches. You can negotiate with an editor, but you can’t ignore him.
  9. We’re not too proud to accept help. Amazon reviews! Please!
  10. The buck stops here. If something isn’t working, there’s no one else to blame.

So the next time someone tries tempting you with politics, you can say: “I’m a writer, and I’m too busy to be President of the United States.”

 

*If anyone can find an actual instance of a president ever having uttered this sentence, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone.

#SFWApro

You knew it would come to this. At least you knew it if you know me. My friends are all well aware of the dangers of allowing me anywhere near The Perfect Dessert, as I like to call it. (I also like to call it The Perfect Breakfast, but that’s a story for another time. Maybe tomorrow morning.)

So it was only a matter of time before my two greatest passions* collided in one great, frozen blog post. Like chocolate and peanut butter, they meld into a delicious amalgam. At least, they’d better, or this is going to be a short essay.

  1. The smoother they are, the more they are considered “premium.”
  2. Both are best served cold and allowed to melt on the tongue.
  3. They come in hundreds of flavors, and each has its fans.
  4. They come packaged in all sizes, and you can dole them out as you choose.
  5. Although you can get them pretty much anywhere, specialty stores carry the most varieties.
  6. Each is made to be “devoured.”
  7. You can carry a small one in your hand and consume it as you walk, although care must be taken.
  8. Both will expand you: one your waistline, the other your mind.
  9. You may find either one by guys named Ben, and Jerry.
  10. The best will always leave you wanting more.

And the bonus reason writing is like ice cream: If you’ve ever tried eating that freeze-dried astronaut ice cream, it tastes like paper.

*No, I didn’t include my wife, because she’s in a class by herself.

#SFWApro

 

Easy Come, Easy Go

Before I go any further, I want to make it plain that, regardless of things things turned out, I am very grateful to Jon Mollison, whose enthusiastic support for The Invisible City made it all possible. It is actually a compliment that Jon was so overwhelmed by the book that he forgot to check one small fact before doing me a great favor. So, thanks, Jon. I owe you a drink (of whatever sort you prefer).

By this point, of course, you are wondering, “What the heck is he talking about?” But then, if that is a new sensation, you haven’t been reading this blog very long. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me ‘splain.”

For the space of a few minutes today, I was nominated for the first time ever for a literary award.

The Planetary Awards, initiated in 2015, are “an award where nominations and votes are only open to book bloggers / podcasters / booktubers.” Voting is open to bloggers of all stripes. The categories are short story and novel, and The Invisible City was placed in nomination this year in the novel category. Unfortunately, the book came out in 2013. I regretfully pointed this out to Jon, who notified the administrator, and The Invisible City was disqualified.

Still, I can’t deny that the thrill of seeing my name on the list (however briefly) was wonderful. Beware, world! He has seen the Promised Land! (And The Cosmic City will be eligible in 2017.)

You’ve been warned.

Appeasing the Overmind

While the excitement of finally bringing a new novel into the world is energizing, it tends to fade a little while you’re waiting for it actually to come out, and in the case of an e-book, that means while you’re formatting and prepping and ordering the cover, etc., etc. This means that at some point, even though you’re not really finished with your massive project, an unwanted thought is going to invade your brain like an insidious virus sent from your Overmind:

What Am I Going To Do Next?

For some, this is not an issue. Some writers routinely juggle two or three projects at once; for them, finishing one simply means focussing on another (and maybe starting something new, but there’s always a list of those). For others of us, though, starting a new project is a daunting task. We can postpone it by saying, “Oh, I’m still editing,” or “While that cover is on order I’ll make sure my e-book is formatted,” or even the time-honored “I deserve a vacation,” but eventually the Overmind rears its massive head and thunders: “You Have To Think Of Something To Write.” (Yes, the Overmind always speaks in capitals.)

Guess where I am in the process?

Often when in this bind, I have taken the coward’s way out, and simply started another novel. Novels are easier: You have only one story to tell, and it takes a long time, so starting something new is a problem you can put off for months. But I have consciously decided to concentrate on short stories for 2017, so that option is barred. And now I am almost done with formatting The Cosmic City, so that’s no help, either. What’s boy to do?

Well, to start, he can write a blog post so he feels like he’s being creative…

The world right now is ripe with subjects that lend themselves to a science-fictional slant, problems that can be addressed through a speculative lens, making them seem less political because they aren’t happening in the here-and-now. I’ve done it before. But it’s very easy to become pedantic and transparent, which in turn makes the work hard to sell. I was hoping to focus more inwardly, touching universal truths by exploring personal truths. This, however, involves much spilling of blood all over your screen (or page, if you’re a Neanderthal like me), and we just vacuumed the carpets. So there’s that.

In the end, this is a question that I’ve faced (and answered) many times. I have developed various mechanisms over the years to deal with the issue. Most involve reading–a pastime which has suffered greatly of late–but all involve sitting down in a chair and writing.

You know, the kind of thing I’m doing right now, Mr. Overmind! This is over 400 words right here! And then there’s my tweets, they count, and I still haven’t finished formatting my book…

#SFWApro

Home Alone

A friend passed me this article about work-at-home employees, and how they work just as hard (if not harder) than in-office personnel. As writers are often work-at-home, this struck a chord, because a lot of writers are not work-at-home, they are work-at-Starbucks, or the library. Some even rent offices(!).

The article found that if you work for someone else, it can be more productive to be away from the office part of the time. It relieves you of many of the distractions inherent in a shared work environment. But we writers, we (usually) work for ourselves. And I have heard from many of my colleagues that they have to squeeze in writing between child care, dog-walking, laundry, shoveling snow, or a thousand other concerns that, apparently, do not apply if you work at home for someone else. Why this is so, is beyond me.

Disregarding such things, though (I, for one, have none of those distractions and have mercilessly eliminated others–but I still have TV), writing at home is oftimes less productive than one would want. Would writers, conversely, work better in an office environment?

I shudder at the mere suggestion. I have found, on occasion, that working from the local coffee establishment is surprisingly easy–probably because so many others are doing the same thing–but I prefer to work at home. (The coffee’s cheaper and there’s no lock on the bathroom.)  And yet, the idea of treating your home-writing as a business project is not only desirable, it is essential if you want any sort of success. And by “success,” I mean finishing what you start.

Regardless of whether you want to sell, you need to treat writing as a job: Work regularly, work diligently, complete tasks. Even though we are our own bosses in terms of hours and choice of projects, our readers will give us our employee evaluations, and we have little to no control over our compensation. We’re really more independent contractors than anything. But we know that, more than anything, we have freedom.

Which is why, when we shiver in our unheated garrets, creating worlds that moments ago existed only in our fevered brains, we think of those numberless drones in those featureless cubicles, and we think:

“I wonder if the company supplies coffee in their break rooms?”

#SFWApro

Well, plainly no. 1 is that they both depend on a flashy come-on.

No. 2: The first time you succeed may not be your all-time best, but it will be the one you remember.

No. 3: Maintaining a series will make you very popular–word will get around.

No. 4: Size appears impressive, but it isn’t everything.

No. 5: Some are slow and careful, some are quick and rough. Each approach has its fans.

No. 6: Some take a few hundred pages to reach a climax, some reach it in a few hundred words. Again, each approach has its fans.

No. 7: If you can do it in the movies, you’ve got it made.

No. 8: Your first time may take decades, but the longer you do it, the more frequently you succeed.

No. 9: You can’t break the rules until you understand them.

No. 10: When you get really good, people will beg for more.

And for a bonus, one reason writing isn’t like sex: If your spouse banishes you to the couch, you can still write.

#SFWApro

One of the cardinal rules of writing speculative fiction (and there are few cardinal rules in a field where the goal is to gain enough credibility to break the rules) is that you can take one fact and change it to make your story. That’s why they call it speculative fiction. But you only get one. There are certain accepted tropes, made-up facts that have been used so often they are exempt from this rule, such as faster-than-light travel or aliens, but as to a central conceit, you are only allowed one. If you take more license than that, you risk losing your audience.

There is another cardinal rule, a cousin to the first: Don’t use an unreliable narrator. The reader only knows what you tell him, and if you tell him something that isn’t true because later you want to pull out a plot twist, the reader will immediately lose all faith in you. Characters can lie to each other, and the reader may be intended to believe those lies, but the narrator cannot lie to the reader directly.

It has been suggested that we are coming into an era of “alternative facts,” where demonstrable truths may be twisted simply by insisting that they are not, in fact, true–in favor of the speaker’s preferred narrative. This is a bad idea.

First, it violates the “unreliable narrator” rule. Everybody gets one chance to tell the truth. Blow that chance, and a second opportunity may never come. Sure, you can tell the truth from now on, but who’s going to believe you? It doesn’t matter if you’re a schoolboy, a writer, or the President, once you lie, you’re branded a liar.

Second, of course, is the “one time only” rule. If you’re going to make an outlandish claim, make it your best and most important, because you only get one shot. Even if you’re not branded a liar (perhaps because the claim you make is not demonstrably false), your credibility will always be suspect from then on.

We may call it “fiction,” but facts are not malleable. You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time. But you have to be careful when you’re doing it; if they don’t go along with your “alternative facts,” you’ve lost half your audience before you’ve even begun.

#sfwapro