The hardest thing about writing (today) is… writing. Sometimes it’s starting, and sometimes it’s coming up with a title, but for today, it’s just writing.

Writing is all about putting something down on paper (duh). But until you try it, you don’t appreciate how hard it is. Think about when you had to write a term paper for school. What was the hardest part? Writing it down. Heck, the hardest part of a thank-you note is simply writing it.

I was on a panel on writer’s block at a convention recently. This post is not about writer’s block, this is about convincing yourself to write, about the discipline needed to do that thing on a regular basis. (Daily is best, but few of us manage that, I think.)

Last night I put 500-odd words in on my novel. Between being stuck (a form of writer’s block), and doing writerly admin tasks (tracking novel sales, submitting stories, checking for open markets, other ways of wasting time not writing), I hadn’t put anything into it for several days, so I thought 500+ was a significant accomplishment, worthy of satisfaction, if not pride. Today I read a blog from another writer who had done the same thing after a lengthy dry spell. I told him truth is a hard thing to get down, and that putting one foot, or in this case word, in front of another is a slog, but that’s how it’s done. I hope my words help.

Ironically, that was the truth of the matter, and it wasn’t hard to put down. (Of course, it didn’t run 4000 words, either.) Some truths run longer than others. Some run into the tens of thousands of words, but they can be set down.

Just put one word in front of another. They add up. They really do.



End of the Year Sale

From now until the end of 2018, all of the novels on my site will be available at reduced prices!

This is a great chance to get in on the ground floor of the exciting adventures of Nemesis, a mysterious avenger of the 1930s, delivering justice on behalf of those helpless to gain justice for themselves. Start with a voyage to the unexplored Amazon in The Choking Rain, then follow our heroes on a quest to find a missing diplomat that leads to an isolated Asian mountain kingdom in The Scent of Death, and finally track The Killing Scar to 1930s Berlin, where as nationalists and Communists battle for power in the streets, a secret weapon is being developed that could hasten the next war–and change its outcome completely!

Or if you want a laugh (or three), check out the gonzo goings-on in the Middle Ages as they did not exist–and shouldn’t have–in Once a Knight: A Tale of the Daze of Chivalry. Ride with Bruce Legume, the legendary White Samurai, and his brother Stephen, who is either Bruce’s closest ally or Worst Brother Ever, depending on the time of day, phase of the moon, and whether there’s a buck to be made. Heroes–you take them where you find them.

Remember that books make great holiday gifts. And for yourself–the nights are getting longer, Winter is coming…


Just Like Falling in Love

I was recently on a panel at a convention where the topic was on developing your “voice” as a writer. The other panelists and I were supposed to supply would-be writers (a quick show of hands demonstrated that this was virtually our entire audience) with tips and advice. Naturally, the first question to be answered was: “What is ‘voice’?” This was also the first (but not last) question to lack a definitive answer.

To refine the problem, someone asked how “voice” differs from “style.” This was an excellent question, so excellent that it became the second question to fail to find an answer. Lest you think we were wasting the audience’s time, however, let me posit that just as there as country brains and city brains, there are country questions and city questions. City questions have hard and fast answers; country questions do not. I could try to answer, but it would only confuse things further.

Despite this, people seemed to think we offered valuable advice, even if we were unable to quantify it. And we all know that there are no real tips and tricks leading to writing success. There is no secret to be unlocked.

But it didn’t occur to me until after the panel was over that what needs to be unlocked, if you will allow me a possibly frustrating metaphor, is your heart. And before you say, “What the heck is he talking about?” let me explain. Just don’t expect it to make logical sense.

Finding your “voice” is like falling in love. You can prepare yourself for it, in the sense that you can make yourself a person who is deserving of love, by making yourself  deserving of having a voice, by learning your trade: Spelling, grammar, characterization, plot, setting. All of these can be taught, to a greater or lesser degree. Eventually, some of those lessons may be disregarded–but only after they have been thoroughly assimilated and you have found your voice. And just like falling in love, you’ll know your voice when you find it.

You can learn all of the things I mentioned above that can be taught, but the most helpful lesson in finding your voice (or being receptive to it when it reveals itself to you) is one you teach yourself: How to read.

When you read, you listen to others’ voices, not so you can imitate them, but so that deep inside you will say, “That’s good, but I would have said it this way.” And the way you would have said it, the way that comes naturally to you, that’s your voice. That’s how you speak, that’s how you will write, that’s you.

Most of us start out trying on other writers’ voices. This is a valuable learning tool: You learn what doesn’t work. Like love, your voice is unique; you can’t find it where someone else has staked out a claim–and it’s probably going to hit you when you least expect it. But when it does, you’ll know it.

Once you’ve unlocked that part of you, you’re ready to go out and tell the world what you think.

If you’re true to yourself, the world will listen.



This isn’t the usual “how Something is like Something Else” post, because there is no listing of various comparisons. There is only one. In fact, writer’s block is not like life, because so many people (even writers!) don’t believe in it. I would guess that those people would agree that life exists. It follows, even, that they must have an easier time than the rest of us (writers) because they’ve never been visited by the Demon of Doubt which the French call le bloc de l’écrivain.*

But there is one way that I have found in which writer’s block is like Life: The only way to get on is to go straight through.

To a writer (or other creator), a block to the creative process is much like a block in the road of life itself. If you write, or paint, or sculpt, or compose, that is your life. You have other interests, other loves such as friends, family, another hobby (if you have time), or maybe you’re really lucky and include your job. But as for who you are, that’s writing, or painting, or whatever. If you’re not doing that, if you can’t do that, you’re not you.

So the question is, what do you do about it? I learned as a child that the best way past an unpleasant chore was just to do it, and get it out of the way. (Note that I said “I learned.” Nowhere do I say I put what I learned into practice.) And so it is with writer’s block. Being a writer, being a member of writers’ groups, I have both dispensed and received all of the standard remedies: Get up and take a walk, try another project, give yourself a short vacation and “feed your head.” All of these are valid and helpful, but in the end, only one seems to me to be the real solution: Set your feet, put your head down, and push.

I recently went through a block that lasted over a month. It was awful. I tried all of the fixes, and some of them made me feel better, but nothing seemed to help me progress. Eventually, something came loose in my mind and my story began to flow again. But just last week, I hit another block–not a major one this time, just a question of how my characters should (literally) move on. It’s the kind of thing that I would have tackled earlier had I outlined this novel more carefully, but it is what it is.

And it’s occurred to me that, like those chores I should have done long ago, the best way around is through. This is a first draft, which no one is going to see anyway. I can let my characters run in any direction, and if it turns out to be a bad choice, I can simply delete and rewrite. Or I can interpolate enough details to make what I’ve already written make sense. It’s my world; I can do what I want. The laws of physics don’t apply.

But even if I hate what I write and dump the whole section (and I’ve dumped up to 20,000 words at a time), I will be writing. The Demon of Doubt will have to sit and suck its thumb while I work. And whether what I come up with is good or not, there’s a better than fair chance that the simple act of creation will free my brain to find the right path, even if I’m not already on it.

So writer’s block is like life. There’s a time for retrenching, taking stock, and resting up, and there’s a time to charge ahead even if you don’t quite know where you’re going, because sometimes movement for its own sake is enough.

Just keep your eyes on the road ahead and not on your phone.


*I wanted to use Latin, but I couldn’t find a translator.


It has been no secret to anyone who knows me (since college, if not longer) that I have no head for higher mathematics. The computer age has only made this worse. The problem has become obvious to me (using my inside knowledge): the kind of logical, step-by-step reasoning which is math, or using a computer, is–to put it mildly–not my thing. (Oddly enough, I have always been killer at spelling.) I like science; I’m just bad at it.

On the other hand, I have been a storyteller since I was in grade school. It was not until relatively recently, however, that I allowed myself to believe that I’m actually good at it.

Now that I have, however, it occurs to me to wonder: Why am I so good at one and not the other? And why are so many of my friends brilliant scientists who would rather solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded than write a ten-page paper? The answer: Country brains versus city brains.

O-o-kay, you’re thinking. What’s that all about?

Relax, this is not a red-state, blue-state kind of thing. It has nothing to do with where you’re from and everything to do with who you are.

Country brains are those that operate without maps. They prefer the open spaces, where they can blaze their own trail.* No clear path? “So what?” asks the country brain. “I’ll find a way to where I’m going, or if not, somewhere equally interesting.” If you put a country brain in the city, it sees the myriad intersecting streets, the hard-marked paths for getting to specified destinations, and throws up its hands. “How am I supposed to remember all these directions?” And it shuffles forward slowly, never taking its eyes from its map, a target for every tourist-hunting pickpocket on the street.

City brains love maps. Maps remind them of instruction sheets, and instruction sheets remind them of numbers. Nice, neat, solvable problems that have only one answer. (Ironically, city brains have to show their work, while country brains only release the final draft.) If you take a city brain out to the country, where country brains range freely and happily, it will refuse to leave its internet-wired cabin.

Obviously, I have a country brain. I will wander through the wilderness of a story (I have to get back to outlining!) until I have arranged seventy or eighty thousand words into a pattern that is not only cohesive, but sufficiently persuasive that a reader will suspend his disbelief and pay for the privilege. Most city brains could not do that any more than I could extract a cube root.

There’s nothing wrong with having either a city brain or a country brain, of course. I don’t know if we’re born that way or if it’s something we develop; it’s just the way we are. Neither is better, just different. Like everything else, it’s a spectrum. There are actually people whose brains can operate in the city as well as in the country.

If there’s an advantage to being a city brain, it’s that the path forward is clearly marked. On the other hand, if you’re a country brain like me, you can flail around for an hour just trying to figure out a clever way to end a blog post. Unlike our city cousins, we don’t have the luxury of knowing there’s a single right answer.

And sometimes, there is no answer at all. But then, I’m a country brain, and we don’t care.


*Country brains are perhaps more properly called “pioneer” brains, but that interferes with the alliteration, so we’ll stick with “country” brains.



  1. After everything you have done to push yourself into your field, your fate will depend on thousands of people you have never met, and never will–unless you succeed, in which case they will inevitably hunt you down and tell you everything you did wrong.
  2. No matter how many times you renew your term, one bad showing and you’re out.
  3. Despite the hundreds of hours you will spend outlining, talking, and writing, people will always insist they know what you “really meant”–even though they’re wrong.
  4. Despite all of the people wrongly insisting they know what you “really meant,” you will still be happy that they are talking about you at all.
  5. No matter how much you outline, events will always take you places you did not mean to go.

Bonus: Why writing is like voting: If you don’t put in the effort, your story will never be heard.


My latest short story, “Relative Fortune,” appears in the November issue of Galaxy’s Edge (no. 35). All his life, Tom worked toward one goal: to explore space. Then, in an instant, his dream was dashed. And in the final insult, his brother Rey went into space instead. Twenty years later, Rey has returned from the stars to see Tom, who has built himself a new life–but has either really gotten what he wanted? If success and failure are two faces of the same coin, who decides which side he is on?


Also available from Amazon is my time travel adventure series, The Stolen Future. Read it, enjoy it, review it!