Posts Tagged ‘writers’

It’s funny how your mind works. One minute you’re trying to think of something worth writing about, and the next you’re wondering who would win between Godzilla and the Hulk. Then you’re thinking that actually the two of them have a lot in common (big, green, ticked off, created by nuclear bombs) and would probably be great friends if they stopped talk a minute. Which, fortunately for the rest of us, isn’t going to happen.

And then you start thinking, hey, I’m a writer, and writers are a lot like that big green guy–the Hulk, not Godzilla, although I’d be willing to be convinced of that. So how are writers like the Hulk? Let me count the ways…

  1. They tend to jump around a lot with no apparent plan, but somehow they get the job done.
  2. When they’re criticized, they try to stay calm, but inside they want to smash you! (Okay, writers are more like Bruce Banner that way. The Hulk would just smash you.)
  3. They have a propensity for wearing purple pants and no shirts. (There’s a reason writers work alone.)
  4. When they’re stomping around trying to work something out in their heads, it’s best to give them lots of space.
  5. They are, to put it mildly, wildly misunderstood.
  6. They take great leaps.
  7. They try to pare their dialogue down to the most essential words and phrases.
  8. They don’t work well with others, but if Scarlett Johansson bats her eyes at them, they’ll usually settle down.
  9. They both work mostly in fiction.

And the final thing that writers and the Hulk have common:

10. The Hulk is stronger than a tank, and the pen is mightier than the sword.


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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.


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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?”


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I finally got around (with a healthy nudge from my much better half) to printing up some business cards. It makes sense, since business cards are the mark of a professional, and I am now a professional writer, if extremely part-time.

But after being at conventions where other writers have asked for my card, and I didn’t have one (other than my mundane business card, which not only is awkward to use, but doesn’t really perform the same function), I thought it was time. I never thought about it before; now I’ve gone from thinking to doing (which is a step up from my usual procedure, in which the “thinking” is remarkable by its absence).

So if you meet me at a con, and ask for my business card, don’t be surprised when I actually have one to give you…



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I’ve finished that short story I was asking people about a while back. It wasn’t as much work as I’d feared, once I got on the right track. (I had an idea I was excited about, but it turned out to be too much like someone else’s story. I had a bad couple of days before I came up with another idea.) I think it came out pretty well; it’s with beta readers now, and the response has been encouraging. So all in all, a successful detour from my large novel project.

Which I am now trying to get back to. As I feared, returning to a bigger task is not easy. A short story is nimbler, quicker, easier to navigate and to pilot. The novel… I have a lot of notes (for me), and a reasonably detailed idea of how to write it, but putting more words on paper after a break feels more like the high bar of beginning a novel. I expect this will fade as I reread my last few pages and return to that world, but it’s not as easy as that. In my mind, I have that BLANK PAGE feeling.

Short stories versus novels. There are advantages to both: On the one hand there’s speed, the ability to work on several sequential projects in a shorter span; the greater likelihood of publication. On the other hand, there’s money. And recognition, from both colleagues and the reading public.

These are obvious factors, save perhaps the last. But there is no getting around that if you want to be known for your writing, you have to write novels. Unless you’re one of the two or three really fine short story artists out there, they will not get you a seat at the bar. And even then, it takes years (awards only come around so often), whereas even one middling novel will get you credibility with your peers. (I’m talking about SFF, now. Other fields may be different, although I’m pretty sure it’s the same with mysteries.)

So here I am, facing the–let’s face it–fear that is the BLANK PAGE. Even writing a blog post is closer to writing a short story and offers many of the same advantages. But maybe writing this column is a way to ease back into what I should be doing, which is finishing The Cosmic City.

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe you’ll get another post tomorrow…


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Did you ever notice that science fiction is not terribly good at predicting the future? Yeah, if you look backward, you can say that Star Trek presaged handheld computers/cell phones, but did it predict that people would walk into walls while looking at their tricorders?

SF is really good at forecasting large-scale, far-future developments, the kind of things so vague that they have a good chance of happening (just not in our lifetimes). But it’s the smaller ideas, the personal ones, that really make a difference that SF is lousy at seeing from far away. It’s like that popular complaint: “It’s the 21st century, where’s my flippin’ flying car?”

The truth is, SF was for too long only about the inventions and the gadgets and the rocket ships/blasters. (Or at least that was the perception. I’m not here to argue about the exceptions.) As I have said before, when I was in college one of my friends once said that he thought writing SF was the way to go because you didn’t have to worry about characterization. This misconception has plagued the field, and individual writers, for decades. (Which is ironic, if you accept that SF is lousy at predicting the future, too, leaving one to wonder what it is good at.)

SF is bad at predicting the future because that study is always focused on things, e.g., where’s my flying car? But the future isn’t dictated by things, it’s dictated by people and their actions. This is the concept that eludes the public when thinking about SF, and that eludes so many writers when they’re starting out. (This is me raising my hand.) The reason we don’t have flying cars is not because we can’t build them, it’s because they’d be too darned dangerous. You see people on the freeway every day performing the most mind-blowingly stupid stunts just to shave five seconds off their drive–do you want them doing that in three dimensions? Right over your head?

SF is just another form of literature, and at its best, literature describes the human condition; SF simply uses outsized canvases to do it. But if you try to define the future (more than a few weeks out) by describing human behavior, you’re going to fail. (Unless you’re Isaac Asimov, and that was kind of his point.) So the fact that SF isn’t terribly good at predicting future events is really a good thing; it means we’re concentrating on the right subjects.

On the other hand, an attorney friend of mine recently pointed out that Star Trek’s future doesn’t seem to include any lawyers. Maybe we’ll get lucky and that’s one prediction SF will get right.



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So a few days ago I announced the paperback, print on demand, edition of my novel, The Invisible City. I made the obligatory pitch for everyone to buy it, reminding you that Christmas is coming and you need to buy presents anyway, so why not buy my book so I can afford some presents, too?

Well, that’s all fine, and the results have been gratifying, but sales are not the only result of this little operation. Folks, I have published a paperback book. Yes, it’s self-published, and no, it will likely never be on the shelf at your local Barnes & Noble (in fact, there may not be any local Barnes & Nobles soon), but it is a physical book, it has my name on it, and there’s a copy at hand in my office as I write this.

Is that cool or what?

True story: I had the first set delivered to my office, so I could be there when they arrived. That afternoon, I took one home (they’re kind of big, and I didn’t want to carry them all on the bus), and I took the opportunity to read the first chapter to myself. (Writer’s marketing trick: read your own book in a public place. Works like a charm.*) After the first chapter, I put the book down and pulled out my iPod. I put in the earbuds, turned it on, and the very first song that played was–I kid you not–the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.”

Now I have been listening to this song since the 70s, and it never fails to give me chills. It is about a guy who wants to be what I always wanted to be: a paperback writer. (Okay, a hardcover writer, too, but first things first.) And now that I was one, that was the first song I heard. Too freaky. As if I could be any more excited.

I recently bought a car. It was on order and took some time to come in. When it did, people asked me, “Are you excited?” What, about a car? I just published a novel, folks. In paperback. That’s exciting.

I can’t honestly say I’m living the dream, but I don’t have to say I’m just dreaming any more, either. Damned right that’s exciting.

*No it doesn’t.


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