Archive for category Inspiration

On Books, from David Blight

I’ve started another YouTube history course, this time jumping from my fascination with pre-1500s history right into the rather more popular fascination of the US Civil War. This time around, the professor is David Blight of Yale, author of several books about slavery, the Civil War, and the experiences of freed slaves after the war. But this isn’t so much a post about history as it is to quote what he says about books early in the lecture series.

Now, I like to do a little ritual at the beginning of every class. If you’ll forgive me, it only takes me about ten seconds. But you know we live in a world where all of us in this room take books for granted. We throw books on the floor, we throw books at people, we load them in and out of our backpacks, we drop them here and drop them there, we lose them, we rip them up, we write all over them — I write all over mine. It’s only a few generations ago when there really weren’t any bookstores to go to. Your great-great-grandparents couldn’t meander a bookstore, to speak of, unless they lived in a special section of a special city. Books are precious things. A lot of them are assigned in this course. There’s short ones, little ones, big ones, syntheses, novels, monographs. Think of a book, just for a moment, and then you can forget this if you want. But think of a book, any book. It’s hard to think of a really bad book this way, but think of a good book, one of your favorite books ever, as like a newborn child, a newborn child brought into the world. A book. Probably a lot more planning and thought and design and construction, at least intellectually, goes into that book than goes into most babies. Books have a cover. They have beginnings, middles and ends. They’re somebody’s dream, they’re somebody’s creation. They never satisfy — just like people — but they’re in some ways the greatest things we have, and sometimes it’s nice to remind ourselves of that, in the places where we take them most for granted.

Professor Blight writes non-fiction. That doesn’t make what he says apply any less to those of us who write fiction. Or for those of us who read.

If you’d like this in the broader context of his lecture, I’ve embedded it below. His thoughts about writing are in and among he thoughts on history, revisionism, and whether the story of the past is more interesting than the interpretation of the past. The above quote starts around 15 minutes in.

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Mid-Century Modern

Public domain photography rocks.

See this house?  The one there on the right?  Yeah, that’s a pretty awesome house, designed in a style called mid-century modern.  Specifically it’s the Stahl House, which I have picked as an exemplar of mid-century modern because…well, it was the first picture that I could find that typified mid-century modern architecture that had also been released into the public domain.  Thanks, Wikipedian Ovs.  It’s a style of architecture that I live with on a daily basis as I drive past a neighborhood built in the height of mid-century modern.  It’s a design ethos that grew out of the arts and crafts movement, making it the grandchild of art deco, and eventually morphed into the concrete palaces of brutalism.

Unlike brutalism, which is almost entirely an architectural style, mid-century modern describes not just houses built with a certain style in the 1930s-1960s, but also incorporated both graphic design and furniture design, which have a lot of the smooth lines and flair of the earlier art deco and less of the visible craftsmanship of arts and crafts.  Look, this is probably all entirely wrong, but I’m going to go with it because it’s leading me to my next point.  If you want a blog that discusses the history of architectural design, oh boy are you in the wrong place.

What I’m trying to get to is the surging popularity of mid-century modern design.  There is a renewed appreciation of the architecture, and prices for furniture and poster art from the era are as high as they’ve ever been.  This has led me to a rather interesting realization.

Out you three pixies go, through the door or out the airlock.

See this book?  The one there on the left?  Yes, the cover that I’ve posted on this blog at least twice before.  It’s also the screensaver on my smartphone, because I just love that cover, and wish I hadn’t put that fold in it.  Ace published The Sun Saboteurs in 1961, right at the tail end of mid-century modern, at least according to most people who determine such things as when art movements begin and end.  If magazine published the original Earth Quarter stories in 1955.  It occurred to me that what I was reading was not pulp science fiction, because even though “pulp” has become an ethos that people strive for in writing, I’ve never liked the word when applied to old books.  Something about it denotes disposability.  And I’m uncomfortable with the notion of disposing of books.  It just…gives me the creeps, though I can’t explain why.

One time I was picking my wife (then girlfriend) up at the airport.  She pulled the book read on the plane out of her backpack, and chucked it in the closest trashcan.  Something about aliens showing up about 80% of the way into a book that had very clearly not been about aliens before that point.  Which would be a spoiler if I had the slightest notion what book it was.  I must have visibly tweaked when I did that, because she knew something about the action made me uncomfortable.  This story serves no purpose other than me being uncomfortable about the destruction of books.

So I love these old books from the 50s and 60s, love that someone saved them, loved that I now get to carry on protecting them.  And, even better, reading them.  Something dawned on me.  That shelf that is now nearly full of these Ace Doubles?  That’s not pulp science fiction.  That’s mid-century modern science fiction.

Why shouldn’t it be?  Mid-century modern was an ethic that spread through all arts, from architecture, to graphic design, to furniture design, why shouldn’t writing be included under that umbrella.  So call it pulp.  Call the revitalization of that style of story telling modern or neo-pulp.  I’d be glad to have my stories influenced by these doubles called either.  But when I’m sitting down with one of these classics, I’ll just be enjoying my mid-century modern sci-fi.

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Without Context

I will never presume that my audience doesn’t care about grammar, about spelling, or about such simple things as sentence structure.  I will never for a moment believe that, just because the devices they may read books on are getting smaller, that their minds are doing so at the same time.  I will never suggest that it’s not worth the time nor the energy to present the finest version of my vision possible.  I will never take short cuts, and argue that these short cuts are what my readers want.

I am a reader too.

I know this to not be true.

I will never presume that commas do not count.  While it is true I may over use them, under use them, and even misuse them in a fit of writing, I will always listen when I am told of where they are supposed to be, and move them around as necessary.  I will never consider them a luxury that only industry people care about, that can be flung around without affecting how readers will enjoy the story.

I am a reader too.

I know this to not be true.

I will never quote sales to win an argument.  I will never wave around royalty checks like they provide my voice any more credence than someone else’s.  I will never mistake the ability to write massive numbers of words that are connected together into the same file as a mark of the quality of those words.  I will never consider doing so over and over again as any form of validation of my skills.  I will never consider editing a sign of weakness.  I will never dismiss drafts as a frivolity.  I will never think that my words are sacrosanct to never be touched or questions, and that my readers want them that way.

I am a reader too.

I know this to not be true.

I will not be a dick.

I will not be that guy.

I will merely write to the best of my ability and make it better through the abilities of others.  And I hope to be held to this, because if I cannot be these things, if I become the dick, if I’m ever that guy, I deserve everything that is coming to me.

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Gamification

Yesterday I posted an article about how much I love numbers, and how that leads to my obsession over word counts.  That push to hit the next milestone in any of three to five simultaneous counts I’m keeping.  There was a word I didn’t use in that post, because it’s a word that I know is controversial in some circles.  However, someone on Twitter immediately called my obsession for what it was.

Gamification.

For those unfamiliar with the word, it describes taking the tenants of games, especially modern video games, and applying them to aspects of everyday life.  What bits of games?  Achievement badges, experience points, even leveling up.  All have been successfully applied outside the traditional gaming realm.  One of the earliest examples I’m aware of was a website called Chore Wars, which offered people the ability to gain experience points for doing everyday chores.  People leveled up and directly competed against each other just for doing those mundane everyday tasks that need to be done.  It’s been applied to exercise, specifically when Pokémon came out with a version bundled with a pedometer, encouraging children to stick the pedometer in a dryer go for a walk if they wanted to evolve their pocket monsters.  It’s been applied to driving, in my example of the Prius graphs yesterday (very low-key gamification for the extremely math motivated) and newer hybrid cars that will include a Tamagotchi-like digital plant to represent how ecologically its owner is driving.

In all of these cases there is a direct benefit to the activity.  Doing chores results in a cleaner house.  Exercise results in a healthier you.  Driving ecologically results in a better environment.  What makes these examples all gamification is the secondary reward, the actual motivation.  The experience points, the evolved Pokémon, the happy little digital plant.  These are not the primary positive benefit of the activity, but they are the ultimate motivator.

This isn’t quite the classic carrot on a stick.  Gamification is not your mother looking at you and saying “eat your vegetables or you won’t get any dessert.”  Ultimately that doesn’t make us want to eat our vegetables, we aren’t motivated to continue eating vegetables.  We just eat them the one time to get some ice cream, then the same dance starts the next day.  The result of gamification is not an excuse to do a task for a promised reward, it’s to specifically turn those tasks into games with internal rewards.  The distinction may seem blurry between those two, but it is there.  It might take someone a little better versed in gamification to explain, but it comes down to small, incremental rewards rather than a single big reward.

If I could explain it better, I’d have a far more lucrative career as a gamification consultant, which is now a legitimate business venture.  It has applications in education.  It had applications in business.  It’s the new hip fad motivational tool.  And it’s powerful, because it’s directed at motivating a generation of children and young adults who have grown up playing video games.  Who haven’t stopped playing video games.  A generation accustomed to game-style motivation.

That’s my amateur attempt at a brief history and explanation of gamification.  I’m certain any number of people could point out where I’m wrong.  If you want a more thorough (and I’m talking hour-long) explanation, I offer up Gabe Zichermann who covered the subject in-depth as a Google Tech Talk:

Gamify Your Writing

What I described yesterday, motivation from word count milestones?  That’s a low-key form of gamification as well.  As are the status bars that some writers employ on their websites.  Every graph and chart available on the Nanowrimo website, from status bars to graphs showing current pace and estimated completion date?  All of that, every last bit of it, is gamification.  Oh, not intentionally so.  Writers were tracking their word counts well before gamification was a word, and Nanowrimo predates the first use of the word by several years.  But both still fall into the realm of gamification as it’s been defined over the last five years.  It’s about creating a secondary motivational tool above and beyond the apparent primary motivation.  It’s about driving someone forward not by the eventual goal of a completed story or novel, but instead driving them incrementally forward with the promise of hitting a multiple of 5000, or keeping the estimated completion date ahead of November 30th.  In a small way, the entire conceit of Nanowrimo is about gamification of the novel writing process.

Anything like gamification that has its proponents is going to have its detractors as well.  It comes out every year in some of the critiques of Nanowrimo.  And it comes out in the non-writing world via critiques that gamification oversimplifies or trivializes significant real-life interactions, critiques that gamification is simply a rebranding of existing techniques and practices, and critiques that children have far too much interaction with video game mechanics just from playing those games and it shouldn’t be encouraged at a larger scale within society.  If we’re talking the rebranding critique, in many cases it’s absolutely true.  The word was invented in some small part to describe what people were observing in some fields in an attempt to apply it to other fields.  As for the other criticisms, I ask what the harm is.  In the end, gamification with regards to writing isn’t about whether it’s harmful to the practitioner from some external reference, but whether it’s useful to the practitioner from their own perspective.

Gamification is, at its heart, a motivational tool.  And as with any motivational tool there are individuals who will be moved by it, and individuals that won’t.  From my post yesterday gushing over my love of word counts broken down on the session, day, scene, chapter, and novel level, I suspect it’s already well established which camp I fall into when it comes to the gamification of writing.  So perhaps that explains my inability to find fault with it.  Your susceptibility to its motivational powers is largely tied to how much you’ve gamed.  My general experience has writers as more likely to be gamers than the general public, whether that’s video games or the ultimate origins of many of these tools: pen-and-paper RPGs.  Though my observations are far from being a scientific study on the matter.

Well now, this has turned into rather more of an essay than I anticipated going into it, so a summary is daunting.  Especially since the real wrap up is the observation that gamification is a powerfully motivating tool for those who are motivated by gamification.  It has its detractors, but if it’s working for you and getting you to write, then don’t listen to them.  Write.  That’s what writers do.  Count your words.  And remember that motivation doesn’t need to come from the end game, it can come at any point along the way.

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Count Them Words

One of the major knocks against Nanowrimo, and one that I’ve agreed with in the past, is its focus on word count to define a novel.  But note: that complaint, at least when I make it, isn’t about the general practice of counting words, it’s more about the particular choice of calling 50,000 words a novel, when most modern novels are closer to twice that.  The issue is the number, not counting.

Because you know what?  Word counting fucking rocks.

Seriously, if there’s a better motivational tool for my process, I’ve yet to find it.  There’s something about watching that number gradually rise (now that I’ve switched to Scrivener, it’s always at the bottom of the screen), having hundreds pass by barely noticed, seeing that number tick up into four digits, approaching triple zeroes for the second time in a writing session.  It’s all about those numbers, those beautiful, beautiful numbers.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a numbers geek.  Alright, a lot of a numbers geek.  I follow two different site hit tracking programs, not because I distrust either one or have any desire to monetize viewership, but because they show me numbers.  Real, tangible numbers I can track and chart and affect in some slight way every day.  I love my Prius not just because it’s fun to drive and has a shockingly roomy interior, but because in the dashboard just to my right as I drive is a graph.  A graph!  It tracks my MPG in five minute increments, and while I don’t get into hypermiling, there is a sense of accomplishment to see a nice tall bar.  Do you understand how exciting it is to drive along and see a graph?  Of course you don’t, because you’re probably not as crippling obsessed with numbers as I am.

I do long division for fun.

I try to determine whether the numbers in license plates in front of me are divisible by three.

I’m not kidding.

I’m just a little nutty, and I realize this.  I accept and embrace it.  Few people are probably nearly as numbers obsessed or motivated as I am, but you don’t need even one tenth my crazy to find word counts motivating.  It’s something seated deep down in our psyche, our love of round numbers, crossing arbitrary benchmarks.  There’s just as much liklihood of your purchase at the store ending in twenty-three cents as being a rounded dollar, but isn’t the latter so much more interesting when it happens?  Just think how damnable is it to hit that word count button and see a milestone so close and yet so bloody far.  That pushes me, it gets me wanting to write one more paragraph, one more scene, just to get that count up.  But then I get close to another milestone.  And another.

Scrivener is just fueling the obsession.  I can track word counts for a writing session, a day, a scene, a chapter, and the book.  And while there’s typically some overlap (yesterday my day and chapter numbers were the same), I’ve still got enough different word counts I’m tracking that one of them is close enough to push me forward.  Do you know just how much it killed me last night to walk away from my manuscript when it was at 14,864 words?  I can smell 15,000, my fingers are twitching to get back to it, and that’s probably going to drive me to do some writing tonight, which is unusual as I typically don’t write the nights my writers’ group meets.  Is that irony?  I’ll admit I suck at irony.

I suppose one of my favorite features of Scrivener is how passive it’s made this obsession of mine.  In Word it always required an active choice to check word count.  There was a button to hit, a disruptive window would pop up with far too much information.  If I wanted a partial word count, I had to find a starting point, highlight, then hit that button.  It doesn’t sound like much, but it was something that pulled me out of writing, especially on those nights that I was feeling particularly numeric, when I knew I was getting close to a BIG milestone.  Something with 4 consecutive zeros in it.  Thanks to Scrivener I’ve always got scene count, and can get chapter and manuscript counts with one click, then back to writing.  It feeds me.  It stokes the fires of my insanity, but in this case that’s a good thing.  Because it keeps me motivated, keeps me pushing forward, and keeps me driven.  And it makes my obsession less disruptive to my process.  Which frees me so much to keep writing.

So count those words!  Just like WordPress is counting the 790 in this post.

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Writing Like Lisa

I waited until today to talk about last week’s Simpsons because Hulu waited until today to put it online.  Here you go (also at the bottom of this post).  It’s required viewing.  It’s the first episode in perhaps a decade I can call “classic” and features a guest spot by Neil Gaiman that goes down as one of the best uses of a guest star the show has had.  It’s also one of the better presentations I’ve seen of the trials and tribulations of becoming a writer.

I just hope we put in enough Steampunk.  Whatever that is.

Not the story line about Homer putting together a dark cabal to write a young adult fantasy novel.  Instead, it’s the plot line of Lisa deciding she’s going to start writing, but not quite knowing how to start writing.  She sorts her music collection to find the right writing songs, she plays “just two more” games of online Boggle, she heads out to a coffee shop (gotta set up the Wifi, just in case you need to research!), she stacks pencils, she watches cat videos, and she even gets into window washing.  All of this is flirting with Procrastination, which can be especially enticing to the new writer, someone like Lisa who just can’t get down to putting that first word on the page.  Those first few words are the hardest.

Can you believe that publishers would lie to their readers just to make an easy million bucks?

I’m part of a group of writers call the Cat Vacuuming Society.  The name comes from the very art of procrastination itself, the moment where you realize that you wouldn’t have to pick up so much cat hair off the furniture if you just cut out the middle man and started vacuuming the cats.  They’re those little tasks that we invent when we want to write, but we don’t want to write.  And they can be fantastically productive tasks.  Doing the dishes.  Cleaning the house.  Everything becomes a fun activity if the alternative is to sit down and actually work on the story.

Cheeseburgers.  French fries.  I’m all over that, pal!

If you don’t want to do something badly enough, there will always be an excuse to not do it.  Honestly, my first piece of advice to a budding writer who is experiencing crippling fits of procrastination is to ask: are you sure you actually want to be a writer?  Because this initial hurdle may go away, but it doesn’t really get easier.  Once you get over the blank page problem, new challenges start.  Researching.  Outlining.  Finishing.  Editing.  Cat vacuuming rears its ugly head with all of them, but they’re all necessary steps along the line.  Then there’s submission.  Rejection.  Heartbreak.  What makes it all worth it?  Acceptance.  It does exist, it is out there, and it’s the end goal of most writers.

Augh!  Writing is the hardest thing ever!

So you still want to be a writer, but you’re still looking at the blank page.  You’ve got fresh coffee out of the pot you just washed and the beans that you finally tracked down after going to three stores, two bodegas, and Colombia because everything had to be just right.  So how to actually start?  I’d heard rumors when I was first starting of people who had wonderfully fleshed out ideas before they ever sat down to write.  Beginnings, middles, and endings all flowed through their heads, sorted themselves nicely, and the book nearly wrote itself.  There may be a few of these novelist savants out there, but most people aren’t.  Oh, you might have a rough idea for a start, a rough idea for a stop and no idea how to get from point A to point B, but when you’re staring down your first piece of written fiction, the best advice I can give is to just start writing.

You can’t write if you don’t know what the competition’s up to.

What?  What kind of crappy-ass advice is that?  The way to stop procrastinating and start writing is to…start writing?  It is, it really is.  There’s no magic trick, none that I’ve discovered on my own, none that I’ve found online, for getting that story started other than starting it.  What you really need in the end is to grant yourself the permission to not be perfect.  I don’t even tend to consider my first pass through a novel or a story as the first draft.  It’s the rough draft.  And I call it that for a very clear reason: it’s rough.  It’s going to change.  A lot!  Chapters might drop out, the story might start in a completely different place.  My own blank page fear came out of a notion that the opening line had to be perfect, but it doesn’t.  Not at first.  That will come later.  You have permission to mess up, to not start in the right place, to be a hack, to suck.  Why?  Because those are things that can be fixed.  Not having written, however, that can’t be fixed without writing.  I know at least one fellow writer who doesn’t even get to the starting place of her novel until she’s written for 10,000 words.  That’s extreme, but that’s her process.  It works for her.  It focuses her thought, lets her fiddle around with world building, and when she finally does hit that starting point she’s off to the races.

Your name could be on a book in 10 minutes.
Do I have to do any writing?

So there it is.  My big stupid secret for getting away from procrastination and starting the damn story.  It sounds simple, but it took me a hell of a long time to figure it out.  It’s also one of the reasons that I stand behind Nanowrimo as a powerful tool for a new writer, as it provides a support group and deadline, both of which can be damn powerful tools when it comes to getting over not just the initial hurdle of that first blank page, but any other hurdles that come along.  Yes yes, I just suggested Nanowrimo as a tool on the 28th of November, far too late to get into the game.  But you don’t have to wait until next year.  There’s always little competitions going on, flash fiction contests, alternate Nano months.  There’s no right or wrong time to start writing.

No.  There is a wrong time.  “Never.”  Never is the wrong time.

British Fonzie is right.

One or two actually observations on the episode itself.  I love when television talks about writing, because it falls into the “write what you know” category.  I talked about this when I posted Castle’s advice for overcoming failure a few months back.  Writers on shows have been there, they’ve dealt with starting, struggling, and breaking in.  So whenever a show talks about writing, gives advice about writing, it feels very much like a few tips being given from the writing staff to anyone out there still working at it.

Kansas City?  Kansas City.

At the beginning, Lisa is shocked to find out one of her favorite genre writers is actually a puppeteer, and expresses doubt that anyone could be both.  Oh, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa.

Oh, and Team Schmuul forever.

And the most brilliant part is…I don’t even know how to read!

Oh hey, Hulu allows for embedding.  Sorry if you’re reading this a month later:

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The Kind of Writer…

Fantastic exercise at my writers’ group last night, perhaps aided by a margarita or two due to the last-minute switch from Noodles and Company to Chevy’s.  We were given a series of six questions meant to explore who we are as writers and who we want to be as writers.  I figured it would be fun to throw the questions out to a larger crowd and explore the answers a little.  These questions have been taken and modified from Aine Greaney’s Writer with a Day Job, which has unquestionably become the next book about writing I need to read.

Question: I was to be the kind of writer who…

I’ve been thinking about this lately, often right here in the blog, as I’ve seen more and more of the community of writers who exist out there.  Who revel in successes and take time to help those who are on the way up.  My answer for this was that I want to be the kind of writer who remembers starting out and remembers that writing successes are not a zero sum game.  This was an interesting question, because it was the one that got the widest variety of answers.  Largely because the phrasing is rather wide open.

Question: I want to be known for…

The questions were all looking for our end goal dreams as a writer.  How far were we reaching?  Why are we doing what we’re doing?  It’s fine if you only ever want to be a hobbyist writer, the questions weren’t meant to judge how far you wanted to get as a writer, just explore.  To this one I answered, “settings.”  I can’t imagine setting a story in the real world.  I spend far too much time there to then site down and make it the focus of my writing.  The closest I’ve come was setting a story in modern-day DC, but infesting it with the horsemen of the apocalypse and various angels and demons.  And that’s likely the closest I’ll ever come.  The three novels I’m working through outlining are set in an alternate 1870s in a state that never existed, the late 2070s in a Tysons that never will be, and Xibalba.  Good ole Xibalba.

Question: My ultimate goal as a writer is…

This was a hard one.  The answer wasn’t hard, I just put down “success.”  But then I got pegged with the follow-up question about how I defined success.  First, as a defense of the answer, I’m not really ashamed to say that I want to be successful as an author.  My own definition was really outlined in the previous questions.  Success for me includes being able to live, if not fully, but at least partially on my writing.  It means being able to go into a bookstore and seeing my name.  It means being invited to conventions, maybe even being a guest of honor one crazy future day.  It all seems really daunting right now, but that was the point of the questions.

Because the questions weren’t about getting answers.  The questions are about setting directions.  Figuring out waypoints.  So you want to be a successful writer, what’s the first step along that road?  For a lot of us starting out, the answer is the blindingly obvious: writing.  Yet that was a hard realization for myself as a writer, one that I came to only about a year ago.  And one that I know others are just coming to.  Step two, the one I’m working on now, is putting myself out there.  Getting stories out to anthologies.  Right now it’s getting my brain back into novel mode, while not letting my short stories grow moss.  It’s churning, it’s grinding, and yes, it’s work.

So I’ve thrown those three questions out there.  I’d be interested to see what answers other people have.

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#WhyIWrite

Fantastic hash tag today on Twitter, being pushed by Neil Gaiman, asking people why they write.  I gave a short answer, since that’s what Twitter is meant for, this is my longer response.

I’ve asked myself the question multiple times since I first started writing nearly a decade ago.  Except, it’s not normally phrased “why do I write?” but “why the hell am I putting myself through this?” or “why am I doing this to myself?”  Writing ain’t easy, sometimes it isn’t even fun, yet something pushes me to keep going, to keep doing it.  In the end it boils down to three things.

I write because I’ve got stories in my head.  It’s my way of getting them out.  It’s my way of seeing if other people like those stories.  It’s a release.  I’ve never liked the concept of stories insisting upon themselves, of characters who “take over” and drive a short story or novel.  Perhaps that’s just because my stories, my characters, don’t work that way.  But they are still there, running around my brain, and I think I’d go rather mad if I didn’t let them out.  Madder.  I’ve only ever lived in my own head, so I don’t know how others work.  I assume everyone has stories.  The line that some just choose to cross is writing them down.

I write because the community of writers is awesome.  I see this at Capclave every year, at the other conventions I go to.  It’s a welcoming community of friendly people who celebrate each others’ successes.  Surely that can’t be every writer, though I suspect those who don’t feel that way aren’t really go-to-conventions types anyway.  I saw it first hand in the way writers who I know and respect were willing to take a few minutes of their time to help out my silly little writing marathon on Saturday.  Because, in the end, writing is not a zero sum game.  One person’s success doesn’t have to come at the expense of everyone else.  That’s a community I want to be part of, and one day I hope I can give others the support I’ve even already received.

I write because it’s fun.  Okay, yes, that contradicts what I said earlier.  Writing is often not fun.  Editing is almost never fun.  But the end goal, that’s fun.  Having created.  Few more awesome feelings than that.  Only one I can think of is the validation that comes when I’ve had something I’ve created picked up for publication.  The idea that a complete stranger thought enough of what I produced to include it in a volume with their name on the cover as editor.  May that sensation never get old.  May I never get used to it.

So there it is.  There’s my answer as to #whyIwrite.  If you’ve got your own, share it on Twitter with the hashtag, or if you want here in the comments.  Then get back to it.

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Two Nights of Pratchett

Going to audience question events for the same author on consecutive days can have its minefields.  There are going to be questions that come up both times because fans want to know the same things.  I’m sure Terry Pratchett has canned responses for whether he’s going to work with Gaiman again (probably not, but if they did a sequel it would be called “Jesus Christ!”) whether there will be another Aching book (probably not, and it wouldn’t be YA since she’s an adult now) or what his favorite character from Discworld is (Death, just like everyone else).

But thanks to the one question that got asked at Capclave, and the fact that the answer left no time for other questions, the two talks were pointedly different.  All because someone stepped forward and asked “would you mind talking about the documentary?”

I’ve not seen “the documentary,” which was filmed for the BBC and never aired in the United States.  It’s called “Choosing to Die,” and follows Sir Terry as he interviews and takes part in the last few days of two mens’ lives who have chosen to die on their own terms rather than living with debilitating illnesses.  The two DC stops were the last of the American leg of the Snuff promotion tour, he left from Capclave straight to the airport, and were apparently the first in which he was asked about the documentary.  He and his assistant (who has perhaps the best job in the world, if a damnedably difficult one) shared their stories about getting to know Peter Smedley, a man both clearly were quite taken by as they explored his life, his decision, and his death.

The documentary sounds brilliant for nearly every reason that will keep me from watching it.  It’s not through any disagreement with the subject matter, but simply my dislike of contemplating the subject.  Either looking at death in general, or being taken on a tour of death by an author who I admire so greatly but I know is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s.  A man who was only stamping books instead of signing them as his health just didn’t allow him to sit and scrawl his name in hundreds of books in a dozen cities.  Because I know an unspoken, or perhaps spoken, theme of the documentary is Sir Terry deciding whether this will be the choice he makes, and when he will need to make it.  Contemplating the mortality of one’s heroes is tough.

It was spectacular to hear him talk about the documentary, make no mistake.  He made the audience laugh even when describing the last few minutes of a man who quickly became his friend during the filming.  If you’re a braver person than I, it sounds like a fascinating watch, if you can track it down in the United States.  I know it’s available through some channels, but have not looked for it.  I know that makes me weak in a way.  So be it.

I hate focusing on the maudlin part of Sir Terry’s two talks.  I saw him for a total of about 150 minutes over two days, and the documentary discussion was only about fifteen of those minutes.  Still, it stuck with me the most.  The rest was the Sir Terry Pratchett I expected to see, but had never had the chance to see before.  He and his assistant spoke of visiting Hobbittown (apparently you get a tour beyond that of most tourists when you’re an internationally famous fantasy writer), getting American book distributors to take Discworld seriously, and the few minutes they spent Occupying Wall Street the night before coming to DC.  With the exception of being treated to the same excerpt from Snuff each day (no complaints, it’s a fantastic section, what?) the talks couldn’t have been more different.  Perhaps each was better suited for the other venue, but the wonder of audience questions is that, while they can produce some cliched questions, they can also produce ones that catch both the speaker and audience off guard with spellbinding results.

I’ll be talking more about Capclave this week, especially as Jen Brinn, con networking ninja that she is, has secured several promises of guest inspiration for this weekend’s Flashathon.  I’ll be updating that page tonight and this week will push to get everything ready for the weekend.

Update: Capclave panelist Scott Edelman has put video of the full Pratchett talk from Capclave on Youtube.  It’s worth watching.

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Real Advice from a Fictional Writer

I won’t ever call Castle the most accurate portrait of a writer’s life.  But it’s about the best television-friendly portrait available.  Thus I was thrilled when this week’s episode included Castle giving his daughter some great advice after getting a college rejection letter.  I’d put a video clip up, but it’s not available as just a clip, and the whole episode will disappear from Hulu in a few weeks (starts almost exactly at 35:00).  So some transcription:

Alexis: How do you do it dad?

Castle: Do what?

Alexis: Well, that letter that you have framed in your office.

Castle: My first manuscript rejection?

Alexis: Yeah, how can you stand having it there?

Castle: Cause it drives me.  And I got twenty more of those before Black Pawn ever agreed to publish Hail of Bullets.  That letter?  That letter reminds me of what I’ve overcome.  Rejection isn’t failure.

Alexis: Sure feels like failure.

Castle: No.  Failure is giving up.  Everyone gets rejected.  It’s how you handle it that determines where you’ll end up.

It probably sounds better actually delivered by Nathan Fillion.  Castle himself is a fictional writer, but the people creating his lines are all real writers, who likely have all gone through that rejection process, so while the speaker may not be real, the words are.  They apply across any facet of life, rejection isn’t just a beast that stalks writers.  But it is constantly nipping at our heels.  I’ve been lucky this year with two acceptances, but I’ve gotten twice as many rejections.  Because everyone gets rejected.

I’d like to just link from this to a post on Ingrid Sunberg’s blog where she compiled a list of famous authors and the number of times they were rejected.

So take your rejections, learn from them, grow from them.  Don’t give up because of them.  Keep writing, keep moving forward, and just keep trying.  Other people may reject you, but you are the only one who can defeat you.

Yes, that was treacle and sounded like an inspirational poster reject.  My blog, my rules.  Oh, and watch Castle.  It’s a great show and a master class at keeping plot twists interesting.

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