Tuesday, December 30, 2014

...Not What I Do

I think I'll offer a bit of writing advice this morning...
Ignore writing advice.
Yeah, that's my advice.
Ignore it.

I've given hundreds of writing seminars and taught many writing classes, I've mentored newbies, I've worked with writing groups...and dispensed all the advice that floats around in my brain.

I've had 31 novels published and more than 70 short stories. At this particular moment, I have nothing unsold in my computer. Oh, I'm working on a couple of things, but they're not finished yet. I have nothing finished in my computer that is not sold. I've edited a few dozen anthologies, more than a hundred issues of fiction and non-fiction magazines.

So I'd like to think I can offer good advice. But you don't need to take it. In fact, feel free to ignore it.

When I go to a convention, I attend writing seminars...especially those presented by Michael Stackpole, Timothy Zahn, and Gene Wolfe. And I take notes. I've had people ask me why--with all of my publishing credits--do I still attend "how to" panels. That's because I'm still learning my craft.

Michael Stackpole gave me a nugget of information at an Origins seminar years ago that cemented in my noggin and I've been following ever since. And ever since that time my rewrites have been insignificant...often the editor didn't ask for any rewrites. I have Mike to thank for that.

I met Gene Wolfe because of a writing panel. He was a GOH at the World Horror Convention in Chicago some time back. I went to his seminar, and he polled the audience to see how many of us had been published. Then he asked how much we'd had published. I think I was up to six or seven novels at that point. He crooked his finger at me and said: "You. You get up here. There is nothing I can teach you." So I shared a panel with the awesome Gene Wolfe. And we got to be friends. He doesn't really give me any writing advice, he just gives me his company at breakfast.

Tim Zahn is just a joy to listen to...and I've been listening to his seminars since 1985 in Evansville, IN. Yeah, it goes back a way.

In all the seminars I've attended, the advice most often repeated is: FINISH IT. Just keep writing, and when you're done go back and fix it. Just FINISH IT first.

Finish, then fix.

In all the years I've been writing, it's the one piece of writing advice that I do not follow. Oh, I finish what I start. I wouldn't have 31 published novels if I didn't. But I've never finished a book before I went back to fix it. I'll write a chapter, go back through the chapter and tinker until I'm happy. Then I can go on to Chapter Two. I can't work on Two until I'm happy with One. Rinse and Repeat. It's how I've always worked. It's not how I should work.

I've honestly tried to break myself of the habit.

I'm working on a book now, just ready to start Chapter Eight. BUT...

I'm going back to fix stuff in the earlier chapters this week. Because I have to, because I can't follow the writing advice that is so often offered: finish it first, then fix.

It doesn't work for me. I'll think of something I want to sprinkle in a previous chapter. And I can't wait to do the sprinkling. I have to sew that plot twist in RIGHT NOW. Maybe I'll decide to change the sex of a character, the way a character talks or dresses, or maybe the character needs to say something to serve as foreshadowing.

I know writers who jot a note to go back and make adjustments, changing the character from their current point and forging ahead.

Finish, then fix.
I can't do it.

I can't fix it later.

I have never been able to fix it later.
I have to fiddle with it NOW.

I can't take that wondrous piece of writing advice that I also dispense to folks during seminars, workshops, and critique sessions.

It's one of those: Do As I Say, But Not As I Do things in life.

Advice? Yeah, listen to it. You might pick up that amazing nugget that I got from Mike Stackpole years ago. Something that changes your writing life.

But in the end, you gotta do what works for you.

Now I'm gonna go fiddle with Chapter Two.

By the way, Gene Wolfe was wrong when he said there was nothing he could teach me.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Just Hit “Disconnect”

When I cruised Facebook during breakfast yesterday…like a lot of writers I dine at my desk, I saw a Kickstarter announcement about an uber-portable laptop-computer-thingie to which lots of folks had already ponied up their money. Supposed to be a boon for writers because they can type on it without the distraction of the Internet…Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and WhatNot…you just can’t connect. Looks like a small typewriter, really, with a tiny screen. Like these portable units my news bureau used “back in the day,” where you would carry them with you, type up your story, and then you had to connect them to a phone to transmit it all back to the newspaper office. Yeah, that was before e-mail.

Anyway, with this new uber-portable invention that more than a few writers are excited about, you are able to type and type and type because you aren’t able to access the Internet and its many distractions—though you can upload your work to the Cloud so you won’t lose it.

Great, eh?

You can buy in for less than $400, although you can spend more than $1,000 for fancier models. Hmmm …. $400 buys a lot of tea, dog toys, books, and the like. Guess you can tell I’m not gonna buy in on this magnificent writer’s tool. $400 would also buy you a very nice new laptop that can access the Internet and all its marvelous distractions.

Or you could put your $400 in the bank for a rainy day.

Maybe what these buyers need—more than this portable laptop-computer-thingie—is focus, discipline, and determination. Things that no amount of money can buy. Those things you have to find and forge.

Really, if you want to write, just sit down and write.

I’ve had folks in seminars ask how I avoid losing too much time to the Internet. I tell them, easy. Generally, I allow myself a little time in the morning to “mess around” with the Internet while I eat breakfast—and I’m an early riser. My work day starts at 8 a.m….WORK, writing, editing, proofing. So my fun time has to be out of the way by then. I take a mid-morning break to get up from the desk, toss some tennis balls, check e-mail, then I’m back at WORK. A mid-afternoon stretch…more tennis balls are thrown, maybe laundry is thrown into the machine. Then WORK. If I have to do some research, I limit myself to one half hour. That’s it. No more, keeps me from randomly surfing. And generally I check e-mail or Facebook before I shut the computer down at the end of the day.

I found my focus, discipline, and determination. And they didn’t cost $400.

I actually disconnect from the Internet when I work. It’s real easy to do. You just go to your computer settings, connections, and hit “disconnect.” In fact, I’m gonna do just that after I post this blog.

Sometimes I disconnect from the Internet for two or three days at a time…frustrating some of my friends who have e-mailed me and wonder why I haven’t replied.

“But how do you limit yourself like that?” someone invariably asks at a seminar.

“I have to. Disconnect. Move the arrow over the disconnect square and hit ‘enter,’ and it turns off the Internet.”

If I want to remain a full-time writer/editor, I have no choice. 

Writing and editing full time is a privilege. Not a lot of people are so blessed with this vocation, and I’m not going to let YouTube screw it up.

I don’t need the $400 computer-thingie. I just need to “disconnect.”

If you let yourself be distracted by the Internet, you really don’t want to write…you want to do anything else but write.

If you buy this computer-thingie, and I am not advocating that you don’t, just realize that it’s not going to make you a writer. You have to make you a writer. A machine can’t do it for you.

You have to wrestle with whatever demons lure you to Facebook or on-line games and beat them to a bloody pulp. You have to confront whatever force is preventing you from hitting the “disconnect” button.

I guess I really am mystified why some of my fellows think this computer-thingie is a good idea. I’m not begrudging its creators. More power to them. They’re clever, and they’re selling to some folks who aren’t able to unplug from the Internet on their own. 

And, who knows, maybe the device is wonderful, the battery life is amazing and is a serious plus in that regard. I think a travel writer could benefit from it, or someone who wants to type in the middle of nowhere with no power outlet in sight. If I was sailing off on some glorious houseboat, I’d want one.

But I really like a nice big screen.

I’m wondering what these buyers will do when they get their marvelous laptop-computer-thingie delivered in 2015 or 2016? Will they open it and think: “Now’s my turn to crank out that bestseller.”

If there’s no magic in the machine, it won’t make you a better writer. It won’t make you a more disciplined writer. In fact, it won’t make you a writer at all. I wonder if it will instead make you a $400 poorer soul who will step away from this new marvel and return a laptop that beckons with distractions. Oh look…another YouTube talking cat video.

Because if you can’t step away from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, games, and WhatNot now, this machine isn’t going to take that step for you. This machine is just one more distraction.

If you’re gonna write, just write. 

Now, I'm gonna go hit 'disconnect' and get back to my book.

Thanks for reading my rant.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Fulgid Meteorites
Fluid Molasses
Fomenting Magmamen
Flowering Marsupials
Fridge Magnets

Really, it's all about the Fridge Magnets. I should probably be blogging something about writing or editing or reading, right? But I want to post a blog once a week, and so Fridge Magnets is my topic of choice today. My mother gave me my first FM when I was a kid. I voraciously read Spiderman comic books, and she saw this nifty web-slinger magnet on one of her shopping errands. It has moved from Ottawa, IL, to DeKalb, IL, to Quincy, IL, to Evansville, IN, to Williams Bay, WI, to Burlington, WI, to Kenosha, WI, and finally to tiny Tolono. He's a little yellowed from the years and the miles, but he's still hanging in there.

I started collecting magnets from states I visited on various vacations, band tours, and later conventions and a cruise. Visiting friends noticed my growing collection and blessedly have added to it from their own travels. It is a wonderful, chaotic, colorful miasma of birds, dogs, states, bottle caps, and whatnot, that I occasionally artfully rearrange so I can fit new additions. They tip the scales at a little more than twenty pounds (I weighed them before the last move).

Iowa rests next to China, which is near Tennessee.

Ah, I've learned to appreciate the beauty of FMs.

How unique my kitchen is!

It's an homage to past travels and a shrine to friendship. I can point to any one FM and tell you who gave it to me...pretty amazing considering the assortment I have.

So why am I blogging about this? I dunno. I was looking for a topic when I poached eggs for breakfast. The shiny art display caught my eye.

And now it has caught my imagination. I have a murder-mystery in progress (well, I'll be back to it after I finish this SF book). I've decided my main character will have a quirk. Her father collected Christmas tree ornaments. She'll collect FMs; her only obsession, really, and it'll point to her past...a lead-in for the occasional flashback.

The FMs on my fridge will make an appearance in the book.

Okay, I've tied it back to writing. Hope you find room on your fridge for a few FMs of your own.