Last Minute Prep for Nano

It’s October 31st.  Halloween.  It’s a day to be dressed up like this:




Tonight, if the weather doesn’t keep all of the kids away, Melissa and I are going to hand out candy.  We’re talking full size candy bars and a can of soda to every kid that comes to our door.  Well, we’ll give Caprisuns to the little kids.  We have our costumes, candy, and drinks set aside.  We’re ready for Halloween.


Are we ready for NaNoWriMo?

Quite frankly, I don’t know.  I never feel ready to start a new story.  It’s the same sort of fear that I’ve talked about all this month.  Will I be able to get my ideas across?  Do my ideas suck?  Am I capable yet of being the kind of writer I want to be?

That’s the wonderful thing about NaNoWriMo.  As Lauren Sapala wrote, we don’t have time for fear during this month.  This exercise forces us to ignore our inner editor, set aside our doubts, and just write.  We might fall behind, and that will make it more difficult.  As Hugh Howey wrote, it can put a lot of pressure on a writer, but that pressure can be a good thing.

What can a writer do to get ready?

This is what I’ve done:

  • I wrote a blog post every day in the month of October, reinforcing the habit of writing something… anything… every day.  With an average word count of 800 words per post, I’ve written close to 25,000 words this month.  That’s half the target for November.  A good warm up.
  • I’ve decided on a story idea.  It’s one that I’ve been putting off for about 12 years.
  • I’ve been thinking about the story constantly.  Whenever I go for a walk (and I go for lots of walks), I’ve played out details and ideas in my mind.
  • This week, I sat down and made a very, very rough outline.  I don’t want to outline too much, since that spoils the story for me.  But I need more than nothing.
  • I created a project in Scrivener.


I still need to come up with more names.  My post last night was not accidental.  I have to think about names, and get some written down before I start, so that I don’t get hung up on the names when I get to those characters.

After that?  I just have to do it.

I’m attending a kick-off party for NaNoWriMo tonight.  I’m going to take full advantage of the local community.  I highly recommend it, not only because there’s misery in company, but there’s also encouragement to be found.  I’ve already got write-ins I’m planning to attend.

Speaking of scheduling, I’m looking at the calender, and I can see the places where I’ll have opportunities to catch up when inevitably fall behind.  And I will fall behind, because I have twice as many band practices as I had last year, and there are at least 5 performances to attend.


With that said, I’ve completed Blog-Tober.  One post every day for 31 days.  And, to my shock and amazement, I was able to link every post to some aspect of writing.

I’ve completed one month long project.  Time to get on with the next!


What’s in a Name?

I struggle with names.  I have trouble naming characters, places, chapters, and books.  I even have trouble coming up with good variable names while programming.


How does a writer come up with good names for their characters?

Sometimes, I use a baby names book.  Depending on the story I’m writing, I keep the book in my laptop bag, and dip into it when I need a character name for a minor character.  The book I use separates the names by region and genre, including fantasy.  It’s a pretty handy reference.

I like that for minor characters, but major characters I like to name well in advance.  I also want those names to be unique.  Sometimes I want the name to evoke some image or emotion that I relate to the character.  With major characters, I struggle the most.

With A Clean Slate, I looked for pictures of actors that I thought would be great to play my characters.  I was then able to play off of the actor’s names to come up with the character names, in one or two cases.

With The Repossessed Ghost, I used more contemporary names, since it was an urban fantasy.  Fortunately for me, I’d come up with the name of the main character well in advance, when I first developed the character for a roleplaying game.  Like many characters I’ve played, I pulled his name from the Bible (Melchizedek, shortened to Mel).

With the story I’ll be starting in a little more than 24 hours (!), I came up with something completely different.  I made the names part of the culture.  The young start with a short name.  Once they come of age and pass a ceremony, their names are extended by a syllable, depending on their gender.  Once they become elders in their respective communities, they pass through another ceremony, receiving yet another syllable.  The main character will start off as Sim, but will eventually be Simon.  His friend Dar will become Daron.  There may be a love interest named Jan,which will become Janel.

I like what I’m doing with the names in this coming story for two reasons.  First, I think it will be unique. Second, it’s a systematic method of names, which makes it a little bit easier to come up with names that will all fit in the same world.

As always, once I think I have a name, I google it to make sure it’s not already popular.  When I was coming up with Kate’s full name in The Repossessed Ghost, my addled brain thought it’d be acceptable if she had a last name of “Middleton.” That’s one of those names I probably shouldn’t have had to google, but then, I don’t follow British royalty.


How do you name places?

This is a tricky one to answer.  In The Repossessed Ghost, I didn’t have to come up with any place names, since it all takes place in the U.S.  In A Clean Slate, I drew a map with some geographic features, then figured out where villages and towns would be based on those features.  I looked at where the action would be going, and saw that I wasn’t going to need to name that many places.  Since I’d narrowed down the list of places I needed to name, and since most of them were rural, I used the natural features as part of the names.

In the new story, I have come up with a name for the island, but that’s about it.  The people are nomadic, and I’ve determined that families, clans, travel constantly.  Usually two or three clans travel together for a little while.  One of the conceits of the story is that these people can’t settle down, so there are no villages or towns to name.  I’ve determined that their family names are very basic or elemental.  For example, Sim is of the Rock clan.  Jan is of the Sand clan.  I’ll have to keep playing around with the names, to make sure I like how it feels.


How do you name your book?

This is the one I really struggle with, because the name of the book is a feature of marketing.  A Clean Slate might still get renamed.  Several people have told me that they like the name for The Repossessed Ghost, because it’s a little bit funny and a little bit clever.  It feels kind of wordy to me.  I still think of it as The Mel Walker story, and if it grows into a series, maybe it’ll be The Mel Walker Stories.  Maybe.

The point is that I don’t trust myself with marketing decisions.  I’d really rather an expert in that field tell me what my story should be named.

I don’t know what the new novel is going to be called yet.  I know that it is the first of three that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  I don’t know what the series should be called, either.


Names can be powerful.  It’s vital that you pick names that work for you, because you’re going to have to live with these names for a long, long time.

Personally, I don’t like names with a bunch of hieroglyphics in them.  I avoid apostrophes and umlauts.  That funky character that’s like an a and e having sex?  I don’t care for it.  I want my names to be easy for me to type.  I want my readers to be able to read the names I’m using without getting pulled out of the story.


What tips and tricks do you employ for coming up with names in your stories?


It’s Your Story

One of the benefits of being the writer of a story is that it is yours.  It is the product of your perseverance and imagination.  You can do whatever you want with it.

You get to decide if it will be published or not.  You might face challenges getting a publisher or agent to feel the same way about your story, but it is always your story.  And these days, you don’t necessarily need a publisher.  If you listen to people like Hugh Howey, it may be in your best interest to self-publish, where you get the lion’s share of profits and all of the control.

But before you get to the publishing phase, you get to decide if it is even done or not.  It’s your story, full of your characters and your plots.  You can change your mind about the direction of a subplot, and make it something different.  Or you can choose to keep your work exactly as you’ve written, in spite of advice given by editors or critique groups.  Your story is your story.

With that last point, just remember that you own your mistakes.  You have the power to listen to advice just as you have the power to ignore it.  Imagine how much better the Star Wars prequels could have been if George Lucas been given some advice about the stories.  While it is unlikely the prequels could have lived up to the expectations, they could have been better.

But I digress.

It’s your story, every step of the way.  Once you’ve finished the first draft, you can choose how much editing it needs.  Maybe it needs a 3rd or 4th draft before it’s done.  Perhaps it leaped from your mind onto the page wholly formed in the first draft, as Athena was born from Zeus’s breast (unlikely).  You get to decide.

But even before that, you get to decide how your first draft is written.  It’s up to you how many acts will be in your story, and what emotions you will trigger.  You get to decide who lives and who dies, which loves are acknowledged, and which ones go unrequited.  It’s on your shoulders to find the words that express the story and world that lives in your imagination.

It’s up to you to start your story.  Perhaps you’re like me, standing just a couple of days away from starting something new and scary.  The ideas have been dancing in your head for some time.  Perhaps days, perhaps years.  It’s on you to build the world, bit by bit.  It’s your rocket ship designs or magic formula that will be expressed in the pages of your story.

No one else can write the story that’s in your head.  Only you can see it and hear it and express it.  And no one can stop you from writing it.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, what color your skin is, or what genitals you possess, or wish to possess.  You are the only one that can write your story, as long as you are willing to write it.

And somewhere out there, someone is waiting to read it.


Music and Writing

It’s Tuesday night.  I’ve just finished a late dinner, after getting home from practice with a jazz band.  It’s my second band, with the first having practices on Monday night.  I’m a little bit tired, but I’m satisfied.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about writing and programming, but I haven’t touched on writing and playing music.

Music has been a part of my life longer than writing has.  I can recall times before I was literate where I’d play in the backyard, using a gardening pole as my makeshift microphone stand.  I can recall back even further, to a time when I was wearing a diaper and holding myself up in a playpen.  Ray Charles was on the black and white TV, and I was swinging my head back and forth the way he did, pretending I was performing.  (I have a really long memory)

Performing has been in my blood for as long as I can remember.  Music has always been a part of my life.

So how does my music life compare to my writing life?

Like writing, if I didn’t have music, I’d be depressed.  It’s easier to satisfy my music need, however.  If I wasn’t in two bands, I could turn a music player on and sing along in the car.

Both are creative outlets for me.  I can express myself in both writing and music.  It’s easier for me to convey certain ideas and emotions in writing than it is through my music, but music is more immediate.

Practicing music is a “cheaper” most of the time.  I can do writing practices and exercises in 5 or 10 minutes, but what I produce during that time may not be directly applicable to a larger project.  With music, on the other hand, I can spend 5 or 10 minutes figuring out a particularly difficult section, and that practice will apply directly to the next performance.  In fact, all of the practice I do with music can be additive towards a performance goal, while not all of the practice I do with writing can apply to a particular story.

Writing is solitary, while music is usually cooperative.  When I join a group for a write-in next month, there will be a sense of community and togetherness, but that fellowship only really exists in the time between writing.  Music can be solitary, but I mostly play with bands.  In band, we are all working together on the same project, striving to make something beautiful together.  Playing a chord with other people is a true blending of skill and talent with other people, while writing in the same room with some other people is an example of compartmentalization.

With music, I find less criticism.  There can be disagreements and personality conflicts, but the product of music is obvious to everyone involved.  It either works, or it doesn’t.  With writing, I can cross every t and dot every i, but still produce something that fails to please other writers.  What I’m saying is that, in general, writers are more picky with each other than musicians are.

Both writing and music have mechanics involved.  You can be technically skilled with both crafts.  With both music and writing, it is the addition of personality and imagination which elevates a dry, mechanical piece into something that soars and reaches the heart of people.

Music is transitory, while writing is permanent.  True, you can record music and play it over and over, but that’s not all that I’m talking about.  When I am touched by a piece of music, the experience is with me for a while, but quickly fades.  I can listen to the same music again, or perform the same music again, but the experience is different.  When a story moves me, on the other hand, I think about what I’ve read for years and years.  There are stories I read in High School that still impact me.


One of the most profound differences between my life as a musician and my life as a writer:

I can’t imagine myself as a professional musician.

I dream of being a professional writer.


Narrative and Tense

With NaNoWriMo rapidly approaching, let’s talk about a couple of decisions you have to make about your story before you can even begin.  What narrative mode and tense will you use to tell your story?

Last year, I chose first person, past tense for my story.  One of the reasons I made this decision was because I wanted my story to emulate the feel of The Dresden Files, and that’s how that series is written.  Another reason I chose first person narrative was because I knew that I’d be able to write that way effectively and quickly.  After writing blog posts for 31 days straight in October, I knew that using the same narrative mode would make 50,000 words in November easier.


First Person Narrative

First person narrative is excellent when your main character has a strong voice that you want to showcase.  Every single object described in the story is an opportunity to reveal something about the character.  A carpenter is going to notice and talk about a table differently than anyone else.  A cop is going to describe a crime scene differently, and evoke a different emotional reaction than someone else in the same position.

Note: If you’re into tabletop, story-driven roleplaying games, and you’re planning on using one of the characters you’ve developed in such a game, first person might be just the thing.  You presumably already know the character’s voice, and that’s exactly what you’ll be using to tell a story with this narrative mode.


Third Person Limited

If you’re planning on changing point of view characters, but you still want the camera to essentially be fixed on a character’s shoulder, this is the narration mode of choice.  You can still gain quite a bit of the benefit of first person with this mode, because you can still get the thoughts and perspectives of a single character to color the story.  You also gain greater freedom in word choice of the prose, since the voice telling the story is yours, rather than the point of view character.


Third Person Omniscient

From first person, to third person limited, to third person omniscient, you’re just backing the camera out further and further.  This is a very “honest” narration mode, in that the prose is unpolluted from the character’s thoughts or perspective.  When done right, the author is less able to fall into bad habits of telling, rather than showing.



I don’t remember ever reading or writing anything in future tense.  I’m not even sure what that looks like.  I prefer past tense for my stories.  Present tense can lend itself to a greater tension and immediacy in a story, but I find it a little bit clunky in places.  It can be argued that past tense with first person drains tension from the story, since it’s difficult for the main character to tell their story if they’ve died.  I don’t really buy into that argument, though.  When I’m pulled into a story, I don’t know care what tense is being used, as long as the story is well written.


This year, I will be writing third person limited.  I have a lot of experience writing using pairing that narrative mode with this character.  The character has a strong voice, but I don’t feel like first person will serve the story I have in mind as well as third person.


If you’re planning on participating in NaNoWriMo, I recommend using whatever narrative mode and tense you’re most comfortable with.  If you’re having difficulty deciding, look to whatever book you’ve most recently enjoyed.  You may still be thinking in that narrative mode, which will make it easier to reach for words when telling your own story.


We Interrupt our Schedule…

I have a list of writing related topics, one for each day of this month.  I thought it would make it easier to maintain the schedule.  For the most part it has, but there’s been a few topics, such as the one I have scheduled tonight, where I felt like it would be forced.  I felt like I’d be talking out of my ass more than usual.

Tonight I’m going to let out some of the pressure that’s been building up inside me.  There have been events this month that have made me upset.  I’ve commented on some of them in Facebook and Twitter, but it has been less than satisfying.  I keep feeling compelled to get into arguments with people I respect a great deal.

I’m going to share my opinions.  They probably won’t make me very popular.


We should stop talking about GamerGate.

GamerGate was started by a small group of people that do not represent gamers or gaming culture on the whole.  This small group is all about misogyny and slut-shaming women.  They are despicable, they’re ideas are despicable, and anyone that thinks that what they are doing is noble and good is no friend of mine.

But here’s the thing.  They had to have known that their “movement” was going to fail.  If that is true, then why did they persist?

The answer: they were trolling.

Alfred was right.  Some people just want to watch the world burn.  Trolls just want to see what kind of damage they can do.  It costs them nothing.  And when they see someone respond to their bait, they are delighted.  They slap each other on the back and keep going.

And everyday, I see in social media more feeding of these trolls.

Some want to use this as part of their platform to gain greater equality and representation for the genders in gaming.  I do not oppose equality and fairness.  I want equality.  I want men and women developers to be paid fairly.  I want developers of all races and sexual orientation to be treated equally and fairly, too.

If your cause is to promote gender equality, then I support you.  However, I beg you not to promote your cause on the back of GamerGate.  Your cause… our cause… is not supported by feeding the trolls.


We all need to think more, and use less hyperbole when talking about sensitive subjects.

I’m referring to what John Grisham said about the penalties for viewing child pornography.

I should haven’t to say this, but from what I’ve been seeing lately, I guess I have to: I do not support child pornography, or those that consume it.  I think it is despicable.  I also think what John Grisham said was a bit stupid.

Now I’m going to share my unpopular opinion.  I’m going to do my best to be sensitive to the subject matter.  I understand that it is a difficult topic for many to read.  If you are the victim of sexual assault, please know that I am deeply sorry whatever pain you have been through.  I do not know and can’t even begin to comprehend what you’ve been through.  If reading about this topic makes you uncomfortable, please skip on to the next bolded area.

I think that John Grisham wasn’t completely wrong about the penalty for viewing child porn.  The penalty might be a little bit too steep.

There is a difference between the monster that perpetrates the creation of child porn, and the asshole that views it.  Some of those assholes are monsters, too, but they might not all be monsters.

Man, this is difficult to express without sounding like I support child porn.  I don’t.  I’m starting to understand how John Grisham spoke so poorly on this.

He tried to use examples to illustrate his point, and they were terrible.  It was something along the lines of “watching a 16 year old girl isn’t as bad as watching a 10 year old boy” or something like that.  Both are disgusting, but if we’re being honest, I think we know what he’s trying to say.  At least, I hope he was trying to say that a child in their late teens can pass for a young adult.  Deriving sexual stimulation from watching a young adult is different than getting off on watching young children.

An argument for penalizing the consumes of this porn is that people that view child porn are creating the market for it, and support child pornographers.  They’re not being held responsible for their part in making it possible to create the pornography.

I have a couple of problems with that argument.  First, unless money is exchanged, I don’t see how the support is happening.  You think someone is going for pornography with their ad blocker off?  That they’re not downloading anonymously via torrent?  If downloading something for free equates to providing support for it, then piracy is no big deal, because downloading music and videos is providing support for the artist, right?

The second problem I have with the argument is that it is not equally applied.  That is, the heart of the argument is, “I want to protect children, so if we punish people viewing child porn, less child porn will be made.”  If you are trying to protect children, then why stop at child porn?  Stop and take a moment to look at your phone.  How was your phone built?  Is it an iPhone?  Was child labor involved in its construction?  If we apply the argument equally, then you have, by purchasing your iPhone, supported a market that exploits children.

When the iPhone 6 came out recently, millions were purchased the first day.  Should all of those people be held accountable for supporting child labor?

Again, I don’t support child porn.  I don’t support exploiting children for any purpose.  I think John Grisham said some stupid stuff.  I also think that with our loaded prisons, maybe we can consider the possibility that the way we are too harsh in how we penalize people that view child porn.


We should act responsibly when reporting and reading news.

This ties into the first two thoughts.  When talking about GamerGate, know that you’re feeding the trolls.  When talking about sensitive subjects, think before you speak.  Don’t be like John Grisham.

But also, don’t be like Rosie O’Donnell.  Even after John Grisham apologized, Rosie decided it would be awesome to suggest that the police investigate John Grisham’s hard drive.

You might say, “But Brian, Rosie wasn’t reporting the news.  She was just stating her opinion, too.”

I disagree.  She is the news.  I am the news.  You are the news.  If you are talking about recent, non-fiction events on your Facebook or Twitter, you may be the only source news on that event for some people.

Consider that Fox News, MSNBC, and even CNN are being run as a business.  They do market research.  They cater to their audiences.  The news that you’re receiving from them is tailored for their respective audiences.  They are trying to make money.

I recently had to remove someone from my social media that continuously posted right-wing propaganda.  When I’d call them out on it, citing other sources like snopes, she’d respond unfavorably.  I tolerated it for a long time, until their posts became less and less thinly veiled racist garbage.  Then I had to cut them loose.

When we behave like the person I had to remove, with a closed mind and without checking facts before boosting signals, we promote divisiveness and misinformation.  We create disharmony.  We polarize.


I have a bunch more I want to say about how we should be pursuing equality and fairness, but I’ve droned on and on already.  I know that I’ve said some things in this post that are uncomfortable.  I would be happy to discuss any of the topics I’ve included in this.  I promise to try to keep an open mind.


Why I Write

I’ve stated before that when I don’t write, I become depressed.  Writers write.  It’s in their blood, and when they’re not writing, it’s unhealthy.

But that’s not the only reason I write.  There are other reasons.


I write to entertain people.

I like being on stage musicals.  I like performing in front of a crowd with a band.

I like giving someone a story that brightens their world for a little while.

Underneath it all, I want to make people happy.  I try to be polite.  I listen.  As I’ve told my son, I want to make the world a little bit better than the way I found it.  One of the ways I can do that is by making my stories as entertaining as I can.


I want to tell people something.

I have thoughts and opinions and ideas about how the world should work.  They’re not necessarily original thoughts.  I have strong feelings about personal responsibility, integrity, and freedom.  These are the driving ideas behind the fantasy story that’s taking me forever.

I have ideas that I want to put out into the world.  Stating them flatly doesn’t feel like enough.  Demonstrating them with characters in a fictional world might not be enough, but it feels like the right place to start.


Someday, I want to write for a living.

This is different than, “I’m doing it for the money.” I’m not doing it for the money.  I don’t expect to get rich from writing.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I never make a dime.

I hope to sell my stories, however.

Let me put it in words that Princess Leia would understand: If money was all that I loved, then that’s what I would try to receive.

It’s not, though.  I could make a lot of money as a programmer.  The problem is that programming doesn’t satisfy my soul.  Writing does.  So I hope that someday, I’ll reach a point in my writing career that I can just depend on it.  I think that would make me very happy.


There are other reasons I write, but those are the major reasons.  If you’re like me, then it helps to check your motivations from time to time.  Without proper motivation, it’s easy to slack off and procrastinate.


Writing and My Family

As a writer, I dive into the waters of my imagination.  I hold my breath and pull treasures from the depths.  Eventually, I have to come up for air, and as solitary as the journey was, I’m not alone when I return to the real world.  I have my family.

Writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely craft, but a writer still has their family.  And writing has an impact on that family.

In my case, the impact is relatively small.  Sometimes, I’m not available.  It’s not much different than when I go to band practice.  There are nights where I am obligated to take part in an activity.  The difference between writing and most other activities is that if I don’t write, I start to get depressed.  Writers that don’t write are unhappy people, and I don’t like being unhappy around my family.

I need to write, but I don’t always need to leave my family completely out of the activity.  Sometimes, my wife goes with me when I go to Starbucks.  She sits near me with her iPad and reads, drinking a fancy drink, and I hunch over my Surface and block out the world.

A couple of years ago, my daughter tried NaNoWriMo with me.  I was so happy that I went out and bought laptops for her and her brother.  Neither one of us succeeded that year, but she got a lot closer than I did.  She opted not to join me in NaNoWriMo last year.  I don’t think she’ll be joining me this year, either.

Both my wife and my daughter are voracious readers.  My daughter treats books the way I treat them, in fact.  She holds them carefully, so as not to break the spine.  This is not a behavior that I taught her, and it drives her Mom crazy sometimes.

My son is not crazy about books.  He doesn’t like writing, and he probably thinks I’m crazy for intentionally engaging in such activity.  He doesn’t hold it against me.  He just doesn’t participate.


The constant challenge is finding the room in my life for both writing and maintaining the relationships in my family.  This goes back to why time management is so important, but it’s not just time.  It’s also space.  Where do I go to write in the house where I won’t be disturbed, and where I won’t be disturbing anyone else by trying to making the area a place I can write?  I’ve mentioned before that the kitchen table is out.  My bedroom is also out, because it’s just too uncomfortable.

That leaves the backyard and my garage.  Both places are difficult to endure at different times of the year due to the weather.  The garage is at least covered, and in the winter, I can use a space heater underneath my desk.  But sometimes it feels like a dark and cave.


What is the lesson to take away from this?  I think there are two things:

Communicate with your family honestly about your writing, what it means to you, and what you need.

They’re going to get it.  My family has lived with me when I haven’t been writing for a while, and they’ve seen me miserable.  They know that I’m a better person to live with when I’m writing.

What they don’t necessarily know is what they can do to help facilitate my writing.  I’ve talked with my wife about the environment I need, and what it’s like for me.  Armed with that knowledge, she’s more accepting of my Wednesday evenings at Starbucks.  She understands why I can’t write when someone’s visiting me in the garage.  We’ve talked about having a little sign that I can post, to distinguish between “Brian is writing at his computer” and “Brian is screwing around on his computer, playing games.”

Be considerate of your family, and recognize their needs.

I know that my wife wants to see me sometimes, and talk to me, and she wants me to listen to her about her day.  She works just like I do, only she also does more around the house than I do.  The least I can do is listen to her about her day, and ask how she’s doing.

My kids are teenagers, and they mostly just want to do their own thing and be left alone.  Being a good Dad, I know that they also need to be checked in on from time to time, and encouraged.  My kids know that I love them, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them from time to time.


It’s not always easy, but it’s important to find the balance between writing and family life.  Sometimes, you have to go off and work on your story.  Other times, you need to put the laptop away and take your family out.  And sometimes, you can pack the family and the laptop into the car, and satisfy both needs.  It takes communication, patience, and setting reasonable expectations.


Perfectionism and Writing

To start this post, I looked for a quote about perfectionism.  I found one that’s perfect.

“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” — Anne Wilson Schaef


I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, and a teeny-tiny bit obsessive-compulsive.  I’m also probably a little bit bipolar, but that’s a (painful) topic for another post.

So when I say I’m a perfectionist, what do I mean?

I don’t like doing something if I can’t do it right.  “Good enough” is almost never good enough.  When I’m working on a project, I don’t just spit it out and move on.  I obsessive over it, continuously tweaking and adjusting, as reluctant to give it up as an oyster with its pearl.

This isn’t to say that I’m perfect.  It doesn’t even mean I’m necessarily good at the things I try.  It just means that when something isn’t right, I hang on and stress over it way longer than I should.

And I know that a lot of people say that they’re perfectionists when they aren’t.  Maybe I’m one of those people.  But if you ask my wife if I’m a perfectionist, she’ll probably say yes, and then point at my side of the closet.


So how does that influence my writing?

For starters, it makes my writing slower.  I get hung up on the little things.  I obsess longer than I should over things that just don’t matter.

The worst thing, though, is that I have a tendency to edit while I’m still working on the first draft.

On the positive side, my first drafts come out very clean.  Many people have read my first drafts and told me that they thought it was a second or third draft.  That seems good, except that all first drafts are crap, mine included.  I still need to go back and edit everything I do.  If I just waited to edit my work until the entire first draft was done, I would have greater perspective on the things that need editing, and the whole process would be faster.


I have a powerful inner editor.  It’s more like an inner demon, especially when I’m being particularly perfectionist.  Nothing healthy ever comes from being a perfectionist with a first draft.  Only unnecessary stress, and then feelings of guilt when the project is slow, and falls behind expected goals.


This is one of the reasons that NaNoWriMo is awesome.  When I participated in NaNoWriMo last year, I got behind.  The perfectionist editor inside my head kept on chattering as I was plugging along, making me go back and fix tiny things that could be fixed later.  The editor kept hounding me, deep into the month of November… and then stopped.  I reached a point where if I was going to finish the project, I had to get words on the page, no matter the quality.  NaNoWriMo forced me to abandon perfectionism, if only for a few days.


If you are a perfectionist and you’re looking at starting a story, find a way to silence that part of you long enough to get the first draft done.  I know that it’s easier said than done.  I’ve only been able to do it a few times, but when I’ve done it, I’ve managed to finish stories.  Do whatever you need to in order to get the first draft out of your head and onto the page.  Bribe yourself.  Trick yourself.  Keep telling yourself that you can be a perfectionist on the next draft, which is the truth.  There’s time for making it perfect later.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself.  I know that when I turn a scrutinizing eye towards myself, I can be quite vicious.  Being a perfectionist with writing is an avenue to self torture, and it won’t make you produce work any faster, or of any higher quality.  So don’t do that.

And if you know how, please share with me.


Write What You Care About

“Write what you know” — Mark Twain


As I’ve stated other places, I’m a programmer, a musician, a married man, and a father of two.  I was in the Air Force for 6 years.  I like computer games, board games, card games, and roleplaying games.  I’m well-rounded.

So what do I write about?

  • A repoman that discovers he’s psychic
  • A group of amnesiac warriors in a fantasy world that’s been pacified
  • A couple of baggage handlers in the future that discover a body
  • A person getting lost and discovering who they are in virtual reality
  • A boy going through his right of manhood to discover that he may be the bane to his nomadic people

I’m not writing about programmers, fathers, or veterans.  One of the stories I listed involves gaming, but it’s actually the weakest story I’ve written, and may wind up being one of those stories that never goes anywhere.

So why am I not taking Mark Twain’s advice, and writing what I know?

There are a few reasons.


I’m already spending enough time with the things I know.

I like being a programmer.  I like the creativity and the problem solving.  I like that I’m able to make money as a programmer.  I work very hard at it, and I strive to become better at it.  When I can, I even try to teach high school kids how to be programmers.

I’m not so in love with programming that I want to write about it.  I spend enough of my day in that world that I don’t need to bring it into all aspects of my life.


I’m in a different mindset when I’m writing from the other activities.

When I sit with a band, I’m thinking about the music in front of me, the instrument in my hand, and the people around me.  While we’re playing, I’m constantly listening and adjusting how I’m playing to produce the best music I can.

When I sit down to program, I’m thinking about the problems I’m trying to solve.  I pour over the code that’s already been written.  I scribble on whiteboards and I create flowcharts.

When I sit down to write, I shut out the rest of the world, and I listen to the voice I’ve created in my head that reads from my imagination.  I adjust the words as I write them.  I focus my energy and thoughts on telling a story, navigating the narrative to places that I’ve thought about in advance.  Or sometimes, I discover places that I hadn’t expected.

They’re all different mindsets.  When I sit down to be a writer, I functionally stop being a programmer or musician.  Thinking about programming pulls me out of the right head-space for writing.


Other fiction writers get the things I know wrong.

The first two reasons I listed are admittedly a little weak.  This one is getting much closer to the heart of it.

When “Broken Arrow” came out, I was stationed at Holloman AFB.  I saw the movie in the theater surrounded by other Air Force personnel that were familiar with the F-117 fighter.  So when the camera went to the inside of the fighter and the pilot said, “Switching to stealth mode,” the audience around me groaned.

For those of you that don’t know, the F-117 is “stealthy” because of its shape and its paint.  When they were first testing the design, they had a big foam mock-up shaped like the fighter, covered in the special paint.  The mock-up was shot with a radar, and for a moment, the engineers thought that the design had failed, because there was a solid blip on their screen.  A moment later, the bird that had been perched on the mock-up flew off, and the display on the radar cleared.

There is no stealth mode.  Yes, when the landing gear is down, the plane is more visible on radar.  But that’s not what the movie was portraying.

I know lots of little details like that.  So when fiction gets those details wrong, it annoys me.

I don’t want to get wrapped up in those details.  I don’t want to risk lowering the quality of my story by getting too involved in details that are only going to appeal to a fraction of my audience.


I don’t entertain myself with a lot of fiction involving the things I know.

We’re getting very, very close to the heart of the matter, now.

Because the little details break my immersion and annoy me when they’re wrong, I’m hesitant to get into fiction that pertains to my unique skill set.  I’ve been burned too many times.  I already mentioned “Broken Arrow.” There was also “Outbreak” and “The Net” off the top of my head.  These are movies that got things so wrong that I remember them because of the mistakes.  Some people remember “Swordfish” because of Halle’s berries.  I remember it because it was impossible in bad ways.

When I see that a movie coming out with a plot that hinges on a field I know, I wait until other people have gone to see it first.

I don’t invest a lot of time in fiction that relates to fields I know about.  Therefore, I don’t have a lot of experience with that kind of fiction.  What business do I have writing fiction that I’m unfamiliar with?  That’d be like submitting stories to a magazine I’ve never read.


Let’s get right to it.  The real reason I don’t “write what I know” is:

I write what interests me.

I’d been reading The Dresden Files for weeks before NaNoWriMo last year, and that influenced me.  Before that, I’d been reading The Game of Thrones books, so I started a dark fantasy story.  Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Brandon Sanderson, so I imagine The Way of Kings is going to have an influence on my up-and-coming NaNoWriMo project.

It doesn’t make sense to write about something that you’re not interested in.  For some people, writing is an excuse to learn.  So why not write about something you know nothing about?  The process of writing on a subject teaches the writer about the subject.

When you start a writing project, you’re committing to an investment of time and energy.  The subject needs to interest you, otherwise you will not be able to keep the commitment.


I’m sure I could write a decent story about a programmer.  I’m not afraid that I would do a poor job.  I’m just more interested in writing about a very spiritual young man that’s good with a staff, and his struggles with abandonment issues. (I hope I finish the book, so that the sentence I just wrote will be hilarious.)


My advice to anyone that’s just struggling with writing: Write what you care about, whether you know something about it or not.