Starts Pro, Ends with Nation, Gets Crass in the Middle


Two main obstacles stand in my way to realizing my full potential as a writer: fear and procrastination.

Fear, I have some experience facing.  I can talk myself down from fear.  I can talk with other people about fear, and they’ll get it.  In fact, there’s not much more American than good old fashioned fear.  Just look at the news.  Look at how the media deals with Ebola.

Procrastination is another story.  It’s also American, for sure.  If you call it laziness, you can dress it up with a baseball hat, hand it a hotdog, and march it around to Yankee-Doodle.

We all procrastinate, but we rarely celebrate it like we do fear.

Instead, we equate procrastination with weakness and poor character.  We look at procrastinating kids and ponder the possibility that they might have attention deficit disorder.  When someone is distracted, we wonder what’s wrong with them.

We scold someone for procrastinating, but we sympathize with someone for freezing up due to fear.

Maybe we’re being a little harsh.

Why do I procrastinate?  When I’m working on a project, whether it’s writing or programming, why do I keep looking at my Facebook status?  Why do I open a browser and start reading the news when what I should be doing is creating an outline for my NaNoWriMo story?  Why do I check my twitter when I should be writing code?

Sometimes, it’s fear that leads to procrastination.  The size of a problem can be intimidating.  Sometimes, I’m uncertain about how well I’m going to do, and the manifestation of my fear looks like dilly-dallying.

It’s not always fear, though.  Here are some other reasons I procrastinate:


Lack of clarity

This is easier for me to diagnose with my programming than it is with my writing, but the problem exists in both places.  If I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next, I wander off.  Sometimes, I’ll be handed a requirements document that is vague to the point of uselessness.  Or, when I’m writing a scene, if I find myself looking at my phone, it’s often because I don’t know what comes next.

With writing, clarity can be found be taking a step back to take a look at the big picture.  This might be a matter of consulting notes, creating new notes to fill in some of the gaps.  Sometimes, it’s enough to just take a long walk, and let the ideas gel on their own.  Since I started taking long walks every day, my productivity has gone up.


Other interests need fed

I like a lot of different things.  I like music, both listening and playing.  I also like movies.  I have interests in religion and politics.  And I love games, whether they are electronic or not.

If I don’t intentionally feed my other interests, I will find myself feeding them unintentionally.  When I’m procrastinating, if I stop and take a look at what I’m doing, I usually find that it is something related to an activity I haven’t been indulging.  When I stop playing video games for too long, I find myself opening solitaire or minesweeper.  If it’s been a while since I’ve seen a good movie, I often divert myself by spending more time crawling through YouTube.

Lately, I haven’t spent a lot of time with friends, so I’ve spent more time on Facebook and Twitter than usual.

Often, watching videos on YouTube is just watching videos on YouTube.  But if I’m spending an inordinate amount of time watching Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, maybe I just need to take a break and play a board game with friends and family.


The environment promotes distraction

There are places where I get more work done than others.  The Starbucks I visit every Wednesday is a great place for me to get writing related activities accomplished.  The kitchen table at home, on the other hand, is a terrible place, either because of the noise from the TV or because it is a high traffic area.

Sometimes, to get something done, I have to distance myself from the internet.  A couple of weeks ago, when my family wanted to go to the beach, that was the perfect time for me to finish critiquing a story for my monthly writer’s group.  There was no internet in the car on the way to the beach or once we were there, so I couldn’t distract myself with other pursuits.

The siren’s song of cat videos and internet memes can be silenced, and needs to be silenced from time to time.  Other times, the noise is more real, like at the office where I work.  I’m in a cube, and some of the noise at work leads to procrastination.  That’s when headphones come in handy.

If your environment isn’t helping, change your environment.


Sometimes it’s just boring

This is a scary one, because if you’re bored with your story, how are your readers going to feel?  Procrastination due to boredom can be a sign that the scene you’re working on needs to change, or possibly be eliminated.

It’s not always that, though.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell.  For example, when I’ve “spoiled” a scene for myself, I don’t feel quite as motivated to write it.  It’s not that it’s a bad scene.  It’s just that there isn’t anything for me to discover, and all that’s left is the toiling over making words work.

Writers need to learn to enjoy writing sentences, and getting into the craft to sustain them through the parts where there is no discovery.  I can do that most of the time.  The rest of the time, I wander off, and opportunities are lost.

One answer is to push through, finding the enjoyment where you can find it, and just shoulder to the grindstone the rest of the time.  Another answer, which I honestly haven’t taken advantage of, is to skip the boring part and move on to something more interesting.  Come back and do the hard stuff later, when your frame of mind is better for that kind of writing.


Those are some reasons why I procrastinate, and even a few ways to solve the underlying problems.  That’s not the only issue with procrastination, however.

Look at synonyms for procrastination, and you will find words with scalding connotations.  Lazy.  Loafing.  Trifling.

One of my bigger problems with procrastination is how I treat myself afterwards.  I need to learn to forgive myself.  I just listed a number of reasons why I might procrastinate, and yet, I forget all that when I catch myself slacking off.

We’re not machines.  Sure, the t-shirt that says “A writer is a machine that turns caffeine into stories” is funny, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for forgiveness.  Especially if you’re like me, and you don’t ingest caffeine anymore.

Something I need to work on, and maybe you do, too, is rewarding success rather than punishing procrastination.  I need to learn to set achievable goals, with milestones if the tasks are particularly large.  Then, when goals are met, I need to give myself a treat.  Positive reinforcement is going to go a lot further than calling myself a shiftless pretender.


Those are my thoughts on procrastination.  If you have some of your own, please share.  You know, if you don’t get too distracted.


Villains and Villainy!

“If you only knew the power of the Dark Side.” — Darth Vader


I have a lot of thoughts on villains.  I’ve been contemplating villains and villainy for as long as I’ve been writing.  Some villains leap off the page or screen, and some fall flat.

People have different preferences when it comes to villains.  Bear in mind that as I lay out my thoughts, I’m going to be talking about my preferences.  This may be one of those subjects where there is no single answer to getting villainy correct.


Villains and monsters aren’t necessarily the same thing

It’s possible for a villain to be a monster.  I’m thinking of Hannibal Lecter.  When he’s committing horrible acts of cruelty or barbarism, he is clearly a monster.  When he’s seducing Clarice into his confidences, he’s a villain.  In my opinion, it’s when he’s speaking smoothly and intelligently that he seems the most sinister.

The difference between a monster and a villain is the level of their humanity.  Dracula illustrates this, by the different ways that his story is told.  Sometimes Dracula is painted as a sympathetic, lonely soul.  And then there’s Bram Stoker, who wrote him as a soulless creature, a true terror of the night.  The shapshifting, shameless bloodsucker is a monster.

Other monsters: Spider-man’s foe, Venom.  Godzilla.  And Emperor Palpatine.  The Joker.


A good villain is motivated

One of the ways you can tell the difference between a villain and a monster is to simply look at their motivations.  Is the character doing terrible things for a purpose?  If the answer seems to be No, then they’re a monster.

I like monsters just fine, but I prefer villains.  I love villains.

Macbeth is one of my favorite villains.  It is argued that he is a tragic hero, and not a villain.  I say he’s both.  He meets the definition of a tragic hero, but he also meets the definition of a villain.  I don’t want to get too much into semantics.  I want to focus on what can be learned from Macbeth for constructing a good villain (whether he is one or not).

Macbeth was tempted, and he was motivated.  Wealth and power is put before him, and he resists until the love of his life pressures him.  His motivations early on are clear, and his struggles are understandable and human.  Then, once he’s compromised his integrity, it becomes easier for him to commit greater and greater atrocities.


A good villain is relatable

I’m drawn to characters that I can relate to.  Roy Batty from Bladerunner, though not human, demonstrates the most basic of human motivations: to live.  Magneto, ruthless in his pursuits, ultimately desires something noble: freedom and equality for people of his kind.


A good villain is a good character

This is a much bigger idea than the others, because a lot goes into making a character good.  The character should be memorable.  The character should have depth.  The character should be important to the story.


I wanted to give some examples of villains that didn’t do it for me, but one of the problems with poorly crafted villains is that they are so forgettable.  Most characters that do evil just for the sake of doing evil?  Characters that have only style, and no substance?  Mustache twirling, cloak swirling, cackling, megalomaniacs that just want to tie women to railroad tracks?  Those are not my favorite.

A good villain, to me, is one that could have been the hero, if circumstances were different.  In fact, if a story has a good, compelling villain, it doesn’t need as strong a hero.


Different Ways to Tell a Story

I was going to talk about “Villains” tonight, but I got distracted by a game.  I was so distracted, in fact, that I’m perilously close to failing the Blog-tober challenge.  I better type quickly.

The game I was playing is called “Gone Home” and it is an interactive story.

I don’t want to give any spoilers.  In fact, I want to encourage anyone that hasn’t played it to go to Steam, give them $20, and get this.  You will not regret it.

In the game, you are Katie, and you’ve just come home after being abroad for a year.  Your flight was late, so you’re getting to your home in the middle of the night during a heavy storm.

And that’s really all I can tell you without giving things away.

It’s not a long game.  If you’re like me and you look around and stumble around lost for a bit, you’ll invest about 4 hours.  And, if you’re like me, at the end of those 4 hours you will be touched.  I very nearly cried, and that’s saying something.

I’ve heard that there are other games that are essentially interactive stories that I should play.  I’ve heard good things about Last of Us, Walking Dead, and Wolf Among Us.  I haven’t picked them up yet, but I think I probably should.

Playing “Gone Home” is good for writers.  It demonstrates how setting can impact the mood.  It shows in a very visual way how different story lines can be woven together.  Since it’s an interactive story, it’s possible to consume some of the story out of order, which demonstrates non-linear story telling in a unique way.

It’s… it’s just a good story.  Trust me.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about Villains.  Now it’s time for me to go to bed, but I’m going to have to stop and give my daughter a hug on the way.  Once you’ve played “Gone Home,” you’ll understand why.


I Miss #GenreChat

For a while, I was participating on Twitter on Wednesday evenings with the #GenreChat community.  It was an amazing group of people interested in speculative fiction.  They showed up every week and discussed topics posted by Genre Underground.  It was a little bit of a distraction from my normal writing time, but it was delicious.  Plus, it made me think about speculative fiction in different ways.

What happened to it?  Well, the main organizer behind it became really busy, and schedule conflicts prevented them from continuing.  I tried to hold it together for a little while, but I was only able to keep people’s interest for a couple of weeks.

Why is genre important?  Why should we be talking about it?  At the end of the day, a well written, intelligent story is excellent, no matter what genre it is labeled with, right?  If one were to look at Kurt Vonnegut, it would seem genre is just marketing.  Vonnegut’s stories dealt with science fiction, but he didn’t call them science fiction stories, and he didn’t call himself a science fiction writer.

On the surface, it seems like applying a genre to a story is an aspect of marketing and sales.  Readers have certain tastes, and it’s easier for a reader to find a story they like if similar works are grouped together.  So genre is all about selling books, right?

Partially.  Calling genre a marketing tool leaves out a number of other defining qualities.


Genre is about setting reader expectations.

Readers of science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance… whatever their flavor of choice, they develop certain expectations and assumptions.  Certain patterns are followed in different stories, based on their genre.  Fantasy can have magic.  Science fiction can have technology.  Horror can have monsters.  If you’re going to have a wizard in your story, your reader will forgive you if you tell them upfront that it’s a fantasy story.  If you try and pull one of the common tropes from one genre and put it in another, you better do it well, or you run the risk of upsetting your readers.


Genre is about community.

Good fiction inspires passion, and passionate people seek people that share their interest.  It’s not just a matter of setting expectations, and preparing a reader for the flavor of their story.  Genre implies a nuanced, unspoken language.  And there’s no greater place to speak that language than with a community of similarly minded individuals.

This is one of the reasons I love going to conventions.  I can geek out without fear.  I can share my passion with people and let my guard down a little, because I know that the people I’m talking to are connected to me through our shared interest.  It feels comfortable.

A convention center isn’t required for a community to enjoy the genre of their choice.  The Twitter group was excellent.  Writer’s groups can be fantastic.  Online forums.  Mailing lists.


Genre helps the writer focus their story.

Just as the reader’s expectations are adjusted when they select a particular genre to read, a set of tropes are laid out in front of a writer when he chooses to write in a certain genre.  Some things don’t have to be explained as much.  Certain patterns become available, which can be comfortable for both the reader and the writer.

Of course, some of the greatest stories are the ones that turn the genre on its head, challenging the patterns and tropes.  Sometimes they create new ones.



Writing versus Programming

People ask me what I do, and I say, “I’m a full time programmer, part time writer.” I get varied reactions to this.  Some people think those two activities go hand in hand, while other people marvel at how I can have such diverse outlets.

The truth is, the two pursuits use different parts of my brain, but they draw from the same energy source.


What it’s like when I program

Programming is one part problem solving, one part creativity, and one part mindless plodding.

When I sit down to write some software, I start with a plan.  We call it them “requirements.” Sometimes the requirements are more well formed than others.  The requirements describe the problem to be solved, and often examples of how to test and make sure the problem is actually solved.

When I write software, I try to be succinct.  I try to make the code maintainable and functional, accomplishing the task as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Sometimes I work with other programmers.  Sometimes I work alone.  Sometimes I have to make it fancy.  Sometimes I just have to make it get do its job, without anyone seeing how it works.

When I’m deep in the zone, I can listen to music, as long as it isn’t too distracting.  It can have words, and I can even sing along with music while I’m programming.

I use a whiteboard to sketch out parts that are unclear.  When I’m tackling particularly complicated problems, I’ll write out comments first, which effectively sketches out a map of what the code I’m about to write will look like.


What it’s like when I write

Writing is one part isolation, two parts creativity, and one part obsessive compulsive disorder.  Some people include caffeine, but I’ve been off caffeine for about 7 years.

When I sit down to write a story, I start with an idea.  Sometimes it’s a big idea that I’ve mulled over for a long time.  Sometimes, all I have is a vague concept.  If I have too much of the idea mapped out, I lose interest in writing the story, because I’ve already spoiled it for me.  If I don’t have enough of the idea mapped out, then I wander around aimlessly for a while, until I find my way.

When I write fiction, I am not succinct, which is okay in the first draft.  I tend to use too many words, and my sentences are too long, especially in action sequences.  It’s okay, though, because eventually, there will be editing.  And with the editing, brevity is sought.  Parts are cut.  Sentences are made shorter.

I have not written a serious story with anyone else.  I can sit down with other people and write, but it would be confusing to say that I write with other people.

When I’m in the zone while writing, it doesn’t matter what else is going on around me.  I’m in another world.

I cannot listen to music and write.  If there is a movie going on in the same room, I can’t write, even if I can’t see the screen.  If there is an interesting conversation going on near me, I can’t write.  For me to write, I need to be able to hear the words I’m typing, and I need to be able to listen to the words in my head without interruption.

When I’m planning to write a story, I open OneNote on my Surface and I hand write some notes.  Sometimes I write sequences of events.  Sometimes I ask myself questions that I think the reader will ask, then jot down the answers.  I write down brief thoughts and descriptions of the characters.

I can tell when I’m writing well by how often I look at my notes.  If I’m looking at them a lot, then I’m stalling, because I don’t know what I need to do with the story at that moment of time.  When things are going, I don’t look at my notes at all, because I don’t need to.



Both activities are sedentary.  Both activities involve a lot of typing, and I actually get a primal satisfaction from hearing that clackety-clack of the keyboard with both activities.  Both activities involve a lot of trial and error.  Both activities involve “drafts,” where I get an implementation of my ideas down, then go back and debug or edit later.

With programming, the work I do can be eloquent, but it is always dry and barren.

With writing, I strive for eloquence and words that transport someone else to a place in my imagination.

I write software in order to meet a set of goals.  An external source requests a set of features and functionality, and I strive to meet the demand.

I write stories in order to express myself.  All of the drive and impetus comes purely from within.  At this point, the only one clamoring for my stories is myself and my wife.

I get paid to program.

I do not get paid to write.



I enjoy both activities.  I am truly fortunate to have found and capitalized on some of the opportunities put before me.  It wasn’t easy, and there were no hand-outs.  I worked hard to become a programmer, and to get into the position I’m in now.

I suppose I’m greedy, because I want to make money as a writer, too.  I’m still quite a ways from getting there, but I’ve received enough encouragement to believe that it might not be a pipe dream.  I just need to keep working at it, one day at a time.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that both activities draw from the same energy source, and that’s true.  They both rely on my ability to focus, and focus takes willpower and drive.  I only have so much focus each day.  Most days, I don’t really have enough to both program and write.

When I’m deeply involved with either programming or writing, the other suffers.  I don’t know what to do about that.  I have a job to do, and people depending on me to get that job done.  But I also feel a need to pursue my writing dreams, because when I stopped that pursuit, I was extremely depressed.

If you have an answer, leave a comment and let me know.  At this point, I don’t know how to keep all of the plates spinning.


Blogs of Writers I Read



As solitary as writing can be, there is comfort in knowing that other people out there are going through the same triumphs and fears.  Over the years, I’ve collected bookmarks for writer’s blogs that I find interesting or inspirational.

These are shared in no particular order.


Tristan’s Blog

Tristan is a friend of Sean “Day 9” Plott.  More importantly, he’s a very talented writer that periodically shares interesting insights about being a writer on his blog.  He doesn’t seem to post very frequently, and I don’t check it that often.  But cruising through his archive, he has a number of good posts on writing.


Kristine Kathryn Rusch

She used to post quite a bit more to the main page.  Again, this isn’t a blog I frequent a lot.  I usually check it once a month or so.  She has a number of articles on writing, with some great ones focusing on the business side.


Dean Wesley Smith

I’m going to be honest.  I have not read very much from his blog.  I’ve checked in from time to time, and I’ve meant to dive into some of his posts, but I mostly added him to my list of bookmarks after sitting in on one of his panels in Reno.  The way he described writing resonated with me.  He’s exceptionally prolific.


Em’s Place

Emma Newman is simply wonderful.  I met her in Chicago, and she was extremely generous with her time and her advice.  In addition to being open and friendly, she’s a very talented writer, with a hugo nominated podcast, Tea and Jeopardy.  I’ve listened to her book Between Two Thorns on audio, which she narrated.  I also subscribed to an RSS feed of her posts, so I read whatever she posts as soon as she posts it.


M Todd Gallowglas

Almost any time I reference “Michael” in my posts, I’m talking about this guy.  He’s one of my oldest friends, and he’s been a huge encouragement in my writing pursuits.  He’s independently published several successful series, and he performs live storytelling shows.  As Brandon Sanderson says, “M Todd Gallowglas is the real deal.”


Katana / Pen

I met Setsu at Convolution 2013, when she and I were both in the same writer’s workshop.  Later, we tried forming a writer’s group, but there were some logistical problems keeping that going.  She’s recently had some great successes, with one of her stories published in a Happily Never After, and the launch of a radio play, “Unfortunate Demonic Incident Number 271.” Setsu is bold in the places where I am timid.  In addition to blogging about writing, she also talks about feminism and martial arts.


Lauren Sapala

I have not met Lauren in person, though we almost got to meet at Convolution 2014.  Lauren is a writer and a writing coach.  She frequently posts amazingly helpful articles on how to get past the hurdles that are part of being a writer.  I’ve subscribed to her RSS feed, and read all of her articles as soon as she posts them.


Hugh Howey

Hugh is a successful, independent author, probably best known for Wool.  I got to sit down at a Kaffeeklatch with him in Chicago, and I knew immediately that if I’m ever successful as a writer, I want to be exactly like Hugh Howey.  He was friendly and approachable.  He was delighted to meet up with people at the convention, and gave us each a copy of his book.

I’m subscribed to an RSS feed for his posts, and read them when they come in.  He mostly writes about independent and self-published writing.  Lately, his focus has been on what’s been going on with Hatchet and Amazon.


Jennifer at Leasspell

Jennifer was one of the pros in one of the writer’s workshops I attended at Convolution 2014.  Like Emma Newman, Jennifer has been very encouraging.

I’ve only had Jennifer’s blog on my radar for a few weeks.  One of her more recent posts featured J. L. Doty, someone I’ve talked about here before.


There are other blogs I read from time to time, but these are the ones I have bookmarked.

If you have suggestions for some blogs I should add to my list, please feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll check it out!


Where My Ideas Come From

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

It’s a common question I receive shortly after I tell someone that I’m a writer.  Some people follow it up by telling me one of their own ideas, informing me that I can use it if I like.  I always politely decline.

The unhelpful answer is that my ideas come from all over the place.  Sometimes they’re purely internal.  Other times, I experience something, that creates a spark.  I have ideas all the time.  In fact, I have more story ideas than I have time to write.

If I needed to be specific about where my story ideas came from, this is what I’d say:



A link exists in my head between gaming and writing.  And when I say “gaming” I specifically mean tabletop roleplaying games.  World of Warcraft once inspired me to write a poem about an elven hunter, but graphical, computer based RPGs don’t trigger my writing itch like tabletop RPGs.

The Repossessed Ghost was born from a character I played in a tabletop game.  The character is quite a bit different, and none of the other elements from the game are present in the story.  I started with a character idea, and then created a world and a story for him to play in.

The novel I’m starting in November is similar.  I created a character for an online, text-based RPG named Simon.  I had a lot of fun with him, and I’ve known for years that I want to take the core of who he is and stick him in another world.  In a little over two weeks, I’m going to start the story I’ve been putting off.  I’m really excited to see where this goes!

Gaming is a great way for me to develop the personality and the voice of a character.  It is not so great a place for me to develop plots.  For that, I turn to…


Real life experiences

I was in the airport last year, on my way to San Antonio for WorldCon.  I looked out the window and saw one of those little trucks whisk by, luggage piled in a heap on the back.  All around me stood other travelers, waiting to get on the plane.  Below us, our belongings were already traveling.

It got me thinking about how our baggage takes a completely different trip than we do.  From there, my mind made the leap to, “What if our bodies were baggage?”

I thought about cramped seats, crying babies, popping ears, and the slow shamble we all must endure when boarding and leaving the plane.  I thought about all the things I hate about flying, and then I thought about a joke: “They’re always looking for the black box.  The black box.  Why don’t they make the whole plane out of the stuff they make the black box out of?”

And then I had my short story idea.  Shortly after returned from WorldCon, I wrote Unclaimed Goods.



Sometimes, my motivation for writing isn’t to tell a story.  Every once in a while, I write to work through something.  The first novel, which some of my family has seen, was inspired from my Dad’s death.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I wrote it in order to help deal with my grief.

Shortly before I joined the Air Force, I experienced a different sort of loss.  I’m not going to go into the details, other than to say that my faith was shaken.  I wrote a very dark short story to deal with it.  It was blasphemous, really.  I poured all of my doubt and feelings of betrayal into it.  I’ve only shown it to one person, and I don’t have any plans of showing it to anyone else.

Some authors might be able to get away with pouring their tragedies onto the page and serving them up.  Most of us should probably avoid doing that, though.  If for no other reason, it’s going to be hard to edit and bring the quality to a serviceable level.

I have been able to tap into external tragedies, however.  A Clean Slate is born from my perceptions on the Patriot Act, and all of the craziness that we’ve endured since 9/11.  There’s more going on in that story, but underneath it all, I’m working through some of my thoughts and feelings about the price of freedom versus the price of security.


I don’t have any muses whispering in my ear, that I’m aware of.  Nor do I have any muses clubbing me over the head with a crowbar.  Ultimately, anything can become a story idea.  A writer simply has to decide which one they want to spend months or years refining.


Fears of the Writer

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” — Frank Herbert, Dune

That’s easier said than done.  Let’s crack open some of these little-deaths, and see what’s squirming inside.


I’m afraid I will fail.

This is the broadest, most insidious fear.  We all face it.  It can debilitate us in nearly any endeavor.

How does one fail as a writer?  I think there are lots of steps along the way.

  1. Get an idea for a story, but never start.
  2. Start the story, but never finished the first draft.
  3. Finish the first draft, but never edit it.
  4. Edit it, but never show it to anyone.
  5. Show it to people, but never submit it for publication.
  6. Receive rejection letters, but never get over them.
  7. Get the story published, but no one ever reads it.
  8. Finish the first story, and never start the next.

All but one of those points of failure are within the writer’s control.  That’s comforting.

Really, the only way to fail is to give up.  Surrender is far worse than rejection.


I’m afraid that I will succeed.

This one might sound a little strange, but I do worry over what can happen if I manage to get a book out and in front of readers.  My life will change.

For starters, I might feel emboldened to quit my day job and focus on writing.  That would make me very happy… unless I turn out to be a one-hit wonder.

What do you do if your dream comes true?  Will I still be motivated?  Will I continue working as hard as I’m working now?  What if I discover that I’m miserable writing full time?

It’s basic, raw, uncertainty.  I’ve faced this tentacled monster before at different stages in my life.  The good news, at least for me, is that this kind of worry doesn’t impede me anymore.  If I succeed, but the success is short lived?  Then I’ll enjoy what I can, and move on to the next thing.

Success is often whatever you define it to be.  So define it as a nice place to be, then go live there.


I’m afraid that I’m not a real writer.

I’ve talked about this kind of fear before, and I’ve pointed at a quote from Neil Gaimon to support it.

It’s not just a lack of confidence.  Confidence can play a part, but there’s more.  Perhaps if I define what a “real writer,” it will make more sense.

A real writer…

  • Knows what they’re doing.
  • Is good at managing their time.
  • Writes every day, or almost every day.
  • Has discipline.
  • Knows people that can help them with the business of writing.

Looking at my description of what a real writer is, I’m just seeing a list of things I wish I was better at.  I didn’t make any mention of having talent with words.  I’ve got that.  I didn’t mention how a real writer is passionate about writing stories.  I’m passionate.

We all can do better.  We all have some ideal that we try to measure ourselves against.

Having listed out what I think a real writer is, I know what I need to do.  I’m going to work on one of those attributes each day, and see where that leads me.  And, if I’m still afraid I’m not a “real writer,” well… I’ll take some comfort knowing that I’m not the only one that suffers from this fear.


Developing a Platform

Before I get too far into this post, let me just say that I don’t know all that much about developing a platform.  I’m not at a point in my writing career where that’s even something I need to worry about.  What I have to say on this subject does not come from a place of authority or experience, but from an individual that is looking to the future.  These are my thoughts and fears.

In other words, if you’re looking for guidance on how to develop a platform, you’ve come to the wrong place.

So.  Your platform.  Huh.  Where to begin?

Let’s start with a comic, courtesy of writerunboxed.com.

So how does one avoid becoming that guy on the right, with the fancy platform but no substance?

As far as I can tell, you just do the obvious thing: write more.  Focus on making the highest quality product you can.

Are you using your time wisely?  Cultivating a following on twitter is time consuming.  Would you be better off working on another revision of your manuscript, or posting to social media?

That’s the cautionary tale side of platform development, but it’s also a bit naive.  Unlike the comic above, a healthy story isn’t as obvious as a healthy sheep.  People will look for other indicators to judge the quality of your work before actually sampling it.

That means having a good cover.  It can also mean being active in social media, and having an online presence.  Some people do internet searches before trying an unfamiliar author.

Word of mouth will always be superior, but what do you do when you’re just starting, and you don’t have people out there to talk about your work yet?

How much begging and pleading do you do with your friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Twitter?  When do you cross the line between a reasonable solicitor, and an annoying advertiser?

I don’t have these answers.  It’s something to consider, but not something to worry about.

A writer’s platform is more than just the selling of books.  A writer’s platform is about reader’s expectations.  When a writer starts to gain some readers, those expectations become more rigid.

For example, George R. R. Martin is well known for his Game of Thrones books.  He’s also known for his Wildcards stories, but let’s set those aside for the moment.  If you walk up to someone on the street and mention George’s name, chances are high that they’re going to think of Game of Thrones.

What limitations does that put on him?  For starters, if he decides to start a different fantasy series, fans of his work are going to get upset.  He’s already criticized for not delivering stories fast enough.  People look at his age and his weight, and they prognosticate on whether or not he’ll live long enough to finish the series.  Game of Thrones is his platform, and he’s locked in.

Brandon Sanderson and Jim Butcher have multiple series under their belts that they actively write, but they are both working in science fiction and fantasy.  They’re both writing in speculative fiction.  What would happen if one of them tried to put out a romance novel?  Would either one of them get away with that?

Once a writer begins to grow their platform, it takes on weight.  It develops inertia and gravity, and it becomes a defining portion of the writer’s career.


But again, all of that is well beyond what I need to worry about at this point.  The only thing I need to worry about is finishing my edits.  Then I need to put my story in front of the right people.  Platform?  That’s the least of my problems.


Writing Space

Every writer is different.  Each one has different methodologies.  Each one is more comfortable with different writing implements.  Some can listen to music.  Some need silence.  Every writer needs some place where they feel comfortable listening to their muse.  Every writer needs a space where they can do their craft.

When I first started writing, it was wherever my Apple computer was.  This was the family room for a while, but it wasn’t long before it was simply in my bedroom.

If you’ve read my post on the tools I use, then you might guess that my writing place is wherever I can sit comfortably with my Surface.  Sometimes this is my garage, but often it is a Starbuck’s not too far from my house.  I go there every Wednesday evening.  Sometimes, I’ll go and spend an entire Sunday there, and knock out an entire first draft of a short story.

For a place to be a good writing spot for me, it must have some key qualities.


It must be a place with minimal interruptions.

The Starbucks is surprisingly good for this.  When a person sits down with their laptop in a public place, there’s a social force field that seems envelope them.  Sometimes it’s more like an invisibility cloak.  Every once in a while, someone might ask me a question, but it’s pretty rare.

Most of the time, my computer out in the garage is a good place to get away, but it depends entirely on what the rest of my family is doing.  I’m more likely to get asked to do some chores at home than I am if I’m out in public.

My work place is an example of a place that is not a good writing space.  I’ve tried to spend my lunch hour or breaks working on fiction, but it just doesn’t work.  There is always something that demands my attention at work.


It must be a place with limited audio distractions.

I cannot write fiction while listening to music.  I know that some people find inspiration in music when they write, but those people are not me.

I’ve tried going to different Starbucks locations, and some work better than others because of the music that they play.  There are a few I’ve been to where the music seemed intentionally loud, in order to drive out people like me.

Etiquette note: I don’t drink coffee anymore, or buy any of the drinks at Starbucks.  However, I always buy something.  On Wednesday evenings, I always get a panini sandwich for dinner, and sometimes I get a brownie or something for desert.  I think it’s important to be a courteous patron, and not a cheap loiterer.

I like the background noise in public places, because it becomes white noise.  In my garage at home, the washing machine and dryer can also be non-distracting background noises.


I need at least an hour in order to get anything substantial done.

I talked to Glen Cook once about how he writes, and he talked about how he used to work an industrial job, and would jot down bits of his stories in the 90 second windows between duties.  I am not Glen Cook.  It usually takes me a little while to get going.

If I go to a public place to write, it must be somewhere that I can sit in the same place for at least an hour.  If I have to change tables much or move around, it’s not a good spot.  I might get some work done, but I probably won’t be happy with it.


Here are some places I’ve tried to write, but failed.


In Bed

The problem with writing in bed is that it just isn’t very comfortable.  If I somehow manage to get the keyboard into a place that I can type comfortably, I wind up with a stiff neck or sore back.  If Melissa is in bed with me, it really doesn’t work.  No matter how she tries to accommodate me, I invariably get bumped or moved around.  On top of that, I feel guilty for trying to do a singular activity next to her.  Writing in bed does not work for me.


In a car, with someone else driving

I can be on a laptop in a car, but I can’t write.  There are too many distractions.  Also, I hate to block out the people I’m traveling with in order to focus on my story.

I can program while being driven around, because I can take frequent breaks while I’m programming.  I can also converse to a limited degree, even when I’m neck deep in code.  But I cannot write fiction in a car.


On a plane

I’ve tried a few times, but it just doesn’t work out.  For one thing, I’m a nervous flier.  I can (usually) read a book during a flight, but I can’t get into my own story while up in the air.

A few times, I’ve taken notes and done some plotting while flying.  That’s useful.  But I cannot write while flying.

I could probably write on a train.