Rule #5: Keep It in the Mail Until it Sells

Remember last week when I talked about the 98% rejection rate?

Yeah, get used to that.

Frank Herbert famously tried to get his weird desert-planet novel published at every publishing house that then existed. He started with the usual science fiction publishers, like Ace, and moved up to other publishers, like Random House, after each genre publisher turned him down. Even conventional publishers didn’t want anything to do with it and its freaky mysticism and drugs and sex and ecology crap. Finally, he sent the manuscript to Chilton, whom you may know better for printing automotive manuals.

Chilton decided to go with it, which is how we got Dune.

PICTURED: Not an automotive manual.

PICTURED: Not an automotive manual.

“The Remedy,” as I mentioned, was rejected by Asimov’s (and two other markets) before I submitted it to the Ray Bradbury Contest and won  third. “Gods of War” garnered six rejections before it won awards and got on MindFlights. I have others with even higher rejection counts. Some are still counting.

Blood on the Floor is an anthology entirely about how writers deal with rejection. Because we deal with it a lot. How you respond to it tells you what kind of writer you are.

I’ve gotten to a place in my career where I enjoy each rejection. They delight me. Because it means I’m one step closer to finding the right market for that story, whether it’s the Amazon list or someone’s anthology project or some professional editor’s hands. It means I can move forward with that story, and moving forward is the important thing.

This rule is both a psychology and an action. You have to get comfortable with the story coming back to you in the mail, and dusting it off and sending it right back out again. Paper your bathroom with the rejection slips. Burn them. Some of the editors will burn you (I have one response for my Asian gothic “White Man’s Burden” that turns the screen brown when I read it).

Whatever you gotta do to deal with it, and to keep on going, do that thing. Because each rejection gets you closer to that story’s first sale.

When it does…celebrate. Have a cup of jasmine tea. Somebody just paid you money for something you wrote. Nothing, nothing, comes close to that feeling – the firm and certain knowledge that someone else values your work.

Then, work on secondary sales. Once the check from the first sale clears, send it off to Escape Pod/Pseudo-Pod/PodCastle (as appropriate) and let them pay you again for the audio rights. Send the story to foreign markets (I like SF World out of Chengdu, China, but Iran has a surprisingly vibrant SF community too). Keep an eye open for reprint-friendly anthologies and contests, and send the story there. Put it up for sale yourself, if you haven’t already. I’ve made more money from “The Remedy” and “Gods of War” and “The Short, Strange Life of Comrade Lin” from self-published sales than I did on the initial sales (if any).

Before you do any of that, read the agreement with your first market carefully. Most of them want exclusive first-print English language rights in their appropriate markets followed by non-exclusive rights after one year. What that means is they want the right to publish the only copy of your story, in English, for one year after the publication date. Online markets tend to say “online” or “worldwide,” traditional magazines tend to limit it to one country (“American first-print rights”) or continent (“European first-print rights”). Each market will have its own way of handling the rights, double-check you’re not double-crossing them.

Make that story work. And if it has to go out again and again, that’s what it has to do.

And then write your next story…you still have to lay down your day’s workdcount, remember. But, most importantly…


How successful people work less—and get more done

R. Jean Mathieu:

This is just a repost, because most of this sounds like it makes good sense…assuming you’re middle-class, work a M-F workweek, and have enough clout at work to actually turn off your phone on weekends without being punished.

Originally posted on Quartz:

This post originally appeared at LinkedIn. Follow the author here.

As co-founder of Hotwire.com and CEO of Zillow for the last seven years, 39-year-old Spencer Rascoff fits most people’s definition of success. As a father of three young children, Spencer is a busy guy at home and at work.

What’s the one thing that Spencer refuses to do on the weekend? Work—at least, in the traditional sense. Rascoff says:

I never go into the office on weekends, but I do check e-mail at night. My weekends are an important time to unplug from the day-to-day and get a chance to think more deeply about my company and my industry. Weekends are a great chance to reflect and be more introspective about bigger issues.

new study from Stanford shows that Rascoff is on to something.

The study found that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50…

View original 1,120 more words


Heinlein’s Rules #4 – Put It In the Mail

In Bob Heinlein’s day, this was very literal. You would make a copy of the story and put it in a manila envelope with a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope for the response and you would mail it with a cover letter to some editor or other at that magazine you read.

This system sucked like a black hole with a grudge. Entire fucking galaxies could form from cosmic background matter in the time it took them to respond, assuming you got a response at all.

The rule still holds, though – put it on the market.

I formed a publishing house and publish a lot of my own work, but not all of it. I design a cover, format the thing, and put it up on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and the Nook. This makes it available to buy, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s “in the mail.”

I don’t self-publish everything, though. Why not?

Partly it’s a latent need for validation – any writer who wants to see their work in print will know what I mean. Self-publishing brings in a little money, and sometimes fame, but being published by someone else makes you feel like a Real Writer. It’s a sign that your peers, the experts, the writers and editors, consider your work worthy. I’m not going to deny that’s part of it.

Partly it’s a matter of how you get paid – with a self-published story, it’s a few dollars here and there…for the next forty years. Send the same story to an SFWA-accredited market, and you’ll get a fat check to the order of five cents for every word. For a 5000-word short story, that’s a $250 check you can then use to pay your electricity bill. As Stephen King said, “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

For me, mostly, it’s about exposure. Dean Wesley Smith summarized it basically like this: “You can pay Asimov’s $250 for half a page to advertise your book, or you can send them a story that’s ten pages of advertising that they pay you for. It’s your call.”

Which is why it can sometimes take a year or so for stories I write (like “Hull Down” and “No More Final Frontiers”) to show up on my self-published lists, and why you’ll see my name pop up in the likes of anthologies like Blood on the Floor and I, Automaton. Because I still have to submit them to this market, then that market, then the other…

It still takes time. Except now I can cover six markets (including the occasional contest or anthology) in about nine months, instead of twenty-nine. And if it hits every editor on a bad day (and remember that most professional-paying markets have rejection rates somewhere around 98%) I can put it up for sale and let you people decide whether it’s good or not.

Sending a short story to markets is selling to experts. Putting it for sale on Amazon is selling it to everyone. Both are ways of selling, both can make you money, both can break your heart. They’re two roads to the same place.

As long as you keep it up.


Mono no Aware

On January 2, I swore off women. I felt that I chased them too much, that I bothered them. Women in general seemed to have better things to do than deal with me. So, says I to myself, I’m going to stop wasting everyone’s time by trying.

Also, on January 2, a Jewish woman going by the screen name “mono_no_aware” sent me a message on OKCupid to tell me I was fascinating and would I like to grab a cup of coffee sometime?

Melissa Weiss, aka "mono_no_aware"

Melissa Weiss, aka “mono_no_aware”

On her profile, she not only discussed mono no aware, but played with the English and Japanese meanings of ‘aware,’ and referenced mushin and do alongside Michael Chabon and Haruki Murakami…as if she expected you to already be familiar with Japanese philosophy and good books. She had pictures of her travels in Europe and spoke of her love of the French language and French culture.

And she was interested in me!

I was in a quandary – I had anticipated something like this, but considered the possibility so remote as to be not worth worrying about.

Announcing your plans is the best way to hear God laugh.

So I went to three friends (you know who you are) and asked, ‘you know that I have sworn off women, so I won’t bother them, but now this woman is asking me to coffee, should I accept?’ And these three friends replied, in order, ‘yes,’ ‘yes,’ and ‘YES YOU FRIGGIN IDIOT!’

So we decided to meet for tea.

I was delayed in getting there by half an hour, and she, cross, texted her friend and kvetched…and her friend said, ‘trust me. Wait another ten minutes.’ I arrived, and we sat down, and chatted. We took a walk. She had worked in publishing and was working on a novel. She had taken a long slow route through France, and fallen in love with the people and the cities and the tongue.

There wasn’t really a spark, but there was some interest, so we met up a second time (just to make sure!), this time for lunch. And, when I found out she had a taste for craft beers like I do, for beers at Creekside afterwards.

She tells me she felt the spark when I jokingly poked her tummy as we sat down to our beers, to my spiced Belgian ale and her to her finely-crafted IPA.

Things progressed. We spend Valentine’s weekend going to her temple on Friday night and my meeting on Sunday morning, and, in between, dressing to the nines and ordering take-out pizza and eating it with champagne at home. We had so much fun being religious together we actually sat in silent retirement for the first time on Sunday night to get more of it, because we’re total dorks. As I went north to Sacramento to film a government meeting, my boss cunningly snuck her into the van on our way out…and she handled herself with joy and aplomb, doing the same work and suffering the same trials as we were.

For this woman, Melissa Weiss, is joy. I can see it in her prayers, in her lovemaking, in her eating, in her cooking, in her joking. With her, ‘the inner light’ is not a metaphor, but a plain fact. Her body feels like home, when she squeezes me in her arms after I’ve been gone. She has allowed me to take my dreams and hopes out from the vacuum-sealed places in the heart where I stowed them, because she shares them too.

When I told her I was joining the Peace Corps and going to Senegal, she asked to come. And I realized that, if the Corps wouldn’t let her, I would wait and try again next year, so we could go together.

She was the first woman to fearlessly offer to join me in the African bush. And she was the first one I was truly ready to stay for.

I purchased a used gold ring, in accordance with her tastes. Used gold is the most ethical, because at least no one had to suffer for her to wear it after the last person left it at Hamilton’s Jewelers. A plain gold band is Jewish tradition, representing the perfect union of marriage. And, of course, a used plain band is frugal!

This morning, as she finished davening and offering her thanks and prayers to God, I asked her to stand. Her tzitzit shivered as she stood, resplendent beneath her shawl and glowing with the in-breathing of YHVH that had just left her lips. I said, “I don’t speak much Hebrew, but I’ve been practicing.”

I got on one knee and opened the ring box. And I asked her to marry me in the language of Abraham and Sarah, of Jacob and Rachel, of Isaac and Rebekah.

She said yes, in English.

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Then we hugged, and she cried, and we kissed.

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My God, it’s a beautiful morning.

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On the Hugos and Positive Censorship

“As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth’s final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.” – Commissioner Pravin Lal, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri

I have two enemies in this world: the zealot and the censor. The only difference between the two is that the censor is too squeamish to burn writers along with their books. I have wary respect for the zealot with matches in hand, I have nothing but disdain for the censor.

This fellow, Matthew David Surridge, speaks my mind, regarding my opinion on the Sad Puppies and their pathetic attempt to control the Hugos. They have attempted to form a slate around their ideology, to exclude any other nominations for any reason but agreement with their ideology. That this is completely legal is a fault in the Hugo nomination and voting system. Do not bother me with protestations as to its legality, it is still wrong. In building a slate around their ideology, Vox Day and Brad Torgerson and all their butthurt, simpering followers have declared themselves my enemy.

This image seemed appropriate, because a bunch of dildos have the whole thing spinning out of control.

This image seemed appropriate, because a bunch of dildos have the whole thing spinning out of control.

I have heard rumblings that those most offended by the odious ideology of Torgerson et al should assemble their own slate, fight fire with fire, in the 2016 Hugos. Fingering their matches. If you agree with this logic, you are also declaring yourself my enemy.

This is where it gets involved. TL;DR: “There is more than one way to burn a book, and the world is full of people running around with lit matches.” And they’re standing in the room with you.

When this article made the rounds a few months ago, I was chatting via Messenger on a Facebook group I am no longer a member of. She asked if I, as a writer, would be following the recommendation. No, I replied – I reread Gabriel Garcia Marquez about once a year, I love Octavia Butler and Ursula LeGuin, and I was at the time working my way through Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren. I chose these examples as they were relevant to the recommendation, which is mostly centered on speculative fiction. She accused me of being elitist and provincial. I pointed out, at this, that I was the only person of any color I knew who had read the Dao De Jing, the Analects of Confucius, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Mengzi, the Chuangzi, Lao She’s Teahouse, Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the I Ching, and the Little Red Book of Mao Zedong. In addition to reading the Dhammapada in the original Pali and Baital Pachisi in the original Sanskrit.

The next words from her message box were “I refuse to accept this intellectual colonization.”

I have no idea what she wanted me to read, if neither whites nor (by inference from her disapproval of reading Chinese and Indian authors) anyone else. I do know she would happily light a bonfire of vanities, if not an auto-da-fé. And she will almost certainly vote the Anti-Puppy Slate in 2016.

There are zealots and censors in every group, among every nation, in every creed and for every cause. Yes, even yours. They’re the ones who sensibly advocate stripping Republicans of their voting rights or demand armed uprising against O-Islama-Commu-Social-FASCIST-ism, the Kenyan Usurper.

Both groups, the already-organized wrong-side-of-the-bedsheets-but-lily-white Sad/Rabid Puppies, and the coalescing Anti-Puppy brigade, are my enemy, because they put ideology over aesthetics.

There are places where this is the right thing to do – voting for government elections, for instance. Changing the law, which is always ugly no matter what you do to it. Raising consciousness, although their the rules of marketing and social dynamics start affecting you, and it’s illegal for either of those to marry aesthetics in most states.

Nominating the best short story, magazine, and novel of the year in a given genre in ostensibly a plebiscite of “dedicated” fans of that genre? No. Like the Olympics, that is a matter for aesthetics, not ideology – and I’m well aware how far short the Olympics falls in this goal, but hell, at least they have it as a goal.

The Hugo voting base has clearly dispensed with such petty notions in favor of pure ideological conflict, now and forever. I seem to be the only person who’s noticed that aesthetics as a concern for what the best short story of the year should be have been quietly dropped. Edit: Other than Charlie Jane Anders’ excellent piece on io9. Thank you to the one who pointed me to it!

It doesn’t matter if they tell you to vote against someone because of ideology, or vote for someone because of ideology. Positive censorship is still censorship. If they are telling you to systematically exclude anyone rather than vote your conscience and your taste, they are attempting to censor somebody.

Besides, I’m a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, middle-class American male who writes about a superpowered Mexican Catholic who married a white chick and hangs around with a bisexual mixed-race atheist and a Korean atheist. If you’re voting a slate, Puppy or Anti-Puppy, you already hate my guts for some damn reason or another.

But, I hear you say, some people and their ideologies are so odious that aesthetics shouldn’t trump ideology! You don’t read Vox Day do you?

No, and neither do I read Matthew David Surridge. Because I haven’t gotten around to them yet.

The only saints I know are St. Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, and Friend Bayard Rustin. Robert Heinlein was a warhawk, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, Martin Luther King, Jr. stole chunks of his PhD wholesale while philandering up a storm, Woody Allen diddles (diddled?) children, Orson Scott Card has politics slightly to the right of Atilla the Hun. Orson, I am absolutely sure, would happily light an auto-da-fé as long as all the Wrong People were strapped to it.

This does not stop me from reading and even enjoying Ender’s Game, Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, and Hart’s Hope. Nor does it stop me from watching Vicki Christina Barcelona or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, reading Dr. King’s speeches, reading the Declaration of Independence (while fully aware of the hypocrisy), or …frankly my Heinlein collection is too long to list here.

I have discovered that most of the Valiant Sixty, the original Quakers, were anti-Semite, Islamophobic, and anti-pagan. But they, too, like Dr. King, Bob Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, Tom Jefferson, and Woody Allen, like, if you wish, Malcolm X and Confucius and Sun Tzu and Gandhi, have an inner light. And while corrupted by their frailties, their work can and does transcend them, so that Jefferson can write “all men are created equal” and Card can write Petra and Barclay and Penington and Penn and Fox can write that “all who are brought into the world have that of God inside them, whatever their externals in creed or color.” Transcending the writer and the reader is what writing is for.

When Ender’s Game hit stores, I watched the very female clerk recommend it to a family, speaking knowingly of both the book and the movie. When I asked how she could, she shrugged and said “if I only read people I could agree with, I wouldn’t have anything to read.” Knowing her politics later, I concurred that she was right.

I do not care what the author has done, or what she believes, I care about the work. Is the work good? Does the author destroy the work by injecting ideology, as Heinlein does after Stranger in a Strange Land (and even Stranger gets iffy)? Does the author’s ideology befog their minds, so that Jack London can only write worshipful, inferior Peoples of Color or “credits to their race”? Does the author commit both errors at once, and so write Perdido Street Station?

I accept no other criteria than aesthetics for judging a book as a book. And I have a sneaking suspicion that ideology can only have an adverse effect on a work’s aesthetic quality (consider Tolkien’s rebuke of C. S. Lewis on the strength of allegory versus [reader] application). Then again, I may be wrong – and I am certainly guilty of smuggling Zen and Taoist themes, Quaker testimonies, the way of Mastery, and liberal politics into my work.  I seem unable to leave a story without it smelling faintly of soy sauce and frying oil.

Ray Bradbury put it best in the Coda of Fahrenheit 451.

“For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent typewriters. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmild teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” so it shapes “Zoot,” may the belt unravel and the pants fall.

[…]

In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.”

So what am I asking you to do? If you have read the Hugo entries, and are so inclined to part with your forty dollars, vote. Vote for the good stories, the stories that move you, the stories that shock you, the stories that force you to understand another person…whether the writer or his unappointed, ideology-driven fanbase was transcended by the work or no. If it moved you, vote it. If it did not, or if you have not read them…don’t vote in this year’s awards, or go ahead and vote ‘no award’ if you feel you’ve already wasted your two twenties.

But do, in any case, do vote to change the rules of nomination and of voting so that slates cannot happen again. So that aesthetics, rather than ideology, reigns supreme in judging a work of art…or at least can be a hopeful contender, rather than dismissed from the ring with a sneer and a sigh.

And then, if it offends you so terribly that I condemn both censors instead of just the one you hate, go rent a typewriter. Submit that story to Escape Pod, Solstice Literary, Strange Horizons, and other markets that are consciously diversifying to overcome the historical systemic exclusion of women, authors of color, and the QUILTBAG. If it offends you that I slammed the Sad Puppy slate, just go to the markets that are still publishing Campbell-approved “white (hu)man conquers universe” stories and  make a faint whining sound when you squeeze them. You already know which ones they are.

Light me on fire in the story, if you like. Show some goddamn guts. But let me know who you are. As a writer, I consider it good business to know exactly who and where the censors are.


Heinlein’s Rules #3: Do Not Rewrite Except on an Editor’s Orders

There are some writers who are like whittlers – once that first draft is done, they have to whittle and whittle like Hell in order to shape the damn thing into the shape they want.

There are some writers who are like cement mixers – the first time it comes out, it comes out perfectly mixed and ready to set in stone.

Guess which one Admiral Bob was. Damn him.

This is easily the most controversial injunction in Heinlein’s Rules. And it’s not hard to see why – I’ve had some real howlers of first drafts (don’t even ask about the first draft of “Hull Down”), as has every writer I’ve known except Admiral Bob and Laurie Bland. Charlie Jane Anders sums it up well here. That said, I disagree with both.

I used to be a chronic rewriter – up until the dawn of 2013. Even when I had it in the mail, I would rewrite. Editing is a bit like Communism and glitter, it’ll expand into everything unless contained. But I know how much my first drafts can suck (speaking again of “Hull Down,” the first draft of this version never even spells out the Big Reveal at the end). So what I’ve done is create a strict editing schedule.

Heinlein said except on an editor‘s orders – i.e., someone who isn’t you.

I’m lucky, damned lucky, to be surrounded by talented and compassionate first readers (you know who you are) who are happy to tell me where something doesn’t work. Equally important, they’re happy not to tell me how to fix it – only how it’s broken. Then I can figure out ways to fix it. I have three or four that I regularly turn to, and write between one and three drafts. I figure out how many revisions to write based on (a) how close together the responses arrive and (b) how consistent the criticism is.

In Ian Brown and the Hand of Fatima, there was supposed to be a scene where Ian is waylaid by outlaws in the Highveld of South Africa, then talks his way out of it. This was based on something that happened to Benedict Cumberbatch. I showed that story to four people, every single one of which hated that scene with a passion. I took it out back, gave it a last cigarette, shot it, and replaced it with a thing about elephants.

If you have a couple of people who can all agree that one scene sucks? Listen.

If you don’t?

CritiqueCircle.com offers a credits-based way to get your work critiqued for improvement. I’m a member, and use Critique Circle when my first readers are sick and tired of reviewing my work for me. I also recommend finding or forming a writer’s group in your local area – but ideally one that Gets what you’re trying to do in your work. I would hesitate to read bits of No Time to a mystery writing circle that mostly focused on cozy Fair Play mysteries.

How many drafts should you go through? Five, maximum, and that’s only if you know there’s something terribly wrong with that first draft but Just Don’t Know What. After five drafts,  that story is either ready for the mail or you should toss it.

And then start critiquing your friends’ stories. If they critique yours, it’s only fair you critique theirs. You’re not Amanda Palmer, you don’t expect people around you to work for nothing.

This is where Heinlein’s admonition comes in: stop fucking fiddling with it. It may not be perfect, but it’s done, and it needs to leave home and make its own way instead of sleeping on your couch and eating out of your fridge.

Which is where we’ll take up next week.


Heinlein’s Rules #2: Finish What You Start.

Last night, I put down the last few words on No Time for the Killing Floor, the sequel to last year’s No Time. I should, by all rights, have finished it back on November 30. It’s fifteen thousand words short and has issues with irregular subplots, underwritten characters, and big steaming piles of infodump.

Doesn’t matter!

Finished the draft!

I’ve got two more unfinished projects (an Ian Brown story I owe Lachlan Atcliffe and a sea-tale of the future entitled “Fire Marengo”), and they’re next on the block. The drafts will be finished.

Because you really can’t figure out what you’re doing, writing-wise, until you finish. Once you have that first draft done, you can see how it all fits (or doesn’t fit) together. Entire scenes, characters, or subplots may need to be eliminated or changed. The bit you tossed in way back in Act I may suddenly make perfect sense in Act III (I call this a Blue Sun*). You really can’t know until you type in the two magic words -THE END-.

Those two words are the most important words. You cannot start editing until you write them.

I’ve seen more books killed from trying to edit and lay down new wordcount at the same time than from any other cause. You cannot edit a story or a book that isn’t there yet. As you write on, you may have to change some of the things you already wrote (when you realize, for instance, that the plot in Act II works so much better if the protagonist drives a truck instead of a Prius like you said in Act I). Good. Fine. Mark them. I use brackets [] and [tk] and what I call “the scaffolding”:

[Alison should be more important in this scene – she comes up later. Merge Charmian into her.]

That’s fine. But unless you are compelled by something you are currently adding to the story to change something already there, do not edit. You will finish your first draft and you will be so goddamn pleased.

The other thing is that, especially on long projects, you will feel dejection and even hatred. I was wallowed down in literally the last two or three scenes of No Time for the Killing Floor for three months and there were weeks where it was a long, hard slog to get a dozen words down.

For some problems, such as what Jim Butcher calls the Great Swampy Middle, there are methods of working around or through it. This is where reading the likes of King’s On Writing and Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones help – these writers explain how they get around these problems. This is also where reading great works will help you. Every time I have trouble with a crowd scene, I go back and reread the dinner scene from Dune, because Herbert absolutely masters how to have a dozen people talking and still tell a single story. I turn to Jack London for muscular prose, Bradbury for lyricism, Hugo for passion (and how to do interesting digressions), LeGuin for a very Taoist implication-without-saying-so, and Heinlein for exposition.

Sometimes, though, you just have to shoulder through it. Get to the end of the scene, the chapter, the book. I’ll sometimes skip to the next scene (which I’m usually eagerly anticipating) and then go back and take out the scaffolding and write connective tissue. Don’t make these leaps too far, though, or you’ll never be able to make the connection – just a scene or two down the line. Other times I’ll take it in a different direction than planned, or write several versions of the scene and label the alternatives as fanfic and “DVD bonus material.” Just get to the end…it’s the only way you can learn.

This also ties into my additional rule to Admiral Heinlein’s five…but that’s another day…

For now, remember this:

  1. Write.
  2. Finish what you start.

*In the commentary to Firefly, Joss Whedon noted that he dropped in the Blue Sun corporation in the first episode (specifically, written on the side of a packing crate) “just in case I wanted to do something with it later.” I realized here this was basically how Whedon makes it seem like he’s had it all planned out – he has these elements that he tosses in early, trusting  he’ll find a use for them later. Sometimes I get an impulse to throw in a telling detail, like the urchin children who dive the lost city of New Orleans for treasures, and later on I come back to it. “Oh, that’s what that was for!”


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