Red Herrings in Contemporary Crime Literature

From Crime Reads:

When plotting a tale of suspense, any writer worth her salt understands the importance of distraction—intriguing details that lead the reader down a path of uncertainty, false clues intentionally planted to mislead, and of course the phenomenon of the unreliable narrator. This is why the red herring is a staple in mystery writing. These sneaky devices can serve to ratchet up the suspense as the author gleefully provides twist and turns throughout the book.

When writers use the art of distraction, the reader remains off balance, constantly wondering if they will ever gain a sure foothold on the story. The best writers understand that red herrings are not simply shiny objects to avert your gaze—they are well-constructed traps the reader can’t help but enter, often against their better judgment.

For me, what happens in my mind while I read is just as important as what happens on the page. It’s the experience of reading a book that stays with me. The way my pulse pounded during certain scenes. The feeling of uncertainty that made me stay up later and read just one more chapter (and then one more after that, because I won’t be satisfied until I know the truth). The way the writer took me on a rollercoaster traveling through the dark, at the mercy of the treacherous track with no idea how it all will end.

Is it possible to include too many red herrings? There’s certainly no magic number, but the best writers understand how to distract in covert ways, never drawing too much attention to the false clues they’re planting. Understatement works best, and my favorite reading experience is finishing a book and then immediately having the desire to start over and read again from the very beginning, armed with the knowledge I now have, so that I can dig in and reassess everything I thought I knew.

Red herrings keep the reader turning pages, yes, but they also keep the reader wondering what the hell is actually going on. Just when you think you’d got it all figured out, another clue appears. Is this one a red herring or the real thing? These books play with the reader’s mind in wonderfully twisted ways, using red herrings masterfully and keeping the reader guessing. And second-guessing.

. . . .

The Witch Elm by Tana French

French’s masterfully plotted tales of suspense have earned her the devotion of fans, loyal readers who eagerly await her next book. The Witch Elm begins with Toby, a generally likeable nice guy, who has just been brutally attacked by burglars. He’s a bit foggy on all the details, and in need of assistance while recovering, so he moves back into the family homestead with his uncle. The place is full of teenage memories for Toby and at first the place is a comfort—until things start to get a little creepy. A skull is found in the elm tree in the garden, and so police descend onto the property and begin their investigation. Is Toby simply an innocent man lunged into unfortunate circumstances? French might want you to believe that, but as each chapter unfolds, she exposes Toby’s worst fears, using them to her advantage and laying fresh (and possibly false) trails at every turn.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Sounds of Silence – When writer’s block strikes

From The Smart Set:

It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t wake up one morning to find myself unable to write creatively. For months, I could eke out a story or group of poems, but all attempts at another novel arrived stillborn, exhausting themselves after a few thousand words. My father suggested I had a form of postpartum depression, that seeing my first novel in print, and therefore out of my hands, was too much of a shock, temporarily. I didn’t have the heart to tell him this had been going on for years. 

I finished a decent draft of my novel in 2015, made revisions based on a publisher’s interest in 2017, and sold it to him later that year. The editorial process spanned 18 months, but I had plenty of downtime between rounds of edits to work on something new. A colleague inquired about just this at one point, mentioning, “I hear you’re supposed to have a draft of the next thing by the time the previous book comes out.” I smiled, nodded, and assured him I was on my way. 

That year, I even tried NaNoWriMo. 

Soon, the stories dried up, followed by the poems within a semester. I took an online “poetry salon,” recycling work I’d set aside for the lean months. For a flash-fiction workshop, I generated a few thousand words, most of them rescued from earlier failures. After spending 500 dollars on these two courses, I had yet to spur myself into action. By the time the first box of copies of my novel arrived, the climate in my mind had grown hostile to new growth. 

Around this time, I reread my copy of Richard Ford’s “Goofing Off While the Muse Recharges,” which I’d discovered almost 20 years earlier and had used as cover to justify periods of inactivity in graduate school. Bemused by his friends’ discomfort with fallow periods, Ford crows, “I have made a strict point to take lavish periods away from writing.” He defends his choice by arguing that “I’ve never thought of myself as a man driven to write. I simply choose to do it, often when I can’t be persuaded to do anything else.” Even as an MFA student with limited experience with Ford’s oeuvre, I didn’t buy this. I knew he wasn’t Simenon, Balzac, or Stephen King, but he couldn’t create Frank Bascombe as a diversion between baseball seasons. Later in the essay, he quotes Henry James’s admonition that one must fill one’s “well of unconscious cerebration,” though I doubt the famously-prolific James did so by taking off as much time as Ford does. 

. . . .

The publication process hasn’t helped. Someone who read my novel as soon as it came out tried to commiserate with me when I confessed my frustrations by saying, “given a chance, people will always disappoint you.” This has been the case more often than I would like to admit. Some of those I’d given advanced copies to, out of friendship and gratitude for their support, haven’t read it; most of the universities I attended, not to mention the one I work for, have responded with indifference; acquaintances tell me one day, animatedly, that they’re reading it but avert their gaze days later, having either abandoned it or disliked it by the end, I don’t know which. Many have responded kindly, posting glowing reviews online, but what writer remembers those in light of rejection or the revelation of unexpected petty grievances?    

Link to the rest at The Smart Set

PG can understand burnout, but isn’t sure if writer’s block is a variant or something different.

Legal writing is its own genre, one with some relatively strict rules concerning forms (how you cite statutes and cases, etc.), but litigation documents are written to persuade and, while some judges will say attempts to appeal to their emotions are a waste of time and paper, PG’s approach assumes that the judge wants to feel like he/she is doing the right thing, so PG essentially tries to show the judge a pathway to the right thing bordered with precedent, rules and statutes that assure the judge that no one will accuse her/him of ruling on the basis of emotion rather than law and fact.

(Yes, PG noticed that was quite a long sentence, but he was on a mental roll and didn’t want to stop. It may be his only mental roll for the day.)

Mrs. PG, the author who PG knows best, typically takes a bit of time off between books, but she says writing is generally good for her mental health and enjoys it while it’s happening.

PG suspects that, at least in some cases, writer’s block is related to an underlying mental illness of mild or extreme severity but he is anything but an expert on the topic.

Be Resilient and Responsible

From David Farland, Story Doctor:

I woke up this morning feeling great. A week ago, I decided to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution, and pretty much everyone else is doing it, too.

But I got thinking last night of how resilient people are. Part of me would like to say that it is an American thing, but I’ve got friends in China, Australia, Europe, and Latin America—and they’re all resilient, too. Let’s call it a human thing. We can all be shocked, dismayed, and fall into the doldrums for a day or so, and then something inside us tells us that we have to get back to work.

However, I saw a message from a young writer this morning that said, “I found out that, due to the Covid19 outbreak, as of today I no longer have a job. I want to sit down and write while I’m in isolation, but I’m so worried that that is not the responsible thing to do, I can’t focus. I should be out looking for a job.”

I suspect that a lot of writers have those kinds of worries, and as I say, “Stress kills creativity.” You might find it a little tougher to write right now.

Or maybe not.  You can look for jobs electronically, and if you’re in a small rural area like mine, it will take all of an hour a day. So what are you going to do with the other fourteen hours that you’re awake?

I think of writing as an investment in myself. That’s how I make money, by investing in myself. Some projects make a lot of money, some don’t make much at all.  I wrote a short story a few weeks ago, for example, that probably didn’t make me $20 per hour. I had a lot of fun doing it, and I’d do it again in a minute. It relieves stress, gets something accomplished, and acts as an advertisement for my work, but it’s nowhere near my minimum hourly rate. Still, a lot of people only dream of making $20 per hour.

But it does bring up a difficulty that authors have: determining the worth of a project. Some writing projects have made me a lot of money. For example, years ago I wrote a movie tie-in novel. The advance for the novel was about $60,000, and I figured it would take about 200 hours to write, so I made something on the order of $300 per hour. I hoped that it might even make some royalties.

Sure enough, it made far more in royalties than anticipated. I still get small checks for it, twenty years later, and currently, I figure that I made over $2000 an hour on that project.

You see, with a novel, over its life, it can grow and dwindle in popularity around the world. A novel that doesn’t look like it’s worth much can suddenly become popular.

One friend, years ago, wrote some vampire novels that didn’t do well in the US. They sold so poorly, she gave up writing for a time, but she sold the foreign rights in Romania and became a #1 bestseller—and made millions. I’ve seen other friends do this in Japan, Germany, and the UK.

Then you have books that get turned into movies, and perhaps a book that you thought was dead twenty years ago comes roaring back to life.

So when you’re writing, you’re investing in an unpredictable future. You don’t know what you might get out of it, but you are investing in your dreams.

Link to the rest at David Farland, Story Doctor

Writing Unlikeable Characters Readers Will Root For

From Jane Friedman:

I’m a big fan of antiheroes. A flawed character is just so much more interesting than your classic Dudley Do-Right. Anyone can like a character who makes the right choices and defends justice all the time. But that just doesn’t feel very authentic.

Can I just say it? True confessions? Traditionally heroic, always-good characters get boring.

Give me a character who struggles. Give me a character with flaws big enough to get in their way. Give me a character with complexity and baggage. This is a character that might surprise me. Perhaps not for the better—but I’ll be on the edge of my seat for sure.

I follow this mantra as much when writing my own characters as I do in my reading choices. Some—okay, most—of my characters are really rough around the edges.

But as my editor is always patiently reminding me, a lot of people don’t like unlikeable characters, on reasons of unlikeable-ness. This can be an especially perilous with female characters, whose margin for likability is even tighter than their male counterparts.

. . . .

Can an unlikeable character still inspire readers to root for them? Heck yes—but it takes a little alchemy.

Here are a few key elements to create an unlikeable character readers will still be willing to root for:

Redeemable qualities

Einstein once said that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will believe it is stupid. Everyone is a genius at something. Likewise, when it comes to characters, every one has a quality worth respecting—something redeeming about them.

Elphaba was uncompromising. Dr. House was brilliant. Han Solo was charming. Redeemable traits can be found in almost any character if you spend enough time with them to understand their motives and underlying drives.

It doesn’t have to necessarily be a good quality. I enjoy Dr. House more for his wry humor at his interns’ expense than his ability to save lives—it’s just fun to watch, and I don’t have to want to hang out with the character myself to appreciate it.

If you can find and draw out these distinct qualities that make your character admirable (or entertaining), your unlikeable character will become a lot more root-able for readers in an instant.

. . . .

Action-Orientation

This was one warning my editor gave me about unlikeable characters I took especially to heart—a character who wallows and whines through the pages is no good.

A root-able character is a character who takes action. Taking the wrong action is far better than taking no action at all (see above). Action is the momentum that keeps the story moving forward—without it, it’s going to flail, and your readers are going to lose interest.

So when in doubt, keep your character moving. Then, make them wrestle with the consequences, for good or for bad.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Writing When You’re Not Writing

From Writer Unboxed:

Al is 63 years old and has been writing in starts and stops for 15 years. He says:

I’ve studied the craft of writing by taking some university writing courses, some online courses, and reading books and blogs about writing. My favourite way of studying writing is to write, in longhand, chapters of novels, stories or essays by writers I admire: John Steinbeck, Alice Munro, Joan Didion, Zadie Smith.

I know I am able to write as evidenced by winning four writing contests, but I am unable to write every day. In fact, I often don’t write for months and then suddenly have a flurry of writing.

I realize that this defeats my ability to hone my skills and I tend to beat myself up about it. I live in a state of guilt thinking that I am cheating my life by not knuckling down and committing to the craft.

One could argue that with every new story a writer is once again a beginner, faced with the task of having to learn all over again how to write. Knowing this though does not bolster my confidence. Do you have any motivational strategies that would push me over this hump?

This is an issue that affects many writers: that feeling of lacking the commitment to sit down and get the work done, if not every day, then certainly more than you currently do.

. . . .

First, you could try to be kinder to yourself and not blame yourself when you don’t write. Remind yourself that you quite clearly can write. In Al’s case, he’s already won four writing contests and published several stories. It’s also a big achievement to be able to just sit down and actually write anything rather than do everything else on your undoubtedly long list of routine chores, family duties, work (if any) and other responsibilities. Even if you only write sporadically, you can be proud of yourself if you manage to make the time to get any writing done at all.

Remember, too, that writing is not all about tapping at a keyboard or scribbling with a pen. In the time when you’re not doing that, you’re still writing. As John Irving said, “Before you can write anything, you have to notice something.”

Those months, days, hours and moments of not writing is when you’re noticing. That’s why you can have those flurries of productivity; you’ve already worked out so much of the story in your head, even if that was done unconsciously.

. . . .

Accept this as your way of working, your way of honing those skills. And when your mind starts telling you to feel guilty, recognize that as nothing more than the thought it is, and let it pass on by without paying it too much attention. It’s dwelling on the thought that makes it a problem, not the thought itself.

Therapists call this diffusion, and it’s a common mindfulness technique. Many of you will have heard variations on this. A common one is to imagine your thoughts as clouds floating across a clear sky. Let those clouds float on by without concentrating too much on any one of them. Another idea on the same theme is to see your thoughts as leaves on a stream, floating away till the next one comes along.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG is an expert at drifting thoughts in case anyone is interested.

. . . .

Interested.

. . . .

Interested.

How to write well

From TLS:

In high school a close friend told me about a lesson her father had received when he was learning to write in English. Any essay could be improved by the addition of one specific phrase: “in a world tormented by the spectre of thermonuclear holocaust”. We thought it would be hilarious to surprise our own teachers with this gem, but nothing came of it. Twenty years later, as I looked through the files on an old computer, I discovered my high school compositions. There, at the end of an essay on Hugo Grotius and just war theory I must have written for this purpose alone, was that irresistible rhetorical flourish.

As much as we might admire what is fresh and innovative, we all learn by imitating patterns. Babies learning to speak do not immediately acquire the full grammar of their mother tongue and a vocabulary to slot into it, but inch slowly into the language by repeating basic phrases, then varying them. Adults learning a foreign language are wise to do the same. Pianists run through exercises to train their dexterity, basketball players run through their plays, dancers rehearse combos they can later slip into longer choreographies. To be called “formulaic” is no compliment, but whenever people express themselves or take action in the world, they rely on familiar formulas.

Writing advice is caught in this paradox. Mavens of clear communication know that simple rules are memorable and easy to follow. Use a verb instead of a noun. Change passive to active. Cut unnecessary words. Avoid jargon. No aspiring author will make the language dance by following these dictates, but they will be understood, and that is something. The same holds for structure. In school, pupils are drilled in the basic shapes of arguments, such as the “rule of three”, the “five-paragraph essay” or, à l’américaine, the Hamburger Essay (the main argument being the meat). Would-be novelists weigh their Fichtean Curves against their Hero’s Journeys, and screenwriters can buy software that will ensure their movie script hits every beat prescribed by Blake Snyder in his bestselling book Save the Cat! (2005). And why not? Shakespeare patterned his comedies on Terence’s Latin romps, and Terence stole his plots from the Greek Menander. Milton copied Virgil, who plagiarized Homer. The history of literature is a catwalk on which the same old skeletons keep coming out in new clothes.

Style unsettles this pedagogy of models and moulds. As the novelist Elizabeth McCracken once told Ben Yagoda in an interview, “A writer’s voice lives in his or her bad habits … the trick is to make them charming bad habits”. Readers longing for something beyond mere information – verbal fireworks, the tremor of an authentic connection, a touch of quiet magic – will do well to find the rule-breakers on the bookshop shelf. Idiosyncrasies (even mistakes) account for the specific charm of a given author, and they slyly open the door to decisions of taste. Think of David Foster Wallace’s endless sentences, George R. R. Martin’s neologisms, the faux-naivety of Gertrude Stein. In his book on literary voice, The Sound on the Page (2004), Yagoda argues that style reveals “something essential” and impossible to conceal about an author’s character. The notion that the way a person arranges words is inextricably tied to their moral core has a long history, but its implication for teaching writing is what interests me here: convince or compel writers to cleave too closely to a set of prescribed rules, and you chip away at who they are.

This explains why John Warner’s book about writing, Why They Can’t Write: Killing the five-paragraph essay and other necessities, contains almost no advice on how to write. A long-time college instructor, Warner hints at his argument in his subtitle: his is a polemical take on American standardized testing practices, socioeconomic conditions, and institutions of learning that destroy any love or motivation young people might have for expressing themselves in writing. Against the perennial assumption that today’s students are too lazy and precious to work hard, Warner holds firm: “Students are not entitled or coddled. They are defeated”. The symbol of the US’s misguided approach to education is the argumentative structure drilled into each teenager as a shortcut for thinking and reflection. “If writing is like exercise,” he quips, “the five-paragraph essay is like one of those ab belt doohickeys that claim to electroshock your core into a six-pack.”

Link to the rest at TLS

4 Reasons to Spend Time with “Bad” Books

From guest blogger Susann Cokal via Jane Friedman:

We’re all so judgy. We peer at storylines and dialogue lines and individual words, and we snort when a writer makes a choice we wouldn’t have made. We snort even more loudly at ourselves, those times when we just absolutely hate what we’ve written and think the author (Me! I’m the author!) must be an idiot. And then we’re stuck. So maybe we turn to someone else’s book for inspiration. Someone else’s good book. And then we’re more stuck than ever.

Over and over, we’ve heard that we need to read the best books first, learn from them, and apply the lessons to our own work. Never waste time with books you know you won’t like, ones that aren’t at the very pinnacle of your chosen genre or category.

This advice, like all advice, isn’t right all of the time. If the best is all you are reading, you’re limiting the sense of what writing is. You’re limiting yourself.

Here’s a wrinkle: Books you don’t like can be great teachers too. And when you’re really blocked and despairing, a bad book might give you just the help you need.

Here are four reasons why.

1. “Bad” writing refines your personal aesthetic.

When you’re reading a bad book, it’s okay to let your nasty inner editor (let’s call her Judy) go to town. Let her eviscerate that best-selling whodunit with the plot holes a mile wide; she needs to get it out of her system. Dan Brown and Danielle Steel can take it; they have plenty of fans who love their work. Judy’s field day will give you a little break, and you’ll learn just as much from identifying what you don’t like as from what you do.

A gentler Judy can also show up to your workshop group and make it useful even when your writing isn’t up for discussion. By helping others identify weak spots in their work, you and Judy sharpen the eye with which you’ll read your own drafts later for revision. Being a discerning critic doesn’t mean you loathe the story or the writer, and you can honestly applaud the way each piece succeeds within its own parameters. As long as your comments are politely and helpfully phrased, it’s a win-win (a phrase often used in bad books).

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

End the Debate: Why the Oxford Comma (or Serial Comma) is so Cool!

From The Writers’ Dig:

Let’s start with defining the Oxford comma (also known as a serial comma—or even a Harvard comma apparently): It’s the comma that follows the penultimate item in a list of three or more things. And it’s apparently a thing that many writers and grammarians love to debate, though I’m not sure why.

. . . .

The Oxford Comma Debate

As far as I can tell, the main argument against using the Oxford comma is that it’s somehow easier to not insert a comma at the end of a list of three or more items. Let’s look at this example: We invited my parents, Thomas and Nancy.

This makes great sense if I invited two people named Thomas and Nancy, who both happen to be my parents. Plus, I included their names for easy reference. But if I actually invited four people, then this could be confusing, because I should’ve done one of the following:

Example #1 (with serial comma): We invited my parents, Thomas, and Nancy.

Example #2 (sans serial comma): We invited Thomas, Nancy and my parents.

While both of those examples are now correct and make sense, the door opened by not consistently using the Oxford comma seems to tempt a lot of possible problems for the sake of omitting a comma. I love streamlined language as much as the next person, but this seems like excessive laziness to me. Is it really so hard to insert a serial comma at the end of both lists?

What do you think?

Here are a few more examples:

Oxford comma: He shared the news, his breakfast, and coffee with his guests.
No Oxford comma: He shared the news, his breakfast and coffee with his guests.

Oxford comma: She reads young adult, science fiction, and nonfiction.
No Oxford comma: She reads young adult, science fiction and nonfiction.

Link to the rest at The Writers’ Dig

What Makes a Great Writing Group?

From Dave Farland:

I’ve been to or visited a number of writing groups. Some were very effective, while others were a waste of time.

You often get out of a group what you put into it, so before you join a group, consider thoughtfully how much time you have to invest and how much you really want the benefits.

Now, there are a lot of types of writing groups, and I’ve seen some of the various functions of the groups mushed together, but I suggest that you consider what you need in a group.

Here are a few things that a group can help you with, and what to watch out for.

Accountability Groups—An accountability group is simply a group of people who create specific goals and then report to each other on a regular basis as to how well they’d done. So, for example, you might set a goal to get 50 pages written on your novel each week. Your accountability group will ask you at the week’s end, “How did you do?”

For most writers, just knowing that they will be held accountable helps them set goals and keep on track with their writing.

Research Groups—Your writing group can study together in a lot of helpful ways. For example, when I began writing The Runelords, I took trips to Europe to research castles, armaments, and the medieval lifestyle. I read dozens of books on topics from medieval history and warfare to books on herbs and medicines. It would have been nice to have others who were studying on the topic to share info with.

If you’re writing medieval fantasy or science fiction in your group, for example, then you can pool research on topics of mutual interest.

. . . .

Critique Groups—When people think of “writing groups,” they almost always think of critique groups.

In a critique group, I recommend that you keep it small.  I once visited a critique groups where there were some 130 members exchanging manuscripts—that’s insane.  You can’t get a good critique if you’re one of 30 stories getting critiqued on a Saturday night, and no one has the energy and wisdom to critique 30 stories well in a couple of hours.

Keep your critique groups small—often 3 to 6 people is plenty—so that you don’t get overwhelmed trying to critique others’ work.

. . . .

Marketing Groups—A marketing group exists solely to help you figure out how to best market one-another’s work. For example, do you know how to prepare a book for pre-release? Do you know how long you can put it up for pre-order before it goes on sale on Kindle, B&N, or Kobo? Do you know how to build your list of readers? Do you know how to find covers and design your books, write back copy, create killer ads, and so on?

. . . .

Writers’ Rings—A writer’s ring is a group of writers all working in the same genre who share their audiences by recommending one another’s books on their blogs and social media.

Imagine that you’re a new writer and have built up an email list of 20,000 fans, but other writers that you admire have collectively got 200,000 more fans. By joining a writer’s ring, you might well find your sales growing by 500% with your very next book. If that isn’t reason enough to join a writers’ ring, I don’t know what is.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

The Web of Writing

From Writer Unboxed:

Two months ago, in the article on expanding your world beyond the confines of your story, a commenter asked how much backstory she should include.  I pointed out that your readers will assume that the history you’re giving them will play some role in the plot.  The questioner had never thought about the link between backstory and readers’ expectations before.  Now she is a little more aware of the web of connections between different parts of her writing.

I’ve written about this web in passing, while talking about genre, but it’s critical enough that it deserves a column of its own.  Quite simply, you cannot write well if you’re not aware of how every aspect of your writing affects every other aspect of your writing.

This awareness doesn’t develop overnight.  Most writers get into writing because they fall in love with one particular element of storytelling – getting to know an intriguing character, the joy of creating dialogue, the thrill of the slow ramp up to the denouement.  When you start out, you aren’t yet aware of all the different moving parts that make up a novel – how you need to use beats to anchor characters in a physical location, say, or make sure each character’s dialogue has a distinctive vocabulary and cadence.

. . . .

Those of us who write about writing tend to delve deep into one aspect of writing at a time.  If you read enough advice like this, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking a novel is made up of discrete parts that you can just fasten together, tab A into slot B.  If what you’re learning is something you’ve never thought of before, it’s easy to get so excited about it that it becomes the solution to all of your writing problems.  

. . . .

This lack of awareness of how everything works together leads many writers to try to write by the rules.  After all, if you see your story as a machine with discrete parts, all of which perform a limited function, then it’s easy to think you can just follow the instruction manual when you put it all together.  The truth is a lot sloppier.  A novel is an ecosystem, where every living thing in it connects to every other one with feedback loops that we might not fully understand.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Dear Authors: Here’s How to Avoid Writing Tech Gibberish

From Publishers Weekly:

It doesn’t take serious writers long to learn that we need to be fanatical about quality with every element of our stories. So why, when we demand quality everywhere else, do we embrace Hollywood hacker stereotypes when it comes to technology?

We’ve all seen the tropes: bad guys breaking into important systems and holding the world for ransom, until good guys save the world by guessing the secret password in the nick of time. Hollywood hackers tend to be the smartest people in the story, but awkward in social settings; the world would be a better place if only they weren’t so misunderstood.

There are plenty of other ways storytellers opt for superficial technical solutions. Want to hold a secret meeting? Bring in a superhacker dwarf to disable the security cameras by glomming onto the building Wi-Fi from an SUV in the parking ramp—with no prior recon and no advance knowledge of the video system. That’s what Brad Thor did in Blacklist, in which U.S. government agents use Skype for secure communication. But it’s okay, because good secret agents do their Skyping from behind a TOR proxy.

Want to bring the United States to its knees? Find a smart 21-year-old to write a virus and introduce it to every internet service provider in America. Then watch the fun as the president of the U.S. guesses the secret password and saves the world. That’s pretty much the story in The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. I wonder if Hollywood will turn that book into a movie.

. . . .

Why do we keep producing this stuff? I know, it’s fiction. We’re supposed to suspend disbelief. But come on—is this the best we writers can come up with? Our laziness has consequences. No wonder the public thinks they’re all just sitting ducks for any smart attacker looking to take over the world. The public deserves better. We can deliver better.

The real world offers plenty of sources of inspiration for technology-fueled tension. In 2015, two terrorists murdered 14 people at a San Bernardino Christmas party. They died in a shoot-out and left behind an encrypted iPhone. The FBI needed to get into that phone and threatened to bankrupt Apple unless the company built a software update to bypass the phone’s security safeguards. Think about being in the middle of that game of chicken.

Remember Stuxnet? Neither Israel nor the NSA will confirm that they introduced malicious software to Iran in 2008 to sabotage the country’s nuclear centrifuges. Kim Zetter chronicled it in Countdown to Zero Day. Imagine discovering an international software weapon. Tension? Drama? You betcha.

In my day job in the software industry, I encounter real-life situations that threaten to shut down the world all the time. I also routinely see smaller cybervictim scenarios that break my heart. Fiction writers should salivate at dramas like these.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suspects that part of the problem is that persons with tech chops would avoid the traditional publishing world like the plague, assuming they even knew or cared about it.

Just a few reasons off the top of PG’s head: Too many clueless bosses, no meaningful career path, zero tech credits on a resume’, no opportunity to get rich with an IPO.

Business Musings: Nobody Cares

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Nobody cares. Such a sad phrase, particularly when uttered by someone without friends or family. I recently read a marvelous short story that ended with that very concept, although not the phrase itself.

I’m not going to talk about that use of the phrase. Anything I say would be facile, because I don’t know your situation. And the phrase can mean that no one is close to you, or that the one special someone no longer is a part of your life. The solutions for all of those things are deeply personal, and I would hope that if you find yourself in that situation, you find some kind of help—whether it is a counselor or a trusted advisor or an organization that specializes in whatever it is that has caused you to feel alone.

I will also add that in various points in my life, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people, and I’ve still felt like nobody cared. Sometimes I was wrong. Often, I had to face forward and deal with loss and grief. Occasionally, I had to seek professional help. In all of those cases, I got better, and so, over time, did my circumstances. I wish the best for you.

What I’m going to discuss with the phrase Nobody cares is a different usage of it. In my professional life and in certain endeavors, I have found that the phrase nobody cares is completely freeing.

I mentioned this to Dean, and he asked, “Didn’t I just write about that?” on his blog. So I went and checked, and yes, while he used the phrase, he mostly said that he didn’t care about the way others feel about his work.

It’s a similar concept, but not the same concept. If he doesn’t care about what other people think, that still assumes that they think something. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But the assumption is that “they” care. And for someone like me, who was raised by a judgmental perfectionist, the idea that “they” care can hang over everything that I do, if I let it.

Nobody cares works better for me. It’s a relatively new mantra in my life, in fact. When I first moved to Las Vegas, I set a new schedule, which included a yoga class at the gym on Mondays and Fridays. I had never done yoga, but I knew I needed a regular stretching routine, so I figured I would try it.

That first morning, before I left for class, I ran around like a nut, trying to get my stuff in order, trying to get my routine finished, caring for the cats, and scurrying so that I wouldn’t be late. And then, suddenly, I realized that the only person who cared if I was late was me.

No one else did. The gym didn’t. It didn’t have instructions that any tardy student would be locked out of the room. The instructor certainly didn’t. I later learned that she was late half the time herself.

. . . .

And that class is one of the physical highlights of my time here in Las Vegas so far. I had a blast. And I wouldn’t have, if I thought someone was judging me and thinking badly of me.

The courage nobody cares gives me doesn’t just apply to physical things. It applies to things that terrify me. I am embarking on a new project, which I don’t want to discuss in specific terms yet. I do that sometimes, not because I’m worried that someone will care, but because I loathe answering stupid questions, and this project seems to bring out the stupid question in damn near everyone.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

As a group, authors tend to be very thin-skinned, particularly about their writing. Performers and artists often have similar feelings.

Other professionals feel the same way about what they do to support themselves and their families. While some might want to think, “It’s just a paycheck” or “It’s just a royalty check,” the fact is that most people hope for success in any endeavor for which they spend a lot of time or money or effort or all three. That hope may be hidden under a hard and thick shell of sarcasm, who cares or something similar, but PG thinks for most people, it’s still there.

The kind of balance that Kris suggests with Nobody cares is one way of coping with fear of failure/rejection/bankruptcy/homelessness/insanity/ etc., etc., etc. The breadth and depth of human fears and insecurities is breathtakingly large. And that’s only the part that PG has discovered.

One particularly disabling fear is that you will try something and another person will hate/laugh/scorn what you have done. One of the names for this trait is People Pleasing.

From Psychology Today:

Over the years, I’ve seen countless people-pleasers in my therapy office. But more often than not, people-pleasing wasn’t really their problem; their desire to make others happy was merely a symptom of a deeper issue.

For many, the eagerness to please stems from self-worth issues. They hope that saying yes to everything asked of them will help them feel accepted and liked. Other people-pleasers have a history of maltreatment, and somewhere along the way, they decided that their best hope for better treatment was to try to please the people who mistreated them. Over time, for them, people-pleasing became a way of life.

Many people-pleasers confuse pleasing people with kindness. When discussing their reluctance to turn down someone’s request for a favor, they say things like, “I don’t want to be selfish,” or “I just want to be a good person.” Consequently, they allow others to take advantage of them.

. . . .

Here are 10 signs that you may be trying too hard to please everyone:

1. You pretend to agree with everyone.

Listening politely to other people’s opinions — even when you disagree — is a good social skill. But pretending to agree just because you want to be liked can cause you to engage in behavior that goes against your values.

2. You feel responsible for how other people feel.

It’s healthy to recognize how your behavior influences others. But thinking you have the power to make someone happy is a problem. It’s up to each individual to be in charge of their own emotions.

3. You apologize often.

Whether you excessively blame yourself, or you fear other people are always blaming you, frequent apologies can be a sign of a bigger problem. You don’t have to be sorry for being you.

. . . .

5. You can’t say no.

Whether you say yes and then actually follow through, or you later fake an illness to get out your commitments, you’ll never reach your goals if you can’t speak up for yourself.

6. You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you.

Just because someone is mad doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong. But if you can’t stand the thought of someone being displeased with you, you’ll be more likely to compromise your values.

. . . .

8. You need praise to feel good.

While praise and kind words can make anyone feel good, people pleasers depend on validation. If your self-worth rests entirely on what others think about you, you’ll only feel good when others shower you with compliments.

Link to the rest at Psychology Today

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Invested In Not Writing

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Amazing How Common This Is…

Basically put, writers, over time, develop a real and crippling investment in not writing. And, at the same time, often claim they want to write.

These writers cross the spectrum of types.

— Teachers who always wanted to write, teach writing, but now feel inside that they just flat don’t dare expose that they are still beginning writers at their core.

— Burnt out writers who have made writing so important (because they have had a few successes in the past) that they don’t dare write anything more. Failure is a very high platform that these writers in their minds don’t dare jump from.

— Beginning writers who talk a lot and talk a good game, but over time have become so afraid that their writing will not back up their talk, they feel that they don’t dare write. (I’ve had friends like this over the years. Sadly, they are long gone.)

— Writers (like I was for years in the 1970s) who buy into the myths of rewriting and perfection so much that after a time they don’t dare show their work because it’s not done yet, it needs one more draft, it needs one more reader, and so on. Kris talked about this writer in her Perfection book and blogs. Perfection is never attained and fear of having someone say that is crippling. (I was saved from this by Heinlein’s Rules.)

— Writers who think that they already know everything, that they don’t need to learn because it would destroy their perfect voice, flat don’t dare write much at all because for them, writing is too hard. And when writing gets hard, these type of writers back up and claim they are writing, but the book is taking years. And that magical book will never see the light of day because failure of not selling for these writers is much more damaging than the failure of not ever finishing.

— Writers who grew up afraid of what others would say. Not even writing under pen names can clear out this investment in the fear, so these writers flat don’t dare write. A single rejection, a single bad review, can turn their worlds upside down. So not writing is far, far safer.

In other words, personal history, choices, personalities, and so on often make a writer so invested in not writing, they don’t.

. . . .

(W)riters in all the above categories must learn at a deep level that nothing is ever perfect. Any story, any novel, is only the best you can do at that moment. And that is good enough.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

3 First-Time Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid

From Amazon Author Insights:

Finishing NaNoWriMo in 2008 felt like digging my fingers into the earth and flipping over a mountain. I grit my teeth until they chipped and I shaved years off my life expectancy.

Or at least that’s what it felt like, and with good reason. After twenty days of non-stop writing I put down fifty thousand words, more than anything I’d ever done before. The momentum was such that I wrote another sixty thousand by December 20th and completed the first draft of my novel MUTEKI – Sendero de los Campeones (Road of Champions). It was a suitable title for a project that almost singlehandedly rescued me from the pits of depression. In my mind I was a champion.

Or at least I was until I published the book and everything went to hell in a handbasket.

. . . .

1. I delivered unpolished work.

The people in charge of printing my book were crystal clear: you have to turn this in ASAP or else it won’t come out on time. This shouldn’t have been an issue. If I pitched the book that’s because it’s ready, right?

You’re forgetting that…

2. I never hired a proofreader/editor.

This is embarrassing to say even six years after the fact, but I never bothered to look into paying an editor. Not even with “exposure”. I didn’t know one, I was broke, and I thought I would do a pretty decent editing job. Turns out I didn’t.

Looking back at the novel now, I’m noticing not only typos but pointless scenes, cringe-y dialogue, characters that change names halfway through, and–worst of all–sentences mangled by the “replace all” feature.

. . . .

3. I didn’t ask for any proof copies.

Proof copies are your best friends. Without those you can’t preview the final product. That’s why the inside margins of my book were off and some pages came up blank due to terrible formatting. Some of the books were even missing pages.

But hey. I had a book.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

Learning to Love the Loneliness of Writing After My MFA

From The Literary Hub:

When I went to grad school, I brought Harold. Harold is my dog. He’s 80 pounds, a pit bull terrier mixed with something larger than a pit bull terrier, meaning most of the few pins on the Craigslist rental map that “allowed dogs” would not allow Harold. So I had to settle with renting a tiny standalone house a few miles from the university and, more importantly, outside the neighborhood where many of the other students in my program lived. This made me nervous. I worried that I would struggle to find my footing in the community.

Which is odd, considering that the solitude of it is what drew me to fiction writing in the first place. I’ve always enjoyed having the freedom to build out, refine, and reshape my ideas on my own, seeking input only when I myself deemed something ready to be seen. Writing fiction is one-pot creativity. You take your ideas into a room, you let them stew, and what comes out is not the starter for another thing that involves other ideas and other processes; it’s the thing, the whole thing.

The problem is it gets lonely. Crushingly so, at times. But crushing loneliness can be dealt with. Emergency protocols can be initiated, loved ones contacted. I’m privileged to have this vocabulary, but I have it nonetheless. What I struggle with more is the lesser loneliness of writing, when every word I put on the page is fine but not great, when every song I try and listen to fails to hook me, when I get up to do the dishes and find only a mug and a bowl in the sink, because I’ve already used this as an excuse to stop doing the thing I should be doing. It will feel like the days themselves are suffering from a low-grade sinus headache, and all I’ll want is to get out, and be around people whose mutual desire for escape will confirm that I’m okay, actually.

. . . .

This was what I sought from a writing community: not connections but a connection to something bigger, a network of people who “get it.” And despite Harold, despite the small standalone house, despite the distance, which some nights, on the way home from the bar on my bike, seemed to double or triple—despite it all, I found it. I experienced the elusive IRL writing community, experienced having a phone full of numbers to text when I needed reprieve from sitting by myself staring at a Word document, and places to go if not one of those texts yielded a concrete plan.

In my workshops, I received a lot of advice that I’m still not entirely sure what to do with. There often seemed to be a sinister trade off at play. The notes of my peers alerted me to my strengths and shortcomings as a writer and made me really consider what I wanted and didn’t want to do with my work. In exchange for this insight, they padlocked the very projects they were in reaction to. Many of the stories I worked on during those two years remain unfinished, residing on my hard drive as individual files or as part of a collection that I tried and failed to sell with an agent I don’t work with anymore. Upon graduating, I shipped a large box of marked up stories to my new address. When it was lost in transit, it felt like divine intervention.

Which is all to say, the things that occurred outside of class—the time spent in bars and crowded rooms filled with those who knew both the exhilaration and profound itchiness of writing—was not a neat side effect of attending a writing program. For me, it was everything. And for some time, I was content.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG is reminded of law school students who decide they hate the idea of working as a lawyer after they graduate. These folks tend to have huge student loan debts from their undergraduate and law school educations that could best be paid by getting a high-salary job, but they don’t want to be a lawyer with a high-salary job. (There are many lawyers with jobs that aren’t so high-salary, but we’re talking about paying off student loans.)

PG doesn’t know enough MFA graduates well to know if there are similarities between the law school graduates and MFA graduates who decide they don’t want to do what they spent a lot of money preparing for. However, as a general proposition, if anyone asked PG whether they should enter a career-oriented course of graduate studies (anthropology doesn’t count) without being convinced they really wanted to do work as a lawyer or writer/editor, he would suggest they find a job and see how they feel about writing or law in a couple of years.

Participating in the adult working world will introduce most college graduates to occupations and business lives previously unknown to them. They may surprised to discover that they really enjoy helping people find the right life insurance policy.

There are more than a few mature adults who discovered a wonderful field they had never considered entering while they were in college. PG has always been happy as a lawyer (save for dealing with one bizarre senior partner and a couple of crazy clients), but had no idea that he would ever find legal work interesting until he had been out of college for a few years.

These observations and accompanying advice are definitely not original with PG. During the spring of his senior year in college, PG’s academic advisor, an older woman who was greatly respected in her rather exotic field of study and was always addressed as “Miss Lee” instead of Doctor or Professor Lee, called him into her office following a class.

Miss Lee asked PG what he was planning to do after he graduated. He threw out vague possibilities that included traveling to Africa or Sweden and looking around when he arrived there.

Miss Lee’s response was direct and forceful. “You need to get a job. Here is the address of the student placement center. Go there right now and tell them you want them to help you get a job.”

PG followed Miss Lee’s advice and, a couple of days after graduation started a job he hadn’t previously known existed. That job lead to another job which lead to law school, etc., etc.

PG hasn’t been to Africa or Sweden but, to this day, has been exceedingly grateful for Miss Lee’s advice and acknowledges that his life would not have been nearly as rewarding had she not told him to get a job in a manner that persuaded him to promptly follow her advice.

How to Kick the Next Book Blues

From Publishers Weekly:

In the literature biz, there is no rush like a debut. Before that first book hits, anything seems possible, the improbable feels likely, and that proposed media blitz seems like it might just actually work. Also: that starlet with the production company could (let no doubts linger) love your plot and—even more flatteringly—your prose. That photographer charged with freezing your face for all time will (there’s no stopping hope) trick your age out with the lights. The airport bookstores will stock your book, Trevor Noah will slot you in for an interview, conference organizers will rain their keynotes down upon you, and there are just so many prizes to be had.

Indeed, there’s no rush like a debut.

It’s the aftermath of the debut that crowds the heart and head—not all the time, but mostly. It’s then when we writers take stock: we stumbled or we didn’t; we were seen or we were not; we were loved, we were not loved, we were neglected; our emails were answered or they were ignored. Failure is one thing. Success is something else. Success breeds the need for an even better next book.

All of which requires hyped writers embarking on their next books to find a quiet room in the house inside their heads—a place where the imagination has not been spent, diffused, defected, defeated, harassed, minimized, bullied, or drowned out by the story already told, the book already made, the praise already compressed, the expectations already sparked, and the rumors of other superstar writers who somehow wavered in the shocking aftermaths of success. What, after all, kept Harper Lee from finishing a second novel for all that time? How much, precisely, did F. Scott Fitzgerald suffer in the afterglow of early fame?

. . . .

But what if the writers of series grow desperate to move to a new writing room inside their heads? I’m not suggesting that all do, of course, but, what if? What if what they want to do next is not precisely within their lucrative, reliable brand? What if their next is, to the Ps and the Ls, a most terrifying risk?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that indy authors can make their own decisions based on how they feel and what they think their readers would enjoy.

In PG’s exhaustively impartial opinion, smart authors are better at marketing their books effectively and efficiently than whatever sort of people are going to work for publishers these days.

Acting changes the brain: it’s how actors get lost in a role

From Aeon:

At our English boarding school in the 1990s, my friends and I would spend hours immersed in roleplaying games. Our favourite was Vampire: The Masquerade, and I can well remember experiencing a kind of psychological hangover after spending an afternoon in the character of a ruthless undead villain. It took a while to shake off the fantasy persona, during which time I had to make a conscious effort to keep my manners and morals in check, so as not to get myself into some realworld trouble.

If a little fantasy roleplay can lead to a morphing of one’s sense of self, then what must it be like for professional actors, and especially so-called method actors, who follow the teachings of the Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski and truly embody the parts they play?

There is certainly anecdotal evidence that actors experience a blending of their real self with their assumed characters. For instance, Benedict Cumberbatch said that, while he enjoyed playing a character as complex as Sherlock Holmes, there is also ‘a kickback. I do get affected by it. There’s a sense of being impatient. My mum says I’m much curter with her when I’m filming Sherlock.’

. . . .

Mark Seton, a researcher in the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney, has even coined the provocative term ‘post-dramatic stress disorder’ to describe the sometimes difficult, lasting effects experienced by actors who lose themselves in a role. ‘Actors may often prolong addictive, codependent and, potentially, destructive habits of the characters they have embodied,’ he writes.

. . . .

In one paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, a team led by Steven Brown at McMaster University in Ontario recruited 15 young Canadian actors trained in the Stanislavski approach, and scanned their brains while the actors assumed the role of either Romeo or Juliet, depending on their sex. The actors spent some time getting into character for the balcony scene, and then, while they lay in the scanner, the researchers presented them with a series of personal questions, such as ‘Would you go to a party you were not invited to?’ and ‘Would you tell your parents if you fell in love?’ The actors’ task was to improvise their responses covertly in their heads, while embodying their fictional character.

The researchers then looked at the actors’ brain activity while they were in role, as compared with other scanning sessions in which they answered similar questions either as themselves, or on behalf of someone they knew well (a friend or relative), in which case they were to take a third-person perspective (covertly responding ‘he/she would’ etc). Crucially, being in role as Romeo or Juliet was associated with a distinct pattern of brain activity not seen in the other conditions, even though they too involved thinking about intentions and emotions and/or taking the perspective of another.

In particular, acting was associated with the strongest deactivation in regions in the front and midline of the brain that are involving in thinking about the self. ‘This might suggest that acting, as a neurocognitive phenomenon, is a suppression of self processing,’ the researchers said. Another result was that acting was associated with less deactivation of a region called the precuneus, located further to the rear of the brain. Typically, activity in this area is reduced by focused attention (such as during meditation), and the researchers speculated that perhaps the raised activity in the precuneus while acting was related to the split of resources required to embody an acting role – ‘the double consciousness that acting theorists talk about’.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Centuries ago, PG did a bit of acting in college. He wasn’t very good at it, but some of his friends were quite skilled and a few would go on to professional careers as actors, directors, etc.

After a performance, especially if it was the last performance, there was always a cast party. Invariably, the actors would drop various lines they had performed during the performance into the general conversation. Sometimes, they would participate in the party as the characters they had played earlier in the evening on and off.

PG has no doubt that, for a while, their brains were changed by the roles they played.

While he was reading the OP, he wondered whether there was a similar alteration of the brain when an author is writing dialogue or involved in an intense scene in a story. Mrs. PG says she thinks British when she’s writing a book set in that nation.

Psychologists Explain How To Stop Overthinking Everything

From Medium:

. . . .

“So often people confuse overthinking with problem-solving,” says Odessky, the author of “Stop Anxiety from Stopping You.” “But what ends up happening is we just sort of go in a loop,” Odessky says. “We’re not really solving a problem.”

. . . .

Link to the rest at Medium

For the record, PG doesn’t agonize about what to post online.

Writer Wants Versus Reader Needs

From Indies Unlimited:

We writers are very sneaky people. We lie to our readers constantly, luring them into imaginary situations and manipulating their emotions shamelessly under the pretense that we are entertaining them. And all the while, what we really want to do is preach to the reader about how the world works and how to make it go better. The difference between a good writer and a bad writer is that the good writer doesn’t get caught. Good writers make readers need what we want to tell them. Less experienced writers start their novels only thinking about what the reader needs to know in order to understand.

“You Need to Learn This”

From the author’s point of view, a novel is about ideas: humanity, society, individuals. So we make up our own versions of humanity, society, and people, and use their interactions to demonstrate those ideas.

“Entertain Me.”

As far as the reader is concerned, a novel is about people doing things. That’s it. Characters in conflict.

So when you sit down to write a novel, you say, “I want to write a novel about ……(your choice of burning social evil)…… but in order to understand what’s going on, the reader needs to know about…

Whoa. Hold it Right There

The reader doesn’t need anything of the sort. The reader needs to be entertained, and he hopes your book will do that. If you fill the first pages up with backstory, philosophical discussion, and all those ideas circulating in your head, you’re gonna get busted. The reader gives you the “Papa Don’t Preach” response and puts down the book.

Character Portrayal

Characters are the first strength of a good book. Our mistake is that, because the characters are most important to us, we think we have to lovingly create all the people and relationships before we start the action. We think to ourselves, “In order to understand the story once it starts, the readers need to know this about the main character, and this, and…oh, yes, of course this, and wouldn’t if be nice if they knew…” and away we go for three chapters, and the story hasn’t started yet.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

How to know what to cut from a novel

From Nathan Bransford:

“Kill your darlings” is one of the most repeated bits of writing advice out there, but how do you know which darlings to murder? You need to decide what to cut from a novel, but it can be tricky.

Word counts matter. They don’t matter endlessly, but an overly long novel will adversely impact your odds of finding traditional publication, especially for a debut.

And even if you’re self-publishing, no one wants to slog through a novel from an author who never once pressed the “delete” button in the course of writing a 7,000 page tome.

If you are starting with a more average word count it’s still helpful to tighten things up as much as possible, so this post is for you too.

. . . .

Scenes that merely exist to “introduce” characters or a setting

Often writers make the mistake of padding their openings with scenes whose sole purpose is to establish a particular character or a setting and don’t otherwise advance the story. These chapters usually end up feeling unnecessary and a bit confusing because nothing at all important is happening.

Instead: Introduce characters and settings in the course of telling the actual story.

We don’t need an entire scene where nothing substantive happens just to get to know a character or provide exhaustive exposition. Just pick up where the story actually begins and trust that you can fill in the other details as you go along.

It’s much better to get to know a character in the course of the story unfolding than in an otherwise meaningless scene.

. . . .

Unfocused conversations

I see so, so many conversations in novels that are an almost endless series of meaningless false starts and misunderstandings.

Things like:

“My gods, what if the thingamabob were to fall into the wrong hands?”

“The what?”

“The thingamabob.”

“Yes. The thingamabob. I thought that’s what you said.”

“Did I stutter?”

“No.”

“Then why did you ask me to repeat myself?”

“I intentionally misheard you so you could repeat thingamabob for emphasis.”

“For what?”

“For emphasis.”

“I thought that’s what you–”

“Said. Yes. I also like finishing your sentences to show we are quite–“

“Mentally aligned. Ha ha ha. We just added four more lines of unrealistic banter where one could have done just fine.”

“Now I’m going to introduce a nonsequitur that makes no sense so you can introduce some exposition.”

“You already know this information as well as I do so there is no logical reason for me to be telling you this out loud, but I have some information the reader needs to know, which I will reveal in the most awkward expository dialogue possible. You see, a thingamabob is a–“

“Allow me to interrupt you in a misguided attempt to create a dramatic effect.”

“How dare you interrupt me! Now I’m mad, so you know this is quite important! A thingamabob is a–“

“One more interruption to make sure the reader is as annoyed as possible before they find out this information that is actually quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things.”

“Now I am furious! I am shaking! You see, a thingamabob is a [insert two pages of longwinded description only interrupted by Character B making meaningless comments so it doesn’t look like one single block of text].”

Needless to say: don’t do this.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Once Again the Power of a Streak

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Without This Blog Streak I Never Would Have Turned on This Computer…

But with this many years of never missing a day, even with doing a lot of other fun stuff today, I turned on the computer to type something here. Did it matter what I type? Nope.

To hit the blog streak, the daily blog streak, it just had to be something. You know, I am alive, the streak is alive, and so on and so on.

Imagine if you were doing this kind of streak with your writing, that no matter how late, how much your mind was elsewhere, you wrote 250 words a day on a streak.

Imagine that. Go ahead. I dare you.

250 words doesn’t seem to be much, does it? Yet it would get you one 90-plus thousand word novel a year or two 45 thousand word novels in a year.

That’s right, just 250 words a day.

A simple streak. Now I have been doing this blogging streak now for a lot of years. Say you were writing 45 thousand words book and kept the streak alive for 6 years. That’s twelve novels. A could six-book series or four trilogies.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Never Start With a Blank Page

From LifeHacker:

Creative block is over, if you want it. If you’re stuck without ideas in a brainstorm or a project, you just need to use this simple system: consume things, take notes, and bring those notes with you. Here’s how to do that effectively.

Writer, performer, and Christmas elf David Sedaris says his work is more learned skill than special talent: “Everybody’s got an eye for something. The only difference is that I carry around a notebook in my front pocket.” As writing teacher David Perell explains, Sedaris takes notes on everything interesting in his life, every stray thought he’d like to explore. Every so often he sits down, reads his notes, and copies the good ones to his computer.

. . . .

Sedaris doesn’t need a brainstorming session where he sits around, trying to think of things. By the time he writes anything, he’s got all these ideas, and it’s more a matter of choosing what not to write about. He can start riffing on something he already wrote down.

Link to the rest at LifeHacker

What Keeps You From Writing Success? Are you a Prisoner of Unexamined Beliefs?

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

“Think outside the box” has become a mindless cliché these days. It’s repeated so often that the meaning has pretty much disappeared.

But it’s still excellent advice—if you know how to follow it. Unfortunately, most people are unaware they’re inside boxes, so they have no idea what it means to think outside of one.

Discussing somebody’s “box” can be like talking to a fish about water. The “box” is all there is.

Most of us are boxed in by beliefs that have been programed into our brains from day one by our culture, families, politics, and that 4th Grade teacher who told you if you kept reading comic books, you’d never amount to anything.

Shamers like the anti-comic book teacher are dangerous because you usually don’t remember them. You may have forgotten your 4th Grade teacher’s name.

All you know is you feel guilty when you read things you enjoy—plus you have a secret, persistent fear that you’re never going to amount to anything.

Very often a belief you’re sure “everybody knows” has come from a random shamer who once made you feel bad because of your lack of knowledge of a particular subject. Sometimes they’re authority figures, but often they’re just bullies or “know-it-alls.”

It may very well be that the shamer was even more ignorant than you, or just plain wrong. But an authoritative tone made you accept the statement as fact. (Remember that the most ignorant people are usually the most confident. That’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

. . . .

The first thing you hear about a subject is filed in your brain as fact. Especially when coupled with an emotional experience. It’s how the brain works.

You put your little hand in fire and got burned, so you learned that fire is hot. That fact becomes hardwired to your brain—part of your sense of self. You’re a smart primate who knows fire is hot.

An authoritative person speaking in a demeaning tone can have the same effect as a burn. A shaming tone programs people to accept information as fact.

. . . .

False information imprisons victims in a box. Unless they’re somehow shocked into questioning why they believe the misinformation, they can’t escape.

I started reading about this after a bizarre incident working in a bookstore. The owner made me shelve the collected works of Emily Dickinson in the Romance section. She insisted Emily Dickinson wrote “girly trash.”

Nothing I said could change her mind, in spite of the fact she “adored” Emily Dickinson.

I finally figured out some uneducated, sexist moron must have shamed my boss for loving Emily Dickinson when she was young. So she had created a false belief that became hardwired to her brain.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

How America saved old-fashioned English grammar

From The Economist:

IS AMERICA RUINING English or giving it new life? Most of this old transatlantic debate concerns words. Is elevator an improvement on lift? Why say transportation when transport will do? Sometimes it involves spelling, specifically the American reforms that made British centre into American center. Pragmatic change or dumbing down? And, of course, the quickest way to tell a Yank from a Brit is by pronunciation.

But the differences between British and American English go beyond words, sounds and spelling to grammar itself. Here they can be subtle, but they are many: the index of the “Cambridge Grammar of the English Language” mentions regional differences in 95 places. America being the parvenu, most people assume that any variations between the two countries result from American innovation, to the (sometimes mock) horror of Britons. In reality, America has often been the conservative one, and Britain the innovator. When British speakers borrow American habits, they are sometimes unwittingly readopting an older version of their language.

The subjunctive had also been on its way out in America, but started to reappear in the mid-to-late 19th century, as Lynne Murphy, a linguist, recounts in “The Prodigal Tongue”. No one knows why; theories include greater Bible reading (which would have kept Americans acquainted with older grammar) and immigrants who spoke subjunctive-filled languages. Whatever the reason, the subjunctive stuck out as a Yankeeism, irking British commentators such as Kingsley Amis, a novelist: “Be careful with any American writings, which often indulge in subjunctive forms.”

. . . .

Stereotypes often have a grain of truth. Americans have indeed innovated extensively with English, as with other things. But language never sits still: the British variety itself went on changing after 1776, as all living languages must. Americans, for their part, eagerly import fashionable British slang. Instead of bemoaning new-fangled Americanisms, British observers could spare a thank you to the old colonies for keeping traditional English safe.

Link to the rest at The Economist

If you would like more about the “subjunctive mood” you can check out a Wikipedia article on the topic. PG didn’t know that verbs had moods, but, as he considers it, why should they not?

‘Fuzzy-Profound’ Words Cause Mental Rot

From The Wall Street Journal:

What are “qualia”? I stumbled on the word recently in the Times Literary Supplement, where a review of novels by Neal Stephenson and Don DeLillo observed that both authors “are much concerned with qualia.” I looked up “quale,” the singular, in the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as “the property or quality of a thing; Philosophy a quality or property as perceived or experienced by a person; (also) a thing having certain qualities.”

This definition is as clear as mud. Does quale refer to something objective or to something subjective?

The OED gives 11 examples of how quale or qualia have been used, the first dating from 1654. Here are two recent examples. Philosopher A.J. Ayer: “So far as anything can be, qualia are pre-theoretical.” I have no idea what pre-theoretical means. The second is from an essay in the Philosophical Quarterly: “It is possible to hold that certain properties of certain mental states, namely those I’ve called qualia, are such that their possession or absence makes no difference to the physical world.”

The sentences suggest that quale refers to a subjective experience, which is what the philosopher Daniel Dennett says: Qualia is “an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us.”

I get it! Just as Monsieur Jourdain in Molière’s “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” is surprised to learn that he is speaking prose, so I am surprised to learn that my daily life is filled with qualia.

Quale and qualia are what I would call “fuzzy profound” words or phrases. They give the appearance that deep thinking is going on, but usually it isn’t.

Contemporary intellectual life, Saul Bellow implies in “Herzog” (1964), is filled with fuzzy-profound terms. Herzog writes to Martin Heidegger: “I should like to know what you mean by the expression ‘the fall into the quotidian.’ When did this fall occur? Where were we standing when it happened?”

. . . .

Perhaps the best-known fuzzy-profound word is “modernity.” The OED’s second definition is “an intellectual tendency or social perspective characterized by departure from or repudiation of traditional ideas, doctrines, and cultural values in favour of contemporary or radical values and beliefs (chiefly those of scientific rationalism and liberalism).”

. . . .

Some writers deem the present “late modernity”—and also, believe it or not, “liquid modernity.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG was reminded of George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language:

MOST PEOPLE WHO BOTHER with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language−−so the argument runs−−must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half−conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad−−I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen−−but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative samples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

(1) I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth−century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate. PROFESSOR HAROLD LASKI (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

(2) Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes such egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate or put at a loss for bewilder. PROFESSOR LANCELOT HOGBEN (Interglossa)

(3) On the one side we have the free personality; by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self−secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity? ESSAY ON PSYCHOLOGY in Politics (New York)

(4) All the “best people” from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror of the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty−bourgeoisie to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis. COMMUNIST PAMPHLET

(5) If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may lee sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream−−as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes, or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as “standard English.” When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school−ma’am−ish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens. LETTER IN Tribune

Link to the rest at PublicLibrary.UK

PG doesn’t recall reading or hearing the term, “lee sound,” as included in paragraph (5) before.

He searched online and found a reference to “geddy lee sound,” on a website called TalkBase.com which evidently is a place where rock guitarists gather.

He further learned that Geddy Lee Weinrib is “vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for the Canadian rock group Rush” but doubts base guitars was the image which the author of the Letter to the Tribune meant to evoke by using the term, “lee sound.”

(Although PG must acknowledge that “ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place,” a phrase also included in the Letter in the Tribune, could be talking about a base guitar riff if Langham Place, (“a short street in Westminster, central London, England”) was hosting Geddy Lee rock concerts in 1946, when Politics and the English Language was first published.)

Unfortunately, the creator of the Geddy Lee sound was born in 1953, so that possible explanation fails. Additionally, PG was not able to find anything linking Mr. Lee’s guitar performances to “effete languors”.

How I Write About Anything — And I Get Paid For It

From Medium:

One of my best-received articles ever was about cigars, written for a highly specialized magazine. I knew nothing about cigars, I’d never smoked one, and I was utterly clueless about them right until the day I took on the assignment.

Five days later, I delivered a story so well-crafted, informative, and inspiring, that they accepted the article and hired me on the spot. I never told them that five days ago, I could not tell the one end of the cigar from the other. They congratulated me, and I got paid.

Over the years, I’ve written hundreds of articles for printed magazines and online publications about:

  • Technology and gadgets
  • Economy and commerce
  • Startups and business
  • Self-help
  • US politics and international relations
  • Health and fitness
  • Environment
  • Sex advice
  • History
  • I’ve also worked for a TV documentary series.

I’m not an expert by profession in any of these fields. I hold no college degree. All I have is my curiosity, and the ability to turn large pieces of information into easily consumed chunks of every-day wisdom.

. . . .

Step 1: Find a subject that appeals to you

It’s much easier to write about something that inspires you. Only your interests can boost your curiosity. I once wrote a how-to story about scuba diving in the Greek islands. I knew nothing about scuba, but I love snorkeling and marine life. The connection was already there.

Step 2: Research

It’s the Internet age; everything is one click away. Start reading articles, essays, and book summaries. Watch TED talks, keep notes, highlight content. Put an asterisk on terms or ideas you don’t understand.

For my cigar story, I read several magazines and online articles. I made a list of applicable terms that would make me appear as an expert. I interviewed the owner of a cigar shop with carefully crafted questions. And I googled everything to death.

Step 3: Ask an expert

Most people love to share their wisdom. Find an expert in the subject and pick her brain. But do your homework. You don’t want to appear silly or clueless. They will appreciate it if you arrive prepared.

Take notes, highlight terms, use whole sentences, and attribute them to the expert. Your information needs to be valid and verifiable. Your audience needs facts, not just your opinion.

Step 4: Connect the dots

With all the information in hand, start making connections. For me, it’s all about comprehension and interpretation. A successful columnist is the one who can find hidden relationships between seemingly unconnected items.

Your readers will be delighted to discover unexpected connections that, in hindsight, look perfectly explainable. Where everyone sees a cooking pot, you will show them the Ursa Major.

Step 5: Explain it to a child

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” The online audience has the attention span of a six-year-old, and you need to keep their attention long enough to continue reading.

. . . .

Step 6: Wrap it like a present

Everybody loves gifts. Your readers will be delighted to find hard-collected information with profound meaning, in easily consumed paragraphs and a scannable format.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG thinks the OP explains a lot about the quality of much of the information he finds online.

Writing is Thinking

From Steph Smith:

If you told me 5 years ago that I would one day lead a 20-person Publications team or have a personal blog that’s read by hundreds of thousands, I would’ve laughed in surprise. Yet somehow, I’ve found myself in that reality. Here we are.

People often ask how I approach writing, so I decided to share this piece to sway the self-conscious writer inside each one of us. I hope it encourages others to develop a practice that enables them to write with confidence, by simply sharing how I’ve designed my own.

“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are.” – The War of Art

. . . .

Anyone that struggles with writing (or any creative pursuit, really) knows that when it doesn’t feel right, it’s not something that you can force. And if you do, you end up with a blank slate covered in word vomit.

But what most people don’t realize is that the resistance to writing is not unlike the resistance to other skills. And the antidote? Practice. Exposure. Iteration.

Practice makes any seemingly impossible task familiar. You can learn to write.

So since the days of braces and locker accessories, I’ve learned to write in a way that isn’t so scary. And the more I write, the more I feel the flywheel effect in action. I hope this article inspires the writer inside each person reading this, through the understanding that writing is a skill that can be acquired through continuous effort, easily accessed by creating a process with less friction.

. . . .

The first step to becoming “a writer” is acknowledging that no metric defines someone as “a writer”. And that anyone unabashedly claiming to be an expert, is likely far from it. You know what makes you a writer? Writing.

Each time you write a page, you are a writer. Each time you practice the violin, you are a musician. Each time you start a workout, you are an athlete. Each time you encourage your employees, you are a leader. – Atomic Habits

Writing, just like all else, is a muscle that can be flexed and built up into a habitual process that eventually flows. Because at its core, writing is simple: it’s a method of sharing your thoughts.

Link to the rest at Steph Smith

PG was about to share some thoughts, but decided not to do so.

Perhaps it’s because he’s really an attorney, not an author.

Attorneys tend to share opinions. Should you have any doubts about that, Mrs. PG can allay them.

Chekhov’s Gun: The Importance of Follow-Through in Fiction

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Anton Chekhov, the Russian playwright, also wrote short stories, essays and instructions for young writers. Probably his most famous writerly advice is this admonition:

“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

In other words, remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If chapter one says your mild-mannered reporter heroine won a bunch of trophies for archery which she displays prominently alongside her handmade Mongolian horse longbow, she’d better darn well shoot an arrow before the story is done.

. . . .

Yeah, but what if that longbow is there to show us what her apartment looks like? It’s good to show her décor, because it gives an insight into her character, right?

It depends. Yes, we do want to use details to set tone and give depth to our characters. Ruth Harris told us all about that in her post on using details to create memorable characters.

But the key is how you stress those details when you first present them. If there’s a whole paragraph about those archery trophies, or the characters have a conversation about the Mongolian  horse longbow, you gotta shoot some arrows. But if there’s just a cursory mention, “her apartment walls were decorated with an odd assortment of personal trophies and exotic weapons” then you can leave them on the wall.

. . . .

Wait just a goldern minute, sez you. I write mysteries. Mysteries need to have irrelevant clues and red herrings. Otherwise the story will be over before chapter seven.

This is true. But mystery writers need to manage their red herrings. If the deceased met his demise via arrow, probably shot by a Mongolian horse longbow, then Missy Mild-Mannered Reporter is going to look like a very viable subject to the local constabulary.

But of course she didn’t do it because she’s our hero, so the longbow and the trophies are red herrings.

But they still need to be “fired.” Maybe not like Chekhov’s gun, but they need to come back into the story and be reckoned with. Like maybe the real killer visited her apartment earlier when delivering pizza, then broke in to “borrow” the longbow in order to make Missy look like the murderous archer.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

The difference between creative and critical voice

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

We spend a lot of time at workshops discussing the difference between creative voice and critical voice. When I teach, I really want to nurture the creative voice. But I do need to give guidance, and some of that sounds critical. Because we’ve all been through decades of schooling, we also hear the voice of the teacher as “the authority.” I do what I can to mitigate that, in that, I don’t want my students to think my voice is the correct one, particularly when it comes to their vision.

I might have misunderstood their vision. I might not know exactly what they’re trying to do. Or, in some ways, worse, I might not like the kind of fiction they’re writing, and that seeps out in some of my comments.

So I’m constantly thinking about the difference between creative and critical voice during workshop weeks. I’m also monitoring myself, because if I’m not careful, teaching can make me too critical of myself.

I thought I had escaped that part. I love teaching romance. Even though it’s the hardest genre to write well, it’s also the happiest. A happily ever after ending is an essential part of the genre. And so, instead of looking to the worst of humanity, when we write romance, we write about the best.

. . . .

The next morning, I woke up with my own voice in my head, repeating a line from the KIckstarter script I wrote: Because I couldn’t help myself, I wrote two of the longer stories, and an entire novel.

And then I stomped around the condo, because I realized that—dang it—the critical voice had been there all along.

You see, I’ve been whining that 2019 isn’t as good a writing year as I want. I wanted to get to a big project that I’ve been looking forward to, but I need to finish a few things first. And I’m nowhere near finishing those things.

I also had to drop a lot of work because we had a crisis at WMG when Allyson Longueira had emergency brain surgery. We’ve had some tough years the past few years. I was the emergency in 2018; Allyson in 2019. I’m hoping that 2020 is much, much better.

So I lost writing time. A lot of it, as I took on other projects that needed finishing.

. . . .

But that sentence from the Kickstarter script—Because I couldn’t help myself, I wrote two of the longer stories, and an entire novel—kept coming up in my brain all day Friday. I noodled over that sentence.

Because I had been telling myself, severely and somewhat angrily, that I haven’t been doing enough. I haven’t been writing enough. Not enough new words.

Even though, I did the two novellas and that novel from March to August, while doing other things. And I finished some big projects in January and February in prep for the even bigger project that I haven’t gotten to.

None of that counts the work I’ve done here, on this business blog, because that’s nonfiction, and I don’t count nonfiction. Just like I don’t count editing, because none of that is new words of fiction, which is all I do count.

And yes, I’ve had to take some time away, but Holy Carpal Tunnel, Batman, I have been doing a lot of fiction writing just the same. I had thought of it as things that either got in the way (some promised fiction for anthologies/other people’s projects), the stories for the Holiday Spectacular, and the novel that I had started thinking it was a novella.

If I total my words, I’m down a bit from pre-2016 levels, but not much. And I’m better than I was in 2018 by a long shot.

So the critical voice, for me, had moved from what’s wrong with the fiction to what’s wrong with production. And it had been lashing me, hard, in ways that I would never allow an actual person to do.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper

From Nature:

For the past two decades, Cormac McCarthy — whose ten novels include The RoadNo Country for Old Men and Blood Meridian — has provided extensive editing to numerous faculty members and postdocs at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) in New Mexico. He has helped to edit works by scientists such as Harvard University’s first tenured female theoretical physicist, Lisa Randall, and physicist Geoffrey West, who authored the popular-science book Scale.

Van Savage, a theoretical biologist and ecologist, first met McCarthy in 2000, and they overlapped at the SFI for about four years while Savage was a graduate student and then a postdoc. Savage has received invaluable editing advice from McCarthy on several science papers published over the past 20 years. While on sabbatical at the SFI during the winter of 2018, Savage had lively weekly lunches with McCarthy. They worked to condense McCarthy’s advice to its most essential points so that it could be shared with everyone. These pieces of advice were combined with thoughts from evolutionary biologist Pamela Yeh and are presented here. McCarthy’s most important tip is to keep it simple while telling a coherent, compelling story. The following are more of McCarthy’s words of wisdom, as told by Savage and Yeh.

  • Use minimalism to achieve clarity. While you are writing, ask yourself: is it possible to preserve my original message without that punctuation mark, that word, that sentence, that paragraph or that section? Remove extra words or commas whenever you can.
  • Decide on your paper’s theme and two or three points you want every reader to remember. This theme and these points form the single thread that runs through your piece. The words, sentences, paragraphs and sections are the needlework that holds it together. If something isn’t needed to help the reader to understand the main theme, omit it.
  • Limit each paragraph to a single message. A single sentence can be a paragraph. Each paragraph should explore that message by first asking a question and then progressing to an idea, and sometimes to an answer. It’s also perfectly fine to raise questions in a paragraph and leave them unanswered.

. . . .

  • Don’t over-elaborate. Only use an adjective if it’s relevant. Your paper is not a dialogue with the readers’ potential questions, so don’t go overboard anticipating them. Don’t say the same thing in three different ways in any single section. Don’t say both ‘elucidate’ and ‘elaborate’. Just choose one, or you risk that your readers will give up.
  •  

    And don’t worry too much about readers who want to find a way to argue about every tangential point and list all possible qualifications for every statement. Just enjoy writing.

  • With regard to grammar, spoken language and common sense are generally better guides for a first draft than rule books. It’s more important to be understood than it is to form a grammatically perfect sentence.

Link to the rest at Nature

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