Put Baby in the Corner: Write Yourself Into a Corner

From Janice Hardy’s Fiction University:

I’m about to suggest something that many folks will point to and say, “No! Bad advice, don’t listen to her!”

Write yourself into a corner.

I do this a lot, because I like to get my characters into as much trouble as possible without always knowing how they’ll get out of it. For me, this makes the story more unpredictable, because if I don’t know how they’re going to get out of it going in, how can the reader figure it out?

It keeps me very in the moment and close in the protagonist’s head. I get to decide what to do based on the information at hand (as opposed to knowing how it will unfold), and I’m not unconsciously (or consciously) nudging them toward the solution the entire time. I’ve found that when I know exactly how my protagonist is going to get out of trouble when I start a scene, I let my bad guys slack off and only do what’s needed to fit plot. The tension drops off because the bad guys aren’t really trying.

Link to the rest at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University

Thanks to My OCD, I Wrote a Self-Published Best-Seller

From author Max Altschuler via MediaShift:

Whenever I leave a room, I flicker the lights on and off twice. If any object isn’t exactly where it belongs — a dish, the remote, the clock by my bed — then I need to fix it before I can move on to the next thing, let alone leave the house.

I know I have some level of OCD. But at this point, I’m not looking to treat it. That’s because I’ve learned to harness it professionally. Without it, I wouldn’t have written a book during a week-long vacation. I self-published it upon return, made six figure profits within months, and turned down an offer from a major traditional publisher — until eventually selling them the reprint rights.

While most people don’t share my obsessions and compulsions, anyone can learn from the steps I took to write and publish in little time.

My career focuses on sales and technology. As I learn things, I store them in compartments in my brain, filing them into specific folders where they belong.

Most people won’t do this mentally, but anyone can do it literally. Within your area of expertise, keep your knowledge organized somewhere, such as document folders in the cloud. As these build up, you’ll have the raw materials for a book. (This applies primarily to non-fiction, but can also help fiction writers store information necessary for the details they’re writing about — historical epics, industries, etc.)

. . . .

Specialized how-to business books of about 30,000 words can do quite well. This is particularly true when you sell a book about selling — to people who sell. I knew this about my market.

Just as importantly, I had established myself as a known quantity within my niche: where sales and technology meet. Through my work at Sales Hacker and the big conferences I was running, I had built up the right connections who would help spread the word. And I had a substantial e-mail list that would make initial marketing a breeze.

In my professional community, Amazon is generally the first place people turn to for books. So I hired an editor to format it and made it available on Amazon, as e-book and print-on-demand.

Soon after, I received an offer from a traditional publisher. But I saw no reason to give another company the vast majority of the money. Later, after months of steady sales, I had moved on to other projects. I agreed to sell the reprint rights to Wiley. They worked with me to expand the book a bit (it’s now at 35,000 words), and made it available in brick-and-mortar stores as well.

Link to the rest at MediaShift. Here’s a link to Max Altschuler’s book. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The 7 Differences Between Professionals and Amateurs

From Medium:

For most of my twenties, I jumped from one dream to the next. But through it all, I secretly wanted to be a writer. I watched friends bridge the gap between amateur and professional, and I wished I could be them.

Because I was envious of my friends’ writing success, I would try whatever it was they were doing that I thought made them successful. But the problem was I didn’t know what I was doing.

One writer I knew had a satire blog, so I tried writing satire. It didn’t work out; I just came off sounding mean. Another wrote about popular events from a faith-based perspective, so I tried that. That also failed. In fact, I made just about every possible rookie mistake.

What was I missing?

Turns out, I was still acting the amateur, thinking success as a writer was about finding the right idea or a big break. But the truth is that success in any field is more about commitment to a process than it is about finding one magic trick that will make it all come together.

. . . .

2. Amateurs want to arrive. Pros want to get better.

You have to become a student long before you get to be a master.

“We are all apprentices in a craft no one masters,” Hemingway once said. In words, you have to submit yourself to the teaching of those who have gone before you. You have to study their work and emulate their techniques until you begin to find a style of your own.

For the longest time, I just wanted to be recognized for my genius. It wasn’t until I started putting myself around teachers and around the teaching of true masters that I realized how little I knew and how much I still had to grow as a writer.

Hemingway did this, too — it wasn’t until he spent a few years at the feet of Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson in Paris that he grew from a good writer into a masterful one.

If you don’t do this, you delude yourself into thinking you’re better than you really are, which is the fastest route to failure and anonymity.

Link to the rest at Medium

Procrastination Nannies

From Fast Company:

At a little before 9 a.m. on a Sunday in late March, a small group of people stood sheepishly eyeing each other in a lower Manhattan office building. Their friends, it’s safe to say, were sleeping in, sipping mimosas, and walking their dogs at this hour. Meanwhile, this group of bleary-eyed professionals—most in their twenties and thirties—would be spending the next eight hours hard at work. And they’d each paid $40 to do it.

Today was “Cave Day,” an event series that’s sort of like a pop-up coworking space; rather than sign up for a weeks- or months-long membership, you register for a single day. The price of admission includes two meals, snacks, coffee, and a handful of work-related services doled out by a briskly energetic group of facilitators—whose sole job is (as the program’s website puts it) to help you “GET STUFF DONE” with “NO DISTRACTIONS.”

Getting stuff done with no distractions is a challenge many fail to overcome on their own, especially when it comes to passion projects. There’s no shortage of reasons (or excuses) why—work got really busy, you had to travel for that wedding, your cat got sick, Veep started up again—and before long, you realize you’ve been procrastinating on that one thing you’ve really been meaning to do, whether it’s finally drawing up that business plan or banging out the next chapter of that novel. It’s long put-off solo projects like these that Cave Day’s organizers seem to believe are best tackled together.

. . . .

The lobby elevator doors opened to reveal Molly Sonsteng, one of the day’s organizers, who had a bat-shaped name tag on her black turtleneck and a spelunker’s lamp cheekily strapped to her head. Inviting us to pack into the elevator with her, Sonsteng held out a bowl filled with little strips of white paper and told us to choose one. She asked us to imagine that our strip of paper represented something we didn’t want to bring into the “cave” (which on non–Cave Days is the coworking space ImpactHub), something we feared might stifle the productivity binge that awaited each of us.

“Mine, for example, is Facebook,” said Sonsteng.

“Can it be an emotional thing?” a woman asked.

“It can be anything.”

“Great, okay. I’ll make mine self-doubt,” said the woman.

Upstairs, we were greeted by Jeremy Redleaf, another Cave Day creator, outfitted similarly to Sonsteng. Redleaf gestured to two lit white candles on a blue table. “Step right up, one at a time, drop the paper onto the flame.” And so we did. Goodbye, Facebook. Goodbye, self-doubt.

Next, Redleaf furnished a large lockbox. “Phone check?” One by one, we “cave dwellers” surrendered our iPhones and Androids.

We were officially lashed to the mast of productivity.

. . . .

A little while later, Redleaf, Sonsteng, and their third collaborator, designer Jake Kahana, convened the entire group of some 40 participants, asking them to go around the circle and share what they’d be working on through the day, and how far along they were. “Molly, short stories, 10%.” “Cesar, blog posts, 15%.” “Lily, wedding planning, 60%.” Then the group broke, a low-tempo remix of “Eye of the Tiger” came over a set of nearby speakers, and everybody made their way to a workstation.
At 9:49, Sonsteng took a microphone and announced: “The first sprint begins in three . . . two . . . one.” Our heads were down. It was time to work.

As Redleaf explained, the idea for Cave Day was borne of desperation. Last November, he turned up in his therapist’s office noting that while he was excited about many creative projects, none of them were “crossing the finish line.” So, countered his therapist, what would it take for him to make real progress on any one of them?

“I think I just need a kind of cave day,” Redleaf blurted out.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

25 Habits That Will Make You a Writer

From Startup Grind:

1. Write every day.

A daily writing habit is thing number one because it is THAT important. Move your story forward by even a few words every single day and you’ll be surprised by what happens.

Or maybe not, since what will happen is this: you’ll write a book.

2. Read like a writer.

Stephen King says that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write. You know he’s right. Make it a habit to carry a book with you. Keep one in your bathroom. Learn to read in sips instead of gulps — so that not having hours to indulge won’t keep you from reading at all.

And read like a writer. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Read craft books. Read fiction (for sure, read fiction) that does what you want your stories to do. What works? What doesn’t? (Most important) WHY?

3. Watch TV like writer.

I’ve written before about my absolute belief that if you want to be a writer, you need to be watching television. I still believe it. Some of the best writing and story telling is happening on television.

Just like with reading, watch like a writer. Pay attention to why you like a show, why you’re willing to invest hours of your life in it. And why you’re not, if you turn it off at the first commercial break and never come back.

. . . .

12. Save your pennies for a real edit and a professional cover, if you’re going indie.

This is non-negotiable.

If you wouldn’t be okay with Penguin releasing your novel with your best friend’s edit and your own homemade cover, then YOU can’t be okay with it either.

If you’re planning to self-publish that means you’re a PUBLISHER. A professional publisher. And that means that you have to find and hire an editor and a cover designer for your book, and if you don’t know how to do it yourself, probably a book designer as well.

Plan on spending about $1500 and start saving your pennies. The hope is that your first book will pay for your second.

Link to the rest at Startup Grind

Habits

From Live to Write – Write to Live:

I’ve been thinking about habits a lot lately.

  • What is a habit?
  • How do we create “good” habits?
  • How do we get rid of “bad” habits?
  • And one question specifically for my writing life: Can I be a successful writer without habits?

My reflexive answer to that last question is, “No, I can’t.”

But that’s just me. Turns out, there are a number of people—successful, happy, creative people—who avoid habits like I avoid onions (that is, like they might kill me. (They won’t, I just really don’t like them.))

In the dictionary I found this definition of a habit: An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.

There are a lot of actions I’d like to take in my life in a “nearly or completely involuntary” way.

So, there are a lot of habits I’d like to create.

I already have a lot of habits; some of them do not serve me. Those I would like to change.

. . . .

“A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see a CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.”

. . . .

Gretchen Rubin, in her book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, talks about the importance of habits: “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”

Link to the rest at Live to Write – Write to Live

AP Stylebook Updates: Singular ‘They’ Now Acceptable

From Grammar Girl:

singular they: The AP Stylebook now allows writers to use they as a singular pronoun when rewriting the sentence as plural would be overly awkward or clumsy. Example: The Obama administration told public schools to grant bathroom access even if a student’s gender identity isn’t what’s in their record.

The style also allows writers to pair they with everyone in similar situations.

In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person.

his, her. AP style used to be to use he when gender is not known. This entry now refers to the entry on they, them, their.

. . . .

Oxford Comma (aka serial comma). The new Stylebook emphasizes that clarity is the bottom line. Although the normal style is to avoid the serial comma, use one if it is needed for clarity. This is not a style change, but a clarification because the editors noted that some writers were confused.

Link to the rest at Grammar Girl

Plotters and Pantsers

From Reedsy:

Do you plan your novel to the nth degree before you type a single word, or do you sit at your computer, take a deep breath and fly by the seat of your pants? If the former, you’re a Plotter; if the latter, you’re a Pantser.

. . . .

We all know there are pros and cons to both. Knowing exactly what’s coming next means that Plotters are less likely to suffer from writer’s block. They also tend to write faster and more efficiently. Pantsers, on the other hand, have the freedom to let their characters take control, which can be both terrifying and exciting at the same time.

I should say now that I am your typical Pantser. Don’t get me wrong, I am in awe of writers who spend months plotting scenes on timelines and building detailed biographies for their characters. When I start a book, I know how it begins, and I normally know how it’s going to end. It’s just the bit in the middle that’s, shall we say, fluid.

. . . .

I let the manuscript marinate for a couple of weeks, then re-read it. And realisation dawned. By not plotting, I’d got it all wrong. Flick had obsessed for four years about what happened to her sister; discovering how Kate died had to be the main plotline. It was a complete no-brainer. She cared about the pets, of course she did, but they had to play second fiddle to the main storyline.

I can fix that, I thought. Both stories were there, after all. But the timeline was completely skewed. I had issues with continuity and scenes that needed switching. Basically, I had 50,000 words in the wrong order.

I also had a little voice in my head saying over and over, “That’s why you should have planned it.”

Link to the rest at Reedsy

One Writer Used Statistics to Reveal the Secrets of What Makes Great Writing

From Smithsonian.com:

n most college-level literature courses, you find students dissecting small portions of literary classics: Shakespeare’s soliloquies, Joyce’s stream of consciousness and Hemingway’s staccato sentences. No doubt, there is so much that can be learned about a writer, his or her craft and a story’s meaning by this type of close reading.

But Ben Blatt makes a strong argument for another approach. By focusing on certain sentences and paragraphs, he posits in his new book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, readers are neglecting all of the other words, which, in an average-length novel amount to tens of thousands of data points.

The journalist and statistician created a database of the text from a smattering of 20th century classics and bestsellers to quantitatively answer a number of questions of interest. His analysis revealed some quirky patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed:

By the numbers, the best opening sentences to novels do tend to be short. Prolific author James Patterson averages 160 clichés per 100,000 words (that’s 115 more than the revered Jane Austen), and Vladimir Nabokov used the word mauve 44 times more often than the average writer in the past two centuries.

. . . .

You’ve taken a statistical approach to studying everything from Where’s Waldo to Seinfeld, fast food joints to pop songs. Can you explain your method, and why you do what you do?

I am a data journalist, and I look at things in pop culture and art. I really like looking at things quantitatively and unbiased that have a lot of information that people haven’t gone through. If you wanted to learn about what the typical person from the United States is like, it would be useful, but you wouldn’t just talk to one person, know everything about them and then assume that everything about people in the United States is the same. I think one thing with writing that kind of gets lost is that you can focus on one sentence by an author, especially in creative writing classes, or one passage, and you lose the bigger picture to see these general patterns and trends that writers are using over and over again, hundreds and maybe thousands of times in their own writing.

. . . .

What was the first question you wanted to ask about literary classics and bestsellers?

The first chapter in the book is on the advice of whether or not you should use –ly adverbs. This is also the first chapter I wrote chronologically. It’s mostly on Stephen King’s advice not to use –ly adverbs in his book On Writing, which for a lot of writers is the book on writing. But lots of other writers—Toni Morrison, Chuck Palahniuk—and any creative writing class advises not to use an –ly adverb because it is an unnecessary word and a sign that you are not being concise. Instead of saying, “He quickly ran,” you can say, “He sprinted.”

So I wanted to know, is this actually true? If this is such good advice, you’d expect that the great authors actually do use it less. You’d expect that amateur writers are using it more than published authors. I just really wanted to know, stylistically, first if Stephen King followed his own advice, and then if it applies to all the other great and revered authors.

So, what did you find?

In fact, there is a trend that authors like Hemingway, Morrison and Steinbeck, their best books, the ones that are held up and have the most attention on them now, are the books with the fewest amount of –ly adverbs. Also, if you compare amateur fiction writing and online writing that’s unedited with bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize winners of recent times, there is a discrepancy, where less –ly adverbs are used by the published authors. I am not so one-sided that I think you can just take out the –ly adverbs from an okay book and it becomes a great book. That’s obviously not how it works. But there is something to the fact that writers who are writing in a very direct manner do produce books that overall live the longest.

. . . .

What stats did you compile manually? What was the most tedious?

There is one section where I look at opening sentences. Elmore Leonard, who was a very successful novelist, had said, “Never open a book with weather.” This is also advice found in a lot of writing guides. So I went through hundreds of authors to see how often they open their book on weather. For example, Danielle Steel, I believe 45 percent of her first sentences in books are about the weather. Many times it’s just “It was a magnificent day,” or “It was bright and sunny out,” things like that. For that, there was no way to do that automatically without having some error, so I would just go through all the book files and mark whether there was weather involved. You can say it was tedious, because it was a lot of data collected, but it was kind of fun to go through and read hundreds of opening sentences at once. There are other patterns that clearly emerge from authors over time.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian.com and thanks to Marvin for the tip.

An Oxford comma changed this court case completely

From CNN:

If you have ever doubted the importance of the humble Oxford comma, let this supremely persnickety Maine labor dispute set you straight.

A group of dairy drivers argued that they deserved overtime pay for certain tasks they had completed. The company said they did not. An appeals court sided with the drivers, saying that the guidelines themselves were made too ambiguous by, you guessed it, a lack of an Oxford comma.

This is what the law says about activities that do NOT merit overtime pay. Pay attention to the first sentence:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

  1. Agricultural produce;
  2. Meat and fish product; and
  3. Perishable foods

That’s a lot of things! But if we’re getting picky, is packing for shipment its own activity, or does it only apply to the rest of that clause, ie the distribution of agricultural produce, et al?

See, all of this could be solved if there were an Oxford comma, clearly separating “packing for shipment” and “distribution” as separate things! According to court documents, the drivers distribute perishable food, but they don’t pack it.

Yes, this is the real argument they made. And they really won.

“Specifically, if that [list of exemptions] used a serial comma to mark off the last of the activities that it lists, then the exemption would clearly encompass an activity that the drivers perform,” the circuit judge wrote.

. . . .

“For want of a comma, we have this case,” the judge wrote.

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to Melinda for the tip.

Writing the Crime Scene: Poison

From Lit Reactor:

Give me a decent bottle of poison and I’ll construct the perfect crime. — Agatha Christie

The victim in your latest crime manuscript slips under the bedsheets after drinking a nightcap of cognac, hot water and honey. Unbeknownst to her, the cocktail has been laced with cyanide by her jilted lover. How long before the poison takes effect? How much cyanide would be required for a fatal dose? Does she slip quietly into the afterlife, or convulse violently in agony for hours? Will the poison be detectable in an autopsy?

When writing about poisoning in crime fiction, these are the types of questions you’ll likely have. Toxicology is a complex science and there are a multitude of dangerous drugs, toxins and venoms around us. This article is a guide to help you focus your research and answer these questions if you’re planning on killing your darlings with poison.

. . . .

‘Poison’ is an informal term used to describe any substance that can cause death when introduced to the human body. This means snake venom, paint thinner, fentanyl and plutonium are all considered poisons. The possibilities for killing your characters with poison are nearly limitless given the large number of them in our world. But with endless possibilities comes an incredibly wide scope of research. Your first step in narrowing things down will be to choose a poison that suits your manuscript needs.

Availability should always factor into your choice. It would be difficult for a common thug or a jealous spouse to get their hands on a dose of ricin, a vial of cyanide or a nugget of Polonium-210. That’s why most cases of criminal poisoning in North America involve household chemicals or forced overdoses of common medications. Ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, is a dangerous weapon that can be purchased at the gas station. It tastes sweet and can kill even in small doses. Life-saving insulin is found in every diabetic’s medicine cabinet, but a high dose injection can easily be fatal. It can be tempting to choose exotic toxic flowers and rare spider venoms to kill your victims, but sometimes simplicity can be the best answer. Unless your villain is a botanist or a chemical engineer…

. . . .

The burden of determining the cause of death in a murder falls with the coroner or medical examiner. With recent advances in forensic and medical technology, very few poisons remain undetectable. Toxicologists may not be able to find traces of the actual poison in the victim after it breaks down, but they will find chemicals and compounds that result when the human body metabolizes a particular toxin.

Link to the rest at Lit Reactor

67 Rules for All Writers to Live By

From Medium:

1. Don’t waste your readers’ time

2. Writing a book is like describing a building. Look at the first brick and write all about it. Repeat this process for every brick.

3. When you are starting out, consistency beats quantity. Find a schedule which works for you and stick to it. Slow momentum is better than no momentum.

. . . .

11. Writing even 100 words is progress.

12. Writing even 10 words is progress.

13. Checking notifications, however, is NOT progress. Turn off anything you get from Twitter, Medium, WordPress, Facebook, or Quora.

. . . .

18. Don’t check your statistics at all until you have at least 5,000 readers.

19. Even at that point, don’t check them more than once a week.

20. Speaking of statistics, most of the “little tweaks” to improve them don’t matter unless you have tons of readers.

21. And people who constantly TELL you about the little tweaks like how a post does at 8 AM on Thursday vs. 6 PM on Monday are typically selling you statistics services.

22. Use the free time you get from not checking your statistics to write more

Link to the rest at Medium

How Being a Defense Attorney Prepared Me for Being a Full-Time Writer

From Publishers Weekly:

I had another life before I became a full-time writer. I was a criminal defense attorney for 10 years, working primarily in federal court. We handled all kind of cases, from white-collar crimes to murder and just about everything in between.

The question I got most often during my career in law—and am still asked today—was, “How can you defend all those guilty people?” This question always perplexed me. First of all, no one’s guilty at the outset, in a legal sense—not until the jury comes back with a verdict. And that might sound like a bunch of slick lawyer talk, but it’s a fundamental truth in this country: innocent until proven guilty.

. . . .

 I believe that working as a criminal defense attorney requires an embrace of moral complexity. Note that I didn’t say moral flexibility, which is something I think a lot of people wrongly assume about defense attorneys—that we have no idea where the moral lines are drawn. Rather, I view moral complexity as an ability to see beyond stark categories such as wrong and right, good and bad, friend or enemy—to see the world in all its hazy shades of gray.

. . . .

Eventually, I left the practice of law to stay home with my young children and fulfill my dream of writing a book. And it was no surprise to me that the moral complexity I encountered daily in my legal career wove its way into everything I wrote.

When writing The Roanoke Girls, I knew I wanted readers to feel some of the same conflict that the girls in the book do, to squirm a bit at their own feelings for certain characters. I recognize that it may make for uncomfortable reading, the idea of finding yourself charmed by people who have done awful things. But for me that was essential to the experience of the story. I believe it is entirely possible to recognize the humanity in others, to try to understand why they do what they do, to even feel some sense of pain for them, and still believe they have crossed a moral line that can never be uncrossed. For me, none of those ideas negates the others.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Writing with Chronic Health Problems

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Dozens of you have asked me, both privately and in comments, how I write with a chronic health condition.

There really is a trick to the writing while chronically ill. But the trick is personal, and it’s tailored to each individual person.

So, more personal stories—and then tips.

I have many many many allergies. It’s taken years to identify them, particularly the food allergies. I’m deathly allergic to perfume and soaps (particularly anything with manmade glycerin) and that causes more problems than I can say. It’s also the allergy that’s forcing me to rethink travel.

The worst health problem I have, though, is chronic migraines. From the age of 19 on, I got migraines so severe and long-lasting that I would lose weeks to them. By the time I reached my mid-thirties, I would have migraines 21-25 days per month.

And yes, those were the years I was building my career, and editing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I was working at an international level career, traveling (even though it made me sicker), and was horribly ill through much of it.

. . . .

So…how did I work with all of that? Mostly, I didn’t. That’s the odd thing. If I had a nine-to-five day job, I would have had to go on disability, like so many of my friends in similar situations. Either that or have a truly understanding boss, one who knew I wasn’t faking when I said I couldn’t come in until the afternoon—and maybe not even then.

With the exception of one job I had with a truly understanding boss, I never worked traditional hours. When I had day jobs, I had unusual ones, the kind with flexible hours or the kind that were performance based. (If I finished all my work, I could go home.)

So, as we’re talking about working through chronic health problems, keep in mind that as writers, we’re in control of our own schedules. We figure out how to manage the day-to-day business.

. . . .

So I evolved around the migraines.

Here’s what I realized I could control:

  1. I could control the triggers—and avoid them.
  2. I could exercise. The migraines got better if I exercised. And I could run (or walk) with a migraine and, magically, the migraine often got better.
  3. I could divide my work days according to the migraines. Remember, I told you that I could work through some migraines. The key for me was to try to do the actual work I wanted to do. If that wasn’t possible, then I would move to “easier” work. If that wasn’t possible, then the couch it was for me for the rest of the day, so I could work the following day.
  4. I could prioritize everything. Rather than try to do all of the work all the time, I could divide the work into things that I absolutely couldn’t miss to the things I could let slide. (Filing, I’m looking at you.)

. . . .

I came up with a list.

I needed to:

Write Every Day

Exercise Every Day

Manage My Food Intake

Get Enough Sleep

Read something

Sounds simple, right? But simple was what I needed, what I still need.

Notice what’s missing from the list? No email, no website work, no promotion. Those weren’t my priorities, and still aren’t. Those things can—and often do—wait.

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.

What Causes Burnout and How to Overcome It

From Lifehacker:

It’s common to feel tired after a long day at work or to need a holiday after a month-long sprint to finish a new feature. But sadly it’s also common to feel tired all the time. To lack enthusiasm about your work. To feel cynical and disengaged from what you do.

. . . .

These are all symptoms of burnout, which is becoming more common as our work lives become busier, more demanding, and more stressful.

. . . .

The term “burnout” was coined in the ’70s by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger. The term was taken from an analogy of a burned-out house:

If you have ever seen a building that has been burned out, you know it’s a devastating sight… some bricks or concrete may be left; some outline of windows. Indeed, the outer shell may seem almost intact. Only if you venture inside will you be struck by the full force of the desolation.

Freudenberger says, like a burned-out house, someone who’s burnt out may not seem that way on the outside, but “their inner resources are consumed as if by fire, leaving a great emptiness inside.”

But what exactly is burnout? Researchers say burnout can be broken down into three parts:

Exhaustion
Cynicism
Inefficacy

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

Revenge of the copy editors: Grammar pros find internet stardom

From The Columbia Journalism Review:

Backed by the cheery fiddle and guitar of Tom Moss’s “Gypsy Night Dance,” the bespectacled white-haired gentleman in a blue blazer, striped bow tie, and pocket square is holding forth on the language issue of the day.

“I’m sometimes asked,” he tells the camera, speaking patiently but gesturing intensely, “‘Is “data” singular or plural?’ The answer is yes.”

During his puckish two-minute presentation, John E. McIntyre will parse the difference between “data” and “datum,” broach whether “media” indicates one or many, and conclude reassuringly, “Latin is not the boss of us.”

. . . .

McIntyre, the night content production manager at the Baltimore Sun, is one of an increasingly visible and robust breed of public masters of style and usage who have parlayed journalistic copy-desk expertise into an enthusiastic online following. In an age of texting and tweeting, these folks are trying to keep the mother tongue healthy, and their presence constitutes a refreshing renaissance for a profession that is generally underappreciated and rarely noticed—until, of course, a mistake shows up in print.

. . . .

Any general, newfound attention to grammatical, spelling, and punctuation standards may well have begun with the unexpected 2003 success of Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Copy Editing. Further gains arrived via Mignon Fogarty, a former technical writer who now holds the Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Media Entrepreneurship at the University of Nevada. In 2006 she cast herself as “Grammar Girl” and commenced on a series of podcasts that, according to Newsday, “sparked what you might call a worldwide, syntax-driven fiesta.”

“I didn’t know all the rules,” Fogarty recalls. “I was constantly looking things up in the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style. And I wanted to convey it to other people. My goal was not to show how superior I was. I just wanted to help people learn.”

Link to the rest at Columbia Journalism Review

Don’t Worry If You Always Worry (It May Help You)

From The Wall Street Journal:

 When Penelope Malone got a traffic ticket recently, she says she fretted about it 24/7 for a month. Many nights she bolted awake with worry around 4 a.m., “like a piece of toast coming out of the toaster,” she says.

The ticket’s penalty? About $200.

“I am the world’s biggest worrier,” says Ms. Malone, a 63-year-old retired payroll company manager from Atlanta. “I get fixated on certain things and cannot get them out of my brain.”

Good news for worrywarts: New research illuminates what leads to excessive worrying—and what can be done to stop it.

For most people, worrying is a form of problem-solving where you look at challenges in the future and work them out before they happen, which can be constructive. Researchers call this adaptive worrying and have identified the top five areas that people worry most about: relationships, finances, work, lack of confidence and an “aimless future.”

But some people worry too much. Chronic worriers fret all the time, about everything. Pathological worriers are chronic worriers whose apprehension affects their functioning. They’re just as likely to fret over a real problem, such as a job setback, as they are to stew over something that may not be a problem at all, say the weather next week.

. . . .

How we learned to cope with threats as a child, whether our parents reassured us and what traumas we’ve been exposed to all affect how much we worry. And although worry is closely tied to anxiety, Dr. Davey says, it differs in that it is largely cognitive, while anxiety has a strong physiological component.

New research by Dr. Davey and colleagues, reviewing more than 50 scientific studies on worry and published in December in the journal Biological Psychology, shows that people who worry excessively believe that if they don’t agonize over every aspect of an event or challenge, something bad will happen.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

A Very Good List of Vital Writing Advice — DO NOT IGNORE!

From Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds:

Hello, America. I am the Internet’s Chuck Wendig, and contrary to what I usually do on this here Website, I’m going to offer some Vital Writing Advice. I am the recipient of a lot of emails, and between the emails where people are mad at me for ruining Star Wars are the emails where people ask me for advice on buying various chairs and pastries, and in between those emails are the writers who want to know how to write. “Internet’s Chuck Wendig,” they plead, “please tell us the secret that will turn us into Super Mega Ultra Rockstar Writers like yourself.”

. . . .

I will share them with you now, in defiance of the Galactic Author Guild’s autocratic laws. YOUR OPPRESSION ENDS HERE, G.A.G., I AM BRINGING THE TRUTH TO THE PEOPLES.

Quickly now, absorb this information before it is taken down! HURRY

. . . .

3. Also Run Screaming Past Your Self-Doubt. Your self-doubt is a jerk. It’ll jog alongside you, trying to convince you to just stop and lay down and give up. You can’t give up. Keep running. Run faster than your self-doubt. Steal a car. Steal an actual car. Drive fast past it. Then reverse and back over it. Hear the crunch of its bones. That’s what it gets for sassing you.

4. Write What You Know. And what you don’t know, you can always learn. And what you can’t learn, you can always steal from other authors by hitting them with rocks and opening their heads like coconuts. Each writer’s brain is like a fruit containing many seeds, the seeds of knowledge. Kill authors and eat their brains.

5. Don’t use adverbs. Adverbs are witch’s traps.

. . . .

16. When In Doubt, Pterodactyls and Frankensteins. Stuck in your story? Just throw in some pterodactyls and Frankensteins. Always peps up a dull story!

. . . .

20. Molt. When in doubt, shed your flesh. Let your true author spirit emerge from the leavings of your discarded scale and leathery epidermis.

Link to the rest at Terrible Minds and thanks to Angie for the tip.

Here’s a link to Chuck Wendig’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Down the Research Rabbit Hole

From author Robin Storey:

Most novels require some sort of research. If you’re writing a novel set in a different historical period, obviously you need to do a lot of research. But regardless of what genre of novel you’re writing, things come up that you need to investigate (with perhaps the exception of fantasy, because you can make everything up).

. . . .

For example, your protagonist may be making a soufflé, so you need to find out how to make one so it sounds authentic, or you’ve decided that one of your characters will be a snake milker, and as you know very little about how to milk snakes (yes, there is such a profession) you google ‘snake milking.’

From there, you find an interesting article on the history of snake milking and the story of Sam the Snake Milker who’s been bitten thousands of times while milking snakes and has the scars to prove it. This then leads to an article about which drugs are made from snake venom, which then directs you to a story about a farmer who was rushed to hospital by helicopter after being bitten by a snake, and was saved in the nick of time by an injection of anti-venom.

All very fascinating and will no doubt make you a hit at your next dinner party, but you probably only need a quarter of that information to write your character convincingly. We writers call it going down the research rabbit-hole.

Link to the rest at Robin Storey

Here’s a link to Robin Storey’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

So you want to write a nonfiction book

From The Washington Post:

One of the interesting things about specialization is how we often take for granted the things we do well. I am insanely impressed by the Europeans I encounter who can speak at least five languages and are likely adding a sixth, but they usually just shrug their shoulders and think it’s no big deal. Truck drivers who can back up a 16-wheeler into a loading dock with little margin for error? That looks more complicated than brain surgery, but to them it’s no big whoop.

I’m just a small-town political scientist, so I don’t think of myself as possessing any special skills. But from recent conversations, I’ve learned that there is one thing that seems impressive to other folks but is nothing extraordinary to me: I write nonfiction books. My sixth book will be out in less than two months, and I’m spending a lot of this month pondering how to write my seventh book. People keep publishing them, so I guess my books aren’t awful.

. . . .

2) Know your audience. Another thing that you need to put in your book prospectus is your targeted audience. Who do you want to read your book? Why, everyone, of course, and they should each buy 10 copies just to be safe. The better question to ask is: Who do you think needs to read your book? Business leaders? College students? Stay-at-home parents? Retirees? Make sure you have the answer to this question in your head — and then, when you’re crafting the prose, imagine that reader.

. . . .

5) When you get on a good writing jag, tune everything else out. There are days of writing a book when you can concentrate all you want and you will only produce a few hundred words. But then there are the days when you are in the zone, when all you are really doing is transcribing the elegant turns of phrase from your brain to the computer. It’s like a baseball pitcher who finally tweaks his throwing mechanics and goes on a streak.

. . . .

If you’re writing thousands of words a day, then don’t check your phone, don’t clean up your office, don’t spend inordinate amounts of time on food, and sleep only when you must.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post and thanks to Bill for the tip.

The Hardest Thing About Writing a Book

From Medium:

All my life I wanted to write a book. At first I wrote four books that agents and publishers all rejected.

I thought the hard part was getting a book accepted. Having someone like me.

But this wasn’t the hard part at all. Anyone who is persistent will get that part done.

These were the hard parts. So hard it’s probably cost me years of my life and definitely much happiness.

But I survived. And you can also. Awareness is the key.

A) SITTING

Writing is boring. It’s unnatural. It’s basically sitting and staring at a scream and typing into a keyboard.

Three activities that our ancient ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years never did. We did not evolve in order to write books.

. . . .

B) NO DISTRACTIONS

Because of the above, I always had to create an environment of zero distractions.

For my very first book, my family went to stay with my in-laws and I spent two weeks locked in my house and did nothing but write.

I turned off Internet, no TV, nothing. Just wrote. This was very hard. I’m too used to being distracted. It’s natural to be distracted.

Link to the rest at Medium

The 9 Mistakes Every Beginner Writer Makes

From author Elizabeth Andre via Medium:

1. Not Writing.

. . . .

3. Not writing until they can set aside the perfect dedicated two or three hour time slot and commit to doing so every day.

. . . .

9. Not writing because they’re creating the perfect marketing plan for a book that doesn’t exist yet.

Link to the rest at Medium

Here’s a link to Elizabeth Andre’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Publishers are hiring ‘sensitivity readers’ to flag potentially offensive content

From The Chicago Tribune:

Before a book is published and released to the public, it’s passed through the hands (and eyes) of many people: an author’s friends and family, an agent and, of course, an editor.

These days, though, a book may get an additional check from an unusual source: a sensitivity reader, a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families” or “transgender issues.”

. . . .

Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.

Last year, for instance, J.K. Rowling was strongly criticized by Native American readers and scholars for her portrayal of Navajo traditions in the 2016 story “History of Magic in North America.” Young-adult author Keira Drake was forced to revise her fantasy novel “The Continent” after an online uproar over its portrayal of people of color and Native backgrounds. More recently, author Veronica Roth – of “Divergent” fame – came under fire for her new novel, “Carve the Mark.” In addition to being called racist, the book was criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.

. . . .

Clayton, who is black, sees her role as a vital one. “Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,” she says. They’re not supposed to be a place where readers “encounter harmful versions” and stereotypes of people like them.

. . . .

“Even if authors mean well, even if the intention is good, it doesn’t change the impact,” Ireland said. “It’s nice to be that line of defense before it gets to readers, especially since the bulk of people who come to me write for children.” Fees for a sensitivity readers generally start at $250 per manuscript.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune and thanks to Abel for the tip.

The 1000 Day MFA

From Medium:

A while ago I wrote about what might be involved in a do-it-yourself MFA. Basically: lots of reading, lots of writing, some mentoring, and connection with other writers.

The best advice I’ve ever seen for how to become a solid writer comes from Ray Bradbury. His advice is a prescription for nightly reading, weekly writing, and watching a lot of movies.

. . . .

Bradbury suggests a short story, a poem, and an essay every night for 1000 nights. I have a feeling that he would hope that after close to three years of building this particular habit, you’d just keep going.

I’m going to expand on this advice, for the purpose of our 1000 Day MFA and say that if you harbor any dreams of writing a novel some day, you need to also read novels. Ideally, you’ll read a book a week. At the very least, read one novel a month.

. . . .

Train yourself to read like a writer. Pay attention to the craft behind the books you choose. Why do some books remain bestsellers for decades? Why do some fall off the face of the planet a few weeks after they’re released? What works for you in every book — and why? What doesn’t — and why?

. . . .

Bradbury’s advice is to write a short story a week for a year. I think it would be great to carry that on for the 1000 days.

If you’re working on a novel while you’re doing this project, write flash fiction. Write a 500 word short story every week, then spend your writing time on your novel. There is something magical about finishing something so regularly. I’m just learning that myself, as I take on this story-a-week challenge.

Link to the rest at Medium

Words can sound ’round’ or ‘sharp’ without us realizing it

From PsyPost:

Our tendency to match specific sounds with specific shapes, even abstract shapes, is so fundamental that it guides perception before we are consciously aware of it, according to new research in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The “bouba-kiki” effect, originally reported over 85 years ago and replicated many times since, shows that people consistently pair the soft-sounding nonsense word “bouba” with soft-looking, round shapes and they typically pair the sharp-sounding nonsense word “kiki” with spiky-looking, angular shapes. This effect seems to emerge across cultures and age groups, indicating that it may represent a universal mapping between different modes of perception.

. . . .

The new findings from three experiments show that the bouba-kiki effect operates on a deeper, more fundamental level than previously observed:

“This is the first report that congruence between a visual word form and the visual properties of a shape can influence behavior when neither the word nor the object has been seen,” says researcher Shao-Min (Sean) Hung of Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, first author on the research.

. . . .

In this experiment, the target image was always a nonsense word, bubu or kiki, inside of a shape. Sometimes the word (bubu) was congruent with the shape it was in (round) and sometimes it was incongruent with the shape (angular). The participants pressed a key whenever the target image became visible.

Timing data showed that the target image broke through to conscious awareness faster when it was congruent than when it was incongruent, indicating that participants perceived and processed the relationship between word and shape before they were consciously aware of the stimuli.

Link to the rest at PsyPost

Logic: The Lost Art in Being a Fiction Writer

From author Dean Wesley Smith:

I have been going on now in numbers of posts about how we fiction writers sabotage ourselves. Fear without real cause is the normal reason.

But I have another deeper reason tonight.

Lack of logic.

In a few posts I used math to try to make sense of the silliness of a few myths. Math tends to be very logical.

Simply put, fiction writers, when it comes to the very basis of being a fiction writer, toss all logic out the window and listen to people who have never written or published a book.

This goes on from the very beginning of every writer’s career.  The one uniform trait in becoming a full-time fiction writer is that you must have the ability to unlearn all the crap. Unlearn all the illogical aspects of both the craft and the business.

. . . .

— Agents. If you wouldn’t give your gardner 15% ownership of your home for mowing your lawn every week, so why give an agent 15% of your property for doing even less work? Yet writers spend years and years chasing the opportunity to do just that.

. . . .

— Wanting to Be Taken Care Of. Writers think that some major corporation only thinking of the bottom line and buying all of the writer’s rights in their work will take care of them. Yeah, P.T. Barnum had a saying for those kinds of folks.

— Book Doctor/Story Editor. Writers think that someone who has never published a novel (and wouldn’t know how to construct a novel if their life depended on it) are worth paying thousands of dollars to get advice from. These book doctors or story editors took private lessons from P.T. Barnum.

— If You Don’t Write Much You Will Get Better. This one is so stupid I have trouble even trying to talk about it without laughing. And I really enjoy the fact that writers think if they don’t write much and do it REALLY SLOWLY they will get even better. (English teachers rejoice at even less homework to read.)

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dean Wesley Smith’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

According to Research, Procrastinating Can Boost Your Creativity

From Medium:

Procrastination has a bad reputation. It’s very familiar to all of us. More often than not, it leads to nothing but anxiety, disappointment, and shame.

Almost everyone thinks it’s entirely negative, but there are times when procrastination can work in your favour. You don’t have to be anxious, disappointed and stressed all the time when you put things off, especially when you are a creative professional or need time to think through your work and generate better ideas.

When you have urgent things to take care of, you are more likely to push other tasks down the list of things to do in the day or week. Procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things. You are not necessarily being lazy or careless if you want to complete your work sometime later.

. . . .

Active procrastinators who postpone work for later are mostly in control of their time, are better managers of their time and use it purposefully without worrying too much about missing deadlines. They deliberately delay tasks and feel challenged by approaching deadlines. They comfortable with fear. And a little bit of panic or threat is not an issue.

Active procrastinators will always deliver. They are better at planning but not so good at getting stuff done early when they have lots of time. They work better under pressure though. You could argue that, it’s their way of justifying putting things off.

This doesn’t apply to to passive procrastinators who easily get anxious and can’t master the courage to concentrate and get stuff done because they are constantly thinking of running out of time.

Link to the rest at Medium

A reminder that PG doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts to TPV.

He was going to wait to comment until later, but decided not to do so.

My Writer’s Idyll is Busy, Messy, Full Life

From The Literary Hub:

A truism long held in the literary world is that the greatest gift you can give a writer is time: to daydream, to wander, to write. Every writer thinks about what their career might look like if only life’s ordinary restrictions were lifted. In my twenties, after finishing an MFA in fiction, I was lucky enough—for seven months at least—to find out. I won one of those contests you read about in the classifieds of Poets & Writers. The PEN/Northwest Wilderness Writing Residency. In exchange for an hour-a-day of routine caretaking, I got to live rent-free and alone on a 95-acre off-the-grid homestead along the Rogue National Wild and Scenic River in Oregon. There were no neighbors, just stands of Douglas fir and madrone, a logging road, a footpath to the river.

From my writing table, I had a postcard view. A pair of apple trees framed the gate of a garden, and beyond loomed a steep, forested ridge that turned from black to palest blue in the morning sun. I had a typewriter and its satisfying clack-clack-clack-ding. I had notebooks, pens, pencils. I had an idea for a novel and all the time in the world to write. The writing should have been easy.

In my first month at the homestead, however, nothing worked. My idea for a novel suddenly seemed dumb. I wrote and scratched out paragraph after paragraph. I threw my pencil across the room. 

. . . .

In life as I’d known it before traveling to backcountry Oregon my writing time had been a contrast to the distraction of family and friends and work, a kind of oasis of dreaming. In life before, I’d only needed a few hours of quiet here and there in order to listen to myself, sort out my ideas, get words down in the shape of a story. I savored my time apart and guarded it jealously against intrusion. In Oregon, that contrast fell away.

. . . .

And now that I’m a dad and a husband and hold down a full-time job (all things I’m utterly grateful for and humbled by), I don’t have as much time to write. I don’t have time for indulgences and mistakes. If I’m going to have a successful career as a writer, I have to make use of every spare minute and hour.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

A Question…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Yesterday, in the last chapter of the book I did about writing a novel in five days while traveling, I made a comment near the end that I found the exercise fun to be able to (just for a few days) feel like I belonged in the world of the pulp writers.

And I made a comment that I was born too late.

A reader wrote me privately with a good comment. Basically the reader reminded me that I should feel lucky to have the modern things we writers use such as computers, control of our own work instead of selling it to gatekeepers and so on.

The reader made a very good point. We do have it so easy, so much easier than the pulp writers did. I know that, I study the pulp writers and their lives.

Yet even with things being easier, it is unusual for a writer in 2017 to write a novel in five days. (And realize the novel I wrote would have been on the long side for the length that pulp writers wrote.)

And the idea of someone like me doing that every week for years and years is just alien in this modern world.

So I got to wondering why? And I tried to find some reasons.

— Not a shortage of markets.

Any story can be out and in reader’s hands in very short order. No gatekeepers anymore of any value. So that’s not why.

— No problem with the mechanics.

Manual typewriters were a problem in the pulp days. (Anyone remember how to change a ribbon or carbon paper?)

But now we have computers, large screens, laptops, voice writing, you name it. All are used to make writing easier. And it is a ton easier. Not even in the same difficulty universe.

From there I came up with a blank.

Mechanics and markets, the two major limiting factors other than the writer’s belief system. And both mechanics and markets are a ton easier in the modern world.

So why do writers in this modern world not just write novels every week, week-after-week?

That even “Why?” question…

I knew the answer. Writer’s belief systems. Modern writers don’t believe they can.

That belief has been trained out.

Writers of the modern world have been taught to think that writing at pulp speed is different, unusual, a fantastic feat, massive work, and on and on and on…

I then realized I had done it too. And until tonight I hadn’t caught myself on it.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Colleen for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dean Wesley Smith’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Isaac Asimov wrote almost 500 books in his lifetime—these are the six ways he did it

From Quartz:

If there’s one word to describe Isaac Asimov, it’s “prolific.”

To match the number of novels, letters, essays, and other scribblings Asimov produced in his lifetime, you would have to write a full-length novel every two weeks for 25 years.

Why was Asimov able to have so many good ideas when the rest of us seem to only have one or two in a lifetime? To find out, I looked into Asimov’s autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life.

. . . .

Growing up, Asimov read everything:

All this incredibly miscellaneous reading, the result of lack of guidance, left its indelible mark. My interest was aroused in twenty different directions and all those interests remained. I have written books on mythology, on the Bible, on Shakespeare, on history, on science, and so on.

. . . .

It’s refreshing to know that, like myself, Asimov often got stuck:

Frequently, when I am at work on a science-fiction novel, I find myself heartily sick of it and unable to write another word.

Getting stuck is normal. It’s what happens next, our reaction, that separates the professional from the amateur.

Asimov didn’t let getting stuck stop him. Over the years, he developed a strategy:

I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I don’t spend days and nights cudgeling a head that is empty of ideas. Instead, I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap. I write an editorial, or an essay, or a short story, or work on one of my nonfiction books. By the time I’ve grown tired of these things, my mind has been able to do its proper work and fill up again. I return to my novel and find myself able to write easily once more.

Link to the rest at Quartz

The Best Writing Advice of 2016

From The Atlantic:

2016 was not an easy year to be a writer. Not just because of the constant, concentration-wrecking pull of our devices, their glowing screens beckoning with the promise of fresh horrors.

. . . .

For the past three years (see 2013, 2014, and 2015), I’ve compiled the best writing advice from this series. In 2016, as in the past, authors shared some great insights—Alice Mattison explained how to structure a short story without a traditional plot, for instance, while Ethan Canin unpacked the art of the last line. But the bulk of the advice writers offered this year was not about “craft,” so much, as about the work of becoming a better person. In order to overcome their creative challenges, the authors I interviewed didn’t need to write prettier sentences: They needed to become more disciplined, more generous, braver.

. . . .

2016 has been filled with ugly reminders of how factional humans can be. This year’s writers suggested that their work demands something different: openness, plasticity of thinking, the ability to entertain and evaluate multiple points of view. Canin, the author of A Doubter’s Almanac, described how writing is a process of self-questioning, a method of backing away from what you’re most convinced you know. As he put it:

I’ve seen plenty of students come in and say, I want to write a novel about blah blah blah. But you just can’t do it. You can only write a novel about a character who does something wrong, and see what happens from there. Novels are compendiums of bad behavior, and literature is the gossip about it.

In other words, if you’re writing a piece of fiction, I’d urge you not to try to show anything—instead, try to discover something. There’s no way to write anything powerful unless your unconscious takes charge.

With characterization, you have to let go. You’ve got to release yourself from your grandiose intentions, your ambitions, your ideas about humanity, literature, and philosophy by focusing on the being-another-person aspect of it—which, by the way, is freeing, delightful, and one of the few real joys of writing. Stop worrying about writing a great novel—just become another human being.

In his discussion of Borges’s great short story “The Aleph,” Michael Chabon, the author of Moonglow, spoke at length about detail and description—the process by which he chooses the right words from a sea of possible choices. Writing a convincing character, he said, is an act that requires a kind of radical empathy:

Infinite pity, I think, is the proper attitude to have towards your characters. Not pity in the way we mostly tend to understand it—which is the condescension of a superior looking down at an inferior and feeling sorry for them … It’s a much more self-implicating pity, where you see and understand the tragic and routine flaws people have, the ways in which your characters fall short of the marks they set for themselves—just as you fall short of the marks you set for yourself.

. . . .

Alexander Chee, the author of The Queen of the Night, made a similar point about following what gives you pleasure. A famous writing teacher warned him never to write about parties in fiction; he found himself wanting to do the opposite. In our interview, he made a case for using party scenes in fiction, even if they seem frivolous on the surface, and are challenging to write:

The qualities that make parties such a nightmare for people—and also so pleasurable—make them incredibly important inside of fiction. There’s a chaos agent quality to them: You just don’t know who’s going to be there, or why. You could run into an old enemy, an old friend, an old friend who’s become an enemy. You could run into an ex-lover, or your next lover. The stakes are all there, and that’s why they’re so fascinating.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

The Most Commonly Misused English Words

From attn:

The English language is not easily mastered. Homonyms — words that are spelled or pronounced the same but mean different things — can be particularly challenging, which is why even the most highly educated English speakers get tripped up sometimes.

. . . .

  • Adverse: Unfavorable or harmful; commonly confused with “averse,” which means disinclined.
  • Appraise: To evaluate the value of something; commonly confused with “apprise,” which means “to inform.”
  • As far as: The same; commonly confused with the phrase “as for,” which means “with regard to.”
  • Begs the question: Implies a conclusion that isn’t supported by evidence; commonly confused with “raises the question.”
  • Bemused: Bewildered; commonly confused with “amused,” which means entertained.
  • Cliché: A noun; commonly misused as an adjective.
  • Credible: Believable; commonly confused with “gullible.”
  • Criteria: A plural word; commonly misused as a singular word. The singular is “criterion.”
  • Data: A plural word; commonly used as a singular noun.

Link to the rest at attn: