Category Archives: Writing

THOUGHTS ABOUT NANOWRIMO

National Novel Writing Month is November. It’s when lots of authors set out to write a whole novel, or at least 50,000 words of one, in a single month. Some writers can do so. Some cannot or chose not to. Many fine writers ignore the whole thing. That said, NaNoWriMo can be useful for newish writers in several ways:

  • It gets them in the habit of writing.
  • It gets their families, friends and those in their household in the habit of expecting them to be absorbed in writing.
  • Lots of words, or at least a goodly number, end up on the page, words that can later be supplemented and improved later.
  • It provides camaraderie with other NaNoWriMo writers. Thus, it can counteract the lonely aspects of this solitary endeavor.

Nonetheless, NaNoWriMO doesn’t work for everyone year after year. Here’s why:

  • It causes some of us writers to compare our output to that of others. Now there’s a surefire way to sap the joy out of writing. Plus, it increases the pressure to crank out the words.
  • It leaves those working on short stories, essays, poetry, and creative nonfiction feeling like afterthoughts.
  • New writers who don’t end up with 50,000 words can feel like they’ve failed. Never mind that life events, holidays, academia, and work schedules are not conducive to a month of intensive writing.
  • It takes some doing to adapt NaNoWriMo’s word count to the process of revising a work in process.

Final thoughts: if you are a writer and NaNoWritMo works for you, that’s great! If it doesn’t, for whatever reason you can identify and even if you don’t know why, please don’t think of it as a failure or yourself as a failure. Creative writing is not a win/lose competition.

THE DREADED EDIT LETTER

This isn’t a real edit letter, although when procrastination sets in, an edit letter awaiting a response can feel this old. Let me back up for those who might not know what an edit letter is. After a story or book has been accepted for publication, the acquiring editor will usually send the author a letter explaining whatever changes the editor believes will improve the work. They range from minor stuff like commas and hyphenation of words, to adding or deleting sentences or paragraphs, or more significant issues. Sometimes editors will point out plot holes or the need to explain more about how a character acts or feels. They may include suggestions or leave the fixes to the writer.

As a writer, I never know what the edit letter may contain until it pops into my inbox. Thus the trouble begins. By this I mean brain weasels take hold before I have a chance to open the email. The brain weasels scream that the editor has decided not to publish my work after all. No, I reply, that’s absurd. Next the brain weasels say the editor has major problems with my work, intractable problems. That’s absurd, too, I reply. But wait. What if the editor has found something I don’t know how to fix?

You can see why I’m tempted to postpone opening the edit letter. When I do, it’s fine. Rather, there are some good suggestions that make for a better story. with relief, I fix stuff. As I turn in the revisions, I swear I’m never going to let the brain weasels play their tricks on me ever again. Then next time…

WRITERS AND PANELS AND RAPTORS, OH MY!

Ever since my corner of the world shut down in March, 2020, I’ve taken to writing fiction on Zoom in thirty-minute sessions with a bunch of other authors. I knew almost none of them when I began. Today, I am thrilled to call them my friends. I met a bunch of these good folks (you know who you are!) in person for the first time last weekend. It all happened over the course of three days at Multiverse Convention on the outskirts of Atlanta. I had great fun being on panels about writing.

Better yet, my writer friends were every bit as kind and smart and clever as I had suspected. Just look at the little wooden dinosaur one of them gave me! Now I simply must write a story featuring this plucky little horn-headed raptor. It will be my second story based on one of the gang.

RETURNING FROM CHICON 8 AND FINDING A HOME FOR MY WRITING

I’m back sleeping in my own bed after the whirlwind that was Chicon 8, the world science fiction convention in Chicago. Among many fascinating conversations swirling around me, was one that took place in a small gathering of writers and editors for a particular publication. Someone said our group felt like family, to which everyone immediately agreed.

The observation got me thinking how fortunate this little group is. In our field, it’s common for writers, and not only newbies, to feel adrift in the-changeable seas of the publishing industry, despite the fact that some periodicals and publishers have been around longer than most authors have been writing or have been alive. Editors, agents, publicists, and publishers move on to other positions and sometimes leave our field entirely. Moreover, writers soon learn not to count on any editor snapping up their latest story or book, even if earlier related works did nicely. It’s easy for authors to feel like we’ve been cast adrift.

Rather than grousing to each other and bemoaning our fates, it strikes me that the solution is twofold: 1. Write something new. 2. Search out a suitable market where a welcoming publisher may be receptive to more of your work.

For me, Analog Science Fiction and Fact feels like a home. I’ve been reading it as long as I can remember, not just the short fiction, but the multi-issue serials, the fact articles, reviews, editorials, etc. It’s been around for over ninety years. Importantly, it’s a comfort to know that my work has always been given serious consideration by the former editor and the current one. This doesn’t mean they’ll want to run everything I turn in. By no means! However, Analog is a market that will treat my work seriously. In our competitive field, this means a lot.

If I could grant one wish to all my writing friends and the many talented authors whom I don’t know but whose work I admire, it’s this: May you find a corner of our field that is a good home for the pieces dearest to your hearts.

KEEPING SECRETS (WRITER EDITION)

A writer should have a secret. This advice was given to me years ago when I was first learning to craft fiction. Readers love surprises, the theory goes, with an important caveat. The writer must lay the groundwork so that the reveal comes as a surprise, but then the reader thinks, ‘yes of course, even though I didn’t I see that coming.’

Real life, being messier than fiction, also requires writers to keep secrets from their readers and even other writers. There can be exciting news but it’s not yet time to announce it. Frequently, it’s not the writer’s place to disclose the news. Maybe the author sold a new story or book, learned their work will be republished, or accepted a business opportunity, was asked to appear at an event, got nominated for or won an award, received a favorable review, or racked up impressive sales figures. You get the idea.

The writer may be sworn to secrecy until the project or event is announced and everyone sends their congratulations. If the writer seems pleased but not giddy with excitement, this may be because they’ve had weeks or even months to absorb the happy news.

Keep in mind, those of us with intense imaginations (we are writers, after all) have already envisioned the exciting event in considerable detail. By this, I mean not only what we’ve achieved but sometimes the possibility of the project crashing and burning. Thus, simply finding out how things turn out can spark relief as much as anything else.

Might these musings be a long-winded way of hinting that you may want to watch this space? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

58 BOOKS ON WRITING (PLUS ONE I HATE)

Hey writers, how many books about the craft of writing fiction are on your shelves? Mine contain 58, not that I’ve read every word of all of them. I’ve only dipped into parts of some. There are general how-to’s and more specialized ones on plot, character, dialog, scenes, point-of-view, structure, suspense, emotion and such like. There are others devoted to a specific genre like science fiction, mystery, etc. Some (maybe most) give the ambitious reader exercises to try at home. Many dissect sentences and paragraphs that achieve superior results.

And now you’re waiting for me to get to the book I hate.

First, I think it important to tell you why I reacted as I did. This one came into my life recently. That means it had some tough competition, like Nancy Kress’ BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, & ENDS and Donald Maas’ THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, and books covering a broader range of artistic endeavors like David Bayles and Ted Orland’s ART & FEAR. The latest one that didn’t measure up was written by a professor who is overly fond of quoting his own work. Even when he drew examples from other works, many of his examples left me indifferent. He also exuded impatience at encountering the same weaknesses again and again in succeeding classes of students taking his courses. My sympathies were with his students. Worst of all, I’m searching to come up with something–anything–I learned for my investment of time and money.

While pushing onward through his chapters, I wondered what my reaction would have been if I had read this one years ago when I was a newer writer. Would his points have impressed me before my forays into 57 other books on writing? Is my response largely because his work is more suitable for Creative Writing 101 whereas seminar material is more my speed?

Lastly, why am I telling you this? The reason is simple: As writers, we find ourselves on a seemingly never-ending quest to improve our story-telling skills. Rather than growing annoyed at a writing manual that doesn’t work for us, lets go find something more tailored to whatever it is we’d like to learn, whether that’s working in a specific genre (romance, detective stories, historical fiction, etc.) or tackling a specific format (novels, short stories, screen plays, or multi-volume series) or developing ways to write despite adversity in our lives.

Do you have a book about writing that you found particularly helpful to the point that you return to it for fresh guidance?

WRITING HARD SCIENCE FICTION

Joe Compton’s Go Indie Now looks at hard science fiction.

Frequently, when authors hear that I write for Analog Science Fiction and Fact, they say they wouldn’t try to write hard science fiction. As much as they may love this sub-genre, they are put off by the degree of difficulty they perceive.


So how does an author go about writing SF that draws heavily on physics, chemistry, astronomy, or biology? I tried tackling this question with a group of hard science fiction writers on Go Indie Now, which you can watch. Our astute moderator, Joe Compton asked a bunch of insightful questions of Sean Hillman, Jan Kotouk, Bruno Martins Soares, and me.

We explored balancing the time you need to do the research vs. the time you have available for the writing. We also shared some thoughts on how the writer moves from initial premise to a mass of specialized knowledge to an intriguing story. Joe boiled what we do down to three handy rules:

  1. Know your thesis.
  2. Do your research.
  3. Don’t be afraid of what you are going to discover.

Come to think of it, that’s good advice for anything you set out to write.

WRITER’S LIFE: WHEN TO SAY “YES” OR “NO” TO AN OPPORTUNITY

Throughout a writer’s career, opportunities come along. It’s almost always gratifying to be asked to write something, especially when it’s unexpected. New writing-related projects hold out hope of growing an author’s readership. I don’t know a single writer who thinks they have more than enough readers. For lots of us, our first instinct is to say yes.

Some projects are no-brainers. Others are require serious thought. For me, unexpected offers have included solicitations to submit stories for themed anthologies and to work in a different genre or medium. That’s how I’ve written a screenplay, a game, and branched out from science fiction and fantasy into essays, detective fiction, alternate history, and horror. Other opportunities have involved teaching, mentoring, judging, collaborating, and presenting at an in-person or on-line event.

Here’s my advice: Be open to these offers and be careful! First do your due diligence in looking into the business proposition. Also, be sure, to stop and consider what else is on your plate. Many writers–including me–have more current projects and hoped-for future projects than time in the day. There usually isn’t a sure-fire way to decide if a shiny, new opportunity should get to shove something else aside, especially when the upstart arrives during a particularly busy period. Sure, FOMO is powerful. Nevertheless, you really don’t want to say yes, only to have to back out when the realities of over-commitment set in. Nor do you want your personal life and obligations to suffer.

Ah well, if nothing else, this is a better class of problem for a writer to have. It also illustrates that few writing careers proceed as planned or imagined. Best of luck to you!

MID-WINTER BLUES AND SUMMER FROLICS

(c) John Naman

With the recent cold snap and pandemic seemingly everywhere, I’ve been huddling indoors making plans for all the places I maybe could visit when warmer weather hits. I’m mostly planning trips around science fiction and fantasy conventions, so my first task is looking at where I might be going: LA, Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans, if the universe cooperates. This led to updating my bio, which means figuring out who I am as a writer.

Don’t worry, the dinosaurs will always tromp through a fair number of my stories and essays. Nonetheless, I am branching out. Recently, I took a stab (pun intended) at writing a murder mystery as well as a screenplay. Sure didn’t see either of those coming. I’m also looking into a collection of my short fiction, some of which is out of print. Stay tuned!

WRITERS: YOUR READERS NEED TO KNOW ALL ABOUT YOUR AWARD-ELIGIBLE WORK

2021 was a tough year for readers seeking signs of a return to normalcy and solace in a distraction from reality. It was also a challenging year for writers trying to string words together. Too often, our work that did find its way into print or on line got overshadowed by seemingly everything. Now is the time to remedy this! Writers: your readers, both new and old, need to reconnect with your insights. Please put out on social media your 2021 year-end retrospective. Oh, I see a lot of you cringing at the prospect of self-promotion. Here’s a bit of advice I wrote on SFWA’s blog as to how you might go about this without coming across as egotistical or grubbing for award nominations.

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