Friday, December 16, 2011

Seeking Out Poetry

Poetry should be fun!

Poetry is amazing. As kids we love it openly, proven by the fact that many of the poets names we remember are the ones who wrote or are writing children's verse. Lewis Carroll, T.S. Eliot, Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein...  Most of us have even tried writing a little, at least in Junior High or High School. Sadly, as we grow up, many of us stop writing it and stop reading it. We just move on as if from a summer fling. 

But reading and writing poetry shouldn't be just an adolescent phase. We loved poetry as kids because poetry can be really great, playful and fun (Where the Sidewalk Ends) or full of adventure and even gore (The Iliad and the Odyssey). Everyone who loves to read should read poetry, not because it's good for you, but simply because it's enjoyable. Or it should be. 

That's where things get tricky. There's a lot of poetry out there. All the classics are easy to find or access, but what about joining in on the conversation that's happening today? Discovering contemporary poets means actively searching out poems. The good news is that there is a lot being published both in print and on the Internet (both written and performed), the bad news is that there is a lot being published. So, finding good, nurishing poetry means wading through a fair amount of mediocre verse, which raises a sticky little problem that, I think, discourages most people. You have to make an assessment about what you're reading.

Most readers feel pretty comfortable critically assessing a newspaper article, TV show or a novel but too many people have this idea that poems exist in some rarefied atmosphere of mysterious literary achievement. There is a lot you can learn about poetic forms, meter, rhyme and all the rest, but the fact is a poem should touch you emotionally without any advanced training. You don't have to know a thing about imbic pentameter to enjoy a sonnet by Shakespeare. Seek out poems, read them, come back to the ones you like and leave the others behind.

Writers should read poetry for all the reasons stated above and, I submit, we writers should be writing poetry too. Poets strive to express a new and surprising way of looking at things by manipulating language, metaphor and imagery in novel ways to create meaning that is transformative. It's the same thing that a great short story or novel should accomplish: something that is more than the sum of its parts. If a novel is a pint of beer, and a short story a shot of whiskey, then a poem should hit you like a speedball.
"That is what poetry really is. It is the height and quintessence of emotion, of every sort of emotion. But it is always somebody feeling something at white heat, and it is as vital as the description of a battle would be, told by a soldier who had been in it."
~Amy Lowell
If you're a writer, I challenge you to make a special effort to connect with poetry both by reading it and by writing it again. We are hesitant to return to writing poetry - maybe because many of us wrote some perfectly gawdawful stuff back in the day. Because poetry deals in deeply felt emotions and because as teenagers we are grappling with so many new, intense emotions that looking back can be a little harrowing. Consider it an exercise in love and acceptance. If you look back, love your 13-year-old self.

In the spirit of early New Year's resolutions I will be writing one poem a week next year. This is what I think I can manage while keeping up my short story goals (more on that in a later post). Join me wont you? Write a poem or two this year, you don't have to show it to a soul.

To get started check out The Poetry Foundation's excellent site. They also have a great app.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Uses of Failure

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. 
-Thomas Edison
We've all heard it before: failure is the path to success! Or something like it, and it's supposed to make you feel, what? Better? Does it? And what does that really mean?

Part of the problem is that the word failure covers a lot of ground. Today, it even passes for entertainment. Laugh at people's failures, post them on your Facebook page, share them with your friends... One thing the Fail Blog makes clear is that there are a million ways to fail,
and a myriad of ways to succeed.

To put it in the language of art, you fail in pursuit of a perfection that you will never attain. Oh noble failure. Honestly, this does not do it for me as a writer.

I think it's better to use failure the way an inventor or a scientist does. When an experiment fails you examine your results and adjust your methods and run it again. Keep what works and throw out what doesn't. Learn, grow, innovate, refine. Rinse & repeat.

The arrows on these signs should be pointing in the SAME direction.
Part of what inspired this post is Neal Stephenson's excellent essay Innovation Starvation, which is a big picture look at what I would call a collective failure of nerve. 
Innovation can’t happen without accepting the risk that it might fail. The vast and radical innovations of the mid-20th century took place in a world that, in retrospect, looks insanely dangerous and unstable. Possible outcomes that the modern mind identifies as serious risks might not have been taken seriously—supposing they were noticed at all—by people habituated to the Depression, the World Wars, and the Cold War, in times when seat belts, antibiotics, and many vaccines did not exist.
Creating, honestly creating, involves both mastering craft and breaking new ground. The world you inhabit while you are creating should feel just as dangerous and unstable as the world that gave birth to the space race and all the fabulous innovation that it brought to our world. You just have to keep trying, failing, trying to get better, to keep putting yourself out there. In the words of Samuel Beckett -
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

Friday, November 25, 2011

To blog or not to blog, that is the question:

Whether 'tis a nobler use of my time to update
The web or Facebook with my daily musings,
Or take aim against a sea of distractions,
And by opposing them: to sit, to delay
No more; and write a story to "The End."
An hour's denial of the thousand tasks
That each day is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To click to view,
To post perchance to comment; Ay, there's the rub,
For in the blogoshpere, what time may slip,
While we scroll through pages of witty opinion,
Must give us pause. Is it my online presence
That makes a Calamity of my deadlines?
No! I will bear the Whips and Scorns of lost time
To grunt and sweat under a weary pen, toward
My undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
I as traveler bear back stories and posts.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A New Story Available

My story Flotsam is up at FlagShip issue 6, which is a nifty little eZine that is the Science Fiction/Fantasy arm of Flying Island Press with a mission to
"bring the hottest science fiction and fantasy they can find to the earbuds and e-readers of their audience."
 I really enjoyed writing Flotsam. I set out to tell a simple story in the style of Golden Age science fiction. I felt that the wide-eyed wonder of that style fit nicely with the voice of the young protagonist.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Heinlein’s Rule No. 5: You Will Submit Again!

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."  --Samuel Johnson (1709 -1784) 
Sounds like Johnson and Heinlein are cut from the same cloth.

While this doesn’t exactly close the circle, this final step will keep you focused on the fact that this whole writing business is a process, not a one-off proposition. Still, it’s difficult to master the yin and yang of creativity and business. The work of creation, crafting and art is its own reward. When I manage to pull some ideas together, to bring a character to life, to stitch together several disparate elements into a coherent tale, to entertain or move some reader out there, well, the value of that is incalculable.

Yet, our creativity can be both priceless and worth something here in this world. I believe that we all express ourselves creatively every day in a myriad of ways, sometimes its not so apparent when those expressions don't fall into a traditional category of arts and/or crafts. Maybe its how you train your dog, or your way with dinner conversation but when you choose writing (or painting or acting) as your life’s work then you should expect compensation. And by “expect” I don’t mean stand around waiting for pennies to rain down from above, I mean “expect” as in you should work toward that goal.

That said, I think the line of reasoning really speaks to me is from Steven Pressfield’s excellent book The War of Art
"Playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that shows up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day."
This rule is the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box. Your work is your work, whether you build it with your hands on an assembly line or it comes from your head and heart as a story. If you’re going to be a productive artist you must show up to work, do the work, and when it’s finished put it on market. More concisely:

"Inspiration is for amateurs" --chuck close

So, those are the Rules. Thinking about them, talking about them, blogging about them, it’s all good, but the most important thing to do is follow them. While one story is in the hopper at a publication, draft the next one. It wont take long before you are sending stories out to editors regularly. In no time it will be routine. You’re a writer, this is what you do: you write, you finish what you write, you don’t spin your wheels in revision, you send your work out, and send it out again until it sells.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Call Me Ishmael: First Lines the less classic edition

I came across this list of "The 100 Best First Lines of Novels" and felt more than a little meh about it. I’m not saying they aren’t great, I mean they are classics for a reason, but I of course noticed the usual lack of any books in any genre with the exception of, “It was a pleasure to burn.” I agree Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a classic, it is also usually the only science fiction book allowed to mingle with the big boys of high literature. The above list also demonstrates the usual paucity writers from other cultures, of other colors, or women.

The thing that bothers me about this list, about these sorts of lists in general, is that they are more about name recognition than about the substance of the list. Every time you hit a line in this list that rings a bell you get that warm, fuzzy feeling that says: I remember that Lit class that I took in the halcyon days of my misguided youth before I switched to a business major. And after simply perusing the list you can feel all cultured all over again.

Now I’m not saying you’re not cultured, I’m sure you are. And I’m really not trying to be all hoity toity English major here, maybe it’s just Internet fatigue of seeing list after list that’s all really the same list. And that’s I think where the first liner list rubs me a little bit the wrong way. A great first line is a thing unto itself and, I think, deserves a little more latitude that the usual suspects allow.

Take, “Call me Ishmael,” for example. It’s good hook. Declarative. Establishes the narrator in the first sentence, well names him anyway. It gets the job done, I’ll call you Ishmael and I’ll read the next sentence. The thing is, taken on it’s own, I just don’t think it’s all that. That brief first line is informed and enlarged by the magnificent blunderbuss of a novel that follows it. And here's the important part, whether you’ve read it or not, everyone knows Moby Dick is a huge densely-written true blue American Classic, and that lends Melville’s first line a little extra stardust.

We love to read because of the richness, the diversity, and the discovery that the written word offers us and these lists of established classics, by reiterating the familiar, deny us everything else that is out there.

So, after reading said list, I was inspired to go no further than my own bookshelf to start a list of great first lines, as opposed first lines from great books (classics aren’t necessarily excluded, it’s just that their first lines had to really move me on their own.) There is a lot of science fiction and some fantasy, there are just as many women writers as men, and I included a few memoirs and non fiction first lines as well.  The list is given in absolutely no order whatsoever.

I hope you like it. Send me your favorite first lines from -- well -- from anything. 

  1. “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.” Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelly
  2. “Of all the many things that this life has stolen from me, the one which bothers me most is that I cannot remember burying my father.” The Skysailor’s Tale by Michael Swanwick in The Dog Said Bow-Wow
  3. “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had just two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  4. “Not everybody knows how I killed old Philip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow on the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar.” The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
  5. “There is a photo on my wall of a woman I’ve never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape.” The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  6. “On a certain day in June, 19--, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited.” Little Big by John Crowley
  7. “Snowman wakes before dawn.” Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  8. “The show still looks exactly like when you were sick with a really high fever and you stayed home to watch TV all day.” Loser by Chuck Palahniuk in Stories
  9. “I am not as I once was.” The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
  10. “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.” The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  11. “My sharpest memory is of a single instant in the dark.” The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
  12. “When life is imperiled or a dire situation is at hand, safe alternatives may not exist.” The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht
  13. “I was sitting before my third or fourth Jellybean -- which is anisette, grain alcohol, a lit match, and a small, wet explosion in the brain.” Scales by Louise Erdrich in Points of View
  14. “Of all the sacred cows allowed to roam unimpeded in our culture, few are as revered as literacy.” The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain
  15. “My mother’s hand was open like a bisque cup, all porcelain, and Christ Jesus’ fingers were tentacles entangled around her palm.” Daughter of the Queen of Sheba by Jacki Lyden
  16. “The angel gleamed in the light of Hethor’s reading candle bright as any brasswork automaton.” Mainspring by Jay Lake
  17. “Marlene’s mother cleaned constantly, bleary-eyed in multiple hairnets, on her vigilant search for the impure; as she walked she so often rolled an antiquated upright vacuum alongside her that it grew to seem like an exterior organ, an intravenous device that performed dialysis or another lifesaving function.” The Brother and the Bird by Alissa Nutting in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me
  18. “What should we have for dinner?” The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  19. “Midwinter - invincible, immaculate.” The Snow Child by Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber
  20. “They had a small, loud-playing band, and as we moved through the trees, I could hear the notes of the horns bursting like bright metallic bubbles against the sky.” A Coupla Scalped Indians by Ralph Ellison in Points of View
  21. “Once prized, now she languishes in the drawer, one of many contained within a cedar chest.” Green Air by Rikki Ducornet in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me
  22. “The totality of life, known as the biosphere to scientists and creation to theologians, is a membrane of organisms wrapped around Earth so thin it cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered.” The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson
  23. “I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage.” The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (I couldn’t pick just one.)
  24. “This book builds on two principles: it’s good to write clearly, and anyone can.” Style Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams
  25. “With despair -- cold, sharp despair -- buried deep in her heart like a wicked knife, Miss Meadows, in cap and gown and carrying a little baton, trod the cold corridors that led to the music hall.” in The Music Teacher by Katherine Mansfield in Stories
  26. “The first great act of love I ever witnessed was Split Lip bathing his handicapped daughter.” from Isabelle by George Saunders in Civilwarland in Bad Decline
  27. “I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.” I stand her ironing by Tillie Olsen in Points of View
  28. “Before the seas and lands had been created, / before the sky that covers everything, / Nature displayed a single aspect only/throughout the cosmos: Chaos was its name, / a shapeless, unwrought mass of inert bulk / and nothing more, with the discordant seeds / of disconnected elements all heaped/together in anarchic disarray.”  The Metamorphoses by Ovid Translated by Charles Martin
  29. “Lorimer gazes around the big crowded cabin, trying to listen to the voices, trying also to ignore the twitch in his insides that means he is about to remember something bad.” Houston Houston, do you read? by James Tiptree, Jr. in Her Smoke Rose up Forever
  30. “In the pages that follow I shall bring forward proof that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that, if that procedure is employed, every dream reveals itself as a psychical structure which has meaning and which can be inserted at an assignable point in the mental activities of waking life.” The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
  31. “Going to Ford’s Theatre to watch the play is like going to Hooters for the food.” Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
  32. (“Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond Holland and into the hills, I have come to) wound the autumnal city.” Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  33. “To the rocket scientist, you are a problem.” Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  34. “My three a.m. nightmare dispersed like a disappointed audience as I tried to find the Coke machine.” What You Do Not Know You Want by David Mitchell in McSweeny’s Astounding Tales
  35. “Fox is a television character, and she isn’t dead yet.” in Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  36. “Omon is not a particularly common name, and perhaps not the best there is.” Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin
  37. “What David always hated most about the Summer family dinners was the way everyone talked about him as if he were not there.” Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
  38. “The day war was declared, a rain of telephones fell clattering to the cobblestones from the skies above Novy Petrograd.” Singularity Sky by Charles Stross
  39. “The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock.” Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  40. “I know you think you saw him first, but I’m pretty sure it was me -- he was over there by the underpass, feeling his way along the graffiti-covered wall, and I said, “Look, there’s something you don’t see every day.” Broken Toys by Shaun Tan in Tales From Outer Suburbia
  41. “Summertime at dusk we’d gather on the back porch, tired and sticky from another day of fierce encoded quarrels, nursing our mosquito bites and frail dignities, sisters in name only.” Water Names by Lan Samantha Chang in New Sudden Fiction
  42. “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”” Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
  43. “My last night of childhood began with a visit home.” Bloodchild by Octavia Butler
  44. “The Ice falls, swept by time and what first impulse I do not know, only that now it falls, free in its falling, the drift of it I envy." Aurora by Terrance Holt from In the Valley of the Kings
  45. "All week end the two girls were calling each other Temple One and Temple Two, shaking with laughter and getting so red and hot that they were positively ugly, particularly Joanne who had spots on her face anyway.” A Temple of the Holy Ghost by Flannery O’Connor
  46. “I am made out of water.” The Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Heinlein's Rule No. 4 - You Will Submit

From the original edition of
Have Spacesuit Will Travel

By now you can see where Heinlein’s going with these rules. This rule gets down to the question of what are you writing for, and this is a question worth considering. Not everyone is writing for publication, and it’s important to know what kind of writer you are. I think too often people feel that there is only one right answer to that question. As if writing for yourself somehow doesn’t count.  

I have always written and for many years my writing was only for myself, I consider it a form of meditation. This may possibly be because I am a terrible meditator, perhaps it was my Judeo -Christian Western-Culture upbrining, you know, “Idle hands do the devil’s work.” The best way for me to slip into an altered state, and possibly gain some enlightenment, is when move my pen across the page. This page is a place where I can be alone, to work out whatever I need to work out that day. This writing is rewarding and fullfilling and completely legitimate. Publication doesn’t make you a writer, writing makes you a writer.  

I still sit down and freewrite for 10 to 15 mintues every day. Nowdays, many of these sessions are devoted to character and story problems but if there is something that is bothering me or a tough decision on the horizon I’ll devote as many freewriting sessions to working that problem as necessary. (For those who want to know the details: it all goes into one journal, which I index, so that I can find particular story notes and becuase old librarian habits die hard.)

But I digress. You have decided that you want to write and to be published -- which is what Heinlein is talking about after all -- then you must submit.

Writing with this goal is different from writing to simply complete a story or writing exercises to improve your craft. I’ve written to all these goals and more, but making up my mind that I am going to send this story out to paying markets as soon as it’s finished changes everything, right from word one. I’m not sure if I can even articulate how deeply it effects my writing but I can feel it in my bones when I work. When I’m working on a story for publication, I’m writing for someone else and that makes my story a kind of gift. Of course, that’s only if it’s good. It has to be a story that is worth that stranger’s precious time because time wasted is kind of the opposite of a gift.

This is what keeps me honest, what challenges me to bring all my skills to bear in the service of the tale I’m telling, and what inspires me to try new techniques for delivering exposition or creating a character. Developing, writing, and sending a story out is all one long exercise in letting it go, and knowing that my story is going to be out there in the world without me around to explain or further clarify an event or a character’s intention makes me understand the whole story-writing process better.

Thanks to the electronic age there are many, many venues to submit to. So, write, finish your stories, polish them up, and send them out there.

Photo by Steve Johnson, Creative Commons

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Rules Work!

A mere six months after committing to follow Heinlein’s Rules I have my first publication! You can read “Fairview 619” at it’s current home at Aurora Wolf. A second story has been accepted by Flagship, the science fiction/fantasy arm of Flying Island Press. I’ll post a link to that one when it’s available. I have two more stories in revision and two more in my head ready for drafting. The happy news meshes perfectly with my next blog post (look for it on Thursday), which will be titled “You Must Submit,” aka Heinlein’s rule number 4. Until then, I hope you enjoy my story. I would love to hear your comments either here or on Aurora Wolf’s site.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Heinlein’s Rule No. 3 You Must Refrain from Revising Except to Editorial Order

I’d like to think that when Heinlein says “refrain from revising,” he’s not saying “refrain from ALL revising.” Either way, I think this is where I part ways, just a little, from his writing advice.

Again, I see where he’s coming from. Heinlein says, “You must write,” not “you must write the same thing over and over.” How I see this rule is his way of stressing that you must keep moving forward through story after story until thinking of new stories, framing them, and telling them, becomes second nature.

There is another aspect to his statement that rings true for me and it was something I learned when I was an art student. My mom, an artist and calligrapher and my first and best instructor, told me: “The most important thing to know, when you’re working on a piece, is when to lay the brush down and walk away from it.”

It’s so easy to get sucked into the world of whatever it is that you are working on, to get fussy and overwork it. When you’re working in pencil, charcoal or paint crossing that line can happen in an instant and it’s usually immediately obvious. The piece is ruined, and you get to throw it away and start over.

This can be a little more difficult to recognize when writing, especially on a computer where there is no paper to literally wear a hole in. Anyone who’s spent any time writing knows what I’m talking about here. I’ve personally worried more than one piece of writing down to a shiny and useless nubbin.

A short story, a chapter or even a scene; it’s easy to get stuck in a kind of holding pattern endlessly circling over it, making and unmaking little changes. It is such an inviting trap to fall into especially when the way forward is unclear. You can tell yourself that you are working on your story, when really you’re not.

That said, I believe revision is absolutely necessary. To me, it’s is such an essential part of the evolution of any story that I’m writing that it is difficult for me to identify specific rounds of revisions. The key, for me, is to stay focused on moving forward. I revise every day but set some limits. For example, I only allow myself to revise the previous day’s work before breaking new ground. No starting every day by polishing that the first scene one more time.

Some have said that writing is like driving at night. Your headlights can only show you a little piece of the road ahead but if you trust the road and your map, you’ll eventually arrive at your destination. Once there, you can look back over the ground you’ve covered and everything is much clearer. The places you need to rewrite, the set-ups you need to put in place or tweak, the character adjustments.

So, rewrite, just keep driving.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Heinlein's Rule No. 2 - Finishing What You Start

While this piece of advice turns up in most how to write books, I don’t think it gets nearly enough emphasis. I have certainly managed to ignore this idea for years. Not this year. And I’m here to tell you following this one piece of advice has made the biggest difference in my writing to date. Simply committing to each story that I start has changed my whole approach.

I think about my ideas differently now, I gather them in my daily journal the same as I always have, but choosing which ones to develop, and which ones to actually launch into a story is now more of a process.

I don’t think it matters how you decide to see your idea through to the end, if you write from an outline (I do), or by the seat of your pants it’s the commitment to finish that will teach you more about writing than any class.

After the heady bon voyage and the thrilling embarkation I usually sail straight into the doldrums of the middle of the story. Navagational equiment will tell me my destination, but with no wind, I'll have to row. And it’s sweaty, hateful work.

Sometimes when I’m adrift in the open ocean I look back across what I’ve written so far and lose heart. I see that the story is not working, that something is broken. In the past this was often the point where I would abandon ship for another enticing idea and begin another story.

But not this year. I’ve come to realize that it’s my duty to save this story or go down with it. What I’ve found is that no book, class, or seminar had taught me how to manage all the elements that go into creating a ripping good yarn. The only way to really learn is to, you know, get in there an manage the elements.

There is also a reward for committing to the characters. Because I’ve made a promise to them, they are free to become more real and to contribute their own individuality to the story. It becomes a partnership, and suddenly the work is fulfilling enough to be the engine that I need to reach my destination.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Heinlein's Rule No. 1 - You Must Write

You must write. Contrary to the evidence of this blog I have been writing. Or perhaps the lack of entries is proof that I’m writing. So far this year I have several stories in various stages of drafting and revision. I have written more - and more regularly - than I have for years. I just haven’t quite figured out how to plug writing this blog into my process.

You must write. We all know it. This advice is so elemental and we hear it all the time. There are entire writing books devoted to expanding on that one brief imperative sentence. But I like how Heinlein puts it. Rule number one. Three words. Period, end of conversation.

You must write. And I’m here to tell you that it’s really not that hard to write - to write just a little - everyday. Or is it? Apparently it is. Why else would we keep repeating that mantra? Personally, there have been many, many days gone by where I have not written a word. Day’s I’ve spent thinking about writing without ever, actually sitting my ass down to write. All I can do is put those days behind me. Like Tolstoy’s families, the happy families are all alike. Every day that I manage to write is a good day because no matter what else happens that day at least I got my pages done. But every day I manage to avoid writing is unhappy in its own way.

You must write. As I get older I’ve come to know myself better, and by this I specifically mean I’ve come to know just how subversive and sneaky that little do-it-later troll is. He doesn’t live under a bridge, but in my brain. I have veered off the path too many times to count. I used to care about the reasons behind my habits of procrastination and avoidance but I have to tell you I don’t any more. I’ve discovered that I don’t need to know how quicksand works to recognize it, and when I come upon it all I need to do is sidestep it. And by “sidestep” I mean sit my ass down and pick up my pen.

You must write. Because writing isn’t the result, it’s the cure.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Heinlein's Rules 2011

I admit it I love making New Year's resolutions. I like the feel of taking on a challenge and renewing my resolve to move toward a goal. I know, I know, it's already the 13th but, personally, I feel the whole month of January is fair game.

Last fall I came across Robert A. Heinlein's rules for writing, which appeared in his 1947 essay "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction." They go like this:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Pretty basic stuff, nothing groundbreaking here, it's really more of a kick in the pants. But it made me pause and reevaluate my habits. While I've conquered one, and have made serious inroads into two, my record is pretty spotty on three through five so I have resolved to follow all five this year.

Okay, I have issues with three, which I will address in a separate post. In the mean time you can check out Robert J. Sawyer's opinion on number three in his excellent post on Heinlein's Rules at

I am excited to put Heinlein's advice to the test and see just where I land at the end of 2011.

There is another great site this year called Write 1 Sub 1 that uses Ray Bradbury for inspiration (be sure to check out the adorable interview with Bradbury on their site).

So, I'll be writing every day, I'll be finishing what I write, I will be revising. I'll be submitting new stories and resubmitting any rejected stories as those rejections come in. (I will not rewrite to resubmit except to editorial order after acceptance - that's the way that I can honor that rule).

So, here goes.