Discovery Writing

The usual question is plotter versus panster. Do you prepare a detailed outline and stick to it when writing a story, or do you just start writing and see where it goes? Like most authors, I’m somewhere in the middle. I usually will have the spark of inspiration, write a bit, then plot until the story makes sense. The rest is usually pantsing. When I get stuck, I try going back to the outline to dig in a little deeper.

The part I really love is when something needles its way into the story (for some reason, shoes come up a lot for me), and stabs itself into the plot. Then you write something you had no intention of writing or exploring and the whole piece takes flight. Who made those shoes after all? I didn’t think it was important, but apparently it is.


A-Querying, I Am

Some of my querying links.

Query Tracker: Database of agents with response times and filters. I keep a list of agents queried, along with responses. Small annual fee.

Absolute Write Forums / Share Your Work / Query Letter Hell: A writer forum with the chance to get feedback on your query letter from other writers. Put in your homework here and you’ll be able to write a passable query letter.

Twitter / #mswl fantasy: If you don’t know about #mswl, it’s short for Manuscript Wishlist, and agents and editors will put this on tweets to get author attention. If you’re querying a novel with those characteristics, they want to see it. Obviously, if you don’t write fantasy, use a different search phrase after #mswl.

Manuscript Wishlist: Likewise, this website catalogs agents and their specific requests (along with general areas of interest).



Simulation / Ants

If you’ve ever considered the possibility that this is all a giant simulation — that you are a program trying to discern some answer to the life’s ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything (42) — I present ants.

Pretty sure that ants are not real. We’re all not real, but ants, if you glance at a collection of them, are more a scattering than actually individual ants. If you glance back at them, they’ll have the same general characteristics (density, mobility, direction, etc.) but they won’t be in the same positions. In fact, if you consider the speed they’re moving, it’s unlikely these were the same ants. They would have had to speed up while you weren’t looking, then slow back down when you noticed them — which no ant would do.

It makes perfect sense if it was a simulation. The ants are there, yes, but why bother tracking them individually if none of the subjects of the simulation are tracking them. Just give them general characteristics. If someone starts tracking them, insert the general characteristics as specific until they are not needed. Save processor time for more useful things.

Anyway, my two cents.


The Year of COVID and Ants III

March 871, 2020

It’s better. It’s certainly better.

There’s more public events, more friend and family visits, more things approaching normalcy. I’ve rediscovered drive-in movie theaters, and Disney+ and MCU Phase Four are in full gear. The swimming pool is open.

There are still ants. Lots of ants. We should have bought stock in diatomaceous earth, but like the vaccine it helps keep the ants down. I’ve been under the house to seal gaps with expanding foam. We’ve drowned out whole nests with hose water. They keep coming. Like COVID, anything less than 100% lockdown leaves a window for the ants to thrive. At least they’re not evolving. : knocks wood :

Good news, the writing is back. I’m sixty thousand words into what should be a hundred-and-twenty thousand word novel.


The Ides of October

Is anyone else bothered that the Ides of a Month is on the 15th of some months and the 13th of other months? It’s based on an old Roman calendar where months either had 31 days (Ides on the the 15th) or 29 (Ides on the 13th). I guess it makes the number of days after the Ides consistent (except for February, but screw February). They also did not fix it when they switched to 31 and 30-day months.

Internal consistency is not always required for your fantasy world. (But maybe be prepared to explain why.)

Anyway, happy Ides of October.

get vaccinated

The Year of COVID and Ants II

Yeah, so writing during COVID, with two young boys in the house and an eternal ant infestation, has been . . . difficult. Was really looking to the vaccine making it go away, but between Delta and the idiots, it doesn’t look like that is happening. So we’re on Year Two of COVID and Ants.

Attending first in-person conference since my last entry shortly (half capacity, masked event), with little new material to bring. Wish me luck!


Southern California Writers’ Conference

So it’s February again and I’ve come back from my favorite conference with renewed vigor.

The Southern California Writers’ Conference in San Diego is a treat. It’s got a great community, great workshops, and a great format for writers. They have Read & Critiques throughout the day (and through the night) and I love their Advanced Submissions. Instead of a blank pitch session, you submit ten or fifteen pages to an author, editor, or agent and they share their thoughts on your work. Sometimes the agents request manuscripts, sometimes they just give advice. Either way, they read your work. I like that.

For writers working on their pitches and query letters, Jennifer Silva Redmond and Marla Miller put on a great Pitch Witch workshop.

Also, this conference gives giving me awards. And taking my picture.


“Political Correctness”

My writing group’s Facebook feed has blown up on two posts regarding the way writers deal with “political correctness.” The first post was an article about Amélie Wen Zhao’s BLOOD HEIR, which the author withdrew from publishing after several advanced reasons noted some racist tones. The second post was whether it was offensive to describe a character as having mocha skin.

Many people chimed in about the evils of political correctness and censorship, and that you should write whatever you wanted. “Political Correctness is the curse of the modern era.” One suggested that since “anything you write these days is going to offend someone, somewhere. This leaves you with two choices — don’t worry about offending the ‘perpetually offended,’ or quit writing.”

I think they are missing the point.

I feel one of the author’s job is to present truth. Not the whole truth, or the absolute truth, but distilled nuggets of truth.

It could be a memoir, a story about the boundless friendship a dog brings, or how two alien races can stop murdering each others’ planets and choose coexistence. Somewhere in the story you are writing is your little nugget of truth: the reason or the lesson the story tells that’s big enough or true enough that everyone should read it.

So you write your story with its truth, and you share it, and someone points out that one of your alien races bears an amazing resemblance to the indigenous people of New Guinea, but not in a good way. All the stereotypes are reinforced, and it turns out they’re the bad guys who really need to change and the other aliens, when viewed in that light, really do metaphorically represent the Portuguese and — even though you had no intention of doing so — it appears you’ve written a novel celebrating European colonialism and the exploitation of indigenous people.

Should you scrap your novel because it’s now a different beast? Should you ignore the criticism and publish anyway? Should you give up writing entirely, since there’s no way to please everyone?


One of the reasons we go to the critique groups is to make our writing better. We want to polish our works — we want that nugget of truth to shine. And the details that reminded people about the indigenous people of New Guinea are not the nuggets of truth. You pulled details out of your subconscious to make the aliens seem real. They were flavor to put your readers into a world. They’re not the nugget of truth, and they can be changed.

(From what I’ve been able to gather, this is the route Amélie Wen Zhao is taking, by making major revisions before publishing. But I’m not certain, don’t quote me on that.)

And if changing them helps you share your nugget of truth, why wouldn’t you do it? Why wouldn’t you describe someone as having “warm brown skin” when “skin the color of mocha” might offend some of your readers? Is the word “mocha” your nugget of truth?

If making a small change doesn’t affect the integrity of your work and will help people receive your message, you should consider it.

And if you’re writing something where you don’t know if it’s going to offend people as written, get some sensitivity readers. If you’re writing about a culture you’re not a part of, you should have someone from that culture read your work. Then listen to what they say.