Good Reasons Not to be Writing: Writing is Hard! Relax first. You're not as good as Tolkien, and he spent 20 years worldbuilding. Don't forget cat vacuuming! Clean your keyboard. If you start, be willing to throw it away after writing a page of crap, and write it again. Many times. Give yourself a reward for rewriting that page! Consider taking a Walden Pond break. Or hide everything you write in a drawer (aka The Emily Dickinson Ploy). Set up a pulley and bucket! Or try the George RR Martin approach to fame, don't give the fans what they want, postpone! The thesaurus, notecards, and cats can help you explore the many arrangements of your first page. Try to catch sydlexia. Grow a beard! Research valid character voice by listening to all the audible.com samples of books read by famous actors. Don't forget to organize the results. Then choose which actors should play the characters in the book you aren't writing. Keep in touch with pop culture -- watch plenty of TV, keep up with the memes, definitely track YouTube. Consider hosting YouTube parties! Write your own rejection letters, give your internal editor some exercise. Collect Magic cards and other rewards to motivate yourself. Sort your books (and cards) by color. Invent some new letters, or a whole new alphabet. Try writing in second person omnipotent. Practice bomb threats.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Season Seven, Episode 14, Writing Excuses.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Brandon] We're going to tell you why you shouldn't be writing. Dan...
[Howard] It's hard.
[Brandon] What's that? It's hard? Yeah, it's hard.
[Howard] Writing's really hard. You shouldn't do hard things.
[Dan] Yeah. It is better to do it later, after you've had some time to relax. Blow off some steam.
[Brandon] You know, what I think helps with a writer who wants to write epic fantasy, really? I really think... You know Tolkien took 20 years to world build. You're not as good as Tolkien. Let's be up front with that. So I think maybe 40 years is about as much time as it...
[Dan] 40 years if you're exactly half as good as Tolkien. Which is still a little arrogant of you, frankly.
[Mary] You are going to need to fill that time with things. So there's the world building, but you also need to take some time, some cognitive time, to really process what you're going to do with the world building. I find one of the best ways to do that is by vacuuming my cat.
[Brandon] Oh, yeah. Yeah. Cat vacuuming has helped me numerous times.
[Mary] It deals with the shedding, among other things. That gets in the keyboard and clogs it. That becomes problematic.
[Howard] Oh, my. Speaking of keyboards. I was sitting down to write the other day, and I looked at my keyboard and I couldn't help but notice the finger staining. So I got out the Q-tip and the alcohol, and started cleaning the keyboard. Then I realized that I could actually take a screwdriver and pop the keys off. Horror of horrors, the years and years of tiny flecks of me inside that keyboard! I had to spend a good day and a half unable to get any writing done because that keyboard had to be cleaned. It was too filthy to be used.
[Brandon] Well, you know, they could have your DNA. They could get your DNA from that.
[Howard] They could. And I...
[Brandon] They could use that to write your story. Take it from you.
[Howard] I had forgotten that that technology existed.
[Howard] Thank you for reminding me of these horrors.
[Dan] For all you know, there are clones of you out there somewhere writing somebody else's webcomic.
[Mary] Hopefully, they are smarter than that.
[Dan] Well I didn't say writing a very good webcomic.
[Mary] No, I meant hopefully they have not gone to such a foolish task as actually sitting down to write something.
[Dan] Well, I hope not. Because their keyboard's probably just as gross as Howard's.
[Brandon] And they can't start for 40 years anyway.
[Mary] Right. Absolutely.
[Brandon] Although I will give them the caveat, you can go... Go ahead and try... And start, as long as you're willing to throw it away after one page. Because it's going to be crap. So you might as well write that one page again.
[Dan] As many times as possible.
[Howard] Some people talk about the trophies you get for submitting a manuscript. I say that you're working too hard if you're only collecting a trophy when you get a rejection letter. I say that every rewrite of page one should be posted to your wall, and there's a trophy right there. Congratulations. You accomplished something.
[Dan] You can actually earn achievements in real life. If you get 50 rewritten first pages that don't go anywhere, you know, the little thing will ding.
[Howard] It's the 50 page-one-chievo. I've seen that.
[Dan] Yeah. It's a pretty good one. Now, Brandon mentioned the 40 years if you're trying to emulate Tolkien. There's a lot of other authors that you can try to write like.
[Brandon] Oh, yes. Great authors.
[Mary] Good point, good point.
[Dan] The Walden Pond scenario, where you just kind of go out into the middle of nowhere and do nothing forever and ignore your life and family. That's an important one. Make sure you take a long time doing it, because otherwise no one will ever remember you as a brilliant misanthropist.
[Mary] They can't take you seriously. The other option is to take what you have written and put it in a drawer, so that no one ever sees it. Emily Dickinson did this to great effect.
[Brandon] And she's famous.
[Mary] She's completely famous.
[Dan] Well, one of the other things that Emily Dickinson did was, she was actually terrified of going outside and talking to people, and she had like a lever system worked out where she would send money down in a bucket and people would send food up. Do you have one of those?
[Mary] If you don't, you need to start building it now.
[Dan] Seriously. That's...
[Mary] It's... We're going to have some plans for that in the liner notes.
[Howard] You might think... You might think that here in the age of the electronic shopping mall, that you could accomplish the same sort of thing just with an Internet connection, but no...
[Mary] Oh, no, no, no.
[Howard] No, no. You still need to answer the door for UPS! What do you do if they leave a note? That note on... That's one of the worst things that can happen to me.
[Dan] Well. Frankly, if you're terrified of someone stealing your DNA from keyboard goobies, imagine you buying something online with a credit card. It's very difficult to steal someone's identity via pulley and bucket.
[Howard] The FedEx man... Have you seen his little signature capture machine?
[Brandon] I think he's trying to steal your story. Honestly.
[Mary] I think it's your soul, really.
[Brandon] He's going to take it. Yeah. But you know what other authors to emulate... One thing that I think we can learn from George RR Martin is that you become famous by actually not giving your fans what they want. You take a lot of time. I think you writers...
[Howard] Or anything!
[Brandon] Yeah. You're not as good as George RR Martin, so you really need to practice this.
[Howard] You need to give them less.
[Brandon] You need to give them less, and you need to... What you need to do is maybe write a paragraph, and then not give the second paragraph for about a year.
[Mary] Now, I have a technique for dealing with this, because one of the things... The reason that of coarse you are not as good as these other people is that you are putting the words in the wrong order on the page. So what you need to do is actually sit down and take the thesaurus...
[Mary] And swap words out one at a time to make sure that you've got them in the right order.
[Brandon] It'll make them more original.
[Mary] Yes, exactly. Then the other thing that I find very effective is to write each word on my first page on individual note card...
[Mary] And then move the note cards around to try out different orders for the sentences.
[Brandon] That's great.
[Mary] This is where the cats come in very handy, because they can introduce a random element that no one will get.
[Howard] I wanted...
[Dan] It sounds like it would add a nice visual element to your writing.
[Brandon] Yeah. Spontaneity. Spontaneity.
[Mary] It really does. Especially when they sit on a card, and it just eliminates the word completely.
[Howard] I wanted to be careful dealing with this, because mental illness is such a sensitive subject. But many writers suffer from mental illnesses, and when you're talking about this reordering of words... It's a little-known fact that you can catch dyslexia from drinking glasses. So you need to find as many dyslexic friends as possible, and go out drinking with them. I mean, if you can get them to kiss you, that's perfect, but catch dyslexia.
[Mary] I will say that Blake Charlton, who's a very successful, highly prominent dyslexic writer... He has a wonderful book that deals with this... Science fiction... Is really hot.
[Dan] Is he likely to kiss you? Is he in a steady relationship that you're aware?
[Mary] This is the tricky thing. He doesn't go to a lot of cons, and he is in a steady relationship, but in the interest of science... He is a doctor.
[Dan] Oh. Well.
[Mary] Doctor Charlton.
[Brandon] I think stalking him might get you famous, and it could get you published.
[Howard] So he might offer you a swap?
[Dan] We'll put his contact information in the liner notes.
[Brandon] Now, I've got another... I've got something really kind of sensitive to talk about here. Writers talk to us a lot about how they're just not getting things done and what not. I think if I'm really going to help you be a better writer, I've really got to ask you, "How is your beard?"
[Mary] This is my problem.
[Brandon] Yeah. George RR Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, these guys, their beards really are... I mean, without that beard, you just can't write.
[Mary] This is a...
[Howard] As a successful web cartoonist, I have a reasonable beard. But you look at some of the web cartooning greats, like for instance, Randy Milholland? Randy Milholland's beard could knife fight Patrick Rothfuss's beard and maybe take it two falls out of three.
[Mary] If you look at the list of grandmasters for SFWA over the past 47 years...
[Brandon] Yeah. Beards. Lots of beards.
[Mary] Lots of beards. It's very, very rare... Very difficult without a beard to get on that.
[Brandon] Yeah. I think that might be why there are fewer women grandmasters, huh. This is really unfair.
[Howard] This is why the glass ceiling in science fiction exists. It's actually a glass shaving mirror.
[Brandon] It's really, really unfair. We should do a whole podcast talking about this.
[Mary] Occam's razor.
[Dan] We'll have to can of worms the women don't have beards problem.
[Brandon] Yeah, the sexism of women not being allowed beards is just rampant in the science fiction community.
[Dan] That is why, however, bearded women from carnivals tend to be so successful in the short story market.
[Choking sounds, perhaps suppressed laughter]
[Dan] So one of the other things...
[Brandon] I think we need to stop for our book of the week.
[Dan] Oh. Very good point.
[Dan] Our book of the week this week...
[Dan] Is. Mary, do you have this one for us?
[Mary] Yes. This is a book I really want to recommend to all beginning writers. It's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies. This is narrated by Simon Slater, who has a wonderful speaking voice. It's really useful, not only in understanding yourself and your characters, but how you relate to your cats, which is really key for moving forward as a writer.
[Brandon] Yes. As we've established.
[Mary] So, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies is available in audio at audible.com.
[Howard] Go out to audiblepodcast.com/excuse. You can kick off a 14 day free trial membership. You do, and I'm reluctant to say this, you do have to give them a credit card number as a way to kick off this free trial. The credit card won't be charged.
[Mary] But no one will deliver. No one will deliver anything to you.
[Howard] Exactly. It's electronically delivered, so it's safe.
[Brandon] Yeah. Maybe... You know? Do we have anybody's credit card we could just give in the liner notes that they could use?
[Dan] I think we have Jordo's.
[Brandon] Yeah. Okay.
[Dan] Producer Jordo. You can just buy it off him. Now one nice thing about audible, I want to make sure to mention this, is that they have an enormous catalog. You can get any one of those for free. But more importantly, you could spend hours and hours looking through it. Which could give you a lot of really valuable research for the novel that you're not writing.
[Howard] Listening to audio samples from the narrators. I can think of no better way to research valid character voice than to spend a couple hundred hours listening to snippets of other people's books as read by famous actors.
[Mary] Once you've done that, the next step... And this is key, this is something a lot of people miss... Is they don't put them in an order. So you do need to prioritize...
[Howard] There are people who listen to these, just in random...
[Mary] Well, sampling them randomly, that's okay. We can accept that.
[Howard] No, but we have to file them afterwards.
[Mary] Right. Absolutely. People will skip that step. It is... It's key to being able to understand what your own personal tastes are.
[Brandon] Yeah. Yeah.
[Dan] One of the things that we've talked about in the past is casting your books. Deciding kind of which actors would play which character. Audible's great for that because you can cast the readers for the different characters.
[Brandon] Yes, you could!
[Dan] Some of the more famous readers that do a lot of this stuff... Bronson Pinchot that does Larry Correia's books...
[Brandon] I really think to really get good on this, to really know what you're doing, you're probably going to have to watch all the seasons' Perfect Strangers.
[Dan] Honestly, yes.
[Brandon] I mean, you're going to have an audio book someday and it might be read by him.
[Dan] And all the Beverly Hills cop movies.
[Brandon] Yes. Because if you don't, you're really not doing your research.
[Howard] Bear in mind. Bear in mind, that reading... The act of reading an audio book is something that voice actors are particularly brilliant at. If you really want to experience voice acting at its finest over a long period of time, you need to be watching all 26 seasons of The Simpsons.
[Brandon] Oh, yeah. Okay. Good point.
[Mary] Actually, that brings up another point, which is pop-culture. It's really important to stay in touch with pop-culture. So that means you need to be watching television, staying on top of the Internet memes...
[Brandon] You need a TiVo, because you're going to miss some shows.
[Mary] Yes. And YouTube. Absolutely make sure that you have a YouTube.
[Howard] But don't not watch the commercials.
[Mary] Right. The commercials...
[Brandon] Yeah. Well, no. The thing about YouTube though... You really should have parties with like 10 of your friends where each of you come and show each other YouTube videos...
[Brandon] Make sure you come with a list of about 40.
[Mary] Have you seen the one with the cat that gets into the basket? Oh, my goodness. I love that one.
[Brandon] Oh, boy. There's one with this monkey riding on a pig...
[Howard] Oh, the cat with the box. I love the cat with the box.
[Mary] Oh, the cat in the box. He's got a book now. See.
[Dan] Oh, man. The baby monkey backwards on the pig? That's one of my very favorites.
[Howard] Baby monkey. [Melodic]
[Dan] Baby monkey. [Melodic]
[Brandon] Very inspiring. To help you not actually write the book as you're waiting your 40 years, I find.
[Mary] Well, this is all material that you will use when those 40 years are up.
[Brandon] Yeah, they will.
[Dan] Little known fact. This is actually why it took Tolkein so long is because he had to watch all the bad lipreading videos on YouTube first.
[Mary] And he had to wait for YouTube to be invented...
[Dan] I know.
[Mary] Which involved time travel for him so that was really complicated.
[Brandon] Now there's a lot of talk...
[Howard] Where do you think we got the Uruk-hai? Baby monkey riding backwards on a pig.
[Brandon] There's been a lot of talk about editors...
[Dan] Little known fact that a warg is a capybara.
[Brandon] And e-book publishing and things like this. I really do think that in this new era, we're not going to need editors anymore, particularly to collect those rejection letters. I think you need to practice writing rejection letters of your own fiction, because you obviously... All the great writers have a stack. So I think you need to write a page, and then write yourself 50 rejection letters for that page...
[Brandon] And then rewrite that page and give yourself 50 more.
[Dan] Well, and 50 rejection letters each in a different voice from a different imaginary editor that you've created.
[Brandon] I mean, why do we need editors? We can reject our own fiction, can't we?
[Dan] Exactly. That's what internal editors are for.
[Mary] Yeah, but you can also... So true. But you can also... You can submit to the same editor multiple times, so the other thing you can do, is once you've got the perfect rejection letter, and remember that you're going to go through the steps with the note cards first, is you can take that down to a copy shop and run off multiple copies of it. Then take it home and distress it, so that it looks like it has gone through the mail.
[Brandon] You should mail it to yourself. Really. Go the extra mile.
[Howard] Have we talked about some of the distractions... I say distractions. Distractions's the wrong word. The reward systems that brilliant writers have to keep themselves motivated? I mean, I have it on good authority that Brandon Sanderson has an enormous collection of Magic cards. So really, if you want a career like Brandon's, you should begin collecting Magic cards now.
[Mary] That's true.
[Dan] Brandon actually can't even start writing until he has sorted at least an entire set's worth of cards per day.
[Brandon] Right. I run out of sorting methods, so I have to come up with new ones. Like I recently... I'm right now alphabetizing by the last letter in the title of the card. I find that very engaging.
[Mary] What I did, and you may try this, I did this for my books at home, is that I ordered them by color. The color spectrum. So you may actually take a look at the Magic cards...
[Brandon] That could be really nice. Yeah.
[Mary] Yeah, because it gives this nice spectrum. I find it easier to find things as well.
[Brandon] Okay. Well, I think we're actually out of time. I really want to give us a writing prompt. You guys okay with this?
[Dan] I think...
[Howard] As long as they don't write too much.
[Dan] As long as it's not too exciting of a writing prompt.
[Brandon] No, this is going to be okay. But you see, the thing is, I want our listeners to practice being original. They're science fiction fans, they've really got to be original. I really think there's a place in the science fiction and fantasy community where originality is just not being achieved. That is, everyone uses a lot of the same words and letters. So what I really want you to do is I want you to practice, and I want you to devise a few of your own letters that you're going to use. I want them to replace a few letters. Everyone uses the same boring words. I want you to eschew, just get rid of, the words "and," "the," "an," "or" and all pronouns from your book.
[Brandon] And I don't want you to use any plurals either. Get rid of those. Because everybody uses those.
[Dan] Everybody uses plurals.
[Brandon] Write your book that way. I think that the editors that you're not sending it to would really find that really, really interesting. So you can write some really great rejection letters for yourself on that.
[Howard] In addition to this, experiment with a new voice. I'm thinking second person omnipotent.
[Brandon] Okay. Okay. That's great.
[Dan] I like that.
[Brandon] With your own new letters. Maybe your own new alphabet. In fact, I think you need to take a few years and design an alphabet and write your book in it.
[Mary] You should learn some languages before you do that. Icelandic, for instance, has 24 different articles. Instead of just "a", "the."
[Dan] As long as you're taking a few years to devise an entire new alphabet in which to write stuff, start learning how to write bomb threats. Because that sounds like it would come in handy in that situation.
[Brandon] Okay. This has been Writing Excuses. We've given you lots of excuses. You have no excuse to not write, now. I think.
[Mary] If not, come back to us and we can give you some more.
[Brandon] Thanks for listening.
[Howard] Please don't make a bomb.