86 Things I’ve Said On Twitter, the 9th and final part

It’s been a great series, and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback, new followers, new readers and encouragement. I hope these 86 things motivate you and help make your work as awesome as I know it can be.

Remember, you can read the whole series by clicking on the ‘86 things‘ tag at the bottom of this post.

It’s been my pleasure to bring you this series. Let’s #handleitup strong.

Erotica is not the same as I-write-explicit-sex-scenes-heavy-with-genital-action.

I can remember the first book I read that used the word ‘penis’ in a pretty casual reference. It was a book about teenagers at a summer camp, and from what I remember the book cover was yellow-beige and had a picture I think of someone in a boat, maybe fishing. I remember where I was when I read it – in the swivel chair in the den of the house we rented for summer vacations. I must have been I think ten or eleven. And I recall sounding out the word in my head as ‘pen-ISS”, and not “PEE-niss” at least until the concept burrowed into my brain that this nice female author just indirectly wrote about a handjob at a summer camp.

I can remember the first dirty story I ever read on the internet. It was a story about a woman who goes to an adult movie theater and is so turned on that she has sex with all the patrons, even when one of the patrons turns out to be her husband and another is her brother.

I can remember the first slash-fic I ever read. It was Buffyverse based, and I think Xander was getting sodomized by Angelus and then Spike would cuddle with him and then fellate him. It was violent, upsetting to me that my favorite TV characters were thought in that way and incredibly magnetizing to read (like a text crash crash) without ever being arousing.

My point in bringing those three moments up is that all three were not erotica. They were stories that contained words for sex organs or sex acts or sex violence, and they were stories that may have aroused people to some degree, but they weren’t erotica. They were explicit sex stories, often involving no sense of practical flexibility or logistics (no, you can’t bend over to touch your toes AND lay on your back with your legs spread simultaneously). Coupled (sex pun!) with the idea that they were more about taboo (BDSM, incest, underage sex, whatever) than sex-as-romantic/arousing-act, they didn’t ring the erotic bell.

Note: I’m not saying that for some people those things can’t be arousing. I’m sure they are. But they’re not my cup of tea, and frankly, even if they’re your cup of tea, I’m sure you would appreciate them being well-written.

Erotic fiction isn’t just sentences with sex acts mentioned or with language about body parts. Medical textbooks have those things, and they’re not erotica. When the 50 Shades phenomena struck, and “mommy porn” was brought to light, and people revisited the romance novel sex scenes about arousal and lust, there was a notion that erotica is the stuff that turns you on, but in a more mental picture-this-in-your-mind way, as though the words were foreplay for however you wanted to sate those feelings, rather than a text quickie that went straight to the pleasuring.

Erotica is built on the increase of arousal, and the progressive development of expectation. It’s the chik-chik-chik of the rollercoaster climbing the big hill, more than it’s the plunge downward while everyone screams.  Anyone can write sentences including words about body parts, it takes a skill to know how to express those same ideas without talking about them directly.

Developmental editing is something ANYONE can profit from. For serious. At any time in the writing process.

I love the developmental edit. I love the breakdown not only of the writing itself, but the deconstructive effort to understand the concepts behind those words, and show the writer that HOW they compose ideas is just as (or sometimes moreso) critical than WHAT the idea is.

The problem is that this is an intensive edit, that takes time and often leads to there being a lot of work the author can do that may seem external to the thing they intended to write, but is useful once they’ve written it. Granted, this edit is by nature more comprehensive and more detailed than an inspection of grammar, so an author who needs more help in getting their idea established, written effectively and edited efficiently is a prime candidate for a developmental edit.

It provides the most help (my opinion) to the author, so why not act on it sooner, take advantage of an editor’s offer or expertise and start the critical relationship sooner rather than later? The end result is the same, you get a well-made manuscript that you can do a lot with, it’s just that you took a different, slightly more active route to get there.

Yes, I can hear you say, if you’re publishing traditionally, editing is handled after you submit your manuscript to whomever you’re working with, but that doesn’t exclude you from the pool of people who could use an editor to some degree BEFORE you submit. A developmental edit can be done on an outline, a partial draft or some notes, not only the completed draft.

And as an aside, don’t expect the publisher’s edit to be as deep as a developmental one.

Nope, I’m still pretty sure we don’t need paragraph upon paragraph of you talking about the landscape and the property rights.

When you’re writing, whatever the genre is, whatever the POV is, whatever the story is, you need to engage your reader so that they keep reading, so that they keep turning the pages and so that they keep liking your work.

There’s also an expectation that what you’re writing is important to the story, either as plot detail (helping the story by supplying components to it) or as establishing a context for future actions. But it’s a delicate balance – should you stray too far afield, give so much detail that ultimately doesn’t directly connect to story you’re going to tell over the next 250+ pages, then all we as readers are doing is waiting for things to get interesting. And the longer we have to wait for things to get interesting, the more likely it is we put down the book and don’t come back.

I know, there’s this idea that you have to lay it all out for the reader, else “they won’t get it”, but that’s as much an egoic trap for the author (look how great I am, look at all the pretty words I write) as it is a sign that you don’t trust the reader to understand the story without you holding their hand.

If I’m telling you the story of … a family buying a haunted house, then yes maybe I’m going to start off by talking about how the house got built or how it was always thought to be haunted, but I could just as easily start off by talking about the family and establishing them as characters. What I don’t want to do is bore you, or move you away from the idea that there’s a family and a haunted house. My talking to you about the construction permits or the town council meetings that approved the variances back thirty years ago may be tangentially related to how the house got to be the way it is when the family first sees it, but it isn’t directly important to the story.

An editor helps here. They can prune the story for critical details, pulling out the weeds that choke the pretty flowers in your story-garden.

But getting to the story, getting to the meat of things, the interesting parts, the things that make your book and by extension your voice and your style stand out is what we’re after when we’re reading.

Not every love is either the greatest ever or the most unrequited. Sometimes characters are just awkward or sexy or dull or happy.

We talked before about world-weary protagonists, about how scarce and unbelievable they may be. This is the other side of that coin. Or at least, it often is. When a character, even a character who hasn’t ever been in love, falls into love, yes they may think that at the time it’s the greatest love ever, the brightest star in a night sky and the reason that the sun burns. Just like we as people do when we first encounter someone, well, I guess it depends on the someone and whether they actually aren’t crazy or something, but I’m saying too much.

Love between characters can just be love. Just like we go on dates that aren’t all whizz-bang and super-explosive with amazing highlights, or how we just sometimes spend our Tuesdays on the couch reading a book or watching TV. It doesn’t HAVE to be some great huge universe-shaking concept. If Character A loves Character B, that’s great, and it may very well be the at the heart of the book, but their interactions don’t always have to be “I can’t love the other person, else my family/tribe/species will shun me” or something equally melodramatic.

Here’s what I’ve learned as a person: sometimes happy expresses itself as a feeling without a lot of fanfare. Sure it’s great to go to be a big fancy dinner, where you have to tuck your shirt in, and it can be very romantic and you stare at your partner’s radiant brown eyes and want very badly to hear about all the nuances of their day because their voice is a delight and you love them, but it can also be the kind when you just want to sit with them on a couch watching the world go by while you occasionally chat about what sort of nachos you prefer to eat.

Characters are people, they’re just people you’re in charge of.

Everything is a cliché to someone. Don’t worry about it and just write whatever sentence/paragraph you were going to write.

I once ran a writing critique session where the majority of people were unpublished, hopeful authors and authoresses, and among the half-dozen people around the big table there also a sat a recent MFA graduate, who was eager to also be a writing. Now this MFA graduate had everything all figured out, knew the best authors to name-drop, was well up on their jargon and was apparently happy to have found a group of writers that critique work.

That is, until we actually got around to critiquing things. We’d be talking about the first person’s piece, explaining what parts were unclear, explaining that we liked the dialogue or the action beat for whatever reason and we were on the whole supportive. Then it was the MFA graduate’s turn. With a yawn, they pointed out in rather broad brushstrokes that some of the writing was cliché and because there were more than four clichés in the whole piece, they couldn’t possibly be bothered to comment because there wasn’t anything original to speak about.

I resisted the urge to strangle the smug out of this person, and wrote it off as just their being new and not knowing what else to say. The critique process continued, this time with a new person and a totally different piece, a poem, if I remember correctly.

And again came the yawn and the comment of “This is cliché, I don’t know what else you want me to tell you.”

So all night, everything the MFA graduate read was cliché. When we finally read her piece, it too was cliché and rather elementary in construction. Because most of us were tired of hearing the word cliché, we found different ways to express the idea: it was basic, it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before, it didn’t “stick” with us. The MFA graduate naturally choked back tears and told me I had no business running a critique group and had even less business being anything anywhere near a writer, but whatever, she was odd.

The point of that story is that no matter what you write, someone somewhere is going to drop the cliché word. Because in their experience, in their expectation, whatever you’ve written is either too similar to something else, which they have feelings about, or because they expected you to deliver something and they didn’t see it.

This is not your fault. How someone else chooses to receive and interpret your work is a choice made by them. All you can do is present your work in the best way possible. You’ve done the hard part, you wrote the thing. They get to decide how they are going to deal with it.

As per usual, it comes down to – tell the best story you can.

No, I don’t know what happened to the MFA graduate. I don’t know if they found a job in the industry or if they ever published anything. I’d like to imagine that it worked out for them, that they found a niche to eek out, but it’s really sort of hard to tell when your main vehicle for writing is a story about a woman who lives across the street from a hunk who loves horses and wants to open a candle-making store along with his quirky friends, the ditzy blonde and her gay roommate.

If you’re not writing for a younger audience or drawing comics, you generally want to avoid onomatopoeia.

I was a big fan of the old Batman TV show. It was campy, it was goofy, and I loved watching it late at night with my brother. Of big interest to us both was the onomatopoeia, the BANG, CRASH, KA-POW title cards that came up during the fight and the sometimes randomness of the sound choice with the action scene.

There’s nothing wrong with using sound effect words. In small doses, with a strong voice, they can be quite potent. But like so many other writing options, overuse makes them diluted, weak and annoying. Not everything every time needs a sound conveyed with it. There are plenty of strong verbs and/or adjectives you can use to imply the sound without directly telling us the sound.

If you’re creating a comic, then onomatopoeia is a great component, because you’re more accurately marrying visual media with mental concepts, likewise in younger audience books, where you’re illustrating a concept or something engaging and want to tag multiple senses.

But if we’re talking text, yes, you want to engage all the senses, but you don’t have to be so blunt about it.

Saying

the pirate’s wooden leg banged up the stairs as he walked

can be just as potent as saying

The leg banged up the stairs as the pirate walked. Bang. Step. Bang. Step. 

There’s a time and a place for the tools in your writing toolbox. As you write, as you get more comfortable finding the best way to tell the story, you’ll see opportunities to use the tools effectively.

There’s nothing stopping you from writing something one way, then in a later draft totally doing it another. Nothing is set in concrete.

You’re in charge of your words. YOU, not me, not the publisher, not the people on some website where you talk about books, hope for a good review and fend off people who complain that your sentences are too long. 
When you’re writing, you’re the boss. You have total power and authority to dictate all elements of the universe your story exists in. Skies can be green, gravity can be fickle, goats can have three ears, whatever you want. 
This is why I tell people that writing is the act of making decisions.You have to choose what you want to put on paper. Yes, this can lead to paralysis, at least until the idea of what you want to say is clarifying, but again, it’s clarified through decisions. 
And it’s not like these decisions are permanent. They’re words on a screen or a page. You can change that woman’s name from Susanne to Anita to Bernice. You can make that dog a poodle, a mutt or a terrier. You can make the body dead in the kitchen, the cave, the hotel or the lobby. 
The only time you can’t make that change is when you’re off to publish, because it’s unrealistic to run out to every store, pen in hand and start crossing things out. 
The danger here is paralysis again, the hyper-indecision to not settle on a name of a thing or a plot point or a whatever-element stops the story from being written.

Here’s the trick: KEEP WRITING THE STORY. You can always go back and change it, but focus on the production, focus on the doing first, then you (slash you and your editor) can go back and make changes. 

Nothing is set in stone while you’re still creating. That’s an advantage, not a cause for panic.

SHOWING us things gives us options and lets us participate in the story. TELLING us things limits our options and satisfaction.
And now, the 86th point! Yay for making it this far! 
It’s a common fight in writing, show versus tell. And there are a lot of ways to approach it, I’ve even discussed a few on this blog. Here’s another angle to take on it. 
It’s about permission. It’s about cooperation. 
Imagine we’re all sitting together, say in an art gallery. We’ve never been there before, so we’ve asked for a tour guide to take us through this exhibit.

Now this tour guide is good at their job, so as we’re lead all around the gallery, we’re walked up to the painting, and its history is explained, the title is mentioned and some highlights are given about how the painting came to be. This tour guide could stop talking at this point, and we’d have a very good time, but like I said, this tour guide is good at their job, so they ask us questions, they do more than lead us physically around the space, they lead us mentally as well. They ask, “How does this make you feel?” and “Can you see the use of light and shadow?” It turns the experience into a dialogue, a back-and-forth where the guide’s expertise marries with our own experiences and we walk out of that gallery even more satisfied because we had a chance to think and feel, in addition to just observing things. 

Let’s do this same situation again, except we’ll take a not-so-good tour guide. Maybe they’re nervous, maybe they had a bad burrito, maybe their significant other ate the last pickle. And this tour guide decides that leading us through the gallery isn’t really what we came to the gallery for, because we’re just new, we’re tourists, unlike the guide who lives and breathes this art every day of the week. So maybe we get out of our seats and we walk the gallery floor, but what we’re told is lensed through the guide’s perspective. They talk to us about the shadow and the light and the color, not because they’re curious about our input, but more because we need to be told what the point of the painting is. We’re not consulted in this experience, we’re talked at, often in a condescending manner, because of this guide’s assumption that we’re not going to get the point of all this art without their exact expertise and opinion. 
That good tour guide? Shows us art. Opens us up to experiencing it in our own way.
That not-good tour guide? Tells us about art. Draws the conclusions for us, limits our experience based on assumptions. 
Don’t be the not-good tour guide through your work.

Again, I’m really glad so many people have enjoyed this series. I’m thankful for your comments, your plus-ones, your Likes and your retweets.

Have a great weekend, happy writing. 

The Writer and Pain, the next morning

So, I wrote at length last night how I felt. It was disjointed, it sort of warbled in tone, it felt good to put words to feelings. And then I went to bed. I slept pretty well, only one weird dream about gelatinous discs adhering to my flesh, the color of old cereal milk. I have no idea, I haven’t had milk in months (not since someone told me that the best way to lose weight is to cut milk out of your diet, and for the record, I didn’t lose much weight from that).

Anyway, I woke up to an explosion of messages about what I wrote. About 80% of them were deeply encouraging and the remainder weren’t quite chastisement, but rather reminders of “hey, you shouldn’t post when you’re down”. Let me address the 20% first.

I know. I know there’s a danger in posting something “down”, that it erodes professionalism, that it may chase away readers, that it may be weakness, or worse still that it causes a spiraling effect in me, that I brood and ruminate over the words and their associated memories and plunge down deeper into whatever negative head-space I’m in.

And those are great reasons to stay quiet. But I’m not comfortable being quiet. If my post last night, and this one today, cause me to lose readers or lose clients, then okay, that’s how this goes. I’ll accept that when it happens and I’ll learn right quick never to broadcast a  less-than-good day.

Thank you for saying I should effort not to do what I did. Thank you for looking out for me. Thank you, honestly and truly, for not wanting me to get worse.

Now, the 80%. Hi everyone. I am so touched that so many people wrote me at length, some of them considerable length, and so many people left me voicemails and encouraging emails. As I said last night, I wasn’t writing what I did so that people would circle wagons around me, so that they’d go out of their way to tell me positive things, and at no time this morning have I felt that anything anyone said last night or this morning was insincere or forced. Thank you.

It means a lot to me that so many people took time out of their evenings, nights or mornings to say something, even a tweet. I got everything from “I love you.” to “I’m always excited to see what you do next.” to “I got your back.” And I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude to everyone. Thank you.

Today is a new day, the sun is sort of out, and I’m alright. I’m still tired. It still feels like someone is swapping my bone marrow for a lead paste. But whereas last night was “I’m a failure”, this morning it’s all “I failed at something I did.” (and yeah, you can point out that someone else saying ‘No’ isn’t exactly a failure on my part, I get that too) That mental distinction away from “me” and onto “things I do” is huge for me (go team therapy!) and it’s enough of a hope spark to get me thinking that this feeling of density and tiredness is temporary. Which is awesome, because oh man, I’ve been awake an hour and I’m tired again.

You’re good people, and you improve my life astronomically, and I’m blessed, lucky and grateful to know you, work with you, play games with you and share my life with you. (Not necessarily in that order).

I’m still physically tired today, don’t expect me to do much more than sort of sit and play with the dog or do some light vegetating. My brain wants to go forward, go make things, go kick some positive ass, but the body isn’t there yet.

You’re awesome friends, family and loved ones. Thank you.

The Writer and Pain

I’m writing this when I’m tired, despite the numerous people telling that the best thing I can do is go to bed for eight to ten hours. I am writing this because today I hurt, and I hurt in a way that goes deeper than bone or marrow, and it wasn’t until about twenty-six minutes ago that I even thought today was a good day.

See, on Friday, I had a big dream of mine crushed. And I don’t mean crushed like the way you lose a video game by an embarrassing score, I mean crushed the way an addict grinds up a good pill, or the way the weight of the world hangs like an anchor down between your shoulder blades when you’re just worn down to the last nerve. I will spare you the specifics, but just know this – I had hope, I had a plan to do a very awesome thing, and it would have in turn lead to some very awesome praise, which would have led to even more awesome things.

And this isn’t just about me being told “No.” I hear “No” a lot. This didn’t feel like a “No, we’re not interested in what you’re offering to do“, which I hear all the time, so much so that it’s just a part of doing business. This felt like “No, you loser, no, you sad fat sick piece of shit, you don’t get to sit at the big-kid-table of success, because you spent every single one of your formative years out of your mind, and all your best experiences happened outside the normal boundaries, and this thing you want to do, this idea, it’s not inside the box we expect ideas to come in, so take it and roll your ass out the door.”

That hurts. It hurts because I had to have conversations with people I respect, people I admire, my friends, people who look at me as a mentor and as a friend and I had to tell them, “Yeah, this didn’t work out.” I had to be more than mature, I had to be brave and strong and big and ready, and I wanted so badly to tell them I’m none of those things right now, because I hurt, just like you. Maybe not the same way, but I hurt too.

I had a good day Saturday. I laughed and smiled and was with the person I love and despite freezing temperatures, for the first time in my adult life, enjoyed a baseball game simply for being in the seat, not because I was obligated to attend it – I got to be me. Side note – I love all times when I get to be me.

But I thought that “being me” meant that I could only be the positive me, the me with good news, the me who was excited to share this whizz-bang set of mechanics that makes something fun, the me who laughs an obnoxious laugh that makes prudish people stare at restaurants.

This weekend taught me that being me means I get to be me with the bruises showing. That it’s okay to sit in a car in a Starbucks parking lot, biting back tears because you’re just so tired and just so hurt, and you’re past anger over the not-getting-a-thing, you’re fighting and clawing your way out of a hole lined with oil and glass, sliding and getting cut. Bleeding and falling.

Because, I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes, it’s hard not to feel like a failure. It’s hard, even in the face of people who can point to your successes and you say to them, “Yeah, but that’s the past.” and you look at the present and you see things you’re *not* doing, and you look at the future and all you see is, even if for a moment, how hard it might be to do the things you want.

Now I don’t know if I’m going to feel this way come Monday morning. I hope I don’t, this sucks. This sucks because it hurts, and it sucks because it’s draining. It’s a leech, and it makes every breath feel like I’m taking it through concrete cheesecloth and that every limb is weighed down in lead blankets like at the dentist’s office.

I’m tired, this hurts. This is my illness talking. This isn’t me. I don’t know if it is me or not, but at this moment, this is my experience, and these are my feelings. I don’t want any of you to feel the ache that comes with wanting something and not getting it, I don’t want any of you to have to push off your plans and dreams because there’s any measure of other-people-telling-you-no.

I make a living somewhat invisibly, which is why I started doing development and why I reignited the fire under me to do more interviews and speaking. This is not a post where I want your praise. This is not a pity party. This is a tired man’s ramble. These are the disjointed thoughts of someone in pain. These are the thoughts of someone who is taking his one talent, wordcraft, and making something of it.

Big sigh. Pause here a minute. Exhale. Wish you were getting a hug right now. These are the things I say to myself when only the dog is listening.

When you get a chance to go after a big dream, go for it. Let nothing stop you. Not even the fear of getting hurt, which might happen. If it happens, it happens, you manage it the best you can. And if you get hurt, be hurt, not immobilized. Not paralyzed. Just hurt, for a little while. Wounds mend. Moods pass. I learned that tonight in a Starbucks parking lot.

I’m tired. I got denied one dream and yeah, it feels like right now there’s this dryspell, that I’m not in the center of a great productive hurricane like I was a few months ago. But that’s nobody’s fault – it’s not always going to be the busiest you’ve ever been. It is what it is. I wish it didn’t hurt sometimes to say that, or type (each finger striking a key feels like falling down a flight of stairs) it.

Here’s to hoping things improve. Here’s to tomorrow, which is a better day because it starts new and hasn’t been written yet.

86 Things I’ve Said on Twitter, Part 8

This is the eighth post in a series. You can read the entire series by going through the ‘86 Things‘ tag on the blog. For the curious, there’s only one more part to go. I know, it’s been a long read, but I appreciate you doing it.

Let’s get right to it.

I swear on your choice of holy object, you really don’t want to use the passive voice 8 times out of 10. (exceptions possible) 

The problem with the passive voice is that it makes the action unclear. “Had been cooking” dilutes the idea that someone was cooking, just as “was thinking” separates us from the notion that thought occurred.

Now yes, there are times when you need to frame a verb passively, because the sentence won’t make sense without it:

“I was cleaning when the phone rang.” 

But the focus of the sentence, the item we’re looking for when we read is the action of the sentence — what’s going on in this string of words, and how can I mentally translate into images so that I may continue to enjoy this creation? So why then would you make the action unclear?

Conveying action effectively both helps paint the picture you’re intending AND moves us further along the page and deeper into the story. Which is what you want. In case you weren’t sure. The stronger verbs (not the word choice this time, but the conjugation of the verb) are clearer.

“I ran.”
“We danced.”
“They bowled.”

All three are clear, strong and direct. They’re feasible when you’re trying to paint a declarative picture.

“My legs had carried me far when the dog stopped chasing me.”
“We had danced before, but never like this.”
“Bowling had been fun.”

Yes, those three are accurate sentences. They’re grammatically correct. Each has their place in writing. But their place is NOT THE SAME PLACE as the first three examples.

Knowing when to go passive and when to be active is critical for engaging the reader and keeping them hooked throughout all the twists, turns, ups and downs of you work. Building that push/pull relationship is part of what connects readers to a writer’s style and helps generate a fan base that persists across multiple books, series or projects.

Let the story develop at the pace that works best for it. Micro-managing leads to disaster and stalled projects. Let it be. 

I worked on a disaster of a project once — 15 writers (or was it 18), our budget was literally whatever we had in our wallets, and it was not a fun three-month process. And no, I’m not entirely proud of the work, because although it was a “learning experience” (I cannot make air-quotes big enough for that), it broke every rule I believe in: no contract, no pay, no contingency plans, shoddy equipment, no consistent schedule, etc).

It was also the first time I was ever truly micro-managed to the point of wanting to throw things. I am not a guy who deals well with that style of management: the constant hovering and checking-in, the lack of freedom to really be myself and feel like I’m a valued contributor, the lack of respect paid to who each of us are and what we bring to this project in terms of expertise and previous work. I swore off that sort of project when it was done, and I swore off ever working in that way ever again. Yeah, it was THAT bad (if you see me at a convention this summer, you’ll have to ask me for details).

The problem was that managing the creation of the project so rigidly did not create the product it was supposed to. I can think of four occasions where people were told “Do it this way”, even if their sensibility or their talent suggested another way worked better. This was usually said by people who had never managed something like that before, who had no real practical experience trusting themselves, or who were they themselves products of a rigid system.

Creative projects are at their heart, organic. They grow, in whatever direction you let them. This doesn’t mean they should grow without boundaries or borders or limits or some sort of structure, but this does mean you shouldn’t try to shoe-horn a story together when it clearly becomes something else as you create it.

Yeah, some parts of your story are going to come you more naturally or more excitedly than other parts. Some parts will be read faster than others. Placing a stranglehold on your own ideas and screaming “Work this way!” is a lot like yelling at your plant in the window for not growing like the picture on the packet of seeds (which is something I’ve seen happen).

Trust yourself to be able to let the story go in whatever direction it needs to go in order to be told. Don’t force it down some path, don’t break it in order to fit that vision you had way back on Day 1. Stories change and grow just as authors do. Let them.

Queries should get to the damned point. Breezy queries lead to thick slush. 

I am wordy. I am long-winded. This is both because I love the sound of my own voice (not even close to true) and because I love talking (totally true). And when I write, I tend to over-write, mixing a blend of casual we’re-just-hanging-out with this-is-how-you-do-things. I mean, really, have you seen my blog posts? Some of them go on for days.

But that’s all because I have the luxury of time and space. I can afford to say what I want for as long as I want, because I’m given wide open space here on the blog and because I run my own workshops.

Query letters though do not have such luxury. You get a page. ONE page. At absolute most 250 words, and every word counts. Each word works with the words to the left and right, above and below for the purpose of making the manuscript they’re attached to appealing to the reader.

If your query doesn’t entice the would-be reader to pick up the manuscript, then your path to publication (in one model of publishing) ends there. And even if you aren’t pursuing that route to publication, the skill of writing a tight, seductive query letter is a good one, like for when you have to write business proposals or letters explaining why you can’t attend boring family functions.

One page. Seriously. You can do it. It can be taught. You can learn how to do it. (Note: I also teach how to do it, you know, if you’re interested.)

No, don’t send them your first draft. Send them the best polished draft. Do it right if you’re going to do it at all. 

If you want to get published, and you’re taking a route that puts your work into the hands of an agent and a big publisher, the work you send them has to be in the best possible and most complete shape. That means the story has to be completely written, shouldn’t have spelling and grammatical mistakes and should have all the parts in it that it needs to in order to make sense.

Just like you wouldn’t play a full-contact sport against pros without training or preparation, so too can you ill-afford to just dive into publication by sending off incomplete, error-laden work.

How can you ensure that your best work goes out? GET AN EDITOR. Don’t know any? Here’s one. And another. And another. And another. And another.

It’s our job to help you take your work and get it into the best shape possible so that you can do whatever you want with it and so that it may be enjoyed by readers.

Yeah, I know, you’ve been told that once you sign that contract, there will be an editor assigned to your work. Or that your agent is your editor. Or that editing is something that comes AFTER you say yes to the deal. And yeah, sometimes, that’s all true.

But if the goal is to get your work published, and you want someone to say yes to your work, wouldn’t you want it in the best shape possible, so that it’s easier for them to say yes?

Make the job easier, not harder. Put your best foot/work forward. Ask an editor for help. (The ones I mentioned are the best I’ve ever worked with.)

When sending out queries, do your homework. Make sure the query receiver actually TAKES what you’re submitting (check their site!) 

Okay, not every agent or publisher publishes everything. Just because they’re called a “publisher” doesn’t mean that anytime someone sends them a manuscript they run off to the press in their basement and churn out page upon page with gleams of satisfaction in their eyes.

Publishers are allowed to publish whatever they want, even if that means saying “No.” to one type of manuscript. Just like authors, who may prefer to write in one style or genre over another. See how that works outs?

So when you’ve written a particular story, find a publisher who publishes that kind of story.

It’s not hard. It does take some digging. Either in the Writer’s Market, or more accurately, by doing some investigative Google searches for submission guidelines. Yes, you can find a publisher for nearly every genre and type of story, if you look hard enough. (And if you’re going to email me and say you can’t find a publisher, then either you need to broaden your search or improve your story so that it can be more easily classified).

Make the job of publication easier on everyone involved. It makes a huge difference.

Not all your ideas are unpolished gemstones. Sometimes they’re just ideas that you can tweak/cut/hack to make other gems shinier.

I’m sitting in my office right now, and if you look to the left of the chair, on a small re-purposed nightstand, you’ll see a whole stack of legal pads and steno pads. These are my idea books. You may also have seen me carry a smaller version in my back pocket when at conventions.

When some idea explodes in my brain, I write it down. Sometimes those ideas are really clear — “a mechanical system that divides an eight-sided die into the 8 types of affirmative action” or they’re vague — “spy apparat“. All the same, they get written down.

Most of those ideas won’t go anywhere. But sometimes, when someone calls me or emails me and we start talking about doing a project together, I can say to them, “Oh yeah, I think I have a mechanic or a plot or an idea that can help us out here.” It’s an immense time saver, but also a huge boost to the future creativity because I already have a jumping-off point.

Because I keep a stack of ideas around, I’m able to draw on them when I need to. (I should point out that behind me I have a filing cabinet labeled “Things to do to characters” and another labeled “Feelings”). A lot of the folders in those cabinets have one or two articles in them, or a page or two of notes that I might never go through until I have to empty the cabinet out. But having that resource on hand helps me to feel more creative and feel more successful about being creative. (And yes, I do have giant binders labeled “Poison” “Gunshot” “Fire” “Stabbing”, because information is a good thing to collect, right? Like Pokemon?)

Hey people who want “realistic” characters in your writing: Are they eating regularly? How about the last time they brushed their teeth?

I love realism in my films, where the world the characters inhabit, and what happens to them feels like my world, so that I can leave the theater or walk out my door and maybe have the possibility of running into them on the street. Or something. You know, like if the Doctor showed up for lunch, I’d totally be down for that.

There’s a downside to realism though, at least when it’s misinterpreted. Don’t confuse realism (obeying practical constraints and limitations, physics, science, technology and social climate) for over-saturation of facts.

An action thriller about people unraveling a conspiracy in the post office is going to be slightly marred and slowed down by the half-page you wrote telling the audience about how someone flosses. The love story that takes place only during summers over the course of ten years can get bogged down when you detail the tuna salad someone eats on page eight.

Details do not make realism. Realism comes from the context and application of those details — what you do about the details makes things real or not.

The blending of details (small or large) with their application is what makes the scene feel more lived in, and the world more natural.

Building your own world is great. Want to make that world feel real? Give the sandbox some borders. What can’t it do?

On the flip side of the realism coin, there’s nothing wrong with making your own world. The downside here is in the freedom. You can make anything from a city in the clouds, to an ice planet with caves, to I don’t know, a planet made entirely of string cheese and crackers.

But while you’re showing the reader all about what the world can do, to give some context and make the reader (and presumably the main character, who may be a fish out of water) feel like they can handle the scope of the creation, show the limitations of the world. Yeah your created world might be a technocracy or an oligarchy of fish people, but how does it fit into the greater picture? Is it one fiefdom in a country, one state in a union, one continent on a planet, one planet in a solar system, one galaxy in all of existence?

Showing the borders is not showing weakness, it’s showing strength. By defining how big the sandbox is, we can instead focus on all the detail within the borders. It draws our attention back to what’s important and lets the real work shine.

Thriller writers – Tweaking word choice + sentence length will do wonders for your pacing.

Here’s how you build tension: you vary your sentence length. Pick strong words. Fragment. Hype. Explore the power of words. Push the scene with longer sentences. Speed up with shorter ones. Push. Pull.

(see what I did there?)

Romance writers – No, there really aren’t that many world-weary young women. For serious.

I don’t normally dive into romance novels. They’re not aimed at me, I don’t normally encounter them in the development process, and in general, I don’t walk past those aisles at the bookstore. But I am aware of the tropes, in particular the one about your female protagonist who’s young but somehow already weary and an old soul.

I get it, writers, that’s you. You’re that character, only transplanted into a younger body, but still possessing your mature mind. This gives you a chance to escape a little, indulge some fantasy and play “what-if”, which is central to the genre.

But how many times are we going to tread this ground?

There’s nothing wrong with writing a not-world-weary character. It might be a little more work, it might be hard to resist the temptation to make her snark and spurn the advances and situations she find herself in, but it is possible – and you do have the talent to pull it off.

Tell your best story, and no you don’t have to cover the same ground as everyone else. Honest.

The final part of this series will go up Monday. Happy writing. Enjoy your weekend. 

Things I Am Doing At GenCon, UPDATED

So GenCon is August 15-18th. It’s a big deal in the gaming community, a chance for relatively disparate elements and people to convene for a week in the middle of the US and hang out, reconnect, connect for the first time and play great games together.

My first GenCon was last year. And OH WOW was it amazing. All my friends were there, I got to see my friends’ successes, I got to share some of my own successes with others.

Of interest to me were the panels, where loads of people would come hang out and talk about whatever the topic was for an hour or two. I went to some great ones (Phil Menard’s panel on depression was intense, but wonderful), I went to some not-great ones (there was a panel that was so disorganized I can’t even recall what it was about for the whole hour I sat in the room), and I thought to myself “I’m going to run a panel at GenCon some year.”

“Some year” is THIS year.

SEM1345150 Depression, Anxiety, Treatment and the Gamer

Thursday  4pm – 5pm
Crowne Plaza : Victoria Stn C/D

This seminar is more a conversation between people who are struggling with mental illness (and are now in various stages of treatment), yet don’t let their illness(es) define them or stop them from producing the material they love. Come hang out with us and let’s talk openly about how not to let the monsters win while we make awesome games.

SEM1341483 Writing Effective Scenarios & Settings 
Friday 11am – 1pm
Crowne Plaza Grand Ballroom D

Learn what it takes to write the best scenarios and settings you can, regardless of the system used or your experience level.
This seminar will be universal in scope – not focusing on solely one system over others, but looking rather at successful components found in MANY systems that you can take advantage of when writing your own.

SEM1345042 The Writer/Editor Relationship **
Friday 2pm – 3pm
Embassy Suites : Coronation 1

Learn from Brian Engard (writer, Bulldogs! Fate Core) and John Adamus, (editor Evil Hat Productions, Margaret Weis Productions) about the relationship between writer and editor.

** aka John and Brian Talk About Shit 

SEM1341489 Writing Q&A
Saturday 11am – 1pm
UPDATE! Crowne Plaza : Hay Market B
No matter what you’re writing (a game, a novel, a movie, etc) you’ve no doubt got questions. This seminar is the place to get answers to whatever writing-related quandaries you have.
This seminar is driven by your questions, whether they’re questions about writing a good sentence, a good story, getting an agent, getting published, editing your RPG, tweaking your LARP or whatever — if you have questions about something you’re writing, this is the place to get answers and help. If you’re familiar with Dreamation, Metatopia and DexCon, this is a Gen Con-sized version of the Writing Workshop held there.
Wow. Just, wow, this is amazing, and I want to just encourage everyone to drop in, say hi, hang out and have some great discussions.

I am incredibly grateful, humbled and excited to have the chance to present not only a new workshop on scenarios and settings, but also do my more traditional Q&A on a much bigger scale.

See you in Indianapolis.

86 Things I’ve Said On Twitter, Part 7

Wow, part 7. This is awesome. Hope you’re enjoying this series.

Before we begin, did you know I got interviewed? It was really a pleasure. And Pete asks awesome questions.

Now, to Part 7!

Rejection doesn’t mean stop writing altogether. Rejection means “Change your approach, try again.”

On Chuck’s blog, there’s been some talk about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. It’s rather contentious. But then the one guy called some lady a “bitch” and everything sort of when downhill from there.

The one thing not mentioned in this conversation is that rejection exists. It’s a thing that happens. It’s a thing that happens that can drive people away from traditional publishing and to different avenues, sometimes without a net or an education or a plan, because they’re working so hard at just not-being-rejected.

Rejection happens. I’m sorry. It does happen. You might get rejected for a date. You might get rejected by an agent. You might get rejected for a loan. You might get rejected by an audience who thinks your published book is tired or not as interesting as you think it is.

Rejection only has whatever meaning you give it. If you tell yourself that rejection is the cue for hanging yourself in the garage with a string of holiday lights, then it is. Maybe rejection is the neon sign that you shouldn’t be writing at all.

But maybe rejection is a sign that how you took your shot wasn’t accurate, that the method you took to build your better mousetrap was flawed, not the mousetrap itself. What I’m saying is – there’s a chance that the manuscript wasn’t even read if the pitch to entice readers wasn’t appealing.

See, because if the query letter doesn’t engage the reader, they’re not going to look at the manuscript. Why should they? They’ve not been lured to its words by the query’s siren song.

True, the manuscript might also suck. But I’m assuming here that you’ve done everything in your power to make it not suck.

Rejection doesn’t have to be the end of things. It may be a bump in the road, but don’t drive into the median just yet.

You don’t have to be an “expert” in the industry in order to write a good book. You need to be an “expert” on you and what you love. 

Lots of people (especially in self-help) call themselves experts. And some might very well be. I have met people who are legit experts in their fields. I have met people who couldn’t hope to be an expert, let alone spell expert without assistance.

Oddly enough, the experts I recommend are the ones who have actually put the time into the work and not the ones who toss around the word or the concept in some self-elevating (and masturbatory) way.

And everyone’s an expert on two things, when you think about it. You’re the best expert on who you are and what you love. Other people might have an idea about these things, but really, you’re the best in that field. Nobody knows you like you do.

Use that to your advantage. When you speak about what you like and don’t like, when you talk about yourself, speak from a place of authority, not arrogance. You’re not “better” than anyone else, but you do know yourself better than anyone else. Let that authority permeate your writing

To tell a story, you need to tap into your own confidence and authority about who you are (though if you’re on the fence about who you are, this may be a little hard), and write from that place of security and comfort. Yeah yeah, writing a thing makes you subject to other people at some point in the process, but never ever let it detract from your sense of who and what you are.

By being you, by telling the story you can tell in the way you can tell it, with the artful practice of your craft, with assistance from others, you can make your thing a reality that other people can enjoy. Really.

Readers aren’t going to know what goes on in your head. If you don’t paint a clear picture, don’t expect them to “figure it out”.

I look at a lot of manuscripts in a week. Some are for games. Some are for books. And sometimes I get a very clear sense of what’s going on in the scene I read. I can count the characters, I can see their motivations. I can see game mechanics and what they accomplish. It’s spelled out for me, but never in the same way that my uncle Steve always talked down to me at family gatherings.

When you’re communicating an idea, whatever that idea might be, you want to be as clear as possible, without being lecture-y or a bully. You need to respect your reader’s intelligence, and trust that they came to read your thing (hopefully) excited about what they’ll experience or learn. Talking down to them, or worse, being incredibly vague (either because you make the assumption that everyone already knows this, or because what you’re thinking/saying is so advanced other life forms won’t understand it), doesn’t respect your reader.

It’s also a waste of your talent as a writer. People come to read your work because they want to see how you weave words and ideas together. Paint the reader a full picture on their mental canvas, and they’ll keep coming back for more. Hastily scribble them a stick figure or abstract diagram, and they’ll run. Often fast.

Game Designers – Ask yourself: Is there a reason you put this rule (and its text) ahead of that rule (and its text)?
When I edit games, I ask this of the designer – why are the rules in the order they’re in? Sometimes it’s because that’s the order that the person wrote them, sometimes it’s because one rule follows another. Maybe sometimes there’s a third option where they’re alphabetized or something. But on the whole, there should be a reason as to why one step in a process (creating a character, combat, economics, whatever) comes before or after another step, other than the arbitrary “That’s how I wrote it”.

Now, yes, if your game is pretty rules-lite, then maybe the order of the rules isn’t so critical. In that case, swap the word “rule” for “paragraph”. Why is this paragraph ahead of this other paragraph? Where are you leading the reader? What do you want/need them to know before they go further? How are you illuminating their path from point A to point B?

And yes, there should be some kind of answer beyond “I don’t know” or a passive shrug. There should be a method to the madness that is game design so that ideas flow logically and naturally, so that the reader walks away understanding the big mechanical picture and not confused by how the words just seem random coked up and tweaked out on the page.

Fun fact – You don’t want ellipses in your exposition. Just don’t.

This…is…incredibly…hard…to…read…after…a…while…don’t…you…think…? The ellipsis (the dot-dot-dot) is a really abused punctuation mark. Like abused enough to be in one of those late-night Sarah McLachlan pet adoption commericals.

I get it, you’re trying to say that an idea trails off, or pauses before it reaches a follow-up thought.

But have you considered saying “trails off” ? I know, it’s more letters to type, but it actually says what you mean better than …. (That’s dot-dot-dot and a period, honest) When I see ellipses, especially in exposition or rules text I assume the writer got lazy. And looking at the name of the writers who have done this on things I edit, I know they’re not lazy people.

The exposition text of a document is supposed to express to me, the reader, a clear sense of what’s going on. It’s telling me things. It shouldn’t trail off, even if the narrator is all loopy on cold meds or stoned or an Ent or whatever. Let me insert those pauses in narration mentally (or even better, leave it for the audiobook), don’t force your reading-style on me. Just tell me what you need to, and do so clearly.

Not every character needs to be stand-out memorable. Sometimes they’re just a barista. Or “people on a crowded street”.

I went to a writing conference (actually it was the last dedicated writing conference I ever went to) and sat in the audience, waiting patiently for a writer I didn’t know (and later grew to loathe, thanks to homophobic and sexist comments made at the bar) to tell me all about how characters “work in a story”.  You know, as if I didn’t already have an innate sense because I’ve been reading since I was a little kid. As if I didn’t watch TV and grasp that GI Joe fights Cobra, Hulk Hogan loves America, and the A-Team is amazing.

This author said “Characters, from the lowest peon to the highest protagonist should be memorable.”

Whoa, cue the siren. Flag on the play.

That’s a really potent statement. Because it suggests that every character should be memorable to the same degree. Which is like saying that if we’re all special, no one is special.

Some characters matter more than others. Your protagonist, for example, should matter more than the lady who made them a soy latte that morning. I mean, yes, there can be a scene all about soy-latte-lady, but on the whole, this is the protagonist’s story. I might remember soy-latte-lady because of how she was described or some snarky line she delivered, but really her job in the story is to give our hero/heroine the cup of coffee and get out of the way so that the story can move forward.

I once listened to the Godfather as an audiobook. It was something like 33 CDs, just HOURS of story. And it often stopped the main thrust of the story to detour and tell me all about how some character got their start and how they eventually ended up in the scene I was first hearing about when the detour started.

That’s a great approach if we’re talking about a huge story, fat with details and every detail is something I need to stuff into my head because later on the story picks up steam and I have to be able to distinguish Carl from Carlo from Kelly from Craig.

But that’s not always going to be the case. That’s not always the best approach. Not every character should be as memorable as SOME characters – the ones that have the impact in the story you’re telling.

I’m not saying they can’t have names, or details about them that distinguish them or make them enjoyable, but not every character needs the full autobiography and character relationship tree that your protagonist and sidekick do.

Sometimes characters are just there, just for a purpose, or they’re nameless because “the street was crowded.” I wouldn’t expect you to tell me the name of every person on the street as your protagonist comes out of the building and gets in their car. I’d kind of freak out if  I read a paragraph that said:

Bob came out of the building on a mission, eager to get in the car and drive to the hotel for nap. He passed Susan and Margaret and Tommy and Tommy Junior, and Nunzio and Flor and Steve, and Stephen and Mark and Marcus, Terry, Terri and Theresa, Brian, not to be confused with Bryan who was standing next to Chris, who was talking to Kris about something Cristina said to Christina who heard it from Christine.

That’s bananas. Don’t do that. Tell me what’s important. Also, don’t forget that what you are telling me, I’m assuming *IS* important, so all those details are somewhere in my head, hoping you make use of them later. (otherwise, why would you tell me something if it’s not important?)

Thus ends Part 7. Part 8 will be up later in the week. Until we talk again, happy writing.

86 Things I’ve Said on Twitter, Part 6

We march forward in the series of things I’ve said on Twitter, here’s Part 6. Part 5 from last week is here (and so are the other parts).

You’re never going to write like Author X, Author Y or Author Z. The good news is that they’re never going to write the way YOU do.

I remember being a teenager and even later into my twenties and reading books by my favorite authors and wanting to BE them — presumably because of the wealth I assumed they had, but also for the talent they demonstrated with words. I wanted to write just like they did, because they’re successful, so being like them must make me successful too, right?

No. There’s a couple ways to explain this, but here’s one — the market doesn’t need another Rowling, King, Stout or Hammett. The market doesn’t need a Wendig or a Forbeck clone. If you’re trying to be like someone else, however well intentioned that might be, you’re not being yourself. And it’s all about being you. YOUR voice. YOUR skill. YOUR talent.

That’s what the market wants – a new story. YOUR story.

And it can be daunting to enter an arena where Kadrey, Brett, Mixon and Blackmoore are already firmly entrenched (Yeah, I’m name-dropping left and right). But there’s room for [INSERT WHATEVER YOUR NAME IS HERE]. Honest.

It’s not about sounding like other people, it’s about sounding as yourself. Be you, tell your story, you’ll be happier.

If an editor does their job right, writers, you won’t see their work, you’ll only see your work, more clearly.

Editors on the whole, are ghosts. We don’t really leave visible signs of our presence unless something catastrophic or extreme happens. We come in, help you, and go away. Frequently, we’re under-appreciated, under-credited and under-thanked. That tide is turning, especially on social media, but by and large, the view of editors is a lot like how you view the hammer in the garage — great when you need it, but you don’t have a whole lot of reason to thank it, even if it made your house possible.

What an editor does isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a mystery. Our job is to take whatever words you have on the page and make them not only mesh but illuminate the idea you had in your mind. We do that by changing the text on the page, by clarifying it, by fixing the errors, by taking extraneous elements away.

When we do our job correctly, you don’t see the footprints, and we don’t leave any scars behind from our literary incisions. All you see is the text the way it should be – in the best shape possible to deliver the idea you want it to.

When we do our job poorly, the text suffers. Ideas become muddy and confused, the pace and flow becomes sluggish and overall the text isn’t one you want to read.

How can you sort out the good editors from the bad? Ask them what they’ve edited. Then go read it. See if you like the finished style. See if they have a website, and go read that. See how they put words together. Do they sound like they know what they’re doing AND that you can get along with them?

That question is food for another blog post by itself. Maybe even two.

To avoid too many dialog tags, let the words the characters say imply their feelings. Not the punctuation either.

I had a teacher once who marked down my short story from an A to a B because in her mind “I used too many ‘said’s”. When I asked her how many I was supposed to use, she told me that you’re supposed to use enough to figure out who’s speaking with whom, but that the dialogue itself should be doing the work.

I didn’t understand that for the rest of the school year, and ultimately got a B in her class. No one said squat about the number of saids in college, so I just figured she was crazy.

She wasn’t crazy. She sucked at explaining her point, but she wasn’t crazy.

Here’s a line of dialogue:

“Good job,” he said loudly to her.

Does that look like he shouted? Do you feel as though, if you’re in the scene, that he’s hollering or exclaiming?

No, and if you had to pinpoint the issue, maybe you’d circle the verb, and say that said isn’t correct for the scene. Or maybe you’d circle the comma and say that commas don’t really indicate shouting.

So let’s make the changes:

“Good job!” he yelled to her.

Great, now we have an exclamation point, so the dialogue is louder, and we have a clear verb.

But let’s look at the sentence a little more broadly. You have two spoken words (Good job) and four words that give directions or explanations (he yelled to her). If (and yes, this could be a big if) there’s only two people in the scene that we’re paying attention to, why do we need so many directions? And why should we spend our time reading more than just the dialogue, which is what we came to the scene to experience anyway?

“Good job!”
“Thanks! Couldn’t have done it without you!”

No tags, because we know who’s speaking. And we know how they’re saying whatever they’re saying, because the tone of the words tells us far more than anything else.

Remember: Punctuation tells us HOW something is said, not what is said.

I’m not saying you can never use tags, or that you should cap the number of “said” tags in whatever you’re writing. That’s crazy. But what you can do is shape the words, the substance and subtext of what they’re saying to better describe how they feel so that you don’t need so many directions tacked on to it.

Not everything needs have a sequel or be part of a great series. Some stories are just stories.

The Hobbit is going to be three movies. There’s already an Evil Dead sequel AND a prequel on the way. There are three sequels to Beauty and the Beast.

Most of the reason this is done is entirely financial – there really isn’t a lot more you have to say in the Hobbit once the plot wraps up (but I’m sure there will be like 35 minutes of additional endings), but because we can read a book at our leisure, and a movie is a contained experience, films get stretched until their plots are translucent at best and non-existent at worst.

But if you’re writing a thing, and it’s the best thing it can be, don’t think you need to simultaneously map five future installments so that your first product gets picked up.

Tell the best story you can, worry about sequels and series later.

You cannot mentally sigh.

Characters can’t sigh in their heads. Characters don’t yell through gritted teeth. Characters can’t see with their eyes closed. A lot of this is cliche-hunting. But it’s important that you’ve got your characters acting like real people so that they’re taken as real people, in a real world.

It’s not the stretching of believability that kills fiction, it’s the lack of consistency within your own construction.

When you’re writing, you can stretch credulity as far as you need to. Science fiction introduces physics-defying technology. Fantasy fiction brings us magic. But we’re willing to “go with it” so that the story makes sense and is compelling.

Where things come of the rails is where within the same story, there’s no consistent adherence to a set of rules.

We’ve talked about how writing is the act of making decisions. A corollary to that idea is that they have to be consistent decisions. The sky is blue until you say otherwise. Magic works a certain way until you explain or provide a reason why it doesn’t. But when things change without rhyme or reason, the story you’re telling starts to feel like a story, like something hastily composed and sped through – a rush job.

I’d recommend you make yourself some notes about how elements in your world work. What does magic look like? How does faith work? How are the angels and demons supposed to interact with humanity? Whatever the element that makes your story deviate from the experience of our real world, write it down, and flesh it out. Be consistent, it makes for a stronger story.

Do some research. Figure out how things work. Sure you can tweak things, but lay a strong base.

There’s a vocal segment of the population that takes a great deal of pleasure telling the rest of us how things really work, and how the movie/book/TV show we watched is inaccurate. Now, this operates under the assumption that our favorite fiction is supposed to be just like our lives, and opens the door for debate between simulation and fantasy.

The more research your do about how things (guns, corporations, explosives, farms, taxes, whatever), you’re giving yourself not only the ability to give accurate detail, but you’re also giving yourself more things to write about (the components of the engine breaking down, rather than a blanket statement that the car’s not working).

More specificity gives your story more depth, more credibility (if that’s what you’re after) and makes it feel more engaging to the reader.

You don’t need to slavishly adhere to realism. You can invent brands of soda or manufacturers or streets or whatever the story calls for, but partner those faux-truths with actual truths. We won’t be able to tell. Really.

If you’re writing a children’s book PAY YOUR ILLUSTRATOR(S).

This one’s a really short one — if you’re creating something, and there are other people involved in that process, PAY THEM. Pay them appropriately and fairly and on time. They have a job to do, just like you do.

If your story ends in the middle of act 2, then either it wasn’t act 2, or that’s not the whole story.

One of my favorite guilty pleasure movies is The Devil’s Advocate. Keanu Reeves has an inconsistent accent, Charlize Theron can’t act, and Pacino triple over-acts. It’s also two and a half hours long, despite the plot being resolved at just before the two hour mark. Those last thirty minutes are a chance for Pacino to rant and Keanu to stare at a naked woman. It’s the whole third act of the movie.

My point is that if you resolve your plot twenty chapters in, then you’re done the story. You don’t need to pad the story for ten more chapters…unless you’re laying the groundwork for whatever comes next, and the big climax you thought wrapped things up was just a rung on this crazy ladder of a story.

Whatever system you use to organize your thoughts (note cards, Scrivener, whatever) – if it works for YOU, great, use it. If not, move on

There are lots of ways to put together thoughts. Some people love Scrivener, I like legal pads. Other people make note cards. No one method is better than another, they’re just different. Anyone who says otherwise might be selling something or looking to make themselves feel better at someone else’s expense.

If you have a system and it works for you, keep at it.

If you don’t yet have a system, try lots of them until you find one that suits your patience, your research and your writing method. You can even cobble your own method together, a little from this system, a little from that system over there.

Whatever works for you is ideal.

Want to see if a story makes sense? Give it to 4 readers – a tween, an adult friend, an enemy and a loved one. See what happens next.

I have a lot of people asking me how they find readers. There are websites you can use (google ‘beta readers’), you can turn to writing groups, you can go to friends and family for instance.

When you’re building a pack of readers, try to get a diverse group. I use a tween, a friend, a loved one and someone who hates my guts. Here’s why:

1. The tween will tell you if they’re enjoying the story, if they get it, if it’s cool.
2. The friend will give you the highlights, saying what they like and what works.
3. The loved one will give you encouragement and support and help turn those good parts into promotional material.
4. The enemy will hate whatever you do, ground you in reality and teach you where you lose readers or bore people, so that you can improve your craft and earn their readership.

Now, I don’t always talk to the people who hate me, because it’s kind of annoying and dramatic and stupid to do. So I usually go to a relative stranger, someone who isn’t a dick but who doesn’t know me well enough to be favorably biased.

The third act is never a great time to introduce new characters.

“There are no drive-ups in the third act” is the old Hollywood saying, which means that by the time the third act is about to kick off (or underway) you’re not introducing critical elements or people who just sort of appear and then prove themselves vital. We’re not really connected to these new characters, and when they accomplish more than the established characters, it makes those characters we have been following less cool and less capable – and that’s not good for the story.

By the time we get to the soon-to-be climax and the story is moving at top speed, we should have all the characters in play and have relationships and a connection to each of them. Sure, it doesn’t need to be the same reason, but we need a reason, other than “it’s what the story needs”. No one wants to read something that feels convenient.

There’s still plenty more to come in this series. I hope you have a great week.

Happy writing. 

86 Things I’ve Said on Twitter, Part 5

We continue the series of things I’ve said on Twitter. Part 4 is here.

Note: 86 things is a lot, isn’t it? Hope you’re enjoying the series.

Fancy pieces of paper on your wall will not come sit behind your desk and do your writing for you.

I talk to a lot of people about how they got their start, how they do what they do and how they finish what they create. People come from all walks of life, all different places in their lives and all with their own unique stories. Some go to big universities and earn big fancy degrees. Some don’t. And some of the people with degrees look down on the people without degrees, as if it’s the degree’s job to validate who or what the earner is.

The degree doesn’t make you anything. Maybe in debt. Maybe better networked. But the degree is just a thing on the wall, and a benchmark of something you’ve done. Like the patch I got in my billiards league when I played my first game. Or the little trophy my brother won for winning the science award.

What matters is the work. The writing. The performance of your task and craft. You don’t need a big fancy degree to do that. You just need the ability to get your ideas across to others. That’s all.

Does the degree make you a professional? If you judge professionalism by the pieces of paper on your wall, then yes. (And by that measure, there are far more unprofessionals than professionals on the planet).

Does the degree make your work better? Not definitively. I’ve read material from degree-awarded, long-time ‘professionals’ and hated it. I’ve read drafts from college dropouts that made me want more.

If you want the degree, go get the degree. If you’ve been bullied into the degree (as I was), then get it if you want it. But understand that what matters is the work you do, not the papers on your wall or the title after your name.

It’s totally okay for writing to be a hobby and not your career. But understand that if you want the career, you gotta do the work.

Writing isn’t for everyone. I don’t say that to dissuade you, I’m just saying that writing isn’t for everyone, the same way that not everyone loves gardening or brewing or watching reality TV shows.

Sometimes that’s because you don’t have the time, you keep busying yourself (intentionally or otherwise) or because you need more practice and training but don’t have the time, money or inclination to get better. So then writing is a hobby. I have hobbies. I play games. I read. I used to collect stamps as a boy.

But my job is editing. Or creating games. Or helping other people create the thing they want to make.

Nothing wrong with having hobbies. But understand that it’s hard to transition a hobby into a job. It takes work. It takes discipline. You have to be willing to fail, work harder and get better. You have to be willing to endure really rough times so that you can discover the good times. Hobbies are all good times, because they’re on your schedule, at your pace and at your leisure.

Jobs are…work. They’re not always on your schedule or at your pace or leisure. Sometimes there’s a real jerk standing over your cubicle telling you to come in on Saturday. Sometimes there’s a person hundreds of miles away writing you emails about how things are due in HOURS, not weeks. It’s out of your control. But this is your job, and ideally, you’re getting paid for that job, so you do the work.

The amount of work and your dedication to the work is what distinguishes a hobby from a job. Nothing wrong with either, other than a perception that a career is going to take more of your time than a hobby will.

Game Designers – FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THE CANDY – Don’t deem your ideas crappy while the book is still being written.

When you’re making something, especially something that other people are supposed to enjoy, you should be happy about making it. You should be excited. Maybe some parts of it excite you more than others, but on the whole, there’s a baseline of excitement as the foundation of your efforts.

And then doubt shows up. And doubt is a bastard. Doubt fabricates all these reasons (some of them really wacky) why what you’re doing should be more scary than exciting. That you’re not good enough. That your idea isn’t good enough. That no one will be interested. That you’re wasting your time. Whatever.

What you’re forgetting in this exchange is that so long as you’re still writing and creating the thing, ANY AND EVERY part of it can be changed, can be made more exciting. Sure, that may require you asking for help, or looking at examples and coming up with new ideas, but nothing is set in stone until you hand the created thing off to the publisher or distributor or whoever makes those final certifications.

When a thing is still being made it isn’t crappy and it isn’t genius. It’s only “in development”. And the act of developing a thing is what should excite you.

Don’t pass judgment on a thing in development. Here’s an example — you’re making a loaf of bread. You mix the dough, you get it in the pan, you put the pan in the oven. It starts baking. Is it a bad loaf of bread? No, it’s just dough. It’s not bread yet. You won’t know if it’s bad until you get it out of the oven.

The same is true for your idea. Don’t deem the dough bad. Let it get out of the oven first.

Want to do a dream sequence in a book? Keep it organized and preferably short. Dreams aren’t where the plot advances.

Unless you’re writing Inception or the third Nightmare on Elm Street or that weird Stephen King movie about aliens and the army, dreams aren’t the spot for plot advancement. Why? Because dreams are supposed to happen when the character is asleep. And when a character is asleep, the outside world (where the problem is supposed to be affecting things) isn’t being dealt with. (Okay, yes, if the whole book takes place in a dreamscape, why do I need to know people are asleep?)

Too often, dreams are where characters have “A-ha!” moments where they figure out who the killer is or figure out how to solve the riddle of the tomb or defuse the bomb. Next time, please give me some wine with that cheese.

Dreams work best when they’re lateral moves – when they show us more depth and develop what we already know. Just like our dreams give us insight into who and what we are (last night’s dream involved screaming children being loaded into the Ghostbusters vehicle and lobotomized, what does that say about me?), so too should they give the reader more connection to the character.

Keep them short. If that means you need to have more dreams to describe your idea, that’s okay. But a dream that goes on and on doesn’t accomplish what you think it does, other than confuse or bore the reader.

Keep them organized. Just because your dream involves floating opera singers, sex acts, your fourth grade teacher yelling at you for clapping wrong (seriously, that’s a thing that happened to me) and a purple sky doesn’t mean you need to convey that information in a weird way to demonstrate how “trippy” things are.

Seriously.

If your whole story is a flashback, maybe you should just tell me the story without the bookended present scenes.

Flashbacks are a good way to give us more information without moving time forward. They’re a cheat, but a helpful cheat. Like the money code in the Sims.

The problem is that if most of your story is told in a flashback, you can chop off the parts where the flashback starts (I remember…) and where the flash back ends (And that’s the story of…) and just tell the story in the past tense.

I love The Young Indiana Jones Adventures. When I first saw them on TV, they had these bookends, scenes where old Indy would talk to people about a time he remembered, then it would segue into the episode. And at the end of the hour, old Indy would come back and say “That’s the story”. It made for a nice TV episode.

Years later when I watched them a second time, I watched without the bookends. They’re still great TV, because the focus wasn’t on the bookends, but rather on the story within the flashback.

And without the bookends, it’s not a flashback, it’s just a story. Which is still awesome.

Chapters/sections in a book are supposed to handle two tasks – add one thing to what you already know and move you forward.

Everything in a story has a role to play. Characters are the do-ers of action. The plot is the problem they face. And chapters are how the action is divided up, both for narrative construction purposes, and for pacing. Chapters also have a job to do, to move you to the next chapter and give you more information to take with you once you get there.

A chapter that doesn’t give you new information, of some kind, is a chapter that can be cut out of a manuscript. Why? Because without new information, nothing’s changed since the last chapter.

Now maybe the chapter gives you new information but doesn’t encourage you to go forward, that can happen. That means the chapter is boring (or it’s the end of the book). If it’s the end of the book, good job, hope it was satisfying. If it’s not the end however, then you have to make the reader want to keep reading. Keep them hungry for what happens next, so that they turn the page all the way until the end.

The key to that is making decisions. Decide what the character is going to do. Decide how big the bang is going to be. Decide if this is the scene where someone gets shot. Make decisions, take action. Tell good stories.

Your job as a writer is to write, not edit-every-sentence-ten-seconds-after-you-write-it. That’s an editor’s job. LET THEM DO THEIR JOB.

I am an editor. My job, what I receive money to do, is make things better. Fix errors, explain mistakes, break bad habits. Presumably someone (a writer) hires me to help them.

The writer’s job in this relationship is to write (or have written) something I can help them with. If you, writer, change every sentence moments after you write it (I don’t mean that you don’t fix spelling, I mean that you write a good sentence, start doubting it, then erase it to write a new replacement sentence), when do I get to do my job? You know, the one you’re paying me for?

If this writer-editor relationship is going to work the way it should for best results, we need a division of labor. You write whatever you write, I edit it to make it the best it can be, together we produce awesome things.

But you have to let me do my job. I know what I’m doing. Really. Trust me to help you. Trust my skills to help your work.

In talking directly to your audience, you shouldn’t have to say “Take note” or “Pay attention – unless you think you suck at focusing.

Sometimes the writer creates something where they talk to the audience. Maybe it’s an aside. Maybe it’s an intro. Maybe it’s just the way the narrative works. And if the audience knows that they’re being spoken to (using “you” is a pretty good indicator), then there isn’t really a need to say “Take note” or “Pay attention” to whatever you’re talking about…because they’re already paying attention. Because they’re reading.

Don’t assume they’re not paying attention. That’s kind of rude and says more about you than it does them (that you make assumptions about who reads your work and how well those people pay attention to things that allegedly interest them, for starters).

Also, if you’re using language that gives attention-paying directions, are you saying that as much for yourself as you are for them?

Don’t hate your audience. Trust them to be paying attention. Trim out those instructions. Just tell the story.

The “traditional” method of publishing hinges on two questions – 1) Can you follow directions? 2) How patient are you?

My friend Chuck Wendig wrote this awesome article this week (hang on, I’ll pick up that name I dropped) about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. It’s good, you should read it.

So there are many ways to skin the “I’m going to get published” cat. Traditional publishing is one way to go, but it’s not without its pitfalls and things-to-be-aware-of.

Part of the process for traditional publication involves query letters and draft submission. And the method by which you deliver the manuscript and query varies from recipient to recipient. But everyone has guidelines that dictate how they want to get your material. When you don’t follow those guidelines, your work doesn’t get read, no matter how great it may be. Not following directions dooms your work to the scrap heap.

Likewise, traditional publishing is not a race car. My other friend Cheri Laser (I miss her) and I spoke of this often – that there was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, with weeks and months going by between progress made on a book.

I’m not saying that self-publishing is naturally faster, I’m just saying that traditional publishing can sometimes take a while. Maybe weeks. Maybe months. Maybe longer. Every situation is different, so I can’t flat out give you specifics. Be patient, you’ll get the results you want.

Or not, then you’ll just have to find another route to get published.

Seriously you don’t always need a prologue. Just get to the good bits of the story.

I see this a lot in fantasy. People love prologues. Sometimes they’re scenes that didn’t have a place in the book, but the author really loved writing it. Sometimes it’s this big setup section, that explains what happened bajillions of years prior to when the story is going to happen.

Prologues can be great. They can condense information down and paint a timeline and a context for the story we’re about to be a part of. But they can also be nightmarishly plodding, ill-conceived and be more masturbatory than productive.

They work sparingly. Sort of like that weird wrench you keep in the toolbox. You use it maybe once a season or only when you buy a new grill.

When they work, they’re awesome. When they don’t, I’d sooner scrub my eyes with broken glass, lime juice and sandpaper.

What I came to this book for is the story. Give it to me. Not because I’m in a rush or because I’m busy, but because that’s what I sat down and want to read. If it really helps my enjoyment of the story to know that three millennia ago a sandstorm ravaged the city of Ab-al-kuz’zad, then great, I expect to see the ruined city in the book somewhere. If you’re just writing things to write them, I’m going to either skip it, feel pissed off that I read it, or editorially cut it.

Books can only take you so far. Seminars can only take you so far. A lot of this journey is you writing. Regularly. 

I love the people who come to my seminars. I get people who come exclusively to conferences just to hear me speak, which is incredibly flattering. I get people from all over the place to sit and take notes and ask questions, and that makes me feel great.

I love the people who read my blog (well, most of you anyway), and hopefully, you read these posts and get something out of it and go forth into your writing better armed for success. (Or maybe you’re just keeping tabs on me, whatever).

But the point of all this information, the point of all the lists on twitter, all the blog posts, all the seminars and workshops and Q&As I give is so that you, whoever you are, wherever you are on your path to whatever writing creation you’re on, actually go write the thing.

See, the point isn’t just to hear me talk, or hear my voice when you read my words, or just read my words while other tabs load in your browser. The goal is to have you write a thing, have you make something awesome that wasn’t there before you started and be excited about it. If I played a hand in that process, fantastic, I’d love to hear all about it, but I’m totally not just doing this so that people tell me how great I am.

Be the awesome writer you’re going to be, whether that’s a hobby or a career, or just this thing you tried once after that relationship ended and you didn’t feel like getting back into dating or because your kids encouraged you or because you wanted to show your ex that you can accomplish what you set out to do and you’ll be damned if you let their bullshit words echo in your head for a minute longer (I may have said too much there).

Write and write regularly. Get on a schedule. Give yourself some structure. Train yourself. Discover that discipline in you to do a thing, make a thing and see it through until the end.

Happy writing.

Part 6 (!!) of this series will be out on Monday.

86 Things I’ve Said on Twitter, Part 4

After a pause last week (lots of things going on, blogging got pushed so far down the schedule), we resume the series of 86 Things I’ve Said on Twitter. Part 3 is here.

Guess what? You can talk to an editor ANY time during your creative process to help steer you through tricky sections and past blocks.
There’s this thought travelling around that editors are who you talk to AFTER you write, as if we’re summoned from the ether when all the words are still cooling on the page. And as we’ve talked about elsewhere, that’s still where an editor gets used. But, there’s ZERO reason to think that you can’t talk to editor WHILE you’re writing. We can steer the writing past the problems, we can help you learn new strategies to overcome bad habits, we can help make the writing better *as* it happens. That is, if you let us. 
Get a healthy supportive network of people around you and creating what you love never feels like a JOB.
I love what I do. There’s a reason why I so frequently use the #livingthedream hashtag on social media (and this blog). It never feels like a job. Sure, I make a living doing all the editing, developing, creating and consulting, but it’s not a go-to-a-cubicle-farm-and-file-TPS-reports-and-listen-to-my-soul-die job. It’s my lifestyle, expressed through actions. It’s just what I do, and the reason I can enjoy so much of it is because I have around me the most amazing support system of friends and family (and friends as family) who support me and who care about what I’m doing and who want to hear about it. 
Disclosure: A lot of my support system does the same sort of work, so we can often and easily talk about the work and how best to accomplish it, but the point stands – we’re all in this creative endeavor together. 
Now if you’re thinking to yourself, “How do I build this? How do I get a support structure?”, start by being honest with yourself. You have to be your biggest fan. (And I can say this because it’s something I’m still working on) From there, you have to engage other people, telling them that your writing is important to you (no, it doesn’t have to be a career, unless you want it to be) and getting them excited too. You’ll be able to weed out the people who will support you from those who scoff based on whether or not they get excited and encouraging. Take the good ones, don’t sweat the bad ones, whoever they might be. 
Hey, how long were you planning on only just talking about making your thing? Do you think it’s going to create itself?
There two Johns: The John who talks a lot of about doing things, and the John who does them. Talking-John has a lot of big ideas and big hopes and dreams but never gets around to making them happen, because doing things is scary and because (he thinks) that talking about them is far more fun than doing them. Talking-John is a shitty coward. He doesn’t take any risks, he doesn’t expose himself as vulnerable or human, he doesn’t try. 
Action-John (now with kung-fu grip) is newer to the scene, for a while he was just the shunted-off, pushed-into-the-corner voice that started sentences with “I hope…” He wanted to take action, but was too scared. Too scared to fail. Too scared to get a negative response, thinking that it was a reflection on who he was, and that if he failed, everyone would hate him. But then the fear became smaller, or maybe the drive to do things became bigger, and he started doing things. Big things, the things Talking-John always said would happen. Sure some things stumbled out of the gate (see: TWO people at the first Pay What You Want Seminar), but then there’s a whole stack of things that took off like a shot right out of the gate. (So many games!)
Talking is good, but Action, though scary or hard or uncertain is better. The things you want to do won’t do themselves, you need to be creating them. They’re *your* things, so get out there and make them happen.

Rejection sucks. But it only stops you if you let it. Also, the rejecter is just ONE person – plenty of ways to accomplish your goals.
Ahh rejection letters. The kryptonite of writers. The scourge of creatives. 
Hey. It’s a piece of paper. Or an email. Or one person’s words to you. ONE person. And they might not even know you. 
Not everyone is going to reject your work. And that’s what you should remember – they’re rejecting your work, not you as a person, a parent, a spouse, a partner, a friend, a whatever-else-you-might-be. And if you want to split hairs, they might not even be rejecting the work itself, they’re just rejecting how you introduced the work (your query).

It’s not about what number rejection you’re on – a lot of talk is about how many times a particular book was rejected – it matters what you do AFTER you get rejected. I’m not saying you can’t be upset. I’m not saying you can’t eat ice cream out of the carton and sit on the couch in your bathrobe and watch episodes of old TV on Netflix. (by the way, Coldstone Creamery totally knows how to ease rejection…so I’ve heard)

If you get rejected by one agent or publisher, there are others. Loads of others. Or you can go a different route. It’s up to you. You’re in charge. 

Not everyone is going to love what you create. Do you love it? That’s the starting point. If you don’t, who will?
I’ll keep this one short — You have to love what you do. Otherwise, why are you doing it? If you’re not happy making the thing(s) you’re making, what can you do to make yourself happy, and how can you change  your situation around?

Other people aren’t going to like it. That’s okay. Your job is not to please everyone. Your job is to please yourself and make awesome things. 

Do not ever, ever, ever let anyone at conference/convention/whatever-event make you feel guilty for loving what you do.
One of my good and dear friends speaks quite well (and extensively) about women in gaming. Recently, she was at PAX (a big video game/gaming convention) and the panel she was on took a LOT of flak for her being “big” or for the panelists being lesbians or for them being “feminazis” – basically a huge swarm of adolescents got together and got quite aggressive with these women (emailing them rapey death threats, being otherwise angry and mean to them).

That’s upsetting. There’s plenty of room for everyone at the creative table, no matter who they are, what they are, what they believe in or what they make. Just because *you* disagree (however intensely) with what people make or who they are doesn’t make the other person “wrong”. 

I have been on panels, attended conferences and conventions where the speaker addressing the audience just shot down people. Giving malicious advice. Throwing around a lot of shame. Throwing around tons of guilt. 
Yes, there are going to be people, even people who are supposed to know better, who are going to make you feel guilty for who you are, what you love and doing whatever you do. I’m not telling you this because I want you to rage against them, or to set you on the defensive, I’m telling you because you don’t have to be guilty. You don’t have to be afraid of being a whatever/whoever-you-are and doing/making whatever you make. 
Sure, some people are going to rail against you because they’re idiots. Or bigots. Or sexists. Or other ‘-ist’s. 
Other people are going to shout you down because if you’re not in the picture, you’re not competing with them for what they perceive to be finite resources. (Newsflash – there’s never going to be a shortage of awesome)
Do not give these voices any mental real estate. They’re not accurate, and not an accurate representation of anything other than hate-speech and close-mindedness. 

If there’s a #1 tool in your toolbox as a writer, let it be discipline. To do the work, to endure rejection, to keep believing.
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s not like you’re forever at mile 1. It takes time to make things, to do the best job you can, and there are a lot of distractions out there. And those distractions can really pull you away from getting things done. (Hey look, an Xbox! Hey look, a relationship! Hey look, nachos!)
Discipline is what makes things go. The ability to park my butt in this comfy office chair and do the writing and thinking allows me to go out with that relationship, allows me to buy new Xbox games and afford nacho supplies. 
Discipline also weathers me against rejection. Keep running the marathon. Keep believing down to a sub-atomic level that I’m on the right path for me. That I can do this, that I’m good enough. 

Writers, if things aren’t working out, you can totally fire the people you’ve hired. If you’ve been hired, you can totally fire clients.
There’s a great George Carlin bit about getting pulled over and telling the cop that they’re a public servant, so as a taxpayer, you pay their salary. And while that’s comedy and exaggerated, there’s a truth in there – you can fire the people you retain if they’re not working out. 
Have a bad experience with an agent or editor? You don’t need to keep that relationship. Yes, you can get a new one. It may be embarrassing or awkward or a tough thing to do, but it may also be the right thing to do, if the dynamic isn’t what you hoped for and despite your best efforts it’s not getting you what you want. 
Likewise, if you’ve been hired by someone and it’s just not going well (you’re butting heads, arguing, they’re not listening to the advice they came to you for, etc), you can fire them. Yes, a client can be fired. Ending that relationship works both ways. 
It’s not fun (I’ve only done it twice in the past few years), but in order to preserve your sanity, salvage your work or get through the day without huge anxiety and stress, it might be just the thing that needs to happen. 
Just do it fairly, honestly and openly. Don’t beat around the bush and don’t be a jerk. 
Sure there’s an element of “luck” in success, but there’s far more hard work, perseverance and discipline involved.
How did Author X (insert “named” author here) get to the place they’re at? How did this book or that one sell tens of bajillions of copies? 
Luck played a part in it, that the right person came along at the right moment and took a chance on making the book happen. But it wasn’t all luck. The manuscript had to be in some semblance of good order or interesting for someone to say “Let’s make this a thing”. (Granted, this does sometimes mean that you may be sending your work to be looked at by idiots and not-the-best people, but that’s for another post) 
What you’re not seeing in this process, what we don’t know firsthand and can only assume is how hard the author worked to get the manuscript to the point where someone could come along and help make it a reality. We’re not seeing the number of hours spent writing, the late nights, the arguments with people about how the book should go or when it’ll be done. We’re not seeing the person writing during their lunch breaks and after the kids are in bed. We don’t get to see the construction process, we only see it once it’s built. 
Work hard, be passionate, be disciplined, and you’ll find that luck is on your side. 
Or you can make your own luck. Remember, you’re in charge.

If someone is helping you with your project (and their help is actually good) THANK THEM. Recognize their good work.
A book is likely not a solo effort. Lots of other people helped you get this book into shape and out the door. Your agent got you the deal. Your editor helped work out the story’s problems. Your friends read the drafts. Your writing group gave you ideas. Your parents conceived you, so that you could write this book. 
Sure, as an author you get the spotlight more than the others. Which is great, your hard work should be recognized. But not at the expense or ignorance of the other people who helped. Share the spotlight. Let other people feel as good as you do. Maybe other people who want to be in the position your in can benefit from your example (and by extension benefit from the same help you got), so by calling out who helped you, everyone wins. 
This also includes paying them fairly and on time.
Last bit of the day. If you hired someone to help you, pay them. Pay them what you owe them. Pay them when you say you’re going to. Yeah, I know, money’s tight and it’s a rough economy, but honor your arrangements. Yes, we love to help you make the things you want to make, but this is still our livelihood. It’s not too much to ask that someone owed money receives that money. 
Don’t be the person who doesn’t pay. Word will spread, and not necessarily good word. If paying people is tough, then at least do them the courtesy of being up front about it. Let them know what to expect. That way everyone knows where everyone else stands. 
More to come later in the week.