Plot 201: Plots That Suck And What To Do About Them

Today we continue the Plot 201 discussions with a nice discussion about plots that suck and how to fix them. I apologize for the sound issues, my recording software was being rather bratty.

Plotsuck, which is the entirely technical term for a plot that’s not engaging a reader, is one of the big problems a writer faces. Thankfully, there are multiple ways to fix it, and they’re all modular for a writer’s situation. They just require some decision making and more writing, neither of which are bad things for a writer to do.

I know that over the weekend, NaNoWriMo starts, and I hope you check out Monday’s very exciting blogpost in between your NaNo-ing. Nanite-ing? Verb that however you like. I’ll see you Monday with an announcement.

Have a great weekend, happy writing.

NOTE: Next week’s Plot 201 will be out on Wednesday, since I’m out next weekend for Metatopia.

Ten Art Commandments

I have a less than secret love for hip-hop. I was in school during the East Coast West Coast rap feud, and I eventually went West Coast in it because I thought Puffy/Puff Daddy/P Diddy/ Penelope/P-whateveriddy was irritating, and I thought what he did to a Police song to “tribute” Biggie warranted him being exiled to a small Pacific atoll so he could think about what he’d done.

But my love for all things Dre, early Snoop and Death Row Tupac doesn’t mean I wasn’t aware of the Ten Crack Commandments. Now maybe it’s because I grew up very religious, but the idea of commandments always stuck out to me. In a world of such fluidity and turbulence, I’ve always been impressed that anyone can erect a set of concrete rules.

Writing and publishing is one of the most creative turbulent and dynamic industries I can think of, next to fashion. What’s popular is forever ephemeral, even if in some ways there are cycles as old things are made new again. And perish the thought that you’re wearing or crafting something out of style, although the hipster movement seems to keep everything around, either for irony or straight purposes.

So I spend a lot of time wondering if I can codify some concepts for creatives (alliteration!). Here’s what I have so far. My apologies to my religious friends, but I’m cribbing your format.

I. Your art is yours, not the audiences, not the critics. 

Whenever you make stuff, whatever it is, whatever you write, or art, that’s yours. I don’t mean selling it, I don’t mean signing publishing deals, I mean the creative engine under it. You create what you create because it pleases YOU. Critics are always going to find something to pick at (because they’re critics), and audiences are far too tempermental, so there’s little sense in trying to satisfy the unknown demands of an unknown number of people. Create for yourself.

II. Never get high on the critics’ lines.

You’re never going to please everyone. Never ever. Someone’s going to complain about the presence or absence of a thing, or a word choice, or a description. They’ll trot out hypersensitivity and words like “problematic”, and maybe some people will even take the time to explain what they don’t like, or spend their time trying to make you feel guilty for liking whatever you like. Don’t buy into it. Don’t drink their Kool-Aid.

The world is big enough that people can all like different things, and even disagree about it. And not be wrong in the process.

III. There’s no reason you can’t talk about what you’re doing.

I’ve tried for years to understand why people don’t share their writing. They hide the fact that they do it. They hide what they write. They hide their progress. They hide their failures. The usual answers I hear range from “If I talk about it, people always want to butt in” to “if I talk about it, someone is going to steal it”. To first one: See Commandment one. To the second: Who? Who is going to steal it? The person you’re sharing it with? Why would you pick that person then? Can you find another person?

Talking about whatever you’re doing is a way to demystify and destagmatize  the craft of writing and its practitioners. There isn’t a badge of shame to avoid because you’re writing something that will give someone else the vapors and cause them to blush at the church social. Being a creative doesn’t make you a pariah. Get out of the cave and share with the tribe.

IV. Communication is more than selling.

At my last check, I’m following 1889 people, and I’ve got 1444 followers on Twitter. I love Twitter. It suits my patience, my need for stimulation, and it requires concision. And while I’m not known for brevity, I’m pretty handy with effective word choice. So, I do a lot of tweeting. The frustrating thing for me is that not everyone uses social media as an avenue for communication. I suppose there aren’t any hard rules for usage, but I’m confident we’ve all seen messages like this:

 Hi! Thanks for following me! Check out this link for more great information!

Sure, the length varies, and that link goes anywhere from a shopping cart to a blog with some annoying popup requiring you to give an email address, but the concept is the same. Social media is SOCIAL, If you just wanted to broadcast the opportunity for sales, you would just need some strong SEO and a visually appealing website. If you’re saying, “John, the point of social media is to bring customers to my platform” then I’m going to make an increasingly displeased series of faces at you until you go sit in the corner. Platforms are for Mario to jump on. People are not automatically customers. We’re people first, and we all deserve to be treated as people even if we’re not in the mood to fork over the cash to buy your stuff.

Communicating with people, true audience building, is about sharing your experience and listening to the experiences of those around you, so that you can take all this information and let it further evolve your life as it all moves forward towards the hot or cold death of the universe.

And it’s not just the good stuff. Yes, sure, the good stuff when things are doing well is way more exciting and less heartbreaking to hear than the tales of insecurity, rejection, and disappointment, but as we’ll see in Commandment V, it’s not something to hide.

V. Share the good, share the bad, take them both and there you have … a theme song stuck in your head.

Your life, creative and otherwise, has good and bad moments. You totally find five bucks in your jeans. You forget why you walked into the kitchen. You spend a day writing a great chapter. You get told you have a terminal illness. It’s folly to think in that all-or-nothing way that you’re the only recipient of all the universe’s bad shit, because everyone else always seems to be talking about so many successes.

I see it all the time. So many people have great announcements of projects to do, projects completed, families starting, major undertakings succeeding, and big things on the horizon. And that announcement, while generating happiness, also brings in some envy (why and how are they doing these things and I’m not) and a sense of inadequacy (wait, they’re doing all that stuff, and all i have is this little stuff over here).

I don’t have a good answer for you. I don’t know how to make those feelings permanently vanish and never dog you again. The best I can tell you to do is that when you find yourself looking over the fence at someone’s far greener pasture, remember that while you’re seeing the verdant loam, what you’re not seeing at the roots and weeds. And because people aren’t likely to comfortably talk about the problems, it’s easy to look at your problems and compare them other peoples’ not-problems. Which isn’t ever going to be equitable. My illness, for instance, can’t be compared to someone’s announcement of a new job, because they’re not equivalent.

This is why I urge people to talk openly, bravely, even passionately about all the facets of what they’re doing. Is it going to drive people away? Maybe. Is it going to help someone feel better or maybe not alone? Maybe. Does that make it worth trying? Yes.

VI. Do not be afraid of the new. 

I think we are all creatures of habit. We like to do the same things at roughly the same times over and over. We like to eat certain kinds of food, we like to read certain kinds of books. We wear clothes in some styles and not others. For me, that’s t-shirts, jeans and warm, soft fabrics. Maybe for you it’s something dressy. I like to watch far more Netflix that regular TV now, maybe you’re all about America’s Next Top Whomever. I prep for work this way, you do it that way.

At some point though, when we trace our way back, we didn’t always do those things. Someone had to introduce us to these ideas before we made them habits. It’s normal to be scared when you’re trying new things. There’s the fear that you’ll be judged, the fear that you’ll fail, the fear that you’ll succeed, the fear that you won’t be as good at it as you hoped, the fear that you’l be let down if it sucks, etc. Often, we let those fears stop us before we even begin. We see the fear first, we decide to not try in advance. For all the talk we do about something failing, it might also succeed!

New is not a synonym of bad or wrong. New is opportunity, it’s a shot to change circumstances. It’s worth taking.

VII. Treat yourself well.

We have a regrettable trend of glamorizing and sensationalizing things that don’t need it. We say that drinking and drugs make us better, freer, writers. We say that mental illnesses are acceptable fodder for inaccurate portrayals that reinforce stigma. We say that in order to be as good as other people, you have to be willing to cross a lot of uncomfortable boundaries to earn success. We give attention to murderers and demagogues in equal breath. We discard material that might be hard to learn or hard to accept in favor of lighter stuff that has no substance but looks pretty. In short, we glut ourselves at the buffet of easy choices, cowardice, closemindedness, apathy, laziness, and cruelty.

We could treat ourselves so much better. No, I don’t mean you need to start eating pesticide-free lawn clippings and drink a varieties of liquids extracted from berries and nuts you can’t spell. I mean taking the time to learn craft, make better choices about what material we read and watch, make time to talk to each other without looking down at cell phones or monitors. We could be honest with ourselves, even when it scares us, and make those passions of ours a priority, rather than the thing that fuels our complaints, inadequacy, or daydreams.

You deserve every bit of quality living. Even as a “struggling” artist, you deserve to be kind and even helpful to yourself. Get rest. Hydrate. Share life with friends. Eat a cookie now and then. Make yourself laugh. Feel good about the slow death of all life on the planet that we stupidly recognize as autumn. Do the stuff you like without fear that you’ll be ostracized for it. There are enough people in the world seemingly eager to chase people out on rails for what they say and do and believe, you don’t have to join that circus just to get on your own case.

VIII. Remember there are multiple kinds of support

I suck at being taken care of. It makes me feel like a helpless child. It makes me feel weak. I don’t enjoy being coddled (see, I immediately call it being coddled, when all I’m picturing in my head is someone handing me a blanket). That’s just one kind of support. That’s the physical support we all need sometimes. But what about emotional? What about having people who listen? What about people who can celebrate successes? (If you want a central place for creative support, you might want to look here)

With so many people putting out material, using resources like crowdfunding and Patreon, it’s easy to see that support is financial first, before everything else. And yes, it’s great when you can support people making cool things and doing cool stuff, but cracking open your wallet and purse are not the only ways you can help people continue to do what they’re doing. Yes, it often gets framed that way because I have yet to figure out how to pay bills or cover expenses with love and patience, but that doesn’t discredit non-financial types of investment or support.

If you can’t spare the dollars, spread the word to your friends that there’s something they can check out. Take two seconds and write the creator a supportive note. Do what you can to strengthen those communal bonds, so that when roles reverse and you find yourself needing support, people know that they can reach back to you too.

IX. It’s not going to be perfect.

I don’t care what you’re doing. I don’t care what you’re mapping out right now. Doesn’t matter whatever it is. Doesn’t matter how ambitious or small it is. Whatever you’re doing, it’s not going to be perfect. Your draft will have typos. Your prototype might have squeaky parts. Your recipe might need an extra two minutes cooking time. Yes, eventually you can make a thing that exceeds every expectation, but nothing is perfect right off the bat.

So don’t hold yourself to the unrealistic impractical standard that it has to be. It’s not like there’s some rule we’ve all been trying to follow and fail that says we need to be perfect in our first attempts and drafts. That’s why revision and testing and second, fifth, tenth, two-millionth chances are things that exist.

Perfection is the refuge of the unrealistic and out of touch.

X. Don’t you dare give up.

Over the course of your creative lifespan, you’re going to face obstacles. You’re going to face rejections, critics, disinterested people who you just can’t persuade otherwise, people who want to tell you everything that’s always going to be wrong, people who want to mock you for even trying to make a thing, hard drive crashes, overbooked flights, financial insecurity, financial windfalls that you get a little too excited about, overcommitment, underemployment, frustration, deadlines, competition for limited opportunities, bad weather, illnesses, pets that demand attention when you could be making stuff, hunger, distractions, nagging spouses, children who just need to show you one more thing, legos to step on in the middle of the night, impatience, batteries that die just when you need them the most, cold streaks, hot streaks that die out too quickly, dayjob stress, anxiety, disappointment, tough choices, a lack of things to eat in the fridge despite having gone to the store two days ago, spotty internet connection, bills, phone calls that interrupt your workflow, fears, jealousies, petty people who want more attention so they can continue being victims, idiots, doubters, printers running out of paper, emails not getting read, dropped calls, stubbed toes, soreness, boredom, envy, anger, apathy, insufficient cookies, times where you forcibly have to wear pants, lacks of anything to say, confusion, brain freeze and about four trillion other things I can’t think of right this second. You’re going to face all those things, and you’re going to feel like you can’t keep going forward. Or that instead of walking a nice straight flat path forward, somehow there’s a whole mountain range in front of you. Covered in glass. With lava. And clowns. And you can’t find your shoes. And it’s snowing out.

Do not give up. Do not let the obstacles, no matter how numerous or sizeable, overcome that voice inside that tells you that holy shit, you are someone who makes stuff, and that stuff is good, and that people like that stuff. And you can do more stuff, new stuff, and even more people will dig it. You just have to try. You just have to put one word in front of the other, one brush to one canvas, one finger to one key, and just go do it.

You’re in charge of when you stop. You’re in charge of when you start. You’re in charge of what happens next. Always. Forever. Don’t you dare give up.


I’ll be back on Friday with Plot 201.  See you then. Happy writing.

Visualization, Characterization, and World Building

Good morning everyone. I hope you had a good weekend.

Today we’re going to talk about one of my great loves, and how it relates to another of my great loves. We’re going to tie video games into writing, and along the way (ideally) discover that there’s a lot an author can use from one in the other.

I have loved video games since I played Paperboy in the arcade, and since I got an NES for Christmas the year it came out. Since then, video games have been everything from a coping strategy to a bonding experience to a refuge for me, and I have moved from system to system with little brand loyalty. NES to Super NES to N64 to PS1 to PS2 to Xbox 360 to now PS4. Parallel to this, I’ve played PC games, often the PC ports of the console games.

You can chart a similar line for me with reading. I go from series to series, trying to be flexible within genres to see how different authors tread similar ground. Yes, there have been plenty of books I put down and never got back to, but that’s true for video games as well.

So let’s look at one of my favorite parts of storycraft, and we’ll use two of my favorite games to do so. Let’s talk world-building, and we’ll lens it through Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.


A sidebar: These games feature content that many people find distasteful for a variety of reasons. I understand their criticisms, they’re entitled to them, but I don’t agree with a lot of them, and I’m not looking to either be persuaded nor change minds. I like what I like, and it’s not the end of the world. While I will mention a few things in hyperbolic and comedic ways to express my ideas, what I’m writing here is not reason to dogpile me. Also, it’s video games, not constitutional law. Go have a cookie and sit down if you’re going to get all ragey.


Metal Gear is a game about a one-man army running all over 1980s Afghanistan and Africa, fighting Russians while trying to build his own mercenary army. I talked a little about it here, but today, I just want to look at one part – the visuals and what the player can do. Put aside for a minute the “why” and the “plot”. It’s worth noting that when I play, I also put aside things like why and plot, because I have trouble shooting bad guys even when I’m standing behind them.

Here’s a screen shot of Metal Gear:

You can tell he's serious because he has a mullet and he's on a horse.

You can tell he’s serious because he has a mullet and he’s on a horse.

That’s a visual from the game. That’s not a video, that’s the starting point for play pretty early on, with the camera slightly moved. Look at the amount of stuff you can see. The detail on the horse, the shadows. The mountains in the distance. Even the dirt looks like dirt.

If you were to describe that on paper, how many sentences would that be? One paragraph? Three? Two pages?

There isn’t a right answer to that, because there are no set rules about how much text-space should be given to description of non-character stuff (this assumes we’re counting the horse as an object or tool, not a character in the story). Herein is the chief difference between video games and manuscripts: The video game delivers its paragraphs visually, whereas the manuscript uses words and the absence of words to gives us the same details.

I have a PS4, so my controller has two thumbsticks, one to move the character, one to move the camera. I remember when I started using controllers with sticks (I think my first one was on the N64), and how amazing it was to me that you could move the camera, even if the character was just standing there.

Again, consider the amount of text it would take you to move the camera. Always think in terms of the camera, that the words you use what we see in our mind’s eye, so if you want us to move, you have to give us the details.

Here’s another shot of Metal Gear, in the moments before a Communist eats some bullets (this is not a screenshot of me playing, because the shooter isn’t dying or being blown up):

I'm not even that far in the game, I had to find this on the internet.

I’m not even that far in the game, I had to find this on the internet.

The above scene is the prelude to an action beat, the moment before a finger pulls a trigger and presumably stuff happens. This is tension, because while in the video game we’re not concerned with the shooter’s (his name is Snake, because of course it is) thinking, we’re just going to bust a cap in the guy because that’s what you do to 1980s Communists.

Text can get us in Snake’s head. Text can allow us to know, intuit, or believe we know the reason why that guy needs to suck lead. Maybe he’s not a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, maybe he’s one of those people who complains that them gays ruin Star Wars and that women can’t make games because anything with a vagina can’t possibly be creative. We can spend paragraphs or even previous chapters building up to this moment. (Fun fact: When we do this away from writing, it’s called a ‘headcanon’, I just found that out)

Video games employ cut scenes to convey the headspace, and as graphical ability increases, we can start to see greater nuance in what motivates a character to act. When the visuals aren’t able to express these motivations, we’re left with only whatever we can project onto them.

WHY DO YOU ALWAYS RUN FROM COMMITMENT MARIO? WHAT DEATHWISH DRIVES YOU AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU?

WHY DO YOU ALWAYS RUN FROM COMMITMENT MARIO? WHAT DEATHWISH DRIVES YOU AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU?

I talk about visuals as a bridge towards characterization so that we can segue into another game, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Which means I need to take another sidebar:


People on the internet are quite outraged at this game because the previous entry into this series was unplayable, literally. I mean it froze every few seconds, it had terrible graphical glitches, and was generally a bucket of digital shit. I understand that subsequent patches rendered it playable, but for me, I never got the game to work. Yes, it did suck, but it did get better. Now people are outraged for all new reasons, some of which I’ll detail below. Again if you’re going to get this fiery over a collection of digital ones and zeroes, may I suggest you go stand outside in the sun and listen to a baby laugh while a puppy runs around?


In Assassin’s Creed, you play as an Assassin, and your job is to murder the hell out of your nemeses, the Templars. This is best done with a variety of sharp items and often after dropping on them from great heights.

It's cool hobos, you're just going to get stabbed in the face a lot.

It’s cool hobos, you’re just going to get stabbed in the face a lot.

The series features deep and confusing lore, often involving a possibly alien race that predates man and genetic chronology that allows a person to go back through their geneology (or someone else’s) to discover the location of artifacts, and stab people in different eras. It’s worth pointing out that you can conceive of these games as flashbacks, with the modern day stuff framing each dive into older times. Because this point out of view requires some level of objectivity, naturally the internet is totally pissed that in Syndicate, there’s no modern day bookends aside from a few clips in between major plot pieces. Cry some more people, I’m about to drop some knowledge as to why you’re weeping over something actually great.

These modern day sequences aren’t playable, meaning you don’t control a character in them. You (the player) are a spectator. I suppose this lack of “stuff I can do” is frustrating, but these scenes are bookends, they’re steps removed from our playable characters (the protagonists), so I don’t need to control them. They just help frame the “why” of the protagonists in a broader context and/or subtext that the protagonists couldn’t do themselves.

In other words, we gotta see what else is going in the world so that we can see the bigger picture and now how/where/why the protagonists have to do what they have to do. As if the motivation of “stab people in the face” isn’t clear or compelling.

Syndicate features two protagonists, a pair of twins. Evie (the sister) and Jacob (the brother) Frye are Assassins in Victorian London. I’m happy to see the expansion beyond a single protagonist, and double happy to see it be a woman. Because why can’t women stab people in the face too? Have they not stabbing needs? Have they not stabbing knives? (The fact that you play as a woman is another point of contention on the internet, because somehow digital non-sexualized ladies ruin everything, though I’m not sure how and I’m not sure I want to hear some idiot try and convince me about some great agenda that’s supposed to be ruining my fun with video game ladyparts)

This duality allows you to take two contrasting facets of personality and personify them. Jacob will go toe-to-toe, brashly and aggressively whereas Evie thinks first before acting. I suppose some percentage of the internet population sees this as a gender metaphor, but since I’m not gender obsessed, I’ll just go on talking about the characters now.

In developing these characters, you work through a set of skills, arming these digital people with talents and tools to defeat obstacles, just like you would any character in writing. Here we see where video games can expedite the development of character based on the situations each character encounters. When we first meet the characters, there’s Jacob, who I’ll call Sherlock Bromes because it makes me laugh and because I’ve dressed him in deerstalker and opera cape. He’s eager to fight his way through about a baker’s dozen of goons to kill a factory manager.

That's a bro in a deerstalker standing on a building, ready to bro out.

That’s a bro in a deerstalker standing on a building, ready to bro out. And by ‘bro out’ I mean rid the pestilent city of London of its Templar oppressors by sticking knives in them.

When we meet Evie, who I’m going to call Ladysassin, (because holy shit she’s a lady and an assassin and it’s way more fun than expected to have this tiny woman beat someone to death with her murderstick sword cane), she infiltrates a trainyard to kill a scientist.


It’s worth pointing out that I am TERRIBLE at many of the video games I play. If it’s a game with guns, I can’t shoot the side of a barn I’m leaning against. If it’s a game where I have to remain hidden, I get spotted within seconds of figuring out that I’m supposed to be hiding. Things go poorly for me.


Because the characters are built around different personality facets, the same ideas that I see on screen can be set apart in text. The brawling Sherlock Bromes can have pages devoted to the crunch of bones and the lust for a fight. Ladysassin’s chapters can describe the world she’s tensely navigating. One is going to feature the physical, the other the cerebral.

I’d love to fuse these two characters into one (Ladysassin all the way, though I’m so pleased with the Sherlock Bromes pun), but in order to do those facets justice, we’d have to dive into that “fighting woman equals badass woman equals girl power” trope, because it suggests that women have to be fighters to earn some kind of equal footing with men, rather than just assuming it’s inherent because people are awesome and capable regardless of differences.

The text I’d write then would lean cerebral, because that’s how I want to lens this Assassin’s Creed World. Yes, there’s loads of people to murder, there’s plenty of tall buildings to climb and jump off from, there’s loads of historical figures to casually interact with (what’s that Charles Darwin? You want me to murder your opposition? Sure, give me a minute). It’s worth investing the time in developing the characters as elements in the world, not the world’s masters.

Let’s come at this in another way. Here’s the trailer for Jessica Jones, the new Marvel series on Netflix. To explain the series, it’s the story of a superhero-turned-private-eye, who has one of the darker stories in the Marvel comics, having been raped and mentally abused by a mind controlling badguy. The Netflix series, judging by the trailer, looks to dive into it, and the noir elements of private detective and voiceover with tragic tale and weariness naturally hook me immediately. Also, big fan of any character who rocks a hooded sweatshirt.

Now, I know the story because I’ve read the comics, but even if I didn’t know that, I could gather that bad things happen because of things like crying women and doors closing, blood on her hands, and dialogue.

What I see, reinforces what I put in my brain.
Text is going to give me things to mentally “see”.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down here?

So, writer, picture the scene like it’s in IMAX. Direct my eyes all around, and really give me description. Let me know about how it feels to be Ladysassin murdering fools, and let me know that the dirt looks like dirt. Give me a chance to invest in the story, and I’ll come along for the ride.

Keep writing. We’ll talk Wednesday.

Plot 201: The Rewards of Plot

Continuing our discussion of Plot, we move to our next topic in Plot 201 (you can check out our other parts here and here)

Today we’re talking about the rewards of plot, and I don’t think this is something that gets thought about, but I hope it’s helpful.

Here we go:

See you all next week. Have a good weekend. Happy writing.

Instead of a Wednesday Post, Have Some Links

I’m not near the desk today, there’s a legion of medical things happening today, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be home for several hours at least. If you’re asking, “Is everything okay?” The answer remains “Could be a whole lot better, thanks for asking.”

Don’t worry, Plot 201 will be happening on schedule Friday. I’m just taking today off.

In place of a lengthy blogpost, I’d like to leave you some links to check out that I’m hopeful will be helpful and useful for you.

First, let me direct you to a Kickstarter I’m honored to be a part of. For all the flak I give Mark (it’s not totally his fault he’s Canadian), he is one of my dearest friends, and I’m so proud of his hard work. If you’re a fan of cyberpunk, the Netflix show Sense8, and lots of explosions, take a look at Headspace.

Second, let me share this moment of motivation.

Now go have a good Wednesday, and we’ll talk soon.

kermittyping

Motivation: Internal, External, and Why You Need To Figure It Out

Good morning everyone.

So many of the things I write have an idea that gets birthed in a conversation where at some point I’ve reached a critical mass of frustration or passion.

For many years, I have considered myself a man driven by passions. I have a love for a thing, so I go do that thing. I get excited to learn something, and I go pick up books and find information and immerse myself in it. It’s how I’ve learned a lot of things, and I don’t think that will ever be a bad outcome.  As I’ve gotten older, as I’ve slowed down, I’ve noticed that by following passion more than anything else, I’ve built a hopscotch pattern of discarded efforts and attempts. It’s not something I’m proud of.

When something starts passionate, I find that it can wear off quickly, when it gets difficult or when something new and shiny comes along. And I, somewhat blindly, jump to the next thing after finding some way to rationalize whatever investment I made in the last thing. In the past, this has led to arguments and discussions alike as to my maturity, as if this is a phase I’m supposed to grow out of, as if part of settling down means the cooling of passion into sort of an acceptance of whatever is in front of you. I’ve always felt that through that lens, passion is something for children, not adults. This conflicts with my thinking that a lot of the passions you have require that you be an adult, both in terms of affording the pursuit, but even the more realistic sense that you need to be tall enough to reach things on shelves or be able to do things without a permission slip.

Breaking this down, putting the newness or excitement about a thing aside (it doesn’t matter if we’re talking a new book, television show, video game, project to work on, or whatever) I start to think about how motivation and passion co-mingle. I think the two intertwine and merge, like highways, carrying us forward through life experiences. Maybe that’s the inner Romantic in me. Maybe that is childish. I couldn’t, and frankly don’t want to say.

What is motivation? Where does it come from? Where can it come from?

This droid had a bad motivator. Don't be this droid, else a farmboy will whine.

This droid had a bad motivator. Don’t be this droid, else a farmboy will whine.

Motivation is the want to do something. That’s all. We can dress it up and get very woo-woo over it, describing it as some quantum force of vibration that needs congruence with the capital-U Universe, and we can get biological about it and say it’s a bio-electric and chemical reaction to a thought, but that means we have to figure out what and how thought works. Because motivation starts with a thought. Your thought. And that’s the critical thing. You’re not going to be motivated without a thought.


A note here before we go further – we can’t talk motivation and have the ideas stick in our minds unless we can agree that honesty, even when painful, is essential for understanding motivations. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself, and that’s no small feat. This is likely not something that will be forever transformed permanently and perfectly because of a blog post, and I’m not looking to do that. I just want to get you thinking, get you moving, and get you challenging yourself. Okay, back to it.


There are two kinds of motivation, and this dichotomy fascinates me. The circumstances where both emerge, and the ways they disguise themselves as the other has become something of a focal point in my work as a coach and editor. I think we should do some defining before we go further.

Internal motivation is your feelings, thoughts, interests, and efforts to do a thing for yourself, or for some reason you supply. Maybe it’s sating a need like having a meal, maybe it’s going to bed, but no matter what the activity is, the itch for it gets scratched because you start a chain of events to accomplish that task. When we create a thing, internal motivation partners with discipline to put our butts in the seat and create, even when so many other things could distract us. For me, internal motivation trumps nearly everything else, even if external motivation seems more intense.

It is internal motivation that sits at the base of wanting to do a thing, of wanting to see that book in-hand or on-shelf. It is internal motivation to commit to the craft, even if external motivation is what it may take to get you started, but we’ll talk about that in a second. I believe that everyone has the capacity to be internally motivated to some degree, and that what catalyzes that is (and should be) different for everyone. I’m driven for my own reasons, just as you are for yours. We may have some overlaps, but we can distinguish our drives from the other.

I write and create because I feel better about myself when I do. That’s not something someone pointed out to me, that’s something I discovered in the eighth grade when I wrote a story about a man taking on the mafia. I edit and coach and help people develop things because it makes me feel useful and good and it seems to be the best thing I’ve ever done in my life today, and again, that was a self discovery. No one can divorce or disintegrate those reasons and those moments of decision from me. The external motivations have and likely will change again, or a dozen agains in my lifetime, but I can always count on the internals.

The external motivations lure us towards effort by bringing stress or expectation. We have to do this thing so that we can make money so that we can keep the lights on. We have to do this thing because a teacher and class expect us to this. We do this to make other people proud of us. We do this so that we can call ourselves members of a group, and it’s important that we have a sense of membership and belonging.

There’s nothing wrong with having external factors motivate you. We all have them, and I think as we get older, and navigate the waters of adult life, they outnumber the internal motivations. But do not confuse quantity for quality. Just because there are more does not make them superior. I leave it to you as how you decide which are superior, though I will give you a hint: look for the satisfaction.

Would you, for yourself, be satisfied with your efforts because they’re done, or because you did this thing so that someone is off your back? Yes, sure, you might be relieved to have someone leaving you alone and not pressuring you to go faster or do something urgently, but is relief the same thing as satisfaction? In your quiet moments, when there isn’t a pressure exerted on you, how do you feel about what you’re doing?

External motivations are ephemeral. You have certain ones based on the job you’re doing, or from the specific circumstances at the time. A parent’s motivations evolve along with their child. As a writer, the motivations to start a project are different from those to continue or conclude a project. The problem with anything ephemeral is that you lose perspective. These issues don’t seem as momentary or as motile as other things in life, so we inflate them and treat them only in their larger and scarier states. And then, when things vanish as ephemeral things are wont to do, you’re left with this sort of void to fill, which naturally leads you to find some other temporary motivator.

Is this good? Is this bad? That’s not for anyone who isn’t you to decide. Yes, we can all have opinions about how someone gets motivated, but ultimately, it’s not our circus and those are not our monkeys.

I lean away from framing motivation as good and bad, and see it now as helpful versus not-as-helpful. Knowing I have to write because people benefit from help is more comforting to me than knowing I have to write because the silence is frightening. Yes, I want to work to support myself and a family one day, but what I do for that work is up to me, and I am at a point in my life where as a follower of passion, I cannot easily settle without making sure I’ve taken my shot.

You can go ahead and blame @snarkbat and @d20Blonde on Twitter for exposing me to Hamilton.

You can go ahead and blame @snarkbat and @d20Blonde on Twitter for exposing me to Hamilton.

It may be tempting to judge someone’s motivation, thinking it will give us a sense of certainty, that through comparison we’ll find where we rank. But, question whether we need to rank in the first place. Why are we competing? What’s the prize? Do the other people know we’re competing?

Spend some time making a list of motivations, then sort out the external from the internal. It may prove tricky because the internals might really be externals you’ve just really buried and bought into for so long, and maybe you won’t even be able to tell the difference with some of things that motivate you, and that’s okay.

Are you motivated? Good. Then go relentlessly, furiously, aggressively, smartly, thoroughly towards whatever your goals are. Run into an obstacle? Educate and train yourself so that you can adapt and keep going forward. Run into doubters, critics, and haters? Don’t let them taint your efforts with their negativity. Keep moving forward. Keep working.

Keep writing.

We’ll talk Wednesday, see you then.

Plot 201: The Scope of Plot

Note: I have to start this post off with a brief apology. One of the main computers I use has suffered a catastrophic failure, and as such, I’ve wiped the drive and started over. As I write this post, the re-install is at 38%. I had intended for this to be another audio post, but both the dictation software and the recording software have been lost in the crash. I’m sorry if you were expecting me to talk this week, I will hopefully be back in stereo for Part 3. I appreciate your patience.

Note 2: Everything’s back in business as of Friday, 9am.

Last week we examined what a plot is and isn’t, which gives us two of the boundaries we’ll use to frame a story’s plot. Within these boundaries, we’ll be free to make whatever kind of story we want, and that’s the sort of creative hotbed that we want.

I know there’s an approach to plot that says you make it up and see how far it goes, letting it twist and turn as your imagination gains momentum, but let me caution you that if you’re the sort of creative who absorbs a lot of influences and/or tends to procrastinate, the ‘make it up as you’ approach may lead to either painting yourself in a corner or let your plot ramble and stumble its way into something hugely complicated and unwieldy. Those aren’t the traits you want in a plot, unless your goal is to produce a less than awesome story that is sure to confuse readers. (I don’t know who would want to do that, but the internet is full of all kinds of people, and I try not to judge)

Instead we put boundaries in place that are large and so far in the distance that we become more aware of how much room we can work it, rather than how limited we are by our decisions. It’s like cleaning a room. Imagine a room packed with boxes. All different kinds of boxes, each labeled. There’s already a danger that if you pop open one box, you’ll get lost in the contents and any memories you have, so we’re doing our best to keep boxes as boxes. But look at the number of them. Floor to ceiling. Some sagging under piles. It’s a precarious Jenga. To add to this challenge, let’s agree that the contents of three boxes in this room are going to make your plot (I just made up a number for this example). Let’s go one step further and say that we can’t see the three boxes immediately when we walk into the room. Can you picture it?

Now, my first thought would be discouragement, followed by a wave of frustration that I’ve yet again bitten off way more than I can chew, and that this isn’t going to work.

But let’s put that to the side and remember our goal: to create a story ideally that people enjoy. And to do that we need a plot.

So what’s the plan of attack here? How do we handle this clutter, these possibilities and this mess?

By not seeing it as a mess. It’s not a mess And don’t think I’m going to turn into your parent and say, “It’s an opportunity” or “it builds character” (writing pun!), because it’s only sort of those things. This is the first spot you can make a decision, and making decisions is what’s going to help you do everything for writing to querying to knitting to dancing when you’re done. Decisions are everything. So let’s see what decisions we can make.

Let me just take an aside here to say from here on out, I’m going to assume that you’ve decided on what plot is. Now it’s just a matter of making sure it works.

Check Number One: Does the plot impact all the important characters of my story?

When I say “impact” I don’t mean “does it all impact everyone the same way to the same degree” because you DO NOT WANT the plot to impact everyone equally. It’s always going to affect the protagonist(s) more than any number of secondary characters. Because they’re your main characters, and they get followed more than Steve, the guy who bagged the groceries back in chapter 3.

But the plot has to impact Steve in some way. That’s easy to understand when we’re talking about a protagonist trying to save the world (if the protag fails, then Steve is dead, and that’s pretty impacting), but less clear when we’re talking about Steve in some kind of figurative way, as though Steve represents the sort of life the protag doesn’t want, because maybe the protag’s father was killed in a terrible grocery-packing accident.

Variable effects also provide a chance to show the breadth of consequences. If Keanu Reeves can’t keep the bus from blowing up, then yes, lots of people are dead, but hundreds or thousands more now live their lives in fear that they could also get on exploding public transit. This rippling effect lets you write tension in a variety of ways, to suit the push-pull you want in your story.

Check Number Two: Do the plot elements (the stuff that makes up the plot) tie together?

Let’s suppose the story is science fiction, about a group of aliens stranded on a planet trying to assimilate and remain undetected. Given this sentence, we can get sense that we’ll read something about aliens and trying to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb. Yes, you could stretch things a bit with a complicated B-plot about an alien finding something/someone to love, but even that will tie back to the idea that they want to avoid being outed as aliens. You wouldn’t, in this example, care about what the whales are doing, if the story isn’t somehow in and around whales. It makes little sense to include something that doesn’t add to or complicate the plot.

I’m not advocating plot minimalism, I’m just asking that anything you put in the plot tie together to the rest of the stuff you’ve got in your plot. If it doesn’t make things more compelling, more dangerous, or lead someone to read more (and not out of that “what the hell is going on” sense), why keep it in?

Check Number Three: Do the plot elements each have individual stability?

“Stability of plot” is a fancy way of saying “Do the parts of your plot hold up on their own?” This is a critical question when your plot is linear. If the plot works out that the characters go from A to B to C, does A as a starting point make sense? Does it lead them to B? How does it lead them to B? And when they get to B, how will they know when it’s time to get to C? (hint: does action happen? because action should totally happen)

If in our A to C example, any part of that doesn’t seem right for the story, or doesn’t make sense in the progress of action, tension, passion, whatever-feeling(s)-you’ve-been-building, then why is it there? If you haven’t guessed by now, scope is all about questioning the WHY of plot, both the why you chose to include this thing, and why this thing matters to the characters who have to experience it.

The Scope Test

Go get a piece of paper. Doesn’t matter what size. Doesn’t matter if it has lines on it. You’re going to draw yourself a chart. Yes, go get a pen too (I’ll wait).

At the top of this paper, I want you to write down the name of the protagonist. Draw a box around it.
At the bottom of this paper, I want you to write where or how the protagonist is going to be after this story is over.

Example: Character McCharacterson goes on the top of the page, on the bottom, I write “plans to track down his missing sister”

The story I’m writing isn’t about the search for his sister, it’s about the events, decisions, and actions, that lead up to the search.

In the space between these two things, write down the big set pieces of the story, the things that you want to see happen in this tale of Character McCharacterson. These could be action-y moments, conversations with other characters (include the names), moments of reflection, explosions, whatever.

How many do you write? More than 2, less than 90. That’s up to you.

Draw a circle around each set piece.

Example: Character McCharacterson -> Gets fired from his job -> Discovers his bank account is empty -> Gets called “Sally” by someone else -> More people call him “Sally” -> Gets kidnapped for being Sally -> Escapes capture -> Discovers Sally is really his long lost sister -> Plans to track down Sally.

Connect each circled set piece with a line. Next to the line, write yourself a note or reminder as to how the protagonist gets from one circle to the other.

If the notes next to the lines grows more and more complex, harder to believe, or less relatable, then that set piece’s scope doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. Challenge yourself to cut it out and connect the rest of your set pieces, chopping what you need to and drawing new lines.

When this is all done, you should have a story with pieces that cohere in understandable ways. Let’s do one for A New Hope, and we’ll just do it from Luke’s perspective:


[ Luke Skywalker ]

-> (Is tired of mundane life, wants adventure)

–Acquires droids -> (Droid relays message to find adventure, Droid Escapes)

–Rescue of Droid, discovery of special past –> (Aunt Beru on fire!)

–Acceptance of adventure -> (Meets scoundrel and wookie)

—Travels on adventure–> (Has to defeat bad guys) —

Fires torpedos from space biplane -> (Kablammo!)

–Receives a medal after hearing voices of dead guy–>

[ Is a Hero in the Rebellion ]


What we’re looking for is that each piece leads to another piece in a way the audience can relate to, even if we’re not sure how they relate specifically yet. By keeping the story focused on that relationship, and not worrying about telling the audience for page upon page that there are hundreds if not thousands of planets and here are some names and here’s a few pages of descriptions of flora and fauna we’ll never actually need to remember, you’re keeping the reader attached to the plot, and the momentum of the story feels all the more intense because we’re not digressing to scratch some writing itch you had that we needed to know that on Planet number 803 there are giant fleas who dance samba and advocate for the rights of lint.

Digression nukes momentum. Especially later in a story, when there’s the expectation that the the plot is going to get more intense and/or payoff in the very near future, digression will send readers packing. Don’t do it. Stay on target. Keep the plot moving, keep characters advanced. Push them towards that showdown with their potential consequences. Do not waste your shot.

Scope is directly tied to momentum. A bigger story is naturally going to feel, and be, harder to get moving and harder to keep moving. If the protagonist is just one person, and they’re out among planet-sized issues, without some way of directly influencing or accomplishing anything, what’s the impetus for the reader to care? Keep an eye on your focus, keep your character within your field of vision, and even when you go planet-sized, do so with a sense of what that does for the story – if it slows things down or not.

This is something that takes practice, and practice means more writing, More experimenting. More willingness to be wrong some of the time, and right other parts of the time. You can do this. You might not get it right the first time, but stick with it, this is a good tool for the toolbox, and I know you’ll benefit from it.

See you guys Monday. Happy writing.

Just Write the F#@$king Thing: The Community

Good morning everyone. There’s been some stuff on my mind, and rather than spend a thousand or so words talking about myself, I’m going to make an effort to keep the focus on the issue.

Do you struggle with success? Does it seem like success exists on some pedestal, slick with grease, that you never can quite reach? Does it seem to always be a stride or two ahead, and the few times you managed to catch up to it, you didn’t know what to do next? Have you ever worried that if you do catch it, it’s just going slip through your fingers and you’ll have to start chasing it all over again?

Yeah, that’s on my mind today. And it’s been invading the majority of my thoughts for a bit of time now. I thought about not saying anything, but I’m not the guy who stays quiet easily, and I actually feel better talking about things. Even on the internet, to be read by people I don’t know.

I think we all inflate the idea of success, because we’re told we “should”. Success becomes this competition, where we’re told and taught not to settle, because if you look around, there’s always someone doing something different, and inherently “better” than you. Yes, your curbside lemonade stand is good, but that other person’s curbside hot dog stand is better. They’re selling more things. They’re doing more work. You and your little cups of lemon aren’t good enough. Better try harder. Try harder and maybe you’ll come up with an idea that makes you good enough to be curbside with everyone else. It doesn’t matter that you had lemonade and they have hot dogs. Or that they’ve been around for twenty years and you’ve been doing it twenty minutes.

I hate this attitude. I suffer so badly from this, that at times I am left paralyzed. The fact that I’m still writing or revising or creating means that what I’m making doesn’t need to be seen or judged yet, so we don’t have to discuss whether or not I’m good enough, or so my brain tells me. Finishing things means I need to be judged. And since another of my driving thoughts is that I’m always going to be judged poorly, the conspiracy between the two thoughts keeps me from really getting anywhere. I get in my own way.

This situation isn’t unique to me. I talk about it at workshops and conventions, and a lot of people nod along.

We all like attention. We all like being recognized (positively) for what we do. The tricky part is that once you get some attention, what happens next. Are you ever satisfied? Is that something you determine on your own? Do you need some other person to come around and tell you that it’s okay to be satisfied?

I grew up being taught that being content with what you had was at odds with success. You weren’t a good person if you weren’t trying harder or weren’t perfect. You weren’t even a person, you were lazy and a coward and dishonorable. When you had to be content, it’s because it just validated the fact (not the idea, the fact) that you weren’t ever going to be good enough, so accept what you’ve got and stop being so ambitious – you’re never going to be more than that lazy dishonorable coward.

Having that in my head means that success (awards, praise, fill-in-the-blank-good-stuff), gets discounted. Fifteen new Twitter followers? I want thirty. Five hundred new views on a blogpost? What was wrong with it that I didn’t get five hundred and one?

Buying into that, perpetuating that, does a gross disservice to those followers and those readers. Anyone who reads, tweets, comments, favorites, shares, retweets, re-whatevers, is someone who should be thanked. Gratitude isn’t some shame or something begrudgingly doled out, it’s one of the cornerstones of opportunity. Genuine care, appreciation, and a want to help is what builds a community.

So, I built a community. Here’s the link to it.

Why did I do it? For the attention? For the ego stroke? No. I do this, I do all the tweets and this blogging to help people.
I don’t think writing is supposed to be one singular route, and that if you deviate from the path so many other people take, you’re automatically a failure and wasting your time. I don’t think people should blindly and unquestioningly move through the writing process, even when it doesn’t work for them, out of some obligation to advice they read on some website. I don’t think people should be so scared to create things. I don’t think it’s wrong to dream, and then do stuff to make those dreams come true.

This community focuses on writing, and by that I mean the act of writing. The act of making that promise, to ourselves more than anyone else,  that we’re going to make a thing, and it’s going to be cool because we’re making it, and when we don’t know how to do something, it’s okay to seek that knowledge. And that doesn’t make us stupid or bad. There’s no penalty for not-knowing.

So many websites, blogs, professionals, books, webinars, and classes spew the same fifteen pieces of advice, just with the order scrambled and some words changed around. They want to tell new writers they’ll fail. They want to crush all hope before it takes root, which says something about their insecurity and not their expertise.

It’s okay to admit that not everyone who attempts writing is going to succeed. That’s a fact. Some do succeed, and yes, that number of successes is way smaller than the number of failures or the at-least-you’re-trying. And we all get rejected. We’re all going to face criticism and doubters and haters.

A man in a cave once told me it was dangerous to go alone. I believed him, because he had a sweet beard. (There are worse reasons to trust someone) Alone is a terrible way to go through any experience, so how about we not do that? How about we build a place where we can support one another? Where we can help each other and weather the successes and rejections together?

Join us, and together we can rule the Galaxy. Or at least have some laughs and put words on the page. We can tell our fears to go long walks off short piers.

This is all part of what I think the mission for The Writer Next Door is. To be a resource for people. To help people write. To demystify the process. To not make writing the exclusive province of a single group. To take the fangs from the rejection snake. To instill confidence and give hope. To challenge the fears and the doubts and prize efforts over trends and sales and all else. To help anyone create the thing they want to create. To equip them with the tools that make them better creators, more aware, more skilled, and more connected.

I admit, I scrubbed a lot of me out of this blogpost. The first third of it was way more self-absorbed, because writing these posts is for me an extra session of therapeutic raging against the machine. But it’s important to know that I’m not only talking about me, I’m talking about you, and us. We all feel lost, and afraid, and unsure, and we all want to create despite the what-if monsters that roam the wilds. So let’s not head into the wilderness without a plan and without support.

Behold my awful Photoshoppery! But the point remains. Writers, you're not alone.

Behold my awful Photoshoppery! But the point remains.
Writers, you’re not alone.

See you guys Friday for Plot 201 part 2, which is all about the scale of plot.

Happy writing.

My Updated Metatopia 2015 Schedule

I love Metatopia. And not just because I could walk home from it if I had to. And not just because it has pretty nice parking and it’s in a hotel with nice bathrooms. I love it because it’s a chance to help get more amazing games out in the world. I love it because it’s a chance to see my friends. I love it because it’s so many opportunities to meet and help people.

For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, Metatopia is (in my opinion) the best convention you could attend if you want to be a game designer, writer, or a creator of stuff. Its days of seminars, game playing, discussion, and education are unrivaled in terms of the offerings. This is of course a testament to its organizers, who are brilliant in ways that make brilliant seem like an inadequate word.

I maintain that if you attended Metatopia for the first time, with only the merest hint that you wanted to do something, you’d walk out of there armed with enough information to put together a first draft or prototype.

Here now is my 2015 schedule, and I’m quite excited by it.


FRIDAY

Help, I’m Making My First Game!” presented by John Adamus & Mark Richardson and Laura Sampson. So, you’ve decided to make your first game. How exciting! Discuss what pitfalls to avoid and what strategies can speed you toward success with designers also making their first games. Friday, 11:00AM – 12:00PM

Ask an Editor!” presented by Cat Tobin & John Adamus. You have questions, get answers. Ask about how to write, finish, organize, clean, trim, playtest…whatever help you need in the production of your idea, get it. Friday, 12:00PM – 1:00PM

Noir World – Come check out my awesome game! Friday, 2:00pm to 4:00pm (Game R190)

Writing Workshop and Publishing Q&A” presented by John Adamus. Let’s talk the nuts and bolts of writing, no matter what you’re writing. Ask your questions, get some answers, get some motivation, some clarification and some education. And then go make a thing happen. Friday, 9:00PM – 10:00PM

Making Your Best Pitch” presented by John Adamus. Let’s say you have a great idea. Let’s say you want to produce that idea for a company. In order to do that though, you’re going to need to put together a pitch for that idea. And that can be daunting, if not downright nerve-wracking. But there’s hope. This panel will teach you more than a handful of techniques to produce pitches that excite publishers. Friday, 11:00PM – 12:00AM

SATURDAY

Learn From My Mistakes” presented by John Adamus & Brennan Taylor. We’ve made mistakes. Come hear about ours so you can avoid making them yourself. This panel will discuss topics in RPG and story game writing, editing and designing. Saturday, 11:00AM – 12:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

Noir World – Come check out my awesome game! Saturday, 2:00pm to 4:00pm (Game R434)

Effective Settings and Scenarios” presented by John Adamus & Meguey Baker. Come learn about the interplay between setting and scenario in this roundtable. Discussions include what makes for a compelling scenario, how to use setting to inform your scenario design and generally how to use the two to engage your players. Saturday, 10:00PM – 11:00PM;

SUNDAY

Why Do You Hate Your Readers or Players?” presented by John Adamus. When writing a game or project, it’s important that the language be clear and enjoyable, not just showing off how smart the author is. Learn techniques to keep your project readable and enjoyable. Sunday, 10:00AM – 11:00AM;

Publishing Workflow” presented by Jason Pitre, John Adamus, Cat Tobin & Chris O’Neill. Publishing a book is a complicated process involving playtesting, writing, editing, layout and art-direction. In this panel, we discuss how all of these components fit together and how various professionals can help each-other in the process. Sunday, 12:00PM – 1:00PM

What An Editor Can Do For You” presented by John Adamus. Editors are here to help. It’s their job. They’re tasked with making your project better. So why not use one? Get answers to what they do and how they can benefit you. Trust us, everyone needs one. Really. Sunday, 2:00PM – 3:00PM


How cool is that? If you’re attending, come say hello. I’d love to see you there.

Coaching, Its Benefits, And You

Good morning writers and creators of cool things, often with words. On Wednesday of last week, I announced the return of my Coaching program, and am happy to say that more than a few (certainly more than I was expecting) people have expressed interest. And although I answered everyone’s email over the weekend, I wanted to collate their questions and answers into a blogpost to talk more about coaching, why it’s different than editing, and what it can help you do. I’ve set the post up like an FAQ.

What is Coaching?
Coaching is editing and then-some. Yes, you end up with your MS worked on, but you also get a deeper look at the mistakes you commonly make, and most importantly why you’re making them and how to stop doing it going forward. Built on a simple premise that you’re always going to create better when you’re supported and when you’re aware of how you work best, coaching aims not to just produce a quality manuscript, but also produce a better overall writer (who produces quality manuscripts).

What are some things coaching can help me with?
(this isn’t a complete list)
Self-doubt
Self-rejecting (rejecting yourself before someone has a chance to)
Query letters
Proper grammar
Plot development
Character development
Procrastination
Transitioning from one genre to another
Transitioning from one writing style to another
Making time to write
Transitioning into other media
Finding inspiration to write new things
Dialogue
Finishing projects
Building a practical writing schedule that you actually enjoy following
Point of view efficacy
Correct use of tense

When does the editing happen?
The writing and editing happen WHILE the coaching is happening. (Not like at the same time, because I’m not standing behind you … or am I?) You keep working on your MS, we work on all this stuff together, as it comes up.

How do I know if I need coaching? Isn’t editing enough?
Editing’s enough if you just want to keep the focus on the current manuscript. Coaching is going to help you on the current one and the next manuscript(s).

What kind of editing happens during coaching?
It’s developmental, and it has to be. Just proofreading or even a line edit isn’t going to get to the hows and whys of writer habits.

Wait, remind me what developmental editing is?
It’s a comprehensive type of editing that looks at the MS in the broadest ways (who’s going to read it, what the author intends to do with it, etc), the craft ways (the characters, the plot, the dialog, the exposition, etc) and the technical ways (sentence structure, word choice, spelling, grammar, etc).

And what’s the point? Is this going to help me?
You’re going to get out of it whatever you put in. If you’ve been banging your head against the wall or desk about how you’re going to get yourself writing, or how you’re going to get your MS back on track if you’ve put yourself in a corner, coaching will absolutely help you. If you’re eager to get started and have no idea where, coaching will help you. In short – coaching can help you get writing, and writing well.

This sounds like it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. Is it expensive?
As you can see on the Rates page, it’s $80 an hour. You pay for each hour of coaching, though if you want to  split the payment up, we can work that out. Just send me an email.

Is there a contract?
There is. It’s straightforward, and it spells out what we’re doing, how many hours we’re doing it for and all the payment particulars. It’s very similar to the contract discussed here.

As a client, how would we communicate?
We’d work in whatever way(s) work for you. Email, phone call, Skype, Google+ Hangout, Google Chat Window, In-person meeting (if you’re in NJ, parts of PA, DE, MD, NY, or CT) are all possibilities, though I’m flexible to others you may suggest.

When would the coaching happen?
We’d set up a date and time. I don’t do reminders, so that responsibility is on you, but we’d set up when a session would happen each time. I don’t schedule sessions on Sundays or holidays.

What if I need to cancel?
Cancel up to 8 hours before your session without a problem. Cancel sooner than that, and I invoice you for half a session. Exceptions apply, but don’t abuse the policy.

I get invoiced?
Yes, after every session, I give you an invoice.

$80 is steep for me. If I do half an hour, can I get a reduced rate?
Email me, and we can talk it out.

Is it possible to do a package of coaching?
It will be in the future (I don’t have that mapped out yet), but again, write me an email and we’ll talk it out.

What if I have questions?
Email or Twitter are the best places to ask them.

This Q&A is now also available on the Coaching page.


There are good coaches out there. There are bad ones. You pick the one who you think can work best with you. The goal isn’t just to feed you the same sort of info you can get with a quick Google search and then collect your money, the goal is to get you writing and get you writing better than you were before coaching started. That’s my goal – I want to see your stuff on shelves, in people’s hands, available for downloads, read in smoke signals and semaphore flags, or whatever you want to do with it. It’s your story, it’s your idea, get the best help you can to tell it.

As an editor, as a giver of workshops on writing and editing and publishing, as someone who pores over writing advice, it’s critical to me that people feel empowered enough to write. One of the most common questions I hear from people starts with, “Is it okay if ….” or “In my story, I have …” as people are just looking for the permission, the validation, to do a thing they think is cool. And yes, it’s cool that you did that. The word police aren’t coming to the door to take your keyboard and fingers away. As an editor and coach, my issue is not that you did it, but that you did it effectively, so it gets the desired result you want. I’m a huge fan of results and production, and I cast many side glances and headshakes towards those resources, people, “experts”, blogs, books, and videos that lose themselves in highbrow artsy discussions of what is or what isn’t writing. So many voices out there get silenced by the fear and doubt that some nebulous shadowy story-illuminate will decry their efforts because it’s not “legit”. Coaching isn’t about getting “legit”. It’s about remembering that you already are “legit”, and that there’s someone in your corner to keep you going.

You feel like you've been knocked around, it's my job to keep you fighting. I believe in you. You're no bum.

You feel like you’ve been knocked around, it’s my job to keep you fighting. I believe in you. You’re no bum.

I take this seriously. We can too easily make mountains of things to discourage ourselves, keep us from trying to do new things, keep us thinking we’re not good enough, or we’re too stupid. We are so quick to heap negatives onto our backs and in our minds that the positives become both mirages and oases in the vast wasteland of trying to get shit done.

It can feel a lot like this when you're trying your best.

It can feel a lot like this when you’re trying your best.

It can be tough admitting that you need help. It be can really intense and jarring to realize that you’ve reached some kind of limit and that you don’t know what to do next or how to do it. If I can tell you anything, it’s that you always have options, there’s always something that can be done, even if it’s unpleasant, scary, or embarrassing.

Writer, creator of things, you’re not alone. This is an opportunity to get your idea even beyond where you thought it could go. Taking control, not letting the doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, naysayers, or lack of knowledge stop you is empowering. It basically makes you as cool as this guy:

Seriously, we all want to be this guy sometimes.

Seriously, we all want to be this guy sometimes. I mean he’s still wearing his pajama …

I’m here to help. I want to see you succeed. I think coaching is a great tool to have in your arsenal.

We’ll talk again Wednesday. Have a great day, write well, rock somebody’s face off.