Pronouns, Revisited

Some time back, I wrote a post on pronouns. It’s time I say more about pronouns.

We’ll start with a disclaimer: I’m a straight white guy who’s never had to worry about finding pronouns that fit me outside of “he” and “his.” I’m aware that my experience isn’t going to be anyone else’s experience, and because of that, my views are shaped by a distance from this issue. What I’m presenting here is intended to be practical, not critical, and ultimately helpful.

This discussion is going to stall quite hard if we entrench ourselves in fixed positions that gender has to be one thing or another, that it cannot be fluid or variable, or that it’s a decision only pertaining to parts that dangle versus parts that don’t.

There exist people who do not identify or feel as though such positions represent them accurately, and while they may be different from you in that regard, in no way are they “wrong” or “sinful” or ____ (fill in the blank with dogma du jour) for feeling as they do. This is already a tough enough issue for people, let’s not complicate it with the idea that there’s shame to dole out unless they conform to belief systems they don’t agree with.

I have yet to meet anyone who disagrees with the notion that all people like to be treated with respect. One of the ways to show respect is by addressing a person in a manner they deserve (a doctor or by rank and title for instance) or that they prefer (call me John, not Mr. Adamus).

Using preferred pronouns conveys that preference.

Before we talk about non-binary pronouns, we all know what a pronoun’s technical job is, right? Use a pronoun in place of a noun or noun phrase. They’re differentiated by subtype, so you have different kinds of pronouns to use in different situations. Use an interrogative in a question; use a possessive in relation to an object owned or claimed.

Gendered pronouns convey a set of expectations and assumed facts when used. When “he”,”his”, “she”, “hers” show up in text, you get a set of ideas in mind as to what you can expect when picturing the person/item identified that way.

But there are people who don’t feel he/his||she/hers best identifies them. And it’s okay that they feel this way, as language is meant to drift and evolve and grow to include new concepts. Yes, I know, it’s not a “new” concept, since loads of other languages and cultures have included non-binary pronouns for some time. But, it’s new in our modern syntax to most, and humans are due a base level of respect and courtesy, the least we can do while discussing groups of people is get some words correct. So let’s get our list started.

Singular They
You can use “they” when talking about a single being. Here’s an example:

“What did the defendant do next?”
“They went to the car.”

There’s only one defendant, but they is used to describe them. The important bit here is that even though it’s one person, you still follow all the rules for they, as you would if they were a plural. Go with “they are” NOT “they is.”

Likewise, any modification to they, gets treated like all the other times you’d use they – them, themselves, etc. The only difference is that a singular they refers to one person, even though we also use that word when we talk groups of people.

Ze (also written as Zhe, Zhie, Cie, Sie) and Zir (also written as Zher, Hir, Zir, Mer)
This nonbinary pronoun sees a lot of use in technical or instructional publications. The first set (Ze – Sie) are the personal pronouns, so use them as you would he or she. The second set (Zir – Mer) are the possessive, so use them as you his or hers.

When you want to get reflexive, as you would with himself or herself, just add self to any of the possessive pronouns, as in Zirself. No, you don’t need to hyphenate it, just treat it like any other word.

A note about pronunciation: I’ve heard it as “-ee” as though it rhymes with “we” and I’ve heard it “-ay” as though it rhymes with “day.” I’m calling it user’s choice.

Jee, Jeir, and Jem
This pronoun sees usage when discussing mutable genders, where there’s a great deal of fluidity. The specific words act as both personal and possessive pronouns, so use the same one for either he or his, she or hers. As with so many other elements of writing, be consistent with your choice.  And again, to form the reflexive, add “-self”.

Pronunciation is again user’s choice, ranging from “-ee” (“we”) to “-ay” (“day”); “jeer” (as in jeer, like a taunt), and as in “gem” like diamonds or the girl with the Holograms.

I find this one interesting, because it looks like Ze (and is pronounced similarly), follows the personal and possessive rules of Jee (meaning you just use the word, with no change to it), but goes tags on -self when it gets reflexive, as in Xeself. It’s a very popular hybrid. It’s also the one I see most often used casually. It’s also the one I default to along with singular they when I don’t know what else to use.

Have you noticed that many pronouns use an -e as their vowel sound, the same way “he” and “she” did? Do you think that’s a way to bridge the linguistic gap, or is that a point of ancestry? That just occurred to me as I was typing.

Ve is another hybrid, taking the possessive as Ver and the reflexive as Verself. There’s also a use for Vis and Visself, but in that variation there is controversy. You’re only one letter removed from the he and she pronouns, and many people avoid using Ve for this reason – it’s not distinct enough to be “proper.” I don’t know if it’s proper or not. I don’t think it’s worth running people out of town on a rail for not being “distinct enough.” I also don’t see Ve getting used all that much. So, grain of salt all around.

Spivak Pronouns
Michael Spivak is a mathematician and physics lecturer who developed what are known as Spivak pronouns. They were quite popular on MOOs about twenty years ago (a MOO is a text MMO, they were a lot of fun), then they lost popularity as other pronoun types got used, but they’re returning to favor now because they’re easier to navigate than Tantajl, anti-Carlton, and Mackay. (Those are three other sets of pronouns, and there’s a huge grammar/social politics rabbit hole you can fall into, so google them if you’re interested).

Spivak pronouns are more phonic than most. The singular is ey, used for he or she, pronounced as -ay. The plural is em, used for them, and pronounced -em, and the reflexive is emself. The possessive is eir, used as in their, and pronounced as in -air.

The Spivaks are easy because they’re the vowel sounds we’re already used to, just now applied as pronouns.

This one comes to me from Twitter, so shoutout to Jess Wesley and s.e smith for bringing this to my attention. Ou traces its roots to Old English, though I must credit s.e. smith for being far more voluminous and prepared on this issue than I’m doing justice here. For greater detail check this out.

Ou is used as is (just ou) in place of he, she, his, hers, or theirs. Ouself is used reflexively. It’s pronounced as in “ooh”, like “Ooh, there’s a dollar in my coat pocket.”

Everyone good so far? Let’s dig deeper then.

Mistakes Happen
Many of us grew up and were taught that there’s just two pronouns, maybe three if you throw in singular they. And there’s a space for debate as to whether or not that’s “wrong” or whether we were all collectively raised “wrong.” I suppose that debate centers around whether or not we should feel guilt or shame for not being aware of an issue. There’s a great deal of hyperbole that gets tossed around with concepts of erasure or silencing, and I’m trying to parse the inflammatory from the practical, often without much success. This is contentious issue for some.

The point I’m trying to make is that in communicating with other people, mistakes are going to occur. You may address someone as he, but they prefer she. Or Xe. Or they. Or They. Or whatever.

It’s not the end of the world. You make a mistake, you get corrected, you try not to make the mistake again. It’s not cause to castigate or derail whatever communication you’re already having. It isn’t all that dissimilar from finding out you’re going to talk to a person named Terry and expect them to be one way only to find that they’re not. It doesn’t change any quality about Terry, Terry is still Terry, it’s just your expectation that’s been altered. Hopefully you’ve not built your whole life on this expectation that mistaking one Terry will irrevocably throw your life into chaos, but I think you see my point.

Yes, you will find people who all lathered up about your error and they’ll want to express their displeasure passionately. That’s on them. Own your mistake, sure, but no one deserves a browbeating for misspeaking when that’s easily corrected.

Yes, there are people who will intentionally screw it up. That’s on them. There’s a word we use for those kinds of people who maliciously rankle, incite needless anger, and tout an agenda of volatility: they’re assholes. No pronoun necessary, because assholes are not constrained by gender.

In this era of professional victimization, grandiose entitlement, and divisive invective, pronouns need not be a battlefield. They are heralds for people, banners under which people draw comfort and identity, but they are not the Molotov cocktails signalling the rising of the masses against the palace gates. For many years our language used one set of words to the exclusion of others, and now we have the opportunity to have multiple words available.

Never is someone an “it.” We can do better than be pejorative. We can do better than objectifying a human. People decide how they wish to be spoken to, and we have to respect that. Using a new word isn’t all that difficult, even if you have to stick into your Microsoft Word dictionary because you’re tired of the damned red squiggle.

Be respectful. Be good to each other. Let’s create good stuff.

See you next week.




InboxWednesday – When Do I Talk To An Editor?

Good morning everyone, I hope you’re doing well, and that your Wednesday is a delightful one. While you’re reading this, I’m at a doctor’s appointment, so spare a good thought that I’m doing alright and the muzak or the bill hasn’t sent me into a murderous rage.

Today’s topic for #InboxWednesday comes to us from five different people, all asking the same question.

When do I need an editor, and when should I bring in an editor into what I’m writing?

I love this question, so this answer is going to be somewhat meaty, but it needs to be.

Here we go …

There’s no wrong time to bring in an editor. It’s just the role the editor plays will change relative to when they get involved with your manuscript. I’m going to break the writing process down into 3 periods to illustrate this.

Early Stages of Writing
I’m categorizing this as “the period of time when the majority of a draft isn’t written, the ideas are maybe just bullet points, or maybe they aren’t even written down yet.” Yes, I know that’s nebulous, but there’s no way I’m going accurately ballpark a percentage as to how much is on paper versus how much isn’t. And even if I could, there’s no percentage required so you “unlock” editor access.

You can bring the editor in at this point to help you work through those decisions yet to be made (what’s the conflict, what’s this character’s arc look like, what’s the action beat between this moment and that one, etc) as well as to hone the decisions you have made (if you do X when you’ve already got Y, they’ll feed together; why are you starting the book at that spot, when the spot two paragraphs later seems way more in line with what you’re doing; etc)

This is developmental work, where the manuscript’s foundation is laid through decisions and conversation. It’s a fertile land where there’s so much potential and so much story ore to mine.

The hard part, at least editorially, is knowing when to steer and when to be along for the ride. It’s easy to turn someone else’s work into something the editor would create themselves, just by passing a few comments and closing a few options. That’s the danger in “I don’t think you should” coming up in the developmental process. An editor isn’t there to steer this process completely, their presence is as stabilizer and lookout, keeping the craft afloat as the writer navigates MS shoals and other nautical metaphors that I wish I was better at making up.

It’s a very “do it by feel” issue, since some writers are going to be more receptive to the presence of someone else while they’re making the story, and some are going to see it as more an intrusion of something personal, closing ranks as they protect the fragile idea. Neither side is wrong, though it can be a frustrating experience to be consulted and then shut out while making suggestions based on the limited information you get from conversations.

Middle Stages of Writing
Let’s categorize the middle stages as the time when the manuscript is being written, lie by line, chapter by chapter. This is the production stage, when there’s already a road map and the decisions of development have led the writer to put their ass in the chair and make the words happen.

Bringing in the editor here takes away the developmental element, and instead brings in the editorial process. The chapters, paragraphs, sentences, beats and concepts now exist beyond the idea stage, so the way they’re broadcast to the reader (the words chosen for them) become the focus. Here an editor can ask what the writer meant in a particular line, or that they’re unclear with naming something consistently. It’s the editorial process you’d expect, happening still when the body of the MS is still being crafted.

It’s sometimes tough for people to see this as anything other than meddling, like a backseat driver asking if you’re ever going to get to the destination. I’ve heard it described as the person who hovers over dinner being cooked to the point where you doubt whether you’ve boiled the water correctly.

At this stage, it’s not about sowing doubt. At least, doubt isn’t supposed to be spread here. This is a chance to purge it, by finding the elements that are working along with the elements that don’t. Yes, this one sentence kind of rambles and doesn’t work in this investigative beat, but this character dialogue over here is just fantastic. It’s worth pointing out the good as well.

Many writers make the mistake of running a credit/debit T-chart sort of thing when they get feedback, thinking that all the comments are to be weighted equally and that every comma splice or vague pronoun undoes the part where a joke works or the action is well made. No, it doesn’t. When something in the MS works, it works, and that’s independent of the fact that six pages prior, there are too many “she” in a sentence. Calls for revision do not undo the praise. At least, it shouldn’t. But that might be an issue to address outside of the writing process for some people.

An editor here shifts also to motivation, to keep the writer going, stoking the fire so that the creativity behind the MS doesn’t go out, replaced by some new hot idea, shiny thing, or distraction. The writing process is about endurance and discipline, and there are so many people, places, things, blogs, words, comments, ideas, and fears that eat discipline and leave doubt and disappointment as a lovely pile of scat for the writer to step in and then drag around on all the rugs.

The Later Stages of Writing
The manuscript is complete or nearly so, let’s say it’s the last few chapters or maybe it’s just been read by a spouse or a close friend as a beta reader. Here the editor takes on the role that most people think of when they think editor – with the tools laid out to work through the manuscript’s ideas and presentation so that it’s in the best shape possible to do with whatever the writer wants.

In addition to flagging grammar, plot holes, unclear motivations, craptastic dialogue, the editor can also keep an eye out for what comes next. Want to query? See if the editor can help you frame them. Want to self-pub? Maybe the editor has some advice. You won’t know until you ask, and asking’s free, so ask all the questions you have.

There isn’t a “wrong” time to bring an editor into your work. Yes, there’s a budget to consider, because you have to pay the person you’ve hired to do a job, but there’s no rule you’re breaking by doing it at some time other than when you’re absolutely finished.

It’s worth pointing out my own experience, that if you hire me in the early or middle stages, I’m going to want to work with you in the later stages as well, so we both walk the manuscript towards completion and through editing without additional surcharges or doubling down on the expense. But that’s just me, and I don’t speak for everyone doing this.

Bias as aside as I can get it (I like being hired, it helps me afford lunch), an editor is an asset to your writing, both specific to the manuscript as well as a resource for later work as well. People I’ve worked with months ago still get answers to their questions, and still get counseled on whatever issues they’re facing. There’s no walk of shame for a client. Once you’re in the rolodex, and neither of us have fired the other, you’re in the rolodex.

So make use of editors. Their job is to help you get the MS to wherever you want it to be. Don’t let some arbitrary convention and some absolutist sentence that editors can only show up at a certain point stop you from getting your MS out of your head, onto the page, and out to readers.

Follow me on Twitter for more info about this and other topics about writing, publishing and stuff.

Happy writing. Have a great Wednesday.

Some Thoughts on Professional Stuff

I’m writing this post in the throes of the weekend blizzard, punctuating each paragraph with a sip of cocoa and a disbelieving stare out a window upon a world that looks like some off-white hellscape.

Originally, I meant to write about the importance of determination, of being diligent, and of staying the course when so many voices (internal and otherwise) may form a chorus to chase you away from whatever you’re creating. And then I fell into a bit of a rabbit hole.

A friend of mine talked to me a bit about a situation he found himself in, where he received criticism for what he was doing (he’s an editor), and his critic was taking a roundabout way of saying he was exploiting writers and profiting from their newness in creating. It’s a completely bogus claim because my friend, let’s call him J, is one of the most forthright people I know. I don’t always agree with him, but I respect his work, and I think he’s smart enough, talented enough, and good enough, to help people create amazing things.

In reading what this critic said, it brought to mind a number of experiences and a number of frustrations I’ve encountered in the last two decades as a professional. Today, I’m going to detail some of them.

1 A freelance editor is not required if you’re going to submit your work to be traditionally published.

There is an editorial process that occurs during publishing, and it’s not a quick skim of a document and a cursory pressing of F7 in Word. There is no etched in stone rule that says you need to get an editor before you get published. I can’t make you get an editor. But I can tell you that if you’re serious about getting your work published, then you should be serious about doing everything you can to get the MS in the best shape possible before it leaves your hands to face some kind of judgment or decision about its acceptance or rejection.

If we weren’t talking creative arts, if we were talking cars, we’d be discussing how you go show off your car, and how you’d want it polished and tuned and waxed, right? You’d want it in its best show shape. Now you could clean it yourself, wax and buff each piece with a cloth diaper or a cloth of baby eyelashes or whatever car people use, or you could spend the money and have a professional service detail it. And likely, you’d justify that expense by saying, “I’m getting the car cleaned up so that it stands a good chance at winning a prize at the car show.”

Maybe you built that car by hand, laboring on weekends or late nights. Maybe you sunk a lot of sweat equity into the process. You learned things about refitting pieces, about upgrades. You busted your ass to make your car the best it could be. This is no different than what a writer does working on that manuscript. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first or their ninth, a manuscript gets built by the author a piece at a time, and there’s sweat equity invested in the production.

Do all you can to get your MS in the best shape possible so it can be sent off with the best possible chance for a positive reception. Often that means getting an editor. You don’t need to get the car professionally detailed before the show, but going that extra step might make the difference between the blue ribbon (or whatever award you get at a car show, maybe a gold wrench) and going home watching someone else celebrate.

2 An editor’s job can be accomplished by a good friend who reads a lot.

There is more to an editor’s job than reading. Yes, reading is a part of it, but there’s constructive technique also. Techniques about language usage, about understanding story structure, about being able to look objectively at components or looking at emotional elements dispassionately. I’m sure a good reader can point out that sentences don’t sound right, or that some parts of the story fall flat, but I wouldn’t expect that reader to be able to tell you what you can do to change it for the better specifically.

Likewise, that “good friend” may not want to be as objective with you as someone you don’t know. A friend is going to want to maintain that friendship, and that decision will often prevent the objectivity a situation calls for.

Oh I can’t tell Gary that his short story sucked, because Gary brings that chili dip to poker night.”

As before, the goal is to have the best manuscript possible, Gary’s chili dip be damned. So that professional you’re bringing in, part of the expense there is a level of objectivity. The editor doesn’t know Gary’s chili dip, and doesn’t know if Gary has a tell where he always exhales before he bluffs anything higher than two pair. Gary’s non-manuscript existence doesn’t factor into whatever the editor does. The job is to produce the best manuscript, no matter how nice Gary is. That requires a level of disconnection between Gary-the-person, and Gary-the-writer.

If the issue is that Gary won’t show his MS to anyone except a friend because he doesn’t trust anyone else to see his work, then that issue is Gary’s. It’s also an issue likely not easily solved with hugs and tacos. But we’ll talk trust in a second.

3 An editor can’t be trusted to understand what the writer is trying to do. The editor is going to change the MS (presumably for the worse).

This is the part of the blogpost where I really struggled. I can take this idea in two directions. I can say on one hand that a writer has to go into that working relationship with the editor knowing that the MS on the start of work isn’t going to be the MS at the end of work. The changes might be small, just commas. The changes might be deletions of text. But change is gonna happen. That’s just the nature of development.

On the other hand, I can come at this and say that the writer-editor relationship is not fueled or aided by ego. Both the writer and editor are presumably human, and presumably fallible. Thinking the MS is so untouchable and perfect is a trap that results in little productivity and high resentment.

If a writer cannot trust that the editor is saying whatever they’re saying with the intention of getting the best work out of the writer, then the writer needs to reconsider their expectations around editing. Editing is not sugarcoating or rectal smoke blowing. If a character is weak, if a motivation is unclear, if participles dangle, and plots don’t resolve, the writer can expect to hear about it.

Would you trust the plumber to fix your leaky sink? Would you trust the bus driver to deliver your kids safely to and from where they need to be? Yeah, you maybe don’t know these people intimately, and even if you vet them, there comes this decision where you have to trust this other person to perform the task set before them. If it doesn’t work out, if the bus driver is late, if the sink still leaks, if the editor is tough to work with, make other arrangements. That’s what contracts are for.

4 An editor doesn’t care about anything other than getting paid.

I can say with 1000000000% certainty that there are some real scumbag editors out there. I can say with 1000000000% certainty that there are some real scumbag publishers out there. There are people in this world who care more about paychecks than people, and more about a list of credits than a list of experiences.

Those people are the minority. Maybe for some people they’re the majority, because some people have only been operating in the figurative waters just around the pipe where the sewage spills out, but the rest of the body of water is far less murky and far less packed with weird lifeforms best left to nightmares.

There are good editors out there. Plenty of people who really care about seeing the writer succeed. As cheerleaders, trainers, sparring partners, collaborators, sounding boards, and whatever role the editor is tasked to play, the editor has an interest that extends past the invoice.

Let’s suppose you (yeah, you) and I are working together. It’s our best mutual interest for this working relationship to be successful. If we each do our parts, you end up with a manuscript you can publish. We work together on revisions, we go back and forth to get the words into their best shape. In the end, you’re satisfied with your MS, and I’m satisfied with how I helped you. When this works out well, maybe you tell people to look me up when they need an editor, and I’ll tell people to stay on the lookout for your book. People helping people.

There are the cynics out there who say what I just described is the unrealistic pipe dream, it’s the impractical daydream of someone who has never done “serious” work and someone whose opinion can be discounted and discarded because “the right people don’t know who I am.” There are plenty of people who look at my words, my Twitter stream, this blog, and say I rub them the wrong way. That’s fine. I am not out to be the world’s best friend. I am here to be the best me I can be. And quite frankly, maybe we could spend some time collectively trying to make the world less cynical and shitty, shake up the establishment and maybe, just maybe, see more success all around.

I don’t know anybody who says, “Oh I love what I do, but that whole receiving paychecks thing really messes up my day.” Yeah, I know many people feel they deserve more pay, but I don’t know anybody who says they hate getting paid. Yes of course, people like getting paid. But that doesn’t mean the only reason people do whatever they’re doing is because there’s a paycheck waiting.

5 An editor doesn’t need a contract or need to get paid because the writer has been working on this book in their free time, and no one’s been paying them.

Yes, an actual sober human said that to my face at one of my panels at a convention some years back. And as you’d expect, the panel was about hiring freelancers and working with them. This sober human then went on to say the same thing about layout people, artists, graphic designers, and any other freelancers I had spoken about at the panel, just so no freelance stone goes unturned.

I’d like to think I laughed. I am reasonably certain I made a face and insisted this person is entitled to their opinion before extricating myself from the room. I don’t think I told this person to engage in sexual relationships with themselves or with their mothers. I’m sure I was thinking it.

When someone does a job, they deserve to be paid in a valid form of currency as would be spelled out in a contract that details the structure of whatever work needs doing. Paying with “exposure” does not pay bills. You can die from exposure.

It’s shocking to me that some distinction happens where someone wouldn’t stiff the electrician or the dog groomer but they can find some corkscrew-y rationalization for not paying the people who helped them make something creative. It can’t be the lack of tangible product, because when the electrician is done, the lights work, and when the editor is done, the manuscript is in better shape. Maybe it’s a sense of entitlement that they should be paid for writing it, that publishing is some great bleeding of money, death by a thousand expenses. Whatever it is, it’s patently stupid and asinine.

Contracts help structure the working relationship. Someone does a job, they deserve to paid for their hard work. If the writer is about to balk that no one paid them, then they need to do something to reward themselves. Go get a sundae. Go to the movies. Drink root beer and watch monster truck rallies. Do something. Hard work gets paid, period.

Originally, there was a 6th item here, about professionalism, but I thought it would be better to address that one personally before we wrap this post up.

“Professionalism” is a big subjective concept that relies on a lot of expectations and assumptions. It’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking, analyzing and worrying about. I wasn’t always concerned with how professional I was, but then again I wasn’t always aware of there being much in the world beyond myself and whatever itch I needed to scratch.

I don’t have a big fancy office. I don’t wear a tie to work. I don’t work for a big publishing house. None of those things mark me as unprofessional. Rather than let some commute or dress code or address define me as a professional, I let me work do the talking. That distinction, for me, is a huge one.

Good work, and good workers, are worth the cost. You hire me, you’re going to get someone who wants to see you succeed, but also someone who’s going to use the word “suck” in a comment about what your character is doing on page 9, because it sucks. I’m also the guy who’s going to write “Oh snap!” in a comment when your heroine starts kicking ass, because that’s awesome.

I’m not an editron-8000, some robot that just edits dispassionately.  I’m John, a guy who edits. My professionalism is defined on my own terms. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put my bathrobe back on before I have another cup of cocoa.

See you for #InboxWednesday. There’s a great question queued up.

Self-Promotion Is Not Mayonnaise Or Clowns

Welcome to Friday. Hope your week was good. How’s the creating going?

We’re going to talk today about self-promoting, which means we’re going to talk about what we’re doing and talk about talking about it. We need to distinguish a vending business (like you’re going to make sandwiches or knit hats) from an arts business (writing a book) because the vending business has a greater overhead like utilities and building costs that I can’t document as effectively, but I can talk at length about writing and creating art.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t discuss dealing with contractors and permits about electrical code, or the overhead costs of acquiring refrigerators. It’s not something I’ve dealt with directly, so I won’t pretend to discuss brick and mortar business. We’re talking business, yes, but we’re going to talk today about talking about your business.

We start though by establishing some boundaries for the conversation. I hate mayonnaise. It’s a disgusting color, texture, smell, and substance, sort of like a sad hobo’s ejaculate or third-rate tile grout that people elect to slather on perfectly good meals.

And I hate clowns. They’re not human, they’ve long since traded their souls for greasepaint and supernatural powers previously held by dead teenagers, tortured souls, and things with jagged bloody teeth.

I’m telling you about mayo and clowns to point out the extremes of my scale. Nothing. no activity, no conversation, no job, nothing in this world is as bad as mayonnaise and clowns. Self-promotion is scary, yes, but it’s not mayo or clowns. Meaning you can do it. Meaning you should be doing it.

Where To Start
We start with some rules.

1. What works for one person may not work for you. There are a lot of methods to self-promote, even if we compare them while only talking about one medium. Sure, you and I can both tweet about what we’re doing, but we’re doing so in different ways. I’m going to sound like me, and you’re not going to sound like me. If we try to ape each other, then despite all our best efforts, we’re still lacking the authentic, realistic construction and communication people have come to know from us. A trial-and-error approach is going to be optimal here, at least until you build a comfortable repertoire.

2. Who you are and how you identify are only barriers to promoting what you’re doing if you choose to let them be barriers. Your gender. Your age. Your race. Your identity. Your faith. Your orientation. Your socioeconomics. Your political affiliations. Your social life. Your kinks. Your preference for snacks. There are plenty of people in the world who will judge you based on these things. There are plenty of people in the world who will tell you for one reason or another why these choices of yours are limits as to how or why you promote yourself and your work. And maybe, if enough of these voices congregate or get loud enough, you may start to believe them. But that doesn’t make them true (hint: they’re not). You’re going to erect your own barriers, and there are plenty of humans who are counting on you doing that so that they won’t feel as insecure or threatened or annoyed that they’re the only people playing whatever sandbox. Fuck those people. Just fuck them with a fiery mayonnaise covered sex toy and leave them for the clowns to eat. Don’t buy into their applesauce. Don’t think they’ve got any right or ability to govern how you are or what you do because they disagree with it. (If anything, that difference is precisely the reason why you need to promote yourself)

3. You’re not going to be, and you don’t have to be, perfect at this right off the bat. Self promotion is difficult, and if you’ve never been in the habit of talking about yourself, it can feel like you’re gargling burning ball bearings while walking a tightrope being chased by laser weasels. I used to think Twitter was another way to send text messages. Seriously. I used to think Twitter was a great way to tell people where I was in a large crowded club or wherever. It didn’t occur to me until way later that I was completely wrong about it. You’re going to use things incorrectly. This doesn’t mean you’re stupid or that you should sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done while the rest of the village gathers around to shame you, it just means you need to change from one way of doing things to another. You’re not serving time in a penalty box, just try again. You don’t need to hold yourself to some ridiculous standard and pressure yourself to only deliver the best premium super good material or else the universe will end.

4. You need to do it regularly, not constantly. Unless you’re selling me cans of soup at my local grocer’s, you need to promote yourself more often than once a season. The distance between promotional bits (and I’m distinguishing between promotion and communication here, but we’ll cover that in the next section) can be jarring. Like you see a trailer for a movie months in advance, but you never see any other material for it, you may forget that you wanted to check it out. On the flipside, if all you’re doing is seeing advertising for the same thing over and over again (I’m looking at you, 5-same-commercials-during-football-playoffs), you get put off from engaging with the material, no matter how actually good the product is. There’s a balance to strike there, and that’s best done through a schedule (something else we’ll talk about later on).

With these 4 rules in place, it’s time to pick your media. This is more like picking your avenues for broadcast and less like picking what weapons to duel with, because you’re not locked into these decisions. Remember the trial-and-error part? It also extends to how you promote.

Maybe you want something concise and conversational? Try Twitter.
Maybe you want something targeted and partially unobtrusive? Try paid Facebook or Google Ads.
Maybe you want something semi-dynamic, or at least audience-facing? Try a Facebook page.
Maybe you want the space to write and interact at length? Try a blog or Google+.

Is that list comprehensive? No. I just picked promotional sources off the top of my head. Aside from the Facebook or Google Ads, I picked free ones, because I think it’s easier to engage without cracking open the checkbook and adding some kind of pressure to deliver, especially when you’re just figuring out what to do.

No matter what media you pick, get a sense for how they work. Go check them out. Go watch some videos about Google Ads. Go read some Twitter. Check out some blogs. See what elements you like, see what you do, see what you’d do differently. Do this homework.

What Comes Next
Now that you’ve picked how you’re going to promote, you actually have to go do it. Yes, you can totally farm this activity out to a human, but you need to pay that human, and you may find it’s cheaper to do it yourself once you get a handle on how to do it. Also, for me, it seems really silly to pay someone $45 an hour to write 5 tweets that took maybe 30 seconds  each to develop.

As we’ve talked about in the past, you need a schedule. Schedules are great ways to introduce a new habit with some structure. The boundaries on a schedule also mean you know the activity your doing is only happening for a certain window of time, and that you can go do something else the minute it’s over.

Building that schedule means picking times of the day or days of the week, or otherwise dicing up your time and allotting some portion of it to talking about what you doing. Maybe you promote every morning at 8:30, before you go have a second cup of coffee. Maybe you do it on your lunch break from the day job you can’t wait to leave. Maybe you only do it Tuesdays and Thursdays before you attend your support group for people who think they should clone Daniel Radcliffe.

Pick some times. Put them into your existing schedule. Start small and work your way into a more comfortable groove. Don’t come at this like buckshot and say you’re going to do it eleven times a day every day for 3 months. That’s a great way to burn yourself out. Build up to that. Build up to a comfortable competent fluency.

What To Talk About
The big question that comes up when you talk about promotion is some flavor of, “What do I say?” While I can’t give you a super catchall answer, I can point out some elements:

a) If you’re wanting to draw people to a site (like a blog), you need the URL.
b) If you’re offering a promotion, include any promo codes
c) If you’re talking about progress you’ve made, include word counts or percentages
d) If you’re showing physical progress, include photos
e) If you’re selling something, include a link to where the item can be purchased

And I’ll include two precepts:

i. Sound like a person
ii. Know when to shut up

Sounding like a person means you’re not just filling a tweet with links to where someone can buy your book. Sounding like a person means you’re actually doing more than just offering a commercial break so that people buy stuff before they get back to the regularly scheduled lives. You’re a person, communicate like one. In the course of using SOCIAL media, among all the things you’re talking about, talk about what you’re making or selling.

Knowing when to shut up means you know when not to talk about your product being available for purchase. You know how you wouldn’t roll up at your grandma’s funeral and start talking about how someone can get a great deal on windshield wiper blades? There’s a time and a place to talk about products and availability. Learn how to gauge the landscape, sound like a person, and pick and choose your spots. Sometimes it really is best to let there be a little pocket of silence in conversations, even when they’re digital.

How you talk about what you’re doing is going to entirely up to you. I can tell you what I do, and maybe it’s both a cautionary tale as well as illustrative. I tend to be great at speaking broadly about things (follow me on Twitter and get a ton of writing tweets) or speaking about personal things (mental health, chronic or terminal illness, food, films), but completely not great at talking about business things (that I have books available for sale, that you can hire me to help you become a better writer or creator). Maybe that’s my fear of success, maybe that’s my over-analysis about sales and sounding like a cliche car salesman always out for a buck.

You’ll figure out what to say as you practice. You’ll see what works and what works based on the reception you get. You’ll get inspired by what others say or how they do things. Allow yourself to be influenced that way, but remember that you can’t do what they do and expect the same results. Take what you see others doing, put your own spin on it. Trust yourself to be savvy enough to do that. (I believe in you, you should too)

Anything else?
Yeah. Don’t give up. You may not see a sea of people rushing to throw billions of dollars at you right away. You may have long gaps where you’re sure it’s not working. Don’t give up. Don’t beat yourself up. Yeah, I know, it’s super tempting because there aren’t those results hot and fresh in your hand. I do it. I sit here and have these exact same thoughts.

We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not going to let other people dictate how you we talk about what we’re doing. We’re going to do our best. We’re going to be okay.

See you next week.

InboxWednesday – Writer’s Market, Brands&Platform, and Twitter

Good morning everyone. Hope you’re doing well. Welcome back to #InboxWednesday, where I answer questions emailed or tweeted at me. Today, we’re doing 3 questions, all about things writers can do to help their writing.

If you’ve got a question, ask it.

John, what’s the Writer’s Market and is it a big deal? – Aimee

Aimee, this is the Writer’s Market.

2016-01-19 09.38.37

I’m not a fan of the mint green color.

It’s like a phone book for publication. In its 820 pages are listings for magazines, book publishers, literary agents, trade journals, and contests. In earlier editions they had a lovely chart of rates and prices for jobs, replaced now by articles about earning an income, writing queries, and book proposals. To be honest, I preferred the list of rates. I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to talk costs if you’re also going to talk about income opportunities. Still, it’s a useful book for when you’re looking for destinations for that manuscript.

Now, it is the Deluxe version, which does mean there’s a not-deluxe version, and this is that moment where I point out that you want to spend the dollars for the Deluxe Version. The one-year access to the online database is critical if you’re trying to get your MS out the door. Also, it’s often more accurate than the text.

It’s not that the text is completely wrong, just remember that this book was an MS itself, and that means it’s possible that since going to print some of the people and businesses listed might not be available anymore. The online database tends to be more current and more accurate. Also, it’s 2016, an online database should be standard for any resource.

The book runs about $50 on Amazon for the Deluxe, $30 for the standard. Save your pennies and go Deluxe, your MS deserves it.

Using it is super easy: You find the appropriate section of whatever info you’re looking for (let’s say you wanted to write for Montana Magazine, because you like big Buttes and you cannot lie), and read about what they accept (non-fiction, no more than a 1000 words per piece on average it seems) and how they accept it (email, after you query with a sample and an SASE). It’s worth noting these lines: Responds in 6 months to queries & Pays $.20/word.

This knowledge allows you to bang out some simple math (an 800 word essay on rocks would pay you $160) and put together a calendar (if you submit in July while on vacation, you can get a reply when you carve your Thanksgiving turkey). Knowing how much you’ll get paid and when you can communicate with people, combined with the fact that you can do this everyday with hundreds or thousands of opportunities can pack your writing schedule and strengthen your writing ability. Also, you’ll get rhinoceros quality skin from the rejections. Big wins all around.

Hi John! I’m a new author, I mean I’m trying not to call myself aspiring, and I have been reading a lot of blogs. I see a lot of people talk about brands and platforms. I don’t know what they are, but they seem important. Do I need a platform? How do I get one?  – Mary

Mary, this question has a lot of moving parts, so let’s go step by step.

A brand is an image, it’s an idea packaged and presented in a particular way or with a certain sensibility. As a writer, your voice and the work you do is your brand. The Mary brand is characterized by certain things that draw an audience to you, and no matter what story you’re telling, you’ve left specific fingerprints on it. (Maybe you love sentence fragments, or all your sidekicks have eyepatches, whatever)

Mary, brands are for cattle and jeans. You can’t boil down an author to a few regular habits or pigeonhole them due to genre and expect an accurate picture of who the author is and how their work is. This isn’t like producing the same material over and over again, so that batch 10 is just like batch 573. Writing is an art with growth inherent in it, so I want to see a change in products over time. I want characters to develop. I want plots to grow complex. I want to see writers get better at what they do.

Anything you put your name on is, to some degree, your brand. You can spend an obscene amount of time thinking about it as if your brand is under fire and in need of preservation or not. (Hint: It’s not) Do the best you can do, push yourself, stretch yourself, and let someone else ascribe a “brand” to you.

A platform is the way you broadcast yourself. Maybe that’s a website. Maybe that’s a blog. Maybe that’s social media. Maybe it’s a combo platter.

Don’t panic. Platforms are for standing on, or if we’re talking video games, jumping on while trying to avoid getting attacked by stupid digital ninjas. Giving the author one more thing to worry about, one more thing to divide their attention and increase anxiety is not conducive to making the most out of what a platform can do. You just want to write and then talk about stuff.

Yes, platforms are important. But they’re not more important than the act of writing. Loads of writers fall into that rabbit hole where they spend hours and days talking about writing, talking about marketing writing, talking about critiquing writing, and critiquing the talking about marketing of writing, that they skip the part where they should be writing.

Yes, you need to tell other people that you’ve written a thing, or that you’re writing a thing currently. You need to tell people where and how they can acquire what you’ve made if your goal is to earn income from making the thing. The platform is how you do that.

Having one is easy. Blogs are free. Social media is free. You can teach yourself to write concisely for Twitter. You can connect your blog to Google+. You can make time, like that 15 minutes while you eat that muffin and drink your coffee, to tweet about what you’re going to do today. Writing a tweet is barely a few sentences, and even if you labor over them, do you really think it will take all 15 of your allotted minutes?

You can broadcast what you’re doing while you’re still doing it. I said I was going to blog, and here I am, writing this blogpost. When I’m done, I’ll tweet again. It’s up to you to define and carry out a schedule that works for you. The platform is under your control, not the other way around.

Start small. A few tweets. A simple blog you update regularly and consistently. What do you put on it? How about regular updates as to your word count, or maybe the good news that you bought a Writer’s Market and made a list of 7 publishers you want to query before the month is over? If you’re about to ask me where you find the time, I’m going to ask you if you really need to be watching that TV show, really playing that game of solitaire and/or how seriously you’re pursuing getting your MS done and out the door. Make the time, even just a few minutes. Seriously. Yes, you can tweet just before you floss. I won’t tell.

Hey John, I’m on Twitter and have no idea where to start. What do I do?

I love Twitter. I would marry Twitter and our lives would fall into a glorious debauched decay. Yes, there’s a lot of complaining about the future of Twitter, that they’ll do away with its two principle elements (concision and chronology), and maybe that will change my mind on it later, but for now, I think the world of the microblogging format.

Treat Twitter like those telegrams you see on TV. You’re writing short, tight little ideas down and broadcasting them to people. You want to tell them that you’re working on chapter 11, you want to tell people that you’re tired of feeling you’re not good enough, you want to tell people that the secret to a really good cake is slipping some instant pudding into your batter, you’ve got 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) to do so.

Twitter’s impact is not in its follower count (the number of people who will see what you tweet when you tweet it), but in its brevity. It forces strong and clear word choice. It forces punch. A weak ramble of a sentence, a mush of words, isn’t going to make sense to people, nor will it move them. It’ll just be another bit of palaver, in between all the other applesauce spit out into the world.

That said, it can be an open window into your world. It can invite creepy guys, harassment, anger, morons, hatred, bigotry, distraction, violence, or tedium. True, it doesn’t have the greatest methods for walling yourself off from that, but the whole Internet doesn’t have great walls from that. You have the ability though to do better than software – you can make active and deliberate choices to engage or ignore. You can protect yourself rather than cower. Or, my personal preference, you can not let that stop you, not assume that the worst of the universe is somehow waiting for you because you’re just you, and the world is not out to get you or silence you from all of time and space. It’s a tool, and it can be abused, by others and by yourself

Yes, you can totally misuse it. Tweet over and over that you’re selling something? People are going to get very tetchy and then choose to stop following you. Use a lot of automated software to bait people into weird salesy conversations and you’ll find that many people won’t respond. Tweet infrequently to solicit or sound desperate (often for sales, are you seeing a pattern here in this paragraph?) and you’ll have a hard time being a person people want to parlay with.

There’s a reason it’s called “social media.” You can use it to socialize. Communicate about not just the work. Why not? Why not tell the world that in addition to writing a great action scene today, you also have a turkey roasting in the oven?

If you’re about to say, “Who cares about that?”, I shall respond with, “Who are you to determine what someone else will care about it, and who is it hurting for you to talk about dinner and how good your house smells?”

Start your Twitter adventures by following people. Follow editors (like me, or Amanda or Jeremy), follow writers (like Chuck or Delilah or Stephen King), follow whoever you want (like him or her or this guy or grape jelly or that lady). Read what they have to say, talk to other people. Communicate. Share. Repeat this process until you’re happy with who you communicate with.

You can do this.

Looking ahead to my Friday schedule,  we’re going to be talking about promoting yourself and your work. See you then. Enjoy your Wednesday.

Happy writing.

The Writer and Icons

It’s Thursday morning as I write this. The week has been rough. With the passing of first David Bowie and now Alan Rickman, I am affected, and it’s a little shocking to me how much I’m affected. And because this blog is my little imperfect home on the internet, this is where my I write out my feelings.

If me talking about things that aren’t writing is a problem, if that causes you go find your writing advice elsewhere, I understand. You do what you need to do. But me putting my guts on the page is important to me, and it’s a part of who I am that matters to me, I won’t and shouldn’t change that because I’m worried about my business failing. I apologize that I let the numbers get in the way.

About two years ago, when Philip Seymour Hoffman died, I was similarly affected, though that was more because of the addiction aspect of it. 710 days later, I’ve got new reasons to hate cancer. It took my grandmother. It took a dog of mine. It took two of my icons this week. Very much fuck cancer.

I never met David Bowie. I think I saw him once, eating a slice of pizza in Greenwich Village, but I thought maybe it couldn’t be him because I thought David Bowie wouldn’t eat pizza, he’d be nourished by the creative energies of the planet, or he was powered by belief like Tinkerbell. Pretty sure it was him though.

Bowie let me be me. Not like he came to my house and said everything was cool, but through his music, I learned that it was cool to do things that went against the trends, whatever they were, and that you could stand out based on talent and clarity of voice, without being some demagogue. To a guy who never felt like he fit in anywhere, who felt his talent didn’t belong into any category on Career Day, who felt weird about having people believe in him, Bowie made it alright to be the Writer Next Door. I was just a guy, doing this stuff with words, and maybe it helped people, maybe it made them laugh, maybe it was just floating around digital space along with all the blogs about agriculture and nail polish. But it was okay, because I was getting my voice out there.

It made Bowie seem to be thirty feet tall, some endless wellspring of creativity. He’d never die, he’d return to the nebula from whence he came, off to visit some other civilization on some other planet in some other galaxy where people needed to learn it was okay to do things that didn’t conform.

For as ethereal as Bowie seemed, Rickman felt grounded to me. I remember seeing him in movies, and that sent me to his biography blurb on Wikipedia. I learned about his jump into acting, how he had this line in the sand moment where it was act or not. I admired that about him, I admire that about anyone, really, who sees what they want to do, and then jumps out of that plane to pursue it. That’s the sort of courage that puts people on the moon, and brings us airplanes and iPods and new flavors of candy.

I met Alan Rickman twice. It was 2011, I was working (barely) as a writer by this point, and I was in and out of New York City for professional and illicit reasons alike. A play I was writing that would never see the stage led me to meet a friend at a small bookstore. My friend never showed up, he was too busy being arrested, but I waited in that bookstore, browsing old mysteries. Alan Rickman came in and managed to be somewhat anonymous. It helped that maybe 5 people were in the shop.

Stopping people to talk to them is something I don’t do anymore. I don’t want to invade their space or their time, I don’t want to interrupt or be dismissed and have my view of them diminished as a result. But I had just seen him on Broadway in Seminar, and I wanted to thank him for the portrayal of Leonard, the writer who led this writing seminar. It was the stage version of what I was doing, and I felt compelled to tell him so. So I did.

He was gracious and kind, and I wasn’t interrupting or wasting his time I said. We didn’t talk very long, because I had no idea what to say, and he thanked me for seeing the show and taking the time to say hello. He was nice, and he made me want to be nice.

Some weeks later, I had seen Seminar a second time, and was uptown at a party I didn’t want to be at, pretending to be interested in people I was never going to be interested in, and really wanted to be anywhere else in the world. As I scrambled for a polite way to get my coat (I guess it never occurred to me that I could just ask for my coat), there was a bit of a flurry, and Alan Rickman, with his wife (they weren’t married then, just together) came in. They didn’t stay very long, but it was my second meeting.

Again, he was nice. He remembered me. He asked me how my friend was, and how I was. He asked how the writing was going, I told him I was thinking about giving it up and finding a desk job. He listened, and after a moment said, “Oh please don’t. What you’re doing is important and good and worth it. Get your voice out there.”

Which I wasn’t expecting. I think I was expecting this great actor to pat my shoulder or shake my hand and dismiss me. He didn’t. He went on to tell me that it’s important to do what you love, and that sticking with what you’re doing matters. I don’t remember crying, but I do remember thanking him. I cried later when I got home.

I felt like I found comfort. At time I felt like I had strayed off the path of my passions and had wandered into some thorny brush where I was preoccupied and self-absorbed. Alan Rickman pointed me back to the road. I haven’t lost sight of it since.

Again, he was someone I never thought would die. He’d just cease living, after saying something dramatic, then go on to be a Force ghost that would hang out wherever cool ghosts go. Some place with minimal dress code and good food I guess.

A long time ago, I read a book that says smart people often picture a dinner party of other smart people, where they can seek counsel. I thought that was so cool. I could picture these famous people hanging out with me and ask them what they’d do. I never thought Roger Williams would be all, “John, you should totally have a milkshake”, but I liked the idea of convening this parliament of talent when I needed to figure stuff out. Bowie and Rickman had long since earned their invitations. They’re still there now, eating mozzarella sticks and fresh fruit, waiting for me to take a minute and think about things.

I wish I had something big to think about.

To realize that your heroes and icons are mortal, just as you are, is a tough lesson for me. I’m aware of my own mortality, but not the people I think so much better than me. They’ll outlive me, they’ll be around like mountains. They’re Everest to me, and always will be, no matter what happens to me.

So here’s my advice to you, if you’re thinking that being creative, making stuff, chasing your dreams is too tough and you should go throw in whatever towel you have on hand, oh please don’t. What you’re doing is important and good and worth it. Get your voice out there.


InboxWednesday – Query Responses & Series-itis

Welcome to #InboxWednesday, where I plumb my inbox and answer questions from writers. Want your question answered? Leave me a message, and you’ll find yourself in a future #InboxWednesday.

Today’s questions come from Mark in Georgia (the state, not the country), and Aimee in Okinawa.

John, I’m querying my science fiction novel, and I’m getting rejected quite a bit. I think I’m up to 17 or 18 rejections in the last 9 months. It’s very discouraging. Some of the queries explain a little about what isn’t working in my MS, and some are form letters that aren’t personal at all. At times, both really piss me off. It’s tiring to query and fail over and over. Is there something I should be doing when I get a rejection to help my chances? I just want my book published. — Mark

Oh hai Mark. First, good job finishing a novel. And I’m sorry to hear that you’re getting rejected, but also not sorry to hear it. Not because I never want to see your novel on a shelf, but because rejection is part of the process, a part that’s as important as revision or finishing that last chapter or writing that seventh chapter.

Rejection teaches us the critical skills of courage and determination. And much like Hercules Mulligan, the goal is to get back up when knocked down. Rejection sucks, because it’s evidence that you’re not done, but rejection is also proof that you’re trying. I know that’s not very comforting right now, but you’re doing hard stuff and you should keep doing hard stuff.

Not all responses to query letters are equal. Depending on where you send your MS, you might get a lengthy response breaking down plenty of key points. You might get a form letter. You might get a form letter with your name spelled wrong. You might get nothing. You might get a hastily written rejection where you get just a little information to go on. Who knows. There’s no set template for query letters from publisher to publisher, though internally many people within one publisher have the same responder.

Some of these will piss you off, and some more than others. They’re not designed to make you hate writing and the publishing industry, but that’s often what happens: people get enough rejections, they blame the whole system, they stop trying. Don’t do that, Mark.

Let’s talk sports metaphor for a minute. We’re playing basketball. We’re trying to score points. With good technique, you can sail that orange sphere through the net with ease, from practically anywhere around the basket. Layup, slam dunk, three-pointer. Now if I throw the ball like a shotput, it’s not likely to score. We’re both playing basketball, we’re both being serious about it, but our approach to scoring isn’t the same. You, with good technique, are having a way better time playing this game, while I’m over here getting discouraged and want the punt this ball across the room.

I wouldn’t blame the ball or the net or the hoop for my inability to score, and you shouldn’t blame publishing for “not getting your genius.” It’s the technique, Mark, how you’re trying to get your ball (the MS) into the basket (published). Try a whole new query. Try different approaches. Take a look at FiYoShiMo Days 28 and 29, or here.

To help you with those rejections, I made you a chart:
DO read the letter to see if there’s any info in it that can help you going forward.
DO write a polite, concise thank you to the person who sent you the rejection.
DON’T get on social media to threaten or harass the person who sent you the rejection.
DON’T write a hateful response telling anyone to go fuck themselves.

Yeah, I know, it’s super tough to be okay or pleasant or civil in the face of having your novel rejected. It’s hard to be nice when someone you don’t know just said that what you’ve been working on isn’t good enough. The problem is though, they didn’t say the novel isn’t good enough. Reading your query set a tone and gave them an impression where they didn’t want to dig into your MS. That’s what makes the query important – it’s the bridge to the MS.

Keep trying Mark. It took time to write your MS, it takes time to query. Try new approaches. Try new publishers. Hustle.


John, I’m writing a story about a rock band. There are four main characters. They’re working small clubs and getting underpaid right now but they’ll eventually get a record deal. The problem is that while I’m writing about that, I keep thinking about this other story I want to tell with the same characters. And then I start thinking that if I’ve got these two stories, this is a series, which means I need to change how I query this, right? I know I’m not even done writing yet, but I need to have all these ducks in a row, right? Help! — Aimee

Aimee, slow down. Pump the brakes. You’re not done writing, so finishing the writing is going to be the first thing you do. Don’t worry about querying. Don’t think about a series. Write the story.

The whole I-have-one-story-and-then-another-pops-into-my-head is something I see a lot. And it’s great. It’s exciting. It’s fun. It needs to be steered and controlled a bit.

Start by asking if this second thing you’re picturing or excited about is a complete story unto itself, or is it a scene? If it’s a complete story unto itself, then write it down, but then put it to one side. Yeah, I know, it’s way exciting, but you’re already writing a thing that you were excited about … at least you were excited about A when B showed up.

If this is a scene, can you incorporate it somewhere into what you’re already writing? Maybe it will work, maybe it’s just this creative thing in your head, a musing about characters doing stuff that helped get your mental juices flowing. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s good when that happens.

But not every idea is the seed of a series. Not every idea is strong enough to germinate into a whole book by itself, and no, you shouldn’t treat every idea like it’s the impending game-changing creation. Sometimes ideas are half cooked and ill conceived, like those late night infomercials. Who thought that a ladle shaped spatula was a good idea? And how is wrapping your crotch in buttnoodles that vibrate going to tone your thighs and rear end?

It comes down to decision making. Unlike the cat with the laser pointer, or the baby and jangly keys, we possess the ability to funnel our attention and effort elsewhere, focusing in on what we’re doing while ooh-I-just-got-a-new-email-and-Twitter-updated-and-I-need-to-youtube-how-to-make-Trello-work-and-I-need-to-make-phonecalls-and-then-I-have-to-write-this-story-about-vikings-with-robots-and-this-other-story-about-writers-who-fight-the-undead-because-OMG-writing-is-good happens.

One word at a time, one sentence at a time, one piece of writing at a time. Make the decision(s) as to what does or doesn’t go into what you’re writing. You can always trim it out later. Not everything is going to be a keeper. And not everything should be.

Keep writing Aimee. You got this.

See you guys Friday for more bloggity goodness.

Hey, did you know that I have openings to edit your work? Or to help you finish it? Or to help you start it? Let’s talk about how we can make awesome stuff happen together.

And did you know that you can buy some things I wrote?

Catch me on Twitter, anytime.

Happy writing.


Punctuation Is Not A Bad Thing

Today’s post is brought to you by a number of very distressing things I’ve noticed on social media (yes, you can find me on Peach now), as well as in manuscripts.

There are some punctuation marks that get a really bad rap, and I think we should start this week off helping correct some assumptions and usage issues that come up over and over.

First, let me start by saying that using punctuation in any effort to sound really smart or really professional will backfire. Punctuation’s job is to help direct and rifle your words to your reader, they can change implications and outcomes.

Maybe you’ve seen this example on Facebook:

We’re ready to eat, grandma.


We’re ready to eat grandma.

A huge structural difference is conveyed in that comma.

I want to talk today about three of our old punctuation friends, and add in a fourth.

The Semicolon
Oh wow, is the semicolon completely misunderstood. You can liken it to the nerdy girl who suddenly lets her hair down and then all of sudden she’s the hot one at school – there’s something amazing there, hidden under a few assumptions or some confusion.

The technical no-one-liked-me-in-class definition is: a semicolon punctuates between two independent clauses of related concept, be they similar, connected, dissimilar or opposed.

Not a very sexy definition, right? Let’s try that again.

Use a semicolon when you have two strings of words that could be sentences by themselves, but you want to tie them together without using an “and“, a “but“, an “or“, a “for“, a “so“, or a “yet.

Those strings of words that could be sentences by themselves are called independent clauses. And as you may have guessed, that knowledge will seldom come up in your daily life, but maybe you’ll have to use a semicolon now and then.

The other place for semicolons that you’ll need them for is a long list, where items in that list have commas already baked in.

Like this: There was Alan, the guy who loved dinosaurs; Ian, the guy who loved being Jeff Goldblum; and Newman, the guy who ruined everything.

The commas after the name turn the phrase into a descriptor for the person I’m talking about. The semicolon after the phrase tells you I’m going to talk about another person. When you end a list like that, yes, you can use and to start the final phrase.

In other languages the semicolon is used differently. In Greek, the semicolon indicates that you’re about to hear a question. In Arabic, the mark is flipped upside down, between either a cause and its effect, or between an action and its reason for happening.

The em dash
This is a punctuation mark I don’t like. Not because it doesn’t work—it does—but I think it doesn’t look right. It may be the lack of space around it. It may just be that in order to put one in text you either have select it from a menu — (as I had to do in WordPress), or in Word press Ctrl + Alt + minus (or hit the minus key twice when there are no spaces between the words you want to em dash between).

A pair of em dashes can get used like parentheses, so you can make an aside while not breaking your train of thought. Or a single one functions like a colon, so you can set up a list.

The example sentence would look like this—item1, item2, item3. Notice how there’s no space between the em dash. Notice how when there’s no space, John feels really uncomfortable for a second and has to move on to whatever the next sentence is.

As a substitute for parentheses, maybe you’d rock the next sentence.

She punched all of them—Billy, Ricky, and Tommy—for thinking she couldn’t punch them.

Again, no spaces. Again, not my favorite.

The ’em’ in em dash refers to its size, being one em wide. In typography, an em is the unit that measures the point size of the font. You can also call the em dash the “mutton.” Yes, that knowledge will totally make the attractive people at a party go home with you. Seriously. Tell them I said so.

The en dash
Here’s the other dash. It comes up in a number of different style guides with a number of different uses, and rather than sit here and list out all seven that I can remember, let’s just go with the most common one, since I don’t think my readers are currently stuck in the late 18th century working as typesetters in Europe.

Use an en dash when you want to indicate a range of things, like which seasons of The West Wing you can scientifically prove were the best: seasons 1-half of 3. Hashtag thanks to Rob Lowe.

Here’s the wrinkle, because of course there’s a wrinkle – you can use either the em or en dash to act like parentheses. Spaces go with the en dash, no spaces with the em.

Lots of style guides and submission guidelines will say to avoid the en dashes like it’s the n-word. It isn’t. It’s a punctuation mark. You still don’t use the n-word though.

The comma
Wait, is John going to go after the comma now? Hell yes I am. The comma gets waaaaaaaay maligned and often overused, so let’s straight this out.

A comma’s job is to separate and create distinction between elements in a sentence. Yes, I know, you learned that a comma acts like a pause, and it does, though nearly every form of punctuation acts like a pause, so the comma isn’t alone in the only breath-inducing media distincto.

In a list, a comma separates the items of the list (unless the item(s) contain commas themselves, at which point you’d use a semicolon). Your grocery list: eggs, butter, thumbtacks is an example.

Remember how with semicolons you didn’t want to use ABOFSY (and but or for so yet)? That because when you use any of those words, use a comma.

Like this:

He wasn’t without his flaws, but she saw past them.
He ducked low, and the car’s mysterious driver didn’t see him.
She wanted to date Wanda, or at least murder Caroline.
He took off his pants, for he was tired of getting jelly on them.
No one had a key to the basement, so the party stayed in the den.
She loaded the gun, yet he didn’t flinch.

Those words are called coordinating conjunctions, which is a fancy way of say they’re word duct tape. They conjoin (conjuct if you’re olde tyme) two partnering elements, even if they’re opposed.

In the definition I gave at the top, the comma’s job is to create distinction, but that doesn’t necessarily mean difference. You can make two similar things distinct, or you can have the comma and the clause thereafter help modify or enhance what you previously said.

Like this:

Caroline screamed, the sound stopping the party better than a record scratch.

All the stuff after the comma tells us how to frame the scream. It adds detail. It’s worth pointing out that this sentence is front-loaded, meaning the verb (and therefore the action the writer wants us to think about) comes early in the sentence, and everything later in the sentence is going to qualify it. Often in front-loaded sentences, you’ll get a length of clause after a comma that were you remove it entirely, you’d get a whole new picture in your head.

Try it with the example. When you toss out the qualifier on the scream, there’s extra tension. We need to get to that next sentence so we know how it resolves. We’ve picked up a bit of momentum. That’s part of the push/pull mechanism in getting people to read and invest.

Can you overuse the comma? Yes.

I have told many an author to yank every comma out of a chapter they’re working on, and they’ll get them back when they understand how to use them.

Comma overuse comes from that thinking we talked about where commas are little pauses you can slip into sentences so that people keep hanging on to whatever you’re saying. Look, I don’t know if you’ve realized it, but if they’re in the middle of the paragraph, they’re not going anywhere unless that paragraph is some monstrosity.

You can, if you want, put commas in lots of places, wherever you think they’d belong, from top to bottom, laterally throughout lists, and still be technically correct.

Yeah, that sentence is correct by the thinnest of margins, but look at it. Visually assess the landscape. See the spaces? See the stutter the comma induces?

Now read it aloud. Put your pauses in. Get a sense of how limp and dull that sentence is? How wishy washy? If we axe many of those commas, we suture up the sentence into something not so saggy. Additionally, we can trim that middling language (which is going to stick out without the commas) to make the sentence leaner and more effective. So that it becomes this:

You can put commas in lots of places and still be technically correct.

That’s a lean sentence. That’s a sentence you can lead off a strong paragraph with. I like that sentence, and not just because I wrote it.

My worry here is that grammar scares people. That it makes people go “oh god this post is dull as old paint on walls.” Lots of people had terrible experiences learning grammar, so many that they’ve forgotten most of it, or that they fail to see how it matters now in this day an age when everything is immediate and a new social media shorthand of acronyms and emoji seem to be bringing a new era of hieroglyphs to the language.

Grammar matters. Understanding it means you can, bluntly, fuck around with it. You can hack it. You can cheat it. But first you have to know how to use it. And it shouldn’t be scary. It shouldn’t evoke thoughts of old ladies with hair in buns and painted on eyebrows or dull books that smell of death and chalk.

We can make grammar sexy again.

Wednesday is #InboxWednesday, so there’s still time to email me or tweet me and ask a question to get an answer.

See you then.

The Hustle, 2016 edition

Good morning, welcome to Friday. I think were I a wacky morning zoo radio DJ, this is where I’d play some sound effects and then tell you the time, temperature, and traffic. Let’s all be thankful I’m not a DJ and get down to business.

We’re going to talk hustle today. Not the dance, I mean the Rocky chasing chickens, training montage, people doing stuff and getting stuff done hustle. WordPress was being pissy today, otherwise you’d be seeing images not just text right here.
So let’s define “the hustle” as all the things you’re doing to get better at being the best creative you can be while accomplishing your goal. That includes writing regularly. That includes blogging often. That includes … I don’t know, making sure you knit or paint or seed torrents everyday.
The goal, whatever it is, is where we’re going to start today. You need a goal.
There needs to be something driving your creative efforts. Maybe you’re trying to get a book written or published. Maybe you’re writing a script and aiming to get on the Blacklist. Maybe you’re trying to get a business off the ground. Maybe you want to be a wacky morning zoo radio DJ.
Without a clear goal, your efforts don’t have a trajectory – you’re just sort of doing stuff while time ticks by. Sure, things get done, but there’s that “why am I doing this” question hanging around.

What’s your goal? Why are you doing what you’re doing?
Picking that goal, if you haven’t already, is one of those simultaneously simple and scary decisions to make, like when you decide that Taco Bell is a good choice for lunch, or when you decide to call your aunt to see how she’s doing.
The lure of the goal is the end result. If I do all this writing and revising and querying, I’ll have a published book when all’s said and done. If I do a little coding, I can set up a website.
But there’s a trap with goals. It’s a trap of perspective and it’s one I fall into a lot, so let me pry my leg loose and tell you about it.
Yes, sure we can all set a goal. But is that goal set because you can reach it or because you want people to see you reaching it? What’s your reason for doing whatever it is you want to do? Want to see your book on a shelf? Want to earn enough money to take a vacation? Want to get over your fear of weasels? Those are goals for you, based on your own wants and thoughts. There’s this danger though, and I know it well, that you can set up a goal so that someone else will come along and tell you that you’re so brave or good or strong. And you keep at it, because as you work on it, they keep praising you. And there’s nothing wrong with praise. But (and here’s the tough part) some of that praise has to come from within you. You have to love what you do and like doing it and enjoy doing it even if no one sees you doing it.

Yeah, I know, it can suck sometimes.

I’m right there with you on getting my internal I’m-good-enough motor to kick over.
I’m saying that not because I want you to tableflip and walk off, but because part of the hustle is being honest and clear in your efforts. It’s not a bad idea to open a business selling socks, but it might be beyond your scope to start a business where you put all other sock makers out of business. There’s this concept called “target focus” at work here.
Target focus is seeing the small goal(s) within the larger one, and working to accomplish them, while realizing that you’re also accomplishing the larger goal.
Think of a marathon runner. There’s 26 miles to run from start to finish. That 26 seems huge and maybe that makes the runner worry about sore legs or blisters. But, if they think about just running that first mile, then another, then another, a mile at a time, the marathon gets done. They complete the marathon (the goal they set out to do), but there were smaller targets along the way that got done. And each target completed gave them a little momentum and incentive to keep going.
Take that goal, and break it down. What smaller targets can help you build to the larger one? I want to clean a room, I can stare at the voluminous mess and feel overwhelmed or I can quadrant off the room and work in 2 square feet of space at a time until I’ve finished. Or I can do one pass through the mess to collect all the laundry, and a separate pass to pick up all the books off the floor. There’s no wrong way to make targets.

A target is defined by:
a) A practical simplicity that advances you to completing the bigger goal
b) It’s something you can do that is actively productive

That (b) part is critical, and I was hesitant to talk about it until recently. Because anyone can take a goal and break it into pieces, but you can break pieces down again and again until you’ve sucked the effort and challenge out of them, until they’re inert. It might look like you’re doing something, but you’re not making a lot of headway. That lack of measurable progress can lead you to frustration.

Go back to that messy room. I can clean in 2 foot squares, which might be physically taxing or time consuming or I could at each pass, just pick up one piece of paper at a time and throw it out. I’d be here cleaning all day. Sure, I’m making progress, but I’ve slowed down to the point where it’s almost not seriously going to matter. And moving towards your goal should matter. You should want to accomplish your goal, for you, for your own reasons.

I say that as someone who knows what it’s like to set a HUGE goal that generates a lot of buzz, and then feel overwhelmed and undermotivated to go accomplish it. Maybe undermotivated isn’t the right word, so let’s pick a new one … how about terrified? Terrified of failing, terrified of succeeding, terrified of discovering I’m either good or not good at it … just plain scared to make progress.

Setting target helps. You can reach targets. Targets are realistic and not scary, they’re activities that happen every day. Set targets that have a bit of challenge, but that you can do. It’s not being anti-ambitious, it’s tempering that super-ambition down to a practical level. So that shit gets done. Try it, let me know how it works for you.

Geared up with a good goal and a motivation to do it, targets focused on, we get to the obvious yet not-obvious part of the hustle: <strong>you actually have to do whatever it is you want to do</strong>. If you want to be someone who makes soap, you have to make soap.

Here we find all kinds of distractions. The Internet. Relationships. Other goals. That whole stupid part where you have bills and taxes. Day jobs. Pants.

Keep that goal and its targets in mind. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. The distractions will still be there for you to handle later, but when you’re on the hustle, when you’re being that creative doing that creative stuff, tell the distractions to wait outside.

I know, I know, some of that stuff doesn’t feel like a distraction. You need that Spotify playlist so you can write. You need your coffee. You need to make sure the dog has water. You just need to check one more thing. You say that’s not a distraction, you just need to be doing it instead of hustling towards your goal. (Feel free to repeat this paragraph out loud a few times, I’ll wait.)

You’re not working in a vacuum. Unlike Matt Damon, you haven’t been stranded on Mars. There are interruptions. That phone’s gonna ring. The kids are gonna need something. The dog has to go out. Yes, there are things that are going to break your momentum.
Let me give you a tool for getting back to hustling after you take a break (either intentionally or not). This is what I do, maybe it’ll work for you.
You’re going to come back to your work after whatever paused it, and you’re going to picture, in your head, in as much detail as you can give a single snapshot, your goal being accomplished. See that book on the shelf. See your foe vanquished at your feet. See the Kickstarter funded. See the yolk not breaking when you flip your eggs. Get that in your head, then count to 10. Then push yourself into work.
You can get the momentum back. Really. You just need to push. And that push (I don’t have a fancy term for it, if you have one, tell me) takes energy, force of will, whatever you want to call it. But you’ve got your goal in mind, right, so getting back to work is what’s going to make that goal a reality.
You lose the momentum, you lose that vector, you get it back. Trip, fall, get back up again. There’s no penalty for however many times you stop, stall, stutter, tumble, break down, pause, uhh, or swear you’re going to give it up but keep going anyway. You’re not a bad creative because you didn’t do whatever you’re doing in one super long productive period. You’re not a bad creative because you tried and failed and then had to try again.
The important thing is that you got back up and tried again. That you put your fingers back on the keys. That you didn’t just close the laptop and say you were right all along about never getting your dream made.

Get back to work. Hustle. Make it happen.

The Tease Of The Bookshelf

So, it’s Wednesday. Middle the week. Hump day. That day where I always feel like it’s too early to make weekend plans, but that if I don’t make those plans, I’ll let it go too far and miss out on something.

First, let me take a minute to thank all the new people who have come to the blog within the last few weeks. I am sincerely thankful for all of you, and if given a chance would write you all emails expressing how much it means to me that people even take a few minutes to read my words. My reach is never something I understand, but it is something I’m very eager to expand. Sort of like a toddler, or a small drunk dictator. I suppose there’s very little difference between the two.

Second, let me give you an update on #FiYoShiMo. If you’ll look at the toolbar, you’ll see a FiYoShiMo index page. That’s a whole list of links that will take you to each post in the month. Yes, I know day 2 is a pdf, but that’s because WordPress is a jerk, and I have no idea where the post went. The entirety of the posts exists now as an MS, which I’m busy polishing (read: fixing the internal links so they’re text, and formatting) and my next goal is to get it proofed and start querying. I’ll be putting everything from the querying process onward on the blog as a series of posts. It’s been far too long since I was in the publishing trenches, and I’d prefer to be in the thick of things and not upon some pedestal looking down. I may fail, I may succeed, but no one will be able to say that I didn’t try.

On we go to today’s topic, which was suggested to me via Twitter conversation. Maybe conversation is too broad a word, it was more: “Hey John, write something about this, I’m struggling with it.” And the good news is that I struggle with it too, so I’m going to spend some words expressing my own experiences. I’m hopeful you’ll find a parallel in your experiences. Maybe together we can work this out.

So I’m writing this from the upstairs office (read: the computer in my bedroom) of the house. I could have written this in the actual office in the house, but I didn’t. I could have written this on my phone, and then I wouldn’t have had to get up from the couch, but I didn’t. The majority of my writing takes place in this chair, on this machine, and it’s so ingrained me as a process that writing anywhere else feels awkward and even a little scandalous.

The problem with writing in this room (aside from the fact is that there’s no fireplace and no couch), is that there’s this bookcase on my right. It’s currently a post-holiday mess, as I haven’t filed away any of the new books I’ve picked up over the last month, and I haven’t cleaned up the spilled business cards from my last convention. It is an obelisk to and a microcosm of my writing career – crammed with material, often in need of organizing.

On those shelves are all the books written by the people who influence and inspire me. Some are friends. Some are authors deader than disco. Some are clients, or were once. I look at that bookshelf every few sentences when writing. Because it is one of the many lighthouses by which I orient myself. Yes, I have several in my life. We’ll talk about that some day.

That bookshelf is where I go when I need a boost. It’s there when I don’t know how to structure something, it’s there when I need a reference. All useful stuff. It’s a bookshelf, it’s a tool to aid me, and also it keeps clutter off my floor.

But stacked along with all my references and notes, is anxiety. And to be blunt about it, envy is a jerk. Anxiety is a huge fucking jerk, the amalgam of every bully, every blowhard, every abuser, every torturer you can imagine. And that’s because anxiety is armed with a barbed nagyka of self-doubt.

Anxiety uses it competently to flay the nerves, skewer assumptions, and scourge confidence.

And here’s how it happens.

So you’re writing, or you’re thinking about writing. Maybe there are words on the page, maybe they’re still forming semi-orderly lines in your head before they paratroop down screen or page. All things are going well. You’ve got something to drink. The dog doesn’t need to go out. The phone isn’t ringing. You’ve got a good playlist queued up. No one’s knocking at the door. It’s go-time, writer. Time to make the words happen.

In that instant, in that small moment of pause between one word and the next, you catch the faintest whiff of worry. You have words down, your fingers are dancing over keys, but the pace is slowing. The worry grows. The writing stops. Your stomach does a little toddler’s tumble. And so begin the questions.

Is this okay? Am I good enough to do this? Is this going to do alright? Will an editor shred this in their toothy maw? Will anyone buy this stuff? What the hell am I doing? Crack crack crack goes the flail. In those wounds, already festering and raw, more self-doubt seeps in. Until you’re comparing yourself to other people. Until your fingers aren’t on the keys. Until you’re unsure of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Now this is even before we can talk about anxiety burgling its way into your head when you’re not writing. There’s material there for a dozen lifetimes of blogs by a thousand billion people. I’m looking at the panic, worry, and doubt that comes when the words are supposed to be coming out.

I look at my bookshelf, and see the names. Would I ever be as good as them? Would they recognize me as talented? Would they let me into whatever fantastic club I believe them a part of? Am I good at anything? Will I leave a legacy like theirs? Am I shouting into some void? Would I be better off moving to some orchard and picking fruit? (I bet I’d be a great orchardeer, or orchard caretaker, orchardtaker or whatever)

There was once I time where these thoughts would send me angrily to pull the shelf down, and throw the books every which way in the room. There was a time when I’d write a very large “Fuck Everything” on social media, or any media and just go play video games and sulk. That anger has been pulled from me, with regular leeching of comfort and wisdom. And I’m thankful. Because now I get to sit here and see the anxiety coming. Now I maybe know what to do about it.

See, I don’t know if I’ll leave a legacy. I have no idea if anyone but a few people will remember me when I’m gone, let alone remember me fondly. I have no idea if there’s a secret good-writer club. I don’t know if some of the people whose books are on my shelves know I exist.

It’s hard to say that I don’t care. Because I do care. I just try not to care so much. That’s not easy. I know it’s not easy. But it’s what I need to do to get my fingers back on those keys. It’s what I need to say to myself, over and over, even out loud, even at meals, even just before I post to the blog, so that I assure myself that these efforts aren’t lost.

No, no, this isn’t some blather where I’m seeking your praise. Sure, I’d love some right now, but I’m trying to be objective here, don’t you see? The answer to the anxiety is reassurance. We can debate whether it’s best from yourself or others later, the fact remains that reassurance from somewhere is often enough to kick anxiety to the curb.

So I look to my lighthouse again. And yes, there are plenty of writers to be envious of there. Book after book share the same names. But tucked between them, there are the books I worked on. The things I’ve done. My name may not be on many covers, but my name’s in there. Reassurance.

Here’s where you tell me, John, I’m just (WHOEVER YOU ARE)) and I haven’t been published. What good does your lighthouse do me? All I have are these books by other people, and I feel so small and insignificant.

And I will say to you – the act of writing is reassurance. Yeah, I know, it’s not as reassuring as being published, but I’ll tell you that plenty of people I know have been published more than once and they’re never coasting on some idea that they’ve “made it.” There’s that hunger, that drive, that hustle. (We’ll talk hustle Friday)

Do whatever you can to reassure yourself that what you’re doing, what you’re making, belongs on a bookshelf. Even if it’s your bookshelf. Maybe you go play with your kids when you’re done writing for the day. Maybe you go look at SpongeBob porn (I just found out that was a thing). Maybe you go into the backyard and stare at clouds. Maybe you play Spider Solitaire until your fingers cramp. Whatever you do, whatever balm you can provide yourself, go do it.

And then go write. One idea, one word, one step at a time. You lose your bearings, you look to that lighthouse, you look to that waiting reassurance, and you get back to writing.

Let’s make a deal. I’ll believe in you, you believe in me, and we’ll go shake anxiety down for its lunch money and buy tacos when we’re done writing for the day.

You’re good enough to do the amazing things. You’re good enough to write what you want. You might need help, it might take a while to write what you want. but you can do this.

Don’t give up. You’re not alone. (maybe I’m saying this as much to myself as to you) Go write.

See you Friday, when we talk hustle.

Some things to do now that you’ve read this post —
Check out the Google Community where you can congregate with other writers doing writer-stuff.
Want more John-words? Got a few bucks? Check out Smashwords.
Find me on Twitter, and see what I’m talking about today.