We start with a medical update: Today has so far been a good day. I’m writing this with a blanket wrapped around me. The chest pain isn’t too awful. I’ve eaten something. I’m feeling up to writing this post. I have very little to substantially complain about.

My heart is for the moment stable. I’m responding to treatment, and doctors are hopeful I’ll continue to respond as well as I am, with my immune system holding strong and my bloodwork on the upside. This all gets punctuated with oxygen tanks and assistive devices, because while I’m declining, I’m not in the period of time the doctors refer to “The Decline”, which is the economics-sounding way of saying “the last few months of life.” I’m not there, I’ve got a few years between today and there.

I’m still not out of the woods, and frankly, short of miracles and transplant, I won’t ever be out of the woods. I’ve decided that if I’m going to be in the woods, I’m going to build a cabin there.

I want to introduce you to #ProjectCardiacPhoenix. The goal of this Project is to keep me going, not just financially, but also productively. One of the elements not often talked about with long-term illness (terminal or otherwise) is that it has a lot of downtime. You wait in a lot of offices, you wait for a lot of test results. You wait for things to change. And waiting is corrosive. Waiting is a forever-hungry beast with open jaws. It is corrosive to hope, which so often feels fleeting when you stack up all the medical updates, insurance bureaucracies, and physical issues.

See, one of the frustrating things, the gnawing mental shit, is that I’m 1000000% confident that I’m doing the best work of my career, lucky enough to do what I love to do for a living, and it’s just that the rest of my body is failing to keep up with my mind as it races along to being a better coach, editor, and writer.

I know so many of you have asked how you can help, and I have always struggled with guilt over giving you more than a polite answer, because I have felt like I was a burden to at least one other person since I was a small child. Now I’m an adult, and I still feel like a burden even talking about this, but as my excellent caretakers have all pointed out, “You need to do something while you can.”

Here are some ways you can help:

  • I’m releasing FiYoShiMo 2.0 all this month on my Patreon. It takes all the material of FiYoShiMo 1.0 (available here) and expands on it. I’m so proud of the work I’m doing. It’s this sort of material that I think is among my best, and I encourage you to support it (and the tweetstorms and me) by checking it out. I know I’m a few days behind, and I’m going to push out several days of content in one blast over the next few days.

  • Later this week, I’m going to add donation buttons to the site.

  • Share my posts and tweets with your writer friends, your creative posses, and your social media tribes. There’s a lot here and on Twitter that I think can really help someone.

  • In 2017, Noir World will be Kickstarted. If you’re a fan of film noir, role-playing games, or my writing, please check that out.

  • Consider coaching if you’re a creative unsatisfied with what and how much you’re creating. It’s not just for motivation or just for writing technique, it’s all that and then some. It’s designed to help you become a better writer and creative one hour at a time. And yes, writer’s block, publishing woes, query letters, and editing are all topics that coaching covers.

Let’s end with a bit of good news. I spent the morning talking to doctors and laying out plans to get insurance off my back somewhat, as well as sorting out the changes to my Obamacare and soon-to-be-Trumpcare-question-mark medical paperwork. Everyone, myself included, is in relatively good spirits.

Please, help #ProjectCardiacPhoenix in any way you can.

Metatopia 2016 Schedule

In my opinion, there’s no better gaming (and development) convention than Metatopia. It’s a fantastic confluence of industry talent, designers, and intention. Without a doubt, it’s where I tell people they must go if they’re serious about creating a game or getting into the gaming industry.

Here’s my schedule for the weekend. Note the number of “Special Guests”, because this year isn’t just me yammering, more people will be with me to drop knowledge and occasional humor at faces.

See you then.


D002: “How to Playtest 101” presented by Darren Watts, Jeff Tidball, John Adamus. Our panelists talk about how to be good testers. Learn how to hear the questions being asked and answer with useful feedback. We all want to give helpful criticism; learn more about how to do that. Friday, 9:00AM – 10:00AM

D007: “So You Want To Be An Editor?” presented by John Adamus and Special Guest. If you wanted to be an editor of games, where would you start? How do you “break in”? What are the first few steps and best practices? Friday, 10:00AM – 11:00AM

D029: “From Idea to Manuscript” presented by John Adamus and Special Guest. Starting from the “I think I can make a game about X” point and walking you all the way up to “Okay, I’m ready to crowdfund this game”; a look at the stages of production. Friday, 5:00PM – 6:00PM

D035: “Making Your First Game” presented by Mark Richardson, John Adamus, Shane Harsch, Jim McClure, Whitney Marie Delaglio. The wondrous journey from beginning to end of working on your first game. It’s a highlight reel of the big process parts and what to keep track of to make your first game as successful as possible. Friday, 8:00PM – 9:00PM

D040: “Confused State of Rulebooks” presented by Joshua Yearsley, John Adamus and Jessica Hammer. Writing and editing rulebooks is still a black art, not an empirical science. In this panel, professional editors John Adamus and Joshua Yearsley hash out the state of the rulebook. What works? What doesn’t? Why do so many professionals (including us!) disagree about how to write good rulebooks? Why are so many rulebooks still bad, and what can we do about it? We won’t have all the answers – maybe you’ll help us find some. It is somewhere between a panel and a roundtable. We’ll certainly have things to say and discuss with each other, but we absolutely welcome audience input to figure out what the world’s thinking about. Friday, 10:00PM – 11:00PM (If Josh brings slides, I’d like you all to applaud EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. APPLAUD LIKE YOUR BEST FRIEND JUST WON AN OSCAR.)

D053: “Developmental Editing” presented by John Adamus and Special Guests. Sometimes you’re designing a game from the bottom up. Developmental Editing is exactly the opposite. A game exists in an imperfect or dated form. Now, let’s update or refine it until it really sings. There are different constraints in this type of editing. Learn about them in this panel. Saturday, 11:00AM – 12:00PM

D057: “Writing Scenarios and Campaigns” presented by John Adamus. We all know that narrative writing is about the beginning, the middle and the end. But how do you fill the in-between with toothsome, engaging opportunities? Let’s chat about how you succeed in both short-form and long-form story crafting for your players. Saturday, 12:00PM – 1:00PM

D060: “Getting The Job As A Gamer” presented by John Adamus, Tara Clapper, Isabel de la Riva. Do you have serious gaming skills that might help you snag your dream job? We’ll discuss how we did it and how you might make it happen. Saturday, 1:00PM – 2:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D098: “Marketing For The Disinclined” presented by Avonelle Wing, John Adamus. Marketing can be tricky, especially if it doesn’t come comfortably or naturally for you. Join us to commiserate, brainstorm and compare notes. Sunday, 12:00PM – 1:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D107: “Narrative and Mechanics” presented by John Adamus and Special Guests. How does one influence the other, how do they cooperate, where do they clash? What are the limits on each? Sunday, 3:00PM – 4:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

1,000 Days (Musings and Feelings)

A very wise woman told me “Perfectionism isn’t about pleasing yourself, it’s about pleasing others and protecting yourself from criticism.” She’s right, because I’ve been working on some variation of this post for two days, but more broadly, I’ve been working these ideas for the last several hundred days. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. Because I’m not perfect.

Let’s start at the top. Today, while also being Halloween and the last day of October, is my 1,000th day sober. No booze, no pills, no drugs. To be honest, I never thought I’d last this long, because while there have been some great moments of happiness and pleasure in these thousand days there’s also been a whole lot of really tough and intense things going on. It’s a balance, even though when you compare quantities, it seems like the scales are way tilted.

Do I need to back up? I feel like I need to back up. In early February 2014, my life was (in not very Fresh Prince style) turned upside down by the honest and necessary decision to stop trying to end my life either actively or passively by putting stuff in my body that was creating a buffer I felt was necessary between me and the outside world.

This decision didn’t have a lot to do with the fact that I made it in a hospital room, or that I argued with myself about it as I was getting driven from one place to another. It was about hitting what I describe as “the bottomest bottom.” I can describe it to you like this: Life is reduced down to just existing on such a primordial level that you start to question why you bother breathing. There aren’t colors in the world (think Wizard of Oz), and sounds don’t have fidelity. You’re experiencing someone else’s world while you’re underwater wearing an old-fashioned diving suit that’s been filled with flavorless gelatin. Disconnectedness, a loss of any sense that you matter, and a loss of all the feelings and ideals you believe to be primary (for me that’s creativity, humor, sensuality, and a sense that people can-slash-deserve to be their best). The feelings didn’t evaporate, they migrated to other people.

And it’s not like you’re angry that they’ve ditched you, you find new and exciting ways to agree with the exodus. Of course you don’t get to feel good things anymore, look at you, (INSERT NEGATIVE REASON DU JOUR HERE). Likewise it’s absolutely reasonable that everyone else should be happy and do better (than you) because they deserve it. You don’t, they do. That’s the gap under the self-esteem door under which slide all manner of broken coping mechanisms and bad decisions to float into your personal bubble.

It’s those bad decisions, made and reinforced over so many years that had to stop. I wasn’t happy, I was pseudo-happy. I was pretend-happy. I was happy for others when necessary, because that was the right thing to do, but I was as hollow as a chocolate holiday bunny. That had to stop.

So on February 4, 2014, I found myself sitting in a room, in one of a few uncomfortable chairs, telling a group of strangers how I was a mess, and how I messed up my life. There wasn’t an immediate sense of camaraderie, we weren’t all sharing stories of how we messed it all up so we could earn some kind of “woe is me” cred. I had to put all my guts and thoughts and fears and feelings out of my body in that room, and hope that someone could help me be better than how and what I was doing.

Dudes, ladies, brothers, sisters, that was HARD. It was Day 1. I wept giant tears and wiped a lot of snot off my face. I got hugs from strangers. I wiped my nose on a lady’s shoulder as I blubbered. Day 1. In the books. Come back for Day 2.

And I have consistently come back for the all the Days. Seldom is it easy, but I have the tools to stay on this path, and I know this path is a better one for me. It’s been a messy path. It’s been a lonely path. It’s been an awkward path. But it’s taught me so many things. Here’s a few of the big lessons.

1. Not only should you have dreams, you must be relentless in your pursuit of them, should you truly and honestly deem them important to you. We all have dreams, and while some are fantasy-in-waiting, not all of them are. You can’t term all your dreams to be so far out of touch that you won’t even bother taking the steps to reach them. I’ve met people who think that all life provides is a series of opportunities for disappointment and rejection, no matter the effort taken. That life is rigged against them and they’ll never meet the unknown criteria to “make it.” This, fine and good creatives, is applesauce.

Even if the criteria is at times unknown, we do not exist simply to live out a series of fretful failures. Skip for a minute any sense of faith or spirituality and look at the math of it – eventually we have to succeed somewhere. Which is why it’s so important to continue trying. Because that success could be up ahead. And if that’s important to you, if you have a goal and want to have it happen, then go towards it with all the effort and experience possible.

2. There’s zero shame in making a plan, adapting an existing plan, or following a plan to get you to your goal(s). I used to be plan-averse, because I thought that only if I were spontaneous would people want to be near me. That was a complete disaster because in the absence of structure, I become a hedonistic vacuum cleaner sucking up whatever experience is within ten feet. So I swung the pendulum the other way, and became inflexible. The plans I made were everything, and while it took longer to get things done, because I was thinking about all the permutations and outcomes so I could tailor a plan to reduce (or eliminate, I thought) failure.

Rigidity in this way does not make the goal easier. The goal isn’t rigid, it’s your view of possessing it that’s unyielding. Don’t confuse rigid with concrete when you’re talking about goals. A concrete goal is defined and has boundaries – you want Book X published, you want to sell 20 widgets – but a rigid goal is over-defined – you want Book X published by Company Q with an advance of Amount G.

Adaptation will keep you from seeing a success (getting published) as a not-good-enough-thing (published but not by Company Q). So many people partner rigidity with legitimacy – that things have to go in a certain way else the things aren’t good or right. There are loads of ways things could go that will net you your desired end result that don’t look anything like the one specific way you had in mind. I thought the best solution for resolving addiction was not being alive. I was pretty firm on that plan, until this other chance presented itself, and I’m glad I was able to ditch the rigidity.

  1. Take failure as a moment of instruction or reflection, not as some sign that you’re supposed to give up. You’re in charge of quitting. It’s up to you and nobody else if you walk away from your dreams or goals. So when you fail, and you will fail, and you will even feel like some of the successes are failures because you’re just “not there yet” (wherever “there” is). The problems you encounter, those setbacks large and small, it’s only failure when you don’t try again. Keep going, and it’s a setback. Stop, and it’s a failure.

  2. Invest time every day in doing what you love, even if you have no idea how to make that switch flip from “I just love doing this” to “I make money doing this.” Whatever the “this” is, it’s never an instantaneous consistent success. It takes time to produce the “this”, it takes more time to get it out to the hands of people who want to trade money for a “this” of their very own. So since it takes time, make time and use your time to be productive.

“Productive” doesn’t mean be perfect, it means make progress. Remember this is firmly in marathon territory. I invest in myself everyday by working on sober living. I invest in my creativity every day by building a business and a legacy I’m proud of. Get in the habit of listing and doing the activities you invest in, and keep an eye to the goal of why you’re doing it – what’s the end result? How is what you’re doing getting you there?

  1. Rewards and milestones aren’t evidence of anything other than your progress. Along this marathon journey of creativity, you must remember that the course is not going to be, nor should it be, run all in one day. There’s a whole lot of distance between where you are and where you’re going, and it’s important you be able to look back and see how far you’ve come instead of always looking forward and feeling like you’re coming up short. Little rewards help you. They perk you up. For me, those rewards are snacks or an extra long nap or taking an hour to read a book I like. The reward for doing X doesn’t have to be X in order to help keep you motivated about X. In fact, I’ll argue that getting space between you and X from time to time will help you when you need to make headway on X.

You’re more than your projects, or your lack of progress, or your inflexible deadlines that of course you missed because anyone would miss them. You are not your perfectionism. You are not your dreams that forever exist in drafts and outlines. You are not your incomplete work.

Though you may yet be a work in progress, you are so much more than you may ever realize or appreciate. That’s my greatest takeaway from these 1,000 days. I am committed to delivering the best help I can to those who need it, and I am committed to being the best me I can be, scars on arms and all. I don’t need to be perfect to be me.

I’ll be at Metatopia the rest of the week. As you can tell, I’m in the process of getting this new blog into shape. Your continued patience is appreciated while I work out the kinks.

We’ll talk soon. Happy writing.

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.

Starting The Year Off

Blank pages and I never had this relationship before. I didn’t think twice about them. I never became aware of their size. I never courted their infinite potential. They were just the space where I put words. They weren’t scary. They weren’t ominous.

So when I spent the whole of December filling them, day after day, the blank page was just this workspace. It had no greater meaning to me than a legal pad or the notepad I keep in the kitchen to write grocery lists.

But then I took a much needed day off. Technically, it was a weekend off, as I’m rewriting this post on Monday morning. There was a post here, but it was raw and a little desperate … but we’ll get there. I took that day off, and looked backwards. That’s not something I normally do, but we’ll get there too.

Reflection is a trap. Reflection can lead to nostalgia, envy, comparison, and a host of other distractions. And into that trap I fell.

The blank page of the blogpost became prison and torturer all at once.

To fight it, I did what I always do, I did what I tell everyone to do, you go spit in its eye and you get to work. Writing with that edge of proving the doubt wrong. Full throttle, no brakes.

Now I could tell you that just bull-nosed slogging through that moment of doubt or fear fixed everything and I’m all 100000000% back on track, but that would be a lie. Sure, making my fingers put words on the page helped there not be a blank page, but reflection doesn’t just evaporate just because you do something.

Oh no, reflection takes the words you’re making and snacks on them. It sees what you’re doing and (if you’re like me) it starts to compare them to other words. Maybe other words you wrote, maybe other words other people wrote.

Now I’ve done some checking and I am not Tesla, Pressfield, Doyle, Wendig, Stout, Miranda, McKee, Dawson, Baker, Henry, Engard, Balsera, Hicks, Macklin, Edison, Ford, Foley, or King. I am none of those people. I am a guy in a bathrobe that smells like woodsmoke. I am a guy who sees success like it’s a light at the end of a tunnel. A tunnel that I’ve been running like a marathon, with both my legs chained together, dragging behind me the assorted cement covered ghosts those who doubted me, adults who abused and infected me with doubt and fear, a number of rejection letters, professional faux pas, and unspoken envies and regrets. One foot in front of the other. I feel the ghosts clawing at my shins and ankles. One foot in front of the other.

What I’m saying is, I see what other people are doing, I look at what I’m doing, and I often feel bad about what I’m doing. It makes me melancholy. It makes me desperate. You won’t see the blogpost that I originally wrote, where I went on and on about how much pneumonia sucks. You won’t see the stream of consciousness I needed to exorcise from me. That was the frustration and vulnerability and fear taking my ideas and tinting them.

Sure, it was a good post, some of those sentences have so far been repurposed here, but this mess of reflection and comparison feels like quicksand. Struggle in it, become aware of it, and you’re going down.

And because now I’m aware of it, the blank page is white quicksand.

When that pull grabs you, when you start going under, you start grabbing at anything to stay afloat. For me, it’s shocking transparency and raw honesty. Tell the world how I’m hurting. Tell the world how tough, hard, scary, and grim the world can be. Talk about mental health. Talk about poverty. Talk about health care and heartache and fleeting happiness. Be vulnerable, so that people won’t just read my words, but they’ll feel something. They feel something, so I’ll feel something.

That doesn’t stop the quicksand, it still pulls, but at least then I’m not sinking so quickly. But I’ve lost something along the way. It’s not terribly “professional” to be talking so horrifically about the downsides of being me. It’s not encouraging for people to come hire me if I’ve spent blog page after blog page talking about chest pains and hospital visits. It’s not the start of a great working relationship if I get angry at one group of people for not hiring me while I do get the chance to work for another group of people.

So what to do?

I go look for the magic sword. mastersword

There’s this moment in Legend of Zelda, where your little guy is wandering around the maze of woods, trying to get his shit together, trying to overcome obstacles, trying to keep going (does any of that sound familiar?) and eventually, after a few adventures and some hard work, you come to this clearing and there’s this sword in a stone. You of course have recently discovered the ability to wield said sword, because quest logic, so you yank the sword from its pedestal, and it’s go time.

Armed with that magic sword, you are ability to mow down your opponents and feel pretty sweet while doing it. It’s a pretty awesome sense of accomplishment. I’ve always liked that moment. It’s wonder this little warrior guy doesn’t slice his thumb off, but he does alright.

To find my own magic sword, I go find things that inspire me: today it’s a hardcore wrestling match where I watched a man fall twenty feet and not die, and a little boy building with Lego, and turn that perseverance, turn what those things mean to me, into my own I-can-do-this magic sword, which I get to wield because it’s my own damned magic sword.

Armed now, I go attack the voices in my head that tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, or that I’m not good at doing whatever it is I think I’m doing. I stab and swing and carve a swath of “Go fuck yourself, voices” into that screaming chorus of no-one-loves-me-and-no-one-could-because-look-how-bad-I-am-at-doing-things and I equate bad with failure with wrong. So of course I need to stab the ever loving hell out of those ghosts. There’s good work in me, I just need to get this crap out of the way first.

All this came from the reflection, remember, from taking time away from writing daily. I see this, I hear the voices, I swing the sword, and say to myself, “To avoid doing this on the regular, I should probably stop reflecting, I should probably stop stopping.”

Yeah, that’s a completely reasonable solution (that’s sarcasm). Swinging from one extreme (go full super work) to the other (do nothing) is not a solution for anything that isn’t turning on a light switch.

Which means my only option is to put the words on the page and keep trying.

I don’t know how to be that ideal professional. I don’t know how to blog “Effectively” according to Pinterest articles. I don’t know how to do a lot of that stuff.

What I do know is writing. Word craft. Story structure. Creativity. Words.

So let’s spend 2016 getting better at things. Let’s go together on this trip where I go get FiYoShiMo published. Let’s march through lessons about writer’s block and story structure for bad TV and movies. Let’s talk professionalism and audience building and good networking. Let’s have a laugh at the number of stories I have that start with, “So I have vague recollections of meeting this person when I wasn’t sober…”

Let us make 2016 a year where we do good work together.

And don’t worry, I’ve got this magic sword.


FiYoShiMo Day 30 Writer’s Toolbox

On my desk in the office, I keep a rolodex. There’s a second one in a binder in the first drawer of the desk. There’s a digital one in my inbox. There’s a supplemental one in a folder in my Dropbox. There are a number of large D-ring binders on my bookshelf. I’m 37, and I’ve spent twenty years collecting information for writers during my time as a writer, editor, word consultant, story developer, game creator, marketing guy, teacher, coach, and professional creative.

And it occurs to me that me having all this information is great, when you know I have it, and when you know you can access it. Hoarding the info does neither of us any good. So today for FiYoShiMo Day 30, I’m opening my rolodex and notebooks and giving you some material so you can start your own toolboxes.

Software You Can Use

While there is no perfect software that will do everything for you, I have recommendations for you as to software that will make your working easier.

Scrivener – For writing things
I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t Scrivener to the fullest. I use it, I love it. It makes my writing feel more polished and substantial, thanks to a lovely UI and clean lines, but I’m likely not cranking it up to 11 the way I think many other people do. It’s worth the $40.

Evernote – For collecting info
Guess what? I don’t Evernote to the fullest either. Again, I use it, I think it’s great now that I’m using it in more organized ways, but again it’s something that I will over time get even better at. Don’t let the tiered price tag scare you off, it’s worth a little money if you tend to assemble heaps of research. Or just different articles to read later when you should be writing.

Scapple – For clarifying ideas
The Scrivener people have a great piece of mapping software that I use even when I’m just making goofy ideas for games. Scapple is incredibly versatile and in using it to build FiYoShiMo, it’s very much helped my decision making process. Totally worth the $15.

Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Prime Music – For focusing on things
You can track what I’m doing during the day based on what sounds are coming from the office. Lots of music without singing? I’m writing. Lots of music I’m singing along to? I’m working on Noir World. Lots of music and I’m cursing? I’m probably losing at a video game. I can no longer work in silence since I got sober. So I work in stereo. Spotify Premium is my go to, though Pandora and Amazon Prime Music make any work I do on the couch pretty awesome too.

Need a playlist while you work? Try this one or this one.

Amazon Prime – For getting things
FREE Two-Day shipping on any office supplies, food, tech, gifts, random stuff? Access to movies, cable TV, and TV shows? A huge library of music to listen to? How have you not signed up for this already?

Old-Fashioned Tech

A Pen
These are the best pens I’ve ever used, lost, left at friend’s houses, or accumulated in cups throughout the house.

Need to write things down? I have dozens of these, all color coded.

Business Card Holder
Stop stuffing a stack of them in your pocket with a rubber band around them. Put them in a case. Look like the professional you’re becoming.

Business Cards
Yes, get some.

No, it doesn’t matter if you go Mac, PC. Your OS doesn’t matter. Your phone doesn’t matter. What matters is that you find the best tools that you can use comfortably that help you do the stuff you want to do. What works for me may not work for you, so if you’re already doing something and it works well, stick with it.

Tomorrow, we wrap up FiYoShiMo with a breakdown and my closing thoughts.

See you then.



FiYoShiMo – Day 29 – Query Letters, Part 2

Note: As I said yesterday, this post is about query letters. There’s no perfect query template, and a lot of what goes into a query letter is up to you, depending on whatever you’re writing. So what you see here is an example and your own query can look very different and still be “good.”

We’re continuing our discussion of query letters today with a sample query, as well as some common query problems that I get asked about during workshops and seminars. I’m going to write an intentionally bad query first, comment on it, then fix it. Any comments I make are going to be written as ((number)). It’ll all make sense when you see it.

Bad query ahoy!

To Whom It May Concern ((1)),

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be able to make dreams come true? Not your dreams, but other peoples’ ((2) dreams? ((3))

STEVE PROTAGONIST used to think he’d never be anything ((4)), and then one day he found a magic lamp while walking on the beach preparing to drown himself during a vacation designed to re-ignite the spark in his marriage to MARY SECONDARY-CHARACTER, who he’s been married to for the last eleven years, three kids, and two houses.((5)) Steve is ((6)) down on his luck, just waiting for the chips to fall where they may ((7)), and this magic lamp has some magic in it after all.

So our ((8)) hero wishes for the ability to make other people happy, and initially his powers really help. That is, until he meets TIM ANTAGONIST, his boss ((9)). Tim discovers Steve’s power, and began ((10)) to abuse it. They have a showdown on the roof of their office building after Tim discovers his own magic lamp and Steve finally gets his own wish granted  when Tim gets sucked into Dimension X ((11)).

GUYS WITH LAMPS is my ((12)) first complete ((13)) novel in the wish-fulfillment science edutainment genre ((14)), and is 790602 words unedited ((15)). My name is FIRST-TIME AUTHOR and I am so nervous to be writing you this query letter! ((16)) I hope you like my story, and that you’ll email me back, because I’d really like to be a published author 🙂 ((17))

Happy holidays to you and yours ((18))

(pretend I got WordPress to right-intend the contact info, it goes on the bottom right)
My Name
Twitter: @johnmakesupanauthor

Actual postal address
Town, State/Province, Country
Zip or Postal Code


Okay, that query letter sucks with a capital “Suh” and a capital “cks”. Let’s do the numbers:

((1)) If you’ve done enough googling and social media investigating, you should know the name of the person you’re corresponding with. This isn’t one of those ValPack coupon things in the mail, this is your effort in getting your manuscript published.

((2)) Grammar issue – Treat an s-apostrophe on a word that ends with an “s” as though it’s an apostrophe-s. So here “peoples'” means that you have multiple groups of people, and you’re saying peoples’s. You just mean people (one group of many) apostrophe-s, since that one group owns them.

((3)) This is not an elementary school book report. You don’t have to, and often shouldn’t, open with questions to the reader. Start the query where the action is.

((4))  A character IS already something. You’ve made them special because you’ve put them in this story. Again, keep the query’s momentum growing. The sentences here are supposed to make the reader jump at the chance to read the manuscript.

((5)) This whole breakdown of Steve’s crappy life is wholly unnecessary and uninteresting. This is material that goes in the manuscript, not the query. How does this information here, in this spot, make the reader want to read the rest? Yes, sure, writing this out here makes it sound like the author did their best, but the query has a job to do, and that job isn’t making the author look good.

((6)) There’s a shift in tense here. Pick a tense and stay in it.

((7)) Look at all the cliches. See how, much like that one aunt who still thinks she can pinch your cheeks, they take up space and contribute nothing good to the situation? Write better sentence(s).

((8)) He’s not “our” hero, because the query isn’t written in that conversational or conspiratorial tone. Had that started from the top, “our” wouldn’t stand out so much. But it does, so this whole sentence needs overhaul.

((9)) If the antagonist is the character’s boss, and the character has presumably had this job for some time, how has our protag just now met his boss? Even in the most Office Space comedic scenario, you know your boss, even if you don’t interact all that often.

((10)) Here’s another shift in tense. This one is particularly clunky because it’s the second verb in a sentence.

((11)) Is that the book’s ending? Queries aren’t supposed to spoil the ending. Queries aren’t summaries, they’re amuse-bouche.

((12)) There’s a tricky shift to manage here, going from talking about the MS to mentioning you-as-the-writer. Because it’s really hard to do well, I advise people not to do it until they’re really comfortable querying. Keep the focus on the MS.

((13)) Since you don’t query incomplete work, calling it complete is redundant.

((14)) Don’t invent your own genre. The person reading this query has to take your MS and be able to make it sound interesting to other people up and down the respective publishing food chain. Making up your own stuff (even if you did it just so your MS would stand out) makes their job harder.

((15)) If you’re going to use the word “unedited” in a query, you might as well just label it “sloppy”, because no matter what you mean, that’s what’s coming across. Also that novel is like 7 times the size it needs to be.

((16)) One: Don’t use exclamation points in a query when you’re talking about yourself. Two: Don’t tip your hand. It’s okay to be nervous, everyone on both sides of this exchange knows that nervousness is a thing that happens. But it’s not relevant here, and it makes you sound desperate.

((17)) Again, this is desperate and PLEASE OH PLEASE don’t put any emoticons or emoji in a query.

((18)) You don’t know, and shouldn’t presume to know, how your reader spends their time. Thank them for their time and get the hell out of the way.

Got that? Make sense?

Other things to consider:

If you have anything else to add, like how you found the person you’re querying, or if you’ve got other published work, or something professional that’s worth pointing out, it goes in the last paragraph.

See the part where I put the personal/authorial info? Yes, it goes on the bottom, after all the query stuff. Right-indenting it isn’t a bad idea, but so long as it’s all together, it isn’t critical.

Now let’s go fix this query, applying all the tools we’ve talked about over the last 28 days of FiYoShiMo.

Dear Agent/Editor/Person’s name,

It really sucks being STEVE PROTAGONIST. He got passed over for three promotions at work. He’s pretty sure his wife is going to divorce him. His kids think he’s a loser. And he can’t even figure out how to end it all as he stands in waist-deep ocean tides.

And then that damned lamp comes into his life.

One rub, one genie, and one wish later, Steve starts turning his life around. At least until he has to go back to work, and discovers that no wish is without costs.

GUYS WITH LAMPS is a 115,000 word science fiction thriller about hope, dreams, genies, and office jobs.

I’m a first-time author with years of experience staring out windows and making wishes while working office jobs.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


First-Time Author
Twitter: @johnmakesupanauthor

Actual postal address
Town, State/Province, Country
Zip or Postal Code

A query is a text-based movie trailer, where your manuscript is the film people have been waiting to see in IMAX 3-D at one of those theaters with the reclining sofas and chairside food and drink service.

The query can and should build hype while giving some of the plot away. SOME. Not all. Just enough to set up some expectations or give a groundwork for what’s going on. The goal is to get the reader into the manuscript.

Since there’s no one single always perfect query, there are only queries that are perfect for that manuscript in that moment. You can pitch the same book twenty times in twenty different ways and see lots of different strengths and weaknesses.

Which brings me to the last common question I get — can I query different people about the same manuscript at the same time?

You can, I mean, you possess the faculties to send emails to many people. But if you do, don’t mass e-mail everyone in the same email, and don’t use the same query twice. New reader, new query. Also, in that last part of the query, you do need to mention that you’ve sent the same MS elsewhere. Yes, that’s a huge risk, and a lot of people will red flag and reject you for it, but you do have a responsibility to be professionally forthright.

Or you could just do one at a time and be a bit more reasonable.

Tomorrow’s FiYoShiMo will be a list of resources for writers – contact info for some people to work with, some books to read, some tools that might help you get stuff done.

See you then.

FiYoShiMo – Day 28 – Query Letters Part 1

Disclaimer: Day 28 (and Day 29) of FiYoShiMo cover query letters for a more traditional publishing route, and I’m taking a few lines up top today to state that there’s no one single best use-this-without-fail query template. Believe me, if I had one, I’d give it away for a dollar to every writer I meet. So what I’m talking about here are some boundaries and ideas of what works, and I’m leaving the particulars up to you. Let’s do this.

A query letter (or just ‘query’ since the letter part had to do with things being mailed by hand) is a document that describes and entices a reader (often a reader with the power to advance or retard publication) to read the manuscript. That’s it. It’s not a contract. It’s not a dissertation. It’s not an email pleading for someone with business cards and an office to please-oh-please-oh-please-spare-a-few-moments-for-me-that-I-might-feel-good-about-the-things-I-did-every-morning-I-dragged-my-insufficiently-caffeinated-self-to-the-laptop-at-some-ungodly-hour-before-making-my-kids-breakfast-and-then-started-the-usual-rigors-of-life-in-modern-pants-wearing-society.

I don’t think there’s a large enough font available to me right now that I can use to express that query letters are neither mystical nor scary. They’re no scarier than blog posts or holiday cards, but since so many people balk at writing those, I guess queries are supposed to be scary.

But they’re …. well, they’re not. Not if you make every effort to stop telling yourself they’re some super critical make-or-break thing that you have to win Olympic gold at else you’ve wasted your time and life. You haven’t. Please let that seep into your brain.

Let’s talk Olympic athletes. Presumably you could say the medal winners are the three best people on the planet to perform this task, whatever it is. The person who didn’t win a medal, they’re still the FOURTH BEST PERSON ON THE PLANET AT DOING A THING. Since there are 7.3 billion humans on the planet, this 4th-place athlete is better than 7,299,999,997 people at doing whatever the hell they just tried to do. How is that not good enough?

Contrast that with one additional thought – Olympic medals are finite, publishing isn’t. My apologies to the people who still perpetuate the idea that you have be, I don’t know, an old straight white man, in order to write a particular genre, or that you must have attended some institution and read this or that author, but that’s such a crock of hot applesauce and horsefeathers.

Given the right tools, targeting the right audience, anyone can get published. Whether or not they should be published is a different question, one dependent on critique or the amount of energy spent on the efforts, but the process of getting published still has the same core steps.

Note: I’m talking about traditional routes of publishing here. I’m not talking about self-publishing, which has different avenues, and often replace query letters with things like summaries and managing your own publishing details like ISBNs, file formats, and editing.

If you do want to self-publish, go for it. There are loads of great services out there, just do your due diligence and understand that you’re going to be managing different things than just writing a manuscript. Self-publishing turns you into a creative publishing outlet, so the non-writing parts come into play, and they are important to understand. I don’t advocate one publishing model over the other, they’re all tools in the toolbox, and I think some manuscripts lend themselves better to one route than another. When in doubt, ask!

The first big element of a query letter is its length. And just like those kids in high school used to say, size does matter. Get everything (including your name and contact info) onto ONE SIDE OF ONE PAGE. Do not exceed 450 words at the absolute maximum. You can do a lot in 450 words, but consider that your hardest of limits.

Because of this size boundary, a query letter needs to make the story warrant being read, it needs to introduce the author, and it needs to give some concrete details about the MS, all before the bottom of the page. Let’s break that down.

Make the Story Want To Be Read
If you had to decide whether or not an MS gets turned into a book, would you want that MS to be explained to you in the most boring and dull way possible? Have you ever been on the phone with someone and they’re telling you a story about seeing a mutual friend, but somehow they’ve elected to start this story about how they met up with Nancy eleven hours earlier when they were getting a latte after spin class?

Start the query with some action. Make the person want to go straight from query to manuscript because of how your word choice and development of ideas (remember, you’ve got less than 450 words to do this in, so make decisions and be impactful) interests them. Telling the story of a juggler-turned-senator? Don’t spend your precious query-words getting that latte after spin class, go straight for an action beat. (Unless that latte is the action beat because the latte is secretly laced with nanites that your antagonist is using to mind control everyone at the coffee shop)

A query letter is not a plot summary. It doesn’t need end on some open-ended bullshit question like an episode of the 1966 Batman TV show (who gives a shit how Batman is going to escape from the giant cake made of quicksand), but it does need to tell the reader enough to make them want to get into the MS so they can find out how the story blooms. Start the snowball rolling downhill, give an idea of the projected path, then let the reader take it from there.

Introduce the Author
The bulk of your query is going to be focused on what’s going on in the story’s plot. But you do need to spend some time talking about yourself. Now maybe that’s just a few words saying that you were a finalist for an award, or if it’s your first book. Your info should be somewhere on this piece of paper (I like either at the end, in a small chunk of text, or the upper right corner). Info should include your name, email address and one other way to reach you. Like this:

Your Name
Email AT Email Address dot whatever
A website (preferably) or some means of finding you on text-based social media like Twitter or Google+. No, don’t send your Instagram, no don’t do your Facebook author page with the 2 likes from your parents and spouse

Yes, you need to include some way to correspond with you. The actual you, not the pen name you’re using so that the people in your basket weaving club don’t shun you because you write stories about fish politics. No, they’re not going to sign you up for Weird Shit Of The Month clubs, this is a professional presentation of who you are. Don’t assume you’re communicating to a jerk and you won’t get treated like one in response.

Remember though, that correspondence is a two-way street. Yes, they may tweet at you, but they can also read your tweets. Like those six you did when you chugged that entire bottle of wine and tried to livetweet making a grilled cheese at 3 in the morning after the booty call didn’t pan out. This is also why I don’t say to include your Facebook page, because let’s say you have a whole lot of photos of you hanging out in a sea of red cups and bongs (as the kids say, getting turnt), you might be sending the wrong professional message. You don’t need to be a crusty stiff with a broom handle taped to your spine, but this is important. Do all you can to give your MS the best avenue to success. You deserve that.

MS Bookkeeping
I tell clients to include this stuff at the end of query, in its own paragraph. You’ll want to include:

The title of the MS (put it in ALL CAPS)
A word count (not an approximate one, a specific one)
A mention of the MS’s genre (don’t invent your own)
A polite statement thanking the reader for the time (NOT THEIR ATTENTION, NOT THEIR PROMPT ATTENTION)

Tomorrow, for part 2, we’ll look at a sample query and some word choice issues that arise in it.


See you then. Happy writing.

FiYoShiMo Day 27 Packaging Options

Hello! Ready to get back to work?

We’re in the final week of FiYoShiMo, and before we go forward, we have reached an important crossroads.

For the remainder of FiYoShiMo, I’m operating under the assumption that your goal is to get your MS published. If you’re not doing that, it’s not the end of the world, this is just the assumption I’m making so that tomorrow and the day after when we talk about queries, there’s a point to it. But that’s for tomorrow.

Today we’re looking at packaging your story. Now I remember a time (I feel like I should tell a youngin’ to take a seat on my porch while I sip my lemon drink when I say that) when the only packaging option was a thick manila envelope with a heap of postage on it when you send it off to some gatekeeper who could axe your work over a dispassionate cup of coffee. Scary times kids. It’s a good thing that times, like underwear, change.

Packaging is how you want to disseminate your story to the reader(s). There’s no one single “best” way to do this, there’s no “wrong” way, and no one is wrong or bad (or meant to feel wrong or bad or stupid or whatever) for picking their package. Unless they’re picking their package in full view of children, because that’s gross and be better than that.

What I’m listing below is by no means a definitive list, it’s a list based on how frequently I see these items.

A Single Manuscript, abiding by Submission Guidelines
This is the most common way you see an MS, as a single document, formatted to submission guidelines. For those that don’t know submission guidelines are the set of instructions that a publisher (no matter whether they’re a traditional publisher or a website or whatever) has regarding publication. They often include things like word count, margin size, font size and typeface, a breakdown of rights and ownership, as well as page enumeration and chapter breaks. It may include things like payment schedules based on word count, and if you’re emailing it, whether they want it as an attachment or pasted into the body of the email.

As you can tell, the guidelines are incredibly variable, and just about every publisher has some, even if it’s just a bullet point or two about who to email and how long the response time might be. Unlike other guidelines, submission guidelines are meant to be followed explicitly. No, I don’t know why they’re called “guidelines” and not “rules.” I didn’t name them, and I agree, they need a better name. It’s a big deal to follow them, and I know this for two reasons:

a) Nearly every time I tweet about following them, every agent and editor I know retweets me
b) When I talk to writers about why they got rejected, they tell me that they didn’t follow them, and that’s why their rejection came swiftly

Follow them. It doesn’t take very long to change the format or font in a word processor. It isn’t going to break your fingers off to add a line break here and there. The word processor does the hard work, so let it.

Serialized, Complete Portions
Here’s an alternative to dropping some huge 110k super-document on someone’s lap. Let’s say your 110k MS is all about a woman who discovers love after she abandons her career as a TV weatherperson and takes a job with an erotic puppet troupe (hey, don’t judge, I’m making this stuff up).

Serialization means taking an MS and breaking it into smaller pieces. “Complete Portions” refers to breaking it up into pieces that more or less stand on their own, except they’re part of this larger story. This isn’t a series (that’s later in this post), but it’s one story that breaks at key points.

In our example, that 110k could be 4 portions of 27500 words each, so long as we break it at these points:

a) Where she attends her first puppet workshop
b) Where she goes on her first date post-puppet performance
c) Where her parents find out she makes puppets do the no-pants dance
d) The story wraps up with a pretty bow on it

We break that story by its development – after the first act, during the buildup, the climax, and end it at the resolution. If you’re going to break down the story into portions, you want those breaks to be organized and logical. Don’t just divide it up by number and wherever the word count falls (even in the middle of a sentence), you chop. Some pieces can be larger or smaller than the others.

Serialized, By Chapters
For over 170 years, this was how stories got distributed. You got a chapter per issue of a magazine or periodical, and although it gave you a short columnar summary of events prior to the installment, it was in your interest to be reading regularly. There are still journals and magazines that go this route, most of them are digital subscription services.

Here, it doesn’t matter how long the chapter is, you get space for 1 chapter. Yes, because this is part of a periodical, your space is further constrained by the other elements of publication (column inches, ad space, etc), but this is a dependable way of reaching an audience.

Let’s say our 110k sex puppet lady story has 35 chapters. You’d likely not see 35 installments, so maybe they’d crunch the numbers and say that each chapter is around 3150 words, so maybe they’ll do 9450 words per installment, giving them 12 installments, enough for a year’s run at one installment a month. (Publishing math is the one kind of math I can do)

In Series
When we’ve talked serials, we’ve talked 1 MS broken into smaller chunks. A series is a set of complete MSses that forms an arc unto itself. Each MS is complete with its own internal plot, but each completed MS also feeds into a larger canonical plot. Instead of having only chapters be climaxes, now books are series climaxes, and within those books you have climaxes (and yes, the editorial note for that is climax-climax), so everything develops on a macro and micro level somewhat simultaneously.

And series can be lucrative, well, they used to be, when publishing had great heaps of money not spent on cocaine and private parties, before people fell prey to pyramid schemes and supermergers with golden parachutes. (No I’m not bitter, not at all, whatever would give you that idea?) But things change, and series money is reduced now, and series are no longer the fast track to major authorial fame.

The average series length is now 3 or 4, down from 10, which was down from 15. Series come in two flavors, open and contiguous. An open series is where the stories are independent of each other more often than not, with very few elements cohering them beyond chronology or significant development. Many mysteries are like this (Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe), and television shows are often like this, when you don’t count two-parters for sweeps week. The only constants in this series are the titular characters, maybe their ages as well, and everything else is variable. An open series is a chance to develop characters and change a lot of circumstances, then like an Etch-A-Sketch, clear the screen and start all over with the same indivisible building blocks.

A contiguous series is a series where each successive story is dependent on the last. This is the kind of series fiction we’re most used to. Harry Potter does this, where knowledge and series plot is discovered incrementally over the course of each book, and the end book is the culmination of all previous books’ events.

Series are often published a book at a time (sometimes, but rarely, you see a whole series released at once … the exception being things like internet television shows, where the whole season goes live on a particular date), and that’s a great point to wrap up today.

Starting tomorrow, we’re spending two days on query letters, which you know, you’d need to write if you want to get anything published by someone else.

Have a great day, see you tomorrow.

FiYoShiMo – Day 26 – Revisions!

Note: I know in the original outline this day was called “What Comes Next”, but as you’ll see, I changed it for a good reason.

I’m assuming that for this last week of FiYoShiMo your manuscript is done, or nearly done. “Nearly done” is at least 80%, for the sake of today’s topic.

Oh right, this is the final week of FiYoShiMo. And today we’re talking about revisions and editing. Yes, we’re going to talk editing on the editor’s blog. Weird, I know. But we’ll get through this together. I have confidence in us. And in your friend’s mom.

The First Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Consistency in Names
Technically, the first thing I do with a manuscript is read it all the way through, just to make sure it’s complete and to see if there are any giant glaring errors or red flags that prevent me from going forward (see below).

For the moment, let’s assume the story is complete and there aren’t any huge problems. I read it through, probably in chunks over the course of a workday, or printed out and triple-spaced while I hang out on the couch with a cup of tea and the dog.

Depending on the length or complexity, that read can take between a few hours or a few days. During that reading, I make a list of all the proper nouns – character names, location names, object names. Then I go back to the MS on the PC and count the number of times each name shows up. If character A is named “Tom” 390 times (I’m making up numbers), but then turns into “Steve” 1 time, I know to flag it. Likewise if a named thing (city, power, object, whatever) changes names, I know it gets a comment.

The Second Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Arcs
Every character of substance in the MS should be on a journey, from a start-state to a changed-state. And their progress should be trackable, not necessarily quantifiable. I don’t need to see 3% growth every chapter like the character is a mutual fund, I need though to be able to see the character moving in some direction based on their actions, philosophy, motivations, and intent.

Then I make sure the plot goes somewhere, and that the characters intersect with that plot. A plot that doesn’t move, or it slows down without reason, or characters that don’t engage with the plot (or just in general) all get flagged with comments.

The Third Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Sentence Construction
We all fall into patterns when we write (or speak). When you start seeing someone use “really” (it’s my example) in paragraph after paragraph, and then you notice that every paragraph happens to be three lines long, and that each line has a comma followed by an “and” … and that there are more “I” in the sentences … You see where I’m going with this?

It’s a function of the fact that I’ve been doing this over half my life. I see patterns. I like patterns. They’re very telling. Was something written by a man or a woman? Have they gone to college? How much? Are they a parent? Is this their first book? What bad habits do they have? These are some (but nowhere near all) the questions I can answer by reading the first few pages. (Ask any client of mine, they’ll tell you about it)

Sentence construction can also lead to problems in grammar. Incorrect tenses of verbs, misused punctuation, weird structure, and spelling all get checked at this point. Comments begin to swell here if they haven’t already started to.

The Fourth Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Character Engagement
Okay. There’s this thing called a “Mary Sue.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe not. It’s used pejoratively to describe any character who is too perfect and goes unchallenged regardless of situation. It comes from Star Trek fan fiction (seriously), and involves a lot of wish fulfillment or the projection of a “strong” character who can handle everything.

Maybe you’ve been to the movies lately, and seen the Internet burble forth some applesauce that a certain female character in a very successful space opera franchise that involves a distant galaxy in the past with laser swords is a Mary Sue, because despite having a limited character history, she seems pretty capable in any circumstance. (I danced around some spoiler stuff there)

She isn’t a Mary Sue. She’s just a character who’s capable of doing stuff. Compare her to pre-existing characters, she’s pretty much on par.

No, this isn’t where we’re going to talk about how “it’s about time for a woman to be strong”, because that’s not what FiYoShiMo is all about, we’re just looking at how the character is going to connect to the audience. This character in particular DOES connect, and I think will continue to do so in subsequent films. In this regard, her gender is not relevant, since she’s not a character with an active sexual agenda, and she’s demonstrated to be an equal or peer among the non-female cast.

Does that address the charge that she’s not challenged by circumstance? Not entirely. I can answer that though by saying this: We didn’t expect the other protagonists to be out of their depth, and we never claimed they were Marty Stu (the male equivalent of Mary Sue). Being a “fish out of water” doesn’t mean a character is a quivering mass of incapable gelatin, it just means they’re in a new circumstance, and the only thing they can do is apply the skills they do have to their new situation. It’s what a character does, regardless of gender.

This editorial pass is all about concepts like Mary Sues. Does Character A (and B and C and however many more) feel realistic and could a reader connect to them? Even if they have powers or abilities or stuff that the reader doesn’t or couldn’t have, is there some avenue for the reader to invest?

The Fifth Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Good Parts
I realize that I’ve spent about a thousand words talking about how I look at the wrong stuff. But even the manuscripts I send back to authors saying, “This needs way more work”, it’s not all bad. There are good ideas, they might just be poorly expressed. There are good characters, they just need more developing. There are good things. I do call them out in separate comments. They’re worth mentioning.

There are additional passes for dialogue (does it sound like a person would say this?) and pacing (how quickly does the plot happen, is it sensible), but I could spend another thousand words detailing all the different passes I can do, or I can talk about the big giant red flags.


No one is perfect. No draft is perfect. Mistakes happen. There are plenty of chances to change things, plenty of chances to make new decisions. A writer is never without options. And that’s all important to remember when these red flags come up.

Red Flag #1 Dull characters doing dull things for no discernible reason.
We all get a good laugh out of how Seinfeld was a “show about nothing”, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Your characters should be sufficiently developed that they can do stuff and we figure out why they’re doing it. Ideally, they’re doing whatever they’re doing because the plot requires these things get done, or because the character believes that they need to do them so the plot can get done.

The good news is that you can fix this by making the character(s) and/or what they’re doing more interesting, and the motives for doing whatever clearer. Yes, it requires you to make some decisions, so maybe don’t do this while you’re shotgunning cold medicine, but this is fixable.

Red Flag #2 A plot that gets resolved too conveniently.
The saying “No driveups in the third act” works for a reason. The later you introduce something into a story, and the more that thing does to resolve the story, the less satisfying the story becomes. This is why it’s so important to build the characters and their efforts over the course of the story, not just reach some arbitrary page number or chapter and dump the big action in there.

Don’t rob the reader of the satisfaction of the ride the story takes them on.

Red Flag #3  Dialogue that sounds like it came from ransom notes fed through a paper shredder, then Google Translate, then shredded again.
People talking is supposed to sound like people talking. I don’t care if those people are aliens or robots. Or sentient yeasts. If you want the reader to connect to them, the character(s) need a bridge to them, and how they speak is ONE of the ways you build that bridge.

So read your damned dialogue out loud. Then let someone else do it too.

Red Flag #4 Unnecessary and confusing elements that are just there to show to someone (no idea who) that you (the writer) are “good enough” to be a writer.
Ever want to watch me lose my shit? I mean, as much as a guy with a heart condition is medically able to freak out? Show me writing that’s embellished with flashy, poorly crafted, even trendy elements.

Look, just because ((FAMOUS AUTHOR NAME HERE)) writes ((FAMOUS STORY)) this one particular way, does NOT mean you have to write your story that way. Yes, really. Even if you and AUTHOR are in the same genre. I swear.

You’re good enough to write. I know this, because I’ve got your manuscript in front of me. You made it this far. Your “good enough”ness is not in question. Don’t listen to the fuckstains and dipshits who convinced you that you’re only good enough when your book is on some store’s shelf. You get to decide what success is for you. Always.

And that also means it’s your decision as to how you tell your story. No, I don’t mean you get to invent a new verb tense or poorly break all the rules. I mean you get to do your best, inside (and outside) of the rules, to the best of your ability. Tell your story your way. Your best way.


I’m going to always advocate that once you’ve gotten the manuscript written, and you think it’s complete, get an editor to look it over. No, not your friend who you have lattes with while your kids eat their socks, although she can read it too, but I mean AN EDITOR. Someone with training who can take your MS from where it is to where you want it to go.

It’s not a sign of failure that you need to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength, recognizing that you’ve gone as far as you can, knowing what you know and doing what you do. To take those next steps, you need help. So get some.

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about series, serials, and how to tell a story across multiple parts. I look forward to seeing you back here for that.