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Work, Finish, Publish!

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So I think a lot about how to be a better scientist, and during my reading I found a sparkly little gem by one of the greatest experimentalists of all time, Michael Faraday. It's quoted in Analysis and Presentation of Experimental Results as above, but from Wikiquote we get the whole story:

"The secret is comprised in three words — Work, finish, publish."

His well-known advice to the young William Crookes, who had asked him the secret of his success as a scientific investigator, as quoted in Michael Faraday (1874) by John Hall Gladstone, p. 123

Well said. The middle part often seems the hardest for many people, in my experience: it's all too easy to work on something without finishing it, or to rush to publish something before it's really ready. The hard part is pushing through all three in the right order with the appropriate level of effort.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Michael Faraday, Photograph by Maull & Polyblank. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY.

The Sole Test of Any Idea

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Inspirational physicist Richard Feynman once said "the sole test of any idea is experiment." I prefer the formulation "the sole test of any idea open to observation is experiment," because opening our ideas to observation - rather than relying on just belief, instrumentation, or arguments - is often the hardest challenge in making progress on otherwise seemingly unresolvable problems.

-the Centaur

Renovation in Process

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So you may have noticed the blog theme and settings changing recently; that's because I'm trying to get some kind of slider or visual image above the fold. I love the look of the blog with the big banner image, but I'm concerned that people just won't scroll down to see what's in the blog if there's nothing on the first page which says what I do.

So I'll be experimenting. Stay tuned!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Yeah, this isn't the only renovation going on.

GROW, Every Day

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So I read a lot and write a lot and occasionally edit what I write and even more rarely, something gets sent to an editor and turned into a publication. But this seems slow, for always there are more thoughts that I have in my head than I seem to have time to put onto a page and share.

Also I seem to get stuck in ruts. Actually I like ruts - I’m in one now, eating near my house and bank and pet food store at a restaurant with really good iced tea - but only ruts that are good for getting things done, like ruts in a well-trodden road.

When ruts leave you spinning your wheels in the mud, it’s time for a change. This can be as simple as engaging the locking hubs on your stuck all-wheel drive truck to get out of the mud, but you have to know that those locks are there to engage them. (True story).

So in order to grow, you need to learn. But if you learn, and you don’t tell anyone, then when you die, what you learn is gone. Fortunately, at the dawn of history humans learned how to speak to the dead, if only the dead are first willing to share, through their stories.

I don’t recommend waiting until you’re dead to tell your story. (Most people find that disturbing). Instead, it’s better to organize your thoughts - to reflect on what happened, what you’ve learned, and to package it the lesson with its context so it’s easy to share, like knowledge in a little case.

But I don’t do that all that well. I read for entertainment, and I occasionally write things down, but I rarely reflect, and I even more rarely share. But in my attempt to grow, I’ve read some things that made me think, and it made me want to find a way to make me share.

I like to LEARN, of course, usually some technical material related to writing or my job, and I’m now consciously reading books to GROW, like Art Matters by Neil Gaiman or It’s Not How Good You Are but How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden. But I don’t take time to ORGANIZE those thoughts, nor do I seem to take time to SHARE them. That made me think.

I already take time to LEARN and GROW. I’ve already decided I need to take more time to ORGANIZE my thoughts, to be a better scientist. Can I also take some time to SHARE? Maybe I can put all those together into, like, an acronym! And that acronym will help me do it!

Okay, then, let’s go: LEARN-GROW-ORGANIZE-SHARE. LGOS!

Well.

That’s a terrible acronym.

Alright, alright, if first you don’t succeed, go home and rethink your life. Or something like that, like rethink your acronym. LEARN and GROW need to come before ORGANIZE and SHARE, but G is a better thing to start a word with, as GL or GR is a more common start than LG.

And I’m doing it to GROW. So perhaps it could be GROW LEARN, or GROW READ, naturally followed by ORGANIZE. That gets us GRO, which followed by S for SHARE is one letter short of GROSS; but what if instead we got to the point, and said what we have to do: WRITE.

So, here’s what I recommend to you (well, actually, to me): take some time every day to

  • GROW yourself by
  • READing to learn,
  • ORGANIZing your thoughts, and share them by
  • WRITING

GROW-READ-ORGANIZE-WRITE: GROW. Why, that’s nicely recursive: GROW to GROW! Since it is recursive, let me try this GROW thing out with this very GROW thought.

There.

How did it go?

-Anthony

Author Signing Now!

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Marriott, bottom floor, International Hall South. Follow the signs for the author signing, you can't miss it!

Author Reading: Saturday at 11:30!

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Loki the Cat and Anthony sitting on a bench reading a book

So my author reading IS on tomorrow, though you can't search for it by name (my name appears in the panel description, but not in the panelists), it does show up on the list at 11:30 tomorrow (um, today, Saturday):

Reading Session: Anthony Francis
Time: Sat 11:30 am Location: Marietta - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis)

I'll be reading from a mixture of my fiction and nonfiction, urban fantasy and steampunk, published works and unpublished works, and maybe even a preview of the Jeremiah Willstone radio drama!

Or, since this got finalized on the schedule at the last minute, I might just be reading a book by myself in a quiet room. Either way, so full of win! :-D

-the Centaur

P.S. It appears my author signing is still on the schedule, so I will also be appearing at 2:30 on Sunday:

Title: Author Signings
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: International Hall South 4-5 - Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis)

Don't miss it! (I won't.)

Appearing: Social Media for Authors

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So I will be appearing at "Social Media for Authors" at 4pm at Hyatt Embassy CD. Perhaps they're including me as the counterexample. Here's my advice to you on social media for authors: if you get into it, consistently engage it, and don't let anyone bait you into being a jerk. Imagine anything you say could end up on the front page of the New York Times, and you'll be fine.

-the Centaur

Dragon Con 2019!

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Time Machine Scooter at Dragon Con

Woohoo, I made it! After what seems like a year and a day of foo, I am finally back at Dragon Con! I had a wonderful dinner with writer friends, wandered the show floor seeing all the great costumes on the moral equivalent of Preview Night, and had a nice cocktail in the hotel bar, where I apparently sold two Muggles on Doctor Who! (We also talked about the Three Stooges, Wayne's World, and bingewatching Agents of SHIELD).

My reading session this year is in theory Saturday at 11:30 in Marietta [Hyatt] though it for some reason hasn't shown up on the schedule (and they have an author signing listed for Sunday instead). Investigating. In the meantime, my schedule this year is moderate:

Social Media as an Effective Tool for Authors
Social Media is an author's best friend/worst enemy. This panel discusses how to maximize the benefits without the side effects.
Time: Fri 04:00 pm Location: Embassy CD - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists:Moderator: Bill Fawcett, Anthony Francis, Tyra A Burton, Anya Martin, Trisha J. Wooldridge, James Nettles)

When Life Intrudes
Writers often seem impervious to their surroundings. But occasionally life throws us a problem we have to face head on. How do we manage career & crisis at the same time?
Time: Fri 10:00 pm Location: Embassy CD - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Holly Sullivan McClure, Katherine Kurtz, Nancy Knight, Anthony Francis)

Reading Session: Anthony Francis
Time: Sat 11:30 am Location: Marietta - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis)

Fightin' 'n' Writin'
How to write realistic fight scenes--whether utilizing guns, edged weapons, martial arts...or something not yet invented.
Time: Sat 10:00 pm Location: Embassy CD - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: John D. Ringo, Clay and Susan Griffith, Anthony Francis, Alison Sky Richards, R M Meluch)

Stitch & Witch
We are getting crafty for a bit. Feel free to bring projects to share or work on! While we explore the role that art, crafts, & hobbies play for characters & worlds.
Time: Sun 11:30 am Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Jody Lynn Nye, Anthony Francis)

Transformations: Shapeshifter Magic
Urban Fantasy features many types of shapeshifters. Our panel of authors will discuss the type of magic used by their characters & where their inspiration regarding it is rooted.
Time: Mon 11:30 am Location: Chastain 1-2 - Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: D.R. Perry, Tina Glasneck, Jennifer St. Giles, Aaron Crash, Anthony Francis)

When life intrudes? Oh, I got this.

-the Centaur

How to be a Better Writer

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A notebook in a bookstore coffeehouse, with coffe.

About four years ago, one of my colleagues at work found out I was a writer and asked, "So, tell me Anthony, how can I be a better writer?"

I don't claim any special wisdom in this department, but I do claim two things: first, that I have opinions about the matter, and second, that I wrote a long email to my friend about it, an email which I thought I'd posted on my blog. Unfortunately, after an extensive search, I wasn't able to find the post.

Now, I could attempt to clean this email up prior to posting it here, but I'm afraid that if I do that, I'll just end up going several years without posting it.

SO! Here's that email, largely unedited, on "How to be a better writer!"

Sorry it took so long to respond to your question about how to be a better writer - I thought I wrote an article on this on my blog, or perhaps in an email to a friend, but if so, I couldn't find it. Then I tried to write a long response, but that turned into something book length. So let me give you the short version.

  • First, just write! That's the best thing anyone can do to become a better writer. Ten thousand hours of practice can build mastery in almost any skill, so the first thing you can do to help yourself is to write regularly - preferably, about whatever comes to mind, so you're not trying to practice when you're on the spot.
  • Try morning pages. The best tool I know to help people get into the habit of writing is to write morning pages - writing, each day, ideally when you get up, three pages in a notebook. Write bla bla bla if you have to - you'll get bored of it quickly, and will write what comes to mind.
  • Take a creativity course. The book The Artist's Way is one of the most famous of these, and it's what inspires me to suggest morning pages. Actually, I've never finished this course - I always get so energized just trying it that I get sucked off into my own projects. Try one that works for you.
  • Read more than you write. You can't consciously choose the words that come out as you write them; they come from your subconscious. So it's important to feed your subconscious with a lot of interesting material to help you generate a lot of interesting material of your own.
  • Read great writing of the type you want to create. What you enjoy reading most might not be the writing you want to emulate most, so hunt down the great writers of the type of writing you're aiming for, read them, and try to figure out what you like about them - and what makes them tick.
  • Read great books on writing. The first two I always recommend to people are Ayn Rand's (yes, that Ayn Rand) The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction. More than any book I've ever read, the Art of Fiction boils down what makes good fiction writing. John Gardner's On Being a Novelist is another great, but there are so many of these it's hard to pick one.
  • Read great books on style. The two I recommend to people the most are The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon. Strunk and White is the classic, and Building Great Sentences is its antidote. If you have to pick one, pick Building Great Sentences - hands down.
  • Do writing exercises. There are many, many of these - The Artist's Way has some, at Barnes and Noble you can find dozens of books like 500 Writing Prompts or Creativity Bootcamp that have others; the important thing is to try different writing styles on.
  • Try timed challenges. Write to the End (writetotheend.com) tries 20 minute writing challenges; Shut Up and Write ( meetup.com/shutupandwritesfo ) tries (I think) an hour; National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org) tries 50,000 words in a month. These cure you of the notion you need to wait for your muse.
  • Join a writing group. Not a critique group - those are dangerous until you get more confidence in and acceptance of your own writing (and a thicker skin). I already mentioned Write to the End and Shut Up and Write, but there are many more (even some at Google, such as the Creative Writing Lunch).
  • Take on writing projects. Write novels, write stories, write essays, write memoirs, write documentation, write songs, write plays, write poetry, write haiku, write impenetrable postmodern explorations of what it means for something to be writing - but take on a writing project that has a beginning, middle, and end ...
  • Finish what you write! This is so important I wanted to write this earlier, but the problem is, it depends on what you're writing for. If you just want to improve your skill, reading Strunk and White might do it - but if you want your writing to go further, you need to finish what you write.
  • Don't edit while you write! Some people do this very well, but most people have two modes: producing text, and refining text. Unless you're very confident in your ability to not rework the first paragraph of something forever, make sure you first finish, then edit. But before you do that ...
  • Let your manuscripts cool off. It's hard to have perspective right after you've finished something. At least sleep on it, if you have time; ideally, come back to a story after a week or two and see if what you wrote before still makes sense to you and does what you wanted it to. In the meantime ...
  • Work on something else. Start something new. Creating a new work has an almost magical way of solving problems you have in the work you have cooling on the back burner. Your skills improve, you're not invested in your old ideas, and you come back with a fresh start.
  • Revise your work! Give your manuscript at least a once over. I guarantee, it's not perfect. The books Self Editing for Fiction Writers or The Elements of Editing can help you with this task. It's worth working on something a bit until you can't see anything obviously wrong to it.
  • Share your work with a friendly audience. You're not ready for a critique group yet; they're often way too harsh. What you want are three friendly reviewers: a coach to help with your skills, a critic to help find flaws, and a cheerleader to praise goodness - and if the cheerleader complains, listen very closely to them.
  • Revise your work again before sending it out. Listen to your friendly critics. Revise your work. Make it the best it can be. Then you're ready to send it out - to a critique group if you have to and if you have one, but ideally, to where you want the work received or published.
  • Keep your work circulating until sold. This may not apply to bloggers, writers of memoirs, and internal communications, but if you've got something you want to send to an external audience, send it to as many places as you can. Some great books went to dozens of publishers before getting accepted.
  • Don't argue with your critics. Whether it's a friend, a critique group, or an editor, they're not critiquing you to hurt your feelings. Listen carefully, and perhaps if there's some small misconception, feel free to clear it up, but ask yourself - why wasn't your story so clear that they got it the first time?
  • Solve the problems your critics raise, but don't feel compelled to use their solutions. Humans are great at confabulating fake reasons for the feelings they have. Don't feel the need to use every suggestion your critics raise - but if two or more have problems at the same spot, listen closely.
  • Learn from your genre. Whether it's writing a thesis, writing documentation, or writing science fiction stories, there are documents out there on the pitfalls of the genre and the techniques from success, from How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation to the Evil Overlord List.
  • Learn from the style guide. If you're aimed at a particular market, whether it's a science fiction magazine accepting William Shunn's document format, or a book publisher who wants the Chicago Manual of Style, or it's the American Psychological Association, read the style book. With a grain of salt, of course.
  • Learn from publication. Once something is published, take a look at the published work. I can guarantee you, you'll find something about it you'd do differently now, whether it's a typo or a new way to phrase things. Think carefully about this difference and what it can teach you.
  • Find a great critique group. By this point, you've been exposed to enough information to have your own opinions and to make up your own mind - and that's the right time to engage a whole bunch of other opinionated, thoughtful people to get their ideas of how to improve your work.
  • Find a great workshop. These are harder to get into, but put you in touch with great writers of your particular genre or style and can really take you to the next level, if that's what you want.
  • Find a great program - or embark on a great project. If you really want to be a writer, some people suggest a MFA program or other longer-term, intensive course. I simply prefer to take on little projects like 21 book urban fantasy series; these force you to learn some of the same things. :-D
Well, that's about it for the short version. As I said ... the long version's probably a book. :-) I hope this helps! Please feel free to ask me more questions!
And there you have it. I hope that's not a repeat!
-the Centaur

June: “You thought March was bad? Hold my beer.”

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Me in the airport, on my emergency flight out.

So, March was pretty bad: I had to fly back East because Mom ended up in the hospital, we had a mad rush to finish a paper which both screwed up my time at GDC and Clockwork Alchemy AND failed to get in on time, and I found out I was suffering from chronic sinusitis.

Not to be outdone, however, June decided to throw me a bigger one.

What was left on Mom's breakfast room table.

So, Mom's gone. She passed after what sounds like a beautiful week with friends and family - I spoke to her the day before she died, and she went to visit the neighbors and swing on their back porch until almost nine - and then collapsed while changing the bed linens in her own bedroom in the house she'd lived in for forty years. Of ways to go, that's a good one.

Regularly scheduled blogging will resume ... sometime.

Goodbye, Mom.

The forest sky of the Atlanta airport.

-the Centaur