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Posts tagged as “Dragon Writers”

Viiictory … and 1.5 Million Words

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So it's that time of year once again: I've won Nanowrimo, again, by writing 50,000 words in the month of November; by my records, this is 28 straight wins (counting Camp Nano in April and July in the mix) for a total of ... holy cow ... 1.5 million words in successful Nano challenges.

Welp, I'm calling it: Nano is the most successful technique I've ever used to to boost my writing output --- more than morning pages, more than writing workshops, more than the Artist's Way --- with the possible exception of Write to the End, with which Nano is intimately intertwined (for me).

Now I hear my editor calling: How about boosting that editing output, Francis? I hear you. Writing I don't seem to have much trouble with, but between robots and the zombie apocalypse I've found it hard to get the necessary brain juice to edit the 7, no 8 manuscripts I have in the queue.

Come to think of it, why couldn't we have had the zombie apocalypse while I was writing about a zombie apocalypse? Covid would have been really thematically appropriate when I was working on BOT NET (Facebook zombies) or SPIRITUAL GOLD (actual zombie zombies).

But that was not to be. I don't know about you, but I find the whole zombie apocalypse thing wearing, not to mention the whole election thing. Add to that serious realignments at work, which meant basically reinventing everything I'd been doing to come back to the same place, and 2020 has been a full on freight train of suck.

Not that everything's been bad. I finished the bulk of a novel, JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, back in April, and I'm halfway through Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE. We finished our patio here ...

... and started a grand new vegan cooking adventure together ...

And we even found and bought a new house, a very nice new place (it has turkeys) ...

... with a great space for my library and my wife's art studio, which we're in the middle of a slow motion move to while we renovate the old pad. These have been bright lights in an otherwise bad year. By you know how it's been: so stressful that - well, you've seen how much I've been blogging. I feel like this should be the best time ever in my life, yet 2020 has left me feeling a lot like this:

But, we have traditions which can help us through, like Thanksgiving ... oh, dangit Covid! So, ANYWAY, other traditions that do not involve Covid or Zoom, Nano traditions: the stats, and the excerpt. What did this month look like, Nano-wise?

This wasn't the hardest Nano I've handled ... I think the worst was being over 21,000 words behind in 2016 for PHANTOM SILVER, though briefly LIQUID FIRE in 2009 got almost that bad. Nor was it record-breakingly productive, like the astounding 25,000 words ahead finish on BOT NET 2017. This was a middle-of-the-road Nano, helped by really pouring on 12,000 words last weekend:

That was on purpose, so I could coast into Thanksgiving having finished, and spend a very nice dinner with my wife. (We had vegan muffulletas with authentic olive salad filling shipped direct from Central Grocery in New Orleans, which I highly, highly, highly recommend). That left November's work on SPIRAL NEEDLE comfortably in the middle of my previous efforts:a

And so, now, an excerpt ...

Too late, I realized the thickening arms of the octopus mist echoed the ghostly glow of the streetlights. “Teleporter! We’ve got to find a weakness!” I cried, flicking and snapping my wrist to loose a crossbow bolt, a feather from my origami peacock—an analysis spell.

The feather flitted out, replicating itself in the flood of magic, its unfolding structure revealing an intricate, oh so intricate pattern embedded in the misty galaxy. Unfortunately, Nyissa, far older and faster than me, had fired her own analysis glyph.

Our spells collided in a flash of sparks and feathers.

“Damnit,” I cried, flinching. “Only one of us needed to do that—”

“Sorry, was reacting to your idea, not your action,” Nyissa said. “I—”

A long black shaft lanced out—and with a terrific report, blasted Nyissa in the face.

Nyissa flew back. Her mask shattered. It would have been so romantic to scream her name and lunge my hand toward her—but both of us had been in fights so many times before, and I instinctively swung the Waystaff up, its spine catching bayonet and flipping the long gun upwards. The hooked beak hissed, striped cloak flapping, and I saw the thing whole.

Towering. Raptor-beaked. Cloaked in tattered striped cloth, draped over a flaring dark greatcoat. Black leather straps bound a tortuously lean torso seemingly rippled with twitching muscle. But the clawed arms fighting mine held what looked like a musket, the striped cloak looked like the ruins of a flag, and atop the thing’s plague doctor mask was a tricorn hat.

“What are you?” I yelled, shoving against the musket with the Waystaff.

The thing screamed at me, foul smoke erupting from its beak, and I flinched and gagged. It wailed at me with its musket, alternately clubbing aside the Waystaff and jabbing at me with the bayonet, as sparking smoke roiled into what I assumed was the musket’s flintlock—it was preparing to fire! I leapt backward, spinning through a knight’s move version of the Dance of Five and Two, hastily pulling together a spell: “Spirit of flame, act as my shield!

The plague knight screeched and dropped a grimy black ball into its musket—just as my Dragon tattoo uncoiled from my skin and looped around me in a helix of Technicolor scales and feathers. The plague knight fired with a clap of thunder—met by a gout of flame.

Wow! Excitement! Adventure! Tattoo magic versus magical monsters! And while we didn't get to see that much of the costumes in this excerpt, we've got cute vampires wearing sexy clothes fighting alongside our heroine in her long black vest / trenchcoat. What's not to like?

That is all for now. Until next time, please enjoy this picture of a cat.

-the Centaur

My Dragon Con Virtual Mentoring Schedule

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I know it might be hard to believe, but I am not dead, despite 2020's best efforts! In fact, I am going to be at Virtual Dragon Con, participating in the Virtual Mentoring sessions!

2020 Dragon Con Writer's Track Virtual Mentoring Guests

We have 30 established authors and other publishing pros who've generously donated their time and expertise to host 15-minute, one-on-one mentoring sessions with aspiring authors. If you're signing up for an acquiring editor or publisher, you are welcome to pitch your completed book!

If you are meeting with an established author, the door is pretty wide open. You can ask about craft. If you're struggling with something specific, you can ask them about it. We have a number of indie authors, so if you're interested in self-publishing, you can pick their brains. Think about what you want to get out of this dedicated one-on-one session and choose your mentor accordingly.

So, who am I in all of this, if you're just encountering this link and haven't read my books or this blog?

Anthony Francis - Thinking Ink Press & Author

Session schedule: Friday - 4:30, 4:50, 5:10, 5:30

Secret origin: By day, Anthony Francis teaches robots to learn; by night, he writes the Dakota Frost urban fantasy series (FROST MOON, BLOOD ROCK and LIQUID FIRE) and the steampunk Jeremiah Willstone series (THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE). He's also an editor, and co-founded Thinking Ink Press.

Genres & expertise: I'm a science fiction, urban fantasy and steampunk author with experience in space travel, general physics, artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive science, fictional magic and myth, and real and fictional military systems.

Acquisition wishlist: we're looking for fresh voices in science fiction accessible to new audiences. We've recently published YA military science fiction and humorous cyberpunk novels featuring LGBTQIA characters, and have also published a series of steampunk anthologies.

If you're interested in talking with me about writing science fiction, urban fantasy, or steampunk, or would like to talk about a new book proposal of interest to Thinking Ink Press, the signup sheet for sessions is here: https://form.jotform.com/202435857025050.

This is the first time we've done this virtually, but I've participated before in the live events (on the mentee end, rather than mentor :-D) and found it very valuable. So come on board, ask your questions, and help us make Virtual Dragon Con a success!

Virtual Dragon Con is already running - and I've been on two recorded panels already for the Writer's Track, though I don't know when they'll air yet, just figuring that out myself - but please go check it out and help the world have fun in the face of the zombie apocalypse!

-the Centaur

 

Viiictory, A to Z … Plus One

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two hangry cats

Wow, um, pandemics. SO, short story, I've been having a rough one, which is why you haven't seen me on this blog. Perhaps the story of my suffering is a story for another time, because I just found this Camp Nano post back from APRIL which was never published because, wow, um pandemics. Congratulations to you, zombie apocalypse, for throwing me off my game! Yay for you, Miss Rita, I guess?

SO ANYWAY, what I'd like to announce, what I planned to announce at the end of April but forgot to post, and now what I have to doubly announce at the end of July, is that I have completed the Camp Nanowrimo challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of April!

And, um, then, I did it again in July.

Camp Nano Victory Banner

For those who don't know (how long have you been reading this blog?) National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November, and Camp Nanowrimo is a pair of choose-your-own goal sister challenges in April and July. I do 50,000 words each time, for 150,000 words a year. So far, I've done this (successfully) 27 times ... so my April Post was going to be "Viiiictory, A to Z" and there would have been some dang title for July, Plus One. But whatever, here's a graph of Nanos for you; from the dark line, it looks like my output this month (the dark line) was a bit more ahead of the game than normal (the average is the dotted line):

27 National Novel Writing Months

What was I working on?

This April, I mostly finished JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, a "novel" made from a collected set of short stories set in an alternate Victorian era filled with strong women, rayguns, and aliens . The first of these stories, "A Choir of Demons," was published in Aurora Wolf magazine, and collectively, they tell the tale of how Jeremiah grows from a wet-behind-the-ears Lieutenant to the leader we see in THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE. My friend Tony Sarrecchia, creator of the Harry Strange Audio Drama, is helping me adapt these to audio.

This July, I started Dakota Frost Book 7, SPIRAL NEEDLE. Dakota, the best magical tattooist in the Southeast, faces a new challenge when her weretiger daughter Cinnamon gets mixed up in a lycanthrope attack, and Dakota will move Heaven and Earth to make sure Cinnamon is safe ... if she can just figure out who's trying to hurt her, and why? This book actually excites me about writing Dakota Frost again - vampire-werekin medicine, Colonial American plague doctors, and secret societies - even if it is perhaps is distracting me from finishing the editing of DF #4-#6 and Cinnamon #1-#3.

But the pandemic, and all the other business going on in my life, has drained my energy for the very difficult task of editing --- and drained my energy for many other things. (Hence no blog posts since my cats came back from the hospital, though they got sick again; they're fine now). In this crisis, some people have died, some are sick, some have lost loved ones, some have lost jobs, and many just feel like they've lost their minds. Fortunately, I'm on the good end of the spectrum: I have my wife, I have my cats, I have my job, and I'm still able to write. For all of that, I count myself blessed.

As for the rest ... well, I'm picking up the pieces and getting back on an even keel, step by step.

Please bear with me while I am beating off the bears.

-the Centaur

Pictured: two hangry cats. They were both sick, just prior to the pandemic, and that was rough enough that I thought I had real problems. Ha! I guess the coronavirus showed me. At least I'm getting to eat some tasty and delicious vegan food.

Vegan dinner, wife, and cat

Viiictory to the Twenty-Fifth Power!

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SO! After yet another National Novel Writing Month, I have added yet another 50,000 words of rough draft to my writing output - making this the fourteenth time I have won Nano, and the twenty-fifth time I have won one of the Nanowrimo or CampNanowrimo challenges! Woohoo!

This month wasn't so bad, though there was a bit of a dip around the time I was writing report cards for our robot learning systems ("Little Johnny 5 tries very hard, but needs to work on his cornering!"). But, as usual, the week I took off for Thanksgiving "vacation" put me back on track:

Yes, one day I did indeed get 6000+ words written, which was a record for the 25th of the month, but nowhere near my record of 9074 words - written on the 30th(!) of November 2016, in what I recall was a delerious mad dash sitting on my sofa wracking my brain to produce enough words to make my goal for PHANTOM SILVER. Frankly speaking, that sucked, and since then I have redoubled my efforts to ensure that I'm never THAT far behind.

So this month looks typical. It's interesting to me how much Nano has become a part of my life. First tried in 2002, first made into a yearly habit in 2007, and first made into a thrice-yearly habit (Camp April, Camp July and November Nano) in 2014-2015 ... now I've done Nano 27 times, with 25 successes, for 1.36 million words of rough draft ... it's a heavy feeling.

Do I want to keep doing this? Absolutely. I wish I had more time to, like, edit my books, so I didn't have a backlog of 6 finished novels, 2 novellas, and 5 partially finished novels. (Gulp!) But I like having a roof more, and the time and money to pay for my laptop, my nice dinners, and my late nite teas and mochas, so, teaching robots to learn by day it is, for the time being.

One of the most interesting things for me is how Nano breaks through your creative barriers. When I started on MACHINERY OF THE APOCALYPSE, then titled TWO YEARS OF HELL, I had the idea of writing an action-adventure steampunk hard science fiction story around computer science concepts, and conceived it as a connected tale made of 16 short stories  --- two to the fourth power, a number beloved of many computer scientists.

But as I've written, the story has sprawled out from my original design, and there are at least two, perhaps three set pieces which may demand their own stories. Or perhaps existing stories will have to be cut or deleted. I don't know; I just create the worlds, but once they exist, they follow the laws of physics (plot and character physics). Here's an excerpt from one of those diversions, which may or may not make it into the final design:

The dark doorway loomed before her like a maw. Jeremiah steeled herself: she had been her at best a handful of times, but she felt like she knew every rivet of the damned hatch, felt like she was right back to waiting on the damn Keepers while they prepared themselves.

Oh, she did not, did not, did not want to be back here.

Yet she was, not a child, but a Major. She straightened, nodded.

“Major?” asked Thompson, looking back at her. “You look a bit green.”

Jeremiah smiled, to give herself a moment to speak. What would a cracker-jack young major say? Or … wasn’t that putting on airs? What would General Weiss have said? Perhaps she should just be … honest?

“Good eye, sir, but I don’t just look it: I feel it too,” Jeremiah said, forcing a grin—was that fake, or did she just want to take this in the best humor possible? “Every time I’m here, it takes me right back to my childhood.”

“Childhood?” Thompson asked. The white hairs in his saltpepper eyebrows sparkled as his brow beetled. “Why were you here as a child?”

“I, foolishly perhaps, asked to see the thing that killed my mother,” Jeremiah said. “And … foolishly perhaps, the powers that be let the granddaughter of Benjamin Willstone get what she asked for.”

Thompson stared at her strangely, then turned away.

“I would have let you,” he said at last. “Seems to have been the first step into forming a fine soldier who doesn’t flinch.”

“Oh, I assure you, I flinch,” Jeremiah said. “Just not from duty.”

“That’s the Major Willstone of my reports,” Thompson said. He leaned over and said a bit cheekily. “I hear you scream like a girl even when you’re firing both blasters at point-blank range—”

“Why, I never—” Jeremiah colored. “Well, that does speak to character—”

“Yes, yes, it does,” Thompson said, “and to good sense. Alright, in fairness: the report just said ‘cried out in shock before blasting the thing,’ but one could imagine the girlish scream—”

“Oi!” Jeremiah said. “Wait, what thing was this?”

“Er,” Thompson said, as the hatch opened. “I … don’t recall. Frankly, Major, with your record, the monsters start to blur—”

“Not all of them,” Jeremiah said, striding forward with a projected confidence she absolutely did not feel. “Have a look at that.”

Enjoy. Back to writing!

-the Centaur

My Novels and Nano

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SO! I love to write, and four of my novels are published - FROST MOON, BLOOD ROCK, LIQUID FIRE, about magical tattoo artist Dakota Frost, and JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, about steampunk heroine Jeremiah Willstone.

You can read about the published ones at my Novels page, but even though life got a bit away from me this year, I haven't stopped writing - I have six more finished novels in the editing queue, not to mention half a dozen more in process.

And every single one of these novels, published or not, was largely written in National Novel Writing Month in November (or its sister challenge Camp Nanowrimo in April and July).

Nanowrimo is a 501(c)(3)that helps people find their creative voices - and certainly helped me transition from mostly not-writing to writing over a million words of fiction! (Way over, now).

Every year, I donate to the Nanowrimo foundation to help them not just keep the lights on but to support young writers everywhere with their Young Writers Program. This year, consider helping them bring literacy and creativity to more people all around the world!

-the Centaur

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 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.)

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

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-the Centaur