4 Reasons Why You (Yeah, You) Are Qualified To Nominate for the Hugos

Hugo Award

The Hugo Award nomination period closes in just a few days. You’ve seen my recs, and over the weekend the #hugoeligible hashtag showcased so many more. But I know some of you are still thinking that you aren’t qualified to nominate because:

  1. You haven’t read/watched/listened widely enough (according to you).
  2. You don’t have enough nominations in every category to fill ever slot you’re allotted.
  3. You don’t have time to read all the cool stuff recommended here and elsewhere and on the tag.
  4. You’re “just a fan” and not anyone fancy.

I’m here to tell you that none of those things disqualifies you from nominating for the Hugos. None. Zip. Let’s break it down.

I Haven’t Read/Watched/Listened Widely Enough

Have you read/watched/listened to eligible media at all? Then you’ve done so widely enough. I’m serious. No one can read, watch, or listen to every single thing, and very few people can even consume all the stuff that gets floated as good by reviewers, friends, and the folks you follow on social media. Even as a person whose job it is to read and review short fiction I have not read every single piece of short fiction out there.

How do you know what stuff is best, then? It’s all relative. If you read just 4 novels last year and one of them wowed or moved you, then you nominate that one. It was the best of what you read.

I Don’t Have Enough Nominations To Fill Every Slot

This is fine as well. Like I said, if of the novels you read you only loved one, then you nominate one. Only two good movies, only one podcast, and no particular thoughts on Fan Writer? That is all fine. You are not required to fill out all the slots in every category nor are you required to nominate in every category.

I Saw All The Recs But Didn’t Have Time To Assess Them All

That’s fine. You’re not a bad person for not having gone through every single recommendation.

Do you know what you can do? Keep track of the people who made all those recs, because they probably share a lot of stuff they love throughout the year, not just at award nominating time. That way, you’ll have more time to check out stuff you might like for next year.

I’m Not Anyone Fancy, Why Should I Nominate When Better Read/More Engaged/Highly Connected People Are More Qualified To Do So?

I’m going to loop back to: did you read, watch, and listen to things? You are eminently qualified. Also, the Hugo is a fan award, driven by fans and what they like. It is absolutely not a requirement to be anything other than a person who loves SFF stuff and wants to see the stuff they like recognized for its awesomeness. That is all.

Your voice matters. What you love matters. It matters to the award even if the stuff you nominate doesn’t get on the ballot. After all, the people who create the fiction and movies and TV shows and podcasts and fan writing and art you love look at the list of what was nominated but didn’t make the final and go: oh hey, this many people thought my story was award-worthy! That’s the best.

In Summary

Nominate what you think is best of what you’ve read, watched, and listened to, no matter the number of overall things. Don’t worry about filling every slot if you can’t. Don’t worry about not getting to every recommendation. Your voice matters.

Got it? Excellent. Go fill out your ballot.

Tempest is on Patreon! (And Looking For Your Support)

As of this month, I’m officially on Patreon and looking for patrons! You can support me creating cool stuff for $1 per month on up to $500 per month if you have deep pockets like that.

If you listened to my interview on the Less Than Or Equal podcast[1], you might be wondering why I said I was going to launch my Patreon page last year (wow, six months ago…) when I only just did so this month. There are a few reasons, but the biggest one can probably be summed up with the words Impostor Syndrome.

What’s so insidious about Impostor Syndrome is that even though I can identify it in other people and always attempt to beat it back with the “You’re awesome and your voice is needed and I’m glad you’re alive and loud and sharing your talent with the world” stick, I cannot always turn that on myself. Luckily, I do have friends to do so for me. After finally wrestling my brain weasels into a bag, I put my page together and even made a video.

Because I know that people think the Tempest Challenge and the video series that goes with it are valuable. I know that the Write Gear podcast has already helped some writers. I know that my writing on this blog and over at Medium and the other places I publish has added more signal than noise to discussions about genre and race and gender and writing. And I know that you all want to talk about Jem and the Holograms endlessly, just like I do! (And sing the songs, right? RIGHT?) That’s why I finally launched the Patreon, and I hope you’ll click and pledge and support.

Right now the support is for making vids and podcasts and writing non-fiction and not directly for me writing fiction. Why? Because I am a s.l.o.w. writer of fiction. And deadlines do not change that one iota. But I find that my own creative projects are much less draining than my freelance assignments. The opposite, actually: they energize and inform my fiction writing. So by pledging money to me for making vids and podcasts and writing essays and columns, you’re supporting me writing fiction as well.

Plus, you know you wanna see more You Done Fucked Up vids.

You can Make It So[2].


  1. You really should! It’s a great interview, if I say so myself.[]
  2. To all those who click and pledge: Thanks![]

The Write Gear 7: Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

The Write Gear 7 Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

I used to feel a sense of shame around the fact that I am easily lured away from writing by the Internet shiny things such as notifications and new comments and tweets and whatever. To solve this problem, I would sometimes ask people for suggestions on minimizing or blocking distractions and there would always be one person—usually more—popping up to say that I should just have self discipline instead of looking for crutches.

This is some ol’ bullshit, I hope you know[1].

Not only are there some people who can’t just have self discipline in the way those jerks mean, every person has to own up to their limits or needs and find ways to work with how your brain works. And that sometimes means employing outside help.

That’s what this episode is all about. I’ve found quite a few useful distraction blocking tools to help me, and I hope they’ll help other folks. If you use different tools and have found them useful, please say so in the comments!

Listen to TWG #7: Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 7


  1. Anytime someone says that “You should just” as if their ability to “Just” isn’t based on factors they never have to think about–i.e. privilege–and is the absolute correct way of being, you have my permission to tell them to go to hell.[]

How We Write and How We Talk About How We Write

How We Write

For the past week I’ve been mulling over this excellent post on Neurodiversity, Writing Process, And Writing Instruction by Leah Pope of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She talks about how academia sometimes fails students by not making it apparent that there is no one best writing process and that if a student can’t follow a process proscribed to them by some professor or professional writer, it doesn’t mean they’re doing writing wrong.

The narrative we spin through the mainstream writing processes we learn and teach is not always an accessible one. As Rick Godden’s essay in How We Write demonstrates, not all of us have the option of following a model of daily writing or scheduled writing periods. Physical realities make highly regimented writing rituals impractical, even impossible, for Godden, as well as a not insignificant number of our colleagues and students. Preferring or needing to use dictation or screen-reading software in order to write might mean that recommendations about drafting or revision practices sometimes simply won’t work or will be excessively time-consuming within that physical reality. Such diverse groups of writers — at the undergraduate, graduate, even professional academic level — are often left on their own to sort out an effective writing process, frequently without resources like the standard Writing Center conference, which does not easily accommodate accessibility software.

I would suggest that writing is always a neurodiverse process. Regardless of label-happy diagnoses, one “normal” writer, if there is such a thing, will always be different in some way than another “normal” writer. We already acknowledge this with matters of timing: I am a morning writer, but that is considered no better or worse than my friend who writes best in the middle of the night. The logic behind accepting and encouraging our students to explore writing at different times of day (in different settings, in different media, etc) could be extended to make advice about writing processes more accessible to a more diverse range of students. No one (to my knowledge) is saying that having difficulty following one writing process or another makes a student a bad or ineffective writer, but I don’t believe we are saying often enough that there are endless possible ways to write by which a person can be an effective writer.

On that bolded point–Pope may not see that in the UW Writing Center, but it certainly happens among fiction writers.[1]

At the start of my short fiction classes I talk to my students about this Daniel José Older piece where he reads the idea that a writer must write every day for filth:

Writing advice blogs say it. Your favorite writers say it. MFA programs say it.

Write every single day.

It’s one of the most common pieces of writing advice and it’s wildly off base. I get it: The idea is to stay on your grind no matter what, don’t get discouraged, don’t slow down even when the muse isn’t cooperating and non-writing life tugs at your sleeve. In this convoluted, simplified version of the truly complex nature of creativity, missing a day is tantamount to giving up, the gateway drug to joining the masses of non-writing slouches.


Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.

wild applause

From here I do actually assign them a daily writing exercise for the duration of the class (I lay out the reason why in this post), but I hope I don’t make them feel like they have to keep doing it forever to be a Real Writer™. My hope is that they’ll figure out what works best for them and to try, at least for some weeks, to do regular writing each day.

Pope’s article has me thinking more about my approach as a teacher and whether I’ve thought enough about neurodiversity as I plan out classes.

I’m fully on board with the truth that no one way works for every writer and that the process that works for you is the best process. It can be hard to find a process that works as long as you keep hearing that things must be done this one way. I agree with Pope that this can be solved by more openness and that there’s not enough discussion about writing processes–discussion without judgment, that is. It would be beneficial for writers to be able to talk about what works for them without making it sound as though one way is a certified Best Way and also without having their way scoffed at by people who do things differently. There’s a fine line between advice or suggestion and a command from on high (which has less to do with intention and more with framing). It would be nice to find that line, make it thicker, and stay firmly on one side of it.

At the end of her post, Pope makes this call to action:

I believe it would be good for us… to talk more honestly about how we actually write. By sharing our psychological experiences of writing, we might just find our way toward happier, healthier, and more productive writing.

Let’s do this! I’d love it if working writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, stage and screen answered this “simple” question: How Do You Write? What processes do you find successful? What was your journey to what works?

I’d also love to collect these for my students. Not only as a guide, but also proof: There are many ways to make writing work for you.

You can do so in the comments of this post. Or share your process on Twitter with the hashtag #HowWeWrite. On Facebook, comment here. On Tumblr, reblog and comment on this post and tag it how we write. On Google+ tag your posts #HowWeWrite.

I can’t wait to see all the different answers and explanations.


  1. Whenever some version of this discussion happens I think of this old post by John Scalzi that I always think of as “Writing: Find the Time or Don’t… As Long As You’re A Comfortably Middle Class, Neurotypical White Man”. One of the major examples gives for a person writing under extreme hardship ignores many, many factors that made it possible for that writer to keep writing: a white collar job he wasn’t in danger of losing, medical care that was comprehensive and not tenuous, medical care he could afford, a vast support network of people specifically devoted to him. Not everyone has all of this, and that’s not even getting into different levels of ability.[]

The 6 Elements Of A Good Author Website

The other day on Twitter Sofia Samatar laid down some truth:

Yes. All the yesses. +1, co-sign.

Every author should have a website, even if you’re just beginning and have only one thing published. Heck, even before you have things published. You should always take as much control over your online presence as you can. That starts with having a good website[1].

Having a good, clear, professional-looking website does not require a lot of technical knowledge, a lot of money, and a lot of maintenance. But if you’re not very technically inclined and feel intimidated by creating a website, there are people who are happy to help you. Some will do so for free, some for a small fee, and some who are pros and charge pro rates. But before we get into that, let’s break down what an author website should have on it.

The six elements you need:

  • Homepage
  • Blog
  • About
  • Publication List
  • Events page*
  • Contact


With many author sites it’s a good idea for this to be a static page. Yes, my homepage is my blog. I regret this decision! Especially now that I don’t blog here as much. I’ll likely change it soon. Having a static page allows you to highlight what’s new–such as a new book or story–and give an at-a-glance view to your visitors to the important info about you and serve as a portal to the rest of the site plus other important sites[2]. This is where you’ll list the social networks you’re on and your profiles on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.


BUT I DON’T WANT TO BLOG you might be screaming right now. That’s fine. Just because I say you should include a blog it doesn’t mean you have to update that blog every day or hour. You don’t even need to call that section Blog. You can call it News, Announcements, or something similar. The purpose of this section is for you to have an easily updatable place to put the kind of news and info readers like. Not just when your book is published, but when it gets a nice review, when it’s nominated for or wins an award, if you’re interviewed or otherwise mentioned in the press, pictures from your book signings or other appearances, when you publish a new story, when you start selling merch, or whatever.

Of course, if you want to have a traditional blog, even better. But don’t feel compelled to make your blog section an online journal if that’s not your speed.


In addition to talking about yourself and your amazing work, your About page should contain or have links to your official bio (I have a public Google Doc with a long and short version), your official photos (link to the hi-res versions of images, don’t embed them) and photo credits, and hi-res versions of your book covers. This makes it really easy for folks to grab this info without you having to search it out each time.

This is also the place to list your social network and other profiles.

Publication List

This one is self-explanatory. The only thing I’ll suggest here is that you make it attractive! However, a simple list with links is fine, too.

Events Page

This one had a star next to it because it’s only really necessary if you make a lot of personal appearances and do many signings. Those who’ve published a book will need this section, maybe not if you’re just publishing short stories at the moment. In that case, the announcements on your blog should suffice, just be sure you have a blog category called Events or something like that so they’re easy to find.

There are lots of ways to maintain an Events page and I have no particular best practices. Check out what other authors do for ideas. I do suggest including info on this page on how people can request to book you for events, signings, and the like.


Always have a way for people to contact you! Always. I prefer to have contact forms because then no one is getting your actual email address unless you email them back. And it cuts down on spam. And if you don’t mind if fans ping you on social media, mention that here, too.

I Am Not Tech-Savvy And Can’t Make My Own Website

That’s okay! There are several options below for creating a website easily without needing technical acumen. But if you still feel nervous about it, there are people who will help you. Some for free, some will charge a fee.

I used to design websites for a living. I don’t anymore, but I still set up WordPress for folks who need it because, for me, it’s simple and doesn’t take much time. If you really need an author website and have $75, I will set it up for you on WordPress.com and walk you through the basics and show you how to update it on your own.

If you need a more complex website, or want an installation on your own host (explained below) and a customized design, there are other folks who can help you. My friends Stephanie Leary and Jeremy Tolbert are both WordPress experts and make beautiful sites. They charge pro rates. They are worth it.

If you’re a person willing to help authors create simple websites for free or for a fee, scroll down to the comments and let us know! Please say whether you work for free or charge and include a link to your website or portfolio.

What Should I Use To Make My Website?

I always suggest that people use WordPress to make author websites. WP is a blogging platform, but it’s easily used as a whole site management tool. It makes updating simple, and you can get a nice look without knowing any code. It’s also free. You can set up a site on WordPress.com or get your own hosting and set it up on your server for free.

There are other options, such as drag and drop site builders on SquareSpace or similar. I’m not a huge fan of those, but as long as they allow you to have all the elements mentioned above with little fuss and at your level of technical comfort, go with what works for you.

I do not suggest using Blogger, because it sucks. LiveJournal and DreamWidth won’t work because they are mainly blogs with a little bit of functionality for static pages, but not enough.

Tumblr is a possibility because you can create static pages, add your own domain name, and mess around with themes enough to customize. However, I find it all really hard compared to WordPress and the resulting site not as functional or easy to maintain.

WordPress.com or Host It Myself?

If you want to set up a site completely for free, then you can go with WordPress.com. Someone on Twitter asked if a site URL like authorname.wordpress.com projected an unprofessional vibe. In my experience, not as much as authorname.blogspot.com or an AOL.com email address. It looks perfectly legit to be on the .com site.

If you’re still nervous about it, you can put your own domain on a WP.com site so it looks like authorname.com even though you’re still using WP.com on the backend. WordPress will sell you a domain name themselves, but it’s a bit less expensive to buy the domain elsewhere and pay the fee to attach it to your WP.com site. I use NameCheap where .com domains cost less than $11 a year.

The drawback with WordPress.com is that you have to use the WP themes they list[3], you can’t install one you just find somewhere. You’re also restricted to specific plugins. Plugins are awesome–they add extra functionality to WordPress and there are a handful I cannot live without.

For the most control over themes, plugins, and domains, you’ll need to get your own hosting account. My main advice here: DO NOT GET GODADDY. It’s just best to look elsewhere. I use MDD Hosting and pay less than $20 per month. There are tons of good hosting options out there–ask for suggestions on social media if you don’t already know of a company. And always read the reviews before you sign up.

Not sure if you need a hosted site or can just stick to WP.com? Start out on WP.com. You can migrate everything, including comments and images, over to a hosted WordPress installation later if you decide to switch. The process is easy.

You Need A Good, Clear Website Of Your Own

You don’t need to spend any money to get one started, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the little extras that make it feel even more professional, and you don’t need to know anything about code to create and maintain it. If you need help, help is available. If you have questions, ask. Let there be no barriers to you having a good, clear website.


  1. After you have a website, the next step is to create profiles on high profile social networks and other author-related websites so that you can craft your Google search results the way you want to. But that’s a different post….[]
  2. If you want an example of a site with a static front page, look at this other site I built[]
  3. These days there are way more good-looking themes than there were when I moved away from WP.com. For author sites, I suggest checking out Satellite, Writr, Fictive, and Wilson. There are many more free themes to choose from.[]

Good Writers, Coasting, and How You Can Avoid Joss Whedon’s Mistakes

Joss Whedon sad

There are a ton of great articles examining Joss Whedon in the wake of Age of Ultron and plenty of crunchy debates to dive into because of them. In this piece, Sady Doyle illuminates something about Whedon that I’ve understood on a subconscious level but not been able to crystalize until now. To wit:

My ultimate take on Joss Whedon’s “feminist” screenwriting is that it’s a byproduct of good writing, period. The writer he most reminds me of is Charlie Kaufman: They’re both deeply personal writers, who clearly have a wide variety of sexual hang-ups, and to the extent that these hang-ups center on women, they probably do affect their perceptions of real-life women in many ways. Plenty of women have noted that Whedon’s fixation on emotionally vulnerable, eighty-pound teenage girls is disturbing and off-putting, and I would tend to agree. Charlie Kaufman’s apparent belief that a sexually awakened, self-realized woman wouldn’t need him, and would therefore abandon him to a hostile universe, is also kind of weird and upsetting, or (at least) a good reason not to ask Charlie Kaufman out on a date. However, because Kaufman and Whedon are good writers, who understand why stories work, when they sit down to write a story, they feel the obligation to make all of the characters identifiably human, including the women. This is, sadly, so rare that their female characters are often more well-rounded and interesting than almost any other characters out there, including a lot of characters written by people with better sexual politics.

When I read that a light shone down from heaven because YES. This is not just a Joss Whedon issue, it’s an issue with a lot of writers who hail from the land of privilege.

I (and others) have said many times that when you write stereotypical or downright offensive minority/marginalized characters, it’s almost always due to bad writing. If you’re a good writer, you don’t reach for the easy stereotypes, you don’t pull from the box of overused ideas, you aren’t a lazy thinker making lazy choices. And that often results in passable minority characters that might even be considered amazing and revolutionary[1]. Especially when compared to a sea of characters that are nothing but two dimensional offenses to all good taste.

Sometimes that’s even enough.

When you’re thirsty in a desert, even cloudy, contaminated water looks great.

However, it will not always be enough. That situation is a place to start from, not a place to kick back in and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Yet that is what many, many writers do. Whedon certainly seems to have done. As Ashly Nagrant points out, we’ve now had 20 years of Whedon doing the same thing over and over, coasting on his talent instead of building on it.

Joss Whedon has failed to evolve as a writer and a director. People who are longtime Buffy fans saw Age of Ultron and complained about how quippy the dialog was. That quality has always been part and parcel of a Joss Whedon project — it has long been one of his trademarks. When the question was how could people who loved Buffy be surprised by this, I could only venture a guess:

We are suddenly, sadly realizing Joss Whedon is a one-trick pony.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy those tricks and there is nothing wrong with that! I am in no way saying that I haven’t enjoyed Joss’s work and won’t continue to in the future. But it does hit a point where it is almost 20 years since the debut of Buffy and you suddenly realize Whedon is just writing the same thing over and over again. No matter how much you like garlic bread, you can’t eat it all the time or you’ll get sick of it.

What’s the solution? Continuously work on becoming a better writer.

Pay attention to evolutions of thought on representation and be aware of the kinds of tropes that most media properties–be they TV, movies, or lit–engage in. Listen when your readers critique your minority/marginalized characters, particularly if they are the same identity as said characters. Accept people’s lived experiences as valid and learn from them.

Read books and articles on this subject. Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is an excellent place to start. Invisible and Invisible 2 are also excellent resources for delving deeper into representation.

Take classes and workshops that address this specific skill. Yes, I teach them, and so do others. Both in person and online. (If you want to find one, I can help with that!)

Read fiction by authors who have a reputation for writing amazing, deep characters. Examine how they do it, absorb it, learn.

Basically all the things you’re supposed to do to become a better writer, anyway. All the things truly great writers do, even after they’re hailed as being great.


  1. This accounts for a lot of Steven Moffat’s success as well. He’s clearly a good writer when he’s on his game. And that good writing can distract you from some underlying problems. And because the writing is good you want to ignore the underlying problems. There comes a point for many of us when that’s impossible. Like Whedon, that point arrived when his popularity meant a large body of work to examine.[]

Notebooks, Pens, Longhand, and Cracking Open Creative Floodgates

I love paper by Manuela Hoffmann on Flickr

Still thinking about the concepts I brought up in the Gesture Writing post from last week. One piece of the process I didn’t expand on and now realize I should have is the part where Howard talks about sitting down with a notebook:

I wrote all over the page, a line of complete dialogue followed by a place-holder phrase of exposition, a one-word reminder of the next action followed by an arrow to the margin where I’d scribbled a description of a key image. The page looked a mess. But I had captured the movement of the scene…

A key part of this is that she sat down with pen and paper to capture the scene, not her computer. And maybe that’s because she needed to get away from her laptop in order to think differently. Just the fact that she had a ready notebook says something else.

At ReaderCon last year I did a fabulous interview with Andrea Hairston[1] where she talked about how writing with a pen on paper activates the creative parts of the brain in a way typing on keys does not. It’s about the movement of the hand, the connection to the body. It’s no surprise that a drawing class inspired Howard if she’s the type to take up a notebook when attempting to work out a tangled scene.

I keep a paper notebook and I carry around way too many pens because I’m fussy about them[2]. I don’t need them for writing actual fiction longhand; I do need them for thinking about what I’m going to write. I’m convinced that the scene outlining thing only works well for me if I do that outlining in my notebook and not on a computer. Writing it out longhand opens up my head and makes the creative juices flow. I didn’t know this is why scene outlining led to much easier writing days, but after talking to Andrea it all clicked.

I prefer a lined journal. Never did get the habit of keeping my lines straight without a guide. Sounds like Howard’s notebook is a blank one as her method would only be restricted by lines. I know some writers like this–Alaya Dawn Johnson has shown me her writing notebooks in the past and I don’t know if I could handle all that beautifully controlled chaos. It works for her, though! My working things out tends to be more straightforward stream of consciousness writing. I might skip all over the place in my head, on paper the skipping happens one word after the other.

I’m not opposed to trying a more free-form, lineless journaling style. Not many journals give you multiple choices. It’s either lines, grids, or blank. Technology could be the answer here. I’ve written before about tablet and pen solutions and I own a Galaxy Note 8 that I use for work notes. If someone took away my paper and pen forcefully and made me use the Note for everything, I wouldn’t be completely depressed. Don’t know if I would be completely satisfied, either.


  1. Which will be an episode of our podcast and that podcast will happen someday I SWEAR.[]
  2. Check out my fussiness here on the Month of Letters blog[]

Thoughts on Gesture Writing, Scene Outlining, and the Essence of Things

gesture_02 by Patrick Grizzard

On Facebook, someone shared a year-old opinion piece titled “Gesture Writing” from the New York Times that I really love and saved to my Pocket account immediately. In it, author Rachel Howard talks about her early days as an artist model for introductory drawing classes.

“Find the gesture!” the instructor would shout, as the would-be artists sketched. “What is the essence of that pose? How does that pose feel to the model? The whole pose — quick, quick! No, not the arm or the leg. The line of the energy. What is that pose about? Step back and see it — really see it — whole.”

In a gesture drawing, a whole arm that didn’t matter much might be just a smudgy slash, while a line that captured the twist of a spine might stand in sharp, carefully observed relief. The “gesture” was the line of organic connection within the body, the trace of kinetic cause-and-effect that made the figure a live human being rather than a corpse of stitched-together parts. If you “found the gesture,” you found life.

As she struggled to write her novel, the words of these instructors came to her again.

Find the gesture. Don’t worry about the details. What is the essence of that pose?

I left my laptop at my desk and moved to the other side of the room to sit on the floor with my notebook.

Where’s the line of energy? What is the essence of what you see? Quick! I wrote all over the page, a line of complete dialogue followed by a place-holder phrase of exposition, a one-word reminder of the next action followed by an arrow to the margin where I’d scribbled a description of a key image. The page looked a mess. But I had captured the movement of the scene, not one line of dialogue connected clunkily to the next action. There was the whole. It made leaps. It had perspective. It had emphasis and connection. It had life.

Realizing that writing is a lot like drawing gives us a deeper approach. Because really, before we put a word or a mark on the page, both writers and artists must first step back and see. …to see deeply enough to capture the vibrancy of life on the page, a writer must move her consciousness out of information organizing mode into an intuitive way of seeing subtle organic connections and capturing them in bold strokes.

This essay reminded me of a post from the SFWA blog someone sent me years ago: the 10,000 words a day post. I know people have a ton of strong opinions about that post. I’ve found the part about scene outlining to be very useful, even if I still can’t write 10K per day.

…instead of trying to write the scene in the novel as I had been, I started scribbling a very short hand, truncated version the scene on the paper. I didn’t describe anything, I didn’t do transitions. I wasn’t writing, I was simply noting down what I would write when the time came. It took me about five minutes and three pages of notebook paper to untangle my seemingly unfixable scene, the one that had just eaten three days of my life before I tried this new approach. Better still, after I’d worked everything out in shorthand I was able to dive back into the scene and finish it in record time.

Looking back, it was so simple I feel stupid for not thinking of it sooner. If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you’re writing before you write it. I’m not even talking about macro plot stuff, I mean working out the back and forth exchanges of an argument between characters, blocking out fights, writing up fast descriptions. … If the scene you’re sketching out starts to go the wrong way, you see it immediately, and all you have to do is cross out the parts that went sour and start again at the beginning. That’s it. No words lost, no time wasted. It was god damn beautiful.

I have some success with this method, and after reading the NYT piece I can now identify why there are times it works better than others. When I sketch the scene in ways that focus on the “gestures” and the essence of the scene. Is it emotion? Or exposition?

A thing I’m actively working on in my writing now is visual description of people, environment, movement. Trying to find that balance between giving my reader enough detail so it’s not a white room but not so much detail that I bog the reader down. Too often I read books and short fiction where the author, in trying to be as descriptive as possible, burdens me with so much visual detail that I can no longer see the thing for myself. It’s like the art students trying so hard to render the fingers exactly when they should focus on what in the body has the most life and get that down on paper.

I’d love to know what techniques you employ to get at the essence of a scene as you write.

Getting More Writers of Color to Workshops: A Modest Proposal

Getting More Writers of Color to Workshops: A Modest Proposal

Taking a break from talking about the Hugos and Jonathan Ross for actual important stuff.

A few days ago I tweeted:

Writers of Color, raise hands if you want to attend writing workshops but can’t afford one financially.

And I got many responses. One of the reasons I asked is because I wanted to point out again why the Writing Excuses Carl Brandon Scholarship was important and encourage people to apply[1]. Then a couple of responses made me realize I needed to do something else as well.

@cafenowhere That’s me. With added complication of being main care giver to a child & living in the Midwest.

@LonAitewalker *raises hand* compound that with being disabled as well – double whammy.

Lack of funds isn’t the only barrier. There’s the inability to miss work for a week or weeks at a time, or not having anyone to leave a child with for that time, or other obligations that make going away to a workshop not possible.

As other responses point out, going to a workshop can be a life-changing experience. Not only do you gain valuable writing instruction, you also get valuable networking done and face time with authors who are generous with their advice and influence. Workshopping is an important element in developing a career. It’s not necessary, it’s just very helpful.

So how can we make workshops more widely available to writers who are more likely to miss out on these opportunities? A few good ideas I’ve seen lately:

One Day Workshops: Clarion West does these occasionally (and lately doing more of them). They usually involve tackling a particular subject, like how to research or how to create more immersive fiction, take place on a weekend day, and cost a fraction of what the 6 week workshop costs. The downside is that they only take place in Seattle for now. I hear that there are discussions to expand into…

Online Classes via Google Hangout: I’ve heard of several writers doing this, but the only class I’m at all familiar with is Mary Robinette Kowal’s. She does two types, a weekend intensive (Friday night to Sunday) and an 8-week course that meets one day a week. Since they take place online you don’t have to travel and it may be easier to structure your time even if you have caregiving obligations. Click here to see explanations for her workshops, which will give you a good idea of how most are run.

Neither of these solutions is absolutely perfect and will work for everyone. They go a long way toward helping, though. More one day workshops in other cities and towns mean more people can attend. Doing things online through Google Hangouts open it up even more–you don’t even need a webcam, just a mic[2]. Then we’re back to cost.

These workshops are far less expensive than the long 6-week ones like Clarion or even retreat-type workshops like Out Of Excuses. That doesn’t mean they’re that much more affordable since the cost is still in the hundreds for many. Scholarships are needed here as well.

I have a request for pro authors giving workshops and organizations coordinating workshops. Would you be willing to set aside one registration per workshop for a writer who cannot afford it but would greatly benefit from attending? Could you perhaps work with an organization willing to help coordinate some of the particulars, like matching writers who want to attend with appropriate workshops?

People involved in organizations and community groups that raise awareness around diversity in the genre, would you help out by doing some of that coordinating? Or even setting up scholarship funds so that the workshop runners still get paid?

This could end up being a major project for some non-profit, but major projects take time to build. As that happens, if that happens, I’d still like to see some smaller efforts to help build momentum. Such as workshops deciding to set aside that one registration. Or writers helping each other raise money individually. A larger project like Con or Bust would be great in the long term. I just don’t want people to think we have to wait for that to come together in order to get started.

So let’s discuss this! Here in the comments, on social media, at cons, wherever. This is just the spark of an idea. Help me grow it.

Oh, and apply for the Writing Excuses Carl Brandon Scholarship! Applications must be in by 3/15. If you can afford the time but can’t afford registration, hotel, and travel, the scholarship covers those things.


  1. BTW – People, apply! Deadline Is 3/15[]
  2. You do need a reliable high-speed connection, and not everyone has that, I know.[]

Another kind of backup

Viggo Mortensen's Journal

New post over on the tech blog that will be of interest to you writer types:

“As I was in the process of moving from one house to another… someone broke into the passenger side window of my car and grabbed the backpack containing several notebooks I’d filled, since early 2001, with handwritten stories and poems. The backpack also contained a couple of journals, two screenplays, my passport, and two half-read books. The hardest losses were the stories and poems in the notebooks. I had been looking forward, in particular, to reviewing and fine-tuning hundreds of pages of, for me, uncharacteristically long and unguarded poetry that had been written during a series of very quiet nights spent in the Sahara Desert in late 2002.  

“…I spent a lot of time and effort in the following weeks scouring my part of town, looking through trash cans and alleyways, offering no-questions-asked rewards, doing anything I could think of to find what was irreplaceable for me and probably completely useless to whoever had stolen it. Finally, I let most of it go…”

–Viggo Mortensen

The specific thing that made me recall that story was testing Evernote’s Page Capture feature. … The idea of scanning a paper journal to a digital file isn’t exactly new. But with smartphones being so wide-spread and the cameras in them getting better and better, I wonder if it’s now just convenient enough that writers would spend a couple of minutes every day adding their journals to Evernote and if that would end up being an effective backup system?

Click here for the full post & discussion.