Free everything–worth nothing

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There’ a lot of talk these days about getting everything for free.

It’s everywhere.  I’m watching commercials advertising “call for free information.”  Makes me wonder if they charge for information normally and now it’s just on sale.

People seem to not want to pay for really…anything.

The world costs money

I dunno—maybe it’s that weird principle of Star Trek that showed up in Next Gen where humans evolved past money.  I mean, how does that even work?

Trade is how man pushed out into the world once sailing allowed for long travel distances.  They could find new people to trade with, and new profits. Like spices.

Critical Cat wanders in and sniffs indignantly.

Free has a price

Wait—how can free have a cost?  It’s free, right?

Well, no.  It still costs something.  If it’s an object, the materials come from somewhere.  If it’s art, someone has to create it.  If it’s a class, someone has to teach it.

Wherein lies the problem.

Free means it probably isn’t very good quality.  If it even has quality.  Or there’s a not as obvious cost.

When I went to Las Vegas, I ended up going to a timeshare sales pitch.  They were offering free tickets to a show.

The cost?

The obvious: My time.  It was an entire afternoon, plus part of the next day.

The sales pitch: They don’t really give away the tickets for free.  They get you into their offices and sell the timeshare like crazy.  It’s a very high-pressure sale so you will spend money.  The free tickets lure you in the door.

I thought I could resist the sales pitch.  I end up signing up for a timeshare—and believe me, they kept adjusting the deal to get me to sign up.  The next day, it was “What have I done?”  I knew under the law (and they’d even mentioned this) I had a timeline to kill the contract.  So I took a cab back to the place and put the timeshare out of my misery.

In this case, “free tickets” took about a day, cost me an expensive cab fare, and a lot of stress.  And I was supposed to be on vacation, having fun!

Critical Thinking Cat needed to saunter in and give everything the smell test.  But sometimes things don’t work that way.

We don’t value free

Writers have a huge problem with free.  Everyone is always trying to get us to donate our time so they have to spend any money.

Magazines will spring up: We need fiction.  We can’t afford to pay you for the stories, but we’ll give you exposure.

(That’s usually a bio and link at the end of the story on the site.)

Problem is that the stories that they’re getting aren’t going to be very good, so readers aren’t going to visit.

But this also has the effect of working in reverse.  And this one’s very insidious because you don’t realize the cost.

When I was submitting to print publication, I’d get the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market.  It has the magazine listing and how many submissions they received versus the acceptance rate. 

The pro magazines got a lot of submissions and had a small acceptance rate.

The non-paying got fewer submissions and had a higher acceptance rate.

I should have put on my Thinking Cat at that point and let Logic Squirrel wander in and ask questions (maybe with an acorn or two).  There would have been some very obvious questions.

Why were all the pro magazines getting such a high volume of submissions?  Because they PAID.  That also meant their quality was better.

But I submitted to the non-paying.  Got a lot of stories published. 

When I joined International Thriller Writers, I ran into a problem.  I got this puzzled rejection from them along the lines of, “You’ve got a lot of publications, but they don’t meet our requirements.”  As a result, I’m associate charter member.

Then I took several advanced writing workshops that cost $300 and worked my butt off learning new skills. 

And hit me.

Free is stagnation

I’d stagnated with the non-paying publications  I didn’t have to improve as a writer to get into them because the bar was so low.

Not only that, I was subconsciously telling myself that I wasn’t good enough for pro markets.

First pro market I submitted to, I got a personal rejection. 

Please explain to me how exactly free does us any good.  I’m sure not seeing it.

Writing Nerd’s finger looks like she’s a TV chef

You know how those TV chefs always have a bandage covering their entire finger? That’s me. I cut my finger on a razor blade. No stitches, but it is hard to type. I’m going to take a couple of days off on the blog.

Fun Bunny off to see the water!

This was a spontaneous bit of fun I did when I went to the farmer’s market in Old Town, Alexandria. It’s right near the waterfront, so I wandered down.

It was about 7:30 in the morning and the sun was just coming up. I got this shot of the Potomac River.

Potomac River as the sun comes up.  Ducks swim in the water.

I like visiting this area because it’s a mix of both history and the new. This used be a major shipping port in the 1700s. George Washington stopped here on his way from Mount Vernon to Washington, DC.

It was at least several days to travel. Now it takes probably 20-30 minutes, depending on the traffic.

Just up the street is a tavern where people stayed. The tavern made me realize that in many fantasy novels, the writers don’t really have a sense of what the size of one of these places are. It’s pretty small, and you shared rooms with other travelers.

George Washington’s townhouse (a replica) is a few blocks away. There’s also an actual cobblestone street. Very hard to walk on.

I actually like the feel of this area so much I’ve used it as a setting in several stories:

  • Nothing Town,
  • Ambush Cargo
  • Tidying Magic, which is coming out in an upcoming pirate anthology. Ghosts, pirates, and tidying. That’s the Writing Nerd!

Circling back to the farmer’s market, I came across this oddity:

Statue of man hanging from straps over base it was removed from.

It looks like the city was restoring the base, but seeing the statue suspended like that was very odd, to say the least!

Does the internet make for checklist learning?

If I want to look up any topic on how to write fiction, I can search online and find pages of material.

Most of it will be probably about 500 words.

Some will be insightful.

Some will be downright wrong.

Writing fiction isn’t the only topic I can do this on. It’s everywhere. Food, health, time management…take your pick.

But can we actually learn something from 500 word sprints?

But is it really learning or just repetition?

Maybe not.

What is learning then?

At its core, learning is understanding the topic and being able to make unexpected connections.

Can that realistically be done off a 500 word bulleted list? How do you even process the information when it’s just a list, made for scanning?

There’s no depth to the information.

I’ve made the rounds on writing sites in the past, searching for better explanations of some craft techniques. Instead, I got posts that felt more like the topic was being reduced to a checklist.

This ends up feeling deceptive. It makes it feel like all you need to do is check off ten items and somehow you’ll have a best seller.

Not that you run into a skill area where it takes forever to get through. Or another that keeps you coming back to explore it more.

(Writing Nerd took two years to learn the skill of setting.)

That’s where all this effort at being the shiniest does us a disservice.

Writing Nerd’s deep learning

I’m in the process of working on a big skill area. It’s a fairly large topic that’s usually lumped into one chapter in a craft book.

A blog post? Phht! If a chapter in a craft book isn’t sufficient, a blog post certainly isn’t.

But I found a book on this topic. I started out by reading the whole book, just get a good feel for it.

Then I wandered back into some skill areas that had caught my eye. Reread those several times trying to understand them better. Discussed them at my writing group for different perspectives.

Tried some of those skills on a halfway mark cycling in the story.

Went back and forth between the book and the story because the skills have been a challenge.

And I know there are people would just skip this because it takes too much time.

But sometimes you have to spend the time. This is the kind of learning that sticks and improves the skills.

Checklist learning? Phht..

Rumbling and grumbling about everything being wrong

Today it seems like everyone’s got a laser focus on everything that’s wrong, as if we can’t do anything right.

Not hard to see that playing in the newspapers.

So I always have to put on my Critical Thinking Cat and ask what reasons they might have focusing that direction. Like selling papers. Getting clicks.

For us, as human beings, it’s worse because we start seeing the world as everything being wrong and there is no hope.

The problem is none of it true.

It’s easy to find fault

Sliding into the fiction writing side here since it’s much less of a lighting rod than any topics that occurred to you.

When I first got online, I found all these message boards with other writers. I could learn!

So we all posted portions of our stories for critique. We were all like a bunch of puppies tumbling over each other trying to get the food bowl at the same time.

We didn’t know much of anything about writing, but we could nitpick about the sentences.

You know, like an English teacher grading a paper.

It looked like the way to learn to write, so I took this to books I was reading. I think every writer does this.

All books are terrible

Suddenly I was really depressed about writing. It just seemed like no one was writing the good books like I was reading when I grew up.

It was very discouraging.

One day at work, someone dumped their old collection of Nick Carter books on the break tables.

Ah ha!

I snatched those up, intending to prove my point that books had gone downhill.

News flash!

They’d gotten better.

It was my thinking that was the problem.

I was finding so much fault that I wasn’t see what was good. Critical Thinking Cat had overbalanced into Critical Cat.

So I decided on my next book, I was going to read and enjoy it. Turned out it was a runaway best sellers that writers loathe.

“Why is this a best seller?” they cried. “Looks at all the flaws!”

The grammar wasn’t perfect. Why was that comma there? It didn’t belong there! The sentences….they’re horrible. What was he thinking?

(No citation. I just made this up)

Which led them down a darker path.

The readers were stupid for not seeing how flawed it was.

The anger because they weren’t seeing the “obvious” flaws.

Finding Fault Leads to Arrogance

Writing Nerd wandering in because the post went in a surprising direction. I didn’t know this until I wrote it.

Arrogance–and pride really–pops up when we get so cocooned into seeing the individual twigs on the tree that we can’t even see there is a tree, much less a lush, green forest.

The internet hasn’t helped because it makes it impossible to control the flow of all this information.

Instead, everything gets repeated until the point it looks like fact–and isn’t.

Things are seldom black and white.

Additional Reading

Too much blaming and not gaining

I cringe every time I see an article about eliminating straws.

It’s symptomatic of our society pushing the blame on the person who has no control over the situation.

Not just straws, but other things like diet and exercise.

I think it’s partially because of the rush of information. All anyone can do is check the box.

But it hides the reality.

What is the reality?

I’m going to pick on plastic because it’s easy to pick on.

Everyone focuses on eliminating plastic straws because it’s a small simple thing they can do. It feels important.


Critical Thinking Cat is giving that the evil eye.

I subscribe two newspapers. Every day they arrive, each wrapped in a plastic bag.

I buy ergonomic friendly dishwasher detergent pods. They come in a cardboard box, and each pod is wrapped in plastic.

I buy organic chia seeds. Plastic bag.

I buy organic raw almond butter. Plastic jar.

But we get lectured on not recycling enough. Really?!!

Critical thinking is much needed

This is where we all need our inner Critical Thinking Cat.

Close up of striped tabby glaring at camera in only a way a cat can.
Critical Thinking Cat. Photo from

Too much information is flowing past us. We all need to question it and keep questioning it.

Critical thinking is asking:

  • What’s the other side of this?
  • What are they selling me?
  • What are they getting out of it? (which is sometimes, continuing to do what they want.)

There are always people who want to take advantage of that. Always.

Keep your Critical Thinking Cat well fed.

24 hour everything–can I get off?

This year is the first time I decided not to get the NanoWrite Story Bundle. It took me a while to figure out why. Turned out the reason showed up in a comment on the blog:

I’ve got to where I don’t take any more writing workshops or courses (same with marketing, etc.) because they all have the same information slightly rehashed and dressed up in different styles – but it’s all the same stuff! I’m even passing up free courses/workshops for this reason.

Pearl R. Meaker ‘s comment from a post last week.

Yup. There were lots of books on the craft of writing. It didn’t look like anything new.

Death of Information Flow

Writing Muse thinks it started with the 24 hour news cycle.

I remember when the first 24 hour news station came online. I remember because I was headed for war, during the first Persian Gulf War.

The 24 hour news was a novelty so everyone had it on. I heard several times a day some version of “Soldiers are going to die!”

Yeah, that made me feel really good.

Now it’s dress up the information, put a different spin on it.

Give it a marketing phrase. Pretend like it’s new.

Shhh. No one will notice.

Critical Thinking Cat

Since cats are really good at critical thinking….I think that’s their normal state.

Close up an orange and gray cat, with a single green eye visible
Critical Thinking Cat. Image from

What’s in it for the person selling? Helping people out? Or getting another name on the mailing list?

Critical Thinking Cat is rolling his eyes. Knocks stuff off because he’s annoyed.

Whap! Tell me something that’s actually new. Dressing up the same writing tips (or time management tips or eating tips) doesn’t add any value.

Whap! Stop urgently repeating. If I’m not paying attention to it the first time, I probably won’t the second or third times, or tenth times.

Whap! Be authentic. I think that’s a tough thing for a lot of people. They have to get the dollars rolling in and spin makes that happen faster–but also doesn’t last.

Spin gets the shiny but doesn’t keep people around.

Additional Reading