Disaster in the Writing Cove!

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Most of the time when I write, the adventures are just on the page.  Seldom in real life are adventures that we really want.

This week, when I came home, I discovered that maintenance had to go into my walls to fix a broken pipe in the building. 

Guess where the pipe was?  In the Writing Cove!

(It’s a cove because coves are beautiful and open and overlook water…not that that’s the reality.  It actually overlooks a busy street.  But windows are important, even if the view isn’t pretty.)

The maintenance guy tore out part of the wall and ceiling and left cardboard screwed in.  No water damage.  Apparently, the leak was caught pretty quickly.  Water was coming out of the ceiling in the basement.  Someone reported it, and maintenance shut off the water until they could figure out where it was.

But it’s been disruptive.  My desk was moved and is not in a place where I like it.  I could move it back, but there are two more rounds of repairs to come.

I’m also one of those people who think with a bit of mess, but it’s an organized mess, which means I know where everything is.  So suddenly everything is not where it was supposed to be.  So my cove has been disrupted by a storm.

Maintenance came back and did the drywall.  Next up is the plaster—they have to fix the kitchen, too, since it’s on the other side.  They punched through it during the repairs.  After the plaster, then painting and the Writing Cove can go back to normal.

It’s amazing how much I don’t like this change.

But then, it’s definitely not a good change for me. 

Change—The way of life

Many years ago (and two jobs back), the company I was at had to replace their 1960s software system.   It was time.  The employees experienced in the programming languages of the tool were retiring or dying off, so the system was patched together as things broke.

A lot of employees who operated on the system were very upset.  The old system may have been cantankerous, but they knew it.  Writing Nerd suspects that the new system wasn’t very intuitive.  Programmers tend to assume that once you discover the logic of the system, it’ll be easy—and that makes learning it at all a huge challenge.

The company communicated and communicated and communicated.  They had a website, a newsletter, roadshows, open houses…and really, they could not overcome the single major problem the introduction of the new system created.

Fear of failure.

One woman just started crying at her desk because she was struggling so much with learning the system.  Unfortunately, the tendency of learning today is to throw everything including the kitchen sink at people and expect them to somehow magically absorb it.

Basically, we’re often asked to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool.  We can’t see the bottom because the waters are murky and green.  Nor do we know how to swim.  We’re supposed to trust that somehow all will work out for us.

Yet, change isn’t always a bad thing.  The post in the Additional Reading inspired me to think more about change. We deal with change all the time.

Sometimes change is exasperating

Like when I headed to the gym and got to where I needed to make a right turn.  Road closed due to police activity.  I had to go around to get back to where I needed to be.

Sometimes change is overwhelming

Like the first time I got a personal rejection from a pro-rate magazine.  It was such a huge acknowledgment that I was that good at writing that it blew me out of the water for six months.  But it was a good change that prepared me for last week.  I got my first pro acceptance.

Sometimes change is terrifying

We’re seeing this pretty much everywhere.  The old ways are being disrupted and it’s happening too fast.  The result has been that it’s bringing out the worst in people.

But sometimes it’s important to take a chance and step off into the unknown.

Additional Reading

The Ugly Truth About Why People Resist change.  Very interesting reading.  This post had Writing Nerd thinking a lot about why change can be disruptive.

The Importance of Praise

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On Thanksgiving, I went to a family meal with some of my relatives.  It was pretty fun and I got to pet some dogs.

Then one of my relatives pulled out his iPhone to show off a video of his daughter.  She wants to be an actress.  She also sings (she did not get that from our side of the family).  The video was of her singing.

Her reponse?  She didn’t want him to show the video.  She got very upset.

I had to explain to her that you never tell you fans you don’t want them watching you.  I don’t think she really got it though.

But I remember a few years back what a writer did to me…

Writers Putting Work Down

I have a fantasy trilogy that is falling apart.  The viewpoint had this wonderful storytelling quality that really pulled me into the story and it was magical.  When I finished the last book. I sighed, both wishing I had another book because it was so good and because it had resolved so satisfactorily.

They used to be my re-read books.  Haven’t touched them in years.

Because of the writer.

One time on my blog, I wrote about the books and talked about the viewpoint.  The books were in omniscient, which can feel like you’re sitting down in front of a fire as someone tells you a story.

Enter the writer, who commented on her blog.  She was polite and friendly, but she said she’d learned a lot since she wrote those books.

She said she’d have done the viewpoint differently now.

She said she was going to revise those books and change the viewpoint.


The thing I really liked about the book.  I don’t think she realized she’d just insulted one of her readers.

As a result, the books fell off my re-read list.  I don’t remember the magical story anymore.  I just remember that the writer was going to change books I liked.

Praise is a two way street

Writing Nerd gets a lot of “Thank you for your service.”  The response is to smile, say, “You’re welcome,” and that’s it.

It’s hard because we’re taught that that bragging is distasteful–and it is, if you’ve heard someone brag.  It isn’t about the creation or being successful; it’s about them feeling superior to everyone else. 

But bragging isn’t the same thing as accepting praise. Where bragging is about just ourselves, accepting praise is about us and the person giving the praise.

It makes both of us feel good, if we let it.

We all have an audience, and a bubble

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We all have some influence on the world around us, sometimes good, sometimes bad.  Most of the time we might not even know what influence we had because that part of the world moves away from us.

But we also seem to be losing two skills associated with this:

  • Common courtesy
  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

And it’s a lot of little things in what we all do.

Many, many years ago, I worked in a copy shop.  During my first few days, I asked a customer, “Is there anything else?”

I got lectured by the owner.  You never say that to a customer.  It makes it sound like you’re trying to get rid of them.

Yet, I hear it all the time in just about every retail establishment.  Sometimes, it does indeed feel the stores don’t really want my business.  Some clerks barely speak to me, other than to ask for the money.

Really, sometimes smiling at people or generally being friendly makes a big difference on the people around you. 

For many years, I ran the writer’s pitch sessions at the Washington Independent Writer’s Conference.  I and another writer kept the pitches running on time to military precision (it helped that we were both vets). 

I greeted the agents.  Sometimes I’d swing by between pitch sessions and see if they needed anything (Cookies?  Coffee?).  Asked them how the trip was over here (they would have taken a train from New York).  Took complaints (didn’t want to do that, but those were the writers’ fault).

One of the agents returned after a two-year break.  Recognized me.  Called me by name.  I was flabbergasted, actually.

It was all those little things about courtesy that most people don’t bother with these days.  Chances are they’ve got their head buried in a cell phone instead.

And what’s this bubble?

This is Writing Nerd’s turn to wander in. 

The bubble is how we view the world.  You’ll see the most obvious example of it in Hollywood where actors do strange things and think that everyone should follow in their footsteps.  Arrogance on steroids.

But it’s everywhere.  We might think everyone is like us, and if they’re not, they’re wrong.

Example from the Army:

I’m a rotten runner because I have flat feet.  Yet, we had a sergeant who was a naturally gifted athlete.  Running was easy for him.  His bubble?  If you can’t keep up with him, you weren’t trying hard enough or you were faking it.

He couldn’t put himself in someone else’s shoes to understand what they were experiencing.  We had people like me, people with short legs, people with different body types—all things that influence running.

When he was assigned to be in charge of “remedial” physical training, we all dreaded it because this bubble made him an extremely poor instructor.

Example from the writing world:

I don’t outline when I write.  People who outline scratch their heads and instead of asking questions, tend to say I’m writing wrong. 

And you’d think that people from the non-outlining side would be different, but nope, the same bubble exists.  Apparently, I have some things I do that are outside other people’s bubbles.   So even when I have something that works for me, in the eyes of others, I’m just wrong.

Not even one person asked a question about why I might be doing it differently.  Just like the sergeant above never asked why I might not be able to keep up with him.

We all can’t be right.

We all can’t be wrong.

But the power we have is common courtesy so we can learn more about other people.

Additional Reading

Abundant Blogger on Courtesy and Respect

For the serious writer: Superstars

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Last year, I attended Superstars Writing Seminar for the first time. Yeah, it was expensive and there is definite risk of getting caught in bad weather coming back.

But it’s a writing seminar like no other.

You can find tons of courses explaining how to write novels. But they don’t tell you about they business side.

Why is business important? Isn’t it just about writing?

Nope. Once you send that story out to a publisher, agent or magazine, or decide to indie publish, you’ve just crossed to the business side.

Many years ago, I got accepted for an anthology from a small press for a non-fiction piece about Desert Storm. We got the contract from the publisher and everyone noted there was a typo with the rights. I also noticed that the letterhead had an obvious typo in the address.

Looking back, Writing Nerd notes those two things should have been a big, red, waving flag screaming “Look here! Look here!”

Instead, all the writers in that book crossed out the rights line and wrote in what it should be.

Next thing we know, the publisher gets into a fight with the editor because she named her store similar to the book title. And just like that, the anthology was done.

Because of the contract? In hindsight, I don’t think that caused the fallout. It was another thing I didn’t realize at the time, and out of my own ignorance of the business side.

The book’s subject wasn’t one most people would want to read or buy. I have the feeling the editor pitched the book in one way and when the publisher saw it, they knew they were going to lose their shirt.

Knowing the business side of writing is important so you don’t get scammed and know how to make the right decisions.

When I first started indie publishing, just about everyone out were developmental editing zombies.

“You must get developmental editing. You must get developmental editing. Brains! Brains!”

I had my business hat on. I looked at where I was at with my writing. I’d gotten personal rejections from Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine and other pro magazines. I didn’t need someone else to essentially tell how to write.

So I wanted a copy editor.

Not only that, because I had Critical Thinking Cat, I was able to evaluate copy editor sites and determine if I wanted to do business with them.

One of the most memorable moments was when I attended Dave Farland’s Superstars session on covers. For the most part, we’re told if we want to published on the traditional side, we have no control over the covers.

Dave said that we do–just not in the final say. We just have to make sure there are 3-4 scenes in the book that lend themselves to cover. Which works for indie, too.

Lots of ways for business to be a part of writing.

If you’re interested in attending, use the coupon code LADAMS for a discount. For veterans, there’s also a veterans discount.

Well worth it!

Additional Reading

Personal MBA: An extensive reading list on business. You can learn a lot with books you can get from the library.

When Simple Gets Complicated

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All I wanted to do was buy lightbulbs.

That should have been simple, right?

Everyone uses lightbulbs in their house.  They’re common, nothing particularly special. 

It was a lot harder than it looked.

The Great Light Bulb Hunt

I had too to three different stores to find them.  I was looking for 75 watts because I needed those for my kitchen since want to see what I’m using the knife on.  I wanted one of those flame bulbs for a dining room chandelier since those burn out like crazy.  Five lights, no waiting.

First was a department store that sold everything.  Should have had it.  They had a small selection of the really expensive bulbs—you know the ones that cost $15 for one bulb.  No basic 75 watts. 

Second store did have a very small selection of bulbs, again mostly the expensive one-to-pack bulbs.  The store brand of basic bulbs was waaaay expensive for four—almost $9.00.  The flame bulbs were two to a pack, $9.00.  Yikes.

The third store had a small selection of lightbulbs, bigger than the other two stores.  All the standard watts were reasonably priced and they had a good variety.  It was the grocery store.

Man Likes Complexity

Reading about simplicity and productivity, Writing Nerd discovered that man likes making things more complex. 

Even something that starts out simple and every day gets “fixed” to be “new and improved” and ends up making more work and more decision fatigue.  I hate buying bandages for the same reason.  Can’t a bandage just be a bandage?!!

Of course, where I live—Washington DC—is complexity on steroids.  Even the layers of complexity have layers.

Nothing can be simple.

In some cases, we just add the layers unnecessarily.

Like bandages.

Why so much complexity?

Companies want to sell more products, so they add more choices. 

So when you walk into the store to make what should be a grab and go trip, you have to stop and decide between anti-bacterial (Fear! Fear! Fear!  Kill all the germs!), the patterned bandage (the fashionista), or the invisible bandage (shh.  I don’t want anyone to know I cut my finger…says she who had to wear a finger sock).

And sometimes people want to put their mark on something because it makes them feel like they’re doing more important work. 

Complexity is also procrastination.  It’s work, it feels productive.  But while we’re busy adding more layers, we add more things to do.

Take writers (though this can handily be applied to business, government, managers).  We tend to come up with elaborate systems to do things. 

Like this writer who came up with an elaborate outline that was 14,000 words.  No, it’s not a typo.  It’s fourteen thousand words.  Somewhere in there, the actual simplicity of writing the book got lost—on a quest to make it easier.

And the more complex something is, the more decisions have to be made.  Decisions that cause unnecessary frustration.

Like standing in the bandage aisle trying to find a box of bandages.  Or a light bulb.

Sometimes “new and improved” isn’t. 

Additional Reading

How to Beat Decision Fatigue

Monsters, monsters, oh, my

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I like monsters, especially the ones from the 1950s movies. Earlier this week, I was watching a Ray Harryhausen film, It Came From Beneath the Sea, which has a giant octopus. It was big enough to pull apart the Golden Gate Bridge. Even though it was an old film, the special effects were awesome.

Since monsters are so much fun, I’m sharing my book, Rogue God. Half man, half spider, giant centipedes, and gods. Monster city. I even blow up some monsters.

Man faces down a giant spider with evil glowing eyes.
Isn’t this an awesome image?

Beneath the island beauty lurks deadly magic.

Magic booby-traps waiting years to kill, and worse.  Like making monsters.

Anton Keymas, member of the Vai, a magical Special Forces, launches on his most perilous mission.  Two soldiers missing.  Probably dead.

Keymas may not be able to stop the killing spree.

A twisted fantasy of magic and monsters that takes you on a roller-coaster ride.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

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.