I almost didn’t do this one because I couldn’t figure out the exact way to phrase it, and it’s obviously an important one. Wouldn’t want someone to miss out because I used the wrong word. Plus, to be honest, I’m waaaaaaaay behind this week between a birthday weekend combined with StokerCon weekend and friends in town and a shingles vaccine that made me kind of useless for a day, so I almost didn’t do this at all.

But here I am. And here you are. So let’s do this.

Are you ready for the ultimate networking tip? You should probably get ready to write this down. It’s going to change everything for you. Bookmark this page, at the very least. Right now, before we go any further.

Damn. I could’ve had t-shirts made up. Finally an excuse for a merch store…

Anyway, ready? Here it is. My ultimate networking tip that’s going to make your attempts at networking so much easier, more efficient, and much, much more effective. Ready?

Stop trying to network.

Seriously.

Just stop.

I got to see a bunch of writer friends this past week, and—especially with StokerCon as the backdrop—I thought a bit about how we’d met. How we connected. And so often it was really mundane, non-writery things. My first real conversation with two writers I’m friends with was about Doctor Who (and weirdly enough, now that I think about it, both were Dalek-related). Another one was about fencing (the with-swords type). One time I was talking with someone and discovered we both had a connection to the weird little amusement park in my hometown. Plus so many chats about the film industry and different aspects of it.

And yeah, sometimes we’d talk books. Rarely our own, but other people’s we’d enjoyed or loved or perhaps even quietly been, y’know, less than impressed with. Or publishing. Many long talks about publishing, sales, marketing, social media, all that sort of stuff.

But the key thing is, I wasn’t trying to bond with them over any of this. It wasn’t a calculated ploy. It was just stuff that came up. Things we were interested in. They were the kind of casual conversations you’d have at someone’s cookout or a party or a random bar meet-up.

I know I’ve said this before but active networking is dead. It’s been dead for decades. Seriously, people were pushing it as the big secret to Hollywood success thirty years ago and you might notice that Hollywood’s still just as difficult to break in to. And then this belief slipped over into publishing circles and… well, I’m sure most of you know how easy it is to succeed in publishing these days.

Simple truth is active networking has never worked and never will. It just comes off an weird, intrusive, pushy, and sometimes just flat-out creepy. And I know some folks would respond by saying hey, if there’s only a one in a million chance of it happening, that’s still a chance! Someone just told me recently that’s how it was explained to them.

But here’s the thing. It’s also a 999,999 in a million chance of being labeled as weird, intrusive, pushy, or maybe creepy. So what do you think’ll happen when that one in a million editor/agent talks to any of their colleagues about this writer who just showed up in their mailbox…?

So stop networking. Right now. No more handing out business cards to every single person you meet. Please, please, please stop showing up places or randomly mailing things. Don’t seek people out just so they’ll carry you further along the path you want to walk. And I’m begging you not to give some guru money for their very exclusive networking event that will take your career to the next level.

Y’see, Timmy, don’t worry about networking. Just make friends. Friends you actually care about and respect and share interests with and like being with.

Believe me, we all need friends in this industry.

Next time, I’d like to talk about what happened last time.

Until then, go write.

May 30, 2024 / 4 Comments

Five by Five

Tomorrow’s another big birthday for me. I think Patton Oswalt called it “the double nickel” a few months back when he also hit said milestone. I’m probably going to spend it doing something silly. Maybe random toy shopping. Maybe playing games. I’m probably going to watch a Godzilla movie or two and try to keep up that tradition.

Anyway, I often try to mark the day by offering you some semi-useful thoughts on writing in general. More the whole big idea of writing and being a writer than the nutsy-boltsy stuff I tend to blather on about most of the time. And this is going to be one of those posts. Apologies if it’s a little long.

So, for my 55th birthday, here’s five things I wish I’d known at various points in my writing journey.

1) You’re never too young
For a long time I thought I wasn’t old enough to tell stories. I was writing well before I hit my teens, yeah, and even submitting some of it. But that was all just being young and stupid and not knowing any better. Once I started taking my writing seriously, I felt like I needed more experience—in just about every way possible—before anyone was going to give me any consideration. And I didn’t shake this feeling until well into my twenties. It took me a long time to believe my work was going to measure up to all these other folks.

What I discovered much later was that so many of those people I’d admired as writers hadn’t been much older than I was when they started out. Some of them had only been a few years older than me at that point. It’s not so much that they’d been drastically more experienced, they’d just been willing to take a few chances. Not wild, longshot risks—there’s still a wide swath of property between “brave” and “foolish”—but they decided to try rather than wait until they’d hit some self-imposed limitations.

So don’t rush to do something as soon as you can… but also don’t wait to hit some weird benchmark you read somewhere on the internet or just made up yourself.

2) Don’t worry about getting it perfect
I went through a long phase of trying to get everything perfect. Of trying to make it all, y’know, real writing. And I was usually trying to do it on the first try. I’d spend hours on each paragraph, trying to find the perfect phrasing, the perfect word, not moving on until I’d gotten things just right.

Of course, what this really meant was it was taking me ages to do anything. My first complete draft of The Suffering Map took actual years (plural) to get done. Because I was so wrapped up in what it should be like by the time it was done, I wasn’t acknowledging how many more steps there were before it was done.

It’s something a lot of folks have to get past, but the truth is… there’s going to be a second draft. I’ll get to clean and polish and, yes, pick better words. In fact, they’ll probably be much better because I’ve had time to think about them in context rather than obsessing over this single phrase in chapter three for an hour or so.

Which means for the first draft, I can just write. Not sure about that word? Just say “fast” for now and we’ll find the perfect word in the next draft. Not sure about her name? She’s “Phoebe” for now and if a better name comes to me I’ll start using it then. It took me years to realize this, but once I did my productivity probably quadrupled.

3) Finish things
For the longest time, the biggest thing holding me back was that I never finished anything. Which sounds silly but… there it is. All those early submissions I made to Marvel? I was sending in the first issue of what was clearly a multi-issue story. And in complete honesty, I had no real idea how the rest of it would go. A lot of the early “novels” I’ve mentioned here? Lizard Men From the Center of the Earth? All that Doctor Who and Boba Fett fanfic? The Werewolf Detective? The Trinity? None of them were ever completed. Still haven’t been. I’d just rocket from one thing to the next. Usually just writing the fun, cool parts before I got bored and moved on.

Weirdly enough, my first real, serious interest came from a completed script for Deep Space Nine, which got me half an hour in a room with Ron Moore, and then later another half hour or so with Hans Beimler. Later, when I actually finished a novelThe Suffering Map—I started getting interest from agents.

Yeah, some of the fun goes out of writing when I made that jump from “writing the fun parts” to “writing all of it.” But it was also a huge moment when I realized I’d actually finished an entire, start-to-finish book manuscript—something Drusilla Campbell once told me less than one out of a hundred people who call themselves writers ever do.

And, off my own experience, I’d guess it’s something 99 out of a hundred agents and editors want to see.

4) You’re never too old
Every now and then someone starts talking about ageism in publishing. Or Hollywood. Or comics. A friend’s dad once told us, right after college, that if you haven’t made your mark by age 25 it was never going to happen. End of story.

And it’s easy to see why people feel this way. Society loves youth (sometimes, but that’s another discussion). You don’t hear about a lot of forty year old breakout stars. Forbes doesn’t do a “Sixty under Sixty” list. And yeah… publishers aren’t always as eager to publicize their *cough* more mature writers.

But the simple truth is, there are countless stories out there of people over the age of twenty-five writing their first book or making their first movie and finding success. I sold my first novel at 39 and it didn’t see print until just before I turned 41. This keeps happening, even as people say it doesn’t happen. I mean, just think about it. Can you honestly picture a publisher saying “Damn, this is the most page-turning, uplifting manuscript I’ve ever read and we’ll sell a million copies, easy… but the author’s forty-three.”

I think—and this is just me spitballing with a bit of evidence—that a lot of ageism complaints come from people who aren’t willing to change or adapt. “This is how we did it thirty years ago and it worked just fine then!” When I used to read scripts, I got some that were clearly very old scripts that had gotten a fresh coat of paint to update them. But often this “update” made it clear the screenwriter didn’t understand a lot of the terms they were using and that they were… well, old.

(seriously, how do you not know how an iPod works?)

Look, I’m minutes away from turning whatever-that-double-number-is years old. I grew up in a very different world than most of you reading this. Different views and values. Different technologies. And very different ways of telling stories. I’m trying hard to be better when it comes to writing the world as it is, not as it was—in so many ways. It’s not about whether I can do it, or if anyone will let me do it–it’s about whether I can learn to do it or not. Am I willing to change and grow, or do I want to keep insisting it’s 1988 and complaining that nobody else understands how things should work?

5) Do it because you love it
This may feel obvious, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how many folks I’ve met who look at writing for all the wrong reasons. They think it’ll be easy. That they’ll get rich quick. That it’ll get them invited to all the cool parties. They think it’ll get them a movie/ streaming deal. I’m talking probably hundreds of people I’ve personally been in the presence of.

On a similar note, there’s a lot of people who write in certain genres or formats because of… well, all those above things. It’s not what they’re interested in, but scribbling out a romance will be easy, right? First person is what everyone’s buying. Fantasy means I can just make it all up—it doesn’t have to make sense. Thrillers are where the big money is right now.

I tried chasing the boom for a while. I tweaked my writing to what I thought it needed to be to succeed in this genre or that style. And doing this led me down a lot of dead ends. Stories I didn’t enjoy writing. Stories I wasn’t all that excited by. Stories that went nowhere.

Again, the response to my work got a lot better when it was my work. The kind of weird, twisty stories I liked. The kind of characters I liked. All written in the style I enjoyed writing in. Because I really, truly believe readers can tell how the author felt about a story. They know if I had fun writing this or not. If I was excited about writing it, and about them reading it.

So don’t worry about meeting someone else’s expectations or about what’s hot right now. Write the things you want to write. Tell your stories the way you want to tell them. They’ll be stronger, they’ll be more authentic, and that love you have for them will show through.

Anyway, that’s all the old man birthday wisdom I’ve got for you. Hope some of it was useful or encouraging. Or at least entertaining. All birthday thanks can be given in the form of action figures or rum. If you don’t know how to get action figures or rum to me, you don’t need to worry about it (but thanks of the thoughts). Please don’t sing. I really can’t stand that.

Next time, I’ll probably talk about some of the people I’ll be talking with at StokerCon tonight.

Until then, go write.

May 27, 2024 / 1 Comment

May Newsletter

<<Just a quick reminder that you could subscribe to the newsletter and get all these brilliant thoughts delivered to you a good two weeks before they show up here. Just sayin’…>>

Sorry this is running a bit late. A bunch of things happening. Which I’ll get to in just a bit.

But first… a ramble.

A while back I made a BlueSky post about not being able to buy something on eBay. Not that I couldn’t find it or afford it. It was right there in front of me. It was the Ogre Mawtribe from Games Workshop. My gaming group and I are pretty much just playing OPR these days, but I’m still using GW models for most of it. I’d seen these particular ones back when they were first announced and thought they’d fit nicely into my existing Ogre army.

(if all that is meaningless to you, congratulations on getting so much vitamin D)

But I just couldn’t pull the trigger for some reason. I’d get ready again and again but just kept hesitating. And I didn’t know why. I stared at the set for maybe a week, and finally bought it but I was left wondering about all that unease. Why’d I been so hesitant? What’d been holding me back?

Right after the last newsletter it finally hit me that, on some level, I knew this was probably the last time I was going to buy a Games Workshop set. I’d played 40K & Fantasy for years (many, many years), but I’d lost interest in the game (twice) and I’d been losing interest in their models for a while. They were making some beautiful things, in a general sense, but they were becoming less and less useful as actual game pieces (also harder to store, less customizable, harder to paint, etc).

And this was a scary realization. Warhammer had been my main hobby for over two decades, crushing out other things I was interested in because it needed so much time and money. And even knowing that, it was a little unnerving to realize… wow, I guess this is it. I’m not done with tabletop wargames, but… yeah, done with that aspect of it.

It can be scary to admit that something you’ve sunk a lot of time and effort and, yeah, money into just isn’t bringing you joy anymore. That it’s not doing what you need it to do. Especially when there’s a big sense of community around said things (and yeah, sometimes a percentage of that “community” is very much a marketing strategy). But it’s also good not to have your life fall into some weird sunk-cost fallacy, where you keep spending money on something that doesn’t make you happy just because you spent money on it when it did make you happy.

We’ve all only got so much time. Don’t waste it on things that just frustrate you. Or, to quote world’s most famous declutterer, things that don’t bring joy.

So there’s your not-so-deep life thought for the month.

Anyway… let me give you some updates.

Speaking of being done with things and bringing joy, the first draft of TOS is complete. It’s on the larger side (just past 130K). Messy in some places, goddamn art in others (if I may say so myself). But it’s a first draft and that’s what first drafts are. I’ve also got about five pages of notes to myself for the next draft—things I need to add, things I ultimately realized I can just lose, a few details and tweaks here and there. I’m hoping to have this in front of a couple readers by mid-July, maybe? Let’s say early August.

Also speaking of things being done… I think we have a deal forming for GJD. It went out to a lot of publishers two weeks ago. Some showed interest. Some didn’t (for a variety of reasons). That’s just the way it goes. But it looks like something might be kinda-sorta in place and that’s a big part of the reason I was holding off writing the newsletter—so I’d have cool news. But hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more next time.

And I think that’s all the big stuff…

Oh, eleven days from now <<four now>> is StokerCon here in San Diego. I’m not officially attending, but I’m probably stopping by once or twice to say hi to friends. If you see some guy in the bar who looks like they might be me… well, it might be me.

What else have I got for you…?

Cool Stuff I’ve Been Watching
Finished Fallout and just… damn, that show seems a little fun on the surface but it is ruthless on so many levels. Also watched Parasyte: The Grey and it was a very nice take on the original books/shows. Dead Boy Detectives was wonderful, creepy fun. Also Doctor Who is back and is simply fantastic.

Cool Stuff I’ve Been Reading
Alas, with all the writing these past weeks I got very little reading done. I’m almost done with The Deep by Alma Katsu and it’s so beautifully creepy. Then I’m diving into California Bear by Duane Swierczynski.

Cool New Toys
Alas, its my birthday month, so I’m not supposed to get myself anything. But I was (through a legal technicality) allowed to get my first in-hand Animal Warrior of the Kingdom, a Horrid Scavenger. He’s very nice and makes me feel even better about that Kickstarter I was shoving in all your faces for a month or so. I’ve also been building a massive Gaiking robot my friends 3D printed for me.

And I think that’s all for now. Thanks, as always, for your interest.

May 23, 2024

Don’t Skip Leg Day

I’ve got a big birthday coming up—a double number birthday—so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about health and exercise. We’ve turned about half our garage into an exercise area, and I try to get out there at least three times a week (preferably four, but at least three) to stretch and do weights for 30 or 40 minutes. I’m also trying to be better about doing at least an hour on the treadmill. And if that fails, we also live right on a canyon, so there’s always a good hike right there.

Seems like a lot for an old guy, right? Well, part of this is my ongoing desire to see the 22nd century, but that’s a whole other story. A lot of it, though is just a general desire to exercise, well… everything. If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember me talking about working with a physical trainer named Jerzy. He was really big on balance with his workouts. Some days were more reps, others were more about weight. Some days favored arms and shoulders, others favored legs and core.

He was big on working the body as a whole, because focusing too much usually meant getting kind of out of proportion. You’ve seen guys like that, right? The ones who over-work their arms and shoulders and usually end up, well, skipping leg day.

And a lot of time, this sort of partial exercise actually interferes with their actual goals. They want to look good, but they twist up their posture. They try to build stamina, but they actually end up weaker and slower because they’ve only worked out one or two parts of the bigger, overall system.

So what does all this exercise stuff have to do with writing?

I’ve met some people who do nothing but write. Write, write, write, write. I’ve seen pro writers brag about never taking vacations or even just a day off. Hell, years back I had one aspiring writer excuse their lack of familiarity with a popular book series by saying “real writers don’t have time to read.”

And I can’t help but notice that a lot of the time these folks… aren’t actually producing that much. For all their non-stop work, their output is… kind of average. In frequency and, well, quality.

Now, this is just my personal opinion, but I think in a lot of ways the brain works a lot like the rest of my body. I can exercise it and train it. Repetition can build good habits and reflexes.

But I can’t over-focus on just one aspect of it. Because that’s when things get off balance and grow… well, distorted. The exercise doesn’t help as much as it could because I’ve overworked that one element without working anything else.

You know what most of the other successful, prolific writers I know have in common? They’ve got other interests. I know writers who are into painting and photography and drawing. I know some who run, do martial arts, play basketball, box, and fence. A few of them are musicians. A bunch of them cook—like serious prep time, multiple-burners cook. And sooo many of them play games– video, tabletop, and miniature.

Me? I make a point to take at least one day off every week. A day to do something different. Something that lets me. I make my brain solve completely different types of problems than the ones it gets during the week. I tend to start the day with lawn and garden work, and then I build model robots and LEGO sets and paint little toy soldiers. I focus on shape and color and spatial relations

Plus, during lockdown, I got really into cooking. Italian food. Korean food. Pizza. I like making dinner for my beloved. I like that it requires actual prep and usually more than one pan. That happens several times during the week.

And yeah, I’m trying to squeeze in some exercise, too.

Take a moment. Take a breath. Try doing something else—anything else—and exercise a few different mental muscles. It’ll help your writing in the long run. Honest. And maybe try some actual exercise, too. Increasing blood flow is never a bad thing. That’ll help your writing, too.

Next time… well, like I said, I’ve got a birthday coming up, so I’ll probably bore you with some deep thoughts of some kind.

Oh! And StokerCon is a week from today. I’m not actually attending, but it’s right here in my city, barely ten minutes away. So I may lurk at the bar and say hi to some folks. Maybe you’ll be one of them.

Until then… go write.

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