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.


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.

October 6, 2023

What Works For You

How did I miss blog posts for all of September? What the hell? And how is it already October?

Well, okay… September was a bit of chaos for me. I was working on that Rashomon idea I mentioned last time, but I couldn’t quite get it to work the way I wanted it to, and it’s a delicate topic so I really wanted to stick the landing on that one. Then there was some work chaos and life chaos and then more work chaos (but this time on the better end of things).

Anyway, I’ve been working through all of this, but a few things slipped through the cracks. And this was one of the things. Sorry about that.

Of course, I just saw another author I’m acquainted with mention how she hasn’t sent out a newsletter in over a year. And another one I know writes more newsletters in a month that I do newsletters and blog post combined. And all of that on top of all of us juggling a few different writing projects.

It all comes down to what you can do, and what system lets you do it.

Which, hey, is a cool thing to talk about.

Look, even in our crumbling age of social media, there’s a lot of folks out there offering writing advice. And probably even more who—one way or another—are setting examples. Posting about today’s word count or their method for blocking out action scenes or plotting character arcs or whatever. And on one level, this is great. It’s wonderful to get a peek behind the curtain and get a glimpse of the artist’s process, right? I mean, that’s pretty much what I try to do here with the ranty writing blog and my newsletter.

At the same time, though…

I think it’s not always made clear that my process—the schedules and tricks and methods that work for me—is probably not going to be your process. Sometimes it seems like I’m saying everybody has to start the day with a two mile jog or three cups of coffee and if you haven’t written four pages before lunch, well, I guess it’s sort of cute that you treat this as a hobby. I mean, I’m successful and it’s what I do, but I mean, sure, do whatever you want….

Truth is, we’re all individual people with our own brain chemistries and life-situations. And we’re writing our own individual books. Every one of them is a little different and requiring a slightly different approach, a new angle, more of this, less of that. As I’ve said here many, many times before, what works for me won’t always work for you. And it definitely won’t work for that guy. He’s doing his own thing in his own way and… look, it’s his thing. He’s happy. We can leave him alone over there.

A big part of writing is figuring out how you like to write. What level of outlining works best for you. What level of output. What timeframe. What time of day. What location. What environment. What’s going to let you write the most, the best, the most painlessly. And it’s all unique. For each of us, and for each project.

I wrote one book, 14-, with almost no outline. I scribbled down a lot my pages late at night while my partner was conked out in the other room. But I wrote a good chunk of Paradox Bound in a coffee shop with my pods in. And big swaths of my current book– TOS if you subscribe to the newsletter—were written out on the deck in a yellow pad with a cold drink, a huge outline, and a grumpy black cat glaring at me.

But a year or two back I tried to do a comic pitch. And I’d never done one before, so I talked to a friend with a lot of comics experience about how they usually did it and followed all their tips and advice. But their method wasn’t really… me. My pitch ended up being a really stilted, awkward thing that didn’t get across half of the excitement and creepiness and awe I wanted it to. And fortunately the editor I sent it to was pretty good-natured and we had a laugh at a con later about how it wasn’t the worst comic pitch they’d ever gotten…

(fun fact– said editor later did a series of posts about what they liked to see in a comics pitch and it was much closer to what I probably would’ve done on my own if I hadn’t asked my friend how they did it)

What I’m trying to say is, every writer has their own way of doing things. How they start the day, the tricks they use to stay motivated, their daily goals, their overall strategies. Don’t get obsessed with how other people do it. Figure out how you’re going to do it. Which method works best for you? What tricks and schedules let you do the most, best work? Because that’s a huge part of getting good at this whole writing thing. Figuring out what works for you. We all do it. We stumble across methods and tips and ideas, try them out for a while, and then decide which ones work for us and which ones don’t.

And yeah… it’s going to take time to figure this out. Maybe lots of time. Sorry. There’s just no way around it. It’s not like trying on a shirt where I can immediately go “whoa, this is waaaaay too tight across my broad, muscular chest.” Think of it more like dating. Sometimes, yeah, it’s obvious ten minutes into the first date this isn’t a good match. But sometimes it might take two dates or three weeks or four months to realize what works doesn’t outweigh what, well, doesn’t work and this just isn’t sustainable.

But the plus side is you’ve still been writing and you’ve still learned something from this. And that’s something you can carry over to the next thing you work on. And the next handful of tips you happen across.

So don’t be worried about trying something new. And don’t be afraid to say “this isn’t working for me,” no matter who said it works for them. Find what works for you.

Next time, I’d like to talk about driving waaaaay past the speed limit.

Unless there’s something different you’d like me to blather on about? The comments section is so lonely…

Until then, go write.

August 31, 2023 / 1 Comment

Class War Nonsense

I stumbled across this old train-of-thought document a few weeks back, which I guess I’d written out… looks like sometime early in lockdown? Maybe in response to some social media discourse of the time? I don’t know. But parts of it struck with me and I’ve been flipping it over and over in my mind, so I thought I’d share it with you.

I’m kind of 50-50 on writing instruction, for lack of a better phrase. All those articles, lectures, books, and blog posts that tell you what/ when/ how/why to write. Which probably isn’t a great thing to confess here on the ranty writing blog. But really, I think if you look at most of that stuff with a critical eye, we’d find there’s a lot of good stuff you can get out of them, but also a lot of useless stuff, depending on our particular situation. Some might even be classified as harmful.

And it struck me that part of this is that “writing instruction” covers so much stuff. I mean, we all probably had a bunch of basic writing classes in grade school, right? Everybody had those. But maybe you also had creative writing classes in high school? Not the same thing. And I had a class in college that tried to teach writing, but also another one that tried to teach you how to be a writer.

Hopefully you can see the subtle nuances in all of these. I try to make it here a lot of the time. This blog is about writing (turning the idea in your head into a finished manuscript) but overall I tend not to talk as much about writing (the life, the career, the source of 83% of my stress and worry).

So let me tell you about a few writing classes I took. One in high school, two in college.

Also probably worth mentioning up front, I’d been writing for years before that first class. It was all garbage, sure, but I’d been writing and submitting and getting professional feedback. I’d already collected a good number of rejection letters from assorted editors at Marvel and a few different fiction magazines.

Class #1 was high school. In retrospect I’d call it harmless. It was approached more as a potential hobby than anything else. The teacher gave us writing prompts, would give us simple deadlines, taught us some bare bones stuff about character and imagery and critiques. But there wasn’t any in-depth discussion of anything, art-wise or career-wise. This would’ve been spring of ‘87– no public school was going to encourage a kid to go into the arts. Writing wasn’t a real career, after all.

I stumbled across one of the stories I wrote for this a few months back. It’s a kind of fun, fairly predictable story about two little kids (almost) being tricked into letting a monster loose. I remember the picture he showed us that inspired it, too

Class #2 was junior year of college. In theory, a general creative writing class. In reality just a bad experience overall. I liked a lot of my classmates, but the instructor had very literary aspirations. He talked a lot about ART and berated anyone in class who wasn’t trying to write the great American novel. I wrote a sci-fi/ horror short story for one assignment and was told (loudly) in front of the class that it was just mass-market garbage. If I was just writing to entertain—if I wasn’t trying to change people’s lives with my words—I was just wasting everyone’s time and should probably leave.

There wasn’t much instruction in this class of any sort. It was really just a critique group where the instructor encouraged people to be as harsh as they could with said critiques. All in the interest of “making them better writers,” of course. I ran into one of my classmates a year later and she told me she’d kind of given up on writing after that…

(fun fact—the story the instructor tore apart in front of the class was called “The Albuquerque Door,” about an experimental teleportation gateway gone wrong, and I always liked it even if he thought it was nonsense. It was (eventually) the inspiration for a book…)

Class #3 was my final semester of college. It was simply amazing. I was lucky enough to spend five months with John Edgar Wideman as a professor at UMass. Yeah, we’re naming people now that it’s a really positive experience. He made me look deeper at my writing and showed me how real life could still be the foundation of the strangest characters or situations. He was also the first person to point put that sometimes writing meant not sitting at your desk. It was good to shake things up now and then. Today… you know what, let’s just go down the hall to another classroom. I think 216 is empty. Today we’re going to have class under that tree out there. Today… everyone’s 21, yes? Let’s go get a drink at the bar in the campus hotel.

I have to add Professor Wideman was also the first person to ever tell me he thought I was going to be a successful writer. Direct, flat out, no qualifiers. My writing was very good, I could do this.

So… what’s the point of this stroll through my memories?

Every one of these classes was titled “Creative Writing,” even thought there was a huge range in what the instructors were offering. And what they delivered. Some were teaching about writing, others touched on being a writer, and really none of them were about writing as a paying career. Depending on what I was looking for—or needed—they could’ve been absolutely perfect or a complete waste of my time. Or even worse, the thing that makes me decide I hate writing.

I think, when we approach any kind of writing instruction, we should be really clear about what we need and what we’re hoping to get. And if it’s possible, maybe get a better sense of what this book/ class/ site/ conference is actually offering. If I’m really invested in the art and nuance of writing, a course about how to game the social media and Amazon algorithms to promote sales probably isn’t for me. If I want to work on going from my first draft to an edited second draft, a book of writing prompts and encouragements won’t be of much use to me. And if you just want a couple people to tell you your writing isn’t horrible and you should keep at it…

Well, you definitely didn’t want to be in that junior year writing class I was in. I should’ve dropped out. You could’ve too, and we could just go encourage each other at the Bluewall.

Anyway, next time I wanted to talk a little bit about Rashomon. I seem to recall you liked that movie, yes?

Until then, go write

June 3, 2021 / 4 Comments

Thank Your Rich Uncle…

Happy Birthday to me. Well, belated birthday. Monday was a day of action figures and LEGO sets and many games and drinks with my fully vaxxed friends. It was a wonderful way to turn <<–DC REBOOT–>> years old.

Anyway… now that I am somewhat old and wise, I wanted to take a moment to blather on about something that’s been itching at my brain for a while. And I know it’s going to be a touchy subject for some people, so I’ll try to tread lightly.

MFA programs. Why do these things even exist?

See! I told you it’d be touchy! Just to be clear right up front, this is absolutely not a swing at anyone who made it through an MFA program and got a degree. I know MFA writers are popular punching bags for some people, and this is not one of those posts. I’m a huge believer that pretty much all education ends up being useful (even if not always in the way it was intended) and I’ve got massive respect for anyone who actually did it. I enjoyed my four years at UMass, but I also know I wouldn’t’ve had the stamina (or the resources) to make a graduate degree happen. So this is, again, not coming down on anyone who scraped and clawed their way up through a higher level of higher education and came out on top.

You absolutely rock. Seriously. Never doubt it.

The people who gave you that MFA though…

Probably a good point to mention before I get going is none of this has been triple-checked or peer reviewed or anything like that. But within my own experience–including a degree of research specifically about this–I haven’t found anything to contradict any of it. Like, a disturbing number of things line up with this half-assed theory I’m about to present to you.

So… one of the main reasons writers and other artists tend to get the liberal/ fruity/ beatnik type labels is because, traditionally, if I wanted to learn one of these fields I just did it. People didn’t go to school to learn how to write, they just wrote. They dropped out of “productive society” and wrote a lot. For the vast majority of folks this meant finding a dirt-cheap apartment in a city close to publishers (to save postage costs), drinking cheap booze, having cheap affairs, and skipping two meals a day to pay for supplies. Eventually (hopefully) I learned from experience, got better, and then people started to pay me. That’s where the stereotype of the starving artist comes from—most of these folks went hungry while they learned their art. I talked about this at length a few birthdays back…

Yeah, if I was really lucky I might find some kind of mentor to show me how to hold a brush, where to hit the marble with the chisel, or to read the first half page of my story and offer a dozen notes right there. But these were kinda few and far-between. I mean, think about it. In terms of any general population (pick your favorite city or state or country) there are only going to be so many successful artists. So out of that limited number, I need to actually find one of them, and it needs to be someone in the field I want to study, and they need to be willing to offer some sort of mentorship, AND they need to have space/ time for me, personally. I mean, there’s probably hundreds of other people looking for mentors too, right? It absolutely happened, no question… but it probably didn’t happen a lot, just applying a little common sense.

Now the reason people had to learn this way is universities and colleges didn’t teach the arts. No painting or dance or acting or writing. Really. They were professional institutions. People went there to learn engineering, medicine, chemistry, law. You know… real jobs.

Worth noting there were a very small number of these schools with writing classes. But even in those cases this wasn’t something you got a degree in. It was just a side thing—some exercises to maybe help you write a better closing speech for the jury.

And yes, I know—there were a few specialist art school out there. Very few, comparatively speaking. The odd music academy or dance conservatory. But this wasn’t considered higher education. It was—at best—more like we’d consider a vocational school. And if you think about it, that kind of makes sense. Sure I can teach you how to write notation for sheet music and how to blow on a flute. But I can’t teach you how to compose the song in your head. And as we’ve talked about here many, many times, somebody can’t teach you the “correct” way for you to write. We all need to figure that out for ourselves.

So what changed? How did writing (and the other arts) suddenly become a “teachable” thing? Well, two things happened. Actually, one thing happened, but a second thing had a very powerful impact on that first one.

In reverse order, the second one was Nazis. Hate those guys, right? In case you missed that week of grade school history, in the mid-late 1930s a right-wing fascist group gained a ton of power in Germany and made life miserable for pretty much everyone in Europe. And a lot of people in Africa. And Asia. Eventually the US joined in the fight (to quote Eddie Izzard, “after a couple of years, we won’t stand for that anymore!”) and sent sixteen million people off to fight.

After WWII, a lot of folks—like with WWI before it—were just left wrecked by the scale of it all. The things they’d done. The things they’d seen. I mean, by the numbers, the odds were you saw someone die every single day. For maybe four years. So when the war ended, most US servicemen got a slow boat home. A deliberately slow boat. So these soldiers had time to breathe, to look at the waves, and to talk. Most importantly, to do it with a bunch of people who’d just gone through the same things they did.

And when they got home, that first thing I mentioned was waiting for them.

Y’see, the US Government had come up with something called the GI Bill. WWI (and its aftermath) was still fresh in a lot of folks’ minds and everybody wanted to make sure this new wave of veterans were taken care of when they came home. So the government said “When you finish your tour, go to college on us! We’ll cover it.” Because it was a win-win for the United States. We’re taking care of veterans and we’re making more doctors, engineers, and scientists. Wooo! Yay us! We rock!

So these guys got home, Big Government pulled out the big checkbook and said “Congrats on surviving–what college do you want to go to? What do you want to study? Law? Medicine? Rocket science? We’re going to need some more rocket scientists pretty soon.”

And a lot of guys took that offer. But a bunch of them said “Y’know… I think I might just take a year or three off and process all this some more. Work through it. Maybe write a book or some poetry, put some of this stuff in my head down on the page while I try to figure out what I’m doing next.”

Now this wasn’t the first time Uncle Sam had heard something like this (again, WWI just thirty years earlier). So he shoved the checkbook back in his pocket, put a firm hand on their collective shoulders and said “Good on you, man. You go do what you need to do to get right.”

And that would’ve been it. Except… suddenly the collective colleges and universities of America said “Whoa, whoa, WHOA! You promised us all this GI Bill money! You said hundreds of thousands of soldiers were going to be signing up for college!”

”Yeah,” said Big Government, “but they don’t want to be doctors or lawyers now. They just want to write a book about their experiences.”

”Well, let’s not be hasty,” said the CEO of Colleges, Inc. “I mean we… we’ve got writing… programs.”

“You do?”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. A whole department. Several departments. They could absolutely get a degree in… in the arts. In fine arts, even! You just write those checks, Big Uncle Sammy, we’ll have everything ready by September.”

Worth noting my friend M.L. Brennan (college professor and vampire author) heard this line of thought from me a while back and pointed out all of this continued (arguably got a lot worse) in the ‘90s when college loans became a serious for-profit business. Higher education became less about, well, education and more about making money. So it’s not surprising MFA programs multiplied like bunnies shortly after that. You want to go to college for what? Yeah, sure, we’ve got a program for that. Just sign your loan papers…

And that’s how writing became something that’s taught. Colleges and universities just wanted the money. Which also meant now they needed to make up rules and guidelines and formulas to try to teach all these things. Because if there weren’t any rules, they wouldn’t be able to issue grades. Some students couldn’t do better than others. Which would mean this “degree” I got is… well, kinda pointless. Maybe even worthless.

Which brings us to the last thing I’m going to say about MFA programs—their abysmal success rate. Seriously. For most college degrees (of any level), we say “making a living at it” is more or less the end goal of getting the degree. If I go to school to be, say, a high school teacher, and 83% of us in that program become high school teachers, that’s a pretty successful program, right?

With that in mind, as another friend, Kristi Charish, has pointed out…what would you think of a school where less than 5% of education graduates end up making a living as teachers? What could we say about an engineering program where only one or two students out of the entire graduating class actually become engineers?

I mean… seriously, does that sound like a successful program? A terribly useful degree? Especially if there are dozens of other people becoming successful teachers or engineers without that degree? I mean, Kristi told me at her school the science department had produced more successful novelists than the MFA program.

And again, I want to stress, this isn’t about the people who got those degrees. As I said at the start of this, I’m impressed by anyone who makes it through a graduate program. And I absolutely think some useful learning comes out of it.

But if someone’s about to make that choice, I’ve got to be honest… I’d tell them it’s probably not worth it. They might get something out of it, yeah, but odds are they could get that thing somewhere else. Probably a lot easier and definitely a lot cheaper.

Also again… none of this has been rigorously reviewed. There could very well be a dozen facts I missed just sitting out there, ready to tear this whole chain of thought apart brick by brick. And if so, please give me those facts. I’m always glad to know more.

Next time… I want to talk about the story that happens five years later. Or really, the opening that happened five years ago.

Until then, go write.