January 11, 2024 / 1 Comment

Speaking of Resolutions

So, a few times here on the ranty writing blog I’ve talked about diminishing returns. The idea the more you read and study about a topic—say, writing—the less you’re likely to get out of it. F’r example…

Most of us start of by picking up a few books on writing or maybe taking a creative writing course in high school or college. Depending on where you live or what you’ve got for resources, maybe you attended a conference or convention where you got to listen to writers, editors, and agents talk about writing. I know I did.

Eventually, though, we need to stop with the books and classes and online seminars because we hit a point where the information just starts to repeat. We’re just hearing the same things over and over again. Yeah, sure, maybe someone might put a new spin on this or give a better example of that, but was it really worth the fifteen-to-one hundred-ninety dollars I paid to learn it? Or the time I put into reading/ attending it?

But since it’s the start of the year, I wanted to talk about another kind of diminishing return. And this one’s a little more personal. For each of us.

Sooner or later, we all develop a certain approach to writing that works for us. A process, if you will. Everyone’s process is unique. I tend to work at my desk, but maybe you work best at a coffee shop on your tablet, and she writes best on her phone, and he (to fall back on an old example) does all his best work with dictation software while wearing that ren faire corset. Whatever it is, we’ve tried a few things—maybe a lot of things—and figured out what lets us get the most literary bang for our writing buck. And that whole metaphor fell apart but you see where I was going with it.

For some folks, these habits and methods we’ve accumulated work great and continue to work great. Project after project, we know we can do A-B-C-D and get a great manuscript. So naturally, we keep doing it.

But sometimes, for any number of reasons, my process begins to be less efficient. It doesn’t give me the same results as fast. Or maybe it goes just as fast, but the quality has slipped a lot. Maybe time and quality are both the same but it feels like it’s taking a lot more effort. Our returns, one might say, are diminishing.

And yet… we stick to it. Because this is our process. We found it. It works for us, right?


I was lucky that very early on in my writing process I had a mentor/ professor who emphasized not getting pinned down to one thing. Most of the time our class would be in our assigned room but sometimes, just for the heck of it, he’d have us all move to another room. A virtually identical room, yeah, but oddly enough we’d all end up in different seats, next to different people, sometimes facing a new direction just because of how that room was set up. When it got warmer he had us meet outside by a big tree once. One time (after making sure we were all old enough) he took us to the professor’s lounge at the top of the campus hotel and bought the class a round while we talked about the latest round of stories and writing.

I didn’t like using outlines for a long time. I had bad results with them, so my book-writing process was much more free-form. But eventually I decided I needed to get better with them and have a lot more things figured out ahead of time, because my career was taking off and I needed to be able to talk with my agent and editors about books I hadn’t written yet.

I also tend to write here in my office at my desk. I know the setup. I know my surroundings. Some people (like my beloved) might call it cluttered, but I find it so comfortable and familiar I can easily focus past all of it. And yet sometimes I still do other things. About 2/3 of the first draft of Paradox Bound was written on legal pads in a coffee shop back in LA. At the moment I’m about 60K into a new project (TOS, if you’re subscribed to the newsletter) and that’s also mostly written on legal pads, too, sitting out on the back deck. Because it just worked better.

So here’s your New Year’s nudge. Take a long, hard look at your process. Has it diminished? Is it still working as well as it used to? Does it give you the results you want?

If it isn’t… change it. Try something new. Do something different.

This is a scary idea, I know. The worry that I might try something new and that might not work, either. And now I’ve wasted more of my precious writing time smacking my head with legal pads or drinking overpriced coffee or strapping myself into this goddamn corset that wasn’t even the color I wanted! Trying something new feels risky.

Yeah. It is. Art is risky

Y’see, Timmy, we’ve got to take some risks now and then if we want to improve, and sometimes that means accepting we should try doing things differently. So be open to new ideas. Be open to the idea that you might need to be open to new ideas.

Next time… maybe I’ll talk about a few other things we should accept.

Until then, go write.

January 5, 2024 / 1 Comment

Let’s Start Again

Welcome to the far-flung future of… 2024!

Anyway, I often start off the year with a little post about why I do this. How the ranty blog got started. What I tend to blather on about. Sort of like that first lecture in most college classes—here’s what we’re doing for the next six months.

But let’s flip it around

Why are you here? What are you reading this for? What do you hope to get out of this?

Are you just here because you like my books and you’re looking for fun facts or advance news about upcoming projects? Nothing wrong with that. You can get a lot of that out of the more-or-less-monthly newsletter. You can sign up to get it delivered right to your inbox or just wait for it to show up here on the ranty blog at the end of the month

Are you curious about my process? Maybe you want to know how I came up with that character or some insight into why I set things up like this. Also a valid reason to be reading. It does come up here now and then, usually as an example. Hell, there’s a few dozen posts here that reference my first finished novel– The Suffering Map – and what a cautionary tale it turned out to be.

Are you thinking about writing something yourself? Maybe you’re already in the process of writing something? Heck, maybe you’ve completed something? Good on you. Whichever, maybe you’ve ended up here looking for the next step. Could be one of the very first steps. Could be one of the last ones. Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle and you need a helping hand or a little nudge or a firm kick in the butt.

Honestly, you’re the folks this is mostly for. I blather on about a few different things here, but mostly I’m just trying to make the kind of resource I wish I’d had access to back in the day. One place where I could just type in, f’r example, “structure” and find a bunch of explanations and examples. And maybe not have someone basically say “wow, you’re doing everything wrong” the whole time.

Or maybe… you’re here looking for the secret word? The word that makes writing a novel easy? The word that gets you an agent and a publishing contract and your first hardcover? That word is mellonballer!! Seriously! Drop it into an opening paragraph, a cover letter, a casual DM with an editor and behold! Champagne will fall from the heavens. Doors will open. Velvet ropes will part.

No, of course they won’t. I think (I hope?) all of us here know there’s no secret word that makes some part of this easier. No magic phrase. No trick. A very large percentage of getting to do this as a career (if that’s what you want) is just doing the work. Not finding a clever way to get around doing the work.

So if that’s what you’re here for… sorry.

Anyway… I guess that tells you a little bit about what I’m doing here after all. Drop a comment down below, say hi, and let me know why you’re here.

And since we’re talking about the start of the year, next time I’d like to talk to you about your resolutions.

Until then, go write.

October 28, 2021 / 4 Comments

Ready… Set… NaNoWriMo!

Spooky season is among us! Ghosts! Vampires! Nightmares! Panic!—no wait, we’re talking about NaNoWriMo this time.

Or are we?!?

Hopefully you’re not really panicking about NaNoWriMo. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s a bragging rights contest, something to make us focus on actually doing this for thirty days rather than saying “someday I’ll write it all down” for another month.

Wait, does everyone know what I’m talking about? In case you’re new to the ranty writing blog, we’re talking about National Novel Writing Month (Na-No-Wri-Mo). It’s a completely free, no strings, no requirements writing contest where you try to write, well, a whole novel in a month. Really, as much of the first draft of a novel as possible. There’s also no prizes, no trophies, no real prestige. As I mentioned above, I basically just get to say I did it. To someone else and to myself. Most importantly, to myself.

There’s a good chance this sounds a little intimidating. Don’t let it be. This is the writing equivalent of a fun run. It’s got a starting date and a goal, but past that it’s just you. Whatever pace you want to go at, however far you want to go with it. No pressure at all.

In fact, here a tip for you. Use that knowledge. Focus on it. Don’t worry about anyone else. Don’t think about your friends or the people in your writing group or that guy on Twitter bragging about his daily word count. Don’t consider what a future agent or editor might want. Toss all of that away. Forget all of it. Take a deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe out.

And now just write.

Seriously. Just write. Nothing else. For the next thirty days, forward motion only. No re-reading. No editing. No corrections at all. Don’t look back. Under no circumstances hit the up arrow or page up or push the scroll bar. None of that. Not even to go up to the last paragraph. We’re moving in one direction and we don’t stop moving in that direction. Making myself to only go forward means I’m making myself write. I’m not spending time rethinking yesterday’s work or tweaking that first encounter or double checking my spelling. I’m just writing.

And, yeah, this means things are going to be a little… well, very messy. Lots of typos. Dangling plot threads. Characters who suddenly change names/ hair color/ genders halfway through. Or are just suddenly dead because they really should’ve died back at the bank ambush and I’m only realizing that now and we’re only moving forward, right?

And that’s totally fine. Seriously. Remember, NaNoWriMo is just a first draft. It’s not going to be the thing we sell or the thing that gets us an agent. It’s the thing that’ll need some more time and some more work. Because a month isn’t that much time. Really. Even for pros.

Like I mentioned above, the goal here is to get as much work done on a first draft as possible. And first drafts are almost always messy things. In fact, I became a much more productive writer once I accepted that first drafts were messy things. It freed me up to and let me focus on getting things down on the page rather than getting them perfect the first time.

And getting things down on the page is what NaNoWriMo is all about.

So, as I often say… go write.

No, wait. A few other things before we all get on with the writing.

First, if you happen to be in the SoCal area and have a lot of free time at the end of the month, I’m going to be at SDCC Special Edition over Thanksgiving weekend. Sunday, to be exact. I’m doing the con edition of the Writers Coffeehouse, talking about writing, publishing, the state of the industry, and whatever other questions you might have. No idea what size crowd to expect, so we’ll see what happens there.

Also, I may be taking a little bit of a break here for a week or three. I’m feeling a touch overworked/stressed with said con, the holidays, the new book, and, y’know, the world in general. So I just want to take some pressure off and try to get to a place where I feel a little more caught up on things. Plus, to be honest, I feel like I’m just rehashing a lot of stuff here, and I’d love to be able to give you something new and, y’know, actually useful.

Anyway, that’s where things are at. Now fuel up on some Halloween candy and go wild with NaNoWriMo.

Now go write.

July 1, 2021 / 2 Comments

Random Musings

I had a post on dating apps all ready to go but… well, the past two weeks have been especially rough for me. On a bunch of fronts. I’m still here at the desk, though. Scribbling away. Being pretty productive, honestly, even though I’d really rather just be drinking, building toy robots, and listening to Lore again from the beginning.

Which got me thinking. The past few years—2020 especially—has been tough on creative folks. It’s been crisis after crisis, and it’s been exhausting on so many levels. Spiritually. Emotionally. Even physically. I don’t know about you, but I feel seriously beat up after 2020.

And when you’re already that beat up, every new wound hits that much harder. Bad news is the worst news. Any little bit of criticism is a knife in the back. Self-doubt can swell up into this Hulk-like manifestation of your childhood bully to make everything even worse. Or I guess Abomination-like is more trendy right now. You get the point. It’s friggin’ huge.

Not surprising at times like these, we all feel the urge to walk away for a while. To take a mental health day or three. The desire to put this project down and come back to it when we’re feeling a little less beat up and a little more inspired. Maybe to just spend today—and maybe tomorrow—comfortably playing games on the couch and not thinking about anything.

Because holy crap, there’s a ton of stuff it’d be nice not to think about, isn’t there?

All that said, I just want to warn against something that becomes really tempting at times like these. And that’s waiting for something to make me want to write again. Waiting until the muse pushes me, until I feel inspiredagain.

Yeah, okay, we all write for different reasons. It might be more of a hobby. It might be therapeutic. But I’m guessing for most of the folks reading this, the hope is to someday make a steady living at it. Financially speaking.

And if I’m one of these folks, I need to accept that writing is work. Most of the time it’s fantastic and fun and creative, but sometimes I need to do it even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes I need to do it when I don’t want to. I just need to get in there and write another thousand words about this guy going down into a haunted mine. Or that woman trying to find out the secrets her parents hid from her. Or those college students on that boat trip that went… well, less than great.

I’m not saying I need to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Neither do you, if I wasn’t clear. It’s 100% understandable to need a vacation or just a mental health day. Real life is out there with vet appointments and grocery shopping and maybe even another human or two we kinda enjoy spending time with. No job should be my whole existence, no matter what it is. And like I said above, it’s a rough time in a rough world. We all need to take care of ourselves and the people we care about.

But also… we need to be sure we’re not using all that roughness as an excuse.

Y’see Timmy, at the end of the day, I should want to write. I should enjoy it. Yeah, some days are less enjoyable than others, like any job, but it shouldn’t be the thing I put off for the third week in a row because I’m just not feeling it. I can’t put things off waiting for the perfect inspiration or a certain mood or a precise atmosphere. If wanting to write isn’t my default state, if the thought of it makes me miserable…

Maybe that’s my brain telling me something.

Anyway, just some random thoughts. Next time, we’ll talk about getting the most out of those dating apps.

Until then, go write.

No seriously. Go write. Stop making excuses.