July 15th, 2010


[links] Link salad reads and writes

Nalo Hopkinson on why some stories don't work — Good stuff, Maynard.

Solar eclipse on the horizon — Another striking image from APOD to follow on yesterday's.

'Nemesis' and Orbital ChangeCentauri Dreams on the sun's alleged dark companion and Extinction Level Events.

A Scientist Takes On Gravity — Gravity as an emergent property rather than a force? (Via Dilbert.com.)

How Twitter Could Better Predict Disease OutbreaksSocial media is particularly useful for anyone who wants to track the present--or predict the future.

ROW 13: Why some airlines have it and others do not — This is probably unkind of me, but I don't have a lot of patience for superstition. Once you've been trained by your church or your political party to accept blatant counterfactuals in the name of ideological "truth", you begin to lose the ability distinguish reality from idiocy and lies.

We are all post-racial now — This from a group that still sometimes call themselves "tea baggers"? Um, no.

Obama and Illegal ImmigrationWhile the Republicans scream about Obama allegedly wanting amnesty (frankly, I wish he did) and not caring about illegal immigration [...] the New York Times reports that the administration has significantly ramped up inspections and prosecutions of companies that hire illegal immigrants. As Ed Brayton says, "don't let the facts get in the way of a good story." Which is the Republican media strategy in a nutshell. Outrage motivates the base much better than policy, and the allegedly liberal media never gives corrections or retractions a fraction of the coverage of the original headlines.

?otD: What book showed you the way to being a better reader or writer?

Writing time yesterday: 2.25 hours (revision, editing and WRPA)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 7.0 (interrupted)
This morning's weigh-in: 231.0
Yesterday's chemo stress index: 3/10 (fatigue, peripheral neuropathy)
Currently (re)reading: Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert


[cancer] Captain, we've sighted normal on the horizon

Slept ok but not great last night. I have an eye doctor appointment this morning, and the post-chemo CT scan tomorrow. Nothing to worry about!

Really, I continue more energetic. The peripheral neuropathy in my hands continues to deepen. My feet are still troubled, but stable. Everything else is improving. I managed to drive myself to a medical appointment yesterday, and stop at the store on the way home. Been a long time since I could 'shotgun' errands together. Or even drive at all.

So, yeah, still quite a ways from normal, but I think I'm approaching the 80/20 barrier.


[process] Advice for mid-career writers, and the lack thereof

From yesterday's Link Salad:
How to soar when you’re already in flight… — A.M. Dellamonica asks a really interesting question about how writers talk to one another. My facile answer to her is that aspiring writers outnumber established writers by a ratio of thousands:one, so the audience is distinctly different. But that's a lousy answer. I need to think on this.

This one's still on mind. First of all, to address my lousy answer of yesterday, I'm going to throw out a couple of numbers. It's early, and I can't be arsed to do real research right now, so take these with a small grain of salt.

In the field of sf/f publishing, I estimate there are less than 2,000 active, working professionals. (If I'm wrong, it's certainly not an order-of-magnitude error.) The bulk of those are writers — novelists, short fictioneers and us multimodal types — but I also include agents, editors, publishers, critics and whatnot.

Now, consider that the last time I looked, a trade publishing house might get 20,000 novel submissions a year from aspiring or early-career writers. (Again, if I'm wrong, I don't believe it's an order-of-magnitude error.) So figure that not every one of the same trade houses gets all the same novels at the same time, let's say there are in any given time period 50,000 would-be novelists with enough gumption to complete a novel and send it out. Let's take a flyer and say there's another 50,000 would-be short story writers pursuing their craft and submitting to those markets.

So what I said yesterday is wrong. The ratio isn't thousands to one, it's fifty to one. That is, 100,000 aspirants to 2,000 working professionals.

Still, that's a very different audience than mid-career writers. There are probably hundreds of aspiring and early-career writers who read my blog. If more than a few dozen mid-career writers read my blog, I'd be surprised. Just by the numbers, I can reach more people and hopefully do more good offering advice and examples to the larger audience.

All of the above and a $1.25 will buy me a Coke.

More to the point, Alyx observes in her original posting on this topic that people who've arrived at the mid-career point generally have developed enough awareness of their own process and craft to self-direct their developmental issues. With rare exceptions, this is notably not true of new writers, or, frankly, people new at any complex undertaking. That's why we have critique groups and con workshops and (sometimes) editorial feedback. To guide people whose vision of themselves is not yet suited to the task.

There is a complex interchange between ego, motivation and experience, and I've generally found that more established writers are less certain of themselves than people just setting out. That phenomenon is probably a good thing, given the psychotic persistence that it takes to succeed in this field. If you approach writing without a lot of ego strength, or some fungible substitute such as alcohol or money, you are in for a rough ride. Again, there are always exceptions, but they are rare.

For my own part, I find that Alyx is right about developmental issues. I'm painfully aware of certain deficits in my craft, just as I'm aware of my strengths. A few examples of my deficits: I still don't write female characters as convincing as my male characters, I skim over the depth of relationships and emotions that could really make my work pop out, I haven't mastered the subtleties of POV as well as I'd like, I rely on rhetorical tricks and clever language to wallpaper over cracks in my work. A few examples of my strengths: good world-building, clean line-level prose, a strong sense of style, a protean literary voice, decent mastery of the telling detail/crunchy bits.

As Alyx asks, how can someone dispensing generic advice on the Internet address my issues as a mid-career writer? The further along I get in my career and my work, the more idiosyncratic those become. All new writers need to learn about manuscript format, submission processes, what editors really do, storytelling basics and intermediates, the whole process of 'breaking in', and so forth. Mid-career writers are like Dostoevsky's unhappy families; each is developing in their own way.

I'm not sure what I'd say if I were dispensing advice to mid-career writers. I think I'd talk about meta-issues of ontology, self-critique and the learning process of writers. Or cite cases in order to extract principles. It would get pretty airy pretty fast, methinks. Still, I wish I knew the answer.

What do you think? What advice would you offer me or Alyx? As she asks, Is there something about character or plotting that’s general enough to make a good post but so advanced it’ll spark growth in someone really seasoned… a Cory Doctorow, say? A Connie Willis?