Saturday, August 31, 2013

You're Not Going To Do It Tomorrow

Every single time I find myself saying about a project, "I'm too busy/tired/upset/distracted to do this now, so I'll just do it tomorrow", I never get it done tomorrow. 

If I can justify putting it off, why can't I put it off again the next day? So I do. And then days go by and nothing gets done. 

Don't justify laziness. Don't rationalize it. Don't accept it. If you write one sentence on a given night, do it. Add more as you can, but write one sentence, no matter what. Otherwise, it is easy for that to become the beginning of the end. 

Every Step Forward Counts

I moved into a new place about a week ago. I went from living in a furnished place to an unfurnished one, so I had no furniture or appliances or dishes. When you have absolutely nothing but clothes and toiletries (and writing supplies), it is amazing to realize how much is needed to turn something into your home the way you envision it. 

However, every single day that's passed, I have gotten a little closer. I get a new piece of furniture in or I stock my kitchen with cookware and spices and food. I call utility companies and update my accounts with new address. 

Since every day has brought me closer to the end goal, then no day has been lost. 

Just as true within writing, remember that every step forward counts. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Right Thing For The Wrong Reason

If you donate money to an orphanage, that's a good thing because it helps needy children. If you do it to avoid paying taxes, that's a bad thing because you're being greedy. But in the end, you did still help needy children. So is this a good thing or a bad thing?

The ambiguity is difficult. You did the right thing, but you did it for the wrong reason. Would it have been better to do nothing? It's hard to tell. It may change on a case by case basis. 

More often than not, if somebody did the right thing, that matters more than the reason why. What do you think?


Frankenstein was a person. He was a scientist. He created a being made from the dismembered remains of corpses and brought to life by electricity. That being was called a monster, but it was never called Frankenstein. (At least, not in the novel where this all happened.)

I find it amusing when people call the monster Frankenstein just because it's kind of wrong. I also find it frustrating because when the monster and the man are both called Frankenstein, it makes it very difficult to talk about one without going through the trouble of explaining more specifically which one is meant. 

If nothing else, recognize the importance of names and naming. If people don't have something they can latch onto, they will either make up a name on their own, or they will simply not talk about it. 

Frankenstein's Monster

I think that Frankenstein's monster is one of the best analogies we have available to us. This is a being who was stitched together from the remnants of several people, and given life as a new, single being. 

Anything that is brought back to life can have this analogy (like trying to resurrect a fad). Also anything that is made of scraps brought together (dress that is made of material salvaged from several other dresses). 

To call something a Frankenstein's monster is to call it an abomination. That thing should not exist and is grotesque to those that gaze upon it. 

I sometimes feel that way when I read really bad writing. This is mostly in the professional world, where I often see documents hacked together with bits and pieces from several other documents. I can tell it because the voice is inconsistent. Tenses shift, rhythm and patterns shift. Sometimes even focus shifts. What really makes it a monster is when something was so obviously cut and pasted that the font and size are different through a document. 

What have you come across that you could describe with this metaphor?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I find that "gourmet" is an incredibly silly word. First of all, it is properly a noun and not an adjective. As a noun, it means a connoisseur of fine food and drink. In theory, if you use it as an adjective like it commonly is, then it means that the food or drink is of high quality.

Here is where the silliness comes in: what makes something high enough in quality to call it gourmet? There isn't one at all. Therefore, by putting on the product label that it is gourmet, then that makes it gourmet. And how do we know? Because it says right on the label that it's gourmet. 

I find words like these to be amusing. They truly convince people that they're on the up and up, and yet they have no real meaning aside from what we give them. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Find Somebody Better Than You

One of the best pieces of advice, in writing and in life, is to find somebody better than you. Learn everything you can from them. Observe them, ask questions, and seriously think about the answers you get.

When you feel like the best person around, you stop growing. It means you are the best and there is nothing more to do. When you hang out with people better than you, you never have the chance to get so egotistical. No matter how good you are, you are painfully aware that you still have much to learn.

Being a permanent student is a great mindset to have. It's impossible to know everything, so you can never know it all. And if you think you know it all, then move on to a new field. 

Just don't think that because you are a student that you can't also be a teacher. If you do know more than others, then teach them. Be that person for them that the super smart person is for you. 

Laziness Comes From Not Caring

Everybody has an excuse for not doing things. They're too busy, can't afford it, too tired, don't feel inspired. It's all bullshit. The real reason is that they don't care enough. 

People who can barely afford food find a way to buy cigarettes. People who don't have the time to clean their home still find the time to play video games.

If you don't feel like writing, it's because you don't want it bad enough. When you feel inspired, what that means is that you momentarily want to write badly enough to actually pick up a pen and do it.

Laziness comes from not caring. If you want to write, but you aren't writing, then you don't care enough to. And if you don't like hearing it, then change something. Either write more or find what it is that you actually want to do. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Paralysis Of Analysis

Thinking is a good thing. It's why you choose to do smart things and avoid doing stupid things. What makes thinking bad is when it stops you from actually making any actions. 

The easiest pit to fall in is to try to create the final draft of your story before you write down the first word. You think about what you want it to be like and where the plot will go and how everybody acts, but there are so many possibilities and you wonder how you should choose which path to take.

This is the paralysis of analysis. If you spend all your time thinking about things and never actually move forward, then you won't get anywhere. People who never write because they are afraid of doing something wrong are already doing something wrong. They aren't writing. They aren't trying. They aren't learning from their mistakes or how to do things better. 

Don't let yourself be paralyzed. Do. Try. Be fearless and be smart. Always learn and always do better. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Who Watches The Watchmen?

Stories that involve power and corruption usually boil down to a timeless question: Who watches the watchmen? Basically, anybody who has more power than the rest of the people could easily become corrupted and abuse that power. So if somebody has the right and authority to watch over us to make sure we're not being bad, then who makes sure that those watchers aren't being bad?

This is a serious question to ask, but one that is not terribly easy to answer.  The problem is that if you create a second level of watchmen, then who watches them? And if you can't throw more watchmen at a problem to fix it, then what can be done? Is it a fixable situation?

Find your own answers. Explore them in your stories. And if you think you have something that works, figure out how to implement it in the real world.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pristine vs. Broken-In

I have a small notebook that I keep in my pocket whenever I go out so that I can record any thoughts as they come to me. Yesterday, I took out my notebook, opened it up, and heard an audible crack. I examined the notebook and I couldn't find what part of it had made that sound, but I did notice other things.  The hard cover had dents in it. The corners on the spine were frayed. Pages and ink smears. The strip of fabric that's used as a bookmark is flattened in some parts and splayed out in others.

Yesterday was the first day that my notebook was officially broken in. It is an arbitrary decision, of course, but it's still no less important. When something is no longer pristine in my mind, I look at it differently, and I treat it differently. A pristine notebook (or pen or book or anything else) has to be taken care of. It's only new once, so you want it to last as long as you can. Eventually, though, anything that is used regularly will acquire those signs of wear, and when enough of them accumulate, it becomes painfully obvious that it is no longer pristine.

The nice thing about something being broken-in is that I stop worrying about it. It becomes an everyday item. I care more about its functionality than its aesthetic. It stops being a treasure, but starts being a tool.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Experiment With Size

I was a little concerned when I wrote my last post because it was one paragraph. A part of me feels like anything less than 3 doesn't count. And, indeed, part of my mind felt like I ought to elaborate. But ultimately, that one paragraph said what I wanted to say, and I figured that it would be worthwhile to experiment with size.

Ultimately, it was a good experiment. I was happy with the results and I'm glad that I shattered expectations, even if they were mine.

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's Easier To Edit A Draft Than Nothing

Never be afraid to put down words. Once you have them, you can modify them. Editing, I think, is the easier part of the writing process. But if you have nothing to edit, then you have nothing to do. Write that first draft and don't be afraid. There's nothing to fear because, no matter how bad it is, you can make it better with editing.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tearing It Off Like A Band-Aid

One of the most difficult things for people to believe is that an instantaneous pain is preferable to a long, drawn-out pain. The best example of the pain concept is tearing off a band-aid. People are terrified to pull one off because they know it will hurt tremendously.  It is "common sense" that peeling it off slowly should hurt less because it is a less violent motion. And yet, it is far more excruciating to try to peel it off a bit at a time because, even if the pain is duller, it lasts over a much longer period of time, which ultimately creates more pain.

I feel like a great deal of stories out there are about cowards. They are about people who are too afraid to make a decision with any confidence. They worry about what might be, what might happen, and they convince themselves that hesitation is the more prudent option. And invariably, their hesitation becomes their downfall. And, especially in Hollywood movies or children's cartoon shows, it is only by giving up their hesitation and acting impulsively do they right the wrongs they have created.

Explore this concept beyond its surface. Is it a universal law or is it only true some of the time? In either case, how can you stretch the concept? Are there gray areas that make it hard to figure out what's right? Can you find somebody who could argue the opposite of your opinion?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sweat Equity

How do we determine the value of a human being? Is it the money they have? The people they know? Their knowledge? Their skills?

All of these are common ways to judge people. And all of them have an arguable legitimacy (though they have arguable flaws, too). The thing about the ones listed above is that they all revolve around the idea of what a person can do. It doesn't reflect how much a person actually will do. 

This is where the idea of sweat equity comes in. How much work has a person already done? How much value can they add through their effort and hard work?

How valuable a person is often depends on how much value they can add to others. If people don't have a lot of skills, but they put out a lot of effort, then they should still hold a tremendous value. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Like vs. Love

A friend of mine told me his definitions of liking somebody (as a friend), and loving somebody: "If I like you, then I put your needs on the same level as my needs. If I love you, then I put your needs above my own."

As simple as it is, this was a powerful statement. I am always interested in people's definitions of love, and how it compares to other personal feelings. This is an excellent example and I definitely recommend exploring it.

When you analyze a character's relationship or feelings toward another, it's easy to ask that question and to analyze them. With any interpersonal relationship, how much does one person value the needs/wants of others? If somebody does like or love somebody else, how does it affect what they do in your stories?

With all the potential variables in here, this simple thing could end up being expressed in uncountable ways. And yet, it might also show that no matter how complicated things can end up, these simple definitions always hold true.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Envisioning The Future

I find that some authors fall into problems when they start envisioning the future. In theory, it's not a bad thing to do. Having an idea for where you want to be in the future can help you attain it. And with that vision, you can then plan and strive for it. The issues arise when your vision for the future becomes too rigid. 

Just because you want to be a novelist doesn't mean it's in the cards for you. No matter how well you plan for it, there are always circumstances that we can't ever imagine or plan for. Sometimes this makes your vision incredibly difficult or even impossible. This is where we need to have a more pliable future plan. 

We always need to be able to adapt. When we stop adapting, we are on death's door. Just remember that your envisioned future is not the only possible good outcome. Maybe being a novelist isn't for you, but you could be a great essayist. Heck, maybe you're a great editor or end up enjoying being a publicist. 

Though we try to control it, our future is largely beyond our control. Do what you can to steer your life toward happiness, and make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

You See What You Think You Should

Sometimes, when I'm editing somebody else's work, I will come across a sentence that sounds really bad. Something about the word usage and grammar used, even though it's all technically correct, just strikes me in an unpalatable way. And yet, I sometimes catch myself struggling so much to revise the sentence to find a better way to express the idea that I convince myself that the original sentence was fine. 

When I reach the point that a sentence that set off a red flag is suddenly ok, that sets off a completely different red flag. It means that I've convinced myself that the wrong answer is right, just because it was there in front of me. 

This problem can get even worse when the original author is there talking with me. Authors that are either too confident in themselves or too defensive about their work try to convince editors that their writing doesn't need to be edited.

In a certain sense, you see what you think you should. When somebody tells you what an abstract picture looks like, that's what you see it as. When somebody tells you an interpretation of a poem, it tends to make sense that way. The problem is that it tends to poison our minds. We lose our objectivity. That is why I am always appreciative of a fresh pair of eyes. They aren't biased in any way, so they will tell me more than anyone else could. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Did They Check The Time Or Page Number?

In conversation today, somebody mentioned that during movies, she inevitably checks the time. Most movies are so uninteresting to her that she periodically wonders how long it's been.

I can definitely sympathize with that. I am similarly uninterested in so many movies that I find myself wondering how long is left. 

What I realized much later, though, is that I do something similar when I read books. When a story is dull, I check the page number. I see how many pages I've read since starting and how many left until the chapter ends. This is a bad sign when readers do that. It means that they're detached.

When you have somebody so immersed in your story that they can't believe they read that much without realizing it, that's how you know you have a winner on your hands. So seek that out as a data point. Did they check the time or the page number as they read? It's one of the most accurate ways to gauge their interest, since they don't even realize they're doing it. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

20 Seconds Of Anger

In the past, I wrote about the idea of having 20 seconds of courage. In short, people may act entirely unlike themselves for a short period of time, but because of those 20 seconds of courage, their life may change forever.

As I think about it, I realize that this is as true for all human feelings. A person can just as easily lose control of their mind to anger as they could to courage. It can also change one's life forever.

What is interesting is to explore how different emotions affect outcomes. Courage being noble, losing yourself to it tends to have positive outcomes. Anger being an ignoble emotion, it tends to create negative outcomes. 

What kind of outcomes would come from 20 seconds of various emotions?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Practice Makes Permanent

I really don't like the phrase "practice makes perfect", mostly because it's not true. If you do the wrong thing over and over and over again, especially if you don't realize it's the wrong thing, then you're just going to get really good at doing the wrong thing.

I've often heard people modify the phrase to "perfect practice makes perfect", which is a pretty good way to do it. The saying I came up with some years back was, "you do exactly what you train to do." Tonight, a friend of mine said it in a new way that I liked.

Practice makes permanent. This saying works greatly in so many ways. First of all, it doesn't talk about perfection in any way. I like that because it can be a benefit or a hindrance, depending on the quality of practice. More importantly, it doesn't even judge things as good or bad. It explains that what we do repeatedly becomes what we continue to do.

I know I have written about this concept before, but I bring it up tonight because I have a new phrase for it. And sometimes, saying something in a new or different way is what we need for it to reach us and really click in our minds.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Don't Destroy Books For Art

I am always terribly disturbed when I see people making crafts out of old books. For example, I have seen many examples where people will carve a scene into a book itself, like this. This is an absolutely awful thing because it destroys the book. And what makes it the most offensive is that they are always advertised as a gift for people who enjoy books.

If somebody enjoys books, it is because of the words on their pages. Turning a book into a sculpture shows nothing but disdain for books. The only way for it to not be offensive would be if it was made out of an absolutely horrible book. But why would I want a sculpture carved out of Twilight?

Friday, August 9, 2013

On Normalizing, Continued

Following up on my previous post, there is a point that I think really needs to be addressed. When a person grows accustomed to new surroundings, they are not the same person anymore. The only way to adapt is to change, and that change takes place on both sides.

Think about a classic fish out of water story, like where a really eccentric person moves into a town that is very prim and proper. The new person and the existing citizens are both shocked by the ways of each other. Normally, this story follows the eccentric individual, who teaches the town to loosen up and enjoy life, but in reality, that person is also learning to scale back the craziness and to accept that certain parts of "normal" society are perfectly fine.

By the end of the story, everybody has normalized, and everybody has changed. This is a major point to realize when it comes to storytelling: adapting necessarily means changing. If somebody has adapted to a new situation, they are not simply doing what they used to do in a new place. They are changed on a core level. That is the only way to truly adapt and normalize it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Normalizing

One pattern I noticed at a young age was in the classic hero story. The first third (or half) of the story was the introduction of the hero and the set up of some monster. The monster kicks the hero's ass and the hero spends the rest of the time training and preparing and generally getting stronger, faster, and better. Once the hero comes back and beats up that one monster, the last act of the story happens where he or she then has to fight dozens of that monster at a time and does so with ease. 

This story arc so perfectly exemplifies the human ability to adapt and normalize. When we face entirely new challenges (things unlike anything we've done before), even simple tasks can seem like great obstacles. But in very short order, we get accustomed to those challenges. The unfamiliar circumstances become familiar, and we can then grow exponentially in what we can handle. 

Ironically, I love this as a fact if life and humanity, but I find it a terribly tired trope in storytelling. Still, I think there is potential in the ability to tell those stories, just with using that concept in subtler ways. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Look Backward And Forward

Today, I managed to take a step back and realize that my life is pretty damn amazing right now. Like, I had the thought that if I talked to myself from any number of years ago about everything that happened today, I would struggle to believe it was true.

The reason this was such a strong realization for me is that during most of today, I was thinking about how much further I still have to go.  I'm not at the top of the mountain. Some days I feel like I have barely begun to even climb it. But in reality, I've made significant progress. Just because there is a lot left to go does not mean that I haven't already come a long way.

And that really illuminates the life lesson that is often ignored: The journey of one's life is not a short one. We go through so many stages, rise through so many levels. Even after we have grown and developed and may feel like full adults, we will go through so many more changes beyond it.  It is very difficult to comprehend this concept, which is why we need to look backward and forward.

It is easy to lose yourself in how much more you have left to go. Don't let that diminish how far you have already come.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Survival As Victory

In conversation, I had the thought that, "sometimes just surviving is a victory." It was an interesting concept to me. It reminded me of the saying that you have to keep running faster just to stay in place. And yet, it wasn't quite that.

Victory is all about gaining. You have something new that you've acquired through some kind of competition. And yet, sometimes people have to "fight for their lives". In that case, they aren't trying to gain something new; they're trying to prevent a loss.

Sometimes, knowing that you haven't lost is a victory, too. Being able to "fight another day" means that the battle isn't over; it means that we can keep trying. In that sense, as long as you have a chance to win, you can keep doing it until you do grab that victory.

Friend vs. Ally

I find it interesting that the opposite of "enemy" is often given as "friend", but every now and then, it is also said to be "ally".  And yet, nobody ever uses "friend" and "ally" as synonyms.

An ally is one who helps you with a task. Allies have the same goals, and so they choose to work together to accomplish that goal.

Friends are more than that, but also quite different. Friends help us through life. They ease our burden and strengthen our resolve. They may have very different goals in life, but friends stick together and better each other.

I think this curiosity also goes to show that "enemy" is a more peculiar word than we might realize. An enemy could be somebody who is specifically trying to thwart your goals in life, or it could be somebody who simply hates you as a human being.

It is definitely worth exploring the different ways in which a person could be considered an enemy.


The way we talk about crutches is weird. They're usually described as a negative thing. Crutches are something we lean on. They take our burden for us. They ultimately make us weaker because we never need to rise to our potential. 

But if crutches are so bad, then why do people use literal crutches every day? Crutches serve a purpose. They help us when we're weak. They get us through bad times. They aid us as we recover our strength. 

Crutches are not bad; they're simply temporary in need. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

If You're Understood, You're Doing It Right

Continuing from my previous post, I want to say that, regardless of how I might feel about people incorrectly using the word "impacted", it's really not my call to decide if a word is right or wrong. If you say "impacted" and everybody knows that you mean "made an impact", then that is what "impacted" means.

Too many people love to go on tirades about words being used incorrectly. They make essays and articles and books and infographics. But at the end of the day, what makes a word right or wrong? Why do you think your understanding of a word is the only valid one?

Language is an agreed upon construct. If people know what you mean, the you're doing it right. When you are a child and literally don't know language, then you have to be taught. You have to be told what is right and what is wrong. But this is because language already exists beyond you as a child need to know what is already agreed upon.

However, every generation, kids end up making their own language that they speak with one another. It's full of slang and colloquialisms. It is rife with words that do not exist in the dictionary and probably never will. But it doesn't matter because they understand each other. In this case, they understand one another, so their language is fine and effective.

This process is also why language changes every single generation. Don't bemoan or rebuke it. Just enjoy it and go with the flow. Know what people mean and we will do the same for you.

Friday, August 2, 2013


I was asked to write a post on the word "impact", specifically about its use as a verb. So that's what I'm doing tonight. (If you have any special requests, you are always welcome to contact me.)

To begin with, 'impact' is fairly well known as a noun. An impact is basically a collision. When a meteor strikes the earth, it leaves an impact crater; this is literally a crater that was formed at the point (and time) of impact. 

In theory, the verb form of the word seems obvious. If you want to change the world, then you want to impact it, right? Well, sadly it's not right. 

When you use it as a verb, 'impact' basically means 'packed in'. So if you want to impact people, it means you want to cram them into a small area. 

Generally, what people mean is that they want to make an impact on people. 

Whenever people use 'impacted' my first thought is the example where I learned the word: people who are constipated have impacted feces in their intestines. Because of this connection, whenever I hear somebody say they were impacted, my mind says "you're full of shit."

The word most people mean to use is "affect". You affect people, not impact them. As a writer, I do make sure to use the right words in this case, and my knee jerk reaction is skin crawling when I hear it. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Opinions Are Like Assholes

One of my favorite sayings of all time is, "Opinions are like assholes: everybody has one and nobody thinks theirs stinks." It's remarkably true and brilliant in its analogy and wordplay. 

This saying also explains why I place very little value in opinions. They aren't rare and they don't need any experience or research to create. Anybody who tells me that something is true just because it is what they believe has given me zero reason to believe them. 

The thing to remember is that not all opinions are equal. Opinions don't need experience or research, but if you base your opinions on those things, it gives your words far more weight and value. 

For example, of I show you a shape with three sides on it, you could say, "In my opinion, that is a square." You would be completely wrong, but it would still be your opinion. If you were able to provide some sort of evidence for why the shape is a square, then your opinion might be worth more, but as a mere declaration, it holds very little water. 

Be careful when dealing with opinions, and assholes, and assholes with opinions. They all have their problems, and much strife can be avoided by avoiding them.