Recently in Writing Category

Hey guys: Elizabeth Bear here, and I'm stopping by to talk about how even jobs we love can make us sick if we do them for too long without a break and with the wrong kind of rewards systems.

I know, because after fourteen years of working flat-out at my writing career, I'm taking a break. And it's not entirely by choice.

Between life stress and overwork, I hit a wall at the end of last year. I've been struggling with actually accomplishing my job for a while--hating to sit down at the computer, being avoidant, generally feeling not so much blocked as if every word was being taken off my hide with a potato peeler. I started feeling this way back in about 2007, a situation which I think is linked both to a bad reaction to an OTC medication that made me profoundly depressed for about four months, before I figured out what the problem was, and also my internalization of some criticism at a peer workshop I attended. (The workshop was great, and I got a Hugo-winning story and a major uptick in skill out of it. But it also turned me into the proverbial centipede who gets asked how she manages to run, and, well, I started tripping over my own feet left right and center.)

Because I had contracts and writing is how I make my living, I told myself that I had to write anyway, and I did, though I was late on a novel (CHILL, now published in the UK as SANCTION).

Somewhere in the process, though, writing went from being something fun--the job I'd always wanted--to a real misery, a thing I avoided and dreaded. I became hypercritical of my own work, and nothing I did was ever good enough. I'd gotten into the habit, in other words, of kicking myself over basically every element of my work and holding it to impossible standards. I figured if I just kept writing I would get through the stuck, and everything would be fine again.

Nine years later, I realized that Things Were Not Going So Well, and were in fact getting worse. I've been producing good work--my critical record speaks for itself--but I was incapable of identifying it as good work.I was disappointed in all of it, and no matter how hard I worked or how much I produced it never quite felt like enough. I started having clinical anxiety symptoms, and when a bunch of real-life stress including family illnesses showed up, I didn't have the spoons to cope with work and family and various other issues.

Anyway, the good news is, I got help. And I'm taking a year off from my production schedule and rejigging my deadlines into something more manageable. And I'm learning to say no. No, no, no, no.

Which is scary, frankly, because what if I say no and nobody ever asks me again? But honestly, when your reaction to being invited to a project is a spike of panic, that's when you need to back off yourself. Burnout is a real thing, and it's really prevalent in creative professions and ones with intense schedules.

Especially ones with a messed up rewards system, which publishing definitely has: you do a thing, and then there's intermittent reinforcement, which may follow on the actual completion of the thing by more than a year in some cases.


The other thing I'm doing, which I think is probably even more important than a little rest and taking the pressure off, is that I'm rewarding myself for work. This is the thing about mammals, right? If you punish us for a thing, we will avoid doing that thing in the future, and react to being forced to do it with anxiety and distress. But if you reward us for doing it, then we anticipate the opportunity to perform the task and get rewarded.

(If you really want to screw up an animal, sometimes reward it and sometimes punish it for the same behavior. Or keep increasing what it has to do to get a reward. You get real basket cases that way!)

So really, if you want to make yourself like your job, the best way to do it is to take some of the pressure off, and when the work gets done, to give yourself a cookie.

Cookies are really underrated as a means of motivation.

I don't know why it took me so long to figure this out, honestly. But it seems to be working so far!

^^^^Me again. M Harold Page. I do books with swords and tanks in them. And writer memes piss me off.

You know what I mean. Stuff like this that pops up on social media:

If you fall in love with a writer,

They will forget normal things like anniversaries and cooking times

for salmon (which was quite expensive but will turn to sludge, then ash),

But they'll remember the important things,

Like what you wore and how it felt that night

And they'll make you immortal.

Jesus Christ! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

Yes. It's all true! But - and you're already thinking this - not in the fluffy emo-hipster singer-songwriter way as pitched by this meme.

(null)I can't remember a time when, as an adult, I regularly watched TV news. In the days before the internet, there were times when I got and read newspapers: the excellent Edmonton Journal in its heyday, The Globe and Mail, and the Sunday edition of the New York Times. But most of my news, in the nineties, came from CBC Radio One. They do regional, national and international series daily. Their coverage was balanced and interesting, their journalists are brilliant, and the people they got to do interviews had legit expertise in whatever they were being asked about. None of these were gimmes, even then, and it was all nicely curated and informative. It gave me that feeling I used to seek from the news, that of being connected to global goings-on.

All of that changed overnight, pretty much, on September 11, 2001.

^^^Hello. M Harold Page here again! Swordsman. Author. Edinburgh literary type (as long as by literary you mean "pertaining to books in which time travelling communist tanks battle magic-using knights...")

And it's December, so let's assume you've finished your NaNoWriMo novel with the help of that previous post of mine.

Now what are you going to do with it?

Please don't just bin it!

There's a lot of macho advice out there, and you have to write your "gazillion words" of crap and all. And you may feel you've spewed worse than crap onto your word-processor screen. Flaunting your angst may also seem like less hard work than fixing your book.

But, you were buzzed enough about the idea to spend a month on it, so calm down a little and consider doing the following...

image (Picture proves cats like me back).

Something I noticed recently while wearing my (completely invisible but highly attractive) writing teacher chapeau is that the welter of SF subgenres and categories of fiction generally are terra incognita to a fair number of newer writers.

I’m okay with this. We begin as readers and viewers, after all. Many people coming into my UCLA courses are curious about speculative fiction. They aren't necessarily book-collecting, con-going, award-nominating fans. They've watched a fair chunk of genre TV and film offerings; they're up on the MCU, they can tell a spaceship from a unicorn and they even usually know which is the fantasy construct. They might have read a certain amount of fiction within their one or two favorite genres, or at least have read Harry Potter and his ilk to their kids.

A. M. Dellamonica

Hi, everyone! My name is Alyx and I'll be posting the occasional note here over the next few weeks, because Charlie was kind enough to hand me the mic. I thought I'd start with a long, musing whimsical thing about mincing subgenres and the nature of ecofantasy, because my upcoming book A Daughter of No Nation lies within that particular subgenre--when it's not passing for portal fantasy or a pirate story or crime fiction with magic.

Sadly, the opening of that essay is wayyyy too stuffy, at present, and needs to be beaten with a sack of oranges. Don't worry, I'll fix it before you see it. Anyway, I should introduce myself first, right?

So--official details: I'm in Toronto, I have gobs of stories out along with the four ecofantasy novels, the first two of which, Indigo Springs and Blue Magic, are chock fulla magically mutated animals, magical objects and queer folk. Seriously. I mention this last because a) I have the exceptional good fortune to be incredibly gay married to author Kelly Robson; b) my most recent book, Child of a Hidden Sea, was to my utter delight and astonishment nominated for a Lambda Award this year. The above-mentioned A Daughter of No Nation is its sequel. There will be a third; its current title is The Nature of a Pirate.

^^^M Harold Page here! Just to clear up some twitter confusion: I'm the guy currently serialising a Heroic Fantasy versus Steampunk  mashup called Swords Versus Tanks. I'm a bit further down the pecking order than our noble host, but still a professional author with four conventionally published novels and two -- now three -- "indy" ones, plus a book on writing called Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic.

Who's poised to embark on NaNoWriMo? Don't worry, this isn't one of those pep talk blog entries (Oh OK. Go YOU! Rah! You CAN do it! RAH! RAHHH!)

I like the idea of National Novel Writing Month. Companionship and a deadline together will motivate you get your ducks lined up in order to tackle a novel, especially if it's for the first time.

However, I don't think focussing on motivation is useful.There is no equivalent to NaNoWriMo for, say, Halo. Nor do gamers generally post on forums pleading for tips about self-discipline.

Yes, you do need some motivation to get started in the first place, to overcome insecurities and to elbow a place in your life in order to write.

Even so, writing itself is a quietly unheroic activity done - like gaming - in flow, "in the zone", and compatible neither with an agitated state of pumped up self confidence nor with taking it in turns to act as online cheerleader.

Conversely, if you are in the zone, motivation isn't an issue and distraction is unlikely; you're lost in your story, so why would you want to be anywhere else?

It follows that the real battle is not about motivation, but rather about getting in the zone and staying there. That's actually a much easier battle to win since the objective is clear and the opposition less nebulous. 

Here's what works for me: 

Or: Recent and Upcoming Debuts in Fantasy and Science Fiction... that just happen to be written by women.

Charlie invited me to come by and join in the posts helping those who may not already be in the know to find the wealth of writers who also happen to be female that they can't otherwise find when they are writing those excellent "where are all the women writers of fantasy and science fiction" posts.

I began to make a list of 'next-generation writers' who also happen to be women. (Since we don't write with our gender identities or genitalia, I figured it would be fine to not modify the word "writer," but for the search engines, I'll add it at in the end, so you know, they can find us. When they look.)

The problem seemed to be that there were so many of us who were otherwise hard to find! The entire list would crash the Internet out of pure hard-to-findness! And so Charlie set me a boundary, limiting me to 20, leaving off many excellent writers. I've thus kept this list focused on 2014 and 2015 English-language debut books in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and YA SFF. Many of these authors have new books coming out in 2015 and 2016 as well. I'll let the comments about those I've not put on this very short list stand as a reminder to you that we are NOT, in fact, hard to find.

  • Andrea Phillips - Revision (Fireside Fiction 2015) Science fiction
  • Zen Cho - Spirits Abroad (Fixi Novo, 2014) Linked short stories/Fantasy
  • Silvia Moreno Garcia - Signal to Noise (Solaris 2015), Fantasy/Slipstream
  • Ilana C. Myer - Last Song Before Night (Tor, 2015) Fantasy/Epic
  • Stephanie Feldman - Angel of Losses (Ecco, 2014) Historical Fantasy/Slipstream
  • Genevieve Cogman - The Invisible Library (Tor, UK) Fantasy/Alternate Worlds
  • Beth Cato - The Clockwork Dagger (Harper Voyager, 2014) Steampunk
  • Alyc Helms - The Dragon of Heaven (Angry Robot, 2015) Fantasy
  • Karina Sumner-Smith - Radiant (Talos, 2014) Fantasy
  • Stacey Lee - Under a Painted Sky (Putnam, 2015) Alt-Historical Western, fantasy
  • Sabaa Tahir - An Ember in the Ashes (Razorbill, 2015) YA Fantasy
  • Jacey Bedford - Empire of Dust - (Daw 2014) Fantasy
  • Susan Murray - The Waterborne Blade (Angry Robot 2015) Fantasy
  • Carrie Patel - The Buried Life (Angry Robot, 2015) Fantasy
  • Heather Rose Jones - Daughter of Mystery (Bella, 2014) Romance/Historical Fantasy/Queer
  • Nicola Yoon - Everything, Everything (Delacorte, 2015) YA Science Fiction
  • A.C. Wise - The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again (Lethe 2015) Linked short stories/Sci-fi/Queer
  • Monica Byrne - The Girl in the Road (Crown, 2014) Science Fiction
  • Camille Griep - Letters To Zell (47 North, 2015) Fantasy
  • me - Updraft (Tor, 2015) Fantasy

As I stipulated above, this list is defined purely by time, debut-status, and the number 20.

I'd love to add the writers who debuted in the years before us - including but not in any way limited to: N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Marjorie Liu, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Jodi Meadows, Genevieve Valentine, Justina Ireland, Jaime Lee Moyer, Stina Lecht, Jacqueline Koyanagi, V.E. Schwab, Mur Lafferty, Nene Ormes, Sarah McCarry, Leah Bobet, Natania Barron, Aliette de Bodard, Emma Newman, Alyx Dellamonica, Jaye Wells, Emily St. Jon Mandel, Kameron Hurley, Charlie Jane Anders...

AND the writers who came before that, including Nnedi Okorafor, Elizabeth Bear, Nisi Shawl, Kate Elliot, Kandace Jane Dorsey, Jo Walton, Martha Wells, Laura Anne Gilman, Amanda Downum, Gwenda Bond, Suzanne Collins, Nalo Hopkinson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Sarah Monette, Naomi Novik, Caitlín R. Keirnan, Rae Carson, Linda Nagata, Catherynne Valente, Kelly Link, J.K. Rowling,...

And those who came before that: Emma Bull, Judith Tarr, Elizabeth Lynn, Jo Clayton, Robin Hobb, Suzy McKee Charnas, Pamela Dean, Ellen Kushner, Brenda Cooper, Tanya Huff, Janet Morris, Robin McKinley, Michele Sagara, Tricia Sullivan, Delia Sherman, Sherwood Smith, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Karen J. Fowler, Cecelia Holland, Nicola Griffith, CS Friedman ...

And the Grands and Great Grands and so on, like Pat Cadigan, Joan D. Vinge, Margaret Atwood, Kate Willhelm, Jane Yolen, Connie Willis, Andre Norton, Nancy Kress, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Lois McMaster Bujold, Doris Pischeria, C. L. Moore, Carol Emshwiller, Leigh Brackett, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr., Anne McCaffrey, Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken, C. J. Cherryh, Andre Norton ... all the way to Mary Shelley and beyond. AND everyone here:, here:, and here:

AND the coming wave of 2016: here are just a few - Ada Palmer, Laura Elena Donnelly, Mishell Baker, Malka Older... And the editors. And the critics. And the publishers.

And and and... (honestly, I asked five friends to list their favorites and after fifteen minutes had to beg them to stop because my buffers overflowed.)

Oh my goodness, you would think it hard to find women writing fantasy and science fiction given those blog posts and articles.


Filmmaker and comic author Hugh Hancock here again. Charlie's in mid-flight over the Atlantic at present, so I'm here to entertain you in his stead. And I brought statistics.

How many notable feature films can you think of that came out last year? Really good, solid movies?

Take a moment. Count. Maybe make a list.

How about really good TV shows, or computer games? Again, make a quick list.

I'll explain why we're doing all this list-making in a minute.

I've been considering the state of storytelling media in 2015 for a little while now, and one thing keeps cropping up in my personal media consumption: I'm consuming more media that wasn't released in the last year than ever before.

Indeed, my default reaction to something interesting arriving has become "I'll get around to it in a year or so".

So I started digging to find out why.

Filmmaker and comic author Hugh Hancock here again. Charlie's currently locked in his study babbling over blasphemous and forbidden tomes, so whilst we attempt to hack down the door with a fireaxe and get counselling for the guy to whom Charlie explained the hidden meaning of the Nightmare Stacks, I'm here with another blog post.

In the last couple of posts I've made over here (thanks as always to OGH for the invitation), I've been making the point that, both through necessity and lucky happenstance, the themes and subtext of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos are still very workable in today's world. In fact, they've acquired a lot of resonance thanks to advances in technology and society that run parallel to some of their main themes.

But still, the Cthulhu Mythos' core squamous, eldrich concepts were created just under 100 years ago at this point. They reflect the concerns of the time, like the sudden discovery that the universe is mind-blowingly, terrifyingly huge. And they have a few... issues for modern readers, like inbuilt xenophobia.

So what would a Cthulhu Mythos-equivalent for today, expressing the zeitgeist terrors of 2015 society, look like?

Bloody terrifying, that's what.

Because unlike Lovecraft, in 2015 we have plenty of experience with actual gigantic, inhuman entities with agendas entirely orthogonal to the safety and security of the human race.

My Dark Age adventure, Shieldwall: Barbarians! is Young Adult, meaning, in this case, Sharpe or Conan but without the shagging, and with slightly more moral compass - really you can read it as being "in the tradition of" Harold Lamb and the Pulpmeisters of Yore and ignore the YA tag. When I wrote it, I had in my head "Robert E Howard does Rosemary Sutcliff (but not that way (though they would have made a lovely couple))".

It's also an old-school young officer story, albeit with a barbarian prince as the protagonist, and it's set in the Dark Ages during Attila's invasion of Europe. 

All this seemed like a good idea at the time.

So I have been defending Traditional Eurocentric Quasi-Medieval Fantasy (Traditional Fantasy for short), and in the process growing a thicker skin.

We've done "Piss off, I enjoy this stuff" and why I think it needs saying. The latter  part of that - OMG the Bad People are Beating on the Pixy Folk -- was perhaps a little controversial. However, it's not everyday one gets compared not just to the "puppies"* but also to the "gators"**!

*Black Gate Magazine, where I blog, of course turned down a puppy nomination. It shouldn't take much empathy to imagine how that felt, and how easy it would have been for us to collectively shrug and plaster our stuff with "Hugo Nominated" - this isn't just about getting a pretty badge, it's about how our hard-won careers shape out.

** As for the "gators" comparison; I'd put in some time meditating on my male self-entitlement except I'm too busy keeping house for my more dynamic wife, facilitating my daughter's interest in science and astronomy, and bringing up my son to, among other things, treat people as people rather than "other" them because they have a different perspective.

My next post, "The walls are high, but the sandbox is lovely", being more about literature, led to an interesting discussion with some bemoaning of the way that Traditional Fantasy still seems so dominant (is it dominant?)

Elderly Cynic made a very perceptive comment:

Actually, the modern stories are NOT built on European history, so
much as the tradition of romantic fables ('Arthurian'), and that is
very much a Western European phenomenon.

Charlie said I would talk about self publishing. He also mentioned something about "shameless plugging". So, let me also tell you about writing a metric tonne of franchise fiction, my really very rapid writing process, and why I self published my book Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic. I promise it won't be all sales pitch, except for the very last paragraph.

This time last year, I was recovering from having written four short (40K words; about the length of an old 1970s Lin Carter paperback ) franchise tie-in novels at a rate of roughly one every four months. Since each novel had to fit the setting, one of those months went on research.

These days, franchise novels, that is novels "tying in" to an existing story world, typically belonging to a video game, aren't disposable trash (if they ever were).

They're part of both the franchise's brand and that of the author, which is another way of saying that reputations ride on their quality. Not just reputations; nobody sane becomes a writer or an editor unless they like getting books right - there's no point in being (comparatively) skint and if you're not going to have fun!

Many, many, good writers mix franchise with original fiction. Two examples you might have missed are: Paul S Kemp, Star Wars fablemeister who also writes the exquisite Egil & Nix books  (which I will get to in part 3 of my Defence posts); and Howard Andrew Jones who writes Pathfinder adventures, but is responsible for the amazing Desert of Souls, basically Arabian Nights fan fiction and a good example of non-western Fantasy.

There are good reasons for writing for hire.

Over on Black Gate Magazine, I've just reviewed some Osprey "Dark" and "Adventures" books - fictional military history texts from a publisher that usually deals in facts. Two are squarely Traditional Fantasy; one about the mythical wars of Atlantis, the other about Orc warfare , complete with all the tropes: goblins, dwarves, trolls, dark lords and minions.... it could almost be a guide to one aspect of the Oglaf mileu...

And did I mention Oglaf (really very NSFW)? That um... raunchy... webcomic is a romp through a Dungeons and Dragons-esqu world, and derives its humour not from sending up the genre, but from the situations it creates.

Then there's Dungeons and Dragons itself, and a zillion tabletop and screen games that scratch the same itch. Nobody goes, "OMG. 'Mage' Knight. How clichéd!" They're too busy playing. Nor, for that matter, did anybody stop to complain when Terry Pratchett pretty much segued from taking the piss out of what I've been calling Traditional Fantasy, to using it as his sandbox.

Because Traditional Eurocentric Quasi-Medieval Fantasy is a great sandbox. Let me put on my (very minor compared to our godlike host) writer hat... (Clunk! Yes, it is a helmet)... there. OK, here's how I see it...

Charlie blindsided me by promising I'd talk about German Longsword. That's like saying, "He'll talk about his Blues band." 

It's just too big a topic!

So let me turn the tables and tell you about how swords led to me meeting Charlie, and how both Charlie and swords led to me becoming a professional author. The story is not what you'd think.

Back when the world was young, a large Goth (long hair and black clothes, rather than long hair, pointy helmet and lamellar as per Shieldwall: Barbarians!) threw me through a pile of chairs.

As he helped me up, I realised he'd cured the nagging shoulder pain I'd been suffering.

That miracle cure was the least of the many good things that stemmed from that moment. (Though if we'd turned it into an alternative therapy, perhaps we'd both be rich! Stand here madam. Try to relax while Igor lovingly hurls you through our stack of handcrafted homeopathic crystal chairs arranged on a bed of natural herbs according to a traditional feng shui pattern...)



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