Word Log – 1st January 2014

This is an informal version of the detailed spreadsheet I keep on my desktop, but summarizes where I’m at with different stories. Jo Walton, Jamie Rubin, and recently Tobias Buckell, have posted similar logs on their blogs. I’m curious to see if this positively reinforces/impacts being able to write every day without breaking the cycle, so I’ll try and post a log every day this year. Even for the days I don’t get any writing done:

The House of Stories (Novel):

Total Wordcount: 30,019

Today’s Wordcount: 290

Estimated Words till Total: 23,000

The Afterlife of Objects (Short Story):

Total Wordcount: 250

Today’s Wordcount: 0

To Neverland (Short Story):

Total Wordcount: 1352

Today’s Wordcount: 0

Other Stats:

Rejections: 1

Stories on Submission: 2


2013 – Year in Summary…And A Look Forward to 2014

I haven’t been regular with updating the blog this year, but a lot happened. What can I say? Where to start? I’m not normally candid on the internet with what’s going on in my life but I’ll summarize the major highlights of 2013 for posterity.


Following Viable Paradise in 2012, I began to take writing more seriously. I made plans to finish stories, an send them out regularly for publication. Not rocket science, I know, but several factors made this goal difficult to sustain throughout 2013. The main factor was finishing off all of my professional exams in 2013, which I’m glad I did. Being on the other side of those exams means that I no longer have to worry about making a significant time commitment to school ever again.

In the three months since finishing those exams, however, I was able to make up for lost time in a good way. From the latter half of September 2013 till now, I accomplished the following:

Stories Written:

1. Of The Dying Light (out on submission)

2. Miles to Go Before I Sleep (out on submission)

3. The Bookseller (editing, before sending back on submission)


2 rejections in the past three months, which means I can be doing better in sending more stories out on rounds. Currently, I’m aiming to send out at least one story per month, so in 2014 this number should go up significantly.

Words Written:

I’ve got a spreadsheet that tracks my word-count on a daily basis. I’ve been running this iteration since mid September 2013, with the following summary statistics:

# of Days Since I Started Tracking: 102

# of Days Written: 64

% of Days Written: 63%

Max. Words in A Single Day: 3,462 (9th November aka. The Magic Moment of NanoWriMo)

Total Words Written: 42,695

Novel Wordcount: 28,910

Short Stories Wordcount: 13,785

Average per Day Wordcount: 412

Based on the above, I will make the following refinements for 2014:

– Bring up the % of Days Written wordcount to between 80-90%. This is doable, based on the time freed up from finishing school.

– Consistently keep working on two projects at the same time. What I found this year was that my average wordcount was higher when I worked on a short story project and the novel project simultaneously. Novel writing takes a longer time because there is no set deadline, whereas for short stories I have a deadline in mind (anthologies, contests, etc.).

I  participated in NanoWriMo for the first time, coming out with 25,000 words on my novel by the end of November. The novel isn’t complete but I’ve been regularly making progress, and hope to be done by January or mid-February. As this is my first novel, I just want to get to the end and worry about the revision process later. The novel is for middle grade readers, and is based on an idea that has been developing for quite some time. Look forward to more news about that as I get closer to completing it.


-Ideally I’d like to focus on short stories in 2014, and increase my output significantly. This should be doable now since I don’t have any more exams to look forward to.

– I’d also like to put a bow on the first draft of the novel , and complete a second draft once I know what needs to be fixed.

Books Read:

According to my reading log spreadsheet, I read 40-some books in 2013. I promised myself post Viable  Paradise that I would try to read outside of my comfort zone. I wasn’t particularly successful at it this year, but still ending up with some great reading. Here are some of the highlights:

Short Story Collections:

Shoggoths in Bloom by: Elizabeth Bear. This collection has quite few exceptional short stories. I recommend them to you for their beauty of language, scope of ideas, and unique characters. My favourites included: Tideline, Orm the Beautiful, The Inevitable Heat  Death of the Universe, and The Death of Terrestrial Radio

The Woman Who Married a Cloud and Other Stories by: Jonathan Carroll

The experience of reading Jonathan Carroll cannot be adequately described. You never know what is possible in a Jonathan Carroll story, what the rules are, where you will end up. This may sound like a cop-out, but Carroll is the type of writer who breaks down genre boundaries of all sorts and writes in one all his own. He’s been called a magic realist and a fantasy writer, but the final determination is inconclusive, and you end up just calling them Jonathan Carroll stories. There is beauty and truth in a few of these stories, and I recommend them to you if you like the stories of Neil Gaiman or Jeffrey Ford. My favourites from the collection included: The Fall Collection, Friend’s Best Man, Florian, and The Sadness of Detail.

Graphic Novels:

I only read Joe Hill’s astounding Locke and Key series this year, and I highly highly recommend it to you all. I started the year off reading Hill’s acclaimed collection 20th Century Ghosts, and then his novel NOS4A2. Locke and Key magnifies and echoes a lot of the horror themes in his other works. At its heart though its basically the story of the Locke family who move to Lovecraft, Massachusetts and Keyhouse mansion, the family’s ancestral home. Once they get there though they begin to uncover the secrets and horrors that the Locke family patriarch set in motion many years ago. It’s epic in scope and personal in its intimate focus on the main characters. Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is a joy to behold, and there were a few moments where I couldn’t help but smile at the beautiful reveals.

Habits and Failures (Non-Fiction):

So, I read two books that changed the way I think about forming habits and approaching failures. The first book was The Power of Habit by: Charles Duhigg and the second one was How to Fail at Everything by: Scott Adams. Duhigg’s book breaks down how habits are formed, including how bad habits can be broken and new habits can be formed.

The biggest take-away from this book was that willpower is a limited resource, and the more we rely on willpower to enforce or form new habits, the more likely we are to fail. This has rewired my approach to forming new habits, in the sense that I’m willing to accept that forming a new habit does not happen overnight, and that I’m more likely to have success at changing one habit at a time rather than trying to attack two or three habits at a time.

Secondly, Duhigg also talks about keystone habits, which are overarching habits that make it easier to form other habits. These can be things like exercise, good diet habits, and sleeping well.

I know anecdotal evidence is not proof of scientific validity, but I’ve been successfully maintaining a regular writing routine based on the changes I’ve made since reading this book. For example, I try to aim for a low threshold of 250 words a day, which I can hit without too much effort and without exerting too much willpower. Upon reflection, it feels like Duhigg’s arguments are ideas that I’ve inherently known or felt to some extent but having them explicitly stated and broken into parse-able bits has helped solidify my understanding.

How to Fail at Everything is a short book by the creator of Dilbert. I picked it up after reading an essay on Boing Boing, and I was curious to read about Adams’ take on failures. The book is a good blend of Adams’ reflection on personal failures and ideas that did not have Dilbert’s exponential success. Did you know that he made and marketed the Dilberito: a lunch burrito with vitamin supplements? Or that he managed two restaurants, both of which failed? Reading about Adams candidly discussing very big failures resonated with me as a writer/creative type who faces a high rate of failure. But even more than that, Adams’ optimism and curiosity to forge ahead, even after failure is reaffirming, and a good reminder that success could be the very next thing you will work on. In addition to approaching failures, Adams discusses systems approach vs. goals approach and their resultant impact on success.

According to him, “systems are for winners and goals are for losers.” As with any broadly applicable aphorism, it should be taken with a grain of salt, but the principle is that systems will move you from a place of low odds to a place of high odds where success is probable. Goals, on the other hand, make you feel terrible when you don’t meet them. The main example he offers is dieting. A goal for dieting would involve losing 10 pounds, whereas a system would involve educating yourself on factors such as the relative glycemic index of different foods and using that knowledge rather than willpower to develop a system for healthy eating. I think in most cases, a systems and goals based approach is needed. Goals are helpful for short term targets and systems are helpful for long term targets, especially for ventures like writing. In summary, it’s an interesting little book filled with many interesting thought experiments like those above.


I read 17 novels this year, mostly still in SF and fantasy. Here are a few highlights:

Childhood and Art:

I read three novels separately over the course of the year that all deal with the themes of childhood and art in their own way. All of them were true in their own ways to the subject matter:

The Ocean At the End of the Lane by: Neil Gaiman

Gaiman has said that this was a very intimate novel for him, and my first reading I could feel that he’s mined parts of his childhood to build the melancholy and nostalgia of a time that none of us can ever truly return to. It’s a deceptively small book, but it contains multitudes. I’ve marked some of the passages in this book, and I still find myself thinking about them now, months after I finished. Gaiman has buried insights about story and art in what feels like a straightforward surface/frame tale that the nameless narrator relates to the reader. This is on my re-read list for 2014.

Bushman Lives by: Daniel Pinkwater

I loved Bushman Lives for two different reasons. First, because it is a Daniel Pinkwater book, it earns its own brand of respect and admiration. Pinkwater was one of the formative authors of my childhood reading and that he has continued to write such unique and well realized books is one of the best parts of my reading life.

Bushman Lives is one of my recent Pinkwater favorites, it is loosely linked to the trilogy comprised of The Neddiad/The Ygyssey/Adventures of A Cat Whiskered Girl as well as Pinkwater’s second novel Lizard Music.

Here again, we read about 1950’s Chicago, a period from the author’s childhood, and about Harold Knishke and Geets Hildebrand, the novel’s two protagonists growing up at this time. Woven through the novel is the story of Bushman, the gorilla at Chicago Zoo, the story of Harold’s artistic awakening and his meditations on the meaning of art.

The second reason I love this book is that only Pinkwater could have written this. To weave together so many disparate threads, another author could have written a trilogy or a novel twice as long or a memoir or an essay. The novel is nimble enough to balance all of these threads within the length of a standard YA novel. Cory Doctorow writes a warm appreciation of the book on Boing Boing that summarizes it better than I can.

Among Others by: Jo Walton

“If you love books enough, books will love you back.”

This book won the 2012 Hugo award for Novel, but I picked it up based on the strong recommendations of friends. Among Others uses the epistolary format to get us into the head of the novel’s teenage protagonist and unlike the other two books mentioned above, this format brings the reader very intimately to Mori’s point of view. I could identify with Mori’s love of reading and finding your community because I was that person at one point. I still am that person. I came over from India at a very young age, and my point of identification from that age has always been books. Without stories to learn from and to guide me, and without a like minded group of friends I would be a very different person today. There were a few passages in this book that read very true to me, in that way when the author and the reader have met and understood each other on a common ground. To any reader of who found their tribe in SF and fantasy, I highly recommend this book to you.

A Look into the Past:

I read two books that looked at the past in different ways:

The Hare With Amber Eyes by: Edmund de Waal

This book was a non-fiction memoir but it speaks about the past and brings it to life in the ways fiction is able to do. The author inherits a collection of netsuke from his uncle in Japan, and he uses these objects as a starting point to delve into his family’s history. What’s unique about his approach to the history of this time is that he frames the telling of the family story around the history of the netsuke themselves and I was completely immersed in the lives of these objects and the fraught history of the family that owned them from Russia and Austria to Japan and England.

The Shadow of the Wind by: Carlos Ruiz Zafon Trans. by: Lucia Graves

This was by far the most gorgeous novel I read in 2013. Lucia Graves translated the novel from Zafon’s Spanish version, and retained a poetic tone that evoked the gloomy and otherwordly feel of Barcelona in the 40’s and 50’s. This is not a fantasy, but there is magic in this story. The magic of the past, how the past changes and distorts memories, and the magic of books and their ability to forever change the reader. And the structure of the story itself deserves praise. It reads like a story in the tradition of nested stories like the Arabian Nights. The story is labyrinthine and doubles back on itself more than once, but I was utterly hooked on the central mystery of the story from the start.

Young Adult Novels:

I dipped my feet into the YA genre this year with Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Honestly, the hype surrounding these books and with the movie was all lost on me. I did enjoy the books though, which were well written, paced like thrillers, and featured compelling protagonists. I don’t know why I haven’t read so much YA in the past, but I do want to expand my reading in this genre. Recommendations are welcome!

Unexpected Detours:

Like I said, I was trying to read outside of my comfort zone this year. Broadly speaking, this included reading anything not overtly SF or fantasy. The couple of detours that I took this year included Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds: a multi-generational family story set in Australia. It has an epic feel to it and McCullough’s world building is what made the period come to life.

I also read Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. Flynn’s later novel Gone Girl was well received in the news, but Sharp Objects was her first novel. We follow a crime reporter back to her hometown in Missouri as she covers a set of murders. The language is sparse and Chandler-esque and the protagonist is a classic unreliable narrator. I thought the story and characters were okay, but the masterful plotting and tight writing definitely means I’ll be returning to this genre in the future.

Goals for 2014:

–        I designed a reading plan for 2014, which should get me to read outside of my comfort zone, while keeping current with new authors/books being published in this year. To give you an idea of what this looks like, I’ll basically be reading three books at the same time: one current novel/short story collection, one classic novel (from the whole western canon/SF canon), and one non-fiction book.

–        Writing wise I want to meet at least 100,000 words in 2014, and finish at least one short story a month. This works out to an average of 300 words or so every day, which I’m confident to meet.

–        I’m going to keep more current with blogging now that I have a bit more free time, and aim for a post a week, which should be manageable.

Giving Thanks

It’s been a tumultuous year with its share of dark days and successes. I wanted to give thanks in public to a few groups of family and friends who made this year truly wonderful.

I want to say thanks to my family. Without their support, I couldn’t have accomplished any of my professional or personal successes this year.

I want to say thanks to my friends, who have been generous with their time and support; friends from school, from VP, from work, from everywhere. I love that the internet has made it easy for all of us to stay in touch, to find each other. Thank you.


Well, that got rather longer than I was expecting, but it sums up just about everything I wanted to blog about here. I look forward to everything that 2014 will bring, and I wish you all peace and love. See you in the new year!

-Arun 26th December 2013


Notes from NanoWrimo

Doing my first Nanowrimo session this year, and wanted to share a passing thought from Facebook, as I plod through the word count:

If I could distill everything I understand about writing (admittedly very little) into a single thought it would be this: We all have entire worlds within us, built up from the sum of our fictional experiences, more real than the dull, normal worlds we encounter in the everyday. And what I do when I write is to give everyone else a map to that place. If the map is at all successful, you’ll find your way there, past all the detours and side roads and unexpected encounters. It’s a map that changes every day, and so I redraw it with every new story, every new style of narrative, every trick and technique I’ve learned and added to my kit. But that inner world will always be there, waiting. With Nano underway, this is the one thing that matters. Trust the story, trust the map to get me to the destination. And when I do get there, send back directions, so everyone else can find it too.

Wish everyone doing NanoWrimo happy writing!

What I’m Reading: October Edition

The multiplying villainies of work, life, and school do swarm upon me, leaving me with essentially zero time to earnestly pursue creative endeavours for the next two months, but I’ve been reading some cool stuff, and  I thought I’d share with you all:

The Woman Who Married a Cloud: The Collected Short Stories of Jonathan Carroll

This is a gorgeous omnibus edition published by the inimitable Subterranean Press, and contains the majority of Carroll’s short fiction output over the span of his career. I expect to do a more thorough review of the book in its entirety, perhaps by December when I get through all of the stories, but I can wholeheartedly recommend this to any Jonathan Carroll fan as well as readers who love the short story form. In particular, read “Friend’s Best Man” which has been the standout story of the collection so far.

The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, and Other Stories by: Roger Zelazny

Also a short story collection. At Viable Paradise, Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber repeatedly popped up as a must-read work for how well it accomplishes sevaral techniques of craft. Zelazny’s short stories are no different, in how they combine beautiful language, narrative intensity of the short story form, and originality in execution. I will also try to review this one when I finish the entire collection.

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories by: Gene Wolfe

I’m sensing a pattern here. I’ve been familiar with Wolfe for five or six years now. I read a couple of novels of his in high school and also his short stories in anthologies and magazines.  I missed a lot of subtleties in his work when I first read him, and so I’m reading (in some cases re-reading) his short stories as a more discerning reader. It would be, I think, as Wolfe intended:

“My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.”

– Gene Wolfe

I’ve also been reading poems on a daily basis. One of the side effects of VP is that I’ve become more appreciative of the beauty of language. I know I enjoyed poetry before, but now I can identify the specific verse in a poem which moves me. I recommended a few of my favourite poems recently, and I’ll echo them here:

1. Tonight, I can Write By: Pablo Neruda

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.”

2. Daffodils by: William Wordsworth

“I wandered lonely as a cloud…”

3. The Stolen Child By: W.B. Yeats

“For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

I think I’ll be mostly reading short stories for the time being, but I welcome recommendations in any form. What have you been reading lately?

My Viable Paradise Experience – Or How Plot Tomatoes Improved my Writing

“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.”

– Rumi

I experienced the last week from Martha’s Vineyard, where I attended the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop.  VP was everything I thought it would be: intense, educational, life-changing, and of course sleep-deprived.

A lot of information is compressed into the six days of the workshop, and I know that a lot of the deeper writing knowledge, plot tomatoes for example, will take months or even years to fully manifest in my writing.  The seeds, as they say, have already been planted.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the excellent teachers who taught us over the workshop: Jim McDonald, Debra Doyle, Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Elizabeth Bear, Sherwood Smith, Steven Gould, and Steven Brust. Scott Lynch, he of Locke Lamora fame, was also in attendance with Bear, but not considered an official instructor.  All of the instructors were gracious with their time in helping us young writers figure out the answers to our writing questions. I cannot speak for the writing lessons learned by my other classmates, but here are some of the things that I learned:

– Reading in other genres. From conversations with Sherwood Smith, Bear, Scott Lynch, and staff member Chris M., I understood that there is a whole literary landscape outside of science fiction and fantasy that can inform the stories I write in this genre.  Also, there are a lot of tricks (exposition for example) employed by historical fiction that science fiction writers can use for their stories. I now have a list of recommendations for reading. Expect to see them on the site in the near to not-so-near future.

– I learned that I should trust myself as a writer. During my group critique, Bear pointed out that I have a tendency to show something really cool but then devote lengthy explanations to explain the cool idea.  This is not always necessary, and sometimes a single sentence is enough to help the reader understand what’s going on in the story.

– Exposition. World-building. Sentences. Before attending VP, I never realized how important these three concepts are to supporting a story. Now I know, and am painfully aware of how I misused them in the past.

– The fantasy story that I submitted to the workshop for critique could be rewritten as a hard science fiction story if I retained the metaphors presented in the original story. This was the most surprising insight I gained from the workshop, simply because I wasn’t expecting it, but now it makes sense. It has also given me the confidence to try writing a story in a new sub-genre if I so choose.

I include my own insights here to help students decide whether this workshop is for them. Be ready to find similar insights into your own work, should you choose to attend.  For students thinking about applying what can I say? This is, quite possibly, the best decision you will make for your writing career. Other workshops, such as Clarion and Odyssey may achieve a similar effect, but for those of us who cannot make the six week commitment, Viable Paradise is a suitable alternative.

If I were to use a metaphor to sum up the VP experience, it would be something like this: At the beginning of the workshop, we played a game called Thing. Based on the movie of the same name, we played scientists trapped at an Antarctic research station with the eponymous monster. Over the course of the game, non-Things would be converted to Things till scientists found and destroyed all the Things or the Things conquered the research station. A better explanation can be found here.  Ostensibly, playing this game would introduce us to our workshop-mates while teaching us about misdirection and other fun writing tricks.

At the end of it all though, I can’t help but feel that the instructors have turned us all into Things with our new and secret knowledge of the writing process. And now we crawl back into the mundane routine of our daily lives, for all intents and purposes the same people as we were before we came to the island. Except now there are more of us. Subtly different, primarily under the surface, where the full extent of our Thing-ness will manifest itself.  For the first time in my life, I have felt that I finally found my tribe.

Thanks to everyone: the staff, the workshoppers, and the instructors who made VP an amazing experience.  I look forward to the coming months and years as the talented writers I attended with start publishing. I can’t wait for you, the world, to read them.

The Problem of Originality

I was poking around the site of novelist Jonathan Carroll, and discovered the following enlightening passage from a commencement speech given to the 2012 AIS graduating class of Vienna:

I’ll tell you one other thing I have learned over the years: No matter what your interests are, find your heroes. Learn from them, then take everything you need from them and move on. Soon it will be your turn—with what you’ve gathered and learned try to make something entirely new; something so different and great that it could only have come from you and your vision. Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen. In the end, try to become the kind of hero you were once looking for.

– Jonathan Carroll, AIS Commencement Address 2012

A little while later, on an unrelated note, I was googling some of the writer Kelly Link’s short stories, and read the following essay, posted to Charlie Finlay’s LJ from Link’s essay on the OWW site. Have a read:


In the past few months, it seems to me that there is a great deal of competent work being posted to the Online Writing Workshop. This month there was a handful of stories that could have been Editor’s Choices, and all of them are probably good enough, with minor revisions, to sell to some of the second- or third-tier markets. Some of you will sell – or already have sold – your work to _Asimov’s_ or _F&SF_. This is one of the largest workshops that I’ve ever been a part of, and it works. I read the comments on stories, and, like any workshop, there is good advice and bad advice and just plain weird advice being given. Part of becoming a better writer is not only learning what to take away from good advice, but what to take away (or figure out) about bad advice or off-the-wall advice. The only kind of critique that I worry about, in the long run, is the tendency of a workshop to sand off all the interesting edges from a writer. Workshops frequently reward writers of competent prose who can tell stories that are smaller in scope and easy to understand. A group of writers will find it easier to agree about certain kinds of stories – the kind that ought to sell to magazines, because we’ve all read exactly that kind of story in magazines – than about more ambitious stories. The more ambitious or individual a story is, the argument goes, the fewer readers that story will find. So play it safe: tone down the interesting stuff.

The problem with this kind of advice is that there are a lot of writers out there who can pull off an accomplished and enjoyable story. (Like I said, I could have selected a whole handful of pretty good stories this month.) So even though some of you are writing stories that are good enough to be published, you’re competing for magazine space with writers who already have readers, and relationships with editors. Your competent stories may not actually be good enough to sell to the magazines that you would most like to be in. So what do you do? You can make a career (and a name for yourself) out of selling work to second- and third-tier magazines. But again, there are a lot of pretty good writers out there. Even at a zine like _Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, we have a backlog of two issues’ worth of short stories. We have more good work than we can publish. So what can you do?

What I would like to see workshop members doing, now, is beginning to submit more ambitious work. The only thing you have to offer an editor, and readers, is you. Your voice. Stories and characters and narrative twists that only you are strange enough to want to write. Take risks. Some of you are in critique circles that have been going for quite some time. You know each other well enough to have built trust. And it takes trust to show a workshop the kind of ambitious work I’d like to see. Take chances. Write stories whose characters and the endings surprise even you. After you’ve written them, go back over them and make them even more surprising. And don’t think by “ambitious” I mean that the prose style has to be eccentric(although it certainly can be). And read widely – not just the new stuff, and each other’s work, but older work, too. I’ve been reading through the collection PLATINUM POHL, and there are fantastic and alarming and wonderful short stories in there. Are there some inside you?

–Kelly Link

I opened this blog post with those two passages, because they highlight the problem a lot of aspiring writers (including me) face in originality.

I’d argue that the skill required in writing original stories is more than the sum of its parts.

What I mean to say is that one cannot expect to combine beautifully speculative ideas with well developed characterization and poetic sentences to create an original story. These are necessary ingredients for any good story, and as Kelly points out in the essay, can result in technically competent stories.  But, what is the difference between a technically competent story and a story that shimmers among the cobwebs of your memory? The story that you read and reread a week or ten years later when you are seeking inspiration? The stories that you unconsciously mimic when developing your own voice?

For me, these are the stories that illuminate the world in a way that I’m not expected to seeing it, that surprise me at the different meanings revealed in each subsequent rereading, and who I can’t help but mimic in my own writing.

Reading the above two essays at this time have been particularly pertinent because I’m constantly trying to break out of this unconscious and repetitive mimicry of ideas that I’ve read in the fiction of my influences.  Occasionally, I can point to a short story or novel passage and say: that is definitely my voice. Despite this, I’ve come up against a wall because I feel that my ideas are original, but at times too literal.

The best stories, the rereadable ones, have many layers, and the full impact of the story isn’t realized in the first reading. I realize that may be a poor analogy, and too abstract perhaps for what is better termed as a “sense-of-wonder” imparted from  superlative storytelling. Some examples of the stories about which I’ve felt this way:

Scout’s Honour By: Terry Bisson

The House Beyond Your Sky By: Benjamin Rosenbaum

The Cartographer Wasps and The Anarchist Bees By: E. Lily Yu

There are cool ideas at the centre of these stories, and they are peopled by well rounded characters, but that is not all. There’s an indefinable spark surrounding the whole story that brings me back to reading these over the years. And that spark is what I believe is needed for writing truly original fiction. How one develops this spark is entirely another matter. There is no formula for imbuing fiction with this element of otherworldliness. If there is, I would say the majority of it would come from practising the craft on a regular basis, learning from your mistakes, and not being afraid to write something original.

(As a side note, for a very insightful look at how to learn from practising your craft, I highly recommend Theodora Goss’ blog post on Deliberate Practice.)

Let’s be clear: I am not devaluing or promoting anyone’s work based on the metric of originality. I’d guess that most of us come into our preferred genre of by the established authors of the field: whether they be Tolkien, Jordan, Eddings, Gaiman, Bujold or Rowling. In time, we may outgrow these influences and start to tell our own stories.  But more often than not, the new storytellers bring forward a large part of their influences in their own stories. To requote Jonathan Caroll from above:

Learn from them, then take everything you need from them and move on. Soon it will be your turn—with what you’ve gathered and learned try to make something entirely new; something so different and great that it could only have come from you and your vision.

I feel that we ought to take more chances and be less afraid to tell our stories. The beauty of the world of literature lies in the diversity of viewpoints that exist today, not in the innumerable variations of stale themes.  Themes that were once fresh in the storyteller whose hands brought the shadows on the wall to life.

At this level of the writing process, commercial saleability or marketability shouldn’t enter into the equation. As authors all we can control is the quality of our work, pretty much everything else is out of our control. Readers may respond with a strong  like or dislike of the work and there are too many factors at play to ensure the commercial success of a story before it is released into the world. Writer Kameron Hurley wrote a response to Kelly’s original essay, and I will repost a part of it here:

The one thing you’ve got on everybody else in the writing world isn’t talent, and likely isn’t persistence, either. There’s always somebody more talented and more persistent than you.

What you’ve got is you. Nobody else has that.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kameron’s statement.  Most importantly, originality should never be forced–a tradition of literary one-upmanship will never produce good literature.  It may be a case I will have to write a hundred stories before I write something truly original, and that’s a chance I’m willing to take. In the long run, it’ll be worth the effort.

A Review of Scrivener

I wrote the following review for a local writer’s group, but I will share the recommendation with the web at large, because I know quite a few writers of my acquaintance who would love to use Scrivener.

Scrivener is the best writing program I have used, bar none. It’s a practical all-in-one drafting program that alternately allows you to either use just the word processing functions or go so far as to organize your entire novel (including research notes/pictures/videos) in one place, print your entire novel manuscript in standard format (that’s .RTF or .DOC if you prefer), automatically backup your novel at scheduled intervals to either a local folder or network drive, and take snapshots so you can edit without committing changes to the manuscript until you are comfortable that its fully right.

Those are the main features, but there are some additional bells and whistles that come with the software. For example, for those who struggle to come up with names for your characters, Scrivener has a name generator that can generate names from various ethnicities and nationalities. It also has a neat word count that will let you track word counts and set goals by scene and also set a word count for the overall manuscript so you can visually track how far you have to complete the novel.

Scrivener also has a really generous household license, which will allow you to install it on multiple computers (for all your family members) and it can also be installed on a USB stick so you can use it on the go.

Also, if you are scared off by the many features offered by Scrivener, I should note that all of these features are in the background and come up to be used only when you need them. You can use Scrivener without ever taking a look outside of the word processor/organization functions (but I suspect most people will eventually use those other features as well.)

If you are unsure about buying Scrivener ($45 for Mac and $40 for Windows versions) they have a demo version free for download at their site. The demo expires after 30 uses (that’s right uses not days) so you can take as long as you would like to test it out before purchasing it.

There are a few great demo videos on the Scrivener site that will show you how Scrivener works. Since the Mac version has been around for a few more years, there are some additional features in the Mac version that don’t appear in the Windows version.

For the Linux users (Ubuntu/Debian/Fedora/et al.) there is a free version of Scrivener available for download. I use the Linux version half the time while linked to a Dropbox account, and I can say that it hasn’t crashed on me yet. I’ve opened the Scrivener file in my Windows O/S after working on it in Ubuntu and everything just works. I should caution you that the Linux build is not supported by the Scrivener folks and should be used at your own discretion.

I hope you will give it a try–I know that because of Scrivener, I’ve had a much easier time writing my first novel. I hope you’ll have a similar success too. Happy writing.

Full Disclosure: I use Scrivener, but I’m posting this testimonial based on my own use. I’m not affiliated with Literature and Latte (the company that makes this product) in any way.

Viable Paradise 16

I mentioned in my last post that I had applied to Viable Paradise, the week long workshop held in October at Martha’s Vineyard. Well, after a long wait (I applied back in March), I have indeed been accepted to this year’s class!

I’ve hardly been able to contain my excitement over the past couple of days–I was definitely not expecting to be accepted this year. I’m thankful that the instructors have given me a chance to hone my existing writing skills and add new tools to my toolbox.

I look forward to meeting and learning from a great group of writers, editors, and workshoppers. October can’t come soon enough!

250 Words & A Brief Update

It’s ironic that I’m posting about writing routines after neglecting this blog for sometime now, but its a very topical subject at the moment. Let me tell you why–for the last six months I have been infrequently working on my first novel.

Remember the project that I spoke of back in the day? Sorry to say, but that project never got off the ground, mostly owing to my hectic work schedule and inability to get my time management under control.

This is not to say that I neglected my writing; far from it, I finished three and a half short stories, submitted a Drabble to the Drabblecast, and submitted my application to Viable Paradise 2012. In the meantime, my ambitious first novel project languished from my lack of time.

Its now halfway through 2012, and I am currently 8,000 words into my first novel(new novel idea, but my first written novel) project. Although I still don’t have as much time as I would like, I have changed my approach towards completion of the novel.

You see, with a short story, I might be able to complete the whole story over the course of a week. My short stories have typically been in the 1000-7000 word range, a length which I can complete in fairly short order. Novels are entirely different creatures. At the very least, the taxonomy of novel length starts at 50,000 words and can extend upwards of 1,000,000 words. I’m not planning on writing a “Gone With the Wind” length vampire saga or an epic fantasy, and so I’m aiming for a far more achievable goal of 50-60,000 words.

I’ve come up with a different approach to tackle this length of work and not be immediately discouraged. It’s all about breaking down the big tasks into many smaller, more manageable ones. Enter the 250 words mentioned in the title. 250 words is the average for a printed manuscript page, and at 50-60k words, brings my novel to a length of  200-240 pages. This translates to a 6-8 month working period to get from zero to first draft status.

To my mind, reframing my goals in those terms renders the work required for the novel to be more manageable than thinking of it in terms of the 50,000 aggregate word count.

Of course, the geekier writers will pull out spreadsheets and track word counts on a daily basis, run estimates, and build in failsafes. I am also prone to the same tendencies, but I find that I’m often too lazy to update my spreadsheets. In this case the 250 word daily goal is an easy figure to maintain to ensure that I achieve my goals.


As an aside, to writers who struggle with distractions while writing, I highly recommend Cory Doctorow’s “Writing in the Age of Distraction,” a practical manual for getting shit done while limiting the impact of your distractions.

Diorama: A Poem

Hello world. I wanted to share a poem with you today. Its brief and I composed most of it on my evening walk today. Enjoy:


The world is single celled.
Bacterial colonies in islands of being.

The world is evolving:
Hair and feathers, wings and feet.

The world is a clockwork motion,
Its choices limited.

The world is a perpetual chaos
Of infinite replication.

The world is binary
Enumerated certainty in numbers.

The world is dreams and nightmares
Riddles with possibility.

The world is an array of color,
Absent of sound.

The world is a riotous music
The only language it knows.

The world is hope
Incandescent lights in the city of night.

The world is us
Improbable and unlikely
If only for a while
And I am glad for all of it.