Write Tip: Advice From The Slushpile-8 Common Mistakes To Avoid In Submitting Manuscripts

This week, I decided to cover something which is going to seem obvious to some but clearly isn’t: common mistakes to avoid in submitting your work. As a slush reader at Ray Gun Revival and now as anthology and zine editor, these are things I’ve seen again and again. And not just from novice writers, who might be excused for their ignorance with an over eagerness that we’ve all been through. No, I’m seeing these from SFWA and Codex members and people I know have been published and submitted a lot. And folks, there’s no excuse for them except one: laziness. So here are 10 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Submitting Manuscripts.

1) Read Guidelines-All editors have them somewhere. They exist to give you an advantage. Ignoring them is stupid. Why? a) If I’m an editor telling you what I want to see, with competition for story sales being what it is, why in the world would you not use this to your advantage? b) If I told you how I want submissions to look and be done, ignoring it is telling me you either don’t respect me, don’t care or think you’re above it. All three are the signs of not just unprofessionalism but an attitude that bodes negative things for our working relationship.

2) Use Standard Formatting-You don’t have to like it. We don’t care if you find it annoying. We don’t care if it seems old fashioned. It’s industry standard for reasons from tradition to ease of import for programs like Adobe InDesign, so just do it. Examples are rampant, but one of the most respected comes from Bill Shunn and can be found here. He even offers samples to download. Take advantage of it and get it right. Our guidelines will tell you if you except any variant, if not, show us you’re professional and at least meet the standard.

3) Use Spellcheck-Some typos fall under things we can forgive: the occasional missed word, for example. A missed period or capital letter on occasion. Words that are actual words but not the one you missed. If you read your story aloud or have betas read it before submission, you’d likely catch them, but at least they are things that can happen to anyone. In the case of words that any basic spell check ought to catch, there’s just no excuse. “Matter” and “mater” are not the same word. “Rond” instead of “round” is something that just shouldn’t be missed. If you don’t care enough to make the simplest effort to get it right, why should we read your story or care about it?

4) Keep Cover Letters Short-Folks, I am a slush reader. I get tons of submissions. I don’t want your life story. I don’t want your brown nosing. I just want good stories. Don’t write me long letters about admiring me and the zine, etc. Tell me your name, the name of the story, the word count, any relevant publications (i.e. markets I’ve heard of), thank me, sign your name and attach the file. Keep it simple. If I want a full bio or list of credits, I’ll ask for it. Unless your mother is an industry luminary, her opinion has no value to me. That goes for any other relatives or friends in your inner circle. And don’t lie about it either. I know lots of people. I can probably verify the truth of it if I get curious. Don’t make me think you’re up for wasting my time before I even get to your story. TRUST ME.

5) Include Your Contact Information-This is part of standard formatting. Again, you can find it here. But really, if I want to send you a contract, email you or mail a check, don’t make me go through twenty steps to track you down. Put it right on the story, before the title and byline. Name, Address, City, State, Zip, email, and if you’re a SFWA, Codex or other member. Phone number can be helpful too and is a good idea. That’s it. Word Count across the page. Boom. Make it easy to deal with you. We have to deal with so many writers, the ones who make it easy definitely make the best impressions.

6) Spell My Name and Title Right-Yeah, it sounds obvious but my name is BrYan not BrIan. It’s right on the guidelines. It’s on the staff page. It’s on my bio. If you don’t care to get that right, then I can assume you aren’t concerned about the details of anything else either. It’s also a sign of simple respect. Simple respect and politeness go along way in businesses where relationships and networking play a key role. This is one of them so be polite and have respect.

7) Read Up-Read copies of the magazine or anthologies I’ve edited. Read my blog. Ask writers who’ve worked with me. Find out about my likes, dislikes, etc. in any way you can. It’s probably in my guidelines, but sending me stuff that will automatically get rejected like erotica, porn, gratuitous sex and violence or often non-family friendly stuff (I state specifically for each project what the limits are) is going to waste both of our time and leave me again feeling that you’re either lazy, disrespectful or cocky. None of which makes me remember your name as someone I’d like to work with.

8 )  Use The Right Submission Address-Yes, often my personal email or editor’s box email is available. There are all kinds of reasons for this. But if the guidelines tell you to submit stories to another address, unless I specifically asked you to do otherwise, use the address as instructed. I’m a nice guy. I try and treat people the way I want to be treated. I’m not at the point where I am so tired of writers making these mistakes that I’ll reject a story out of hand for them, but I can see why editors do this. I get tons of email like anyone else. Having paths I use for various types of email help me keep it organized. Don’t think you’re an exception to the rules unless I tell you. I have the rules for a reason.

I think what makes these errors so annoying in their commonness is that they could be so easily avoided. If you writers don’t take your career seriously enough to get the easy stuff right, it’s hard to trust that you’ll be serious about the big stuff, and that tends to leave an impression that you are someone we might not want to work with. In any case, something to consider and take seriously. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is editor of Blue Shift Magazine, and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tip: 5 Keys To A Successful Freelance Editing/Writing Business

Well, I’ve dreamed for years of full time writing and creative work, and at least for the past two months, I’ve been living that nicely. I’m grateful for this development. I had not had full time work since May 2010, when I was laid off. I have been on unemployment and food stamps and looking for work has been my job, but instead of letting it get me down, I also spent a lot of time writing and editing and developing my network. That has finally paid off in steady work which, if it continues at the present level, should put me at $30k income by a year from now, maybe more. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m thoroughly loving it. But it’s taken a lot of effort to learn how to do this and I continue to learn more all time. I get asked for advice these days on how to build a freelance career, so here a few key tips I’ve learned which have helped me so far:

1) Diversity — You need to develop your knowledge not only of diverse software but types of writing and editing. From technical to creative, marketing to fiction, you should be familiar with Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Visio, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Standard/Reader and anything else you can get your hands on. The needs of the jobs vary but being diverse in not only the types of materials you can offer as well as the types of software platforms you are familiar with will really give you the most opportunities. It takes time to develop this, and, perhaps, money if you need software. Some of it can be bought used for much less price. Free classes can often be taken online. Whatever the case, you should develop skills as much as possible in as many areas as you can. And you should build portfolio samples to demonstrate them.

2) Disciplined Hard Work — There’s no way around this. If you want to make money doing this, you must treat it as a job. Set aside specific hours, keep track of them and your tasks, research proper invoicing and rates, track expenses and dedicate the necessary time to work. I have both a daily planner and large desk calendar I use as well as my computer and smart phone to track projects, deadlines, hours, etc. I also track when I bill clients, when they pay me, how much I am owed, bills, etc. I keep a large queue of projects going: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/10/28/works-in-progress-writing-editing-projects-i-am-working-on/ is my latest list. And I prioritize both based on deadlines clients ask for, when I receive them, type of work, etc. I am honest and up front with clients when time gets off schedule and I work hard to make sure they are kept abreast of all developments. In return, I am developing some steady clients who come back to me and recommend me to others.  You must discipline yourself. You can’t be fly-by-night if you want to succeed. Clients do expect fast turn around and high quality. They have a right to when they’re paying you $25-30 an hour and expecting to get good advice. And it means you have to sometimes put your personal projects aside and put the paying projects first. The only way to keep room for your personal projects, in my experience, is to be disciplined and schedule your time well.

3) Networking/Reputation — Almost every opportunity you get will be the result of referrals or tips from someone else. So building a good network and reputation is very important. Not just a reputation as a nice person either. Although my approach of treating people the way I want to be treated is definitely paying off, so is my reputation for meeting deadlines, going out of my way to help and encourage clients, going the extra mile from time-to-time when it’s called for and always doing quality work. Consistency in all of these things will be vital to your success and I highly recommend that you figure out what they mean for you and how to deliver them early on. A big part of this relates to deadlines and billing. Every client wants it yesterday. No one is patient when it comes to this stuff. But if they want quality, they have to give you the time to do it. I always estimate longer than I need so if things come up I am covered for delivering late. It’s far better to please them by turning things in early than disappoint them by being late. The same is true of billing. Estimate higher than expected. Surprising them with a smaller bill than expected makes them smile. Surprising them with a higher bill than expected never does. In fact, it can cause conflict. So don’t create potential conflict by failing to allow for delays and unexpected circumstances.

4) Multitasking — You will have to have the discipline and dedication to juggle multiple projects. There’s no way around it. And it can be hard. It’s hard to edit more than one book at a time. For me, editing a novel and a nonfiction piece can be done simultaneously. I can also edit short stories while editing a novel. Editing two novels at the same time is too hard. You get confused on story elements, voice,  pacing, etc. and it slows you down, so I have to keep that in mind when setting up my queues.  I tell the clients where they are in the queue and when they can expect me to deliver, and if that changes, I inform them why and how much extra time they should expect. I also offer discounts for larger jobs. You can’t live on one job, so you’ll need several. I spend an hour or two a day doing marketing work, an hour or two paid blogging, and at least four hours on editing, every day. My personal writing time comes beyond that. But at $25-30 an hour, again, I am averaging $125-150 a day which, 5 days a week (I actually work 7 right now) will add up to around $30-40k a year.

5) Marketing — A big part of your marketing is word of mouth. There’s no way around it. But you should also have a website with rates, client blurbs, a list of projects, a bio, and a blog containing helpful tips, talking about your process etc. Put links to this in your bios and email signatures, and spread the word when you can. Ask clients for referrals. Ask friends as well. Let people know what you’re doing. Do some free work in the beginning to prove yourself. Also sites like www.fiverr.com offer the opportunity to demonstrate what you offer at lower rates that can help you build up your client list for later.  In the beginning, you start out as an unknown, so you have to make effort to show people you’re capable. From doing websites for people to marketing materials, beta reading critiques, story critiques, and even editing, you can get people talking about and recommending your work. That brings you to the attention of people searching for someone to help them. It takes time. I did so much volunteering for three years and now it’s paying off. From www.fiverr.com 30 minute editing jobs for $5 to editing an anthology gratis to prove myself, I did what I had to, and I’m grateful it’s paid off.

I’m sure I can do more posts on this if it interests people, but that’s enough to really get you started down the right road. I hope it helps both direct and encourage you. I know it’s worked for me, and I hope it continues to. I hope it works for you, too. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: How NOT To Approach An Editor

This is hard because I hate to potentially embarrass someone. But I was pretty shocked by this approach and really felt it worthy of blogging about so I am taking that risk. I am paraphrasing things as much as I can and, since it was done through a website and anonymous, I am not revealing a name or project title. But nonetheless, this is worthy of a Write Tip, it really is. Now there are many things you shouldn’t say to editors which won’t be covered. This post refers to a specific situation and scenario, but I hope you’ll see why I thought this warning was important to give.Recently, at the recommendations of friends, I have sought out freelance sites to promote my editing and drum up business. I’ve got enough experience now and recommendations to really make that worth my while but not enough incoming business just from reputation to keep my busy or keep food on the table. So I posted an add that read like this:

I will offer 30 minutes of professional editing on your novel, book, short story or blog for $5

Here’s a paraphrase of  the response I got:

Hi,  I have done the opening 500 words of a novella. Would you be interested in reading, editing, criticizing, providing ideas etc. Feel free to comment or add ideas. I won’t care if it grows from 500 to 1000 words.  

First of all,  the client means well. He’s just unaware of the right approach and what editors really do. So here’s the problem: 500 words is flash fiction but if you want an editor to help you with a longer piece, it’s probably not ready to be edited. If you’re looking for an assessment of craft, maybe it’ll work, maybe not. It’s not much to go on for a longer piece because it’s just a snippet. You need to write more. Plus, asking me to provide ideas sent up read flags. I am offering editing, not cowriting or ghostwriting by to give the person benefit of the doubt, my response was basically:

Sure. But 500 words is not very far in to be doing much good for you because the story likely has yet to take shape fully. I can certainly comment on the beginning and how it works, etc. but I’m not sure how useful it would be.

There were some minor exchanges between but then I got this (again paraphrased here):

I think your input at an early stage would actually be very useful. At an early stage bad habits that set in can ruin the book. And without early comment one can have nagging doubts and uncertainties that will not only plague the author but lead to a despondency and lack of confidence and finally failure and surrender…. another unfinished novel. Thus, your early action is imperative.

I did end up doing the edit, and I gave as close to 30 minutes worth as I could. $5 is well below my usual rate but as  a try out, it’s fine, and since this is my first bid on this site, I didn’t want to turn work down and risk a bad rating or something. But the attitude really doesn’t sit well with me. Here’s why:

First, an editor’s job is not generally-speaking to provide ideas on your unfinished work. Oh they can help you shape a book already written but not on something that’s incomplete. Especially not something that’s one page. What you’re looking for is someone to tell you what to write, and, frankly, that’s not the editor’s job nor am I going to risk working with someone I don’t know or giving away ideas. That’s something for which I should get paid, and probably a much higher rate than the standard editing fee. There would contracts and all kinds of negotiations and I’d have to know you better and really like the piece to agree.

Second, one page can reveal bad habits, yes, but it’s not a good assessment of your overall ability. It may tell a slush reader or editor that your work is not professional enough or interesting enough for their zine or anthology, but it’s not enough to determine your overall skills. Perhaps you’re just bad at openings. Perhaps this idea just didn’t work. Perhaps the reader just has different needs or desires. There are a lot of factors, but truthfully, one page is not a whole lot to go on. In this case, the writing was fairly strong in many ways but the polish was definitely not there and I made suggestions above active vs. passive voice, etc. It’s not ready for prime time, but the person shows potential.  I could see it turning into something decent with time and effort.

But when edited it, beyond typos, verbage, punctuation, tenses, and a few observations, I did not offer ideas. It’s just not what I’m there for. It’s your vision, your piece and your decision. All my input could do is muddy the waters and risk changing the story into something you never intended or might not write well, because it’s from me not you, and, since I’m not going to write it, how does that help you? What’s in it for me? At $5, nothing. Realistically.

The third issue with this: you are basically telling me you don’t know how to finish or what to do, and you are suggesting that I fix that. Again, that’s not what I’m there for, and it also, frankly, leaves me with the impression that despite your claims that by proving myself for $5 we can establish a future relationship, you are not a good basket into which to put my eggs, because if you never finish a story, when will there be anything to edit? It’s  not that I object to one-off clients, mind you, but I’d really like to establish a client base that keeps coming back and, thus, someone who doesn’t demonstrate the ability to finish stories is not someone I can count on to come back for more.

So basically, I’m doing him a favor and taking a risk to preserve my relationship and reputation via the site,  but not for any real benefit to me. It’s not something I would do a lot. Maybe not again. Because it’s not something that’s likely to bear fruit with steady work.  So, frankly, even if this is the position you’re in, revealing it is not the wisest course for the reasons stated. Someone else might just say “no” and never look back and you may well have left a permanent bad impression. In this case, it’s anonymous over the internet, but what if it wasn’t?

In 30 minutes, I could have edited the first 3-10 pages of a novel, perhaps a whole short story, depending on length, etc. So what really happened here was my doing something that probably won’t pay off long term and may well not serve the client well for an overall evaluation. Neither the client nor I got the full benefit of the offer: I will offer 30 minutes of professional editing on your novel, book, short story or blog for $5. Unless, of course, this blog post goes postal and many of you buy my books. Which would be really coolness, let me say, but I’m not putting my eggs all in that basket either. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Do Something: Live A Life Of Significance

This is not a lecture. It’s an observation. And it’s not a self-aggrandizing post but I do need to give some detail on my own life to make the point, so I will.

Recently, I saw Wayne Koons, a former Marine, then NASA Engineer, then pilot/astronaut speak about his education, his life and his faith. Speaking at the same event were one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a Nicaraguan musician and the head of athletics for University of Kentucky, Mitch Barnhart. Other accomplished people joined them but all of them shared a similar message: Do something. Koons pointed out that the median age of all employees at NASA up into 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon was under 40. And he said it to point out to college students that they can make a difference.

It got me to thinking. I’m a guy who often feels frustrated by lack of success in areas of my life. 23 months unemployed. And I have a hard time getting a job because I’ve done so many things, despite a Masters, and despite the fact my career had been somewhat steady until I was fired by my ex-employer in May 2010.  Resumes don’t explain all the variety in my life. But what does explain it is an inner drive I was raised with to be someone who made an impact on my world and community.

My parents are a doctor and nurse who believed in service. Of my grandparents, one was a farmer, one a teacher, one a housewife and one a utility worker. (The housewife was all about service. She raised six kids and helped manage a farm in addition to serving church and community so don’t write her off as less significant.) My family has a legacy of service to others–careers and jobs which make an impact far beyond the walls of their homes. So naturally, I grew up expecting to do the same.

My earliest dreams fluctuated between being a rock star/composer and an author/writer. I focused on TV and film in college but then wound up leaving my time in Hollywood to travel doing music. Fun as those days were in many ways, I found them unsatisfying. I still wanted to make a difference and entertaining people wasn’t enough. So I went back to school for a Masters while working in sales and other retail jobs to get by, often working 30 hours plus while taking a full time load of classes. It was hard. Grades suffered someone. But I was serving and that made me happy.

After I got my Masters, I founded a nonprofit and travelled for the next decade to Africa, Brazil, Mexico and other places bringing musicians and other qualified arts people to provide specialized training to people who couldn’t afford or get access to it any other way. I raised money,  recruited volunteers, led teams and taught. And to this day, I still hear from students who grew and went on to great success from what Anchored Music has done. We still exist. Life just sideswiped me a bit and have been less active the past two years due to many personal crises in my life. But the point is, we made a difference. I got paid nothing. I took consulting or contract jobs instead of full time to have the freedom to take weeks off and do the mission work. I sacrificed a career path, in other words, but I was doing something and that’s what mattered. No matter what other failures I experience, no one can take that away.

It’s funny when you’re an author. No matter the genre or book itself, people just assume you’re accomplished. Not that I am belittling what it takes to be published. There is hard work and some degree of intelligence generally involved, most of the time, yes. But do all authors deserve to be treated like heroes? Not so sure. I do know when your book teaches something or brings a message of hope and change, it’s much more satisfying than just writing to entertain. Because you’re doing something with your words.

What’s my point? When I was 17, all I wanted to do was be the rock star/composer, find a girl, fall in love, and have a family like the portrait painted by my hero John Denver in his songs. How disappointing it was to find out years later that even John Denver couldn’t live the ideal he sang about. His “perfect” family life was far from it. But I never imagined the roads and paths down which life would take me in my quest to make a difference. Or how much frustration and heartache there could be with employment as a result.

Still, I don’t regret it, because even if I die tomorrow, I have accomplished a lot for a 43 year old man: national radio singles, opening for major acts, name on national TV, TV and radio appearances, songs used in six languages and sung in churches, published books, and most importantly students who took what I taught and went on to make better lives for themselves and their community. That last one is the greatest accomplishment of all. To those people, my life matters. They still tell me that every time they track me down online. I made a difference. I did something and it had significant impact for their lives.

Wayne Koons and Mitch Barnhart never imagined growing up where their paths would take them. Neither did a little African boy who was just feeling lucky to be alive every day in the Sudan. But now they are educated, accomplished men with better lives than any one of them could have ever imagined.

No matter who you are or what your dreams or background, you can do that, too. You can do something and be significant. Your liffe can matter to more than just you. I urge you to consider that. Strive to serve more than just yourself and your own desires. Strive to reach beyond you spouse, kids and immediate community. As Christa McAuliffe said, before dying in NASA’s Challenger accident, “It’s better to shoot for the stars and miss than shoot for nothing  and hit.” So shoot for the stars. You never know, you might just change the destiny of a solar system. Your life can be significant. It can matter. And all you have to do is DO SOMETHING.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 13 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

10 Mistakes SFF Writers Make With Research

Research, hate it or love it, is something every speculative fiction writer must deal with at one time or another. Most deal with it often. Research is an easy thing to neglect for many reasons. Above all, it’s usually less fun than writing and creating and it’s time consuming. Still, research is necessary. Here are ten mistakes writers make with research. Consider the costs of making them yourself.

1) Skipping the research. I don’t need no stinking research. Mistake number one. You may be able to fudge some things, especially in science fiction stories set in worlds far distant from our own, for example, but in your historical fantasy, your contemporary urban fantasy or your medieval epic fantasy, you’d better know the facts. If you don’t, readers will and they’ll be unhappy you didn’t care enough to make sure you did. In any world building or story crafting where facts and details readers could know or research are required, research it yourself. Know what you’re talking about. That’s usually impossible without research.

2) Relying on novels by other genre writers. How do you know Terry Goodkind or Patrick Rothfuss got it right? Where did they get their facts? People make up inaccurate facts all the time and write them into their novels. (I am not saying Goodkind and Rothfuss did. I have no such examples. Just using them as examples.) There’s nothing worse for fantasy fans than reading another stereotypical novel set in a stereotypical fantasy world that gets it wrong. Don’t trust anyone but yourself to do the research and do it well, unless you can afford to pay a research assistant, in which case, be sure and hire a trustworthy one.

3) Using only one source. How do you verify facts? Check them against multiple sources. Don’t assume the source you are using has it all right. Check their facts against other sources. The internet is a great resource as are libraries. You can find multiple resources on almost any topic you’d want to research. So make use of that and be sure you’ve got it right.

4) Researching only when and what they have to. To a degree, you only need research for a science in your science fiction, so to speak. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there. How do you know your world makes sense geographically? How do you know the dietary patterns and plants you place in various locations are correct for the climate or environment? Who cares? Informed readers, that’s who, and all it takes is one to blow the whistle and cause other readers to doubt you. Once they doubt you, they have trouble trusting the stories you tell and if they can’t suspend disbelief, your science fiction and fantasy can’t succeed very well. So research details whenever you can. Even if you’re not sure they’re important. This doesn’t mean you need to research every word, of course, but play detective and ask yourself what you can research to make your story better and more skeptic-proof and true to life and then get busy.

5) Using questionable sources. Just as one source may or may not be reliable, the validity of any source must be verified. A good sign is when you use sources commonly used by many other people. You can also check data about the author and publisher. And you can find reviews and evaluations as well. There are many ways to check the sources, even comparing them to other respected sources to see how they compare. If you find one source that says “it happened like this,” and no other source agrees, perhaps that little factoid might not be the best one to put in your story.

6) Thinking every iota of research must be in the novel. Info dump and listen for the thump as readers drop your book on the floor. They may never pick it back up again, either, so don’t make this mistake. In world building, you have to know everything but your readers don’t. Neither do your characters.  Include what’s necessary to tell the story and make the world come alive and leave the rest for a sequel or your files. The point of researching wasn’t to add fluff to your novel but knowledge to your head. The more you know, the smarter you write. And smart writers don’t info dump.

7) Making stuff up without checking. Making something up is part of fiction writing, yes, I get that. But if you make something up which actually exists and the facts are wrong, you’ll look foolish. And nothing turns off a reader more. Make sure that things you invent don’t exist before you put them in your story and make up facts or science to explain them.

8 ) Including research that’s hard to understand. Just because you understand it, doesn’t mean your reader will. If you think the story needs it, make sure the research is explained well when you write it in. Quoting scientific jargon from your sources is one way to blow it. Put it in simple, every day language so readers of all backgrounds will get it. Include only what’s necessary and forget the rest. Tom Clancy used to spend page after page describing weapons in intimate detail. If his books hadn’t been so compelling, readers would have left. Instead, they just jumped ahead. His books sold, so he kept doing it, but unless you’re a bestseller, don’t count on getting away with it. Explain it simply, fast and well, then move on. It’s the same as anything else in your prose, communicating with the reader is the goal. If you don’t do it well, your work won’t succeed. So first, make sure you understand it well before you write it, then write it as if you’re explaining it to a child.

9) Underestimating readers’ expectations. A lot depends on the genre and subgenre, of course. Space opera fans and hard SF fans have different expectations. But don’t make the mistake of assuming since you don’t know, readers won’t either. I struggle with this myself. Research is one of my least favorite past times, but when someone comes along who knows better, the illusion is blown and it can turn off fans and readers in droves once word spreads. Take the time to be informed so you can inform your readers. Assumption is the mother of all screw ups, they say. Don’t assume your readers aren’t smarter or more informed than you are. Most often they are.

10) Rushing through research. As the other 9 points prove, research takes time. Just like writing prose does. While you probably shouldn’t include time spent researching toward your writing word count goals, you should set aside quality time for research. How much you need depends on what you’re researching, how much you already know about it, the subgenre, genre, and many other factors. But research, when done, should be done right, like anything else. It’s an element of craft and quality writing as with anything else done to complete your novel. Treat it accordingly and don’t rush it. Research is just as much a part of the writing job as creating prose and thinking up ideas are.

Well, there’s ten common mistakes speculative fiction writers make in regards to research. I’m guilty. What about you? And do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: The Dichotomy Of Writing Life-Dealing With Criticism

Two of the most valuable skills one must cultivate as a writer are being hypersensitive to write passionate, powerful, emotion-filled prose, and having a thick skin to handle criticism. Ironically, these two skills are often diametrically opposed. How can you be thick skinned and sensitive at the same time? In truth, I don’t know anyone who can.

Criticism hurts, no matter who’s giving it or what it says. No one who puts themselves out there, especially artistically–pouring their emotions, thoughts, ideas, and heart into their work–enjoys it when people criticize that work. It’s just hard to hear. Some may claim to be immune, but being used to it and being immune are not the same thing. One can certainly learn to accept that criticism is often a daily, or at least weekly, part of the life of an artist, especially when work is newly released. But I don’t honestly know how one can ever totally get to the point where it doesn’t sting. After all, any serious artist, of whatever medium, works hard to do their best at what they do. From studying craft, learning tools, and experimenting to long hours conceptualizing and planning, serious art takes work.

Having my first novel out there for seven weeks, it’s been hard to hear that I didn’t do it perfectly. The human side of me, which knows all of us are imperfect and that I still have lots of room to grow as a writer (always will), knows that people will find fault with my work. But the artist side of me cringes and feels a jab in the heart region every time they do. Mostly I have learned to bite my tongue and just keep it to myself. Occasionally my publisher and I discuss it. It’s hard sometimes to keep your mouth shut when you feel the criticisms are unfair (which is not every time). I’ve made a mistake a time or two but, in every case, I made sure to learn anything I could to apply in future novels so I won’t have to hear the same criticisms again. My goal is to make them work hard to find faults. It may be difficult to reach that point, but that’s what I’m shooting for.

I think it was especially hard with the first novel because it was, for me, my legitimization as a serious professional writer. Not self-published, not a free zine, this was someone paying me an advance against earnings for something I wrote, spending money on editing, printing, cover art, etc. Serious professional writers were writing blurbs and reading it to do so. For me, this book sent a message: Bryan Thomas Schmidt is for real about being a professional writer. He’s a peer.

It’s hard to explain that feeling to someone who hasn’t gone through it or isn’t preparing to, but, in part, it’s a sense of not wanting to let anyone down. People have supported and helped and encouraged me, and I wanted those efforts to have been worthy of the work I put out in the world. Of course, even name writers like Stephen King and Orson Scott Card and Mike Resnick get bad reviews. We all get criticized but if my book is sharing the shelf space, I just want to feel like I belong there. Do you know what I mean? Shelf space in bookstores and on bookseller tables is in high demand and all the more so as stores like Borders go bankrupt. It’s a competition just to get your book on the shelves, so if I ask someone to carry my book, I want them to get some income to make it worth their while. If not, why should they ever support me again?

Also, publishing a book feels so permanent. This is something which may one day make it into collections or library shelves. People may hold on to it and pass it down to kids, grandkids, pass it to friends, etc. My name and my picture will forever be associated with it. So I want that association to be a good thing, not one I or anyone else regrets. No frowns. Smiles. That’s what I want when people think of Bryan Thomas Schmidt and fiction. And when they criticize it for faults, I feel like I failed in that.

It’s best, of course, to remember that opinions are subjective. What’s the old saying? “Opinions are like buttholes. Everyone has one.” That’s crass, yes, but it’s true. And the reality is not everyone is going to like your work. Taste is a huge factor. Some people just don’t get science fiction or fantasy. Some people won’t like anything without serious, hard researched science involved. Some people won’t like your book because the characters aren’t like them. Some won’t like it because you had a male antagonist and not a female. The list of reasons can go on eternally. But in the end, those are just opinions. Your target audience will rarely be “everyone.” There are always specifics. So if you aim to please those people and yourself, I think you can find satisfaction.

For example, I knew when it went out that my book wasn’t perfect. I knew that from the first agent query rejection and publisher rejection. Not everyone liked my book or thought it was perfect. Okay. But I knew that would never be the case. I could never please everyone. It’s that way with everything in life. Instead, I focused my attention on how to make the book the best it could possibly be right up until the final deadline. If I wrote The Worker Prince today, I’d do things differently. In many cases, I’d do things better. Writing book 2, The Returning, was so much easier for a reason: I learned craft in the past two years I didn’t have when I wrote book 1. Every book has lessons learned which you automatically apply to future works, so every book should be easier and better, in theory. So my goal was to release the best book I could at that point in my writer’s journey and to know I had to be satisfied that I did my best. It’s all I can ask of myself.

How do you be sensitive enough to write characters who come alive with emotion and touch readers and still have a thick skin for criticism? I don’t have the answer. The best advice I have is to focus on what you can change and let the rest go. If you can find tips to improve your writing in the criticisms, use it. If you can’t, let it go. If you can do that, you can’t ask much  more of yourself. Sorry if you were looking for easy answers. I don’t have them. But as long as you remember that writing is a journey and a process that  never ends and stay on the road of discovery, I think you can recognize you’re growing and so will your works and that makes it easier to accept the bad with the good in critics. At least, that’s my approach.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎3 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: The Importance Of Business

There’s this little thing referred to in Hollywood script talk as “business.” It also gets a mention in Phil Athans’ excellent The Guide To Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy from Adams Media. “Business” in this instance is those little actions characters do underneath dialogue in scenes. You know, they’re having an argument and one washes dishes while the other shuffles paperwork on a desk, or they’re on the phone and each is doing something else while talking. What they’re doing in both examples is “business.” Using “business” in your fiction is a great technique to make your writing more vivid and realistic and reveal character at the same time, as well as move your plot forward.

For example, say you have a couple who are detectives but also date. At some point, you have them investigating a crime scene but while they’re doing it, they’re having a couple fight about some issue between them. That’s “business,” and, in this case, it moves two storylines along simultaneously if you do it right. Also, the mannerisms and actions of the characters can reveal things about them: their emotional state, their attitudes toward each other, their focus or lack there of, etc. Because “business” is something we all do in real life–sometimes hiding from it with the label multi-tasking–having characters do it adds depth to your story by bringing realistic life to scenes. So “business is a writing technique you want to learn about and practice whenever you can.

Let’s look at examples. One from a script, one from a novel.

First, because it’s popular and a lot of people have seen it, here’s a scene from the pilot of The Walking Dead TV series:

INT. A PARKED POLICE CRUISER - DAY

 

... revealing a SHOTGUN in its floor mount. CONTINUE
DRIFTING past a dangling DAY-GLO NET BAG containing a few
spare 9MM AMMO CLIPS and .357 5PEEDLOADER5 ...

 

SHANE (Offscreen)
In my experience? Never met a
woman who knew how to turn off
a light. It's genetic. They're
born thinking the switch only
goes one way -- on.

 

WE DRIFT past rubber-banded notebooks. A stapler. A dashmounted
cup of mismatched pens and pencils. All the little
telling details that show a cop car is a working office ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
It's like they're struck blind
when they leave a room. Every
woman I ever let have a key,
swear to God, I come home and
my house is lit up like a mall
at Christmas.

 

We come to a GREASY TRAY-BOX OF FRIES on the dash. We
hear rustling fast-food wrappers, slurps of soda ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
So then my job, apparently
because my chromosomes are
different, is to go through the
house and turn off every light
the chick left on.

 

A HAND reaches in, grabs fries, dips ketchup ...

 

SHANE (O.S.)
This, then, is the core basis
of the male-female dynamic. The
yin and the yang.

RICK (O. S.)
That right?

 

FOLLOW THE FRIES TO: OFFICER SHANE WALSH, County Police,
in the passenger seat outside a fast-food restaurant.

 

SHANE
Yeah, baby, Reverend Shane is
a'preachin to ya now ...

 

He shoves the fries in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully.

 

SHANE
The same chick, mind you, will
bitch about global warming.
That goes double if you want to
drive something with a decent
V6 under the hood, in which
case you're a selfish prick
killing baby polar bears.

 

He grabs the box of fries off the dash, passes them ...
REVEAL: Rick Grimes at the wheel, looking way more spitand-
polish than in the teaser, half-heartedly picking at
his burger. Rick's a quiet, Gary Cooper-type, has long
experience when it comes to listening to Shane.

 

SHANE
So Reverend Shane quotes from
the Guy Gospel: Well, darlin',
maybe if you and every other
pair of boobs on this planet
figured out the light switch
goes the other way too, we might
not have so much global warming.

 

RICK
You say that?

 

SHANE
The polite version. still. Earns
me a look of loathing you
wouldn't believe. Out comes
this Exorcist voice, out of
nowhere: "You're just like my
goddamn father! Always yelling
about the power bill and I should
turn the goddamn lights off!"
(looks to Rick)
See, to us it's just lights. To
them it's a traumatic flashback
that dredges up all their father
issues.

RICK
What do you say to that?

 

SHANE
I know what I want to say. I
want to say: Bitch, you mean to
say you been hearing this shit
all your life and you're still
too goddamn stupid to learn how
to turn off a switch?

 

Pause. Shane looks over.

 

SHANE
I don't actually say that,
though.

 

RICK
That would be bad.

 

SHANE
I do the polite version there
too.

 

RICK
Very wise.

What can we read from this business? We have two cops eating lunch in a cop car. They seem friendly and comfortable with each other.  Neither is watching their manners in how they eat or how they talk, so we can infer that they are likely, in this case, partners, and used to sharing private details about themselves with each other, maybe even seeking advice. Also, they have to be ready at a moment’s notice to answer emergency calls so they eat on the run which means in the car and fast meals they can consume with limited time and hassle, hence the fast food. Can you see how much we’re learning about them already through this “business?”

Okay, now let’s look at how the same thing plays out in a novel. Here’s a scene from my debut novel The Worker Prince:

She stood in the shadows as he began looking them over. Two mech-bots entered through another tunnel and began working on some of the Skitters behind him. As she stepped out of the shadows into the cave, Davi looked up at her.

“Hey,” she said, with a slight wave and a smile.

“Hey,” he said, going back to examining the Skitters.

“How’d the rest of the session go?”

He shrugged. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Not even eye contact. So maybe he was upset with her. “Sorry I left. I needed some air.”

“I was disappointed you didn’t stay for your turn,” Davi said as he examined another Skitter. “Seeing someone actually succeed on the simulators would have been encouraging. I sure could’ve used it.” His voice sounded tired.

“Was it really so bad?”

“You tell me. You saw how some of the students did,” Davi slid into the seat of a Skitter, fiddling with the controls.

“Some of them are a long way from being flight-worthy,” Tela said, watching the mech-bots working behind him.

“Some make me wonder if they ever will be.”

It saddened her to see him so discouraged. He had always been so positive and supportive of the students. She wanted to do something to cheer him up. She took a seat on another Skitter and turned it on, hearing the steady hum of the engine and feeling it rise up off the floor to float on the air as she adjusted the controls.

“Come with me.”

“For a joy ride?”

Tela smiled. “Sure. There’s something I want to show you.” She waved toward the Skitter he’d been examining.

He shrugged, climbing onto the Skitter. The engine hummed as it rose into the air. “Okay. Lead the way.”

In the larger picture of the narrative arc, Davi has been crushing on her and she’s blown him off, but here she’s starting to at least warm up to him as a friendly person who’s going through some difficulty because of other people he doesn’t deserve. Students have been harrassing him in class because he’s the former leader of their rival group and Davi’s just trying to teach them well and frustrated with their attitude getting in the way.   Here, Tela is concerned about Davi but there’s an awkwardness. He is hardly paying her any attention while she is completely focused and trying to engage with him. We are in her Point Of View, so snippets of her internal dialogue tell us how she’s feeling but it’s the “business” which tells us what might be going on emotionally and mentally with Davi. In the end, because he’s so focused on the Skitter’s (flying motorcycles essentially), Tela decides to shift tactics and use that to engage and takes him on a ride. But the tone of her interest and his disinterest initially says a lot about the status of their relationship. Notice, in this case, that the “business” also has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Again, multi-tasking is so common for us today, it’s a great way to add realism to a scene.

There are many ways to use the concept of “business” in writing. What are some that you can think of? How can you use this to enhance your own prose? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: How To Get Your Book Noticed By Librarians Or Not

Okay so you have a book, congratulations. And one of the best depositories locally to get it attention is a place where book lovers congregate: the local library, right? So how do you make that happen? Just walk in the door, ARC under you arm and hand it to them? Are there better ways? What would a Librarian suggest?

I posed just that scenario to John Klima, a librarian and the editor of Electricvelocipede, and, using my book as an example, here’s what he said:

“Libraries/librarians got a LOT of requests from local authors wanting their material added to the library’s collection. Unfortunately, most of their work is not good.

If your work is not reviewed (and the review doesn’t have to come from Publishers Weekly or Library Journal [although you could try sending your work to Library Journal to see if they would review it]) it’s unlikely that librarians will find it, and if they can’t find it, it’s unlikely that they’ll purchase it. If they do find it, it’s still unlikely that they’ll buy it since they have nothing to verify its quality. Having said that, most books that get published don’t get reviewed (think of all the computer books at a bookstore, almost none of those are reviewed), so librarians need to be very creative about how they do collection development and decide what books to add to their catalog. It’s extraordinarily difficult for small press and self-published books to make their way into the library.

Now, I’m not saying this next part to upset you or make you mad (nor do I think it’s necessarily right or the way things should be), but walking into a library with a copy of your book in hand almost guarantees that your book will not end up in the library’s collection. You’re asking the staff to evaluate and decide on your book on the spot, even if you specifically tell them that’s not what you’re doing. Contacting via email isn’t really any better. A nicely written publicity email (or even a mailed publicity letter) with links to reviews and blurbs would likely get looked at. If you wanted to send an e-version of the book, I’d say to do it in an opt-in fashion, that is, only send it if the librarian asks for it. Don’t presume and send it. It will likely get deleted as a potential virus.

When I get an unsolicited book at work (which happens at least every month if not more often, and I don’t go more than a few days between getting emails about books that are coming out [and let’s not even talk about Facebook, G+, Twitter, etc.]) I give it a cursory glance and then dispose of it. It sounds harsh (it is harsh) but the stuff getting sent to me is just awful. Of course, most librarians are not also editors of an award-winning genre magazine. They’ve likely not spent ten years reading slush fiction submissions (and add in my time at Asimov’s and Tor and that’s ever more years). But I know from experience that the library’s internal conversations about local authors mostly revolve around how we don’t want to open that avenue.

I’m personally disappointed when the conversation goes that way. I understand the concerns, but I think it might be nice to have a shelf/range devoted to local authors. Yes, it would contain a lot of bad writing. And most of those writers would want to have programming devoted to their books. We have people who bring in their book and want to schedule a monthly program about their book. That doesn’t make sense even if you were Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi (it may sound like fun, but month after month of your favorite would wear thin eventually). The library would have to develop very clear guidelines as to what’s accepted and what the library would do about local author programming. What I’d do is an annual local author day and have authors sign up for times for little Kaffeeklatsches or something along those lines. I’ve also thought about hosting programming about creating eBooks and then using server space to hold items created locally. But I haven’t given that much more thought than what I just typed.

I haven’t read your book, but I have looked at the reviews and read the blurbs, so I’m working on the assumption that your book is not awful. Far from it. So this email is sent to you as a caution. I don’t want your work to unfairly get lumped in with the normal dreck that a librarian sees on an ongoing basis. You really need to find a way to contact librarians somewhere outside of the library (somewhere official, not stalking at their homes lol). I can’t speak for your area, but we had a book festival here over the summer. In addition to many of the local librarians, there were a lot of small/self-press authors there who could talk to librarians. No different from going to a SFF con. Also, I would assume your state has a library association (we have WLA) and an annual conference that you could attend and meet and talk to librarians. There are national conventions, but I assume you’re looking to reach your local library. Don’t forget, many librarians go to SFF cons, so look for them there.

Unfortunately, these options aren’t necessarily cheap (the WLA conference is $210 a day if you’re not a member of WLA, which I’m not). But it’s part of the cost of being considered a professional. I’m much more willing to give someone a chance when I’ve met them and they’ve shown themselves to be reasonable human beings. I know that Heather McCormack (my editor at Library Journal) often talks about wanting to give more coverage in their reviews to small press and print-on-demand work. There’s a lot of good stuff out there that people just miss because they don’t know it’s there.”

Okay, not very encouraging? Well, not totally discouraging either. Pretty sage advice, if you ask me. I think there’s lots there to ponder. And that Library Journal idea might be worth pursuing. Certainly a lot in there about how librarians think towards local authors, unknown authors and what not to do. And knowing what not to do is half the battle if you ask me. You didn’t but I said it anyway.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Hugo award winning Editor John Klima is the founder and editor of Electric Velocipede, a former print zine now transitioning to electronic format. He’s also edited numerous anthologies, such as Logorrhea and the forthcoming Happily Ever After. A former book editor/slush reader, he has worked for Tor, Dell Magazines, and Prime Books and been a panelist at several cons. Active on Twitter as @EV_Mag, John can be found online at  www.electricvelocipede.com.

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Fighting Off Writer’s Block

It’s the bane of any writer’s existence–Writer’s Block–like a monster in the closet, creeping out when you least expect it and stalking you with relentless determination. It can be devastating to your sense of creative flow in a project and frustrate your word count and other goals, when you’re on a deadline. For years writers have debated what to do about it. I’ve interviewed a lot of writers this past year and frequently ask advice on writer’s block. All of them have their ways of dealing with it. And many agree. Here are some tips to help you.

1) Write Anyway. As author John Pitts puts it: “Concert pianists and pro football players practice every day. Why shouldn’t writers?” Whether the music is good or bad, musicians work on their technique and craft daily to succeed. So should you. Don’t let this bane block you from your necessary exercise. Write anyway, even if the result is a crumpled page in the trash can. Some suggest this is a good way to get the block out of your system. Others merely that by writing you may push through it. Either way, you exercise your writing chops and that practice does you good.

2) Always Have Multiple Projects. Writer after writer has told me that when they get stuck on one project, they switch to another. I frequently have short story projects going while working on a novel just for such contingencies. And I also work on revising other projects, when I’m stuck on my main one. I find this keeps my creative juices flowing in ways that help me feel good and productive that day. Positive reinforcement and good psychological satisfaction is important for writers because motivation can be easily lost. It’s more fun to sit around and imagine the story than to actually work it out in words. So having multiple projects allows you to get word count and make creative progress on something, even when something else is blocked.

3) Identify The Block. To get past a block, you have to first identify the blockage. Where does the problem lie? Author Mary Robinette Kowal suggests: “Look at what’s causing the block. The way you react to working on the story can often tell you what’s wrong with it.” What spot are you stuck on? Where is the stress occurring which makes you just stop? Figure it out and you’ll be well on your way to figuring out why you’re blocked and seeking a solution.

4) Skip It. Author Paul S. Kemp writes scenes out of order: ” I’ll write according to my mood or as inspiration strikes. ” As a result, he struggles less with being blocked. There’s no one who says you have to write scenes chronologically or in any particular order. If one scene is giving you trouble, put a place holder in and move to another. Write something you have a good image of, where you know what to do. It’s better than not writing at all. You’ll keep to your word count and you’ll avoid the distraction of frustration by getting back to it later when you know what to do.

5) Change Your Approach. One way to work through a block is to approach what you’re trying to write a different way. This does not refer to pencil and paper instead of laptop and Microsoft Word, but rather to changing the Point of View of the scene or starting it in a different place or even changing the sequence events. Experiment. By finding a new approach, you can often overcome the block.

6) Ask Fellow Writers. One of the things authors often say about the community of writers is how advantageous the encouragement and support is that they get from their peers. After all, no one understands what you’re going through like someone else going through the same thing. Wherever they gather, authors discuss things like contract terms, agents, publishers, stories, and sometimes problems like blocks. Just by running through the issue with another writer, you can find yourself sorting it out before they say a word. And sometimes, they’ll solve it for you with a creative suggestion or by giving you a needed perspective. Don’t be afraid to make use of this resource. After all, the next time around, it could be you helping them.

7) Take A Break. Nothing frees up the creative juices from a block like walking away. Don’t just sit there getting more and more tense. Author/Editor Jennifer Brozek suggests: “I go exercise because then I realize how much I’d rather be writing.” It may not fix your exercise block, but it can fix your motivation block and motivation is key to writing.  Similar to getting a fresh perspective, it’s like getting a second wind–of motivation by reminding yourself how much you enjoy writing, something it’s very hard to remember when sitting at your writing station in a block.

8 ) Turn On The News. Author Nnedi Okorafor says: “All I have to do is turn on the news–stories galore.” Whether it’s to find a new project to work on when you’re stuck on the one you’ve been writing or to find a new way to look at the project on which you’re blocked, news stories are often full of varied perspectives which can shake you out of your thinking box and help you look at it with new eyes. And sometimes new eyes is all you need to break the block.

9) Switch Art Forms. If you’re creatively blocked in your writing, try making music instead. You paint? Switch to that for a while. Stimulate your creativity in a different way. It’s not only satisfying to your muse but it gives you the joy of creating and gets your mind off the issue. If you’re not obsessing over it, sometimes a solution will present itself the next time you sit down to write.

10) Accept It. Sometimes life just overwhelms you. In two years, writer Ken Scholes had major deaths in his family along with the birth of twin daughters and other crises. Despite signing a contract for multiple novels, he found himself unable to write. And he had to give himself permission to let that go and focus on what he needed to at the time. Once he dealt with grieving and family, the freedom to write returned. Sometimes you just won’t be able to get past it. Sometimes you just won’t be able to write. And sometimes there really are more important things you need to be doing. Forget the deadline. Forget the pressure. Get your priorities straight. Dealing with what you need to is the quickest way to get back to writing again. It’s hard to do for many of us. But sometimes the best thing you can do get over a block is accept defeat and refocus. This doesn’t mean you’re accepting it forever. Just for the moment. Once you’ve focused your energy on what you really need to, you’ll be writing again.

Well there they are, 10 Tips For Fighting Off Writer’s Block. Lessons learned from my personal experience and that of many successful writers.  Have others? We’d love to hear them in the comments. In the meantime, I hope you find something you can use. Happy writing.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Struggling Through Writer’s Block

Okay a few weeks ago, on a total whim, I fired off 7 Tips For Being Good Beta Readers, a post that rocked this blog. It has gotten more hits than anything else I ever posted. I have yet to see a single Retweet but yet readers keep coming. Since I had not been very good about blogging or writing at all, it was admittedly a thrill to write something people took such interest in. I’ve been trying to come up with a follow up ever since. My blog post on writing grief has had some hits, slowly. But my post on “Lessons From Editing” went largely unnoticed.

And now I can’t seem to think of anything I can actually finish. I offered to guest post on a friend’s blog while he takes some time after the birth of his daughter and his request for proposed topics sits unanswered. Sorry, Everett, not ignoring you, I just don’t have a clue. It’s almost like I wonder what I have to offer?

Now before you all start thinking I’m too hung up on my Site Stats link, it’s not the lack of hits that’s at the heart, it’s my depression. I am just generally down in the dumps. After all, in the last two years, I lost two dream jobs, a house we wanted to buy, went through several major medical crises with my wife who now divorced me. And I still can’t find a new job and I spend most of my time alone. Who wouldn’t be depressed? Writer’s Block has always been a bitch but this is taking on epic proportions.

Ironically, despite my blog block, I have been able to write on my novel. Oh I switch between excited about the stuff written and lackluster, yes, but at least I am getting words on the page. The story is progressing. Anything truly awful can be fixed later. But you can’t edit until you have a finished draft. And at least I’m getting somewhere.

Even my usual answer to writer’s block, the great standby which has seen me steadily through over the past few years, is not working. I always had several short stories going at the same time as I worked on a novel, so that I could always switch between them when ever the gnarly bitch reared her head. But right now, I just have a couple novels, and I still see no way out of the blog block, so I am resorting to the last chance.

That’s right. I am going to tame this bitch the only way I know how: write anyway.

Most of us are tied enough in ego to our writing, especially if you’ve made any sales or started networking enough to have people whose work you respect pay attention to your career, that we really loathe writing crap. We’d almost rather do anything than write when we know we don’t know what we’re doing. And although it’s often tossed out as advice at workshops and conferences to “write even when you don’t feel like writing,” such advice is often relegated to the category of good in concept, poor in practice and ignored. Because we don’t want to commit to paper words we will later read and say “I should NEVER have written that” as we scowl in horror.

But I’m doing it anyway. I am going to tame this  and write anyway. So here it is. Not a lot of great advice here for fighting off the block, the dreaded nemesis of any writer. But the advice I do have is write something, even when you don’t feel up to it. You never know what you’ll end up with and maybe, somehow, to someone, it’ll actually be helpful.

For what it’s worth…