No One Cares about Your Unwritten Fiction but You

You have stories roaming around in your head. I have stories like that, too. But until we get those stories out of our heads and onto a computer screen, they don’t exist for anyone who lives outside our heads and so those other people can’t care.

Our schooling gives us the wrong impression. In schools they act like even one single child not living up to his potential will wreck their whole century. But in fact even they don’t really expect everyone to do well, and if loads of kids have to give up dreams of becoming writers or rock stars or NFL football players in order to become accountants or congressmen or garbage men, that’s just normal life. In some schools the teachers learn to expect nearly everyone to fail— they are just happy when Joe becomes a garbage man and not a hit man.

The fact is, if you never write another word and give up your writing dream forever— delete your Scrivener, donate all your how-to-write books to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop, and burn your notebooks— no one will really care. If you have family members or loved ones, they may be sad if the giving-up process makes you visibly sad, but they don’t really care about the loss of your unwritten work, because those things aren’t real to them.

Now, once you start writing your stories down, even if the first ones are pretty bad, you can start getting better at those writing skills that don’t just involve making up stories in your head. If you try for years and can’t get an agent or a big traditional publisher interested, try small presses or indie publishing or putting your novels up on a blog or on Wattpad. In today’s writing world, anyone can get his writing out there where readers can see it. Which can be a bad thing, as when a 14-year-old girl writes the first draft of a Nanowrimo novel and thinks it’s good enough to be self-published, or at least to be on Wattpad. In ten or twenty years, that weak, unfinished novel she published will haunt her— though more and more writers will have their own skeletons in the online closet instead of in their trunk in the attic where juvenilia properly belong.

That work in your head might well be great. Or it could become great, with enough editing and revisions. It might not be the kind of great I would care for, but still, it could be great. But only if you can get it out of your head. So get to it!

Why aren’t you writing RIGHT NOW?


Real Writing and Your Feelings

Some people think writing is about expressing their feelings. They throw a bunch of their words at a page in ragged, poetry-type lines and say they are poets. They throw words at a page in prose-type lines and say they are a novelist. Because their feelings got expressed. And I say, bullsh-t.

Novels and poetry are a form of communication. They are supposed to be understood by other people. Expressing random feelings on paper may make you feel better, but those words don’t communicate well. You have to write with other people— your conversation partners— in mind.

The feelings-expressers are not at heart self-centered people. They have simply been mis-educated. They have been told to do finger paintings and later write prose and poems just to ‘express themselves.’ And no matter how bad their work is, they get the same level of praise as someone who is actually brilliant.

No wonder they are missing the point. Real writing is like a marathon. It’s hard to do, and there is likely only one winner. We can’t all be the best poet in the world or the best novelist in the world. And being the best matters, because being good matters.

Most writing, even the bad, self-indulgent stuff, has something of good in it somewhere. And that is a start. But as real writers we don’t just want one or two good bits in our work. We want lots of good bits, and we want to improve our writing day by day so we get even more good bits. We want to write books that are all the good stuff and none of the bad or pathetic stuff. We want to be the best, even if it’s not the best novelist ever but just the best contemporary Amish vampire fiction writer.

This doesn’t mean that there is no room for a fiction writer to express some feelings. But it has to be part of a good story or no one will see that expression of feelings. And when you are an emotionally mature writer, you can think on whether that desired feeling-expression helps or harms the story in general. (I recently started reading a Stephen King book which started out dull, and then he put in an anti-Trump rant. Since he clearly no longer cares about those readers who don’t share his politics or who mind dull story-beginnings, I quit reading at that point.)

We need to overcome that kindergarten-level view of creative work as something that wins everyone praise, and realize that we need to get good as writers. Maybe we only have the gifts to get a little good in some well-defined corner of the fiction world, but we want to be as good as we can be— and then get just a wee bit better.



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#AspieLife: Always Being Wrong

When you are born with Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) you ought to be given an hourly Miranda warning: If you give up your right to remain silent, anything you say can be used against you in the court of public opinion, and you will be presumed guilty of being wrong, wrong, wrong.

Even when neurotypical people say vile things to us in front of witnesses, those things tend to be ignored, unless we are foolish enough to complain about it. And then, we are called whiners. Still wrong.

I have grown to a mature age and I feel I have gained a lot of insight, but it seems that no matter what I am periodically slammed over the head that as seldom as I speak to other people, whatever I say is so wrong I’d be better off pretending to be mute. I have been hated for misinterpretations of things I’ve said when other people were eavesdropping on me. And this by people who ought to know that eavesdropping and then gossiping about the things overheard are considered morally questionable behaviors.

But we can’t go the fake-mute route. The problem is, if we faked being mute we would be assigned care-givers to make our decisions for us, and we are too intelligent to be happy suffering the effects of someone else’s wrong decisions. We’d rather decide for ourselves on things that are important to us.

Why do we always get the grief in interpersonal situations? There are a lot of people in the world that have poor social skills— poorer than ours, oftentimes. Yet it feels like we Aspies are getting harshness when other people with poor social skills are getting forgiveness and understanding.

I’ve come to believe that our problem is something that most of us can’t fix. We do things unconsciously that make other people think we are weird or odd in a way that is blameworthy. When we don’t make eye contact with others, or we try to make eye contact and are found guilty of ‘staring,’ people decide we are ‘shifty.’ Not quite honest and reputable people.

If we say the things we think, and other people feel we are being tactless, people think we are mean or crude or socially unacceptable. It won’t matter if you play the disability card and tell everyone you have Asperger Syndrome. People feel it is quite OK to ‘discriminate against’ someone who is mean or shifty, even if they also have Aspergers.

And so, in many situations, we just have to accept that we will be considered ‘wrong’ for reasons we can’t control or fix. We could try being very ready to apologize, but I used to get yelled at a lot for apologizing too much. I don’t have any ultimate answers, but I know that we can’t let these things give us low self esteem. We are doing the best that we can. If other people say we are ‘wrong’ but expect their own flaws to be ignored, we shouldn’t let that get us down. Just try to be kind to others on a regular basis— they already think you are weird, so what do you have to lose?

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#FixThatBlog – Bloggers Must Be Blog Readers

Imagine some guy going to Hollywood who had never once seen a movie. Looking for work, he decides to go to a movie studio head and ask for a job making movies. The studio head is inclined to give the guy a chance, and gives the fellow a list of movies to rent. The guy shakes his head. He doesn’t want to watch movies, he just wants to make movies. And get paid for it of course.

That’s not the way it works of course. Movie makers start out by watching lots of movies. Book writers start out as book readers, and short story writers start as short story readers. And if you want your blog to be worth reading in a world crowded with blogs, you must read blogs yourself.

Blog reading helps you to know the art form that is blogging. You need to read the great blogs, the sad-and-sorry blogs, and those in between. You need to read blogs in your own blog’s niche, and blogs on other topics.

The main thing you are looking for when reading blogs is the content. Some blogs have a nifty look, some are more plain, but that doesn’t really count. What matters to blog readers is the content. Blog readers are usually people who have done an internet search looking for specific information. They read blog posts (and other web sites) that seem to have the information they want. If a blog doesn’t look promising as a source of that information, they move on to another blog or website in seconds.

In time, many people become regular readers of a blog that seems to have a lot of good information. They keep coming back for more. The most popular blogs in each niche have discovered the secret of attracting regular readers. Sad-and-sorry blogs are more likely blogs that put off readers.

How do you become a blog reader? I mean, the mechanics of it? Search engines are a start. Try doing a search on [blogs} + [your niche] and you will come up with some possibilities. Among your search results you may find ‘The Ten Best Writing Blogs’ or ’25 Author Blogs You Must Read’ or ‘The 20 Best Low-Carb Recipe Blogs’— whatever your niche is. These can be a great resource in finding some of the best-known blogs in your niche.

Both Blogger and WordPress . com have a blog reading tool, but I don’t currently use either all that much. Currently I use Bloglovin’, which makes it easy to follow new blogs. Copy-and-paste the URL of a blog you have found that looks good into the search box at Bloglovin’. The blog in question will come up, and you can follow it. Then the posts in that blog will end up with others in your feed.

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Suggestion: avoid following the very high end professional blogs that have multiple writers and post many times a day or even more than once an hour. They will clog up your Bloglovin’ feed bigtime. You might try a second type of blog reader for blogs like that you just can’t miss.

Once you have a number of blogs to read, you will have stuff to look at in your daily blog-reading session. This may give you ideas on what to blog about. NOT that you will ever be copying someone else’s blog idea for the day, or even writing something very similar just now. You might write a reaction post with multiple links to the original post on Someone Else’s Blog, in which you give a different perspective. You could even slam every single bit of Someone Else’s blog post, but that would mean you are not really a nice person and I refuse to believe that of you. I believe you will take the high road and even when you strongly disagree with a post you are reacting to, you will be so polite and so positive that the Someone Else whose blog post you are reacting to will actually be flattered that you mentioned his blog post. You’re just that kind of blogger.

Good Writing/Author Blogs:

The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn also does writing-related podcasts.

Jeff Goins, Writer

Much aggressive marketing on this website. Popups galore.

Jane Friedman

A Pius Man:

Declan Finn is a friend, I’ve named a kitten after him. (Declanna.)

Dawn Witzke

Also a friend, but there are no kittens named after her yet.

Tyrean Martinson

Jon Del Arroz

Another friend. My kitten Jon-with-Rice is named after him.

No, Virginia, there is no Mary Sue

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Real life can bring disappointment. Santa Claus is a Catholic bishop who punched heretics. And Mary Sue, that figure beloved by amateur writing lore, isn’t real. She and her stepbrother Gary Stu are just figments of the amateur writing wars.

Mary Sue, other than being a way of making fun of women with unfashionable names like Mary and Susan, has no objective meaning. One person says it’s a character that is too perfect. (Was Jesus Christ then the ultimate Mary Sue— or Gary Lou?) Another says it’s a character who is too ‘nice.’ Or a character that doesn’t have the right flaws— the ones that ‘count.’

Realistically, calling someone else’s character a Mary Sue is another arena to fight the opinion wars. John’s a hardcore angry atheist? Then every character in your Evangelical Christian romance is a Mary Sue because they all go to church weekly and refrain from stealing and using heroin. Does Mandy have a low opinion of the ‘politically correct?’  Then she will accuse your characters of being sensitive-snowflake Mary Sues who will worry if a murderer would think it’s ‘racist’ if he is asked not to do the murder thing any more. Any  character more morally straight than Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter Morgan can be seen as a Mary Sue by somebody.

If you get accuse of having written a Mary Sue, perhaps the best thing to do is ignore it, as you would do if someone accused your protagonist of being Santa Claus’s lead reindeer. If you really feel you have to respond, ask the person— what, specifically, is wrong with the character? If he responds ’she’s too nice,’ that’s not a specific response. In what scene, in what action, is that character being ‘too nice?’ Chances are, it’s going to come down to a matter of taste or opinion.

Sometimes the problem is genre. If you are writing Christian fiction or Amish romance, the guy who writes spy novels with high body counts may see all your best characters as Mary Sues. But the genre standards are different. If you write an Amish girl who can kill bad guys seven different ways with a pencil eraser, that won’t meet the standards of the Amish romance genre, which has a notoriously low body count.

When you despair, remember that the greatest writers in the world wrote characters who were nice as well as ones that were Lady Macbeth. Jane Austen wrote whole books full of people who never called anyone a motherf-ck-er, not once. Was she a writer of Mary Sue characters? No. And neither are you. Go forth, and write stuff!

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Character Groups: What George R. R. Martin Taught Me

I’ve been getting writing lessons from George R. R. Martin lately— OK, I’ve been binge-reading the Game of Thrones series. (I’ve never seen the TV show except for a few minutes when HBO had a free preview. Didn’t care for it at the time.)

The main thing I’ve learned so far is actually from an appendix of Book One (A Game of Thrones) in which it lists characters by which families they are associated with. There’s House Baratheon, House Stark, House Lannister, House Arryn, House Tully and more. Not only are the family members listed, but also their servants, knights, bannermen and the lesser houses connected to them.

In my own current WIP, I’ve come to realize I need to work on forming sets of characters like this myself— for two different kingdoms, Schwalenland, and a neighboring, poorer kingdom called Ruthenia where my protagonist goes into exile, hidden from the tyrannical king who kills her parents, her father’s dragon, and his own wives, whenever he wants a different one.

For Schwalenland, writing lists of the noble houses and other noble families is part of the worldbuilding. For Ruthenia, it’s important because my protagonist will be meeting different Ruthenian noble families, including, eventually, the Tsar-Autocrat of Ruthenia, who is also the Postmaster of a postal service which uses firebirds to get messages across the land (to the few Ruthenians who can read.)

Character groups are not only important in sweeping fantasy fiction series. Even in a contemporary mystery novel, your character may interact with a group of characters in a workplace, another group in the home environment, and other groups in places associated with solving the mystery.

I’ve realized that NOT thinking about the character groups I shall need, and creating them, slows down my progress on the WIP. I’m trying to take time to create a few of the character groups I shall need. For my Ruthenian characters, since Ruthenia was settled by small groups from the different Slavic-language-speaking countries, I have to research names typical of Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, Polish, Czech and other Slavic groups, and find names for the noble estates as well. And work out the economic resources of the different estates. House Pavliuk has a copper mine, vicuna wool, and rare types of wood valued by woodworkers.

One creepy thing about the mass-market paperback edition of the books I am reading— among the endorsements by other fantasy writers they include one by MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY. Whose daughter Moira Greyland has interesting things to say about the abuses inflicted by MZB and her husband, Walter Breen, a convicted pedophile. MZB is no longer someone whose endorsement would be respected by anyone, I am afraid. (I used to be an obsessive Darkover fan, but now I can see too much of the real MZB in some of the stories.)

Comment: How do you create character groups for your fiction? Do you create them in advance or as you need them? Do you have any good tricks for doing it?

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Kittens in, kittens out #Caturday


Here on Insel Lyr Farm we had a visit from the dead-kitten fairy— lost two pretty kitties to ‘dead kitten disease’ which seems to be caused by mama cats marrying their brothers generation after generation. (I’m seriously thinking about getting a male ‘free kitten’ and letting him be the Head Tomcat in Charge.)

We lost mama cat Moxie’s two babies, though she seems happy enough nursing her sister’s only-child kitten Jon-with-Rice. He’s bigger than her two were so she thinks he’s better. But by the end of the day, Charybdis came walking down the driveway with two large kittens, both girls.

I no longer name newborn kittens unless it’s an auspicious saint’s day (that’s how girl-cat Norbert got her name— St. Norbert’s Day.) But these kittens are nearly as big as Jon, who’s getting to be a big boy and can climb into not-allowed places he wasn’t even aware of a few weeks ago.


Since the two kittens we lost almost got named Declan and Moira after writers Declan Finn and Moira Greyland, I was thinking of naming the two new ones Declan and Moira. But they are both calico kittens which means they are both girls. I have given out gender-inappropriate names before— Charybdis used to have a sister named Scylla who turned out to be a boy kitty. And Norbert got her boy’s name on purpose. I’m thinking of naming the second girl kitten Declanna instead of Declan, though. (If you will look at the picture you will see Declan/Declanna has one infected eye— we are taking care of that.)

Charybdis the mama is, like all the cats, a barn cat with ambitions to get promoted to house cat. And now she has kittens, she does get to stay in the house. I like to have the kittens indoors for their formative days so they get used to people and to using the litter box, in case some of the kittens need new homes someday. She has lived in the house before, Charybdis and her brother Boy-Scylla loved to lounge the day away in MY GOOD CHAIR. That’s where they were when I noticed Scylla had awfully big balls for a girl kitten.

I don’t know where Charybdis gave birth to the kittens or raised them to the stage they are now at, but I found the kittens in the long grass. So either the mama gave birth outdoors instead of in the barn, or she moved them outdoors so they could get rained on. Mama and both daughters seem happier to be in the house. Though all three tend to hiss at me and at the cats and kitten already living in the house.

Kitten Jon-with-Rice is a little bit unhappy with the new situation, though. He’s the son of Refrigerated Roxie, who got trapped in the refrigerator overnight as a kitten. He’s tried crawling in the fridge himself but I caught him both times, so he didn’t have an overnight stay. When he discovered his aunt Moxie’s two kittens, he absolutely refused to go back into his own kitten box and moved in with his cousins, who turned out to be his favorite chew toys. But now they are gone, he’s stuck with two replacement kittens who don’t know him, and all three of the grown-up kitties have been hissing a lot. Jon spend the night curled up on my neck so he’d be safe from all the hissers.

Jon-with-Rice sitting in The Good Chair.

Jon-with-Rice was named after author Jon del Arroz, who is pretty cool about my claiming his name means ‘Jon with rice’ and is also OK with having a kitten named after him. Jon the kitten is a friendly little guy though he does tend to bite to show affection like one of my other cats, Eleanor. (That’s why Eleanor isn’t living in the house right now. I just can’t handle an ankle-biting cat first thing in the morning. Also, she hisses at Jon a lot.) He’s pretty sweet, otherwise, and he didn’t bite the other kittens too hard. They sometimes mewed a little but Moxie and Roxie came running to their rescue each time so Jon never overdid it lest his mommy and aunty might start to blame him for the kittens-in-distress. They never did figure that out, though.

NOTE: Animal rights advocates who want to bully me for being ‘cruel’ enough to have living cats at my place, be warned: I will eat an extra helping of MEAT for each bullying attempt. And since I am a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, bullying me should make you feel ashamed, anyway. Of course, so should any bullying, but that’s not the world we live in right now.