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3. Other Things Authoring Writing Advice

Learning Lessons

Originally published on my Patreon in June 2022. Become a Patron!

My 2nd-favorite convention button* reads, “Oh, no, not another learning experience!”***

One lesson I still have not mastered is this one:  “When in doubt, say no. If you aren’t bedrock-solidly sure you should say yes, say no. In fact, default to saying no, and you’ll rarely go wrong.”

I say yes more than is good for me. Good intentions are listed among my many reasons, plus a high capacity for rationalizing my way into corners. I tell myself writing outside my own worlds will hone my writing skills and build self-discipline. (It does) Taking on creative work other than writing will recharge my energy for my own writing. (True)  Sharing and collaborating are personally affirming and help build community. Etcetera and so on.

Saying yes always makes sense when I agree to it, but roughly 50% of the times I’ve taken on extra projects since I became a professional writer, saying no would’ve been the wiser choice.

Great stats for a baseball player. Not so great for, say, bridge engineering. I don’t know if it’s good or bad for a writer.

Some projects turn out to be a bad fit emotionally, some became outrageous time-sinks of scope creep, and others bogged down in the mire of “great concept, not-so-great organization.” Some managed to be all three things at once. Even projects that were wholly enjoyable came with a high cost. Time and energy are my most limited resources.

Being a champion overthinker, I routinely revisit all the disastrous, exhausting, costly yes-es in my past and question my judgment. Was saying yes worth it when things worked out so badly, so often?

The answer, in a word, is Yes. (I bet you saw that coming.)

No matter how much wiser saying no would’ve been, I never regret having done things. I’ve benefitted in some way from even the most frustrating & joy-sucking “shoulda said no” experience. Each one taught me a new life trick or two, most taught me new writing or writing-adjacent skills–or refreshed & polished my existing ones.

I don’t make the same mistakes. Every time, I find new ones.

All that said, here’s the latest incarnation of my ever-evolving list of Important Things To Do If You Must Say Yes.

1. Decide your limits & engrave them like stone in your own mind.

2. Write down everything you’ll be expected to do. Go over this information up front with the person or people you’re saying yes to.

2.5. Make absolutely everyone understands this is the absolute limit of what you expect to be asked to do.

This is not quite the same as “get it in writing.” This isn’t about contractual obligations. It’s about the fallibility of memory & the inevitability of misaligned expectations. It’s about making sure you have a record of your own expectations for yourselfbefore you become entangled & invested in the project.

3. Pull out your written list & consult it whenever you’re asked to do more things, other things, or feel like you’re being pressured to renegotiate your role.

4. If you have to remind someone of the agreement more than twice, it’s 3-strikes-and-out, DTMFA, walk away time. Sunk-cost fallacy will be hard to fight (really, REALLY hard) but seriously? If someone creeps across the line twice, they’ll just keep asking until they wear you down or you bite their head off.

I’m good at the snap & bite part. Doesn’t make it fun.

My final words in this  Say No 101 refresher course: remember that small favors turn into big problems if you don’t protect your boundaries like a mama mockingbird defending her nest–and sometimes even if you do.

You can keep your shields on full, charge up your orbital lasers and your asteroid cannons,  have all your best spells locked & loaded & ready to cast–and still get ambushed by a bad situation.

It still won’t be a total loss as long as you find something worthwhile to learn from it.

That’s it until next time I feel like ranting, venting, or musing.

And here is a random image of carp in the Chicago Botanic Garden lagoon, photo taken on a recent visit.

***Oh-ho, you’ve found the footnote!

My favorite button reads, “There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives.”  It appeals to me for complicated reasons and remains my fave despite the quote coming from Scott Adams, whose sociopolitical stance proves he’s  more like Pointy-haired Boss than nerdy Dilbert.  I would’ve included a photo of both buttons on this post but I can’t find my button collection at the moment.

Categories
2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts Whimsy Writing Life

Barns & other distractions

Did I need to research dairy barn restoration and collect architectural drawings of historical barn types yesterday & today?

TRICK QUESTION.

Checking my barn-related terminology for a single scene sent me skipping through Indian dairy farming advice blogs, across encyclopedia entries on cow breeds, and down a long sideline into the meaning of “Highline electricity” into power line work and voltage issues with server racks.

Fun facts: gawala means cattleman or head dairy worker in Urdu, at least according to two language sites I consulted after being puzzled by the term’s appearance in an otherwise all-English language paper comparing the efficiency of different cow configurations in milking barns. (Surprise, it was an INDIAN dairy industry publication. …which bounced me into a brief investigation of dairy farming in India.) Gawala may also be a kind of milk-based candy?

Highline vs lowline refers to the voltage carried by power lines. Also back in the day your builder needed to know whether your farm had highline or house plant electricity before drawing up plans for your barn.

And barn research totally relates to volcanoes, right? Okay, no, but I saw a news headline while I was closing a tab. Count on a geology/meteorology nerd like me to click on ANY link with a satellite photo of a huge ash cloud.

What happened in the Pacific last week will have global effects for a long time to come. Like every huge eruption, it’ll teach geologists a ton about what’s going on beneath the thin biosphere we inhabit. And like every huge eruption near humans, its toll will be expensie and heartbreaking. The videos and photos of the aftermath are incredible. The cost? Incalculable.

ANYway. Speaking of satellite photos, I’ve been watching US winter storms on assorted weather sites lately. The quality of the images is interesting (in a muttered curses way) because it pretty much indicates how blatant the site is about downgrading the available imagery to engineer subscriptions to the premium subscription strategy. Charging for something that should be a free public resource.

I recall my excitement a zillion years ago when my parents got cable television and a new TV with a remote. Not because we got HBO. Not because the TV picture was suddenly clear instead of getting fuzzy or staticky when it rained. Not because I could flip channels from across the room. Nope.

I was over the moon because I COULD WATCH THE WEATHER RADAR! MInd, this was not the amazing many-layered weather displays of today’s weather apps. It was straight-up regional Doppler precipitation radar on a 30-second loop. It still fascinated me. Weather patterns both local and distant shifted, grew, and passed right in front of my eyes.

I loved mentally connecting those trends to the conditions outside the window. My dad used to make fun of me for checking the television for the weather instead of looking outside (weather rock style) but matching screen to reality taught me tons about reading the sky for future conditions in just a few years. Priceless free education.

But I digress. The free imagery now available from modern satellites is MIND-BLOWING. You won’t find it on easily-accessible, fast-loading commercial weather apps, but it’s out there. Full-color, high-resolution visuals. Temperature gradients. Precipitation. Stills and animation loops for hours. Any time there’s a Big Weather or Big Fire event, I am up online ogling the imagery from space.

There are a lot of sites, but my favorites are https://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/goes/index.php for the US GOES-East & GOES-West satellites, and https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/satellite.php when I want Himawari-8.

That’s all for this episode of Research roundup. For your enjoyment, I am including a Weather Rock Photo.

Until later!

Oh, right. Obligatory “Hey, I Write Books” postscript: if you like my writing, please recommend my books to all your friends & enemies. They are wonderful books full of Good Things.

Science. Fiction. Love. Honor. Revenge. Knitting. Gardening. Thrilling escapes & cozy conversations. All that and more. Easy one-stop access: https://bit.ly/kmhlinktree

Categories
2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts Writing Life

Recent research topics

By recent I mean “today.” This is a glimpse of what goes through my brain on a daily basis

–> Identification of red foxes versus coyotes (foxes are not necessarily red but reliably have black legs and a bushy white-tipped L O N G tail held out from body, so what we saw trotting down the sidewalk at midday was probably the neighborhood fox, not the neighborhood coyote)

–> Followup topics: are red foxes native to North America or were they brought over from Europe? (Recent genetic research indicates the populations are all native, contradicting long-held assumptions about gentry colonists bringing them over for game hunting.) Do people still raise foxes for fur? (Ew, yes.) Can you own a fox as a pet in Illinois? (Not legally. Indiana, yes, though) Look at all these cute pet fox videos…

–> Both desiccate and siccate mean dry–why have two such similar words mean the same thing? I knew the answer but double-checked the etymology before responding to someone who asked this online. (They differ in degree. Siccate means dried like you dry off after a shower or hang out wet clothes. Desiccated is dry like beef jerky or a mummy. Latinate words & fun Latin prefixes!)

–>Looked up the location of Tonga on a full world map because news maps annoy me. Followed that by playing “name that European country” on world-geography-games.com, and also “name that African country. Did not do well on either one, but slightly better with Europe than Africa, no big shocker there.

–> What are marshmallows made of? Why are they called marshmallows? What’s the traditional use of mallow? How and where does it grow? Does the flower have a scent? Is it considered an herb? What’s the difference between an herb and a spice? History of spice trade. Origin of National Geographic magazine. (Yes, folks, this is how my brain bounces 24/7/365.)

I love the internet. Yes, Wikipedia, I often start there, but the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the USDA. The NCBI.NLM.NIH site. Archives galore. Social media is a hellish time suck, but the internet? The internet is fucking amazing. Maybe it makes my writing better? I don’t know. It makes the process fun & makes time fly, that’s for sure.

my research assistant

That’s all for now. Until later!

Categories
Writing Life

Random brain bubbles

That would be another accurate title for this blog, huh? My sneaky plan to avoid getting caught in a sticky web of scrolling by writing posts here instead of onto social media–it’s working. I’ve clawed back HOURS of time by dropping every “Here be a funny/interesting/annoying thing” observation into a draft post instead of booting up a social media app that sucks me in.

I’ve forgotten to PUBLISH the drafts several times already, though. That is a strong indication my desire to share things is satisfied by writing them down. It also indicates I still suffer from some self-censoring problem of “but is that important enough to post?” avoidance.

Time to refine the strategy and formally assert that every few hundred words of something IS a post and publish it once any draft hits that goal. Which this one has! Here be 3 separate shortish snippets.

FIRSTEST.

I didn’t get around to doing biscotti yesterday. I wrote things and made BBQ baked beans + cornbread for oven exercise, but there was a LOT of laundry to slog through as well. Biscotti prep did happen–I diced TWO batches of dried fruit in the food processor, so there will be a bonus batch of cookies at some future date–but the main storyline got postponed in favor of several side-quests in the form of cabinet cleaning, drawer organizing, and a seasonal behind-a-the-things counter scrubbing. This is a typical chain of events for my kitchen adventures.

Cookie completion? Delayed. Sense of accomplishment? HUGE. I’ll take that trade-off.

SECONDEST.

“Chase Catmom” is currently First Among Favorites on the long list of Mister Pippin’s favorite games. It’s a recent spin on an earlier entertainment: Watch Mom Walk In Circles.

I pace around the basement at night when I’m feeling antsy but it’s too damned cold and icy outside to take a walk. (So, in my area, most of January.) The best spot for ‘taking a turn around the room,’ to use my Regency Romance phraseology, is a wide hallway about 25′ long, with a winding stair at one end and the game room at the other. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll open the cat gate to the gaming zone and add a circle around that to my route.

Pips always wants to be in the middle of any action, because CAT, and there are several excellent window wells and table perches. I get exercise, he gets cat TV.

A few days ago he leaped off the table and got underfoot when I turned at the game room end. There was much whuffling, many tail-flirts, and some foot dancing action. Never has there been a clearer invitation to play Chase.

“Seek & Pounce” being a critical element of the chase game, I hustled to the far end by the stair and hid around the corner. (I would say run, but it’s a wind-sprint distance, so I never get up to speed.)

Pips galloped along in my wake, mrrping excitedly the whole way, and he accepted pets and praise on arrival when he “found” me. Once I resumed my walking, Pips waited until I got halfway down the hall before charging up and past me in an obvious bid to do it all over again. So we did.

Best Game Ever.

He’ll sprint after me ten or twelve times before he’s thoroughly tuckered out. At the end of every lap he meows and chirrups and demands pets for his excellent conformation and speed. It’s adorable, and no, I am not doing video of it.

THIRDEST

Today in random investigations: Woodstock is much more common municipality name than I realized. Not quite Springfield, but it’s up there. I didn’t check all 50 states, but CT, IA, IL, IN, KY, MI, NC, NY, OH, PA, SC, TN, WI for sure all have a place called Woodstock. And now you know that too.

Postscript, sort of. Tags. My dislike of the tagging and categorizing aspect of blogging may also be holding me back. When I’m done writing, I want to hit publish & be done, not ponder the best subject headers & keywords. Adding internet cat tax photos to tempt folks into clicking is fun, and I don’t mind dashing off little teasers for the social media auto-shares, but my post-writing-the-post patience ends there.

I recognize tags are important Search Engine Optimization tools, but I gotta be honest: that’s a skillset I don’t feel like learning. From now on, I shall be doing few-to-no tags and ignoring WordPress’s little guilt-trip suggestion boxes about them. Easier is better, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

That’s all for now. I’ll do this again when next I have a few hundred words of random. Until then!

Categories
Writing Life

Musings on reviews & reaching readers

I don’t go looking at reviews often, but when I do, sometimes I find pure gems. Take this observation, from an unverified 2-star Amazon review left in June. (Why am I posting this now, when it happened in June? HI HAVE WE MET? HAVE I NOT MENTIONED MY ABILITY TO OVERTHINK THINGS FOREVER?)

But I digress early this time.

The reviewer found Controlled Descent unappealing in large part because there were repeated instances of “characters dealing with physical suffering and acting like jerks.”

Friends, I confess THIS IS A VALID TAKE, and that makes this a valuable review.

Not sure where the reader got their copy. Since the review is unverified & not linked to a Goodreads, it’s not an Amazon purchase. Might have been a convention? This means someone cared hard enough about their disappointment in a book they bought at least 2 years ago to hunt it down online & vent.

I admire that kind of dedication, and I’m (perhaps perversely) pleased I was able to inspire that passionate a reaction.

I mean, sure I’d rather inspire excitement and joy and other positive responses like loyalty and enthusiasm, but the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. I’d rather fifty people passionately but thoughtfully hate my writing than five hundred think it’s too MEH to bother rating at all.

I’ve learned over the years that my perspective on this is far from universal. Your mileage may vary, etc.

That same review complained about an “obligatory intertwined love story” and that remark kinda underscores that the book was a bad fit for them. Which happens. But not because there’s and intertwined love story.

There isn’t. Pinkie swear. There are multiple characters who are sexually attracted to others, yes. That’s hardly unrealistic. And there are comedic elements involving one character’s obliviousness, because that’s my lived experience & fun to write. But it’s a group of people who all respect consent & accept responsibility for their own attraction, so that’s that. There;s a straightforward pair-up within the embrace of a supportive, approving friendship group, and nothing more.

But!

If a reader was braced for/expecting matters to fall out as a Typical Tropey Lurve Triangle, well, I can see why they might read the interactions differently and not appreciate it. I’m not a fan of love triangle angst myself, so I can respect others being sensitive to it and having a different perspective.

I’m sharing all this as an example of why an unfavorable review can still be a good one — nay, even an excellent one.

Now, there are bad reviews aplenty out there. Vicious, vitriolic, meanspirited, hating, hateful ones. Getting a lot of those can sink a beautiful book into obscurity forever. I’ve seen stories smothered that way on Goodreads, on Twitter, on…well, anywhere readers are gathered together. Like some other authors, I fear attcks like those. So far, my obscurity has protected my writing.

(Low-star pile-on attacks have little to do with the quality of the book. Even in cases where problematic elements offended and enraged people, the massive inundation of bad reviews come from people who never. read. the. book–which is a little piece of proof that a review reveals something of its author along with its analysis.)

BUT I DIGRESS AGAIN. QUELLE SUPRISE

As long as the review is a good, honest, thoughtful one, the reasons one reader did NOT like a book inform other prospective readers about things they WILL like. That’s why I welcome good unfavorable ones. I’m grateful to all the people who took the time to share why they didn’t like my books.

Some provide insight into choices I made unconsciously about characters or style or themes–the kind of choices beta readers and editors might not question, but ones which I would rather make consciously. Other “bad” reviews highlight imperfections in plot or structure that are part of the craft ‘m always striving to improve. And yes, a few of the reviews are pure entertainment in a classic “WTAF, did they read the same book I wrote?” way.

But anyway. I thought I’d share my ponderings on this topic, and now I have done so.

That’s all for now. Until later!

OOP! CAT TAX: