Going to Mars is My Dream, But Not My Passion

Hello, friends!

So this post isn’t really about Mars.  I mean, if NASA ever announces that they desperately need to send a writer/illustrator to Mars, I’d volunteer.  I’d love to go to Mars!  That would be awesome!

But I don’t expect that to happen.  Even if we do send humans to Mars, and even if that does happen in my lifetime, those humans will be scientists and engineers.  They’ll be people who are good at math.  I’m not a math person, nor do I wish to become a math person.

So while I dream about standing on the surface of the Red Planet, my passions lie elsewhere.  And I think it’s important to know the difference between your dreams and your passions.  Dreams matter.  Your dreams say a lot about who you are as a person and what you believe (and do not believe) about the world.  Cherish your dreams, but pursue your passions.

I have a passion for writing and also a (slightly lesser) passion for art.  If I could spend every day of my life writing and drawing, that would be glorious.  If I had to spend every day doing math, I’d be miserable.  And that’s why I write blog posts about Mars rather than sitting in a laboratory somewhere trying to figure out how to actually get to Mars.

Of course, no matter what your dreams and passions happen to be, there will still be closed-minded people trying to stand in judgement over you.  Ignore those people.  Cut them out of your life, if you can (maybe consider moving to another planet, if the opportunity comes up).

So what are your dreams, and what are your passions, and what are you doing to pursue them?

Research Before Writing

Hello, friends!

So last week, I told you about some of my new writing rules… or maybe I should call them writing promises.  That’s what they really are: promises that I am making to myself (or rather, promises that I’m making to my muse, depending on how you want to think about it).

Anyway, today I want to share another writing promise that I’ve made, a promise specifically related to this blog:

I promise to do my research before attempting to write a blog post, because trying to write a blog post without getting all my facts straight first is a huge waste of time.

You see, I fully intended to have a Sciency Words post for you last Friday.  I picked an easy one—a scientific term that I thought I understood fairly well—to ensure that I would get that blog post written, illustrated, and scheduled on time.  But once I started writing, I soon realized that I did not understand what I was writing about—not nearly as well as I thought I did.  Oops!

I’ve done this to myself many times before.  I try to crank out a quick blog post, then realize I’m a little fuzzy on some details, a little vague about certain facts.  And so a blog post that was supposed to be done in about an hour eats up a whole day’s worth of writing time.  Quick, easy blog posts always end up being the hardest, most time-consuming posts to write.

So going forward, before writing even one single word for a blog post, I’m going to do my research first.  Even if I think I’m already an expert on whatever I’m writing about, I’m going to do my research first.  That’s a promise I’m making to myself, so I can be more efficient with my blog writing time.  And it’s a promise I’m to you too, dear reader, because I really, really, really do not want to spread any sort of misinformation about science on the Internet.  There’s too much of that already.

P.S.: Wait, I didn’t do any research before writing this blog post.  Oh no!  I’ve already broken my promise!!!

#IWSG: Rewriting My Writing Rules… Again!

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group!  If you’re a writer and if you feel insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

So last month, I didn’t get much blogging done.  I was a little busy working on something else.  But I did have time last month to have a long, heartfelt conversation with my muse.  We ended up setting some new rules and renegotiating the terms of our writer/muse relationship.

There are plenty of writing rules out there, of course, but as my muse likes to say:

And that’s exactly what I did.  I took a look at some of the rules I’ve been following—both the rules I’ve adopted from other writers and also the rules I’ve invented for myself.  I cut some, edited others.  I condensed and combined a few things together.  Then, in the end, I presented my muse with the following letter:

Dear Muse,

I promise to write every single day, because writing requires daily practice, and my writing skills and writing stamina atrophy quickly if I skip too many days in a row.

I promise to do warm up exercises on a regular basis, because sometimes my brain needs a little help switching over from real life mode to writing mode.

I promise to work on a wide range of creative projects each week, because focusing on just one project leads to creative stagnation, while jumping between projects can help stir up the creative juices.

And if I break any of these promises, dear muse, I promise to write you a long and sincere apology letter, because that will help me learn from my mistakes and figure out how to do better next time.


Your Writer.

I’ve written (and rewritten) plenty of writing rules for myself over the years, but I never thought to include those “because” clauses before.  Those because clauses make a real difference, I think.  It’s one thing to make up a bunch of rules and try to follow some sort of routine.  But rules and routines get boring.  Once that happens, it’s easy to forget why those rules were important, and excuses for breaking the rules are not hard to find.

So I’m going to make one last promise.  I promise to post my rules prominently in my writing sanctuary, because sometimes I need a quick reminder not only of what my rules are but why those rules are important to me.  And, as always, if it turns out these new rules don’t work out for me: writing rules are made to be rewritten.

So what do you think of my new writing rules, and what sort of writing rules do you follow?

So I’ve Been Kind of Busy…

Hello, friends!  Sorry for not posting in a while.  I’ve been busy.  Really busy.  Don’t worry, it’s the good kind of busy, the kind of busy where things keep getting better, rather than the kind where you’re just trying to stop things from getting worse.

Today, I’d like to show off some of the work I’ve been doing.  Is that okay with you?  It is?  Cool!  So among other things, I’ve been working on this massive redecorating project, focusing on the three spaces in my house where I do most of my creative work: the art studio, the writing sanctuary, and the library.

I wish I’d thought to take photos of what these spaces looked like before so I could do a before-and-after thing.  Oh well.  Just imagine rooms full of Walmart furniture and junk I found at Goodwill, with piles and piles of paper clutter on top of everything.  Are you picturing that?  Good.  Now, take a look at this:

This is my new art studio.  I wanted this room to be as maximally colorful as possible.  I think I achieved that goal.  All those bright, happy colors are just what I need to get me in the mood for art—much more so than the grey and beige thing that was going on in that room before.  But the biggest improvement is probably this:

I do 95% of my artwork using either Copic brand markers or PrismaColor brand colored pencils.  The Copic markers are now in the rainbow bins on the left, and the PrismaColor pencils are on the right.  Finally, all the art supplies I use on a regular basis are together in the same easy-to-access place!

As for the writing sanctuary, I’ve told you before how I like to do my writing: lying flat on my belly, feet kicked up in the air, like I’m an eight-year-old kid.  (To be clear, I do not advocate that other people should write this way; it’s just the way I like to do it.)  Well, here’s my writing sanctuary now:

Actually, not a whole lot has changed.  That’s the same blanket on the floor that I’ve been writing on for years, and those are the same pillows that I had before, too.  Same dictionary, same coffee mug full of pens, same picture of my muse. But the shelving on the left is new, and I’ve worked out a whole system of file trays and magazine holders to make organizing my various works in progress easier.

Also, I printed and hung these decorative alphabet flags (inspired by Tibetan prayer flags) in the back area of the sanctuary.

And lastly, we come to the library, the room where I keep most of my books and do almost all of my reading and research.  For this room, I went with an enchanted forest theme, because the absolute best place to read a book is in the middle of an enchanted forest.  That’s not an opinion.  That’s a fact.

I have to confess I felt a little guilty spending so much time and energy on this redecorating project when (in my mind, at least) I should have been writing and drawing.  I am, as some of you know, a big believer in setting a routine and sticking to it.  Breaking my routine in order to do all this redecorating was not an easy decision for me.

But now that the work is done, I have to say these new rooms are so much better.  Yes, this project ate up a whole lot of my time (and also my money), but I consider those expenses worthwhile.  Sometimes you have to take a small step backward before you can move forward.  Sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk on yourself, to make an investment in yourself, in order to keep pursuing your dreams.

But wait!  Redecorating was not the only thing I did this past month.  My muse and I also took some time to renegotiate the terms of our relationship.  I’ll tell you all about that in Wednesday’s posting on the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

#IWSG: My Love/Hate Relationship with Writing

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a group that supports writers who might feel a little insecure about their writing.  If you’d like to learn more about IWSG and see a list of participating blogs, click here.

This may be one of the hardest thing for people to understand: sometimes, two mutually contradictory statements can both be true.  Here’s an example.  I love writing.  Also, I hate writing.  Let me unpack what I mean.

First off, I really do love writing.  It’s the single greatest source of joy and pleasure in my life.  Being something of an ethical hedonist, I’ve been trying for years now to maximize the joys and pleasures of my life.  In other words, I’ve been trying to squeeze more writing time into my schedule (as well as more time for other sources of personal joy, like drawing and reading).

I cannot take full credit for this pun.  Versions of this have been circulating the Internet for years.

In order to keep maximizing my writing time, I’ve slowly been transitioning from writing as a hobby to writing as a career.  But (this is the tricky part) if writing is my job now, if I’m not writing purely for my own amusement anymore, then I have to set a production schedule.  I have to deal with word count quotas and deadlines and other boring stuff like that.

And when I’m up against a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise), it tends to stunt my creativity and spoil my fun.  Writing starts to feel like a chore.  I am not at my writerly best when writing feels like a chore.  I don’t want to do it anymore.  All of a sudden, I hate writing.

It really are the deadlines that ruin writing for me.  Case in point: I’m writing this IWSG post well in advance of IWSG day, rather than scrambling to get it done the night before.  And I feel like this is turning out to be a much more expressive and honest post than what I typically write for IWSG.  Or at least, I feel a lot happier with this post than I normally do.

But if I want to make a career out of writing (and I do!), then I will have to learn to accept the bad with the good.  I have to learn to live with this tension in my writing life: I love writing, and also I hate writing.  I’m not really looking for advice here, by the way.  I am merely acknowledging to myself and to you that this is the way things are, and I’m trying to be very zen about the whole situation.

So this is what the writing life is like for me.  Perhaps some of you, my fellow insecure writers, understand what I’m talking about.

When the Muse Withholds Ideas

Hello, friends!  Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. from blogging lately.  I’ve been suffering from a severe case of writer’s block.  Or, to say that another way, my muse has been withholding ideas from me.  Why would my muse do such a thing?  I’ll let her explain.

Stress isn’t always bad.  Psychologists draw a distinction between good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress).  If you feel like you’re stretching your limits, if you’re stepping out of your comfort zone, if you’re confident that you can prevail against the challenges in front of you—that’s the good kind of stress.  But if you feel like something’s snapped, like you’re totally overwhelmed and can’t cope with it all—that is the bad kind of stress.

For me, writing is the good kind of stress, always.  But in these distressful, COVID-ful times, writing has not made things better.  I always assumed good stress and bad stress would cancel each other out, but maybe it doesn’t work that way.  Maybe it’s more like multiplying a positive with a negative—you just end up with a bigger negative.

And so my muse—the magical fairy person who’s supposed to make me do my writing—made me take a break from writing.  It was for my own good.  I needed the rest—some properly lazy and self-indulgent rest.

Now that I’ve had that period of rest, I’m going to try to get back to my regular writing and blogging routine.  No guarantees, though.  We’ll see how things go.

P.S.: My muse did help me write this blog post.  That has to be a good sign, right?

Dreaming About Pailly Crater

Hello, friends!

So this is kind of a weird time in my life.  A few weeks ago, I handed my manuscript over to my editor.  Now my editor has handed that manuscript back to me.  There’s surprisingly little that needs to be fixed, so I guess I’ll be moving forward with my self-publishing plan soon.

And that’s weird to me.  I’ve been writing for a really long time now.  I’ve come close to being published before, but this time is different.  My writing dreams have never felt so real to me, and yet at the same time nothing about what’s happening feels real to me at all.  I don’t know how to explain it any better than that.

I know a lot of writers fantasize about getting their book on a bestseller list or winning some sort of award.  I honestly don’t care about that.  So long as I make a living writing full time, I’ll be happy.  However, I will confess there is one prestigious honor that I do find myself daydreaming about, from time to time.  Is it premature for me to talk about this?  Yes.  Yes, it is.  Indulge me.

The International Astronomy Union has a longstanding tradition of naming craters on Mercury after artists, writers, and musicians.  To quote from this website, Mercury’s craters are to be named after:

Artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field and have been recognized as art historically significant figures for more than 50 years.

The most recent Mercury crater naming announcement came in September of 2019.  Among others, poet Maya Angelou and comic book artist Jack Kirby now have craters named in their honor.  Previously, craters have been named after H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Walt Disney (this is not Disney crater, which seems like a missed opportunity to me).  Click here to see a full list of Mercury’s crater names.

Mercury is the most heavily cratered object in the Solar System, so it seems to me there should be room on the I.A.U.’s list for a Pailly crater.  Maybe someday.  A writer can dream, right?

Next time on Planet Pailly, if you can’t make the planet fit for human life, maybe you should make human life fit for the planet.

#IWSG: The Writing Lesson I Never Learned

Hello, friends!  Welcome to another episode of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group!  If you’re a writer, and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing, click here to learn more about this wonderful group!

This month, my muse and I have reason to celebrate.  I mean, any time writing gets done, my muse and I have reason to celebrate.  But this month in particular, we have an especially good reason to celebrate.  My manuscript is done, and it is now in the hands of my editor.

At some point, obviously, my editor will hand that manuscript back to me along with a big old list of things that need to be fixed.  But in the meantime, I don’t have to worry about it, and that’s a nice feeling.

Except turning my manuscript over to my editor did not feel like the triumphant moment I thought it would.  Why not?  Because my manuscript was late.  Very late.  I’m taking the self-publishing route with this book, so it’s not like I’m in breech of contract or anything like that.  The only deadline I missed was a deadline I imposed on myself.

But still, I’m really shocked by how long it actually took me to finish that manuscript.  And since I have other self-imposed deadlines looming on the horizon, I’m a little concerned.  Am I going to stay on schedule?  Are those self-imposed deadlines not as realistic as they seem?

Which brings me to one of the very first lessons I (supposedly) learned on my writing journey.  This comes from author/blogger Jon Gibbs.  I attended one of his writing seminars back in 2006 or 2007, and he told me—told a whole group of us young, naive writers—that however much time you think you need to write something, double it.  That’s how you set a deadline.

More often than not, that lesson has proven to be true.  Just about everything takes twice as long as I think it should.

So when I set my deadline for my manuscript, did I follow Jon Gibbs’ advice?  No.  And the two deadlines I have coming up in March and May?  Did I follow Gibbs’s advice for those?  Nope.  So my muse and I are going to have to cut the celebration short and get back right back to work.

Next time on Planet Pailly, have you noticed how windy it is in outer space?

The Peril of Being Self Educated

Hello, friends!

As many of you already know, I blog about science, but I am first and foremost a science fiction writer (fingers crossed, soon to be a published science fiction writer!).

Back in 2010, I started this blog as a way to force myself to do the kind of research that I, as an aspiring Sci-Fi author, thought that I ought to be doing.  In the beginning, I really didn’t know much about science, except for some stuff I remembered learning in school.  And most of that stuff I remembered from school turned out to be wrong or, at best, only half true.

That’s one of the reasons I love being self educated.  Writing this blog has given me an opportunity to discover and correct many of the misconceptions I once had about science.  And my Sci-Fi writing has improved as a result.  I was recently looking over one of my old manuscripts.  So many silly misconceptions are on full display in that text.  Thank God that story never got published!

Another reason I love being self educated: doing deep dives on topics that I find interesting or that I think could be useful in my stories—topics like lithium mining, Troodon intelligence, or Venus’s unknown absorber.  The kinds of topics that never seem to get covered in school or that rarely get attention from the popular press.

I have, on occasion, surprised professional scientists with just how much I know about some weirdly specific topics.  And then I’ve surprised those same scientists with how much I don’t know about more ordinary, more generalized things.  That’s the peril of being self educated.  Your knowledge is splotchy, inconsistent.  You end up with these weird gaps in your knowledge, gaps that someone with a more traditional science education would not have.

And that’s why I keep blogging: because there’s still a whole lot I don’t know, and I’m sure I still have a lot of misconceptions in my head about science, and about other things too.  One thing I didn’t anticipate when I started this blog was how valuable a resource you, dear reader, would be.  You’ve asked me questions.  You’ve challenged me.  Some of you have pointed out my mistakes and suggested new avenues of research.

For that, I just want to say thank you, and please keep it up!

Next time on Planet Pailly, what if I told you Earth is not the perfect planet for life?

I’m Escaping from Prison. Want to Join Me?

Hello, friends!

For this first blog post of 2020, I’d like to share a quote from one of the greatest authors of all time.  As you know, lots of people take a pretty dim view of fantasy and science fiction, and they take an even dimmer view of those of us who enjoy those genres.  J.R.R. Tolkien had the perfect response for those people:

Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?  Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course Tolkien found his escape in a world of Hobbits and magical rings.  Me?  I find my escape in outer space.  Here on Earth, we humans have created a world of money and politics, of materialism and egotism and self-centered posturing, of winning and losing and grinding each other into the dust.

Okay, maybe it’s not all bad.  There are pleasant things about this world we humans have made for ourselves too.  But still, can you really blame me if, from time to time, I choose to think about or talk about or write about what it would be like to get the heck off this planet?

I know some people will still judge me for my love of science fiction and my obsession with space exploration.  They’ll call me foolish or childish.  That’s fine.  People can say what they like.  I intend to keep dreaming and keep wondering and keep exploring the universe in my own semi-imaginative way.

And friends, you are welcome to join me on this adventure, if you want.  All you have to do is click the subscribe button!

Next time on Planet Pailly: why can’t scientists agree on what the word metal means?