IWSG: Setting Elon Musk-Style Goals

November 1, 2017

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and to see a list of participating blogs.

This is going to be another of those IWSG posts where I talk about space exploration, but really I’m talking about writing. Just bare with me. I think you’ll see why this is relevant, especially right now in the beginning of November.

If you’re a space enthusiast like me, you’ve had your heart broken many times over the years about Mars. NASA has made big promises about a Mars mission, but everything keeps getting postponed, and it sometimes seems unlikely NASA will ever follow through. A few years ago, a private group called Mars One made some really big promises, but it sounds like they really, really won’t be able to follow through.

And then there’s Elon Musk and his company, SpaceX. Musk has made a lot of promises about SpaceX, the Red Dragon spacecraft, and a Mars colony populated by hundreds of thousands of people. All of this is supposed to start happening in the next decade, maybe sooner. Or so Musk keeps telling us.

Musk does this with all of his grand endeavors, like Tesla, Open AI, and Solar City. Big promises are made. Ambitious deadlines are set. And then those deadlines are missed, and those promises are broken. It would seem that Musk is nothing more than a pipedreamer. A very wealthy pipedreamer, but still… just a pipedreamer.

Except while Musk’s publically stated goals rarely if ever seem to come to fruition, his companies still make tremendous progress; so much so that they continue to be attract investors even as they appear to be failing spectacularly at everything they set out to do.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this until a year or two ago when I read a short article about Musk. It may have been this article, or possibly this one (unfortunately I didn’t save the original link).

Apparently Elon Musk believes that it’s better to set your goals a little too high and just barely miss than to set your goals low so you can achieve them easily. One way pushes you to try harder, and even if you don’t succeed at the goal you set for yourself you still make progress—more progress than you would have made otherwise, perhaps more progress than you honestly thought was possible. The other way—the low, easy goals way—gives you permission to become stagnant and allows you to call that success.

I’m not much of a businessman. I don’t know if this is a good way to run a company, though it does seem to be working for Musk. But as I chase my own ambitious writing goals this month, and as some of you pursue the ambitious goals set by NaNoWriMo, maybe it’s worth keeping the Elon Musk philosophy of goal setting in mind.


IWSG: Unlearn What You Have Learned

October 4, 2017

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and to see a list of participating blogs.

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I own an imaginary spaceship. It’s a pretty useful thing for a science fiction writer to have. It allows me to travel all over the universe, visiting all the moons and planets and nebulae I want to write about. I’ve been to Titan, I’ve seen the alien megastructure at Tabby’s Star, and soon I’ll be going to Mars to look for Martians.

Turns out my imaginary spaceship can also take me to fictional planets, so today I’m visiting the planet Dagobah from the Star Wars universe and getting some surprisingly useful writing advice from Master Yoda.

Friends have told me this before. My muse has told me this, and so have fellow writers at all stages of their careers. Writing rules should really be called writing guidelines or writing suggestions, and some of them are really stupid suggestions too.

And yet many of these so-called rules have stuck with me, and I’ve had a tough time dislodging them from my brain. Right now, the “rule” I need to unlearn is this: when editing, cut down your word count by 15%. Or sometimes it’s stated as 10%, or 25%, or whatever. The point is cutting down your word count will make your story better.

This should really be called a writing exercise. It’s meant to teach you how to write tighter prose, and at some point I really needed to be taught that. But this simple writing exercise has transformed into an absolute rule, or a inviolable commandment, and it’s time for me to let it go.

So what writing rules have you had to unlearn?


IWSG: The Critic in the Mirror

September 6, 2017

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and to see a list of participating blogs.

First off, I want to assure you that I’m okay. Parts of this post might sound really bad, but I promise I’m okay.

At least, I am now.

Two or three weeks ago… not so much.

Back in 2012/2013, I wrote a short story series about a journalist who travels through time. Sort of like Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter becomes a Time Lord from Doctor Who. It was a pretty cool series, if I do say so myself.

But over the last few years, I’ve been struggling to figure out what to do with these all stories. I hate to admit this, but I’ve even considered letting this whole project go and starting something else instead. Something easier. Something more manageable.

Then last month, I had an idea. A brilliant idea! A crazy idea. One of my best ideas ever! I suddenly knew exactly what I needed to do with the Tomorrow News Network series; the only problem was that this idea was going to require a whole lot of work. Way more work than I’m accustomed to. I’d basically have to start the whole series over from scratch.

Do I… do I really want to do that?

Am I capable of pulling this off?

I don’t know, but when I looked in the mirror, the guy staring back at me made his thoughts on the subject plain.

I guess most writers have these kinds of thoughts from time to time. It’s just… I’ve never had this kind of self-doubt hit me so hard before, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. It made August one of the darkest and saddest months of my life.

Now regular readers of my blog know that my muse makes frequent appearances in these IWSG posts. Regular readers may also know that my muse doesn’t really understand how the “real world” works (fairy people from imagination-land typically don’t). Apparently among other things like deadlines and personal finances, she also gets confused about mirrors.

Maybe that’s not the most inspiring thing a muse can say to her writer, but I appreciate the sentiment.

We writers really are jerks to ourselves. We’re our own worst critics because we do the one thing that you’re never supposed to do when criticizing—or rather critiquing—other people’s work. We make it personal.

That guy in the mirror called me a failure. He said some other pretty nasty things about me too. But he didn’t say one word about my writing or this new idea I’m toying with. Seriously, if someone did that in a critique group, that person would be politely but sternly asked to leave.

So as I said, I’m okay. At least, I am now. I’ve recovered from my bout of self-doubt and depression, and I’ve gotten back to writing. My plan for September is to try this new idea out and see how it goes.

As for the guy in the mirror… until he learns how to give constructive feedback, I will not be listening to him.


IWSG: Research Rant

August 2, 2017

For today’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group, I’ve decided to recycle one of my older IWSG posts. Basically, this old post is especially relevant for something I’m struggling with right now.

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A few years ago, I was at a party with some fellow writers. A certain someone who wrote historical fiction made a comment about how important it is for writers to do their research, to make sure they get all their facts straight, “unless you write science fiction, of course,” he added with slight nod toward me.

I’ve heard this assumption before, and I’ve heard it since. I’ve heard it in writing seminars, I’ve read it on blogs, and I’ve encountered it in many casual conversations with other writers. Writers must do their research, but fantasy and science fiction writers get a pass. After all, they write about stuff that’s totally made up!

I mean, fantasy writers obviously have no need for research. They don’t need to know about different kinds of swords or armor. They certainly don’t need to know anything about farming, horseback riding, or medieval architecture, and I can’t think of any reason why they’d need to study military strategy. No, fantasy writers have it easy. No research required whatsoever.

As for science fiction writers like myself, why we have it even easier! Outer space is a land of pure imagination. Space travel requires zero understanding of Newton’s laws. As a Sci-Fi writer, I will never… not even once… need to know the difference between hydrogen and helium, between dark matter and dark energy, or between special and general relativity. Nope. Science fiction is 100% research free. It’s a good thing too because that relativity stuff is complicated. Have you seen all the math involved?

This historical fiction guy went on to explain that “world building” is what fantasy and science fiction writers do instead of research. “Listen, jerk,” I said, “that’s something I do on top of my research, not instead of it.” Okay, I didn’t actually have the nerve to say that, but I wanted to. I really wanted to.

So please, fellow writers, please do not belittle us fantasy and science fiction authors. We have to do research just as much as anyone else.

End rant.

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Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and to see a list of participating blogs.


The Insecure Mars Rover’s Support Group

July 5, 2017

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and to see a list of participating blogs.

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Okay, today’s post is about writing. I promise. Just bear with me.

Late last month, the Opportunity rover straightened its wheels and resumed driving. You may be thinking, “Who cares? That doesn’t sound like a big deal.” But for regular Mars rover fans, this made headlines.

Mars rovers have their moments of glory: discovering new kinds of salt, observing evidence of liquid water, or detecting the faint whiffs of organic chemicals. One day a Mars rover may even uncover signs of past or present Martian life.

But between those moments of discovery comes the day to day (or rather sol to sol) drudgery of Mars roving. Moving a few inches forward. Turning your wheels. Communicating your status back to Earth then waiting 8 to 48 minutes for the go ahead from mission control to move a few inches more. Every small rock or patch of gravel can become a serious obstacle, and climbing a small hill can take months or even years.

The payoff comes eventually in the form of amazing discoveries, but only after long, tedious months of maneuvering cautiously and methodically across the craggy Martian wasteland.

Now I promised this post would in fact be about writing, and it is. A few weeks ago, I somehow got myself stuck in some gravel, so to speak. The kind of small, annoying problem that could bring my entire mission to a grinding halt. It’s only in the last few days that I’ve managed to straighten my wheels, and now I’m ready to resume driving… eh, I mean writing.


Open Letter: Talking to Writers (An IWSG Post)

June 7, 2017

This is an open letter to anyone who’s ever had a conversation with me. You may or may not have been aware of this at the time, but I’m a writer. That means there’s something you should know: while we were talking, I was taking mental notes about you.

Okay, there’s no need to panic. I’m not in the habit of taking people I know or people I’ve met and just dropping them into my stories. Yes, some writers do that, but that’s not how my process works.

So I promise I will not create a character just like you; however, the things you said—especially the way you said them—may inform my character development process at some point in the future. Well, maybe not in the future. To be honest, I’m probably already using you as a source of inspiration.

If you used some particularly interesting turn of phrase of displayed some unique or striking mannerism while we were interacting, I may have actually written that down to ensure I wouldn’t forget. I wouldn’t have done this in front of you. That would’ve been rude. But be aware that I probably did this behind your back, and I probably added you to a file folder when I got home.

I hope this doesn’t make you feel self-conscious or uncomfortable. It’s important to me that you behave naturally. Or rather, I want you and need you to behave authentically, because authentic speech and behavior are precisely what I’m trying to replicate in my storytelling.

Thank you for your time. I just thought you ought to know what you’re getting yourself into when you talk to a writer like me.

Sincerely,

J.S. Pailly.

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh and others. Click here to learn more about this awesome group and to see a list of participating blogs.


IWSG: Reflections on the A to Z Challenge

May 3, 2017

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and to see a list of participating blogs.

Today’s post is also my reflections post following my first A to Z Challenge.

Back in March, I mentioned to a friend that I was having a hard time with writing. I believe I said something like, “I’ve fallen out of love with writing.” Under the circumstances, I didn’t feel up for something like the A to Z Challenge; and yet I did it anyway, and I’m glad I did.

My theme was scientific terminology (a.k.a. Sciency Words), because of course that would be my theme. My Sciency Words series is an obvious fit for A to Z. How could I not do that?

The real challenge for me in the A to Z Challenge wasn’t writing 26 blog posts, nor was it reading everybody else’s blogs over the course of 26 days. No, the real challenge, at least for me, was doing both at the same time.

Whenever I was in the heat of writing the next batch of posts, I fell behind on all the blogs I wanted to read. I couldn’t even keep up with the comments people were leaving on my own posts (if you commented on something, and I never responded or came to check out your site, I’m really sorry).

And then when I was keeping up with all the cool/inspiring/thought-provoking blogs I was reading, I started falling behind—way behind—on my own writing schedule. I have to admit that Sciency Words: A to Z almost ended in disaster toward the end of week three.

Oh well. Lessons learned, and I’ll try to do better next year. And honestly, despite the problems I had I met a lot of cool new people, and also I’m pretty happy with how my 26 posts turned out. The thing I’m most proud of was this cartoon from Sciency Words: Planet.

Going into May, I’m now feeling a lot better and a lot more confident about my writing. I guess the A to Z Challenge was just what I needed to fall in love with writing again.