#IWSG: Putting Facts on the Internet

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Jemima Pett, Nancy Gideon, and Natalie Aguirre.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, then this is the support group for you!  Click here to learn more!

I’m sorry, but I’m participating in the A to Z Challenge this month, and I just don’t have enough time to write an IWSG post, too.  Fortunately my muse has gotten used to writing these IWSG posts without me, so I’m going to turn the floor over to her.  My muse has something to say.  Perhaps it is something you and your muse would like to hear.

When my writer first started writing science fiction, he thought he wouldn’t have to do any research.  He thought he could just make stuff up.  As his muse, I quickly disabused him of that assumption.  No, science fiction need not be factual about everything all the time, but mixing a generous helping of facts into the fiction will add a sense of credibility to a Sci-Fi story, making it that much easier for readers to suspend their disbelief.

This blog exists because my writer thought that writing a blog about science would force him to do the research he needed to do to become a better science fiction writer.  And that worked.  My writer does his research now, and his Sci-Fi writing has improved as a result.  Now one of his favorite ploys, when writing Sci-Fi, is to try and make real science sound made up while making the stuff he made up sound like real science.

But that’s a game for science fiction writing only.  When my writer is writing this blog, he has developed a new anxiety, a new insecurity.  He is terrified that he might unwittingly spread misinformation about science on the Internet.  It is not unusual for my writer to get emails from science students—or even science teachers—asking him questions about the topics he blogs about.  It’s flattering, of course, but also a little bit scary, because he very much does not want to lead anyone astray in their science education.

This year’s A to Z Challenge is, as usual, a science heavy project.  So my writer tries to word things carefully, to ensure that he won’t mislead anyone.  He debates with himself which details must be included in a blog post and which can be safely glossed over or ignored.  He double checks his sources, and if he’s still not sure he’s got his science facts straight, he’ll either state that uncertainty explicitly, or he’ll cut that section entirely out of the post.  And despite all of that, he knows that he will still make mistakes.

All he can do is promise himself (and his readers) that he will correct his mistakes as soon as he finds out about them, because there is far too much misinformation about science on the Internet already.  My writer very much does not wish to make that problem worse.

#IWSG: Write vs. Wrong

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a monthly blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Diedre Knight, Tonya Drecker, Bish Denham, Olga Godim, and JQ Rose.  If you’re a writer and if you feel insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this awesomely supportive group!

A family emergency happened last week, and I’m still a little bent out of shape because of that.  Getting back into writing after dealing with all that stress has been a struggle, so today I’m going to turn the floor over to my muse.  She has something she wants to say, and maybe it’s something your muse would like to hear.

* * *

Greetings to all my fellow muses, inner critics, and motivational demons.  I am James Pailly’s muse.  It’s my job to give James guidance and inspiration in his writing life, but I am not the only source of guidance and inspiration he turns to (nor should I be).  He reads and does research.  He talks to people.  He talks to other writers.  Sometimes he finds good, sensible advice in this way; other times, the advice he gets is not so sensible.

What works for one writer will not necessarily work for others.  Each writer is unique.  Each writer is special.  They have their own strengths and their own struggles.  But writers are human, and humans can be tempted by broad generalizations and oversimplified explanations—especially when their own unique struggles start to feel overwhelming.

My writer is often told that he should not edit while he writes, as if editing and writing are two separate and distinct activities.  First there’s a writing phase, then there’s an editing phase, and there’s supposed to be a hard line between the two.  Perhaps some writers really do work this way.  Perhaps a majority of them are able to operate this way.  But that is not the way my writer works, and it never will be.

My writer will write a sentence or two—a paragraph—an exchange of dialogue—then he’ll go back and rewrite it all before moving on to the next part.  He’ll finish a page, then go back and fix the page that came before it.  He’ll finish a chapter, then tweak an earlier scene.  Every word my writer writes is subject to change, at any time, for any reason, until the story is finished.  If that means we have to go back and rewrite half of the whole book, that’s fine.  The sooner we get started on those rewrites, the better.  And every time some writing guru tells my writer he’s doing it wrong, I am there to remind my writer what he should already know about himself.  

For my writer, writing and editing are thoroughly intermingled activities.  It’s a messy process.  It’s a labor-intensive process.  My writer does get frustrated, sometimes, and wish there were an easier way.  But this is what’s best for him, and deep down he knows it.

Should your writer write (and edit) the way mine does?  I can’t tell you that.  Ultimately, you will have to determine what is right and what is wrong for your own writer.

#IWSG: Dear Muse

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  Are you a writer?  Do you feel insecure about your writing?  Then this is the support group for you.  Click here to learn more!

Dear Muse,

2021 turned out to be one of the absolute worst years of my life.  I will not go so far as to call it my worst year ever, but I will say that it was a close second.

We didn’t get much writing done, you and I, in the past year.  Plans got derailed.  Opportunities were missed.  Financially speaking, our writing/illustrating business survived, but it will be a real challenge getting back to where we were a year ago.

Couldn’t be helped.  Under the circumstances, things could have ended up being a whole lot worse.  I want to thank you, dear muse, for being patient with me, for biding your time while I struggled, and for waiting until the situation improved.  I needed that time to deal with this past year’s problems, and I needed time to heal from this year’s problems as well.

As I already said, 2021 was only the second worst year of my life.  I’m sure you still remember the first.  I’m also sure you remember what happened next: how our writing and our art flourished, how the year that followed my #1 worst year became one of my absolute creative best!  Nobody asks for hardship, but hardship has a way of preparing us for change and for growth.  After all the problems of 2021, I am eager to see what we can accomplish in 2022.

So in the year to come, dear muse, I’m asking you for a gift: the gift of words.  All the words!  Surprise me—no, shock me with your wildest ideas.  Break the molds I’m used to for all my stories, knock me out of the comfortable grooves I’ve settled into over the years.  Test my limits.  Challenge me.  Make me write things I never imagined I’d write.

This past year was awful for me, but that’s behind me now (I think).  So muse, bring me all the words!  I’m ready!

Forever yours,
Your Writer.

#IWSG: The Humbling of a Muse

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, then this is the support group for you.  Click here to learn more!

I’m a sciency kind of person, and I think about the world in a sciency kind of way.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in magic.  I happen to know that a magical fairy person visits me while I’m writing and helps me with my writing process.

For today’s IWSG meeting, I’d like to turn the floor over to that magical fairy person, a.k.a. my muse.  She has something to say, and perhaps it’s something your muse would like to hear.

* * *

My fellow muses, I almost lost my writer.  This is a difficult thing to talk about, and a painful thing to talk about, but I cannot not talk about it.  My writer almost gave up on writing.

He was under too much stress.  He was dealing with too much external pressure.  At one point, he said he felt like life was squeezing all the joy and happiness out of him.  And every time I whispered in his ear “You should be writing,” I was making the problem worse.

Many muses would make the same mistake, I think.  After all, what could be better for a writer than writing?  But sometimes we forget just how much stress the so-called “real world” can cause.  I thought writing would alleviate some of that stress, but my writer felt like I was just making the stress worse, and he resented me for it.  And the more I tried to force the issue, the more I tried to assert dominance over my writer, the worse things got.

Deep down inside, my writer knew I was right.  Deep down, he knew that giving up on writing would not make things any better.  He’d learned this lesson about himself before, many times over; but he needed some time and some space to learn it again.

So I let my writer stop writing for a while.  I let him work on other things, and I let him experiment with other interests and passions.  Eventually, he came back to writing.  It was inevitable that he would, of course.  But in the end, he came back because he wanted to, not because I told him he needed to, and that makes a tremendous difference.

Obviously my writer’s recent stress is not unique.  The human world is an unsettling and unsafe place right now, for a multitude of reasons.  So if your writer is having a rough time writing, be patient.  Give your writer the time and space he or she needs.  They’ll come back when they’re ready, and we muses will be waiting.

#IWSG: Hey, Listen!

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

I’ve written a lot of these IWSG posts over the years, and many of those posts have featured my muse: the magical fairy person who nags me when I’m not doing my writing.  I tend to describe my muse in a certain way, and I tend to depict her a certain way in my art.  This has led to a few comments comparing my muse to a certain fairy companion from a certain video game.

Today, I’d like to confirm for you all that, yes, the idea for my muse was partially inspired by Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  Now I realize there are not a lot of Navi fans out there.  A lot of people found her super annoying, and she’s often listed among the most hated video game characters of all time.

But, gosh darn it, I liked her.  When I was a kid playing Ocarina of Time for the first time, I really liked the idea that I had this magical fairy person tagging along with me on my adventures.  Even if Navi didn’t always have the most useful advice to offer, it was comforting to know that I didn’t have to fight all those giant spiders and lizard monsters and creepy plant things alone.  And I guess, in this ongoing adventure of being a writer, the same idea still gives me comfort.

Now if only the act of writing could be as easy in real life as it would have been in the game.

Sciency Words: Tulpamancy

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at the definitions and etymologies of science or science-related terms.  Today on Sciency Words, we’re talking about:


Do you have an imaginary friend?  A “real” imaginary friend whom you can talk to and who can talk back to you in return?  Does your imaginary friend often say things you weren’t expecting him/her/them to say?  If so, you may have been practicing tulpamancy.  You’re a tulpamancer, and your imaginary friend is a tulpa.

When I first heard about tulpamancy, I thought it sounded awesome.  But tulpamancy comes with a lot of talk about mental energies and thought-form meditation and psycho-spiritual awakenings.  It didn’t sound very sciency, but I decided to ask my muse what she thought.

My muse and I have been working together for quite a few years now.  When it comes to what does or does not belong in my writing—and that includes what does or does not belong in a Sciency Words post—I trust my muse’s judgment.  She’s usually right.  Usually.  But after doing more research on tulpamancy, I think this may be a rare instance where my muse is wrong.

The word tulpa comes from Tibetan… sort of.  In 1929, Belgian-French adventurer and spiritualist Alexandra David-Néel published a book called Magic and Mystery in Tibet.  In that book, David-Néel claims that by following certain rights and rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, she was able to conjure a “tulpa” out of the realm of human imagination and into the world of physical reality.

David-Néel’s tulpa took on the form of a jolly monk, a Friar Tuck-like character.  Other people could (allegedly) see and interact with this jolly monk.  Unfortunately, the monk grew “too willful,” according to this article from Nova Religio, and David-Néel was forced to destroy him.

The word tulpa is phonetically similar to a real word used by Tibetan Buddhists.  Beyond that, however, Alexandra David-Néel’s account of creating and destroying her tulpa has little to do with actual Tibetan Buddhism.  This seems to be a case of Western occultism/paranormalism with a bit of “orientalist window dressing,” as that same article from Nova Religio puts it.

Okay, yeah, this still doesn’t sound like a sciency thing, does it?  But in recent years, the practice of creating and communicating with imaginary friends has become the subject of serious psychological research.  The first scientific account of tulpas and tulpamancy appears to be this 2016 paper by Samuel Veissière.  As Veissière describes it, tulpamancy is a little like multiple personality disorder, except it’s non-harmful and non-pathological.  In fact, tulpamancy may even help reverse the symptoms of certain mental illnesses.

To quote this paper from Research in Psychology and Behavioral Science:

In cases of disorders that involve delusion and misperception, the tulpa often becomes the voice of reason during bouts of irrationality.  One respondent diagnosed with Schizophrenia writes how his tulpa can not only identify between hallucinations and actuality, but that they developed a technique that allows the delusions to be “zapped” away.  There are reports of tulpas alleviating the desire to perform irrational routines in individuals diagnosed with OCD, and others claim that their tulpas innovated workarounds for their dyslexia.

Think of it this way: much like your real friends, your imaginary friends are there for you when you need them.  And since tulpas essentially live inside your brain, they understand better than anyone else what’s really going on in there.  And if they see that something’s not right inside your head, they want to help, as any good friend would.

Now I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental illness, but speaking from personal experience, I can say this: my muse really has served as the voice of reason from time to time in my life.  When I’m feeling lazy and unmotivated, she tells me to go write.  She also reminds me to take breaks from writing, eat healthy meals, and get plenty of sleep at night, because: “A healthy writer is a productive writer!”

As I said, I’ve learned to trust my muse.  She’s usually right.  Usually.  But she still insists that tulpamancy shouldn’t count as a Sciency Word.

So dear reader, what do you think?  Do you agree with me that tulpamancy has become a scientific term, thanks to recent psychological research, or do you agree with my muse that this is a bunch of New Agey pseudoscientific nonsense?  Let us (and I do mean us) know in the comments!

P.S.: For anyone who may be curious, my muse made her first appearance on this blog in this 2015 post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

#IWSG: Apology to a Muse

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

Dear Muse,

I’m sorry.  These last few weeks, I haven’t been doing much writing.  I haven’t been doing much drawing either.  I’ve fallen behind schedule on so many of the creative projects you wanted me to work on, and for that I owe you an apology.

Some big changes are happening in my life right now.  Good changes.  The biggest and most obvious change is, of course, that my first book is out.  I’m a published author now, and I’ve had my first taste of that sweet, sweet writing income!

But any kind of change, even the good kind of change, can be confusing and disruptive, at least at first.  I’m saying this not as an excuse but as an explanation.  I neglected my work.  I skipped drawing sessions and writing sessions.  You kept trying to give me ideas, and I kept finding other things to do instead of writing or drawing. There’s no excuse for that.

I understand if you’re mad.  I understand if you don’t want to talk to me right now since, from your perspective, it seems like I’ve stopped listening to you.  But I promise I am listening.  Things are starting to settle down in my life again.  In some ways, things will be better than they ever were before… for both of us!

So dear muse, I’m eager to get back to writing, and I’m eager to get back to drawing.  And if your you’re willing to forgive me, I would really appreciate your help.

Sincerely yours,
Your Writer.

#IWSG Judge Not and You Shall Not Be Judged

Hello, friends!  Welcome the first posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group for 2020!  If you’re a writer, and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, click here.  I.W.S.G. is an awesome organization for insecure writers like us!

For years now, I’ve used these I.W.S.G. posts to tell you about the relationship I have with my muse.  She’s a clever muse.  She can also be really annoying sometimes.  But my muse is also a little bit more than just my muse.  She’s also my conscience.

If you’ll allow me to get religious for a moment, I’d say my muse has a favorite Bible verse.  It’s from the Gospel of Luke.  It’s the “judge not and you shall not be judged” part.

I have to admit I have a tough time with this.  Other people can be so stupid, so crass, so self-centered and inconsiderate.  I can’t help but feel a teeny bit judgmental.  I think it may be part of human nature.  We can’t help but judge each other.

But the muse does not accept my “human nature” excuse.  Every time I start to get judgy, my muse reminds me that I am a writer.

As a writer, I have a responsibility to see how everyone is the hero of their own story (or at least I have a responsibility to try).  No matter what horrible things my gut instinct may tell me about other people, other people have their own reasons for doing what they do or being the way they are.  Other people have backstories.  Other people have motivations.  They have needs and wants, and maybe their needs are in conflict with their wants.  And they have inner monologues that, regardless of what I might think, must make logical sense to them.

This is not meant to be a Bible-themed blog post.  This isn’t about being a better Christian.  It’s not even about being a better human being.  This is simply a matter of becoming a better writer, because if you can learn to sympathize with other people in real life, then, miraculously, your readers will find it easy to sympathize with the characters you put into your stories.

At least that’s what my muse keeps telling me.

Next time on Planet Pailly, the Earth orbits the Sun… right?  Right?

#IWSG: Write, Rest, Repeat

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

For today’s episode of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, I’m going to turn things over to my muse.  She has something to say, and maybe it’s something your muse needs to hear.

My fellow muses, I’m sure you all remember what they taught us during muse training: writers are weak-willed and lazy.  They’ll invent all sorts of excuses to avoid writing.  So it’s up to us to use whatever deception, manipulation, or coercion we can in order to force our writers to do their writing!

But after spending so much time out in the real world working with a real life writer, I’ve discovered that what they told us in training isn’t quite true.  Writers want to write.  They really, really do.  The problem is that they set their expectations too high and then feel disappointed and discouraged when they fall short of their goals.

My own writer is obsessed with tracking his daily and weekly word counts.  He’s also started keeping a tally of the total number of words he writes per year.  Word counts can be a great way for writers to measure their own progress.  However…

I know many of you have been dealing with similar problems.  Maybe your writer just “lost” NaNoWriMo, or worse… maybe your writer “won” and is now stuck with a total mess of a manuscript.  Either way, your writer may be feeling a bit frustrated, a bit discouraged—even a little bit (dare I say it?) insecure right now.

Challenges like NaNoWriMo can test your writer’s limits and help them grow.  However—and this is the part I wish they’d teach us in muse training—writers also need recovery time.  This past year, I have allowed my writer to settle into a rhythm of intense writing days followed by periods of slower, more relaxed writing.

My writer didn’t like this new rhythm at first.  He thought I was being too easy on him.  Truth be told, I was a bit nervous about this myself because, as I said, this really isn’t what they taught us in muse training.  But then my writer noticed that, while his daily word counts were all over the place, his weekly word counts were steadily going up.  He stopped complaining, and I stopped worrying.

Write, rest, and repeat!  That’s our writing mantra now.  So if you’re having trouble with your writer, don’t presume they’re being lazy.  Don’t be too hard on your writer, and don’t let your writer be too hard on him/herself.  Let your writer rest.  Give your writer a chance to recover.  Then move on to the next writing challenge!

#IWSG: Contract with a Muse

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

Ladies and gentlemen, I have an imaginary friend.  Those of you who regularly read my Insecure Writer’s Support Group posts have already met her.  She’s my muse.  Here’s her picture:

And here’s her picture sitting in my writing zone, next to my coffee mug full of pens.  I always have a picture of my muse with me when I’m writing.

But not all writers believe in muses.  In fact, not all writers even approve of the belief in muses.  I was recently listening to a writing podcast where the host went off on a tirade against the very concept of muses.

You can’t sit around waiting for your muse, this podcast host said.  You’ll never get any writing done that way.  Writing is work.  You have to do it every day, whether you feel inspired or not!

Of course my muse and I have heard all this before.  Perhaps you have too.  But I think all this anti-muse stuff is based on a fundamental misunderstanding about how muses do their jobs.  You see, my muse and I have something like a contractual relationship.

I do have to do my writing every day.  That’s the promise I made to my muse, and in exchange she has promised to keep bringing me the shiniest of shiny new ideas.  If I don’t fulfill my side of the bargain, why should my muse fulfill hers?

So writers, you can’t sit around being lazy and expect your muse to do all the work for you.  Show some initiative.  Go write.  It might feel like a struggle, but the muse will reward you in the end.

P.S.: And muses, remember you have an obligation to your writer too.  If your writer is making a real effort, do not be stingy with the good ideas!