Saturday, December 29, 2012

Writer's Rules Revisited #10

I've been doing a lot more thinking and artistic soul-searching this holiday vacation than writing. It's been irksome, but there's a reason behind it. If you read my last post, you'll know the reason for it.

 But the year is winding down and a number of things have some things have come into sharp focus. After you lose a friend, loved one, or colleague, you take stock in what people will have of you after you're gone and you realize you have so much more to say.

I have so much to say that it's frustrating I can't say it at the speed at which I wish to. With the New Year, I'm going to commit to writing more in 2013 than I ever have in the course of a year. Not just prose, either. Pieces for Huffington Post, StarWars.Com, Big Shiny Robot!, City Weekly, and any other outlet that will have me. I'll write and have published more short stories than ever and I'll be putting out at least a book or two.

I have to.

Time is short.

For far too many it's far too short.

One thing I'm going to work on more is this series as well. I'd like to see it done and see it added to significantly.

For those new around these parts, a brief explanation is in order. A long time ago I posted a list of rules and guidelines I've been collecting in my notebook over the years as a writer. I put together the list on the blog and it was fairly popular. (You can read the whole thing here) But there's only so much that comes across in a simple bullet point list. I wanted to expand on it and we've been doing it two or three at a time ever since.

If you want to catch up on the series:

You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 herePart 4 herePart 5 here, Part 6 herePart 7 herePart 8 here, and Part 9 here.

31) The hardest part of writing is starting. Finishing is no trick as you've already committed to start. 

Writing is hard.

That sounds obvious, but it's totally true. Presumably, everyone reading this has had a time where they've bled for their writing. It's taken our blood and sweat and tears. Sometimes we get an idea that seems brilliant, but then we think about the torture it will take to squeeze all the right words out of us and we leave it as just that, an abbreviation of an idea scratched out in pen in our notebooks.

It happens all the time.

But getting past that one hurdle is the hardest part. Once you've committed your first words to paper, finishing is no trick. It doesn't matter if the piece doesn't take the shape you thought it was going to. It doesn't matter if the endgame doesn't resemble your idea in any way, shape, or form. What matters is that you've committed to start, and committing to start is the same as committing to finish.

Personally, I try not to have more than two outstanding projects unfinished at a time. If I have more than that, unless it's for a paid deadline, one of them tends to fall by the wayside. It not only allows me to focus on a very narrow band of writing projects, it allows me to know exactly what I'm working on when I fire up my computer, or open up my notebook, or twist a new page into the wheel of my typewriter. But the key is forcing myself to finish them before moving on to the next thing.

I have so many ideas swimming around in my head, I could start a new idea every day of the week, but if I did that I'd have a thousand beginnings and no endings. So you really do have to treat the beginning of every story as a commitment to finish that story.

As I write this, I'm this close to writing "The End" on the novel I'm working on and I'm halfway through a short story that I think is shaping up quite nicely. And I have three or four ideas of what I want to work on next, but I can't. I jut can't do it. I've committed to finish, and no matter how much it drives me crazy, I have to do it. I let the madness that comes with ideas flowing over the brim of my imagination fuel the need to finish these stories, so that when I get on to the next one it's a refreshing exercise and doesn't feel like work.

Getting to that starting line with a story you want to torture yourself with is the hard part. Finishing it and moving on to the next is a piece of cake.

We do this because we love it and because we have to, not because of some flight of fancy. If we don't start things we want to finish, we're not doing anything but kidding ourselves and everyone else.

32) Qui-Gon Jinn said of pod-racing, "Feel, don't think. Use your instincts." The same is true of first drafts. 

Qui-Gon Jinn is a fount of knowledge in the living force, sure. And the beauty in his wisdom is that it can be applied to everything, including writing.

In The Phantom Menace, when he tells Anakin that he needs to feel his way through the podrace with his instincts instead of his brain, a light bulb appeared above my head. That's exactly how we have to be to work on our first drafts.

Stephen King said of first drafts that we have to, "Write with the door closed, edit with the door open" and I think these two concepts, Qui-Gon's and Kings, fit together nicely.

It's incredibly difficult to pour our hearts out when we're exposed. Writing is a vulnerable enough thing, we need to imagine that we're doing it with the door closed, away from critical, prying eyes. And we need to trust our instincts to put down what's in our heart and our head down on the page first. Our minds and the critical gaze of others can enter into the process after we've completed our draft and made those first choices.

Our instincts will take us to places our logical mind will never let us go. Too many of us self-edit and say things as we write like, "That might be cheesy," or, "That bit of prose might be too flowery," or, "This piece of story is too serious for a joke or a bit of romance," and on and on and on. Turn that off for your first draft. I've found, over the years, that the things that I self-edit before they make it onto the page usually have to be added back in later in revisions anyway. Or I find that when I trust my instincts and go with something that I might think is silly, or too over-the-top, it finds its way of making every cut of the piece with only minor alterations.

And from these instincts our stories sometimes take turns we didn't expect. We need to follow these side-paths and just write.

We know story inside and out. There's no reason to drown that voice at the earliest stages of work. We need to close the door on the critical part of ourselves every bit as much as we close it on everyone else, in order that we may get the purest words and story on the page. We might have a lot more work to do in the editing phase, but it will be worth it.

33) 32 is only true if you have an outline and a roadmap. Otherwise it's just meandering drivel.

I think this is also true.

You need a skeleton to flesh out, otherwise all of your instincts will take you on a flowery journey to nowhere. You have to know something about your story before you start. You need to know at least who your character is. What's the setting? What is the plan for the end? These are questions you have to know before you start, otherwise all the best instincts in the world won't serve you one bit of good.

This, like everything in writing, is also a careful balancing act. You need enough of a structure to hang your story, but it can't be so rigid that your instincts aren't given room to move to around and to breath. It needs to be loose enough that the direction is the same, but a couple of turns down the road aren't going to screw everything up completely.

And who knows, maybe your instincts throw you enough curveballs that you find that the story you set out to write isn't really the one you wanted to tell. But you wouldn't know it if you didn't have a baseline to start from.

The bottom line is that you have to have some sort of plan. It doesn't matter if it's an interesting conundrum for a character you just sketched out or a scene by scene breakdown on 3x5 index cards, start with the structure, then move to the prose.

With a map you can always find your way.

And that concludes another session of these writing rules. Please don't hesitate to let me know if these have been helpful, and any suggestions for more rules will be greatly welcomed.

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4, Part 5,  Part 6Part 7Part 8, and Part 9. If you want to check out the whole list, you can find it here. 

And while you're thinking about it, feel free to order a signed book from me, or check out my collection of work that's available digitally.

Friday, December 21, 2012

IN MEMORIAM: David Fetzer

Jitterbug from travis on Vimeo.

Posted above is a short film starring David Fetzer. The best word to describe him would always be adorable. Or kind. Or caring. Or incredible.

David had a way of making everyone feel like he was your best friend, but not in a way that was disingenuous. I'd never call myself David's best or closest friend but he went out of his way to make me know he cared. He might well have been the warmest, most caring person I've ever met in my entire life. I've never met a person with a bad thing to say about him.

I met David working on the film Killer at Large, we hired him to do a bunch of different things on the film, as well as act in it. David was a hell of an actor. His work on stage or screen was powerful and soulful and for Killer at Large we shot a number of scenes from Neil LaBute's play Fat Pig, with David in the lead. It was incredible to see such a commanding performance that was almost entirely private, for our eyes only. I'm looking to see if I can find the footage and edit so it can be shared.

We spent the next years working with David from then to now, calling him every time a film project came up. He'd call me every time there was something I could help with. We helped each other get some incredible projects off the ground.

He was an incredible influence in our writing groups and script-readings. We used to have them monthly and David's advice on writing and outlook on creativity was not only appreciated, but valued and cherished.

I am a better artist for having known David, and the entire world is poorer for his loss.

He was unique and was incredible at whatever he set his mind to, whether it was brewing beer, acting, writing, or playing music:

Seeing his band, Mushman, play at a small venue in Sundance a few years back was a highlight for me. Not just because I was able to see David perform, but for the beers afterward and the always-wonderful conversation.

David inspired me as a creative person, as he inspired many, many others. More recently, I've been working on a screenplay based on one of my short stories and had over the last year been bouncing ideas and spitballing the structure back and forth with David and he was invaluable. His intelligence, knowledge of story and enthusiasm made you feel like anything could happen. We had plans to eventually make the movie when I finished the screenplay. David Fetzer was always going to be a part of that.

I found out last night that David passed away unexpectedly, mere hours into his 30s.

I can't say how devastating this is to me, or to the entire film and art community that knew him. He was a great light that went out far too early. He had so many plans for the future, for art, for creativity, and we all had plans that included him. I couldn't imagine wanting to put together a film project and not make David the first person I planned to call.

I'm going to miss him, and I'm going to keep all the encouragement and advice he ever gave me alive. Both personally and creatively. His dreaming was an inspiration, his advice was invaluable, and I hope that with him gone we can all carry on his dreams, both for himself and for us. He always saw the best and brightest in those of us he worked with, it's my sad duty to live up to that without him around.

It hurts. And I'll miss him.

I always will.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Writer's Rules Revisited #9

I've made all of my current deadlines, and story ideas are biting at me like no one's business. Plus I have that novel to finish (I'm sooooo close.) But, since I submitted the last piece I had on a major deadline this morning, I wanted to take a moment to bring you another edition of "Writing Rules Revisited."

And I'd like to say the kind words about this series really help. A good friend and excellent writer whose opinion I quite respect told me that she thought this series was invaluable and "an act of generosity to other artists."

I hope you all feel that way and letting me know that any of this is helping is certainly appreciated. And if you have any to add to the original list, I'd be more than happy to add them and write more essays about my take on them as well.

For those new around these parts, a brief explanation is in order. A long time ago I posted a list of rules and guidelines I've been collecting in my notebook over the years as a writer. I put together the list on the blog and it was fairly popular. (You can read the whole thing here) But there's only so much that comes across in a simple bullet point list. I wanted to expand on it and we've been doing it two or three at a time ever since.

If you want to catch up on the series:

You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 herePart 4 herePart 5 here, Part 6 herePart 7 here, and Part 8 here.

Without further ado, we'll dive into the next three "rules," two of which involve how to handle criticism.

28) Don't ask people to read your material for praise. Tell them to hate it and criticize it to no end. If they do that, you know exactly what to work on.

This dovetails nicely into a point we made last week, and my larger piece about the importance of writer's workshops. When you ask people to read your work, get out of the habit of doing it for a pat on the head. If we wanted pats on the head, we'd ask our mother's to read it. Or our significant others. Or anyone in our life dedicated to making us feel like we can make it. Which isn't to say it's bad to have a pat on your back now and again, but if you're looking for meaningful advice to make your story as good as it can be, these are not the places you should be looking.

You should be welcoming as much criticism as they can shovel at you. Even if they're dead wrong as far as you're concerned, their criticism will force you to either defend your decision or make you think about it in a different light. We all have different sensibilities and what works for me won't work for you, or the next writer, or the next writer after that. It's why writers, when given a uniform story idea to work from, will each come up with a wholly unique take on that story.

So when they come at you and explain where they'd come from with your story, you need to understand they're not actually criticizing you. They're helping you see your story from a different perspective, whether you agree with their individual notes or not. Seeing your story from that different perspective allows you to better diagnose the problems it does have. But it's a fine line discerning between those elements of taste and them being genuinely right. Sometimes their notes aren't up for debate.

When I was workshopping Operation: Montauk, Aaron Allston explained to me the problems I was having with points of view shifts in the text. I thought the technique that I'd learned in my screenwriting to track the action and see it from different points of view was elegant. Aaron explained to me how wrong-headed it was for prose and gave me a list of a dozen reasons why it didn't work in the book, for him, for editors I'd work with, and especially for readers. That wasn't up for debate.

He was right. And no matter how much it pained me to think about how much work clearing up the POV issues would take, he forced me to look at the entire piece in an all new light and it's not a mistake I'll willfully make again.

These sorts of criticisms aren't meant to get you down, but to improve your prose and make it more salable.

So, when you hand your work to someone, be honest, both with them and yourself. You don't need a pat on the head. You need them to eviscerate the material so you know exactly what to fix, or work on, or polish. Even though you may not take their specific prescriptions, you'll have a good general idea of what to work on.

29) Don't get defensive or mad when someone criticizes your work. Criticism is done to help, not hurt or compete. And chances are the more mad they make you, the more right they are.

Here's the thing to remember: When you ask someone to read your work, they're giving you their time. Time they could spend at work, reading finished books for leisure, writing a book of their own... They could be doing literally anything with their time, but instead they've give it to you. That is an extraordinary gift from anyone. It's difficult enough to get people to read these days, let alone for them to read it with a critical eye, and then have them take the time to give you notes? That is a Herculean feat.

If they've given you the gift of that time, you owe it to yourself and to them, to not get upset or defensive when they have something to say about your work that you might not like or may well hurt your feelings. They're giving you the gift of their time and their knowledge, getting mad and defensive is the rudest thing you can do.

And if you're really getting that mad, chances are it's not about something they're wrong about. It's about something you really do need to fix and hadn't considered the option you were wrong and weren't willing to put the time and effort into fixing.

You have to learn to kill your babies. I don't know how many times I'll write the first chapter or scene in a story and absolutely fall in love with it, it's what made me want to write the piece in the first place, and then quite rightly be told that I started the story too early or too late. Either I have to go back and add a better hook before the scene, or axe it entirely. It's frustrating, but it's for the better.

You really can't take that kind of criticism personally. Again, they're not giving you criticism because they're trying to compete with you or tear you down. They're giving you criticism because you asked and because they want you to succeed. They may not always be right, but they would not have taken the time to read your piece if they didn't have your best interests and success at heart in the first place.

I can't emphasize how important that is to remember.

I know how hard it is to hear that your brilliant idea, flourish of prose, or snappy opening isn't as brilliant or snappy as you thought it was. Writing in itself doesn't make you vulnerable, showing it to someone else is what causes that. But you need to thicken your skin and listen to that contention. It's important.

And if you can't take that criticism from your friends, are you going to go to pieces when an editor tells you that you need to fix something?

If the answer to that is yes, then maybe you should give up the idea of writing professionally, because it's going to happen constantly. You need to write for the joy of writing and accept criticism like an adult in the pursuit of honing your craft. It's a whole different kind of writing if you just want to write to blow off steam and not publish.

It's important to manage those feelings and to keep them managed.

30) Don't go back and revise until you've finished. Otherwise you won't get past page 15.

I know far too many people who struggle with this one. 


They want to craft the perfect opening before they bother with the ending. They take 30 passes on chapter one, when in reality they should have taken one pass at 30 chapters. It's counter-productive for a few reasons. One, you get caught in an endless loop. And since, presumably, you're still studying and honing your craft you're getting better at writing, you're definitely going to be improving things. 

But here's the thing: I never know how to make the best edits on my first chapter until my last chapter is written. I have to know where the ending is headed, sure, but things will present themselves in a way that will require you readjust your first chapter anyway. Chapter one is like pulling the string back on your bow and letting an arrow fly. The final chapter is the target you're supposed to hit. If you don't know where the bulls-eye is, you don't know what minute adjustments in the aim need to be made. So you fire the arrow, see where it lands on the target, then readjust your aim in revision to make sure you hit the bulls-eye perfectly the next time.

Which is to say this: Your first chapter, no matter how endlessly you revise it, is not going to be perfect until it hits the target at the back of the story. 

So, it's my firm belief that you need to get a complete draft done before you go back and revise. Period. No questions asked.

That's not to say you can't do minor tweaks as you look over yesterday's work as you sit down to work today. Of course that's going to happen. And of course you'll go back and make notes about things you want to add based on new revelations the text presented to you. But it's imperative that you leave them for the finish. Otherwise you won't have anything to show for yourself.

I understand it's a difficult habit to break, but break it you must. Initially, this is why I wrote the first draft of my first book on a typewriter. I wouldn't be able to go back and do anything but jot down notes until I was finished and could transcribe it into the computer, which in and of itself, was a revision on its own. And it's killing me that I have ten pages of notes and suggestions from my writer's workshop on the book I'm working on now, but I'm unable to do anything about it because my draft of the book isn't finished yet (and it's oh, so close to finished.)

It doesn't matter what strategy you use to finish things, but you have to finish them. 

Neil Gaiman gave as one of his best pieces of writing advice
You write. 
You finish what you write. 
It's sounds almost too absurdly simple, but too often people get caught in that perfectionist revision trap and end up with nothing but a well polished first chapter.

I'll tell you what: no one is going to publish a well-polished first chapter without the rest of a book to back it up. So spend your energy in where it's needed in the first place, and that's by finishing your first draft.

Otherwise you're just spinning your wheels.

And that concludes another session of these writing rules. Like I said, please don't hesitate to let me know if these have been helpful, and any suggestions for more rules will be greatly welcomed.

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4, Part 5,  Part 6Part 7, and Part 8If you want to check out the whole list, you can find it here. 

And while you're thinking about it, feel free to order a signed book from me, or check out my collection of work that's available digitally.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Writer's Rules Revisited #8

This month has been crazy with the Redditgifts marketplace monopolizing a lot of my time. Shipping and customs forms are a pain, but it's a pain I'm glad to have. It's great to see my books flying to all corners of the globe at such an alarming rate.

But that's a bit of a sidetrack, we're here to talk about writing.

For those new around these parts, a brief explanation is in order. A long time ago I posted a list of rules and guidelines I've been collecting in my notebook over the years as a writer. I put together the list on the blog and it was fairly popular. (You can read the whole thing here) But there's only so much that comes across in a simple bullet point list. I wanted to expand on it and we've been doing it two or three at a time ever since.

If you want to catch up on the series:

You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 herePart 4 herePart 5 here, Part 6 here, and Part 7 here.

We're only going to go over a couple of rules here today, but I think they're important ones to keep in mind as you work, especially coming off the heels of National Novel Writing Month.

26) Never show people your rough draft. Show people your fifth draft and tell them it's your rough draft.

Your first draft is a mess. You might not even know it, but it is. 

You need time to get away from it and forget everything about it you'd written. Then come back to it. You'll find a thousand things wrong with it and have the perspective to fix them where necessary and have the ability to cut things without having knee-jerk reactions to what you felt when you wrote it. 

In that first draft, you're writing every word down that pops into your head that makes you excited about telling the story, but you haven't yet filtered what you actually need to make the story good. Sure, there will be things to salvage, but it's going to take a lot of work and objectivity. 

Showing it to someone that early in the game is going to do one of two things:

1) If whoever you've shown it to loves it and pats you on the back, you're in trouble. You've been given a reason to skip a lot of the hard work of revising because you've been convinced that what you've done is already good enough. That way leads to madness.

or

2) The person who reads it is going to hate it (probably rightfully so) and make a thousand suggestions about how to fix it and you'll lose all of your enthusiasm for the project.

Perhaps you might come to some middle ground, but I see the two situations above happening more often than not. There's a lot of hard work to be done and you can use the excitement of wanting to show your draft to someone else as an incentive to make sure that draft is readable. 

Writing takes lots of hard work and it's not just the toil of putting the words down on the page in the first place.  Give it at least one or two passes of revision before you show anyone and solicit input. Address what you think are problems that can be fixed and you'll get better feedback from that first round of readers. If your rough is riddled with errors (because no one writes 100% clean copy on their first draft no matter how hard they try) and story problems, many readers will hand you back notes full of stuff you already know is wrong. Fix all that before they see it and make the job of diagnosing your story problems that much easier on them.

If you're going to hand your piece to an editor, you should tell them that it's your rough draft so they give it that extra bit of leeway, but you want it honed and sharpened as much as you can get it before they see it. Editors want to find things to edit, whether it needs it or not. They're clutching a hammer and every problem is a nail. But they also need to be impressed. If you've worked hard enough on your draft and tell them it's your rough and it's that good, imagine how good they'll think it is after they've helped mold you and it into something better?

All of this leads me directly to the next rule:

27) There is no such thing as a final draft.

Once this process has begun, there is no turning back on it. You can revise endlessly. You will always have something you want to fix. There will always be a typo or a grammatical mistake.

You'll want to beat yourself up about it. Fortunately, in the age of digital publishing, some of the more egregious mistakes can be fixed without anyone noticing, but the problem becomes more acute and the pain sharpens when it makes it to print. As someone who's published hundreds of thousands of words in newsprint and in books, typos and errors can sting. Badly. But you have to simply let it go. You can't let it get to you.

I know some people that will endlessly revise their books and stories, never publishing a single one.

They're never happy with it and they're unwilling to stop revising it.

You need to understand that it's natural to want to revise endlessly. We're all constantly learning our craft and growing. If we don't find things about pieces we've written in the past to fix, it means we're not advancing or honing our craft, and that's a bad thing. You want to grow your style and the only way to do that is to freeze your work in the amber of publication and move on to the next piece.

That's what happens with any great writer. Look at Kurt Vonnegut's first book, Player Piano and compare it to Breakfast of Champions. The evolution he took as a writer of those years was astounding, and if you read his books chronologically, you can see that progression. If that progression was absent, if he didn't get better with each passing book, he wouldn't have become a better, more popular writer with each release.

I look back at Lost at the Con and, sure, there's still lots of stuff I love about it, but there are things in it I did that make me cringe. But I had to move on. I've written almost three books and countless short stories since Lost at the Con and reading everything that's come after, I can see that progression. I'm of the firm belief that the progression would not have come if I had spent my time spinning my wheels working on that elusive "final draft" of the first book.

Strive to do the best that you can in a specific moment of your life and your craft at a level of professionalism that is publishable. Then move on to the next thing and forget the last.  Challenge yourself with something new. It's the only way to grow, both as a writer and as a person.

So, yes, there's no such thing as a final draft, no document is perfect. But know that ahead of time and make it as good as you can in the timeframe you have allotted.

With both of these rules there's a balance to strike. You need to work hard enough on your manuscript that it's publishable, as free of errors as possible, and written to the best of your ability. But you need to put it down when it's hit that point so you can move on to the next project and continue on your arc of growth as a writer. It's a fine line and hopefully I've help lay out some criteria here to help you navigate it.

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4, Part 5,  Part 6, and Part 7If you want to check out the whole list, you can find it here. 

And while you're thinking about it, feel free to order a signed book from me, or check out my collection of work that's available digitally.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Importance of Story Workshops

I just returned from a weekend workshop with a number of fellow writers (including Aaron Allston and Janine Spendlove). It's something we've been doing for years now and it's something I look forward to every bit as much as I dread in some small way.

Every year, we all submit between 7k and 10k words of prose and have the others hit us with both barrels of their notes. It's an all day thing, with at least 5 or 6 people sharing stories and notes around the room. We all come having read all the submissions and we pick one victim...ahem...one writer at a time and we all discuss their piece at length.

And this discussion is frank. There is no pussy-footing around. Sure, we'll briefly talk about what we liked about certain pieces, but the point of the workshop is to tell your fellows what doesn't work in their fiction. We're all friends and have been doing it for a while, so the need to sugarcoat problems is non-existent and we have frequent disagreements and arguments among each other. But it's liberating.

This group of people, with totally different perspectives on issues as large as publishing, storytelling, and characterization, and as small as speech attribution tags, semi-colon use, and the font used, is so incredibly valuable to the process, it's almost hard to explain.

Many writers want to show others their work and be pat on the head. And, when you're dealing with an audience, you want to have crafted your work to a point where that's the case. But no one can get their prose to that point on their own. Which is why unloading in sessions like these is so important. You've brought this piece of fiction that you've lost perspective on. You're either suffering from a warrior mentality and think it's the best work you've ever done, or you're terrified that it's the worst drivel you've ever committed to paper and wish you hadn't submitted it. A committed group of peers will let you know exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are and put you back on a firm, level ground. That way you can attack your next revision with a level head.

We have very few rules at these workshops, but one of the biggest is this: Do not retort. Unless you're asking for a direct, clarifying question, you need to take what comes quietly. We're all naturally defensive and want to protect our babies, but if you keep your mouth shut and listen, you're going to learn a lot more from your story than you would by arguing to defend it.

And you have to understand when your story is the subject of the critique that you personally are not being attacked in any way. You need to understand that you're in a room of your peers and (hopefully) friends, who want nothing more than to see the best work you can produce come from the piece you submitted. They're telling you their storytelling perspective on your story because they want to help you make it the best, not because they're competing with you or trying to hurt your feelings.

This is part of the process. If you can't handle it from a peer, why would you be able to take it from an editor?

And you also need to be aware that you can discard any bit of advice you're given about your story. In fact you have to. If you've assembled a quality group of writers, they're all going to have wildly different opinions. I can't tell you how often Aaron and I find ourselves giving completely opposite advice to other writers, but even that can be a good thing. Listening to two competent storytellers (or at least one good one and me) give you different perspectives on the same issue, it will force you to evaluate your own instincts on the problem. Maybe you find that neither of them are right and you've chosen a better third path, but pondering those perspectives is the only way to have gotten there.

I've workshopped Lost at the Con and Operation: Montauk at these gatherings and I can't tell you how many mistakes in the narrative and characterizations were revealed by having these extra, expert sets of eyes on them.

I implore you to assemble a group of writers on your own and start tearing each others work to shreds. Like a muscle, the only way to build up a better, stronger story, is to tear it and let it heal. I always leave these workshops newly refreshed to attack a story, either the one I brought with me, or the next one I'm working on. They're invigorating, or at least they should be. If you don't find them creatively nourishing or recharging, you need to work on getting a thicker skin, because this is what writing is all about.

It's better that a friend and a colleague tears your story a new one while it's in its rough, unpublished state, than rushing it out too early with too many problems and then your readers tear it a new one.

I'm more than happy to answer any questions anyone might have about the process and how we run ours, but you should seriously be considering setting one of these up for yourself.

While you're thinking about it, feel free to order a signed book from me, or check out my collection of work that's available digitally.

And don't forget to check out my continuing series of tips for writers.