Christina Vasilevski

Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience

1 Rule to Follow When Writing for Others

One of the hardest things to keep in mind as a writer is that you’re not writing for just yourself. A lot of the time, you’re writing to help others. Whether readers want to learn something new, need to make an important decision, or are searching for a sense of belonging to combat isolation, the writing—if you want to build an audience, which I do—needs to address what they’re looking for in some way.

Sometimes the insight on how to do so can be summed up in a single sentence.

Last year, I was at a cocktail party held after business hours by a company I was working with. Also at the party were some of the writers whose work I had been editing for this company. One of them was talking about how when he started writing for this company, he didn’t really have a handle on what his style should be like until he had a key conversation with a friend.

The rule

“Look, when I’m reading something, I’m busy and I’m looking for advice. In the end, I just want to be told what to do,” the friend said.

I could hear the awe and relief in this writer’s voice when he repeated that line to me and the others listening to him: “I just want to be told what to do.”

What writing for others really means

It’s a good lesson to keep in mind: try to leave as little useless ambiguity as possible when you’re writing something. (I say “useless” ambiguity because under certain circumstances avoiding any shade of grey in your writing is a disservice. Letting your readers come to their own conclusions is a good thing.)

In other words: tell your readers what they want to know (and make it snappy).

Is that a hard thing to do? Certainly. If it were easy, I wouldn’t have so many long, rambling posts in my archives. (I’ll leave it to you to read through them if you’re so inclined.)

“I just want to be told what to do” has become one of my own mantras when it comes to writing blog posts for myself and my clients. So what about you? How have you tried to apply that lesson to the people you want to help, persuade, or convince?

Need a Crash Course on Web Copy? Try “Nicely Said”

Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and PurposeTitle: Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose
Authors: Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee
Publisher: New Riders Publishing
Rating: 4 out of 5
Format: Print

Writing can be a daunting prospect for many people, and the way that the internet has changed both how we write and how we read can make it even more so. But the realities of the modern marketing world demand writing that’s user-friendly and easy to understand. What’s a verbophobe to do?

Well, a good place to start is by reading Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee. I’ve been writing for years in the context of websites and content management, and this is one of the most concise, thorough, and welcoming guides to online writing and editing that I’ve come across.

What really makes this book special is that it follows its own advice. All throughout, one of the most constant pieces of advice in it is to write in a friendly way that’s similar to how you would talk – and this book does that! A lot of writing and style guides take on a more authoritative tone, and sound intimidating as a result. This one doesn’t.

Nicely Said also imagines building a website from the ground up. It even uses an imaginary small business as a recurring example throughout the book of how to write and organize a website: Shortstack Books, an independent bookstore.

As the book discusses the process of doing research, writing mission statements, creating a wire frame, implementing consistent vocabulary, and even writing error messages and terms of service pages, it uses the example of Shortstack Books as its frame of reference. Although it’s a familiar technique, it works — it grounds the advice and keeps the topic from getting too abstract.

The book also includes case studies from several online companies like Etsy and Google, and provides several examples of good and bad web copy so you know what to do and what to avoid. What makes my particular editorial heart sing is that there are multiple chapters devoted to the topic of revision and workflow — processes that ordinarily strike non-communication-types with dread.

The only problem I have with Nicely Said is that it takes for granted the way the web works in 2013 and 2014. This book risks sounding dated very quickly.

However, that’s a small caveat. This is an extremely useful resource for people in a variety of contexts, like web developers and designers, not just writers and editors.

How Crutch Words Weaken Your Writing

Just say "no" to crutch words.

Just say “no” to crutch words.

Whoa! The “4 Myths About Editors” post has really taken off in the past few days. Thanks so much for all the positive feedback!

What I want to talk about today is related to one of the myths I discussed in that post: the idea that an editor will change your voice so much that it won’t sound like “you” anymore.

This concern is based on the idea that an editor will dilute what you have to say. However, good editing achieves the opposite — it strengthens and concentrates your voice, instead of weakening it. One way that editors do so is by removing crutch words.

What are crutch words?

Crutch words are the filler words people use that don’t add any value or information, and are often used to buy time when deciding what to say. Adverbs like “really” and “very” are a common culprit here — while they can add emphasis when used judiciously, overusing them makes for flabby writing. Here’s an example of what I mean, courtesy of Camilla Blakely, my copy editing teacher at Ryerson. Look at this sentence:

I was really quite scared.

Then compare that one to this:

I was terrified.

Which sentence sounds more vivid? I think you can guess — it’s the second one. In fact, the first sentence has the curious effect of making the speaker sound less scared than in the second sentence despite the use of multiple intensifiers. Technically, both sentences mean the same thing, but they convey completely opposed images.

However, the true insidiousness of crutch words lies in how goddamned often they pop up in writing, sapping the willpower of your readers as they roll your eyes over your limited vocabulary.

Want an example?

The “Apparently Kid”

You probably remember this kid from when a video featuring him went viral earlier this summer. Here it is:

If you want to skip the video, here’s a transcript, an excerpt of which is below:

Kid: It was great. And apparently I’ve never been on live television before. But, apparently sometimes I don’t watch the – I don’t watch the news. Because I’m a kid. And apparently every time – apparently grandpa gives me the remote after we watch the powerball.

Reporter: Tell me about the ride, what did you think about the ride?

Kid: Well it was great.

Reporter: Why?

Kid: Because, you are spinning around. Apparently every time you get dizzy.

The video became popular because this kid peppered his speech with the word “apparently” so much that it was obvious he had no idea what “apparently” meant. It’s cute when a little kid uses words incorrectly — it’s a sign of their brains developing, and though we don’t want to admit it, much of our laughter was paternalistic.

But you know what’s super annoying? When a person old enough to know better does the same thing. Even worse is that in certain contexts, using a crutch word can undermine your credibility, as this article from Workopolis shows. An excerpt is below:

Him: “I was basically responsible for the content strategy. The senior editor had me running the day to day updates and maintaining the websites. I always kept the sites fresh by having the newest stories featured front and centre.”

Me: “So you weren’t actually in charge of the editorial websites, you just basically updated them with the newest stories as they came in.”

Him: “Basically, yes.”

I suppose it isn’t necessary to say that I didn’t hire this editor for the role. His resume got his foot in the door for the interview, but he proceeded to undercut all of his alleged accomplishments by saying that he had “basically” done them.

I’ve actually not done justice in this piece to how often he said the word. It was so frequent that I suspect it may even have been a nervous tic. If so, I hope he’s overcome it by now.

The best compliment I’ve ever received

Let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, I was at a networking event and chatting with an older gentleman sitting next to me. I spoke at length to him about a book I had read recently and why I found it so interesting. After I was done, here’s what he said:

Him: You know what I like about you?

Me: No. What?

Him: You didn’t use the word “like” at all [as a filler] when you spoke to me just now.

People notice when you use crutch words. I consider this compliment — from a man whose name I don’t even remember! — as one of the best I’ve ever received in my life.

I want you to try something: the next time you’re listening to a friend talk or reading someone’s long-winded status update, pay attention to what words they overuse. Then imagine a big noisy “beep” sound over that word, like it’s being censored on a trashy talk show. Imagine that “beep” popping up every time those words appear. The more you hear that sound, the more it aggravates you, right? Now imagine how your audience feels when you do the same thing in your own writing or speaking — your pauses and tics distract from the core of your message.

Do you really want to sound like a five-year-old, beeping and grasping at that handy yet important-sounding word because you can’t think of others that will do the job?

What’s worse is that it’s hard for us to recognize our own crutch words because they’re an important component of supporting our thought process. They’re the scaffolding we use when structuring what we want to say. What an editor does is take a look at that scaffolding and apply all the material needed to finish the job and make that support structure unnecessary — then the building behind the scaffolding can stand strong and tall as its shining walls catch the sun.

Common crutch words to avoid

You could write books about what to cut out of your writing (and many have), but here’s a list of some common crutch words and phrases that appear in both written and spoken English:

  • really
  • very
  • quite
  • basically
  • truly
  • apparently (I couldn’t resist!)
  • honestly
  • actually
  • focus on (e.g., “I focus on helping people write well” vs “I help people write well” — this is one of my personal crutch words)
  • like
  • you know
  • um/uh
  • so
  • anyway
  • well
  • literally

When you find these words in your text, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this word providing any additional meaning or emphasis to what I want to say?
  • Will my meaning be altered if I cut this word?
  • Can I think of a way to make this shorter?
  • How does it sound when I read this out loud?

Applying these questions to your own writing and cutting the words that don’t pass muster — that is, by doing what your editor would do — will make your writing stronger and more memorable.

4 Myths About Editors

An example of text with editorial markup.What editors do is often kept hidden. In fact, a good editor is supposed to remain invisible by giving the text enough care and polish that it shines brightly and speaks for itself.

The thing is, when your goal is to be invisible, people get a distorted image of what you actually do. Myths about editors exist, and they’re pernicious. So what is editing, and what myths about editors are there? Here are four examples.

Myth #1: Editors are just glorified spell-checkers

When most people think of editing, they think of fixing typos and grammatical errors, or what editors call “copy editing.” (This is what others often call “proofreading” — proofreading and copy editing are actually two different things.)

However, even in a typical copy edit, there’s far more going on than just spell-checking. For instance, copy editors are frequently on the lookout for:

  • continuity errors
  • incorrect information or anachronisms
  • inconsistent formatting of elements like tables, graphs, and captions

Let’s say you’re writing a novel set in 1981 and you mention that a character is wearing a pastel shirt like the ones on Miami Vice. MS Word won’t double-check when the show started airing, but an editor will – and they’ll flag it, since the show started in 1984, three years after your story takes place.

Another example: you say your character’s eyes are blue in chapter one, but brown in chapter six. Would a spell-checker catch that?

I doubt it.

Of course, that’s assuming you’re working with a copy editor. A lot of editors don’t copy edit. Instead, they look at the text from a 50,000-foot view, examining the terrain and figuring out the deeper-level issues in your text that need fixing.

These people are known as structural or substantive editors. When reading your text, they ask themselves things like:

  • Are you keeping your audience in mind, or are you using too much technical jargon?
  • Should your conclusion really be the text’s introduction or first chapter?
  • Do your readers need to know about Topic X when the rest of the chapter discusses Topic Y?

That’s more than just being a glorified spell-checker. Editing like that involves being a bloodhound on the trail for gaps, unclear thinking, and logical fallacies. I bet Clippy can’t do all that.

Myth #2: Editors are just waiting to pounce on every mistake you make

People often think of editors as know-it-alls wielding red pens, waiting to call you out on your misuse of a comma. Granted, there are people out there like that, and there is a certain amount of satisfaction in pointing out the spelling and grammar mistakes of others.

But honestly? Getting into a tizzy over every single error is pedantic. More than that, it’s exhausting. People make mistakes. The whole reason editors exist is to keep those mistakes to a minimum and make you look better.

More importantly, ridiculing you for every mistake is counterproductive to an editor’s aim, which is a positive working relationship. As an editor, it’s in my best interest to keep you as happy as possible about the small things, like fixing spelling mistakes, so I can create enough trust to bring up more serious problems, like bad transitions and inconsistent referencing.

Myth #3: Editors will change your writing so much it won’t sound like “you” anymore

Bad editors may do this. Overzealous editors who feel like they have something to prove may do this. I know there are horror stories out there.

But unless your writing is so bad that such heavy rewriting is necessary — and if it is, that’s something that a managing editor or project manager should discuss with you in detail — editors like that are the exception, not the rule.

It all goes back to fostering a good working relationship, like I mentioned in the second point above. Trust is both important and scarce, and the wholesale rewriting of text without consultation burns through a lot of trust quickly with no obvious benefit. Why would we shoot ourselves in the foot like that?

Fellow editor Antonia Morton has a clever saying:

George Orwell wrote: “Good prose is like a window pane.”

Editor Antonia Morton says: “Good editing is like a squirt of Windex.”

Wholesale rewriting is not good editing — that’s just shattering the window entirely.

Update: I delve into this myth more in my follow-up post “How Crutch Words Weaken Your Writing

Myth #4: Editors don’t make mistakes

Remember that bit above about people making mistakes? It applies to editors too.

Embarrassing confession time: there are a lot of errors I haven’t caught when editing something. Usually they occur when the turnaround time for a project is very short. (A lesson to the wise: don’t underestimate the amount of time that good editing takes.)

Hell, I’ll admit to something even worse: I’ve committed the cardinal sin of introducing errors. This is a huge no-no. One time earlier this year, I was doing a rush job (remember what I just said about needing enough time to do good work?) for a client whose company included a bed and breakfast facility. During the process, I wrote the phrase “bread and breakfast” rather than “bed and breakfast”. This happened not once but twice. Once the client informed me of this, I made sure to fix the error as soon as possible and — after doing a quick scan in MS Word to make sure this error didn’t appear anywhere else in the document — sent back a cleaned-up copy.

The point is that no one is perfect. In fact, academics have studied error rates in various contexts. Fellow editor Adrienne Montgomerie discussed last year both on Copyediting.com and subsequently on her own site that no editor catches every single mistake. At best, estimates about error detection rates range from 95% to 99% among professional editors.

So what are editors like?

They’re like anyone else, really. They’re fallible, but they care about doing a good job. The difference here is that this job is an intensely personal one because many people see their writing as an extension of themselves — and if your writing is bad, what does that say about you as a person?

You are not a bad person. Your thoughts are worthy of expression.

All editors do is make that worthiness more apparent to the wider world.

The Value of Plain Language

One of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn as a writer was that using complex words was not a sign of good writing.

It’s a natural assumption to make. “Good” writing means writing that sounds “smart” — and what’s smarter than using vague or polysyllabic words that you really have to think about to understand?

How about using language that’s simple, clear, and gets its point across? In other words, how about plain language?

Understanding the value of plain language is something that a lot of individuals and businesses have trouble with. Hell, even the government of Canada hasn’t implemented plain language rules across all of its departments, as a recent news story about Revenue Canada has made clear.

Quick summary: an American firm reviewed thousands of letters sent to Canadian citizens by Revenue Canada (Canada’s version of the IRS) and found that they were “poorly organized, confusing, unprofessional, unduly severe, bureaucratic, one-sided and just plain dense”.

Ouch.

The cost of not using plain language

It gets worse, though. Turns out that having letters full of bureaucratic, complex language — AKA, what many people think sounds “smart” — has a huge cost:

All that gibberish comes with a human cost: confused taxpayers swamp the agency’s call centres with needless telephone inquiries, or they send thousands of letters to tax offices asking for clarification.

[…]

“Often the main purpose of the documents was not readily apparent, and other important information was scattered throughout the document or embedded in dense paragraphs,” Siegelvision said in its $25,000 review for the government.

The evaluation included an online survey of taxpayers by another firm, which asked respondents to examine a typical CRA notice that required the recipient to send the tax agency money. About half of those surveyed could not figure out they were supposed to write a cheque to the government because the document was so poorly written. [Emphasis added.]

Think about all of the waste in both time and money those poorly-written letters cause. Think about all of the money the government isn’t getting because people can’t understand that they need to submit a cheque.

Would you let “smart” sounding writing get in the way of actually getting the money you need to keep on going, whether you’re a business or individual?

I didn’t think so.

So what is plain language?

I talk about this more in “3 Ways to Make Your Online Content More Readable” (which you can get by signing up in the sidebar) but plain language, put simply, involves using common words and simple phrasing to make sure as many people as possible understand what you’re trying to say.

That doesn’t mean you have to sound like you’re writing for a five-year-old. But it does mean that you need to write clearly, avoiding heavily technical or  insider-friendly terms. You have to assume that the people you’re talking to don’t know as much about your topic as you do.

Let’s face it, no one knows everything — but people do want to learn, and plain language is all about not getting in your reader’s way. Who knows how much money (literal and figurative) you’re leaving on the table otherwise?

Book Review: A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia SamatarTitle: A Stranger in Olondria
Author: Sofia Samatar
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Format: Print
Rating: 4 out of 5

Note: This review contains spoilers.

Jevick is the son of a pepper merchant on the island of Tyom, one of a remote group of islands to the southeast of Olondria, a vast and powerful empire. Unlike almost everyone else around him, Jevick is literate. He had a tutor, an Olondrian exile, brought in by his father. Enchanted by this knowledge – by the sound of Olondrian words, by the idea that they last long past the limits of human memory, by the images they conjure, by the idea that life is so much larger than the islands themselves – Jevick yearns to visit Olondria himself, and leaves as part of a trade run as soon as he can after his father’s death.

Life in Olondria is intoxicating, and Jevick soon gets caught up in the whirl and bustle of urban life. However, after taking part in the Feast of Birds, he is soon haunted by the ghost of Jissavet, an illiterate woman from his homeland. His quest to learn and record the story of this woman turns him into a pawn between two rival factions fighting for both power and control over the written word. In the end, Jevick has to face the results of that struggle – what should people value? The book, or the voice? Flesh, or parchment?

Up until very recently, I didn’t know about the concept of “orality.” I knew that there were cultures with oral traditions, but I didn’t really think about how they differed from ones with literal traditions. When you think about it, though, writing is a big deal – it makes things more tangible yet more remote, somehow. It makes things objective.

When I started reading A Stranger in Olondria, I was fully expecting the plot to champion those ideas without question. I’m a writer – it says so right there in at the top of this page – so I naturally place value on literacy and the benefits it conveys. Of course, that’s because I’m a product of my culture, and because I occupy a somewhat privileged position within it.

Samatar (and I really should have known this going in) approaches these questions from a far more nuanced perspective. In the end, the value of the written word is affirmed, and Jevick even becomes a tutor in his own right. But also in the end, the positions of the two cultures are flipped – it is Jevick’s homeland that becomes a haven for the written word, and Olondria that reverts back to a more oral culture.

The thing is, because the book is told entirely from Jevick’s point of view, we only experience that culture second-hand. We are as ignorant as he is about the workings of Olondria’s religious and political structures, and because the book contains no glossary (a meta move, perhaps?), finding direct analogues between these structures and those of the real world is difficult. Throughout the book, I was frustrated by a sense that Jevick, although an interesting character in his own right, was a small corner of a much larger tapestry. I kept on wanting the book to move from a close-up to a wide angle, so I could appreciate things in greater context.

Given Samatar’s aims in the book to interrogate how the advent of writing changes people and cultures, I think her choice to focus on Jevick alone also interrogates the contemporary fantasy reader’s idea of how a second-world book should behave. Fantasy books have been getting longer and longer, and their scopes have been getting wider and wider. They are now more likely to span continents and multiple cultures than they have been in the past – the fact that A Game of Thrones is a widely-acclaimed TV series when such a thing would have been unheard of perhaps even five years ago is a testament to this. In contrast, Jevick’s journey is blatantly small-scale. It’s like seeing the world through a telescope.

So in many ways, A Stranger in Olondria made me struggle with and reassess my expectations. In fact, for a long while, I was wondering how on earth the whole story would pull together. Because while the prose of the book is beautiful – it’s lush and sensuous, full of unusual imagery and vibrant colours and textures – Jevick himself is a pawn, pushed and shunted about. A great deal of the plot hinges upon his ignorance of Olondria’s religious struggles. It’s only in the final third of the book that it really starts cooking with gas, when Jevick finally has a chance to hear and record the story of Jissavet, the woman haunting him.

And oh, what a character Jissavet is. Where Jevick is a clay vessel, waiting to be filled by Olondrian words, Jissavet is the kiln, testing and hardening Jevick’s resolve. She challenges him, mocks him, helps him, probes him. Her story shows that she’s always done this to others, throughout her entire life. In fact, her vehemence that her story must be told is a natural extension of this, born of the exclusion she faced throughout her short life as a woman of low caste on her island – born without an external soul, according to the local hierarchy. Her quest to reach Jevick and make him her amanuensis is thus both a repudiation of her culture and physical proof that souls and words are the same thing.

I finished A Stranger in Olondria on a morning in May when the sun was shining and the breeze was gentle. I sat on the porch, then went out for a walk to the lakeshore and let the wind scour my face. All throughout, thoughts tumbled inside my head. What is a soul? What is the value of writing? What duty do we owe to others, especially those that we’re culturally taught to ignore? How do legacies start? I still don’t have the answers, but I think this book can help others get there.

Thoughts on how a story states its theme

Today I read After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn. Although it was fun and an incredibly quick read, I’m not sure if I’ll review it here.

However, there was a passage in it that struck me and is making me ask questions about what fiction can do, or should do – or at least about what the kind of fiction I like can or should do.

First though, some background: After the Golden Age is about Celia West, the mundane daughter of Spark and Captain Olympus, the pre-eminent superheroes of Commerce City. All her life, she’s had to deal with the fact that her parents consider her a failure due to her lack of superpowers. After a very ill-advised bout of teenage rebellion, she’s grown up and tried to be as different from them as possible. Now she works as a forensic accountant, a profession so mundane it mortifies her father. Generational strife runs throughout AtGA, in fact, as various secrets come to light about the nature and origin of the superheroes and supervillains in Celia’s hometown.

And now, we get to that notable passage. Here, Celia is asking the District Attorney to give her access to some obscure but important public records:

“Couldn’t you just… let me into the records office? Give me a key and no one would ever have to know I’d been there.”

“That’s crazy. I can’t let you do that.”

“I didn’t say it was an easy favour.”

“You think being a hero gives you carte blanche? You think you can run all over town bending all the rules, like your parents and their pals?”

“I’m not anything like my parents.”

“I hate to break it to you, but we all turn into our parents.”

That pronouncement held a tone of finality that Celia didn’t much like.

Look at that last line of dialogue and savour it. That, right there, is what gave me pause. To me, this line is the heart of the book – it gets to the various ways both the protagonists and antagonists (knowingly or unknowingly) fulfill generational patterns.

This makes me wonder: is it a sign of strong writing for a book to have such an explicit statement of theme? Should all stories have a passage like this that wraps everything up in a nice package for extraction?

I remember being struck by a similarly all-encompassing bit of text in Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina. In that scene, Seraphina, slightly drunk, reveals to her father that she’s in love, and that the person she loves is a symbol of everything that’s been thwarted in her life. It crystallizes the book’s theme of wanting something you can’t have – the humans can’t have peace with the dragons, and Seraphina’s been forbidden from finding peace and happiness as an individual.

God, I sound like a university student spelling it all out like this. What I wonder is this: it’s interesting when an author states their theme so overtly, but is it a good idea? Does it make things too easy or obvious?

I’m curious about what you, my readers, have to say about this. Can you think of books you’ve read that contain similar lines where the theme is right out there in the open?

Goals for 2013

The frenzy of reading and reviewing 40 books in 2012 has passed, but I’m still a little shell-shocked a few days later. 2013 will be a bit different, but in degree rather than in kind. Of course, this can mean only one thing: I’ve upped the ante.

In this case, I’ve decided to read 50 books this year instead of 40.

However, I don’t want to deal with the insanity of writing 50 book reviews. I think this year, I’ll just review a book whenever the mood strikes me, though I do plan to do a minimum of 1 per month.

I’m also going to try to inject more variety into my reading, and broaden my scope away from just speculative fiction. For example…

  • More public domain books/books that form part of the Western canon
  • More books by authors of colour, and/or with protagonists of colour
  • More anthologies written by multiple authors

On top of that, I’m going to keep on doing my slush reading for Electric Velocipede, attend Ad Astra in April, and get back on the horse with my own writing. I might even have the courage to submit something to a magazine or anthology – you never know.

So what are your goals for the brand new year?

Book Review: You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, by John Scalzi

You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop, by John ScalziTitle: You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Format: eBook
Rating: 4 out of 5

I read a lot of books about writing in 2012. Take a look for yourselves in the archives. Although the authors I read occupy different niches within the industry, they wrote mainly about the same thing: craft. They wrote about language, narrative, and the writing life. In Anne Lamott’s case, she even waxed rhapsodic about how to Being A Writer  is a Noble Calling.

Screw that. John Scalzi just wants to get paid.

Well, there’s more to him than that, but he definitely doesn’t want to be a Starving Artist.

In a display of how ever-pragmatic Scalzi isYou’re Not Fooling Anyone consists solely of his blog posts about writing, repackaged into book form. What’s refreshing about his posts, and what distinguishes them from the other books about writing that I’ve read this year, is that he doesn’t shy away from talking about money. In fact, he devotes multiple posts to talking about finances, and one post in particular to a breakdown of where his writing income comes from – even going so far as to state outright his average yearly incone.

This leads to another refreshing thing about Scalzi – he’s doesn’t hide the fact that he makes the majority of his money from corporate writing gigs. This is something that’s probably true of most fiction writers/novelists, but rarely have I seen one state so openly that the money they make from the publishing industry is the cherry on the sundae, rather than the sundae itself.

It’s also nice to hear some snark about author advances, and to hear him take a publisher, Night Shade Books, to task about its perspective on those advances. Interestingly, a few years ago Night Shade Books was placed on probation by SFWA a few years back for not meeting its financial obligations to its authors, although it’s now off probation. It’s hard not to wonder how this publisher’s contemptuous attitude towards authors in Scalzi’s post is related to its later financial troubles.

Unfortunately, since these are blog posts, they’re also quite topical, which means that they date themselves quickly. The publishing wisdom that held true six or seven years ago when Scalzi first wrote these posts doesn’t necessarily hold true now. I bet a new edition of this book with more current posts would have a lot more to say about ebooks and Amazon, for example. But this is a problem inherent to blog posts in general; it does nothing to diminish Scalzi’s skill as a writer.

So, in short: if you like snark, you’ll like this book. If you like up-front discussions of the financial aspect of being a freelance writer, you’ll like this book. But if you do like this book, you owe it to yourself to check out Whatever to see the new stuff that Scalzi has brewed up.

Up next: The High Road by Terry Fallis

NaNoWriMo: Taking the Plunge – Again!

Image from Morguefile.

Well, it’s officially late October, and you know what that means: a frantic ramp-up to NaNoWriMo. Well, perhaps not frantic, but it’s definitely a more informed mess of activity than it was in 2011. Last year was my first time writing for NaNoWrimo, and I think I learned a lot from the experience. Unfortunately, the story I started then remains unfinished, but I have a good idea of what its problems are.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to end it, and so it’s been helplessly stewing and fermenting in my head for a year, awaiting some key insight that will make it reach critical mass and become complete. Ah, one can wish, right?

Anyway, with one successful NaNo under my belt (that is, I reached the wordcount goal even if I didn’t technically finish the story), I feel better about how to approach it this time around. Last year I was writing by the seat of my pants. This year, I have a much clearer idea of what I want to write about, and have even started doing some supporting research about the time period it’s set in, as well as other important elements of the setting.

Does this mean that I’ve abandoned my pantsing ways and become a full-on outliner? Not by a long shot. It just means that last year I blundered through the forest without anything to clear the way – this year, in contrast, I have a machete ready.

The only kink in my plans is that the World Fantasy Convention is happening from Nov 1st to 4th. I can pretty well guarantee that I won’t keep up the writing pace during those 4 days – the question is how long it will take me to get back on track from the 5th onwards.

Anyway, long story short: I’ve committed to NaNoWriMo again, and I’m excited about it! What about you, O faithful readers?