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Useful advice and resources for writers.

Getting old stories out of the house

"You grow a whole lot more as a writer by getting old stories out of the house and letting new ones come in and live with you until they grow up and are ready to go. Don't let the old ones stay there and grow fat and cranky and eat all the food out of the refrigerator. You have dozens of generations of stories inside you, but the only way to make room for the new ones is to write the old ones and mail them off."

– Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy

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One begins to see Herbert’s essential themes…

“…one begins to see Herbert’s essential themes. One of his central ideas is that human consciousness exists on—and by virtue of—a dangerous edge of crisis, and that the most essential human strength is the ability to dance on that edge. The more man confronts the dangers of the unknown, the more conscious he becomes. All of Herbert’s books portray and test the human ability to consciously adapt. He sets his characters in the most stressful situations imaginable: a cramped submarine in Under Pressure, his first novel; the desert wastes of Dune; and in Destination: Void the artificial tension of a spaceship designed to fail so that the crew will be forced to develop new abilities. There is no test so powerfully able to bring out latent adaptability as one in which the stakes are survival.”

– Timothy O’Reilly in Frank Herbert (Recognitions)

Originally published by Frederick Ungar, October 17, 1983. The whole critical biography of Frank Herbert (216 paperback pages) is also available online at oreilly.com.

Illustration by Erik Shoemaker.

Tactical writing advice if you’re stuck in the middle of a novel

There’s a lot of theoretical advice for writers out there, but not nearly enough written on practical matters.

The actual how-to of writing fiction.

When I was invited to write a piece for Natasha Lane’s blog, I decided to focus on the practical and wrote about 5 Tactics Novelists Can Use to Rescue Themselves from the Soggy Middle—which is where I often find myself mired down most often.

These are 5 tactics I rely on when I get bored, lost, or stuck in the middle of a book. They’re each useful at at different times and in different situations, but these tactics made the list because I return to them time after time.

Perhaps you have already felt bored, stuck, lost, or at a complete dead-end when you’re working on your book.

This is a signal that you’ve reached the soggy middle.

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Scrivener 3 update incoming! Here’s a peek

I try to keep my insane, nearly fanatical, love of writing tools contained—at least in public and on this blog—but I have to take a moment to share how excited I am about the Scrivener 3 update that’s coming out on November 20th.

According to their blog, it will look a little something like this:

That looks pretty similar to the current version of Scrivener, with some minor aesthetic tweaks. But wait until you see what’s inside.

One particularly awesome feature for all writers, no matter what genre or subject, is the Linguistic Focus mode. You’ll now be able to highlight specific parts of speech within the visible part of your manuscript, like dialogue, or adjectives.

This is particularly useful to fiction writers for whom some of these elements of speech could be used as crutches, and need to be rooted out and eliminated. I can also see myself using this when I’m doing a pass at a long manuscript with a particular aim. Say, for example, I just wanted to do a pass to improve the dialogue. Linguistic Focus mode will allow me to be more efficient by helping me ignore any irrelevant text.

Super neat.

Another feature I’m really excited about is wordcount history. Currently, Scrivener 2.x only supports cumulative word count for the manuscript, and word count for the day. The new version can apparently log word count per day over a period of time, which is something I used to have to do manually in a spreadsheet, if I wanted to see how productive I was over time.

Now, it seems, all that will be done automatically! Fantastic.

One last cool thing to share is particularly relevant to indie authors. It’s not something you’ll notice much unless you’re publishing, but for me—and anyone else who uses Scrivener to create epub and mobi files—Scrivener 3 will now support the most current versions of EPUB specification, EPUB 3.

This should fix the Look Inside issue on Amazon that was troublesome to so many authors.

Literature and Latte says that….

  • Scrivener 3 can export to Epub 3 format.
  • Its Kindle export is also much improved, and should now work fine with Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.
  • The internals of Epub 3 and Kindle files are tidier, containing only a single CSS file.

And the exporter will now also have a place to edit the CSS yourself.

So all this sounds great to me, and it’s easily worth the small price they are asking for the upgrade. New users will be able to get a 30 day free trial of Scrivener 3. If you’ve never tried it before and you like to write at all, it’s worth checking out.

I wrote a how-to book on Scrivener 2 that will still be 99% applicable to Scrivener 3, although perhaps missing a few of these cool new features. You still may find it useful.

It is change, continuing change…

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be … This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”

– Isaac Asimov, “My Own View” in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978) edited by Robert Holdstock; later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981)