My Address to Grads

Five years ago, I was invited to give the address to graduates from our local high school. I was honoured to do so, particularly since my daughter was graduating, and so I knew many students in the class. Since it’s that time of year again, I thought I’d share my thoughts from that time with everyone. The advice in it is really not only for young people. :)

Good evening, everyone, and good evening especially to you, the graduates of 2012. (And if I’ve been to your English class lately, yes, it’s me again. And I thought talking to twenty of you at once was intimidating!)

Actually, I’m very pleased to have been invited to speak to you tonight. I’ve known many of you since you started school, and I’ve watched you grow into wonderful young men and women. I’ve met more of you through school visits, and I know that this class of 2012 is full of kindness, intelligence, spirit, talent, and potential.

When I was invited to do this, at first I wasn’t quite sure what I should say. My guidelines were to give you some “sage advice.” Now, for one thing, I’m much too young to be giving “sage” advice! But I guess I have learned a few things worth sharing. I think they’re some of the ingredients for a happy life. (Don’t worry, it’s not a long or complicated recipe.)

Learn to say “yes.”
I don’t mean, “be a doormat.” I mean, “open yourself to opportunities.” It’s almost always easier to say “no,” especially if we’re presented with an opportunity that seems intimidating, or outside our comfort zone, or more than we’re qualified for. Say yes anyway. It’s only by taking on things that challenge us that we learn our true capabilities and allow ourselves to grow. So make “yes” your default answer when opportunity presents itself.

Learn to say “no.”
When “yes” is your default, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So learn to say “no” sometimes, too. I know your life seems quite full right now, but once you add in careers and spouses and children and houses and bills and volunteering and grocery shopping and housework and yardwork and travel and deadlines—it’s going to get busier. And in order to give all those things the attention they need—you need a little time to stop and think once in a while. To refocus on the important things and let go of the not-so-important ones. So learn to balance “yes” and “no” wisely.

Remember that who and what you are today is not necessarily who and what you will be tomorrow.
Life is about change and possibility. There’s a lot of pressure on you right now to decide what you are going to be. Don’t let that overwhelm you. All you are really deciding is what you are going to do—at least for the next little while. If you change your mind later, it’s all right. It doesn’t mean you made a mistake. When I left Memorial, I headed for journalism school. Then I changed my mind and became a lawyer for a time. Then I changed my mind again when I realized that I wasn’t happy—and I went back to writing, because that’s where my heart is. But if I hadn’t gone to law school and worked as a lawyer, I probably wouldn’t have met the person who would become one of my best friends and one of my partners in publishing. So even if your path is a winding one, that doesn’t mean you’ve strayed off course. Very few lives are a straight road—and straight roads are generally not nearly as interesting as winding ones.

Create something.
Without a doubt, we live in a consumer society. We consume material things like clothes and cell phones, we consume entertainment like TV shows and movies, we consume far too much of far too many things that are “bad” for us. So to balance all this consumption, I encourage you to also take time to create something. It’s strange how many people deny their creativity—they say, “Oh, I’m not creative”—when what I think they really feel is that they’re not creative enough to do something that someone else would consider “good.” But I think that making things is good for us. You might be a writer or a filmmaker or an artist or a songwriter. You might build bridges or design buildings or craft a new scientific theory. Or you could be a scrapbooker or a woodworker or a gardener. Or you could take pictures or sew things or make music or restore old cars or make a funny video that goes viral. If you don’t create for anyone else, create for yourself. I like this quote from the American journalist William F. Buckley, Jr. He said: “I get satisfaction of three kinds. One is creating something, one is being paid for it, and one is the feeling that I haven’t just been sitting on my butt all afternoon.”

So even if you’re not being paid for it, don’t just sit on your butt all afternoon. Create things.

Think for yourself.
Every generation probably hears this, but I think it is especially important in the world right now. We are facing a lot of BIG issues—political, religious, scientific, global—and the rate of societal change is possibly the fastest it has ever been. You will have to make decisions on many of these issues, so I urge you to be informed, consider the facts, and decide for yourself. Just because your parents or your friends or a politician or your favorite celebrity or some guy on YouTube tells you something, does not necessarily make it true. You can respect their opinions, but think for yourself, and be true to your own decisions.

Don’t strive for normal.
Since the time you started school, you’ve probably been preoccupied with being “normal” or “fitting in.” But what does “normal” mean? It means “standard” or “common” or “average.” I want you all to do something. Put your thumbs and fingertips together, and look through the opening that forms. That’s “normal.” Now look around you, everywhere else. That’s the rest of your possibilities. Do you really want to fit into that little space called “normal?” Don’t be afraid to live outside the boundaries, even just a little. I think you’ll be happier for it.

You are never too old.
You’ve been told many times in the past eighteen or nineteen years that you’re “too young” to do this or that. And while that is sometimes true—you really are too young to drive a car at age twelve, or get married in Grade Three—before long you’ll start thinking (or society will tell you) that you’re “too old” to do things. Don’t believe it. You are never too old to do things you think you’ll enjoy, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Want to play on a playground? Do it. Change your job? Do it. Learn a new sport, or hobby, or language? Do it. If you truly believe that you are not too old to do something, then you won’t be. But you have to start believing it now, so that doubts and that tiny space called “normal” don’t hold you back later.

Finally, I want to mention the Ethic of Reciprocity. You may think you don’t know what that is, but I’m betting that you do. You might know it as the Golden Rule, which commonly goes something like: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s a concept that goes far beyond that. The idea that the best way to get along in life is to treat others the way we would like to be treated stretches back as far as the ancient civilizations of Babylon, China, Egypt, and Greece, and it stretches across almost every world culture, religion, and ethical code. In Islam, it’s “wish for others what you wish for yourself”; in Buddhism, it’s “treat not others in ways that you would find hurtful”; in Judaism, it’s “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” And so on, and so on.

It’s easy to say it, but when you take a step back and look at it, it’s quite elegant in its simplicity. You can hang almost every other moral and ethical principle on this one directive. Take a minute and really think about what kind of world we would live in if we always considered the other in all of our social interactions. In business, in relationships, in our everyday life. If we always took a brief second to judge our actions by that one, simple test—if someone did or said this to me, would it harm or upset me? If you forget everything else I’ve said here tonight as soon as you leave, I hope this one, at least, will stick. I really think it has the power to change the world.

And that’s it—say yes, say no, expect and accept change, make things, think for yourself, forget about normal, never think you’re “too old,” and always consider the other. My recipe for a happy life! You have already made all of us—your parents, your teachers, your families—incredibly proud, and I hope that as you start down your own winding paths, you’ll find some of these ingredients useful.

There’s a quote that goes: “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

Go and be the ones who make it happen!

Thank you.

Friday Desk Report – June 16, 2017

A lovely carpet of creeping phlox

Seems like it was a bit of a slow week around the desk, but of course the intrusion of the warming weather and demands of the outdoors have something to do with that. (Not that I am complaining!) Still, I managed to keep up with most things, started a new novel revision, and spent hours refining the magic system used in that novel draft. It now makes more sense and is on its way to becoming a rational magic system. Still a few things to work out, but it definitely has a good foundation now. It was a pain in the butt interesting to try to reconcile the magic use/character abilities that I’d written into the story into a more coherent framework. I’ll have to make changes and adjustments as I work my way through this revision, but I feel much more confident about a good result now.

In my research into building good magic systems, I also refreshed my memory on Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of magic systems, which are very helpful to keep in mind when building one. The first one is at the link, and the others are linked from the bottom of that page.

A gorgeous tall tulip from a “Pretty in Pink” bulb mix from Vesey’s Seeds

I started the week bouncing between projects and finally landed on that revision, but I foresee that pattern continuing over the next little while. There are short stories I want to submit by upcoming deadlines, so although I’m a bit stuck on them right now, I have to keep going back and pecking at them until they agree to cooperate. I love it when I can sit down and write a new story straight through, but alas, that doesn’t happen all that often. It’s more likely to take a lot of digging and mucking about before I reach those two sweet, sweet words: The End.

Family, fire, and cake

Last week was my birthday (which I share with my sister, but no, we’re not twins–she was born five years after me, but on the same date) so we had our traditional outdoor party on the weekend. I made a first attempt at icing flowers made with a Russian ball decorating tip; they turned out all right, but I learned some tricks for making them better the next time. Still delicious!

Still working with my assistant, so despite the yard and garden needs, I think I’ll be able to stay productive in the coming weeks.

 

Eleven Reasons to Love Outlines

This colourful outline brought to you by Scrivener’s binder feature.

I know what you’re thinking, those of you who know me. Why would a non-outliner write a post about loving outlines?

It’s not that I’ve come entirely over to the dark side become an outliner, but I do recognize that sometimes they can be useful, whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool planner or a steadfast pantser. And in fact, this post has been co-written by my sometimes author assistant, Emily, who actually is an outliner and therefore knows more about the whole outlining thing than I do. Here’s what we’ve come up with in our collaboration on the topic.

1. There is No “Right Way” to Outline. Outlines can take on different forms depending on who is making them. Some writers use programs like Scrivener to create digital outlines, others prefer to use note cards or index cards. Any way you want to outline is a good way to outline. You might even find that you don’t have to go the full mile and outline your entire plot, but an outline of your main character’s arc would be helpful, or a timeline of historical events to set up your current world. You’re free to outline whatever will assist you and your writing, and pay no attention to the rest.

2. Outlines Are Inspiring. Whatever method you decide to use for your outline, make it not just helpful to you but visually or aesthetically pleasing. If there’s a color you find particularly inspiring, incorporate that into your outline. If you have images that get the creative juices flowing, represent your characters, or paint the picture of one of your locations, include them in your outline so you are always reminded of them when you return to your outline. Remember that no one else is going to see it; it’s just for you and it should make you excited as well as get you organized. Just don’t get lost in adorning your outline when you should be adorning your plot. Keep it simple and fun!

3. Having a Plan. The beginning of a story can be intimidating to write. So can the middle. And so can the end. Having an outline provides you with an overview of the plot, detailing how things start, how they progress, and how they end so you know where you’re starting and also where you’re going. There is no frightening blank space lying in wait just beyond that exciting first scene. You always have something to fall back on if you forget what you wanted to happen next.

4. Defense Against the Dark Arts…er, Writer’s Block. Every writer faces writer’s block at one time or another. A conversation isn’t working, an explanation requires some research before it can be written, a scene just isn’t interesting enough. An outline provides you with numerous distractions from that one difficult section; you can move onto another scene that you know needs to happen, but with a basic understanding of what needs to come before or after.

5. Structured Spontaneity. Outlines can, at first glance, seem to be an obstacle that will stand in the way of your creativity. If you know everything that’s going to happen in your story, is there really room for discovery or development? Absolutely! Think of your outline as a foundation; your action, characters, and themes all have their own jobs and interactions, and are probably not going to adhere to the outline indefinitely. Your writing will still surprise you, and on that note…

6. Outlines are Not Static. Sometimes characters do things that we don’t expect or a rogue plot point will plummet into the thick of our stories seemingly out of nowhere. This doesn’t mean that your outline becomes worthless. When things need to change, an outline can change with them, and you already have a platform to input new information and step back to see the whole picture in terms of this new development. An outline does not need to be restrictive.

7. Outlining is Pantsing in Disguise. Whether you do it before you write or as you write, you are still creating this storyline, these characters, and these events out of your imagination. Outliners are just pantsers who do more of their imagining prior to the actual act of writing, and write it down so they don’t forget it. So no matter which camp you think you fall into, it’s more a matter of perspective and style than anything else. If you’re a pantser, don’t let the prospect of an outline be scary or off-putting, because it’s not fundamentally much different from the way you usually tackle story construction.

8. Revision Tool There’s no better tool to have by your side when heading into a novel revision than your trusty outline. It gives you a necessary overview of the structure, pace, and logic of your story when you’re trying to ferret out where change is needed. To that end, if you’re not an outliner before you write, create an outline as you go. At the end of every writing session, briefly describe in a sentence or two what just happened. Even if you didn’t start out with an outline, you’ll have one by the time you finish the first draft.

9. Synopsis Tool Likewise, an outline can be an invaluable tool when it comes time to write the Dreaded Synopsis. Particularly if you’ve updated your outline to reflect changes that happened during the actual writing and revision of the novel, or created the outline in tandem with the novel and revisions, you have an accurate but brief reflection of the story from beginning to end, and can set to work polishing it up into a synopsis right away.

10. Aid to Discovery Your outline can reveal things about your novel or story that you may have included subconsciously, like themes and motifs. They’re revealed subtly throughout the story itself, but looking over your outline it may be more obvious that certain elements or objects repeat and resonate throughout the manuscript.

11. Series Tool Maybe you didn’t set out to write a series, but the first book or story has given birth to a followup idea. Your outline can be the first thing in your series bible, and refresh your memory on many elements of the previous story as you set out to write the next installment.

Friday Desk Report June 9, 2017

This month I have the great pleasure of having an author assistant helping me out with all sorts of things. It’s a short-term contract, but I’m loving the ability to hand off some tasks to someone else for a change. So far she’s taken care of some social media tasks, proofread a manuscript, created promotional materials, researched blog post ideas and found a cover image I’ll need soon. All this has freed me up to concentrate on writing and some other things, which has been great. It’s not something I could afford to pay for full time, but for short-term bursts of super-productivity, it’s fabulous.

Today has probably been the least productive day of the week, but mainly because several ROML (Rest of My Life) things took me out of the house numerous times. I was even productive yesterday, on my birthday! When, I’m sure you’ll agree, most of us deserve to take the day off if we’re able.

This week’s main projects were the newest Olympia Investigations story, and another story I’m hoping to have ready for a particular anthology call. They’re both fun to write, although very different tales. I’ve been switching back and forth as the mood takes me; I may try to work on a more deliberate schedule next week. I also have some rewrites coming up soon, so I’d like to clear these stories off the decks before then. My goal for this month is 13k words for those two stories combined; I’m slightly behind so far, but there’s still time to catch up!

Before I forget, I have a Kindle Countdown deal running on The Two-Week Short Story from now until June 15th. If you or someone you know might be interested, click over and check it out!

Spring has finally arrived and my gardens are starting to fill with colour–and weeds! So I’ll have to find time to work on that, too. I might need an assistant for longer than I anticipated…

The Alternative Expletive Project

A long, long time ago, over at The Scriptorium, I had a feature page called the Alternative Expletive Project. Here’s how I explained it then:

For many writers, the use of expletives in our fiction writing presents a quandary. Do we go ahead and use one of those infamous “seven words you can’t say on television” (although I think they’ve all been said there by now)? Do we tone down one or more of those words, making the work less likely to offend–but, some would argue, less realistic?

It’s a personal choice that we all must make at some point, when our character smashes a thumb with a hammer, loses everything in the stock market, gets into a huge screaming match or realizes that the spaceship’s life support system has just failed. To swear, or not to swear, that is the question.

For those who’d like to walk the line somewhere between an “R” rating and an unbelievably dull character, The Scriptorium presents the Alternative Expletive Project. Our goal: to offer writers real-life, inoffensive examples of what folks say in times of anger, pain, despair and other emotional extremes.

I asked The Scriptorium’s readers to send me their examples and suggestions, and the response was…edifying, to say the least. So I collated all the responses into one large (partially) alphabetically-sorted list. As responses continued to roll in, I gave up on alphabetizing them. It’s interesting to note that today’s possibly most popular swear-without-really-swearing, “WTF,” did not even make the list at the time.

When The Scriptorium underwent a redesign, that page was overlooked and didn’t make it back onto the new site. So I present the list here, for your browsing and reference pleasure. You never know when it might come in handy–and it’s fun, at any rate. Do you say any of these? Do your characters?

The Alternative Expletive Datalist

Ah, Buddha All-fired Blamed
Blast Blasted Bleeding
Blimey Blinking Bloody Mary
Bloody Blowed Confound it
Confounded Crap Crappola
Crikey Cursed Cussed
Dammit Dang Danged
Darn Dash it Dashed
Dern Dungduggetty Mud Durn
Feck off Fishcakes Frig
Gee C. Cow Gee Gol-danged
Gosh Heck Jehosophat
Jiminy Crickets Motherfather Motherflower
Poop Rats Sugar
Ballspun Road and Crumpets Fiddlesticks Sugar and (bloody) cats
That’s SpongeBob (means “That’s B.S.!”) Bother Botheration
Tidy Bowl Shiver me timbers Dag nabbit
Split me infinitives By carbonate of soda no Fark
Cheese ‘n’ Rice For frog’s snake Fudge
Good Gravy Jeezly Heavenly Day
Good Googa-Mooga Go to Halifax Gol-dashit
Ficky-doo BALLoons BASTion of indecency
Mother flubber Cock-a-doodle-diddle Drat
Shoot Jeepers Flick
Boulder Dash Chickens Fudgesicle
Nuts Sugar Honey Iced Tea Fungus
Jackrabbit Crappers Dadgummit
Pickles FartBurgers Criminy
Sammich Bachkalooey Hajamabajah
Rat Farts Jolly Bad Luck Jolly Rotten Luck
Dorkburger Filth Belcher Dirt Merchant
Chickenplucker Cheezles Flackit
Summon a witch Grudge damn it Faff (off/you/this)
Judas H. Priest Bollards (load of) Bilge
(you) Richard Cranium Baloney Fricking
Jeeze Louise Cheet Beach
Sugar Plum Fairies Flipping Frack
Howling Horse Biscuits Cheesers
Shittles Skittles Shootles
I could spit nickles Fack Ymir’s Bones
Son of a Biscuit Eater

Submission Planner Updated

I’ve been using the submission planning spreadsheet I talked about here and realized that a couple of tweaks would improve its functionality.

I added a column to enter the word count of your story, and formulae in the “Projected Payment” column, so that now if you enter your word count and the pay rate for a particular market, the spreadsheet will calculate the projected payment for you (because I don’t know about you, but I’m all about doing as little actual math as possible). There’s also now a separate column for flat rate payments.

The instructions page has been amended accordingly.

Here’s the really cool part: if you’ve already started using the older version of the spreadsheet, don’t despair! Open your version and the new version in different windows on your desktop, and simply drag one of the updated sheets from the new version into your old version. It won’t update a sheet you’ve already started, of course, but you can use the new version for any new ones you start. You can take advantage of the new features without having to start a new file.

The new file is now linked below and on the original post’s download page. Happy submission planning!

They’re Live!

My two new non-fiction ebooks are live as of yesterday! The Two-Week Short Story is a guide to brainstorming and writing a fast first draft, and the Short Story Workshop for One is a workbook for improving fiction when it’s difficult to get outside feedback or comments. For now they’re exclusive to Amazon, and priced at $2.99 and $1.99 respectively. More details about them, and buying links, are here.

Review: Take Us to Your Chief: And Other Stories

Take Us to Your Chief: And Other Stories
Take Us to Your Chief: And Other Stories by Drew Hayden Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intricate mix of sly humour and sadness, I enjoyed these stories partially because they helped open a window for me that had previously been closed. I do love to see the many incarnations that science fiction can take, and I’m glad that the author set his hand to these. It’s not all fun and games as many stories strike a serious note, and the stories swirl with poignant undercurrents. However, there are not enough intersections where science fiction and aboriginal fiction meet and travel together for a time, so I’m very happy to have read this one.

View all my reviews

Friday Desk Report ~ April 28, 2017

Work on improving my marketing strategies continued this week. There’s a LOT of information and advice out there, and much of it concludes with “see what works for you.” That’s a lot of trial and error, but I guess it’s really the only way. I have worked out the beginnings of a weekly/monthly action list, which just sounds too organized for me. ;)

Not much in the way of word count this week, since my focus was elsewhere. I do have a new story to work on, though, and I figured out some more things about The Chaos Assassin. I also got those two non-fiction ebooks mostly formatted, so I think this weekend I will try to run through them both one last time and maybe get them out the door early next week. I’ve decided I’m happy with the covers. I have a school visit coming up on Monday, but fortunately there’s little prep work involved for that. I do have to finish up the last of my prep for the workshop I’m presenting next weekend. I’m hoping we’ll have some fun talking speculative fiction all day!

This new story idea is really giving me a brain itch, so I think I might have to write it before it drives me crazy. It will be the next installment in the Olympia Investigations series, so I know it will be fun to write. Although it rarely happens, I think I know the throughline of the whole story right off the top, so maybe I’ll be looking at a fast first draft. Here’s hoping!