How to discipline your creative brain

In short, rid yourself of the mindset that you have a Creative Brain and an Analytical Brain. Create a new mindset where you have 1 brain: A well-trained, well-practiced, and highly-disciplined Creative Brain.


In talking about Heinlein’s rules, Dean Wesley Smith says that writing is a creative activity, that we shouldn’t grind all personality out of our work by rewriting. He also says that we must read constantly; we must analyze the writing of others; we must study craft, prose, and, most importantly, storytelling techniques; we must actually write; and we must finish what we write.

Heinlein’s Rules:

  1. You must write
  2. Finish what you start
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order
  4. You must put your story on the market
  5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold
  6. You must study the craft (I added this, from comments Dean made)

In reading his book, a metaphor took form in my head. Currently, most people view their brains as being the creative brain and the critical brain.

The creative brain is like a hippy, wild and free, running around with no forethought, no discipline, making scattered notes on the piano or splattering paint all over the walls, all wild and random and instinctual expression.

The analytical brain is like a librarian, strict and stern, concerned with order and organization and cleaning up the messes of others, following behind the hippy and trying to find what it considers “good” music or an “artistic” paint job based off of what others have said before. Whatever fits the librarians prescribed beliefs survives, everything is muted or painted over.

This is a BAD mental model. It makes it so that the hippy bears no responsibility, and the librarian has all authority but is often following the trend so much that whatever “art” is left is drab, boring, and so much like everything else.

A new mental model is needed. Instead of two halves, there is one whole. An artist. A musician, a composer, a dancer. The artist has all the creativity of the the hippy but doesn’t lack foresight. The artist has all of the discipline of the librarian and none of the generalizing prescribed notions.

The artist finds the balance between expression and creation, discipline and focus. It is to take the hippy and offer focused practiced and study. Not to see what is commonly accepted by other professionals (like the librarian), but to learn how to create an experience for the consumer. A powerful emotional experience, tested and learned step by step, with focused practice. Not wanton splattering of random ideas nor the arbitrary slaughter of all but the most statistically accepted by values that seem to exist “just because.”

Dean Wesley Smith says:

“Rewriting is when you do a sloppy first draft with the intent of “letting it sit” (dumbest thing I have ever heard) and then “fix it” later.

This lazy attitude is the attitude of the hippy and the librarian (which actually ends up being a LOT MORE work). Have the attitude of the Artist. Dean says:

“If you tell your creative voice to do it right the first time, the story won’t be broken.”

Train your creative voice. Read a lot. Consume stories. Study how stories are written. Use that in your writing. Practice. Practice. Practice. Become the writer you were meant to be.

 

p.s. Read everything by Dean Wesley Smith. His words about the business of writing have transformed the way I approach the writing career.

Facebook and Google are putting you in a bubble

Someone on the radio the other day (NPR, perhaps?) pointed out that some groups think that the whole country is going to vote for their favorite presidential candidate while polls show that only about 20% of people are considering them.

Why? Because:

Facebook and Google, in their efforts to show content which they think we would like, show us more of the type of content we interact with. Therefore, they are creating pocket bubble cultures where beliefs are never questioned and reinforced within the group.

This makes people think “The whole world agrees with me! Everyone on Facebook is saying the same thing!”

Not only does this affect what people think most of the world believes, but it makes it more and more difficult to encounter and consider differing viewpoints. This is strongly related to confirmation bias. “Confirmation bias, or Positive Bias is the tendency to look for evidence that confirms a hypothesis, rather than disconfirming evidence.”

Check out this video real quick and see if you can solve the riddle:

 

Google and Facebook take advantage of this, feeding us articles that we read more, like more, share more. They tailor what we see to be more to what we’ll interact with. And we’re more likely to seek out and interact with things which agree with us. And that’s no way to progress, to learn more.

To conclude, here’s a quote from the Veritasium video above, he says:

“The scientific method is to set out to disprove your theory, and when you can’t disprove it, that’s when you know you’re getting to something really true about our reality.”

 

Is my fantasy too European?

When I saw that agents are looking for non-European fantasy, I wondered if my fantasy fit that criteria. So I underwent a process of self-examination and I learned that I DON’T write European fantasy. Nor do I write Asian fantasy, American fantasy, Middle-Eastern fantasy, or African fantasy.

I create my own cultures, from scratch. I take ingredients from different cultures and invent new recipes. I don’t copy a recipe/culture and tweak it slightly, I start from the ground up and invent entirely new dishes.

I’ll emphasize that:

I don’t appropriate and tweak other cultures for my fantasy. I create entirely new cultures from scratch.

One novel (Two Masters) features a culture inspired partially by ancient Israel (a tribal system with a strong religious influence) and partially by early gunpowder-era Japan. However, the culture’s religion draws from Catholicism and the government is theocratic meritocratic dictatorship (1 leader rules absolutely, with laws based on religion, and other leadership positions are attained by passing specific tests and quizzes better than others).

Another novel (Robbing Gods) has a culture that’s almost like a China going through a magical industrial revolution. Another culture is inspired by Jews, Native Americans, with a little bit of Nazi ideology. They’ve been driven forth by other races for centuries, found a land to call their own, but other races have still oppressed them. After growing sick of this, they’ve rejected all other races and are willing to commit genocide to have a land for themselves.

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You read that right, I used Nazis and Jews as inspiration for a culture. Once wanderers (like the Jews), then struggling with settlers (like the Native Americans), and now they’re willing to slaughter all not of their race, considering themselves superior (Nazis). Oh, and their leader is sort of like a mix between Hitler and Joan-of-Arc. She’s brutal, but loves her people and feels she is inspired to do what she does.

I find that my favorite fantasy uses this “invent a new recipe from random ingredients” method. Brandon Sanderson’s way of kings is ridiculously difficult to pin down as having been inspired by one certain culture (magic tech, kings and princes, racial discrimination based on eye color, people with white eyebrows that never stop growing).

I suggest giving this method a try. Invent brand new dishes and brand new worlds. What if there were a race of humans who had spikes in their elbows, believed in a god made up of the thought-energy of their ancestors, lived in outhouse sized homes by themselves (1 per person, privacy is greatly important), and their government was based on taking what everyone thought and putting it through a series of mathematical equations to decide what to do.

Which culture inspired that? Oh and they fight with sword-shoes. (I just came up with this.

I’m done worrying. Now, I could do better with having greater diversity in my stories, and having stories with less western modes of morality. I’m trying to do better with that. But with that also I’ll invent my own diversity. I can’t represent African-Americans in a world where there are none, but I can create my own minorities and give them a voice, reflecting the same pain felt by minorities in our world.

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My advice: Create brand new dishes. You can definitely create Native American, African, or Polynesian fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with that (in fact more fantasy of those kinds would be nice). But know that you’re not limited to slightly tweaking the cultures that already exist.

You can create an infinite amount of brand new ones from scratch.

 

Booyah!

 

 

Useful Query Tips

The following tips were helpful in writing my query:

  • No longer than 1 page, 12 pt. font, double-spaced (most agents/editors want this length).
  • Keep the overview/hook under 200 words.
  • Don’t include the ending.
  • Do include the fun, the feel, the tone, and the unique voice.
  • State specific reasons why you are sending to this particular agent or editor (e.g. I met you at a conference/convention, I read that you like x on your blog or twitter, and/or I saw your posting in writer’s market. Show that you researched that agent/editor’s style and the books (and genres) they’ve represented).
  • Don’t include irrelevant credentials

My Query Letter

I haven’t sent it yet, (I still have that synopsis to write), but this went through 25 drafts with reviews from fellow friends and writers (at least the Hook/story overview section).

If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment. I just don’t think there are enough example queries out there. I’ll post an updated one if an agent/editor gives me any tips on improving it.

 

Dear [Insert name],

[Insert reason I’m sending to this particular agent/editor.]

Tirian lives for the thrill of conning gods. Not out of money, but out of endowments of magic. Using his training as a con-man, he convinces gods to endow him with the magic of a priest, then runs off with it. It doesn’t hurt anyone if he robs gods, right? He just wants to play with magic. Tirian’s fun is halted, however, when he’s caught by the god of corpus and forced to spy on the goddess of the mind (suspected of religious sabotage).

While spying, Tirian starts to see how priests help a god’s followers much more than the gods themselves. Not only that, but he also learns that his capture, his servitude, and the conflicting rumors between the gods are all part of an elaborate plot to distract them. Natusana, the new leader of Tirian’s homeland, does not want the gods interfering. She’s angry over centuries of prior oppression by other races, and has begun driving out and killing all those not of her race. When the gods learn he’s been robbing them and want him dead, he has to choose whether to go into hiding, or to risk his freedom by revealing Natusana’s genocidal plot to the very gods he robbed.

ROBBING GODS is my 111,313 word completed fantasy novel. It features a fun-loving thief similar to Eli Monpress in Rachel Aaron’s THE SPIRIT THIEF, and a hard-magic system inspired by pyramid schemes and modern physics (with powers such as thermal, kinetic, and electromagnetic energy; spacetime; entropy; etc.) similar to Brandon Sanderson or David Farland.

I’m Thomas Larsen (writing as Thomas Fawkes). My cell number is: 801-915-3751 and my email is: fawkesfantasy@gmail.com. I have a bachelor’s degree in English. Thank you for taking the time to review my query. I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Thomas Larsen

Microsoft OneDrive users: get out or upgrade before they delete your files!

ALERT! If you have Microsoft OneDrive, they just announced some rude changes. And if you don’t prepare, Microsoft may DELETE YOUR FILES.

“If after 1 year you fail to take action, your content may be deleted.”

First off, free accounts are being reduced from 15GB to 5GB. They say on their FAQ:

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So, I do get my bonus storage?

But they also say “The 15 GB camera roll storage bonus will also be discontinued. These changes will start rolling out in early 2016.”

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My bonus storage: DENIED

Whats the difference between a bonus and a promotion? (Somebody with a marketing degree could tell me, but it is not immediately clear).

Second off, if you have the 100GB plan or the 200GB plan, those are both being removed and replaced with a whopping 50GB plan! Boo. (My wife currently has the 100GB plan for $1.99 a month…)

Third off, if you have the unlimited plan! …which is being cut down to 1 terabyte. Apparently people were storing 75 terabytes of movies and TV shows and…  Microsoft couldn’t handle the abusers. If you’re not prepared for abusers, don’t offer unlimited!

To simplify, you will now have 3 choices:

  • 5GB (Free)
  • 50GB ($1.99)
  • 1 Terabyte ($9.99)

If you have beyond those amounts saved (check your storage in the bottom left corner of the OneDrive home screen), you will need to save those files elsewhere. Microsoft says:

“If after 1 year you fail to take action, your content may be deleted.”

People are going to miss this, grandmas whose kids set them up are going to lose pictures of their grandbabies. They need a giant button that says: “Warning: Your storage is going to be reduced, click here to save excess files to your computer to save them from deletion.” Or, better, just grandfather the current users in the plan (like mobile companies do when they come out with a new plan). Don’t give the old plans to anyone new, but don’t punish previous consumer loyalty with file deletion.

I’ve really loved OneDrive. I love being able to open things in Word and click save and they automatically upload to the cloud. Now? Now I’m going to consider going somewhere else.

As Hook would say, “Bad Form!”

 

 

p.s. They say they’ll give you one free year of Office 365 with 1 Terabyte. Great! I can store even more stuff and have it get deleted because I won’t remember the specifics a year later! Oh and I’ll totally just fork up the extra dough, every month, to get past the hassle of saving.

p.p.s. If I have to have that hassle, I might just leave.

p.p.p.s Microsoft hates you

p.p.p.p.s Check out how Microsoft is trying to put out the fire like a dog peeing on a blazing skyscraper.

Wait, after 25 drafts of a query, I have to write a synopsis too?

So, I’m here trying to write a synopsis for my novel to send with my submission packet. Yow my brain hurts! After writing 25 drafts of my query, I’m pretty sick of my story.

Not that it’s a bad story, but after trying to describe it so many times it just feels like it’s about nothing. Or it feels like when I glaze over the complexities, I just have a hard time.

I puked one version out, I think I’ll print it and tweak it.

I’ll just keep plugging along.

False progress activities (Getting nowhere, but working so hard!)

One thing we do when working towards a goal is something I will now coin “False Progress Activities.”  This is when we want to procrastinate the hard part of a goal (e.g. actually writing the darn query letter) and we instead focus on tasks that help, that are far easier, but give little progress.

For example, I researched a bunch of articles on writing query letters, and am now combining them into a super-article! Taking out every tip and sorting them by topic (overall style, intro paragraphs, synopsis paragraphs, closing paragraphs). It’s very educational!

Or… I should be reading 1 article, attempting a draft at that query letter, and then reading some more and editing it and having others read it and rewriting again…

BUT I LOVE ORGANIZING! It makes me feel industrious! I’m getting nowhere but I’m working so hard at it!

Time to toughen up and write a first draft of that query.

 

 

And I just realized… I can’t procrastinate giving my novel a title if I’m going to submit it. 😛

Pizza Magic

In talking about buying Pizza on the Sabbath (a friend at work had to do that today in order to feed a family gathering on Sunday, their kitchen was a mess because it was being remodeled), I said “It’s spirit food!” Pizza’s OK to buy on Sunday cause it’s holy. Right? Right? Bueller?

Then I thought, should I write a story with a Pizza-based magic system? Different types of pizza grant different powers? Cooked in a special stove? Desert pizza gives you ice powers, Hawaiian gives you water powers? 😛

The holy arts of pizza!

Feel free to steal that, I have plenty of ideas. 🙂

(Anti-)Social Media

Why do they call it social media? People share a lot of words, but so much communication is lost. Body language is gone. Tone of voice is gone. Touch is gone.

People spend their lives experiencing other people through the medium of little pixels on a screen, rather than directly experiencing them. It’s like a meta-sociality. I see/comprehend text. Text comes from internet. You physically type in text/think the text. I know that in the physical world we have mediums too (sight, sound), but the fidelity is higher, the people are actually present.

Maybe someday, when video/audio/social media is a matrix-level VR experience, we’ll be having a different discussion about this. But the majority of people right now are have a different kind of sociality. A weaker one.

  • Sharing pictures of babies rather than letting our friends hold our babies.
  • Sharing scores of games rather than playing frisbee or flag football in the park.
  • Sharing a relationship status rather than actually enjoying the company (or the identity) of that person we have a relationship with.
  • Having “friends” we never are physically near to, and wouldn’t contact in case of emergencies.

Let’s put down the phones and have richer physical experiences. Or we’ll reach the end of our lives, and the majority of our time will have been spent looking at tiny squares on a screen.

We can see people in one of two ways. We can see the light reflecting off their face directly as they stand in front of us. Or we can see the light from pixels on a screen taken from the image recorded when once upon a time real light reflecting off of a person’s face into a camera’s sensor.

One is a direct experience. The other is a diluted experience through variety of filters and mediums.

The first sounds better to me.