“Stranger Things 3” and Chekhov’s Gun

Television shows have come a long way since the late-1940s. Sitcoms and serials didn’t necessarily have the amount of world-building that we see today. Each week, the audience would get a single story that would resolve itself by the end of the episode. On rare occasions, there would be a two-part episode covering a larger plot, but it would always return to the status quo. In the early-2000s, TV shows started to become more movie-like. Shows like Alias and LOST would use the full run-time of each episode to advance the larger narrative of the story while also exploring smaller arcs to develop the characters. The trick with viewing a show released an episode at a time over a couple of months is that much of the details had to be memorized so the thread connecting them together would be understandable. This is why you’d usually see a “previously on [BLANK]” section at the start of these episodes to remind you...
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What video games can teach us about writing (1/3)

Art inspires art. Sometimes a beautiful painting can give you an idea for a short story. Perhaps a beloved song is a jumping-off point for a novella. Maybe a great movie can get your creative juices flowing for a book of your own. Art can come in many forms, but one form most people don’t readily recognize is that of video games. I’ve already written about how games like Not Tetris describe my idea-collecting process, but recently I’ve played a few games I would consider artistic enough to pull some lessons into my own writing. Art inspires art. But, are video games art? Video games have come a long way from the days of Pong and Pac-Man. While these games were kept simple due to technical limitations, today’s video games no longer have these restrictions. I think one of the reasons why video games aren’t considered art is that most art is one-directional. You go to a museum to view paintings. You listen to music on your...
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How much should you write?

Writing is my hobby. It is not my full-time job. It is not paying to support my family. Sure, it can make some money on the side, but I generally write to be creative. I have stories and ideas that I want to get onto the page and out to the world. I started writing for fun in college, creating a series of intertwined short stories I wanted to collect into a novel-length book. Nothing ever truly came of these short stories, other than to convince me that they were possible. Then I wrote my first novel. I found it ironic that I didn’t pursue a thesis-based Master’s Degree, but ended up doing nine months of research to write a thesis-length book in roughly six weeks. This was the largest thing I had ever written. Unlike my previous short stories, though, a coupon to get five free proof copies of this book was the impetus I needed to edit and polish...
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An Engineer’s Guide to NaNoWriMo (or how I grew from a newbie to a veteran)

This post was originally written for the NaNoWriMo blog. You can check it out here (it's been slightly modified, but the content's basically the same). I’m an engineer. While most of my colleagues use this as an excuse to keep themselves from writing anything, I argue it’s the reason they need to be the best writers. The concepts engineers can create in their minds still need to be communicated to the world. Concepts never imagined before. Similarly, how many writers are out there with an idea nobody has ever read, just waiting to get it onto the page? As an engineer, I have a particular set of skills—some would say “quirks”—that have helped me over the last eight years of NaNoWriMo grow from just barely finishing to writing rapidly and voluminously. Most engineers are known for their problem-solving skills, and NaNoWriMo presents an interesting problem: how do I write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days? Like most problems, I resort...
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Why you should schedule your writing

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” When it comes to writing, many will consider this alleged quote by Benjamin Franklin to mean that they should outline every single scene of their book, write FBI-level character bios, and practically have every part of the book already written in their head before they sit down and actually put it to the page. While this can sound like a daunting task, it misses the point of the quote. It’s not that writers should plan out their books, it’s that they should plan out their time. Time management is more important than you think. Back when I was becoming more serious about writing, I had all the time in the world. My job was stable, and I had a good work/life balance that allowed me to come home and do all the writing or editing I would need to complete the projects that I had started. Plus, at the time, I was single and...
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3 unexpected programs to help you publish a book [PART 2/3]

Last month, I told you how the Microsoft Office suite can help you with your writing. I covered Microsoft Word, and how it’s more powerful than just a standard word processor. By getting to know some of the more obscure features of these (usually) easily obtainable and available programs, writers can take control of their writing without having to purchase expensive computer programs. With Microsoft Word, I covered how Section Breaks, Styles, and Formatting can help a writer create a professional-looking book with less effort. Even though our next program isn’t used directly for the actual writing of a book, it is incredibly valuable for planning and prepping. It can also be used during the polishing phase of a manuscript as well. I refer, of course, to: MICROSOFT EXCEL As an engineer, I love to use spreadsheets, and Excel is the king of the spreadsheet programs. Any time I need to write a list or do some calculations, I open up a new...
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3 unexpected programs to help you publish a book [PART 1/3]

Many months ago, I described the amount of work a writer would need to do by themselves to publish a book. Not only is there research, formatting, and graphic design involved, the writer also has to write said book. This whole process can be daunting, especially in the digital age. We have so many different programs at our fingertips to help us plan, write, and publish. A lot of these programs can cost a significant amount of money. Sure, programs like Aeon Timeline, Evernote, and Scrivener might be worth the money in the long run, but you’ll inevitably have to learn how to use these programs, which can eat into your writing time. What if I were to tell you that there’s a suite of programs you probably already have installed on your computer that can accomplish many of the same functions as the programs that cost a lot more? Many of you probably already use these programs on a regular...
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What a month of content looks like

Back in June, I wrote a post about what it takes to “do it all” as an independent author. While one of the many tasks of the independent author is marketing, nobody will buy your books if you’re always promoting them on social media. There needs to be a balance of promotion and what’s known as “web content.” Web content doesn’t need to be much, especially for social media, but the fact that you’re continually posting about something shows that you’re actively engaged with people who could potentially become your audience. There are plenty of debates about which social networks to post to, how often to post, and when to post during the day (or during the week), but this post won’t go into the details of that. I still haven’t figured out the “sweet spot” for social media, but I have accumulated a regular schedule of web content that helps me to be active on these platforms. When it comes...
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How Not Tetris explains my planning process

I’m a planner. Ever since I wrote my first novel in 2010, I’ve usually had many different story ideas tucked away in their own Word documents. Each time a new idea comes to me that would apply to one of these stories, I open up the document and jot it down so I won’t forget about it. Even though I plan my writing projects out years in advance, there are usually plenty of ideas I never use in the finished manuscript. Either the flow of the story prevents their use, or I find they aren’t as strong as I initially thought they were. While I’m not nearly as fastidious about collecting ideas together before starting a project as I used to be (First Name Basis had 35 pages of notes), I do continue to plan and research well ahead of when I finally sit down and write the first draft. There are plenty of ideas I never use. Recently, I’ve re-discovered a free...
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What it takes to do it all

There are days I see the benefits of going with the traditional publishing route. When you are signed on with a publisher, they provide some of the hard work it takes to make a manuscript into a polished and publishable product. From editors to formatters to cover artists to distribution, these publishers have the resources to help an author be successful. But what about the self-published author? One of the common misconceptions about being an author (especially a self-published one) is that we only have to write. In reality, a self-published author needs to perform the entirety of the publishing process by themselves. Now, you may be asking yourself, “OK, you have to do it all, but what does that even mean?” Let’s start at the beginning of the process, and I’ll walk you through it. If you want to self-publish, you have many jobs to do. Many of the most famous authors have a research department (or person). These are the people...
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