The Life Cycle of Fiction

A writer’s job is to ask if something is possible and then argue, through their stories, that it can or can’t be done.

A reader’s perogative is to enjoy it, whether it is possible or not. If they like it enough, they’ll hold the idea in their mind and explore it for meaning and possibility themselves.

And then some day, some scientist or tech wizard or mathematical minded reader will test and prove the theory that otherwise existed only in a story.

Can these theories be thought up by other people and not just writers? Of course!

But a story, when done right, lodges the idea in the imagination to percolate longer and give rise to new ideas over time. It starts the idea on the creative side of the brain. And who knows what that does to the scope of the ideas.

Tl;dr – STEM is important, we need people to believe in science again. And the Arts are important because we need people to WANT to believe in science again. They are all equally vital to society and human development.

Write All the Words

Something I wish more writers understood is the notion that words are free.

The thing nobody wants to admit is that the written word isn’t just computer code with only one right answer to unlock the desired command. Any old word choice might not always do. It isn’t like standing up and talking out a salespitch to convince somebody that your idea is best. You can’t rewind and edit a verbal conversation, especially when it relies on context, voice volume and tone, and even body language to communicate an idea or achieve a result.

The written word doesn’t have those same shortcuts and requirements. All you have is the letters on the page. This is because the written word is “spoken” in the Reader’s Voice. In the Reader’s head. It has to resonate with the Reader, not with the Writer. It doesn’t matter what the Writer thinks of their work if it means nothing to the Reader. Anybody can make words happen, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hit the mark on the first try.

Yes, words are hard. Finding the perfect combination of words, to form the perfect sentence, to craft the perfect paragraph, and fill the perfect page… all of that takes hard work. Real work.

But once those words are on the page, whether written on paper in pencil or pen, or written in a digital document, those words are then easily changed. They can be rearranged into something even better than what they started out. They are not set in stone. They can be perfect words and yet still be rearranged to fit better.

The only thing preventing the better draft becoming the final product is simple effort.

Try, damnit.

Writerly things: Take the train!

Train travel is still a viable and reliable transportation system in the United States, despite the popularity of planes or cars.  Christina Vuono, a 30 year old speech language pathologist from Philadelphia, PA, travels by train to Atlanta, GA, every year.  Amtrak is her preferred and trusted carrier.

“I like it. Now that I’ve tried a sleeper car I never want to go back. It takes longer but the conductors are usually friendly and helpful,” said Vuono. For her, it’s something of a different experience than that of planes and busy highways.  “I like seeing the countryside. I find it relaxing. I can read or do work.”

That change in experience is exactly what Amtrak is hoping will attract more customers and travelers over the long run.  Vuono, like many other customers, is a hobby-writer with a twitter account, and that combination is good for business. In the new age of social media and instantaneous word-of-mouth recommendations, the positive experience outlined in a single 120 character tweet from a happy traveler can encourage new ticket purchases.

This year, thanks to a chance twitter conversation with a writer who later took the trial pilot run, Amtrak rolled out plans for the Amtrak Residency program for writers.  The program is now a reality and a limited number of 24 passes will be awarded by application process over the next year.  The Amtrak Residency program will allow selected writers to take a round-trip, 2 to 5 day tour of the country on any of their long-distance rail routes in a sleeper car with a desk to help encourage writers’ creativity.

The application asks why a writer wants to take the residency program, requests a writing sample, and a writer’s twitter handle as confirmation of their intent as a “creative professional.” Anyone can apply at no cost.  There is no requirement that a writer be published, or even write a review of their experience if selected.  The applications are reviewed by a panel to determine approval for the residency program.

More information, and the application, can be found at Amtrak’s blog.

What would you write if you had a week on a train?  The next Great American Novel? A news piece on the changing historical/political landscape? A kid’s story about trains? Or a sci-fi novel about space travel?


A writing prompt to focus the coffee rush


A picture says a thousand words, right?  But what about music?  Sometimes music has lyrics to paint pictures, other times you have notes to follow instead.  What’s your musical genre?  What story does your favorite song tell you?  Is that why it’s your favorite?  Music is important, even to writers, just because it’s another form of creative expression.  It is communication, too.  (And, incidentally, the flow of words in song lyrics or poetry is a good teacher for writers. They can influence how a writer uses their words and how their voice comes through on the page.)

So for a writing exercise, go through your music library and find a song to write to.  Just one song.  Think about the order of the words in the song, why they were put in that order.  Think about the images the song uses; are they effective?  What do you see when you hear the song?  If there are no lyrics to prompt those images, why do you think the music draws those images out for you? Do you see anything in your imagination at all because of it?  Do a free-write, just for the space of that song, while thinking about that song.  Repeat the song if you get on a roll.


Creativity is an odd beast to corner. It doesn’t behave predictably. It isn’t rational. The cliché is that you court the muse, you don’t chase it. But really, courting implies you – as the courter to the courtee – have some modicum of intentional control, the ability to manipulate and to train the muse.

I’m really not sure that’s accurate.

We can chase and cajole and promise the moon with sweet words, but the muse, the creative spark that shapes whatever art we hope to create, still has to have its way at some point. The first draft, the words on the page, the maddening urge to spew letters onto a blank canvas, has to be allowed to go its course before we, as writers or artists or directors or – insert creative outlet here – can pretend to control or tame it by the editing process.

For instance, right now I have a half dozen projects demanding my attention because I sincerely love them and would rather spend my time writing them than at the old 9 to 5. And yet I am in the percolating stage. I am reading, watching movies and tv, enjoying my friends and family’s company, and listening to music in my car as loud as I can stand it. I am absorbing instead of creating anything.

And the muses insist that this is how it should be done. They reward me with fragments and glimpses to put on the page and then send me back out into the world. That’s Stage One. It is a vital part of the creative process. But damned if it isn’t annoying!