By Writing Excuses | March 11, 2012 - 6:43 pm - Posted in Career and Lifestyle, Q&A, Season 7, Theory and Technique

It’s again time for us to do a Q&A by any other name!

  • Is it better to include romance, horror, SF, or other genre elements to flesh out a story, or should the story stand alone?
  • Any tips for developing an idea without getting caught in Worldbuilder’s Disease?
  • Any NaNo WriMo tips? (yes.)
  • What did you to do build an audience before you got published and famous and stuff?
  • How do you create sub-plots without overshadowing the main plot?
  • What are the most important things you learned as writers during 2011?
  • How do you stay motivated (especially during editing) when it seems like everything you wrote is crap?

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Note that there are lots of available recordings. We recommend something unabridged, like the version linked here.

Writing Prompt: Listener Bill Housely provided this one—a lone woman who runs an orbital refueling post makes first contact when some aliens arrive in desperate need of fuel.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, March 11th, 2012 at 6:43 pm and is filed under Career and Lifestyle, Q&A, Season 7, Theory and Technique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. March 11, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

    I’m so glad you picked Persuasion for the Book of the Week. It’s my favorite Jane Austen book because it’s not about the giddy beginnings of a relationship, but instead about fixing a broken relationship, which strikes me as a much better approximation of the actual work of relationship building.

    Posted by Katya
  2. March 12, 2012 @ 11:47 am

    Love these microcasts – you guys sounds like you enjoy them, too. And yes, I love Persuasion – that and P&P are my favorite Jane Austens. Persuasion is definitely the more mature book – talk about the agony of unrequited love (which makes the happy ending that much better. Speaking of which, you guys might want to do a podcast on emotional peaks and valleys and how they heighten each other – you could call it “Torturing the Reader for Fun and Profit” ^_^).

    Your bit on blogging and twitter got me thinking it may be time for you all to do another podcast on self-publishing and ebooks as options for new writers. The whole thing is changing so rapidly and the advice that worked a year ago, or even six months ago, may be out of date.

    Posted by Laurie
  3. March 12, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

    Oh, and Howard, I can’t write in workshops, either; I can’t go into that part of my brain in a classroom setting. Writing, for me, is a lot like meditating, and I have to shut everything else out, which is the opposite of workshop mode. I can gain a lot by watching everyone else, though.

    I would love some expansion on the What You All Learned segment – you all just touched on it here. Sounds like it can be a whole podcast, like the first time you did it.

    Posted by Laurie
  4. March 12, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    “So in your face listeners” hhhhaaahahahaa

    Posted by Sean
  5. March 12, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

    To keep myself motivated: I think about my story and realize that no one else in the world can tell it for me. Only I know what really happens in this story and only I can make that stuff appear on the page. Even if the end result isn’t award worthy, it at least gives that story a life of its own. (Plus it clears it out of my head to make room for the next one :D)

    Posted by Bobman
  6. March 12, 2012 @ 6:40 pm

    “Torturing the Reader for Fun and Profit” Laurie I love that idea!

    Please guys..please please please….. lol

    Loved this podcast. Especially the laughing out loud and making my family peek their heads in the room and give me a look that says I’m crazy.

    Posted by Jade
  7. March 12, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

    Here’s a suggestion for a podcast topic: Stories in non-book formats.

    For example: video games, movies, campfire tales, etc.
    Yes, Schlock Mercenary could count.

    What got me thinking about it was watching the Halo 4 announcement trailer! EPIC!
    Plus how much I always wanted to get to design video games, plus a few ideas of mine about how to elegantly take the game-genera half of Mojang’s “Dare”.
    The game-genera-half of the “Dare” is: create an actually play-worthy shoot-em-up-game/dating-simulator. My solution has to do with shooting flaming bats from the sky while figuring out the right complement to say… Go figure.
    Perferably it would have been set in Candy-Land/WorldWarII, but I haven’t figured out how to integrate that bit….

    Also “Torturing the Reader for Fun and Profit” is almost nasty… But definitely hilarious!

    Posted by Robinton
  8. March 12, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

    So why is Worldbuilder’s Disease bad? I find worldbuilding is just as fun or more fun than writing.

    Posted by Square Cow
  9. March 12, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

    @Square Cow Worldbuilding is not bad. Worldbuilding is necessary, and fun!

    Worldbuilder’s disease is when you have so much fun worldbuilding that you never get to the actual story telling, with plot, characters, motivations, sub-plots, dialog, and all that other stuff that makes your world less like an encyclopedia article and more like a place we want to live.

    Granted, if you enjoy the worldbuilding and don’t aspire to flesh out the stories there’s no harm in reveling in the ongoing act of creation.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  10. March 13, 2012 @ 7:17 am

    Cool to hear you mention what finishing WoT has meant to you. Actually funny thing is you writing that series is why I’ve read all your books, started listening to Writing excuses, read all of Schlock Mercenary, and read the John Cleaver series and Partials.

    Posted by Tyler M
  11. March 13, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

    I was wondering – throughout many of the pod casts mentions of reading a range of books comes up often. Some are named. I’ve been reading through Orson Scott Card’s books as well and he notes upon the importance of reading as well, naming a few authors.
    I assume each of you have a set of authors that you view as the greats, the “must reads” or favorites – What are they?

    Posted by Lita
  12. March 13, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

    With a dash of romance, horror, mystery, fantasy, and sci-fi on your plate, passion, world builder’s disease, nanowrimo, social networking, the subplot that ate the universe, what did you learn last year, and motivation to keep you at it… whoosh! All that, and funny too? Yes, it’s a transcript! Over here…

    Talk about a big bowl of chowder!

    Posted by Mike Barker
  13. March 13, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

    I have a question I’d like to ask.

    Framework from which to understand my question better: I have only just started writing my first full length novel (120K Goal, approximately 30K words in). PS-no writing experience to speak of before said novel and the dilemma I am encountering is that I have either selected the wrong protagonist, or I chose the wrong motivators/wants/desires for him.

    My question is: Is it better to go back and reframe the scenes the protagonist is in (~22K words) or continue along as I have knowing that I am serious about making semi-drastic change in the rewrite. Or as a last option, should I mentally make the change, continue writing, and then in the rewrite alter the previous portions to match what I write from here forward and possibly still have to rewrite what I write now because it doesn’t fit with the new beginning.

    Okay! That was wordier than I thought so to clarify. Problem with Protag’s initial construction-at 30K words problem is becoming more obvious. Should I? A) continue along as is B) rewrite and fix problem C) or make mental change, move ahead and fix in the end.

    Posted by Nathan Payne
  14. March 13, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    @Nathan Payne:

    YMMV. This isn’t one-size-fits-all. With that out of the way:

    First novel? Keep writing ’til it’s done. Leave notes about things you think need to change, but keep writing. The single most important thing you can do is finish.

    After you’re done you will have learned lots of things, and you’ll have an important milestone behind you. Rewriting will be the thing you learn next. :-)

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  15. March 14, 2012 @ 3:49 am

    I would say keep writing.

    I have spent the last three years or so trying to write my first novel. All attempts died stillborn, not even up to chapter 2. There was always something I wanted to change, to fix, to add. It tangled me up so much that I can barely get past the first PAGE now.

    Then I had another idea that seemed more inspiring. And I ended up doing the same thing to it in a matter of months.

    Now a third idea suggests itself, and I’m creeping towards starting it… And holding back because I know what will most likely happen.

    So keep writing. Take your idea and run with it.


    Posted by Jace
  16. March 14, 2012 @ 4:10 am

    Thank you,

    I was pretty sure I knew what I would hear back, I was having doubts about which direction I should go and I just needed a nudge. I only found out about writingexcuses in the last month or so, but I can already say that it is one of the elements that has got me this far. Thanks Howard, Brandon, Dan, and Mary I will have the chance to thank you as well once I start getting into the ‘casts where you are present. Thanks for putting this altogether, it is inspirational, helpful, and fun. Quite a cast for the ‘casts.

    PS- @Jace thanks for your words as well. Hearing how you’re struggling as well in a similar fashion is helpful. If you haven’t already listen to season 1 episode #17 This Sucks and I’m a Horrible Writer. That one really got me through to the second chapter and then to the third. I’ve resisted most attempts to rewrite because of this chapter alone. Good Luck to you.

    Posted by Nathan Payne
  17. March 14, 2012 @ 11:43 am

    I’m starting to really wish this pod cast was twice a week – I get about half way throuh the week and I start craving another one!

    Posted by Lita
  18. March 14, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

    Incidentally, Howard Tayler also wrote a column about character subplots over here which might tie into that question about creating subplots… go enjoy it!

    Posted by Mike Barker
  19. March 15, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

    A few seasons ago, you had a podcast featuring the spouses of the “artists.” Could there be a sequel in the works, possibly from some spouses who aren’t involved in the artist’s writing process? My wife supports my writing (a good thing) but doesn’t understand any of my querks.

  20. March 16, 2012 @ 9:52 pm

    […] This week’s prompt was a fun one: a lone woman who runs an orbital refueling post makes first contact when some aliens arrive in desperate need of fuel. […]

  21. March 17, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

    Guys, have you thought about a cast just about writing prompts? You could throw a bunch out for readers to use, collect some from the readers/twitter, etc. (like you did here), talk about different ways to use them (for example, someone in the casts a while back said they start the day with one to get the “juices flowing”), letting others see/review them, how to use them to improve writing, etc. Just a thought.

    Here’s my prompt for the week. I love the straight-up sci-fi ones.

    Posted by Jeff Whitaker
  22. March 17, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

    I second Jeff’s idea: the masters’ words on how to deal with writing prompts would be very valuable.

    Posted by Ed
  23. March 19, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

    Austen’s “Persuasion” was the last book she wrote, but her penultimate book published (posthumously). “Northanger Abbey” was her last published book (also posthumously. Fun fact: “Northanger Abbey” was the first book Austen wrote; the publsher(s) held it up for something like 12 years). I think part of the reason “Persuasion” is more focused than her previous novels because she literally didn’t have the time to write a Secondary Plot Line. It also happens to be one of my favorite Austen novel (tied with Mansfield Park).

    Posted by Lisa R
  24. March 24, 2012 @ 10:19 am

    A comment about world building. Ask yourself which things are one-word changes and which have implications farther down the line. Then don’t spend a lot of time while writing on the one-word changes. If your hero carries a pistol, you can spend a lot of time deciding if its a Glock, Sig Sauer, Hi-point, what caliber, automatic vs revolver, etc. In the midst of writing, just grab a generic word and keep going. If you can flag it in your writing system – make an annotation on your setting notecard or whatever-to come back and think about it later, then do so. But don’t get bogged down in one word changes.

    You do have to come back and think about the flag though, or you’ll get little notes from your readers along the lines “your hero is a penniless private eye, how can he afford a Glock?”

    I say this as a wannabee who has been derailed from writing with world building questions.

    Posted by MClark