12.53: Writing Excuses True Confessions

It’s the end of 2017, so let’s talk about the things that we’ve tried to make work, and failed at. Not things that we tried before arriving at career-level measures of success—things that we’ve folded, spindled, and/or mutilated since then.

There were a lot of them! This episode runs close to thirty minutes long…



Try something you’re sure you’ll fail at… or maybe take the week off.

Ladycastle, by Delilah Dawson, Illustrated by Ashley A. Woods and Rebecca Farrow

24 thoughts on “12.53: Writing Excuses True Confessions”

  1. My resolution for the year is to try to write 1 chapter a day, at about 5000 words per chapter. I’m probably going to fail within the first week. Happy new years!

  2. I’ve been self-publishing without a day job for the past 6 years, and I’ve made my share of mistakes, but this is the first year that those mistakes could possibly be a career ender. I started on this path in 2011 because I couldn’t find work, and while it’s brought me from homeless to homed, the extra six year gap in my work history means that I don’t exactly have a lot of options when it comes to finding said day job.

    So, mistakes. I do a lot of experimentation, because I have to in order to refine and hone my process. Through various missteps, however, I only published one book last year, didn’t release any RPGs, and was unable to continue production of my audiodrama podcast – while it was satisfying and we made some good art, it didn’t get enough patreon traction to support itself, and feeding the cast alone was becoming more than I can afford. I don’t regret it in anyway, as the actors and audiodrama industry contacts I’ve made have been very worthwhile in a personal sense.

    Complicating these missteps is a general decline in sales. The last few months of the year found me scrambling for freelance work rather than actually writing or designing or producing anything, delaying the release of the third book in my current series, putting off the serial I had just launched, and essentially freezing my production schedule.

    I have hope for the new year – I have to, because I really don’t have any other prospects. If I can keep up a steady stream of freelance work and find some way to write around it, I can pull through, finish the next book, maybe get some relief.

    That’s the hope, anyway.

    1. @Michael Coorlim

      Why don’t you teach classes on private publishing as a day job? It’s excellent how you could sustain yourself for as long as you did with self publishing. I can guarantee people will love to learn how you did what you did and will be looking for tips.

      Or, of course, becoming a ghost writer for a business man who wants to get published and doesn’t really have the time or the inclination.

      Or teach at a local college. Or teach creative writing or general. Or, of course, go abroad and teach in Asia for a year to find your feet.

      You’ll be fine. Sustaining yourself with self-publishing is an impressive feat and your current troubles are a blip on the horizon of your long life

      1. I’ve thought about doing some udemy or other online classes on self-publishing, sure. And I do offer freelance consulting/developmental editing services, but it’s never had any real traction.

  3. I give you a lot of credit for putting together this episode. Very classy. This is exactly the sort of thing writers and other artists need to hear. It’s humbling to you, and it’s humble by you, and in the process, it’s the sort of that absolutely can lift the spirits of writers beaten down by the process. Certainly, it was uplifting for me, and I personally appreciate it. Thank you.

  4. You told us about your trump (tromp?) novels. What does that mean?

    Love your show!!

    — Janet

  5. Thanks for a great round-up episode on a great topic. It’s reassuring to know that even the pros get it wrong some time.

    Mary’s dilemma with her novel was really wrenching. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel you had no choice but to give up a project when it was essentially complete. As Mary said, it’s always possible to write something else, but as a writer who has to find time to write in the spaces left over after day jobs and other life events have had their slice, I’m not sure I’d have the moral fibre to do it.

    Regarding next season, if I had to ask for one thing, it would be to include illustrative examples read from original texts. What I mean is that if you are talking about, say, authenticity in dialogue, let’s hear some examples of dialogue that read authentically versus fake. I know that when I read books on writing techniques, the extracts form printed works that are used to illustrate the points being made are invaluable for reinforcing the lessons.

  6. So my comment doesn’t really have anything to do with the topic of this episode although I have plenty of true confessions to make. For example I don’t think I’ve done a single one of the writing exercises since I started watching Writing Excuses at the beginning of season 10. Instead this comment is about some ideas I’ve had. Awhile ago I was thinking about different ways to approach the writing process and I came up with the idea of subdividing different parts of the writing process into separate drafts for example a dialogue draft. Then when I was thinking about what the drafts would be I thought of making description drafts with each draft using a different type of description. From there I started defining what the types of descriptions are. I came up with four types: Environments, Information, Characters, and Events. Do you see it? I did less than a day after I came with this. Envrionments= Milieu, Information= Idea, and then there’s Characters and Events. My “types of description” were almost exactly the same as Orson Scott Card’s Mice Quotient. After that I stuck my notes on this in a folder and forgot about it because I didn’t think I had anything to add to Card’s ideas. But then today I was thinking about how different stories work and was reminded of this so I dug my notes out of that folder and thought about it. Card approached the Mice Quotient as the basic elements of all stories. I approached it by thinking about them as types of description. Usually when we use the Mice Quotient we think about which element our story has the most of (e.g., an idea story is driven primarily by an idea or multiple ideas) but what if we instead think about which type of description we need to focus on the most or the balance and relationship between describing information, environments, characters, and events. Then I imagined a triangle with characters in the middle, events on the top and environments and information forming the base. Environments and information impact the characters and then the characters react thereby influencing the events then the events impact the environments and the information which feeds the cycle. I don’t know about this. What do you people think?

    1. Hey Daniel.
      I think every scene has a different purpose, so it totally makes sense that one scene may focus on the world whilst another fills in the backstory of a character. Ideally you do a few things at once. So the world building is also solving a mystery is also triggering flashbacks of a characters past… without going to overboard of course.
      I don’t know about doing a 1st draft element by element. Some people plan it out, while others a first draft is just get stuff on paper: figure out what material you have to work with before you mould it into something concrete.
      But I could certainly see someone editing their 1st draft by focusing on one element per sweep. Sometimes if you get feedback “all the characters sound the same”, a sweep of the novel where you only focus on dialogue makes perfect sense.

  7. And, to round out Season 12, we have the original Utah cowboys (and one cowgirl), Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard, telling us about the book that didn’t work, the book that got killed in publishing, the Western that never saw a sunrise, and a problem employee that really needed a better manager. Aka, why a successful career doesn’t mean you can’t still screw up, big-time! Read all about it in the transcript, available now in the archives or over here


    And come back next week, when Writing Excuses starts talking characters!

  8. Hi Mary,

    Just wanted say that as someone from a marginalised community who has seen/heard of the plethora of books out there that have Issues where even the synopsis makes me back away fast because of the potential problems….thankyou and thankyou for sharing. 100% believe you made the right decision and appreciate how hard it was for you.

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