Tag Archives: viable paradise

The Light Beyond the Wet Blanket

100_2648Back at this post, we talked about throwing away the Wet Blanket—turning off the part of your prefrontal cortex that inhibits creativity—in order to use new writing skills and be creative at the same time.

It’s easy to say.  There are writers who have, it would seem, a natural ability to bypass the Wet Blanket or perhaps have no Wet Blanket at all.  Hearing their advice—”Just do it!”—can be so frustrating because the fact you can’t just do it makes you feel like a failure or an imposter.  It’s even worse when the advice is coupled with judgment about a writer’s worth that’s based on this single measure.

But know this, my darlings: Very few writers can “just do it,” and natural ability is no indication of future success.  The fact your creativity doesn’t perform on command is normal.  Tapping your creativity can be learned.  But it is also, unquestionably, difficult at times.  And the most difficult time is when you’re actively working to improve your skills.

Research performed at the University of Pennsylvania found free and creative thinking could be enhanced by inhibiting the left prefrontal cortex with a mild electrical current.  Shocking your brain sounds a tad extreme for home use—not the sort of DIY project I’d recommend—so let’s see what else we can do, hmm?

Continue reading The Light Beyond the Wet Blanket

Wiscon Bound!

I registered today for Wiscon!  I even put in to be on a panel!  Yeah, the panel isn’t related to writing craft and such, but I still think there is a multitude of writers out there who know much more than I do about any and all of those panel topics.  I’d rather listen to them than myself.

Ya know what else is cool?  There are panels specific to self-publishing, and I didn’t see a single one with a title akin to, “Is it real?” or “Is it a good choice?” or “Will it ruin your career?”  It simply is.  Nice.

I mentioned on Twitter that I didn’t do much in the way of connecting with folks when I went to Wiscon years ago, and I mentioned that result was deliberate.  And then I realized why I like traveling alone.

I am an outgoing introvert.  Sounds like a contradiction, yes?  It is.  I can quite easily spend a few days on my own, with minimal small-talk conversation undertaken with strangers.  I can easily show up to teach an all-day seminar, and interact with the attendees for a few hours after.  The first is natural, the second was a learned ability, but I do enjoy both.

But that first part–spending days alone–is almost impossible to come by in real life.  I’m a mother.  I teach.  I have friends who deserve interaction.  I’ve community responsibilities.  If I want to spend a day hiding in my home, or if I don’t seem to be chatty, people start to worry, assume I’m depressed, or think I’m upset.

But when I go somewhere else, no one gives a damn if I don’t say a single word for days.  No one gets concerned.  No one wants a reason.  And if someone thinks I’m acting all strange, they’ll tell their own friends rather than ask me to explain.

Before Dev came along, I’d take myself camping somewhere in the California mountains or deserts.  There was nothing so wonderful as that aloneness.

Travelling by myself is my ultimate introvert indulgence.

But this time!  I’m meeting up with Viable Paradise folks (some of whom already experienced my “sometimes I’ll disappear at the end of the day” tendencies), and am looking forward to it more than you can imagine.

Even introvert-travel doesn’t sound so wonderful as that–likely because I’ve felt so creatively-lonely for so very long in this town.  (And there’s a topic I might write of someday: How Small Town Folks Tend To Think You’re Stupid If You Don’t Have A “Normal” Job.)

If you’re going to Wiscon, let me know!

The Annual Viable Paradise Post

A few folks have ended up at my website via a search for information on Viable Paradise, so I figure it’s time for an “official” post.

For those who don’t know, Viable Paradise is a week-long workshop for writers of science fiction and fantasy.  I attended in October 2011 and cannot overstate what the experience did for my writing, my confidence, and finding my “place” in a community of creative people.  In the past, I’ve referred folks back to my LiveJournal posts for more information.  I’ve decided to just report them here, where it’ll be easier for the majority for folks to find them.

The first is Between the Words.

The second is Deciding About Viable Paradise.

If you really, really, really want to read them at LiveJournal, click here, then find “Viable Paradise” in the tag listing on the left.

DO NOT rule out the workshop if you currently or intend to self-publish.  Yes, I know its material indicates it’s geared more toward selling to traditional markets.  Honestly, that doesn’t matter.  I attended, already intending to self-publish.  My classmates have self-published, as have numerous other Viable Paradise grads.  Some of the Viable Paradise instructors self-publish.  What you’ll gain in craft and community is incredible, and that has nothing to do with the method of publication.

If you have questions, most certainly ask them.

If you know someone who might be interested, pass the links along.

If you’re sitting there wondering about it… read all the links again.  Then apply.  Because it really is worth every moment.

Deciding Viable Paradise

This is a re-post from January 2012 about Viable Paradise, the week-long workshop for writers of science fiction and fantasy.  I’m placing it here so folks searching for information on Viable Paradise can find it more easily.

This is a Viable Paradise entry for those folks who have gone searching for Viable Paradise information–hoping it will help them decide to apply–and somehow ended up at my little entry.  I know I went looking, and read every little comment I could find.  (I did that for years before I actually sent my writing sample along.)  There are other posts about my VP experience here, too if you want to poke around.

Most folks want to know what the experience was like, if the workshop really made a difference in the writing, and if attending is “worth it.”  Short answers are: life-changing, absolutely, and without a doubt.


There are group workshops filled with straight talk and strategies and opinions from the viewpoints of instructors.  The whole classroom-feel breaks down rather quickly, resulting in a comfortable exchange of questions, answers, advice, and quips.  Then there are individual sessions with the instructors.  That time belongs to you.  You can talk about your work, the instructor’s work, the business end of publishing, the writing process, whatever.

There are staff members who are there to do anything they can to make your week amazing.  One moment that rocked my week had nothing to do with learning writer stuff.  It was when I sat beside Lisa, computer on my lap, and asked what file format would be easiest for her to print out.  She said it didn’t matter because she was there to make it easier for me.

I had to go cry a few minutes later.  As a single mom who spent the first five months of the year performing hospice care for my ex-husband (my son’s father) before his death from liver cancer, can you imagine how much that single comment meant to me?  As far as I know, none of the staff knew what baggage I was bringing along.  They didn’t need to.  They treated everyone with kindness and respect, all the time.

The staff also takes care of your evening meals, preparing food options and offering choices that strive to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions.  And it tastes awesome!  Staff also had a knack for knowing when to bring out a new set of snacks in the afternoon, or when to ask, “Need anything else?  How are feeling about now?”  My main regret is that I didn’t thank them enough for their helpfulness and openness.

There are sessions with your fellow students, moderated by instructors.  This is where folks give you feedback on your submitted writing.  It is valuable beyond measure to hear what careful, interested, and invested readers have to say.  And it can be fun, because everyone involved wants what is best for you and for your writing.  There is no inclination among the students to be nasty and overbearing about a critique, so even the harsh stuff is delivered with kindness.  My fellow students cared as much about the writer as the work.

Aside from the formal workshop stuff, there is everything that happens around the scheduled things.  The most important part of Viable Paradise happens between the lines.  Those are the parts that can be harder to define and can, frankly, sound irrelevant.  Making music and singing every night.  Walking in the moonlight or as the sun rises.  Playing Mafia and Thing.  Just hanging out when you feel like it, talking or sitting silent.  Watching and playing poker.

And if you don’t want to participate in any of that, no one will think ill of you.  I spent most of the music-at-night time either talking with folks or in my downstairs room listening to the music above.  I didn’t play poker, but intently watched many a hand play out.*

I cannot over-stress the importance of the time you’re given at Viable Paradise.  You won’t spend every moment in a classroom, taking notes, or frantically writing.  Instead, you have time to explore ideas and new perspectives through conversation and introspection.  You have the opportunity to share insights and fears and hopes and uncertainties with people who truly want to hear what you have to say.  You can get answers to the nitty-gritty questions you have about publishing.

The experience is a week-long immersion in the kind of life many writers wish could be lived every day.  I was surrounded by people who feel the same way about writing as I do, who write because there is joy in creation and revise because readers matter.

But none of that information will help you decide if you should or should not apply, because your decision is less about the facts and more about your view of yourself as a writer.  The workshop costs real money.  Telling you the experience is worth every penny isn’t what most writers need to hear.  Instead, you must decide you are worth those pennies, every single one of them.

I spent a decade thinking about Viable Paradise.  In the four years before I did apply, life was in such turmoil and I felt so low, I didn’t write a single new piece of fiction.  Nothing.  But my ex, even in hospice, urged me to keep writing if I still loved it.  Three weeks before he passed, I applied to VP.  Five weeks after he passed, I was accepted.

Then I had to decide if I was worth the time and money.  By inviting me to the workshop, the VP instructors had indicated they thought my writing was worth it.  But was I?  So I figured I was going for the sake of my writing.  I found myself instead.  I found out what it meant to be a writer from the inside out.

I also wrote a brand-new short story that’s out with an editor right now, revised and sent out another short story, am about a fourth of the way through revising a novel, conceptualized a new novel, discovered ways to improve two trunk novels, and am slowly re-creating a short story and a novella that were lost years ago in a computer crash but still have some awesome potential I want to mine.

Yes, VP helped my writing.

I have yet to read a review of Viable Paradise that said, “Total waste of my time!  Didn’t learn a thing!  Not a single valuable experience all week!”  So even if you’re not certain the workshop is “right” for you, give it a shot.  You will not come home empty-handed or empty-headed.

Do you have questions?  I know I did.  If you think I can help, ask away.

Original Entry at LiveJournal includes additional links to Viable Paradise classmates.

Between The Words

This is a re-post from October 2011, written shortly after I returned home from Viable Paradise, the week-long workshop for writers of science fiction and fantasy.  I’m placing it here so folks searching for information on Viable Paradise can find it more easily.

I attended Viable Paradise for writerly reasons, and received a monumental amount of guidance and information and advice and inspiration and and and… and you get the idea.

But here’s what’s true: By the end of the week, the most important gifts of the week were not about ink and paper, or the craft of putting the former on the latter in recognizable patterns, or what to do with the paper once it has been perfectly inked.  No, what I was given last week was time, space, tenderness, friendship, and joy.

Aside: If you don’t know the strain of the last few years, just consider it backstory that will likely be revealed as time goes forward.  Suffice it to say I came to VP carrying an immense amount of emotional luggage because, as Pastor Bob says, people like me “don’t do” process well or willingly.  (I once explained something to him by starting with, “As you know, Bob…”  But I digress.)

The VP workshop schedule isn’t crammed and frantic.  It’s lovely.  A good thing, that, because I needed the time.

I cried often during the week.  It had nothing to do with my writing.  (In fact, I have never felt more confident about the writing!)  There was so much going on that was positive, uplifting, encouraging, and personal…  It caught me unawares.  It pushed in before I realized what was happening.  And since I’d been so full of other emotions for so very long, something had to give.  The old emotions, dense and heavy, leaked out.  I did not find this depressing.  When I shared my teariness with a couple friends there, the response was “Good!”  I felt lighter and truer every day.

I discovered some people think I’m a likable person when they meet me, and a few still think that when they get to know me.  My world has been so small for so long–there haven’t been many opportunities to meet people in recent years–I admit I was more nervous about the social side of VP than the writing one.  I shouldn’t have been!  I made new friends, talked writing, talked life, talked love, talked fears, talked fun.  Talked about food and runaway kids, awesome dogs and religion, myths and sex and the importance of letting folks know you care.

I ate remarkable food like ginger potatoes, black bean mango salad, cranberry chocolate chip cookies and white chocolate ginger lime fudge.  Took night walks by myself and with others.  Danced the can-can, the kick line, and the Safety Dance during a game of Thing.  Drank too much good whiskey with just the right amount of people.

I did not feel awkward.

And I’m terribly envious of the VP instructors and staff.  They get to do it all again next year!

Yes, yes, I know I should relate the writerly part.  I’m getting there, promise.

In Deep

I’m nearly finished with the rewrite of Sand of Bone.

Hmm.  “Rewrite” sounds too small.  It’s turned into more of a total remodeling–the kind that involves stripping off three layers of disgusting wallpaper so the walls can be patched, ripping up tattered carpet so the original wood floors can be restored, replacing the windows, putting on a new roof, and upgrading the plumbing and electrical.  Then I’ll set to revisions–new brass hardware, intricate moldings, so on and so forth.  By the time it’s done, about the only thing I won’t have done is jack the novel from its foundations to put it in a new location.  (Been there, done that, see Sword and Chant.)

This is, frankly, the point I planned to reach about this time last year.  (Never underestimate the power and influence of grieving.)  More than once, I’ve been troubled by my lack of steady–let alone exceptional!–progress over the year.  I’ve decided to let that go.  I’m not under any contractual obligations, just the expectations I set for myself.  And though my lack of new offerings have most certainly hurt sales of Sword and Chant, that novel isn’t going to disappear or go out of print.  Once Sand of Bone and its sequel Breath of Stone go up, Sword and Chant will still be there.

So back I go to rewrites and revisions.  That means I won’t really update anything else online right now.  Other than playing on Twitter–where I can drop in and out of chats when I have the time–I’ve gone a tad quiet.

What’s also quite wonderful is I have in hand a novel written by one of my Viable Paradise classmates.  That means I have the perfect bridge between my own writing sprints!  Nothing spurs me on to write more, and strive to write better, than to read awesome stories by others.

Links o’ Miscellany and MHO On Them

First: I am in love with this article by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.  As I mentioned in comments at Sherwood’s LJ, a female character cannot be confident, competent, and likeable without being deemed a Mary Sue.  (That doesn’t even touch upon appearance, which is a whole ‘nother target of spite and vitriol.)  I remember a beta reader once telling me a character was a Mary Sue because of those three factors.  It didn’t matter that the character had been show to earn those traits; the three in combination simply Could Not Be Done is the character was to be “realistic.”

Think about that for a moment.  A character with competence, natural and practiced talents, who was liked because of the way she actually treated others was not realistic.  She simply wasn’t insecure enough, tormented enough, or outcast enough to be realistic.

That’s a fucking sad commentary on what “real women” are supposed to be.

And I should note that the majority of folks I read throwing about the Mary Sue accusation to other writers are women.  That’s double-fucking sad, in my opinion.

(Yes, I know the original definition of Mary Sue.  Alas, linguistic drift has bestowed a slightly different definition now, and that’s the one we’re stuck with, and I don’t deem it interesting, necessary, or productive to insist everyone use the phrase in its “proper” fashion.)

Second:  This post by John Wiswell–now a fellow graduate of Viable Paradise–made me cheer first (because hooray! more VP grads!), then made me grumble to learn some self-publishers thought it was a waste of his time.  *sigh*  I know there is a subset of self-publishers who cannot fathom the worth of critique prior to publication, nor the bliss of spending days among writers who care about storytelling.  My suspicion is it’s the same subset who would have, in the pre- self-publishing days, written long diatribes to agents and editors in response to rejections.

Me, I see nothing incongruent between attending Viable Paradise and self-publishing.  One is for craft and fellowship.  One is a business decision.  Anyone with shoulder-chips might indeed have good information about their side of the argument, but not the best judgment on which path is best for others.

Third: I have no link for it, but have been following various blog posts and Twitter comments from folks attending WFC in London.  From writers who have the “proper” credentials, who should without a doubt be treated to at least the crumbs of common courtesy.  And they are not.

That sort of disregard of writers–at what is supposed to be a celebration of such creativity–is a pretty good indication of what value such folks place on the writers’ creations.  And don’t sing the “But they’re all volunteers!” song my direction.  I’ve volunteered for numerous non-genre, professional conferences and conventions. I and other volunteers assumed courtesy and professionalism were standard expectations, not something guests received if they caught us a good time and were appropriately humble in their requests.

Fourth:  Check out David Gaughran on the tightening of Traditional Publishing/Author Solutions ties.  If you’re planning to go the traditional publishing route, it’s critical you read and understand it.  If you’re self-publishing, it’s equally important.  Alas, it’s becoming more difficult for new writers to avoid being shuttled into dead-end and horribly expensive self-publishing “services” that are endorsed by the same traditional publishers who sneered at Author Solutions and their ilk just a couple years ago.  “I know those other people say Author Solutions is a scam, and is being sued by their past customers,” says the new writer in search of validation, “but Big Respected Publisher says they’re awesome, so it must okay to give them thousands of dollars!”

And I was certain I had a fifth link, but it has vanished.

Edited 10-18-2013 for clarity.

Viable Paradise

For years and years, I set my writing goals–even the act of writing fiction–to the side.  Life events had overwhelmed me.  The mere task of getting by and raising my son consumed everything.  It was… a bad time.

Then came the opportunity to apply to Viable Paradise.  Here’s the description from the website:

“Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling
commercial science fiction and fantasy. The workshop is intimate, intense, and
features extensive time spent with best-selling and award-winning authors and
professional editors currently working in the field. VP concentrates on the art
of writing fiction people want to read, and this concentration is reflected in
post-workshop professional sales by our alumni.”

You, the writer, spend a week on Martha’s Vineyard, with professional writers and editors who are there to teach you, support you, and encourage you.  This year’s instructors are writers Sherwood Smith, Steven Brust, Steven Gould, Elizabeth Bear, Debra Doyle and James MacDonald, and editors Patrick Nielson Hayden and Teresa Nielson Hayden.

You will be surrounded with fellow writers who want to take their stories from good to amazing, and who want to help you do the same thing.  These writers don’t disappear at the end of the workshop.  We keep in touch, beta read each other’s work, cheer progress and give support when times are tough, and generally enjoy each other’s company.

It is not an understatement to say Viable Paradise changed not only my writing, but the direction of my life.  If you’d like to read my more personal accounts of the experience, you can check out my entries from LiveJournal here and here.  Once you’re at LiveJournal, you can click the “viable paradise” tag on the left and see other entries that touch on the experience as well.

If you have questions, ask them here or there.

If you think you might like it, apply–the sooner the better.

If you know someone who might be interested, give them the link.