Tag Archives: tips


The more you write, the more ideas you get.

Shouldn’t be surprising, I know. But it’s different knowing something in theory and experiencing it as fact.


Tons have been written about how writers should deal with critiques during the drafting process. This is just my take.

  1. The most important thing about critiques is learning how to benefit from them. Not every criticism is valid, and you don’t have to listen to every critiquer. Figuring out which ones you do need to listen to is a skill that must be acquired.
  2. It is not possible to write something that pleases everyone, though some works will appeal to more people than others (and you have to decide how important that is to you). I’m sure you’ve bought anthologies and thought some of the stories were duds while others were brilliant, and another reader will pick out hits and misses different from yours. Keep that in mind — but also remember that at least someone — the editor — must really like your story for it to go anywhere.
  3. Even the most negative critiques usually contain something that you can use: the knowledge that a part of your story didn’t work for some reader. The most useful critiques identify exactly what bothered the reader. Explanations for why these parts of the story didn’t work can be useful, but not everyone is good at articulating such reasons clearly. Suggestions for how to improve those parts are less useful, unless you have a writing style similar to the critiquer’s. Quotations of “rules of writing,” on the other hand, are almost always useless.
  4. Some people are better at critiquing your work than others. This seems to be a skill independent of how successful they are as writers, and it may even be independent of how much you like their writing. This is why it’s important to get critiques from as many people as possible.
  5. If hearing criticism of your work makes you unable to function, then you simply cannot be a writer. The courage to hear criticism and still proceed is even more important for writers than dedication and “talent,” whatever that may mean.

The Top Idea

Paul Graham:

I think most people have one top idea in their mind at any given time. That’s the idea their thoughts will drift toward when they’re allowed to drift freely. And this idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it. Which means it’s a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind.

I’ve found there are two types of thoughts especially worth avoiding—thoughts like the Nile Perch in the way they push out more interesting ideas. One I’ve already mentioned: thoughts about money. Getting money is almost by definition an attention sink. The other is disputes. These too are engaging in the wrong way: they have the same velcro-like shape as genuinely interesting ideas, but without the substance. So avoid disputes if you want to get real work done.

Words to live by. Certainly makes me rethink a lot about how I ought to go about dealing with disputes.

Characters with Gender-Neutral Names

Writing tip of the day: if you give your characters gender-neutral names (or names that have masculine and feminine forms that are easily confused, like Rene and Renee), make sure that you give your reader some means of identifying the gender of the character early. Unless the ambiguity is intentional, this can really trip up readers.

What I had against me: the story is told in the first person, so there’s little opportunity for physical description that doesn’t seem intrusive; the story is set in a post-Singularity world, so physical descriptions are out in any event.

It’s also interesting how important a role gender plays in our ability to sink into a narrative. Uncertainty about the gender of a character is like a toothache, constantly pulling the reader out of the story. It does raise interesting questions about how gender identity will be handled in the post-Singularity world.