14.49: Customs and Mores

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab

In this episode we discuss how our customs and mores govern our own real-world interactions, and how our understanding of these interactions can be applied to our worldbuilding.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson.


Take a cultural quirk or more that is weird and/or annoying to you. Extrapolate that into an entire culture, a full society of interconnected mores which make sense, and with which you’d be extremely uncomfortable.

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge, narrated by Charlotte Wright

Announcing: Writing Excuses Workshop & Retreat 2020!

Join fellow writers for a cruise in the Caribbean, September 25 – October 04, 2020!

Registration for WXR20 is now open!

What is this thing?

The Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat is a magical mix of writing classes, workshops, and time for your own writing, all wrapped in a Caribbean vacation. Most importantly, you join a community of like-minded writers who are excited to talk about craft. Plus, you get writing views like this.

Our adventure begins on land…

We gather on land for two days in Galveston, TX for key orientation and registration activities as well as initial classes and writing sit-ins. You’ll have the chance to meet staff, instructors, and each other prior to boarding the cruise ship together for a week in the Caribbean.

We embark together for the journey at sea

In addition to beautiful days at sea, our cruise will stop at the following ports with opportunities for excursions: Cozumel in Mexico, Georgetown in Grand Cayman, and Falmouth in Jamaica.

There will be advanced classes each day, taught by our amazing guest instructors, as well as a live recording of the Hugo-award winning Writing Excuses podcast with the hosts of the show. During the recording, you get an opportunity to be a part of the show and ask your questions. Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells will be joined by Mahtab Narisiman, Margaret Dunlap, Nilah Magruder, Erin Roberts, with special guests Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz.

You mentioned excursions?

Yes! We work to organize a few “official” Writing Excuses shore excursions in each port and give you the opportunity to register for them in advance of our sail date. Going on one of these Writing Excuses excursions means you’ll be with other Writing Excuses writers, family, and possibly instructors. They are completely optional and you are welcome to purchase excursions through Royal Caribbean if one of those is more interesting for you. Just know that other excursions will be open to other passengers on our cruise ship.

How does pricing work?

Prices include the workshops, your hotel on land, your cabin at sea, meals at sea, taxes, gratuites… Basically, this works out to about $255 per day for all the things.

The tickets are listed for Double Occupancy, which means you’ll have a roommate at land and at sea. If you choose your own roommate, awesome! There will be a place to indicate this when you register. If you don’t have a roommate, no worries. We’ll coordinate to place you with another writer from our group. Or you can choose to upgrade to a private cabin during the registration process.

Spouses and significant others or family members who would like to come along but are not writers are welcome with a discounted rate. Children get an even greater discounted rate. Imaginary friends get to come along FREE.

Each year, we have a number of scholarships available. The application process will be announced in January here on Writing Excuses.com.

I have a registration question.

The best way to contact us for WXR20 questions is to send an email to [email protected]

Tell me more about what to expect?

The tagline on the podcast is “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” The workshop allows us to take more than fifteen minutes and really dig into topics. In addition to the core Writing Excuses cast, each year we bring guest instructors who really are that smart. We choosing instructors who bring different perspectives and a font of knowledge to share in classes and breakout sessions. Most importantly, we select for instructors who are warm and generous as people.

To be honest, folks who’ve joined us in the past are eager to gather again for the single biggest benefit of WXR: the lasting connections we make with each other.

But since you asked, there IS more:

  • Breakout sessions: Participants will also be able to sign up for a limited number of additional breakout sessions or one-on-one sessions with individual instructors. There is no additional charge for these, but because of the size of the event we may not be able to accommodate everyone with their first choice.

These breakout sessions include:

6-member novel critique groups: Members will submit excerpts up to 3000 words for critique by the group as well as one of the podcasters. (Please note that this means you are committing to critique the stories of the other group members.)

6-member short story critique groups: Members will submit short stories up to 3000 words for critique by the group as well as one of the podcasters. (Please note that this means you are committing to critique the stories of the other group members.)

One-on-one Q&As: This is a 25-minute one-on-one session with one of the instructor, and you decide how that time will be spent. We can critique the first five pages of a manuscript, practice making a pitch, drill down on a worldbuilding conundrum, answer specific questions, or offer general advice.

“Office Hours”: Each morning, instructors are available for individual drop-in sessions to cover those questions that come up mid-cruise.

  • Family Classes: There are classes specifically for family members to gain insight the writer in their family and more. Plus, family members are invited to choose 3 writing classes to attend with the writers in their family. We’ve found that this is a great way to build a common language for writers and family members, which can be incredibly helpful.
  • Two nights on land: Two nights (and the associated days) on land, at the hotel in Texas, allows us to gather everyone for important orientation activities as well as initial classes and write-ins. There will be the option to tour NASA with Mary Robinette, begin the quest for pirate coins with Dan Wells, and other secret surprises we’ve got in the works. Mwa hahahaha!
  • Costume (Cosplay) Themed events: There are multiple opportunities for “cosplay” through the course of the cruise. We generally choose one of the formal nights on the cruise and have a private cocktail hour before dinner with a costume contest and awards given by the instructors, then we walk together through the Promenade to dinner and enjoy dinner in our costumes. Last year, we introduced a cosplay karaoke night and it was one of the highlights of the cruise – Mary Robinette singing “Rubber Ducky” as a torch singer is absolutely must-see. Costumes are completely optional and you can still come to these events if you prefer to just appreciate what others have put together.

The theme for 2020 is: Hindsight

  • There’s going to be more: We’ve got new stuff in the works and there’ll be announcements in the near future.

That’s a lot of people-ing. I don’t do well in big groups of people. Will I survive this?

It may come as a surprise, but on a cruise of writers, most of our group are also introverts. Some of us are better at presenting as extroverts than others, but we know where you’re coming from and we feel your pain. We’ve also structured the cruise to create downtime and make it easy to meet people in smaller, more manageable groups.There’s lots of quiet areas all over the ship for those in need of some time and space when it all gets too much. This is why it’s called the Writing Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat. We also have a Discord where we can get to know each other before the cruise – it really helps to have some familiar faces when we all show up.

Will I really have time to write with all this going on?

We provide time, absolutely, but it’s up to you how you use it. In years past, we’ve had attendees write more than 40,000 words while with us. We celebrate together for words written and provide prompts each day for those interested to encourage and inspire. There’s also board game nights, dancing, karaoke, and impromptu combat demos to tempt us all. Some of our writers gather in places on the ship or seek out an out-of-the-way nook to write by themselves. Whatever you choose to do with your free time, your time is yours.

What level of writing expertise should I have prior to attending?

“Level of expertise” is far less important than your desire to learn and improve. The schedule and classes are structured to be accessible and useful for writers with a passion for learning. We’ve found that presenting focused content that’s challenging and rewarding is more useful for writers than 101 material, regardless of where they are on their career track. But we also have “office hours” which are drop in one-on-one sessions available almost every morning of the cruise for those questions that pop up during the course of the week.

I’m in. Where do I register again?

Now that you’ve had the overview, full details are available on the registration page, or you can email us at [email protected]

Come join us on board!

14.48: How to Practice Worldbuilding

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard

The entire year has been about learning how to worldbuild, and we’ve learned a thing or two ourselves while preparing material for you. In this episode we talk about some of those lessons, and try to answer stray questions that didn’t fit into any of previous episode buckets.

Liner Notes: If Dinosaurs Had Body Fat Like Penguins

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take something familiar to you—something you’ve got expertise in—and turn it into a worldbuilding tool.

14.47: Writing Characters With Physical Disabilities

Your Hosts: Piper, Dan, and Tempest, with special guest Nicola Griffith

In this episode we discuss how to faithfully represent people with physical disabilities through the characters we create. Our guest, Nicola Griffith, walks us through the process of rigorously imagining how the world might look to someone with a particular disability.

Credits: This episode was mastered by Alex Jackson




Put yourself into the point of view of a character with a strong defining characteristic. Visit a restaurant, and explore how it might look through their eyes rather than your own.

So Lucky, by Nicola Griffith

14.46: Unusual Resources

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Margaret, and Howard

Among science fiction and fantasy plot devices, the “uncommon resource” trope is common enough to almost seem cliché. Fortunately (?), the economic principle of scarcity is ubiquitous enough in real life that most of us don’t even blink when presented with the idea in fiction.

So how do we keep it fresh? How do we roll scarcities into the economies we create, and the worlds we build?

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Take something common and make it super-valuable.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance 

14.45: Economics

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab

Economists tend to see everything as economics, which is kind of how proponents of ANY discipline see their discipline, but it’s not a bad way to look at worldbuilding through the lens of economics. In this episode we talk about how this works for us, and how it lets us roll our worldbuilding into our storytelling.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: Mahtab mentioned The Economics of Science Fiction on Medium.com




Write a truly moneyless society or setting. You can still have transactions… just no money.

Making Money, by Terry Pratchett

14.44: Realism vs. Rule-of-Cool

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard

Where do you draw the line between what seems plausible, and what would be cool? If you pick “plausible,” how do you stay cool? If you pick “cool,” how do you avoid knocking the readers out of the story? And finally, how might we structure things so that when the time comes, we don’t need to choose one or the other, because we can have both?

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and engineered by Alex Jackson


Take something super-cool, and make it sound realistic. Now take something very grounded and make it sound outlandishly incredible.

Terminal Uprising, by Jim C. Hines

14.43: Sequencing Your Career Genome

Your Hosts: Howard, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Dongwon

Let’s talk about career planning. It’s a lot more than just launching a career by selling a book, and in this episode we talk about the kinds of things we want to be thinking about and preparing for beyond simply selling our next book or project.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Bert Grimm at WXR 2018, and mastered by Alex Jackson


Identify an author whose career you’d like to emulate. Research their career timeline, including the release dates of their books, and possibly the order in which things were written and sold.

This is How You Lose the Time War, by Max Gladstone, and Amal el Mohtar