All posts by Howard Tayler

15.08: Q&A on a Ship

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

At WXR 19 we recorded live, and took audience questions aboard the ship. Here they are! (You’ll have to listen to the episode for the answers.)

  • What have you learned in the past year that has improved your craft?
  • When you’re having trouble, how do you know if it’s “I don’t feel like writing” or “there’s a problem with the manuscript?”
  • How far ahead do you plan your careers?
  • How do you tell when a fight/battle/showdown is going on for too long?
  • How do you continue to learn and improve on your craft?
  • How do you manage and prioritize your time when you’re working on multiple projects?
  • How do you feel about multiple first-person POVs in a single book?
  • What are the most important elements to include on the last page of your book?
  • What are some things we can do to strengthen our voice when writing in third person?
  • How do you decide who to have as alpha and beta readers?
  • In secondary world stories, how do you decide whether to call a horse a horse?
  • How much leeway will an editor or agent give a story when it’s not ready, but it shows promise?

Liner Notes: “Sometimes Writer’s Block is Really Depression”
Credits: This episode was recorded by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Write three different first lines for your project.

Jade War, by Fonda Lee

15.07: Creating Chapters

Your Hosts: Brandon, Victoria, Dan, and Howard

How do you create chapters? What are the rules for carving your manuscript into numbered chunks? Is chaptering part of your outline, is it something you discover while you write, or is it something else entirely?

In this episode we talk about how we do it, and how we think about it while it’s being done.

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

Play

Takes something you’ve written, and put the chapter breaks in new places.

Docile, by K.M. Sparza (releases in March 2020)

15.06: Prose and Cons, with Patrick Rothfuss

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary Robinette, Howard, with special guest Patrick Rothfuss

How do you write beautiful prose? How do you set about telling a story with words that sing (and dance, and tell jokes) instead of just conveying information in word-sized chunks?

In this episode we talk about how we do it, and how writers might set out to do good word-do like the best good word-doers do.

Liner Notes: 
Gwendolyn Brooks—We Real Cool

 

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

Play

Go find some poetry, and then read it. Be sure to read it out loud, too.

15.05: Setting Goals for Your Career

Your Hosts: Brandon, Victoria, Dan, and Howard

What kind of career goal-setting do you do? We had a discussion in this vein with Dongwon a few weeks ago, but neither Brandon nor Victoria participated then, so it’s worth revisiting.

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

Play

Draw up your 1-, 5-, and 10-year lists of goals.

Ghost Station, by Dan Wells

15.04: Revision, with Patrick Rothfuss

Your Hosts: Dan, Howard, and Mary Robinette, with special guest Patrick Rothfuss

We begin our discussion of revision by addressing a question we hear a lot: How do you know what needs to be changed? We talk about our various techniques for getting distance from our work, incorporating feedback, and breaking the process down into manageable chunks.

Liner Notes: Lindsey Ellis on Three-Act Structure

Credits: This episode was recorded by Bert Grimm, and mastered by Alex Jackson.

Play

Identify your chapter and scene purposes, and apply the 10% solution during a revision pass.

The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells

15.03: Self Publishing

Your Hosts: Howard, with special guests Victorine Lieske, Tamie Dearen, Bridget E. Baker, and Nandi Taylor

Howard leads this discussion with four guests who are doing well with self publishing. They share some numbers with us, and talk about their strategies for reaching their audience, and making the most of their market.

Liner Notes: Given, by Nandi Taylor, is available on January 21, (just two days from this episode’s air date)

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

Play

Start thinking about business: teach yourself which of the things you spend money on are tax deductible.

15.02: Writing Between the Lines

Your Hosts: Brandon, Victoria, Dan, and Howard

Victoria Schwab, who also writes as V.E. Schwab, joins us this year, and in this episode she helps us cover that deep concept of “theme,” and how we as authors can state our themes without coming straight out and stating them—writing our themes “between the lines.”

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

Play

Take something you’ve completed, but which is still in draft form. Write down three possible themes. Then compare this against what your alpha/beta readers tell you what they think your themes are.

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab

WXR 2020: Scholarships!

It’s that time again: it’s a new year, and that means a new Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat! This year we’ll start with some classes and events in Houston on September 25, and then we’ll hop on a cruise ship and head to Cozumel, Georgetown, and Falmouth. You’ll arrive back in Houston again on October 4, filled with more writing expertise than can be safely contained within a human mind. You can find all the other info, including our incredible guest list, here.

This year, as always, we are offering scholarships: four to start, but we’re leaving the exact number open-ended as donations continue to roll in. One scholarship is sponsored by the hosts of Writing Excuses, one by our amazing patrons on Patreon, and two (or more!) by our incredibly awesome alumni. They’ve been on the retreat (sometimes more than once), they love it, and they want to share it with as many people as possible.

As always, our scholarships come in two categories: two Out of Excuses Scholarships, awarded to those in financial need, and two Carl Brandon Society Scholarships, awarded to writers of color. Both categories have introduced us to some incredible writers in the past, and we can’t wait to see who we get to meet this year. Share this post with everyone you know, read the rules carefully, and apply!

Information and Entry Rules
Each scholarship offers full tuition, $500 of travel expenses, a bed in a double occupancy room on the ship, and hotel expenses in Houston for one night both pre- and post-cruise. Because the food on the cruise is free, this covers essentially all your expenses for the week, though depending on the flights you arrange, you might need to cover some of the travel yourself. You may apply to either scholarship, but only to one of them (even if you qualify for both).

These scholarships are very popular, and get a lot of applicants, so please read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly; incomplete applications will be disqualified.

To apply, please prepare the following scholarship package as a Word document, and send it to [email protected] with the subject line: “Scholarship Application: [name of scholarship].” Please copy and paste the cover sheet to the main body of the email, and also include it as the first page in the package.

You application must include:

  • This cover sheet, filled out completely:
    Name: [name]
    Email: [email]
    Phone Number: [number]
    Scholarship: [“Carl Brandon Society” or “Out of Excuses”]
    I confirm that my scholarship is complete, including: a personal essay, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample.
    Personal Essay word count (between 450-700 words): [insert word count here]
    Letter of Recommendation 1: [Name of recommender]
    Letter of Recommendation 2: [Name of recommender]
    Letter of Recommendation 3: [Name of recommender]
    Writing Sample total word count (1-3 pieces, limited to 10,000 total words): [insert word count here]
  • A single attachment, saved as [Name of Scholarship Your Name]. We will accept the following three file formats:
    * .DOC
    * .DOCX
    * .RTF
    Examples:
    Out of Excuses Scholarship Jane Doe.doc
    Carl Brandon Scholarship John Doe.doc

The attachment should contain all of the following, in the following order:

  1. The Cover Sheet, again, as described above. Yes, we want it twice.
  2. A Personal Essay: A 450-700 word personal essay explaining why you are a good candidate for the scholarship. What makes you unique? What can you bring to our group that no one else can? Keep in mind that even as we focus on “need,” the panel will also be reviewing your writing in terms of “merit.”
  3. Letters of Recommendation: Three brief letters of recommendation (no more than 300 words each) from people who are not your relatives: friends, bosses, people from your writing group, anyone who can tell us exactly how awesome you are. Please note that we would like all three letters to be included in the scholarship package, and not to be emailed individually; we’ve had too many letters go astray, and we want to give you the chance to personally make sure every aspect of your scholarship package is complete before submitting it. If you have a concern with this, please contact Dawn at [email protected].
  4. Writing Samples: A brief example of your writing, consisting of 1-3 separate pieces and totaling no more than 10,000 words. These can be short stories or novel excerpts. Don’t feel obligated to fill the word count: if you can wow us in less, more power to you.

Again: make sure to send everything in one email or your application will be disqualified!

Please review your application several times, or have a friend or family member review it for you, because we will reject applications on technicalities, just like an editor or publisher would. We would much prefer to read your awesome writing and give you a scholarship.

The application period for both scholarships opens on January 17, 2020, at 9am EST, and closes at midnight PST, March 14. We will contact the winners in April, and announce them officially the morning of April 13. That gives applicants three months to get their packets ready, it gives us one month to review them, and it gives the winners just under five months of notice before the retreat.

If you have any questions regarding the scholarship, email Dawn at [email protected].

FAQ:

Q: What do the Letters of Recommendation need?
A: Think of this like a college entry application letter. Have your recommenders tell us why you are the best candidate for this scholarship. They can point out what they think might be relevant to the decision that the committee would otherwise not know. The letters help us round out the picture for each candidate.

Q: Do I need famous people or industry professionals to recommend me?
A: Absolutely not. The status or prestige of the recommenders is not really a factor; they can be international bestsellers or they can be college roommates.

Q: Do you have any specific formatting requirements?
A: Other than what’s listed above, no. You can use whatever type face or point size that you like, as long as it looks professional and is easy to read. No glitter, weird colors, blinking text, etc.

Q: Are the scholarships open to anyone?
A: Provided you meet the basic qualifications, yes. We welcome writers from any country anywhere in the world, though remember that a) the classes will be taught in English, and b) the scholarships only cover $500 of travel, so anything beyond that you will need to cover yourself.

Q: But what if I’m already published?
A: Apply anyway. The way this industry works, it’s entirely possible to be published and talented and still poor and unsuccessful (spoiler warning). But the things you learn and the contacts you make on our retreat can still help in that situation, and we’re not going to disqualify anyone just because their first break wasn’t a smashing success.

Q: That doesn’t sound fair to the rest of us.
A: You’re competing against all of these people in the real world anyway, every time you submit a book or story for publication, and this is no different. Your writing has to be the very best it can be no matter what you’re trying to do with it. But we’re confident that you are up to the challenge, so do your best and knock our socks off. We believe in you!

Q: Ah, but what if I know one of you personally? That’s GOT to disqualify me, right?
A: Not at all, though it does change the way we read and rank the applications. As soon as one of our judges realizes that they know an applicant in real life, they pull themselves off of that application and send it back to us. We strip that application of identifying info and send it out to new judges, completely blind, to get their unbiased opinion. The final decisions are made by people who do not know who the applicants are. We take this seriously, and strive to keep the process as fair and balanced as possible.

Q: Okay, so remind me of the basic qualifications again.
A: The Out of Excuses scholarships are for writers in financial need: if you can’t afford the scholarship on your own, you qualify. The Carl Brandon Society scholarships are for writers of color: if you’re a person of color who writes, you qualify.

Q: What about kids? Can I win the scholarship as a teenager?
A: Teens are welcome on the cruise and in the classes, but will need to be accompanied by an adult (who will have to pay their own way, as the scholarship only covers one person). If you have questions, please contact Dawn at [email protected].

Q: The description of the scholarship says it comes with a “double occupancy room.” What does that mean?
A: Double occupancy means you’ll have a roommate. If you know someone else on the retreat, you can let us know and we can probably put you together, but otherwise the assignments are made at random, and you will make a new best friend.

Q: How can I contribute to the scholarship fund?
A: The easiest way is through our Patreon. We have a pledge level specifically designed for scholarship donations, and of course you are always allowed to pledge more than the recommended minimum.

Q: If I apply to the scholarship and don’t get picked, will there still be time to buy a ticket?
A: We discourage this for two reasons: first of all, no, there might not be time to buy a ticket. Some years (such as 2017) we sell out incredibly quickly, and people who wait often end up out of luck. We always try to get more rooms on the ship, but it’s not always possible. Second of all, if you can afford to just buy a ticket, go ahead and buy a ticket, so we can give the scholarship to someone who can’t. That said, we recognize that there’s a difference between “I can afford this no problem” and “I can afford this but it will be a very painful sacrifice.” If you’re among the latter, you are welcome to try for the scholarship first and buy a ticket later if you don’t get picked; we will not look down on you at all, and we’ll do everything we can to make the retreat worth it.

Q: I sent in my application, but I’m not sure it arrived and/or I got an automated response saying it was too late and/or something else happened and I want to be sure we’re cool. What do I do?
A: Email Dawn at [email protected]. She can look through the inbox and tell you for sure whether your application arrived safely.

Q: I have a question not covered in this FAQ.
A: Email Dawn at [email protected]. If you post the question online (whether here or on Facebook or on Patreon or wherever), there is no guarantee that we will see and answer it quickly.