Season 16 Archives

16.01: Your Career is Your Business

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary Robinette, Howard, and Brandon Welcome to 2021, and Season 16 of Writing Excuses. This year we’re dividing the year into “master classes” or “intensive courses.” We’re kicking it off with Brandon’s episodes, which are all about the business of writing, and the first of those is this one! So… your career … Continue reading 16.01: Your Career is Your Business

So… GOOD OMENS. Read the book. Watch the series. Consider what sorts of decisions Neil Gaiman made to adapt the novel to a new medium.

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

16.02: Publishers Are Not Your Friends

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary Robinette, Howard, and Brandon It sounds like a mean thing to say, but it’s not a wrong thing to say. A publisher is a corporation, and a corporation doesn’t have friends. It has contractual relationships. We can make friends with people who work for publishers, but those are not the same … Continue reading 16.02: Publishers Are Not Your Friends

Business research! Make a list of publishers who are releasing new books by new authors in your space. Watch for editor and author names.

Active Memory, by Dan Wells

16.3: Publishing Pitfalls

Your Hosts: Dan, Erin, Howard, and Brandon Erin Roberts joins us for our third installment in Brandon’s business-of-writing series. In this episode we’re covering pitfalls and common problems—including some predatory practices—for you to be on the lookout for while you develop your career as a writer. Credits: This episode was recorded my Marshall Carr, and … Continue reading 16.3: Publishing Pitfalls

Writer Beware, w/ Victoria Strauss and SFWA

16.4: Networking

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary Robinette, Erin, Brandon, and Howard Networking is an invaluable part of any business, and the business of writing is no exception. In this episode we’ll talk about how to do it effectively, genuinely, and in ways that benefit the entire community. Credits: This episode was recorded my Marshall Carr, and mastered … Continue reading 16.4: Networking

Come up with five non-transactional things you can do to help other people in your network.

The City We Became, by N.K. Jemesin

16.5: Pros and Contracts

Your Hosts: Dan, Mary Robinette, Brandon, and Erin Here’s our deep dive into the subject of contracts in the publishing business. We can only go so deep during a fifteen-minute episode, so we ran about twice as long as usual. We discuss some of the things you should look for, things you should watch out … Continue reading 16.5: Pros and Contracts

Homework! Check out the SFWA Model Contracts at the SFWA site. You might also have a look at Mary Robinette’s Patreon because she got permission to step all the way through one of her contracts with her patrons.

Middle Game, by Seanan McGuire

16.6: Building Your Brand

Your Hosts: Dan, Erin, Brandon, and Howard Branding, in marketing terms for writers, is the process of establishing a recognizable identity—a brand— for you and your works in the marketplace of readers, and people who buy things for readers. In this episode we talk about what our brands need to be doing for us, and … Continue reading 16.6: Building Your Brand

Find the elements of your brand from your friends, alpha readers, and beta readers.

16.7: To Series, or Not to Series

Your Hosts: Dan, Erin, Brandon, Howard Let’s look a the business considerations of whether that thing you’re writing is a standalone story, or part of a series. The factors are complex, and a single factor (like, say distribution channel) isn’t likely to make the decision clear cut. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, … Continue reading 16.7: To Series, or Not to Series

Examine your favorite series. What were the questions asked in each installment, and in which installment were those questions answered?

The Saxon Chronicles, by Bernard Cornwell

16.8: Smart Promotion

Your Hosts: Dan, Erin, Brandon, and Howard Let’s talk about how promote yourself and your work, and how to do it well. The tools we use for this continue to evolve, and in this discussion we’ll cover things that have worked, things that have stopped working, things we use now, and strategies we apply to … Continue reading 16.8: Smart Promotion

Look at authors who self-promote, and how they’re doing it.

Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
(currently available for pre-order, scheduled to release in May 2021)

16.9: Crossing The Revenue Streams

Your Hosts: Dan, Erin, Brandon, and Howard How many different ways can our writing earn money for us? What additional work, besides “just” writing, do we need to do in order to get that money? In this episode we discuss finding and managing multiple revenue streams, whether that means writing for new audiences, or monetizing … Continue reading 16.9: Crossing The Revenue Streams

Identify your revenue streams, and the activities you perform to make money flow from them. Now look at other places, especially different merchandising or distribution mediums, where you might be making money from the things you’ve created.

16.10: Paying it Forward, with Kevin J. Anderson

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard, with special guest Kevin J. Anderson Kevin J. Anderson joins us to talk about how others have helped us in our careers, and how we might continue that tradition and help others. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and mastered by Alex Jackson  

Identify the people who have helped you, and how. Thank them.

VengeWar, by Kevin J. Anderson

16.11: What is Poetry?

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard This is how we begin our master class on poetry, with Amal El-Mohtar: With not one question, but two. What is poetry? What is prose? Yes, both questions are a trap. Or maybe two traps. But definitely a beginning. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and … Continue reading 16.11: What is Poetry?

Join a poem-a-day subscription service like poets.org/poem-a-day, or follow poetryisnotaluxury on Instagram

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong

16.12 : Singing Versus Speaking

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard Can you hear your writing sing, being intoned instead of read? With the dialogs as tunes whose tags say “sung” instead of “said?” When the rhythm of your prose echoes the rhythm of a song you’ll see perhaps you’ve been a poet all along. Credits: This episode was … Continue reading 16.12 : Singing Versus Speaking

Take a passage from your own work that isn’t quite working. Try to sing it: what happens when you do? Do you notice things about it that you don’t usually? Try to write it as a song — and then translate it back into prose.

Stargazer, by Dan Wells

16.13: Day Brain vs. Night Brain

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard Patterns in the way we’re speaking may betray which ‘brain’ we’re using; often bound by what’s familiar, sometimes loosed for free-er choosing. Writing like the day-brain’s thinking Singing while the night-brain’s winking All the cadence going funky (golden-mantled howler monkey) Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, and … Continue reading 16.13: Day Brain vs. Night Brain

Night Brain exercise: take a piece of prose that is giving you trouble. Put yourself in a dark, quiet place. Listen to a recording of a poem (“Moon Fishing” may serve nicely.) Write automatically, unselfconsciously, for 5 minutes: think about it like singing on the page.

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders

16.14: Poetic Language

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard We might begin with description. Or we might begin by deconstructing the act of describing. Wait. No, not there. Let’s jump in AFTER the deconstruction. Let’s leap beyond a statement of topic, let’s hurdle clear of mundane declarations of the audio file’s length, and together plunge headlong … Continue reading 16.14: Poetic Language

Look at this sentence: “It’s a dark, grey winter’s day; there’s a lot of snow on the ground and a cold wind’s blowing.”

Distill this sentence until it feels like a poem to you. Introduce line breaks wherever you like; cut as much as you want until it feels like it’s singing to you.

Then, once you have a compact, dense poem, expand it outwards: can you keep it feeling like a poem while giving it more shape and length?

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse

16.15: Poetic Structure, Part I

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard Rigorous structure in poetic form is commonly pointed at when we declare Poems have meters and rhymes, as the norm. Yet words without patterns can roar like a storm So why pay attention, why study with care Rigorous structure in poetic form? Just set it aside, surrender the … Continue reading 16.15: Poetic Structure, Part I

Write either of these:
Just one villanelle (Howard!)
or three full haiku.

Pay close attention
To the demands of their forms.
Constraints can inspire!

(Fifteen minutes long
Because you’re in a hurry
and this is haiku.)

“Resident Alien,” available on SyFy or through Amazon.

16.16: Poetic Structure: Part II

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard How does a poem happen? Absent an external structure, what makes a thing a poem? The key word in that question may be “external,” because ultimately the poem on the page will be the implicit definition of its own structure—even if it borrows a “non-poetic” structure from another … Continue reading 16.16: Poetic Structure: Part II

Write a poem inspired by the form with which you’ve chosen to structure it: take a numbered list of things, and use that numbered list to write a poem inspired by the list, and also organized according to that list.

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson

16.17: The Time To Rhyme

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dan, Amal, and Howard Rhyming is powerful. It can signal a form, or telegraph whimsy. It can be predictable, surprising, and sometimes both. It may also be seen as childish. When, then, is it time to rhyme? Will rhyming “internally” fit? As opposed to a line-ending bit. For answers, just listen. But … Continue reading 16.17: The Time To Rhyme

Look up the limericks of Edward Lear, and use them as a model; write a limerick, paying careful attention to how the rhyme needs to match a certain rhythm.

The Forever Sea, by Joshua Phillip Johnson

16.19: Intro to Roleplaying Games

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, James L. Sutter, Dan Wells, Cassandra Khaw, and Howard Tayler For the next eight episodes we’ll be talking about roleplaying games, and how that medium relates to writers, writing, career opportunities, and more. We’re led by James L. Sutter and Cassandra Khaw on this particular quest. In this episode we … Continue reading 16.19: Intro to Roleplaying Games

Spend some time playing a roleplaying game, either video game or tabletop. Take note of what’s fun and what’s not.

16.20: Branching Narratives

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, James L. Sutter, Dan Wells, Cassandra Khaw, and Howard Tayler How do you give players meaningful choices while still keeping the story within a reasonable set of boundaries? In this episode James and Cassandra lead us in a discussion of branching narratives, and the ways in which we as writers … Continue reading 16.20: Branching Narratives

Write a short “choose-your-own-adventure” story.

The Planet Mercenary RPG, created by Alan Bahr, Howard Tayler, and Sandra Tayler.

16.21: Player Characters

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, James L. Sutter, Dan Wells, Cassandra Khaw, and Howard Tayler So, you’re the hero of your own story, and the hero gets choices, and in many ways directs the story. In our discussion of interactive fiction and writing for games, the subject of “player characters” is essential. From the array … Continue reading 16.21: Player Characters

Go through the character creation process in an RPG. Pay attention to which parts were fun, and what attracted you to the different classes, creature types, etc. Identify what makes each major character build unique and appealing.

16.22: Scenes and Set Pieces

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler Let’s have a discussion about scenes and set pieces, and let’s lead with this: prose writers often create longer pieces using scenes as building blocks, and in this thing writing for game design is very, very similar. Scenes and set … Continue reading 16.22: Scenes and Set Pieces

Design an encounter for a game you’ve enjoyed, hitting each of the following factors: setting, challenge, adversaries, rewards, and story development.

16.23: Rules and Mechanics

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler Let’s talk about how players interact with the mechanics of the game, and what kinds of requirements those might put on the writers. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Pick a game you’re familiar with and design three new rules elements for it. These could be new cards for Magic, new feats or character abilities for a TTRPG, new power-ups for Super Mario, etc.
Try to think through all the ways these could be fun, and then try to find ways a player could use them to totally break a story.

Disco Elysium

BONUS EPISODE! 2021 WXR Early-Bird Announcement

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette, Dongwon, and Dan What’s this bonus episode thing? Well, for starters IT’S URGENT, because as of this writing you have just ten more days to get the promised pricing for WXR at sea in 2021. What ELSE is it? Well, this bonus episode describes the difference between workshops, retreats, and master … Continue reading BONUS EPISODE! 2021 WXR Early-Bird Announcement

Research different opportunities for master classes and workshops.

The Sin in the Steel, by Ryan Van Loan

16.24: Worldbuilding for Games

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler Worldbuilding is one of our favorite topics, and it’s a domain in which game design and novel writing share a lot of territory. In this episode we talk about how much we love it, and how much we enjoy letting other … Continue reading 16.24: Worldbuilding for Games

Take a story or game that you’ve written and drop in a few casual allusions to names you’ve just made up—places, people, objects. Don’t try to figure out what they are, just make the names as cool-sounding as you can—soultrees, the Babbling Throne, Kobishar the Unmoored. Then come back a week later and write a page of background on each of them.

The Dune RPG, from Modipheus Games

16.26: Working With Teams

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw, Dan Wells, James L. Sutter, and Howard Tayler Our series of game writing episodes draws to a close with a discussion about working with teams. This last skill set, these ways in which you learn to excel at collaborative projects, is often far more important than any of your … Continue reading 16.26: Working With Teams

Spend some time brainstorming a game idea with a friend. Try to draw out and explore their best ideas, and encourage them to suggest changes to your own, to make sure you’re both contributing equally.

Heart: The City Beneath RPG, by Grant Howitt & Christopher Taylor

16.27: Nobody Wants to Read a Book

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler Our controversial episode title comes to us via John Schwarzwelder, and it points up nicely the importance of today’s topic, which is first lines, first pages, and how we set about convincing people (who may or may not want to read a book) to … Continue reading 16.27: Nobody Wants to Read a Book

Homework: read the first pages of the last three books you read. Take notes on what you find exciting about them. What kept you reading? What would make you pause?

The Last Watch, by J.S. Dewes

16.28: Common First-Page Mistakes

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler Let’s have a frank, and possibly painful discussion about the ways in which the first page can go wrong. It may seem like hackneyed writing advice, but rules like “don’t start with the main character waking up” are rules for a reason.  In this … Continue reading 16.28: Common First-Page Mistakes

Have a look at the first page of your work-in-progress, and look for clichéd mistakes.

The First Line (literary magazine)

16.29: Building Trust

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler How do we build trust with our readers? What does that even mean? In this episode we discuss ways in which we let our readers know what they can expect from the book they’re holding, and how we set about getting the to trust … Continue reading 16.29: Building Trust

Write down every character in your first chapter on an index card. Write each character’s wants and needs? Ask yourself what stakes can be put on screen now.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
NOTE: We’ll be talking about the first page of this book next week, so you may want to add at least page one of this book to your homework.

16.31: First Page Fundamentals—MOBY DICK

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler In this episode we explore the first page of Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson Liner Notes: here … Continue reading 16.31: First Page Fundamentals—MOBY DICK

Homework: Write an introduction that is purely internal to the character’s mental state.

16.32: First Page Fundamentals—THE KILLING FLOOR, by Lee Childs

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler In this episode we explore the first page of The Killing Floor, by Lee Childs, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work. Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson Liner Notes: … Continue reading 16.32: First Page Fundamentals—THE KILLING FLOOR, by Lee Childs

Ghost Station, by Dan Wells

Write an introduction that focuses on the character’s view of the world

16.33: Tell, Don’t Show

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler Few pieces of writing advice get repeated as much as that old saw “show, don’t tell.” We’re here to show tell you that it’s not only not universally applicable, much of the time it’s wrong¹. Tell, don’t show, especially in the early pages of … Continue reading 16.33: Tell, Don’t Show

Rewrite your whole first scene as narration. See what parts work better and what doesn’t work. Keep the better bits, and work them into the next draft.

Jade City, by Fonda Lee

16.34: Novels Are Layer Cakes

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler Novels deliver a lot of information, and it’s helpful to consider that delivery in terms of layers. Novels are layer cakes, and we’re not talking about a three-layer birthday cake. We’re talking about a dobosh torte, or a mille crepe cake. And if we’ve … Continue reading 16.34: Novels Are Layer Cakes

Remove your entire 1st scene from your draft. Rewrite it from scratch, using the tools we’ve covered in the last eight episodes. Once you’ve done that, revise it by highlighting the elements readers really need to know, and then put all of those ideas into a single paragraph.

Legend, by Marie Lu

16.35: What is the M.I.C.E. Quotient?

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, C.L. Polk, Charlotte Forfieh, and Mary Robinette Kowal The next eight episodes are a deep dive into the M.I.C.E. Quotient, so we’ll begin with a definition. M.I.C.E. is an organizational tool which categorizes story elements as Milieu, Inquiry, Character, or Event. It helps authors know which elements are in play, and … Continue reading 16.35: What is the M.I.C.E. Quotient?

Seriously… watch The Wizard of Oz, and take notes. Track the M.I.C.E. elements, and how they nest in the story at every scale.

The Wizard of Oz (the 1939 film)

16.37: Deep Dive Into “Inquiry”

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, C.L. Polk, Charlotte Forfieh, and Mary Robinette Kowal Our third M.I.C.E. Quotient episode asks about the “Inquiry” element, and the ways in which we can use this element to structure our stories—whether we’re writing murder mysteries, thrillers, or anything else in which the turning of pages asks and eventually answers questions. Credits: This episode was … Continue reading 16.37: Deep Dive Into “Inquiry”

Use the same fairy tale as last week, and strip out every element that is not Inquiry.

Even Though I Knew the End, by C.L. Polk (a noir fantasy novella available in 2022)

16.38: Deep Dive into Character

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, C.L. Polk, Charlotte Forfieh, and Mary Robinette Kowal Our fourth M.I.C.E. Quotient episode explores the “Character” element, and how these angsty, navel-gazing voyages of self-examination can serve either as complete stories or as elements in other stories. Also, we talk about how to do this in ways that don’t result in readers complaining about … Continue reading 16.38: Deep Dive into Character

You’ve figured it out by now, right? Use the same fairy tale as last week (and the week before, and the week before that) and strip out every element that is not Character.

Popisho (US) This One Sky Day (UK), by Leone Ross