Monday, November 24, 2014

What Interstellar Can Teach Writers About World Building

by Michelle Murrain, Author of the Science Fiction Novel, Friends With Wings.

No worries, there are no spoilers in this post. Alongside many science fiction fans and writers, I saw the movie Interstellar. It was a fun movie, with a great story line, and fascinating concepts to think about. It's about a common science fiction trope: Earth is dying, so let's go somewhere else to start over fresh. I've used that trope in my most recent novel, "Friends with Wings." Even though I consider it one of the better science fiction movies to come out this year, Interstellar does have its flaws. There have been plenty of critiques of the basic physics in the movie, and I'm not going to talk about those. I'm going to talk about problems in basic world building in Interstellar. Problems that writers should be aware of.

Movies can get away with shoddy world building much more easily than novels can. Flashy effects and star power make it much too easy to skimp on detailed world building. And also, some flaws in world building are put there just for the drama, which takes away from a movie. Some movies manage to do great world building anyway, but Interstellar isn't, sadly, one of them. There are two specific pretty inarguable world building flaws in the movie Interstellar I wanted to highlight, because they are actually relatively common kinds of pitfalls writers can fall into.

The first flaw has to do with the movie's premise of Earth, and what's happening on Earth because of climate change. In the movie, a blight has killed all of the food plants except for corn. And so for years, all that could grow was corn, and all people could eat was corn (Many years - it seems like more than 20). Sounds interesting, except that everyone would die of malnutrition within a period of months if all there was to eat was corn. It's not a complete protein, and does not provide other necessary nutrients. A population could not survive for years on just corn.

The second flaw has to do with the premise that the world has gotten so bad, that there aren't any armies anymore. The problem with this premise is that based on everything we know about history, the exact opposite is going to happen. When resources get scarce, people fight over what's left. The last thing the US government will do when faced with the ravages of climate change will be to disband the military.

These are just two of the major flaws in world building I noticed. I'm sure there are others. These flaws are based on not really thinking about whether or not a specific premise makes sense, based on what we know to be true - whether it be because of history, biology, psychology, what have you. World building is an art, but it's also a science. You have to do research, and make sure your ideas make sense. You should make sure that things fit, and work, with what we know now to be true.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Friends with Wings by Michelle Murrain

What if you were stranded on another planet? What would do? How would you live? And how would you deal with the intelligent native winged species on the planet?

The year is 2102, the earth is in crisis, and Trina, a gutsy young woman from a poor family, is forced to sell herself into slavery to pay off her family’s debt. To her surprise, she ends up being sent into space to help colonize a star. Her future seems bright until crisis strikes the colony – leaving Trina the only human being left alive on Planet Johannes. Another spaceship is slated to arrive in a decade, but how will Trina survive alone for ten years? And even if she does, how can she keep the next colony from meeting the same fate?

Read an excerpt here


Michelle has been writing science fiction since 2006, and has been an avid reader and fan of science fiction since she started to read. She has been both a scientist and a technologist by trade, and she even went to seminary. So as a polymath, her interests span a wide range of topics, including science, technology, religion and spirituality, philosophy, history, culture, politics, race, gender, and sexuality. She brings all of these to bear in her science fiction writing. She specializes in stories of culture clash and/or first contact, and her work has numerous strong female protagonists and characters, as well as a lot of diverse characters. She lives in Sonoma County, California with her spouse and 2 cats. Find out more about Michelle here:

Thanks so much for this wonderful guest post, Michelle. You’ve made some excellent points and given us some terrific writing tips to consider.

I’ve got family coming in for the holiday all week, which means I probably won’t be online much from here on out for a couple of days. Happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating. Mine will be busy with family, food and festivities, something I look forward to hosting every year.

Best to all,

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 21, 2014

Organizing Your Writing

by M. J. Joachim

It’s not easy to think about how far behind I am with organizing my blogs. Filing, I’m not sure anyone likes to do it, especially when there’s such a huge stack to be filed and put away. Still it must be done, so visitors to our blogs will find what they’re looking for more quickly and easily. Our search buttons give us a small reprieve, and yet, it would be so much easier for visitors if we made everything readily available to them, without hoping they’ll take the time to play seek and find on our blogs.


Pages are a wonderful way to organize our blogs. Give them a clear title and link everything that remotely fits on them by title and description. If you’re like me, you write about a lot of different things and you have quite a few posts. It’s okay if you add the same link to more than one page.


Layout has numerous gadgets and widgets you can add to your blog. Keep it clean and uncluttered, but don’t be afraid to add a few that might highlight your work and the work you do to help others. We can learn a lot by listing our popular posts. We also have an opportunity to make those same posts more popular when people see them on our blogs, or find out the trends as other posts surpass them in the ranks.


Pages and Layout are the two things I find most helpful for my actual blogs. There are other things that go on behind the scenes. I keep a WIP folder on my desktop. If I’m currently working on something, it’s in there. My blog docs are all in there separately, so I can add to them when inspiration comes and needs to get out in a hurry.

I also keep a photo folder on my desktop. When I take or find pictures I may need, I document them and keep them at the ready, noting their copyright information as necessary. I have a folder of books to review and books I’ve reviewed for easy access too. With so many books to read, it makes it easy to know where to look for ones in queue.

The Writing

Outlines work well for a lot of people. I use them for more technical works, but not so much for stories and blog posts. That said, it’s important to keep notes. I’m always copying and pasting things to my notepad. Research links, random thoughts of things I don’t want to forget to include, photo links, quotes, references and resources, it’s all in there on a note, organized according to the project it refers to.

I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to writing, so I believe in writing raw and uncensored until the proofing and editing process begins. Writing organization is more important than you might think in this regard. Rough drafts are rough drafts. Proofreads are proofreads, editing is editing and polishing before publishing is vital and essential.

  • Rough Draft
  • Proof
  • Edit
  • Polish

Organizing your writing is never a matter of slapping up those first thoughts that entered your brain and got written in your rough draft. There is a true organization process that needs to take place. Being organized in all areas around this process makes it much easier to see this process through in the most professional manner.

Audiences appreciate a well organized writer. They don’t have to know what takes place behind the scenes. All they have to do is read the completely ready for publication article or book. It’s like watching a play. The obvious is when the actors stumble over their lines, the scenery and background look thrown together in a rush and the costumes are hazards waiting for a mishap to happen. Our writing reflects everything we do behind the scenes, without giving details about what it is we are doing.

I’ll be spending some time in the background soon, filing, sorting and filing some more. It’s not the most fun part of being a writer, but details matter and make all the difference in our work.

Thank you for visiting, commenting on and sharing this post today. I wish you every success with your writing!

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved   Photo credit: Archivo de cabildo, Gusvel, GNU Free Documentation License

Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Schedule or Not to Schedule?

by M. J. Joachim

To schedule or not to schedule blog posts? That is the question I ask of thee. 

In a perfect world, they’d all be scheduled way in advance. Those books we promised to review would not be sitting in a stack, as we slowly finish reading one at a time. Those posts that flurry into our minds would be written perfectly every time, without the added insult of forgetting half the words before we put a towel around ourselves after taking a shower. What? Doesn’t everyone’s brain explode with new and exciting ideas when they’re relaxing & scrubbing in the shower? Surely I’m not the only one.

Yes, in a perfect world, everything would be…
Well, um…

But this is not a perfect world, and I know far too many bloggers who feel hurried and frustrated with the lack of perfection they feel torments their blogs, and the time they have to devote to them. It’s written about all the time, mentioned in comments when they are praising other bloggers they perceive are better than themselves, and felt by so many of us who do what we can and leave it at that.

I don’t schedule blog posts. I sometimes write a few of them in one day, because nothing else seems too pressing that day, or because they simply need to be written before my brain explodes from all those thoughts merging at once to get through.

I hate smart computers that fix so many words I’m typing fast, btw. Admittedly it looks like I’m dyslexic when I’m typing this fast, but I do my proofreading diligently and with "with" being spelled like wight or some other word changing itself to beth - like I’d be able to figure out the same typo I make almost every time when that happens, it's just frustrating. I know my typos, so it’s very easy to fix them when I proofread, without having my own too smart for me computer doing it for me, leading to utter confusion when it’s time to start my editing process!

Back to what I was saying now…

I draft my post in a text document. I don’t schedule them. Then I draft them in the blog. I still don’t schedule them. Then I publish them when I’m ready. So yes, I pre-write quite a few posts, but I don’t actually schedule many or any of them. I tried that, but they aren’t as easy to circulate that way. I’d rather publish them when I want, and spread the word about them via social networking at the same time.

That’s what works best for me. What works best for you?

As always, please comment, share and email me with your thoughts on this. I’m eager to hear from you and appreciate it more than you know!

Oh, and before you go, check out this guest post I wrote for Pat's other blog. Can you solve the mystery I pose there? Or at least share your thoughts and ideas about it?

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Wikimania 2007 Schedule, Kat Walsh, GNU Free Documentation License

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hold It! Stop Everything! Write What You’re Thinking Right Now!

by M. J. Joachim

Well, wait until you finish reading and commenting on my post first, please. That’s what I meant to say in the title, but it would have been way too long…

I was in the middle of vacuuming the couch cushions when suddenly it hit me. I had a brilliant blog posts entering my brain, and if I didn’t sit at my computer and start typing, it was at risk of evaporating into thin air. I couldn’t let that happen, so I put the vacuum hose down, walked over to my computer and started typing about writing guest posts for other blogs.

I’ve done this before on numerous occasions. It’s how I write. The writer in me insists on it. I’ve dropped plates heading for the dishwasher right in the middle of the kitchen floor, only to sweep them up after the writing was done. I’ve shoved things off the kitchen table, because I needed room to create the original crochet pattern I would post on my blog.

I’ve stopped drinking coffee, something those who know me might not believe, all because the words came, inspiration happened and I wanted raw, unfiltered bliss to get them out before they went away.

It’s happening right now, in fact. Not less than five minutes ago, I was drafting the post about writing guest posts for other blogs. It’s done now, and this one is being typed above it. Today could be a banner writing day. The couch won’t be any worse for wear, though it does need to finish getting vacuumed, and that will happen today no matter what.

I’m a little bummed though, because as I’m typing this post, another is fighting to break loose, and I can’t stop typing this post to get it down above this one. Perhaps it will come when I start vacuuming the couch again. Poor couch was supposed to be done days ago, but I was busy typing as fast as the ideas would come.

Writers must write. They must set priorities and make it happen. If they don’t, they lose. It’s not about practice. It’s about doing. I don’t practice writing or crocheting. I write and crochet. I don’t practice cooking either. I either cook or I don’t. It’s a choice because these are things I’m good at and I don’t need to practice them anymore.

Stop saying you want to be a writer and be one. Have confidence in yourself and know that it happens every time you sit at the keyboard and type, whether you publish what you write or not. Get in the zone and believe what you already know. You are a writer and you either write or you don’t. That’s all there is to it at this stage in the game. It’s about doing what you do, or wondering why you didn’t.

Thanks so much for stopping by, commenting and sharing this post today. Your visits really make me smile. You can’t see the personal reaction, one of the drawbacks of working on computers, but if you could, it would make you smile too. Yea, it’s contagious, just like when you smile at someone in line at the grocery store. Most of the time, they just can’t help but smile back.

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Vagrant Thoughts, Nabakishorec, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Writing Guest Posts for Other Blogs

by M. J. Joachim

How you think about writing guest posts matters as much as getting your name out there to help promote yourself and your work. Think of it as an opportunity to share a sample of your writing with another group of possible fans. If you write a guest post for the sole purpose of self-promotion, with no meat, no guts, no glory, you won’t be doing yourself any favors.

Guest posts should be written with the blog owner in mind. Study the blog you want to guest post for, to get a feel for the tone and style of writing there. Chances are this blog already has a fairly nice following and quite a few fans of its own. Your guest post should rightfully be tailored to this group, showing not only that you are a good writer in your own right, but also that you are versatile, flexible and able to write words that inspire, educate and reach the masses.

It’s not as difficult as you might think. Consider the blogs you already follow, the ones you visit regularly, whether you leave comments there or not. These are the blogs you are naturally drawn to, so you already know how to write guest posts for them. 

Now think about the blogs you’d like to get to know better. Start visiting them more frequently, so that by osmosis you pick up on some of their traits. Incorporate little things you’re learning into your own style of writing, for the sole purpose of changing things up a bit, to provide a little added flavor to your own work.

Finally consider the blogs that are completely out of your comfort zone. You’d never want to write for them in a million years, but that shouldn’t stop you. Think of it as an exercise in creativity, a challenge to learn to be a better writer.

Now start writing - not for your blog, but for each of the blog types mentioned above. Write three guests posts, one to submit to each of their audiences. Look them up, see how to contact them and ask if you can send a guest post for their blog.

Most bloggers are thrilled to receive guest posts. I know I am. I drop everything and get them published as soon as possible, because I appreciate the extra content for my blog. My posts are the ones that get put on hold, while their posts go out right away. Not all bloggers can put their own work on hold so quickly; perhaps they’re in the middle of a series or something. However, many bloggers would jump for joy to receive extra posts for their blogs.

Think of blogs like mini-magazines. Get to know them and what they do. Learn their style so you can do it too. Query them to see if they’d be interested in receiving a guest post from you. Then send it asap, so they have it at the ready. Hey, if they decide not to use it, you always have extra content for your own blog this way. What’s stopping you? Write a guest post today!

Please pass this one around so we can generate a lot of guest posts out there. I hear they are very good for marketing and promotion, as well as building lasting and treasured friendships here in Blog Land.

Thanks so much for visiting and commenting on Writing Tips. Your guest posts are always welcome here, and your support is way more than appreciated.

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Boston Public Library, You’re Invited…, PD-US

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Road to Writing and Self-Publishing

by S. J. Hermann

The journey begins roughly a year and a half ago with a simple scene that repeated in my mind like a skipping record. A teenager using supernatural powers to choke another while his best friend watches in horror, begging for him to stop. From that one scene my novel Morium came to be, but it had to have more substance than just two teenagers with supernatural powers running rampant.

I knew I had to have strong characters, without strong characters the story I wanted to tell would fall flat. Drawing from my own experiences back, and I won’t say just how far back, when I was in high school I wanted to tackle a tough subject to write about - bullying. Being heavily bullied during my school years I had a foundation to draw on, to bring the emotions that my two main characters, Lexi and Nathan, were feeling and the psychological effect that bullying had on them. Not only did they have to deal with the torture they went through at school but also home problems. Nathan’s parents put work before their only child, while Lexi lost her mother and her dad struggled financially.

With a small spiral notepad next to me at all times I would jot down ideas as they filled my head. If I was out doing my daily business and an idea hit me like a brick, I would use my phone to type it out. When I first sat in front of my laptop, that notepad was filled in an unorganized mess of words. With the second book I cleaned up my process by using simple index cards to organize each chapter to get a good flow to the story.

I wrote, then wrote more, and wrote even more until I hit what I call the 20,000 word wall. This is a wall that I had never been able to climb over with any story I had started to write. That wall blocked my vision and clouded my mind with thoughts if the story was worth even continuing. I didn’t know what was on the other side; a calm, bright sunny day beckoning me to finish or a mixture of ridicule, negative thoughts and panning from reviewer’s swirling around in a tornado. I climbed each letter on that wall until I was able to see the other side of my doubts. There they were, Lexi and Nathan waving for me to join them, for they felt it important enough for their story to be completed. I ran, not jogged, towards them after I jumped off that wall and greeted them with a smile. Together we walked off onto the screen of my laptop and for the first time I climbed over that dreaded wall and pressed on.

After weeks of editing re-writes I had reached that point of hitting the publish button on Amazon. I can’t remember how long I sat there staring at the publish button deciding if this was the right thing to do. I don’t know if you could call it butterflies, or even a knot in the stomach, but there was self doubt. I had gone through the entire book so many times that it didn’t even makes sense to me anymore. My beta reader’s enjoyed it but was that enough? Oh, there were some bad thoughts; what if my precious baby that I have nurtured and cared for gets bashed with every review? Worse yet, it gets called the worst book on Amazon. It was at that point I shut off the computer and walked away. I pondered for a few days and came back to that publish button, but this time I did not hesitate and pressed publish. I still don’t know what came over me to do it.

I sent out reviewer copies to anybody who would read them and waited. Waited for negative to flood in, for that’s all I could think about. I knew that there is no such thing as a perfect book, or will there ever be. After a few days I received the first email from a blog that did a review. This is when the butterflies fluttered wildly in my stomach. There was sigh of relief as for the review was positive, highlighting that the characters were very relatable. With each review I received each one commented on the strengths of the characters, while the latter reviewers also added how they liked the flow. Well, I thought, I did something’s right. I know that not everyone will like my books, there will be flaws that people will point out, but that is the only way that I will become a better writer. That is the way anyone will become a better writer.

If I were to give advice to anyone who is considering writing a book I would say to them, “Don’t let anything stand in your way. Don’t let self-doubt get in your way. There will be bumps, and yes, even some detours on the way, but navigate through them and you will reach your destination of being a self-published author.”

Hermann’s first novel, Morium, was published on Amazon this past September 20, 2014. Hermann prefers to write supernatural, horror and science fiction stories, but is working on some stories that fall outside of these genres. You can find S. J. Hermann on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Blogger.

Thank you, S. J. for sharing the process you went through to publish your first novel with us. Bullying is a tough issue. It’s important for authors to address society’s issues from time to time, raising awareness about them through our work, so I applaud you for taking this on and trying to make a positive difference for those who are bullied.

On another note, the Effectively Human Community is hosting the 2nd Annual Holiday Food Drive on December 4 - 6 this year. Please mark your calendars and save the dates. You can read all the details, as well as my own back story about starting this with Tina Downey last year, on the Effectively Human Blog. I hope you’ll join us and I hope you join our community too.

Thanks so much for visiting, commenting and sharing this post today. It’s always important to give first time authors encouragement and support for their work, so I’m sure your attention to this post is making S. J. smile.

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bring on the Weekend

by M. J. Joachim

The day’s been kind of crazy
In a normal sort of way
First I woke with bed head
Had fun with that today

Then I did promote it
Updated Follow Me
Visited a few folks
Vented at Rhymer’s sea

Vacuum was too dusty
Washed it in the sink
Explained someone a pattern
Boy she made me think

Clouds are getting heavy
Rain may come our way
Weekend on horizon
I’m so ready to play

Best of the weekend to all,

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Direct Hit, Ernst Vikne, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License