Writing Excuses: New season, a writing course by podcast

Many of my readers and fellow bloggers are aspiring (or practicing) writers.  If you haven’t caught it before, ‘Writing Excuses‘ is a podcast about writing in the science fiction and fantasy genre.  If you’ve ever contemplated doing that kind of writing, it’s a pretty awesome podcast to follow, and even if sci-fi/fantasy isn’t your chosen genre, a lot of the advice is pretty generic.

Anyway, they’re starting their 10th season (I actually didn’t realize they had been going that long) and revealed in the first episode that this season will be structured like a writing course.  That first episode, which I just listened to at lunch, is on generating ideas.

Writing Excuses 10.1: Seriously, Where Do You Get Your Ideas? » Writing Excuses.

26 thoughts on “Writing Excuses: New season, a writing course by podcast

    1. My pleasure. Writing science fiction or fantasy is definitely not for everyone, although I tend to think any writer interested in science, history, and the genre has the capability to do it, the motivation to do it may be another matter. Years ago, I remember reading a book on novel writing by Lawrence Block, who had written widely in many genres, but revealed that although he enjoyed reading science fiction, couldn’t muster the motivation to write it.

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      1. I’ve been thinking about Solaris a lot lately and those gorgeous descriptions of things that don’t exist…that takes an incredible imagination and talent. I might be able to sustain my imagination for a short story, but a novel sounds incredibly daunting. It would be a great writing exercise. Maybe someday I’ll come up with an idea for something short, probably fantasy or “speculative fiction” rather than hard Sci-Fi. (I’m still not sure what “speculative fiction” means, but I see that’s what Anathem is called.)

        I wonder if it would be necessary to read extensively in these genres before writing, or if it might be better not to have much knowledge of what’s been written.


        1. On being well read in the genre, there are different schools of thought. Arthur C Clarke wrote sci-fi bestsellers for decades while holding (mostly) disdain for most of the rest of the genre. Clarke knew enough about science and technology to get away with it, although he did occasionally write about things that others had done before. His unique ability to bring technical accuracy to those concepts made his takes (even if not original) fresh.

          But most people seem to benefit from knowing what’s happening in the overall genre. That said, it’s become a lot easier to just google whatever concept you’re considering writing about. If it’s been done before in any noteworthy way, there will almost certainly be reviews and discussion about it.

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          1. Yes, quite true about googling. I use it a lot when I’m thinking up a new concept.

            I struggle to find that right mix of autonomy and influence when I’m writing…I imagine things get even trickier in genre fiction. I’d probably inadvertently steal other people’s ideas. 🙂 Right now I’m finding Sci-Fi really perfect to read while I’m writing this novel. It’s nothing like what I’m writing stylistically, but there are ideas and sometimes complicated ones, which makes me feel more like going out on a limb in my own writing. I just have to be careful to keep the flow going.

            On a totally irrelevant topic, I just read something in the NYT you might be interested in. You probably know about it already, but just in case:


            I don’t recommend reading the whole article…it’s a bit of a snoozer. The interesting part is Eyewire, a video game that’s being used to map the brain:


            I just played it, and I found myself oddly sucked in. I will admit, it’s like a very tedious coloring book where the lines aren’t quite distinct. I had no idea what I was doing, but I started moving up the ranks and got excited watching my points accumulate. After wasting too much time on it, I forced myself to quit. But anyways, it’s time wasting all in the name of science.


        2. On inadvertently stealing ideas, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. As long as you’re not plagiarizing or your entire plot isn’t a copy of someone else’s, I don’t think you’ll be doing anything different than what everyone else does. There’s very little original under the sun. Every author is influenced by their predecessors, consciously or unconsciously.

          Thanks for the Sebastian Seung link! I’ve read some of his other stuff on the connectome, but I’m just about always interested in discussions of brain science. Seung is fixated on the connectome, and that probably is a key part of the puzzle. When I first read about his work, I was pretty excited about it. Then I read about glial cells, the glandular system, and other aspects of the brain that still aren’t understood. I doubt the connectome is the whole story, but it’s undoubtedly a key part of that story.


          1. At the end of that article, there’s an interesting quote from a critic of his fixation on the connectome:

            “Critics of Seung’s vision therefore see it as naive, a faith that he can crest the mountain in front of him and not find more interesting peaks beyond. ‘If we want to understand the brain,’ Marder says, ‘the connectome is absolutely necessary and completely insufficient’. Seung agrees but has never seen that as an argument for abandoning the enterprise. Science progresses when its practitioners find answers—this is the way of glory—but also when they make something that future generations rely on, even if they take it for granted. That, for Seung, would be more than good enough. ‘Necessary,’ he said, ‘is still a pretty strong word, right?'”

            I admire that he’s not just looking for personal glory in all this. The whole enterprise sounds incredibly tedious with very little gratification. (Although with a mind like his, I’m sure he’s found plenty of personal glory and will find more.) 🙂


          2. And oh yes, on the subject of stealing from others, I’m not too terribly worried about it. I even think it can be a good thing to try on different author’s writing styles…it can help inform your own writing. I found myself doing it with Jonathan Franzen after reading his book, “The Corrections”. It’s a style I admire because it’s a very lively and opinionated omniscient narrator, something that’s starting to come back into style and which I’m very happy about. (Omniscient used to be very much poo-pooed in writing workshops because it’s hard to write and amateurs tend to mess it up). I wrote a short story in which the omniscient narrator holds very different opinions from the protagonist, and this made for some good lines and interesting distance. It was fun playing with that.


        3. I actually didn’t realize until I read that article that Seung’s background was theoretical physics. That partially explains some of the skepticism he’s received, being somewhat tainted by the other physicists who put forth theories of consciousness without bothering to learn much neuroscience. Still, it’s hard to imagine that mapping a connectome wouldn’t be a major achievement.

          I enjoy third person narrators with a personality. It can also be fun, albeit dangerous, to play with an unreliable narrator. The trick is finding a way to clue the reader in to the truth. I think all of these kinds of things make the narrator effectively another character so we end up having to decide how sympathetic, competent, or proactive we want them to be.

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    1. Ah, ok, I can see how that could be confusing. Audible is their sponsor, so they tout them. (They usually spend a couple of minutes of each podcast promoting them.) That’s what the $14 trial business is about. You don’t have to subscribe to Audible to listen to the podcast.

      If you look just under the Audible blurb, you’ll find the MP3 link, available for free. If you’re using a standard browser, it should start playing right after you click it.


  1. (Returning after a hiatus during January…) I have no interest in writing fiction, but as we’re on the topic of SF here (and it doesn’t look like any posts since then do), I just wanted to mention that I finally saw Europa Report… and found it hugely disappointing.

    It’s basically a monster movie with SF trappings, and it’s not a very good monster movie at that. I thought it was poorly written and very poorly conceived. I’m not a fan of the “found footage” technique (c.f. Paranormal, Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield), which I find distracting and — in this case — a very poor choice (probably taken to help cover up some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in a decade and a set obviously created on a shoestring budget).

    I really wanted to like it, but it was a resounding fail for me on almost every level. [sigh]


    1. Wow. Sorry you didn’t like it. I thought it was pretty good. Not perfect by any stretch, but more intelligent than the typical space movie. I’m not a fan of the found footage genre myself, or horror movies in general. The only reason I liked this one is was the relatively accurate portrayal of how a manned mission might work.


      1. I wonder if I went in with too high expectations. So many people had positioned it as another SF gem.

        Something else, too… way back in my film school days, someone asked me if being trained in the “language of cinema” made it harder to enjoy certain kinds of movies (“pop” movies mostly). I replied that, no, there was always something worth paying attention to — the camera work, the lighting, the directing, the acting, the set, the script, the editing, the music,…. you get the idea.

        But I now think the truth is that it does sometimes get in the way. There were a lot of “cinema values” things that did interfere with my ability to enjoy it. (I don’t seem to have the ability that some do to like a work based on a single piece of that work — I seem to have to like most of a work to like the work at all.)

        Oh, well. I can always watch Moon again. There’s an SF gem that I think is almost flawless. I’ve seen it three times and don’t have a single complaint so far. (And it’s comparable to Europa Report in being very low-budget.)


        1. Hmmm. I enjoyed ‘Moon’ but not nearly as much as a lot of sci-fi fans, and not enough to re-watch it, at least not for a while. But then my memories of ‘Silent Running’, ‘Moon’s reported inspiration, was pretty ambivalent, so to each his own.


          1. I hadn’t heard about the connection from Silent Running to Moon… I can’t say I see any similarities between them!

            (Silent Running was a pretty decent SF film for its day — five years before Star Wars came out (albeit maybe a little heavy-handed on the environmental message… but that was the era). It sure beat Outland (which came out almost 10 years later). Slim pickin’s for SF movie fans back then!)


          2. Agreed on slim pickin’s back then. As a sci-fi fan pre-Star Wars, it wasn’t hard to watch every science fiction film or tv show that came out, and most are pretty awful by modern standards.

            I made the mistake a few years ago of re-watching Space 1999, which was my favorite show when it was on (I was 9), but is unwatchable today.


          3. Ha! I can imagine. I was in college when it was on (75-77), so I was aware of some of its cheesy goodness, but we still hadn’t been utterly spoiled by Star Wars.

            For me the equivalent might be Lost In Space (65-68), which I loved (I was just over ten then). But I had a big crush on Judy (Marta Kristen), so even when I bought the first season on DVD and cringed watching it, there was still Judy. 🙂


  2. Talking about the imaginative creation of other worlds I’m reading David Brin’s Existence and am blown away with his virtuosic writing. Written a year or two ago (600+pages!) he makes good use of virtual worlds but the structure is a collage moving from different characters’ points of view. Anyone else read it?


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