The Importance of “So What?”

My goal is for you to take away at least one new idea….

This phrase must be taught to presenters, because I’ve heard it many times in seminars and classes. I walked away from each presentation with a new idea, so I think it’s a good phrase.

The new idea doesn’t always stick around for long, though.

There’s one idea for writing that stuck around for years after my college Technical Writing instructor drilled it into me: “So what?”

You’ve chosen a topic. So what? What might your writing on that topic do for a reader?

You’ve added a sentence. So what? What does that sentence add to the sentence before it? After it? Would it matter to a reader if it didn’t exist?

You’ve used a semicolon. So what? What would happen if you used a comma instead? A period? Are you even using the semicolon correctly?

Okay, my Tech Comm instructor didn’t go into the so what’s of punctuation. I expanded on the lesson he provided. Isn’t that what every instructor desires?

My point is everything written should answer the question, “So what?” Most of the time, answering the question doesn’t involve thought. When you write a note to remind a friend to feed your cat while you’re on vacation, let’s hope you don’t need to ask yourself, “Why am I writing this?” You probably knew the answer without your conscious mind getting involved.

However, if you write a note to a coworker, a research paper for a class, an article for a magazine, or anything else and get stuck with the nagging feeling that something’s WRONG, then reach for the caged So-What to throw at your writing. Allow So-What to nibble on your words, sniff at your concepts, and claw at your intentions.

Use So-What to expose where you haven’t shown remarkable talent at predicting readers’ thoughts and feelings. Indeed, So-What is the helpful offspring of Who’s-Your-Audience. When So-What turns from your words and could-become-words to bark its question, it’s really telling you to remember what your audience wants, needs, and expects. Those are what define your audience. Acknowledge So-What’s mommy by answering its question.

If you remember this, I’ll be happy. After all, my goal is for you to take at least one new idea from this blog today.

A similar post with the same title was published in 2009.


Every Word a Correction

Writers, this is a tiny workshop! The only supplies you need are what you with you this very moment. At the end, you can show your participation with a comment.

Are you ready?

A picture is worth a thousand words.

You’ve likely heard this statement before.

How about the next statement?

A thousand words is worth at least a thousand pictures.

That’s today’s focus.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, several publications printed an essay titled “About Five Thousand One Hundred and Seventy Five Words”, by Samuel R. Delany. I came across the essay in my copy of SF: The Other Side of Realism (1971). Using what I presume to be about 5,175 words, Delany explains how the meaning of each word in a novel relates to every preceding word.

How that works is that the novel’s first word forms an image. The image may be more of an impression, vague and unseen in your subconscious, but it is there. The next word modifies the image, or at least, the emotion tied to the image.

Of course this psychological trick doesn’t only applies to novels. A single word can change any story. Each word modifies your image of the story’s contents.

Let us go through a quick example:


What if the word above were the first word of a story? Are you within the image, below it, or elsewhere? Is it doing anything, or does it wait for the next word? What would you expect next?

Below is the rest of the first sentence in my hypothetical story. To see the words, click at the end of this paragraph, then slid your mouse down to highlight each word. Please pause after each word and note how your image of “Stars” has changed, if at all.





Is the image in your head the same as when you read the first word?

Please comment below.

Revised from the original 2009 edition.

IWSG: Favorite Genres to Write

Question of the Day:

Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

Fantasy is the most fun. Science fiction and creative nonfiction are usually the most fulfilling.

Creative non-fiction helps me deal with my own past.

My love for writing science fiction helps me sort through my feelings about people today and our relationships with technology.

I feel that fantasy is the most fun to write because of the thousands of years of human stories that can be explored for inspiration: historical facts for historical fantasy, fairy tales and old folklore for contemporary stories, and all the ways past stories combine in in new environments for futuristic and other-world fantasies.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The Insecure Writers’ Support Group aims to inspire writing and sharing. Writers are encouraged to express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who “have been through the fire” can offer advice. It’s set up to be a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

See a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

The co-hosts for this June 5 posting of the IWSG are Diane Burton, Kim Lajevardi, Sylvia Ney, Sarah Foster, Jennifer Hawes, and Madeline Mora-Summonte. Thank you, hosts!

Blog Updates and Recommendations

Have you noticed the changes in this site’s design? I expect few readers have. Email and WordPress subscriptions won’t show the site design.

For anyone reading on the full site: What do you think?

The sliding menu in last month’s design was not keyboard friendly, which is a feature I usually check but didn’t when choosing that design. I was also struggling with features that likely matter to no one else but me but were taking up too much of my attention. The muted colors up as I type coordinate with the cover of “Grotesquery”, which brings me cheer.

Another change is that I will be boosting more blogs.

SiM Presents: Science in Sci-Fi, Fact in Fantasy

Today I would like to introduce Science in Sci-Fi, Fact in Fantasy by Dan Koboldt. This weekly blog series hosts experts on relevant topics to discuss elements of speculative fiction.

We debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

Posts already covers a broad range of sciences, historical topics, character types, and fantastical tropes from the past few years. The series can be a fun, educational distraction for fans of sci-fi and fantasy.

IWSG: Early Experiences with Words

Happy May Day! I shared a simple card on Twitter. Oddly, I forget the flowers. What is May Day without flowers? 💐

Blog Notice:

Another thing I forgot was to check last week for the close of Ad Hoc Fiction‘s “Switch” ebook, which included one of my stories. The anonymous contest voting typically lasts a week. I had figured posting a week and a half after the contest start would be safe. However, the period for that edition lasted two weeks. I took down the story when I noticed.

A version of my Ad Hoc story will post again to my blog this Saturday.

IWSG Prompt and Answer

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

When I was in elementary school, likely somewhere within third to fifth grades from what I remember, I sat in the parking lot of Walmart in the back seat of the car waiting for my mom to return from shopping.

She returned in a huff. My dad asked from the driver seat if she bought a pair of glasses.

No. All of their glasses are atrocious.”

Dad was prone to arguing at anything my mom said. This time, he accepted her answer with a shrug.

Atrocious. I collected that word in my mind, holding onto it. Atrocious. I looked it over and felt its points. What a word. A new favorite in my vocabulary but special, a word that needed to be stored away from daily use. Atrocious.

The hundreds of the glasses in the store were all wrong for my mother. They were too ugly for her to show Dad. She’d looked in the mirror and saw conflict, the way, unknowingly at the time, I would through my teens for similar reasons.

The word sounded more mature than ugly and more intense than horrible. Other kids might not know it, but I could consider it as a tool for talking to adults. It had more power in uneven relationships that mundane, egocentric phrases such “not for me” or “I didn’t like them”. The value in the word avoided monetary cost, a topic that always seemed like a jab at a cancerous wound when mentioned.

Despite the appalling feelings associated with it, the word is also beautiful. I’ve wondered at the leading “a”, the “t”  at the leader’s side like shelter, then the rowing to a delicious finish.

Atrocious. That word is as protective as a dagger flashed at predators who need reminders to respect others. Like any knife, it could be used as a weapon to harm someone, but I continue to marvel at it in my collection.

Like an ornate dagger, that’s a word better stored than needed.




Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The Insecure Writers’ Support Group aims to inspire writing and sharing. Writers are encouraged to express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who “have been through the fire” can offer advice. It’s set up to be a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

See a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

Writing from the Anti-Hero’s POV

Who’s insecure? You’re insecure!

The good news is that today is March’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) day.

What IWSG does on the first Wednesday of each month is prompt writers to blog about writing-related fears, doubts, and successes. Participants are then encouraged to support each other in comments.*

Today’s Question:

Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

My answer is associated to why I have also called my site Shadows in Mind. Traditional heroes and unsympathetic villains are difficult to understand, and clear cut conflicts are too often unbelievable to capture my interest. I write gray (shadowy) characters and conflicts.

I enjoy writing in gray areas where the difference between heroism and villainous behavior is the reader’s perspective. I think “Grotesquery” is a good example of that with each fearful protagonist an antagonist while trying to do good.

So, I’m most comfortable writing from a hero who is their own antagonist. (I’ve been blessed with a great amount of experience!) For fiction, this type of character is referred to as an anti-hero.

I understand that many writers intentionally avoid anti-heroes, but the typical hero and villain are too challenging for me to write.

Quick and Dirty Glossary

Are you wondering about my use of these literary terms? Because the meanings of these character types are subject to opinion. Here are simplified definitions based on mine.


The Good Guy fighting against evil. This character is often an ideal of virtues.


A character who moves along the story by striving for a goal; often, the hero.


The Big Evil, often despicable. Not to be confused (in fiction, anyway) with a lower society person from the country.


A character creating obstacles for the protagonist(s).


A Bad Guy fighting against evil -or- a character whose personality and actions share are a mix of typical hero and villain traits.

*Please be patient as I figure out how to leave appropriate comments and quickly respond to the wonderful support here. Your comments are appreciated!

The Insecure aWriter's Support Group badhe

Click here to see the Linky Tools list for the ISWG Blog Hop…

ISWG Creative Outlets

I’ve been feeling insecure as a writer this evening, which is convenient. Today is this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group day!

Typically, I remember a day too late to participate.

What IWSG does is prompts writers to talk about their writing-related fears and doubts on their blogs. Participants are then encouraged to support each other in comments.

Today’s Question: Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

Answer: I’ve enjoyed drawing, painting, practicing photography, performing at  various types of events, training in martial arts, singing, and dancing.

These activities are bigger challenges than they were in my 20s. Money, time, and energy have always been limiters. I’m always worked around or despite trauma and chronic health issues. Now, though, there are more frequently days when holding a pen(cil) to draw is agony, more painful than typing. Cleaning up the pain takes more energy than I have (what with the standing, walking, carrying, scrubbing, and looking for drips or spills). The physical training in martial arts and dance are impeded by the same issues. I can no longer use a flash on a camera without triggering or exacerbating a migraine. My offline social life has become almost nonexistent, and driving to gigs is dangerous most days.

What’s frequently left is singing, to myself and my child. We even sing original stories to each other.

That, singing, keeps some of the fear away when I can’t write.

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Click here to see the Linky Tools list for the ISWG Blog Hop…

How to Stop Worrying About the Query Letter

I’ve watched peers worry over query letters for so long that the fact I have yet to send any to agents or editors for a completed manuscript feels strange. Perhaps I’m lucky. I have written query letters for the fun of it and to query editors about the marketability of incomplete manuscripts. (Turns out my suspicions that I love writing hard sells were correct.) On the sidelines, the steps are less intimidating.

From my observations, these are what I see as the steps toward an effective letter for a (YA to adult) novel manuscript. The most valuable part of this post is what I understand the best: where writers can go online for good advice writing the letter.

Step 1.  Prepare the manuscript.

This is easily the longest step in the process, taking anytime from a few months to a few decades to complete.

Step 2.  Study up on the expectations of what a query letter should look like.

Knowing what to expect takes away much of the fear from any new experience. Here’s a shortlist of trustworthy sources.

A good start is Nathan Bransford’s friendly “How to Write a Query Letter” or Jane Friedman’s “Complete Guide to Query Letters”.

Writer Beware provides a suggested template explained by each of the four paragraphs that make it a query instead of a generic letter.

Step 3.  Write the letter.

Use your hard-earned skills, writer!

The Reedsy Blog breaks the writing process down to seven steps.

Check what you have against Agent Query’s do and don’t list. You can also find agents at this site.

See 23 examples of letters that worked, linked from GalleyCat (2013).

Note: Forms of Address

Unlike many features of the publishing process, the query letter has not significantly in the past ten years. The biggest change might be the form of address in all professional letters. In general, it’s not a good idea to guess that “Mr.” with all names that look masculine to you and “Ms.” goes with all the feminine names. Certainly avoid “Sir” or “Madam” as a default. “Mx.” is rising in popularity, but so is using full names without a title. Follow one of the oldest pieces of advice: Know you who’re addressing. Research the agent or editor before sending your query.

Note: Conflicting Advice and Other Ambiguity

You won’t get every part exactly correct for every agent or editor. That’s not possible. Think about the decisions you’ve already made. Writing a novel is a series of decisions about characterization, settings, themes, and plot. You’ve already worked through that. So keep moving forward. Remember that nothing is perfect all the time.

Step 4.  Collect feedback.

This part should feel familiar. You’d collected feedback for your manuscript, didn’t you?

Now it’s time to ask your most trusted manuscript readers to read your letter. This can be easy if you modify your usual questions. “Do you recognize the novel in your description? Is the letter easy to read?”

One place to go for free professional feedback is Query Shark. Even if your query isn’t chosen by Jane Reid for critique, comparing past critiques to what you wrote is a good practice while waiting.

Step 5.  Polish the letter.

Make sure to check for editing errors, either with precise people or your favorite editing software.

Steps 6.  Send off the letter!

After you know you’ve written an enticing letter, send it away from you to where it belongs. Anxiety might kick in, so…

Step 7.  Distract yourself with new writing.

Stay busy enough, and you can get a break from worrying about querying.

woman smiling while using laptop
Photo by

Is this helpful? Feel free to comment with how you feel about the query process.

Fresh Friday Cover Face-Off

Welcome to the Friday Face-Off, a weekly event of bloggers pitting several book covers for one title to present a favorite. This is my first time participating.

Friday Face-Off header

I’m fascinated by book cover designs. The best covers are art, yet unlike art in a gallery, the designs are meant to be judged for their appeal at a glance.

At bookstores, I find myself considering the cover design as much as the content, not (when studying the art) to know what to buy, but to take in trends and how they have or are changing.

For this Friday Face-Off, I wanted to choose a familiar title with a large selection of covers to see how the covers for one title changed over time and across cultures. The work also needed to fit with the theme of starting a new cycle.

Today’s Theme

A cover that is fresh – New beginnings for a New Year

The Competing Title

I ended up choosing a title that’s set in the United States and has apparently not caught much attention elsewhere in the world. Still, this is one of my favorite novels. Learning more about its publication history was interesting.

Title: Jumper by Steven Gould

In this 1992 novel that started a series, an abused kid discovers he can do what so few kids in his situation can–get away. He attempts to start his life fresh by using teleportation, his new resource, but he learns he can’t get away from himself. Becoming a hero might be the only way he can jump forward in life.


1992 hardcover by Tor
1993 paperback by Tor
2002, by Starscape
2008, Editura Nemira
2008, by Tor
2008, by Harper Voyager
Jumper with figure made out of words
2010, by digitalNoir publishing
2014, by Tor

My Judging Notes

A movie loosely based on Jumper came out in 2008. That movie featured a generic story for a fantastical thriller, using annoying tropes, and turning Davy into an anti-hero. I feel that the book covers from that year better represent the movie than the book.

Starscape’s cover presents an oddly phallic symbol. The digitalNoir cover looks to me more like a class art project than a sci-fi cover. Tor’s recent cover reminds me too much of the Bourne series. (Although the 2014 fonts are nice).

In contrast, Tor Science Fiction‘s original releases worked in suggestions of Davy’s love of books, scientific curiosity, unique ability, and need for secrecy.


The original 1992 hardcover. I think the more realistic presentation of colors is more interesting than the overuse of teal on the 1993 paperback.


Which would you choose?

The Friday Face-Off meme was originally created by Books by Proxy. To join next week, start by checking out the predetermined theme at Lynn’s Book Blog (by a different Lynn!). You can then share on Lynn’s Book Blog with Mister Linky.

Tunnel in space © Genty

David Farland Missed the Point About Discrimination in the Writing World

Tunnel in space © Genty
Wormhole © Genty

A recognizable speculative fiction author published a blog post that I feel needs attention before it spreads through the writing community as gospel.

In “Discrimination in the Writing World“, David Farland opened with,

A few days ago, I saw a Facebook post from a woman who complained that she didn’t want to see panels by “boring, old, white, cisgender men” at the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention. Now, I’ve always fought against discrimination based on age, race, sexual orientation, and gender, so I was kind of surprised that this person managed to offend me at every single level. I can’t help it if I was born sixty years ago, male, white, and cisgender.

Worldcon 76 was this weekend. This is a huge event in Science Fiction publishing every year. The Hugo Awards are selected by WorldCon members and announced at the event.

I followed the WorldCon 76 controversies on Twitter a few weeks ago. What offended many science members of the science fiction community was discrimination on the convention’s original schedule, which favored authors who might match the description in the quote. You can read a take on the situation by Mark Sumner at Daily Kos: “What’s happening at the World Science Fiction convention is important, even if you don’t like sci-fi“.

One big issue is that authors nominated for expect to be given the opportunity to sit on Worldcon panels. (Wouldn’t you?) That was one of several expectations that the Worldcon planning committee struggled to meet. This year, the programming staff notoriously left off certain nominees for authors who look like David Farland.

The programming was so skewed that it had to be reworked by new volunteers in the last month to present more than white, heteronormative, American men as leaders of the world’s sci-fi community.


Not Wanting to See More of the Same

In his post, Farland mentions none of discrimination against young, non-white, and/or transgender professionals. He declares his offense at a comment on Facebook from “a woman” who comes off in his description as someone he might not know and that might not have even been directing comments at him.

Meanwhile, many authors face regular, focused attacks based on age, race, sexual orientation, and gender–as well as ethnicity, residency, physical ability, and socioeconomic status.

I could accept his ignorance if not for the racist comment–“With the Hugos, white men in particular are not even getting on the ballots, much less winning.”

Think about that. Not even getting on the ballots, much less winning.

The 2018 Hugo finalists for Best Novel include John Scalzi and Kim Stanley Robinson. The identities of these widely famous identities doesn’t appear to be in any debate. White men were clearly on this year’s Hugo ballots.

White men’s works have won major literary awards this year. Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving won the latest of The Nebula Awards‘ Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.

This implies that all David Farland notices are people who are different than him. White men weren’t the only people whose stories were nominated and chosen for awards. How is that surprising? A rough estimate is that around 10% of the world’s adults are white men. Offense that any other statistical group receives recognition would stem from an assumption that a particular minority deserves the majority of awards every year. Farland’s false statement drew a line between White Men and The People Who Don’t Deserve Recognition.

I can’t sympathize with someone complaining about having to endure an angry Facebook post, a pen name when/if writing in Romance, and the potential lose of privilege in recognition events. All the rest of us endure the same things plus discrimination in the writing world not mentioned in a post supposedly on that topic.

Advice for Writers

Farland’s advice comes up in writing groups. What follows is my attempt to preemptively address what he shared in “Discrimination in the Writing World”. He gave four points of advice that are supposed to help deal with discrimination in publishing.

First, work harder and try to write better than your competition. Make sure that the quality of your work stands out.

This is obvious. Isn’t it?

I guess we can look at it from the angle that fellow authors are competition instead of comrades who provide support in a publishing career. That’s true in competitions. For example, an author aiming for a literary award might see others who wrote similar stories that year as competition leading up to nominations.

Then Farland stated,

Second, forget about awards. So many of them are rigged nowadays that they don’t mean much.

This advice is more confusing. When weren’t awards rigged? There’s also a few who do better at quality control than the rest. Those are the names many readers in the genre recognize.

I had to remind myself that Farland is talking to a particular audience that might’ve believed, deep down, that they deserve more awards because of their skin color, ethnicity, gender, and political leaning.

Let’s continue on to the part about awards not meaning much.

In the past few years, non-men, non-whites, and non-Americans have been pushing more for a place on awards ballots. Competition no longer looks the way that it did. That doesn’t make the awards meaningless to the writers who value award recognition from readers and peers.

A big-name award isn’t essential  for a good writing career. I’m confident of that after watching publishing for ten years. Not every writer cares about awards. Some do. Some don’t. Dismissing other writers’ dreams is unhelpful.

Farland wrote,

Third, as you build up a library of well-written books that can’t find a publisher, maybe you should just consider self-publishing your works.

Here is good advice!

Independent (compared to trade) publishers do better in certain genres than others these days. Creating several books to be released close together is said to help with ebook marketing in particular.

Finally, he acknowledged,

Fourth, many authors try to create gender-neutral names to hide their identity, and some authors even go further, creating pseudonyms that misidentify their gender.

This is acknowledgement, not advice. Choosing a gender-neutral or misgendering pseudonym is an old practice. The sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë (Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell) are oft-cited examples. Almost everyone who reads in English knows of Joanne Rowling is J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith.

There is a history of men using feminine pseudonyms in Romance. Two contemporary examples are British authors:

  • Peter O’Donnell (1920–2010) under the byline “Madeline Brent”
  • Christopher Wood (1935–2015) who wrote as Rosie Dixon and Penny Sutton in addition to several masculine pen name across genres

Also, marketing is not a concern for all writers with gender-neutral pen names. People whose parents gave them names not strongly associated with one gender might use their existing name instead of creating a gendered pseudonym. Gender-neutral pen names are also used by authors outside of the gender binary who might not want to deal with the baggage of their assigned names.

I hope readers remember not to make assumptions about an author’s gender from the name on a cover. Declaring gender is not often the primary purpose of a pen name.

Fiction writers more often want readers to see a story before questioning who wrote it.

For the curious, planned protests and a MAGA (Trump-supporting) group beside Worldcon didn’t seem to have stopped participants from enjoying themselves.

Edited August 21, 2018 to add a promised link.