All posts by Jamie Todd Rubin

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer, blogger, and Evernote Ambassador for paperless lifestyle. His stories have appeared in Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, and 40K Books. He vacations frequently in the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Jamie lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and two children.

The 9 Phases I Went Through to Become a Writer

I submitted my very first story back in early January 1993 and I have been submitting stories ever since. Back when I started, I wanted to believe that one day, I’d sell a story, but I didn’t quite dare to. It’s funny to look back over the path that persistence takes you through. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, if for no other reason, to show what I went through with the thought that others go through the same thing.

I’ve identified 9 distinct phases to the evolution of my writing career. They are not all equal in duration, and some of them overlap, but I went through all of them, and continue to go through some of them.

1. The Newbie (1993)

I decided that I wanted to be a writer, and that was enough. I was in my junior year of college and I told everyone around me, whether they wanted to hear it or not, that I was a writer. I wrote a dozen stories in rapid succession without knowing anything about how to tell a story. I wrote sex stories and sent them to Playboy thinking that is what the magazine published. I wrote science fiction stories and sent them to the science fiction magazines. I wrote a story about a cat and sent it to Cat Fancy.  I collected, with glee, my first rejection slips. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was writer, dammit.

The big lesson for me here: read the market guidelines! Otherwise you’re just wasting time (and in the early-mid 1990s, postage).

2. The Fanboy (1994-1996)

I read a lot of autobiographical work by my idols, and decided I was going to be just like them. When I was in my Piers Anthony phase and received a rejection, I took Piers Anthony’s attitude that the editor was an idiot. Moreover, I didn’t just want to be like my idols, I assumed I already was. If Isaac Asimov could write a good story in an hour and sell it two hours later, well, by God, so could I. After all, I had all of the experience of three or fours months. And I had the rejection letters to prove to anyone who asked that I was a Real Writer.

The big lesson for me here: I am not Isaac Asimov or Piers Anthony. I am me and I had to figure out my own strengths and weaknesses and not pretend others.

3. The Impressionist (1996-1997)

Have you ever had a friend who claimed to be a great impressionist, and who, after making such a claim, went on to do a Ronald Reagan impersonation that sounded exactly like your friend and nothing like Ronald Reagan? Well, I felt like I was the Rich Little of science fiction, and my favorite impression was Harlan Ellison. During this phase, every story that flowed from my pen was written in what I perceived to be the Voice of Harlan Ellison. This is incredibly painful and embarrassing to admit, for as you might imagine, my impression of Harlan’s writing was like that friend’s impression of Ronald Reagan. But when I finally burned through this phase, I turned the first major corner in my evolution as a writer. I’d gotten the newbie, the fanboy and the impressionist out of my system. I had become, in fact…

The big lesson for me here: Voice needs to emerge naturally in a story. If you try to fake it or imitate another writer’s voice, readers can tell.

4. The Beginner (1998-2002)

I deliberately began to set aside attempts to be like my heroes and write like my heroes and instead find my own voice. I also began to write stories that, at last, had distinct beginnings, middles, and endings. If only I could have started from here, but the truth is, I think I had to go through those first three phases, if for no other reason, to learn first hand how to do things the wrong way. It was during this phase that I received my first two personal rejection slips. The first came from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, back when she was editor of F&SF. The second came from Algis Budrys when he was editor of Tomorrow.

The big lesson for me here: Editors really do read what you submit. And they take the time to provide feedback on those submissions they feel warrant it.

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The Elusive 10,000 Hours

A week or so ago, I calculated how much time I spend writing each day, based on 400 days worth of data that I’d collected1. The data showed that I average about 42 minutes and 15 seconds of writing time per day. I have written every day for the last 267 days, and I’ve only missed 2 days out of the last 410. So I am writing every day.

This is the first period of time in my life where this has been true, although I have been writing stories now for more than 20 years. Prior to 2013, I wrote in small, dense scraps of time, producing one, or maybe two stories a year, and spending perhaps a total of 20 hours writing for the entire year. However, from February 27, 2013 to the present moment, I’ve spend about 289 hours of my life writing.

In the big picture, it is not all that much. In that same span of time, I’ve spent about 2,400 hours of my life at the day job. I’ve spent approximately 2,700 hours sleeping. The time I have for writing is roughly 1/10th the time I spend at my day job and 1/11th the time I spent sleeping.

I was thinking about this in the context of the 10,000 hours that it supposedly takes to become an expert at something. 10,000 hours sounds like a lot, but in practice, it really isn’t. If you could work at something–say, writing–for 8 hours a day, you’d hit your 10,000 hours in less than 5 years. Even half time, you’d still hit your 10,000 hours within a decade.

But I don’t have that kind of time. I can spend, on average, about 45 minutes/day on my writing. Occasionally, I can spend more time, but that is offset by the days that I spend less time.  Which means that even writing every day of the year, which I do, I’m spending less than 300 hours a year writing. It’s not difficult to take that number and figure out how long before I hit my 10,000 hours. Excluding everything that came before last February as marginal (I’ve written more in the last 400 days than in the last 20 years put together), it will, at my present pace, take me nearly thirty-eight more years to hit that magic 10,000 hours. At which time, I will be 80 years old.

This assumes, of course, a steady-state, and that is unlikely. I try to set goals that are obtainable when it comes to my writing, things that are in my control. Rather than have a goal to sell 10 stories or win some award, I pick things like: average 1.5 hours of writing per day by the end of 2015. Where will the time come from? That is part of the challenge. I don’t want to take away from family time. That leaves other areas of my life. I’m not giving up my day job, and I’ve more or less optimized my sleep. That leaves little wiggle room.

So I’ve started to prioritize what’s important. I started the second draft of my novel a few days ago, and I recently gave up my book review column at InterGalactic Medicine Show, and yes, the two are related. This was a paying writing gig, but the time it took can be redistributed toward my writing. Then, too, I am constantly on the lookout for ways I can automate things so that I don’t need to spend time on them.

I try to keep my goals modest, but I would love it if I could reach the stage where I could write 2 hours per day. That’s 2.9 times what I currently manage, and that means cutting my time to hit 10,000 hours from 38 more years down to 13 years. Now we’re talking. I’ll be around 55 years old and much closer to thinking about retirement from the day job. And with the practice and expertise I will have gathered from 10,000 hours of writing, who knows, maybe at that point, I’ll be able to support the family with my writing.

Notes

  1. 412 as of today.

Going Paperless: Ask Me Anything About Paperless, Evernote or Automation

I noticed earlier in the week that it has been 8 months since I last had an open Going Paperless post in which folks could ask me questions about paperless, Evernote, or automation. I’ve been getting more and more questions via email, and so I figured now was as good a time as any to invite people to ask me anything about going paperless, using Evernote, or paperless automation. I will do my best to answer all of the questions as best as I can.

I am happy to answer questions that I’ve already answered before (I’m kind of used to that) but, you might consider checking some of these links to see if I have answered the questions already. You can still ask, I just thought I’d try to save folks some time for the more frequently asked questions:

My processes evolve so some of the answers I gave in the above links may be different today.

In any case, if you’ve ever wanted to ask me a question about going paperless, using Evernote, or automating processes (which is easier when you are paperless), ask away in the comments and I will do my best to answer throughout the week.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post:  3 Ways I Annotate Notes in Evernote to Make Life a Little Easier.

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Beginning the Second Draft of My Novel

Yesterday, I started writing the second draft of my novel. I finished the first draft back in mid-September. I wrote 1,200 words, and overall, it felt pretty good. I think I’m still trying to find just the right voice, but I feel it coming on, and I imagine I’ll have it soon.

What surprised me most is how quickly I was able to get back into the mindset of the novel. Between finishing the first draft and starting the second draft, I wrote four other stories, and several nonfiction pieces. I thought it might be difficult to immerse myself back in the world that I created, and the characters that live there. It turned out to be surprisingly easy.

Moreover, I find myself in the mental “zone” of the story. I think other writers get this, but I’m not sure non-writers will understand. It basically means that my mind is firing on all cylinders, whether I’m actually writing the story, or just thinking about it as I walk, or go throughout my day. The focus is there. It’s like a pitcher who is throwing a perfect game into the sixth or seventh inning. I’m cruising and it feels great.

It has a wonderful secondary side-effect: it serves as a constant release value for stress. I’ve mentioned before how writing each day, even if the writing isn’t great, is always a stress reliever for me. Being in the zone for this story is like having a constant stress-relief valve open to relieve the pressure in a constant stream.

Bottom line, I was a little nervous to get started, but once I did, it felt great. I wonder if this is how writers who have been writing novels for a long time feel when they start on their second drafts?

Derek Jeter’s Philosophy of Preparing for Baseball also Applies to Writing

When I was watching the press conference prior to the Yankees home-opener against the Orioles last week, I saw Derek Jeter interviewed. He was asked at one point about his success in 1996 and not being able to predict his career path then, but how could he be so confident that he would focus on baseball and not get caught up in any distractions. What he said in response resonated with me, because in many ways, it was what I think about writing. (The question comes at the 6:45 mark if you want to jump right to it.)

What Jeter says (with a little cleaning up on my part) is:

I came up in a culture where you were never promised a job. We had to perform in order to keep our job and that’s the mindset we had going into every season… If you didn’t do your job, the boss would get rid of you. So every spring training, every off-season, I trained and prepared for the opportunity to win a job. So I never take anything for granted.

I very much believe in this philosophy when it comes to my own writing. Almost no writer is promised a job (e.g. a story sale, a novel sale, etc.) at the outset of his or her career. You have to earn it. For a rare set of people, this may not be difficult. There are geniuses in all walks of life. But for me, it meant 14 years of practice, 14 years of persistence, and 14 years of enough self-confidence to believe that I could eventually do it. And as Jeter points out, that is just the beginning. “If you didn’t do your job, the boss would get rid of you.” I put in my best effort on every story that I write. Not all of them are good enough and I don’t win every job.

Still, I practice every day. I write every day. I try new things in my stories, and while I am no all-star, I think I am making steady improvements. What Jeter says is something that I thinks irks some new writers trying to break in and make their first sale, be it a novel or a story. There is a belief out there that writing really isn’t that hard, that there is some formula or trick to getting published–or, if self-publishing, being a success. If there is, I don’t know it. The only trick I know is working as hard as I can at something I love. As Jeter says, I never take the job for granted, never assume that a story of mine will be published, and never assume that just because one story had a measure of success, another deserves equal success.

For me, however, I like the hard work. The satisfaction of seeing a story in print and knowing how much of an effort you put in to make it a success is worth every minute of effort.

Another Good Review for Beyond the Sun edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Yesterday, I learned of another positive review for the Beyond the Sun anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

Bryan put together a great lineup of stories in this anthology, and this review in True Review specifically calls out stories by Brad R. Torgersen (“The Bricks of Eta Cassiopeiae”), Alex Shvartsman (“The Far Side of the Wilderness,” a story I adored, by the way), Jason Sanford (“Rumspringa”), Robert Silverberg (“The Dybbyk of Mazel Tov IV”), and Mike Resnick (“Observation Post”).

Congrats to Bryan and all of the authors included in the anthology for its continued positive praise.

Retiring From My Book Review Column at IGMS

I recently retired from my book review column, “The Science of Wonder” over at InterGalactic Medicine Show. I wrote a bimonthly book review column there and my column ran for roughly 2 years. It was a lot of fun, but the reading for the column became increasingly too much for me to handle given the other things I am working on.

I am grateful to Edmund Schubert for giving me the opportunity to write a science fiction book review column. It was a good experience and I hope that readers found the reviews useful.

I will almost certainly continue to review an occasional book here on the blog, but I think I am done with formal book reviews for the duration.

Susan Straight and the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

I learned this morning that Susan Straight was awarded the Robert Kirsch award as part of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. Back in my college days at the University of California, Riverside, I had Susan Straight as a creative writing instructor for two advanced fiction writing classes. She was one of the best instructors that I had, and by far, the most encouraging. This was twenty years ago, and in the two decades since, I’ve tried to write, eventually succeeded, and have, to-date, about 10 short fiction credits and half a dozen nonfiction credits to my name.

Back then, I was a nobody, but Susan was always encouraging. Here is just one example. At the end of the second class I took with her, I asked her to sign her (then current) book, I’ve Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots. This is what she wrote:

Susan Straight

I was delighted to see Susan get her award for her fiction set in Riverside, and feel fortunate to have had her as an instructor.

My Next Writing Project: Starting the Second Draft of the Novel

Tomorrow, I will start writing the second draft of the novel I wrote last year. As a brief recap: I started writing the novel last February, without actually knowing I was writing a novel. I wrote the story with some fits and starts until it finally caught, and then continued to write, finishing the first draft in mid-September. It was the first novel draft I ever completed. It came in at 95,000 words.

I took a few months off to write short stories, and during that time, I wrote 3 complete stories, one of which I subsequently sold, and a fourth story, a novella, which I’ve been working on ever since. Also during that time, I wrote several pieces of nonfiction.

Beginning in December, I started to re-read the novel I wrote, going through it slowly and deliberately, and taking a lot of notes. By the time I’d finished that re-read, I had accumulated around 15,000 words worth of notes. I had originally intended to start on the second draft back in December, but I was working on other things, and spring really seems like the right time to start on something new. And so, tomorrow, I’ll begin writing the second draft of the novel.

One good thing about having all of the writing data that I’ve captured is that it makes it fairly easy to predict when I’ll finish a project like this. Over the course of the last 409 days, I’ve averaged 834 words of fiction per day. Using that number, and assuming the novel will come in at around 90,000 words, you get 108 days, which, if I start tomorrow, means I’ll finish on July 30, 2014.

This assumes that I will write every day, which is a safe assumption. As of today, I have written for 264 consecutive days, and 407 out of the last 409 days.

Still, I’ll add a two week buffer to that July 30 date, since I may write some nonfiction articles during that time, and that buffer puts me at about August 15, 2014.

That said, the draft could be done sooner for two reasons:

First, during the time I was working on the first draft, I average 910 words/day, somewhat higher than my overall average. The 910 words/day brings things closer to 99 days, or July 21.

Second, while writing the first draft, I didn’t really know the story. I don’t work from an outline. I thought I knew how the story would end, and just figured it out as I went along. This has become my usual process for first drafts. For second drafts, I’ve now told myself the story, and I know what the story is about. Second drafts are always complete rewrites for me. I am trying to take what I did in the first draft and make it interesting for readers. The first draft, therefore, becomes an outline of sorts, along with the notes that I took on reading the draft. Armed with that knowledge, I think it will be easier to get through each day’s worth of writing because I’ll actually know what I’ll be writing about, instead of sitting around trying to figure it out.

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Throwback Thursday, April 10, 2014 #tbt

For Throwback Thursday this week, I present me and my brother holding up our certificate of completion for Safety Town, while standing dangerously close to a passing car1 back in Somerset, New Jersey. This would have been 1978 or 1979.

Safety Town

People often comment with some surprise that my hair was once so light. This baffles me. My hair was very light as a child, grew a little darker for about 5 minutes, and then went even lighter. Or, as we in middle like to say, gray.

Notes

  1. Not really, the car was parked people!

Going Paperless: 3 Ways I Annotate Notes in Evernote to Make Life a Little Easier

Prior to going paperless, I often found myself jotting notes down on various pieces of paper in order to keep track of things. If I paid a bill, I’d scribble the check number with which the bill was paid right on the statement so it was readily available if I needed it, for example.

These days, I still annotate my notes in various ways, but because I can use the richer set of features available in Evernote, these annotates are much more useful than they ever were in their paper form. Here are three examples of how I annotate my notes in Evernote to make life a little easier.

1. Add note links in context to quickly jump to related notes

On rare occasions, I’ll still receive a bill for something in paper. For instance, our city recently changed where it gets its water. When the change took place, I got a new “first” bill from Fairfax county. This was paper, of course, since I hadn’t yet set up auto-pay. I scanned the bill into Evernote, and then paid the bill online. After paying the bill, I clipped the receipt into Evernote using the web clipper.

What I did next was to annotate the original bill note to indicate when it was paid, and to provide a link back to the note containing the receipt.

Here is what the bill statement looks like:

Fairfax Water

You can see that just above the PDF file, I’ve made a note about when and how I paid the bill. The hyperlink is an Evernote “note link.” If I click on that link, it will take me directly to the note containing the receipt for my payment. For completeness, I also link the receipt to the note for which the payment was made. So the receipt note looks like this:

Fairfax Water Receipt

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