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.

Pictures of Spring

It has been in the mid-70s here for the last few days, going up into the 80s tomorrow. Spring has finally, really, arrived. Here’s a few pictures of spring from my walk earlier today.

Bridge over the bike path

Bridge over the bike path

Baseball in the park

Baseball in the park

Blossoms by the house


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.


  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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I’ll Be at RavenCon for One Day – Saturday, April 26

I hadn’t planned to attend any science fiction conventions until later this fall, but I’ve decided to head down to RavenCon in Richmond, VA, for one day, Saturday, April 26. RavenCon was the first science fiction convention I ever attended, and it made an amazing impression on me in a very short time.

If you’ll be at RavenCon on Saturday and want to catch up or say hello, let me know, or just ping me on Twitter sometime that day.

(Later in the fall, I’ll be at Capclave and World Fantasy.)

Questions and Answers about My Blogging

A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me to ask a series of questions about my blogging. I replied with some detailed answers, and it seems to me that other people might have similar questions. Here, then, are the 8 questions I was asked and the answers I gave below in case anyone else was curious. If you have other questions about my blogging that aren’t answered below, ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

1. What was your intention when you first began blogging?

I first started blogging back in late 2005. I had kept a diary since 1996 and I think the blog became a public extension of that in order to keep up with friends and family spread all across the country. I had no real intentions beyond that.

2. When you initially started the blog, did you have any idea it would become so successful?

I think it depends on what you define as successful. As I said, my intention was to have a way of better keeping up with friends and family, and it seemed to work pretty well, so in that sense, I think it was successful. As for popular success, it wasn’t even on my radar when I started. Indeed, I was always surprised to discover that people other than friends or family read the blog.

3. Do you feel as if you’ve changed as a result of your blog, if so, how?

I think that the blog has changed me in small ways. It taught me how to think better on my feet. I’ve written over 5,500 posts in nearly 10 years, and almost all of them are written on the fly. Over time, I learned a compactness of expression1 , and developed a comfortable style. These made it much easier for me to sell nonfiction articles when those opportunities arose. It’s also helped with speaking that I do, whether its on panels or giving talks. But like I said, these are pretty small things.

4. Have the goals of your life changed since the success of your blog?

Success for a blog is always relative. As my blog became more focused on things like going paperless, writing, and automation, I think it started to become more successful. I would only use the term “successful blog” for the last 3 years. In that time the goals for my life haven’t changed much. Habits have changed, but the goals that I work toward have remained more or less the same.

5. What do you think the key ingredient is that has allowed your blog to become so successful?

Blogging is like any other kind of writing. Success is usually based on three main ingredients: hard work, some talent, and a helping of luck. I think the fact that I post regular content helps. It certainly doesn’t hurt that there is an audience that wants to read what I write. Over the last few years, I’ve narrowed the focus of what I write about and that has helped as well. Luck has also played a role. I was in the right place at the right time when it came to writing about going paperless. Evernote, for example, invited me into the founding class of their ambassador program in large part because of what I was writing about. It could just as easily have been someone else.

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  1. Although some might disagree and I won’t quarrel.

My Baseball Scorecard Shared Notebook in Evernote

Rather than inundate you all with posting my scorecards after each game, I’ve gone ahead and created a shared notebook in Evernote that contains scans of all of my scorecards from this season. Feel free to peruse them at your leisure.

Since posting my first few scorecards of the season, I’ve had a few questions about them so I figured I’d answer them here.

1. Why bother keeping score?

The short answer is because I like to. But I think there are two additional reasons. First, keeping score forces me to focus on the game as more than a casual observer. I can learn more about the game by doing this, and that increases my overall enjoyment of the game.

Second, and perhaps more important, is that keeping score makes the fan a participant in the game. I’ve long since passed the point where I could ever have a chance to play in the big leagues, but keeping score makes me an active participant in the game. I like trying to outguess the players, managers and announcers as to what the call will be, what the play will be, and what might come next.

2. How do you keep score? What method do you use?

I use Peterson’s Scoremaster scorebooks to keep score of the game. These are relatively cheap scorebooks, but have most of what I look for.


You don’t need to go out an buy a scorebook, however. There are some downloadable scorecards available for free online.

As far as my method, well, everyone keeps score in their own way. As you might guess, I enjoy trying to capture as much information as possible in the most efficient and compact manner. I keep score in pen, using a Bic 4-color pen. Outs are scored in red and hits, walks, and other methods of getting on base are scored in blue, making it easy to distinguish. I track pitch sequence to batters, but not overall pitch counts.

There is a charming little book called The Joy of Keeping Score by Paul Dickson which covers pretty much everything you need to know about keeping score, including some history.

When the game is over, I scan my scorecards into Evernote, and as I said, I’m now keeping them in a shared notebook that anyone who wishes can look at. The full link to the shared notebook is here:

And now, I’ll stop inundating you with baseball scorecards and leave you in peace. Have a great Sunday!

Thoughts on A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George F. Will

I enjoyed George F. Will’s Men at Work when I read it a few years back, so I was excited to see his new book on baseball, entitled, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred. I finished the book this morning.

A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George F. Will

The book delighted me!

I describe this latest piece by Will as a book about the architecture of baseball, a theme he touches on from the very first quote in the book. What I mean by architecture is not the buildings or stadiums in which the game is played, but the superstructure of the game itself, the supporting components, in the context of the Chicago Cubs. The biggest of these supporting components is, of course, the fans themselves. The stadium is part of it, too, but there is much more. Concessions, radio, television, the lights in the stadium, everything that affects the game, but is not really the game itself.

The book contains the story of the Chicago Cubs, their triumphs (few) and struggles (many) over the last century. But it also wanders of the path to explore wonderful little trails often obscured by the game itself: for instance, the relationship between beer consumption and baseball.

Within the pages, Will provides plenty of humor, much of it at the Cubs expense (“Most teams call an 0-30 record terrible. The Cubs call it April.”), but without malice. Instead, he is attempting to communicate the frustration that generations of Cubs fans have experienced in their unfulfilled hopes of a world championship.

The book is much less about the action of the game of baseball and much more about what makes it the sport that it is, and has been, for over 150 years.  It is a delightful read and one of the best baseball books that I’ve come across, accessible to the casual fan and the true fanatic alike.