All posts in "Conventions"

Writing Productivity Tip #9—THINK OUTSIDE THE KEYBOARD

Published December 4, 2010 in Advice , Blogging , Business , Conventions , Novels , Process , Publicity , Writing - 0 Comments

A series of eleven tips to help you get more time for writing, and to produce more writing when you do have time.

After the previous tip, now that you’ve set up the perfect established writing spot, keep in mind that this is not the only way you can write.  Your word processor isn’t the only tool you have.

This technique is one of the most obvious and effective, though least-often attempted, means of increasing writing productivity.  Think outside the keyboard.  If you can learn different ways to write, with different tools—like a talented musician learning to play several instruments—you can take advantage of nearly any situation in which you find yourself…and get pages done, no matter where you are.

I have a desktop computer in my office, where I do most of my editing.  I am just as comfortable working on my laptop whenever I’m away from home—in restaurants, at hotels, on airplanes. But it doesn’t stop there.

Remember the old pad and pencil?  For those times you find yourself alone in a coffee shop, or riding the bus, or sitting at a picnic table outdoors, you can jot down notes, outline a story, write a rough draft. 

 By hand.

My wife and I once plotted and outlined an entire Star Wars “Junior Jedi Knights” trilogy using crayons on the butcher-paper tablecloth in an Italian restaurant. Before leaving, we tore off the wide chunk of the paper, folded it, and took it with us as our “notes.”

For myself, I prefer to do my initial writing with a hand-held recorder. I love to go out hiking on beautiful trails, take inspiration from the scenery around me—and get away from all the interruptions at home.  Writing by tape recorder allows me to be productive during an already enjoyable outdoor activity.  Sometimes I just talk myself through plot snags, letting my imagination roam as I develop imaginary biographies for characters or histories for my fictional worlds. Most of the time, though, I dictate finished prose.  My record (so far) has been composing 45 pages (once they were transcribed) of finished prose in a single, very long, hike.

Speaking finished prose out loud into a voice recorder may be difficult until you get used to the idea.  Some writers have tried and couldn’t quite get the hang of it; several told me they felt self-conscious walking along and talking to themselves—just pretend it’s a Bluetooth set or a cell phone.  Nobody else knows the difference.  Face it, nobody learns to type 200 words a minute the first time they touch a keyboard either; it seems unnatural, the keys are in a very strange order, but you get used to it and then pick up speed.  Same with dictation.

At first, I used the recorder just to capture ideas when I went out for a walk. Before I learned to bring the recorder along, I would come up with snatches of brilliant prose, but by the time I hurried back to my keyboard, I’d forgotten it. With practice, though, I now write finished text off the top of my head (which I still polish).

The drawback with a recorder is that someone has to transcribe your words, but if you don’t want to do it yourself, typing services are available to do this for a reasonable fee, even voice-recognition software (although a batch of science fiction terms makes the learning curve rather steep).  Because of my prolific writing output, I keep my typist busy almost full-time just with transcribing duties.  I use an Olympus DSS 3300 digital voice recorder, with the attendant software to download my audio files and email them to the typist.

For a full description of dictation as a writing technique, see my earlier blog, “Dictating, Writing, Hiking.”

Other people have developed their own unique alternatives to sitting-at-the-typewriter writing.  Find some for yourself, see what your natural method for storytelling is.

New anthology of humorous horror stories

This blog series is part of a lecture I’ll be presenting at the Superstars Writing Seminar in January 13–15 in Salt Lake City, a three-day intensive workshop focused on business and careers in writing.  Other instructors include Brandon Sanderson, Sherrilyn Kenyon, David Farland, Rebecca Moesta, and Eric Flint.  We hope to see you there.

Stormtroopers and Star Challengers

On Saturday, November 13, the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado Springs, CO, held a special event:  A moonbase simulation adventure open to the public (all available slots sold out a few days in advance), coupled with a book signing for the new Star Challengers novel, Moonbase Crisis.  June Scobee Rodgers, co-creator of the series and founder of the Challenger Centers, was there with authors Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson.

Also as surprise guests, fully uniformed members of the international Star Wars fan club, the 501st Legion, came to show their support for the books and for the space program.  (Kevin and Rebecca are both honorary 501st members.)

After the signing, June, Rebecca, and Kevin appeared at the Colorado Springs public library for lunch, talk, and another Star Challengers signing, also open to the public.  At the end of the event, Kevin recorded an interview for the 501st podcast.

That evening, Kevin and Rebecca hosted June and her son Colonel Rich Scobee and his family at their castle for a home-made lasagna meal.

The second Star Challengers novel, Space Station Crisis, has just gone into production for release in January to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Challenger accident.


This past weekend, Rebecca and I were guests of honor at Archon in St Louis.  The final panels and parties have just finished, we’ve packed up our books and suitcases, and are winding down for the evening (and a departure at 6:15 AM tomorrow).

I have been to St Louis only once before, during the Paul of Dune book-signing tour, but I hadn’t been able to see any of the city.  (I landed after lunch, and the publisher’s rep took me to several bookstores to sign the stock, then the evening book signing, a late dinner, then to the hotel for an early-morning departure.)  This time, Rebecca and I hoped for a chance to see more of St Louis before the con festivities began.

On Thursday night, before the convention began, Reb and I had dinner with Laurell K Hamilton, her husband Jon, and assistant Carri—so our first meal in St Louis was sushi…but good sushi, so we enjoyed it.

The following day, the Archon staff worked above-and-beyond to arrange for Rebecca, her sister Diane (who came along to watch the dealer’s room table), and me to go see the gateway Arch and the Mississippi River.  One  of the staff members, Jim Garrison, picked us up early in the morning to go to downtown St Louis to see the Arch.  Alan DeVaughn, the guest relations rep for the con, made some calls, and also arranged for one of his friends (who worked for the National Parks service) to help us get a tour.

We’ve seen a lot of things in a lot of different states and countries; we were looking forward to the Arch, and I have to say it was even more impressive than we had hoped.  The skies were clear and blue, and the sun reflected on the amazing, perfect stainless-steel arch.  The waning moon hovered in the sky (just a dot in the photos), framed by the Arch.

We walked around the base of the Arch, then entered the museum and exhibits below.  The Park Ranger friend of the con helped us to get into the small tram that crawled up the inside of the arch to a tiny, cramped observation chamber at the apex.

Enough sightseeing.  We got back to the hotel by lunch, so that we could meet up with Dan Barstow, President of the Challenger Centers for Space Science Education, which was the chosen charity for Archon.  The St Louis area Challenger Learning Center also sent representatives and exhibited in the dealer’s room alongside our table.  We had lunch with the Challenger Center people, then set up our tables, and went off to Opening Ceremonies.  Rebecca and I gave our popular workshop on “Things I Wish Some Pro Had Told Me,” then went to an open Q&A fireside chat, before going to dinner with game writer Matt Forbeck, then attended some of the fan parties.

On Saturday, after spending some time at our table in the dealer’s room, we all attended an hour-long panel about the Challenger Centers and helped with the charity auction, where proceeds benefited the Challenger Centers.  Country singer Lee Greenwood had donated some amazing items—the cowboy boots he had worn when he performed at the White House, the American flag that flew in front of his house.  Rebecca and I contributed the original first-draft manuscript of Star Challengers #1, and I also gave some advance reading copies of two of my novels.  All together, the Challenger Center received about $2000 from the charity auction.

At my Saturday evening reading, I read the first chapter of Hellhole as well as my short story “Dark Carbuncle” from Blood Lite II.  Then we went to dinner with fellow writers Mark Tiedemann and Carolyn Ives Gilman, before hurrying back for the masquerade.  While relaxing before bed, I read the last of the Star Challengers #2 manuscript, scribbling my comments in the margins for Rebecca’s next revision.

Sunday, Rebecca and I served as “victims” at the Star Wars trivia challenge, then joined the pizza party to thank the volunteers who had worked at Archon.  We spent the last few hours with Diane in the dealer’s room, met more fans, signed more books, then packed up the remainders (at least two suitcases less than we had brought).  After the closing of the con, with the rest of the afternoon available, I grabbed my recorder and walked around the hotel area and ponds, dictating half of a short story for a new Chris Golden horror anthology.  Then, while Rebecca wanted to relax in the room, I went for a quick, quiet dinner next door (and a good Goose Island IPA), where I read a couple of submissions for Blood Lite III.

We leave tomorrow early.  A nice weekend all around and a very enjoyable con.

Book Signing at the Columbia Memorial Space Center

Published September 26, 2010 in Conventions , Travel & Appearances , Writing - 0 Comments

On the day following the Writers of the Future event at the end of August, Rebecca and I appeared at the newly reopened Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, California at a launch party for the new Star Challengers series.  This educational center, space museum, and Challenger Learning Center is an extensive complex on the site where some of the original Apollo Program work was done.

June Scobee Rodgers (founder of the Challenger Centers for Space Science Education) was the keynote speaker at the Writers of the Future ceremonies, and Dan Barstow (Challenger Center president) was a guest presenter.  It was a great opportunity for us all to attend the grand opening of the Columbia Memorial Space Center; by special arrangement with the publisher, we presented Star Challengers: Moonbase Crisis, the first time the books were offered for sale to the general public.

Before the official signing began, Rebecca and I took a tour of the center, seeing the exhibits and the operational Challenger Learning Center.

Rebecca in the Challenger Center Mission Control

Kevin in the Challenger Center simulated Clean Room

Kevin and Rebecca test out the spacesuit mockup

Some friends and celebrity guests also came, including Dr. Harry Kloor (writer and director of the new 3-D animated film Quantum Quest), Steven Sears (scriptwriter and producer of Xena: Warrior Princess), and even my LA-based typist, who transcribes all of my books.

Dan Barstow (Challenger Center president), writer/producer Steven Sears, Kevin, Rebecca, June Scobee Rodgers

June, Rebecca, and Kevin autographing Star Challengers: Moonbase Crisis

We signed 300 books, and then Rebecca and I had to leave the reception for the airport for our evening flight.  We had two days at home before DragonCon…

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