Ask Jami: Writing Advice Podcast

by Jami Gold on November 21, 2013

in Writing Stuff

Art logo and episode information

Yesterday, Brigid Ashwood interviewed me for her weekly Art Share podcast. On Art Share, Brigid speaks with authors and other creative artists about all aspects of the creative arts—from processes to business matters.

She broadcasts live as a Google+ Hangouts On Air, which is then posted as a YouTube video so viewers can also catch up later. It was a cool process that I’d look into closer if I had the time and a plan. (If you’ve used a G+ Hangouts On Air, I’d love to hear more about your experiences so I know what’s possible.)

Brigid and I had a great time and chatted for almost for an hour about everything writing. I don’t own a webcam, so you won’t get to see me in all my talking-with-my-hands-so-much-that-I-almost-smack-the-computer-monitor glory, but I’d definitely enjoy doing something like this again. Someday, maybe I’ll even buy a webcam. *smile*

The Art Share Podcast

From Brigid’s introduction:

“This week on Art Share we talk to author Jami Gold. Jami writes an awesome blog with resources for writers. On this episode we talk about NaNoWriMo, the individuality of writing habits, popular writing advice and myths, and the incredibly popular book “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder. Jami’s Blog offers Beat Sheets based on Blake Snyder’s book.”

So check out the podcast if you want to know my advice, or just want to hear my voice and goofy personality. *grin*

Art Share – Episode 19 – Guest Jami Gold

Summary of Topics from the Art Share Podcast

It’s a 52 minute long podcast, so it’s too long for me to provide a full transcript. However, here’s a breakdown of topics and direct links to those sections. (If I referred to a blog post in a section, I’ve linked to it below as well.)

Beat Sheets (at the 2:30 mark)

We started with the basics: What are beats? What is a beat sheet? Why and how would we use them? From there, our conversation roamed from exploring how beats are storytelling and not the cause of formulaic writing to how beat sheets relate to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

I shared the Basic Beat Sheet for those intimidated by the more involved beat sheets. Then we talked about the meaning of the phrase “save the cat” (which is well known due to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book) and the purpose of including that type of scene in our story.

Strengthening Our Writing (at the 10:18 mark)

From beat sheets, we expanded on how we can use various tools and techniques to strengthen our writing. For example, it’s obvious how those who plot their stories ahead of time might use beat sheets to outline their story, but what about those who write by the seat of their pants? I shared how I’ve discovered I am not a plotter but that pantsers can use beat sheets too.

We also talked about how we can use the Elements of a Good Scene worksheet—either during drafting or revisions—to ensure our scene is working hard enough. And we wrapped up with what it means to have “tension on every page.”

Evaluating Writing Advice (at the 16:28 mark)

We hear the advice to “write every day.” What does that mean? Is it really possible to do so, especially with a day job? I discussed my approach of making sure that I’m doing something writing related every day, but sometimes that means I’m in editing mode and not drafting mode.

We then talked about how it’s easy for new writers to feel like a failure if they take such guidelines as hard and fast “rules.” In reality, we each have to find the process that works for us. Sometimes that means we don’t avoid adverbs or cliches or any other of a hundred “don’t”s when we’re drafting. Instead, we follow our drafting muse, learn what our weaknesses are, and attack them in revisions.

The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo (at the 23:45 mark)

We discussed the pros and cons of the NaNoWriMo style of drafting. am signed up for NaNo again this year, but unlike last year, I’m not aiming for writing 50K words during November. Instead, I’m simply finishing the last 30K words for my current work in progress. While I’m bummed there’s no way for me to “win” this year, I figured it was better to write 30K words with my friends than alone.

If nothing else, NaNo teaches us what doesn’t work for us and our process. Even when we’re experienced writers, we can always learn something new about techniques that might work better and we won’t know unless we try. NaNo is a perfect time to try those new approaches. Failure itself is a learning experience and essential to the creative process.

Writer Struggles: Voice and “Show, Don’t Tell” (at the 30:43 mark)

When we first start writing, most writers struggle to find their voice. I compared voice to the sense of the reader being invited into the storytelling experience. We want to write how our characters would speak, and writing every day—like for NaNo—can get us in touch with their thoughts, especially if we “think out loud.” Reading aloud also helps with our editing process because we can listen for “speed bumps,” where we might trip over the words or the sentence a bit.

Another area writers struggle with is the advice to “show, don’t tell.” My guest post from Janice Hardy had great advice for using a deeper point of view to show, but it also brought up a lot of issues about when telling might work better. In essence, showing is subtext, so when we want to make goals, motivations, or consequences very clear to the reader, telling might be the way to go.

Common Questions about the Lives of Creatives (at the 38:23 mark)

The first common question Brigid asked was: How do you define success? I’ve talked before about how it’s hard for me to enjoy success, so this was a difficult question for me. As a result of my struggle, I don’t define success in just one way. I try (but don’t always succeed) to see success in the little things so I’ll have more opportunities to let myself enjoy positive results.

We then talked about the importance of a support system. I brought up how sharing our goals with our family and friends might help get their buy-in for the time, effort, and money we put toward our dream. At the very least, we can reach out to the writing community and enjoy their support.

Lastly, Brigid asked about about the best and worst advice I’d received and my best and worst writing habits. The worst advice had to do with present participle phrases—a grammar thing I knew nothing about when I first started writing—and the absolutist way the instructor worded the advice taught me bad habits that took days to fix in revision. So any “one right way” type of advice should always be considered a red flag. In contrast, the best advice I’ve heard would be the encouragement to find our own path and process—even if that means pantsing. *smile*

Have you used Google+ Hangouts On Air, and if so, how? Do you have any follow-up questions for me? How would you answer Brigid’s final common questions: How do you define success? How important is a support system to you? What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve received? What are your best and worst writing habits?

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33 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee November 21, 2013 at 7:57 am

Thanks for the summary of the podcast. I hate audio as an information medium—I don’t process it as well as text, and it takes more time.

How do you define success?

That’s a meaningless question. The definition of success depends on which goals you’re talking about for any particular person.

For example, I want to reach readers. I got an e-mail last Friday that I’m one of Wattpad’s most followed users. For that goal, I’m successful.

But I also want to be able to pay the bills with my “royalty” earnings. (Technically, earnings from self-publishing aren’t royalties, but that’s what folks call it.) For that goal, I’m unsuccessful.

How important is a support system to you?

I’ve long said that critics of my writing can’t be crueller than my family. That’s only gotten more true, as the years pass.

That said, readers, fans, friends (online and in person) are who remind me of who I am vs. who family tell me I am. (Which doesn’t even make sense and involves a bunch of logical fallacies, among other problems, but according to them, it’s all in my head.)

What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve received?

Best and worst in what way? There’s bad grammar advice, like the claim that commas mean “and” (they don’t). There’s bad plotting advice, like the claim that you must outline (I always scored higher on essays w/o outlines). There’s bad revision advice, like the claim that you must trim your first draft and kill your darlings (which is only true for specific types of writers, not even most). &tc.

Best advice isn’t so much advice as a mindset: Every writer is different.

Then after that: Goals are things you control, while dreams are things you cannot.

Finishing a short story in 4 days = goal. Selling 5k copies of that short story in its first month = dream. I’ve seen several writers freak out or throw in the towel when their dreams don’t happen, because they thought of them as goals.

What are your best and worst writing habits?

This one’s also relative, because the best habit for me is actually a very bad idea for most writers: I share WiPs with readers. (Every Friday on Wattpad.) Dean Wesley Smith actually shudders when I mention that. ^_^

My worst writing habit is probably procrastination, but that’s a bad habit overall. Problem is that I have health issues (…and some other issues…) that force me to stop writing, sometimes, and it’s difficult to haul myself back on the writing wagon, no matter how much I know that getting back on that wagon will help me overall.

This bad habit is part of why sharing WiPs works so well for me. I have commited to a schedule: at least one scene in a particular story, every Friday. Even if I’ve had a bad week and have fallen off the writing wagon, that forces me to open up the Scrivener project and type. I know myself too well; if I let myself skip one week, I’ll skip another, which is why I have that “every” in there.

When the urge to skip “Just this week” hits, I take a hard look at what’s up and consider: Is it really that bad?

My first novel First Draft Friday project reached the end about a month ago, and I decided to take a break after. A week off, maybe more, I told readers.

Before I knew it, I was staring the third no-story Friday in the face and making plans to not post until the first Friday in December.

I knew what story would be next; I even had the cover mocked up and the first scenes drafted. So before two weeks could turn into three, I started another First Draft Friday. It’ll have its second update tomorrow.

But that reminded me how dangerous breaks are for me. I sometimes need them, for health reasons, but I have to make sure to end them ASAP.


Jami Gold November 21, 2013 at 9:54 am

Hi Carradee,

Yes, I’m horrible at audio processing as well. That’s why I always have presentation slides when I teach a workshop. I would have created a transcript for this, but it would have been really, really long. 🙂 Others have different learning styles, however, so this was a fun thing to do.

Regarding the success question: Oh, I absolutely agree that success can be defined in many ways depending on our goals. Her question wasn’t attempting to find a single answer, but to explore those variations. 🙂

Yep, that was pretty much my take on the “best advice” question. And that’s a great point about goals vs. dreams. As you said, goals are within our control while dreams are not.

LOL! at DWS shuddering over you. Yes, one of my best habits–being a slow writer and yet ending up with a clean first draft–would be a bad habit for many others. Other writers would get bogged down in the minor-edits-as-you-type process (word choice, sentence construction, sentence order) and never move forward or finish their work. However, that habit works for me because I’ve completed several stories that way (no bogging down) and it’s harder for me to see how things could be changed later in the process.

I didn’t mention it in the summary, but I listed procrastination as my worst habit too. It’s easy to fall into routines (“Oh, I’ll check Twitter for just a minute before starting.”) and a week or a month later have that routine completely out of control (that minute on Twitter has turned into an hour).

So I like how you’ve turned your Wattpad project into self-imposed deadline. That’s why I do very few “rerun” posts here on my blog. If I reran an old post every time I didn’t feel like doing one? Ha. Instead, if I rerun a post, it’s usually because I have a reader-valid reason.

Like you, it makes it difficult for us to ever take a break because there’s a fear/guilt issue underlying what should be a relaxing event. It’s good to know that I’m not alone though. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Taurean Watkins November 22, 2013 at 1:17 am

Finally got to see the video, and yes it’s past 2:30 AM EST where I am, I’m a morning person, remember? It was nice to finally put a voice to the person I’ve only ever imagined in text, maybe someday I’ll see you beyond a still photo head shot (Which is nice, just to clarify) I’m only just starting to do videos where I’m on camera. Like you, apart from my new iPhone, the only camera I have access to is the family camcorder we got this summer. I’m still playing around with it.

Unlike most people of “My Generation” I’m NOT used to filming myself. and I didn’t start texting until my 20s, and my teen years weren’t “Forever and a Day” ago, compared to most writers I know who are at far different life stages than me, and only two are in my age bracket.

While I certainly agree writers at all ages and stages can learn from each other, it’s a rare treat to meet writers in my age bracket who aren’t married with kids, because I do feel there’s this shift from being a non-parent to parent that can cause a gap with non-parents who are friends and/or business partners who are parents, not out of spite or jealosy, it’s just different and hard to navigate at times.

Like how hobbyists have a different (AND VALID) way of viewing say, photography, and those who shoot photos for a living, or at a professional level.

The love and passion for it can be equal, but they take different stances because their goals are different, writing’s no different.

I sometimes feel left out when so many of the writing topics abuzz seem to be hinging on parental experience or being an educator.

They do play a part in those of us who write for children and YA (To a lesser extent from the “Gatekeeper” complex that writers for pre-YA readers have to face)

I KNOW there are many great authors who were never parents or teachers, but it’s hard to find them in MY AGE BRACKET, that’s all I’m saying…But I’m digressing again and I’ll stop there.

Most of my videos have been music/photo video clips and/or feature (hired) voice overs, but I’m not so much “Camera Shy” in the classic sense as I am conscious of how slurred my (Audible) speech can be, and I talk so fast it can sound like I’m skipping words I KNOW I said, but hearing my voice in videos shows the viewer the opposite.

That’s why I’m glad either you or the other writer on with you in the broadcast mentioned “Text to Speech” software, I bought a program years ago as a tool to help me edit.

I use that when I’m editing because I can easily hear when something feels missing, if I read it I’ll dramatize it more which can HIDE weak prose, that’s why some audiobooks can really make even a somewhat clunky story (read silently) SING!

Of course, they can also make already solid silently read books STUNNING, too, but you know what I mean, right?

If I didn’t sound like I learned to talk yesterday I’d do the “Read aloud” thing more without the software as much. That’s also another reason why I’m doing videos where I’m on camera more, to get better at this, because otherwise I wouldn’t be much fun for school visits (I mostly write children’s books, and next to query letters, school visits are a new hurdle I’ll need to face) if people only understood two words out of every sentence I spoke.

For a chatty guy like me, Jami, that’s DANGEROUS (From a professional standpoint), and in terms of being personable when you do school visits or other public events.

This is also why I’m more anal about typos than the average writer. Not to at all discount those who struggle with reading, but for those of us who are confident in their silent reading skills, it’s often easier for those of us less confident in their audible reading skills (Especially in the form of public performance and presentation at a PRO level) we at least want our words to be understood in the silent reader realm.
(No offense intended to anyone in the deaf community who may read this)


Jami Gold November 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Hi Taurean,

Yeah, I know, real video would be nice, but… *shrug* 🙂

Great point about how the monotone style of text-to-speech software might be just as (or more) beneficial than reading our work ourselves. We might not catch missing words because we think they’re there (missing words happen to me constantly *sigh*) and say them anyway. Software won’t do that for us. And as you said, we can dramatize the reading, which might cover up issues. You’re so right about how audiobooks can feel different from written books for that very reason.

Yikes! Yes, public readings are a whole different animal. I have public speaking training, but I sympathize with those who don’t. That’s something authors don’t think about needing to have in their job skill set, but it certainly can be. Good luck with your efforts and thanks for the comment! 🙂


Taurean Watkins November 23, 2013 at 4:24 am

That said, I don’t want to misinterpret audiobooks. I love them in general. I would NOT have stuck with Dickens if not for unabridged audiobooks, and as long as you groove on the narrator, it’s a great way to “re-read” books you might not have time to in print, which I try to read first.


Jami Gold November 23, 2013 at 9:52 am

Hi Taurean,

Yes, I’m not a huge fan of audiobooks for me personally, simply because my audio processing is so horrible. I completely understand why others love them, however, and one time they did work for me.

I did “re-read” the Harry Potter books via audiobooks (the U.K. version) while I worked on a brainless project several years ago. They worked for me in that situation because the project required me to sit and work with my hands for several weeks, but didn’t require much attention, so it was a perfect way for me to multitask. Usually, though, I’m not sitting around with my brain unengaged like that. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Taurean Watkins December 8, 2013 at 4:01 pm

I know you and Caradee don’t like audiobook for your own reasons.

I felt the same when I was younger. For me, though, it wasn’t a lack of processing the audio, I either didn’t groove on the narrator and I thought only real writers have to enjoy the book read silently.

Also, you must remember I wasn’t read to when I was little, so it’s been a big shift to better my reading experience reading books (In general, NOT just mine! LOL) aloud, but I still prefer editing with text to speech software, because it makes editing involve less guesswork.

Even if you don’t skip words, I’m not great dramatic reader, and again, audiobooks aside-you have to admit that hearing an author read an short excerpt from his book has a magic to it, and I’m talking a book already published and was vetted by countless others, okay?!

But when my debut novel Gabriel wasn’t coming together (Before I sold it) and I was trying to read for craft (Something I still struggle to do) this was the ONLY WAY for me to enjoy a book without authorial envy getting in the way.

That was a pain I wish on no one, even the hacks among us, it’s NOT humane for anyone to have to go through!


Jami Gold December 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Hi Taurean,

Interesting! I have trouble reading for craft as well. If it’s a good story, I get too sucked into it to analyze it until later. I wonder if a different methodology (like audiobooks) would work for me.

Also, what do you use for your text-to-speech? Thanks for the comment!


Taurean Watkins November 22, 2013 at 5:45 am

I forgot my answers to the questions-

How do you define success?
Like others have said, it’s too nebulous to define any one way, and this the only time I’ll use the word “nebulous” to describe writing-related stuff.

How important is a support system to you?
It’s VITAL. Unlike Jami and my close writer friends who have more direct family support, I had to build my support system from scratch. My family (Those I’ve told) aren’t against it, but they just don’t “Get it.”

It took my several years before I met other writers who read and respect what I write, and write it themselves, albeit for readers younger than I can manage at this time, and if you ever visited my site linked to my many comments here, you can get what I’m talking about…

I started T.A.A. in part to find others like me. So far my audience hasn’t grown as much as I’d like, but I’ll get there.

What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve received?

Best Advice: It’s never too late to find your joy.

I didn’t learn to love reading until I was 16. It wasn’t because I had dyslexia or other problems reading. It was not finding what I loved until I was older that was the problem.

Being a children’s author, I sometimes feel left out because I wasn’t read to when I was little, and had more favorite television shows when I was a kid than books, and I wish I knew more authors like me who came to reading late for personal reasons, not because they struggled with the mechanics of reading, not to belittle or put down those who have struggled there, I just wish we opened the conversation to OTHER reasons why people came to pleasure reading late.
Worst Advice: ONLY picture books can contain the stories I want to write. (I LOVE picture books, but I can’t write them, and my stories aren’t limited to that medium, or only has appeal to preschoolers)

What are your best and worst writing habits?

I focus on my niche.
I hold myself accountable.

Not reading in my genre because envy gets in the way…
I hold myself accountable. (Mutates from healthy self-accountability into DANGEROUS extremes!)


Jami Gold November 22, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Hi Taurean,

You know, your answers about a support system and what you learned through your best advice are a fantastic, inspiring story. I hope you’re able to share that with your readers–maybe through those school visits mentioned in the other comment. It would be great for the students to hear about the variety of stories out there and how even someone without a strong reading background can find joy with the right book. 🙂 (Did you see this post along those lines?)

Oh, you’re so right about how our best habits can mutate into our worst ones. (Sounds like my post about the thin line between character strengths and flaws. LOL!) My perfectionism definitely falls into that category. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Taurean Watkins November 23, 2013 at 3:58 am

Thanks for sharing the article from NPR, Jami, but the link from your reply wasn’t working, I did a search and got the direct link-

The link from your blog post works, though!

I’m so sharing this link with my Facebook subscribers, who are mostly authors (Though hopefully lay readers will one day “Discover” me) and I hope some teachers from pre-k to college will see hope in this article there

That said, I’m glad no one said being reading is
I don’t subscribe to that chauvinistic crap…

As you know, I’m highly vocal AGAINST gender stereotyping for MEN as much as women.

Why do Dads (and some MOMS, too!) continue put these cruelly inhumane ideas in their own kid’s head?!

Why was it not “Ladylike” to want to take care of your basic living needs without needing or wanting to be married?

Why is divorce considered in some parts of the world the ultamite sin, overriding personal SAFETY for you and any children involved regarding domstic

You’re just supposed

I’m fairly certain that even the strictest definitions of “Til Death do you Part” in marriage vows don’t demand/imply you stay with a man (or woman) whose endangering your life and children’s lives, (If there are any) right?

(I’m not married, so anyone who is, please speak up)

Why would sensitivity have to be considered worse than having barbarous disposition toward people in particular and life in general?

Think where some of the most “Evil” men and women alive/who ever lived were insensitive.

I doubt any sane parent wants to be known for raising the next (Insert Historical Villain here) am I right?

I always love finding stories of authors more like me, though I’m personally more inept at YA as much as I am picture books, but I appreciate the common through line of coming to pleasure reading late all the same.

I too had to keep what I do love (Animal Fantasy in television and film, later books) from others my age. I hope the world my kids will grow up in will be more progressive in that respect.


Jami Gold November 23, 2013 at 9:44 am

Hi Taurean,

Grr, sometimes Chrome doesn’t copy over the http:// — thanks for listing it correctly. 🙂

As for your questions about marriage expectations, the most conservative people I can think of make exceptions for the 3 A’s (abuse, adultery, and addiction). I’m sure there are some who wouldn’t make exceptions even then, but I’d guess many of them would have “whatever happens in your life–no matter how bad–you must have deserved, so just suck it up” attitudes as well. Personally, I don’t ascribe to those beliefs at all.

Then again, you know I struggle to write “alpha” males alpha enough for some, as to me, alpha does not mean controlling, abusive, arrogant jerk. My heroes are indeed sensitive and thoughtful as well. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Taurean Watkins November 24, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Well, I don’t agree kids should have to die because of marital pride. I can’t beleive any sane parent or relative would thik that’s okay.

Like you said, Jami, there’s nothing “Manly” about abuse, whether spouse, child, or BOTH!

I just wish we’d see more nuance in masculinity that we’ve seen in femininity (At least in SOME parts of the world) and despite what Serena says in a comment below, not everyone sees parenting in those stark terms anymore, and it takes commitment from both parents, and for argument’s sake, I’m thinking of Mom AND Dad, who aren’t alcoholics, or drug addicts, etc.

Regardless of the national average, most fathers WANT to be more involved, but aren’t given the career flexibility, resources, and support from society at large that women do.

Then when a few jerks of the male persusion wreak havoc, it makes us ALL look bad, and

That’s why the stigma for mental illness is so great. We demonize men especially in this regard, and yet we wonder why more boys and men don’t admit they have a problem and get help. They’re afraid of being stigmatized, on top being told the LIES about real men bear all pain in silence.

You wouldn’t do that with cancer.

Why are matters of the heart considered more sinful to some men than matters of physical pain?

How are we teaching boys to be open minded and righteous when we’re modeling stone cold, sexist indifference to them?”

Can you think of a Dad’s equivalent to “Mommy and Me” or “Dove’s Girls and Women Empowerment” programs?

I really feel we put men and boys in a box society wise that we don’t make easy or frankly practical to fight their way out of, and NOT for lack of trying on their part, thank you very much!

We complain when they’re not doing X but don’t make it easy or practical to push away from discriminatory ideas that serve no one.

Please understand, Jami, Serena, ANYONE who reads this, I’m not saying women don’t struggle anymore, of course that’s not true, but even in the U.S., it’s NOT any easier being male in this country when you aren’t fitting a certain stereotype.

I just wish more women and older men (30+) would get there’s more nuance to theses civil rights issues.

If more employers gave fathers from all walks of life the choice to have more flexible hours and more support systems (That aren’t all tied to SPORTS programs) they woemen wouldn’t be getting

Serena, I’m not at all judging your personal reaonns for not wanting marriage or children, but for those of us that DO want a family down the road, there’s nuance

I’m sorry that you grew up in a more ignorant environment given how you’ve commented on these matters, but you can’t let where you grew up overly dictate what you believe and don’t believe. Did it ever occur to you that more dads want to do more but don’t have the flexibility in their

I’m not count the chauvinistic deadbeats here because that’s a whole other topic, IMO.

Also, not all abuse is male-driven, and I’m sorry I sound mad, but I’m just playing devil’s advocate being male and as someone who does want to be married and a parent, there are ways to make it work if you want to.

If you don’t, that’s your choice, but all I’m saying is keep in mind the nuance that being either single or married, parent or non-parent really has, okay?

I’m not in any hurry, mind you, but lots of men and women marry later and/or have kids later, when their careers aren’t so fragile and rough, so there’s that factor to consider.


Jami Gold November 25, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Hi Taurean,

“I don’t agree kids should have to die because of marital pride.”

I’m with you there. I’d hope everyone would agree with that, but I’ve known people with some very different ideas. *sigh*

My latest WIP is very pro-fatherhood, and I write my heroes to be actual, you know, heroes. 🙂 So you know I support your take on being more supportive of males in general.

You’re completely right about the stigmatization of mental illness and the price that’s exacting in our society, especially on males. We don’t have a support system in place for that issue at all, much less a good one. All those issues added together are the real demons behind things like mass shootings. It’s not video games or violent movies or guns. It’s about how males who don’t know where and how to fit can’t get help, and some of those act out in heartbreakingly destructive ways. And I absolutely support more family-friendly policies from all companies for all genders. Work/family/life balance makes for healthier people.

Thanks for showing those nuances. 🙂 And as always, thanks for the comment!


Serena Yung November 27, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Well I think it might be because I grew up in a Chinese society, where women are STILL EXPECTED to do most of the childcare, unfortunately, though norms are definitely changing. So I definitely wouldn’t blame a guy from my society for NOT wanting to do most of the childcare, because people would ridicule him if he did so. My cousin’s dad is a stay at home dad, and as a consequence is looked down upon by people, even by members of his own family. 🙁 It’s really sad, isn’t it? But perhaps it’s much better in the Western society here. (Though for my cousin’s dad example, it might also be because he doesn’t have a job–isn’t the breadwinner–like a typical dad that he’s so scorned. 🙁 )

🙂 That certainly sounds very uplifting that some males DO wish they could spend more time taking care of their kids. Slightly unrelated to that, I have a guy friend who said that he would actually want to be the pregnant one for his wife, lol! Now THAT’S generous. XD. Unless he was joking, of course…


Serena Yung November 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Oh by the way, just wanted to say that I’m by no means demonizing men or think they’re bad either. 🙂 My own dad is a wonderful and rather ideal dad, who obviously enjoys teaching me and talking to me. I love him very much. ^^ And I have male friends whom I really love too, esp. my two close friends, and they’re all very awesome and great people. 🙂 There are also, of course, male teachers, mentors, cousins, etc. of mine who are honorable, kind, and caring men. So I would be one of the last people to believe that a negative stereotype of men (e.g. abusive, irresponsible with respect to the kids) is true. In fact, when others SAY negative stereotypes of men are true, I tell them that they’re wrong. Like there was a time where I was crying over a novel I read because a man cheated on his wife (adultery in stories often makes me cry 🙁 ), a female friend of mine said “men are like that”. 🙁 So I told her that men are NOT like that. SOME men may be faithless cheaters, but a lot of other men are completely faithful and devoted to their wives. 🙂 Anyway, it really does bother me that some people believe that men are inclined to cheat. 🙁 . This is simply not true! Another instance of male demonization!


Serena Yung November 22, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Interviews with artists, cool! And I love how it basically sums up a lot of the main points you’ve been making throughout your blog posts. 🙂 Though it could be argued that all points are “main”, lol.

Definition of success? I actually once made a very long list of different definitions of success people give, apart from the cliched fame or fortune. But my favorite definition so far (it’s my personal definition), is:
To be able to:
1) Do what you love most in the world (and do it very frequently)
2) Be with the person or people you love most in the world
3) Be loved by the person or people you love most in the world
4) Live in your favorite place in the world
If someone has at least one of the above, I already consider this person successful, lol. So I feel super successful, cuz I have all four. 😉 No wonder I’m always such a happy person, lol. I like this definition of success more than the “rich and famous” one, because if I (and the people I care about) are not happy, what’s the point?

Lol, but that’s just my opinion. XD

Best writing advice: This is hard to choose. But this must include: 1) all readers like different things, so even if one person hates your story, it doesn’t mean that no one will like it, lol, and thus the important point that it’s impossible to please everyone. 2) No one writing “rule” is always right.

Worst writing advice: Hard to choose too. Maybe the “showing is always better than telling”, “round characters are always better than flat characters”, and “character-driven stories are always better than plot-driven stories”, lol. Ok so that’s three pieces of advice…yeah I can’t choose just one, haha.

Best writing habits:
–I don’t procrastinate and find it quite easy to discipline myself to writing a certain amount everyday. And if I miss a day, it’s almost always very easy to make up for it the next day or a later day.
–I find it very easy to shut down my inner editor so I can write down almost everything my muse says. XD Write first, crazy edit later is my motto, lol.
–preferring to write shorter sentences instead of longer ones. This is important because my mom, who is one of my main readers, isn’t very good at reading English–at least not yet.

Worst writing habits:
–Overusing semi-colons. @_@
–sometimes being too fond of metaphors and images (though this is less of a problem now.)
–sometimes not being able to write in a serious enough tone—so that it looks like I’m making fun of my character, rather than being sympathetic to him or her. XDD. (This is more of a recent problem. I used to be very good at adopting a compassionate tone in my writing…but nowadays I keep sounding like I’m trying to be funny or that I’m not taking things seriously enough. XD This tendency isn’t developed enough to make me a good comedy writer though, lol.)

Okay one question for you: How did you develop from a writer to a writer with a great blog? 😀 What inspired you to start a blog in the first place? Just want to say once again that I’m grateful that you post so many interesting writing topics all the time. They make me think and I’ve already learned a ton just by reading your posts and your answers to my questions! 🙂


Jami Gold November 22, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Hi Serena,

Ooo, I love your definition of success. That works for me. 🙂

Your best/worst advice are great picks too. We covered many of those in the interview, especially that writing rule one.

LOL! at your question for me. Honestly, I stumbled into all of this blogging stuff. I knew I wanted a website and that WordPress was easy to start with. At the time, I knew WP only as blogging software though, so my brain just assumed that a blog would be part of my website. 🙂 From there, I discovered that I love sharing what I learn with others (it’s the teacher-at-heart in me) and that I had a talent for explaining things.

In other words, this blog is way less planned than it appears (I’m usually writing the posts the night before–no planning whatsoever–LOL!). So yay for it all coming together into something that helps others. 😀 Thanks for the comment and the question!


Serena Yung November 24, 2013 at 8:37 am

Cool! Yeah, I agree that you’re very good at explaining things. 🙂 Your prose is concise AND very easy to read and understand. Not everybody can do this, so feel proud of this skill of yours! ^^

Btw I have to put in this best writing advice: the most important personality trait in a good writer is not things like creativity, imaginativeness, being inspired, etc. The most important trait is discipline, the ability to stick your butt on the chair and make yourself actually write, write, and write everyday or very often until you finish the novel or series!

I find that this is very true! Personally, I believe that EVERYBODY is creative, imaginative, and inspired in their own ways, but not everybody is disciplined or perseverant enough, and that’s why a lot of people want to be writers yet don’t manage it–at least, in terms of not being able to FINISH any stories. Not to say that they are doomed, of course. Discipline for writing can be trained, and even the more disciplined writers need to make sure they MAINTAIN their level of discipline throughout their writing careers. Of course there may be life events that make such discipline more difficult, but that’s why I don’t plan to marry or have kids. The sad truth is that the society still expects the woman to do most of the childcare, which would make it a struggle for one to work, take care of the kids (and the husband, lol), AND write a lot daily. I know that a lot of amazing women DO manage to handle all of this, but I personally would prefer a much simpler life and a guaranteed good amount of writing time, lol.


Jami Gold November 25, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Hi Serena,

I’ve seen the quote many times that the difference between a published writer and one who’s never published is that the published author never gave up. 🙂 I like that quote, but it doesn’t quite mean the same thing anymore because of self-publishing. However, it leads to my thought of what attitude is necessary for successful writers…

I agree with you that what I’d call “determination” (rather than discipline) is essential for successful authors, but as Taurean alluded to, the nature of determination each person needs to work on might be different. Some need the determination to avoid procrastination, some need the determination to have faith in their work, some need the determination to do the marketing stuff that sucks, etc. 🙂

Also, I’ll be honest and say that I often have more discipline on the days when I know I won’t get much writing time. I’ve heard from many authors who keep their day job even though they don’t need the money because they’ve learned that the day job helps keep their “writing time” more focused. So I’d hate for someone to decide that not marrying or having kids is the best/only way to be a writer. In your case, that might be the best thing (only you can know for sure), but for many people, those life events that makes writing more difficult also help to make the writing better. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Serena Yung November 27, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Oh, I assure you, getting more time to write is not my ONLY reason for not marrying or having kids…but unfortunately my main motive for not marrying is a secret that I can’t share here, heehee. ^^

Just want to emphasize that I’m not against OTHER people marrying. In general, I think marriage is a good thing. It’s just not my thing. ^_^”


Jami Gold November 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Hi Serena,

Of course! And I wasn’t trying to change your mind–you know your situation best. I just wanted to lay the information out there. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Taurean Watkins November 28, 2013 at 7:00 am

Ditto what Jami said, Serena.

I really wasn’t mad at you or anything, I just wanted to offer a counterpoint, and I was speaking of my experience as you were.

These are very important social issues to me personally.

I have personal and professional reasons why I don’t do certain things, too.

That said, I’m glad you had a better experience with your father than I’ve had with my mother (For various reasons) and never knowing much about my father, except his name.


Serena Yung November 28, 2013 at 7:07 am

Oh! I didn’t think you were mad at me at all! :D. And it’s good to hear an alternate opinion, so thanks for that. 🙂

Yikes. I’m sorry to hear about your mother and father. 🙁

Taurean Watkins November 24, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Well Serena, I don’t know what Jami’s response will be, but I have to
counter your stance on discipline-

I nearly drove myself MAD last year, and the year before because I was too strict with myself. I would be a slave to my computer, writing, revising, rewriting, that I didn’t read enough of books I didn’t write, and when “Butt in Chair” gets to the point where you don’t eat, sleep, or SHOWER for days on end, you’re not in a good place, trust me.

Sorry if I got a bit TMI, but this is the painful truth I’ve LIVED, and I still have to watch the shower thing, but I say all this to remind you and others between your methodology and mine.

I may not have perfectionist tenancies the way Jami describes them, but I do have problems gauging what’s “Enough” because I’ll never move forward if I stay stuck in neutral, and again, try to understand that for some of us, too much discipline is STIFLING, which doesn’t mean we have zero.

Like Jami, I want to have cleaner early drafts than I used to, and after the DECADE Gabriel took (This is just the actual book, don’t get me started on query letters, you know how crazy they make me…), so for me, the messy rough drafts aren’t enough, and I just don’t want every thing I work on to take YEARS, and that’s before I ever try to query it!

Those highly stream of consciousness drafts never have worked for me, but if you can make them work for you, more power to you. Really.

Also, even those of us NOT MARRIED with children, including myself, DON’T necessarily have it any easier than those who do!

Not everyone’s meant to be a parent or is happy to stay single. Or married without children.

But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easier or less stressful. It depends on the person and where you are.

Also, as Jami can probably explain less “Intense” than me, there’s a BIG difference between discipline, and treating yourself worse than any outside “Boss” you could ever have.

I’ve been there. It’s NOT pretty nor productive.

Serena, I say this not to discount what works for you, but to warn you not to let accountability turn you into a monster of your own making.

Finally, sometimes you just need a BREAK! Period.

Last time I checked, being acountable doesn’t mean treating yourself
like a slave…


Jami Gold November 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Hi Taurean,

Yep, I’d rather call the attitude “determination” than “discipline” because I need the determination to move past the perfectionist tendencies sometimes. 🙂

I also agree with you that being single doesn’t equal less stressful or easier. Family can mean there are others to share the load, and my family is also my biggest support system, so I’d be more stressed (not to mention completely anti-social) if it weren’t for them. Each person has to decide what will work for them, and as with so many things, we might not know what will work until we try. Thanks for the comment!


Taurean Watkins November 26, 2013 at 7:47 am

Well, to me, “Determination” is meant to be empowering, I didn’t feel pushing myself like I used to was empowering, but rather my overambitious spirit pushed me over the edge on unhealthy ways.

That’s why I’ve little appetite for the “Butt in Chair” mindless drafting mindset that you hear advised over and over. You don’t have to be a perfectionist to feel broken down by the process, Jami. Besides, you have to admit the high standards now don’t help ease the pressure. Plus, you and Serena draft faster than I do, and while you’ve blogged about slow output folks still accomplishing things, I wish I could be faster, and that’s part of why some people telling me to self-publish drove me batty.

On top of the upfront expense, it requires a faster output than I can produce, and something I feel you and other writers don’t talk about enough is that there’s a BIG difference between drafting 10 stories, and ensuring those 10 are equally high quality, and I do wonder how you weigh the relevance of beta-reader feedback from unpublished peers versus the professional feedback that’s not in everyone’s budget.

Jami, how do you know when you’ve reached the limit of what you can do alone?


Jami Gold November 26, 2013 at 8:19 am

Hi Taurean,

Exactly. Which is why we each would need determination to overcome our individual weaknesses. In your case, maybe the determination to have faith that you’re doing the best you can and not to beat yourself up over things beyond your control would be applicable.

As far as the quality of feedback from beta readers vs. professional editors, that 100% depends on the quality of beta readers (after all, I do both). And as far as the limit of what you can do alone, that depends on where we are on the learning curve and our abilities to see our writing not as it is but as it could be. The latter is something I’ve never been good at. 🙂 I need feedback to see the possibilities.

That’s one reason I’ve pushed myself so hard to improve the quality of my drafts. I’m sending out near first drafts to my beta readers now, and I don’t want them distracted by the stupid stuff. But we’re all different in how that process works for us. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Serena Yung November 27, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Oh don’t worry. I hope I didn’t come off like a nasty drill surgeon to myself. XD When I say discipline, it’s merely to make myself write e.g. 2 hours each day, or if that’s too hard, 1 hour each day. And make up for it the next day if I missed it. As much as I love writing, I really need to do OTHER things throughout the day to vary my experience, and because I just physically can’t really do much more than 2 hours a day. I think the longest I ever did was 4 hours a day…though there were times in the past where I was rushing short stories and did considerably more than 4 a day…

You’re right that my method of “discipline/ determination” works especially well for pantsers like me, but might be harder for people who like to plan a lot before starting.

And for the marriage thing, as I said in reply to Jami above, getting more time for writing is not my ONLY reason for not marrying, but unfortunately I can’t reveal my main reason for wanting to stay single. XD

And I’ll emphasize here too: I am not against marriage for OTHER people. I just don’t want it for myself. In general, I think marriage is a good thing. 🙂


Taurean Watkins November 28, 2013 at 7:20 am


I read your replies above and again, sorry if I sounded mad.

These are social issues (Regarding marriage and parenthood) that I have strong feelings for, not just from my personal experience, but those I know in and out of my family.

I truly never meant to come off like I was judging your reasons for not wanting marriage or children, I just wanted to offer my viewpoint being male and my wish for more male empowerment outside the context of sports.

(Not all men are addicted to sports just like how Jami’s not obsessed with shoes the way some women are)

I’m grateful I live in a country that’s at least starting to acknowledge this discrepancy and I hope more parents and educators wake up to this problem, because regardless of class or culture, demonizing all boys and men is no less cruel and demoralizing than the horrid lot women have dealt with and continue to do so. I am aware and do understand some of this can be cultural (As Serena points out) but that doesn’t mean it’s less harmful to boys and men and it is girls and women.

I just wish there were positive stories for boys and men to see in literature and in life.

I’m not in denial of the jerks (Father or not) who sadly do exist, I just wish we saw more positive and nuanced portrayals of fathers in books without snarky commentary, that’s fair, is it not?

But there are also (In most cases meaningfully) harmful mothers, yet we demonize the fathers far more, at least that’s the angle media hypes the most.

Women (Generally speaking) complain when men aren’t around, but complain worse (Even in non-abusive relationships) when they are, and seriously, you can’t have this both ways!

I seriously fear we’re sending boys and men who never knew their fathers (like me) and those who had horrible experiences with their fathers or other male relatives and role models a dangerous mixed message if they only know of the worse case scenarios.

They also need to hear of the positive scenarios, if they can’t get that in their own families, we need history and literature to help broaden the conversation.


Jami Gold December 1, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Hi Taurean,

I wasn’t planning on replying to this because I’d already agreed with it all. 🙂

But then I saw this article and figured you’d appreciate it even though I don’t think you’ve read The Hunger Games. I thought its point was well-stated to what we’ve been discussing here. 🙂


Taurean Watkins December 2, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for sharing, Jami, and I’m glad I’m not the only one getting on my proverbial soapbox on this matter.

No, I haven’t read “The Hunger Games” but obviously know of the series (Before the movies started being made, I might add) but have been too chicken to read it.

This info may convince me to at least attempt to read the first book, and pray I won’t be too traumatized. But I’ve heard those who saw the first of the movies felt Peeta wasn’t well handled, but I’m still too chicken to see either movie, and anyway, I try to read the book before seeing the movie.


Jami Gold December 2, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Hi Taurean,

You’re right that the first movie didn’t handle Peeta very well. He didn’t come off as a character you’d root for Katniss to end up with, but I’ve heard the second movie handles him much better. (I hope to see for myself this week.)

They are dark books, no question. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to read them. If you want me to spoil/sum up the gist of Peeta’s arc so you don’t have to go through that, just let me know. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


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