How I Write #2: The Selection

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

So last we met I talked about how I got my ideas – which was usually “a lot of them,” aided by recording them in a book that I reviewed regularly. This usually left me with more than enough Big Ideas to do books with.

But if you have a hundred ideas or one – how do I know what to write? I have limited time.  I have to pick between Big Ideas.

Thats why I have The Goals and The Plan.

The Goals And The Plan: Why And How

So when you choose what to write, you have to ask what is the role of writing in your life.  That helps you select what to write.

I have specific Goals set out for my writing career, goals that have evolved over time as my life has changed.  My first book was an attempt to reach out and help fellow geeks with careers.  My current goals are to expand as a writer, broaden what I do, and make writing an integral part of my life and career.

Having goals is great because it lets me evaluate if a book meets them – or if it’s the kind of Big Idea that means I have to rethink my goals. After all, if I suddenly find that I am compelled to write a fantasy novel as opposed to another nonfiction work, maybe there’s something to pay attention to.  Either way you should have goals as a writer and evaluate how your Big Ideas work with them.

My goals are also part of A Plan. I know what books I want to write when, in what order, for what reason. Lest that seem a bit over-organized, imagine if you were writing a fantasy trilogy and you get the idea – you do need a Plan if you’re going to write multiple things and build any kind of writing career.

The Plan can also change as my life changes, as goals shift, etc. I don’t revise it lightly, but as I review it weekly (to know what to work on) monthly (to evaluate progress and think of the future) and quarterly (to evaluate it a year out) I may find things have to change.  That’s fine.  The Plan has to help me reach my Goals.

An example? I was actually going to be working on a Project Management book while some other books were being edited. I realized I was too overloaded – and the edited books would come down on me like a ton of bricks when delivered. I could have easily have added something, or reshuffled the order, or done something else – instead I chose to delay that book.

Another example? Several times I’ve had to rearrange the schedule of the books I was working on due to various reasons. That happens as well, that’s life – but I knew why they were changing and what the impact to the timeline was.

As I’m quite organized, my plan even contains estimated times to write, edit, format, and publish. That lets me evaluate what I’ll be doing when, my time commitments – and if they’re worth it.  You may or may not go that far.

One important note? I’ve never, in memory, dropped an idea I’d started. Usually by the time I’ve started a book I’ve pretty much decided to do it. I figure unless you truly have to quit that’s a good policy – sticking too something is important.

So Now I Know

My Big Ideas are worked into a Plan, so I know what to write, when to write, and even how long it’ll probably take.  When I do my usual planning sessions, be it for a week out, a month out, a quarter out, or a year out, I know what I’m doing when.

I can literally say “OK, this is the day or week I start this book” and go for it.

That might sound a bit mechanical, a bit uninspiring – but it actually helps.  I’m always reviewing my ideas, always aware of what’s coming, so I never quite loose the inspiration.  At the same time as I have a plan I worry less, I know how long things take – I can bring the idea to life with minimal distraction and maximum effect.

So, next we’ll talk about what happens when I start a project.

  • Steve

And Over At Seventh Sanctum – The Food Generator!

Judging by the response I should just call it beta NOW.

  • Corn Kimchi Sushi
  • Pepperoni and Corn Jerky
  • Pickled Pesto and Teriyaki Salmon Onion
  • Deviled Tempura Soup
  • Corn and Teriyaki Sausage On-a-stick
  • Cabbage and Roe Chili
  • Cream Cheese
  • Quinoa and Okra Squid
  • Gingered Quinoa
  • Pepperoni and Corn Onion
  • Roe and Pork Chips
  • Chicken Lasagna
  • Cajun Tomato Bowl
  • Kimchi Sausage Pizza
  • Potato and Cream Nuggets
  • Pesto Salmon Burrito
  • Corn Omelette
  • Baked Chicken Kimchi On-a-stick
  • Maple Sausage Burrito
  • Tuna and Bean Ham
  • Pepperoni Beef Bowl
  • Curried Hummus
  • Pesto Garlic Bites
  • Steak Stew
  • Cream Ham Chips

What do you think?  Sound good?

– Steve

How I Write: #1 The Ideas

(This column is posted at,, and Steve’s Tumblr)

With my eighth book out, I figured I’d talk about how I actually write. After doing a lot of self-publishing, it struck me that “hey, others could benefit from this” and “I may learn talking with others.” I probably could have thought of that earlier, but I guess I was too busy writing.  Which is probably something else I should write on.

Anyway, in the spirit of reaching out to fellow writers, here’s how I write.

Please note that:

  1. I am focusing on my style of nonfiction.  It might not apply to fiction except in the abstract.
  2. It’s a focus on books – since thats where my head is right now.  You may be able to apply these lessons to other things.

Now, let’s talk about where my ideas fome from.

Inspiration: The Bolt Of Lighting

A good book starts with an idea. A bad book does as well, but I assume you’re not trying to write a bad one. Not deliberately, but let’s face it, I’m not going to judge you.

So where do I get my ideas? They come from everywhere. I rarely lack inspriation – and if I do, I usually can find a way to stimulate it.  This is because of my work studying inspiration, writing generators, and creating.  I’ve got a groove from sheer practice – and in time, you’ll develop one as well.

There are a few tips I can share:

  • * First is to be open to ideas. Don’t just reject hem.
  • * Seek experiences that inspire you. If you’re not inspired, your life may be too routine.
  • * Regularly do things that require inspiration – that aren’t writing. My job managing, the work on the sanctum, all of that means my inspiration isalways being honed.

For me, ideas are striking me all the time. Wether you have a lot or a few, an idea is an idea. One of them might be the Big Idea, the book, the one you have to do.

Wether the latest inspiration you have is The Big Idea, or might be, you have to record it.  This is where things start taking form.

Recording: The First Step

Over the years I’ve emphasized the need for creative people of all kinds – and by that I mean most anyone – to keep a Brainstorm Book. The Brainstorm Book is where you write any idea that remotely seems worthy of keeping track of.

At this point, you’re already processing the latest inspiration. Maybe you flesh it out, maybe you drop it, either way the simple act of writing it down (and trust me, write it don’t type it) helps you process it a bit further. You may, in writing it down, suddenly realize a vision for it – and suddenly it’s The Big Idea you must make.

Be sure to record the idea in as much detail as possible – but don’t pressure yourself. One sentence that’s inspired may say far more than a paragraph you forced.

OK, so you recorded it.  Recording it made you think it over a bit, so the idea is a bit more polished, a bit more understood, and recorded in a way that’ll call back the inspiration.  The act of recording it might have even led it to become a Big Idea.

But with so many ideas, what do you do?  Well, if a Big Idea isn’t something I must work into my plans (and sometimes it is), I review the Brainstorm Book.

Reviewing: Looking Back

Once a month I review my brainstorm book, seeing what ideas stand out. Depending on their quality I may:

  1. Decide they’re not worth it.
  2. Decide they might be worth it and put them in a series of computer files to capture given inspirations -book ideas, column ideas, etc. I review these files whenever I add something or feel bereft of ideas (which, admittedly, isn’t often).
  3. Decide the idea might be worth it – then I put it into an “incubator” file that I also review once a month.  This is for ideas that might be worth doing but I don’t have a plan quite yet.  Sometimes things go out of the incubator file.  This is for the “might be a Big Idea”
  4. Decide I “This is a Big Idea” and figure I’ll do something with it.

The act of reviewing – and reviewing regularly –  is important, and not just for selecting Big Ideas. It can also inspire you by seeing your ideas in a different context. New ideas may flow, new inspirations may come, patterns emerge.  Sometimes new Big Ideas form just from the act of reviewing.

The Selected

So finally, I’ve got a lot of ideas. Hopefully I’ve got a Big Idea to develop into my next book, right?

Nope, I usually have several. I have a pile. Sometimes I even have a few ideas that I want to do in order.

Or maybe I do have a Big Idea – but do I really want to do it?

Well, next up, let’s talk how I select ideas to work on.

  • Steve

Because We Need These Moments

Recently, a friend of mine lost their job – a job they weren’t fond of anyway, but it was still a loss. I was concerned about them – but then this person reflected how, that very day, their work in the community made them feel better.  My friend always liked to help people and this moment, this single moment, reminded them of what they did and why.

My friend remembered what was important.

We’ve probably all had moments like these – in our civic work, on our hobbies, in times of being silly. No matter what we need these moments of “yes, this is right.”

These moments of “this is great” aren’t just a quick high (or shouldn’t be); they’re those vital times that remind us that life is worth living, that we like what we like, that things can be great. We need these moments not just to keep us sane, but to remember what we can do, what we like, what we care about.

One of the reasons I preach the idea of fan-to-pro (in the rational sense, not the blue-sky sense) is that your fannish activities tell you what matters. Oh sure you may not what to mention what you were doing at the time when you found something that mattered, but it’s important. Those little moments give you an idea of what makes you who you are.

When we can string enough of those moments together, we can find a way to build a life out of them.

It migh not be something other people like. I’ll be honest here, part of the reason I’m a Project/Program manager is that I’m an incessant problem solver. I have to fix things, both by concern, by a sense of order, and by a love of a challenge. I denied I’d be a manager many times – and here I am.

But find what matters to you. Go do those crazy things, stupid things, silly things, personal things, deep things, unremarkable things – that you care about. It’ll tell you what matters, and maybe get you onto a better path in life.

If you pay enough attention to these great things, those moments of depression and darkness and doubt are kept at bay or evaporate.  They’re just not as permanent as you may think.

  • Steven

Find People Who Fill In Your Professional Gaps

So the old saying goes that no man is an island. I would note that very technically someone standing in water is an isolated body in water, and thus technically an island, but then I’m just being a jerk.

But the truth is we’re not complete. Human beings are naturally inclined to work with each other (even if we’re not doing so by benevolence), which makes sense. There’s a lot we can’t do on our own.

In fact there’s huge blanks in our lives as there are simply thinks we’re not capable of. I can pretty much guarantee that you don’t write your own software, cook your own food, repair your own car, build your own house, and remove your own appendix. Buckaroo Banzai and TOny Stark, those Omnicompetent heroes of fiction are just that – the Renaissance man is an ideal to aspire to at best.

If you’re any kind of professional or a creative with professional aspiration, you want to find people who fill in your blanks.

Awareness By The Book

I’ve always been a pretty independent guy, but for me my work on writing made me painfully aware of jut how much I can’t do on my own. I’m not a great technical editor (at best I’m average), I can’t do cover art, and I can’t create a multibillion dollar distribution company with a self-publishing branch. Hell, even pre-reading gets hard as after awhile I’m tired of my own damn book.

My own career? I’m a Project and Program Manager. I provide things other people can’t do (organization) but in turn I am vastly ignorant about the many areas I touch and have to rely on people. I am spread thinner than a specialist, and so I have to have others around.

Sure I coached others, filling in their gaps.  But really I also have to fill in my own.

You should be too.

The Gaps You Face

You address an issue by being aware of it. So here’s the places I’ve found myself and others may need someone to fill in our blanks career-wise.

Resumes – Look, everyone should know how to make a good resume. Maybe you can, but if you can’t find someone who can.

Economics – Yeah, I always advise people to be aware of the economy. But sometimes being aware is knowing “I should ask Dave what the hell happened.” If you know your grasp of economics isn’t the best, then find someone who can advise you.

Organization – We should all be organized enough to keep our lives in order, but some of us are not long-term planners. Be it a roommate who keeps the budget or admitting your Project Manager should tell you what to do, sometimes you need organizational skills – on the job or off.

Relations – On the job you might not exactly be Mr. or Mrs. sociable. That’s ok – some jobs require intense focus to get done. So if you’re not the most sociable of people, let your boss/co-workers/etc. know so hey can help out. Some teams even work well with a designated “face” – get the gregarious person to get out there and do the work of being likable.

Social Media – Ugh, I’ve seen some people make some sad social media mistakes (most notably, public pictures of them with a beer bong during a job search). If you’re engaged on social media, it might not hurt to ask one of your savvy friends for tips on how that may affect your career.

Investment – I am a strong believer in managing your own investments. In fact my usual take is “Index and/or retirement fund and that’s it). But if you can find someone you trust to advise you, its worth it if you’re not up for that thing. It may take time to find someone reliable (and I’m prone to only trust “investment professionals” after careful evaluation), but its worth it.

Career Steps – We almost all have to “outsource” getting career ideas from people more senior to us as they have the experience. Learn to ask for help, observe those where you want to be, and learn. Trust me, I never expected to be where I am now – but it worked. I probably could have listened earlier.

It’s OK

So look, it’s OK to admit on the job, on the job search, you can’t do everything. I firmly believe you should do as much as you can, but you won’t be able to do it all.

But also be aware – you can fill in someone else’s gaps. There’s things you’ve got. There’s things you’re good at. Maybe you can even set up a trade.

Hell, good co-workers and good friends fill in each others gaps instinctively. you might know more – and need more – than you realize . . .

– Steve

Update – Sailor Moon Book!

Well here’s the latest update on the Sailor Moon Book . . . the research phase is done!

. . . this is not exciting as it sounds.  First, because we’re not doing an in-depth historical book so it’s pretty basic.  Secondly, most information on Sailor Moon is limited, biased, or piecemeal.  The best sources for discussing the experience were Sailor Moon Reflections and Warriors of Legend – both of which ironically focused on aspects of Sailor Moon different from our focus.  Go figure.

The biggest surprise so far seems to be the ill-explored history of Magical Girls.  Everyone traces it back to Sally the Witch, but Sailor Moon seems closer to Princess Comet (the manga, not the 2000’s anime based on it), but there’s really little on that series.  Probably worth revisiting.

Meanwhile Bonnie finished editing the entire book, and integrated new interviews, so now I’m taking this week to do an editing run.  As the book itself is roughly 120-140 pages that’ll go pretty quick.  In fact, I’m rather glad it’s not voluminous – it’s got a friendly, intimate feel.  It’s like a documentary or series of con panels s a book, and we’ve kept a bit of an informal feel inside the formal organization.

Once I do that pass it’s time for her and I to sit down and read it together – then it goes to prereaders and contributors.

Still not dropping until September or so – sorry folks, we want this done right.  But if we can accelerate it . . .

  • Steve

The Power Of Creative Paths Is Out!

And it’s done, out, published, ready – the first of my Sanctum-inspired books, “The Power Of Creative Paths!”  Thanks to everyone for your support!

The book is my guide to improving your creative abilities.  The idea is that you can identify how you create, and then expand your horizons to use other creative methods and work well with people who create differently.  Through advice, exercises, and examples, it’s a way to get better and dreaming things up and reaching those valuable Big Ideas.

It’s also going to be one of several.  I’ve got my Way With Worlds books coming, and am considering a few more.  It’s time for me to do more than Geek Career advice, and this is one of the other things I know about.

So go on, give it a shot!

– Steve

Economics: Lean Into The Pain

So it’s no secret that I preach “follow the economic news.” If you’ve stuck with me any amount of time, you know this. Chances are you’re sick of it.

So when we recently watched the stock market have a seizure, you probably figured “Steve is gonna talk about how we all need to follow economic news.” You were right, so shut up and listen – because this is also geek job guru stuff.

First, there’s really no way to have a good career without paying attention to the economy. You’ve got to know what’s going on, where the jobs are, where they’re leaving, and how to invest for the future. Fortunately the latest downturn gives me a great chance to give some advice on just how to do this without getting bored or distracted.

So let’s talk some Zen.

The Joy Of Breath

First, crises like these are great learning experiences, best illustrated by a Zen parable.

The story goes that a monk told his master that breathing exercises were boring. His master held the student’s head under water, released him, then asked “does breathing seem boring now?” Much like this wise or sadistic monk, this is a good chance to learn.

When stuff goes to hell it makes you pay attention. It makes it less boring. This latest stock market mess, all the news flying around is a great chance to learn.

When your 401K takes a kick to the groin, you will get educated. It helps make economics a lot more interesting – so use this painful moment.

Here’s ways to make this crappy experience educational.

Down The Rabbit Hole

Whenever there’s some economic crisis, there’s talk of why. Now sometimes this is often half-baked or BS, but it’s also a chance to twig on to how the economy runs.

Dive into the news of the causes. Follow it, see what people are saying, how they’re conflicting, and what seems to be true. If it’s a crisis you may be pretty happy to pay attention.

For instance in the latest downturn there’s concern about low oil prices and the Chinese economy. This was a great chance to learn a bit more about the world economy. For me I never realized how a drop in oil prices could be a negative until now (pretty much figured China’s gotta jump the shark at some point).

So when everyone panics and starts grasping for explanations, they’re doing research for you.

Sudden Impact

OK so an economic crisis happened. Ask what happened to you and your friends – judge the impact, and you’ll learn a lot about the economy. Actually it may be forcefully branded into your brain.

One of my most memorable experiences was seeing how economic and political choices in my old home town led to many problems post-9/11. It was strange seeing chickens coming home to roost, and it’s burned into my mind (short form, embrace IT, embrace international trade, be careful on being too dependent on some economic sectors).

Watch. If you’re not too panicked.


Finally, when the smoke clears from whatever stock market drop, corporate collapse, etc. be sure to pay attention to the aftermath. See what people say, see what they learned, see how it affects others. If you’ve at all been affected you probably are instinctively.

Setting a little time to review -in some form – makes sure you can catch potential lessons better.

Painfully Educational

I won’t lie, no small amount of my economic education – both in the large and in personal finances – has been watching what happens when things go wrong. Sometimes that gets your attention and helps you learn – and hopefuly learn to pay attention before things go to hell.

So we just had a stock market kerfluffle. What are you learning?

  • Steve

Lemon Broth Chazuke

Remember how I’ve been experimenting with chazuke for a quick meal?  Well here’s my latest creation, a chazuke uses lemon-flavored teas. Bigelow’s Lemon Lift was the one I used, but you can find others using lemon zest and the like. It has a taste reminiscent of chicken broth – enough I think you could use just the tea-garlic-soy mixture as a broth substitute.

Seriously, this is delicious – and remember you could probably whip this up at cons, especially with the right canned goods or a little refrigerator.


  • 1 ½ cup lemon tea
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic (one clove)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 cups steamed green vegetables – I use broccoli, collard, spinach (you can steam them in a microwave, but spinach will blanch if you pour boiling water on it, from say a coffee maker)
  • Either 1 cup garbanzo beans or 7 ounces of tofu, cubed. (Use 1 ½ cup beans/14 ounces tofu if really hungry or add a cup of rice)
  • ¼ cup frozen corn. (leave out if you use rice)
  • 1 tbsp chives.


  1. 1) Make the tea by mixing the water, garlic, and soy sauce together. Add the tea bag after heated and let seep.
  2. Mix the vegetables, beans/tofu, and corn. Add the tea.
  3. Heat if necessary in microwave to unthaw corn/heat tofu
  4. Add chives, serve.

Urban Sprawl Is Bad For . . . Income Mobility?

So short form is a University of Utah study found Urban sprawl is bad for income mobility.  There’s one I didn’t see coming.

Basically, it seems sprawl reduces access to jobs and plays some role in segregation by various factors  None of this is actually shocking (especially when you consider lousy transport in some sprawl), but is a really interesting reminder of how location seriously affects life and job prospects.

I can definitely say in Silicon Valley I see the advantage of density – more job prospects for people, better contacts, more chances to learn, etc.  It’s paid off for a lot of people I know.

It’s also a great reminder to take a look at where you live, work, and may want to move to.  Sprawl was always a warning to me – I was worried about commuting and about an overheated home economy in the past.  Now it looks like there’s much more to be concerned about.

  • Steve