The Seventy/Thirty Question

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

There’s a book called DIY MFA which argues you don’t need an MFA to be a writer.  Instead one needs to a roadmap to developing skills, analyzing writing, and networking.  A lofty promise, but one I felt the book fulfilled, though some of it seemed very “standard” to me.

After some thought I realized of course some of the book seemed simple and standard – those were the parts I already knew.  Perhaps seventy percent of the book was things I knew (if not always did), but the other thirty percent was invaluable.  I had to wade through seventy percent to get the thirty I never thought of.

It was totally worth it.

I think this seventy/thirty rule is why writing conferences, guides, and meetups can seem repetitive to many.  Must we have another discussion of grammar, of romance tropes, of cover design?  Why must we hear something that I or we already know?

I myself have had these experiences.  I was wrong.

Writer events and groups cover seemingly repetitive subjects because we all have different seventy percent (do know) and thirty percent (don’t know).  Some of us are operating at fifty-fifty, and others are at ninety-ten and unable to fill in that last ten percent.

As we share with our fellow writers, let’s have some compassion and remember we all know things – and we all have gaps.

That means if you do know something, then share it.  There will be people who want to learn from you, even on subjects you consider pedestrian or repetitive.  Your seventy percent is their thirty percent – and you might just be the person that explains the lessons to them in a way that sticks.

This also means neither you nor anyone else should feel guilty requesting or attending classes on subjects that seem basic or cover the same ground.  You have your thirty percent of ignorance and for others, there’s probably overlap.  Stand up and ask to learn because I guarantee you’re not alone.

Let me close with a suggestion.  Create a list of things you’re competent at as a writer and things you could do better at.  Ask what you can share with your fellow creatives – and where you can boldly ask for help.

Your fellows might not just help you and be helped, but learn about their seventy and thirty as well.

Steven Savage

Write Every Day? Maybe . . .

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

You’ve probably heard of the advice that a writer should write every day. I disagree with that – I feel writers have to find their own pace – but it works for me and seems to work for a majority of authors I know. But, let me clarify that though it works for me, how it works for me wasn’t what I expected . . .

In trying to write every day, I found myself under strain to keep up on my various projects. Much of what I do involves writing, and thus writing every day was hard, as I tried to keep up on the many things I wrote.

You probably see where this is going, but to clarify – I tried to write on everything each day if possible.

Eventually I asked myself, why try to keep up on every project every day? It was tiresome, reduced focus, and the context switching was exhausting. Why, I asked, did I try to cover so much at one time.

Yeah, again, you see where this is going. I took the idea of writing every day and used it to touch every project each day.

What I’ve been trying recently is to focus on writing each day, but to deep dive on one of my projects. This could, in some cases, be three or four hours of writing if I’m in the mood. But, the goal each day is to write on something – but not necessarily the same thing each day.

This has been a revelation to me – though for you it may seem obvious. I was diluting my focus each day, getting less done with more stress. So far, I’ve gotten a lot more done and had a lot less stress.

There are a few insights I wanted to share:

  • This deep dive applies to just about anything from writing – writing, editing, formatting.
  • I find a “focus per day” works well, but the same things each day might get boring. You may need a break or have to focus on something else. At least you’ll do so after you’ve accomplished something.
  • This write-each-day-on-different-things works very well with goal setting as you can create much more solid goals per day – perhaps set goals for both days and weeks.
  • This approach develops discipline of focus as opposed to discipline for juggling.
  • It’s a good way to find if you’ve got too much to do. I already learned I was juggling too much.

I hope this insight helps you. It certainly has helped me – and you may just see more out of me now (or if less, be assured I’m productive in other areas).

Steven Savage

There’s So Much Stuff Out There

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

We live in a time of soul-crushing opportunity.

In this age, we can create so many works. We can publish books physical and electronic. We can make podcasts that fly across the internet. As I’ve heard it put, so many ways, “there’s just so much stuff out there.”

This then begs the question, “why create?” From giant conglomerates to people like ourselves, there’s so many people making things to read, watch, and so on. The chance of our works finding purchase in the world seems slim indeed, even if we pour heart and soul into marketing.

If we do work mightily to market, it takes time and luck and money and effort that could be used for writing. Even if success seems likely, how much of a drain is it on the time of a writer or artist?

It’s easy to get tired and discouraged. Worse, the idea of the “angry and discouraged artist” in our culture is an archetype, an image of despair we may too easily latch on to. There’s a blueprint for self-loathing and defeat readily provided when we get frustrated with all this stuff.

I get this too. I can do things beyond my wildest dreams with my writing and my works, and it takes me into a dizzying world of potential and despair. I’ve thought about it, and at times wonder, despite some twenty-plus books, “why?”

Then the answers come to me – and it’s always the same.

I write because I like to write, its what I do. If I wasn’t doing books I’d be writing something else. So it might as well be books, and I like writing books. If you like to create, then create.

I write because I do have thinks to say. I do believe in worldbuilding. I believe in improving creativity. I like to make fiction. If you have something to say then find a way to say it with your creativity.

I write because in this age I enjoy the challenge. I’m tired of the overload of things, of the onslaught of a thousand titles. I might as well try to stand out. Maybe if nothing else promote your works out of sheer bloody-minded determination.

I write because I want to find ways to crack the marketing of books. Because my works are worth seeing. Because if I learn something I can share it. So learn to market – your way – so you can beat the system and help others.

I don’t know what the future brings. Technology changes are driven by algorithmic takes on our own biases. The climate cracks under ill-conceived policies. Politics is a dumpster fire. But I am a writer, a creator, and this is what I do.

It’s what you do too. So do it, take your place among the legions of stuff coming out there, make your stand. It’s better than giving in. Better to make our place in this changing world and the overwhlemingness of the times.

Steven Savage