March 27, 2016

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With the SciFutures Treatment (an idea bank company) Guy Stewart #34 September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

I’m going to skip the history a bit because I’m still somewhat in shock…

I am part of an online writers group called CODEX. We trade writing advice, share frustrations, and celebrate success together.

Occasionally, we share new markets or comment on closed ones.

In December of 2014, one of the members posted a call for writers for this company: “SciFutures - Prototyping the Future: SciFutures is a tech and innovation company that uses storytelling and science fiction prototyping to guide organizations in creating their preferred futures. We specialize in big, long established companies that need assistance dealing with the rate of exponential change that's happening in the world today. Find out what it's like writing science fiction stories for these corporations and what it means to be a futurist in this realm.”

I’d published a book and several articles that helped people use science in everyday life, from preaching children’s sermons to an experiment you could do involving heart rate and respiration at an all-girl sleepover. The science part was natural. The writing part was natural, too. So…

I sent the requested information and after a few, brief exchanges, really didn’t hear much from them until Thursday, March 17. I got this in my email before I left for work: “Dear Writers: I would like to invite you all to participate in our current brief on mood modulation which I have attached. It would be appreciated if you can let me know if you are unable to complete this assignment so I can offer your place to another writer. The deadline for this brief is Monday the 21st by 9am.”


How could anyone expect me to be creative, artistic, and you know, WRITERLY in four days?

I read the brief, and then I knew that contrary to what my “author’s voice” was screaming at me, I could do this. Besides, I’d done work-for-hire before. I talk about it here…hmmm…I just realized that I have NOT talked about it. I worked for the Science Museum of Minnesota and the television series, NEWTON’S APPLE writing curriculum that went with the TV broadcasts, as well as vacation Bible school puppet shows and activities for AugsburgFortress Publishing, and a handbook of twenty-six activities you could do with an online children’s magazine’s first story collection (only got a “kill fee” for that one).

At any rate, they wanted two treatments for the idea and as I work with high school students, the connections were obvious and I made use of experiences that I’d had in my thirty years of teaching and in the past five years as a guidance counselor.

I followed the formatting rules they’d included, wrote up the beginning of the stories (they only wanted about 1000 words each) and sent them off. The pay they offered was HUGE compared the amount of work involved – but then I realized that except for getting my work in CRICKET, CICADA, and ANALOG, the pay I’d gotten writing for the museum, the PBS television channel, and the religious publisher as a work-for-hire was coming out of a corporate budget and I didn’t retain any rights.

That might be the “worst” part of the deal. By the same token, it’s unlikely that I’ll be doing any more writing about Dr. Jill Yaeger, for a defunct TV Science show, or vacation Bible school curriculum all on my own. The mood modification ideas are interesting, but I actually like writing about aliens more than I like writing near-future SF…though I should point out that my sales of alien stories are minimal while my sale of stories dealing with technology in the near-to-century-ahead and how Humans interact with it have been noticeably more numerous…hmmm.

Two days ago, a HUGE deposit appeared in my PayPal account. They liked the ideas and promptly paid for them!The take-away from this Writing Advice:
  1. I went with my strengths – science and writing.
  2. I took up a challenge.
  3. I’m not an “author” (subject to “the inspiration of the Muse”), I AM a writer!
  4. I do work-for-hire – not often, but as necessary.
  5. I CAN write to a deadline, even when it’s short!
  6. I shouldn’t have been surprised (but I was!), I’m a pretty good writer and I like thinking about how science and Humans interact.

Anyone else out there work-for-hire sometimes? What was your experience like?

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