Writing fiction with Atom

I’m giving Atom a try this year for writing short stories. After fighting with other tools, I feel most comfortable with code editors, so why not try it?

Things that I like about Atom:

I have been using Atom to write Markdown on and off for a long time. Here are a few things I had to configure to have a good writing experience.

Add necessary packages

Configure core packages

Bonus

Update [2020-01-25]


The articles below inspired me, and helped me get started on the right track:

January 1, 2020

2020 Goals

Mostly this new year I want to follow Ray Bradbury’s advice and hope to do so by implementing Heinlein’s rules as closely as possible.

That means writing short fiction and submitting some of it to markets. Let’s forget the novel for now and let’s focus instead on building on top of small victories.

Goals

  1. Write one short story a week
  2. Submit stories to markets
  3. Read one short story a week, at least
  4. Review progress regularly
    • Keep track of progress, successes, challenges, etc.
    • Bonus: Write a weekly blog entry reviewing challenges, victories and failures.

Bonus

  1. Keep the craft as simple as possible
December 31, 2019

“You must write to the end of the story.
You must make progress toward that end today.”

— Harlan Ellison

December 30, 2019

Heinlein’s Rules

I am just now learning about Heinlein’s rules for writing:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

And it’s ironic that I didn’t know about these rules, because one of my favorite writers was a firm follower of them. Harlan Ellison even rewrote the third rule to read “You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order. And then only if you agree".

To get a better understanding of the rules I read Heinlein’s Rules: Five Simple Business Rules for Writing by Dean Wesley Smith, who does follow the rules himself in his personal writing. In the book he explains the spirit behind each rule in detail.

I’ve always been fascinated by prolific writers (Ellison famously wrote over 1,700 stories), and these rules seem like the right blueprint for such a feat.

Of course, not everybody agrees with the rules. But, hey, isn’t that the same with all rules?


I should also recognize that these rules (specifically rule #3) contradict another famous quote attributed to many writers:

”Stories aren’t written are rewritten.”

—John Dufresne

December 29, 2019

In one sentence: Uncanny Valley by Greg Egan

Uncanny Valley is a short story about our need to hide the truth and our quest for selfdiscovery.

As Adam turned toward him, his mind went roaming down the darkness of the alley, impatiently following the glistening thread, unable to shake off the sense of urgency that told him: Take hold of this now, or it will be lost forever. He didn’t need to linger in their beds for long; just a few samples of that annihilating euphoria were enough to stand in for all the rest. Maybe that was the engine powering everything that followed, but what it dragged along behind it was like a newlyweds’ car decorated by a thousand exuberant well-wishers.

He tried grabbing the rattling cans of their fights, running his fingers over the rough texture of all the small annoyances and slights, mutually wounded pride, frustrated good intentions. Then he felt the jagged edge of a lacerating eruption of doubt.

But something had happened that blunted the edge, then folded it in on itself again and again, leaving a seam, a ridge, a scar. Afterward, however hard things became, there was no questioning the foundations. They’d earned each other’s trust, and it was unshakeable.


He strode toward the gate, wheeling a single suitcase. Away from the shelter of the old man’s tomb, he’d have no identity of his own to protect him, but he’d hardly be the first undocumented person who’d tried to make it in this country.

December 28, 2019

“What are stories but mystery boxes?”

— J.J. Abrams

December 27, 2019

In One Sentence: Student Body by F. L. Wallace

A story about humans colonizing a new world and finding them outsmarted by the local biodiversity.

In two days, the machine was ready.

It was delivered in a small crate to the warehouse. The crate was opened and the machine leaped out and stood there, poised.

“A cat!” exclaimed the quartermaster, pleased. He stretched out his hand toward the black fuzzy robot.


Even about himself there were many things man didn’t know, dark patches in his knowledge which theory simply had to pass over. About other creatures, his ignorance was sometimes limitless.

December 27, 2019

In One Sentence: The Deathbird by Harlan Ellison

One sentence review: A beautiful and complex metafictional parable that rewrites the myths of Adam and Eve, and lures the reader into swapping the roles of Devil and God.

In 1974 The Deathbird won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette and Locus Award for Best Short Story. Here are some quotes from this short story:

But he was patient. Perhaps the most patient of all his people.

Thousands of years later, when he saw how it was destined to go, when there was no doubt left how it would end, he understood that was the reason he had been chosen to stay behind.

But it did not help the loneliness.

[…]

It was like an old man. Seamed, ancient, dirt caked in striated lines, autumnal, lonely; black and desolate, piled strength upon strength. It would -not give in to gravity and pressure and death. It struggled for the sky. Ferociously alone, it was the only feature that broke the desolate line of the horizon.

[..]

The Great Coiled One–whose rings were loops of wisdom acquired through centuries of gentleness and perception and immersed meditations that had brought forth lovely designs for many worlds–he who was the holiest of Dira’s race, honored Dira by coming to him, rather than commanding Dira to appear.

We have only one gift to leave them, he said. Wisdom. This mad one will come, and he will lie to them, and he will tell them: created he them. And we will be gone, and there will be nothing between them and this mad one but you. Only you can give them the wisdom to defeat him in their own good time. Then the Great Coiled One stroked the skin of Dira with ritual affection, and Dira was deeply moved and could not reply. Then he was left alone.

The mad one came, and interposed himself, and Dira gave them wisdom, and time passed. His name became other than Dira, it became Snake, and the new name was despised: but Dira could see the Great Coiled One had been correct in his readings. So Dira made his selection.

[…]

The man was not Jesus of Nazareth. He may have been Simon. Not Genghis Khan, but perhaps a foot soldier in his horde. Not Aristotle, but possibly one who sat and listened to Socrates in the agora. Neither the shambler who discovered the wheel nor the link who first ceased painting himself blue and applied the colors to the walls of the cave. But one near them, somewhere near at hand. The man was not Richard Coeur-de-Lion, Rembrandt, Richelieu, Rasputin, Robert Fulton or the Mahdi. Just a man. With the spark.

[…]

And the sickness raged on unchecked. Nations crumbled, the oceans boiled and then grew cold and filmed over with scorn, the air became thick with dust and killing vapors, flesh ran like oil, the skies grew dark, the sun blurred and became dull. The Earth moaned.

The plants suffered and consumed themselves, beasts became crippled and went mad, trees burst into flame and from their ashes rose glass shapes that shattered in the wind. The Earth was dying; a long, slow, painful death.

December 26, 2019

Short Stories to Read on 2020

Collections of short stories

Short stories by a single author

December 26, 2019

One short story a week

That’s Ray Bradbury’s advice: Write one short story a week, 52 short stories a year.

The best hygiene for for beginning writers, or intermediate writers, is to write a hell of a lot of short stories.

If you could write one short story per week. Doesn’t matter what the quality is to start. But at least you’re practicing. And at the end of the year you have 52 short stories.

And I defy you to write 52 bad ones. It can’t be done. It can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden a story will come that’s just wonderful.

— Ray Bradbury

December 25, 2019

Harlan Ellison on Writing

The only thing worth writing about is people. People. Human beings. Men and women whose individuality must be created, line by line, insight by insight. If you do not do it, the story is a failure.

—Harlan Ellison


There is no nobler chore in the universe than holding up the mirror of reality and turning it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the ‘normal’, the obvious. People are reflected in the glass. The fantasy situation into which you thrust them is the mirror itself. And what we are shown should illuminate and alter our perception of the world around us. Failing that, you have failed totally.

—Harlan Ellison


The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.

—Harlan Ellison


Get a day job, make your money from that, and write to please yourself.

—Harlan Ellison


It is not merely enough to love literature if one wishes to spend one’s life as a writer. It is a dangerous undertaking on the most primitive level. For, it seems to me, the act of writing with serious intent involves enormous personal risk. It entails the ongoing courage for self-discovery. It means one will walk forever on the tightrope, with each new step presenting the possiblity of learning a truth about oneself that is too terrible to bear.

—Harlan Ellison


I don’t know how you perceive my mission as a writer, but for me it is not a responsibility to reaffirm your concretized myths and provincial prejudices. It is not my job to lull you with a false sense of the rightness of the universe. This wonderful and terrible occupation of recreating the world in a different way, each time fresh and strange, is an act of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. I stir the soup. I inconvenience you. I make your nose run and your eyeballs water.

—Harlan Ellison


When you’re all alone out there, on the end of the typewriter, with each new story a new appraisal by the world of whether you can still get it up or not, arrogance and self-esteem and deep breathing are all you have. It often looks like egomania. I assure you it’s the bold coverup of the absolutely terrified.

—Harlan Ellison


Writing a novel is like going a great distance to take a small shit.

—Harlan Ellison


Because the chief commodity a writer has to sell is his courage. And if he has none, he is more than a coward. He is a sellout and a fink and a heretic, because writing is a holy chore.

—Harlan Ellison


Entertain, yes. That goes without saying. But a good writer does that automatically, it’s built into the machine. Telling a thumpingly good, mesmerizing story is what one does without question. But beyond that, any writer worth his/her hire knows that all writing, one way or another, is subversive. It is guerrilla warfare against the status quo.

—Harlan Ellison


The explanations a writer gives himself for having written any particular book are more often not the real reasons why that book has been written. Honesty is not the issue. Understanding is. A man does not write one novel at a time or even one quatrain at a time. He is engaged in the long process of putting his whole life on paper. He is on a journey and he is reporting in: ‘This is where I think I am and this is what this place looks like today.’

—Harlan Ellison


I intend to keep writing stories that piss people off, that tell the particular kind of truth I think is valid, that will make me feel more and more like a Writer of Stature, Which I honestly think I am, really, I mean it, I don’t doubt it for a second dammit, so stop giggling! Stories that will make Dr Shedd sniff the air and make Lester smile as je thinks, “The kid’s coming along all right.

—Harlan Ellison


The solitary creator, dreaming his or her dream, unaided, seems to me to be the only artist we can trust.

—Harlan Ellison


People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.

—Harlan Ellison


A writer who writes more than he reads is an amateur.

—Harlan Ellison

December 25, 2019

Sci-Fi Magazine Submissions

Story Lengths

Resources

Markets

December 24, 2019

“You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success.”

—Neil Gaiman

December 23, 2019

We are all the same,
all that’s different
is the story we tell ourselves
about who we are.

September 30, 2019

Automan

How delightfully awesome is this old 80’s representation of a sentient AI/robot:

September 14, 2019

Although my mother was never officially diagnosed — the idea of seeking a medical intervention added to her feelings of failure and shame — it’s clear that she suffered from some form of depression. Other women of her generation, including the poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, had also killed themselves, leaving behind their children. As a young woman studying to be a writer in the decades after their deaths, I feared that someday I might find myself sitting in a dark kitchen going over all the ways in which I had wasted my life and become a failure. I didn’t think any of these women had been killed by their writing, but the introspection required to compose poems — or diary entries in my mother’s case — was difficult and dangerous work. You couldn’t write anything true, complex, or beautiful unless you were willing to examine the unsettling thoughts in your own head; you had to force yourself to contemplate the random nature of the world and the limitations of human goodness. Getting depressed might be an occupational hazard. I wondered how I could be like these smart, creative women — my actual mother and my literary mothers — without inheriting their fate.

—Kyoko Mori One Man’s Poison

September 2, 2019

“Everyone complains about the laws of physics, but no one does anything about them.”1 —Greg Egan, Schild’s Ladder


  1. “I believe the original version was ‘Everyone complains about human nature.’ When the second half became patently fair, three meme just shifted context. You can treat the meaning right out of these one-liners, and they’ll still find a way to keep propagating.” —Greg Egan, Schild’s Ladder

August 21, 2019

How to write a complex SciFi plot without going mad

Here’s my revelation of the day: There are two stories to a book:

Those don’t need to match. They need to overlap. The plot is contained within the larger story.

I guess, I finally understood the story vs plot distinction. One is flat, objective, boring, the other is has dramatic intensity and emotion.

So how to write a complex SciFi plot without going mad1:

  1. Write the (hi)story first. Do not worry about structure. Just facts that are consistent.
  2. Then figure out a plot that fits within that story.

  1. No warranties though.

July 30, 2019

Negroponte on Transhumanism

“We will have genetically modified humans and we will correct nature’s mistakes. It will be a very different future.”

[…]

“This will happen with the next generation. It’s a bit late for us, because reverting the ageing process is harder. But there is no doubt that your children and my grandchildren will live to be 150. And we’ll make people with disabilities walk again, and later we will be able to eliminate rare diseases.”

Also he comments on the techno-pesimism that abounds today even as we rely more and more on technology (or maybe it’s precisely because we do).

“There is a growing sense of skepticism all over the world, that technology has created many of the problems that we now need to solve,” he says. “If you look at it objectively and with perspective, technology has brought many solutions, such as in medicine, and the problems are mostly due to the way we use the technology.”

July 26, 2019

Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their thinking.

—Mary Poppins1


  1. Is that so? Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Mary Poppins: you don’t fool me a bit! —Parrot Umbrella

July 23, 2019

View the archives