Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Do you even want to win the game you're playing?

Human beings are a competitive bunch. We want to be HASHTAG WINNING at life. We want to be the BEST and the RICHEST and the BEST LOOKING and WIN EVERY ARGUMENT and have the CUTEST ANIMALS AS PETS HAVE YOU EVEN SEEN FLUFFY I MEAN JUST LOOK AT HER.

We want to win so badly, in fact, that we spend a lot of time trying to win at things that won't actually bring us happiness even if we were to win.

We stay in jobs we don't like chasing a raise. We try to win arguments even if it means destroying a relationship. Some people take up creative pursuits because they think it will bring them riches and fame even though they don't even like writing that much in the first place.

I've seen people work themselves to the bone, getting promotion after promotion, only to wake up one day and see that their life was in tatters and the carrot they were chasing wasn't something they even really wanted. I've seen people get multi-book deals only to realize, after the euphoria of the deal wears off (as it inevitably does), that they didn't even really like writing that much.

They got so caught up in winning for winning's sake they didn't even realize they were playing the wrong game.

No doubt, winning is fun! Accomplishments make life worth living. And, apologies to the Notorious B.I.G. (RIP), but having mo' money is easier than having less.

But the joy of winning is fleeting, and there are lots of pursuits you can throw yourself into. The job you're in is not the only one that will offer a promotion as a carrot. Your side project isn't the only hobby you can have.

So how do you know you're in the wrong game? You know it when you're busy playing the "if only" game:
If only I get a raise, then I'll be happy. 
If only I get a promotion, then I'll be happy. 
If only I could get a little more work experience, then I'll go get the job I want to have and then I'll be happy. 
If only my significant other would agree to marry me, then I'll be happy. 
If only I could get an agent, then I'll be happy.
The game you're meant to be playing will make you happy even if you don't win it. You'll genuinely be in it for the love of the game.

And then, after a ton of hard work, when you are hashtag winning at the game you are meant to be playing, victory is very sweet indeed.

Footnote: I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! More info here. And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: The Trickster by Zacharie Noterman

Friday, February 10, 2017

The past few weeks in books 2/10/17

We've had some weather. I'm on Instagram @NathanBransford
Well, it's certainly been an interesting few weeks, and I have accordingly collected some interesting articles and blog posts that caught my eye. It wouldn't be fair to hoard them myself, so here they are!

Oh, publishing industry assistants. Underpaid, overqualified, rejecting everything in sight. Jessica Faust has an ode to you.

Congrats to the Edgar Award nominees! (That's the one for the mysteries).

Want to hire a freelance editor? Here are 5 things you should do first.

One of the best ways to find an agent is via a referral. But how do you get one? Agent Wendy Lawton has great advice on the key: invest in other writers over a long period of time.

Agent Jessica Faust has some advice on writing in difficult times (as nearly everyone finds our current era).

How does one become as prolific as Isaac Asmiov? Charles Chu plundered his autobiography for tips on never running out of ideas, including one great idea: don't fight getting stuck, work on something else for a while.

The NY Times had some great interviews with interesting authors lately, including John Edgar Wideman and Roxane Gay.

And this publishing industry article by Mike Shatzkin is super wonky as always, but it has an important central thesis: ebook sales probably aren't slowing down, and Amazon is still gobbling everything.

In politics and books news, Philip Roth had some thoughts on the parallels between his 2004 book The Plot Against America, which imagined FDR losing the 1940 to surprise populist/Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh, and our current surprise populist president. Roth thought it was more comprehensible that Lindbergh could have won in 1940 than Trump today.

And the NY Times took a fresh look at the parallels between our present time and Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here, which imagined a populist president coming to power in the 1930s.

Both of these books, incidentally, are selling like hotcakes on Amazon at the moment.

And in politics and culture news, is Netflix and the niche-ificaiton of media (I made up that phrase) deepening our cultural echo chambers?

Editor Joy Peskin bravely slammed Simon & Schuster for giving Milo Yiannopoulos a book deal, a rare example of on-the-record intra-publishing criticism.

Slate had a look at how reality TV narratives (including my beloved The Bachelor) help explain Donald Tump.

And in quite the sign of the times, the New Yorker wants you to know it has a way to submit tips completely securely.

Comment! of! the! week! goes to David, whose brevity in response to "How are you doing?" is a great example of doing a lot with a few words:
No longer unspeakably depressed. Just grimly resigned.
And finally, if you need some inspiration for the weekend, my friend Maya Neria has an awesome post on Medium about the power of believing in change.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Are people persuadable?

One of the things I've found fascinating throughout the election and beyond, is the extent to which people are, or aren't persuadable.
  • Is there really such a thing as a swing voter? 
  • What makes people change their minds?
  • What are the lines in the sand that trigger reversals of opinion?
  • When we sit around talking about politics with people who disagree with us, are we just wasting our time?
In the aftermath of the election, few things have felt more urgent to liberals than to understand why people voted as they did and the need to try to persuade the persuadable.

But is this a lost cause?

Quartz recently published an article on the scientific! proven! way to have conversations across party lines. And then an article in The Atlantic posited that instead of being all conversational maybe you really should just call people racist.

Color me a bit skeptical that there's a formula to persuasion. When people are confronted with information that runs counter to their pre-conceived ideas, don't most people tend to double-down? Don't most people decide first with their gut and then back into the evidence?

But people do change their mind, don't they? What happens when they do?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The curse of having too much time

My new writing haunt - the Rose Room at the NYPL. I'm on Instagram @nathanbransford
When I was laid off at my previous job a few months back I was suddenly confronted with a problem I hadn't experienced since my college years: I had all the time in the world.

And yes! I chose the words "confronted" and "problem" intentionally! I had no idea it was going to be as much of a challenge to write when I had more time than less time.

When I was laid off I had YUGE plans with what I was going to do with my free time. I was going to write! I was going to travel! I was going to go to museums! I was going to blog! I was going to edit people's novels! I was going to job hunt! I was going to be one of those people sitting in a cafe at 2pm on a Tuesday making everyone with a day job wonder "Who has time to sit in a cafe at 2pm on a Tuesday?" I WAS GOING TO BE THAT GUY.

And I did do all of those things! Well. Except the writing part...

Here's the thing I didn't appreciate about being really busy with a day job: you have structure. You have things you must do because of such practical realities like "paying your rent" and "paying adequate attention to people who love you."

Want to write while you have a full time job? Chances are you have two or three choices when you can possibly write. So you better do it then. And when you have time? Better get crackin'.

There's something about being busy that made me commit to writing in the few openings in my schedule whether I wanted to or not. For me, it was the weekends or bust.

When you have all the time in the world? You have endless choice, it's easy to put off writing ("I have time! I can do it later!"), and you have to go out of your way to create structure.

The good news is that I have begun to turn the corner, and have started organizing my day around job hunting, then writing, then leaving some time for other pursuits. I forced myself to create some structure so I wouldn't neglect the writing.

And in the meantime, I'll be that guy making the tourists wonder, "What New Yorker has time to sit in the Rose Room at 2pm on a Tuesday?"

Have you struggled to create structure when you suddenly have time? How did you do it?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How are you staying productive?

We were already living in an era of distraction, and that was before a polarizing presidential election and breaking news coming at us fast and furious. My social media feeds used to be an eclectic mix of a range of interests. Now? 100% politics.

I keep getting sucked into reading the news, getting into discussions, waiting to see what is going to happen next, and not getting nearly enough writing done.

I've never lived in a time less-suited for quiet concentration. And yet isn't that precisely what we all need right now?

How are you staying productive? Anyone managing to block out the noise? Any tips?

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