The Toddlers Inside

I just wrote a letter and as I wrote it, I realized something profound. It’s not so much that my Critical Voice is out of control, it’s that I’ve developed a very finely tuned instrument to persuade people without offending them in writing. It’s something I’ve practiced and done well at, both in work and within my veganism and Judaism. I just did it again and it felt comfortable and easy. The occasional prodding voice that says, “maybe rephrase this because written this way it may offend someone who reads this,” is something truly useful and I’m pleased and proud that I learned how to do this. 

The problem is that it’s been poking into fiction where that prodding voice doesn’t belong. The problem for fiction isn’t that it needs to be quietly persuasive and non-offensive. No, the problem here is that I need to tell a good story using words that provoke emotion and sensory experiences. The task is different but my critical sense hasn’t evolved to meet it. 

I think this is also why gaming supplements are easier to write. While they are creative, sometimes wildly so, they require the same type of writing as business writing. They are reference books when all is said and done. Even the adventures have more in common with technical writing or writing for education than they do with fiction, although pieces of fiction are occasionally inserted into a gaming supplement.

One very useful aspect of Dave Farland’s KAV method or Dean’s 400 words of depth, or CL Polk’s Sensory Details from a Panic Attack Method is that they give my critical voice something useful to latch onto. Instead of a largely useless and problematic focus on what will or won’t offend people (the wrong test for fiction) it can be very useful to ask: Do I mention each of the five senses in the beginning? Are the senses in the correct order (KAV)? Do I have enough senses and if I don’t how do I get more?

It’s popular in my circle to say that we have to stomp down hard on our critical voices, but I’m reconsidering my relationship with mine. Kris Rusch in her lecture on How to Read Like a Writer shows a chart of development for Creative Voice and Critical Voice. She points out that Creative Voice is far more developed than Critical Voice because we’ve been absorbing stories since we were able to understand our language. As a result, Creative Voice understands story in a pre-verbal but profound way that Critical Voice cannot match.

Kris uses the metaphor of Creative Voice as an energetic toddler exploring the world and having fun. She describes Critical Voice as the parent. But perhaps they are both toddlers, just of different sorts and our job is to help one find their way outside to explore and give the other worthwhile tasks to occupy their energy.

Things my Critical Voice does well are making lists, checking things, focusing on the minutiae, and so forth. These are all critical tasks in writing fiction, but they typically don’t need to happen at the same time that the Creative voice is throwing paint at the canvas. 


Since it’s been a while, here’s an update of sorts. 

The House

We’ve been very busy with the new house and not just in the sense that we needed to unpack and continue to find serious problems that need to be fixed. We also have the renovations we’ve been working on.

We now have a floor plan for phase one of the renovations and a tentative start date. They will be breaking ground in January. We are combining our love of Asian artistic elements with Santa Fe Style to create a house that we will adore living in. We’ve chosen the wood for the floors and the structure for the four new areas. We are taking the room we call a Solarium, which is a very large space with peeling laminate flooring and reducing its size. 

Part will become a back patio area with outdoor furniture and a Japanese-style garden. (The outdoor landscaping is probably Phase Two. Phase one is creating the space.) The west side of the solarium will become a tatami-covered meditation/yoga room with built-in benches (“bancos”) along the walls with storage space inside and, hopefully, a “nicho” to display a statue or other art. The east side of the solarium is currently occupied by a secondary kitchen. We will transform the kitchen into an office for Steve. Our interior designer, Christopher, has some great ideas for items that will help Steve work better. 

The end result will be a smaller, but still large, solarium connected by a moon gate and two steps leading to the Gathering Room. We plan to bring the ceiling down slightly with an Asian/Santa Fe style wood beam ceiling with a ceiling fan in the center and lighting along the sides. I am not yet sure what we will do with solarium, but I suspect we will set it up as a place to sit and meet with friends, writers, and others.

In addition to creating new spaces by reducing the solarium, we will also create a laundry room from space in the garage. This will give us back our coat closet to use as a closet.


My secret identity will publish a French version of one of our stories and I have plans for a lot more from that pseudonym. 

We are finishing up Biremes & Triremes, incorporating playtest comments into the book. Working with Steve Jackson Games on this project has been an overall good experience. They are quite picky, but they bring a wealth of knowledge to this and they’ve connected us with people we’ve only admired from afar. We will be doing more for them in the future.

I continue to be easily distracted away from writing science fiction/fantasy but since I am producing a fair amount of other stuff, I’m not beating myself up over that. I continue to work on a variety of stories (short, novella, and novel) in a variety of genres.

In November I’ll be taking Dean and Kris’ course on how to write and publish relationship stories. I’m looking forward to that, but anticipate that it will be a lot of work. From now until then, my task is to finish up other projects and clear space in the calendar for that.

I hope you are finding your own route to productivity and a good relationship with your Critical Voice and Creative Voice toddlers. Be well, friends!

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