World Building Science Fiction – Mercury

(My sources are cited at the bottom of this article. For much of this article, I researched the content put out by Isaac Arthur, who in 2020, was named the recipient of the National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Education via Mass Media)

Mercury is one of the most neglected planets in Science Fiction. Mars or Venus are usually the sites for fictional colonization. One might think Mercury’s close proximity to the sun and its lacking atmosphere would make it a dud.

But there are actually several reasons why an airless ball of silicon and metal next to the sun could have potential.

Below I will include resources that could be helpful to science fiction writers.

Since people don’t commonly write about Mercury, it would be a great way to come up with something unique that would make their work stand out.


MERCURY’S LONG TERM POTENTIAL AS A DYSON SWARM

In the long term, Mercury could be used as a building supply store to construct power collectors, and then disassembled to form the basis of a Dyson Swarm.

A Dyson Sphere is a megastructure that completely encompasses a star and captures a large percentage of its power output. The thought is that this would be how a space fairing civilization would meet its energy requirements, exceeding what could be provided by planets alone.

A Dyson Swarm is a variant that consists of a large number of independent constructs (usually solar power satellites and space habitats) orbiting in a dense formation around the star.

However, turning Mercury into such a structure would take a very long time. Longer than the longest human civilizations have existed. Human beings don’t seem capable of dedicating themselves to such a long-term endeavor, but some kind of AI-human hybrid with a super long lifespan might. So if you decide to write a story about a people turning Mercury into a Dyson Swarm, you might also want to make them into something more than human.


BENEFITS OF COLONIZING MERCURY IN THE NEAR AND MIDTERM

What about Mercury’s near term/mid-term colonization potential, in case we don’t want to wait for the time span of several civilizations for it to become useful?  What are the benefits?

Solar Energy:

The proximity to the sun presents potential for harnessing a tremendous amount of solar energy, collecting solar energy for both Mercury, and other planets in a colonized solar system. This could be achieved via orbital solar arrays, which would be able to harness energy constantly and beam it to the surface. This energy could then be beamed to other planets in the Solar System using a series of transfer stations positioned at Lagrange Points.

A Heavy Metal World: 

Like Earth, Mercury is a terrestrial planet, which means it is made up of silicate rocks and metals that are differentiated between an iron core and silicate crust and mantle. However, unlike the Earth, Mercury’s composition is 70% metal. As a result, if Mercury were to be mined, it could produce enough raw materials to supply humanity indefinitely.

Similar Gravity to Mars and a Low Escape Velocity:

The gravity on Mercury is 38% that of Earth, which is similar to what Mars experiences. This is twice the level of gravity of the moon, making Mercury easier to adjust to than the moon. The low gravity coupled with the lacking atmosphere (no air drag) also gives the planet a low escape velocity, making it easier for ships to escape Mercury, in that they’d require fewer resources to do so. This would make Mercury a great site for exporting materials, especially considering their wealth of metals. Also, it would make Mercury a great site for building ships, especially if human beings become an interstellar civilization. If stellar lasers were built near the sun, a vessel could be launched from Mercury and pushed by lasers out of the solar system. And hydrogen for fuel would certainly be plentiful given the solar winds blasting Mercury.

Proximity to Earth: 

As a resource-rich world, Mercury is closer to Earth than the Asteroid Belt or Saturn. Mercury also achieves an inferior conjunction (the point where it is at its closest point to Earth) every 116 days, which is significantly shorter than either Venus or Mars. Basically, missions destined for Mercury could launch almost every four months, whereas launch windows to Venus and Mars would have to take place every 1.6 years and 26 months, respectively.


HOW TO MAKE COLONIZATION ON MERCURY WORK?

Mobile Bases: 

Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. Therefore, we tend to think of it as the hottest, but Venus actually beats it for peak temperature. Also, what many people don’t expect is that Mercury can get very cold. Mercury gets downright cold at night, unlike Venus, since it has no atmosphere, just a thin haze of mostly hydrogen and helium from the captured solar wind.

One way to avoid getting too hot or too cold is to set up mobile bases. These mobile bases would chase terminator, so Mercurians can get some solar power, but to where it hadn’t heated around or cooled down that much.

People would set up their camps where it’s cool and move on when the light and heat are too much. They would drive ahead to someplace that’s cold. But not so cold that they couldn’t work there. This would be good for mining.

An example of this in science fiction is what people did in Dune when they were avoiding giant sandworms while harvesting the Spice Melange.

People living in mobile bases would need to set up backup vehicles and engines in case one died. And they could use the extra energy from these backup vehicles while moving in order to power smelters and refineries.

Heating things up on Mercury to smelt them wouldn’t be too hard. A solar oven would work quite well because of the proximity to the sun and the fact that there are are no clouds in the atmosphere.

Mercury’s night side is also a good place to get rid of heat—something hard to find anywhere else near the sun. If one is generating a lot of heat, they can only get rid of that by radiating it away.

Down on Mercury’s light side, people could use conduction too, so they might have mobile factories at work, not just mining and refining operations.

The Great Flat Track of Mercury:

China has the Great Wall. Mercury might have the Great Flat Track.

As I mentioned earlier, getting what you want off of Mercury wouldn’t be that hard. The planet has an escape velocity of just 4.25 km/s, and an orbital velocity of just 3 km/s. It has no air. If Mercurians had a flat track from where vehicles could take off, without having to worry about air drag, leaving would be easy. However, landing would be hard. (A sort of opposite Hotel California situation, where it’s easier to leave than arrive).

Since there is no air, ships cannot aerobrake to shed velocity for free. Though one might be able to hit a very long track, very precisely and slowly shed speed off without friction, or run down a magnetic tube to let it leach off speed.

This gives Mercurians good reason to consider building a track all the way around Mercury, and it need not be at the equator either if people wanted to keep it shorter. Mercury gets hot, but is still cool enough for many metals to handle. Even steel, which is fairly mundane considering some of the materials Mercurians might use, retains its magnetic and conductive properties at those temperatures, and one thing Mercury is not lacking in is metals. Though once concern would be metal fatigue, as metals are expanding and contracting to various degrees as they run up from temperatures cold enough to liquify air to hot enough to melt lead, but this is happening once a Mercurian day, which is very, very, very long (it takes 59 Earth days to complete one rotation on its axis Universe Today). So the Flat Track would not be getting heated and cooled constantly, and even today we know a lot of tricks for various alloys and composites that would minimize metal fatigue.

The Planet Down Under:

If one digs down a little bit on Mercury, they would start to see livable human temperatures underground, once they get away from the craters and closer to the poles, and in one of the more optimistic models, even room temperature underground at the equator at 90 degrees west, which would help with the expansion and contraction fatigue and other construction problems caused by varying temperatures.

Mushroom Habitats: 

If one doesn’t want to use mobile bases or live underground, they could try mushroom habitats.

These habitats would have a retracting option, where things fold down during the night and the brighest day, and pop back up when things are more moderate.

The habitat would be built up on stilts that aren’t thermally conductive. Then one would put a big umbrella over it, covered in mirrors, to bounce light away, one that could flip open or move aside to let in however much light a person wanted. Stilts would be made of something that doesn’t conduct heat well, like the silicate beneath the ground.  Spinning habitats could use centripetal force to create Earth-like gravity in the habitat.

Water in the Poles: 

There could be some water at some of the craters near Mercury’s poles. Wires underground could bring the water to people.

Making Mercury Earth-like: 

One doesn’t have to make a planet like Earth, if they want to live there.

But if people did want to make Mercury Earth-like, massive mirrors and shades in orbit could help cool down the planet. Mercury is massive enough to hold a breathable atmosphere. People could also collect solar wind from the sun, rich in hydrogen and helium, things that could be sold, using a giant mirror or shade acting as a giant windmill driven by the solar wind. “Star Wheel.”


MERCURY IN SCIENCE FICTION

As I stated, Mercury isn’t mentioned frequently in Science Fiction, which is why it would be a great thing to write about. However, if you do want to read some works that mention a colonized Mercury, check out the works below.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The 2005 novel, by Ben Bova.

Sundiver, in David Brin’s Uplift Saga.

Singularity Trap, by Dennis E Taylor

The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


MORE LINKS

Science and Futurism with Isaac Arthur

How Do We Colonize Mercury? (Universe Today)

Colonization of Mercury (Fandom)

What Would It Be Like to Live on Mercury? (Space.com)

Mercury (Wikipedia)

“Glimmers” – Humanity’s merger with AI in 500 words (flash fiction)

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What happens when people merge with AI?

What would a city look like, if built by AI?

Find out by reading my flash fiction that was just published on 365tomorrows. It’s shorter than four post-it notes.

“I saw things in the night sky my neighbors did not. Glimmers of iridescent light against the backdrop of stars. I think it was because of what happened to me during the blackouts. Every time I blacked out, I woke up different somehow…

Read the rest at the site above.

If you yourself are trying to get your sci-fi flash fiction published, 365tomorrows may be worth considering.

 

Color Coding Rejection

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According to Huffington Post 96% of authors seeking agents are rejected. Meaning the chances of getting an agent to represent you for publishing are only 4%. And that was the data from 7 years ago. I feel like the numbers are probably worse now.

For anyone who wants to be a writer, rejection will become a regular part of your existence. Before I started submitting queries to agents I had an idea that it was hard. And at an intellectual level, I had some idea that rejection rates were over 90%. But I really had no idea how hard it was until I tried the process myself. Now a rejection rate of 96% sounds mercifully low because it feels more like 99.999999%, like 9,999 metrics tons of cold crushing “NOOOO!”

With the odds 96% against you, it can feel discouraging (discouraging seems inadequate here, a better term is ‘soul eviscerating’). I’ve even read pieces of advice that say things like, “Don’t treat it as a lotto, just improve your skills.” Yet even with a well-written book, the book still has to be a good fit for the agent in question, and it has to be something they can look at and think, “I’ll make money off of this.”

So yeah, it’s hard. Really, really, really, really hard. (I don’t have enough “really’s” here).

Yet one thing that can help is not to look at the process as a binary of “succeed/fail.”

For example, if my process was to color-code agents who accepted me as green, and those who rejected me as red, here would be my table of rejections:

AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
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AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
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AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
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AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME

That’s a whole lot of fail.

It might be better to see it as a tiered process because there are actually different levels of rejection.

Here is the hierarchy from top to bottom (best to worst) responses you can get from an agent:

  • Acceptance
  • Request for a full manuscript
  • Request for a partial sample
  • Detailed rejection letter (A detailed rejection is good because it means they were interested enough to take the time to read your work and explain what didn’t work for them).
  • Standard form letter or no response. (Put these in the same category because they’re pretty much the same).

Let’s give that hierarchy some color.

  • Acceptance 
  • Request for a full manuscript 
  • Request for a partial sample
  • Detailed rejection letter
  • Standard form letter or no response

Now let’s look at my list:

AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
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AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
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AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
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AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
AGENT FIRSTNAME LASTNAME

That’s a lot more digestible than the first chart. When I break down the numbers, that means 6% of the agents I write want the full manuscript. 10% want a partial. 16% have taken the time to write a detailed rejection. Leaving 68% in the standard form letter/no response category.

In addition to having a goal of getting accepted by an agent, I can also make a sub-goal of trying to improve my odds in the desired categories. When I started out the query process last year, 100% of the responses I got were standard form letter or just no response. Then it decreased to 90%. And so on and so forth.

Your rates may be better or worse than mine. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that maybe this can give you a new way to conceive of rejection that is less painful than the pass/fail binary so many writers like to inflict upon ourselves. And making it a goal to decrease your percentage in the standard form letter/no response category, and grow your percentage in the other categories.

When Writing, Assume Your Reader is a Woman

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“Try to write for a single reader who’s sitting across the desk from you…and if you’re smart, make that reader a woman…women buy 70% of the books.” – James Patterson

Currently I’m listening to James Patterson’s master class. I’ve just gotten started, but I think this is probably the most brilliant thing he’s said so far.

Why? Because with so much of the media I, as a 31-year-old woman, have grown up consuming, (TV, Movies, Video Games), has been made assuming that the target viewer is male (although that’s definitely changing).

Back in the 1930s, Hollywood made their basic formula for selling movies. They assumed that the average person buying movie tickets was going to be a white male.  Movies were made predominantly to target the male ticket buyer, and to treat the female viewer as accessory, with the exception of the occasional “chick flick.”

And even in very recent times (like this decade) many Hollywood producers refused to make movies with a female superhero, or female lead, claiming that it would get low viewership, never mind the fact that Wonder Woman was a box office success. Marvel CEO Doesn’t Believe in Female Superheroes

What’s interesting is that there is a tendency to see the under-representation of women as the norm, and to overestimate the presence of women when they’re actually being underrepresented, or normally represented. For example, there was a study that found that even when women did 50% of the talking in a group, they were perceived as talking too much (PBS).

The tendency to see the under-representation of women as the norm, and to underestimate the value of their contributions, is due to longstanding exclusion. When a group has been excluded from representation for a long time, this exclusion becomes seen as normal. And thus we are trained to see the male experience as the norm, and to see the female experience as accessory.

I think when many men write (and many women too), they automatically think their reader is going to be a male, because male is the lens we’ve all been subconsciously taught through which to view the world. People don’t think this way for malicious reasons, these are just very deeply ingrained stereotypes that are difficult to dismantle.

But the literary world is not like Hollywood. As James Patterson said, women buy most of the books. According to Author News , women buy 60% of books, and 65% of ebooks. Also, I’ve noticed a vast majority of literary agents are women, and most of the people who are going to be involved in producing a book are women.

Does this mean that men shouldn’t write, or that there shouldn’t be male characters, or that there shouldn’t be books with a more gritty, masculine vibe? No, I think people should write what they want to write, and anyone who feels compelled to write should do so.

But I think the point is that when people write, they shouldn’t do so assuming their reader is only going to be male. Writers can’t afford to think like that if they want to be successful.

I think what many people, male and female, need to realize, is that if their book has language that turns off women (because it’s overtly chauvinistic, or seems to go over the top in promoting sexual violence against women), it’s going to be a hard sell.

As a beta reader, I had an experience with reading a scene where the male lead character (who was supposed to be the good guy) committed an act of sexual violation against the female lead, an act that made me (as a woman) very uncomfortable. When I told this to the author, and then told him he should change it, someone else said, “Well maybe he just won’t write it for women.”

Well…maybe he just won’t get published then.

And what about those who self-publish? That’s hardly a loophole. Women are buying most of the ebooks, so trying to self-publish a sexist manuscript probably won’t go over that well either.

I’m not saying there can’t be books with sexual violence and chauvinism. Those are challenges that people deal with everyday. And in particular, when writing about an older time, chauvinistic ideals may simply be part of the time period.

But the point is that a writer shouldn’t write a story that seems to promote these ideals. The main character (if they’re the hero) shouldn’t be making sexist comments against women, or sexually violating women, unless he’s some kind of antihero. But that’s a balance that should be handled very carefully. If the antihero’s sexism is supposed to be a negative aspect of their personality, that should be made very clear.

Long story short. Write what you want, but make sure it doesn’t alienate women. And value the opinions of the women who beta-read your material. 

How to Not Get Published

17 Reasons Why Book Manuscripts Are Rejected

Why are some books published, and others rejected? The 17 reasons above come from a panel of book editors, literary agents, and publishers.

Literary Agent Janet Reid says that she rejects 99.2% of the queries she receives. And I’m sure many other literary agents have a similar rate of response. After all, if you get 100 queries in your inbox per week, you really have no choice but to reject the majority of them.

So how can you get in the 1%…or more like the .8% in Janet Reid’s case?

First, figure out how to not be in the bottom.

 

What I Learned in Dan Brown’s Masterclass

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By the end of this, I’m going to tell you something about myself that no one else on Earth knows…

See that, that’s an example of hooking the reader and generating suspense. This is also how Dan Brown started his Masterclass on writing, which hooked my attention immediately.

Even though I’m a Sci-Fi writer, and not a Thriller writer per se, I think there are lessons about Thriller writing that all authors can benefit from. Thrillers tend to have faster pacing and more tension than other genres, but honestly, I think all stories need tension and good pacing. It’s just a question of degree. All I know, is that when I pick up a Dan Brown novel I can’t put it down. Sometimes I’ll have issues with the characters or plot, but the man is a master of tension and pacing, there is no doubt about that.

So here is a short summary of some of the key things I learned. I’m not going to say everything, because you should pay for the Masterclass to get everything. And there’s a lot of great stuff in the class. But these are just a few of my favorite topics.


THE THREE C’S OF THRILLER: 

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When writing a Thriller, or really…any novel…keep these three C’s in mind.

The Contract, The Clock, The Crucible. 

The Contract is the implied promise you make to the reader about what they’ll discover by the end of the book. For example, in Moby Dick, the promise is that the reader will find out whether or not Ahab catches the whale. It would be very disappointing if Melville left that question unanswered.

The Clock refers to the fact that adding time pressure to the character’s struggle will create higher stakes and more tension. A lot of thrillers do this by having a bomb, so there is a literal ticking clock the protagonist is working against.

The Crucible refers to your character’s struggle, a box you put them in so they have a difficult time getting where they need to be. Whenever I beta-read a story that ends up being really boring, it’s because the character doesn’t have enough (or any) struggles. Happy people doing happy things isn’t interesting. Don’t just put your character in a tree and then let them climb down to safety without struggle. What are the obstacles that make climbing down difficult for your character? Is there a beehive? Are they getting splinters? Is it a long way down if they fall? Is there something scary, and ominous waiting for them at the bottom?


GENERATING A SENSE OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE

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Dan Brown spoke a lot in his class about raising questions that you don’t immediately answer. Of course, there has to be a balance. Not all of us can pull a George R.R. Martin and say that “winter is coming” for like six seasons of a show before finally paying off that promise. (Does it ever get paid off in the books?)

A big mistake I see new writers doing is that they try to immediately answer every single question that pops up, or tell you everything about a main character as soon as they arrive on the page. First chapters like this read as infodumps and don’t pull me into the story. The process of pulling someone into a story is raising a question, with the tacit promise that the question will be answered in an interesting and exciting way as the reader progresses through the story.

As Dan Brown says: “Suspense is all about making promises. It’s about telling a reader, ‘I know something you don’t know. And I promise, if you turn the page, I’m going to tell you.’”


THE PURPOSE OF POINT OF VIEW (POV) – PULLING YOUR READER INTO THE STORY

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One thing Dan Brown said that I really like is: (I’m paraphrasing right now) well written POV makes your reader feel like they’re a character inside your story, and the reader forgets that they’re reading.

Another mistake I see from new writers is that they write in POVs that bounce all over the place. This can give the reader whiplash.

If your story needs lots of POV characters, try to have one POV per chapter, or per scene.

Personally, I like it better when there’s only one POV the whole book, but that’s just me.

If you give your POV character a strong voice and personality, this can really help to draw in the reader and provide a more colorful depiction of the world you’ve created.

Also, when choosing a POV character consider the following: Who has the most learn? Who has the most to lose? Alice in Wonderland is interesting because Alice is a stranger in a strange land. But if Alice in Wonderland was written from the perspective of the Rabbit, or the Queen of Hearts, it would be a completely different story.


HOW MANY CHARACTERS SHOULD YOUR STORY HAVE? AS FEW AS POSSIBLE

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Once again, not all of us can be George R.R. Martin with a cast of like a hundred something characters with impossible to remember names. It seems that High Fantasy can get away with this a little more than other genres, but most readers don’t want to think too hard, and they definitely don’t want to read a story that feels like a homework assignment.

And if one character already accomplishes a certain thing, why have two that do the exact same thing?

For example, if one character is a quirky wizard who makes sarcastic wisecracks, having two characters exactly like this would just seem redundant and unnecessary.

Or maybe you can economize. Have one character who accomplishes multiple things to downsize the need for further characters.

Too many characters is actually in the “17 Reasons Why Book Manuscripts Are Rejected.


THE NUMBER ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING – PROTECT THE PROCESS!!!

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“Writing a novel is not all about inspiration and craft. It is about process…about making sure that you set aside time every day to do your work.” – Dan Brown 

Protect the process and the rest will follow. 

What does Dan Brown mean by protect the process? Every successful writer has their own process. And not every writer’s process will be the same. Dan Brown’s process is that he sits down from 4am-11am everyday to write, with no connection to the internet, no distractions, and he forces himself to get up every hour to do a few brief exercises, so that he keeps himself energized.

Your process doesn’t have to be like this, but this is a process that works for him. Your job is to find what process works for you. Do you like writing in the early morning when no one else is awake to distract you? Do you like to write late at night for the same reasons? Do you jot ideas down on toilet paper and shove them into your pocket?

There’s no writer’s block. There’s simply failure to put your butt in the chair and write.

Writing is like going to the gym. We don’t always feel like doing it. But if you’re someone who is serious about getting published, you can’t just write only when you feel like it, or treat it like a hobby. You have to treat it like a job.

Also, be fiercely protective of your process. Sometimes the people you love the most will be the ones to (inadvertently) undermine your process (because they love you!). I suppose this is why a lot of writers like to write in the early hours of the morning, or late hours of the night, or go to a location where there won’t be any friends and family members around to distract them.

Of course there has to be a balance. You can’t ignore your responsibilities to your family, spouse, and friends. But if you’re serious about being a published author, you should probably try to set aside some amount of time each day (or five days a week) that are your writing time.

Dan Brown suggests committing to an amount of time rather than a word count. Some days you might feel drained, and struggle to put a mere 100 words on the page. Other days you might feel super inspired, and whip about 6,000 words together in no time flat. It’s going to vary day by day, based on your energy and creativity levels. So, it’s more important to commit to X hours, rather than X words.

Also keep in mind that it’s okay to make mistakes. You might write a scene that sucks. You might end up writing a book no one wants to read. That’s okay. You learn from your mistakes. You be kind to yourself. Reflect. Move on.

Yet the time to be tough on yourself is when it’s time to protect the process, when you wake up at the appointed time and think, I’d rather sleep in. Or when you’re struggling to write, and are tempted to binge watch the entirety of The Punisher in a single weekend. (No…I didn’t do that…Of course not.)

Mistakes will happen. And there’s no guarantee your writing will even be good. But if you commit to a habitual process, you’ll at least become a better writer than you were yesterday, and have something to show for your efforts.


If you like what you’ve read, consider getting a Masterclass subscription so you can see the rest of what Dan Brown has to say. Because he discusses much, much more, than what is merely summarized here.