My Writing and LGBTQ issues: A brief explanation

I didn’t intend to release a book with an LGBTQ main character just in time for Pride Month 2023. It just ended up being that way.

The Yank Striker: A Footballer’s Beginning was the culmination of a long gestating story in my head about soccer, fame, and identity. Part of that exploration of identity, it turns out, was about sexual identity.

I have had LGBTQ friends, colleagues, and students that have been part of my life. I believe they have the right to live as they want in peace. I do not consider this to be a political viewpoint. I consider this to be a human rights issue.

Soccer is a reflection of the real world. Many of the issues facing the real world crop up there. Racism is a big issue in soccer. Just to pick out one recent example, Vinicius Junior, an Afro-Brazilian and star player for Real Madrid, was racially abused in a match with Valencia by opposition fans.

The issue of homosexuality in soccer has been an extensive one. English footballer Justin Fashanu came out as gay in 1990, more than thirty years ago, at the tail end of his career. The Wikipedia page on the issue has multiple stories of footballers or managers who either came out at the tail end of their careers or after their retirement, or some that choose to leave soccer rather than deal with the issues they faced. Many women players remained out for much of their careers.

Some of these players were people I cheered on as a fan. Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe were among some of the LGBTQ players who represented and continue to represent the US Women’s National Team.

Then there was the case of Robbie Rogers, the left back and winger who came out back in 2013 when he was 26 and had left England after attempting to build his career. Thankfully, he generally found acceptance when he returned to America and won a Major League Soccer title with the LA Galaxy.

All these stories and experiences were rattling around in my head as I began to wonder what the American version of Lionel Messi might look like. I was influenced by the stories of how athletes like Jackie Robinson in Major League Baseball, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode in the NFL, and Cyrille Regis and John Barnes in English soccer battled racism. In college, I read The Dreyfus Affair by Peter Lefcourt, a novel about how a star shortstop for a Los Angeles major league team falls in love with his teammate – it’s a great book; I would definitely recommend it.

With all of this in my head, I asked myself, What would it be like if one of these male LGBTQ players ended up coming out at the beginning of their career rather than the end or after they retired? What sort of support system would they need to be able to survive and thrive in the world of top-flight soccer?

The answers to those questions eventually were folded into the story of The Yank Striker. I can tell you I consider LGBTQ people to be human beings worthy of respect, and I could tell you I was inspired by this issue in the sport I love, and I’d be correct both times. But when it comes down to it, I just thought it would make a great story I felt compelled to write. In the end, I write a story because I think it’s a worthy tale.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

What Should Journalism Be? (Part 2): Where I use an article from Mo at the NYT to expand on my thoughts

I had considered maybe talking a little more about the present-day state of journalism through the lens of my debut book, The Holy Fool: A Journalist’s Revolt, after discussing it last weekend.

However, I thought it might be a little too much navel-gazing to do a part two, especially when it could have seemed to have been to be overly self-promotional (which I’m trying to avoid). Thankfully, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote something this weekend which gives me a good entry point into talking about journalism again.

I don’t want this to be one of those pieces that bangs on about how things used to be better, and they’ll never be as good again.
But, when it comes to newsrooms, it happens to be true.

That’s how Maureen starts her column in the 29 April 2023 edition of the New York Times, entitled “Requiem for the Newsroom.” In the column, she looks back at the era of the newspaper newsrooms of the 20th century, with the input of several of her former journalism colleagues, and what current journalism, especially those who work from home, is missing out from this experience. She does make at least a couple of good points. However, I think that she overlooks a few things, one of those being that the lack of newsrooms is nowhere near the biggest problem facing newspapers today.

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While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

What Should Journalism Be? A look back at my book The Holy Fool

That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.

Tim O’Brien

Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.

Alan Moore, V For Vendetta

It might seem a bit navel-gazing to undertake any sort of analysis of my own fiction. However, with the upcoming approach of my new book getting published, and with some of the writers I have gotten to know and/or reunite with, especially on Substack, this subject presented itself.

When I finally decided to get off my rear and begin writing my first book, I wasn’t planning on creating something complicated.

I sure wasn’t trying to plan for a massive bestseller by finding the new hot trend in fiction and following it. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen “journalism thriller” as my genre, and I sure as hell wasn’t keeping marketing in mind when I decided to call it The Holy Fool: A Journalist’s Revolt.

As with nearly all of the times I ever got the urge to write something, it was something that profoundly moved me. In this case, it was my relationship with journalism that started generating the story idea. Although at the time, the story seemed quite straightforward to me, I was also trying to work out how I felt about the profession in the book as well.

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While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Setting the Scene, or, How Important is Location in Fiction?

Building a place is not an easy process.

If we’re talking about a continent, such places have been shaped over the course of millions of years and epochs, involving volcanic activity, erosion, and the shifting of continental plates. If we’re talking about a chemical or power plant, it would be a process like the one my father helped oversee numerous times over his career, involving blueprints, pipe stress tests, dozens of experts in different fields of engineering and construction, and months of work.

Now, imagine doing that just in your own mind. Even though the level of planning and sophistication needed to plan a place is not required for fiction, it is a very involved process that you want to make sure that you get done right. Making sure that you build a good setting for your fiction is something that can be very important. In the right hands, a location can be almost as much of a character as live human beings.

It is something that I’ve had to put a lot of thought and care into during my time as a writer. To help illustrate what you have to keep in mind when creating a physical setting for your characters, I think a few examples from my own fiction might help explain some of the complications.

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While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

A Strategic Plan for Revising

It’s been a good experience going through revisions for my new book, The Yank Striker. As I’ve gone though that process, it’s occurred to me, with this being my second book, that I’ve started to refine a clear system for this process.

When you get into the later stages of those revisions, it’s important that you have a clear plan and/or system for how you plan to complete them, whether you are self-publishing or working with a publisher.

For the benefit of those writers who are looking to improve their revisions, I hope that this look at my revision process might be useful. Consider it to be an example of one of those process analysis essays I’ve assigned to many high school or junior college, where writers explain a process to give their readers a deeper understanding of it? Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Some Notes

Before we get started, I should mention that I am working with an outside publisher rather than self-publishing. Much of what I am talking about is intended to pass along information to an outside editor, so some of this might be more like talking to yourself to those of you self-publishing. However, what I’m describing would still be helpful to those writers in keeping track of the changes you make.

Also, most of what I’ll be talking about here is separate from straight editing and proofreading, where writers are looking to make any grammatical or proofreading errors. I highly recommend that you either invest in a good proofreader (like I did with this project) or at the very least round up some very kind and generous beta readers to help you with that. No matter how good of an editor you are, just relying on your eyes to handle the editing process never works out.

What You Need

When you are revising a book or publishing project, the publisher will send you a proof copy. This is a published copy of your book to review before it is sent out for mass distribution. Consider it the proof copy you can make on the photocopier before you make the 40 two-sided and stapled page copies.

I make a new document copy of my manuscript and give it a different name. I usually borrow the software naming convention for this purpose (2.0, 3.5, etc.). I make any changes that I want to do in the revision on this document.

Then I create an entirely new revision document. This is where I will list any of the changes I wish to make on the proof, as well as where those changes are located in the proof copy. Since the publishers are referring to the proof copy (since they are formatting my copy for publication), it’s important for you to refer to where the changes are on your proof copy rather than the document file of your manuscript.

You will also be making notes on your proof as well. My recommendation is to have a good supply of sticky notes and smaller sticky flags for this purpose, as well as a writing tool. (My personal preference for this is a mechanical pencil.)

Once you have your proof, the revision list document, the new document version of your manuscript, and the assorted notes and flags, you are ready to begin.

How to Proceed

The first step in the process is to begin your read of the proof. You read from the beginning of the book to the ending. Again, this is not looking for editing or proofreading errors, but things having to do plot, characterization, setting: in short, anything to do with ideas, organization, word choice, and style. If you see something strange when it comes to grammar, feel free to make that change, but that’s not the focus of that process.

The lion’s share of these changes are things that a typical outside reader, and definitely an outside proofreader, would not think about. For example, in my manuscript for The Yank Striker, I realized that my description of one of the settings of the story, which was a soccer club’s training ground, was inadequate to the task. It was too vague, and I didn’t think that it was a greatly faithful representation of such a facility. This was a particular issue due to this being the first book in a series, and thus a setting that I would return to. So, after a bit of research, I created a new description of the setting that I’m happy with.

Anyway, as you continue your read and find these areas that need to be revised, mark them in the proof’s pages using the sticky flags. On a separate sticky note, you can write exactly what the changes are and where they are on the page.

I find that being as specific as possible with these descriptions is important to keep track of them. My descriptions typically list both the page and the paragraph on the page where the revisions need to be. For example, Page 42, Paragraph 3. I consider the first paragraph of a page to be the first paragraph to start on that page. If a page starts with a paragraph that is continuing from a previous page, I will give it a listing like: Page 23, last paragraph, continuing onto Page 24. All lines of dialogue are considered their own paragraphs, of course, even those that are single sentences, phrases, or even a word.

You continue to read through the proof like I described above, until you reach the end of the book. Now comes the next step of the process, which will require your proof, the revision document, and the new electronic copy of your manuscript.

In your next reading of the proof, make sure that you are following along in both the proof and the new copy of your manuscript. As you come across a section of the book where you have listed revisions, make sure to make these revisions in your new manuscript copy.

I do say this with the realization that this step is not necessarily needed to let your editor know what is to be changed. For example, my editor only wants to see my revision list document. However, I prefer to make this part of my revision process for at least two reasons. First, it is very useful for me to have an updated copy of my manuscript so that I can review and reference it whenever needed. Second, I find it less time-consuming to simply copy and paste the revisions I have made in my new manuscript copy into my revision list document. This is especially helpful when I have made extensive revisions to a paragraph or a group of paragraphs. Then, I can just copy and paste the whole text rather than describe each and every change that I made (for example, “Text will now read as follows:”)

Once you make the change in your new manuscript copy, you will describe the change that you made in the revision list document. Once again, you will need to describe these changes that you make based on where they are located in the proof copy, not where they are located in your new manuscript document.

Here’s a couple of examples of how you might list such changes.

Page 34, Paragraph 5, all references to “Maya AC” in the paragraph will be changed to “CA Maya.”

Page 51, Paragraph 7 – paragraph will now read as follows: (copy and paste the text here.)

Each of these revisions should be described in the revision list document in the exact order they occur in the proof.

In this manner, you will continue to read the proof, making your changes in the new manuscript document and then describing them in your revision list document. In this process, you might encounter some revisions that you missed during your first read. Simply make these changes as you come across them in the new manuscript document, then describe them in your revision list document. Once more, your descriptions should list where they are in the bound proof, not your manuscript document.

Once you’ve finished the second read and making all of your revisions and notes, send the revision list document to your publisher.

What Happens Next?

This can depend on your particular situation. The publisher might send you a second proof and ask you to review it, first to ensure that all your revisions have been made as you have directed, and whether there are any revisions or changes that you have previously overlooked and need to be made. You could thus repeat the process I described above as many times as you might think necessary, but typically publishers might only do a couple or a few proofs before calling time on any further revisions and edits.

Also, like I mentioned previously, none of why I described above could be considered editing and/or proofreading. That’s an entirely different process, which should occur after revisions (and that I’ll likely describe in a separate post). Of course, if you unexpectedly need another revision of your work after you proofread it, you’ll need another proofreading session, whether you or someone else does it.

Let me know in the comments or by email if you have any follow up questions. I’ll be glad to answer them.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.


Thoughts on the Iron Pen Experience and What I Learned From It

[PHOTO NOTE: This is what came up when I did a free photo search for “Iron Pen.”]

On a quick note, I’d like to apologize for my “A Week in the Writing Life” post for coming out today on WordPress rather than yesterday as I anticipated. That was a glitch in scheduling on my end.

I briefly talked about my having entered the Midwest Writing Center (MWC)’s annual Iron Pen competition for the first time. Just to recap, they give you a writing prompt at about 5 p.m. on a Friday (in this case, the Friday of two weeks past), and then you have 24 hours to put together a work of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry and submit it for consideration. Fiction and nonfiction submissions have to be less than 2,000 words, but poetry submissions have no word limit. This year’s prompt was the following:

Between the ocean and the mountains is a wild forest. That is where I want to make my home.

I was really happy to participate this year, and it was a great experience no matter whether I win anything or not. Here’s a few observations I had about it.

At This Point, Creativity is not an Issue for Me

I was not really worried at any point that I wasn’t going to be able to have something to say using the prompt. I had the basic idea for my response in my head and ready to go within about five minutes. It took me about three more hours of pondering exactly how I would execute it on the page, and the plot line for the story, but the basic premise I had locked down in five minutes.

Most of the things that I’ve been trying to educate myself on having to do with writing involve what I call “publishing” issues – how to get my projects into people’s hands to read, for example – and marketing tips. Coming up with ideas is the least of my problems.

Writing Short Stories is a Challenge for Me

In my recent experiences with fan fiction, I can write as many words as I need to tell a story and not have to worry about how many words I have to use.

That is not the case when you only have 2,000 words to tell a story and some of the chapters I have put in my recent fan fiction might easily be five times that length. It should be a writing rule of thumb that the fewer words you have to work with to tell a story, the more weight and the more work those individual words have to carry. That’s one of the reasons why poets are very particular about the types of words they use and their various meanings and implications.

I have to say that I was surprised that I was able to tell the story that I was eventually able to tell with close to 200 words to spare. If I were to redo it again, I’d like to take a look at some of the descriptive words that I used and see if I could not have come up with something more vivid. I think I did just enough to tell the story and show the basic parts of the world that I made, but I could have done perhaps a bit more to build my characters, especially the main one. That could have also helped to make the description of the world a bit more vivid. Then again, I only had 24 hours to write this story and I ended up using only one-fourth of that time because I was going to be on the road much of that time.

Fantasy is Where my Head is Going to be at for the Foreseeable Future

It was not too much of a surprise that the minute that I started to look at the Iron Pen prompt that the story I was going to write was going to head to a fantasy story.

Fantasy has been the focus of the fan fiction that I’ve been writing off and on for the past few years. Although my first published book (and soon enough, my second book) are set in contemporary settings, I’ve been much more interested, from a reader’s perspective and a writer’s perspective, in the fantasy genre.

The exact reasons for why my attention has been turned to fantasy is probably worth its own post, but it certainly is the case. Although there was no sign of magic in this story, or knights and dragons, it did take place in a fictional land that could have been anywhere from the ancient to the Middle Ages era. More importantly, the story that it led to spoke more to me than maybe a regular story from the modern area would.

So, the fact that my imagination immediately leapt to a fantasy style when I had to be creative gives me the feeling that I’ve got something I want to express there. And, I am wanting to get started on it soon – how soon, I’m not sure.

I’m going to find out Wednesday who won the contest. There will be a ceremony for the winners this coming Saturday. Since they’re allowing all the participants to read their work, I might actually go down there. It’s been a while since I’ve had a public reading of any of my stuff.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing Journal 18 January 2023: Massive writing burst this week, but…

I managed to write more than 7,000 words last week. Considering that last year I would consider anything over 4,000 words a week to be a good pace to meet my writing goals, getting about 42 percent more than my typical word count is a cause for celebration.

There is a “but” that should be added to that statement, somewhere. Maybe it’s a sense of maturity and modesty, or maybe it’s a sense that I can just as easily have a bad week of writing as a good week.

Much of my output this week – not all of it by any means – is fanfiction. I have explained/defended my writing of fanfiction before, and I do think that it is a valid form of creative expression. I spent a lot of time pondering issues of “Work” vs. “Fun” writing. In setting my goals for this year, I wanted to try and increase the percentage of my work writing more than before. For example, for at least one or two of my most recent years, I spent the majority of my creative productivity on fanfiction.

Again, not that I think simply “fun” writing has no place – far from it – but I also want to take the other types of writing seriously, as well.

Setting some yearly goals last year wound up being a good success, so I figured that doing so this year might be a good idea. Since I ran that story, I’ve begun to consider a plan for how I would achieve some of those goals. I think I’m going to write a follow-up on my goals this weekend for this blog and the Substack page, which in itself might fit in with one of those goals in particular. So, you have that to look forward to. I will also admit that some of the goals may be fluid in nature, which means I might change them some of them as I go through the year.

Anyway, here’s the stats for last week, followed by my obligatory plugs for my Substack page where you can get on my email list. See you around.

Writing statistics for the week ending 14 January 2022:
+7,004 words written.
Days writing: 7 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 2 of 7 for 60 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 7 of 7 days.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

2022 – A Year in Review And a Look Ahead to 2023

I went into this year with some high expectations for myself. Ever since I began this blog more than five years ago, I’ve been wanting to transition from just talking about writing and how I wanted to be a writer to being a writer once again.

One of the cliches about writing is that it is a long process, especially when you are factoring publishing companies into the mix. It’s true, though. If you are going to do it right, developing your writing skills and knowledge is a time-consuming process, especially if you are trying to craft what you have to say rather than just splattering it across the page or the laptop screen.

For the first time in 2022, I decided to set a yearly writing goal for myself. I’d had a downturn in my productivity, and I wanted to have a better year. So, I figured that setting that yearly goal was Based on the records that I had been keeping consistently since 2018, I decided that 200,000 words in a year was a nice, clear, reachable goal for myself. Also, based off that past data, I decided that making my daily writing quota (which is 500 words per day or 30 minutes worth of revisions and/or planning) at least 70 percent of the time was also reachable.

After a year’s worth of work, I have to say that at least from a productivity standpoint, this year was certainly the case.

First, just to get a little perspective, here are my writing statistics for the second half of 2022, compared with the first half. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: All word and revision/planning averages are monthly averages.]

Writing statistics, 1st half of 2022:
Words (total): 110,342
Words (avg.): 18,390
Revise/Plan (total): 1,350 minutes.
Revise/Plan (avg.): 225 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (avg.): 74%

Writing statistics, 2nd half of 2022:
Words (total): 104,043
Words (avg.) 17,341
Revise/Plan (total): 1,950 minutes.
Revise/Plan (avg.): 325 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (avg.): 72%

As you’ll note, there was a slight 6,000-word drop between the first half of the year and the second half. I was only a couple percentage points off my first-half pace when it came to meeting my daily quotas, but I added another 600 more minutes working on revisions and planning. Overall, there was a slight decrease in productivity, but not a disastrous one.

Although I have been keeping records of my writing since at least 2013, I have only been keeping full records of my writing production since 2018. For example, I only totaled up the full year’s numbers for 2013 (I recorded a word count of 125,453).

Now, looking at the yearly totals, I’m glad to see a pattern of clear growth.

Yearly writing statistics, 2018-2022:
Words (total): 53,878
Words (avg.): 4,490
Revise/Plan (total): 8,955 minutes
Revise/Plan (avg.): 746 minutes
Daily Writing Goals Met: 52%

Words (total): 193,881
Words (avg.) 16,157
Revise/Plan (total):  8,865 minutes
Revise/Plan (avg.): 739 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met: 78%

Words (total): 208.919
Words (avg.): 17,410
Revise/Plan (total): 4,290 minutes
Revise/Plan (avg.): 358 minutes
Daily Writing Goals Met: 62%

Words (total): 176,146
Words (avg.) 14,679
Revise/Plan (total): 2,115 minutes.
Revise/Plan (avg.): 176 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met: 58%

Words (total): 214,385
Words (avg.): 17,865
Revise/Plan (total): 3,300
Revise/Plan (avg.): 275
Daily Writing Goals Met: 73%

So, I set a new personal record of 214,385 words, 5,000-plus words more than my previous ones. My revising and planning time weren’t personal bests, but they were better than the previous year’s. And, I beat my goal of meeting my quota 70 percent of the time by three percentage points, which is the second best year for me regarding that statistic.

Most people might be leaning back and celebrating what they had accomplished if they were in my position. Now, I did do a little of that, maybe for a couple of days. But probably one of the biggest changes in my mentality during the past couple of years is that my thoughts immediately turned to 2023. What goals would I need to set for that year? What would I do for the next act? The one thing I realized, however, is that I couldn’t do exactly the same thing.

Exactly is the operative word here. I think it would be pretty much expected that I would consistently crack 200,000 words per year, given my past record. That’s what I am going to shoot for in 2023.

I also would like to write with a more consistent output and not take as many mental breaks this year. I think it is possible that I could meet my daily quota at least 75 percent of the time. Looking over my stats from last year, I could have gotten really close to meeting that goal this year if I had just applied myself a little more.

More importantly, from reviewing last year’s numbers, I now have a very clear idea of how often I would have to meet my daily writing quota to match that percentage. Basically, if I was writing in a four-week month and meeting my quota five out of seven days three weeks and six out of seven days that fourth week, I would get to 75 percent without much difficulty.

The other goals, are a little less straightforward right now. However, I’m going to try and outline them here.

One of these is slightly out of my control – I would like to get this second book, The Yank Striker, published. Right now it is in my publisher’s hands and much about the release and production of that book is up to them. When it finally comes out this year, however, I would like to have a proper launch and promo push for that book. Much of that will be in my hands. However, I think I have a slightly better chance of doing well with that push if I am closer to the main media market in Iowa (Des Moines). We will see how that will go.

In addition, The Yank Striker will be part of a series of books coming out about this American soccer star, so I am now in the process of writing the sequel to that book. It is my expectation that I should have a rough draft ready by this fall and able to deliver it to my publisher (Biblio) by around that time.

I also want to continue to grow my Substack page (I’ve got a plug for that below). My plan is to continue to post on a regular basis. I have managed to post more or less every weekend on my blogs. I want to try to keep to that weekly schedule, and try and get more consistent with what days I publish. (As of right now, I end up usually publishing on Sundays because… well, deadlines making a whooshing sound as they fly by my head and all that.

Those are my clear, line in the sand writing goals for 2023. The next few ones are a little more nebulous in nature, and might be a little more difficult to determine whether I reach them.

I would like to try and see if I would be able to use a paid subscription option for the Substack, and maybe even for this blog here. Now, it’s going to take a while for me to determine how that’s going to work, and what portion of those sites will remain free and what portion will be a subscription. I do believe, however, that I might be able to start generating some pay for some of the stuff I do online, even if it’s minuscule compared to my day job. I also want to make sure I am generating some exclusive content for those paid subscribers on a regular basis, as well – maybe bi-weekly or something like that. If I want people to give me money, they need to see the value in it.

I also want to begin some serious planning and work on a fantasy fiction project. My fandom for Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, George R.R. Martin, and others has made me want to try my hand at a fantasy series of my own. I’ve had the kernel of an idea for such a series for a while, but nothing yet that could resemble a plot or cast of characters yet. It’s more like a concept, with a larger theme of the progress of man and society as opposed to old myths and beliefs.

Like I said, it’s a vague idea as of yet, with maybe just a couple of characters in mind so far. I’m hoping by the end of this year, I will have a better outline for the series in place and a good world-build.

I think I am going to stick to those goals for now. Past experience has taught me that trying to accomplish too many goals at once is a surefire way of not meeting the majority of them.

Take care, everyone.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Artificial Intelligence and Writing: An encounter with the Open AI ChatGPT and some general thoughts

I was born during a time when writers were wary of what they preferred to call “word processors” but were basically computers that allowed you to write. I distinctly remember wishing I had one of those typewriters that I always saw journalists or novelists banging on in the television series of my youth. I’m convinced that it is the main reason why I, well over thirty years after the fact, continue to bang on laptop keyboards with my fingers just as hard as if I were trying to move mechanical levers and metal type. However, I never really had a good working one, or even one of those electric typewriters that I had heard of as well, which was the motorcycle to the old ten-speed of the mechanical typewriter. You couldn’t ever have everything as a kid.

During those early years of my life, print was still king and the Internet was a rumor. If I wanted to do what I am doing now, I had to petition the gatekeepers at a New York or even, possibly, a European publisher to allow me to write a book and distribute it to people. If I wanted to give my opinion about the current political situation, I needed to get friendly with the editor of my local paper so that I could submit a letter to the editor, or, if I was feeling ambitious, a guest column. The process was, by no means, easy.

I will end my time in an era where if I want to write something, the only thing I need to publish something is a familiarity with certain blogging or publishing platforms and the time to click a few buttons. And, I live in a time where versions of artificial intelligence (AI) will write for you rather than just provide a keyboard to type.

I often wondered what it was like to live the life of my grandparents, who came of age at the still-early stages of the Industrial Age and the Age of Aviation and passed away attempting to understand the Internet and music videos. Now, I’m beginning to get a feeling for what it might have been like – to an extent.

It’s that part about artificial intelligence, that I haven’t grappled with until now. To be honest, it’s not been something that I’ve considered to affect me. To be honest, that’s not necessarily the case.

Before I begin this conversation, I need to let you know that I do not have any expertise in artificial intelligence, programming,

Although I knew that companies such as Google have been experimenting with AI, I recently learned about a new program called GPT-3, sponsored by an AI firm in San Francisco called Open AI. Basically, programmers have fed this system with trillions of words and multitudes of writing to be able to generate its own original writings. You feed in some parameters,

This program has now been released as an open chat bot program that anyone can access online and try it out for themselves. And now, it appears that some writers are starting to make use of ChatGPT. This interview of Kindle novelist Jennifer Lepp, who writes under the pseudonym of Leanne Leeds, on The Verge news site, was quite informative. She is now a paid contributor to the blog of a company called Sudowrite which uses a GPT-3-based system.

She details some of the ethical issues facing writers that are utilizing this technology. Is it considered plagiarism if you ask the program to write like a certain famous author? (In my own opinion, it’s too close to the dictionary definition of the word for comfort). Is it al right to use it to write blurbs for a book, or to create plots or ideas for descriptions? (Maybe?) Lepp concludes:

I’m really just stuck in the middle, wondering which way it’s going to go. I definitely don’t want to encourage people who aren’t comfortable using it to use it. I do think it’s going to leak into their lives. It’s already leaking into all our other software, so I think it’s going to be very hard to get away from. But I definitely don’t know where it’s all going. ChatGPT shocked the hell out of me. I had thought, well, it’ll take three or four years, and it’ll get better. Then came ChatGPT, and oh my god, that’s so much better! It’s been six months! The progress is so incredibly fast, and so few questions have really been answered.


After reading multiple articles and online discussions about ChatGPT, I was intrigued as to whether there was anything to this. Inevitably, I decided to download ChatGPT and give it a test drive myself.

My experimentation with ChatGPT has been limited. I queried the bot as to why the United Kingdom no longer had an absolute monarchy and got a good explanation of the issues that culminated with The Glorious Revolution of 1688. I asked the chat bot to write a good scene involving a team winning a soccer game (shades of my new project), and it managed to put together a good few paragraphs of description in under a minute. The writing was simple, but quite good – detailed, lacking any grammatical errors, and efficient.

When I think of AI and writing, I don’t necessarily think about “being replaced” by an AI. As I have considered over this past year, I would likely keep writing no matter what the size of the audience that eventually reads my work. I am compelled to express myself that way in a way machines (at least currently) are not.

Would I actually use such a product to help produce a book faster, like if I asked it to write a few filler scenes for me or something more? I could still see myself as being a creative person if I did this, but it would be a different type of creativity than having me “do all the work” myself. If you write a book with a co-writer or even a ghost writer, you can be creative, but it is a different type of creativity than doing all the legwork yourself. Frankly, it’s a lot less work for you to do.

And this would be no different than using an AI co-writer, co-secretary, whatever you want to call it. It’s just not the same type of writing than doing it yourself. Anyone who would argue that makes as much sense as arguing that a flyweight fighter is the same type of fighter as a heavyweight or that a boxer is the same type of athlete as an MMA practitioner. If I ever included AI-assisted materials in my work product, for example, the very least I would do would be to post any word count I would get doing that with a massive asterisk and accompanying footnotes. It would not be the same type of writing that I have been trying to work on and improve for the past five years.

I was somewhat surprised, however, to find that the implications of this AI technology would have on my own writing was not the first thing on my mind. My thoughts first went to my students, the middle schoolers and high schoolers that I have been instructing about writing for the past couple of years.

The first thought that rattled and banged around the edges of my skull as I saw the ChatGPT writing that soccer scene was this:

This chat bot writes better than maybe half of my students. And it produces that material in a fraction of the time that it takes my human teen students to do it.

When I say better, by the way, I mean better in the sense of being grammatically correct, organizationally on point, and having clear transitions between ideas. I do not necessarily hold that the chat bot’s creativity is the equal or better of those kids. Teenagers can be quite creative, especially if they are trying to impress themselves or their peers.

Regardless, that was something to consider. And the questions that thought raised have continued to roll and tumble through my mind since.

The thought what if students use this to plagiarize and put together their assignments was immediately followed by wouldn’t they realize that they were replacing themselves? Is AI something that could become a writing tool for students with additional academic needs like voice to text speech technology or spelling and grammar check, or is that a bridge too far? Would ChatGPT or its inevitably more advanced successors help free my students who would prefer never to write to express themselves from writing drudgery? Or will the new technology just leave them behind just like the 20th century has now been left behind?

The other evening, as I talked with my father over a dinner out, I talked with him about this topic and joked that I half expect the Earth to undergo a Butlerian Jihad at any moment. For those not familiar with the Dune series of science fiction books by Frank Herbert (I’m a bit of a fan), it was a war well into the future of humanity when it battled with artificial intelligences in a massive, devastating war. At the end of it, humanity forbids the building of AI altogether.

We’re not at the edge of some sci-fi war here. But I think this technology is going to raise a lot more hard questions about how things are going to be in our world than all but a few people are beginning to understand. I don’t think most people are ready to ponder these questions. I consider myself a forward-thinking person, and I don’t think I’m really ready to consider or understand the answers to those and other related questions. However, I know that I will have to continue to consider them for the rest of my days as a writer and as a person.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

One Sentence

I tend not to talk too much about the job where I make the majority of my living, which is teaching.

Even now, I think that I have just gotten started in the profession but just including the years that I have been teaching full-time but I’m now in my 12th year of full-time teaching. During that time, I have been teaching writing, sometimes more than others.

I currently am teaching seventh through 10th grades. I notice that there a similarity among those who are really starting to learn about writing. When I ask them where they need improvement on their writing, what they usually mention to me is how they need to work on their spelling, how to use punctuation marks correctly, and perhaps writing in complete sentences.

I think all of those things are absolutely important. I certainly feel that I shouldn’t get an essay with numerous grammatical errors, and they certainly shouldn’t be turning in a manuscript to an editor or publisher with them, either. But, that’s not the main focus of my teaching. Nearly any word processing program allows users to fix spelling and grammatical errors as you see them, and they won’t catch everything, but they’ll catch enough that grammar won’t be a massive issue for them.

What I always ask my students is a simple question: What is this essay that you have been writing supposed to be about? Tell me in a single sentence.

For my middle school students, this has been the first time that they’ve had to tackle writing involving critical thinking. Usually, the type of writing they have been doing are answers for writing prompts or simple paragraphs. For them, the art of writing is very much a work in progress.

However, I’ve noticed that it works the same for older learning writers as it is for younger learning writers. If they’re not able to tell me in one sentence what it is that they’re trying to write about, I know for sure that they are lost and confused. I mean, usually I can tell by a quick glance at what they’ve written, but that conversation with the learning writer usually confirms it beyond a doubt.

Usually, such a sentence is called a thesis statement or a main idea sentence. (To paraphrase Bruce Lee, everyone has their own system of kung fu, but everyone has the same number of arms and legs.) The idea behind this sentence is that it represents both what you are discussing (topic), why your are discussing it (purpose), and what message that you wish to convey. Again, it should usually only take a single sentence.

It can be frustrating to have a student actually write a thesis statement and then proceed to write something that might have something to do with the topic but hardly anything to do with the purpose. For example, maybe the purpose of an essay is an analysis of how a writer used descriptive details or figurative language in a book, but what they produce ends up being simply a book report rather than what they started out to do.

To me, that is something that can derail a writer much more than a couple of run-on sentences. If I can get a prospective writer to keep their thesis in mind throughout their writing, it not only helps them get focused on their message, but it also has other knock-on effects. They tend to choose good supporting information because they have a better idea of what type of information they need to find, They tend to have a better grasp of how to organize that information as well. And if they manage to have all three of those elements relatively solid in their rough drafts, they are well on their way to producing some good writing.

I should also say that you need to be able to have this one sentence in your mind when it comes to fiction, even though it might not be written out as it often is done in essay form. However, there has to be an essential idea behind the story and some idea of theme. For example, this new book I have planned for release next year, The Yank Striker, came from a thought experiment I had while watching the US Men’s National (Soccer) Team playing one day – what would the American Lionel Messi look like? I started constructing a main character around that idea, and that idea evolved into a character, without being too spoilery, that was very comfortable in his home environment but faced many new challenges when he was out of that comfort zone. That also evolved into a theme, of a athletic superstar still developing his skills and confidence. One of the beta readers for that project reminded me early in the process that it would get boring for this guy to be a winner all the time. That sort of character is a lot more interesting.

All this is well and good, but I often have to remind myself that the vast majority of my students don’t have the passion for writing as I do. For them, it’s just one more class they have to tick off before they get their high-school diploma, just like geometry and Algebra II were like for me. (How I ever passed Algebra II is still a mystery to me, but I think my father, a chemical engineer by trade, had the biggest hand in that). However, being able to better express themselves through writing helps develop communication skills and critical thinking skills that will come in useful later, so I openly sympathize with those who don’t like to write.

In the end, we wind up getting through it together. Now that sounds like a halfway decent thesis statement for my classroom.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.