Creative Brain Firing Up

While the first two months of 2013 were not exactly empty of purpose for me — I worked on the video game and next-gen comic I’m part of the creative team for, did SFWA business, edited a book, debuted the episodes of The Human Division and managed a spontaneous fundraiser that generated roughly $70k in pledges — March starts the part of the year where I start seriously doing the year’s creative tasks, because a) two months off from that is enough for the year, b) if I want to have stuff out in 2014, now’s the time to get to it.

The challenge at this point is narrowing down what I should be doing next. Here are the things I could be doing next:

1. Story treatments for movies I plan to pitch later in the year (there are three of these);

2. A screenplay (a “practice” screenplay, much in the same way Agent to the Stars was my practice novel);

3. A new adult-audience novel (I have three non-OMW novel ideas running around and ready to drop);

4. A YA novel (two ideas here);

5. One of two novella ideas;

6. A new non-fiction book on writing;

7. A secret project, because I always have at least one of those rolling about.

Which one of these actually gets started is often contingent on which ones my brain say are ready to “drop,” that is, are formed enough that I’m ready to write them up and flesh them out more. Then again, several of these are ready to drop, so I have to decide which one is going to be the best use of my time at the moment. That’s an issue not just of interest but of career scheduling; i.e., what I want to have out there when, what things I can afford to have sink under the waves if they don’t go anywhere, and how much time/effort I can devote to things that are essentially research, i.e., things that won’t have any direct or immediate commercial value but represent an expansion of my skill set for future endeavors.

Which is to say that I look at this not only creatively but as someone who is essentially running a small business, because, in the end, that’s what I’m doing. I don’t have a day job, so I have to factor commercial imperatives alongside the creative ones. This is not generally a problem for me — I tend to be unromantic about the business-related facts of what I do — but it does require some thought, and one of those thoughts is reminding myself that leading with my business brain isn’t always the right way to run a creative endeavor. There was no foreseeable business argument to writing Fuzzy Nation, for example; I did it purely because it was fun for me. But it did pretty well for me after it was written. So finding that balance between business and creative factors is worth the effort.

At the moment, I’m still thinking about which longer projects to tackle, so in the short run I’m busy working on the story treatments (which are short and have a specific format, which makes them easier to do), and doing some research for the screenplay — today’s work consisted of a story treatment outline and scriptwriting research. I suspect I’ll know which longer thing I want to do in the next couple of weeks, when one of those ideas rolling about in the head finally jams itself into the “I need to be written now” slot.

And thus 2013 will have structure, I’ll write something new and then the whole thing will start over with the next thing. This is not a terrible life.


By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

52 replies on “Creative Brain Firing Up”

Whatever happened to that “Android’s Dream” sequel you were working on some years back–“The High Castle” or some such? Because I’d totally buy that, if you were to get it published.

Disregard the business brain for a bit. You’ve built enough of a following that we’ll buy whatever you give us and forgive you (the first time at least) if it’s a stinker.

And under which of those categories does “101 Uses For a Spare Goat” fall? Because I’m really looking forward to it! I bought my spare goat last month on spec, and don’t have any idea what to do with it.

Suggestion: Just borrow a d12 from Wil Wheaton – he may have one or two sitting around – and assign a task to each number, then roll. That way you don’t have to work on setting which project goes first, as you’ve let chance do the heavy lifting…

The world is already awash in a sea of “non-fiction book(s) on writing” that hardly any one reads.

I’d contend that your time would more reliably rewarded elsewhere.

Of course, I’m biased in that I know which I’d prefer to read. And, of course, upon which I’d be willing to spend actual money. ;-)


I would put my vote (we are voting right?) in for the non-fiction book on writing. @reinharden is correct when he says that there are many of these out there, but I am guessing the Scalzi version would relate well to many of us who follow you here and read your books.

Just for variety, you should add a heist to your list.

Not a novel or screenplay about a heist… an actual heist. You’d be good at it, and if the coppers ever got wise, you can always say that your preparations were mere research for a writing project.

What do you mean this isn’t a democracy? Occupy Ohio! Down with the Scalzi tinpot dictatorship! Up the masses!

I vote for 8 – the super-secret project you are not telling us about #tinfoilhat

Understand that you aren’t taking votes on these projects.

Having said that, I would still like to register my feeling that, as a writer, I’d really like to see the non-fiction book on writing. On the other hand, I’d like to see all of these…so, whatever you decide, have fun and happy writing. And, yes, I am the sort of geek who actually loves the process of writing and all that goes with it.

If 1 or 2 involve the sci-if rom-com that I’ve praying to the FSM for you to do, I vote you start with that. Otherwise, I abstain.


As one of the hard SF luminaries of our age I think its important to set a shining example and write a good YA SF novel. How many of us were influenced by the likes of Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, etc. when we were youngsters? It is time to add Scalzi to that venerated list and inculcate a new generation into the wonderment and excitement of Science Fiction. Not that my opinion matters but I will note that Athena’s generation has been somewhat overwhelmed by an endless stream of werewolves and vampires with raging hormones.

So, um, the Spare Goat anthology I’ve been wishing for, with stories by you & Suzette Haden Elgin & Steven King & NK Jemisin &c, that’s not going to happen anywhere outside my head, is it?

While I can’t help but yearn, like @RPF up near the top, for the further adventures of Harry Creek, I have yet to be disappointed in anything that’s been Written By Scalzi so far. The list is tantalizing.

Since it’s only a wish list and not a vote, I’ll give my wish for all 3 OMW books and both YA books. The writing one can wait. The test screenplay would be good practice for when Hollywood finally realizes how awesome your books are.

I like the part about having stuff out in 2014, and appreciate the reassuring list that shows that you have a bunch of stuff lined up that you want to write, even if we’re going to have to wait a while for it.

Why I know what you do is entirely up to you, I wouldn’t do the screenplay option unless you have a producer lined up already, or indeed are in a position to be producing yourself. You probably know how notorious the lack of control is for unconnected writers in Hollywood, and you’d be better off writing any good story as a novel that you sell and control there, and you can then also sell the film rights for after that.

Though from your choices, I’d say #3 or #6 sound the most exciting for me as a reader :)

Stephen Turner:

” I wouldn’t do the screenplay option unless you have a producer lined up already, or indeed are in a position to be producing yourself.”

Actually, the point of doing a screenplay would be to get practice in writing a screenplay, rather than attempting the finished screenplay once it was done. It’s entirely possible (indeed, probable) that after writing the screenplay I wouldn’t even attempt to sell it.

Whatever project you decide to go with, if it’s something that’s appropriate for an audiobook version I think it is without question that you should have that guy from the “Mark Reads” website do the reading.

I don’t have a day job, so I have to factor commercial imperatives alongside the creative ones.

You strike me as the sort of person who enjoys being his own boss (to the extent anyone really is), and therefore I would guess you rather enjoy the business end of things. Of course for values that pay the mortgage, “I don’t have a day job” means my job doesn’t end at the end of the day…but that kind of job is often more satisfying whatever field you’re in. One of the things I will have to give up in the pursuit of my “dream” career in academia is that unparalleled self-determination.

Actually, the point of doing a screenplay would be to get practice in writing a screenplay, rather than attempting the finished screenplay once it was done.

Point of idle curiosity: where exactly does one get good examples of screenplays to learn from? I mean, a novelist, short fiction or non-fic writer can learn from the vast available corpus of available examples, and a playwright can likewise buy any of the classic stage plays. But it’s not like you can go down the B&N and snag a screenplay…can you? And even if you could, how would you know which ones to study? Does a good movie or TV show imply a well-written screenplay? Are there journals and forums where screenwriters powwow about the classic screenplays?

I don’t really need an answer as I don’t ever plan on screenwriting, but my curiosity is piqued.

Gulliver – In fact you can go down to B&N and snag one. Or online through or You can also search online for “screenplay” and get tons of links of dubious legality, but here’s a legit link to every Oscar-nominated screenplay this year: (scroll down for the rest).

“reminding myself that leading with my business brain isn’t always the right way to run a creative endeavor”

I find this to be key when planning my own projects. Even though indulging your creative side can seem “unbusinesslike”, i have to remember that my creative brain *is* my product — it is the generator of all the commercial possibilities. People don’t buy your work because of your business acumen, it’s because of the ideas and worlds you create. But at the same time, the creative brain is a willful little child, and likes to get its own way. Without that business brain as task master….. Whew, things can get out of hand.

Just don’t slip the clutch as the brain fires up. I envision some sort of grinding, wheezing, sound effect…

“Scalzi: Crowdsourcing Goat Analogies since 2013”

One of my favorite things about having read your work since the publication of OMW is seeing you get better as a novelist. I’ve enjoyed the OMW sequels and the rework of “Little Fuzzy,” but IMHO Scalzi grows best when plowing new ground. “Android’s Dream” and “Redshirts” are among my favorite because you seemed to be freshest with the ground and a bit more willing to push the envelopes. So my preference is something completely new, something that’ll let you be new and fresh and make you keep growing. You write it, I’ll buy it.

I think I remember seeing a blog post stating that Old Man’s War was optioned for a movie. My understanding is that when this happens people who specialize in writing screenplays are hired. The book authors generally are not all that involved.

It sounds like John is heavily involved in writing the screenplays? Does anyone know if this is common?


Besides buying print editions of screenplays of popular movies, you can try out a site called Drew’s Script-O-Rama, and the site Simply Scripts. These two online script emporiums have a large selection of screenplays from previously produced films. Be aware though, that some of them are gonna be a little off sometimes in terms of formatting, but overall they give you a good idea of the layout and most importantly the words on the page and the basic flow and style of screenplays. Drew’s has all the scripts from the films featured in the latest Academy Awards.

Reading in-development and recently sold screenplays is a little trickier. There is a screenwriting review blog (be warned, very controversial in the screenwriting community) called Scriptshadow. He used to give out links to scripts that were in-development or recently sold, but the studios started to get antsy about it and now the blog has to tread more carefully. I personally find the Scriptshadow blog to be a fun and helpful place to learn a bit about screenwriting. Also check out the blog Go Into The Story, which is run by a working screenwriter. You won’t necessarily get lots of links to screenplays at these two sites, but info on the craft and industry if you are interested in more than just reading scripts.

If you really want to try and get your hands on some in-production screenplays, you might try the Blacklist site. This is as I understand it, a members only site with a monthly subscription fee (not cheap, $25 a month!). You can also submit your own script for reviews and feedback. I haven’t joined The Blacklist site, so I’m not an expert on it. I do believe that they allow access to lots of scripts though, especially ones that are harder to find online through other methods.

Another site I have recently taken a peek at is Write To Reel. I believe if you join that site, you get access to scripts to read, which they might then do reviews on. They are sorta like Scriptshadow in that they do both pro and amateur script reviews. Again, I haven’t spent much time following Write To Reel, but they look solid overall.

Also, don’t forget to check out the free screenplay formatting software Celtx. I’ve been using it now for a few years and really find it does just about everything I need.

With New Adult being considered a new and growing (sub?) genre, I would be really interested to see your spin on it. :) That being said, all of these sound awesome and I’m sure I’ll enjoy whatever you decide to run with!

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