Time-tithe and Giving Back

I’ve been expanding the list of podcasts I listen to, branching out into more science-based programs. I love  myths, stories, and legends, but lately the factual information side of my info-tainment has been lacking. Thus, I ended up listening to a Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast (Star Talk Radio) where they mentioned an idea I can’t stop thinking about.

The guests suggested each listener should ‘time-tithe’ each week. They focused on science, but I couldn’t help but think how well this would work for writing. Now, depending on your religious life, you might not be familiar with the Biblical concept of a tithe. The idea is to give 10% of your income, as both an obligation and as an offering of thanks. Many of my friends grew up tithing 10% of their babysitting earnings. But the podcast was talking not about writing a check, but about setting aside 10% of their time time where you work to make things better.

For at least the last five years, I’ve judged a writing contest each spring. This year was a bit of a trial with lost packages and some hard to score entries. I found myself considering if this should be my last year. My writing time is scarce these days and my word counts show it. The hardest connection for any writer is the one between their butt and the chair, and I often imagine that lightening my commitments will make me write more. The contest felt like a simple thing to take off my plate, something I could give up and not miss.

But it’s not that simple. Most importantly, judging is one of the few ways I have to give back to the writing community. I benefit from the many blogs, tutorials, and general help other writers offer. I was blessed to be briefly mentored by an amazing scifi author. I’ve gotten advice from other members of SFWA, and help from writers near and far. Giving back, helping the next writer down the line, is the right thing to do.

Selfishly though, judging improves my own writing, helping me decide what I do and don’t like in a story. This year’s entries taught me that I can tolerate violent speech and woman-hating behavior if there’s a good reason for it. If a ‘hero’ uses violent or sexist language because he was raised in a drug-running biker gang, and grows past that, I don’t mind. If he’s rich enough that he doesn’t have a 9-5 job, had a loving family to raise him, and still generally hates my gender? We’re done. That’s probably something I should have realized before, but it took judging to make me really look at how I feel about casual misogyny.

My time-tithe paid me back. It taught me something about the kind of writing I want to do. It got me thinking about the way I should develop the characters that I write. If there’s something hateful in them, then I need to make their reasons clear. If they’re the ‘hero’, then I need to give them a way to move past their prejudices and bad behavior.

That’s why going forward, I’ll be looking for more chances to volunteer and offering to beta read other authors work. It might be time for me to be more active in writing groups, or work with a critique partner. I haven’t worked out the details yet, so if you hear of something, drop me a note.


When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

That’s the best piece of advice I got in college. It came from my favorite professor, a man who happily called himself a wizened old gnome. He did research in Chernobyl half the year and spent the rest of the time relaxing. To a tiny cult-like group of followers he was everything, to the other students he was a weird prof to be avoided.

This post is a day late, and my Dec 20th post may also be late. I’ve made some decisions lately – large, personal life decisions – that I’m not sure about. Sometimes it takes years to see you made a mistake or months to congratulate yourself for having avoided disaster. In writing I deal with heavy topics, life and death situations, dangerous choices, and loaded guns. In real life the distinctions between a great decision and one that leaves you filled with regret are much more subtle. I’m trying to see that subtle difference, and it’s taking a lot of my time.

In the middle of all that, my editing goes on and, as usual, takes more effort than creating a wildly rough first draft of a story. I always miss writing when I’m editing, but I also see the way it makes my work better. So while I don’t always know where I’m going, I can see progress as I move down the road. For that I am grateful.

I am deeply sorry to for the delays in blogging, reading,  and writing new drafts. I promise to get back on schedule soon.

Editing, the holidays, and December’s Random Thoughts

I used to think I was a fast writer, now I know I’m a faster drafter. I can crank out a first draft in no time, but the editing process takes ages. Worse, the more editing I do the less I like my work. My vision for the characters gets muddy, the plot gets sloppy, and I find myself wondering why I ever wrote this nonsense. Obviously that’s not how editing is supposed to go, but despite an internet full of advice on how to write there’s precious little out there on how to edit. (Someone please prove me wrong.)


Experiencing a death in the family just before the holidays completely changes everything. At this time of year my life fills with joyful celebrations, wonderful holiday baking, and the magic of the season but this year long naps, quiet afternoons, and phone calls to friends have replaced all of that. Oddly, I don’t find myself missing the noise and the busyness.  Perhaps I’m growing older, perhaps it’s the loss, but a quiet holiday feels just right.


Shopping for the Christmas Angel I took from the giving tree brought me more joy than anything I’ve done this holiday season. On Christmas morning my Angel will unwrap a new winter coat, soft fleecy pajamas, a huggable doll (with at least one hug from me stored inside), an art set with pastels and crayons, and six books (2 science, 2 fantasy, 2 biographies of strong women). I wish I could have included a letter telling her how much it meant for me to be able to help her, and reminding her that poor girls change the world just as often as rich girls.


I won a baking competition using this recipe. On the same day I received an award from my gym for being the ‘biggest participant’. I’m trying not to see the irony.


My rabbit editor removed his page from Facebook this week. The constant demand for more pictures, more status updates and more Facebook-ing in general got to be too much for him. Thankfully, he doesn’t mind the fame so I can leave you with this photo:

(The demonic glow in his eyes is not photoshopped.)