Off like a herd of turtles in a pot of glue.

Off like a herd of turtles in a pot of glue.

NaNoWriMo is upon us, and I am off to a pretty decent start, considering all the other stuff I have going on. Read about how it is going for me at

An update to my word count. I am actually around 9,000 words, as of this morning. Much better off than I thought I would be. I have added a widget below so you can follow my word count for Heaven’s Edge.

It only takes a spark.

I remember a song we sang at church when I was a kid. It started out with “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” Even though the song doesn’t mention writing in the slightest, I think the message is applicable. It only takes a spark.

Last night, I sat on a panel for the kick-off of National Novel Writing Month in Lawrence, KS. The audience was larger than I expected, thanks in part to a 6th grade teacher assigning her class to write a novel for the month. The other writers and I sat up front and spoke about our methods, our histories, and our novels.

It was a great time, ending with my first word sprint of the year. I came out of the meeting more inspired than I thought, empowered by a young generation of writers who seemed eager and excited about the work ahead. After all, it only takes a spark.

My son sat at the table with me. At five years-old, he decided to write with us. He can’t spell or read anything other than letters, but he was happy to tell you his story, obviously influenced by TV shows he watches, and the stories being written around him. He scribbled indecipherable lines in a notebook. He gave it to me to read. I pretended I could. Then, he told me his story, the first he has ever made up with the intention of putting it down on paper. But, it only takes a spark.

That is writing. That is NaNoWriMo distilled to its smallest essence. It is the eraser taken to all of the excuses you have always made for why you didn’t write a book. It is a reason for the madness, and the permission you need to let that spark smolder.

My writing is like building a fire. Sometimes I start with a flame, sometimes it is barely a spark. Some days, it feels like I doused a Bic lighter with kerosene, other days I sit and rub two sticks together just hoping something catches. The goal, however, is to let it burn as hot and horrifying as I can manage.

Writing is a bonfire, a signal of celebration to the rest of the world. You build it as hot and high as you can, praying that you can still keep it under control. You walk the line between not being seen and falling into flames. On that edge between control and chaos is where your best writing lives.

If you have waited for a moment to start your own fire, NaNoWriMo is the time. The biggest fires, ones so hot they can be seen from space, began with a single spark. If you ever wanted to be a writer, come and take your place around the pyre. Be your own Prometheus. After all, it only takes a spark.

Go to to join in the fun.

Remember, Remember Last November

Remember, Remember Last November

Last November was a life-altering month for me as a writer. With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I shared my memories of last year, and my expectations for this year in my latest Confabulator Cafe post, “Remember, Remember Last November.” You can read it now at:

All November, my weekly Monday column will be a report on the progress of “Heaven’s Edge,” the dystopian noir novel that I will be writing as part of NaNoWriMo. Another November, another novel. Let’s get to work.

Never let education get in the way of your kid’s learning.

The only thing interfering with my learning is my education. – Albert Einstein.

There is a fundamental different between teaching and learning that we seem to be missing in our society.  We have become statistic-driven.  Our children, both yours and mine, are statistics in the war of education.  Unfortunately, true learning has never been about education.  While education is meant to facilitate it, more than ever it is interfering with it.

Education should be about learning.  But it isn’t.  We have become a country that cares more about teaching than learning.  Tests are no longer an educational tool, but a means to gauge teacher performance.  The problem is that teacher performance, true educational performance, cannot be measured by testing a bunch of kids.

When I look back on the teachers I had in my life and those whom I valued most, it comes down to a simple trait, easily observable.  Those teachers who learned the most from, where the ones that taught me to learn, rather than just teaching me facts.

Facts are relatively pointless when it comes down to it.  I know that the sky is blue because that is what they tell me.  But, more interesting that that is the fact that the sky is blue because of the way the air molecules scatter light from the sun.  I know my shapes, yet more interesting is the way that certain shapes combined are more universally aesthetic than others.  Facts, while testable, are fairly useless.

Yet, as a result of the way our system is structured, we encourage teachers to teach to pass the tests, when our teachers should be teaching our children to love to learn.

Regurgitation of facts will get a student their diploma, maybe even a degree or two, but true love of learning lasts a person for their entire life.  Love of learning is what gets you up in the morning.  It gets you on the internet researching things you see on television.  It makes you want to learn to play harmonica, speak Italian, read books, and a million other things.

We have endangered that love on learning for the next generation because we have placed to hard an emphasis on teaching.  Rather than learning to learn, students have been taught how to know what the teacher wants to hear.

Unfortunately, what made or country great was not desire to tell people what they wanted to hear, but to go further.  We are a country built on the backs of pioneers who wanted to know more and wanted to do more.  They pushed their knowledge to the limits, always wondering what they could do next.

Where will that come from from this point on?  I wish I knew.

I have taken great pains with my on son to teach him about thing in which he is interested.  He loves dinosaurs, and so we read a lot of books about dinosaurs, we excavate model dinosaur skeletons, we talk about what different dinosaurs ate and how fossils are found.  It’s important to note that my son is four, so I keep all of this relatively simple.  All dinosaurs with plates on their backs are Stegosauruses, because that is what they are, but they are also “Spike-tails” because that is what they are on Land Before Time.

Recently, he found a book on anatomy that he loves because you take a body apart in layers.  We have spent a lot of time since then going over names of body parts, where they are inside him, and what they do, yet at the same time, we chuckle when he calls the lungs “people backpacks.”

My hope, more than anything else, is that my son will learn to love learning.  I want him to know that when he thinks something is interesting, there is nothing wrong with learning more.  I want him to take the things he loves and explore them, finding out what makes them tick.

Teachers will be telling him what facts to regurgitate for his entire life, but I hope when all of that is done, he still feels the need to go to the internet, go to the library, and more than anything else, never stop learning.

Along with that, will come an added bonus, for me, a fellow lover of knowledge.  I explore all of these interests with him.  His interest in dinosaurs meant I needed to learn more about dinosaurs.  His interest in anatomy means I will learn more about anatomy.  Whether it be astronomy, robots, or trains, I will happily learn along with him.

The old saying went that if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime.  Our schools have gotten comfortable with giving our children nuggets of information, shoving factoids down their throats, then declaring them satisfied.  Don’t allow it.  Teach them to love learning, and give them a lifetime of knowledge.

P.S.  In an update from the NaNoWriMo front, the first draft of my novel was finished on the 16th.  Way ahead of schedule.  I am spending the rest of the month going back through and developing the setting a bit better.  I found it was like driving a hundred miles an hour through the countryside.  I got where I was going, but I never really got to stop and admire the scenery.  I look forward to the rest of the month and the rest of the first pass through, so I can see where it was I went without having to worry about getting there.

Until next time, keep reading, keep writing, and for the sake of humanity, keep learning.