Zen Talk: A Quote by Buddha about the Wise

“As a solid boulder does not shake in the wind, the wise are not moved by censure or praise.”

This saying by Buddha lets us meditate on our inner conviction and resolve, as well as our understanding of ourselves, lives and accomplishments.

Now, do I think that we should never feel pride when complemented or never let criticism help us rethink our actions or work? No, not necessarily. Censure and praise can act as important buffers in guiding us towards better things or higher qualities of work, wishing to achieve more praise the next time or improving ourselves for fear of chastisement.

Personally, when it comes to constructive criticism I listen with open ears because only through editing, for example, does a piece of writing improve. As the Buddha expresses, though, that criticism shouldn’t be taken personally or to heart or let it move us as people, but only affect the quality of our work.

Buddha makes us realize that accolades and criticism should not ultimately make us feel bad (or too good) about ourselves or be dwelled upon excessively. They are there to be taken or left as appropriate and not to turn our worlds upside down as many people allow both praise and censorious remarks to do.

What does this Buddha quote make you think about? What are your thoughts about letting praise and censure affect you? Have you ever had an experience where such remarks affected you in a particularly noteworthy way?

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The Zen of South Park Progress Report

I am glad to say that I’m finally back to work on The Zen of South Park. After packing in Atlanta, moving to San Fran, finding an apartment, setting it up with furniture and crap and then a few nights of sickness, I have, at last, begun to sit at my desk daily and plug away.

And it feels great.

We all have projects that we love, and they become such a part of us that to neglect them is like leaving your child in the rain while you go to the local bar. And then beating him when you get home. It’s just not cool – you know?

I am in the very serious editing stages of the book, which is to say that I have quite solid drafts of every chapter and am now perfecting them by tweaking jokes, analyzing word choice and examing the overall structure of each chapter for consistency, flow, and logic. I actually really enjoy this stage of editing because you can see your book go from a piece of writing to a manuscript. While doing this I am also taking notes on the single point of each section in each chapter so that I can properly write an introduction and conclusion.

As I always reiterate, There are no great writers – only great editors.

How is your project going right now? Did you catch the South Park marathon last night? Which episode did you enjoy most. Personally, I love the “Cartoon Wars” episodes. If you’d like to read an essay I wrote on them, called “A Defense of South Park,” click HERE.

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Read about other South Park episodes.

Author and Computer Scientist, Hank Simon, Talks about Publishing and Writing

Hank Simon has been a wonderful asset to me as I began the writing, querying, proposal and publishing processes with The Zen of South Park. I wanted to bring him on as a guest blogger this Monday so that you could get to know him a little better and reap the benefits of some of his advice just as I have. Please don’t hesitate to leave questions and comments at the end of the post and he will return to answer them accordingly.

What do you do for a living?

I’m currently a computer scientist/engineer at a major corporation. I’m responsible for the long-term, strategic design of how information flows across the enterprise using Service Oriented Architecture approaches.

What book(s) have you written? What are they about? How do they relate to your day job, if at all?

I’ve written and contributed to 7 non-fiction books about technology. They relate to highly technical topics, such as XML, wireless, expert systems, and spectroscopy. I wrote them because, as a thought leader in advanced technology and R&D, I found a gap in information about these topics. So, as I gathered this information for a forward looking applications, it was natural to organize my findings as chapters in my books.

When were they published and with whom?

McGraw-Hill was my most successful publication in 2001, as well as a few smaller companies, ranging from 1999 – 2005.

Did you have an agent when you were trying to get them published or did you go straight to publishers?

I was very lucky in this aspect, because I was publishing many articles – more than 100 – in various trade journals, as well as making presentations at international conferences. This experience gave me lots of exposure to editors in various publishing houses, and they approached me with ideas for the books.

When you wrote query letters and proposals, what was the most difficult part?

The proposal is the most difficult part, because I had to get a feeling for the marketplace and clearly define my audience. I also had to defend my book idea compared to existing books already published. This was both a blessing and a curse. I found that the easiest way to slip into the market was to discover a gap or niche that I could fill. That niche is unique in all cases, and sometimes it is not a niche that I could fill. It was difficult to admit that.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors trying to get published?

Read a lot by authors that you like and topics that interest you. But if you don’t like authors, don’t choke on them. For example, I read voraciously, but I don’t like many authors who write more than 600 pages. That means I have never waded through War and Peace. In contrast, I do like some of the older authors, Thurber, Benchley, Twain, Shalom Aleichem, Hemmingway, Herriot, Asimov. And I also like Grogan, and Rowland for their straightforward style. When I write, I try to blend aspects of these authors in order to improve my own style. And, I try to write at least 1 hour everyday, saving the edit process until I have a completed piece.

Are you working on any projects right now? Can you tell me about it (the writing process/publishing process/etc.).

I’m working on a Dog book that uses my dog as the central character, to highlight his personality and intelligence, to show interactions with other dogs, and to use this as a canvas to paint the relationships of people and the dogs that they meet along the way.

What advice do you have when it comes to writing?

Write everyday in a style that you like to read. Don’t try to win the Noble Prize.
Write and create first, edit later. It is tremendously easier to create and then edit.
And it is more productive to write a complete work and then edit. If you keep editing, you will stop creating and will get discouraged.
Plan to take 2x or 3x as much time to cut & edit, as you do creating.
Plan for your first book to take about a year from start to publication.

Who is your favorite author? What’s your favorite book?

I like the Harry Potter books.

If you could write one kind of book that you haven’t yet written what would it be?

I’d like to write a book on “Managing Ignorance” to complement Peter Drucker’s classic on Managing Knowledge. I could see many Dilbert opportunities.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Writing is very hard and time consuming. And, it is a job that requires discipline to remain in isolation while you create. Non-writers don’t appreciate the long hours, and the hard work needed to turn a phrase and to chip away everything until only the finely crafted piece remains.

Topical Tuesdays: Beta Readers and Why We Need Them (plus South Park)

This week’s Topical Tuesdays topic is beta readers, those friends and family who are the first people to lay their eyes on your script and tell you what they think. How many should you have? When should you use them? And how to know when to disregard their advice.

I have a rule when it comes to writing anything that I ever plan on letting anyone else see (note: this, funny enough, does not apply to my blog). That rule is that it must be seen by someone else’s eyes before I submit it in any official capacity. So I take one person who I can trust and who will be brutally honest with me (nine times out of ten it’s Kush) and I ask him (or her) to read it and give me feedback. It’s important, I contend, to ask very nicely. You’re not doing anyone any favors letting them see early editions of your work. You’re asking for a huge favor. Now, to me, these people are just editors, but apparently they have a special name: beta readers.

The answer, then, is yes: I think beta readers are incredibly important and absolutely necessary to great writing. As amazing as you could make something – and I have no doubt that some people out there can write some pretty incredible stuff on their own – an extra pair of eyes, an extra brain, whatever, is so necessary. Imagine working on a project. Yes, some people work better alone but there’s a reason companies organize in teams and great businesses are so often started by two people. Two brains work seven times as well as one alone. A beta reader can function in a similar way. No, you need not write together but to have a trusted secondary person read for you and give you honest feedback can expand, help and complement your book in some amazing ways.

For The Zen of South Park I have Kush read every chapter when I’m done editing it myself (which takes a while) and then after I do all that I think I should to it based on his comments I give it to (what I guess is) a gamma reader – another person I trust to read chapters at random. After fixing it at that point I give it to a professional in the subject matter that it’s about (remember my nonfiction book has chapters on each religion as well as other religious topics), and then I go back over it again after all that. Not until then can a chapter even begin to be done. I know it may sound excessive but these people are my team, my front lines, my editors and without them I couldn’t even begin to put together so quality a piece. I think editing is of the utmost importance.

There are no great writers. Only great editors.

What do you think? Do you use beta readers? Am I going overboard? Have you been an editor before? I do love editing other people’s work – I think it’s a great way to work on my own writing.

For more on this subject check out Chandler’s Fumbling with Fiction.

South Park tonight: The episode “Spooky Fish” will be on tonight. It is honestly a great and hilarious episode (how many aren’t?). This is the second season Halloween episode and tacitly deals with notions of the Occult and magic. The idea of vortexes and parallel universes and disrupted Indian souls – though they may seem purely silly – do indicate an acknowledgment on South Park‘s part of non-conventional elements of religion and they’re worth paying attention to…especially you Wicca fans out there.