Loss, lies, and the power of storytelling

La Pia dei Tolomei by Enrico Pollastrini. Image in the public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

One sweltering summer afternoon — when all sensible folks rest naked on their beds, shutters closed, ceiling fans whirring in concert with the incessant chirruping cicadas — you find me rummaging in the cartons crammed under my desk.

I can’t tell you why the impulse to go book hunting overtook good sense. Still less for books consigned to the Sheol of the sub-desk zone. …


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How gender stereotyping and fixed ideas of sexual identity lead to murder

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Pauline, Lisa, and I eventually came up with a comfortable, effective, and simple solution to the problem of my penis and testicles. By Nature’s gentle grace, my appendages are at the smaller end of the typical range, which helped.* But the solution to vanishing away my relatively small ‘kit’ — which came after much trial and error and no small amount of laughter — was both elegant and practical.

We trussed the whole shaboodle into a piece of ultra-thin, silken pantyhose, shorter at the front with a longer strip at the back, pulled tight between my buttocks and clipped, along…


The beating heart of powerful, captivating fiction discovered

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Bad writing sells

With my market research hat on, I was trawling through book samples, reading the first chapter or two of top-selling genre fiction on sale at the major online retailers. I wanted to discover what these books have in common that makes them sell. I wanted to discover what makes a compelling story.

One thing struck me. It struck me like a hard object propelled with great force. And it hurt.

It was the realization that often good writing doesn’t sell, whereas lazy, ungrammatical, clichéd prose fills the bindings of many million-dollar bestsellers. …


Thousands of years of philosophy have achieved nothing; while in a couple hundred years, science has changed the world.

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Scientists vs. philosophers

There’s a certain sub-group of famous, publicly visible scientists — biologists Lewis Wolpert and Richard Dawkins, and physicists Neil de Grasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, and the late Stephen Hawking among them — who’ve made no bones about the fact that they deride philosophy and philosophers.

Dawkins might make an exception for his pal, Dan Dennett — who, in the 80s, developed a revolutionary, multidisciplinary, science-based approach to the philosophy of consciousness — but they consider the general discipline to be as outmoded and pointless as a Betamax video recorder. …


How to get out of ‘poverty mentality’ and start making a decent living

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How much do you earn from writing? How much would you like to earn? And how much do you think you could earn? If I said you could earn $85,000 a year (in other words, the equivalent of a median ‘white collar’ salary) from writing alone — without gaming Amazon or working like a dog or selling your soul to the devil — would you believe me?

In case you find that hard to believe, here’s my challenge to you: take a few minutes to assess the information in this article, hear me out, and then decide what you think.


5 actionable back care tips for writers, backed by science

Sitting down for long periods and poor posture are among the common causes of back pain among writers. Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Writing can be a serious pain in the… back. Many writers routinely suffer from back pain. Studies show that back pain is more common in women than men, but no-one is immune.

Over a decades-long writing career, I learned this lesson the hard way, often losing weeks of work and income through being temporarily disabled by severe back pain. The most important lesson I learned — other than making sure you have a good insurance policy to cover you in times of illness — is that prevention is always better than cure. …


Don’t let yourself get suckered by this nonsense

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Setting out on the writing journey, you’ll soon find your path littered with stumbling blocks. Ignorance and inexperience, for example, are real enough difficulties for everyone starting anything new; and you must overcome them with education and persistence. But most are imaginary.

Of the imaginary, many arise from personal anxiety. Others are cultural myths and misunderstandings, often promulgated by writers themselves. I’ve written here about how to overcome writing anxiety. Now, let’s expose the most common creative writing myths that may hold you back. …


The science of doing one thing at a time to harness the power of better concentration, focused thought, and effective action

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Do you want to get as little as possible done in the time you have, crucify your concentration, massacre your memory, and skyrocket your stress-levels? Then I can’t recommend multitasking enough. And to extirpate your intellect entirely, go for multimedia multitasking. Oh yes, that will nuke your neurons once and for all.

Just say it: Multitasking. How marvelous it sounds! How jauntily it skips across the tongue! How sweetly it rings in the ear! Oh, it positively thrums with productivity-promise.

Yet never was a term more disingenuous, nor a promise so vainly made, nor so artfully deceiving. …


Scribbled in his private diaries, I found Tolstoy’s writing algorithm

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Pasternak. Public Domain via WikiMedia Commons

Millions of words of writing advice have been written and published since Aristotle first penned his masterworks, Rhetoric and Poetics. The online environment — not least the blogosphere and Kindle Direct Publishing — has transformed giving writing advice and other forms of self-help into a multi-billion-dollar industry. And you don’t need to be a great philosopher to have a go these days. Everyone and their aunts are writing gurus now; often when the only writing they’ve ever done is rehashing another writing guru’s already plagiarized advice. Sigh, laugh, or cry? I never can decide on that one.

But given the…

Austin Hackney

Austin is a professional writer/editor. He shares sensible advice for serious writers and odd diversions into science, philosophy, culture, and the arts. He/him

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