Playtest: Black Mirror, Can It Happen?

Before we discuss Playtest, let’s look back to when this episode was first released: October 21, 2016. 

A couple of weeks earlier, on October 2, HBO released their genre-bending television series, Westworld. Although fiction, this show had us all thinking: Where will we draw the line for technology and entertainment? 

When we talk about tech and entertainment, we have to talk about video games. While conventional favorites like Overwatch, Fallout, and Uncharted were the most popular, we will forever remember 2016 as the year of PokemonGo. Regional-exclusive Pokemon, enabled by GPS, allowed people to interact with gaming in a new physical way. People used to travel for culture; now they travel to catch Pokemon

Augmented reality was a fun novel concept for the general public. And thanks to photo-sharing apps like Snapchat, people picked it up pretty quickly, and just as quickly, filters and lenses became excessive and overused. 

Another technology gaining momentum in 2016 was virtual reality. VR was in its infancy in 2016. Nothing exemplified that more than Google’s Cardboard VR headset, which resembled something a high school student would’ve handed in for a homework assignment. While 360 VR content was available, there just wasn’t enough for people to take action. 

But the opportunity couldn’t be ignored. Businesses took advantage of this trendy technology as a promotional add-on. In 2015, Marriot Hotels offered VR as a room service item, aka VRoom Service, where their guests could rent an Oculus Rift VR headset for 24 hours. 

Now you may be thinking: VR on vacation? Well, in 2016, there was a heightened awareness of the damage tourism had on vulnerable ecosystems. When Thailand discovered that their coral reefs and marine life in the Phi Phi archipelago were being battered by boats and people, they closed off a bunch of islands. One of these islands was Maya Bay, made famous by the Leonard DiCaprio movie The Beach. This small island, which saw 4,000 tourists a day, was suddenly off-limits to the public. 

While we were trying to protect the natural world, Apple was trying to protect the reveal of their newest iPhone, the iPhone 7, set to release in September 2016. Through the summer months leading up to the annual keynote, images and videos of the latest device were leaked on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo. This leak was so controversial because the iPhone 7 was the first iPhone without a headphone jack, and you best believe people were upset to discover that change. 

2016 was indeed a year where tech was front and center. There were a lot of new ideas and opportunities flying around. There was a general sense of optimism, even for the devices that will soon eat away at our attention span. We were relying on it more, not only for entertainment but with the hope that it would heal us and optimize our lives. Oh, we were so naive in 2016. We could’ve been fooled by anything. And trickery is what leads us to this episode of Black Mirror, episode 2 of season 3: Playtest. 

In this article, I will explore three themes of the episode and discuss whether such events or concepts have happened in some form in the last few years and, if they haven’t, whether or not they’re still plausible. 

The Dangers of Escapism

The episode begins with Cooper sneaking out of his house and traveling the world, from Australia to Asia to Europe. We see him taking pictures, having a great time, and asking touristy questions, but what we don’t see is the darkness that lies layers and layers beneath, the darkness that surfaces each time his mother calls.

His father recently died of Alzheimer’s. As the one taking care of him, Cooper feels guilty for the death, and inadvertently, creates this narrative in his mind that his mother blames him as well. 

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression, which is usually triggered by some life-altering event such as unemployment or the death of a loved one.

In a survey by the American Psychiatric Association, out of 2,200 participants, 37% rated their mental health as fair or poor, with relationships with family and friends being a common cause for stress. 

Moreover, research shows that 27% of Americans are estranged from a member of their own family, often initiated by adult children. When these scenarios occur, the parents are often confused by the cause and blame their children for “rewriting their childhood.” Meanwhile, the adult children feel their parents are “out to get them.” 

Whether it’s mental health or the state of our relationships, we are led by the stories we tell ourselves. While his father lost his memories through a disease, Cooper was losing his memory through his own design. 

To reboot his life, Cooper seeks new experiences—new memories. There was a time when traveling was a benefit for mental health, and booking a flight led to a lot of excitement. But since the pandemic, travel has caused a lot of stress. As of 2022, 92% of Americans find travel to be “nerve-racking.” Passports, bad weather, and the unpredictability of airlines have made journeying around the world harder for many, especially for those already dealing with anxiety. Don’t even get me started about the panic of running out of money in a foreign country. Could there be anything more stressful? 

We relate to Cooper because we see him escaping from one uncomfortable situation to another uncomfortable situation throughout this whole episode. But we can also learn something from his impulsiveness. When things are not right, we may want to escape physically. We perceive the cause of our anxiety, depression, and stress as external causes: our jobs, our families, or our friends. However, the struggle is internal, and there is no escape. On one hand, you can go too far and never return, or on the other hand, when you do return, you’re flooded with all the emotions you thought you’d escape from. 

Communication has become instantaneous and invasive. Pings, calls, and notifications all day long. We want to escape those as well. I believe Cooper is a millennial, and as millennials, phone calls have become the most demanding form of communication. Unlike a direct message, where you can respond at your own pace, a phone call is an interruption. 

The phone call is one of the few tethers left connecting the aging generations of Boomers and their millennial children. And it’s not a strong one, because the intimacy of a phone call has been stolen from us by all the spam calls we get daily.   

When it comes to escaping problems, this episode of Black Mirror shows us what travel and technology are unable to do. And that’s where we are today, still desperately trying to explore those avenues and creating more problems along the way. 

The Dominance of Games 

As of 2020, the global video game industry was valued at $159.3 billion, far surpassing other entertainment industries, including music at $19.1 billion and movies at $41.7 billion. 

In 2016, 4,315 games were released compared to 2022, where a whopping 10,963 games were released. By 2024, the number of worldwide gamers is set to reach 3.32 billion people. That is just over 40% of the entire world! Yes, games are popular, and companies are investing more and more in them. 

The term playtest refers to a quality assurance session where a person plays the game to find design flaws and bugs before it is sold to the public. After Cooper had his bank account hacked and was desperate to get a flight back home, he signed on to be a playtester for a high-profile yet secretive gaming company, SaitoGemu. 

Game studios spend years and years conceiving, designing, and testing their games before they hit the shelves. So the idea of having trade secrets leaked out is a big deal. The leak of any popular franchises will undoubtedly draw attention. For example, in 2022, Rockstar Games was hacked and had numerous video files containing testing builds of GTA VI shared on the Internet. 

While most games have a shelf life of a couple of years, we are seeing games embedded into people’s lives. Fortnite was released in 2017, and as of this video, six years later, the game continues to see a steady rise in popularity with 236 million active monthly players. Even a game that is over a decade old like Minecraft continues to grow. As of the start of 2023, there are 176 million players. 

That’s what the gaming industry wants. While they want to tell great stories, they also want to create a world where the players can live in, coming back hours after hours and exploring for years and years. 

We see this everywhere. Nearly every piece of software we own uses gamification to get us to log back in. Teams of the world’s smartest people are all trying to hook us with their products. The tactics are different, but the idea is the same. They want to create a sense of accomplishment, whether by offering us badges for completing a task, building communities for us to engage in, or keeping us challenged in just the right way. 

In the past years, we have seen leaps in two categories: artificial intelligence and the metaverse. The metaverse and Web3 market is far less bullish since 2021, when Facebook changed its name to Meta, while AI technology is having a huge surge recently, becoming more prevalent and even winning an art contest.

As AI starts understanding us better, it doesn’t only learn what hooks us but what scares us as well. In 2016, MIT developed a deep learning project called Nightmare Machine, where users feed the algorithm insights into which images scare them. 

When we create games, we are also collecting data. And while it might not be tech companies’ main priority to identify our fears—by subjecting people to hours and hours of scary immersive VR video games—technology companies will accumulate a lot of information regardless. How much do we want Amazon to know about our traumas? How much do we want Google to know about our repressed memories? 

In life, we fear many things, but confronting them can lead us to danger or societal disapproval. That’s why horror video games offer us one of the greatest feelings of being alive: fear quickly followed by a sense of relief. 

A few things happen in our brains when we play scary video games. First, our amygdala processes the fear, and then the hippocampus associates the fear with a memory. It is the latter that allows us to fill in the gaps. When that imaginative part of our brains projects the traumatic experience into a reality, such as VR, then even the most courageous thrill-seekers will face their worst fears. The technology, a digital boggart monster, will know exactly what shakes them.

When people say technology is getting scary, they mean that technology is knowing more and more about you. And what’s scarier than technology knowing your exact fear? It’s not the tech industry’s main focus. They are trying to spin it in an unscary way, but knowing our fears is unavoidable when it attempts to keep us coming back to their product as a place for salvation.

The Implantation of Microchips

As a part of the test, Cooper had a device embedded into the back of his neck called a “mushroom”. This device manipulated his mind, allowing the game makers to generate augmented reality through his own senses. But neurologically, the device dug deeper. In milliseconds, it accessed his memories to create haunting scenarios beyond the operator’s control. 

The first microchip embedded into someone dates back to 1998, and even then, the proposal was clear: convenience. We will no longer need to click a mouse or type on a keyboard. Additionally, having all our critical data implanted into our body ensures we don’t lose it. We don’t have to worry about losing our credit cards, train tickets, or phones ever again. 

In 2018, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the development of a technology at MIT that allows people to store medical information inside their bodies by injecting a dye under the skin. This project sparked many conspiracy theories about how Radio Frequency Identity (RFID) microchips were secretly included in vaccinations. This is not true. But it highlighted the fear many had that medical innovation could be used to track us. 

In 2021, a company called Dsruptive Subdermals was testing a Covid-19 passport that could be implanted beneath the skin. The objective was to use an NFC microchip—the same type of technology in your credit card and smartphone—to share vaccination data. 

Whenever we have a conversation about technology implantation, we have to also talk about privacy. And what is more private than our memories? 

The technology of Elon Musk’s Neuralink is designed to help those who don’t have the full function of their bodies but still have a mind worth saving. Think of the potential if we could tap into those people’s brains and allow them to continue living fulfilling lives. 

Much like drugs, video games—including VR games—have served as therapy for veterans who’ve been in battle. These games offer them an experience of eudaimonia, which is a feeling of psychological well-being that comes when someone does something good. Allowing a veteran to play a first-person shooter helps them recognize what’s good and evil. In the real world, it’s hard to process what’s good or evil. But in a game, it’s obvious.

The challenge for engineers and practitioners is balancing the benefits with the addictive properties of those treatments. 

Could we see the same potential when using implanted microchips to cure neurological disorders such as dementia? Will we dare to dig further, relying more on technology to solve deeper problems, or will the unknown cause us to pull back due to privacy concerns? Will we delay progress by raging a war—like the war on drugs that persisted for decades—and thus slowing down the potential of medical advances? 

Playtest is a story about escape and discovery, confidence and fears, regrets and guilt. It reminds us of the dangers of concealing secrets and repressing traumatic events. We are not machines but put under the pressure of bottling up our feelings, we too can short circuit. Like a computer crashing, one second we’re working, the next, the screen is blank. All it takes is one interfering signal, a trigger to make us snap. 

We have all gone through a lot in the past few years. Alone in the haunted mansion of our minds, we can find ourselves layer and layer deep into a tale we tell ourselves. Like a character in an Edgar Allen Poe story, we hide all the most terrible parts in an unvisited room. 

A troubled mind is a home where we can’t walk freely. Therefore, we must open the doors, face each challenge, unleash the worms, and accept that this mess is ours, and we must clean it up. There are solutions to the woes of life, and like a game, we could even make it fun. 

But the question remains, can the events in Playtest happen? Well, sacrifices have to be made in experimenting with technology, just like how people have to die to figure out which food is edible and which drugs are effective. Are we willing to do the same for video games that have the potential to nourish us and repair our minds—without frying them? I believe the answer is yes because whether it cures us or not, it’s gonna too much fun not to try. 

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Will I Ever Finish My Novel? – Writing a Trilogy: 3 Years Later

I got distracted. But it’s not a bad thing. 

For the past four months, I’ve been editing a collection of short stories I wrote last summer. You might remember this video entitled: Why I Write Short Stories As A Break From My Novel 

I had this checklist made around August to help me prioritize everything I wanted to do: 

As you can see, things got delayed, but it’s not so bad. I just had to push a few tasks back 3 months. But the hope is by the end of this summer, I’ll be back on track.

The cause of all this is that editing each individual 5,000-6,000-word story took longer than I expected. 

While time-consuming, writing seven short stories wasn’t a bad idea. But in terms of completing my trilogy, I didn’t make any progress since last fall. 

However, I am working on a series, and there is a lot of world-building involved. These short stories are fun exercises at expanding the world through other storylines in different regions and at different times in history. This creative expedition allowed me to explore the world I’m building more deeply and introduce some lore. 

It’s also nice to have written seven completed short stories. Having shorter works at my disposal allows me to stay active and attempt to get them published in a literary magazine or anthology. I don’t know, but there is something to be said about getting your work to a level where you feel comfortable sharing it. 

Additionally, I’m also going to start looking for an editor for my series. The strategy is to use these short stories to audit editors and test different marketplaces. Whether I end up selling it or publishing it on my own, it’s good to have polished stories ready. 

There is so much I can do with these shorter pieces that I don’t really feel like I’ve wasted my time even if nothing comes of them. Or perhaps this is the justification of a delusional man, and I’ve only added more layers to this already too-big project. In one way, I’ve doomed myself to failure. But in another way, I’m still working on it—all of it—so as long as I don’t stop… it’s not a failure. 

Yes, it’s quite a predicament I’ve found myself in. I don’t recommend doing it this way, but if it works it works. I’m slowly chipping away at a giant project that just keeps growing. But I’m also comfortable at this speed. A lot is happening in my life, and I want to make sure I have time and energy for those things. Reading, exercising, and making these videos don’t come easily. I would love help, but getting help can sometimes be more work if I’m not ready to handle it. This year, I feel I’m going to reach that new level where I’m ready. I’ve created a solid foundation. I’m plateauing, so I need to push myself to the next level. 

That’s very exciting. 

Last year, I felt a lot of pressure to get this project launched. But this year, I plan to enjoy the process more. And by enjoying it, I hope to take more risks. Last year, I was so stressed. I was frustrated and angry. I still am in many ways, but this year, I want to get out of that state and not lean on my creative projects so much for my happiness. It sounds strange, but if it doesn’t have to be enjoyable, I can just enjoy it. 

There’s a lot to do, and I’m on a long journey… so we’ll see what happens. This project has been with me through three crazy years, so I don’t feel a reason to stop. In many ways, I’m getting more fond of it. I haven’t lost any motivation to work on this project, I’m just mentally tired from the past few years, and I need to pace myself to avoid burning out. Little by little, I hope to get it done. We’ll see. That’s the theme of the rest of 2023: We’ll see. No pressure.

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Get Comfortable Writing By Making Creativity Your Home

What makes a house a home? A house becomes a home when it’s warm, loving, and comfortable. A home is a place for growth. A home is a place you care about. When something breaks, you fix it. A home is a place you want to improve by upgrading, renovating, and remodeling. A home is a safe place to hide away when the world becomes too frustrating and horrible. When a house is a sanctuary, it becomes a home. 

But creativity can be home too. Creativity gives us a place to go when life is hard. After all, a home is a safe place to practice, where we learn to push through our comfort zone without the public’s prying eyes. 

That is how I like to think of creativity. Creativity is not escapism. Creativity is returning to a place where we can rest, recover, and reflect. We don’t escape to our homes. We live in our homes. We grow in our homes. We learn in our homes. We love our homes. 

I love my apartment. I do my best living here. The one positive about leaving this place is that I get to experience coming back. That’s what traveling is all about. The best part about traveling is gaining a new perspective and reaffirming that where I live, the life I’ve chosen, is correct. 

Photo by Paico Oficial on Unsplash

As a writer, my house is where I do most of my writing, but I can take my home with me when I write. Wherever I am out in the world, I can open my work and be transported home. The process of migrating the story from my brain to the page is a room I can always enter even when I’m far away. Home, in this case, is a mindset. It’s my passion and pursuit that grounds me and gives me comfort. Once again, it may sound like escapism, but I’m not escaping anything. I’m sitting at the coffee shop or a bench in the park, feeling at home. 

When we think of our creativity, we get caught thinking of it as a chore we need to check off. While there is a lot of work involved in any artistic venture, there is also a lot of work involved with taking care of a house. But taking care of your home is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, because who reaps the reward of your efforts? You.  

Therefore, think of creative work as the extra mile we put into making a home more livable. We are editing our story again so that we can make it better, a renovation. We move words around the way we move furniture to get a fresh perspective. We cut sentences out of our work the same way we declutter our closets. Yes, we want to invite people over and have them marvel at our efforts, but even if a project failed to appeal to anyone, we know it allowed us to live a better life. 

We create because like doing laundry, we need to clean. While cleaning a house may require us to get rid of stuff, cleaning, in a creative sense, means taking the ideas in our heads and bringing them into the real world, thus freeing them from our minds.

Regardless of what we do, most of us are lucky to go home almost every night. We crawl into our beds and wake up in the morning. But that’s only the physical home. What about our creative home? Are we visiting that place within ourselves often enough? Are we finding comfort and growth in the act of creation? Do we have a way of expressing ourselves? Are we taking care of that home? 

Creativity is not a hotel. You don’t just check in, check out, and never return. No, creativity should be a place you can open the door and enter whenever you want. It should be a place where you can feel safe every night. It’s a place you can bring with you wherever you go. Make creativity your home, and you will always have a place to stay, and from there, you can recover and face the sometimes horrible, frustrating, and awful world that doesn’t always feel like home. 

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Lessons for Bad Students

You shouldn’t listen to me. I was a bad student myself. But I’ve managed to get to this point in life, and I have some thoughts. If you are struggling in class. If you cannot get the grades you need. Or if you’re having a hard time focusing, try this: 

Teach yourself: Not everyone is blessed with great teachers and mentors—and even when you have them, they don’t stick around forever—so you need to support yourself, build yourself up, and be curious on your own. Read lots of books, experiment with many hobbies, and explore new skills. Lessons will come your way when the time is right, and as the ancient Chinese saying goes: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready… The teacher will Disappear.” 

Focus on projects, not grades: Start making and doing a lot. Welcome failure and rejections. Be innovative and creative. Be vulnerable and daring. There aren’t grades to measure those aspects in school; the curriculum rarely teaches students to create prolifically because teachers aren’t able to grade everything. Never mind the grades! Your audience is bigger than your instructor, so do more. 

Document your journey: Keep track of what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and what you learned along the way. Documenting is a great way to reflect on your approach, but it’s also an opportunity to make something tangible to share with others. Sharing knowledge is teaching, and teaching is one of the best ways to learn. 

Allow knowledge to fill slowly: School rushes you to memorize information in a short amount of time, but your brain is a porous container. As you fill it with new knowledge, you’ll find that concepts, formulas, and techniques will leak out. When you can’t retain it all, don’t fret. Knowledge does not happen with a flick of a switch. If it’s relevant, it’ll come up again, and the more you’re exposed to it, the more you’ll recognize it, and the better you’ll be at memorizing it next time. No need to cram; there is no test when it comes to life experience. You know what you know. When the time comes, you’ll be surprised by what’s left in your brain. 

Not everyone is destined to be a great student. Some find school boring, some can’t afford it, and some struggle with authority. I understand. I love learning, but I hate being taught. If you’re like me, you probably had someone tell you you can’t do something unless someone certified graciously teaches you. I’m not certified, but whatever it is that you want to learn, I allow you. Go ahead. Be rebellious. 

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Why Your Creative Writing is Not Your Baby

Nine months. That’s how long it takes to give birth to a baby. Writing a book can take much longer. The commitment to have a child has obvious correlations with creativity; they both bring something new into the world. Additionally, children and art are two ways we find fulfillment in life. However, human life and a creative project should not share the same level of seriousness. 

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (Amazon), she references a Truman Capote quote: “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the backyard and shot it.”

She then cautions us not to mistake our creative work for a baby. Associating creativity, career, or a personal purist with a living being will cloud our judgments. 

As they say, you become too close to it. When you’re too close to your creative work, you don’t know what to change—or worse—you wouldn’t want to change anything. You probably heard the phrase: kill your darlings. This famous quote reminds us that in order to improve our work, we’ll need to cut out the parts we love the most. 

If your work is as precious to you as your newborn, you won’t see all the imperfections. You nurture it and nurture it, but it doesn’t get better, and you wouldn’t create anything new because you spend all your time focused on polishing your one gem. You’d be reluctant to build, mold, and transform your work because it’s comforting the way it is, and there’s an expectation to love it unconditionally.  

Have you ever seen a mother look at her ugly baby? She doesn’t think it’s ugly. She loves the child and genuinely believes that the hideous thing will grow to be a movie star or a supermodel. If you were to go up to the mother and criticize her infant, she would most likely bite your face off. 

If you compare your creative work to your baby, you may not be able to see all her flaws. If you can’t see the problems, you can’t help. When called upon, you won’t be able to cut 30 percent of your work. When someone criticizes or corrects your child, you’d reject their words or go into a guilty, shameful spiral. Imagine someone telling you that your kid needs a facelift before they are willing to buy her. 

Parents want to protect their babies; it’s instinctual. And while your creative work needs some nurturing, you may also coddle it for too long. Your reluctance to send it out will hinder your growth as a writer, and your work will never improve. But the reality remains. If you treat your work like a human, you can end up sheltering it in your drawers or on your hard drive for 18 years or more. By that time, you would have missed out on a lot of opportunities.  

We give our blood, sweat, and tears to our creative work. We put everything we had into it. We sacrificed and endured to create a piece of art the same way we would for a son or daughter. Describing our work as our baby gives it a deeper meaning. In a way, it sounds endearing. You cast a soft light on your creation. You’ve put a lot of care into it, and that’s how you want to market it. This baby is handmade with love, not manufactured.  

But on the backend, it causes too much emotional connection to the piece. Like a helicopter parent, this can end up doing more harm to the child than good. 

Elizabeth Gilbert tells us to consider ourselves the baby to the creative work instead. We are not the ones who need to give birth and raise our creativity; it’s the creativity that gives life to us. It’s the creative act that teaches us, helps us grow, and shows us how to live. Each project we work on and complete becomes a snapshot of that moment. We become what we’ve made. We are not giving birth to our creative work; our creative work is giving birth to us—over and over again. As we look back, we see a trail from where we’ve come. 

This way of thinking eliminates the pressure of a parent and offers us a chance to explore our childhood desires and express ourselves. We can be curious again. We should treat every project as a lesson, a continuum. It took that piece to get me here and it’ll take this piece to get me there. 

Your creative work is not your baby. Your creative work doesn’t need to grow up to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. It doesn’t need to take care of you when you’re old. If you kill it, you won’t go to jail. Nobody will even notice. So lose that pressure. Finish your book, take it to the backyard, and enjoy the outdoors together. Nobody needs to shoot anything. 

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The Sunk Cost of Writing

The term sunk cost refers to the resources we’ve invested into a project that cannot be recovered. And the sunk cost fallacy is our reluctance to abandon a project because we’ve already put in so much. This mistake can cause us to spend more money, time, and effort on a piece that we have no pleasure working on and with costs continuing to add up. 

A common sunk cost fallacy I face is when I start a book and feel the need to read it cover to cover. The thing is, if I’m reading something that I don’t enjoy or get value from, I’m not reading something that can actually benefit me. Persisting through isn’t the best use of my time and energy.

Sunk cost is more painful when it comes to writing. Writing takes much more effort than reading, and therefore, we invest so much more of ourselves into it. I have written so many stories that I kept tearing them apart over and over again trying to make them work. I tell myself one more time, revise it once more and see what happens. At some point, I question why I’m still working on that story. I have a million ideas in my head that I want to get to. When is it time to move on to something new?

Internally, there is a constant battle between reducing sunk cost and persistence. Whenever I return to a project I’ve invested a lot into already, I ask myself why I’m working on it. Am I working on it because I’ve already put in so much work, or am I working on it because I still believe in it? It’s not only a matter of mindset; it’s a matter of prioritization. Is it important for me to keep watering a plant that won’t grow, or is it worth sowing new seeds? 

Managing sunk cost is desperately personal because time is so valuable to us. We cannot get more, no matter how hard we try. Investing in the wrong areas can end up killing us slowly. It’s easy to look at our writing and think, “Oh my god, I’ve wasted my life.” But remember, time was going to pass either way. And it wasn’t all wasted. Now you have a few drafts, a snapshot of your life. Go and do something else if that is what you want, but dwell on the sunk cost. You’ve brought it here, it exists, and you can always come back to it when the time is right. 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Whenever I’m debating whether to abandon a project—especially a significant one that would only cost me more and more time—I remember all the expensive Hollywood projects that don’t see the light of day. Production companies would often develop a pilot episode to test whether it has any viability in the market before they make more. That is because the networks want to make something that audiences would watch and, more importantly, be profitable if they were to make more episodes. 

One recent example is The Game of Thrones spin-off called Bloodmoon. This prequel was supposed to take place 8,000 years before the events involving Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister—and cost $30 million to produce. Yes, $30 million. 

How could HBO abandon such an expensive project? The Chief Content Officer said that the show would require more innovation. Bloodmoon didn’t simply require scripts, actors, and cameras, it required the whole network to figure out how to make it—and then make more. Additionally, this new show had a different feel from the original, which required more setup and may not appeal to some returning viewers. The risk was huge. Who knows how it would have all played out, but HBO decided to focus their attention on House of the Dragon. Which, in many ways, was a safer bet. 

That’s how I see my projects now. I work on something, get it to a point where it’s good enough to show someone, and then send it out on a test—like a television pilot. When it comes back to me, with whatever feedback attached, I decide whether I want to take the gamble of revising it or focusing on another project. While it may be frustrating to be losing constantly like someone on a cold streak at a roulette table, I find joy in always having chips to make another bet. 

Regardless of what project I’m working on, I’m grateful to be able to play the game. Maybe I won’t bet on the same horse every time, but it’s reassuring that I still have the time and money to do so. I can manage my sunk cost while persisting. I’m doing both. I’m HBO trying to make six different Game of Thrones spinoffs at the same time to determine which one to invest in long-term. It’s nice to know that one day I can make $30 million decisions around my work, but today, I just need to decide whether I want to put my novel on the shelf or return to it for another edit. 

I’ll leave you with this. Whether you want to keep going or abandon your work, there is a quote, often attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci that really helps me, and it goes: Art is never finished, only abandoned. 

I like it because, eventually, you’ll need to stop working on everything. So don’t feel so guilty when you abandon something. It’s bound to happen in one form or another. 

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Nosedive: Black Mirror, Can It Happen?

Before we determine whether the events in Nosedive can happen, let’s look back to when this episode was released: October 21, 2016. 

2016 was the year our smartphones completely took over our lives. The rise of Pokemon Go during the summer was a key piece of evidence. In a matter of weeks, people worldwide were wandering around staring at their phones. Some even ventured into dangerous neighborhoods and private priorities to catch them all and ended up losing their lives. 

Disappearing videos were also growing in popularity. Snapchat had a big year in 2016, with one in five Americans engaging with the platform. Gaining adoption from an older audience, Snapchat proved that ephemeral content was not only for kids. 

Across the Internet, the rabbit holes for obscure, hateful, and extreme content dropped deeper and deeper, creating echo chambers for conspiracy theories. While we were suspicious that algorithms and foreign influence might be involved, we didn’t know Facebook and Cambridge Analytica were using data harvested from the social network to fuel political unrest leading to Donald Trump becoming president and the UK leaving the European Union. 

In 2016, the physical world had many problems: political tensions, soaring debt, school shootings, and Samsung phone explosions. Technology companies were making our attention span shorter and our insatiable hunger for attention more vital. And while we may not be able to afford a house in the physical world, at least we could find comfort in a digital one… But slowly that realm was corroding. And there was no rewind button—no eject—we had fallen too deep.  

As we longed for a simpler time, our nostalgia was left exposed. And money-hungry executives happily used it against us by selling uninspired remakes and clothing with old logos. 

That was where the zeitgeist was in 2016. Technology was pushing us forward while we were looking back longingly. We wanted to be heroes and victims. Masters and influencers. Stars and black holes. And with that, let’s look at Black Mirror season 3, episode 1: Nosedive. 

In this post, I will explore three themes of the episode and discuss whether such events or concepts have taken place in some form in the last few years and if they haven’t, whether or not they’re still plausible. 

Without further ado, let’s jump into it. 

Social Credit Score

In the world of Nosedive, the residents don’t live such different lives from ours. Their hopes and desires are much the same. And we too need to be approved in order to get them. In order to buy a house, start a business, get into a college, or find a job we need to have our credits evaluated. 

The story follows a young professional, Lacie, who wants to purchase her own property. But to do so, she needs to increase her rating—which is directly linked to her socioeconomic status—from 4.2 to 4.5. 

I remember watching this episode in 2016 and feeling uneasy about the idea of reviewing people. Since then, I’ve signed up for apps such as Uber and Airbnb, so the concept of giving someone a score on a device has all gotten familiar even though it’s still uncomfortable. If it meets expectations, I’m giving it a 5-star. I don’t want to be a critic for everything I do.

Most consumers have a credit score, an objective number that predicts credit risk and informed financial institutions to lend them money or not. A credit score takes account of indisputable aspects of our financial habits, such as how regularly we pay off our bills, how many accounts we own, and how much available credit we use. For example, you’d need a credit score of 680 or over to get a mortgage. 

Additionally, there are academic scores, which most of us had suffered through when embarking on our educational pursuits. The grade point average determines whether we qualify for one institution over another. For example, you’ll need a GPA of 4.18 or over to get into Harvard. 

However, the eeriest real-life scenario relating to this episode is the Social Credit Score that may or may not be implemented in China. 

In 2013, the government of Rongcheng, China, a city with half a million people, implemented a social credit score. Each person began with a rating of 1,000 to start, and good and bad deeds would lower or increase that number. 

During this experiment, citizens lost points for spreading harmful information, with one citizen losing 950 points in three weeks for distributing letters online about a medical dispute. Of course, the government decides what’s considered harmful. That’s the main argument for the social credit score: it’s to help enforce existing laws. But when the laws can be twisted, social credit scores become scary and Orwellian. The authorities no longer need to listen to criticism—because criticism is harmful. 

Criticizing the government could theoretically lower your rating and rank you as someone who had gone to prison or been bankrupt. This penalization will disqualify you from getting a loan, buying a car, or even traveling abroad. Like in Nosedive, there isn’t a reliable appeal process either. Lacie could beg the authority at the airport all she wants, but whatever the law feels is necessary, it does.

The whole system falls apart when the power goes to those with no qualms about abusing the ratings. That is why any good review platform will have impartial moderators. Otherwise, those with a higher rank can create loyalists by rewarding good behaviors while oppressing those they deem threats or disobedient.

Boosting Social Status

Social media has given us another obsession with numbers: the amount of likes, follows, and comments. We put a numerical value on everything we do. These metrics can give us a hit of dopamine or bum us out, but they can also now greatly influence our income. You don’t even need to be an influencer. Amazon sellers need good reviews, and podcasters need five stars. It’s too competitive. There is just no way to survive without it. And because of that vulnerability, the power can be abused. 

One of my favorite parts in this episode was when Lacie goes to this analytics consultant, and he walks her through all her data. As a marketer, this is all too relatable. How many times have I charted the result of a successful campaign? Or reviewed why a piece of content didn’t appeal to an audience? 

In this social media world, we all have to be personal brands. We treat ourselves like a business. Like a restaurant on Yelp or an app in the App Store, we need to monitor our influence, measure our performance, and increase our exposure. We need a communication team, a public relations team, and a growth team. If we miss a beat, we can expose ourselves to bad press. We need to know which side to stand on, like when Lacie had to pick sides between coworkers. To avoid being ostracized—or, as we say these days, getting canceled—she needs to join the mob. 

We are an investment, a stock trending up and down. Overall we want to go up. We want to stay relevant and increase in value. Marketing is important because it’s how businesses gain positive exposure and present their offerings to the world. When everyone is a content creator, getting married is a media production, a big marketing campaign. Weddings are like the Oscars or the Olympics. It’s where you can really increase your reach and up your score. 

While Naomi carefully curated her wedding to maintain her rank, Lacie wanted to leverage the wedding to boost her score. The stakes increased since the wedding would include many high-rated individuals whose scores were inherently worth more. By interacting with them at such a grand event, she’d get the spike in ratings she needed to reach her goals. 

When people are only measured by their scores, we get a homogenized world where every action is driven by numbers. This is a dangerous way of living. It creates a constant sense of discontentment. There is always a higher number, and we will always want more. We’d want to upgrade everything. Nothing is ever enough. Not our home. Not our followers. Not our friends. Not our lovers. Not our jobs. We will be stuck on what experts call the hedonic treadmill, where whatever happiness we get from money, accolade, or status would feel nice at first but won’t ever be enough. Eventually, we will return to our default level, wanting more. 

Faking It

Another theme of this episode was how Lacie had to be constantly on. She had to present herself in a certain way because the world was a stage. From the posts she published on social media to her interactions with service people, she had to maintain a pleasant persona. 

At the start of the pandemic, everyone was locked down, and the only way to see our friends and work was through video calls. Every day we had to sit in front of a camera and put on a show. Being so disconnected from body language, social cues, and physical energy, we needed to channel Meryl Streep so that our viewers—our friends, families, clients, and coworkers—would perceive how we were feeling. Not everyone wants to be an “influencer,” but our ability to perform for the camera is critical if we want to succeed in this new game. 

When it comes to increasing a score, it is very much a game. And games are strategic. There is nothing authentic about someone trying to win a game. You don’t reveal your plan to your enemies. Every interaction becomes a move upon a chessboard. This idea was nicely illustrated when Naomi announced that she didn’t invite Lacie because of the kindness of her heart. She didn’t consider her a true friend but rather a deliberate play to earn sympathy points. 

We are living in a Photoshopped magazine cover where everything is carefully composed. That’s why seeing our features superimposed into advertising is so dangerous. We are easily manipulated. And few approaches are more effective than appealing to our ego, creating urgency, and evoking our fear of missing out, aka FOMO. 

Once we can envision the status we desire, it’s terrifying to lose it. This marketing approach is not so different from trying on clothes, test driving a car, or using 3D AR software to furnish a room. By engaging with it, we’re more likely to purchase. It’s the visualization that drove Lacie to extremes. The holographic images of her beautiful new kitchen with a lover at her side became her north star or a vision board. 

While we always want more, we also fear losing what we have. That’s why nostalgia is so powerful. Nostalgia can bring us back to an even ground, a simpler time. When we were children we were all equals, the closest we were to authentic, or so it seemed. 

The homely Mr. Rags was a representation of the innocent days before the betrayal, before the days when points mattered. Nostalgia reminds us of a time when we were ourselves, not whatever number represents us now: the ratings, the funds in our bank, or the number of friends at our party. 

Wise words constantly remind us to have empathy for others because we don’t know what someone else is going through. However, when we see someone desperately trying to regain footing in front of a crowd—like a celebrity caught in hot water—we can say, “Wow. Glad that’s not me up there”—and enjoy the show.

In an unempathetic world, where everyone is keeping scores the same way Google keeps track of everything we search, we will guard how we truly feel, live in incognito mode, and fake it. 

During these past several years, I, like Lacie, just wanted to express my anger, sadness, and frustration. I wanted to be a child and scream. However, as an adult, screaming is not allowed. I cannot scream outside because I’d get arrested. I cannot scream in my home because the neighbors would freak out. There are only a few places for us urbanites to go to express these emotions. We can escape from the city and find a place of our own. Or we could join a protest and start a riot.  

Nosedive encapsulates what Black Mirror is all about. A dark reflection of our current existence. Watching this episode feels as satisfying as peeling off a layer of sunburnt skin. The fun is over, the damage is done, we recovered, we are still alive, and even though we know the consequences when the next sunny day comes, we still go outside again to play the game. 

So the question remains, can the events in Nosedive happen? My friend, count all the numbers associated with your life. All the followers you have, all the scores the government and financial institutions designate, and all the hours you spend pursuing your virtual goals. At any point, those numbers can drop to zero. And it’ll be devastating.

The event of this episode is happening. Now, how can we stop it from taking over every facet of our lives? How can we still express our feelings without damaging our reputation? How do we be ourselves without exposing our vulnerabilities? I offer no solution except this, besides all the scores the world keeps, maintain an inner scorecard. You get to rate yourself as well. Give yourself a good score. Why not? 

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10 Best (Most Mind-Bending) Episodes of Love Death + Robots | Season 1-3

Recently I’ve been super busy and sitting down for a two-to-three-hour movie is difficult. So these short stand-alone episodes from Netflix’s Love Death + Robots were a great way to take a break and watch something without spending too much of my time. 

I was happy to hear that Netflix renewed the sci-fi anthology for a fourth season. I look forward to seeing how the different studios innovate on what they’ve already created. I love comparing the storylines, concepts, and art styles.  

From the first three seasons, a few episodes stood out. And that’s what I’d like to share with you today. If you haven’t checked out Love Death + Robots, watch these episodes. If you have seen it, then watch them again. 

This list is purely my opinion, so if you disagree and I left out one of your favorites, please let me know in the comments. 

Okay, let’s count it down! 

10. Zima Blue

The first time I watched this episode, I didn’t think much about it. Yes, the art style was cool—a thick-line comic book aesthetic that reminded me of the 90’s cartoon Daria—but I wasn’t sure what the deal was until it got to the end. 

There was a time when we were confident that art was the language of humans. We have experiences and emotions, and that’s what makes art meaningful. The sentiment was clear: Robots have no place in art. 

Today, with the advent of Dall-E, Midjourney, Lensa, and ChatGPT, AIs are coming closer and closer to creating art. They may only be interpreting our keywords to produce an image or write a paragraph now, but how soon will they be able to take their experiences and design something of their own? And when they do, what will they make? That’s the question Zima Blue poses… and the answer might be too simple for us to understand. 

9. The Tall Grass

There is something calming about a man smoking a cigarette and venturing into the tall grass. But the pendulum swings to fear quickly. We’ve been there before. How often do we decline helpful advice and go off on our own? How often do we find our curiosity and hubris leading us to danger? 

The Tall Grass is an episode where as a spectator, it’s so obvious the passenger was going to get lost. From our perspective, we’ve seen this a thousand times. 

After saving him, the conductor tells the passenger that out in the middle of nowhere, a door opens to another world, and those monsters coming through were once lost humans. That explanation is somehow terrifying and assuring. We are not immune, and we may be one bad decision from getting lost ourselves. 

8. Pop Squad

As a child-free person, this episode felt like an attack. In our current world, we are facing overpopulation, but there will be more older people than young. According to the US Census Bureau, in America, the fastest-growing population are people above 80. 

Depending on how you look at it, it can feel selfish to have children and selfish not to have children. While immortality is still fiction, the moral decision is worth debating. 

It’s well-documented that Elon Musk wants everyone to have more children, and he’s leading by example, but how will he feel when there is no more room at the party? What if someone needs to go for someone else to join? Do I believe Elon Musk love himself enough to want to live forever? Yes, I do. Is he seeing the world through the children’s eyes, or does he see them as resources for the future? Expendable like Twitter employees. 

7. Jibaro

Telling a powerful story without dialogue is tough. The soundscape, musical score, and audio mixing must be on point, and when it is I feel chills. It’s hard to find words to describe this episode. You can even say that at the end, I too was speechless. What did I just experience? 

This twisted episode is a feast for the eyes as well. The surreal mix of Spanish conquistadors, South Asian-inspired costume design, and the North American wilderness presents a story full of symbolism while leaving plenty of room for interpretations. 

Fear and anger drive this episode, but the temptation is navigating. Both the siren and the knight wear armor, one of steel and the other of gold and jewels, but neither can protect what’s within. Jibaro blends interpretive dance, operatic performance, and a hostile assault to tell a story about humanity’s true disabilities, not our inability to speak and hear but our sins: greed and lust. 

6. Life Hutch

There are several episodes in Love Death + Robots about malfunctioning machines going on a killing spree, including Mason’s Rats and Automated Customer Service. It also brings to mind that famous episode of Black Mirror: Metalhead. So what separates Life Hutch from other attacking-robot stories? 

This episode built tension and then held it. At no point does this feel repetitive, which can’t be said about some of the other examples. Whenever the momentum was on the verge of slipping, it cuts to a back story about surviving an army of aliens, space debris, and a crash landing on the rugged planet. It goes to show that in space, there is always danger. After all he’s been through, it’s so satisfying when he finally beats up the robot with its arm.    

HM: Lucky 13

Before we carry on with the countdown, here’s an honorable mention, Lucky 13. While the number 13 being unlucky is a bit cliche, I did enjoy the idea of superstition in a futuristic world. 

Whenever chance is in question, a bit of faith is required. In a dangerous situation, nobody wants to run out of luck. Yet, how much does a break in pattern matter? Good luck after a string of bad luck. Is it all in our minds? People want to feel like they can control the uncontrollable, whether they do or not, it’s the stories they tell themselves that will keep them going. 

Now back to the countdown… 

5. Beyond the Aquila Rift

The award for the most intense sex scene goes to Beyond the Aquila Rift, and that’s enough to get it into the top five. Okay, but seriously the episode about how an error in the routing system caused ships to overshoot their destination by hundreds of thousands of light-years away is a tragedy. A combination of Groundhog Day, the Matrix, and Interstellar, Beyond the Aquila Rift poses many questions. The twist at the end is a horrifying reminder that if something is hidden from us, it might be for a good reason. And so it goes with everything out there in space. 

What this episode does great is show the significance of space travel and the power of technology. We, humans, should be careful where we wander, but the fact of the matter is that we may already be trapped. If you ever feel that life is a simulation, that’s okay because this reality may be the most ideal version. 

4. Sonnie’s Edge

Just failing to make the podium is Sonnie’s Edge. This gritty, gruesome, and erotic Pokemon-esque episode has everything I want in a sci-fi/fantasy short, including an epic battle between giant monsters.

On the surface, this episode appears to be a feast for our obsession with violence and sex, but beneath, it has a powerful message about the corruption of men. Driven by overconfidence and pride, the upper class feels secure when they shouldn’t, for there is an edge that those living below have. Fear. A story about feminism and the strength of women, Sonnie’s Edge is layers upon layers deep. 

3. Helping Hand

If you enjoyed the movie Gravity, Moon, or 127 Hours, you’d like Helping Hand. Nothing captures my attention like a survival story. I consider what I would do in that situation. What would I sacrifice to save my life? They say there is no will more powerful than the will to live, and until you stare death in the face, you will never fully know how you’d respond. 

Small debris causes the greatest devastation. And no instrument of destruction is more powerful than our thoughts. Can we break free of the inertia that will carry us deeper and deeper into darkness? Or will we be able to throw what we hold most precious and change the momentum? Helping Hand is an incredible short because it hits on something real: the perseverance of humans and the coldness of space. 

2. Bad Traveling

This episode might be about a giant crustacean taking over a ship and causing havoc but it’s also about the deceit of democracy, the power struggle within a workforce, and the negotiation with an enemy. The theme of Bad Traveling is so relevant to the world we are currently living in. Are we making cowardly choices because we fear the enemy or mistrust those who are in charge? 

What makes a good leader? Is it someone who can manipulate the monsters we’ll face? Or is it someone who can see the evil within ourselves? Perhaps it’s both. In which case, how will he make choices when theoretically there is nobody on his side? Taking action for the greater good is as isolating as being alone on the ocean. 

1. The Witness

The Witness is an incredibly stimulating experience with the topsy-turvy comic art style, the titillating performance, and the claustrophobically tall buildings combined with a disorienting soundscape and fast cuts. The story starts with a sex worker witnessing a murder in the apartment across the street, then a chase through a populated city that doesn’t seem to care about anything but itself, and concludes in a chaotic struggle.

This mind-bending story about infinite loops is so brilliantly done that I don’t know if I can ever get the visuals out of my head. The way the characters breathe, so realistically, right onto the camera lens—I can feel it. The insanity of the situation. The need to know, the need to save ourselves, the fear of being caught. In such a diverse collection of stories, The Witness stands out on its own. And the open-ended conclusion leaves us wanting more, almost daring to chase it down ourselves, drawing our conclusions like the characters in the story. 

There you have it! Those are my top 10 episodes of Love Death + Robots. What do you think? Did your favorite episode make the list? Let me know in the comments below. As I mentioned, I’m excited that the sci-fi anthology was renewed for another season. I can’t wait to see what other trippy, scary, and bizarre stories creator Tim Miller and his contributing filmmakers will have. 

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Write a Story Using These Five Narrative Modes

Is a scene not working? Are you failing to create intrigue, establish tone, or captivate an audience? Consider what narrative mode you’re using to tell your story. 

If words are the building blocks then narrative modes are the design of your story. Whichever ones you pick will yield a different construction, and therefore, a different experience for your readers. 

There are five narrative modes: description, dialogue, action, thought, and exposition. Today we will look at these five forms and how you can experiment while editing to determine which works best. 

To put it in context, we’ll explore how different authors use varying narrative modes to start their stories—but this approach works anywhere: beginning, middle, or end. If something isn’t working, change the narrative mode and see what happens. 

Let’s get into it! 


Descriptions are great for establishing a setting or character

It’s most effective if it’s an intriguing image. If you waste too many words describing something obvious or mundane, you won’t hook your audience or keep them turning the pages. To write effective descriptions, activate the senses: what do you see, hear, smell, feel, or taste? What’s unusual? 

Alternatively, you can use descriptions to establish context, for example, a before or after image. Take the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Amazon). He starts the story with a description of an average house before the chaos and destruction: 

The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village. It stood on its own and looked out over a broad spread of West Country farmland. Not a remarkable house by any means — it was about thirty years old, squattish, squarish, made of brick, and had four windows set in the front of a size and proportion which more or less exactly failed to please the eye.
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


Starting a story with dialogue can grab the reader’s attention. It jumps right into the middle of a scene, introducing a character and building a connection. Hearing a character speak makes them more personable and is often more engaging than having the writer paraphrase what’s been said. When it’s well-written, dialogue can give a sense of who the character is, where they are, and what they want. 

However, bad dialogue can confuse readers because they don’t know who’s talking or why they should care. Don’t begin with your characters making small talk or a boring conversation that the reader may have in their own life. If you’re opening your story or maintaining narrative momentum, make sure the dialogue is compelling. If you want to hit your reader with something unexpected, dialogue is a great way to do it. Check out how Douglas Coupland opens his novel Jpod (Amazon):

“Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel.”

“That asshole.”

“Who does he think he is?”

“Come on, guys, focus. We’ve got a major problem on our hands.”

– Jpod by Douglas Coupland 


In medias res is Latin for “in the midst of action” and that’s what you should consider when writing an action scene. Start your scene in the middle of an event and create stakes, tension, and strong pacing that will hook your reader while still giving them relevant details like time and place. It doesn’t mean you begin at the climax or the most intense part. It means you place your readers at a link in the continual chain of cause and effect: Because this is happening, this is happening — and because that happened, this is now happening. 

In an energetic action sequence, use active voice and remove filter words, such as saw, felt, and thought. Writing a good action scene doesn’t need to include characters, although a goal or a conflict is necessary. Action is great, but always ask: Why should the readers care? 

Take a look at this opening to The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (Amazon). 

The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp. The waves rose to goliathan heights, crashing into the hull with the power of raw tonnage; the white sprays caught in the night sky cascaded downward over the deck under the force of the night wind. Everywhere there were the sounds of inanimate pain, wood straining against wood, ropes twisting, stretched to the breaking point. The animal was dying. – The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash


A story that opens with a thought, is a story that opens in the past, a reflection, a flashback. How is this effective? 

Thoughts allow the readers to understand a character. By seeing how they think or relive a significant memory, readers learn about their motivations and personalities. We view the conflict from their perspectives. Thoughts allow the author to convey the theme quickly. With thoughts, you can establish a pivotal scene, like a murder, a love loss, or an important lesson, and have that guide the character for the rest of the story. 

A great example of this is The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (Amazon). The narrator, Nick Carraway’s thought has nothing to do with the plot directly, but it shows his principles. The opening gives him the integrity he needs to tell the story and for us to trust him.  

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald


We are told that expositions should be avoided because they’re info dumps. Unskilled authors use them to give the readers all the information they need to understand some convoluted plot. Think of the opening crawl of any Star Wars movie where the floating text sets the stage for the galactic confrontation. Phantom Menace literally begins by explaining the details of space tax and trade routes. 

While exposition has a bad reputation for pushing the readers out of an emotional or visceral experience, it’s a reliable mode for explaining a character, a historical event, or a critical mission. With that said, here are a few notes to consider when using expositions for your story: 

  1. Make sure the details are intriguing: don’t share information that the reader can assume. 
  2. Create a sense of place: ground your story and connect it with a specific scenario. 
  3. Pay attention to the tone and mood: Just because it’s an info dump, doesn’t mean it should take the reader out of the story. When writing ask: how do the characters feel about these details? Is it dark and scary, or is it hopeful like at the beginning of The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom (Amazon)? 

This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time. – The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Whether you’re editing the beginning, middle, or end of your story consider the narrative mode. Remember, you are not tearing down your house, you’re redesigning it so that everything works better together. If you’re stuck and a section isn’t working, consider changing how you deliver the information. Switching the narrative modes can give strength to different aspects of the story; you change the pace, mood, and intensity. Practice each one, because you never know when a dialogue scene can work better as an exposition, or an action can become a thought.

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My Current Writing Fears and Struggles

2022 has been a tough year. One of my saving graces has been my creative projects. If you’ve been following my channel, you’d know I’m deep in some pretty big projects, including my novel and short stories.

However, even my passion project comes with its struggles. As with all daily grinds, some days it feels like I’m making progress, and other days it feels like I’ve wasted my time, regressed in my skills, or even set myself up for embarrassment. When this happens, I want to shut it all down and give up. 

Now, I’m no expert in overcoming struggles. As much as I appreciate stoic philosophy, it’s not easy to practice it in real life. Sometimes I find myself frustrated and confused, but I always get myself back onto the metaphorical horse. In this article, I’ll share my most notable writing fears and struggles and what I might do to overcome them. 

Comparison with Others

As I follow more and more artists, writers, and all-around successful people on social media, I often notice the jealousy that brews beneath the surface of my cheerful exterior. Every day, I see writers celebrating their milestones, showing off their book covers, and getting profiled by publications, while for the past few years, I’ve been in the weeds with my work. 

Seeing others celebrate while I’m still in the middle of the grind is painful. I’m putting in all this effort, but where is the payoff? This is, of course, a dangerous mindset. When these feelings bubble to the surface, I repeat a quote that has always stuck with me, and that is: your success is your success, not my failure. 

We can sometimes see life as a zero-sum game. For my team to win, the opposition needs to lose. If someone buys their book, then they won’t buy mine. When they win, I lose. But when it comes to creativity, that is not true. When people read, when people watch videos, and when people appreciate others’ creative work, it elevates all of us. 

I try to hold onto that whenever I see others achieving their goals. I want to be someone who rises and meets them at the top, not someone who tears others down so that they are in the pits with me. None of us will succeed that way. 

Comparing yourself with others is dangerous, especially when you think they are stealing from you. They are not, they are on a different journey, and their work doesn’t impact yours. Don’t compare your work in progress to someone else’s finished product. It’s all a distraction. I could be jealous, or I could be inspired. Examine their work, see how they did it, and maybe we can learn something. 

Fear of the 1-Star Review

While I struggle with the success of others, I also struggle with my failures, and nothing epitomizes that more than the fear of getting a one-star review. 

This fear is irrational because I haven’t even completed my novel yet, and here I am, anticipating the criticism and haters. Jumping to a conclusion can lead to a lot of anxiety, and that can throw me off. It creates unnecessary pressure that causes me to second-guess every word I write and every piece I publish. 

Here’s the thing, I’ve yet to get a one-star review for my work. One day I will, but for now, I have no real experience. While I’ve gotten negative comments from instructors and on social media and can imagine a similar pain, I don’t know what I’m dealing with. It’s that unfamiliar negative feeling that scares me. It’s like anticipating a car crash while your friend is driving; nobody feels good about that. 

We, as humans, put more value on negative comments than on positive ones. We’ve all been there. We share our work with someone, and they praise us for this and that, but end with one thing that they didn’t understand or a suggestion. All the nice things they said disappeared, and now we’re fixated on that negative comment. What hurts the most is that there is truth to that comment. But I try to look at it this way: isn’t it kind that they gave you any feedback at all?

Reviews are important for creative writers, especially in a saturated market. It’s painful to work on something for so long only to have someone trash it. But as Gary Vee would say, ignore all of it. Good and bad. None of it matters. Take constructive feedback when it’s offered, but when it’s unsolicited, criticism is a gift you don’t need to accept. You don’t need to apply it to your work. 

Fear is not a bad thing. The fear pushes me to work hard, do everything I can, and make sure it meets my standards. Once it does then it doesn’t matter what other people say because I approve of it. I stand behind it. I can’t make everyone happy, but I can hold my head high. There are bound to be people who hate my work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It sucks that they have to give me a one-star and hurt me, but hey… it wasn’t made for them. But here’s the good news, they chose to engage with it, and that’s worth celebrating. 

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

The Reward May Not Be Worth It

From the start, people have told me that there isn’t a lot of money in creative writing. Only a small percentage are lucky enough to make a comfortable living, while others need to hustle or subsidize their creativity with other jobs. This is the reality all writers need to understand when they pursue this craft. The reward at the end may not be a pot of gold. The reward may be just more creative work

While that may sound fruitless to some, and money causes stress, it can also be a positive. If you’re a writer chasing fame and fortune, good luck. However, if you’re a writer who wants to be able to write consistently for your whole life, then you should reframe your mindset. 

You’re not writing to make money, you’re making money to keep writing. The act of writing is the reward. The fact that you get to wake up every morning and work on something you’re passionate about is something you should be grateful for. Everything else: the money, the accolades, the fans, the New York Times bestseller ranking, the movie adaptation, and the lifetime achievement award — all that is a bonus. Don’t deny it when it comes, but don’t put those expectations before your work. 

When I get caught focusing on what writing can bring, I don’t pay enough attention to what writing does. The act of writing is a friend. Our friend is there with us through good and bad times. Our friend is kind and reliable. What our friend isn’t is someone that pays us regularly for showing up to hang out with them. We don’t expect anything in return for chilling with our friends. We should be so lucky to spend time with them. And so it goes with writing. At least, that’s how I try to see it when my word count increases, but my bank account stays the same. 

We, writers, are vulnerable, optimistic people. We put our hearts on the line every time we sit down to create in the hope of impacting our audience. With that pursuit come fears and struggles beyond story structures and typos. These are things I deal with daily, if not on an hourly basis. It’s easy to get caught up in our heads. Of course, it is! We are writers… we live in our imaginations. 

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