M. C. Kaske is a doctoral candidate studying medical education technologies at New York University. In the past, he has received awards from the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI) and the University of Illinois at Chicago for a graphic novel on cell biology. Presently, Matt writes articles for the AMI’s newsletters and enjoys writing stories in all genres in his spare time.
How long have you been writing and what got you started?
Aside from school assignments, the earliest creative writing project I remember was a science fiction novelette about a computer glitch, which I started writing when I was 13. I knew nothing about the subject, but I think I was trying to emulate some entrancing sci-fi stuff that came out in the late 90’s, which I adored. I remember thinking, I can do that. I never really got past the second chapter.
What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
It’s totally cliché, but I say keep at it, find readers, and write to the end! Writing and receiving feedback is a brutal experience, but perseverance is an asset, especially when your ego is taking hits. In terms of readers, honest critiques can be incredibly valuable in seeing narrative angles you haven’t imagined yet. They can tell you what’s missing—and not only that, but a reader’s emotional responses can often be incorporated into your story, bringing characters to life in the most genuinely human ways.
Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
The best writing resources I’ve found are actually other works of fiction; I keep a journal on how dialogue, setting, and story is structured in works I admire. Other resources are consulted selectively; for example, the Absolute Write forums have been (mostly) useful when searching for beta readers. Likewise, going online and reading up on theories and tropes―like the Hero’s Journey, the Byronic hero, and Kurt Vonnegut’s lecture on the shape of stories―really help with thinking things through. A reader also recommended Emma Darwin’s blog on writing, which I’ve found very useful.
What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
I tend towards fiction that isn’t too far from the realm of possibility: speculative, medical, and hard science-fiction. Michael Crichton and (more recently) Andy Weir are two examples of authors in this vein; there’s just something about that extra research that makes for believable, immersive adventures—even if it is pure fiction. That said, I fall for some fantasy authors too, like Tolkien, mainly for the impressive amount of depth in history and world-building.
How do you measure success when it comes to your writing?
For me, a story is only successful when the concept I imagined is vividly and engagingly reproduced for the reader—atmosphere, feelings, and images included. If a reaction is unintended or insincere, it’s back to the drawing board. The best indicator of success is when readers want to read more.
What tips do you have for finding time to write?
The best strategy I’ve discovered is to develop a habit―kind of like going to the gym. A few hours every day before bed, I sit down and organize the notes I’ve taken during the day. Those notes build a backbone for what I write, so the tough part’s over. Next comes the creative part: sewing those thoughts together. On occasion, a writing session may just be organizing weeks or months of notes into an outline on a single project, but as long as I’m making progress on a consistent basis I usually keep at it.
Are you an outliner or discovery writer? Or somewhere in between?
I tend to be an outliner, though there’s some discovery at play too. Generally, I use the snowflake or fractal method of writing; there’s a core story arc I’m aiming for, and the details are filled in with additional notes as the arc simmers over weeks/months. In most cases, that arc warps over time—sometimes the characters grab the reigns and drive the story in a completely new direction!
Do you participate in any online or in-person critique or writing groups?
Absolute Write’s forums have been really helpful in finding writing buddies online, and I frequently exchange work here for even-trade critiques. Once, I went to a local writing group, but I soon found that the commute kind of killed the experience.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
In non-fiction, I’m reading Talent is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin, which is a fascinating look at how practice improves skill in a number of areas. In fiction, I’ve just picked up Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. It’s my first Bond book and I’m very curious…
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