Browsed by
Month: August 2008



 I need a win so badly.

I sat down last night to look for markets for the two stories that recently came home after another round of rejections. I reformatted a manuscript per an editor's guidelines for the nth time, and realized after doing so that the story was entirely wrong for that market. I could not bring myself to start over for the night, so I packed it in.

There was a time when submitting things was validating. Rejections were even better — tangible evidence that an editor had seen my work.  I collected them happily. It was proof that I was Doing What Writers Do, which made me feel like I was really a writer and not just faking it.  

It's not working anymore.  I need a win.


Trying something new

Trying something new

I mentioned before that there are two short stories that are coming along with some regularity now. What I may not have mentioned is how easily they are coming.  Those two stories have something specific in common that I am learning from.

I don't really have a consistent 'process.'  I've worked with notecards, outlines, mind maps, free writing, sound tracks — I've produced different stories in different ways, often with much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth over word count.  They usually have an idea at their heart, something I thought was cool that I'm trying to build a story around.  Usually the thing I have worked out is the ending, and I am writing my way toward that.  But whatever the Thing is, I always start with some kind of rudimentary plan.

This approach often leaves me frustrated, when the story I'm writing doesn't match the Cool Thing In My Head.  This does not mean that I won't continue to write stories that way.  I have a lot of Cool Things In My Head that want stories, and maybe some of them have to be planned.

The two I'm working on now are not like that.  I had a first sentence, and a character who I knew almost nothing about, and I started writing.  Next thing I knew, I had a couple thousand words.  I'm finding out about the characters as I write them, and I'm discovering what the stories are about as they unfold.

I have heard other writers talk about this, both novice and professional.  I had never experienced it before.  It is amazing.  It is exciting.  I have no idea what happens next, and I won't until I sit down and write it.  I'm just making shit up as I go.  It is liberating.

And the interesting part is that it doesn't seem to require 'inspiration' to approach it this way.  I open the file, and the next thing comes.  To be fair, those sessions end up only adding 200 words, give or take.  The one I'm writing on my phone, even less.  100, maybe.  I don't sit down and complete entire scenes.  But as Cory Doctorow once pointed out, if you write 250 words a day, in a year you'll have a novel.

People refer to this unplanned approach as “organic” writing.  Some use it as just a descriptor, but I've seen some use the term a little bit sneeringly, as if it's not just a descriptor but also a value judgment; as if anything that isn't “organic” is somehow less sincere, less artistic, more contrived.  But it's a false dichotomy, isn't it, organic vs. planned writing.  One is not better than the other, except perhaps for the individual. One works for some, and one works for others.  Maybe each works for the same person but for different projects.  They're just different ways of getting the stories out. What I'm learning is that I have to keep trying new things until I find the thing that works best for me.

What this approach has *not* done yet is allow the Cool Thing In My Head out and onto the page.  It is very possible that it will, but I suspect that for that to happen I will have to change the nature of the Cool Things file.  That mental file (which has a digital counterpart) has, until now, been where I store things to write about.  But maybe that's not the way to treat that file.  Maybe it's just a file of cool things, that may or may not get pulled into a story that is about something else.  Maybe in the process of discovery I'll think “this is the perfect place to use that idea!” 

I won't know, really, how well this works for me until it produces something finished.  For now, though, the process of writing is a little easier than usual, the sense of accomplishment is a little bit greater (because of the consistency,) and I am having a little more fun committing fiction than I have in recent memory.


I Should Be Writing

I Should Be Writing

If you haven't heard the podcast I Should Be Writing: A Podcast For Wanna-be Writers, by a Wanna-Be writer, you are missing out.

Mur Lafferty has been podcasting forEVAR in interweb years.  In ISBW she covers all manner of subjects of interest to we Wannabes: confidence, motivation, technique, process, and her latest area of expertise, small press publishing (congratulations, Mur!  Her novel is due out from Swarm Press on August 25.) 

There are 95 episodes of I Should Be Writing available for your listening enjoyment, including interviews with the likes of Christopher Moore,  John Scalzi, and Mercedes Lackey

Mur is charming, funny, and talks about what those of us still learning need to hear, (I'm not sure who that doesn't apply to.)  She is also eminently stalkable via Twitter.   Check her out. 

Subjective reading

Subjective reading

I can't remember if I blogged about this before. If I did, forgive me.  

I read T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain last year, and it knocked me off my feet.  Everything about it was so totally plausible to me — I knew people like the ones he was writing about, I knew the monied environmentalists that make up one half of his cast, and I had watched and wondered about the Hispanic immigrants that make up the other half.  To me, it was a completely mind-blowing book, and the world looked different to me when I was done reading it.  I felt like I understood something about people that I hadn't understood before, which is why I read, and why I write.

I loaned it to a friend of mine, and she thought it was satire.   She had trouble getting into it, because to her the characters and the situations they found themselves in were so completely unbelievable as to be ridiculous.  

My friend and I don't always like the same books, and that's okay — we recommend and loan to each other specifically because we're likely to find something outside our norm.  But that time we seemed to have read two completely different books, and it puzzled me.

Over at, Marie Brennan has an excellent post on how this may have happened.

Defeating the Inner Asshole

Defeating the Inner Asshole

 Is anyone else out there gripped by the fear that you're working on the wrong thing?

I cannot seem to convince myself that it doesn't really matter what I'm working on, as long as I'm working on something. The part of me that wants success is busy coming up with strategies, trying to figure out how to get more done, sooner.  It is constantly aware of my failures, and is busy keeping tracking of the numbers — how many stories, how many submissions — and knows that the best way to improve the chances for success is to increase the numbers.

You know how in NaNoWriMo we talk about the Inner Editor?   I call this part of me my Inner Asshole.  It's like a little guy in my head who is screaming “You have to get to the end! Fast! Finish it! You call yourself a writer? You haven't completed anything new in months.  You should have had this done last Wednesday and be on to the next draft by now. You still have editing to do after this, and then critique, and then more editing. You're MONTHS away from submission, so quit being such a loser and HURRY UP!” 

My Inner Asshole wants me to pick one thing — the thing with the clearest goal and a the clearest end — and he wants me to work on nothing but that until it is done, so he can add it to the pool of Product that he refers to as The Numbers Game.  He wants me to block out Writing Time, and nothing can be done during Writing Time except that one piece.

Things do not get done this way.  Like that radio play I had a deadline for.  That little man is screaming in my head, (I think there are boots and a riding crop involved,) and I absolutely cannot work on it.  Every time I open the file, I choke. And yet I feel guilty if I work on anything else.  So nothing at all gets done during Writing Time.  The reality seems to be that I just don't work well on one thing for long stretches, or under pressure, even the self-imposed kind.  I'm a good sprinter, but a lousy distance runner.

To make matters worse, lately I have had an influx of ideas unlike anything I've experienced before.  I keep writing them down and treating them as legitimate projects, even though I doubt I'll get to a fraction of them.  Little Screaming Guy… you know, he really needs a name.  We'll call him Martin.  Martin thinks this is a total waste of time and an unwelcome distraction from The Numbers Game. 

Martin does not embody the larger part of me, though, the part that wanted to write in the first place. That part of me just wants to write good stories, stories that illuminate some aspect of the world and the human spirit, and entertain the reader in the process. That part of me would very much like Martin to go fuck himself.

I once read a post that I think was entitled “Creating a Fiction Factory.”  I wish I could find it now.  Unfortunately it's a title that's been used a lot, and Google is not helping me out right now. Anyway.  It was an article about process, specifically about working on several different things at once.

The author of the article suggested having a bunch of things in progress at once, and just adding a little to whichever ones we're inspired to work on. Getting stuck doesn't matter, if we have a 'fiction factory' working — we just move on to something that we're not stuck on.  (Huh.  This has some similarities with the Getting Things Done philosophy, which I learned about much later.)  He understood the 'marathon' instinct and assholes like Martin. He pointed out that we will still get things finished, and while it will take a little longer, the good news is that there will likely be a flurry of Many Things Being Finished in rapid succession.

That sounds rewarding, doesn't it? 

So while my grand plans for scripts with deadlines have faltered, the projects that are getting done are two short stories that I started for a lark, and a treatment for a sci fi novel.  I'm writing one of the shorts on my phone, a few sentences at a time, whenever I'm stuck waiting for something.  That story is growing every single day, and it will be done probably before the radio play is, because 'some' is, as ever, greater than 'none.'  It probably also helps to keep that little screamer at bay that I'm not using valuable Writing Time to produce it. And yet it's getting written, isn't it. 

Slowly.  Shhhh… we must stay under Martin's radar.  Right now he thinks I should be working on a radio play — if he finds out that there are other things that could be finished sooner he'll turn his attention to screaming at me about those instead.

Catching up

Catching up

You know what's awesome?  Being up before dawn.  Seriously.  It's pretty cool.  I just wish there were a way to do it that included sleep.

But for now, I have a little time to post something.

I finished reading The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin.  It had been on my list for a long time.  I have switched gears to non-fiction now and am reading No Logo, by Naomi Klein. 

I have projects.  My god, do I have projects.  Fantasy Magazine has put out a call for radio plays, which is something I've been wanting to try for years, so I'm working on a radio adaptation of an existing story.  I also have a new short story underway, and have a couple of ideas for this year's novel.  

I got the first NaNoWriMo email of the year just yesterday.  I couldn't believe it was that time again already.  I've had two miserable failures in a row on NaNoWriMo (following two successes) and I would like to get back on the Win Train this year.  I do know that I will not even attempt to act as Municipal Liason this year.  I am starting school in a couple of weeks, and taking on that responsibility this year would be a recipe for failure.  I am trying very hard to avoid self-sabotage these days.

As a participant, I don't know how I'll approach it this time — whether I'll outline and notecard and plan plan plan, or if I'll just sit down with a vague idea and a character and just write.  

This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately — our processes.  No two are alike.  And even just for myself, no two stories seem to get written the same way.  I don't have a process that works consistently yet.  Maybe I never will.  I keep trying new things, to see what's easier, what sticks, what produces.  I will post more on this soon.

I've also fleshed out that Adaptation idea from a couple of months ago, and have pitched it to my partner in crime and in most other things, Patrick.  It has changed somewhat since I first posted about it.  We have some things to hash out still, but I think we may have a real long-term project on our hands, so stay tuned. 

I recently settled on a real carrot for myself.  For every story I finish, I get a new Poppet from Lisa Snellings-Clark (whose work you should totally buy:)

The result will some day be an army of Story Poppets.  I'm not buying them retroactively, so for now I have a very tiny army of two.

Sigh.  The games I play with myself just to get words made.  

In other news… Patrick recently finished up a music project, which you should check out and download here.  

August is Big Nerd Month for us — tonight we are driving to Las Vegas to see Star Trek: the Experience before it closes September 1.  He was there a couple of weeks ago and thought it was awesome enough to make the drive again.  I've never seen it — haven't even done the mandatory Vegas Road Trip before.  I'm excited about it.  Then next weekend will mark one year that we've lived together, a not insignificant acheivement for a couple of strong-willed, opinionated creative types.  (A friend recently wrote, “I figured by now you'd have either married or murdered each other.”  I had to laugh.)  At the end of the month we're headed for Seattle to attend Penny Arcade Expo.  

That's the update.  I'll try to get back to writing things that matter soon.  For now I've gotta down a serious volume of coffee, pack, and go to work.  Cheers!