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Month: June 2009

Some day

Some day

I am suddenly doing a lot. Most of it is short-term, all of it is voluntary, and it’s all time-consuming. I’m doing some volunteer web-work (just data-monkey stuff, copy, paste, and reformat) while a Very Useful Organization moves their existing site to WordPress. I’ll write more about that after their new site goes live, (I don’t want to send people to the old one when the Shiny will be up soon!) Frankly it’s been a little bit thrilling to work with this Organization and this data, in ways that are hard to articulate.

I’m also taking the first steps toward getting involved with an existing podcast, which I will plug the hell out of once I’ve established whether I’ve got the gig or not. Right now it would feel like jinxing it to name it here.

Lastly I’ll be pitching a podcast idea to a Very Useful Organization that is actively considering doing one. This weekend I need to put together a proposal that demonstrates sufficient foresight and convince them that it’s doable and sustainable in the long-term. This is the one where I really need to keep my ego in check and not get my hopes up too high. It is possible that I could pitch it, and they could shoot it down (that happened a couple of months ago with a different organization.) Or they could proceed to do everything I suggest without me. No matter what, I need to go into this with a mind set of being of service to them, not to myself. Success is always more satisfying that way anyway.

Oh, and there’s that whole ‘writing’ thing.

There are not enough hours in the day, but it’s all good stuff. It’s all about branching out and connecting with people of a like mind; about being part of a community. It’s about not sitting on the outside looking in anymore, and thinking ’some day.’ Some day is here.

Well that was weird.

Well that was weird.

Working hard. It feels good.

I spent Friday in a Starbucks working over an old story, trying to get it done and out the door. After five and a half hours it still wasn’t there, and two days later it still isn’t. I’m not giving up on it, it’s just not as close as I thought it was.

My goal today was to just finish the draft. As a sort of ramp-up to productivity today I went through some inactive folders, where I keep ideas that aren’t yet ripe and drafts that petered out. I stumbled across a folder that I didn’t even recognize. I opened it up and read what was there, and was surprised to find that it was complete.

I don’t even remember writing it, but it was written in October 2006 and is about death, which was a germane subject at the time. It even kind of makes sense that I don’t remember it.

But it was sitting there, done, all this time. It just needed a little bit of tweaking, a lot of formatting, and a destination. So instead of finishing the Slog Through Draftdom I edited and submitted a story. That’s two in as many weeks, exactly what I wanted, just not the way I had intended for it to go down.

I noticed yesterday that Forward Motion has a Facebook group now, which I joined, and then I dropped in to say hi to the folks in chat for the first time in a while. I need to get more active with them again; I need more writers in my life.

Anyway. Life is good. Productivity is good. Having lots of things submitted is good.

(Selling one of them would be better.)

Regarding the ways in which Holly Lisle rocks my world

Regarding the ways in which Holly Lisle rocks my world

“You must, on really lousy days, remember that you have a dream you are trying to make come true.” – Holly Lisle

In the summer of 2002 two things happened within weeks of each other: my then-husband and I both lost our technology jobs, and my youngest daughter was born. For those who have had an infant around, you know that sleep is precious in those first few months. With both of us out of work and with no bites on the resumes he was sending out (shaky-fist at burst dot-com bubble) we found a solution to the sleepless nights and exhausted days: we slept in shifts. He slept at night, and I slept in the morning, and we were all awake together in the afternoon and evening.

A lot of World News Tonight was viewed.* A lot of lame reality t.v. ate away at my brain. A few books got read. And then I started writing again.

I say ‘again’ because — like most of us — I had always written when I was younger. When I was little I would make up stories to tell my friends during sleep-overs. I don’t remember much about those stories, except that they involved a fox. I started keeping a journal when I read Harriet the Spy in elementary school. I entered a novella contest in 7th grade — my dad had saved it all this time and gave it to me a couple of years ago; it’s embarrassingly bad, and only qualifies as a short story in length rather than a novella, but it won the contest for me. A friend and I began and distributed an anonymous newsletter in 10th grade, which invariably featured my (still terrible) short stories and poems. I took a stab at a few novel ideas in my early 20s, and a couple of friends took an interest and encouraged me to keep going. I will always be grateful to them for that (Shelby and Colin, where ever you are. Shelby bought me my first copy of Writers Market, and Colin provided my first critique.) I wrote fearlessly all those years — I dumped the contents of my imagination onto the page and admired my own turn of phrase, and the voice that I thought was my own, but was really borrowed from this writer or that one. I filled pages taking myself way too seriously, and learned nothing.

Then I’m not sure what happened — life changed a lot, I guess. For whatever reason, around the latter half of 1998, I stopped writing.

And on one of those long nights in 2002, between tending the baby and reruns of something vapid and soul-crushing, I started again. This time I wasn’t just going to make words, though. I had acquired some degree of humility by then, and was no longer in love with everything I wrote. I knew it was not as good as it could be. I knew it wasn’t as good as what I liked to read. I wanted to know how I could make it that good, and due to other circumstances in my life I had discovered that knowledge cannot be acquired in a vacuum. It requires other people, other examples, other perspectives and experiences. I was ready to learn.

Within a couple of months I had found the website of a fantasy author named Holly Lisle. Holly took a pay-it-forward approach to writing and success: she had wonderful mentors who had offered her their experience and encouragement and she was determined to make her own available to all of us. She had created an extremely supportive community of writers based around that idea. I became a member of the Forward Motion community, and when the baby slept I filled my nights writing fiction and talking with other writers in the Forward Motion chat rooms.

I devoured every article on her site. (If you’re a writer, I recommend that you do the same.) I got more insight into the craft of writing and the state of SFF publishing there than all of my other resources combined.

Did I mention she also writes great books?

Holly continues to leverage technology to help new writers, (and seven years later I am, alas, still a new writer.) She has followed her remarkable essays and articles with free online courses in plot and character development, and now she even has a videocast called Think Sideways Writer Crash Tests, (not Chrome-friendly.)

If you have ever wished you could attend a conference or workshop, or wished you had a mentor, someone to take your hand and help you hone your craft and cheer you on, you will find it on Holly Lisle’s website. Forward Motion is under different ownership now, but the spirit of it remains. She continues to ‘pay it forward,’ though I can’t imagine that she hasn’t repaid her own mentors a dozen times over by now.

I have started her free Plot Development course, (out of which will surely come some blog posts, so stay tuned.) I owe her a lot. I will likely never be able to pay her back, but maybe some day I’ll be able to pay it forward. Thank you, Holly. May we all be a little more like you.

* This entry has been edited since its original posting, due to flimsy cultural recollection of the blogger.



I did it. I said I would, and I did. I finished Devotions, which I started in 2005, and I submitted it.

It is not a great story. It is also not the worst story ever. It is a finished story, and tonight that is what counts.

I’m not sure I ever explained the Poppet thing. Lisa Snellings makes these tiny little sculptures she calls Poppets. You can (and should) buy them in her Etsy store. A while back I decided that I was going to give myself one Poppet for every story that I sent out into the world, either by way of submitting to an editor or posting here on the website. They serve as a visual reminder of my body of work, a reminder that I have Finished Things in the past, that I have stories out there trying to make their way in the world and that part of me went with them.

I now have five. That is not a lot for someone who has been at this as long as I have. That’s part of why I’m dredging the backlog right now, because those five Poppets are not representative of the amount of effort I have put into this over the past few years. I should have more to show for the hours, the words, the workshops and critique, for the editing and cutting and tweaking and rewriting.

Interesting thing though: no sooner did I finish the housekeeping that accompanies the submission of a story than the next story started working on me. In the past hour I have come up with an ending that has eluded me for five years. So now my commitment is to get Red Carpet out by next Sunday.

I am a happier person when my mind is occupied making things up about people who don’t exist. I breathe easier when I know that there are Poppets on my desk, reminding me and encouraging me, and telling me that this is the right thing to do with my time. I think and daydream, write and rewrite. I rearrange my Poppets, perform my devotions, and I can smile.

In which the author mixes metaphors and plans the growth of the Poppet Army

In which the author mixes metaphors and plans the growth of the Poppet Army

I started putting together a little book of inspirational quotes about writing that I’ve collected. It may be a little gimmicky, but reading those words of encouragement helps me to feel better, and having them all in a handy little embellished notebook makes them easy to find. Maybe I’ll share it here some time.


I kept coming across quotes about Finishing Things, a topic discussed here before, probably several times and at length.

The admonition to ‘finish things’ cross-pollinated with something I took away from the recent Dreams With Sharp Teeth special on Harlan Ellison, in which he talked about the incredible body of work he produced just in his first year of selling stories. Then the wind shifted and another spore of wisdom blew in from the SWFA website, in 50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work. Switching metaphors briefly, the specific tip that got its chocolate in my peanut butter was “keep five manuscripts in the mail at all times.”

“Body of work,” my mind kept whispering. “Finish things.”

I wrote recently about that enormous backlog of files I was organizing. What I realized is that I have not been moving on to the next story; I’ve been beating the old ones to death because they are not perfect. Well, of course they’re not perfect, or possibly even good — I started them years ago. But by hanging onto them, trying to perfect them before I release them into the wilderness of pending rejection, I am preventing myself from moving on to the next thing, which will be better.

There are stories that I have started, labored over, finished, deemed completely unworthy, rewritten, work-shopped, cut up, pieced back together, and generally abused and mistreated for a very long time. My obsession with them is preventing me from working on the new stuff, because I feel guilty about having unfinished things. I tell myself that I shouldn’t work on the new, shiny story when I’ve got this other stuff on my back.

So finish them, says I. Finish them, send them the hell out, and get on with it. That is how one builds a body of work.

So for the month of June I will be cleaning out the backlog. This week it’s Devotions. I went back through some old drafts and discovered that I have finished two completely different versions of the story. I also discovered that the first four drafts I have of it were each written from scratch! Seriously? Each time I was so sure that the previous draft was fatally flawed that I started over.

They may yet be fatally flawed, but by the end of the week I will put together something that I am okay sending out to seek its fortune.

Clearly I need to work on consistency of metaphor. So far we’ve been flowers, mushrooms, peanut butter cups, and now the sons of fairy tale kings.

The point being that by the end of June anything that is Almost Done will instead Be Done and off my conscience.

I will need a larger Poppet budget.