I’m playing with a new theme for the blog and am aware there are several changes I need to make for ease of use. It might be a couple of days before I’ve worked the kinks out. Your patience is appreciated.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to write for the end of the year for several days now. First I thought a frank and candid assessment of the year might be good. That idea didn’t last long. Maybe a review of writing milestones? Ehhh. Lists of favorite posts! Nah.
It’s a year I don’t really want to reflect on too much, the foremost reason for which is that I did an awful lot of reflecting on it already during the autumn months. My birthday felt like the start of the new year to me, the point at which I got to start fresh, and this just feels like the turn of a calendar page.
I even wrote my goals for the year broken down by trimester, beginning November 1 and ending October 31.
That said, a couple of things stand out about 2009.
The Big Fail, of course, is the continued lack of publication, despite getting several new short stories out there this year. This doesn’t bother me as much as it has in years past – I’ve acquired some patience, both with the process and my own skill or lack thereof. It’s one of those things that I just can’t control – all I can do is write the best stories I can and send them out. After that there is absolutely nothing more I can do to make it happen. It will eventually, as long as I don’t give up.
And how can I give up now, when I have so many new friends to share it all with? That’s been one of the biggest Wins for the year. Between Twitter and World Fantasy Convention I have made a dozen new friends and critique-buddies. (Going to WFC was one of the best decisions I made this year. Worth every penny.) I feel so much more confident having you all at my back. I hope I’ve been as much of a source of encouragement to you as you’ve been to me.
Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve, and may 2010 be everything you hope it will be.
Christmas was awesome. I spent it in a rented cabin in the mountains a couple of hours outside Sacramento with my entire family on my dad’s side.
A friend had asked me recently when I had last taken a real vacation – a totally relaxing escape with no worries, the kind where you really get to recharge. It was pretty apparent to that friend and others that I needed a vacation like that. It turns out that four days surrounded by kind people who are genuinely interested in each other is that kind of vacation for me. I am always struck by how good-hearted my whole family is. They’re wonderful examples of how to be a good parent, a good family member, and a good friend. They are a reminder of the kind of person I want to be.
Here they are, some of the best humans in the known universe:
There were glitches. My youngest daughter had the stomach flu Christmas Eve, so the two of us were up all night. I broke my glasses, which my dad super-glued back together so I could drive home. But even with those couple of missteps it was still the nicest holiday I can remember having.
I got to tell them all what I’m doing with the Clarion application, which served to create some extra accountability, because now there are a dozen people who are going to want to know what comes of it. One of my cousins is applying to grad school in London at the same time, so there should be plenty of family announcements of one kind or another in March.
So I’m back and feeling good. Time is ticking away – the holidays are effectively over, with the exception of New Year which is mostly stress- and planning-free. I have to buckle down now if I’m going to meet my self-imposed deadline of January 31. Today I’m working on Clarion story #2.
Caren Gussoff, writer and graduate of Clarion West, sent me this link today as a form of encouragement. I recommend it to anyone else considering applying to either workshop (or both!)
I dream about it now, usually about being rejected. And I let myself daydream about it, too – about being accepted. :)
Back to the word mines. Cheers.
So with the help of a friend I finally made a decision that I have been wrestling with for a while now: what to do with these old stories.
I’ve been doing the submission/rejection thing with them. They’re all stories that I started years ago. I put a lot of time into each of them, work-shopping them, making them the best I could given my abilities at the time. Today they don’t really hold up. Some of them I still like for personal reasons, but frankly they’re starting to depress me, and I don’t think they represent who am I as a writer anymore.
A few of them I just ‘finished’ in early 2009, and those are the tough ones to let go of, because they feel new still. They don’t have the long list of rejections under their names in my submission log, but they are deeply flawed and right now I don’t want to labor over old stuff, I want to move on and create new stories.
So I am trunking them. I will start fresh in 2010. Two of them are still out there, but I don’t think it will be long before they’re rejected, and they’ll be moved into a folder of stuff to revisit some day if I’m ever moved to do so.
Even as I write this, I’m still waffling. I could go try to fix that one again, I could send it back through critique, I could…
I could stop spending this kind of mental energy on it and move forward. It’s dragging me down.
The Poppet Army gets a little R&R for a while.
I’m in the midst of getting feedback on one of the two most important stories of my life, in that it is one of two that I will use in my Clarion application. Five people, all skilled at spec fic of varying types, have agreed to read and offer feedback on Story #1, for which I am profoundly grateful.
Being in the thick of it again, I’ve been thinking about when I started critiquing and workshopping my fiction, and what I’ve learned from it. I can’t remember which came first for me, Critters.org, or the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. In either case, it’s been six years. I’ve done week-long conferences, weekend retreats, and been a member of four different writers groups. They all have roughly the same rules.
In Matt Pallamary‘s workshop at SBWC, there was one rule:
- Do not speak until everyone else is done critiquing your story.
In Critters.org there are several, but the one I have found most important is:
- Do not argue with the critique.
That one also came out in the SBWC workshops by way of a gentle “Yes, but you will not be able to stand beside each one of your readers and explain that to them. It has to be on the page.”
Those are the rules that I have found most important over the years. It is sometimes an exercise in restraint, sometimes an exercise in humility, but those simple rules never seem to fail. If you’re going to follow up with your reader, it should be in the form of questions, not defense. Listing the things you are going to change and are not going to change based on their advice is not helpful to anyone. At the very least, you won’t make enemies by just saying “thank you” and leaving it at that.
Finding the weak points in a story is wonderful. Once you’ve identified what’s broken, you can fix it. But critique can often create confusion, too.
We all bring ourselves to each story we read. Depending on my own experience and emotional spectrum, I may end up reading a different story than the one you set out to tell. Sometimes that’s because it’s not on the page, but sometimes it’s because I just don’t have the experience to relate to what you’ve written, or perhaps I do not like to read the kind of story that you are telling.*
So what do you do when you receive a critique where essentially the person is telling you to write a different story, the kind of story that they like best?
First, do not argue with the critique. This person did you a favor. Be grateful. You owe them, even if you disagree with every word. (Personally I have never received a critique where I disagreed with every word. There has always been *something* useful to take away from it.)
Second, see what other people have to say about it. If more than one of them say the same thing, then probably what you were trying to communicate is not on the page. But if that one person was an outlier, and nobody else seemed to have the same issue with it, if everyone else understood your characters and what the story was about, then you can probably safely disregard those comments. They may simply not be the right reader for the kind of the story that you like to tell.
I can think of exceptions to this – if that one reader is significantly more skilled than any of your other readers, they may have picked up on something that eluded the rest. Use your best judgment, ego aside.
That has been the hardest thing for me to learn in the critique/workshop process so far: when to ignore advice. The advice you take should be the advice that helps you to tell your story better. Advice that turns it into someone else’s story is advice best ignored.
Lastly, don’t act on any of it right away. Read the comments (or review your notes,) and then work on something else for a few days. I have sometimes been too eager to trust my reader and make changes immediately, only to get conflicting advice from the next person. At other times I’ve been simply too stung by someone’s tone (real or imagined) to take what may be perfectly sound advice. I need distance to sort it all out before I can apply any of it effectively to my story.
I need to remind myself of all of these things. So far I’ve received a lot of very useful feedback. The goal is make my story stronger, and I will gratefully accept all the help I can get.
* Do not ask me to critique mystery, space opera, or memoir. Just saying. It will probably not contain the elements that I read for, because those genres are often driven by other (equally valid and wonderful) things, and my critique would not be useful.
Yesterday John Scalzi posted an article* about Black Matrix Publishing, LLC, a new publisher launching a series of four genre zines. I call them ‘zines’ because that appears to be what they are based on the level of pay, which as Mr. Scalzi points out is a paltry 1/5 of a cent per word. Scalzi urges writers to not submit anything to this market until they pay a reasonable rate.
I’m not sure who he’s talking to. All writers, or pro writers? Scalzi is a pro. The people who read Locus (where he found the banner to Black Matrix) are largely pros. No pro should accept that rate, that is certain. I think they’re aiming rather high by advertising there, but they may have been targeting readers like me, (and yes, I am a Locus subscriber,) not Scalzi.
I am not a pro. I am unpublished. And I have half a dozen stories I’m considering trunking right now because they are not selling to the pro and semi-pro markets. Black Matrix’s zines certainly wouldn’t be the only markets out there paying a ‘token’ rate. Duotrope is full of them. Are we supposed to boycott all zines?
I don’t know. I don’t see why I would do that. If I were Scalzi, sure. But I’m not. I’m Yant, and right now Yant is nobody. What would I lose? First North American Serial Rights to a story that wasn’t selling anywhere else anyway?
We all have to start somewhere. Am I hurting myself in some way that I can’t identify by seeing if I can start there?
Honestly I waffle on this all the time. I go back and forth between wanting to submit them until I simply run out of markets, to giving up on that and posting them here on the site, to giving up even on that and just trunking them. I change my mind almost weekly on this. There is part of me that just wants someone I trust to tell me what to do.
I suspect that most pros would tell me to shut up and keep submitting**, and while those stories are out, write the next thing.
** Eventually they will end up at places like Black Matrix.
I have been back and forth on this so many times over the past six months that I’ve made myself dizzy. I’ve wanted to apply for years, but I suffer from an acute case of Cart-Horse Inversion Syndrome. All I could think of were the problems I would have to overcome if I were accepted. My kids, my job, the price of tuition and travel — they seemed insurmountable.
Then a few months ago I had a momentary remission of CHIS, and I experienced a moment of Fuck It I’m Applying Anyway. That stuck for a while, until life changed dramatically, as life often will, and that list of insurmountables got longer. It now includes my pets, rent on an empty house, and the protection thereof. I resigned myself to waiting another year.
Adam and John, however, have urged me to just apply and see what happens. They’re just problems; they get solved. There’s plenty of time to solve them between now and then. No need to put the cart before the horse.
So I’m going for it. My priority is Clarion in San Diego, but if I have time and the additional application fee I will apply to Clarion West as well. I know what my submission pieces are going to be, and I will spend the next month getting them as shiny as I possibly can with the help of my writers group and friends.
This is the real marathon that NaNoWriMo was training me for. This is a real goal, with real stakes, and potentially a real pay-off. I need to put everything I have into it, because a goal like this deserves nothing less.