Keeping Score: May 29, 2020

Earlier this week, I was on a Zoom call with some fellow writers. We were discussing how our writing output was doing during the pandemic: whether it was fine or (for most of us) had gone down.

And I realized: I’ve basically retooled my entire process during these last few months.

I used to write mostly on evenings and weekends, but now I do it in the morning, before the day even starts.

I used to write in blocks of a few hours at a time.

Now I do it in short thirty-minute bites.

I used to write a scene or a story straight through, from start to finish.

Now I jump around, filling in sections a little bit at a time, and then join them up later.

And the biggest change of all: I used to mostly pants my stories, but now I’m doing a lot of plotting and outlining before I set anything down.

Will it last once we’re able to leave our homes safely? Who knows?

I might go back to the old way of writing. I might never be able to write that way again.

But it amazes me all the same, that little by little, my process has changed so much, in so short a time.

What about you? Has your process stayed the same through the pandemic? Or have you had to re-learn how to make your art, in order to keep working?

Memorial Day 2020

Memorial Day is meant to honor those who fell in the service of their country.

So today, I’d like to give my thanks to the grocery workers who contracted Covid-19 while making sure we could feed our families.

To the doctors and nurses who caught Covid-19 while fighting this new disease.

To the truckers, keeping goods and commerce flowing, who risk infection every time they step out of their vehicles for gas or a bathroom break.

To the warehouse employees — for Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, and others — who died needlessly, because their wealthy bosses couldn’t bear to lose a single cent to sick leave.

In this pandemic, we’ve discovered who the essential workers really are. And it’s not the CEOs of the world.

It’s those keeping us fed, keeping us safe, and keeping us alive.

I thank you, all of you, for your service.

Keeping Score: May 22, 2020

After two good weeks in a row, it was time for a rough one.

Had to shift my schedule up by three hours this week, for work. Well, I say shift my schedule, but…there’s no way I’m going through my normal morning routine (writing, walking) at 4:30 in the morning.

So it’s more like I abandoned my schedule, and then jet-lagged myself (while staying at home!).

As you can imagine, my writing output has suffered.

But it hasn’t ground to a halt! I’ve managed to keep the writing streak alive, carving out time after work (thank the gods for afternoon naps) to make progress on both the novel and the short story, again on altering days.

Not always much progress, mind you. Several days “just get one sentence down” wasn’t just a trick to get me to write, it was all I could get down.

But I did it, and I’m through to the other side, and can catch-up on sleep and (writing) work this weekend.

And reading. Surprisingly hard to read when your body is in the wrong timezone.

What about you? Have you settled into a new routine, and managed to keep with it? Or have the re-openings, patchwork as they are, disrupted the schedule you built during lockdown?

Keeping Score: May 15, 2020

Current writing streak: 64 days.

Finally reached the part of the novel where I’m back to editing, instead of writing new chapters. It’s made things easier going, on that front. Less intimidating to sit down with words already on the page, and know I’ve just got to make them consistent with everything else.

There’s a few chapters at the very end where I’ll need to be drafting from scratch again, but for now, at least, it’s smoother sailing.

Of course, this won’t be the end of my editing passes. I’ll need to do at least one more of what I’m thinking of as “consistency passes” to check all the new material against what’s already there. Then I’m planning on doing a dialog pass for each main character, to ensure they speak consistently throughout. Finally I’ll do a phrase and copy-editing pass, looking for awkward wording or cliché description.

So still plenty to do.

I’ve also continued to work on the short story on alternate days this week. I wasn’t sure I was ready to start writing the new section of that work, to be honest, but by focusing on just one little detail at a time — Anne Lamott’s one-inch frame technique — I’ve managed to add ~1,000 words to the draft. If I keep this up, I might actually have the draft done (and ready to set aside, for later editing) next week.

Which would be…amazing. I wasn’t sure I could ever get back to some sort of functioning writing schedule during the pandemic. Or get back to writing more than just a sentence or two a day. But something’s happened recently, like a mental fog has lifted. I’m able to brainstorm again, and hold both of these storylines (the story and the novel) in my head again, and write a page a day again.

It may not last. I’m going to appreciate it while it does, though. I know not everyone has been as relatively fortunate as I have through this pandemic.

So I’m grateful, for the work I can do, while I can do it.

How about you? Have you felt like you’ve turned a corner lately? Or are things still too much in the air for your writing brain to settle into some kind of routine?

Keeping Score: May 8, 2020

The streak’s alive! I’ve managed at least 30 minutes of writing for 57 days straight now.

Alternating the days I work on the novel with the days I work on the short story seems to help, too.

I’ve even started tracking my daily word count again, when working on the novel. I don’t let myself stop writing until I hit 250 words.

As a result, I’ve made notable progress on it. Finished three new chapters, and I’m ready to start editing down the next few.

And for the short story, I’m gathering notes on my research and getting plot points nailed down. This weekend (or early next week) I think I’ll be ready to start writing some dialog, and then gradually fill in the rest.

Oh, and I have three other pieces submitted to paying markets. Keeping in the habit of sending them right back out a few days after a rejection comes in.

So this week has been good, relatively speaking. Still not operating at 100%, creatively, but I’m finding a new normal, a new pace of working to make a habit.

What about you?

Congress Should be Bigger

Over in The Atlantic, David Litt argues that Congress should be much larger than it currently is:

In the 90 years since the cap [on the number of reps in Congress] was put in place, the number of House seats has stayed flat while the population has boomed. To put it slightly differently, each member of Congress has become responsible for several times more constituents. District populations have doubled since my parents were born, in the late 1950s. In my own 33-year lifetime, the number of Americans per lawmaker has increased by about 200,000—the equivalent of adding a Salt Lake City to every district in the United States.

Believe it or not, I’ve been working on a similar post, coming at the argument through looking at the ratio of people-to-reps in other countries.

Litt makes the case much better than I ever could (for example, I didn’t know that the number of House Reps was commonly increased after every census until 1919!), but here’s a plot of person-per-rep vs population for about two dozen democracies, from Mexico to South Korea to Nigeria to Norway:

My kingdom for a better chart app

You’ll notice most countries are clustered together in the lower-left-hand corner.

See that outlier, waaaay up in the corner, far away from everyone else? That’s the United States.

First Story Published in Latest Galaxy’s Edge Magazine!

It’s here! The new issue of Galaxy’s Edge is out, and along with stories by Joe Halderman and Robert J Sawyer, it has my very first short story sale: “Wishr”!

It’s been a long road for this story. I wrote the first draft in September of 2016 (!). Since then it’s been through five major revisions, and multiple edits on top of that.

Several of those were prompted by early rejections. I’d submit it, get a rejection, revise the story, get beta reader feedback, and send it back out. Over and over and over again.

A slow process, but a necessary one. I’m proud of the story that’s resulted, and very proud to be a part of Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which was edited by Mike Resnick until his passing early this year.

Many thanks and congratulations to both the editor, Lezli Robyn, and the publisher, Shahid Mahmud, for keeping the magazine going, and his legacy alive.

So check out the new issue, and let me know what you think of the story!

Keeping Score: May 1, 2020

Current writing streak: 50 days.

50 days! That’s 50 consecutive days of working, bit by bit, on the novel, several short stories, and essays for the blog.

50 days of laying bricks, one at a time. Of sending out stories and getting rejections. Of wrestling with file formats, and Scrivener settings, all to conform to the particular submission guidelines of each market (sometimes “always follow the directions” is hard advice to hold to).

50 days of shoving the pandemic out of my mind for at least thirty minutes, each day, to go visit somewhere else in my imagination. A dearly needed mental vacation.

So, what’s new this week?

I’ve taken up the habit of alternating days in which I’m working on the novel with days where I work on something else. It’s a way of giving me a break from the general slog of the book without going too long without thinking about it. And it lets me make progress on some other projects.

Like the short story I started submitting to markets…two weeks ago? One of the rejections I got resonated with me. It took a while, but eventually that resonation joined up with some things my beta readers said, and crystallized this week into me thinking up a different ending for it.

The new ending changes the meaning of the piece. Shifts its emphasis. But I think it’s stronger, and more cohesive with the rest of the story. And it adds a little bit of just desserts for one of the characters.

So I’m going to give it a shot.

I say “give it a shot” quite deliberately. It might flop. It might make the story worse, not better. I might fail to execute properly. Any of which would mean I’d go back to sending it out with the original ending.

But I’d like to try, so I’ve been using my alternate days this week to brainstorm and outline the new ending. Sketch out scenes, decide sticky plot points, nail down questions that arise as I think it through.

It’s a different way of working for me — usually I just throw down the short story, outline be damned — and it’s slower, but I’d like to be more deliberate in the way I craft things. I feel like the more plot holes I can fill during the outlining, the smoother the actual writing process will go. It should let me focus on the writing itself, because I’ve thought through the action and character beats already.

We’ll see. Wish me luck.

Quarantine Dreams

I’m having trouble sleeping.

I wake up multiple times in the night, thinking I’ve heard our dog bark or someone move in the house beneath our bedroom.

Sometimes I fall right back to sleep, but often I’ll just lay there, my brain chewing over some problem from the day, unable to rest.

When I do sleep, I dream. But nothing comforting: I dream of the world we’ve lost.

I dream of going to a pub for dinner. Of going on a trip at the airport. Seeing a movie.

Mundane things. Well, mundane before.

Even there, the pandemic intrudes. I go to a pub, intending to meet friends like normal, but my wife and I take masks with us, and sit 6 feet apart. The airport we go to is mostly deserted, and the planes never arrive. On our way to the movie theatre, someone yells at us for being outside.

So my dreams bring no comfort. No escape from reality.

In truth, I know I’m lucky. Both my wife and I have been healthy so far. We’ve had enough food and toilet paper (though it was touch and go the first two weeks). And our current house is new enough that nothing major has broken on us (yet).

I just…I wish I could relax enough to rest, and sleep, again. And dream of something else.

Keeping Score: April 24, 2020

This week has been…strange.

I received the contract (and check!) in the mail for my first short story sale, which is getting published soon in Galaxy’s Edge magazine after being accepted last August. That’s been an emotional roller-coaster ride all its own, but it’s going to work out in the end.

The same day, riding high on waves of optimism, of the proof that I can write something someone will pay for, I received the latest rejections for two of my short stories that are out circulating.

I know I can’t take any of it personally, but it truly felt like one step forward, two steps back, that day. Made me wonder if perhaps the one sale is all I’ve got in me. It’s nonsense, of course — I’ve got twenty or thirty years of writing left (with luck), and surely can improve a little in all that time — but it’s hard to stare self-doubt in the face and insist you know the future when everything is so uncertain, for everyone.

So, I’m going to do the only thing I can do: Write more, and revise it, and send it out. The only thing I have control over.

How about you? What do you do, when you feel like you’re getting conflicting signals from the outside world about your writing?