Keeping Score: December 6, 2019

Only a measly 300 words written this week.

I can blame the time change (from East Coast back to West Coast hours). I can blame the stress of getting back into the day job after a week off.

But really, it’s just been hard pushing the words out this week.

Hard even to carve out time in the day to do it. I know, I know, that’s a perennial excuse, but it’s true: some days, it’s damn hard to find even thirty minutes where my brain isn’t mush and I’m not rushing off to do something else.

So I’m hoping to find some time today, and each day this weekend, so I can at least finish out the week with 1,500 words done.

I feel like I’m going to have to reconsider my schedule soon, though, and drop something from it to make room for writing. Only, I don’t what I could possibly let go of.

How about you? What do you do, when you feel your writing time slipping away? How do you claw it back?

Keeping Score: November 29, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

We’re on the East Coast this year, doing what’s become a bit of a tradition for us: Crashing someone else’s Thanksgiving 🙂

We stay with friends of ours in Maryland that we’ve known for the better part of two decades, and spend the week hanging out with them. I usually make a detour up to Boston to see some other good friends of mine, but I make sure I’m back time for turkey.

Thankfully, travel this time doesn’t mean a loss of writing time. Though I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit these past few weeks, this week, at least, I’ve managed to keep up. So: 2,112 words written towards the new novel.

…which is a little less than I’d like, given how much time I’ve spent on trains these past few days, with nothing else to do but type. But I’m finding this last third of the book tricky to navigate. I’m having to pause more and think things through, making notes on different possibilities before picking one and writing it out.

It’s not a bad thing, per se, but it does mean progress feels slow. I’m telling myself that I’ll make up for it later, when I’m able to drop in whole chapters from the first draft, instead of rewriting them from scratch.

If you did NaNoWriMo this month, I hope you’re close to the finish line. If you didn’t, I hope your current work-in-progress is going well.

For everyone, I hope you’re going into the final month of 2019 doing the one thing that is necessary for progress in this craft: writing!

Keeping Score: November 1, 2019

3,026 words written this week.

Most of those are on the novel, but about a third are edits on the short story I wrote back at the SoCal Writers Conference in September.

Reading the story now, I think I like it more than I did before. Not necessarily the language the story’s told in; I can see plot holes and awkward phrasing. But the story itself: The characters and the setting, how the protagonist’s heart gets broken, and how she pieces herself back together. That’s what I’m in love with.

A good sign, maybe? Certainly it motivates me to finish, to edit and polish the story until it’s the best version I can produce.

But it also means I might miss flaws in the telling. I have to beware of liking my own voice too much, instead of the voices of the characters.

How do you balance being critical of the work versus liking it enough to keep going? Do you tend to err on the side of hatred, or do you fall too much in love with your work?

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Is there anything better than opening a book to find the author is speaking directly to you? It’s like discovering an old friend you’ve never met before. Someone you just click with, who warms every cockle of your old heart.

That’s what I felt, reading Bird by Bird.

Lamott’s willing to be vulnerable, to show not only her worries and her fears, but also her jealousies and her anger, her depression and her rage. It makes the book feel more human, to me, than other writing advice books. More humble.

And more realistic. Lamott insists over and over again that writing is wonderful, that when the words come together it’s one of the greatest joys she’s ever known, but that doing the work needs to be enough on its own, because publishing — whether getting rejected repeatedly, or getting accepted and dealing with the disappointment that comes when your work doesn’t get the attention you crave — is not the path to happiness for a writer.

So for her, it’s the triumph of getting in the day’s word count that matters. Or the knowledge that the book you wrote for your dying father was done before they passed, so they got to read it. Or the thought that writing about your own struggles, your own pain, can help someone else who’s going through the same thing.

For me, her book has been like a stay in a remote cabin with a good friend. Relaxing, conversational, but also deep and moving. I’ve already incorporated a lot of the techniques she advocates, from focusing on getting one single thing down to staying in the chair until the words come.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Keeping Score: October 25, 2019

I think I’ve written myself into a corner this week.

I’m working on a scene where I want to have one character drop a particularly important piece of information. It’s something that changes the dynamic of the scene — from fight to negotiation — and sets the stage for a partnership that runs through the rest of the novel.

The trouble is, I’ve gone out of my way earlier in the book to insist she doesn’t remember anything related to this dramatic, juicy, bit of info.

So I’m in a bit of a bind. Do I try to find some awkward way to shoehorn in why she might remember this bit but not anything else?

Or should I go back and rewrite the parts where she doesn’t remember, and change it so that she does? And deal with the ripple effects that’ll cause?

I’m hoping my subconscious is working on the problem, and will present me with a solution soon. I really don’t want to have to rewrite those other scenes, here when I’m so close to finishing this draft.

What do you do, when you realize the needs of the story — the drama, or the tension — are pushing you to change parts of the plot?

Keeping Score: October 18, 2019

2,477 words written this week.

I’m going full-steam-ahead on the novel, closing in on the last dozen scenes or so I need to write to finish it out.

Each new scene, I still think to myself “I don’t know if I can do this.” But if I just sit there long enough, staring at the screen, and refuse to budge, or to look away, the words will come.

They may not be the right words, or good ones. But they’re progress, the raw material I can use later to shape the story.

Pushing ahead on the novel means I’m not going back and revising the short stories I wrote over the Writers Conference weekend. That bothers me, but I’m honestly not sure how to do both. Perhaps once I finish this novel draft, I can pause and revise the short stories before plunging back into the book for another editing pass?

What about you? How do you balance multiple projects? Or, like me, do you find it hard to switch between different works?

Keeping Score: October 11, 2019

Thank goodness for the Writers Coffeehouse.

Went this Sunday, after skipping for a few months. Jonathan Maberry again led a fantastic discussion, plus Q&A. He gave us a rundown on options vs production deals, persistence in the face of discouragement, and told us some new markets opening up that we might not have considered before.

And he also gave me great advice about my nervousness with the magazine that I hadn’t heard from since acceptance: Send them an email.

Yeah, it seems simple in hindsight. But what would I say? How would I ask the question on my mind?

He gave me a few examples of things to say, and insisted it was not too early (or too late!) to want to hear from them.

So I followed his advice. Sent the email, after rewriting it three different times, trying to avoid coming off too flippant or too formal or too needy.

And I got a response within an hour that cleared everything up.

I feel silly for not writing earlier. It was such a non-deal, and I felt so much better afterwards.

So much so, that I’ve already written 2,208 words this week, and I’ve still got the weekend 🙂

What about you? Has there been something you’ve been nervous about doing as part of your writing — whether sending it off for review, or reading it to a critique group, or emailing an agent — that turned out to be nowhere near as big a deal as you thought it’d be?

Keeping Score: October 4, 2019

I’d heard that the bubble of elation you feel when you first have something accepted for publication doesn’t last long.

I only half-believed it, of course. Surely I would be different, my expectations set better, my heart both more and less trusting.

Because if one acceptance happened, couldn’t another? And another? And even if rejection came, wouldn’t that one acceptance be enough to keep me going?

Turns out the answer is no, no, and nope.

I’d had a story out to one magazine for a good while — close to three months — and as the time stretched out without getting a rejection notice, I began to hope. The acceptance of another story just made that hope bigger, and my dreams with it: What if all the stories I had out currently got accepted? What if I was able to join SFWA this year, all in a rush, with three stories that I’ve spent years working on all getting accepted in a short window of time?

But the rejection came yesterday, and my little bubble of hope popped with it.

Now I feel like half a success, half a failure. It doesn’t help that I’ve heard nothing from the magazine that’s accepted a story since that acceptance; no signed contract, no payment, nothing. So even that success feels ghostly, as if one strong wind could blow it away, and I’d be back where I started. Unpublished. Always-rejected.

I’m telling myself to be patient. That the only thing I can control is the writing, so I’d better damn well do that part.

And it does comfort me, a little, that I wrote 2,223 words this week. I’m back to making good progress on the novel, and I’ve got two stories to edit into shape before sending them out into the world.

Chances are they’ll probably be rejected, too. But I can’t control that. What I can do is write another story, then another, and keep writing. Keep improving. And keep submitting.

One story got through. I can keep writing until another one does, too.

Keeping Score: September 27, 2019

Wrote 2,559 words this week!

I’m trying to get back in the habit of writing daily, or nearly-daily, and it’s paying off. Even though I only wrote 1,400 words at the Tuesday write-in, I put in some time after work Monday and Thursday to push over the 2,500 mark.

Most of that work’s been on the short story I started last Friday, at the Writers Conference. It was supposed to be a flash piece, in and out quick, but it’s turned into a full 3,000-word story.

And it might get longer. I compressed a lot of time towards the end, fitting years of change into a few paragraphs. Those might have to be uncompressed in order to feel like a more natural ending. So it might grow another one- to two-thousand words.

But that’s a problem for later, after I’ve let the story sit for a week or two. Then I can be a bit more objective.

For now, it’s back to the novel. I’m in the middle third of the book, when characters start colliding against each other on their way to the blowout before the third act.

And I’m still getting ideas for things that might need to change. Not minor things, like how a character speaks. Major things, like entire plot points and character motivations.

I’m unsure whether they’re good ideas, though, so I’m just taking notes on them for now. Once this draft is done, I’ll have another look at them and pick and choose which changes to make.

Until then, it’s forward. Ever forward.

Southern California Writers Conference 2019 Wrap-Up

My brain is full, in the best way.

This weekend I went to my first writer’s conference, SCWC LA17, up in Irvine. I was nervous going in: I went alone, not knowing anyone, and not really knowing what it would be like.

But from the moment I checked-in at the registration desk, everyone made me feel welcome. Both of the people running the sci-fi/fantasy read-and-critique group were working registration, and their excitement at hearing that was my genre made me change my mind both about attending the banquet and trying to make one of the late-night critique groups.

In fact, their excitement and happiness was, if you’ll forgive the cliché, infectious. For the rest of the weekend, my usual shy self was gone, and I felt perfectly comfortable introducing myself to anyone I happened to sit next to and ask: “So what are you working on?”

It was an incredible feeling. My imposter syndrome — always whispering in my ears at other conferences and events — was quiet the whole weekend. We were all working on different books, in different genres, at different points in our careers. But we were all writers, all facing the same struggle with the written word.

I’d found my people.

I took…too many notes. Each workshop was full of great information, from the panel on writing convincing courtroom scenes — that reminds me, I need to find a way to attend a trial or two — to the talk on writing a strong opening, which ended up giving me insight into what I needed to do to finish a short story I’d started writing.

Yes, I started a new short story while at the conference. And finished a new flash fiction piece. And I came away with ideas for four, no five, new novels.

It was that inspiring.

So thank you, more than I can say, to the organizers and presenters and guest speakers at SCWC. You’ve put new wind in my sails, and given me new ways to up my writing game.