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?

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.

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?

Keeping Score: April 10, 2020

Current writing streak: 29 days.

Another week of forcing myself into the chair, every morning, for at least 30 minutes. Am I writing new words all 30 minutes? No. But I’m working all the same: planning, outlining, brainstorming, and finally putting fingers to keyboard.

When I feel the usual terror setting in, I tell myself: Write one sentence. Just one. One sentence is a victory. One sentence is enough.

It turns out that once I have one sentence down, I can usually write another. And another. And before I know it, I’ve written a few hundred words.

Sometimes. Sometimes it really is just one sentence. And I have to treat that like the achievement it is; because that sentence didn’t exist before, and now it does. It might be terrible, it might be great, but I can edit it later. It exists to be edited later, only because I’ve written it.

So while forcing myself into the chair, I’ve finished a few projects:

  • Finished editing the short story I worked on last week
  • Sent that story out to beta readers for feedback
  • Submitted two more short stories to markets, one for the very first time

Next up: Back to the novel. I really, really, really want to finish the current draft; I feel like I’ve been working on it forever. It’d feel so good to have it done to the point where I could send it to beta readers, or at least have enough raw draft material down that I can whip it into shape via another editing pass.

Keeping Score: April 3, 2020

Current writing streak: 22 days.

Switching from tracking words written to time spent writing seems to be working. So far this week I’ve:

  • Finished the script for an 8-page comic as part of Gail Simone’s Comics School
  • Finished writing up an interview with a local author
  • Finished revising 3 of 5 scenes in a short story
  • Submitted a flash fiction piece to a new market

I’m trying to use one of the tools Gail Simone said we need in our toolbox to make it as professional writers: Focus.

For Comics School, it meant keeping the overall goal modest (an 8-pg story) and working each day on just one piece of it, till it was done.

For me, I’m thinking of it in terms of goals per piece. This week, my goal is to finish editing the short story I mentioned above. Then I can submit it to beta readers, and move onto the next thing while I wait for their feedback.

Next week, I think I’ll finally return to working on the novel. I’d like to take it chapter by chapter, with the goal of finishing one per week. We’ll see how it goes.

How about you? How are you measuring success, during the pandemic?

Keeping Score: March 13, 2020

Got 1,224 words written so far this week.

Those are spread out over different projects. I added a little to the novel, started drafting several new essays, and decided to go back and edit a short story from last year.

The story was easy for me to write, but it’s been hard to edit. It’s quite personal, pulling something from my childhood and turning it into a horror story. It’s the first story I’ve written about where I grew up, and as such is hard for me to see any other way than how I’ve written it.

So it’s taken me counts on fingers about six months to digest some beta reader feedback I got on it, and figure out what the story needs.

And I think I do, now. I can see a hole in the story, a gap in the POV character’s motivations that I tried to paper over with his personal flaws.

That might work for me, or for someone who also grew up in the kind of town I did, but it doesn’t work for communicating that character’s perspective to everyone else. That’s a failure on my part, a failure of craft, and — hopefully — it’s one I can fix.

What about you? Have you ever had a story — or a novel — that you simply couldn’t edit into shape until after a lot of time (and maybe some leveling up in your writing skills) had passed?

News & Reviews: August 6, 2019

News

HUGE NEWS this week: I sold my first short story!

And to a professional, SFWA-qualifying market, no less!

More details as they shake out, but I’m over-the-moon pumped. The story’s one I’ve been working on for three years (!), revising, polishing, and submitting.

Many thanks to my friends that suffered through reading all those drafts, and offered me the feedback I needed to make the story shine!

Reviews

Finished off two books this week: Persian Fire and Paper Girls, Vol 1.

Persian Fire, by Tom Holland

One of the best examples of narrative history I’ve ever read. Holland is simply a great writer, so that despite some repetition and over-reliance on certain turns of phrase, I sped through its 350+ pages.

And it illuminated aspects of ancient Persia and Greece that I didn’t appreciate before. Like how Sparta trumpeted equality for everyone except for those living in the cities they conquered (who were turned into slaves, one and all). Or how democratic Athens regularly held an ostracism, so they could kick out a citizen who was getting too powerful (or causing too much resentment among other citizens). Or that the King of Persia considered all his subjects his slaves, and yet left them to worship their own gods, and mostly govern themselves, so long as they paid tribute.

I wish it’d gone more into a subject it teases in the Preface: How would Greece have fared if Xerxes had conquered it? Given that the Persian Kings were considering letting the Ionians (subjects of the empire) govern themselves democratically, how much of Western history would have been different?

Holland does go into detail about the Persian empire (origins, revolutions, etc), which is a great corrective to the usual Greek-sided way of telling this story. But he leaves one of his most tantalizing questions unexplored, which is a tragedy.

Paper Girls, Vol 1, by Brian K Vaughn, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, and Jared K Fletcher

Picked this one up partially because of Vaughn’s work on Saga, and partially because of the clean, comprehensible art style.

And now I have yet another Image Comic (like Monstress, and Saga, and Wicked + Divine, and…) that I’ll pick up every chance I get.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that it’s set in 1988, it follows four pre-teens on their paper route one early morning, and that things rapidly get…weird. Like, time-travel and possible aliens and dinosaurs weird.

It’s fantastically well-done. Its creative team is firing on all cylinders: the story is strong, the drawing clear and easy-to-follow, the colors manage to invoke both the 80s (to me, anyway) and the various locations (early morning outside, dark basement, etc) and the lettering conveys everything from a radio’s static to a drunken warble.

Which reminds me, I need to go pick up Vol 2 🙂

Keeping Score: June 22, 2018

Made the new word-count goal for a second week, thank the gods: 2,478 words.

Again, most of those are short-story edits. I basically didn’t touch the current novel this week, which has turned out to be a good thing. I’ve had time to think through some of the problem areas, plot threads that weren’t quite matching up. When I do go back to working on that draft, I’ll have some revisions to make that’ll strengthen the story before I finish.

In the meantime, I’ve submitted one of the stories I revised last week. I’ve also got two more stories ready to submit after this week’s work, for a total of five.

Here’s hoping they all find good homes.

Back to Basics

Realized a few weeks back that I wasn’t making the progress on the short stories that I wanted to. And I wasn’t making any progress on editing the second novel.

And NaNoWriMo is coming.

At first, I made the usual excuses to myself — I’ve lost my morning hour to write, I can catch up on the weekends — but I knew the real reason: fear.

Fear that I wasn’t going fast enough. Fear that I wasn’t writing stories that were good enough. Fear that without an hour to write in, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done.

So I’ve gone back to an old habit: write every day. I have a reminder in my phone, a little task that I can only check off when I’ve done some writing that day.

How much doesn’t matter. 100 words, 250 words, 400 words, don’t care. So long as I write something.

And it’s working. I finished the first draft of one short story early this week, and I’ll have a draft of a second story finished this weekend. When those two are done, I can start planning the NaNoWriMo novel.

So I keep telling myself: Step by step, day by day. One word at a time.