Keeping Score: 2 September 2022

Draft is done! Long live the draft!

Finished the first, very messy, draft of the new short story this week. I already kind of hate it, even after writing the last scene like the previous one didn’t happen. Both those scenes, I think, are going to see heavy edits in the next draft.

For now, though, I’m simply typing it up. Yes, typing: I wrote the first draft longhand, in a little notebook, after reading the advice in Chavez’s book on anti-racist workshopping. Her take was that making her students write out the first draft by hand made them more willing to experiment, to scratch things out and rewrite on the fly, without their inner editor getting in the way. And for the most part, I’ve found that to be true; I’ve got scenes that are out of order on the page, with squiggly lines connecting the pieces to each other in the right sequence. And knowing that I would type it all later — and “fix it in post” — made it easier to finish writing the scenes that I knew, even while writing them, that I was going to have to change.

(she also said that writing longhand got her students more in tune with their bodies, but being over-40 myself, I mostly got in tune with how quickly my hand starts to cramp up)

I am making changes as I type. Fixing a phrase here, adding some blocking (e.g., “she sat back and crossed her arms”) there. Discovering I wrote an entire scene in the wrong tense (!), or used the wrong character’s name in places.

But I’m holding off from making any big changes till I’ve finished typing it. I want to go through the whole thing once more, reading and typing, getting a better feel for how it might all fit together. I’m taking notes as I go, on things I want to change (or simply try differently, to see how it reads), so I can come back after this and do a second draft.

My intent — my hope — is to have the characters and basic plot nailed down during the second draft. (oh, you thought I’d have that set by the time I started the first draft? welcome to pantsing) From there, it’ll be much easier to iterate on revisions, including at least one pass where I’ll print it out and then go through it.

Given my current pace, I might have something to show beta readers by the end of the month? Fingers crossed.

Keeping Score: 26 August 2022

Ever write a scene, and immediately regret it?

This week I’ve been focusing on finishing one, just one, of the story first draft I’m in the middle of. I carefully plotted out what scenes were left at the start of the week, and spent each day’s writing session chugging along, setting them down.

Only when I got to the second-to-last scene, I made it halfway through before coming to a screeching halt. Despite all my well-laid plans, I was suddenly out of track, for two reasons.

One, I’d decided to have the main character expose her boss as a fake, by flipping open the many file boxes her boss has strewn around and showing them all to be empty. Very dramatic, fun scene, in my head. Only I forgot to come up with a reason why the boxes were empty.

So when I got to the part where she opened them up, and I needed to show her boss’ reaction, I had nothing. No idea. Nothing to see here folks, the muse has gone home for the day.

Two, even once I’d spent some time brainstorming ideas for the boxes, and started back in on the scene, I realized the tone was completely wrong. I’d started the story off as a meditation on memory and purpose, with a protagonist gradually realizing she wants to do something else with her life.

Emphasis on gradually. Not big-d Dramatically, or in some blaze of glory, but over time, like the tide receding from a beach. And here I had this high-volume scene right towards the end of the story. It doesn’t wok, and I knew it wouldn’t work as I was writing it.

But I finished the scene anyway. I’ve been told too many times, by too many authors more experienced and skilled than me, that stopping to edit in the middle of a draft is an excellent way to never get anything finished.

And once again, they’ve turned out to be right! Because in finishing the scene, and chewing it over once I’d done it, I realized moving the scene earlier in the story — with some tweaks — will give it all the things it was missing before: a ticking clock, a purpose behind the boss’ actions, a push for the protagonist to make her life-altering decision.

I’ve got one more scene left to write in this draft, so I’m going to take another page out of their advice, and write it like I’ve already made the change I’m thinking of doing in the next draft. That way, when I actually write that draft, this final scene won’t need as many edits (and I’ll have a completed draft, which is an accomplishment on its own).

What about you? Have you ever had a scene (or a story) that you thought you’d need to throw away, and instead it became the spark that set off something even better?

Keeping Score: 12 August 2022

Earlier this week I decided to take a survey of what stage my various stories are, since I lost track of them over the course of Covid July.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Flash pieces needing final revision before submittal: 2
  • Short stories needing significant drafting: 2
  • Stories needing a complete first draft: 3

That’s seven stories in various stages, none of which are ready to go out to beta readers or submitted to markets! My original list only had five stories; I woke up the next morning and realized I’d left two off the list entirely.

I seem to be replicating a pattern from my day-job, where I commonly work on multiple projects at once, pushing each forward until I hit a blocker (or a stopping point) and then switching to the next. I’ve apparently started doing the same thing with my writing, starting a story and then switching to another if I feel any resistance to working on the first one.

So now I’ve got four months of story work, and basically nothing to show for it (to anyone else, anyway). At this point, my inner Paul McCartney is going “We need a system!”

But is that the case? Is it wrong of me to borrow this working pattern from my day job?

I’m not sure. I don’t have any deadlines to meet. No editors or publishers waiting for my words (those these are problems I’d like to have, someday!). I’ve only got myself, and so long as I’m happy working on several things at once, who’s to say I need to stop?

Except. The danger — as I found in July — is that I lose the thread of the story, or many stories, in trying to work on too many at once. Or end up repeating and re-using elements across them, instead of letting each story grow into its own unique self.

Maybe the answer is compromise: Don’t start another first draft until the current one is finished. Always come back and edit the previous story’s draft before doing the next one. And so on. So I can still work on multiple pieces at once, so long as I only have one or two in the revision queue at the same time.

What about you? Do you work on one story at a time, all the way through from draft to final edit? Or do you bounce between multiple pieces at the same time, working on whichever one strikes your Muse as the one for the day?

Keeping Score: 29 July 2022

Yesterday was my first time fiction writing since I got sick.

That’s three weeks of not making any progress. Of not being able to make progress, because even once the fever and the chills and the wracking cough subsided, I couldn’t focus long enough to read a story, let alone create a new one.

I confess I worried I might not be able to, even now. I’ve heard so much about a lingering “brain fog” after getting Covid to make me anxious that I would try to write again and fail, that I wouldn’t be able to pick up the stories I’d been working on, or find myself writing only in clichés and bad dialog.

Well. I won’t speak to the quality of the draft I worked on yesterday, but I did work on it, and I did make progress. In fact, the rest of the story is coalescing in my head now, and I can see the path to finishing it.

This draft, anyway. There’ll be edits to do afterward, of course.

But at least I know I can keep working. I still get fatigued more easily than I used to; back-to-back meetings at work leave me not just mentally but physically drained now. And when I tried walking last weekend, I made it just a few kilometers out before turning back for home, where I promptly fell into a nap.

And yet. My brain keeps on ticking, and I can work around the fatigue till it passes. So that’s one worry resolved, for now, at least.

Hope you’re able to write through your own worries, and find ways to make progress no matter what stands in your way.

Keeping Score: 8 July 2022

This week I’ve mostly been focused on typing up the mix of notes, scenes, and outline from my notebook for the now expanded, gender-flipped, sidekick-to-protagonist science fiction story (whew!).

I’m having to do a bit of expansion and interweaving as I go. I didn’t write the scenes in order, to begin with, and then I’ve also been blending it with what I wrote in the second (typed straight to laptop) draft, so that hopefully the whole thing is coherent.

I’m nearing the ending, which I haven’t written yet, but I’ve got such a strong image for that I think I can just type it out when I get there. Also I’ve got to lay the path for it, so to speak, by weaving in elements in these earlier scenes so the final one feels like a proper payoff, rather than an abrupt turn (though there is a turn, I just don’t want it to jolt a reader out of the story).

One thing I want to pay particular attention to, and change if I can’t get it right, is the (now) main character’s ethnicity. In my mental storyboards, she’s a second-generation Asian-American, and that’s how I’ve presented her in terms of name, etc. But in reading books like Craft in the Real World and The Girl at the Baggage Claim, and novels like Earthlings and The Woman in the Purple Skirt, I’m starting to doubt whether I can properly portray such a character. I’ve been thinking I can use my experience as an internal (and now international) immigrant as a bridge to their worldview, but I think now that that’s not enough. There’s the pervasive racism experienced by minorities in the States, and on top of that the misogyny that uniquely harms Asian-American women (I say harms, not harmed, because it keeps happening: witness the one character in “The Boys” who is introduced as completely feral and whose voice is silenced is the one Asian woman in the cast). And that’s before we get into differing family relationships, unique cultural touchstones, etc.

So I’m not sure if I should change the POV character’s ethnicity or not. I think that during these handwritten drafts I’ve found an approach that can be both representative and respectful. And I don’t want to be the kind of white writer that only writes white people (any more than I want to be the kind of male writer that only writes men). The world is diverse, and I want to represent that in my fiction. But I want to do it well, which means more than just changing a character’s name or skin color.

We’ll see how the draft comes out. And what my sensitivity readers say when they review it.

Keeping Score: 1 July 2022

I think my writing brain is telling me to move on from the short stories.

I’ve kept up with the notebook writing this week, jotting down scenes and brainstorming directions for the plots of both short stories (the shorter mystery and the longer sci-fi one). But on Monday my fingers refused to write anything for either story, instead choosing to talk about the summer weather (which became my last blog post). And yesterday, when I reached for my notebook, I had a spark of an idea that turned into a plot for an entire rom-com novel.

It’s like my subconscious is telling me it’s bored of drafting the short stories, and wants to move on, to something different. Before I can do that, though, I need to actually type up what I’ve written freehand, and try to edit it into a coherent piece.

So that’s what I’ll be working on this weekend and next week. Typing, editing, and revising both stories, till the ideas in my notebook have been fitted into place. Hopefully that’ll be enough to keep my writing brain engaged and happy; it’s different work, after all, from drafting, and uses different muscles.

And then…maybe I’ll give this rom-com a shot? Or maybe it’s a thriller. It really depends on the ending, you see, and…

Well. We’ll see.

Keeping Score: 17 June 2022

Gender-flipping one of the characters in my new short story turns out to be the best decision I could have made. Whole new story possibilities have opened up, and I’m following through on them as best I can.

Which is to say, I haven’t made any progress on the horror story I started last week.

I’m basically back to draft zero on the sci-fi piece (now gender-flipped). The story’s going to need to get longer, much longer, in order to capture these new ideas. Somehow I’m going to need to pull off switching POVs inside the short story form, which is usually a no-no.

And it might still be! But I won’t know for sure until I try it out. Maybe switching POV between scenes will be a disaster. Maybe I’ll read the new draft through and find it’s a horrible mess. But then again, maybe I won’t.

So I’m trying to give myself the freedom to explore. I’m still forcing myself to sit down at least 15 minutes a day and work on a story, any story. But I’m not judging the output of those fifteen minutes. If it’s character sketches, great! If it’s brainstorming possible plot twists, also fine. Just so long as it’s effort spent on the story, in whatever form that takes.

This weekend I’m hoping to carve out some time to do some drafting based on the notes I’ve put together over the week. It’d be nice to have a finished draft together, however messy, that I can start editing next week.

Hope your own writing is going well, and that you’re avoiding the trap of judging your work by anyone else’s standards.

Keeping Score: 3 June 2022

This week I finally started submitting stories to markets again.

I’ve been holding off, because of the writer’s block, and all the work that went into the move, but also because I was afraid. I’m afraid not just of rejection, but of being judged for what I’ve written. Afraid that even if a story does make it to an editor’s desk for reading, they’ll be put off by it, and never want to see anything by me again.

Intellectually, I know, no one thinks about me that much. My stories go in, and they get rejected, and the editors and first readers never think about me again. They’ve got lives of their own, after all.

And yet. Fear of judgement has kept me holding my stories back, worried not about how the story will be received, but how I’ll be seen for having written it. At one point, I even tried to convince myself that I didn’t want to get published, that the writing was enough for me, that making money at it didn’t matter. That delusion lasted perhaps a week before my normal ambition re-asserted itself.

All of it — the fear of judgement, the lying to myself — is a silly thing, and I know it’s silly, but it’s taken me a few months to get past it.

Thank goodness for The Submission Grinder, which (for free!) not only keeps track of what pieces I have ready to go and which markets I’ve already been rejected from, but can run a search across markets that are open to subs for each piece. That is, it knows the word count and genre, and so narrows its results down to markets that accept stories of that length and subject. It’s help me discover markets I’d never have heard of otherwise, and contests that would have closed before I had a chance to submit.

So, by the numbers:

  • 3 pieces went out last week.
  • 1 has already been rejected, and needs to go back out this weekend
  • 1 new flash piece (from last month) is ready to go
  • 3 older pieces need to be sent to new markets
  • 1 new short story needs a final editing pass (it’s currently on its second draft) before being sent out
  • 2 new flash pieces need first editing passes this weekend

…and I want to start the first draft of the new horror story. Whew!

Hope your own writing is going well, and you’re hitting your goals, whatever they may be.

Keeping Score: May 27, 2022

Steady progress this week. I’ve set a reminder to write, every day, and I force myself to do it. Even when I’m exhausted after a day like Wednesday, where I had a solid block of meetings from 7am till 1pm. I grab my notebook, set a timer for fifteen minutes, and don’t let myself do anything else till the buzzer sounds.

I’m not always drafting during that time. Sometimes, like this week, I’m brainstorming, looking for ways to punch up the current draft of the new story. Sometimes I’m outlining, like I’ve been doing for a new story that’s brewing in my head. But no matter what, I’m working for those fifteen minutes.

As a result, I’m about ready to do a second draft of the piece that started out as flash, and has grown into a short story. I’m also ready to do a first draft of a new piece, a horror story that first unlocked for me last year during a Clarion West online class, but sat on the shelf while I worked through my writer’s block. (Oddly enough, the current approach I’m taking to the story came to me during another Clarion West class, on Sunday)

Oh! And I wrote two more flash pieces last night, based on some prompts given out at the Victoria Creative Writing Group meeting. One of them is a fun little thing I might polish a touch and then send out. The other is yet another story I’ve been carrying around without knowing how to approach, and the second writing prompt of the night gave me exactly the right angle. I think this one might be a longer piece when I’m done, but at least I’ve got a first draft now, something I can edit into shape.

How about you? What do you do to keep yourself motivated (I take classes, apparently, and join writing groups)? Are you making good progress in your current projects, or does your writing process need a shake-up?

Keeping Score: 20 May 2022

Writing slowed this week, but didn’t stop. I got through “Draft 1.5” of the new short story, which brought it to a healthy 2k words, inching out of flash territory.

I already have three areas I want to touch up next. The ending, in particular, I think needs to pack more punch. But these will be smaller changes, so I’m letting the story cool on the shelf, so to speak, before coming back to make them.

Meanwhile, I joined a critique group! After a meeting of the Victoria Creative Writing Group, one of the other new members put out a call for folks to join in critiquing each other’s writing on a regular basis. We had our first meeting last night, and I think it went really well 🙂 It’s a small group (there’s just four of us total) but that means we each get plenty of time to give and get feedback. At the end of this first session, we even had time to do a 15 minute writing exercise, and I got another flash piece out of it!

I feel so lucky to have been accepted into the group. Many thanks to the organizer, and to the VCWG for bringing us all together.

Written with: Ulysses

Under the influence of: “Never Let Me Go,” Placebo