Keeping Score: October 16, 2020

Did I say five new flash stories last week?

At my current pace, I’ll be lucky to finish one.

Apparently, I forgot how hard a first draft can be.

I am working on one, though. It’s a sweet little story about a group of kids who turn cannibal.

…did I not mention it was horror?

I’m sketching it out, 100 words at a time. I say sketching because I’m writing it in patches, jumping from place to place in the narrative instead of writing it straight through. It’s a way for me to get past any block I have writing a certain section. I can skip ahead, or go back to a previous scene, and come back to the part that’s giving me trouble later.

It’s working, because I’m already eight hundred words in. That also means this is likely not going to be a flash piece, unless I trim it way down after. Which is fine, but once again shows I’m not a great judge of how big the story will be based on the idea I have. Maybe that’s something that will develop over time, as I write more pieces of various sizes?

Meanwhile, the novel’s heading out to beta readers. And I’ve got some time now to pay attention to where my short stories are going, and start submitting them again.

Which means I’ll start getting rejections rolling in again. Each one still stings, but…really, there’s no other choice. Write, Finish, Submit: The last step there is as crucial as the others.

Hope where-ever you are, you’re able to keep writing, eight months into this pandemic. Using whatever tricks you can to keep your creativity alive.

Keeping Score: August 7, 2020

I need to get back to working on the novel.

I’ve let it sit these past few weeks, untouched, while I finished getting one short story into shape and started plotting a new one.

But if I’m going to meet my personal deadline of having the novel ready to submit to agents by December 1st, I’m going to need to edit this second draft.

To be honest, I’m intimidated. I’ve never edited anything this long before.

How do I even do it? Read it all through, and then go back and edit passages? That sounds…like it’ll take forever.

Or do I work chapter by chapter, editing each one until it’s done, and then moving on? That sounds like an easy way to lose sight of inconsistencies (or to having to go back and edit previous chapters anyway, as inconsistencies show up).

I think what I’m going to do is a series of editing passes. Pick one thing to look for — like the consistency of a single character’s dialog — and edit all instances of that. Then pick something else — the descriptions of a ship, say — and edit all of those.

I’m hoping this will give me a structure in which to do multiple reads over the book, without getting lost in the weeds of any individual chapter. And it should broaden my perspective so I can stitch the book together, so to speak, with these edits. Make it more coherent, more whole.

But what do I do with the short story I’ve been outlining? I don’t want to lose momentum on that. And I worry that the novel, once I start editing it, will take up all the room in my brain for narrative.

I want to work on both. Use the story as a break from the novel, and use the novel as a break from the story. They’re different enough — one’s near-future sci-fi, the other is early modern period fantasy — that I should be able to keep them separate in my head. And editing is different enough from drafting that I’ll be exercising different writing muscles with each.

What about you? What do you do, when you’ve got a longer piece to edit and a shorter one to draft? Do you alternate working days? Finish the shorter piece before editing the longer? How do you handle two stories that both need your attention?

Keeping Score: July 31, 2020

I feel like I’m telling this story to myself, over and over again, with each outline. New details get filled in, new connections appear, with each telling.

And each day I get up and tell it to myself another time, adding more pieces.

I so much want to just write, just set the words down on the page and let them fall where they may.

But then I’ll be plotting out the second third of the story, and I’ll have an idea that ripples all the way back to the beginning. And it makes me glad I haven’t started writing anything more than snippets of dialog just yet. Because all of those snippets will likely need to change.

This story…It’s more complicated than other short stories I’ve written. Less straightforward.

It’s a five-part structure. One part setup, followed by three parts flashbacks (taking place over years and across continents), followed by a climax. And it all needs to hang together like a coherent whole, present flowing to flashbacks and then returning to the present.

I’m not sure I can pull it off, to be honest. I’ll have to do a good bit of research for each flashback, just to ground them in reality. Then there’s the problem of each flashback needing to be its own story, complete with character arc, while feeding into the larger narrative.

It’s like writing four stories at once, really, with them nested inside each other.

Will it all make sense, in the end? Will the flashbacks prove to be too long, and need culling? Will my framing device be so transparent that it’s boring? Will the conclusion be a big enough payoff?

Who knows?

All I can do is tell myself the story, piece by piece, over and over again, until I can see it all clearly.

Keeping Score: July 24, 2020

I’ve never written a short-story this way before.

I’m coming at it more like a novel. I’m outlining, then researching things like character names and historical towns to model the setting off of, then revising the outline, rinse, repeat.

So I’ve written very little of it, so far. And what I have written — snippets of dialog and description — might get thrown out later, as the outline changes.

I’m not sure it’s better, this way. I feel frustrated at times, like I want to just write the thing and get it over with.

But I know — well, I feel — that that will result in a story that’s not as good as it could have been. Like eating grapes before they’ve ripened on the vine.

And I do keep coming up with more connections between the various pieces of the story, more ways to tie it all together. Each one is an improvement. Each one makes the story stronger.

Perhaps that’s how I’ll know when to stop outlining, and start writing? When I literally can’t think of any way to make the story itself better?

How about you? How do you know when it’s time to write a story, and when it needs to sit in your mind a little while longer?

Keeping Score: July 17, 2020

Started drafting a new short story this week.

I’m taking a different approach, this time. For short stories, I usually just sit down and write it out, all in one go. At least for the first draft.

For this story, I’m doing a mix of outlining and writing. I jot down lines of dialog as they come to me, or — in one case — the whole opening scene came in flash, so I typed it up.

But the majority of the story is still vague to me, so I’m trying to fill it in via brainstorming and daydreaming. Sketching a map of where it’s taking place, thinking through why the town it’s set in exists, what it’s known for. Drafting histories for the main characters.

It’s fun, so it’s also hard to convince myself that it’s work. Necessary work, at that.

Because my guilty writer conscience wants to see words on the page. No matter that I’m not ready, the ideas only half-formed. For it, it’s sentences or nothing.

So I’m pushing back by reading a book specifically about short story techniques, using the authority of another writer to argue (with my guilt) that it’s okay to pause and think. That progress can mean no words save a character bio. That every story needs a good foundation, and that’s what I’m trying to build.

It’s working, so far. My guilt does listen, just not always to me.

What about you? How do you balance the need to feel productive with the background work that every story requires?

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.