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: 24 June 2022

I’ve been reading Craft in the Real World and The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, two books that both approach the issue of how the traditional writing workshop in the US — silent author, readers and teacher judging the work, comparison to an all-white literary canon — was constructed less to promote healthy writing communities and more to reinforce white supremacy in the States.

I confess it’s been hard reading, sometimes. Being confronted with the way I’ve been taught — and taught to teach others — about writing and being shown its racist underpinnings does not make for comfortable reading. But I’m pushing past that white fragility of mine, and interrogating it, and each time what I find at the root is simply fear. Fear that I’ll be the one erased, in the kind of workshop these authors describe. Fear that I’ll become the marginalized. Because the one thing all white people know, even when we don’t want to admit it, is that being in the minority in the Western caste system sucks.

When I face that fear, and name it, I’m able to move past it, and see the workshops they’re presenting as what they really are: places where everyone can take center stage for a time, where each author is empowered with the tools and the confidence to better their craft. Those tools are there for me, too, if I’m willing to listen, and use them.

So I’m testing them out, so to speak. I don’t have a formal writing workshop to go to, but I am trying a new approach with the feedback I give to the other writers in my writing circle. I’m aiming my feedback less at “I liked this” or “I don’t like this character” and more towards highlighting the choices I see them making. Like asking how scenes might play out differently if X were changed, or querying about the symbolism behind the repetition of a certain element. I don’t know if I’m succeeding, just yet, but I’m striving for the kind of centering of the author as an actively participating artist that Salesses and Chavez encourage.

I’m also borrowing some of their practices for my own writing. For this new short story I’m writing, I’ve taken to writing out the new draft by hand, in a notebook. Chavez says she insists her students write by hand, as a way to silence the inner editor and let the words flow onto the page. And so far, it’s working; writing it out has helped me get out of my own way, and make progress on the draft, when staring at the computer screen would feel like too much pressure. Chavez is right: Something about using hand and pen and paper is liberating, making me feel less like every word needs to be perfect and more like the story in my head needs to be written down right now.

As a result, the new draft is taking shape. It’s going to be longer and more complicated than I originally thought, with POV shifts and an expanded world. The side character that I had in the first draft and then gender-flipped has now become the protagonist (!) with all the changes that entails. But where I initially approached this new draft with trepidation, now I’m excited to see it come together.

What techniques do you use, to quiet your inner editor and feel free to write the stories you most want to tell?

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: 10 June 2022

Started the first draft of the new horror story this week, but just barely. Managed to bang out a single scene before my brain came to a screeching halt.

At first I was scared, thinking my writer’s block had come back. But after a day to calm down, I figured it out: I still needed to edit the flash pieces I banged out last month. My writing brain — who commutes between my subconscious and Tír na nÓg, I call them Fred — wasn’t ready to move on to a new story just yet. Outline, sure, but draft? No way. Edits first.

So I’ve mostly been editing. Two of the flash pieces I wrote are ready to go. A third is on its second draft, but I think it needs a third major one before any fine-tuning passes. I had an idea for gender-flipping one of the characters that I think will make the dialog more interesting (because it’ll bring out more of each character’s personality) and easier to follow (because the dialog tags will be different).

I’ve also been (kind of) editing my prison break novel. As I mentioned before, I’ve joined a writing group, so I’m using it as my submission — 2,500 words at a time — for each session. We’re using Google Docs for sharing, which I thought would be annoying (ok, it is annoying) but has given me a chance to edit each section before I copy/paste it into the shared doc. It’s mostly cleanup edits: Fixing a typo here, reworking a bit of dialog there. But it’s making the draft stronger, and they’re giving me some very useful feedback on it (like catching that a character didn’t bother to put on a pressure suit before heading out an airlock!).

It’ll take us (as a group) a while to get through it all, but I’m hoping at the end of it I’ll have a firm sense of what needs to be updated in one more editing pass before I can start sending it out to agents. Then maybe I’ll start (finally) editing the novel previous to that one, and so on and so forth, till they’re all edited and all out on sub. Meanwhile, I can keep churning out short stories, and work to find each of them a publishing home.

Wish me luck!

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

Keeping Score: 13 May 2022

I’ve written a new short story!

Last Saturday I turned a corner, mood-wise. After not being able to write for six months, I sat down and hammered out the first draft of a new flash piece. The story is something I’d been mulling over for a while; I had the genre (noir/crime) and a line of dialog, but that’s it.

But Saturday morning I sat down and told myself to write something, anything, even if it was crap. And the whole story came tumbling out of me.

It’s a huge relief, to know that I can still do it. Even if the draft is terrible, it exists, it’s mine, and that means I’m not hopeless as a writer just yet.

I’ve spent the week since working on a “Draft 1.5”, as I’m thinking of it. I’m still too close to the story to properly edit it into a second draft, but as soon as I was done with the first draft I started seeing areas where I needed to go back, add depth or look for a more creative angle.

In particular, the motive for the crime bothered me. The one in the first draft felt too pat, too cliché. Not real enough.

So one morning I took out my little notebook and went through the characters in the story, one by one, and wrote a description — personality, circumstances, and appearance — for each. I had only vague ideas of the characters when I started, but by the end of the exercise I had them firmly fixed in my mind, along with a better motive, and plot changes to reflect that.

Thus I’ve begun another draft to incorporate those changes. I know there’ll be more drafts after this one, including a proper second once I’ve let the story sit for a couple weeks. But for now I want to make this first draft a little stronger.

If you’re struggling with writing, and not sure you can hack it anymore, let me reassure you: You can! You might just need a break, or to try a different genre, or a different format. Me, I needed all three, including permission from a writing instructor to drop my current project altogether. It’s scary to contemplate, but liberating in the end.

Go forth and write messy drafts, write bad dialog, and create some one-dimensional characters. Whatever it takes to get the words out, to get your mind working on the story. You can always, always, clean it up later, but you can’t do anything without that first draft. So get to it 🙂

Written with: Ulysses

Under the influence of: “Model Citizen,” Meet Me @ the Altar

Keeping Score: 6 May 2022

Time to start these up again, as well.

Other than Monday’s blog post, though, I haven’t written anything this week. I wake up tired, having slept fitfully the night before. I stumble into the shower and then into my work chair, only to stagger out eight hours later wondering if I can justify taking a nap before dinner. I never do, though; I just catch up on personal chores (one thing they don’t tell you about immigrating is how much friggin’ paperwork you’re going to be doing, constantly, forever), shovel food into my mouth, and then slink off to bed.

Rinse, repeat.

Tried to break the routine last night by going to an online meeting of the Victoria Creative Writers’ Group. Thought meeting some local fellow writers would be a nice one-two punch, both getting me out of lonely shell here and giving me a bit of inspiration.

It’s worked in the past. Every time I’ve come out of a Writers’ Coffeehouse session — run by Jonathan Maberry — I’ve felt pumped up, ready to write for hours.

But something must be truly wrong with me, because it didn’t happen this time. Felt like dropping the call multiple times, and turned my camera off so I could cry. It made me feel more isolated, more lonely, not less.

Because here were a dozen or so folks who were settled into Canadian life. Two were teachers. One was a nurse. There was one person who had moved here from Alberta, but otherwise no recent transplants like me.

And I thought: What am I doing? I had a network back in San Diego. I had writer friends, and meetings. Encouragement given and received. How could I hope to insert myself here? With every word out of my mouth I prove that I don’t fit in.

I know I’m being overdramatic. Canada is not yet so culturally far from the US. And yet.

So I’m going to look for inspiration elsewhere. Planning on taking a hike this weekend, either to Thetis Lake or just around Beacon Hill Park (neither of which I’ve seen), depending on the weather. I’ll walk among the trees, take some photos, and try to clear this melancholy from my head.

Wish me luck.

Written with: Ulysses

Under the Influence of: “Sorry for the Late Reply,” Sløtface

Greetings from Canada!

Wow, it’s been — six months? — since I posted anything here. That’s the longest gap in years, maybe ever?

I can explain. But in the words of Inigo Montoya, “No, it is too much. Let me sum up.”

Starting in late October (2021), I had a series of shocks, some personal, some work-related, that basically brought all my writing to a halt. No progress on the novel, no short stories, nothing. I stopped submitting, stopped revising, stopped even thinking about the work.

The break gave me the mental space to deal with everything that was happening. It also let me re-examine some of the ways my life was structured, in particular where I lived and how that fed into my own anxieties.

In short, I’ve moved to Canada. Victoria, BC, to be exact, on Vancouver Island.

I’ll post more about the experience of immigrating — which has been an adventure, even for as short a hop as this one — but a recurring thought I have as I walk around town is: I should have done this years ago.

Some history: Back in 2004, when Bush II won his second term, a lot of us liberals talked about heading out, to Canada or Europe, as a sort of “vote with your feet” protest. Some of us (not me, obviously) did it, and some of us stayed behind.

At the time, I thought of staying as a type of defiance. I was sticking it to the Republicans — many of them in my own family! — who chanted “love it or leave it.” I insisted I was just as patriotic as they were, I just thought patriotism meant taking care of people — women, children, etc — that the GOP wanted to leave behind.

But now? Now I wish I’d followed the instinct to leave. I had a friend that moved to Vancouver, and while we stayed in touch he keep urging me to move out, that the city was beautiful and there was plenty of work for engineers like us. I laughed it off, but now I wonder. Getting into Vancouver in 2004 was still affordable (!), my wife and I could have built a life there before housing prices went through the roof and the number of doctors went off a cliff.

Better late then never, I suppose. Because it is beautiful up here, between the mountains and the forests and the sea. Victoria reminds me a lot of Galway, Ireland, in both the good and the bad ways, a blustery, scruffy port town with green growing everywhere you look.

And now it’s home.

Written with: Ulysses

Under the influence of: “The Bends,” Radiohead