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: 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

Keeping Score: July 9, 2021

This week has been a bad one for writing.

It started out well enough, mind you. Got a blog post written and some plotting done on Monday, and actual words down on Tuesday.

But the rest of the week has been a wash. Wednesday was a blur, between work, getting the dogs to the boarding people, and prepping the house for having the power shut off on Thursday. Yesterday I got up early, packed, drove out to the hotel I was going to work from, and rushed right back home as soon as the power was off.

And no, spending all day working in a hotel where no one else was masking was not conducive to being creative 😬

So here I am, end of the week arriving and only 271 words written. I’ve got a lot of catch-up to do this weekend.

Wish me luck.

Keeping Score: June 11, 2021

Got another short story rejection today. This one was personal, at least; not a form letter, but a description of an historical error that threw the editor out of the story.

It hurts a little less, I guess? To know I got close enough to being accepted that the magazine’s editor read the story, and rejected it themselves. But it’s also frustrating, to have such high hopes for a story, only to see it constantly fail to get published.

And now, of course, I’m diving into more historical research, and thinking of ways to fix the error they called out, while keeping the heart of the story intact. Yet another revision to make before sending it back out.

Or perhaps it’s time to let this one go. Sometimes I think I need to take these rejections less personally. To treat them as less of a challenge, and more like little slips of paper slipped under my door while I’m working. So long as I’m producing more stories to send out, does it matter that much if one of them doesn’t work as well as I’d like? Or to flip it around: If I’m happy with a story, does it matter so much that any particular editor isn’t?

Of course I’m never completely happy with a story. There’s always something to change, some phrase to tweak or scene to re-think.

That’s the thing: I’m always ready to revise. I crave feedback, and once I get it I honor it by making changes. But is that the best way to improve as a writer? Am I making things better, or just delaying working on something new, something to which I can apply all of my lessons learned afresh?

What about you? When you get a rejection, does it spur you to keeping editing? Or do you march on to the next project?

Keeping Score: April 16, 2021

I got my second shot!

Wasn’t quite as easy as getting my first. Yesterday was the first day of general vaccine eligibility in California, so even though I got there around 30 minutes early, I spent most of that time waiting in a socially-distanced line. But the folks there were all still friendly and efficient, and I made it through and out without incident.

I could feel a difference in this shot; felt like more material getting pushed into my shoulder. And about ten minutes after I started feeling light-headed. Had to put my head between my knees and breathe till it passed.

It did pass, though, and I went back to work that day. My left arm (where I got the shot) was — and continues to be — basically useless, too sore to raise up higher than mid-line. Other than that, I had the same wave of fatigue hit me as last time, shortly after I wrapped up work yesterday. Which is why I missed my daily word count for the first time in two months 😬

I might be able to make it up today; we’ll see. I feel mostly fine, though I’ve got some of the symptoms of my asthma being triggered: stuffy nose, lungs can’t quite get a full deep breath (it doesn’t hurt exactly, but it definitely feels like something I shouldn’t do too often). I don’t think I have a fever, which is good.

Will probably still spend most of the day in bed, just in case. Better to take it easy, I think. That doesn’t stop my from having my laptop in bed with me, though (as you can see). Hopefully I can get some writing done in-between doses of tea and naps.

I hope that wherever you are, the vaccine rollout continues, and if you haven’t yet been able to get it, that you soon will be. We need to kick this virus, so we can spend more of our time and energy building a better world than the one we lost in the pandemic.

Keeping Score: March 5, 2021

Novel’s still chugging along, currently at 33,884 words. I’ve pushed through the first big scene, and am well into the second.

There’s…well, there’s individual pieces of the sequence that are still missing, some connective tissue that I have yet to write. The technique I’ve been using, of skipping around to write those scenes (or sometimes fragments of scenes) that I feel like adding, has a that cost. Eventually I have to go back and write in everything I skipped.

But for now, it’s all big scene all the time, and no connective tissue…yet.

However, the big news this week is that I’ve finally cracked open a story I’ve been working on for nearly four years now. That one started out as just a character and a situation, a piece of backstory for the novel I wanted to write. But it never worked quite as well as I wanted it to, so I’ve kept tinkering with it (and submitting it while tinkering with it, which is a habit I need to break).

Tim Waggoner, during his 15-minute (!) workshop back in January, pointed me to the central problem that was holding up everything else: the motivation for my main character wasn’t strong enough. So on weekends I’ve been brainstorming different ways to go, different versions of the character that would have a stronger push for their actions.

I finally hit on one this weekend that I liked, and in the process of editing the story to match, everything fell into place. I ended up cutting away about half of the story’s word-count, focusing in on just three scenes. But in those scenes I not only lay out the main character’s motivation, I fill in the secondary characters, giving them more life and depth. And I shifted the ending, so it’s now both more complete (in the sense that the current narrative arc ends) and more open-ended (in that the world’s evolution past the story is implied).

I’m going to do one more editing pass this weekend, to clean up language and make sure it all fits together properly. I’d like to have it ready to submit in time for Nightmare Magazine re-opening to submissions later this month.

I need a new title, though; the old one doesn’t fit anymore. Anyone have any tips or tricks for choosing a title you can share in the comments?

Keeping Score: February 26, 2021

Novel’s up to 32,300 words!

It’s been easier to write this week. My wife’s recovered from her vaccine ordeal, and is well on her way to hitting her two-week full-strength-protection mark. Neither of us have picked up anything in the meantime, so — touches wood — we should be ok to ride out the rest of the pandemic.

I also got back in the habit of writing in the mornings, which seems to help. Something about trying to switch gears one more time, at the end of the day, makes it that much harder to focus on the story. Harder to think about where it’s going, and what I want to describe along the way.

Finally, I think it helps that I’m facing down the two scenes in this sequence that scare me the most to write. They’re both action scenes, which I consider a weakness of mine. And they’re both emotionally fraught for the main character. In one of them, she winds up losing an animal companion she’s had since she was a little girl. In the second, she’s seeking — but not necessarily finding — vengeance for her father’s death.

These are big, tentpole scenes. I need them to move quickly, to feel realistic, and also to hit readers right in the feels. Which means on top of my normal first-draft anxiety, I’m worried about building up to scenes that fall completely flat. Or scenes that are laughably implausible. Or scenes that make it all seem too easy on the protagonist.

Even success, in a sense, is rough. Writing scenes like these — where the emotional stakes are high for the characters, and it can end in a broken heart — are hard on me, too. Because I live through everything they experience; I have to, in order to put it down on the page. So I feel the knot in my chest when their father dies. My own tears well up when they have to put down one of their closest friends.

So I’ve been putting them off. Writing around the scenes, so to speak. And there’s been plenty of other things to cover! But now I’ve got to write them, so I can move ahead with the story.

And somehow, once I’m in the scene, writing it, it becomes easier. Easier to picture what’s happening, and easier to describe it. Easier to say what the impact of it all is. So I end up writing more, and more quickly, than before.

It’s almost like my fear of the thing is worse than the thing itself?

Of course, this is still just the first draft. It might feel easier to write it once I’m in it, but it could still all be terrible writing. I won’t know till it’s done.

How about you? Are there particular types of scenes that you put off writing, for whatever reason? How do you overcome your hesitation?

Keeping Score: February 12, 2021

This book may end up being much longer than I thought.

It’s currently at 29,122 words, which is almost half of the 70K or so I thought it would end up being. The trouble is, I’m not even close to being halfway done.

The section I’m working on now, just by itself, is 16,000 words long. And it’s not near done, either. I’m maybe….halfway? through the story I want to tell in this part of the book. And this section is only meant to be about one-fourth of the whole, so that would put the final word count at around 120,000 words (!)

That would make it a third longer than the longest thing I’ve ever written in my life.

I swear, I’m not eating up word count spinning needless metaphors or having characters do a lot of navel-gazing. It just turns out that yes, when writing a novel that moves from the lakes and forests of northern Sweden to the neverending sky of the Central Asian steppe, there’s a lot of, um, ground to cover. Who knew? (Narrator: He did. Or should have).

Granted, a lot of what I’m writing now might be cut out. Some of it is no doubt redundant, or can be compacted so that the events of a few pages get covered in a few paragraphs. But even lopping off 20,000 words of filler would make this a 100K book.

100K is about 400 pages, which…well, that’s a commitment, isn’t it? For reader and writer alike.

So much for being done with the first draft before April. This might end up taking me the rest of the year.

Maybe it’s time to look at bumping my daily word count? Trying to squeeze in a second writing session in each day? Or I could start writing on the weekends again. Just two extra days of my regular word count would be an extra 500 words a week.

Or perhaps it’s best to be patient. Work on this draft during the week, like I have been, and use the weekend to edit other stories (and that previous novel, which needs a tune-up before going out).

What about you? What do you do, when a story you’re working on starts to look like it’ll be much longer than you anticipated?

Keeping Score: February 5, 2021

I’m not sure I could keep doing this writing thing, without the support of my friends.

Just this week, one of them pinged me, to ask if I’d heard anything back about a short story he’d recently beta-read for me. And I felt a prick of shame, because I hadn’t submitted the story, even after incorporating his feedback, and declaring that was my intent.

But that shame is becoming action. I’ve promised to send it off this weekend, and asked him to penalize me (via drinks owed) if I don’t.

The funny thing is, I love the short story in question. I think it’s the best thing I’ve written to date. But it’s already been rejected, in previous draft form, by half a dozen different magazines. So I’m terrified of submitting it again, and having it rejected again…and then discovering later that there’s one small thing missing that makes it perfect.

Because I only get one shot at each magazine for this story. They all have policies in place that won’t let you re-submit a story, even after editing. Which is their right, of course; they get inundated with submissions as it is. But it raises the stakes for me. Makes me hesitate to send the story in. Because being told “this isn’t good enough” is fine with me. It’s not being able to fix it and then try again.

In an odd way, I feel like I’m failing the story when it gets rejected. Like it’s my job to make it the best it can be, and then go find it a home. And when I edit after getting rejections, and those edits make the story shine brighter, I feel like I let the story down by sending it out too soon.

And yet, how would I know to keep editing, without those rejections?

All of which is to say: I’ve got another short story I’m sending out this weekend. And another friend to feel thankful for.

Keeping Score: January 22, 2021

It feels good to have a competent President again. A President with some dignity, who doesn’t spend his time tweeting out misinformation. Whose Press Secretary thanked reporters after her first press briefing, who doesn’t see journalists as the enemy. A President who made news this week because of the raft of actions he took to kick off a national response to the coronavirus pandemic, not the lies he told.

The day after the inauguration, I sat down to write after a long day at work, and when I looked up I’d written twice my daily word count, smooth as butter.

I could get used to this. I want to get used to this. Not in the sense of taking it for granted, but in the sense of it happening, over and over and over again.

There’s much to be done, politically. Too many Americans are locked up in prisons. Too many Americans fear the loss of their job so much they’re willing to endure urinating into bottles and absurdly low wages, while their bosses complain about not knowing how to spend all the money they’re making.

But it’ll be easier, collectively, to tackle such things, if we don’t all have to worry about the President, too, coming after us. If we have the headspace to write, and call, and paint, and march, and sing, and petition, without wondering, every day, which shoe the executive is going to drop on us that day. What painstaking progress the administration rolled back with callous ease this morning.

It’ll be good to feel like we have an ally in the White House. Not perfect, by any means. But not actively trying to set us back.

Novel’s at 24,580 words. More by the end of the day, since I haven’t yet done my daily words. Back to the rhythm of 2,000 words per week.

I’m at the point where I’m stitching together the pieces I’ve written for the current sequence, before pressing on. I’m having to shift some paragraphs around, moving them either earlier in the chapter or later, so I can keep them without interrupting the flow of things.

I can already see parts I’m going to have to revise. Conversations that don’t go anywhere (currently), descriptions of daily life that will need to be rewritten according to the research I’m doing.

I’m…uncertain, whether to fix those, or just press on. The advice I’ve gotten from the Writer’s Coffeehouse says to move on, to just make a note of it, so it’ll be easy to come back to, but to keep forward momentum going. Finish the draft, then go back and patch things up.

And it’s good advice! Only…if I already know how things need to change, shouldn’t I change them? Or worse, if I know things need to change, but I’m not sure exactly how, isn’t it better to find out the more stable form for them now, so I can keep writing the book with that in mind?

I suppose the advice is meant to keep me from getting bogged down in revisions, instead of finishing out the draft. And I definitely do not want to do that. And it’ll probably be easier to make the changes I need once the book’s done, and I can see the whole story, rather than now, when I’m still mapping it out.

So I suppose I will press on. Still going to make notes about revisions to the scenes, though, so I don’t forget them when it’s time to edit.

But to have something to edit, I’ve got to finish this draft.
Onward!