Posts Tagged writing

Surge Power!

If you were following me on Twitter last night, you probably saw me talking about writing surges.  I’m not going to claim to have invented this idea, far from it, I’ve seen similar events both on preset schedules and spur of the moment around the internet, taking several forms.  1 hour writing sprints.  15 minute surges.  People who’ll start each hour with the plan to write x words and then take the rest of the hour off.

Never tried them.  Gotta say, though…I liked them.

For my purposes the surges were 15 minutes of writing, following by 30-45 minutes of allowed not writing.  This works well for me, as it forces me to be super focused for a period, but then allows me some guilt free periods of goofing off.  In that way I did two 15 minute surges and a 10 minute surge (third surge was cut short when I ended the first draft of the story I was working on).  They produced 631, 756, and 426 words for a total of 1813.  Not bad for only 40 minutes of actual writing time.

Now, obviously they only work for stories with a known direction, but for that they ended up working damn well.  There’s also the very real fact that only 100 of these surges would result in a novel-length manuscript.  100 might seem like a lot, but fit in three a night and that’s a month.  That’s Nanowrimo.

So I’ll be doing these again in the future, and with a little more warning in hopes that people can join me.  Probably for the next short story, a concept I got from the least likely Balticon panel to result in a plot concept.

And with this post, that’s it for August.  It’s been a fast month, but a pretty good one.  Look for State of the Writer sometime tomorrow.

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Inspiration from the Master

I’m going to write this post very slowly and deliberately so I don’t gush.

Deep breath, and begin.

Last night I was in attendance as Neil Gaiman’s tour promoting the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods hit the Press Club here in DC.  (Holy crap, guys, I got to see Neil Gaiman).  The event was a metered affair, featuring a few readings, talking about his inspiration for writing the book, and taking submitted questions from the audience.  (He totally announced his next book for the first time yesterday).  I’ve never had a chance to listen to an author that I respect so much just talk about his inspirations and, to a lesser extent, his process.  (He’s totally the bestest writer and I got a signed book and…)

Shut UP inner fanboy.

Alright, decorum.

The goal of the event was largely to push purchases of American Gods, a goal I can understand and respect.  To a certain extent almost everything that an author does in public is about driving sales.  Hell, this blog is about driving sales, and I don’t even have anything yet to sell you (Steam Works, this summer, Hydra Publications).  Especially since the event was a book tour event and not a convention event, it wasn’t really about connecting with authors and instilling inspiration.  But it was.

See, here’s the thing.  That gushing fanboy above?  That’s me.  That’s the me that has loved every exposure I’ve had to the talents of Neil Gaiman.  That’s the me that is jealous that he can move so effortlessly from novels to short stories to comics to teleplays to music production to children’s books.  Hell, he even mentioned he’s working on a musical.  A musical!  Have I ever told you about the musical I want to write?  Now’s not the time, remind me later.  In the end, I think Gaiman is who a lot of writers want to be like, that potentially unobtainable level of cross-media production and mastery.  So something about just being there and being reminded that he’s a real person, yeah, it’s a geeky fanboy thing of me to say, but it does inspire me to push on with my writing.

And especially?  Getting back to my novels.

I’ve moved towards short stories lately, which I think has really helped me grow as a writer.  But it was at the cost of walking away from one of my favorite novels that I’ve started, Capsule.  It’s really time to walk back again.  And to even start looking beyond that.  I know where the next few scenes of Capsule go, trust me, I’ve actually been thinking about it, even if I haven’t been talking about it.  And I’ve been thinking about how to write a story around two characters my wife and I created, setting them in a steampunk world for a novel I’m currently calling Nickajack in my head (though there’s totally a book by that name, I know).

So.  Yeah, there it is.  What’s the lesson from last night?  I’m not going to be Neil Gaiman.

Unless I work a hell of a lot harder.

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Write, Don’t Edit

WYSIWYG text editors are possibly one of the finest innovations that has hit the world of writing.  Look, I never had to generate a manuscript on a typewriter, I don’t know what it was like, but the ability to go in and shift a sentence around, insert a paragraph, change a character’s name, all without having to completely retype a manuscript?  Brilliant.  Can’t imagine living without it.  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

The problem?  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

There are two directions I could take this.  I could look at the need to push forward, or I could look at the need to edit more deliberately at times.  This is the former.  The latter is on Unleaded.

For me, editing has always been a siren song.  Back in college whenever I was working on a piece of long fiction, I’d start by editing what was already there, and then adding on new material at the end.  The problem with this?  Well, there’s a joke I love.  Guy gets a job painting the stripes down the middle of highways, because that’s the kind of job people get in jokes.  So he goes out the first day and he paints five miles of stripes.  His boss is thrilled, that’s more than anyone has painted in a day before.  Next day?  He just paints two miles.  Well fine, perhaps he exhausted himself over performing the day before, and that’s still well above the average for two days.  Third day?  Not even a quarter of a mile.  Boss calls him into the office, asks what’s wrong, why is his production slipping off so much.

“Well,” he says, “I kept getting farther from the bucket.”

And there was the problem.  I was leaving my bucket at the beginning of the story every time, and going back before I ever went forward.  So the part I was editing got longer and longer, and the amount of energy I had left when I got to the end was less and less.  This killed many an early novel attempt of mine.

What got me out of this funk?  Nanowrimo.  It’s a large part of why I recommend people try the one month novel challenge, because it forces you to move ever forward, not stop and doubt yourself, and certainly not give into the temptation of going back to make just one change.  Now, I’m not going to say this is the best and healthiest way to write any novel.  There’s always going to be some editing that happens as you go, but the trick is to get out of the mindset that everything preceding has to be perfect before forging ahead.  In the days of typewriters, the only direction available was forward.  Stick in the next sheet of paper, write the next scene, because editing wasn’t a simple process of find-and-replace, or highlight-and-delete, it was a more literal process of rewriting.

And this is where my mantra of Writers Write perhaps comes out the strongest.  You’re writing a story, you’re not fiddling with it, pursuing it, editing it, nitpicking it, wandering around it, or any other verb, you are writing it.  So get to it and actually write it.  Then, when you’re done?  That’s the time to go back and really start the editing.

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If At First You Don’t Succeed

My wife is absolutely awesome. I say that because she put up with me yesterday as I went on an emotional roller coaster ride trying to get a short story started. Here was my rough schedule:

  • 2pm: Start work on new short story.
  • 3pm: Finish first draft, having written fewer than 900 words.
  • 4pm: Decide that it’s utter crap and needs to be completely rewritten.
  • 4:15pm: Try to figure out why every story I start recently has needed to be started over.
  • 4:30pm: Decide I’m clearly the worst writer ever and give up.
  • 4:45pm: Figure out what was wrong with the story and where to start over.
  • 5pm: Start over.
  • 5:30pm: Decide that those 200 words are also crap, just crap in a different direction.  Give up on story.
  • 7pm: Figure out why those 200 words were crap.
  • 7:15pm: Restart story fixing that problem, though only writing first sentence to avoid ending with more frustration.

I know that I’m not the first writer in history to have that day, or that story.  Where you just want to tell a story that’s running around in your head, but it just won’t tell itself right.  It gets confused, jumbled, comes out all wrong.  You start off with the wrong main character, the wrong voice, the wrong absolutely everything, and the only way forward is to go all the way back and begin again.

But there are two things that I’m happy about with yesterday.  First: I saw and diagnosed the problem.  Earlier in my writing, I might have been happy with the 900 word original, chalked it up to just being a short plot, and gone about editing it.  Second: Ultimately I didn’t give up.  In the end, I still might not be able to tell the exact story that I want to tell, but I didn’t just give up, tuck tail, and decide to completely scrap the concept.  It was a rough day, but I saw it through to the end, and I think the third approach is going to make for a story worth actually telling.

So.  Back at it tonight, and hopefully get things on the right track.

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State of the Writer: June 2011

I got an email last night from Hydra Publications, the house putting out the Steam Works anthology that’ll mark my first actual publication, asking for an Author Bio.  There’s nothing I find more daunting to write, especially early in my career when I can’t easily pad it out with other publications.  That also means that the anthology is still moving forward, and they are still looking for a July publication.  As always, I will keep people in the loop with what I know right here.

So that was a positive note to end a rather positive month.  The month also saw me get rejected from Mammoth Book of Steampunk, but turning the story right around and sending it back out the door.  I got my story done and sent off for Bad-Ass Faeries 4.  Both stories were sent off for June 30th deadline competitions, so there won’t be any news on them until, hopefully, sometime in July.  Also with a June 30th deadline is Future Lovecraft, and I’m up to my elbows in that story.  It’s not turning out to be the smoothest write, but I’m hoping to clean it up a lot, and quickly, in editing.

Had another anthology come across my desk after getting followed by its Twitter account.  It’s called The Memory Eater, and I would pass along more details, but its website looks to be down this morning.  Deadline is July 15th, I remember that much.

Successfully completed two Fortnightcaps, and entered #5MinuteFiction every week this month.  Yay for keeping my brain rotating.

State of the Writer’s Beer: The first bottles of Mustache Cat went into the fridge, and the first has now come out again.  It was a little more bitter than I expected, and the yeast is still in solution, yielding a slight bready flavor, but that’s also Vitamin B.  Strawberry flavor is undeniable, and hopefully everything will mellow out some more with time.  Sat in on a home brew panel at Balticon, and it’s great to see the overlap between brewing and writing.  It’s all about creation, I guess.

Next batch is supposed to arrive at my door step today.  It’s a Lemongrass Ginger Ale that I’ve taken to calling “Space Ale” as whenever I say the name out loud I’ve been saying “Ginger Space Ale” to distinguish it from a non-alcoholic ginger ale (which, yes, also has a space in it, but the point gets across).

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Report from Balticon

It would be entirely too easy for me to write a nice long woe-is-me post regarding my experiences with doing one day of Balticon.  However, I’m trying to avoid woe-is-me posts, because I don’t like reading them when other people do them, so instead I’m just going to do some lessons learned.

Lesson one.  One day is not enough to do a convention.  Sure, it lets you attend some panels and wander around the dealers room, but it means you’re there as a casual fan rather than someone who is serious about getting some networking done.  The two big problems?  Networking largely happens after hours, and an hour spent in a panel is an hour where you’re not getting to talk with people.

Lesson two.  If you can’t network, stick with people who can.  It’s an art, it’s a skill, it’s not something everyone was born to do, or can even learn to do.  That’s why having friends who are better at it than you can be a benefit.  Though remember, they’re often trying to do some networking as well, so don’t cramp their style.  But don’t be completely out of touch either.  Networking is about knowing people who know people, and anyone you know at a convention who you’re not staying in at least some contact with while there is an opportunity lost.

Lesson three.  Plot ideas can come out of the strangest panels.  Deep brain stimulation.  It’s like hooking a pacemaker up to the brain, and is being explored as a possible treatment for depression that isn’t responding to typical treatments.  Oh yes, there’s a hell of a plotline there that’s churning over in my head.  Hopefully that alone will end up worth the price of the one day admission.

So next year?  I’ll probably do Balticon again, with the unquestionable goal of doing it better.

Tomorrow is June 1, so look for State of the Writer, and the day after is a Fortnightcap day.

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State of the Writer: March

Time again for my monthly look at where I stand, and where I’m going.  Really, this is a bit of recap since I already made a post declaring March as short story editing month.  February saw no news on submitted stories, nor any new stories submitted.  March should see two going out, one that needs and edit, and one that I’m frantically trying to finish for an April 1 deadline but haven’t yet finished the first draft.

Calendars can be scary things.

February was one of my more productive months in far too long.  I’ve always been a momentum writer and I lost a lot of that momentum for most of 2010.  I think this blog is helping me stage the comeback, because even though readership is light according to Google Analytics, it still forces me to look in a mirror occasionally and say “what are you doing if you want to keep calling yourself a writer?”

I was looking for a good anthology to be my next challenge, and can’t seem to find one that really calls to me.  Okay, that’s a lie, I found one that interested me, but I can’t get behind “exposure is your payment” type things.  Sorry, exposure doesn’t get me closer to SFWA membership.  And really, exposure-as-payment deals typically don’t have all that much of the former and thus lack even more in the latter.  So that’ll probably be even more incentive for March to be an editing month.

And who knows, maybe if I get both stories where I like them, even doing some Capsule work.

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Planning March

Without really thinking about what I’ve been doing, I suddenly find myself with either two or three short stories, each written for a specific anthology, and each with a deadline fast approaching.  I always like writing the best when it comes effortlessly, and so getting my head above water and finding out just how far I’ve swum is undeniably exhilarating.  But now comes the inescapable reality, the rip tide ready to pull me out to sea of an overextended metaphor that I shall now stop.

It’s getting damn close to editing time.

And editing time is going to be called “March”.

Right now my top priority is, and has to be, Vampires of Mars.  I can’t overlook the chance for my first pro-rate sale, especially a story that I’ve gotten very excited about now that I finally have a plot.  Of course, my first draft I lost that plot and ended up with 1600 words of ending that I’m going to have to do the old crumple-crumple-toss with, but I’ve got a full week before editing month begins to work out the last bits of the first draft.

Next on the docket is The Luchador, which got some very positive reactions from my favorite group of beta readers over at the Cat Vacuuming Society.  And they all wanted two things: a better title and more.  So in a way I’m glad this has the farthest deadline, since I probably need to increase its lenghth by 50-100%.  Fortunately I have a lot of headroom between myself and the anthology length limit.  It also has a new working title: The Face of the Serpent.  That’s not final.  I should probably get the word fire in there somewhere.  The Face of the Fire Serpent?  The title is a work in progress.

Then there’s a wild card called Back Half.  I stepped away from the story for two reasons, some exasperation with the anthology and some exasperation with the story.  It was hard for me to write, I was never as certain of the plot as I wanted to be, and I didn’t really like the way I brought it all to a close.  However, a rather gracious reply by the editors of the anthology to my less than glowing post about walking away has me potentially considering a revisit.  However, I’m considering it the lowest of the three priorities, even though it has the second nearest deadline.  If I can get the other two stories to a point that I like them and still have time to clean up Back Half before April 7, I’ll give it a go.  Otherwise it’s going to stay where it is, in my own private production hell.

All in all, it’s a great place to be.  Especially given my New Years Resolution of writing six anthology-specific stories.  Three are in rough draft, and it’s only February.  Writing is awesome.

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Abandoning Ship

This image is overdramatic for the content of this post.

I was originally going to call this post something along the lines of “how not to run an anthology,” but that feels like something I throw around a bit too much without having any actual standing.  In the end it’s more about how not to approach an anthology, and how a story can die.

For a few weeks I’ve mentioned the Primogeniture anthology.  It was an interesting concept for an anthology, looking at life for the average resident on board a generation ship that was just far enough out from earth that people are starting to realize that this shit is real.  It couldn’t have aliens.  Your character couldn’t be the captain.  Or even someone that talks to the captain.  It was entirely the day to day life in such a circumstance (yes, this ties nicely with my mundane in the alien post).  When it was posted originally, there were very few additional details.  The ship was named the Primogeniture.  It had a captain and first officer.  It launched in 2111 and the stories were supposed to take place in the first few years of a 400 year trip.  The ship had 5000 people with an expectation of 10,000 upon arrival.

So I came up with a story about stowaways on the ship, and the implications when they’re discovered by a member of the maintenance crew.  It was, I felt, right on the edge of what they might consider for the anthology, but with so few rules to play with I went for a wide berth.  It is perhaps my own mistake that I didn’t contact the editors of the anthology before forging ahead with the idea.

What happened instead was I went ahead with the story.  Then when I realized I needed to name drop the captain, I went back to the anthology call for submissions to discover the rules had changed.  There was now a wider band of story lengths allowed, the stories could now be at any point in the 400 year trip, and there were more data points about how the ship operated, including dimensions and dispute resolution rules.  None of these was in direct contradiction to my story, so I shrugged my shoulders and pressed on.  Should I have written?  Yes.

Well, this week I went to the site again, and found there were now more rules about ship life.  Including, apparently, rather strict rules about birth control that include mandatory vasectomies, birth licenses, and strict birth limits.  I now no longer feel like my story can work within the rules as presented.  And…well, the rules have also now gotten self contradictory, as there is now a two-children-per-couple rule that doesn’t mesh with the anticipation of doubling population in 400 years.

So I do have my frustrations with the process, especially with the way the rules kept changing as the anthology went along.  I was worried from the beginning that submitters were expected to read the minds of the editors, less they break a ship rule that they didn’t know about.  Or, at least, write in and verify stuff.  And that is a lesson learned for me in all of this.  But it also just rubs me the wrong way how the goalposts for the anthology kept changing, and in some fairly major ways as the word count range and allowed settings both changed quite drastically after the original story call.

So could the editors have approached this anthology better?  Yes.  Could I have approached writing my story better?  Yes.  These are the kinds of lessons that must be learned by an aspiring writer, I suppose.

In the end, I’m forced to walk away from the story as a submission for the anthology, and may in the future rework it to remove the Primogeniture name from the ship and submit it somewhere that I can define the rules of the ship.  Might even work it into a novel length plot or a screenplay.  But for now I need to let it be.  It is a completed rough draft, and thus it will probably stay for awhile as I shift my attention towards Bad-Ass Faeries and the Mammoth Book of Steampunk.

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Unleaded quickie, Nanowrimo

New post up at Unleaded featuring SMBC and me…well, linking right back here again.

Next Monday marks the beginning of Nanowrimo.  This year I’ll be missing a big chunk of the month as I’m heading to New Orleans for a cruise to celebrating the wedding of the proprietors of the Unleaded Blog (yay!).  That means that the standard 50,000 word goal is out the window.  But here’s the thing.  I wouldn’t really want to anyway.  I feel like I’m less than 50,000 words from the end of Capsule, and that trying to put that many more words into it would be contrived.  And I sure as hell don’t want to start anything new, no matter how much I’ve been thinking about a plotline I’m currently calling “The Filibuster” (based on the old definition…shameless 200 Years cross-link).  So here’s my Nanowrimo goal:

Maintain Nano pace on any day that I’m not on vacation until I get to the end of Capsule.  Then work on editing, oh dare I even say it?  End of the Line.

Also, came up with an odd idea for a flash fiction piece that I’m hoping to write and post here in the blog by the end of the month.  Yay, flash fiction!

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