Thursday, March 31, 2011

Winding Down

The beginning of the month was hot for me, writing-wise. I wrote a lot and subbed more stories for consideration than I've probably subbed ever. (My stats on this are limited, but I think prior to this point there were only about three shorts I'd ever sent out. Shame on me.)

Now, at the end of the month, things are winding down. Duotrope says I have six pieces under consideration (two are Twit Fic), four pieces that were rejected, and two Twit Fics that were accepted. That's not too bad, considering. (Though I would really like to be able to sell something longer than 140 characters. Maybe even get paid.)

My own stats say that I also have four short stories in progress. (This means either I've begun a draft or the story is waiting on edits before it hits the world outside my laptop.) One of those (The Collection's Agent) has a deadline to meet tomorrow. The others just need me to get my butt in gear and get them written and polished.

The point of all this is: I've not worked this hard in a while. Sure, I've had intense months whilst working on the novels, but they didn't have the same kind of energy demands. (For me anyway. A novel doesn't require the same kind of mental switching that a series of short stories does.)

I view all this as a good thing. My typing speed is back up. My editing machete is getting sharper. And I'm slowly gaining some of the discipline I tend to lack when it comes to getting things finished. Oh, yeah. And my skin is getting thicker.

Of course, April 1st marks the beginning of Script Frenzy so we'll see how I manage writing short stories and cranking out a one hundred page screenplay. Whatever happens I'm sure of one thing.

I will be writing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quality VS Quantity

Now and again I see someone on a message board grandly proclaim "I prefer to focus on the quality of my writing rather than the quantity." This is a comment usually pointed at someone else who is celebrating having finished a draft of a novel in a month or written 10k words in one day or otherwise having worked hard and fast.

First let me say, we should all think about the quality of our writing. But I think it's rather obvious that no one intentionally writes poorly and the vast majority of us seek to improve our skill set rather than maintain whatever level we started at.

Now. Here's the plain fact of the quality vs quantity myth.

You will not get better at writing if you aren't actually writing. This means writing every day. This means setting challenging goals. This means producing fiction (or non-fiction if that's the way you swing) in quantity. The more you produce, the better you will get. End of story.

Writing is how you get better at writing.

Of course, there are things you can do to help improve the quality of your writing. Identifying flaw/weaknesses and trying to eliminate them as you write is always a good idea. (I would suggest only focusing on one or two at a time though, otherwise you'll be overwhelmed.) Reading books that are well-written and figuring out why you like them is a good idea. Reading books that are poorly-written and figuring out why you don't like them is a good idea. Making notes on words you aren't familiar with, pulling down the dictionary to see if that word you've never used before really means what you think, is a good idea.

But the best idea of all, is to write.
Every day.
As much as possible.
Write. Write. Write.
Because quality comes from quantity. Not the other way around.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Exhaustion and Fear

At some point every writer hits what we generally term "writers block." I've blogged about it before and put forward the idea that it isn't actually a block, but sheer exhaustion.

Today, running on five hours of sleep and a stiff cup of coffee, I've been thinking about it further.

Writers exhaustion is very real. It could be a minor didn't-get-enough-sleep-last-night issue that keeps you from putting words on the page for a day or two. It could be a mind-numbing months-long ordeal. (The latter is usually triggered by outside forces like being sick, stress in our non-writing lives, eating poorly, family drama, etc.) Whether it's short or long term exhaustion there's really only one solution - rest.

It's frustrating to not be working on something you love but severe exhaustion is crippling, not only to your writing but to the rest of your life as well. Don't try and push through it. Just take a break. Everyone needs a vacation now and then, even writers.

But, I've also been thinking about the idea of "writers block". I have reached the following conclusion. The only "block" to my writing is me.

Because sometimes I sit down to write and I'm not tired or hungry or depressed or angry and the words just don't want to come out.

I believe there is only one source of this block - fear.
Fear of trying something new. (Writing a horror novella for instance.)
Fear of not achieving my goals. (I said I'd finish this by the end of the week but I don't think it's possible.)
Fear of not doing the story justice. (It's so perfect in my head, what if it's crap when it hits the paper?)

"Oh, that's not my problem," you say.

Let me just say, bull-shit.

None of us likes to admit to being afraid of doing the thing we love. And sometimes we won't know what it is that scares us, but fear is the only constant explanation for writer's block.

There are other reasons thrown out there. "My story just isn't working." "I don't have any ideas." "The wind isn't blowing from the east." "I've run out of pretzels." But the fact of the matter is we write every day. We write emails. We write blog posts. We write on forums complaining about how the words just don't want to come and we can't write ANYTHING. Except of course, everything we are writing.

The only thing stopping me from writing my novella is me and my fear that it won't be scary or horrific or that the ending will suck. It is not some mysterious plot hole or the stars being in the wrong alignment.

It is fear.

And the only way out is through it.

So I will keep working on the novella. Even when I only write a couple sentences a day. Even when I doubt every single plot point. Even when I'm certain it will be the biggest piece of crap ever.

Because eventually I'll remember that writing is what I love. And I'm good at it. And really and truly I already write horror with the label torn off. So why am I worrying about it?

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first found a volume of Ray Bradbury's short stories. I do remember being absolutely stunned at the depth of work I found between the covers. (Admittedly, I was probably twelve or so at the time and easily stunned by literary prowess.)

That sense of wonder is something that never fails to return when I pick up one of Bradbury's books. Something Wicked This Way Comes remains at the top of my all time favorite books. Closely followed by From the Dust Returned, The Illustrated Man, and Dandelion Wine.

But I have a very special place in my soul for the novella Somewhere A Band is Playing.

A few years ago I had put Now and Forever on my wish list at And one of my family members bought it for me for Christmas. I was excited (never having read it before) but busy and put it on the shelf. Last summer I pulled it down and read the first of the two novellas in the book (Somewhere a Band Is Playing). It starts off with a mystery, a quaint little town where everyone lives and is happy but no one ever seems to work.

I know how Bradbury loves the bizarre, the horrific, so I wonder: Is it a ghost town? No. It's something far stranger - a town full of writers. Oh, it makes me laugh. It's a beautiful, and funny, little story. It's a story every writer should read.

When I first read Bradbury I wanted to write like he did. I tried to write like he did. And failed, miserably, I might add.

Now, I think, I'm finally beginning to realize that it's not about writing like a master (even one like Bradbury or King or Williams or Peake). It's about writing until you are a master in your own right.

That only comes when we put in the effort to learn our craft by writing every day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Telling Stories

Ever been talking with a friend and they say something like: "You'll never believe what happened to me the other day. It was the funniest thing." Usually this is followed by an anecdote about being unable to find the car keys ("In the freezer! Would you believe it?") or the dog being stupid ("He turned around so fast he hit his head on the wall! Would you believe it?") or something else that somehow doesn't strike you as being funny at all.

The problem is not that your friend is boring. (Or easily amused.) The problem is this: telling stories takes practice.

There are many things to learn about the craft of writing. One of the most important is how to tell a story. This goes beyond knowing that it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. It is more than understanding that the action has to rise and fall and slowly build to a climax. It does involve knowing how to make your characters compelling. And it will certainly require developing interest in the situation in which those characters find themselves.

Learning all of these separate skills is important, but the only way to really learn how to tell a story is to do it.

"But I write all the time," you say.

That's fantastic. But how many stories do you actually finish? Because learning how to tell a story means starting at the beginning and following through to the end.

Even when the middle sucks.
Even when the ending blows.
Even when every word is like pulling teeth.
Start at the beginning, slog through the middle and finish the damn thing.

Because telling a story takes practice.

So go and practice.
Every day.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


It is easy to lose track of things when you're writing.

Like what time it is. Or the cup of coffee getting cold on the corner of the desk. Or which project needs your attention next. Which is closely tied to, which stories have I subbed and where?

This last one is a real bugger. I spend a lot of time worrying about it. Have I subbed to the right market? Have I subbed to a market that doesn't take simultaneous subs and is going to bring the wrath of the editor Powers-that-Be down on my head? (I hear they are more deadly than my own fearsome editing machete.)

I've tried a bunch of different things to organize what I'm working on and what I've done with it: spreadsheets, index cards, a text file, a piece of paper thumbtacked over my desk. So far, I have had only middling success with any of them.

Of the things I've tried, index cards have been the most useful. (Spreadsheets get complicated and I always wind up with invalid commands and BS that I just don't have brainspace for.) I write the name of the story at the top of the card. Immediately underneath I write [Drafting] or [Revising] or [Subbed] depending on which stage of the process I'm at. Underneath that I write a logline. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it should tell me at a glance what the story is about. (Willa must choose between her hatred of the British Empire and her love of the Queen's son.) On the flip side of the card I write down any potential markets.

It works pretty well. (Until the cats knock the stack of cards under the desk and the next time I find them they're soaked in pee.)

But the thing I've learned most this week has been simply to keep working. Even if it isn't organized. Even if I don't have a master plan about where to submit the next short story I write.

Because sometimes organization is another word for procrastination.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Breaking a sweat

I recently added that "Challenges and Contests" box over there on the right hand margin. One of the "challenges" is the Write1 Sub1 challenge. Basically the idea is to write a story and submit a story either every week or every month throughout the year.

I was in a bit of headfunk during January and although I wrote a story I didn't sub it. Shame on me. Then last month I wrote a story and subbed it, but still wasn't really thinking about Write1 Sub1 in concrete terms.

Then, last Friday, I figured I might as well get my butt in gear and start really playing the game.

With that thought in mind, I will now also be adding elements to the blog to both track what I'm writing and where they are being submitted, and also a list of markets (paying and non-paying) where you can join me in the quest for publication.

My goal is to write and submit somewhere between 12 and 52 stories over the course of the year. (Most of them will be shorts but I have a few longer projects that may see the light of an editors desk as well.)

So, what are your goals? Do you have a specific number you want to write? To submit? To have published?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Goals for a New Year

This is the sort of thing that should normally be posted at the beginning of the year. As usual, I'm a little behind.

I have, however, been thinking hard about what I want to accomplish this year. I still have a novel in revisions that's this close to being ready to submit. And another novel that's waiting for a rewrite. Plus all the stuff in the Unfinished Trunk.

It's all going to have to wait.

This is not to say that I won't be working on the novel-in-revisions this year. Only that my goal this year is publication. Yeah, I know. That was my goal last year. But last year I was determined to write newer better stuff and get it published. This year I'm setting my sights on taking what is already written, giving it a little bit of polish, and finding markets for it.

Simple, yes?

I've already been pulling out some older short stories and dusting them off. There's a lot of dust. And a fair amount of work that needs to be done before they will find a new home.

But no one said this writing thing was easy.