Category Archives: How I do what I do when I do what I do

Music Helps

This song has been the theme song to tonight’s writing. An aide to a solemn scene that I am trying to map out, the violins are what make it work. This is vastly different from last night’s dubstep induced fight scene. Tomorrow night is up for grabs. I might listen to some P-Funk during my world building.

 

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What I’ve Learned So Far

It has been an interesting year since I started this pipe dream. I’ve learned a lot about writing and some interesting tidbits about myself, some good and some disturbing. I compare my earlier stories against my latest and wow, what a difference. I can see a lot of growth and determination, but mostly I see process. It hasn’t always been pretty, I’ll raise my hand to that, but it has been educational. Something that I’ve learned is that every writer’s path is different, this is my own and it will fold into whatever shape it has to.

I have entered in a few contests and regrettably the judges and I decided to go in different directions. Not being deterred I recently started sending stories to magazines, soliciting my work in hopes of being able to rock out my ZOMGHOLYSHITLOOK! I CAN HAZ PUBLISHED!  post. That hasn’t happened yet, but I have had some encouraging moments.

I’ve had a few right out rejections. Despite knowing that it is part of the process and it is an inevitability, it still hurts. I have collected a few of these bad boys and undoubtedly I have many more to collect. I’m never sure how to react to them; throw my keyboard in disgust or just move on. I play it safe and move to the next story.

I have had two pending stories that were rejected as near misses. While these do hurt and humble, it is also encouraging. Despite my doubt and flaws I have improved enough to get that close to selling something. To be honest it feels good, but the magic table that published people sit at, swapping stories and giving each other high fives is still so far away I can’t smell what is for dinner.

So what have I learned so far about writing and selling stories?

  • It isn’t personal when your story doesn’t sell. Everybody gets rejected. Some stories would do better in different outlets than the one you are submitting to.
  • Writing is hard work. Like anything there are probably people who can hardly put the effort into a story and sell it like pickles to pregnant women, but that isn’t the majority. Everybody has a different path and most had to work at it. Write, then write more, then write again, then write after that. Don’t forget to write.
  • ws;sr – which is stolen from John Scalzi. It stands for writing sucks, stopped reading. This ties into everything above. In our short attention span – hey look at the bunny! society you have to be interesting. When you are trying to sell a story your first paragraph/page needs to grab the reader. Chances are that even if your story is amazing, if the beginning is slow the editor/reader will move on to the other billion stories for the day. When/if you get past that point, your writing needs to be good, which comes from practice and due diligence.
  • Write.

Learning them first hand and generally knowing they exist are separate. I knew these blips of profound truthiness before this past year, but having learned them first hand I have to be honest and say it is different.

Until my next post about inappropriate euphemisms about Grandma and Scandinavian delicacies, good night.

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Not So Much Progress

Well, I did finish one story but not the meaty story, weekend-writing-goal-fail. I got wrapped up in the first story. It passed with fiancé with relatively little complaint or issue, which is a first. She did have a comment about it not feeling fresh, having done some reflecting I agree – she isn’t a science fiction fan either, color me impressed. I’ve spent some time thinking about how to more explicitly present some elements that I implicitly had woven in. Perhaps I thought I was being clever by being oblique or maybe it was a rookie mistake, I don’t know, I’m still learning. I feel by making the sublte elements more visible I can give the story some mojo, a little more oomph.

Reordering some of the events presented clarity to the evolution of the story. I think in a very short time the story has come a long way, almost unrecognizable from the first draft. I think this short story is stronger, unique, but not different enough to feel weird or terribly unfamiliar.

I’d like to think this story is salable but it ultimately isn’t up to me. Hopefully the untold of hours of slaving in the word mines will start to pay off soon. I still haven’t broken the 1 million word mark but I am pretty close. If you aren’t familiar with the 1 million word rule, it takes that many words to jump the novice fence and into the money making writer club. I don’t know how true that is, I suppose time will tell. I’d like to think every wade through the crap-filled novice river means I am that much closer to catching a keeper and feeding my family, aka student loans – they have hungry mouths.

After reading Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith, I learned some nifty tricks/ideas on how to write a marketable story. One chapter in particular that struck home was the insights into flashbacks. Essentially keep flashbacks short and sweet, or make a chapter. Don’t make this entire weird dialogue in the middle of a moving story where the reader finds themselves magically whisked away, it breaks that magical fantasy land and gets confusing.

Yeah, I’m guilty of that.

I did start editing the meaty story, but I didn’t finish. I ended up cutting the 15k words down to 7k. Cutting flashbacks and streamlining some events really made the difference. I suppose that is the magic of editing. Take 15k words of meh and turning it into 7k words of gold. Still plenty of work left to do, but generally that is where I left things before jumping back into the first story. I need to get that beast slain.

So my new goal is a recycled old goal; finish the second story by this weekend.

What about you penmonkeys, what are your goals?

 

 

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Progress

I set a goal for myself this weekend. Finish writing/editing two stories that have been getting the run around. Partly neglected because of schedule and partly neglected because I didn’t know where to go with them.

I am happy to say that I have finished writing and editing the first story. It bounced around in size for a little while I played with different directions; sometimes gaining weight up to 5k words and other times slimming down to 3k. I found a nice median slightly over 4k. Only took about eight hours in all total. That might sound not so impressive but for accomplishing editing that is an improvement for me.

For me writing is the easy part, I can just go to town and spit out a story without too much hardship. Few hiccups here and there, like these two stories, but overall I do not find writing to be the struggle. I find the struggle in editing. Arguably this is where the story is made and is my biggest weakness. With a book written and close to 30 stories of varying length complete, only three of the stories are edited and polished. I know, total slacker.

Next story on the hit list is sitting at 15k words. This will take a longer time to get through and nail down, but practice makes perfect and I’m trying to turn what I feel is my biggest weakness into a strength.

When I am done I am going to get my fiancé to use her big fancy English degree on my papers and hopefully make them salable. I’m coming for you Clarkesworld and Asimovs!

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Must & Cannot

I’ve been reading Writing to Sell and I have learned a few things. The lesson that I found to be the most telling is a simple plot skeleton that revolves around two basic elements; must and cannot. The lack of one or both of these can really hinder your story.

Scott Meredith says one of the most basic mistakes every new writer makes when trying to write a salable manuscript is forgetting the basic driving force behind every story. This would be the problem that the lead character MUST deal with, something extremely urgent and pressing. This would be something in the ballpark of a bad guy taking a character’s family and holding them for ransom or internal like an alcoholic overcoming his addiction before his wife leaves with the kids. Scott says this necessary for making the reader worry about your character’s outcome, helping them invest into your book. If the MUST is mundane or easily solvable, it won’t really capture an audience and a publisher won’t buy it.

The other element is CANNOT. This is the part of the problem where it seems as if the character CANNOT solve the problem. Going along with the earlier examples; the character can’t pay the ransom because he just lost his house and all his possessions to a tornado, and the alcoholic is having problems pushing through his addiction because he just lost his job and found out his son has a terminal illness. This is where the assault on the character prevents them from accomplishing their goals, starting from minor complications and cranking it up to where it just seems like we are in a moment of darkness.

Don’t go over board though, if you create an unsolvable problem just to make some ridiculous solution, you lose the reader. If you don’t have a logical solution or don’t explore and exhaust possible alternatives to your problem, you will lose the reader. Like the man lost his house and possessions but still owns a BMW, of which he won’t sell to get his family back. You will lose the reader, so be logical about your problems and solutions.

I posted about this because after I read the five chapters on plot skeletons, I went through some of my stories and wasn’t totally surprised at what I found. The early stories I wrote definitely lack a solid must and cannot, which Mr. Meredith simply calls incidents. What I mean by early are the stories that I haven’t edited very much. The stories I have edited heavily (including my manuscript) have these elements in them which sort of amazed me. I wonder if the countless editing and revising until I felt it was rounded is what did it, or I just stumbled into it.

I’ve been writing for a while now, more or less just taking the chaos from my head and putting it words, learning empirically as I go about what works and what doesn’t. I have some stories that I am damn proud of and others that smell really, really bad. I have posted some of both, which I suppose I should be embarrassed about the stinkers but I want to learn and sometimes the best avenue is through the blog.

Now that I am making submissions to agencies and magazines I really want to see growth in my writing and do what I need to do to make my work salable. I know to write, is to write is to write, but while I’m writing I am examining the work through the eyes of a professional. There are tons of information and books out there and it is hard knowing what is valuable and what isn’t, but you don’t know unless you try.

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My Rage Comic

Got bored, decided to make a rage comic. Actually I’ve made a few now, but I will show you this one.

You can make your very own over at the Rage Comic Builder

 

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Square Peg, Round Hole

An attempt at quick-short fiction. Trying to not be so long winded. Still haven’t made up my mind on how I feel about it. Thought I would share.

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What stuck the most was his indifference. I remember his detached eyes over my mother holding me while confused tears streaked my cheeks, I remember that more than the strange man idly standing  in the kitchen looking out of the window with a clenched jaw. I have never forgotten when my father looked me in the eyes and said he didn’t want to be my dad anymore.

The memory has lasted throughout my life, I think about it with the detached interest one might observe monkeys’ mating dance. The reason why isn’t anything noble as trying to be a better example to those around me, to somehow compensate for missing hugs. I don’t have those kind of hangups or issues.

I gave up a long time ago trying decide if he really didn’t want to be my father or if it hurt him so much that he needed to put the abyss between us, to some how protect us from something much worse. I accepted what happened, I haven’t wasted my life trying to figure out why a square peg doesn’t fit into a round hole.

I was playing video games, passing my weekend away slaying Nazis, zombies, and Nazi Zombies. Something a gamer does when he has no relationship or obligations to speak of, outside of saving the world from demonic and soulless ones and zeros.

Somewhere down from my dead-end street I heard a crash followed by that eerie silence that is accompanied by uncertainty. The crash wasn’t close enough to make me think somebody had parked a car in the side of my house, but it was loud enough to make me look outside.

I didn’t see anything.

I thought it wasn’t anything, lots of children ride bikes around the neighborhood, smacking the trash lids with sticks or rebar. Somewhat of an annoying hobby for the younger generation, more deplorable with ever early weekend wake-up. After a few moments I decide that I should investigate, if only as an excuse to get more tacos for my caffeinated digital adventuring.

When I rounded the bend in the road, I saw a car crunched into a telephone pole, wavy black tire marks on the asphalt. A police officer was already on the scene; at first glance trying to assess the situation, standing on the other side staring at something.

I noticed a woman face down on the steering wheel. Her hair was damp and the bit of skin I saw was red. It blew my mind why the officer wasn’t attending to the woman. She clearly needed medical attention.

As I passed the car, on the passenger side I saw the officer’s fascination. I was annoyed because the boy was kneeling with his back half turned towards me, he had no signs of injury.

When I crept by, looking on like an idiot, I saw what the young man was doing. I saw the little broken body with a pink hair clip in his arms, her limbs swung lifeless.

The look that was rippled across the young man’s face was palpable. The loss and pain in his eyes said more about him than anything else ever could. In that moment I knew that man for who he was.

Days later I found out that the young man was visiting a friend from college. I revered him.

Days later I found out the woman was drunk, I thought she got what she deserved.  A human being with the entirety of her life was ripped from before she had a chance. The world lost a doctor or a teacher, it became a little darker. I hated that woman.

Days later I found out that the woman was trying to leave her abusive husband. That he had followed her from the last time she left him. She was trying to get away, save her girl from a horrible life of bruises and excuses. I felt guilty.

I can’t forget that look, the heart-break on that young man’s face while he stared at a broken little girl and he tried to understand why square pegs don’t fit into round holes. While he tried to make sense of things left outside of human knowing.

As the emotion of my father telling me he didn’t want to be my dad anymore flooded from some unknown dark corner in my mind, I couldn’t help but feel what was going through that young man as the tears in his soul were the same tears in mine. I couldn’t help but think that this broken girl was loved more by a stranger than I was loved by my father.

Days later I still hated myself for thinking that.

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Progress

The weekend was a really productive time for my writing. I essentially left my phone in the bedroom and hung out in the living room writing and playing Skyrim. Surprisingly it wasn’t entirely eaten up by an obsession of killing dragons, collecting dragon priest masks, and lighting bunnies on fire with a well placed fireball, they squeak when they die – sadistic I know but entertaining none the less.

As I was hacking dragons into evenly filleted and quartered pieces for grilling and pan-searing, hay starving kids in Windhelm, I was getting inspired by the landscape of Skyrim and some of the damn good lore. I spent the weekend switching back and forth and I must say, I found it very rewarding. Progressed about 15k words into my book The Frosty Crag, probably of which 5-6 are quality or at least near golden.

With that being said, I took some advice from Peter V. Brett and ordered Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith.  Supposedly this is a good indicator of the marks that agents and publishers are looking for. That doesn’t mean that taking the entire book to heart ensures a contract and debut novel, a lot of factors go into getting a book published and writing a quality piece is only a part of it. I figure it couldn’t hurt and might learn something. I figure it never hurts to improve one’s craft so I am just branching out and grabbing some insight/advice where I can. As always the advice that my readers and commenters leave is always appreciated.

Another great resource comes from Donald Maass, you can find his books on writing here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Current Writing Projects

I’m writing down all of my writing projects. This is to show you what all I’m working on and for me to have a concrete place for me to check my projects. I might tab this and turn it into a page. I’d like one of those nifty word progress track bar, I don’t know how to get one in my blog.

Despite my recent lack of blogging and video game addiction, I have written fairly consistently. I finished a short story a few days ago. Need to edit it out some more and gonna ship my baby to be weighed, here is hoping it is a golden child. *fingers crossed*

Novels:

The Other Side of Nowhere – 117,000. In last revision.

Carousel – 12,000 +. First draft.

Fantasy Book Project – Early stages of writing and concept mapping.

The Frosty Crag – 20,000 +. First draft.

Short Stories:

Violence  Breeds Violence, Repression Breeds Retaliation – 14,000. In last revision.

The Uncanny Blossom – 11,500. Completed.

Lament of Vicksburg – 2,000. Completed.

Gatekeeper – 4,000. In last revision.

Things Left Behind – +  Early Stages.

Unsavory – + Early Stages.

Homini Homo Lupus – 9,000. Last Revision

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Editing Your Work

Some people argue that a book is formed in the editing. Before the chaos of life temporarily derailed my writing, I thought nay. They didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. Writing is about taking your ideas and fancies and churning words out like a production line wrench monkey. Well writing for the sake of your own enjoyment, this is true. Writing for to become a published writer and have a fan base that dangles on your every cliffhanger, put your steel undies on and get the edit plunger ready.

Having taken about a month and a half from writing, I can tell you there is an over abundance of truth in that editing IS where the magic happens. Just admitting that kind of chaps my ass. I have a novel, about 120,000 words, that is in the middle of being edited for the 20th time. I’ve spent some time revisiting my manuscript recently and I noticed something, I have something that looks like a book but isn’t. It is more akin to a glass box with a hyper-active gnome inside waving and grinning at me like an idiot.  I have to polish/edit the piss out of my book to get it to that vision, to latch onto that mythical creature and tan its little ass into something comprehensible and engaging.

Today one of my favorite writers put up a little advice on editing, you can read it here. As I read his words, the echoes of his wisdom rang levels of truthiness in the cockles of my heart.

Here is a little excerpt from Brent Weeks:

 

First, if you want to be a pro, act like a pro. If your friends can’t be honest with you because you fall to pieces when they don’t love everything about your book, they’ll lie to you. Yes, we’re artists; we want everyone to love everything we’ve ever done and tell us we’re brilliant. If anyone ever tells you they love everything you’ve ever done, they’re either lying or a moron.

If you’ve written the first draft, you’ve done something that thousands of people who say they want to be writers will never do. Congratulations. Crack a Sprite, pat yourself on the back, howl at the moon twice, and go to bed late, dreaming improbable dreams.

Done? Good, now get your butt out of bed. It’s time to work.

Before, you had nothing. Nothing is hard to shape. Now you have marble, Michelangelo. Thing about marble? It’s tough. Bring your hammers and chisels.

 

Editing is my least favorite part. Not because I have a large nutritional deficiency in grammar and hate killing my darling, but because my creative juices run wild and rampant like naked heathens in a field. Creatively writing and editing are two separate processes that utilizes two separate areas of the brain.

Guess who has two thumbs and a need to get over it? This guy right here. I need to do more editing then rolling my face across the keyboard, turns out it isn’t enough.

I have a little snippet from my book that has moved places and contexts several times. It is a fluid piece with lots of potential, but I cannot for the life of me get it where I think it needs to be relative to the rest of the book.

The next post is going to be the snippet.

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