Monthly Archives: April 2013

Spring spring spring spring spring

I don’t want to write tonight. I’ve got a lot of work to choose from: the final scenes of my current book, lots of thinking about my next book, exercises for a class I’m taking, and so on.

The problem is, it’s 78 and sunny and I don’t want to come in off the deck.

My previous computer was a laptop. When it died, around the time the iPad was introduced, I realized it’d be the same price to get a desktop and an iPad as it would be to get another laptop. But as much as I love my iPad, there are things it can’t do, like run Scrivener. [1] I do a ton of writing in the iPad–in fact, these days when I go to retreats I do all my writing on it–but for doing lots of planning and jumping around and dealing with notes, it’s just not an efficient workflow.

So I’ve got another fifteen minutes or so–ten, now–to watch the squirrels chase each other and listen to the birds sing. It’d be one thing if I just had to write new words tonight, but unfortunately that’s not all there is to writing. I suspect today won’t be the last day like this.

[1] Scrivener for iPad is coming. But it won’t be here before it gets dark tonight.

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Keeping it fresh

Since I’m in the middle of book revisions, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to keep a story feeling fresh, to see it from different perspectives.  This is difficult for me to do once I’ve read the story several times.  I tend to get locked into my own version of the characters–I know why they act the way they do, I know how their dialog is supposed to be read and interpreted, and I know what they’re feeling when they have their inner struggles.

This knowing is also one of the biggest obstacles for me when it comes to revisions.  I already know who these characters are, and each time I read through the story, that version of who they are gets reinforced.  But my readers don’t have that inside knowledge, so I have to make sure that I communicate who my characters are with every tool I have available in the story.  Because if I don’t, my readers might take away a very different impression of my protagonist or villain than the one I intended.  I’ve said before this is why editors, crit partners, beta readers, etc. are so important.  Even having just one person besides yourself read your story is helpful.

But what happens when it’s just me and the manuscript again?  This is usually when I read the story out loud, which can be incredibly helpful, even if I lose my voice after a long session.  Sometimes I go through and just follow one character arc from beginning to end, marking the parts in the book where they have personal revelations or struggles, when they’re at their weakest and strongest.  How do they react to events in the story?  How do they change as the story progresses?  And sometimes I print out the book, put the red pen out of reach, and just settle in and read, trying to pretend that I plucked the book off a shelf and am experiencing it for the first time.

Whatever my method, even if I’ve done my job perfectly (go ahead and chuckle at that idea), readers still aren’t necessarily going to see my characters the way I do.  They have their own lens through which they experience the story–part of the way they make it their own.  And to be honest, I’m always fascinated to see what readers take away from a story.  How it speaks to them, or doesn’t, is another part of the learning process.

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Making everything up

A few months back I had a few posts discussing the new book I was starting to write, and the fact that it was going slowly.

No problem, I confidently stated. This is how it always starts, slow and hesitant. But I’ll soon hit my groove and be off.

Yeah, well. That didn’t happen this time. I hit a wall, full stop, and the story didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t have much time to bang my skull against that wall though, because some other writing projects popped up and I had to go knock them down.

When they were all prone (for a little while, at least),  it was time to figure out why I was spinning my wheels with this book. Which I finally did. The world wasn’t done yet.

This is my first totally secondary world book. I hadn’t really grokked how much that would effect writing it. I mean, I’ve done plenty of short stories set in secondary worlds, run gaming campaigns set in places that I had made up out of nothing. How different could it be for doing a book?

A fair bit, apparently.

So I’ve spent the last week or so grinding out the world-building. Geography, sociology, microbiology. Calendars and holidays, technology and fashion, etiquette and politics, I’m gluing them all together like some gigantic popsicle stick skeleton. It’s a lot of work, but as I do so I can feel the paper mache skin of the story coming together, ready to wrap around those bones.

Soon I’ll start up the story machine again. It should go better this time.

I have the weight of a world behind me now.

Or is it above me?

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Reading time

I recently read yet another blog post about writing while working full time. I suppose I keep reading these because I’m looking for the secret to getting five hours of writing time while still working and having hobbies.

I do write fantasy, you know.

Of course it won’t happen. And I’ve got a pretty good writing schedule worked out. What I really want now is more reading time.

Before I started writing I read a book a week or more. As I got more serious and put more time in, I had less and less reading time. Not good.

This is one of the things behind my “books not blogs” goal for the year. There’s a lower threshold to opening up a blog reader than for opening up a novel, but I get a lot more out of the novel or a nonfiction book. I’ve been getting more reading done since I started that. When I have an urge to flip through my rss feeds or Instapaper, I open a book instead. I’ve been keeping one or two books on my iPod (now phone) and reading those instead of blog articles when I have a little downtime. I’ve also been doing pretty well with my reading before bed habit. It’s a great way to wind down. (And if I fall asleep reading one night, I will probably pick up something different the next night.)

I’ve been stifling the urge to set any sort of goals or limits on what I read–sewing books and business books aren’t going to do as much for my writing as fiction, though I do claim I’m going to write a cozy mystery about a sewing shop owner–and just going with whatever I feel ilke reading. I don’t think I’ll really feel like a reader again until I pick up the book I was reading back in 2002 when I stopped reading fiction at all for over a year. I think part of me is still afraid that if I touch that book, I’ll stop again. Probably not, but it’s better to be on the safe side.

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I’m back!

Excuse me while I clear the dust off my corner of the blog.

Let’s see, wow, the past few months have been interesting–and I mean that in good and bad ways.  I’ve gone from incredible writing-related high points, ones that involved much squeeing and shouting and oh-my-god-this-can’t-be-happening-to-me-ing…to really dismal times of trying to get through one of the worst tax seasons ever and learning how to handle being a caregiver at the same time.  Stress management has become something I pay more attention to than I ever have before in my life.

I’m going to dwell mostly on the good stuff, though, because I have things I’ve been dying to talk about, and because there are other things I’m just not able to talk about on the blog.  I don’t have the mental fortitude for it right now, and more importantly, much of the information isn’t mine to share.  Suffice to say, I have reason to feel very optimistic about the future, and while I won’t say the bad stuff is over, because I don’t want to tempt the universe, I will say that I am hopeful.

But, on to the good stuff.  You know how people say that in publishing, you can never get in a hurry?  You finally land an agent, and you come down from that euphoria to realize it’s only the beginning of a long process.  You still have to *fingers crossed* sell the book, edit and revise and edit and revise some more, and even after that, your book might not come out for a long time.  Publishing moves at a glacial pace–it’s just something you have to learn to deal with as you navigate the business side of writing.  You’ve heard all this, yes?  Well, all of this is absolutely true 99% of the time.

But occasionally, you encounter the other 1%.

My amazing agent, Sara Megibow, went on submission with my book not too long after we finished ringing in 2013.  Beyond the occasional update, I was prepared not to hear any news until tax season was winding down.  So I was shocked when an email landed in my inbox just days later.  We had an offer.

After that, everything turned into a whirlwind, but when the excitement finally died down, I’d signed a tw0 book deal with Delacorte Press for The Mark of the Dragonfly.  Suddenly, I had an agent and an editor, both of whom expressed such excitement and love for the book–I can’t adequately explain how that makes me feel, but I will say that it helped get me through the hard times over the next couple months, and that’s no small thing.

So, it’s good to be back, and I’m excited to see where the publishing roller coaster ride takes me next.


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And me…

I am perfectly happy to follow up on Elizabeth’s post too.

Yes, as Kelly said, write what you want. The days of write short fiction, get published in the mags, get noticed by an editor, get a book deal, those are long gone. There are plenty of authors who don’t do short fiction. So if all you want to do is crank out your Encyclopedia de Fantasia, feel free.

However, I want to point out two things from my experience that I found valuable about writing short fiction.

Number one- you can screw up faster.

When I first started writing, I was trying to do short stories. At first, they never went anywhere. Then one started to go. And go and go and go, until suddenly I had a book, not a short story. Now in some ways this was great- I’ve never had that fear of how do you write so long that I’ve seen plague some short story writers. Because it just happened. But that first book… It had issues.

That’s fine. Newbie writers have issues. Everybody needs practice. But damn, it kind of sucks to see eighty-thousand words worth of issues all in one big pile.

That’s why, after I finished that first book, I did short stories and started getting them critiqued. I quickly had all sorts of things pointed out to me– everything from my habit of sometimes making my language so baroque it broke, to not being able to properly use ‘to’ and ‘too’.  Also, commas. I cleaned them up and ended up with some pretty decent writing, in a lot less time. And on the few occasions where the story was just too broken, I was able to drop it without feeling like I’d wasted months.

All in all, short stories felt like a less-bruising way to learn the craft.

Number two- short stories make you write short.

Novels can be long. Sprawling. Chocked full of detail and character development and all sorts of literary tchotchkes. I mean, good lord, look at some of the fantasy bricks being sold today. I think Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” deforested a few countries. When I’m doing a novel, I love that. It’s great to be able to sprawl a little. But sometimes, things need to happen, and to happen fast.

Short story writing teaches you economy. Because the word count is limited, you learn how to get the point across quick. How to describe a scene in a sentence, not a page, how to hint at a deep backstory without dragging it all out, how to do an infodump without backing up a truck.

These skills are useful even in a looong novel. Just because you have all that space doesn’t mean you should wander aimlessly around in it. There’s a reason people put books down when they start muddling around in the minutiae. And when they do, there’s a chance their not going to pick them back up.

Sometimes, you have to know how to keep things short. Because if you don’t, people will never buy your five million word duodecology.

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What she said

Expanding on Elizabeth’s post with an analogy of my own. 

First, some advice. Write whatever you want. Flash, short stories, novels, whatever.

Having said that, there’s merit at trying your hand at both. I’m a little biased, maybe, because I’m a short story writer from way back. They don’t intimidate me the way novels do. I love that I can have an idea for a story on Sunday and have a submission-ready draft by Saturday. They’re a different animal than novels, sure, but they use a lot of the same skills. And like Elizabeth said, you get to practice beginnings and endings more. 

It’s like knitting. Sure, knitting a potholder or scarf isn’t much different than knitting a sweater. It’s knitting and maybe some purling. But sweaters require a lot of skills that scarves don’t necessarily need. Increasing, decreasing, yarn overs, measuring gauge, knitting in the round, etc. Can you make a scarf with those skills? Absolutely. But to make a scarf you really only need to know how to cast on, bind off, and knit. You can’t make a sweater that way. 

I said all that to say this: writing short stories is a great way to get really good at skills you’ll need for novels. Do you have to write them? No. If short stories make you want to give up writing, then absolutely stay away from them. There’s a lot of “rules” in writing, but in my book there’s only one hard-and-fast one: write what makes you want to write more. 

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Why I write short stories (except when I don’t)

I recently ran across a blog post Myke Cole made last month in which he said he believes that “if, instead of writing short sto­ries, I had focussed on my novel writing craft, I would have achieved my dream of becoming a pro­fes­sional writer at least 5 years ear­lier than I did.” (He also says that everyone is different, so I don’t want to imply that he thinks no one should write short stories.) (And I’m also not a professional full-time fiction writer.)

Writing short stories has improved my writing a lot, more than I think novels would have over the same time period. Not that I can ever go back and test that, of course. I would say I wish I’d started writing short stories earlier, but I had to wait until I had read enough of them that I started having short ideas.

The problem with novels, for me, is that I spend all my time trying to get the plot right. I knew I had to work on setting and characters and description, but the plot always got in the way.

Since short stories are short, the plot is less of a problem, giving me the chance I need to work on other things. I’ve also had a lot more practice on beginnings and endings than I would have if I’d been solely working on novels.

Of course, novels and shorts are very different, so not everything I’ve learned has translated. But enough has that my novels are improving now too.

For now, I’ll keeep writing shorts because they let me try new things, and I’ll keep plugging away on my novels.


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Progress, of sorts

Busy month is still being busy, but some headway has been made.

My short stories have reached the vaunted stage of good enough, mostly. I’ll swing them past the long-suffering wife for one last look over and then send them out.

This will mean that I’ll have sixteen stories out and about, a high water mark for me. Which is good, I suppose, but it means I’m going to be spending a lot of time over the next few weeks sending things around, checking markets, and obsessing over what’s been where for how long and what does that mean.

Ah, submissions. Each one’s a little piece of hope, duct-taped to a cinderblock of neurosis.


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Fitting it all in

Ah, life.

So I’ve been in the middle of a relocation for … well, too long. And now myself and my husband are in the beginning stages of the end game: getting our house ready to put on the market. We’ll be making the move to Chicago in mid-May and should be living full-time in the big city by June. I said all of that to say this: writing around my chaotic schedule for the past several months has been a bit of a challenge and it’s about to get worse.

Some of the other group members have talked before about life getting in the way of writing. This is a reality of the writer’s life–if it’s not a move, it’s kids; if it’s not kids, it’s that concert from the band you love; if it’s not the concert it’s a family reunion that eats the entire weekend. It’s always something. It’s easy to let that stuff get in the way of writing, and before you know it, it’s been two weeks and you haven’t written a word. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years, and I’m counting on them to keep me sane in the coming months.

1. Do something every day to make your dreams a reality. I’m leaning on this pretty heavily right now. Normally when I’m working on a novel I like to write 1K at day, which in reality averages out to be about 5K a week. I sometimes get more or less depending on life. Getting words on the page and generating new content is definitely the goal; however, if I’m super-busy and can’t squeeze in an hour or two of writing, I do things like read, submit stories to open markets, or listen to audiobooks. If I’m not actively putting words on the page, I try to find other ways I can further my career or learn about the craft.

2. Manage expectations. I know I’m not going to write 5K a week for the next several weeks. I *know* that isn’t going to happen. So instead of beating myself up about it, I accept what I can do. That’s not to say I can blow off writing entirely: “Well, the spring is shot, I just won’t writing until June.” For one thing, it’s counter-productive to tip number one. For another, the writer-brain is a muscle–you have to use it to keep it limber and toned. It’s also not an all-or-nothing proposition. So I can’t make 5K this week. I’ll try for 2.5K or 1K. Writing one page a day will give you a novel in a year, you know.

3. Juggle priorities. Writing is always a priority for me–it’s just a matter of making sure it doesn’t fall off the bottom of the list. Right now I’m not playing guitar or exercising as much as I’d like. Those activities will return once life settles down a bit; for now, I put fewer “optional” tasks on the list to be sure writing happens.

4. Take a deep breath. Relax. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t write tonight. But tomorrow? There has to be words on the page.

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