Monthly Archives: October 2014

Happy Halloween!

How about a scary story?

There was once a person who loved to tell stories. First they told them to themselves, and they had a wonderful time. Then, one day, a friend heard them mumbling to themselves and told them to speak up. So, they did, and their friend liked the story. They liked it so much, they asked to hear another. And another. The storyteller began making up more and more stories to tell them, and with practice each story became more complex, more interesting, more compelling. Soon, our storyteller was spinning tales to all of their friends, and even people they didn’t know, and they all seemed quite pleased with them. It was all going quite well until one day, after finishing a particularly gripping tale involving pirates, dolphins, and emus, a voice drifted out from the crowd of listeners.

“Hey! That was pretty good. Why don’t you try to sell some of them stories?”

This was an idea that the storyteller had been considering for some time. “Well, I’m not sure how,” they said.

“It’s easy,” said the voice. “Just write down the story into a book, and send it off.”

“Just that?”

“Just that,” said the helpful voice. “Well, it’ll need a query and a short synopsis too.”

“Well, okay then!” said the storyteller, and off they went.


(In case you missed the intricate, terrifying subtleties embedded in the text, the helpful voice obviously belongs to Satan)

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Kill Your Darlings

If you’re a writer of any ilk–novice, struggling, accomplished–you’ve heard the advice often enough. John Crowley wrote a history of the concept for this month’s Harper’s.  In it, he talks about the advice most of us are given at one point or another: if you really love a sentence, or a paragraph, or a passage, or hell, even a whole chapter–kill it. Delete it. If you love it so much it doesn’t belong in the story. Crowley makes a plea to spare the darlings–because, really, can our own judgement be that bad?

Well, yes and no.

Admittedly I’ve never subscribed to the idea wholeheartedly. My approach is more along the lines of “you have to be willing to kill your darlings in service to the story.” If a sentence or paragraph or passage,or hell, a whole chapter isn’t working for your story, kill it. Delete it. Start over. Even if it’s brilliant. But if that section of your work absolutely, 100%, serves and enhances the story? Keep it. Better yet, make two fucking backups.

Sometimes I think writers are unwilling to let a really great piece of writing go (even if it’s obvious that it needs to) because we’re afraid that we’ll never write something that good again. We read it over and get chills and think, “holy fuck, I wrote that. I made that shit up, and it’s good.” We can’t believe that we did it and deep down we’re afraid that we’ll never do it again. So we keep it.

But you will. Believe it or not, you’ll write stuff that is even more brilliant.

Don’t kill something that’s working. But also don’t be afraid to kill it if it’s not.

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The Happiness of Pursuit. For Writers.

I haven’t read Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit, but Josh Kaufman has, and he summarized it on his site.

The point of the book seems to be that people will get a sense of purpose and joy from working towards big goals. It sounds like an interesting book. He interviewed people with a wide range of goals (travel, study, cooking). But I think any serious writer has already figured this out.

(Numbered points are from Kaufman’s summary.)

1. Happiness is often found in pursuit of a quest.

Does writing make me happy? Of course! It also makes me angry, cheerful, depressed, proud, frustrated, and pretty much every other emotion in my thesaurus. Sometimes in the same day.

2. Choosing a quest is a big decision.

Yes. If I’m going to devote a year or two to a single book, choosing which book is a big decision.

3. There are always risks – don’t let them stop you.

Well, I could get papercuts. Or repetitive stress injuries. Really, writing is pretty risk-free, since I don’t tend to come up with the sorts of stories that result in death threats.

4. There are always costs – count them.

This seems a good time to mention that Scrivener is on sale for Nanowrimo.

5. There are always tradeoffs – make them consciously.

I have nothing snarky to say here. This is absolutely true. The amount of time I spend writing, thinking about writing, hanging out with other writers, etc., adds up to a huge amount. My life is pretty centered around writing. Some of the tradeoffs are obvious (I’d get more gardening done if I spent less time writing), some unknowable (if I didn’t write, would I be more focused on my career? would I have had kids?).

6. Persistence will correct many errors. Keep moving.

Persistence and a great writing group!

7. Think big, plan big, act big.

I love epic series. But even flash fiction benefits from big ideas and innovative execution.

8. Every quest will change you forever.

This seems to apply better to the protagonists than to the writers. Every book and story teaches me something, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it changes me.

9. After you complete a quest, you’ll probably experience a post-quest funk. That’s normal.

Post-novel funk, anyone?

10. Quests are personal. Do it for you.

Because no one else is going to love my books as much as I do.

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Revisions, Also

I’m joining Jaleigh in the revision mines this week.

I got my notes back from Pathfinder, and I’ve been churning through them, dealing with each comment my editor had. Luckily for me, he didn’t have too many, and even more luckily they were fairly simple. Some formatting issues and a bit of clean up, mostly.

I also get to do some fun new things- a dedication and acknowledgements, and a map. They have a cartographer (of course they do, they’re a gaming company) but they want me to do a simple sketch of the area that the story takes place in. This is one of those arts-and-crafts assignments that I love.

The best thing about the letter though? They liked the book!

And there may be more…

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Rookie Mistakes

Recently I met a screenwriter who has written a few screenplays but hasn’t sold any (yet!). I asked him about his work–like you do–and he obliged. I found a common theme throughout his work–he had great ideas for worlds and plots, but not such great handle on the “suspension of disbelief” concept. When writing speculative fiction, it’s common for beginners to, for example, use dreams as a gateway to the “other” realm where the story actually takes place, or have characters act in unrealistic ways in order to make the plot work.

Rookie mistakes. I’ve made them, you’ve made them, your friend who has just started writing will make them.

The trick, though, is powering through them and moving past them. Listen to advice. Don’t just get critiques; listen to them and learn from them. Write. Learn. Grow. Repeat.

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Fun with Submissions Trackers

I enjoy reading Jamie Todd Rubin’s blog posts about writing. We’re similar in a lot of ways (like tracking writing) and very different in others.

His recent post covers, among other things, why he doesn’t use submission-tracking services or track response times.

I do log my submissions in my own tracker, but I also log them on The (Submission) Grinder. I log them twice because my system is my real record, and logging on the Grinder contributes data that others can use.

While it’s true that even without this, I would know not to query about the story that’s been out for a week, and I really should query about the one that’s been at a market for three times the average, the useful thing I get out of the Grinder is what the market’s real average response time is. Some places don’t give an estimated response time. Others…well, one market claims 60 days and their current calculated average is twice that. Without the data, querying at 90 days would seem reasonable.

But who cares? Stories come back when they come back, right? Suppose you have five stories. Three are currently on submission. Two are brand-new and can be sent anywhere. Your two favorite markets have response times of one week and six months. And there’s a really cool anthology call with a deadline in two weeks, another deadline in a month, and a magazine that’s only open for one week every quarter.

Knowing how long your three stories are likely to be out–the real number, not the editor’s ideal–can help you decide which story to send where. You might not want to tie up a story at the six-month market if it means you’ll miss another opportunity.

Or you might argue that you’ll send stories to whatever’s available whenever, because the few minutes it takes to think about this could better be spent writing. I won’t force you to use the Submission Grinder. Even if I want your data.

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I’m deep into revisions for book 2 in the world of Solace.  Title coming soon!

As I was working today, it occurred to me that when people ask me how I get writing done, I tell them that I measure progress by hitting a daily word count, usually 1000-1300 words a day.  But for edits and revisions, my process is slightly different.  Instead of trying to hit a daily word count goal, I have a set number of pages that I try to edit before I quit.  So if I have a month to edit a 300-page novel, I know I have to get through at least 10 pages a day to make the deadline.

The trick is sometimes there are very few edits to make on these groups of ten pages, so I might finish in an hour or so, and sometimes there are monster edits that might take me three or four hours.  This is especially true if I have to change the structure of a scene, flesh out a character more, or add world building.  Everything has to flow, and some changes are easier to integrate into the text than others.  But no matter what, that daily goal always helps.

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