Author Archives: Elizabeth Shack

Exercises and the Threat of Ideas

A forum thread about practice got me thinking about doing regular writing exercises again.

At one point, I was doing them weekly. But that was when I was planning a novel, and could tie the exercises into that planning process. Not much of what I wrote ended up in the draft, but they helped me work out the plot, develop the characters, and build the setting.

Doing exercises without a particular project in mind is tougher, since I have to pull character/plot/setting out of thin air, and that raises the threat of pesky Ideas coalescing and wanting to be written. I keep hoping the queue is long enough that they’ll move on to another writer, but so far they’ve proved pretty patient.

Still, I’ve got things I need to practice, so it might be worth the risk.

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What’s New?

I had an interesting experience at a family event last weekend. As usual for the sort of thing where you meet up with people you haven’t seen a few months or more, there was a lot of “What’s new in your life?”

To which I kept replying, “Not much, same job, same house, ….” Once we’d gone back to the hotel, I commented to my husband that I kept forgetting to say “What’s new? I sold two stories last month.” So the next time someone asked, he prompted me.

I’m ok with not saying “I came in 3rd to last in the last session of tennis league” or “I’m taking a painting class.” But writing is such a big part of how I think of myself and how I spend my time. I worry about boring people with too many details, but what’s more boring, talking about writing fiction or talking about going to my office job? Next time I’ll remember.

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Seasonal writing? Nope.

Recently, I saw some writers discussing how their writing productivity varies with the season.

I looked at my data, and was surprised that the seasons don’t seem to affect me. I should have more time in winter because I’m not gardening, but I also have less energy. I’m a light-oriented person. If the sun isn’t shining, I’m sleepy. This makes winter a great time for naps, but not for writing.

It might be because I have a day job. Without that, who knows how much more I’d get done in the summer? Also, my writing productivity is strongly driven by deadlines–writing deadlines make it spike up, and day job deadlines make it plummet. Both are random throughout the year. I set myself some deadlines for my writing, but so far haven’t been able to fool myself into thinking they’re real. Still, I keep trying, because it’s the best I can do.

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How to Keep Flash Fiction Short

From a discussion I had earlier this week, some thoughts about how to keep a flash story from growing into a full-blown short story. (Of course there are plenty of good flash stories that ignore these tips; they’re meant for people who are used to writing longer stories and are having trouble coming up with something very short.)

One problem I see a lot is that the flash is just a summary of the plot of a longer story. Sometimes it’s summarized to the extent that there’s no dialog at all. Every time you write a sentence of summary is another hint that maybe your story isn’t flash.

There’s also world-building summary. Secondary world fantasy and SF settings that need a lot of worldbuilding are hard to keep short. I keep trying anyway, and sometimes I succeed. But if you have to plunk a couple hundred words of exposition into your story for it to make sense, it’s probably not going to work for me.

Limiting the number of characters helps too. In 1000 words there isn’t a lot of room to develop multiple well-rounded characters.

If you’re really struggling to keep a flash story short, try picking a story that can be told in one scene. It has to really be one scene though, not one scene plus a ton of backstory.

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My perfect panel moderation plan

It turns out, I’m actually the moderator for one of the panels this weekend. That’ll be new to me. After thinking about what makes a good moderator, I’ve come up with a plan:

The panel is about gadgets and apps for writers, but a lot has been said about that already, so I’m going to change the topic to my favorite writing pen. I’ll open it up for audience questions right at the beginning, so that everyone has a chance to ask theirs. I’ll answer as much as I can myself, so the other panelists can sit back and relax. And we’ll go as long as we need to, even if we run over our time slot, because pens are more important than whatever’s in the room after us. Fun!

(It’s the Zebra Zeb Roller 2000, which is no longer made.)

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My ConFusion 2015 Panel Schedule

I’m once again attending ConFusion, from Jan 16-18 in Detroit. (You can tell how much I like the people there by how willing I am to drive across Michigan in winter.)

Here is my panel schedule:

Friday 5pm: Gadgets and Apps for Writing
Scrivener, Evernote, writing books on phones and tablets!

Saturday 10am: All Your Data Are Belong to Us
What is “the internet of things?” How smart do we really want our devices to be? What will society look like when whole systems of objects talk to each other to shape our lives? And who controls the data our things collect?

Saturday 1pm: Current State of Short Fiction
An update on the state of short fiction in the fantasy/SF world – who’s writing, publishing, and reading?

Saturday 2pm: Fat Phobia in Fiction
Hey, look! A fat person in a fantasy/science-fiction book! What’s that? They’re the evilest evil-doer in the land? Oh, wait, no, they’re just lazy and cruel! Well, that’s better. Fat, likable characters – do they exist?

I have a lot of thinking to do for some of these!

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I Quit Writing

Until after Christmas.

Yesterday I turned in a novella to a contest on my writer’s forum (first prize: bragging rights). I have no plans to do any writing until after Christmas. I have novellas to read, novels to read, books about writing to read…but no writing.

It’s glorious. I feel like I have all this free time. I have lots to do, both things that piled up while I was writing and prep for Christmas, but no word counts hanging over my head. I came home after tennis class last night and sat on the couch and downloaded a bunch of ebook samples to look at next week while I’m off work.

I wonder if this is what normal life is like.

If I get twitchy, I’ll start thinking about the sequel to the novella.

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Planning ahead

I’ve started thinking about my writing plans for 2015. I’m trying to be realistic about the number of hours I can write in a week and how many hours any given project takes.

That leaves me with a shorter list of projects than I’d like. I have three overall projects: revising a novel that I mostly ignored this year, writing and subbing (and maybe thinking about self-publishing) a series of novellas that I started this fall, and sending a bunch of flash submissions to a short story market I’d like to break into.

Plus querying the book I’ve been querying this year, and keeping my short stories on submission. If I have time left over I have a few short stories I’d like to tweak and send out.

It only seems like a short list when I start thinking about all the other projects I won’t have time for until 2016.

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Obligatory Thanksgiving Week Post

Today seems like a good day to think about writing-related things that I’m thankful for. Except every time I start writing this post, I get all sarcastic. (I’m thankful for all the submissions editors who fail to see the brilliance dripping from my every word…)

Really, I’m just grateful that I have the opportunity to write: I was given an education; I can express my ideas without fear; I can devote a significant number of my waking hours to writing.

I’m also thankful for three different kinds of cranberry sauce, but that’s another post.

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Of magic and mayhem

I have a story coming out Dec. 1 in the fifth issue of Fictionvale. I’m posting the cover because it’s pretty. Also because it has my name on it. (I believe it has all the author’s names.) I don’t think seeing my name in print will ever get old.

Fictionvale episode 5

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