Real Life Intrudes

My paying job, as I like to call it, is giving me plenty of extra hours lately. This is good on the whole paying for grad school front, but very bad on the whole editing three short stories and rewriting a novel front.

I worked a couple 61 hour weeks followed by food poisoning followed by a horrendous cold/fever. Needless to say, I’ve done very little writing in the last few weeks. Fortunately, I seem to work in binges, so hopefully as I feel better and my work schedule regulates, I’ll get more of the unpaid work (ie writing) in. I realize that many writers have full time jobs. I don’t think I could do it, however. Even working 36 hours a week takes a huge toll on my writing productivity and free time. I suppose for me it is a matter of priorities. I do tend to read a book a day (or every two or three days depending on length), as well as hang out with my husband and roomates and play videogames or watch DvDs. It’s about finding balance, as with anything in life.

Writing always seems to suffer first, however. I think that is because I really do require a certain amount of space and alone time to listen to the things in my head for the production of coherent stories and ideas. All work and no play, etc… I have three print outs full of comments on my stories as well as a word doc with comments from my online workshop readers. They are waiting for me to have the brain power and the time to deal with them.

I think I’m going to make a 500 a day rule until I am no longer working an extra 16 hours a week. 500 words of either revision or writing, every week day. It isn’t the two hours a day I was managing before, but with the extra days of work, I think this is a more reasonable expectation of myself. Hopefully this won’t last more than a month. Money is all well and good, but at 500 words a day, finishing a 100k word plus draft of a novel will take, well, forever. (Or actually 200 days, which might as well be forever and is certainly not going to get me to my goal of polished novel by Dec. 31st).

Time to go get those 500 words done before I have to leave for work.

Too Many Ideas?

I’m in the middle of a discussion with a friend about being trapped with too many ideas. I have four or five (or six if you count the sequel to one of those) good ideas all outlined and ready to go. I want to write all of them. Right Now. Of course, I don’t have the time or even the multitasking ability to pull that off. I might be able to work on two, maybe. I think the writing might suffer, however.

So what should I do? How do I pick which to work on? I’m inclined towards the Dangerous novel since some interest was garnered from that novel by a major publishing houses’ editor. However, the others are speaking to me as well. I find myself daydreaming entire scenes and character exchanges for the Werewolves in Space novel, or literally dreaming about the quest part of the Welsh fairy tale novel. I watch Handscio and Brynna train together and fight in my head, watch her change from a sickly, overweight selfpitying teen into a resourceful and powerful young fey. I dream of dragons and flying and know that I am Jax from Werewolves in Space, dreaming of the same things. And I see Radiant from Bladebearer raising his new sister and new tribe as they form new songs and evade hunters while his other sister seeks both him and the sword. (Stupid short story that wants to be a novel, sigh). I see also a slave, a holy man, escaping and being rescued during the American Civil War by twin witches in Appalachia. I can feel the mists that they call to confuse the soldiers and lead them away from their lands, I can hear the axe as it goes into the threshold cutting the pain of a childbirth.

They are all there, my stories. Waiting, wanting out, begging exploration.

How to choose? What to write? I have an embarrassment of riches. Where do I begin?

Rewriting and Feedback

I’ve been collecting feedback on the short stories I want to submit places from both friends and the online writing workshop over at sff.com. So far the reviews of the work is positive, which is comforting. It isn’t the things that people like that I find most helpful, unsurprisingly. While I like hearing that people enjoy my stories, the things that don’t work are the things I’m most interested in.

Which brings in today’s topic. How do you know what criticism is worth taking and using? I’ve gotten a few suggestions for changing things up in all three stories that I’m currently editing. I think to best answer the question of how do you know, I’m going to just go through the crits and the process here for each story.

First, Monsters. This short story involves a man and his slightly odd wife and a monster and a mean prince. The feedback I’ve gotten is basically that the beginning feels too different from the second half and that the connection between the monster and prince isn’t clear enough. Also, the naming constrictions are weird and that I either need to remove all the names except the odd wife’s or name everyone. I feel all this criticism is valid. The story’s first half is different in feel than the second mostly because I wrote the first half years ago and my writing has evolved and frankly, gotten better. Since none of my readers seem to have picked up a clear connection between monster and prince, I think this is valid too. Clearly it isn’t a case of one person missing the obvious, it is more likely a case of me not showing things the way I mean them to be shown. As they say, if one person has a problem with you, it could be them. But if five people have a problem with you? It might not be them. So for this story, taking the crits and using them is fairly easy.

Next, Delilah. This story is a retelling of the Samson and Delilah story from the bible. I posted it on the writing workshop as well as sending it out to my usual victims. I’ve gotten fairly positive reactions to it, with one reviewer kindly going through and bolding awkward sentences, typos, and fixing my strange comma usage. This kind of nit picking crit is really useful if a story doesn’t have any major problems. It saves me tons of work in the revision process if I have the stuff pointed out for me. Another reviewer suggested that there was too much fate feeling in the story. I’m not sure I want to remove the fated feeling, since that is a part of what I like about the story. I am, however, going to add a little more active thinking and awareness on the part of the main characters since I think that will help keep them understandable.

Then there was a crit on the story that I’m not going to go with. Mind you, it isn’t always this easy to see what doesn’t work for you about a suggestion. The crit in question was to change the story so that one of the Philistine leaders is a true villain in the tradition of Othello’s Iago. I can sort of see where the person is coming from, but to create a villain to fight against like that would completely change what I want to do with the story. This, I think, is the most important way of knowing what is good and useful criticism. It has to pass my “does this communicate what I want to communicate” test. If you don’t know what story you want to tell, then you probably aren’t ready for the feedback stage. Once I know the story I want to tell, I can use it as a meter to judge the feedback. Does this thing help me tell the story better? Am I getting across what I want to get across? If not, what are they suggesting might work better? It helps too if you can have a dialog with the readers so that you can point out what you were going for and ask them for what might help them get there as a reader.

The third story, Bladebearer, is the hardest one to figure out the good from the chaf.  The story is about a young alien who gets stranded on a planet and has to survive.  So far I’ve had two readers decide this would be a great first chapter of a novel (because I need another novel project like I need a bullet in the ass, really). My imagination is trying to run with that feedback. I found myself sitting in bed the other day outlining chapters in my head. I had to put a stop to that right quick, heh. Another reviewer said she got bored in the middle of the story. I’m not sure what to do with that crit. I’m filing it in the ‘reread and evaluate” drawer. The story is a bit longer than I usually write them at 5107 words. I could stand to trim a bit, though I’m also going to be adding a little on the advice of another reviewer. He wanted clarification on what was happening in the beginning of the story and I think I see a way to make things more understandable. Reviews have mostly been positive, which is comforting. The hardest part about this story, for me, is that I really like it. I wrote the whole thing in an insomniac rush at work one night after being inspired by George RR Martin’s Dreamsongs to try my hand at a little genre bending science fiction/fantasy. I also wanted to write something happy for a friend of mine who suffers through my writing even though she really doesn’t care for the subject matter, endings, or feel of it. (She’s the only friend to make it through my first novel attempt).

Maybe someday I’ll turn Bladebearer into a novel for her.

But because I really like the story, I find it harder to take criticism about Bladebearer.  I get a bit defensive and want to argue instead of listen.  This is a personality issue of mine as much as anything, I think.  But it is one of the obstacles I work with as a writer.

So, to sum up. For me a good crit is one that helps me see how I can make the story I want to tell come across clearly to the reader. It points out the things that work and the things that don’t work. Useful feedback shows me how to improve as a writer and a communicator.

Not very useful crits are the ones that suggest changes that don’t fit with the story I’m trying to tell, or ones that are clearly stemming from some sort of reader bias (these are hard to tell sometimes, sometimes not so much). Also in the not useful category are people who just say “oh, nice story.” Grr. Those people get no gold stars. Saying you liked it doesn’t help me as a writer. If my only goal was to write things and hear “I love you” from the reader, I’d hand them to my mother (who still, by the way, hasn’t gotten back to me on the last story I sent her). The whole point of rewriting is to make things better, clearer, stronger. My feedback readers are my coaches, my cheerleaders, and my workout partners all in one. I can run on my own, to stretch this metaphor a bit more, but I’ll go farther in less time with help. “Good job” or “stop running” aren’t help.