Reflections and Going Forward

I’ve now been writing full-time for over a year, technically. I say technically because this time last year, I’d just started graduate school, and it was eating my life while I sat confused and miserable wondering how something that had seemed like such a good idea at the time could go so wrong.  In the end, I determined the program I was in wasn’t a good fit for me.  I gave it a year, and thought about pushing through the final year.  However, I wanted to know if I could actually get a decent amount of writing done without grad school, since my production while in it was pretty poor (about as bad as when I was working 70 hours a week, really).

So I quit.  This summer was full of moving, vacations, family obligations, and Worldcon.  Even so, in the last four months I’ve managed to write two short stories, get all 10 short stories currently on submission polished as best I’m able, and finish a novel.  It’s not been the smoothest going, nor the easiest thing ever.  There are days when the rejections stream in (today there were two more…) and everything I do feels like it’ll never amount to anything at all.  I even start scanning the job listings wondering if anyone will hire someone who has been out of work a year and has two pretty useless degrees (unless you need some Anglo Saxon translated?).

Then something happens to remind me, to nudge me back onto the path.  Some days it’s schadenfreude, I’ll be honest.  I read a forum post, or a workshop story post, or I’m talking to someone, or occasionally see something in a magazine and think “god, that’s stupid/terrible/sad, I’m totally not that clueless/bad/pathetic.”  Some days it’s seeing how far I’ve come, the days when I read over a line or a paragraph and think “hey, that kinda works, what I did there.  I think I understand foreshadowing now!”   Some days it’s other people like my first readers who read my stuff and tell me they like this or that, or that they can really see improvement.  And some days, the best days, it’s the writing itself, when it grabs me by the brains and I race along the story with every piece falling into place like a master level Go game on fast forward.

And looking ahead, I think I can keep going.  I’ve got a novel done, and three people have already finished reading it for me, with two more due to finish in the next week or two.  They’re compiling lots of information and commentary for me to sift through so I can make it the best it can be.  And reading about the market right now, I’m sort of happy I decided to work on this novel, which is a fantasy with pretty strong romantic elements, instead of trying to finish Casimir Hypogean.  Debut science fiction seems like it’s a tough sell right now, so breaking in with a fantasy novel might be easier.  Of course, there’s no way to know if Chwedl will even sell.  But I’m glad I’m making this the first effort the world might see and saving the more complex stuff for later.

Novel project 2 will have to start in a couple months, as soon as Chwedl’s query is out the door to agents.  I’m not sure what to do.  Part of me really wants to finish Casimir Hypogean to polished draft and then do roughs of the other two novels in the series just so I have them done enough that if by some chance the first sells, I won’t be coming back years later and tackling that world cold.  However, while I think the novels have great potential, I think in some ways the steampunk mysteries I want to write might be an easier pitch.  Local alternate history, alchemy, airships, murder, clockwork cats, and quirky characters?  I mean, how can I lose?  The Casimir story is in my head right now, however.  It’s been coalescing for a few years now, ever since I wrote that terrible rough draft.  I’m not sure how the third book ends, but I know how the second one goes, and how the third begins.  I figure by the time I get there, it’ll be clear how it has to go.  The steampunk book will take a lot of research, the Casimir books almost none (and what research there is I can keep doing as I go).

So I have some thinking to do.  Meanwhile, I’ve been researching and doing rough quasi-outlines/notes for stories for my crazy short story month plans.  It’s definitely time to start thinking about the workshop applications too.  I want to apply early this year to all of them, get it out of the way.  In some ways, I’m stressing about it more this year than I was last.  Last year I really wanted to go, but it was mostly because I wanted to work with the people at CW.  This year, I want to go for me.  I think that either the Clarions or Odyssey could help push my writing to the next level.  I’m clearly on the threshold, if my “nice” rejection stack means anything.  I want to get past the personal rejections and make a sale, to write the kinds of stories that editors can’t put down.  I think the workshops could help with this, could help me find out what I need to learn or practice to get closer to where I want to be as a writer.

I’ll likely be posting very boring somewhat daily updates during November about my short story mission.  Stay tuned for the crazy!

Writers of the Future Quarter 3

I took honorable mention.  Whew.  I was figuring on rejection at this point since it took so long to find out.  But now that means the story wasn’t at the bottom of the heap and I can send it out again.

I have higher hopes for my Q4 story, since I think it relects how much my writing has improved in the last year.  I won’t sniffle though if it’s another HM.

Now, to get to work on my entry for Q1 of next year…

Crazy Short Story Plans

Still no word on my WotF third quarter entry.

Which means I really need to distract myself.  I’m between novels at the moment, so the best way to keep up my writing habits is to work on short stories.  I’ve got 9 out on the market right now.  I need more.  I want to saturate the market with my work, plus starting in January I’ll be super busy trying to write an entire trilogy in six months while querying about my current novel.  And I have three workshops to apply to, all of which want slightly different word counts etc…

Inspired by Jim C. Hines post, I’ve decided to push some stories at more anthologies.  Writing to a specific theme isn’t really something I’ve done before.  Even with the Shine anthology, which I was very nicely rejected from recently, I wrote a story that I’d been wanting to write and thought it might fit (it didn’t, which once it was written I knew it was a long shot).  So I think it would be an interesting challenge to myself as a writer to write for some anthologies.

I went through ralan.com’s anthology calls and made a list of all the ones that interested me and pay at least 1 cent per word.  I have a notebook now full of deadlines, requirements, and submission information for each.  I’ve picked out about eleven, most with deadlines around early next year, though a couple have deadlines coming up very soon.

I read somewhere, and I honestly can’t recall where though I think it was linked to off of sfsignal.com in a post there, that when writing for anthologies, you don’t want to write the first idea that comes into your head because that will be the one that everyone else thinks of also.  I believe the advice said to pick the 17th idea.  So I’m currently brainstorming all sorts of ideas, and trying to aim for a good blend of crazy enough that it might not have fifty clones in the slush but still something I’d want to write.

This decision to write for anthologies as well as working on the giant list of ideas I already had is timely.  November is coming, traditionally National Novel Writing Month.  I’ve done nanowrimo twice and “won” both times.  However, I think that my last nano will be my last nano.  I learned I could write at length and on deadline.  Nano (not that I want to start a war if you disagree with me here…), but you don’t get a novel out of it.  Well, maybe if you’re writing middle-grade, because then 50k words might work.  But 50k is too short for what I want to be doing.  And while I imagine I could write 100k in a month,   I think, for myself at least, I’ve learned what I could and it’s time to move and do novels my way (you know, a novel in two to three months instead…).

But don’t think I’m not going to be silly crazy in November.  Oh no, I’m going to invent my own tradition.  NaShoWriMo.  National Short-story Writing Month.  My goal is to write a short story a day.  Yes, everyday.  I’m not limiting the length, though I’d dearly like to write at least a couple decent ones under 4k words to make my life easier come Clarion sub season, but I am holding the minimum to 1,000 words.  I figure if I even get six stories worth cleaning up and submitting at the end, I’m ahead for a while.  And it will be fun, a chance to experiment and get some random ideas out.  I’m planning on using the anthology calls as fodder.  I can write the 5th, 14th, and 20th ideas I have for any given theme and then pick the one I want to send.  Sounds like crazy fun right? Right?

So, my goals for October are to write up the novella formerly known as Werewolves in Space (which will be my 1st quarter sub for WotF most likely), and finish two themed anthology stories that are due by the end of the month.  A fairly light load, all things considered.

November is when the real exciting stuff gets going.  A story a day.  NaShoWriMo.  If anyone wants to join me in my insanity, bring it on.  I usually write short stories in a day anyway, just not generally consecutively.  And I’m pretty sure my typing limit is around 12-13k words in a day (10k is really more my comfort limit, and 3-5k my cruising speed), so at least my stories won’t be crazy long.  We can hope.

That’s my plan.  In December I’ll collect the notes from my first-readers and try to make my novel outstanding before the queries go out in January.  Until then, time to fill up my short story basket.  (Just think, I’ll get to 500 rejections much much more quickly if I have 50 stories out than 9…)

Drafting the Novel: recap

The first novel I’m counting into my 10 novels in 10 years project is now a finished rough draft.  The next step is to hand it out to my first readers and then ignore it for a month or two.  In December I’ll revise it and write a query letter or ten to start the agent hunt in January.  And in Jan I’ll also start novel number 2 in the project (or really, finish it, since I’m 3 chapters into it already from before).

Chwedl came in at 86,560 words.  I was aiming for 100k, and clearly fell short.  I’ve let my first readers know that I’d like to ideally add about 10,000 words to the book and asked them to especially point out places where they feel scenes/descriptions/whathaveyou can be added in a way that will help and not bloat the novel.  87k is a little short, but in the end, if it comes out there, it comes out there and I’ll just have to sell a shorter novel.  At least it isn’t 120k, right?

I learned a lot about my process on this novel.  I like to write in spurts, which I already knew.  I have trouble with middles and tough emotional scenes.  One of the major climax moments in the novel took me nearly two weeks to write of working on it 5-9 hours a day, every weekday.  It’s only about 4k words long.  I was paralyzed with fear that this part wouldn’t come out exactly perfect and thus break the entire ending of the novel which sort of hinges on this moment.  Eventually, I said screw it and made myself stop deleting what I’d drafted and leave it as is.  It’ll need work in the revisions, but that’s what editing is for, after all.

I also made a huge mistake during the writing of this novel that I do not intend to repeat EVER.  I wrote the first half and then promptly got stuck.  Instead of muddling through it as I should have done (and eventually did), I put the novel aside for nearly 8 months.  While I got plenty of work done in that time on short stories and I think greatly improved my writing skills, the novel sat.  By the time I got back to it I’d forgotten a lot of world details and spent a lot of time rereading notes and fixing continuity errors in the new writing (like shoes, how did she lose her shoes? One scene she has them, then for the rest of the time she doesn’t, where did the shoes go? The novel had no idea).  I eventually gave up trying to read back through hundreds of pages of text and started making bracket notes in text where I wasn’t sure about something (which leg did she break before? I’m still not sure…).  I’d lost the tone, the diction, the threads of character.  I’d lost my momentum.

I hope this won’t be a critical mistake, but it definitely means that I’ll have a lot more work during the editing process than I might otherwise.  The only bright point is that I’m fairly sure the writing in the second half of the book is better because I’m a better writer now.  I have a better feel for character and dialogue and I’m working on the whole actually describing things and slowing down for a longer work, where the beginning of the novel is probably written with a lot of skimming on details.  Writing a novel and writing a short story are different things.  Sure, some skills cross over, but it’s still more like the crossover between riding Dressage and riding Jumper.   They take different levels of things, like description.  In a short story, I try to only describe what I absolutely have to and to make any given sentence do as much work for the story as it can.  In novel writing, there’s more leeway to paint the scene (though having things do double duty for character and plot doesn’t hurt, surely).  I have to remember when writing a novel that I’ve got lots of space to build things up and draw out the picture.  I think I got much better at it in the second half of the book.

One of the things I’ll be working on in the revision is slipping in better historical details.  I used ‘fantasy generic’ for things like the clothing and general props.  I have books on early Medieval clothing, and plenty of resources for other details like dishes, everyday implements, and food.  There will definitely be some retrofitting in the descriptions to better reflect the era I’m going for, though I’m claiming this as a re-imagined ancient Wales, not the historic one, so I’m not going to be too anal about it.  But I think details like this will ground a reader better and help make the novel more unique.

But for now I get to battle post-novel-enui.  I have some ideas for how I’m going to do that, which I’ll outline in another post this week.  (I know, two posts in a week, you’ll all be spoiled).

Of course, not helping is the 3rd quarter WotF results that are trickling in.  I’m not in them, you see.  No HM, no for rejection, no semi-finalist notification.  I’m somewhat expecting a form rejection after rereading my story (which I also don’t recommend.  Never reread something out on submission, seriously).  But I’d be psyched with HM.  No news though, this I am not fond of.  The longer I wait, the more my hopes keep trying to creep up.  Not sure why, but somehow the contest makes me far more nervous than the 7 other stories I have out on submission.  Maybe because I know a few people who have won, and they are really going places with their careers.  It sure would be nice to do well in WotF.

All right, enough angsting.  I’m rewarding myself for finishing the draft by reading a ton of books and playing a ton of video games.  Soon enough the rest of the work will start, but in the meantime, I have to go buy a spaceship and mine some asteroids.

Chwedl Status: DONE

I intend to write up a nice long and thoughtful post about the process of writing this novel.

Since I just finished it in one marathon session, I think that post can wait.

For now, all you get is my YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATAAAAAAAAAAAA.

Done.  Too short, probably a hideous mess that no one will ever want to read, but done.  Done.

Hey, there’s a reason they call it a rough draft, and that editing was invented.

But hey. Done.