16th June

Why have I lapsed into monthly posts?

Because I feel I’m just repeating myself.

Writing’s hard; I’m getting better; repeat.

And I am getting better, as several acceptance in 2016 attest. But there’s still more to learn.

I am an incremental learner. Each advance builds on the last, and I find it impossible to go back and retro-fit stories which is a shame, it means there are trunked tales that are solid in conception, but poor in execution.

To aid advancement I’m always trying to learn. Currently I’m taking Cat Rambo‘s Advanced Workshop. I did the initial class about 18-months ago and found it hugely beneficial. Something I forgot, before signing up for this one, was the effect of time zones. I’m not sure what time the class is for Cat, but for me it’s 0100-0300h. The net effect is ensuring, as the only male in this class, that I don’t take up too much space. I’m so tired by the time it starts I require 3-4 times as normal to think about what has been said, and then extra time to formulate a response (this last bit is irony – I work really hard on not being a ‘Me Man, Listen’ type of person, sometimes I even achieve it).

I really enjoy the way Cat takes a class. There is a freeness to it which allows for discussions to move into areas that may have been unanticipated. Her anecdotes and name dropping are light and purposeful. When discussing class submitted stories Cat always looks to be positive and upbuilding in her comments, but she does not shy away from pointing out weaknesses and areas of concern.

I definitely recommend considering one of Cat’s classes and, if being awake in the middle of the night is really not your thing, then have a look at her on-demand offerings.

One of the recurring themes in writing, or more accurately in becoming a published writer, is persistence. You read, and are told of, writers who submitted and submitted and submitted, facing rejection after rejection. This is a truism.To rack up the rejects that allow  for an acceptance I have been running on a program of averaging one submission per week, and always having at least ten stories out for submission. This has been a useful tool to ensure I don’t hide away from submitting work based on rejections (or critiques – more on that below). Currently I am on my lower limit of ten stories out, and a few of those are very near the point where they’ll drop off one way or another. So I must put a couple out to make sure I have a cushion.

On the matter of critiques. Over the past few months I’ve had a few from people who have read stories and then made suggestions which, I can only assume, are based on how they would tackle the story, instead of considering the story before them. One went so far as to posit that it would be better to delve into who a secondary character didn’t want to return to his hometown after war had ended. That I dealt with it in two lines (not wanting the stultifying family life, or a return to the seminary), that this was a secondary character, and that this was a short adventure story seemed to have bypassed the reader. I was most frustrated, and it took effort not to respond (remember, no matter how poor the crit a sincere ‘Thanks for your time and effort’ is the standard response. Maybe different if you pay for it, and feel it misses the point, but otherwise just smile and wave).

This has made me think about my critiquing methods. I’m an editor by crit nature (because it’s easy to see how to make other peoples work better). I’ll make suggestions on lines, paragraphs, and ideas. What I need to ensure is that I provide reasons for my suggestions, and that they do not fundamentally alter the story under consideration.

Thus ends this month’s maundering.

 

 

May 15th

I’ve written a big chunk of words this month. I like that.

I’ve had feedback on several stories over the past month. That’s good. I’ve not enjoyed it.

Writing is solitary, it is a matter of ego. Mine is suffering at the moment.

I can’t get the mechanics correct. It’s a problem of converting an idea into a story that drags people along.

Ho Hum

Time to level up.

Oh, and my glandular fever is playing merry hell, so I feel physically crap, and mentally everything is foggy.

16th March

I received an acceptance, and a contract. My first pro sale. That’s significant. It’s only a three hundred word story, so not likely to make my fame or fortune. But it’s the next step up the ladder.

Currently I have 11 pieces out for submission. The last four or five I think are heading towards the territory I need them to be, but we’ll see what the editors have to say.

As part of the continual effort to move forward I’m doing a tuition with Richard Thomas. This was a backers reward for the new magazine Gamut which he is launching with a stellar cast. I suspect I chose the wrong tory for us to workshop, but it already I have added a new process to my writing structure, and look forward to incorporating it in my next project (which as of yet is not decided on).

Let’s see what happens next.

26th February

I’ve not written a blog post because I’ve had nothing to say. Better to say nothing and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and confirm it, as the saying goes.

I’ve been writing a story that has a strict 2k word limit. My initial draft was over 3k. The venue the story is for is on my ‘hit-list’. I have a story for it that has been in production for about 14 months, but is still not finished because I’m still seeking the right balance of theme/presentation and don’t want to spoil the core idea with a less than best story. The current story, though, is a beast of a different nature. I jotted down the parameters, did an solo idea-blast session, then a short free-write to coalesce the better ideas.

From there the story flowed out & 3k words later it was time to start cutting. I did a whole bunch myself, then reached out for help. Mark Schultz did a first pass for me and gave some solid help, then kicked me in the butt and said ‘finish the rest’. So I did. But being a delicate flower I asked for more help.

My fellow first reader at Plasma Frequency, Gemma, stepped in.

She spotted the flaw at the heart of the piece.

See, in cutting it down from 3k to 2k I had lost all the subtleties that allowed the MC to be the MC they were. I ended up with an easily guessed twist and on the nose dialogue. Panic time. (Also, this came on the same day I had 2 submission rejections, and one of them pointed out several 101 typos – it was not a good day for my writing confidence).

Option 1, the easy option, was to do nothing. Forget the whole thing and put the story into my burgeoning ‘to be revised file’. Option 2, the cowards/fools option, was to submit it as is. This was never going to happen. Option 3, wallow in self pity and then do the damned edits required.

I went for Option 3. It reads better. The feedback is positive as well (apart from an odd typo).

I’m in no way sure that this submission will get past the first readers, never mind anywhere near publication. But I am massively pleased that I chose Option 3. Too many times I’ve tried Option 2, so many of my pieces are victims of Option 1 (often as a result of being put through Option 1).

Onwards and onwards.

3rd February

Writing is re-writing

I think the above is the biggest lesson I have learned as a writer.

It’s also the lesson I am struggling most with.

Looking back over a couple of years of concerted writing I can see a vast improvement. Firstly, the basics. Sentence structure, use of grammar, &etc. Having been an avid reader from the age of four, and blessed with a decent level of intelligence I was shocked to realize how much of these basic things I just wasn’t really aware of. I’m still no perfect and more than capable of splitting an infinity or dangling a participle. But less so, and I remember to attribute action and speech correctly on a much more comprehensive basis.

On the story and plot front, that seems to be okay – especially in the world building department, I keep getting compliments on that – though I still have a tendency to have things move to slowly at the front end, or even start in a place that doesn’t serve the story best.

Which brings me to the issue of the re-write.

I really struggle with it. I struggle with stripping a story down to the bones, and re-assembling it to resemble something different to the form I envisaged when doing the initial write.

A good example of this is a current story geefourdotalpha.  I love this story, the tale of a robotic war machine that is mostly destroyed, that lies for centuries in rubble and a growing forest, that develops full sentience, that is discovered by a woman who chooses to live far from the hubbub of life, who then destroys the AI because it threatens her peaceful existence. This story has been around for about 9 months now. It’s been rejected six times (I had thought it five, but forgot the original prompt supplier had been the initial rejection). There have been some kind words on it, but I the most comprehensive response suggested I started the story in the wrong place. I couldn’t figure a way to change it.

I supplied the story for critique as part of my writing class by Cat Rambo and included my rejection notices. The basic agreement was to start the story elsewhere. Mark was very helpful in suggesting what scene to start with and, more importantly, why. But it is still difficult. Now I feel like I am writing a whole new story, but with a more comprehensive prompt. The difficulty is I know why I structured it in the way I did. So I am having to remove that backdrop and re-imagine the whole set up of the story.

This is a thing I am struggling with.

Especially as I know it is an exercise I am going to undertake with a lot of the other stories I have written in the last 12-18 months. At the same time, I’m still trying to produce new output, but hopefully of a nature that reflects he lessons being learned here.

But I also know that if I want to be more than a semi-enthusiastic dilettante then the re-write is a skill i must develop. It is a major item in the writers toolbox, to refuse to use it would be like a carpenter refusing to use a plane and sandpaper. The basic quality of the item constructed may be good, but it will always look unfinished, and therefore undesirable. Finishing a story is one thing, completing it is another. Presently I have finished a number of stories. Now I need to complete them, to polish them so that the grain is revealed, to add the lustre and shine which can add warm appeal.

I have written.

I must re-write.