Post #12 – Where do I write?



Supposedly, every writer needs their own sanctuary for writing. I’m not sure I entirely agree with that, at least not all the time. Before I get to where I write, let’s look at where some other writers write.

In On Writing, Stephen King says he writes in a spacious, skylighted study that’s a converted stable loft at the rear of his house in Maine. He once had a giant oak desk in the middle of the room. After sobering up, he got rid of that desk and replaced it with a desk half the size. It sits in one corner of the room under an eave. King prefers to write with no outside stimuli, not even a window with a view. He does listen to rock music, though, such as AC/DC.  Seems like outside stimuli to me.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch states in The Freelancer’s Survival Guide she has two offices.  The one where she writes is devoid of all external communication. No internet, no phone, no TV. She even has a separate laptop to write on in there with no internet browser or games installed. Her second office is where she communicates with the outside work, i.e. email, twitter, phone, etc. She likes to listen to classical music while writing.

Kevin J. Anderson lives in Colorado and is an avid hiker. He takes a handheld recorder with him on hikes and dictates chapters that he later has transcribed. I assume he then sits somewhere at a computer to edit.

Ironically, I didn’t start writing until after the birth of my youngest daughter. Guess whose room formerly was the office? The office desk is now downstairs in the family room where it’s cold and dark. And the back of the chair isn’t comfortable, though that hasn’t changed.

I’ve done most of my writing at the kitchen table or the bar top separating the kitchen and dining room. This is less than ideal. I can’t leave my laptop there because it’s also where I eat. If I write in the mornings before the family awakes, I’m afraid the light will hasten their getting up, which would result in zero productivity. If I write in the evenings, my wife probably feels she can’t watch TV or listen to music without disturbing me because of the open floor plan of our dining room and living room. If I write during nap times on the weekends, productivity again is an issue unless my wife takes our oldest daughter out somewhere since she rarely naps any more.  Still, I’ve managed to be fairly productive.

I’ve also written a bunch while traveling for work. Though I only have 3-4 business trips a year, I use the travel time to write.  Some of my most productive periods are while on a plane or train. I enjoy writing then so much I get annoyed (unreasonably so) when I must take a red-eye because I need to sleep instead of write.

I even began my first stories while on a business trip. On a Sunday before the start of a conference, I sat poolside that afternoon finally putting words on the screen, though I had to sit in the shade to see my screen. Regardless, it wasn’t a terrible way to start this adventure.

Like Rusch, I too enjoy listening to classical music, though usually only when I need to drown out external noise. My preference is more for movie soundtracks. Anything with words distracts me.

Post # 11 – Editing



Is there anything worse than editing? Okay, there is nuclear holocaust. And genocide. And famine. And cancer. But besides those and likely thousands more, is there anything worse than editing?

Editing usually means I’m not working on a shiny, new story. Instead, I’m probably reviewing a story I’m sick of because it’s the fifth, or tenth, time I’m reading it.

I think I’ve pared my editing down to four drafts. The first draft is the hot off the press rough draft. The second draft is after I’ve reviewed it once to plug any glaring holes and clean up spelling and grammar. Then I send it to my critique group. The third draft is when I incorporate their feedback. By that time, the story has sat long enough I can review it fairly objectively and really see what’s missing or needs to be cut. Hopefully, my critique group has seen that too. The fourth draft is for copy edits. And if I’m not completely sick of it, I’ll read through one more time.

Then the rejections come in, and I feel the need to edit again before sending the story back out. Heinlein’s Rule Three says to avoid that trap, and I agree to a certain extent. However, as a new writer, my stories contain many rookie mistakes. I didn’t even know they were mistakes until reading Sam Knight’s Blood From Your Own Pen and K.M. Weiland’s blog Helping Writers Become Authors. So I edit out those mistakes as best I can when a story I already have out comes back rejected. I don’t know if those mistakes were why an editor rejected a particular story, but I want to eliminate the easy reasons for editors to reject my work.

What I didn’t realize at the start of my writing adventure was how long this process took. Professionals seem to do this all in a matter of days, if not hours. Of course, they probably aren’t sending short stories to a critique group or beta readers. And my guess is the magazine editors will forgive if their story has a few spelling/grammatical errors. As an unpublished author, I don’t have that luxury. My submissions need to be near perfect to have a fighting chance.

Professional authors also know what they’re doing from the start, so I imagine their first drafts are considerably better than my own. They know to avoid passive voice, whereas I have to constantly remind myself. They know how to avoid the info dump whereas I’m still learning to subtly work in backstory.  I’ll get there… with years of practice.

So I keep editing. And editing. But it’s always more fun to work on a shiny, new story.

Post # 10 – Inspiration



I’ve read several professional authors (Mike Resnick, for example) state they often are asked at conventions and other forums, where do you get your ideas? Indeed, these authors say it’s a tiresome question because someone in the audience asks it every time. I’ve never been asked that, so I don’t find it tiresome, yet. Maybe in a few years after I’m a famous author.

Sources of inspiration for my stories never cease to amaze me. The first story I ever started was inspired by, what I believe is, a great first line: “The naked man ran screaming from the room.”

Years ago I read a column by the then editor of either Analog Science Fiction and Fact or Asimov’s Science Fiction (I can’t remember which) about catching an editor’s (and reader’s) attention with a great first line. Shortly after, I came up with the above line. I kicked that line around in my head for years until I finally figured out why the man ran screaming from the room and just as importantly, why he was naked. Figuring that out really was the start of my writing adventure.

Since then, I’ve taken inspiration from such unlikely sources as a handwritten sign on an out of order elevator and the nickname some friends use for their daughter. Also, a couple time now while writing a story, I’ve developed sequel ideas. That seems to happen frequently.  Between that and understanding it’s always easier to sell a product with an existing audience, I finally understand why there are so many series out there.

Twice now after reading the submission guidelines for a publication, inspiration hit me for a story matching those guidelines. Oddly, both were calls for humorous speculative fiction. When I read the first set of guidelines, I decided to take on the challenge. I’d never tried writing a funny story before. I had a title for a story in my To Be Written list but no plot yet. And then inspiration hit for how I could turn this random title into a humorous story.

Then it happened again. The second set of submission guidelines requested sword and sorceress fantasy works, meaning fantasy with a strong woman protagonist. While I enjoy reading some fantasy (Lord of the Rings and The Song of Ice and Fire), I lean more towards science fiction. I’ve never written it and didn’t intend to any time soon. But at the very end of these guidelines, the editor said they end the anthology with a short, funny story. For some reason that’s when inspiration hit. I had an idea for a short, funny fantasy story starring a female character. I was so inspired I stopped writing the story I was working on then and finished this new story in about three sittings.

I haven’t even discussed the inspiration for my novel. In a prior post, I mentioned one of my critique group members is working on her first novel. I had the privilege to read the first chapter. I thought the premise of the story was excellent, and I wanted to read more. Alas, that literally was all she wrote at that time. In addition to compiling a few notes for her, I also wrote down a couple directions I thought the story could go to see if I could guess what she had in mind. None of my guesses were correct. She knows where it’s going, and I can’t wait for her to take it there. Later, I realized I liked one of my guesses. I liked it so much I decided to use it as the plot of my own novel. Of course, the plot of my novel is nothing like my friend’s, but I’m fascinated by how simply trying to guess her novel’s plot lead to finding my own.

Post #9 – Resources 3 – Formatting and Editing



Here I am back to writing resources again. As a new writer, I started from scratch in a lot of ways.  One of those was learning how to format a work as expected by publishers. For short stories, almost every publisher’s submissions guidelines say to use Shunn’s manuscript format. Between that and Word’s manuscript template, my short stories at least looked professional from the beginning.

Some publishers look for stories in non-traditional formats. In the submission guidelines for several publishers, they state they actively seek stories in non-traditional formats.  Examples provided include a story written in the style of a web chat or series of text messages. The concept of using non-traditional formats goes back at least as far as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and probably further, where the narrative appears in a series of journal entries and correspondence. More recently, the same concept was used in The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: A Novel by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. An author in my critique group experimented with using a Dracula-style format for her novel but abandoned the idea, citing difficulty in making it work. I have not tried the concept myself, though I did include an email exchange in one short story.

With formatting out of the way, I needed to learn stylistically how to write. Again, if your story calls for a non-traditional style, go for it. But for a traditional story, if I want to be published, the style should conform to that expected by most publishers. Stephen King advocates using The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. It’s short at about 80 pages. There’s also The Chicago Manual of Style.  I happened to have an abbreviated version of this lying around.

The reason I knew to use “lying” instead of “laying” just then was because of Blood from Your Own Pen: A Practical Guide on Self-Editing and Common Mistakes: For Beginning Authors Who Intend to Survive to Publications by Sam Knight. I love this book. I recommend it for any novice writer. For starters, it’s funny, which I always appreciate. Second, the advice is solid. I often found I’d read a chapter, and then the next time I was editing a story, I’d catch the mistakes Knight just told me about. Also, as I receive rejections of stories I have out now, I’m finding myself re-editing them to eliminate the errors he discusses. That makes the turnaround time for resubmitting those stories slower, but maybe the revised stories will appeal more to subsequent publishers.

Post #8 – Writing Contests



In Post #6, I mentioned how I submitted a short story to the Virginia Writers Club’s 2017 Golden Nib Writing Contest.  I didn’t mention the results.  Each chapter sends one entry in the three categories (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) on to the state level.  The judges reviewing the Northern Virginia chapter entries could not decide between my story “May Science Be With You” and an entry by Michelle McBeth, so the chapter sent both our stories on to the state level in the fiction category.  Co-representative!  Unfortunately, neither of our stories placed.

The president of the Northern Virginia chapter announced the selection of my story to co-represent the chapter at the very first meeting I attended last year.  That was a huge ego boost.  To have even that little amount of validation so early in my writing career also was a great motivator.  I attribute at least part of my productivity last year to that achievement.

Then I got to thinking about what it would have meant to win the Golden Nib, and I didn’t like it.  Placing in the top three, first, means a small cash prize, but I’m not in this for the money.  And we’re essentially talking about a couple of dollars.

Winning also means possibly having your story “published” by the Virginia Writers Club.  That sounds great!  But… it isn’t.  At most that means having your story put in a “Virtual Anthology” (i.e. a PDF with the other winners) that the club posts on its website.  Maybe not even that.  The last Virtual Anthology on the club’s website is from 2015.  The website doesn’t even list the 2017 winners.

What winning actually means is you no longer can submit your winning entry to markets for publication, unless those markets accept reprints.  Most markets want the rights to your story’s first publication.  By winning this contest, you’ve ruined what might be a good chance of getting a story published in a professional market.

This may not be true for all writing contests.  Some may pay more, making it more worthwhile.  Some may produce an actual anthology available for sale or download.  Maybe you only want (or need!) the validation that goes with having your work selected as a winner.  If that is the case, go for it.  But my goal is to make three sales to SFWA-qualifying markets.  If the Virginia Writers Club had selected my story as a winner, that would be one less work I have available to achieve my goal.

Will I submit to future Golden Nib Writing Contests?  Probably.  But they will not be stories hot off the presses.  The works I submit likely will have been rejected by most or all of the SFWA-qualifying markets.  (That’s not a depressing thought at all.)  In other words, it’s a strong candidate to be a trunk story. And maybe I would sound less jaded if the Virginia Writers Club actually published the winning stories even if only on their website. If I won, then I could say I was both a published and award winning author. It just wouldn’t be a notch towards my writing goal.

To give the Virginia Writers Club some credit, it is producing a 100th Anniversary Anthology that actually will be in print.  Unfortunately, the selection process was in 2016, about a year before I joined.