Post #21 – Who Do I Write For?

5/17/18

Another point I’ve read is every writer has a specific reader in mind when they write. Stephen King, in On Writing, states he writes for his wife. She is his intended audience, which also happens to be true. King always has his wife read a new work first.

In one of six writing tips attributed to John Steinbeck, he confirms there is no generalized audience for a writer; so forget about it.  Instead, he found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person, real or an imagined, and write to that one.

Michael Morpurgo likes to tell a story as if he is talking to his best friend or one of his grandchildren.

King also says a writer friend of his always wrote for the same person even after that person was long dead. If you believe King and Steinbeck, the audience a writer has in mind while writing isn’t necessarily the intended audience at publication.

The audience I envision while writing varies by project.  Like King, my wife frequently is the person I have in mind. She has given me a lot of support with my writing, so I want her to be entertained with the works I ask her to read.

I also often include names of family or friends in my stories. When doing so, I find I especially want them to read that work. Though I use their names, the associated characters are not necessary my friends. Nonetheless, so far that’s gone well. No one has come back saying they hate how they’re portrayed. That’s good since the characters aren’t actually meant to portray them.

One other I can’t leave out is my sister. She has read almost everything I’ve written and is a trusted member of my critique group. I certainly have pictured her as my audience more than once. Since I often use people and places from my youth in stories, I know she will recognize them like few others would. She also has appeared as a character in a story, along with a couple of her friends, which I wrote with her in mind. She’ll be the first to tell you they are nothing like how I wrote them.

For the picture book manuscripts, I always envision my little girls. While I like the idea of bringing joy to any child who reads a book of mine, I especially want my girls to be entertained as I see they are when reading other children’s books.

Let me know in the comments who you write for.

Photo credit: EvgeniT via Pixabay

Post #19 – Help, I Need Inspiration!

5/3/18

This is what I feared when setting my writing goal this year. I’d run out of ideas. That was part of the reason I set a goal of 50,000 words for 2018 instead of doubling that.  After a very productive first quarter, I’ve written all of 1250 words in April. I’ll need to average 5625 words each for May and June to stay on track, but inspiration is lacking.

That is not to belittle those 1250 words. I’m proud of them. Next week I will discuss how I wrote the last 650 under unusual circumstances on April 29. For the first 600 words, I received inspiration one morning from the title of a song I heard at work while listening to Google Play. During the walk back from a haircut at lunch that day, I ironed out the plot details. I then hammered out the story that afternoon. It must have been a slow day at work. I already finalized and submitted that story to a new market for me, one that only publishes flash fiction of 750 words or fewer.

If it weren’t for that flash of inspiration (pun intended) and the unusual circumstances on the 29th, I’d have written nothing the entire month.

I’ve kept up my submissions though. In addition to the 600 word story above, I submitted three other stories in April for the first time. I also revised two existing stories. The first was an flash fiction piece, which was a sequel to another story. Both stories have been rejected on their own a couple times, so I decided to make the flash story the last chapter of its predecessor. One of my beta readers felt the sequel wasn’t working on its own as a stand alone story, too much exposition to catch the reader up on the events of the predecessor, especially for a flash piece. By combining the two, I cut much of that exposition. I already submitted the combi-story for the first time and am hoping for more favorable results.

I also revised a story written in response to a call for submissions with a very specific theme. That market rejected the story. However, I am proud of that story too. It’s a humor piece I really enjoyed writing, and my beta readers all said it was funny. A couple also said a certain element did not go in the direction they anticipated, and they enjoyed that surprise. In anticipation of sending this story to other markets, I changed many of the details specific to that theme. I’m also including several revisions suggested by one of my beta readers, who was not able to review the story before I submitted it to meet the call’s deadline.

Now I must decide when to submit that story. In Clarkesworld‘s submission guidelines, the editor, Neil Clarke, has a list of hard sells, one of which is “stories originally intended for someone’s upcoming theme anthology or issue.” Everyone will be circulating those to other markets, so he suggests waiting a while. But how long is a while? It pains me to have a story finished and not submitted somewhere.

Unfortunately, these revisions don’t add to my word totals. If anything, they subtract from those totals since they usually involve cuts. Next week I also will discuss where I plan to find inspiration.

Post # 11 – Editing

3/8/18

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 #4 – Critique Groups

1/18/18

I decided to start writing short stories for two reasons.  One, I did not think I had an idea I could flesh out to novel length.  Two, I was not confident that I could, or was good enough to, write a novel.  (I decided to write picture books because of my daughters.)  That may signify a lack of confidence or motivation on my part.  Probably both are true, but I am gaining confidence and motivation.  I’ve read several books on the art of writing science fiction, and I joined a writers group.  Both have helped, and I’ll write more on both in other posts.

I also created an informal critic group for my work.  I would consider it formal if everyone in the group were writers, and knew about each other, and all could submit work for critique.  As it stands now, none of that is true.

One member is my very understanding wife, who also is serving as my copy editor.  Another is my sister, whose interests are remarkably like my own.  Yet another is a good friend, who last year I discovered was in the process of writing her own sci-fi novel (which I hope to critique).  I met the last member in the writers group mentioned above.  Her writing interests appear to overlap my own.  Plus she is the author of several self-published books.  Given my reluctance to start my own novel, that experience alone is valuable.

At first, I simply wanted to share my work with someone rather than letting it collect dust, unread on my hard drive.   That’s when I recruited family.  Then, when my wife and sister provided insightful feedback on a couple of stories, I knew I needed those critiques to become a better writer.  (My sister actually lead me to an idea that solved a major issue in the story I had worked on the longest.)

That’s when I started recruiting fellow writers, either beginner or established.  As I make connections in this field, I hope to expand my critique group.  Everyone brings a different perspective, and I never want to overburden any one person, which I feel could happen when producing short stories fairly frequently.  At the same time, I am finding it extremely useful to bounce ideas off people who have not stared at the same paragraph for a week trying to figure out what happens next.