Post #19 – Help, I Need Inspiration!

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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 #17 – How Soon Do I Edit, and How Much?

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4/19/18

I’ve read a writer needs to let a first draft breathe, like a fine red wine. I take that last part on faith since I don’t like red wine, but I agree with the basic premise.

In On Writing, Stephen King states he lets the first draft of a novel sit for 6 weeks. He wants his story to be familiar but foreign enough he isn’t afraid to tear it apart.  In other words, he needs to be able to step back. He believes too often a writer is too close to the story and characters immediately after completing the first draft. Once the 6 weeks pass, King completes a first edit where he focuses on strengthening themes he either consciously or unconsciously included in the first draft. Then his wife reads it, and he revises according to her suggestions. Next, he hands the draft over to his beta readers and edits accordingly. Finally, he sends the draft to his editor at the publisher.

I take a somewhat different approach, though my edits to date are of short stories or picture book manuscripts not novels. I try to do a clean up edit immediately after finishing the first draft. I don’t want to stumble over those errors when I do my first content edit. When time permits (meaning I’m not attempting to beat a closing submission window), I wait about a week before that first content edit. I’m usually over eager to get a new story out to my critique group while it’s shiny and new, so I’m always battling that impulse when allowing a story to breathe.

I conduct a second content edit after receipt of comments from my critique group members. The last step is handing the draft to my very understanding wife who acts both as my final beta reader and copy editor.

But wait there’s more. I know, I already talked about the last step. However, I like to read a story one more time after my wife’s review. Sometimes I find a typo everyone else missed. More often I find a typo that I made entering my wife’s edits.

All this amounts to 4-5 drafts for a short story. I doubt professional writers do that many for anything other than a novel. However, as I’ve stated before, I expect their first drafts are significantly more polished than mine. Hopefully, as I become a better writer, my work will require fewer rounds of edits.

Sadly, what I’m not including as an official edit is the formatting changes often needed to comply with a market’s submission guidelines. That’s a topic for a future blog post.

Let me know in the comments how soon you edit and how much.

Post #15 – 1Q18 Update

4/5/18

I thought it may be interesting to post a quarterly goal update in addition to a year-end tally. When I started drafting this post a week or so ago, it had a significantly different tone. Then, after going 0-31 on acceptances since I started submitting, I received my first acceptance last Friday! That’s right folks, I’ll finally be a published author. Full details will follow once those are finalized.

Until then, for the first quarter of 2018, below are my totals.

Words written = 17,400

Submissions = 24

Rejections = 17

Acceptances = 1!

Of course, a lot of rejections means a lot of submissions.  The editor of Arthur’s Publish, Caitlin Jans, says she caps the number of submissions she has out at any given time to 20, but she likes to keep it roughly at that number. I’m fast approaching her number with 11 works out currently and four more nearing submission status. I feel tracking rejections, resubmitting, and tracking what I resubmitted and where now eats up much of what would be my writing time.

I spent so much of the beginning of this quarter editing I thought I wouldn’t get to a quarter of my yearly word goal. Luckily, I had a late quarter burst of productivity putting me over my 12,500 word quarterly goal. I’m pleased with my words written, but I’m more pleased that word count includes first drafts of five stories, four of which I started during the quarter. Each of these four I decided to write only after reading a call for submissions. I was pleased with how quickly inspiration struck and how quickly I worked through the first draft of each. Oddly, three are humorous speculative fiction pieces.

I’ve come to realize the number of words written is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the writing I’ve done. The amount of work that goes into editing and submitting stories is staggering. While I wrote 17,400 words, I edited seven stories and started submitting those this quarter. I also re-edited several stories finished last year, which were rejected by one or more markets, before submitting them to other markets.

All of that takes time and effort. It takes me a couple nights to edit a 6000 word story. And then another night to reformat it to comply with a specific market’s submission guidelines.

In On Writing, Stephen King says early in his writing career, he receive a form rejection for a short story but with a handwritten note: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. As I track my word count from initial draft to final draft, I seem usually to follow that advice without realizing it. I rarely add substantially to a story after the first draft. I’m usually cutting it down. What I haven’t figured out is what word count to use towards my yearly goal. Do I use the higher first draft total? Or do I use the smaller final draft total because that’s what I submit? I’m leaning towards the former. Last year I used the latter most often, which I think cut about a thousand words from my total. I’m not heartbroken by this; another thousand wouldn’t have gotten me to my 50,000 word goal. Still, going forward, why not give myself credit for those first draft totals? I wrote them. Of course, if the finished story has more words than an earlier draft, I’m using that number. I wrote them too.

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 #9 – Resources 3 – Formatting and Editing

2/22/18

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.