Post #43 – Business Trips

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10/18/18

I’m coming at you from the thriving metropolis of Orlando, Florida. No, not Disney. I’m in real Orlando. Okay, I’m near the convention center, which is probably closer to Disney than downtown Orlando. You didn’t know Orlando had a downtown? Actually, I didn’t know that either until a few years ago when a friend got married there, and I’m from Florida.

I’m on another business trip, where I often get some of my best writing done. This particular trip involves an industry convention where you meet lots of people, some are my clients and some I want to be my clients. There are education sessions, one of which I presented at.  There are the usual after hours parties, which I usually eschew. The hosts aren’t looking for my business. I’m essentially a vendor like they are. I also try to avoid the fancy dinners that take all night. I don’t find appealing sitting at a table for hours wondering where the waitstaff disappeared to again. Instead I write and I sleep, two things that don’t happen enough at home.

However, so far I’ve been so busy here my writing has suffered. I’ve used what would be my writing time in the evenings to prepare for my presentation and to do real work.  Don’t you hate it when real work gets in the way of your writing?

My only writing accomplishment was hammering out a 900 word flash piece on the plane here. The idea for the story came to me last Friday while running. Those runs remain my favorite time/place to come up with new ideas and plot existing ideas, as I detailed in Post #33. I’m pleased the story came together so quickly. I already sent it to one of my beta readers, who liked it.  I should be able to finalize this one and get it out the door to its first potential market fairly quickly.

Unfortunately, I’ve gone on two runs while here and have nothing writing related to show for it. There have been no new ideas and no further plotting of existing stories.  I’ve been more concerned with not getting run over by Florida drivers, who don’t feel the need to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk… ever.

Let me know in the comments whether your business trips are productive from a writing standpoint.

Photo credit: Skitterphoto via Pixabay

Post #33 – The Running Plotter

8/9/18

I’m a plotter. I can’t deny or hide from it. Even when I’m stuck on a plot point and say I’ll write up to that point and see where the story takes me, I still can’t be a pantser. I write to the sticking point and then get no further until I’ve plotted the next part.

When do I plot? Thank you for asking. I don’t sit down and have brainstorming sessions to develop a plot. That sounds like something a professional would do. I don’t have time for that. When I have time to write, I need to write not plot.

Instead, I plot at two other times: when running and when falling asleep. I didn’t develop into a runner until law school and even then I didn’t develop into a decent runner until years later. I’d get through runs in those first years by thinking about things. An early favorite was naming all a band’s albums, like Pink Floyd or Tom Petty.

Now I plot during my runs. I don’t listen to music or podcasts. Those mess with my pace. Plus I think it’s safer to listen to my surroundings. Keeping my mind from wandering is a constant battle, but when it doesn’t, I plot. I’ve come up with some decent plot points. I now find runs almost unbearable when I’m not working on a new piece and therefore don’t have anything to plot. As an alternative, I’m often able to develop a story on the spot. Sometimes I’m not. Recently, it’s been the latter, so I’ve worked on plotting blog posts instead. Got to keep the weekly ideas coming!

The other time I plot is in that netherland of consciousness found between wakefulness and asleep. I use plotting as a sleep aide. No Ambien for me. Thinking about that next plot point usually puts me right to sleep. It doesn’t even matter if I come up with the next plot point or if I remember it when I do. Sleep is it’s own reward. I find when the plot point does come to me, I readily remember it when I turn next to writing that story. It may take me nights, or weeks, but eventually the next plot point works itself out. In the meantime, I sleep soundly.

Let me know in the comments when you plot, if you are a plotter. If you’re a pantser, what do you think about while running and falling asleep?

Photo credit: Ryan McGuire via PixaBay

Post #27 – Collaboration

6/28/18

Last Sunday, I organized a workshop for the Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. The topic was collaboration. My friend, and established author, Bria Burton graciously agreed to be the speaker. She has collaborated on four themed anthologies with The Alvarium Experiment. The fourth, titled The Prometheus Saga 2, will be released July 27.

I took the idea for a workshop on collaboration from Collaborators by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. As a sci-fi author, I first encountered Anderson’s work writing in the Star Wars universe. In addition to his own novels, he’s since dived into the Dune universe and written at least 13 books (and probably more) with Frank Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, finishing Frank’s original series and providing the backstory to that universe. He additional has collaborated with his wife, Rebecca Moesta, as well as Doug Beason and Dean Koontz.

Anderson postulates there are five main types of author collaboration. These are:

1) The Full Monty where both authors contribute the same amount of effort and develop every step of the project together.

2) Round-Robin Method where Author A writes the first section or chapter. Then Author B writes the next section or chapter, and so on back-and-forth.

3) First Draft, Last Draft where the authors discuss the project initially and agree on the basic story line, characters, setting, etc. Author A writes the first draft, and Author B edits, fleshes out, and does a final polish of the manuscript. In The Science Fiction Professional, sci-fi author Mike Resnick confirms he uses this technique frequently when collaborating. Of course, at this point in his career, Resnick is Author B.

4) Master and Apprentice which is similar to First Draft, Last Draft. Here the two authors consist of an established writer and a new writer. The two authors develop the story’s outline together, which the Master approves. Then the Apprentice writes the first draft. However, instead of conducting a full edit, the Master offers comments on the draft and gives suggestions and brainstorms solutions to address weak spots. This method is designed as more of a mentoring experience and a way to give the Apprentice a leg up in the industry by contributing the Master’s name to the work.

5) Ghostwriting where one author usually is silent and yet does all the work. The ghostwriter’s name may or may not appear on the work. This is seen often when celebrities decide to write. It’s also seen when an established writer no longer desires to continue a series he/she created or is no longer able to continue the series due to death. V.C. Andrews is a prime example.

Anderson also points out the numerous reasons for collaborating. These include gaining additional expertise, splitting the workload, having a new learning experience, for fun, and to build your carrier. He also cautions there are pitfalls to collaborating. If collaborators do not choose each other wisely, they may never speak, let alone work, together again.

Having never collaborated on a fictional piece (I collaborate almost every day on nonfiction pieces for work), I enjoyed hearing about Bria’s experiences. I’ve mentioned before I’d like to collaborate with one of my beta readers. I believe our strengths and weaknesses are complementary. I write dialogue well, while she’ll be the first to tell you that’s not her strong suit. She is better at establishing the settling, which I struggle with. I’m hoping together we can pull our strengths and develop a great story.

I have just such a story in mind. It’s my next project after hammering out the novella I mentioned last week, the submission window for which will close August 13. I’m hoping once I commit to this project here, it’ll be a done deal. I’ve already worked out the plot points. I just need to get them on the screen.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever collaborated with another author and what the result was. Are you still speaking to each other?

Photo credit: diannehope14 via Pixabay

Post #13 – Am I Procrastinating?

3/22/18

I realized I titled several recent and forthcoming posts as questions.  But unlike an author writing a character, my audience does not have any insight into my thinking to answer.  Also, unlike many of those posts, I’m not sure I know the answer to this one.

Long time readers (those of you who’ve been with me for all of 2-3 months) may recall that I have an idea for a sci-fi novel.  I’ve jotted down notes about this novel — characters, major plots points, settings — but haven’t written anything yet.  In the interim, I’ve written 12 short stories and children’s picture book manuscripts, all of which are out for submission.  I also have three more short stories in various draft form.  Long time readers also will know my first writing goal is qualifying as an Active Member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  There are a couple ways to qualify.  I selected publishing three short stories in a SFWA-qualifying market, but another way to qualify is by selling a novel to a SWFA-qualifying publisher.

Am I pursuing SFWA membership through short story sales, and writing those stories, as a way to procrastinate from writing my novel?  Good question.  I’m glad you asked.  I don’t think so because I’m not certain I know how to write a novel, though that may be procrastination-inducing self doubt right there.  I’ve long believed I needed to start with short stories to learn how to write.  Don’t forget, before last year, I’d never done this before.  I don’t have an MFA, and I never took creative writing at any level.  Overall, I think I’ve succeeded.  I believe my writing has come a long way in less than a year.  I attribute that not only to the amount of writing I’ve done in that time but also to the books about writing I’ve read in that time.  I couldn’t imagine having focused on my novel, written half of it, and then realizing I needed to go back a fix so many rookie writing mistakes.  Actually, I can, and it involves crying.  But that’s essentially what I’ve had to do with several short stories.  However, revising a 1000-6000 word short story is way less depressing than fixing a 100,000 word novel.  So I plan to keep plugging away at short stories (and children’s books, which are more for my kids) until I feel comfortable tacking the novel.  I’ll get there, but I believe I still have plenty to learn.

BUT (I bet you thought this blog post was over) am I procrastinating finishing one of my short stories?  In Post #10 – Inspiration, I mentioned reading two different calls for submissions and being inspired to write new stories for each.  Well that’s happened two more times since then.  I’ve written one of those subsequent stories already and am in the process of finishing the other.  The submission deadline for that last story is one week away.  Not my best idea—to decide to meet this deadline.  The idea for the story is awesome—and funny.

Before and while writing these other stories, I’ve worked on a sequel to an early story.  I’ve had the idea for this story since last year, even before I’d finished writing the story to which it’s a sequel.  At some point this year, I opened the file containing the first couple of lines I wrote back when sometime and realized since then I’d jotted down numerous notes.  It’s eerily similar to how the file with my novel’s notes looks.  That realization motivated me to finally tackle the sequel, and I made great progress.  In fact, I’m maybe a scene or two from completion; I estimate another 1000 words at most.  I could knock that out in one or two sittings.  So why haven’t I?

Another fine question.  Thank you again for asking.  This is the part I don’t know.  Ostensibly, it was to write these other stories matching calls for submissions with approaching deadlines.  This sequel has no deadline.  Maybe, I’m afraid I don’t know where the story is going.  That was true for a long time before I got past those first couple of lines.  Since then, though, I’ve pretty much had the story mapped out.  Indeed, the missing one or two scenes are in the middle of story, and I intend them to plug a couple of information holes.  I already know what info to plug in, so it can’t be that.

I think it’s a combination of two things.  First, it’s true these newer stories have approaching deadlines, but I think it’s more that they are shiny and new.  Usually, a story loses that shiny, newness once I complete the first draft.  Somehow, I think my sequel story lost that shiny, newness even before then.  Part of that I attribute to reason two.

When it was time to go back to writing the sequel after each interruption, I couldn’t just pick up where I left off.  I’d need to reread the entire story and get back in that mindset.  Unlike a story I’ve completed multiple drafts of, meaning I’ve edited it who knows how many times, I don’t know my sequel story well enough to jump into the middle and start writing.  I need to re-immerse myself in that world.  I need to get back into my characters’ heads.  All of that takes time, probably more time than I have to devote in a single sitting.  Anything more than a single sitting, I risk being distracted by life—or another call for submissions.

I do have a cross country flight coming up, where I’ll have a chunk of time on the airplane to devote to knocking the rest of the sequel out.  That is if I’m not working on my shiny, new story with the deadline one week away.

Post #1 – Introduction

1/10/18

Why am I starting a second career as a writer now as I approach (am already in?) middle age?  Good question Cherished Reader of this Website.  Unfortunately, I do not have a good answer.  I’ve always loved reading, mostly science fiction, but my writing was limited mostly to school and work.  (I dabbled with writing poetry in high school.  I feel extraordinarily lucky that none of those works survive.)

For years I’ve used writing stories in my head as a technique to fall asleep.  In the Fall of 2016, I made my first attempt at putting these stories on the page.  I wrote parts of two short stories and got stuck.  Or I failed to devote the time to finished them.  Or I used the former to justify the latter.

In May 2017, my family took a road trip to Niagara Falls, Toronto, and Ottawa.  This involved a lot of driving by yours truly.  In an effort to entertain and/or encourage our two young children to sleep in the car, this also involved my wife sitting in the back between the girls with me alone with my thoughts in the front seat.  Oddly, those thoughts turned to a completely new story.  I found I would work through scenes in my head while driving during the day and then put the words down on my lap top each night after the family went to bed.  To not disturb them, I spent a lot of quality time on hotel bathroom floors.  Oddly, those are not the most comfortable.

For whatever reason, that trip proved to be the motivation I needed to get the stories out of my head and onto the screen.  Since the words kept flowing, I set two goals.  My short term goal was to write 50,000 words in 2017.  Essentially, I expanded the time period to achieve the NaNoWriMo word count goal from just November to half a year.

My long term goal is to sell three short stories to publications that the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America designate as professional markets.  Three short story sales qualify a writer to apply as an Active Member of that association.

My next post will discuss where I stand with those goals.