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 #16 – How Much Do I Write?

4/12/18

Given my limited amount of writing time, I’m obsessed with productivity. I’m not alone. Most writers I’ve read, who talked about the craft of writing, discuss either how they track their output or their productivity goals.

Mike Resnick in The Science Fiction Professional states each night (remember he writes between 10p and 2a) he writes one chapter in a novel or one entire short story.

Stephen King in On Writing starts at 9a and keeps writing until he reaches 2000 words. Sometimes he is done by lunch; sometimes it takes him until dinner or longer.

Leah Cutter, author of The Healthy Professional Writer, says she tries to write 1000 words hour. She claims to be able to write 2000 words in an hour when the words are flowing.

M.L. Humphrey (Excel for Writers and Excel for Self-Publishers) advocates tracking productivity for each writing session using Excel, noting the time spent and word count. For me, comparing year-to-year writing metrics or shorter periods is a fun exercise. Humphrey believes it is a useful tool for the professional writer because it allows the writer to calculate potential writing income. In other words, if the writer knows s/he can write this many words in this amount of time and sell it for this amount, then their income will be this.

Aeryn Rudel, a fellow short story author and blogger, lately has tracked his weekly word count towards a novel in progress, as well as the number of his short story submissions, acceptances, and rejections both weekly and monthly.

I’ve only tracked two time periods of my productivity, last year’s and last quarter’s.  Last year, starting in June, I wrote 42-43,000 words with a goal of 50,000 words. I have the same goal this year. I have no official short term goals, though I wouldn’t be upset if I hit 12,500 words each quarter just to stay on track.

If the story is flowing, I usually get about 800 words an hour. I often hit 1000 words in one sitting when I have a little longer.  Problem is I’m not writing something new every sitting.  Most sittings are devoted to editing and submitting. I’ve complained about that before in Post #15, but it must be done. The alternative of only finishing rough drafts and never submitting is not attractive to me.

Since seeing Aeryn track his submissions, I included that tally in my 1Q18 update and plan to continue to do so in future updates. I can’t reach my ultimate goal of three short stories published in SFWA-qualifying markets if I don’t submit. And you can see how quickly I’ve had to accept rejection.

Let me know in the comments how much you write and how you track productivity.

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 #3 – Rejection

1/13/18

Let’s talk about rejection.  As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve already been rejected as an author numerous times.  In fact, with the rejection I received today, everything I’ve submitted has been rejected at least once.  One short story has been rejected eight times!

How should I take that?  It depends on who you ask.  One author I’ve read (and I will talk about who I’ve been reading in a later post) stated if a story is rejected five or six times, it means the story is not good enough for publication; and the writer should move on to other stories and possibly other careers.  Another author advocated a writer keep submitting the story to different markets no matter the number of rejections.  This author’s take was that there is a lot of luck involved in finding the right editor at the right time who will accept a new writer’s work. Though I read this advice elsewhere, it actually is #5 of Heinlein’s Five Rules.

I adopted the latter approach.  Currently, there are around 35 SFWA-qualifying markets for short stories (generally not including anthologies). However, not all of these accept the same type of story or the same length of story, and not all are continuously open to unsolicited submissions.  In other words, the actual number of markets available for submission of a particular short story are much fewer at any one time.  And those markets likely are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions.  To paraphrase the reverse of the popular Hunger Games quote, the odds are forever not in my favor.

That is especially true when you understand that new writers don’t sell copies of an issue or subscriptions to that publication overall.  Established writers, those whose names appear on the cover, do.  New writers are lucky if there are a handful of slots in a year’s worth of publications reserved for their work.

The rejections haven’t been all bad.  One of my stories was selected in the initial round of a writing contest, though it did not place in the final round.  Another story received what I call a positive rejection.  That is still a form rejection, but instead of just saying we won’t publish your story, it says we liked your story but we won’t publish it.  And we encourage you to submit more stories for consideration.  The rejection received today was from the same market and was my first personalized rejection.  This rejection was the same as the position rejection, but it included an individual critique of the story from the editor.  With the volume of submissions these days, my understanding is individualized feedback from an editor is almost unheard of.  Needless to say, I plan to revise my story in response to that feedback before submitting it to another market.  (The editor did not ask for revisions and re-submission.  Maybe that will happen when I submit my next story to this market.)  If you’re interested in the topic of tiered form rejections, there is an interesting post here.

Where does this leave me?  To paraphrase another movie (and its predecessor play), always be writing and always be submitting.