Post #21 – Who Do I Write For?

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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 #18 – How Do I Treat My Characters?

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4/26/18

The title of this post could be: Who Controls the Characters? Do writers always know what their characters will say and how they will act? Or do writers let the characters dictate their dialog and actions?

This may be a debate between plotters and pantsers (for the uninitiated, authors who write by the seat of their pants). Are plotters more likely to keep their characters on tight leashes, not letting them stray too far from the outline? Are pantsers more likely to let their characters run free to see where they take the story?

Sci-fi author Mike Resnick, in The Science Fiction Professional, is adamant he is the writer, they’re his characters, so he controls them. He also generally puts together a 5000 word outline for a novel and works from that. I consider that a detailed outline, so let’s call him a plotter.

On the other hand, Stephen King, in On Writing, says he likes to see where his characters take him. He never mentions outlining his novels before writing, so let’s call him a pantser.

I fall more on the plotter side of the spectrum. I like to work out the major plot points in my head before starting on a story. This means I mostly control my characters because they need to get me to each of the plot points. I don’t necessarily know exactly what they will say, unless a good piece of dialog comes to mind that I’m able to write down in advance.

Rarely will I start writing and see where my characters take me. Sometimes I’ll work up to as far in a story as I’ve plotted and then stop until I figure out what happens next. More often than not, writing up to that point helps me figure that out, which could be considered letting the characters control the story.

Recently, I was working on a sequel to my first story. The file contained detailed notes on the plot points I’d jotted down over several months as I developed the story in my head. However, while putting the story on the screen, I realized one of the characters would never let the story end how I plotted it. This character altered my story’s ending and in a very dramatic way. Is that me losing control of one of my characters? Maybe, but I liked where this character took the story. And, once again, it reinforced my intrigue about the writing process. It also reconfirmed how fun the writing process can be. Even as a plotter, my own story still can surprise me.

Let me know in the comments how you treat your characters or how they treat you.

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 #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.