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 #14 – When Do I Write?

3/29/18

I feel like I’m having a hard time finding opportunities to write. My productivity numbers for the first quarter of 2018, which I’ll review next week, say otherwise.

Before I get to when I typically write, let’s look at the writing habits of a couple profession authors. Stephen King states in On Writing that he starts writing each day at 9am and continues until he reaches his goal for the day, breaking of course for biological necessities. He appears to treat it like a job, which makes sense because it is his job.

Mike Resnick in The Science Fiction Professional states he is a night owl and does his writing from 10pm–2am. Last year after the birth of my second daughter, I saw those hours more than I cared too. Now I avoid being awake during that time at all costs.

King further relates the story of Anthony Trollope (an English Victorian writer) whose day job was as a clerk in the British Postal Department. He got up early each morning and wrote for 2.5 hours before leaving for work. It didn’t matter if he was in the middle of a sentence. He stopped and didn’t pick up writing again until the next day.

My ideal would be similar to King’s.  Get the kids off to daycare and start writing by 9am. In other words, treat it like a job. The problem is I have a day job, a good one that pays the bills, so my writing time is more like Trollope’s. I used to get about an hour or less each night. Then my oldest daughter started fighting bedtime, hard. My wife and I are early risers. This shortens the night, so my daughter’s late bedtime in conjunction with my early bedtime means writing in the evenings now is difficult.

I also used to have an opportunity to write during the girls’ nap time on the weekends.  Now that my oldest doesn’t take naps most days, my wife and I take turns entertaining her one afternoon each weekend. So my weekend writing time has been cut in half.

I typically get up early to exercise, before the kids awake. It’s the only time I have for that. If I wanted, I could sacrifice the work outs and use that time to write. However, those workouts are important to me. It’s also when I catch up on my Hulu and Netflix watching.

I’m trying a new approach. Two mornings a week I try to get up at the same time and write. I’ve followed this approach for several weeks, and it has worked well so far. I’m sacrificing my few sleep-in days, but it’s worth it. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I’m able to get 1000 words to start the day.

The only issue I’ve encountered is when a rejection comes in over night. When I see that, I end up spending my morning writing time submitting the rejected story to the next market instead of putting new words on the screen. But there’s a simple fix. I stop checking my email when I get up.

Let me know in the comments when you write.

Post #12 – Where Do I Write?

3/15/18

Supposedly, every writer needs their own sanctuary for writing. I’m not sure I entirely agree with that, at least not all the time. Before I get to where I write, let’s look at where some other writers write.

In On Writing, Stephen King says he writes in a spacious, skylighted study that’s a converted stable loft at the rear of his house in Maine. He once had a giant oak desk in the middle of the room. After sobering up, he got rid of that desk and replaced it with a desk half the size. It sits in one corner of the room under an eave. King prefers to write with no outside stimuli, not even a window with a view. He does listen to rock music, though, such as AC/DC.  Seems like outside stimuli to me.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch states in The Freelancer’s Survival Guide she has two offices.  The one where she writes is devoid of all external communication. No internet, no phone, no TV. She even has a separate laptop to write on in there with no internet browser or games installed. Her second office is where she communicates with the outside work, i.e. email, twitter, phone, etc. She likes to listen to classical music while writing.

Kevin J. Anderson lives in Colorado and is an avid hiker. He takes a handheld recorder with him on hikes and dictates chapters that he later has transcribed. I assume he then sits somewhere at a computer to edit.

Ironically, I didn’t start writing until after the birth of my youngest daughter. Guess whose room formerly was the office? The office desk is now downstairs in the family room where it’s cold and dark. And the back of the chair isn’t comfortable, though that hasn’t changed.

I’ve done most of my writing at the kitchen table or the bar top separating the kitchen and dining room. This is less than ideal. I can’t leave my laptop there because it’s also where I eat. If I write in the mornings before the family awakes, I’m afraid the light will hasten their getting up, which would result in zero productivity. If I write in the evenings, my wife probably feels she can’t watch Hulu or listen to music without disturbing me because of the open floor plan of our dining room and living room. If I write during nap times on the weekends, productivity again is an issue unless my wife takes our oldest daughter out somewhere since she rarely naps any more.  Still, I’ve managed to be fairly productive.

I’ve also written a bunch while traveling for work. Though I only have 3-4 business trips a year, I use the travel time to write.  Some of my most productive periods are while on a plane or train. I enjoy writing then so much I get annoyed (unreasonably so) when I must take a red-eye because I need to sleep instead of write.

I even began my first stories while on a business trip. On a Sunday before the start of a conference, I sat poolside that afternoon finally putting words on the screen, though I had to sit in the shade to see my screen. Regardless, it wasn’t a terrible way to start this adventure.

Like Rusch, I too enjoy listening to classical music, though usually only when I need to drown out external noise. My preference is more for movie soundtracks. Anything with words distracts me.

Let me know in the comments where you write.

Post #5 – Resources Part 1 – Books

1/24/18

Besides being a big reader of speculative fiction, especially science fiction, I have no writing credentials.  I didn’t study creative writing in college.  I haven’t attended any writing workshops, though I may.

I repeatedly hear two pieces of advice on how to improve my writing.  The first way to become a better writer is to be an avid reader.  Check.  Of course, the second thing they say is to write.  However, I feel simply writing alone cannot make me a better writer.  How do I avoid repeating the same mistakes?  If I do not know how to develop characters, or plot, or theme, can I grasp those concepts intuitively just from reading other fiction?  I doubt it.  So instead of simply reading genre fiction, I also have read books recently on the art or how-to of writing speculative fiction.  Below are some of my favorites so far.

Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold

Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories by Orson Scott Card

On Writing by Stephen King

King’s is more high level and much more personal.  For example, he discusses where he writes and when he writes and how much he writes each day.  The first part of the book is a true memoir and discusses his childhood and his early writing while addicted to drugs and alcohol.  I found that all fascinating but not very helpful in developing my writing skills.  Unfortunately, I do not plan to become addicted to drugs or alcohol any  time soon.

The other two books listed above are more about the nuts and bolts of writing speculative fiction.  I found Worlds of Wonder especially practical.  For example, Gerrold devotes one chapter to the questions an author should ask when developing an alien race.  He devotes another chapter to the questions an author should ask when developing a new world.  While an author is not expected to include the answers to all these questions in a work, it seems logical that an author can only fulfill the old adage of writing what you know if you’ve developed the alien race or world to the point where you truly know it.

I don’t plan to stop with the books above.  I have a list.  I always have a list… for everything.  Below are a couple on my To Read list.

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula Le Guin (RIP, 1929-2018)

Characters & Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card

In addition to the craft of writing, I’ve read a couple books on the business of writing.  Writing will not be my career any time soon, but I found the following two books to be immensely helpful in understanding the ins and outs of writing as a business.

The Magic Bakery: Copyright in the Modern World of Fiction Publishing (A WMG Writer’s Guide) by Dean Wesley Smith

Q&A for Science Fiction Writers by Mike Resnick

I bought both of these as part of Story Bundle’s 2017 NaNoWriMo bundle.  I’m still working my way through the remaining titles in that bundle.  Resnick’s take is a little dated since it mostly was written in the early 2000s with the occasional update in 2008 and again in 2012.  Much has changed since the early 2000s and even in last five years, especially with electronic publishing.  Regardless, many of Resnick’s points remain applicable.  Smith’s take is more current, and he does not come off nearly as arrogant as Resnick.  (I’m not saying that arrogance wasn’t earned, but it’s there.)  That said, I felt I benefited from the two contrasting viewpoints.  Now I just need to learn about writing viewpoints.