Post #33 – The Running Plotter

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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 #31 – Not Submitting Your Best Work

7/26/18

Have you ever submitted something that was not your best work? Maybe you were in a rush to meet a submission deadline. Maybe you knew a piece wasn’t working, but you didn’t want to spend the time to fix it. Or you didn’t know how to fix it then and didn’t want to put it aside for too long. Maybe you needed to meet a word count minimum and added unnecessary fluff to a piece to reach it. Or the opposite is true – you wanted to meet a word count maximum and cut prose vital to the piece.

I’m likely guilty of most of those.  I’ve rushed stories out the door before they were ready to meet a submission deadline.  I’ve cut words to meet the maximum word count for a writing contest.  I’ve sent a story out I knew needed its exposition rewritten to avoid the dreaded info dump.

I soon may be guilty of sending out a story that is not my best because I’m attempting to meet a word count minimum. As mentioned in Post #28 and #29, I’m working on a novella for a Tor call for submissions. The minimum word count is 20,000. I don’t have any one story that length. I did have three interrelated stories totally about 11,000. The last of the three was a flash fiction piece of only 1000 words. I decided to combine the three and flesh that last story out in the hopes of adding another 9,000 words to meet Tor’s minimum requirement.

I succeeded. The first draft of that fleshed out story came to 9,800 words. I’m currently editing the entire piece, and so far have only added, not subtracted, words. I expect the final version to be in the 21,000-22,000 range.

Here’s the kicker. When going back through the piece, I don’t think it’s my best work. I think the piece is better without the first of the three stories included. However, if I cut that part out, it eliminates 3,500 words, putting me under the word minimum.

What should I do? I could cut the first part and try to add a scene somewhere else to make up the difference. Trouble is I don’t have anything in mind, and the deadline is looming.

I could put off submitting, giving me time to devise further scenes, and hope Tor has another call for novellas in the future. Tor already stopped accepting short stories, so I wonder how much longer it will have calls for novellas.

Or I could submit what I have. I’ve submitted the three stories independently to various markets, all of which sent rejections. I’m not overly optimistic Tor will accept the combined work either. If it doesn’t, I may continue to submit the first part as a stand-alone story and the next two parts as a single story. Given the length of the latter, the available markets will be few. However, as I edit the combined piece, I’ve realized it’s not that bad. I think it will find a home somewhere, even if it’s not my best work.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve submitted something that wasn’t your best work.

Photo credit: blickpixel via Pixabay

Post #30 – Writer’s Guilt

7/19/18

A recent post on The Writer’s Path discussed the guilt the author felt when carving out time for writing.  The thinking was guilt arose because the time used to write was time not spent with family and friends and therefore was selfish.

I have the opposite problem. I feel guilty when I don’t write. The truth is I have plenty of excuses not to write. Writing is not my day job. Well, I actually spend the majority of my day job writing, but emails and memos and revising contracts isn’t the fun type of writing. So the day job gets in the way, and then life gets in the way. That’s how it goes. I accept I have responsibilities that often take precedence over my writing, but I still feel guilty about it.

Like any guilt, it eats at me until I do something about it. For traditional guilt, that’s usually making amends in some manner. For my writer’s guilt, the only way for me to get over it is to write something.

In the past, I’ve said I try to do at least one writing related activity a day. If that’s not actually writing, it’s adding to my spreadsheet of submission markets, or submitting a rejected story to the next market, or editing a finished story, or reading about the craft of writing. When I’m feeling the writer’s guilt, these tasks only take the edge off. The fix still has to come from writing.

The odd thing is I wasn’t always like this. I didn’t seriously focus on writing until about this time last year. Before that, I never experienced writer’s guilt. If I gave up writing, which I have no intention to, would the guilt fade or would it continue to build? Let’s hope I don’t have to find out.

Let me know in the comments whether you’ve experienced writer’s guilt and in what form.

Photo credit: geralt via Pixabay

Post #24 – Submission Guidelines

6/7/18

Aeryn Rudel addressed some of this on his Rejectomancy blog post titled New Author Starter Kit – Submission Prep. Here are my thoughts.

For starters, I will echo the first thing most editors include in their submission guidelines: before submitting READ THESE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Do it. Don’t skim; read all the way through. Then go back and read them again.

Like the pebbles on the beach in this post’s featured image, every set of guidelines is different. Even if I’ve read them five times, I read them each time before I submit in case they’ve been updated. Then I read them again. On the second time through, I make each required formatting change to my story as it appears in the guidelines, just so I don’t miss any. For example:

Editor prefers Times New Roman. Check. Editor wants all identifying info removed (author name and address, byline, last name in page number header, author listed in the metadata). Check. Editor requires document saved as an .rtf or .doc file instead of .docx. Annoying but check. Editor accepts submissions only via email with “[New Submission]” in the title. Check.

There are too many permutations to remember when, like me, you’re submitting 15+ stories to a dozen or so markets.

I also recommend periodically double checking that the editor for a market hasn’t changed. It can’t look good if you address your cover letter to the editor who left the magazine two months ago. Editorial teams change, and submission guidelines often change with them.

Submission guidelines are a great resource. An editor is telling you exactly what he or she wants, which means your submission will have the best chance at acceptance. If you’re a salesperson, which we writers are, in what other industry are you able to know your customer’s personal preferences so as to market your product to them most efficiently? Okay, I’m choosing to ignore the new world of Facebook, Google, and Amazon where the sales companies know everything about us.

My only complaint is how much of a time suck reading and complying with the various guidelines is. I realize each editor has different preferences, so each editor’s guidelines will be different. But the time it takes to conform a story and submit it according to the guidelines is time I’m not writing or editing. Can’t they all agree to use the same guidelines, personal preferences be damned?

Many submission guidelines say to use a standard manuscript format.  Most cite Shunn’s manuscript format for short stories.  However, a few cite an alternate version posted on the SFWA website here.  They essentially are the same.  Luckily, the manuscript template in Microsoft Word follows these formats for the most part.  It’s when an editor deviates from the norm you must be careful.  That’s why you read the submission guidelines and then read them again.

Let me know in the comments your experiences with submission guidelines.

Photo credit: globenwein via Pixabay

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.