I started keeping a journal at about this time last summer — and I’ve found it helpful, to say the least. This journal here is my fourth volume since starting.
Most of my entries are brief — about a couple short pages — and are just a quick run down of what I did that day, or since my last entry. Conversations, random things I’m struck by, tasks of the day, how I’m feeling, and so on and so forth.
A collection of patterns and oddities and everything in between.
But it’s also a great way to keep track of goals, and make a record of what I’ve read, watched, listened to and what I took away from it all — so it’s not all lost in the æther. I also often include a short poem, to get my creative juices going, or to explore a thought or idea.
Over time, as I’ve written more, it’s made me think back to an episode of NPR’s Indivisibilia — exploring if humans can change. The show’s guests went on to point out that not only can we, but that we are constantly changing (even at a cellular level), and can in many ways be viewed as entirely different people whether viewed over long stretches of time, or from one moment to the next. In that vein, keeping a journal is the great link — a record of ourselves, in all our different versions.
Now that principal shooting has begun, news and photos from out of the Han Solo anthology film is really starting to trickle out — and I’ve found myself surprisingly excited for it.
And, loving the characters of Han, Lando and Chewie so much, I couldn’t help but think about how I’d want this movie to play out, were it up to me.
So, here’s my dream plot/treatment that I know will never happen, but I think would totally rock and a guy can dream:
Han Saves Chewie
We start the movie with Han in a tough spot, trying to find a gig, in some seedy city.
An old friend from Corellia, played by Emilia Clark (who’s been cast in the film), worked herself into leading her own team of muscle — real enforcers — for a major crime boss, and while Han never wanted to be working in the crime business, he was a skilled (if not yet famously so) pilot, and his friend could get him in.
We have a flashback of the friend, as Han nears the crime boss’s location. But just then we see a fight break loose — some Wookiee is being cornered by a dozen different men, who are trying to take him alive. It’s impressive, and draws Han in — until he unexpectedly finds himself forced into action, saving the Wookiee, Chewbacca.
This earns Han a lifelong friend (complete with a life debt)…. and some seriously bad enemies.
This past year, I sent out 33 submissions, 7 of which were new stories, with another extensive rewrite. I have another 3 finished drafts that aren’t quite ready, and about 3-4 stories at various different stages of I’m Working On That.
And that’s in addition to the 50,000+ words I wrote for my NaNo space opera mosaic novel, and some work on my first novel.
Assuming all my current submissions from 2016 are declined, I made it 33% of the way toward some of the best writing advice I’ve read during the whole year: aiming for 100 rejections. Honestly, I’ll take that.
I didn’t sell any stories, but I got 2 rewrite offers, 2 honorable mentions for Writers of the Future, 7 personal rejections and published one of my shorts (which I think came out fantastic) with my writer’s group. I’m getting close to that first elusive story winning the Submission Hunger Games.
All that said, I’ve been feeling like this was a bit of a step back from last year — and in many ways, the numbers bear that out. I wrote 12 more stories last year, and sent out 17 more submissions. That was a very productive year. Even more disappointing to me, personally, is the fact that I almost never missed deadlines on submissions I targeted last year, and this year I missed 3…. in December alone.
That said, the quality of my stories have definitely improved: both in my new stories and in improving some of my stories from last year.
In 2015, I had 3 personal rejections in 50 submissions and no honorable mentions at Writers of the Future. In 2016, I more than doubled my personal rejections and have two HMs in my past 3 tries at WotF (and feel really good about my current submission).
I’m big on the school of glass half full. I didn’t write (or edit) as much as I’d have liked in 2016, but I still wrote quite a bit. Writing is tough and life gets in the way, but I’m getting better — and, most importantly of all, not giving up.
There’s something out there that I wrote and you can buy. That’s… like… kind of exciting, and I figured I should provide a link.
The details: About a year ago, I joined a writing group near where I live. Every few years, the writing group puts together a work of our short stories. With the writing group being based in Salem, Massachusetts, a number of our writers enjoy writing ghost stories — and, thus, Ghost Writers Volume 2, was born.
My story is called “The Long Arm of Satan” and closes out the book. It’s about a guy in hell who’s trying to escape. I hope people will find it both hellish and literary.
I hope you’ll agree that there’s a number of great stories in the collection. You can buy it in print or as an ebook from Amazon, and I do believe it’s available via Kindle’s lending library program for people with Prime.
I’ve joined the SF/F writers Facebook group, which has been an interesting, very positive experience. Lots of great ideas, suggestions and some great questions and discussions.
That said, one of the most common posts I read come from people who ask for suggestions on issues that, in the grand scheme of things, are quite minor — like word choice or some basic character issue.
These aren’t bad things to be focused on, but they reminded me of some of my early mistakes I made as a writer — getting bogged down by the small stuff.
I’ve touched on this issue before, but think it’s worth expounding on. The first few times I attempted a book, I’d always make some great progress on the first 50 or 100 pages — and then things would start to grind to a halt. I’d reread what I had written over and over again — getting stuck in an editing loop, working on what I had already written instead of finishing the story.
I’d spend hours creating notes or doing research to get one scene just right, or read paragraphs over and over again looking trying to come up with a perfect word or sentence — instead of moving anything forward. A lot of times, the ‘fixing’ made things worse, because I wasn’t focused on any particular problem. Without that focus, I could address some minor problem by creating a much bigger one — and it’s hard to know if changes are good or bad without the context of a finished draft.
Don’t get me wrong — spending time on the small stuff, even a lot of time, isn’t bad to do. Most any writer would want their word choices to be as perfect as they could make it, or to create enough notes and do enough research to make sure even a single comes across exactly how they’d want — but none of those things need to happen in Draft 1.
I like to call them Draft 2 Problems — things that can be fixed later, with more precision (and context), once the whole story is finished.
In fact, for me, they’re often Draft 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 problems, as I tend to focus on one or two aspects of a story per draft — trying to fix character issues in one draft, or working on world building in the next. Case in point: I’ll write a story with a second world setting using everyday vernacular here on earth that doesn’t fit within the context of the world I’m creating, just to get the basic story down — and then have a draft specifically focusing on making the dialog and terminology consistent and authentic to the world and characters I created.
Then, of course, I’ll have drafts focused on tightening prose, or on continuity issues, or on specific characters or character relationships, and drafts that focus on a whole host of other issues.
The point is, you don’t want to bog yourself down at any stage of the process because you’re trying to do everything at the same time — because you’re trying to be perfect in a single pass through the story.
If you try to be that perfect, then there’s a good chance you’ll never finish that stage, or even damage the story in some way that could take a lot of time to fix.
Plus, if you’re seeking that perfection in the early stages of your work, you’ll spend hours on scenes or characters that you’ll eventually cut or significantly alter somewhere down the line. And why waste time fixing something that won’t exist later when you could spend that time getting to the end sooner, or starting something new?
So, don’t let Draft X problems creep into Draft 1. Just keep plowing ahead.
I didn’t realize it, but today is about 13 months since I first started submitting short stories.
In that time, I’ve sent out 19 different stories and four poems, for a total of 50 submissions, including seven that are currently active.
I wrote another two shorts that I haven’t sent out yet (they need a little more work), and have another two that are about halfway done which I like enough that I plan to get back to them.
And that’s not counting the fifth draft of my first novel, and the first draft of my second, neither of which are ready to send out yet… but both took a good deal of work this year.
I have no idea where the time came to do all this…
Since I like to post where (and why) I send my stories every ten blogs, let’s take a look at what I have out now:
I have one story submitted to the Writers of the Future, from the 2nd quarter of this year. This was my fourth submission to the contest, and they’ve always either been my early work or stories that weren’t quite my best (but where what I had available to send at the time). They were stories I wasn’t necessarily hoping would win, but wanted to see if they’d survive early cullings (one of them did) or maybe get an honorable mention (nope). This time, I decided to send one of my best stories and while I still have some worry about fit (I haven’t really read enough WotF to gauge what the judges like), I’m crossing my fingers.
One at Tor.com. I had to get at least one story in before Tor.com closed its doors to unsolicited short story submissions forever, and sent the very best story I had available since I know Tor.com is the Crème de la crème. I’m pleased it’s still in the running.
One for Ghosts on Drugs, an anthology about ghosts on drugs, both terms broadly defined. I wrote this one specifically for the anthology.
One at Uncanny Magazine. I wrote two stories in November and December that I really, really liked. I sent one of them in, which toyed a lot with mythicism, focusing on character discovery. The story lasted a tad longer than average before it was declined — so I don’t think they hated it. Thankfully, it was rejected a couple days before their submission window closed, giving me the ability to send another (thanks, Uncanny!). I sent that second story, which had some of the same mythic feel, but with prose that’s a little more lyrical. I’ve seen some stories in Uncanny with a similar lyrical feel, so felt like it could be a good fit. We’ll see.
One at Let Us In, which is an upcoming anthology about horrors people invite into their lives — either consciously or unconsciously. Again, I wrote my story specifically for the anthology.
I have two poems out, both to Apex’s Undead poems anthology. I had one poem that fit, and another that I wrote for it. I don’t consider myself any kind of poet, only the occasional dabbler for personal fun, but figured I’d send them out because the worst thing that could happen is they get declined.
When it comes to writing, there’s almost nothing that I love more than to create new worlds, filled with interesting characters and locations in them.
I also love to create beautiful prose, that flows well on the tongue.
I say all this because I just sent out a short story. It was a story I first finished and sent out in December, but it wasn’t quite ready then — it was one of those situations where I would have liked to spend some more time with it, but had a deadline to hit.
I didn’t really know what was quite wrong with it in my head, but I figured out those problems this past week, prepping it for a new outlet.
There were a few points in the story — just a few — where I was trying to do a little too much. I loved the character details I had, but they were bogging the prose down, making the writing feel clunky.
I didn’t want to lose those details, though. They really did add a dynamic to my main character that otherwise doesn’t quite show.
I tried rewording the writing, I tried to move things around… but nothing worked.
Ultimately, I had to let the writing win, and so I made the cuts.
At the end of the day, no matter how many wonderful ideas you want to try to incorporate in your story, you can’t have clunky prose. Some of them will almost certainly have to be cut.
It’s 11/20/15, and I’m a little over 45,000 words into NaNoWriMo. I’m feeling pretty good, but it hasn’t always been easy. These past couple days, things have gotten in the way of my writing — making the last 10,000 words harder than the first 35,000.
I don’t think I’m alone in life getting in the way, but one thing I’ve learned I need to do that perhaps some others haven’t: defend my writing time.
A lot of us look at writing as a fun hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that — but even if writing is just a fun hobby, writers still need to write.
When people look at you funny for writing, or interrupt you, or wonder why you’re even doing it… tell them they can have their football game, a poker night or The Walking Dead, but you’re going to have your writing time.
If you’re in a real time crunch or find your commitment lagging, block off your writing time, schedule it in your calendar — and make sure everyone knows it. Make sure you know it, and don’t let things get in the way.
Of course, emergencies happen and you may not always succeed in blocking distractions, but if you’re never finding time to write, it’s on you to change that.
So, when it’s your time to write — even if all you can do is block off 30 minutes 4-5 days a week — don’t pick up the phone on the first call. Don’t write in the room people are going to talk to you in. In fact, get the heck out of dodge, if that’s what it takes, and go write at a local cafe or library.
If you have kids, particularly young ones, write for a half hour after they’re in bed, or have your spouse step it up if you have one.
Let people see the fruits of your labor when it’s ready. Maybe they’ll love what you wrote. Maybe it won’t be their cup of tea, but at least they’ll see your commitment — and respect it, and perhaps try to help you find more time to write.
I know finding time can be difficult, but you can do it, even if it’s just a little.
Carve that time out. Schedule it. Create goals. Start a project or two. Plan things out. Make sure others respect that time. Make sure you respect that time — and write.
Someone in my NaNo region asked if they should really avoid making edits during their first draft, even if the writing isn’t any good.
I thought I gave him a good answer, so here’s what I wrote:
Locking the door on your inner editor on your first draft is really hard to do, but for me at least, it makes a huge difference.
Editing takes up a lot of time — more than writing, IMO, since it involves so much more reading, investigating, critical thinking and trial and error. Plus, for most of us, it’s not like we can edit a passage once and get it to the point we like — it takes many, many edits to get something to the point where we’re happy with it.
I think that can be dispiriting to do before you’re done with a complete draft. When you have a full story, you have that full story to spur you on. If you don’t have that full story, you can read over the same passages over and over again — that may need a lot of fixing to get good — and wonder if it’s even worth doing. If you have your full story done, and like it, then you know the answer is a resounding yes.
The only thing I’ll go back and change or edit on the first draft is if it’s related to the story — like if I realize I forgot to include a plot point earlier that’s important to my plot later. I make those edits because there’s a real chance that I could forget to do it in future drafts (or worse, think I did when I didn’t) and end up creating a plot hole.
But fixing grammar, typos, making language prettier and all that jazz can be done at any time — so I do it when my story’s done.
I forgot to mention two other reasons why it’s not worth making serious edits in a first draft.
You’ll end up having to edit the same areas over and over again in the beginning, when fewer edits could have produced the same results. It’s wasting extra time.
You may end up spending considerably time making edits to a part of a story you realize you’ll have to cut or drastically change, once you’re done with the first draft.
Like it or not, no one can really assess what’s worth spending time editing on when writing a book until there’s a finished draft, and trying to do so before then will not only waste time but could become a depressing vortex of doom you’re spiraling down in that leads to you fizzling out on the entire book.
While there are certainly some who can edit while they go along with the first draft of their book and get it all done in a good amount of time, there’s no real reason to do it. This is one of those things where the vast majority of people are better off trying to get a full story on paper before they do any reassessing.