P.26: Get Writing with Themed Issues and Anthologies

I never posted about how one of my favorite literary magazines, Crossed Genre, closed its doors… and I probably should have. **sniff**

One of the reasons why I loved Crossed Genres was because it delivered a different theme every month.

That’s great for readers, ensuring a diversity of stories and content — and great for writers, too.

As a writer, it pushed me to come up with new stories, tackling themes I may not have otherwise, but most importantly it was great incentive to write.

Even if I got a rejection, it meant I had more stories to send out and was pushing my boundaries as a writer.

Anthologies fit a very similar niche. When I see a submission call, I think about what they’re looking for… and, if I’m into it, I write.

For an aspiring writer, the easiest way to fail is to not write, and there’s no better way to ensure you write than having submission calls you’re aiming for — and the deadlines that come with them —  on your calendar.

So… if you’re an aspiring author, take a look at what anthologies or themed issues are out there and consider it a writing prompt, or a call to action.

Don’t know where to look? Here’s a few places:

  • For Sci Fi, Fantasy and Horror, Horror Tree is very good at posting updates for upcoming anthologies.
  • The Submission Grinder is very useful, both its Recently Added Markets tab and by checking out Recent Activity. As a bonus, The Grinder covers all genres, including literary.
  • Then there’s always the #SubmissionCall hashtag on Twitter.

P.24: Defend Your Writing Time!

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.

P.23: My NaNoWriMo Progress Report, plus Keeping Up the Pace!

Book cover with title blocked out

I feel really good about my NaNo book so far — I’m at 21,223 words! Woot!

I even made a mock cover, since NaNo’s site suggested it, for kicks and giggles. I’m certainly not a graphic artist, just computer-literate enough to play around with PicMonkey, but I thought it was fun and serves as a nice little piece of inspiration for me to keep going.

It’s a first draft, so I know it’s rough, but I’m very happy with where the story’s going, and where I am today.

One thing that makes it easier to know how I’m doing is the fact that NaNo graphs our Word Counts. Here’s mine:

NaNo graph

Aside from Day 1, where I wrote a gazillion words out of excitement, I’ve been very consistent, if I do say so myself.

While NaNo’s 50,000 words in 30 days is a somewhat arbitrary number, I don’t think it’s arbitrary to suggest writers need to keep a consistent pace on a first draft.

Graphs like this should be especially valuable for people new to writing fiction, or who have never completed a first draft before.

If you’re working on a first draft, you should absolutely keep track of your daily word count. That way, you can learn what patterns you can reasonably sustain, and catch if you’re slowing down as soon as possible — so you can ask yourself why.

It may be a signal that you need to kick it up a notch, so you don’t risk fizzling out.

As I said in Post #22, fizzling out on your writing kills books. It’s very hard to finish a full draft if you put it down for weeks or months.

Trust me on that — I speak from experience.

So, even if new things are going on in your life, keeping yourself busy — don’t stop writing, just find a new pace instead. Even 30 minutes a day can easily get you 300 words, which adds up to a 100,000 word epic first draft in less than a year.

You can do it, just keep writing.

P.22: Put Away your Inner Editor on the First Draft

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

P.20: My Current Submissions and Why I Sent Them, 10/27/15

The blog’s another ten posts in, so it’s time to talk about my submissions.

When I first posted about my submissions (on 9/6/15), I had 7 stories out.

  • My 3400 word sci fi piece that I sent to Crossed Genres for their August pronouns and gender submission theme is still alive. Woot! Given that The (Submission) Grinder shows CG’s released the kraken of rejections — and mine wasn’t one of them — I’m feeling pretty good about this! (**crosses fingers**)
  • Of the six rejections, I got two personal rejections. Count me as happy.
  • After my poem was rejected from Interfiction, I decided to turn it into flash fiction and thought it came out well. I sent the new version to Daily Science Fiction (since they’ll publish very-short pieces), but they ended up passing. DSF is one of my favorite things to read, though, and flash can be fun to write, so placing a story with DSF continues to be a big goal of mine.

I’ve also sent out another five stories, all of which are still alive.

  • I wrote a 5200 word urban fantasy story for the upcoming Were- Anthology series from Zombies Need Brains, LLC. I like to write for open submission calls for anthologies. For starters, it generally forces you to write a new story, expanding your portfolio. Even if your story isn’t selected, if it stands on its own, it’s another story you can send out in the future — and more stories in the submission rotation gives you more chances that you’ll send just what a particular editor is looking for. Furthermore, I think it can help writers explore new areas of their preferred genres, growing as a writer (this submission certainly did that for me). Beyond that, I think there’s something to the idea I’ve seen written on several writing blogs that anthologies with open submission calls give writers a more even playing field, since there isn’t a backlog of already-purchased stories to compete against.
  • I wrote 2600 word piece for Crossed Genres. CG’s September submission theme was for stories about “nonsense.” I had been wanting to tackle a slipstream piece for a long time, but felt very intimidated by the genre. Great slipstream pieces are some of the best, most speculative out there, but they get bad fast, and even good ones aren’t always the most approachable. Since I thought a theme about nonsense seemed to work well with slipstream, I wanted to take a shot. Ironically enough, this story came together very quick for me. I think it hit the theme really well, succeeded in my personal goal to write a good slipstream piece and managed to keep it approachable. One nice thing about Crossed Genres? They always publish at least one never-before-published author every month. That’s a huge incentive for unpublished writers to submit to CG.
  • I sent a 700 word piece of flash fiction to the Writers of the Future contest. With the deadline for the previous quarter approaching too soon to write something original for it, I decided to dip into the backlog of stories I’ve set aside to reconsider. Most of them are stories that I like, but aren’t quite there for whatever reason (in most cases, I haven’t figured those reasons out, which is why they’re there). I looked at that pile to see which one I’d catch inspiration with, and found one that felt clean and full and yet a little flat. With fresh eyes, I realized what was wrong with it. The story had so much more mystery and nuance in my head than what I put on paper. I tackled some edits with that in mind and sent it out. I’ll be honest: I still don’t think this piece has a shot of placing in the contest (for one thing, how often does flash fiction win WotF?), but if nothing else I brought a story back to the point where I’d feel comfortable sending it back out now, even after a rejection.
  • I sent a 250 word piece of flash fiction to Apex Magazine’s yearly flash fiction contest. Apex set up a challenge to create a story about Christmas and invasions at 250 words or under. My first version was 500-600 words — I really don’t know how I managed to cut it by more than half and keep the story in tact, but I did. I gave myself some big chuckles with this one, enough that if I’m not lucky enough to win, I’ll go back to that 500+ word version, polish it up and think of something to do with it, even if the contest would make it too obvious to send anywhere else this year.
  • I must really love Crossed Genres, because I sent a 3,800 word story to their October submission theme, this time about decorations. This is the first time I didn’t write a piece specifically for the issue, but damned if what I had wasn’t spot on for the theme — to an almost eerie degree. Originally, I wrote this as a story I was going to submit to my writing group’s anthology, but it ended up being delayed and I had other stories that fit the group’s theme even better, so this all feels very fortuitous to me. What I really liked about this piece is how it tugs at heart strings.

Additionally, I have one more story I’m planning to submit before October ends, I just have to give it one more final read through before I send it.

  • Zombies Needs Brains, LLC has a second anthology submission call — this one for a story about alien technology. I was really excited for this theme, and came up with an idea I really, really liked — one that I intended to have a lot of action. Then I wrote my first draft, and none of that action was coming out, all feeling wrong. Even worse, the characters felt flat. It needed a lot of fixing, but it was totally worth it. It still isn’t the action-oriented piece I initially intended, but now it has a good mix of action and thought — and I think I’ve managed to create some of the most nuanced and interesting characters I’ve written yet. We’ll see if the editors agree!

P.19: I’m a Grammar Rebel

I have a quirk in the way I like to punctuate dialog. Most people use a comma before they write ‘he said’ or ‘she said;’ I prefer a period.

For example, if a character heard something that sounded good to them, here’s how I’d write it:

“Sounds good to me.” She said.

Here’s the technically ‘right’ way to punctuate it:

“Sounds good to me,” she said.

I like to use a period instead of a comma because I think the line of dialog completes a thought. The fact someone said it is a separate thought.

It’s also about consistency. If a line of dialog was framed as a question or an exclamation, proper grammar dictates that he said or she said would start a new sentence.

It’s “Sounds good?” She said. Not “Sounds good?” she said. So why would it be “Sounds good,” she said? What makes question marks and exclamations so special?

I’m sure many others would feel differently — some passionately, no doubt — but I think I’m right here.

P.18: The Crazy Sh*t We Research for Stories

I’m continually amused by just what I have to look up to get a particular story right.  Writing fiction, you’re inevitably going to come up with interesting ideas that you want to explore — ideas that would feel flat if you didn’t do your homework.

Sometimes it manifests in weird ways.

For example, I’ve been working on a short story that takes place on an alien world, about someone who finds the remnants of an extinct civilization. I had to laugh when I realized I needed to research what makes ancient Roman concrete so damn good (here was the best link I found, btw) — all so I could write a scene about ancient ruins.

The same story required that I really brush up on Norse mythology, too, and not just the basics like the pantheon. I was thinking about how it was interesting that Norse mythology has so many different worlds and planes of existence, and it made me wonder if that influenced how far and wide they explored (and pillaged, depending on the century). Reading up on the mythology, I came across the concepts of the utangard and the innangard, concepts that really fit my character and the story, helping flesh everything out.

Research takes a lot of time to even take the most cursory of glances. Sometimes hours of research may amount to a few lines in a short story. Other times, the hours of research may not even make it into the story, amounting to little more than helping flesh out character’s background.

It’s all worth it, though, because it’s the little things that can separate a mediocre story from a story that will catch a reader — and there’s no better way to do that than doing your homework as a writer.