Your Story Isn’t The Only Thing To Research

Notes:  Name left out to protect the innocent.

“Remember that person I told you about who put her book up on Amazon?”

It took a moment for me to figure out who my friend was talking about.  We had discussed the self-published book a few nights ago.  “Yeah.  What’s up?”

“She signed with a publisher.  Want to see who?”

Curious, I said yes.  My friend directed me to a Facebook page.  Alarm bells began ringing in my head the moment I saw the page.  A quick Google search did nothing to silence the alarm.  The more I searched the louder those alarm bells rang.  What set me off?

The name in question returned a publication of a unrelated business. The publisher in question turned up in a Google search on the second page, and that was a reference to the Facebook page I was shown.  I wasn’t able to locate it at all on DuckDuckGo and Bing. The Facebook page doesn’t list a website or any contact information, other than a graphic listing a Gmail email address for submissions.  A quick search of the Absolute Write Water Cooler didn’t turn up any information.  Normally a lack of listing at Absolute Write is a reassuring thing.  This time it did the absolute opposite. There was no information I could find anywhere except for the one Facebook page.  The whole situation screamed scam to me.  I can’t say for certain that it is, but all my instincts say yes.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen something that sets me on guard.  Another friend of mine won a contest and signed a contract to have her book published as part of the prize.  Over the course of two years, I saw several of the contracts provisions broken, and scratched my head when she described the reasons why her book was delayed.  My friend was lucky and got her rights back, but not without a fight.

What’s the take away from these situations?  Do you research before submitting and definitely before signing anything. Could these situations be avoided?  Maybe.  It’s easier to say it when it’s not an offer to have your book published. I would like to think that I would be savvy and do my research ahead of time. But I have to admit that I might have signed the contract without even blinking.

Imposter Syndrome Revisited

Yesterday I started writing a post about red flags when submitting to publishers.  It was based off of a discussion a friend and I had. I have done my research, and I can speak intelligently about it.  But when I sit down to write about it, I can’t seem to push the words through my fingers.  Why am I blocked?  It’s my old friend Imposter Syndrome.

I’ve written about Imposter Syndrome before.  And I’ve had a few skirmishes with it on and off recently.  Most of those times I was able to pause and reason my way through why it was the wrong reaction to have.  This time I have an idea why reasoning isn’t working for me.  I don’t have a lot of hands-on experience when it comes to submitting.  All my instincts and everything I read says that I am right. But I’ve only submitted three pieces to five places over the course of a year.  What gives me the right to talk about it when there are so many more people out there with so much more experience?

Of course that is utter codswallop.  My experiences are as equally valid, and I have learned from both other’s and my mistakes.  In fact I am saying the same thing.  But there is that little nagging voice in the back of my head saying that I don’t have the authority.  It’s the same one that that says that I will never make it as a writer.   I am working on learning to ignore that voice.  With time it is becoming easier to do.

My Writing Process – Do I Even Have One?

A friend and a fellow writer told me the other day about obtaining Post-Its for use in her plotting process.  She suggested that I write down my plotting process, if I had one.  I do have one, but it’s hard to pin down and describe.

The best way to describe my method is pantsing with a minimal amount of plotting. I come up with an idea, play with it, stretch it here, compress it there.  Instead of scribbling it on paper, I do it all in my head.  When i have a rough mental list of scenes I want, I dive in and start writing.

That is exactly what I did for my latest project.  While I’m waiting for some feedback on my novel, I decided I’d write down some of the characters backstories.  Right now I’m not planning on publishing that, and just wanted a written reference on hand.  A couple of people have pointed out that the backstory could be a novel in and of itself.  This backstory was something that had been rattling in my head ever since I conceived of the character. So I opened a file and started typing merrily away.

It was going well.  I pounded out eight thousand words before grinding to a halt.  Something wasn’t right, and I couldn’t put my finger on what.  I tried to force my way through this blockage.  Words were typed, but they were the wrong words.  Monday I had a toothbrush moment.  Followed immediately by a face-palm moment.

By rushing into writing without outlining, I had made mistakes that I cannot write my way out of.  I would have caught them much earlier if I had taken an evening to do some outlining.  Of those eight thousand words, I may be able to use roughly one-third to one-half.

So I have spent one night putting down most of an outline.  It’s not complete, and there are holes in it.  But it is more of a game plan than I had earlier.  And it taught me that despite how bright and shiny the idea is, I need to stop and do some prep work before I dive in, no matter how well I think I know what is going on.

Writing Excuses Season Ten

One of my favorite podcasts about the craft of writing is Writing Excuses.  Hosted by Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells, they live up to their tagline “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”  I disagree with the ‘not that smart’ bit.  These people are extremely smart. Each episode is a wonderful blend of education and humor on topics as diverse as outlining, worldbuilding, characterization, plotters versus pantsers, and the state of the industry.

Season Ten they changed the format.  It’s still fifteen minutes, and still just as educational and humorous.  But now they are presenting it as a master class, much like the ones that you can attend at conventions.  Two podcasts will be lessons on that month’s subject.  The other two are wildcard episodes to keep things mixed up.  I have been paying close attention to all of the podcasts, and I plan on doing all the assignments.

January’s lessons were about ideas, where they come from, and how to cultivate them.  For a while there, I wasn’t sure if I would come up with any ideas for short stories.  Lesson one proved to be a revelation.  Much to my surprise, I have come up with more than the five required for the assignment.  Some of them won’t work as a stand alone story, but I know where I will be slotting them into my novels.  Who knows.  I might have a novella or two if the ideas pan out.

February’s lessons are about characters. The first assignment is to write a scene walk three characters through a scene without directly stating their job, hobby, or emotions.  And they have to perform a dead drop.  I thought this would be simple. Two weeks and I’m still working on it.  I’m liking what I’m writing, so I might modify it and use it for a scene.

I recommend anyone who is interested in writing as a craft to listen to Writing Excuses.  I doubly recommend listening to Season Ten and doing the homework.  I am looking forward to the upcoming lessons.

An Educational Lunch

I went out yesterday for a long scheduled lunch on Saturday with Jennifer Carson and Melissa Snark. The conversation covered a wide range of topics about what was going on in our lives, but funneled into our writing and where we stood on various projects. From there we started discussing Convolution. We will all be attending the con and participating in the Writer’s Workshop. Jennifer is participating as a professional while Melissa and I are being critiqued.

This will be the third official workshop I have participated in. I’ve gotten good feedback from prior workshops, even if it didn’t feel like that at the time. I was open about my feelings with Jennifer, who also happened to participate in that workshop, that I felt like I came out shredded, but it was things that I needed to hear. Jennifer looked me in the eyes and said something that stuck with me. “When you, as a writer, give your story to others to review, the reviewers have incentive to find something wrong. That’s true whether the reviewer is a pro or an amateur.” That simple statement blindsided me. I hadn’t considered that fact before. I knew that critiquing involved telling you what was wrong with your submission, as well as what was right. I hadn’t thought that there might be more of an emphasis on what was wrong than what was right.

So with that in mind, I will be going into the workshop knowing that I will be hearing what I did wrong. There will be mention of what I did right, but mostly what I did wrong. And all of it is geared towards making me a better writer.

They Didn’t Warn Me About This…

I’ve discovered one side effect of writing a book that I wasn’t warned about.  I’m not reading as much for pleasure as I used to.

I do still read.  I am reading books on writing.  I’m reading books that friends are writing to provide feedback.  I’ve read a few books to review.  I’m reading blogs by my favorite authors. What I am not reading are books for pure pleasure.  I’m missing that.

I am trying to make up for it with listening to audiobooks a work.  It’s not quite the same.  I find my enjoyment doesn’t depend on the quality of the writer, but the quality of the narrator.  I have sat through books that I normally would have put down because of the quality of the narrator’s voice.  There have also been books I stopped because I disliked the voice reading.  Plus there are several books I would like to read that are not available as audiobooks.  I know that there are ways to get your tablet or smartphone to read them using text-to-speech functions.  I haven’t been able to get that to function smoothly.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can fit reading back into my life?


Compulsive Editing Syndrome

I’ve noticed something happening slowly and subtly, a new habit creeping into my day-to-day life. Last Wednesday was when I noted it consciously for the first time.

This time of year is a dreaded time at work.  It is when we have to do the thing that causes the most horror and angst among my coworkers.  We are filling out the dreaded self-evaluation forms for our annual review.

I detest these forms.  I never know how to fill them out properly.  Due to my self-esteem issues, I have a hard time mentioning anything that was considered above and beyond the normal workload without me thinking that I am bragging. My process is to pull out last year’s review, copy it, make appropriate changes and updates, and then email it off without cringing too much.

Last Wednesday I opened up the previous year’s file and began reviewing it.  I shook my head and said to myself, “Look at all the use of the passive voice.”  I spent an hour filling out the form, updating it here and there with projects I had completed and new ones I had taken on, but mostly changing passive verbs to active and weeding out awkward phrases.  After spellchecking and one last look over for further alterations, I sent it off to my boss.

That was when I realized that I had edited the review much like I am editing my book. It’s not the first time I’ve done that.  Emails, even quick ones to friends, are starting to get this treatment.  I haven’t gone as far as editing other people’s work, unless they have asked me to.  I’m being more careful about word choice on things I am crafting for my non-novel related projects. (In fact I did it three edits in the prior sentence alone.)

Will rewriting my annual review lead to a better review?  I don’t know.  I won’t be able to make an apples-to-apples comparison because of several changes that have taken place in the previous year.  But it will be interesting to see what the feedback will be.

I Am A Writer

“So I’ve been reading your blog.”

Those words, spoken by a coworker, made my heart run cold.  A few of the people I work with know that I’m writing a book, although none of them know the exact details of it.  A few of those people know that I am blogging about the experience.  And a few of those people have the address of this blog.  When Annie said those words, I swallowed and tried to sound casual.  In other words, I tried to not squeak when I spoke.  “What did you think?”

Annie smiled.  “I like it.  You can tell that you’re being honest.”  We chatted for several minutes before we returned to our different areas.  After she walked away, I let out a deep sigh of relief.  My first thought was that I was pleased at her reaction.

My second was that I felt like an enormous fake.

I’m trying to make the mental switch to think of myself as a writer.  I still feel like a child playing pretend.  Yes, I’m writing a book.  Yes, I’ve shown professionals that book for feedback.  Yes, I do plan to have it published.  But there is still an insidious voice whispering in the back of my head that I’m not a real writer.  After all, I don’t have anything published.

I counter that voice with something I was told.  The act of writing is what makes you a writer.  I’m repeating that to myself.  I’m not published.  I probably will not be for a while.  But a published author isn’t the same thing as a writer.

I am writing.  Therefore I am a writer.  I will keep on being a writer. And I will keep repeating that to myself until I believe it.

Annie, I hope you enjoyed this post.

In the beginning… and beginning… and beginning…

After a few false starts, I’ve gotten working on the fourth draft of the story.  I’m finding this time is that things are finally starting to feel right.  Or at least, now the first chapter is feeling right.

During my first pass through the story, I struggled with where to start it.  I had a thought about starting it where three of the main characters meet under less-than-ideal circumstances.  But since I wasn’t quite sure what those less-than-ideal circumstances were and I was chomping at the bit to begin, I started the story a little further on where the lead female character wakes up.

I finished the start of the first draft just in time for BayCon 2011.  I missed the deadline and didn’t have enough completed for the writer’s workshop. I did have enough done to participate in a panel called Iron Editors.

Iron Editors was an hour and a half long panel comprised of four people, a mix of editors and authors.  The exact make-up of the panel varied from year to year depending on the volunteers, but it always worked the same way.  People anonymously submitted the first two pages of their story.   The panelist would perform a quick read as if they were going through a slush pile, marking up the documents.  They would then discuss the reasons they made the comments on your work.  The author’s job was to sit and listen and hopefully gain some insight.  It was always entertaining as well as being educational on some of the mistakes that might get your story tossed aside.  So I took a deep breath, left my pages in the drop box, and waited for the panel wondering what I would be told.

It was embarrassing.  I was told that I was falling into a cliché that almost every story had used the prior year, something I had no way of knowing because I had not attended that edition of Iron Editors.  I was starting my story with my character waking up.  Chastised, I took my paper back and rewrote the beginning, starting the story.

I chose a different point in the plot and with a different point of view character.  This time I knew what the not-so-ideal circumstance was, but I was faced with the choice of telling it from the protagonist’s or the antagonist’s point of view.  While my first instinct was to go with the protagonist’s, I needed to spend some time in the antagonist’s head, so I wrote what he saw.  I had it done in time for BayCon 2012 and I submitted again in 2012.

This time the reaction was worse.  I was told the one thing that no writer ever wants to hear. While well written, it was stated by more than one person that the two pages I turned in were boring.  And they were right.  It was a massive example of telling instead of showing, and the actual plot did not begin until in the middle of page three.

So back to the writing desk.  I rewrote the beginning a third time, cutting out the first two pages of text completely.  I excised that section, cleaned up the action sequence, and then submitted to the BayCon 2013 writer’s workshop.

That draft was better received, but it didn’t feel right.  One of the comments was to the effect that the scene felt like I should be later in the story.  I agreed, since that was where it originally was.  So I moved it back  and trimmed more off the beginning, and submitted it to the Convolution 2013 writer’s workshop.  Only after I submitted it did I realize I was right back at that clichéd beginning I originally started with.  Frustrated, I put the story aside for November and December and focused on writing other things while my subconscious percolated.

Mid January I picked the story up again.  I decided to try again with an earlier scene, but from another character’s point of view.  To my surprise, this time it wasn’t a struggle, and I wrote it out relatively quickly.  I have chapter one finished, and for the first time, I’m happy with it.  I can’t really describe how it feels in any other word but solid.  The irony was that this was the original idea I had at the beginning but didn’t write in favor of starting the story a little further into the plot.

So what have I learned from all this?

  1. Trust your instincts.  If you want to start something at Point A with Character B, do that.  Even if it means you aren’t writing linearly.
  2. If for some reason Point A with Character B doesn’t work out, your subconscious will come up with a solution.  You may need to give it time to work, but it will work.
  3. If you aren’t happy with that section of the story, rewrite it as many times as necessary until (2.) takes place.

Where does that leave me now?  Chapter 1 is done and a good half of chapter 2 as well.  Chapter 2 involves a large section that needs to be rewritten before I can call it done.  That just leaves 23 chapters to go.

I’m feeling like a murderess

I’ve been killing a lot of darlings lately.

I first heard the phrase “kill your darlings” in a On Writing by Stephen King.  He was quoting William Faulkner, who was paraphrasing a passage from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing.  It’s a quote that I hear often, and have struggled to grasp the full meaning of.  I think that only now I am beginning to understand it.

I’m currently working on the fourth draft of my first novel.  Over the last three drafts I have created and expanded my plot, my characters, and my world.  I have spent time crafting details and delving into backstory to add dimension and depth to the novel.  I have grown a rich garden of images filled with lush foliage of words.  Now it is time to weed.

The problem I’m having is deciding what darlings to kill.  Must every darling be killed?  What parts do I uproot entirely and where do I just perform a very thorough pruning?  I really liked that turn of phrase, even though it doesn’t fit the mood I am trying to create.  Must it go?

Yes it must.  Word count for word count’s sake is a good thing as far as events like NaNoWriMo is concerned.  But the reader can easily become bogged down in all those flowery phrases and unnecessary details.  There are times where using a single word wisely will speak volumes more than a paragraph. There is wisdom knowing when to apply that single word, and when that paragraph.

I am still trying to obtain that wisdom.  Come to think of it, I’ve spotted a few darlings in this post that should be killed too.