Pie-thulhu Comes For You: Trying New Stuff

This was the closest I could find to Cthulhu Pie.

The other night, Snowman and I had friends over. And while we were having the inevitable Serious Adult Discussions—the differences between robots and mechs, the inadvisability of storing smallpox in your freezer, the likelihood that I have an NSA file somewhere based on my internet searches— the subject of writing advice came up. I, of course, run this blog; my friend Kat, writer and movie critic* from over here, also gets asked by others for her thoughts on writing. I will now recreate our conversation in the name of giving you the most serious, high quality advice I can.

*Fires up the wayback machine*

Me: I think some people want a magic bullet—especially for shit like building an audience and getting published—but it’s really about time and patience. And, you know, not giving off an actual physical stink of desperation.

Kat: And diversifying. Try new stuff.

Me: Yeah, definitely that. It’s way too fucking easy to just get into a rut and only do the stuff you’ve done before.

Kat: You should get your fingers in as many pies as you can. And then make more pies.

Me: And then graft more fingers, until you’re a monstrous pie-finger construct, devouring all in your path, with freeway on-ramps for arms and a heart as black as coal!***

Rest of the Room: (dead silence and mildly worried staring.)

Whether or not you go the finger-pie construct route****, the advice holds: diversify. Break out of your tried-and-true and venture forth into the unknown. Novel writer? Try short stories. Try blogs. Try poetry. Try smearing the powdered dreams of your enemies on the walls of your cell.

And get out of your solitary little writer-cave. Go on social media. Become a commenter on other writing blogs. Join a writing group. Or, my personal favourite, start conversations with other writers on Twitter. I’ve had some great conversations with writers on every step of the road from Just Staring Down The Barrel Of That First Manuscript to Author Of A Goddamn New York Times Best Seller through Twitter. People are more approachable than you think. You know, so long as you’re not a complete douchecanoe about it.

This shift to new venues and new modes of communication does two things. 1) It makes you more versatile and broadens your horizons, not a bad thing at all in a writer. And 2) it gives you that many more possibilities for making money/getting published/getting noticed. More stuff on deck means more stuff to submit, which means better chances of one of those pieces finding a forever home, or at least an Until-The-Rights-Expire home.

And if you can make yourself into a Lovecraftian horror along the way? Hell, who’s not up for that?

*Also baker/librarian/weaponized disease enthusiast. I decided that if she had a Jaeger a la Pacific Rim, it would be Viral Cupcake.**
**Mine would be Caffeine Deathwish.
***With apologies to Futurama.
****Though why wouldn’t you? It sounds awesome.

Monday Challenge: Present

Presents

Ignore any twitching; that’s normal. (Photo credit: Wysz)

I got you a present.

Yes, I know it’s early. But this isn’t strictly a holiday thing. It’s not even strictly a present, really. It’s more of a…challenge, I guess. Yeah. That’ll do.

It’s over there, under the tree. No, not that one. That one’s mine. Yours is the big one. Yeah, that one. The one that’s moving slightly.

Why? Well, I can’t tell you that. It will spoil the surprise. And I love surprises.

Sure, you can pick it up if you want. Careful, though; it’s heavier than it looks. And don’t be alarmed if you hear anything. It’s supposed to make that noise.

What’s that? Why is it leaking? Strange. It shouldn’t be doing that. No, no, of course that’s not blood. Though it is very red and festive-looking, isn’t it?

You know what? Maybe you should open it now, just to check and make sure it’s okay. Go ahead. I’ll be over here. Behind the door. You just open it, and tell me what’s inside.

Merry Christmas.

Sir, You’ve Had Enough: Knowing When You’re Done

whiskers bindle

Later, bitches. (Photo credit: chatblanc1)

1. You’ve Run Out Of Things. You’ve reached the end of the story. Typed ‘The End’ and everything. Of course, this only works if you’re the type to write chronologically. If you’ve been jumping around the storyline like a coked-out pole vaulter, then you might have to go back and take a look at what you’ve done. Did you miss the entirety of Act Two? Did your main character’s mother fall into a plot hole halfway through and never reappear? Are there enough ninjas?
But if you’ve managed to hack your bloody way to the end of the plot, then you’re done. At least, you’re one form of done. You’ve got a draft which will need the tender razor blade of editing eventually. But, still, done. Take a lap and hit the showers.

2. The Deadline Has Arrived. It’s called a deadline for a reason. Whether you’re writing for an anthology that has a cut-off date or working NaNoWriMo, there comes a time when the decision about doneness is out of your hands. Sometimes there are real world reasons to stick a fork in it.
That being said, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to stop. Every single one of my NaNo projects ran more than 50,000 words. I just kept going after I crossed that imaginary finish line. Often it took me until January to finish up a first draft. If your novel isn’t finished—if you haven’t met number one up there—then, while you may be ‘done’, you shouldn’t stop. Keep going until you get a complete draft.

3. You Just Keep Picking At It. More for complete stories than partials, this is the disease where you just can’t stop second-guessing yourself. It’ll never be over if you keep picking at it. Just one more edit. One more pass. Maybe you should change ‘table’ to ‘horizontal food platform’ throughout. And that guy’s name. And that one scene could use 300% more robots.
This is a slippery slope. Yes, you need to make changes. Yes, you’ll probably do more than one edit. But there comes a time when you’re not adding anything of value. At that time, say ‘fuck it’ and let it go. Incidentally, this is a great time to look at submitting it somewhere. Hard to keep picking at it when it’s out in the world, bindle over its shoulder, hunting its fellow stories for sport. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

4. You Hate The Sight Of It. Much like certain people, too much time with your story can breed contempt. No, not contempt, the other thing…oh, yes, bowel-knotting hate. That.
You can burn out on your own stories. If you feel like this—consistently, I mean; the occasional day where you want to set it on fire is fine—then it’s a good sign you’ve been bashing your head against that particular brick wall for too long. Take a break. Work on something else. Come back to it when you can look at it more objectively. Or at least without wanting to spit acid at your computer screen.*

*I wish I could do this. Though not just at computer screens. I’d never have to hack the ice off my front walk again.

Monday Challenge: The Home Stretch

Sumo Wrestler Asashōryū fighting against Kotos...

Come at me, bro. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is it: the last week of NaNoWriMo. Participants, how’s your sanity holding together? Spectators, how’s the rubber necking? I’ve seen some truly nuclear meltdowns online so far, though not in real life. I’ve learned to keep my distance from NaNo-nauts when I’m not taking part.* I’m always afraid they’re going to think I have story ideas I’m not using and try to gnaw them from my brain. And I like my brain whole and ungnawed upon.

Whether you’re doing NaNo or not, this is the home stretch for the year as well. Time is sliding downhill with the speed and majestic unstoppability of a greased-up sumo wrestler on a bobsled track. We cannot avoid it; best we can do is hop on and enjoy the ride.

And maybe finish some stuff up.

This bitingly cold Monday morning, for your writing challenge, I want to hear about something that is winding down. Will it coast to a controlled finish, or will it spend everything in one last wild burst of energy before careening into a wall? Will it reach the finish line, or will it fall short? No do-overs, no time to go back. Whatever this is, it is. It’s nearly over.

And when the curtain goes down, what comes next?

*Though I did have one guy follow me around at the gym so he could explain the intricacies of his tragic science fiction story.** Short version: everybody dies. In space.
**Don’t be that guy.

Uppers and The Death of Your Social Life: NaNoWriMo Survival Guide For Participants

Fuck you cards.

Send these out to the haters. (Photo credit: m.k.)

(Stay tuned on Wednesday for Part Two, which is for everyone surrounded by the insanity this month, but not taking part. I have not forgotten you, brothers and sisters, because I am one of you. Coming soon, the NaNoWriMo Survivial Guide: Spectators Edition!)

1) Find a Roadmap. You should have some idea of what you’re going to write, even if it’s only the word ‘fuck’ 50,000 times in a row.* Do you have a type of story? A character? A scene? A genre? All of these are foundations upon which a proper story may be built. Get yourself a pen and paper and get cracking.

2) Get Caffeinated. Or indulge in some other upper of choice. I’m not here to judge until you actively start foaming at the mouth. In which case it will be my duty to put you down like the rabid word-hound that you are.
Until that happy day, though, you’re going to need some quick-fire energy. I recommend espresso, each one spaced about two hours from the last so that your heart doesn’t explode, but choose your own indulgence. Chocolate, candy, tea, smoothies…the possibilities are endless. Just, you know, partake responsibly.

3) Make Space. Notify family, friends, spouses, children, pets, coworkers, and any other living entity that might wish a moment of your time for the next thirty days that you will be, if not unavailable, then at least very fucking hard to reach. Change your email auto-response. Adjust your answering machine. Switch your Skype icon to ‘unavailable’. Fake your death. Whatever you have to do in order to carve out a chunk of writing time.

4) Manage Your Pace. This will mean different things for different people. For example:
If you get ahead: cherish these moments but don’t slack off. Maintain the momentum that got you there. If you take a break for a couple of days, you might not regain your pace.
If you get behind: Don’t panic. Catch up when you can. Scribble a few words whenever you get a chance. And remember that this is supposed to be fun, not an exercise in hand-wringing and paranoia.
If you’re on track: Then stay there. What the fuck else were you expecting?

5) Onwards To Adventure! This will be a unique project for you. Even if you’ve done NaNo before, nothing will be like this. So enjoy the ride. Experiment! Write freely and with passion. Editing is for December.

*Though I will say that plan is unambitious at best.

30 Days Of Madness: Making The NaNoWriMo Decision

 

Project No One Leaves volunteers canvassing an...

Have you thought about letting a 50,000 word race into your life? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again. The time when the evangelists start knocking on my door and asking personal questions about the state of my soul.*

Wait, no. Not that. The other thing. NaNoWriMo. It’s that time of year: the time when hordes of aspiring writers start wandering dead-eyed around the streets in search of adverbs and caffeine. Be wary, regular humans. It’s scary out there when the word-herders get loose all at once.

You may be trying to decide if you’re going to try slaying the 50,000 word dragon. I’ve done it five of the last six years, and always finished. I did it last year and turned out the zero draft of what I think is going to be a pretty good project, once I finish rewriting it. Several of the projects I’ve worked on during NaNo have become finished manuscripts which are being sent out on submission. And some of those projects might not have gotten finished otherwise, and certainly wouldn’t have gotten finished so quickly.

But this year I’m out of the race. Mostly just because of timing. I want to devote my energy to the rewrite of the novel I finished last November, and rewrites are fucking slow. They don’t lend themselves to the pace of NaNoWriMo. At least mine don’t. Yours might. Also, I’m going to be on vacation for about two weeks in November, seeing family and old friends. The probability is high that I will be far too drunk to write.*** At least on some days.

I realize I’m not making the decision easier, and I’m not trying to. Ultimately, you have to decide if NaNoWriMo is the right fit for you. In case you missed it last year, here are the two posts I wrote about NaNo: Four Reasons To Do It and Four Reasons To Skip It. Peruse. If you’re on the fence, they might help you decide. Or they might reinforce the decision you’ve already made.

So tell me, fellow workers of brain and caffeine: are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

*Actually, full disclosure: after talking to a couple of the ladies a few years ago**, they no longer come to the door. I think I’m on some kind of list now.
**Politely, I might add. Don’t be a jerk: good rule for life.
***The ghost of Ernest Hemmingway just appeared to smack me in the head for typing that.

 

All About Timing: Deadlines and Time Crunches

Beasts of Hoth

This is what delivers mail in my province. (Photo credit: leg0fenris)

(Late post is late because I was out shoveling 8,752 pounds of snow out of the driveway. My arms are tired.)

Sometimes, the universe has no sense of timing.*

I’ve been working away at my list of submissions. To date, I only had one story lying around that I could send in. All the rest I’ve had to write from scratch. So in my quest to get thirteen new rejections in 2013, I’ve had to increase my output. I started scouring listings for short stories, and I found quite a few, but I do not keep a large backlog of stories. I don’t write a lot of short fiction, and what I do write tends to be in response to some deadline or another. Well, I figured finding some more deadlines would mean more stories finished. Right?

Well, I was partially right. I have been writing more short story ideas, and in general having more ideas for them. Part of that is the old you only find what you’re looking for trick: if I don’t have short stories on the brain, I’m not going to come up with ideas for them. Law of…I don’t know. Law of brains or some shit.

But, wonderful though it is to have all these ideas, there is still not enough time to get them all done. Or even half of them done. Which can be irritating.

There was one anthology that particularly intrigued me, but I was having trouble coming up with exactly the right story for it. I had some notes and a few false starts, but nothing worth submitting. And then I got sick, which put me behind. I chose to devote time to the anthology I actually had a story for and let the other one go.

And then I came up with an idea. A good one, too. It came to me while I was lying on the couch, covered in cats, trying to sneak in a pre-gym nap. A little more thought, and I knew I had something good.

But there was a problem: the due date was too close. With other projects in the works and, you know, having a fucking life, I wouldn’t have time to get it done. At least not done well. And I’m not going to submit a poor piece just to meet my own goal. That’s cheating. Again, I cursed the gods of inspiration** for their piss-poor timing.

But very occasionally, the world listens. Because when I was back checking more listings this week, I saw a change: the deadline had been extended. By two weeks. Just enough time to get it done.

So now I will. Thanks, universe. I owe you one.

*For example, three snow storms in the last week of March. What the unholy fiddle-playing fuck, Weather Gods?
**Commonly known as Research, Coffee, and Being Bat-Shit Crazy.

Monday Challenge: Pushing Your Boundaries

Barrier

Barrier doesn’t look so insurmountable from this angle, does it? (Photo credit: BinaryApe)

Boundaries are over-rated.

I’m not talking about that thing where your roommate keeps coming into your room and stealing your underwear while you sleep so she can sell it on Japanese fetish websites.* You should probably address that, maybe with a taser. I’m referring to the boundaries we place on our own skills and abilities.

For example:

“I only write fan-fiction.”

“I can’t write short stories.”

“Romance is beyond me.”**

God damn it, we’re writers, aren’t we? Which means we’re supposed to be fucking creative. When did it become the norm to put so many restraints on our creativity that we might as well be Fifty Shades of Grey cosplayers?*** We should be trying new stuff, moving things around, taking in all the new possibilities. But instead, we find a niche and stick to it. Steampunk. Character-driven slice-of-life screenplays. Robot erotica. That’s all.

That is fucking stifling.

And I’m as guilty of it as anyone. For a long time, I was strictly a fantasy novel writer. But then I started writing short stories. And horror. And superhero stuff. And science fiction. And, while I found that I fucked it up a fair bit at first, I still found that I liked it.

One of my goals this year is to branch out even further: I’m going to write a graphic novel script. And, hell, if I feel like it, I might even draw it. Because creativity needs to be prodded sometimes.

So this is my Monday Challenge to you: find something you’ve never written before. Then come up with a way you’d be interested in writing it.

Don’t like romance? How about the dating life of one of your characters? Hate horror? How about nightmares that can make cameos? Worried about short fiction? Try writing a stand alone scene, or an earlier moment in someone’s life. The point is to find a way around those boundaries.

It should be simple enough. After all, we were the ones that made them.

*People do this, as I discovered in residence.
**Talking about writing again. Your relationship problems are your own.
***Is this a thing? I don’t want it to be a thing. I’m afraid to check the internet to find out.

The Bare Knuckle Guide to Acquiring Rejection Letters

FISHERMEN'S SONS PRACTICE TARGET SHOOTING IN B...

Those rejections are in there somewhere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two scant weeks into the New Year, and I have it: the first rejection letter.* Count it, people. Twelve to go. Big thanks to Harper Voyager for their time, and for being the first on the list. Thanks for playing.

Submitting stuff is hard work. And, though I hate to put it this way, it’s not quite as….hm…rewarding as writing. Okay, it can be, when you get acceptances, but all that work is up front. With writing, you at least get the satisfaction of making something and then looking at it. Submitting is a whole other beast, and requires a different mind set.

Smile Scavenger asked about my first time getting published in the comments the other day, so I figured it would make an excellent post. Actually, it ended up making two posts, one about the process and one about my personal experience. Here’s part one, the process. Also known as the Guide to Acquiring Rejection Letters.
Your experience may vary, but most of the fiction writers I know started off the same way: with short stories. They’re short**, they’re easier to send out, and there’s usually a much shorter response time. Plus, they give you nifty writing credits that you can add to your cover letters. Always a bonus.

Short stories are how I started; I still do them. I’m doing a couple right now, as a matter of fact. They’re a nice palette cleanser after a long project. Here’s the approximate process I go through.

1. Write something. Or find a market for which you can write. Either one works. Sometimes I have stories that I just write, other times I write to a theme for a particular market. As always, write to the best of your ability and then edit that fucker. Polish it and make sure it’s ready to be seen by the judgemental public eye.

2. Find a market. If you wrote for something in particular, this is already done. If not, check the newest Writer’s Guide book or online listings. For speculative fiction, I’ve been making a use of Ralan, which has listings divided by type and pay. Make sure what you wrote fits the market. Just because you wrote a great werewolf erotica does not mean that it belongs in a hard sci-fi anthology. You’re just going to piss people off.
Sidebar: Before sending things out, I’d advise a visit to Preditors and Editors, a site that posts warnings about agents, markets, contests, and other things that have sketchy or downright bad policies. Check it out. Thank me later.

3. Write your cover letter, if you need one, and properly format your submission. All those things in the Submission Guidelines on those listings? They’re there for a reason. Someone, somewhere likes things that way, and since they’re reading your work, they get to decide. It’s not that hard to do the formatting, and you save your story from being read by someone you’ve already pissed off. You are not special. You cannot ignore the rules.

4. Check everything over. Should the submission be an attachment or pasted into the body of an email? SASE or postcard return? Response time? Still open? Did you get the editor’s name right?*** Double check it, then check it again, and then get someone else to fucking check it.

5. Send it out. Wish it luck. Mark a response time in your calendar or iPhone or whatever, so you know if you should send an e-mail at a certain point, or so you don’t forget where it went. You might also want to make a note of what story you sent and to what market, so you don’t accidentally submit to the same market twice. Awkward.

6. Wait. It’s helpful to do something else during this time. Write another story. Work on new ideas. Drink. Or, you know, just stare at the mailbox/hit refresh on your e-mail. Your call.

7. Get the response. If acceptance, celebrate and wait for further details or a contract. If rejection, shake it off, file it away, and get on with your life.

Rinse. Repeat.

Follow these steps, and soon you will be acquiring rejection letters of your very own.

*Actually, this wasn’t an official rejection letter, but the lack-of-response time has expired, which is a rejection. Still counts.
**No fucking kidding, Captain Obvious.
***Once again, why piss off someone before they read your story?

The Scene Doctor Is In

The Doctor, by Sir Luke Fildes (1891)

Hm. Looks like a bad case of Erroneous Narration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wrote a scene yesterday. About 3,000 words, so right in my wheelhouse for a daily writing goal. In fact, I ended up allotting nearly all of my writing time yesterday to this one scene. There’s a lot going on. It contains a lot of necessary mood-setting for the story as a whole, as well as a bunch of information that the protagonist needs to move on with the plot. And it generally sets a tone for what will probably turn out to be a very important setting.

It’s also completely fucking wrong.

I figured that out shortly after I completed it. I just knew. And, also almost as soon as I finished it, I knew what the scene should have been. Really, the beginning and end points of the scene will be the same. The information passed on will be the same. But the method of conveying it will be different. Will involve a different character, which changes the tone considerably.  Frankly, it’ll probably also make it a lot better.*

But I wasn’t pissed about the wasted time I spent on it yesterday, because I know by now that it wasn’t really wasted. Sometimes you have to get something out before you can see what’s wrong with it. Think of it like drawing: you can’t correct a picture that only exists in your head. It’s not real enough. But the second you get that fucker out onto a piece of paper, then you can see the places where it doesn’t work, where the limbs are bent wrong, where the proportions are off. And does that hand have six fingers? Ooh, boy, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

But by getting it out, you know what that work is. You’re not just floundering around in theword-mines, looking for a light. You’ve got a light, and it’s showed you something that’s kind of a mess, but at least you know what you’re dealing with now. And it’s a hell of a lot better than just wandering about in the dark.

*The question now is do I go back and rewrite that scene or leave it as it until I come back for a second pass at the book in general. It really depends on what kind of mood I’m in today. I may just leave a note for myself for later dictating the changes, and write the remainder of the manuscript as if they’d already been written. Or my CDO* might kick in and I might go back and redo it. But, either way, now I know.

**Like OCD, but with the letters in alphabetical order, as they should be.**

***Old joke, I know. Couldn’t resist. Besides, I’m using all my creativity up on the novel. Cut me some slack.