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.

Ch-ch-changes: 5 Tips For Surviving Editing (with Guest Blogger goodness)

J. Jonah Jameson

Editor may not be exactly as shown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


All right, you little word badgers. I have a special guest for you today. Sherry D. Ramsey is an excellent writer whose debut novel, One’s Aspect To The Sun, was just published by Tyche Books. In addition to that, she’s an editor, putting together several short fiction collections with her collaborators over at Third Person Press.  She’s here to talk about working with an editor, and since she’s got experience on both sides of the table, you’d best listen.

I’ll be handing things over to Sherry now. Be nice to the substitute, or I’ll keep you all after class. *Takes off Shouty Hat and Stompy Boots, hands them over to Guest Blogger, watches you all ominously from behind a pillar.*

5 Tips for Surviving the Editorial Process


by Sherry D. Ramsey

The thought of working with an editor—either an editor you’re paying to help you improve your work, or an editor at a publishing house—can be a scary one. What if they hate your story? What if they don’t “get” it? What if they want you to change everything?

Well, having spent time on both sides of the editorial desk, I can tell you: being edited is part of the process, so you might as well get used to it. Or as Bare Knuckle Writer herself might say, Suck it Up, Princess. I rewrote the last third of my new novel, One’s Aspect to the Sun, after getting detailed feedback from my editor at Tyche Books. She told me what she liked about the novel, but also identified problems and weak spots and suggested how I might fix them. Although her advice was invaluable and she helped me find the right ending for my book, not all of her suggestions worked for me as they were. My job was to figure out how to address the issues she identified while keeping what I felt were the important elements of the book intact.
It can be challenging, but working to editorial feedback doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. Here are five tips to make the editorial process easier to confront.

1. The Editor is Your Friend.  A good editor offers a fresh viewpoint and an objective (and usually experienced) eye. The best editor will be your partner—not a dictator—in working through your story’s weak spots with you. It should be a back-and-forth process, the editor offering suggestions and guidance that you interpret and implement in your story. The editor’s job, after all, is to help you make your work better. No editor benefits from making your work worse.

2. The Editor Does Not Want to Ruin Your Story. An editor may have a different “take” on your story or see it going in a direction you hadn’t planned. This doesn’t mean that they are trying to ruin the story or make it theirs. Remember: editors have read a lot of stories, and many of them have been awful. They’ve probably seen every way a story can go wrong, and they want to help you avoid those pitfalls. Their ideas are usually worth considering.

3. Not All Editors are Created Equal. Not every editor is going to be the right one to work on your story or book. If an editor would like you to change everything except the main character—they’re probably not the right editor for this project. Likewise if they offer only vague comments with no real guidance, direction, or explanations. The right editor will clearly identify problems and weak spots and maybe even make suggestions for changes. Just remember: if they make personal comments about you as a writer, run the other way, and take your story with you.

4. The Writer Isn’t Always Right. Suppose your knee-jerk reaction to the editor’s suggestions is “No way!” Okay, throw your hissy fit while no-one’s watching. Then calm down, sit down, and consider what the editor has said, and why. It’s entirely possible that your story has some serious problems, and the way you wanted it to go is not the best way to tell the story. You might be wrong. Accept it, then see what you can do about it. Taking editorial suggestion is often about compromise, and you can’t compromise if you think you can’t make a mistake.

5. You Always Have A Choice. Editorial suggestions are just that: suggestions. Really don’t like them? Walk away. No-one is forcing you to make these changes. Just be sure you’re walking away because you actually fear for the integrity of your story, and not because your ego doesn’t want to be bruised. Writers who don’t need editors are extremely rare, if they exist at all. Are you completely certain you’re one of them?

Want more of Sherry’s writing thoughts? Tune in on Twitter: @sdramsey. Or check out her website over here.


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.

Here Be Dragons: The 140,000 Word Outline

English: St George's Hall, Liverpool Stained g...

Shown: Me figuring out the outline for the second draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, those of you who’ve been here a while—or read through some of the archives—know that my Big Project, the one that’s taking up nearly all of my writing time at the moment, is the re-write of The Patchwork King. PWK* was last year’s NaNoWriMo project. You can read about the gradual descent of my sanity level here, and here, and here. I finished NaNo by the nineteenth, but that wasn’t the end. I went all the way to the end of the first draft, which took me to the second week of January. It ended up being 140,000 words or thereabouts. Printed off, it’s a phonebook.**

After I was done, I shoved it in a metaphorical drawer on my hard drive and let it sit. I did other stuff, and came back to it  a while ago. I read it over, made a lot of notes, thought about the story and the characters, generally devoted a good amount of brain run time to it. Then, when I’d finished thinking, I looked at what I had.

And that’s when I realized that what I had was a 140,000 word outline. Of stuff that doesn’t necessarily happen any more.

Now here’s the important bit: when I made that realization, I did not a) give up, b) throw away the manuscript in disgust, or c) drink heavily.*** Why not? After all, hadn’t I just wasted months of my life on a manuscript that was now worthless?

Of fucking course not.****

Pay close attention, children, because here’s the magic: that flawed, doomed manuscript was exactly what I needed. It is a map. With all the pitfalls and dead ends marked out and Here Be Fucking Dragons scrawled in the margins.

With this, I can rewrite. With this, I have something to fix. As long as my enthusiasm for the story holds. And it does. I know this one will be good. All it needs is work. Hard work, admittedly, but if you’re going to shy away from that you might as well not write at all.

So, those of you who are NaNo-ing along, or those of you who have a damaged manuscript on your hands, stand fast and fear not. You can fix this. Just remember that the end of the first draft is not necessarily the end of the project.

*Acronyms are cool. Shut up.
**And the phonebook of a proper city, too, not the mini-version we get out here in the boonies.
***Only lightly.
****Knowing where to add the swear word properly in any phrase is an advanced writer skill.

Monday Challenge: I’m Being Followed

Deutsch: Rattenfängerauszug Hameln Tag der Nie...

My hat is better than this, but if you guys want to dress up as rats, I’m not going to stop you. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, new followers!* Welcome to the Bare Knuckle Army. Don’t worry, it doesn’t require any real service, though you will be receiving a complementary tinfoil hat in the mail so I can read your thoughts.**

The concept of a follower is an odd one. I picture a bunch of people hanging out in my living room while I write this: sitting on the couch, petting the cats, occasionally getting up to peruse my bookshelves. That one guy in the corner talking to himself. There is the nagging sensation that I should put out snacks.

Or I imagine a huge trail of people following me, in my comic book t-shirts and ripped up jeans, over a mountain range. Like a fucked up Pied Piper.*** We’re all heading to the same place: story land. But on the way there’s an awful lot of monsters. Some of them will come with us, too.

Well, I can’t promise I won’t lead you astray, but at least the trip will be an interesting one.

Down to brass tacks then: you’re here for a reason. Those of you new to this, every Monday I put up a writing challenge to get your week started off right. Sometimes it’s an idea, or a character exercise. Sometimes it’s whatever weird shit I find floating around in my brain when I stagger out of bed on Monday morning and have to remember how to act like a Qualified Adult. Give it a try and see what happens. And if there are any brave souls out there who would like to post their results in the comments, I’d love to read them. And I salute you.

In honour of all of you today, you Monday Challenge is this: write about someone being followed. Write from the point of view of the follower or the followed; write is as paranoid or as silly as you like.

And stay close. We’ve got a long way to go yet.

*Every time I get a new follower, I turn around, half expecting to see someone lurking behind the lamp in the corner. Watching. Waiting.
**It is very stylish, though. Tell your friends.
***Pied Piper Me also has a very stylish hat.

Writing When Extremely Fucking Busy: A Guide

Dream Police

The Dream Police are here to help you manage your time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s get this out of the way: we are all Busy Adults With Many Important Things To Do. I get it. But some times are busier than others. Like the soap-box racer run from now until Christmas.

So, how do you fit the writing in? Here’s how.

1) Bring Down The Walls. Put as few barriers between yourself and writing as possible. I used to be bad for this. I never said I could only write in the morning, but if the morning went by and I hadn’t written, I was way more likely to say ‘fuck it’ until the next morning. Ditto for the computer: if I was AFK*, I’d likely not do anything. This is writer fetishism**, and it kills books.
Don’t make it so that you have to be using a certain computer, notebook, desk, system, or pen. Don’t make it so that you can only write at a certain time, a particular day, one specific location. Carry a notepad and pen for times when you’re out of the house. Learn to love the note function on your smart phone. As the ideas occur to you, jot them down. Make notes or scribble out full sentences on cocktail napkins. Don’t save it for later; do it now.

2) Hello Sunrise. Get up earlier. You’ll expand your day by more than that extra hour. If you’re like me, getting up early means I had to make a special effort. If I get up with the dawn—or before it, as has happened on occasion—I’m going to make damn sure that shit gets done. Otherwise, why the fuck did I bother to get up at all? Besides, most people are either still asleep or getting ready for the day, so the chance on interruptions is smaller. By the time the rest of the world is firing on all cylinders, you’ve already powered through the day’s writing and half your to-do list.

3) Crank it To Eleven. But first get a good pair of headphones. I’m writing this on the foldout couch in my sister-in-law’s basement while the washing machine is cranking, the weather outside is raging, my brother-in-law is working on the phone in the next room, and the rest of the family is wandering around upstairs and talking. It’s not quiet, is my point. And it is very easy to get distracted. So I have headphones, and I listen to Cheap Trick and Skid Row while finishing up my blog post.
Also, a very key point is that headphones serve as a visual cue for those around you that you are fucking busy and do not welcome conversation at this time. It’s the real world equivalent of being AFK or changing the Skype icon to ‘UNAVAILABLE MOTHERFUCKER, CAN YOU NOT READ?’*** I love talking to people, but sometimes you’ve just got to shut it out for a little bit in order to get shit done. Then you can go back to being a social human.

4) Say The Dirty Word. Not ‘fuck’, or any of the others that speckle this blog. And my conversation, for that matter. Learn to say ‘no’. No, I can’t take care of that for you. No, I will not be going there. No, do it yourself and go away.
The world is full of time vampires. Most of them do it not out of malice, but out of thoughtlessness. But the result of the same: your precious time will slip through your fingers. Unless you learn to say no to the constant demands for it.
So learn that word, you little badgers. Use it well. Because if you want the time to do this, you have to take it.

*Away From Keyboard, for those who don’t spend a lot of time online.
**In the sense of imbuing an object or ceremony with power, not in the sense of sexual preference. Though the two concepts are related, if your ever want to do some reading in anthropology.
***They also serve this function well while flying. I don’t love talking on planes. I just want to sit back, crank some good tunes, and enjoy the miracle that is human flight.

Fresh Meat: Guide To Getting Started With Writing

Singapore Zoological Gardens White Tigers.

You came into the wrong neighbourhood, motherfucker. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1) Ditch the haters. We deal with enough fucking nay-sayers in our lives. They will slowly steal every shred of joy you have now or ever will experience if you let them*. So do not let them. Don’t tell them what you’re doing if you don’t want to. Do it for you, not for them. And work on getting rid of those people because, seriously, what a bunch of fucking downers.

2) Experiment. Don’t be afraid to try new things. This goes for the established writers, too, but when you’re just starting the possibilities are endless. So try stuff. Try genres, or post-genres, or genre mash ups. Write haiku. Write lists. Hell, if you’re feeling really weird, write blog posts. It’s all new, and it’s all fair game. Have at it. You never know what will strike just the right chord in your heart-meats.

3) Learn. Have a read through some writing books. Or find some blogs on the topic, not unlike this one. Take some of the advice, try some other things, ditch whatever doesn’t work for you. But do read about it, because one, you can learn a lot that way, and, two, reading about writing can inspire you.

4) Find A Posse. Do people still have posses? Is that still a thing? Or have we switched to another collective noun, like cluster or bushel or pantheon?**
Whatever it is, find your people. Not the haters from number one; I mean supportive people. They could be people you know in real life. You might even have friends who are writers. Or you could check out a local class or writer’s group if you have the means to get to those events. But even if you find yourself on the side of Suicide Mountain without means of descent, you can always look online. Or so I assume, since you’re reading this. Check out forums, websites, and online groups, and find your siblings-in-arms.

5) Be Okay With The Suckage. When you first get started, you’re going to suck. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s necessary. It’s how you learn.
I have manuscripts that are so cringe-inducing I can barely look at them, but I keep them around because I like to remember how far I’ve come. And because sometimes, even in that pile of shit, you’ll find a diamond. Sometimes the proto-writer has good ideas, and those are worth hanging on to. But the skill and the craft, that takes time. So learn to be okay with sucking at it for a while, and you’ll have a lot more fun. Which bring us to…

6) Enjoy It. You’re embarking on a creative endeavour, and no one should do that without joy in their heart. Sometimes it gets buried under frustration and the endless slog of zero drafts or editing, but it should always be there. So when you’re looking down the long exciting precipice of a new thing, don’t forget to enjoy it.

*Theories differ about why. My personal favourite is that they’re actually aliens from a planet that is running dangerously low on fun and joie-de-vivre, so they become parasites in order to survive. Weird? Maybe. But I find it more fun than the alternatives.
**The plural of me, like tigers, is an ambush.

Popcorn and Rubber-Necking: NaNoWriMo Survival Guide For Spectators

Buckley and Eddie.

Dude, we should totally order a pizza and watch writers flip out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As promised, part two of my Survival Guide to NaNoWriMo. Part One, for Participants, is over here. This time, pull up a sideline chair and get the popcorn. Here’s how to make it through the month when it seems like everyone around you is obsessed with plot bunnies and word counts.

1) Breathe. Don’t get caught up in the hype/panic. That shit is contagious. Hang around enough stressed out people and you’ll feel stressed even if you’re not doing anything. Avoid this bullshit—since stress is probably half the goddamn reason you’re not doing NaNo to begin with—and remember to take a deep breath. Or get a drink. Both help.

2) Do Other Shit. Not doing NaNo? This looks like a great time to reorganize your office. Or get a head start on your holiday shopping. Or finally make some headway on the ninja-training-for-dogs program. Bonus points: you get to brag about the stuff you’re getting done to your word-count-obsessed friends.

3) But Don’t Neglect Your Writing. You don’t have to write a novel, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass. My favourite: using November to really nail down the outline for my next big project. Or catching up on my submissions. Continue to work on something, just to keep your hand in. Besides, it builds good habits for when the Great Time Suck, also known as the holiday season, strikes.

4) Enjoy the Show. Make some popcorn and crack open a cold one, because shit is about to go down. The autumn-chilled streets will be filled with wandering packs of word-herders, all looking for inspiration and extra words and ninja plot spackle techniques. Avoid the mobs, but enjoy the spectacle of creative madness. For extra rubber-necking points, go to the NaNo forums and eavesdrop on the freak outs.* You can even help with some, if you’ve done NaNo in the past and have the benefit of wisdom and experience. Or at least what passes for them on the internet.

5) Be Kind. Your friends are not themselves right now. It’s their Time Of The Month, if you take my meaning. They will return to the fun-loving rock-and-rollers you know and love soon, but until then, remember that they’re bat shit crazy and should only be approached with caution. And a stick. Don’t forget your Writer Poking Stick.
If you have forgotten your stick, then remember to be kind. They’re stressed and deep in the horrifying child birthing process that is required to bring a story into this world, screaming and covered in goo. Cut them a little fucking slack.
And pray for December.

*This may strike some people as voyeuristic. Sure it is. But if you don’t want to get gawked at, have your freak out somewhere that’s not a public forum.

Monday Challenge: Tourist

English: Tourist standing on the beach of Maka...

Was that island always there? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m writing this from a MYSTERY LOCATION. That’s right: I could be anywhere. I could be next door. I could be in China. I could be right behind you.

Did anyone look? Just curious. I always wonder how far my powers have extended.

The mystery location is actually my sister-in-law’s kitchen. Bonus: they have the same coffee machine we do, so it’s just like being home from a caffeine perspective.

I’m on vacation right now. From a writing point of view, that’s weird; I’m out of place. But from a drinking before noon point of view, it’s great. I prefer to look on the bright side of things.

I’m also back in a city where I used to live, except now I’m back as a tourist. It’s an odd sensation. The sections of the city that have changed stand out all the more because of the familiar background. It’s like coming back from college to discover your mom got a half-sleeve tattoo.

But it makes me look at the city with fresh eyes. Tourist eyes. I see the city, not as something to live in and move though, but as a place to visit. My father-in-law likes to say that we never really know what’s in our own backyard, and I think that’s true. There’s so much shit going on in our own towns that we never notice—festivals, openings, closings, events—until we leave.

So, for this week’s challenge, I’m sending you on a field trip. Go find an event; you can check the newspaper or online listings if you can’t get out this week*. Find a thing going on: a charity dance, an open house, a free exhibit. If you can get there, check it out. Observe. And report back. Write about what was happening, the feel of the place. Look at it with tourist eyes.

If you can’t get there, well, then you get to imagine what it was like. Or what you wish it was like. Or dread. I’m not judging. Just explore a little, even if it’s inside your own head.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bar in this town that’s calling my name.

Note for NaNoWriMo Participants: all Monday Challenge writing prompts make excellent fodder for getting past those sticky parts in the manuscript. Still stuck? Try these:

All The Feels

Running Out

Family Matters

*If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, I fully understand if you’ve forsaken all social interaction for the next thirty days. Just don’t forget to shower.

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.