Focus on the Writing or A Letter to myself in 2010

It’s 2010 and I’m at a writing conference for school.

I’d stayed with a classmate from my writing class and we’re both really excited to be at a Real Writing conference with Real Writers instead of just in a class full of Wannabe Writers. I spent probably 300-400 dollars on the hotel, food, getting there and my admission. I’m around tons of other local writers in Alabama and so stoked.

Except all the information that the conference is giving me? It’s all stuff I just spent 5 months learning in class. It’s all about things that I already…well, have been taught. We don’t do any major work shopping on any of my in progress stuff…or anyone else’s stuff. Well, I figure, I’ll just find out more about the publishing industry in this set of forums and figure out what to do with all these short stories I finished in class.

Except.

We didn’t really talk about publishing at all.

Everyone talks about how you don’t make much writing and how legitimacy is from big publishers but there is this shared grimace when the words ‘Querying’ and ‘Synopsis’ come up. I finally asked a question to one of the presenters about how to go about trying to submit something for publication. Tips, tricks, advice, ect.

He asks me, “Well first of all, do you have a finished Manuscript?”

I said “Not yet, but I’m close to done.”

And he waved his hand and said, “Well, for now, focus on the writing and don’t worry about the publishing.”

I felt so irritated at that. Because he just moved on to the next question without any explanation of WHY.

Sometimes good advice can be given in a shitty way. Which makes it bad advice.

I have since done tons of research on publishing. I’ve been reading blogs and publication guides for years on the process, on what I want to do with my own work, and then taking a good look at my own process. Here is what I’ve determined five years after this brush off.

Dear April from 2010,

Right now you are currently two years away from graduating college. You have finished a handful of short stories but your novel is languishing away because your school papers require more work and are currently more important than the novel-in-progress. Don’t worry about publishing because it will always be there. Don’t lose one bit of focus from your current goal of finishing. Don’t spare one moment of thought on things that will change as soon as you start them. If you want to know you’re next step, this is it: finish the manuscript. Then you keep writing. Because publishing is not the same as creating. Publishing is selling a finished product and without that lovely story all tight and shiny, you ain’t got nothing to sell suga.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look into publishing. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t skim through agents and the prices of self-publishing. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at tax-rates for a self published author or try and decide if you’d rather have the weight of a traditional publishing house behind your baby. It just means that you do those things after you’ve gotten your writing done for the day. You do those things while your brain is recharging from the long marathon of plotting you just did. You do all those things secondary to your drafting and crafting. Focus on the writing because if you don’t have the best novel you can make, it doesn’t matter if you know exactly who to send your baby to, the baby will be plain and boring and they won’t want it.

Sincerely, 2016 April.

Current favorite Podcasts

Happy Monday fellow writers.

Part of the road to making it towards full-time writing means working full time at a non-writing job. I’m grateful for my office job, but much of the work I do is data entry and info-checking. Doing it in silence is mind numbing so, to keep my connection to my literature roots and my writing time is Podcasts.

Here are my current top three podcasts in no particular order.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I talked about podcasts but if you want to see what my favorites were for December please click here.

1. Ask A Clean Person

Not all of my podcasts are writing related. After all, to write, we need to be around lots of different stimuli so that we’re always keeping our creative earth fertilized. Jolie Kerr, blogger, advice columnist and author of the New York Time’s Best Selling Book, My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag…and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha is an expert on all things Messy and Gross and how to handle them.

I started reading Kerr when she was on Deadspin because she gave very good advice for cleaning roller derby gear and I’ve been hooked on her frank and honest style of advice ever since. Plus, the stories she gets sent in on the weekly all seem to have great character building behind them. After all, since cleaning is my favorite form of procrastination, doing it well makes the satisfaction from it extra wonderful.
2. Freakonomics Radio

Freakonomics is a radio station that updates regularly, has interesting ‘huh, I didn’t know that’ feel to it. The program focuses on finding interesting connections between two things that I had no idea were related. That is always worth the time to me.

Plus, the variety of their coverage makes the day an interesting one and forces me to examine the way I feel and think about things. For example, in their latest episode as of the publishing of this blog, they examine Boycott’s and the true effectiveness of this method of pushing for social change. It reveals the amount of story-doctoring with public stories and seeded some great idea of a marketing character.
3. The Roundtable Podcast

Last but not least, Dave Robison’s Roundtable Podcast. If you love brainstorming, this is the podcast for you. The structure is entertaining but simple. Dave and his cohost invite a guest onto their podcast, the guest pitches them an idea, then they team takes it apart and puts it back together in hopes that the guest will be able to run off and finish a book with the suggestions and story advice they’ve given.

Y’all, I found this so helpful, because as a neo-pro writer, someone still working on breaking out with her own fiction, listening to others point out what sounds flat or undeveloped has really given me the ability to examine my own work without prejudice. The other great thing is that the Round Table is open to accepting new people on their show to workshop. So, again, excellent resource for those of us who are still trying to iron out that pesky outline (or if you’re like me, the mess of notes that pretends to be an outline) into a proper, well beat-driven story.

 

So those are it. These are the people who have helped me keep my motivation as I work through finishing my WiP. These are my own opinions, as always, and I’m not receiving any compensation for recommendations made on this blog.

If you like what I had to say, let people know. Come follow me over @dracoangelica on twitter. Tell your friends about this little writing blog and email me at aprilshowers1987@gmail.com if you have any questions, suggestions or comments on things you’d like to see me talk about OR if you have podcast suggestions that you think should be on next month’s top 3.

Happy Monday lovelies and good luck with your writing.

Rejection

I started this blog last month after I submitted my first story to The Writers of the Future contest.

I am not published. I have a hard time finishing what I start and over all, am not someone that you should take advice about being a professional from. However, if you’re here because you’re looking to see what it takes to one day GET there, I’m happy to have you around.

My friend who entered with me just got her rejection letter Monday and now I’ve been checking my inbox on a thrice-daily basis just waiting for a response.

My hopes for this contest were not to place first. Not to be negative or to ‘not believe in myself’ but while I feel that my story was the best story I could have submitted at this time, I don’t know if it was really good enough to place. But we can’t just hang onto our stuff forever. We have to start somewhere. My goal and my hope is ‘Honorable Mention’ more than anything else. HM means that I made it past the first round of crit and am stepping in SORT OF the right direction.

Everyone gets rejected. I’m sure that I probably will too, despite my hopes. It’s the act of accepting it and moving on to submit again that makes you a writer. So here is to trucking down the writer road littered with those ‘Sorry, but this story is not what our publication is looking for’ and onto the steps of publication.

Routines

Part of my ability to get words down into a word processor comes from Routine.

I used to think that I could only write when the ideas came. That’s why I enjoyed reading books. It seemed to me that writers were magical people that had ideas all the time and had no problem getting them out onto a piece of paper. Maybe, I thought, they just mailed in their great ideas to a Book Maker who immediately realized how wonderful it all was and sent it to press.

My first writing-advice came from the Rivan Codex by David Eddings. In that book, he talks about being a writer in his prologue, speaks about how he developed his fantasy stories. He talks about Editing, something that I wasn’t familiar with in my teens. I remember realizing then as I read that book that there was so much more that went into creating a book than just writing.

In college I learned that you don’t just sit down and create a masterpiece. I mean, of course SOME people do. I know Dean Wesley Smith is a big proponent of not editing your story to death. However when you’re in that beginning phase of learning the craft, you have to throw a lot of pots before you get one that makes it though the kiln without shattering.

The key to that practice is routine. When I was learning Clarinet, I had to put in an hour of practice a day. When I was attempting to learn my multiplication tables, it was repetitive routine. When I am learning skating skills for Roller Derby, it’s focused skating to teach my muscles where they need to gain strength.

Writing is no difference.

My routine, at the moment is as follows:

Alarm goes off at 5:45am. Get up, put on robe and slippers, find glasses. Go to desktop and plop bottom in chair. Turn on music and put on headphones. Open up word processor. Type until 6:30. Get up and go get ready for day job. Come home from day job. Do an hour of making dinner, picking up or whatever small errands need to be attended. At 7, come back to chair and put butt in it. Open up word processor. Work until about 9:30. Go to bed. Rinse. Repeat.

There are days that are challenging. On Monday, I had some afterwork responsibilities. On Thursday I have an event I’m attending with a friend. Both of these things break into the evening word count. On those days, you make up where you can. Sometimes I’m able to get the words in at lunch at work. You just have to find those ‘dead times’ in your day where you wouldn’t normally be doing anything.

I dream that one day when I go full time (Not before 2019 the rate I’m going) I can just work for blocks of time and won’t need to snatch here and there, but even full time writers have to make the time to get things done. Rock those writing routines, y’all. It’s amazing what we can get done in 15-30 minute stretches.

NaNo Updated Part 3

We’ve had a couple write-ins so far and progress is going well.

I’ve added a word count widget on the sidebar of the blog for accountability sakes.

When I started doing my Word Challenge with my friends in March, there weren’t daily goals so much as there was the challenge to see what others were writing and the attempt to keep up the habit of the daily word work. Now, I’m running into the challenge of sticking with one project and only one project. Before I’d hop between two to three projects a month. Sometimes this short story, sometimes edits on that short story and a chapter here or there on a novel in progress. NaNoWriMo is much more intense.

Because I’ve worked on the same project for the last two days and it’s NOT a short story.

Usually, at least for me*, a short story has one to three talking characters with three try-fail/scene-sequel sequences. Then, there is a conclusion. Novels, on the otherhand, I set up more like this long rollercoaster.

Chapters 1-10 are the cranking chapters. I like to lay out my dominoes so that I can knock them over, explode them, or shoot them down in a spectacular manner later. Around chapter 20 or so, I like to dip you down to the lowest part of the story, let my main character hang naked over the volcano of her problems for a while then have her haul herself up, cut her feet out from the ropes with the knife she hid in her hair peice and climb her way back to the top and take out the figurative-marauders that put her in that pickle in the first place.

Well. That’s the idea and the plan. The truth is that I’ve never successfully completed a novel. I usually get the first cranked up chapters and then quit because the writing bogs or gets boring. :/

So here is to a year of breaking through barriers and not quitting. It’s Day 5 of Nano today and hopefully we’re all the word goal of 8335 or at least getting there. Hang with me dearlings, and we’ll ride this challenge out together.

*Please keep in mind that this blog is that of an unpublished writer who is documenting progress as she works towards full time freelancer status. I am not an expert. I just am creating a record of what I do in this business every week so that those who are learning like me have a place to reference or learn from.

Writing for an Audience

I went to Dragon*Con in 2011 and met my hero and literary idol, Mercedes Lackey.

Well. As well as you can ‘meet’ someone who signs your book and helps you take a selfie. I remember the first time I saw her. She was in a “Women of Science Fiction” panel with Laurell K. Hamilton, Sherrilyn Kenyon and several other lovely ladies whose names just aren’t coming to my mind right now. She was on the end of the panel and had been invited to introduce herself and tell about what she wrote. She leaned forward and said, “Hello, my name is Mercedes and I write books.” Seeing as she has produced a podcast series, written numerous short stories, over a hundred novels and worked with some of the greatest spec fiction writers of my generation, I feel that she has a gift for the understatement.

She and the other talented writers were doing the usual things that writers do at these panels: They were giving advice and telling stories from their own experiences. I remember they spoke about different styles of writing, who works best in silence (Hamilton) and who needs a busy house (Kenyon). The normal things were asked: Where do you get your inspiration? and Do you have advice for new writers?

Mrs. Lackey’s words have resonated with me since.

Writers. Write. They don’t talk about writing. They put their ass in the chair and they put one word in front of the other and ignore the blinking middle finger on an empty document page.

It’s taken me years to really internalize that advice, ignore the distractions that come with school, jobs and life in general and make that time to put fingers to keyboard and let out the voices in my head in a coherent form. And writers do write, as I’ve repeated and will repeat multiple times on this platform. But once you get past the process of developing the habits and discipline to get those words on the page, you have to ask yourself, ‘Who am I writing for?’

The obvious answer is: I am writing for myself. After all, I’m the one who has to deal with the words that come out of my fingers. I’m the one who has to look at the pages of re-writes. I’m the one who has to delve into character backgrounds and decide who is going to shoot who when my protag finally uncovers his or her dangerous plot. So my next question is, “What do I like to read?”

I like to read romance, science fiction, folklore, fantasy and adventure stories. Since those are the stories I like to read, those are the stories I am going to write. In short, I’m writing for people like me, who enjoy the things I enjoy and want to hear about cool stuff in that area of study. Writers can be arrogant that way. We put our words out into the world and are in many ways searching for those who agree and want to share our heads. It’s why almost all the writers I know are so nice to their fans. It’s not a matter of simply appreciating the people who liked your book, but it’s also appreciating the people who are similar to you. Those readers who go into the work you put out and see themselves in it. When you write for an audience, write for yourself.

Accountability

I have been trying to keep a decent writing schedule on this blog since I started it.

If you knew me in meat space you would now begin your cackling and rolling on the ground. However the one thing that all my current habits have in common is this:

Accountability.

Cleaning the cat box? If I don’t, my cat will poop everywhere.

Keeping my dishes done? If I don’t, the roaches will come find me.

Turning in drafts? Deadlines.

Daily word count? My friends and I have a monthly pool going. Whoever has the most words at the end of the month wins.

It really is that easy for me. One of the reasons I think I have never managed to keep a good work out schedule stems from the fact that I dislike working out with people. (If I’m sweating away my delicious calories that I worked hard to collect, I’m not feeling chatty or happy. It makes me unpleasant.) Any other project or task that I’ve procrastinated on all moves back to accountability.

Stories require accountability too. I have so many half-started fiction bits rolling around in my word processor files that one of these days they are going to fit themselves together like Frankenstein’s monster and come eat me in my sleep. How can you get that sort of external check system?

Well, consequences for one. If you DON’T do the daily writing, then you WON’T finish it which is a shame. You won’t be able to show anyone, or at least if you’re like anyone I know, you won’t WANT to show the half-finished bit to anyone. Two, if you have a friend, that helps.

Friends who write aren’t always easy to acquire. I have some writer friends who are fabulous to hang out with but have such different writing processes than myself that accountability with them isn’t as helpful. It takes time and patience but once you have found them, put a ring on it. (Figuratively…unless they are also partner-in-life material then good for you.) If you can find a buddy or at least someone you know to ask about your status on a daily/weekly basis, that can help.

I won’t pretend that I know all the answers. I often feel like I am fumbling forward in the dark, fingers outstretched to find a way through to the other side. That imaginary other side resembles a podium at some awards ceremony where I am being told what a steller author I am.

Done laughing? I am too.

In the end, focus on the stories. Focus on the words and remember: Each keystroke is one step closer to that completed project. The story of 1000 words n’ all that jazz.

Finding Time to Write

Writing is exhausting.

Not because it takes a large amount of energy to move one’s fingers up and down, nor because words are some unattainable thing. Baring disability, people use their words so often that the darn things just scatter about like so many grains of dirt.

Writing is hard because you have to FIND those those words that someone is going to want to read. Not just read, but eventually pay to read, which is the dream of all who put their work out into the ether, hoping that something will be accepted as a project.

When you’re just starting out, it’s hard because you can’t (usually) afford to do it all the time. I work at a very busy medical clinic and my day to day is focused more on helping our patients than getting my word count for the day. A friend of mine works a library and she must fit her words in between work and her 2 hour plus commute to said employment. I have friends who are in retail that stand all day and the prospect of coming home at the end of the day to a keyboard to pour out bits of themselves onto a screen is daunting.

But. Here we are. We do it anyway. We are not the later-career Best Sellers. Instead, here we are at the ground floor, looking at that mountain, each stroke of the keyboard a step towards a finished product.

When I go to conferences, many writers who have managed that lovely switch from day-job and writing on the side to Full Time Author look back on the days that they were at the bottom of the mountain fondly. So I am going to follow their example and tell myself that one day I will look back to waking up an hour earlier than I need to with fondness. I will appreciate the extra hours that I put into these short stories and manuscripts.

Because when you’re finding time to write, you’re doing more than carving out time to create, you’re building a foundation to appreciate what you will hopefully earn.