A Reincarnation

For a number of years, I ran a couple of successful email courses through The Scriptorium; one was called “The Two-Week Short Story” and the second was “Short Story Workshop for One.” People seemed to enjoy them and I received a lot of very positive feedback from students. The first was (rather obviously) a guide to coming up with a story idea and writing a quick, complete first draft, all in a two-week period. The Workshop was a method for writers who found it difficult to get feedback or critiques to work on developing the kind of critical eye needed to help them improve their stories on their own. The Short Story Workshop itself grew out of an article I had published in Speculations back in 2001, so it had already lived through one reincarnation. It occurred to me that they’d both probably translate well into short ebooks now, and that I might reach a new group of aspiring writers in that format.

Never one to let a good idea fail to distract me from what I’m really *supposed* to be doing, I set to work and did some revising, tweaking, and re-formatting. Also, cover design, since every good ebook deserves a good e-cover. I’m not quite ready to release the ebooks yet, since they need one more good going-over, but I’m thinking within a week or so they’ll be ready to go. But I can share those covers with you now (they might get a little more tweaking, but I think they’re pretty much done):

I expect to price the ebooks around $1.99, which will be a bargain considering the courses used to sell for $8.00 each! However, I did have the hassle of setting up the email schedule, so compared to that, selling ebooks is easy. I believe I’ll test these in Kindle Select at first, and then move to a broader platform after that, as my marketing experimentation continues.

If you or someone you know is looking for some story inspiration and motivation, or have a story that needs some intensive self-workshopping, I’ll be posting here when they’re released. Maybe you’ll find them useful!

Submission Planning Sheet

It takes a while to get a story ready for submission–there’s a lot of rewriting, revising, editing, polishing, and agonizing to arrive at that point where you give yourself the green light — your project is ready to send out into the world. The act of submitting is not an easy one for every writer, often fraught with self-doubt, trepidation, and  anxiety. Trying to decide where to send your story can seem like a huge, time-intensive chore, which has to be revisited after every rejection (usually when we least feel like doing it!).

What you, the writer, need — is a plan. A submission plan for your story that will help you easily decide on the best markets to target and which ones to try first, and also let you turn rejections around quickly into new submissions. No more going back to pore over the market lists every time a story comes back; no more agonizing over where to send you work; no more letting a story lie fallow on your hard drive for weeks or months while you regather the will, nerve, or gumption to figure out where to send it next.

Enter the Submission Planning Sheet. I’ve kept one of these for years (inspired by an old article by my friend writer Terry Hickman) using this method, but I’ve recently updated it to an Excel spreadsheet from my old pen-and-paper method. I thought I’d share it here for any writers struggling with keeping their stories in submission. You can use it for as many stories as you’d like by simply adding a new page/sheet for each story. It comes with instructions and some sample data, and I hope you’ll find it useful.

You can download the spreadsheet file directly from my site right here:

The spreadsheet is free, but if you find it useful and feel so inclined, you can show your appreciation with a small donation – buy me a cup of coffee? You’ll keep me fuelled for creating more useful things like this. :)

 

Illustration Friday – Fable

A number of years ago, (*looks back, sees it was 2007, faints*) we did the Illustration Friday challenge for a while. The challenge is a topic (usually just a word) which you then illustrate in whatever medium you’d like. At that time I was doing a lot of colored pencil, so most of my projects were small, AECO size (2.5″ x 3.5″) attempts. Most of them are still online over here. It was a lot of fun, although the results…varied. *Side note: the IF challenges also make good writing prompts!

I’ve been thinking I’d like to get back into the art groove, so I looked up this week’s IF prompt and it was “Fable.” Which, of course, appealed to my writerly side, and I started thinking about how stories come in so many shapes and sizes and often have deep roots from which they grow.  This time I went digital and also indulged in my love of typographical art to come up with the image. I got some help and inspiration from the tutorial here, and then went my own way with it. I really like the result! It took a couple of hours (with various interruptions) but I think it’s good to engage the art brain and let the writing brain rest sometimes. I hope I’ll get back into the habit of Illustration Friday for a while again. I’m also enjoying the art videos posted by Mary Doodles on her YouTube channel, but my watercolor skills are currently non-existent. Maybe someday…

In the meantime, here’s my take on “Fable.”

November 11th Musings

Poppies by Benoit Aubry of Ottawa

This morning I walked “into town” to observe the Remembrance Day ceremony. I do actually live in the town, by the way, but on the outer edge, and going “into town” has always been the family nomenclature. I had planned to walk with some others of my family, but due to this and that I ended up going alone with a new plan to meet them there. It was a sunny morning, and the wind held a jagged edge–but, hey, it’s November in Cape Breton–and altogether lovely for walking.

Since I was alone and hadn’t taken my headphones to listen to music, I set my mind, as I walked, to the problem facing me in my current novel project. Which, coincidentally, had to do with war. The question I have been trying to answer is basically, how can a small group of people stop an interstellar war?

The obvious answer, I suppose, is: they can’t. But this is fiction, and that wasn’t the answer I wanted. I wanted an answer that involved cooperation, and determination, and compassion, and alien races working together. I just couldn’t seem to find the right way to make all those pieces fit together into what also has to be a good story.

So I mulled it over as I walked, and I thought a bit about war, and a bit about my Great Uncle John, who fought in the Second World War and did come home, if a changed man. I thought about the characters in my book, and what’s just happened and is happening in the United States, and about other wars and other places and other stories. And I came back to my characters and all the bits of the novel that have already been set in motion.

And. I think it worked. By the time I met up with my family members, some very important story pieces had fallen into place, and others had revealed how they could work together, and new pieces had appeared, too. I didn’t quite dance in the street since it would have seemed quite disrespectful under the circumstances. But I felt much better than I had about the story in a while.

There isn’t really a moral to this story, but I suppose if there is one for writers, it’s that sometimes you have to give your brain a quiet place to churn, and let it go. Maybe it means a change of scenery or activity, maybe it means a nap or just a break from staring disconsolately at the screen. Maybe it’s not forcing ideas, but nudging your thoughts in a certain direction and letting them run, instead of staring at an outline that isn’t working any more. Maybe it’s a walk on a sunny, windy day, alone with your thoughts and a question to be answered. If you’re stuck, try all of these things, and more, if that’s what it takes. The pieces will fall into place.

A Mystery Unearthed

  
This little gem came to light yesterday and generated a thrill of memory for me. This book was one of my favorites when I was young, and I would consider it a foundational influence on my reading and writing tastes.

It was probably one of my first introductions to “mystery” as a genre, and features a lot of story in its slim 80 pages. Kidnapping in the name of love! Trial by jury! Prison and escape! Vengeance and redemption! I read it countless times and I’m not sure what ever happened to the copy that lived at our house, but I’m sure glad to have one again now. 

I think I’ll curl up and read it today. :)

Friday Desk Report – Nov. 13, 2015

Samsung_840_EVO_SSD-8_-_front_blackIt is Friday the 13th, and yet I am cloning and installing a new SSD in my laptop. Nope, no triskaidekaphobia, paraskevidekatriaphobia, or friggatriskaidekaphobia here.

It’s been a good week for writing, and my NaNoWriMo WIP has topped 30k words. I spent the first 29k of that figuring out what the novel was about, and then yesterday finding out how it would all fit together, but it’s not the process, it’s the product, right? For a usual November I would be ecstatic to be at 30k words on this date (and it is, in my 13-year tenure, unheard-of), because I’d be more than halfway to goal–but of course, this year’s actual goal is much higher, and so I am merely satisfied. Satisfied is also a good place to be, however.

I had a story rejection this week but…well, as my good friend Nancy says, at some point they get to be more like a kick on the shin than a devastating injury. They sting for a bit and then you shrug them off and that’s it. I haven’t found a new place to send the story yet because, darn, it’s long, and the majority of markets these days are looking for 5k or less, it seems. I just don’t write that many stories in that length. I’ll try to find some time to focus on that in the next week.

I’m doing a lot of on-call story advising this month since there are so many stories happening in this household right now. But that’s fun, and it’s so interesting to be able to watch other writers develop under the microscope, so to speak. And it’s nice to be able to answer many of the questions that I had to research long ago.

I set up a new blog over at WordPress.com this week, called Stalking the Story. Why do I want another website to look after? Well, I plan to make it the repository for just my writing-related posts, so if that’s all you’re here for, they’ll be cross-posted over there as well. I’m also hoping to have some guest bloggers over there in the coming months. It may, over time, turn into a cooperative blog, which is something I’ve thought I’d like to do for some time now, in partnership with other writers. We’ll have to see how it evolves.

Habitica avatarMy desk is actually getting a bit messy, as it is wont to do during NaNoWriMo, so I plan to take a break this weekend and tidy it up. No, I will not be procrastinating on my WIP. The other thing I did this week was set up an account at Habitica, which is essentially a way to manage your productivity and habits by gamifying your life and translating it into a video RPG. So far, I love it. It’s amazing how much more satisfying it is to make my bed when I know I’m getting XP and virtual gold for it. :) I mean, I’ve only been using it for a few days and I’m already level 5!

Some things I did to earn gold and XP this week:

  • made my bed
  • walked on the treadmill
  • wrote. a lot.
  • did laundry
  • drank more water
  • finished the fall yard work

I’ll bet you did some of those things this week too. BUT did you get XP for them?

SSD Photo Credit: By Samsung Belgium (Flickr: SSD840EVO_008_Dynamic_Black) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Oh, my love, don’t forsake me / Take what the water gave me*

NaNoMusingsSometime in the novel-writing process (because I’m a discovery writer / pantser / gardener sort of writer) I usually hit this wall. It’s not a solid stone or brick wall. It’s a wall–possibly more of a pile–of random bits and pieces of story, character quirks, events that may or may not happen but certainly could happen, ideas, themes, places, conversations, people, objects, and settings, all jumbled together in an unholy, writhing mess. And when I fetch up against this wall–a wall that I admit I have scrabbled together and created myself–it’s a scary place to be. It looms overhead and threatens to topple down and bury me in a tumble of story detritus I’ll never untangle.

Fortunately, I have learned, over time and the process of many, many NaNoWriMo Novembers, that this is when I have to walk away. Get up from my desk. Get out of my office. And ideally, take a shower.

I’m not saying I haven’t showered previously at this point. If I don’t need a shower, hand-washing a sink full of dishes might do the trick, as well. But the shower is the best.

Today I hit the wall. Today I took the shower. And the eureka moment was there, in the water, as it usually is.

Now the wall is more like one of those slide-the-squares puzzles. I can see what the solution is supposed to be, and it’s now a matter of sliding everything to its proper place. I may still have to add or take away bits and pieces, but I can begin to envision the finished picture.

Your eureka moment might not be in the shower–it might be in a long walk, or a run, or a marathon housecleaning session, or a painting, or a drive in the country. But if you’re staring at the wall, you likely need to get away from your desk for a little while. Get some perspective. Talk through the problems you’re having with the story, even if (especially if?) no-one can hear you. The solution is there. It really is. If you look, you’ll find it.

*”What the Water Gave Me” – Florence & The Machine

Friday Desk Report – Oct. 9/15

my-tools-1239864-639x426So I had this idea to write a sort of weekly roundup/review post, and call it the Friday Desk Report. I envision it as sort of a brief review of the week’s projects, word metrics, links, and anything else notable that happened during the week. As much for myself as for anyone else, I suppose, but it could turn out to be interesting.

Will I be able to keep it up? Only the future will tell. Traditionally, I’m not so good with consistency, but it’s possible I’m improving with age. Come on, it’s possible.

So, what do I have to report? This week I did the most sustained new writing I’ve done since my mom passed away at the end of August. Still not a lot of new words, but it felt good to work like that again. I worked on a short story I’m writing about giant monsters who have laid waste to much of the continent and now threaten my protagonist’s small Nova Scotia farm.

I also worked on a book trailer for The Seventh Crow, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’m waiting on a couple of images I need to replace some placeholders, and then I’ll be uploading it to share. Should be available sometime next week.

I wrote a book review I’d promised, and drafted a guest blog post I have to turn in by the 15th, so I’m well ahead on that. I also put together a new outline template for Scrivener and began using it to work on The Chaos Assassin, and this morning I sent out a short story submission.

I read far too much on Facebook about the upcoming federal election and decided I need to stop worrying about it and being disappointed in people. It’s far too negative. All I can do now is cast my own vote and encourage others to do so, and hope, hope, hope for better things to come.

NearspaceBibleToday I’m working on my Nearspace series bible, in preparation for NaNoWriMo and the novel I’m planning to work on in November. I already had such a thing but it was NOT well-organized or complete. I found this video from Kami Garcia to be quite inspiring in this regard and look how well it’s coming along!

In other Nearspace news, I also put up another free Nearspace story on this site today, which you can find here. It’s a peek into Nearspace and the first contact story between humans and Lobors, before wormhole travel was possible.

Some cool things from the internet this week:

Okay, I’m impressed. That’s a pretty good report! So back to today’s project…

 

5 Questions and 6 Sentences

eraser-and-sketch-book-1-134654-m

A rough sketch is better than nothing.

With the beginning of NaNoWriMo less than a week away, many of us are still floundering around with bits and pieces of story ideas, wondering how we’re going to arrange them into something coherent for our novels. Today I bring you a brief exercise which might help you to put some of your thoughts in order. All you have to do is answer 5 questions and write 6 sentences.

Sound simple? Then let’s go. Here are the questions. You may answer them with a word or a sentence.

1. Who is your main character? (If you don’t have a name, now is the time to come up with one.)
1b. (optional) Who is his or her sidekick? (Companion, mentor, friend, frenemy, family member, etc.)
2. What does your main character want? (His or her overriding goal, quest, desire.)
3. Why can’t he or she have it? (The main obstacle thwarting that goal.)
4. What will help him or her achieve it? (A personal attribute, an item, a person or persons, etc.)
5. What will it cost? (Nothing comes without a cost. What will your MC have to sacrifice?)

Bonus Question: What is your working title?

Okay, now that you have those things sorted (and don’t move on to the next section until you do!), write a sentence describing each of the following:

1. Your main character’s situation when the story opens–what’s ‘normal’ for him/her and the world of the story.
2. What goes wrong–what changes–why ‘normal’ can’t or doesn’t continue.
3. What your main character will do to fight back or respond to what happens.
4. How that response doesn’t work, things only get worse, and defeat for the main character seems certain.
5. How the main character rallies and wins in the end (or doesn’t, I suppose).
6. Your main character’s situation when the story ends.*

If you can go into NaNoWriMo with even these few notes in hand, you’ve got–well, not a road map, but at least some sketchily drawn directions to get through your story.

*The idea for the second part of the exercise came from here: http://www.andrewjackwriting.com/2013/02/11/six-sentence-story-planning-for-pantsers/