The main way to get started as a writer is to write: apply the seat of the pants firmly to the seat of the chair and just get down to it. Having a thousand “good ideas” in your head is no good; you have to get them on paper. Just sit down and do it.
~ Marion Zimmer Bradley, “Advice to Young Writers”

You know, my first story sale was to Marion Zimmer Bradley. My first encouragement as a writer was a postcard from her FANTASY magazine, telling me that my story was “on hold.” As some of you might know, I have a very unreliable memory, but the moment I held and read that postcard is indelibly inked in my mind. I immediately went and read every bit of her writing advice that I could find, and the quote above was part of that.

I don’t know that she was the first to impart that advice, but over time it’s been distilled down to the title of this post: “Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard.” The distillation makes a handy acronym, sure, and makes non-writers look at you askance when you use it, but every once in a while I like to go back and read MZB’s full quote. There’s a certain simple resonance in her words that you don’t get from the combination of six letters into an unlikely “word.”

I have a good writing friend, Chuck Heintzelman, who is living that advice right now. He has challenged himself to write fifty (50!) new stories this year. (We are not going to talk here about my sad little goal to write five new stories this year. No, we’re not.) And he’s on a roll–as he completes a story he posts it on his website where you can read it for free until the next one goes up. They’re definitely worth checking out and I advise you to click on over and enjoy some while you can.

I’m inspired by Chuck’s project. I absolutely do not have his courage to post new work before it’s been thoroughly vetted by my first readers. I don’t seem to be able to find his drive to write so consistently every day. (Why I can do it for NaNoWriMo but not the rest of the year remains a mystery.) However, his project is making me want to resolve to write more, and more consistently. I need to get my BICHOK.

To make a start, today I did an exercise from my 2011 Working Writer’s Daily Planner. The exercise is to write fifty first sentences without stopping. (Dovetails nicely with Chuck’s fifty stories, no?) I set a timer to see how long it would take me, sat down, opened a numbered list, and started writing.

Thirty-three minutes later I had them. Almost a thousand words. Sometimes I wrote the first two sentences instead of just one. My rebellious side showing there, I guess.

The second part of the exercise is to choose twenty of those sentences that you think have promise, and write a first paragraph to go with them.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Organization Quest 2011 (Part 2)

After getting my submissions in order, I decided that the next thing I had to organize better was my time. This is a big issue for me as I have a lot of family demands on my time that I don’t really have complete control over, and I need to be flexible. However, I also need a sort of guide to come back to, so that I know what I’m supposed to be doing when time presents itself.

I started looking for organizer programs, then realized that I already had one on my computer that I use every day, just not to its fullest capacity. My mail program, Outlook, which also has a built-in calendar, with the ability to schedule repeating tasks and appointments, reminders, etc. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees. It was right in front of me the whole time.

So I spent an afternoon deciding how much time I had in the run of a week, and how I should apportion it. Other writers dealing with the same time issues might find this useful, so here’s what I did. First, I made a list of all the things, writing and writing-career-related, that require some of my time. Then I thought about how much time each one of them requires if I were addressing it on a weekly basis. For instance, publishing The Scriptorium. If I worked on it a bit at a time, instead of frantically trying to put together an issue in a day when the deadline hits, how much time would it take per week? How much time should I spend on the business aspects of writing? How much on Third Person Press? And so on.

Then I filled in a weekly calendar with all my non-negotiable time committments, and looked at what was left. Working back and forth this way, changing things around, and thinking about what times of day are better for me to do what sorts of tasks, I filled in the time slots. This gave me a baseline calender or schedule. It may change as I apply it to the real world, but it’s a starting point. Color-coding the chunks of time also lets me get an overview of how I’m spending the time.

I also made a second calendar, on which I can add one-time events or appointments. I can overlay this calender with my baseline calender to see a week at a glance and know what’s coming up that will interfere with my baseline schedule, and decide if I need to move things around just for the coming week.

I am just beginning to put it into practice, but so far it’s working well. If you’re having trouble fitting writing into your schedule, you may want to try this kind of strategy and see if it helps you apportion your time more productively. Although I’m using Outlook, find a calendar program that suits the way you like to work, and whose appearance and functionality you like. You’ll be a lot more likely to use it consistently if you do.

Organization Quest 2011

If you read my previous post, you might have noted that one of my short-term goals was “Organize submission history/tracking.” I’ve been thinking that organization, not only of this submission data, but of many other aspects of my writing life, is a really key thing that I have to tackle this year. Without a certain amount of organization, I can make as many other goals as I want, but I will have little chance of meeting them.

In the latter months of 2010, I spent quite a while scouring the internet for the “perfect” submission and manuscript tracking program. I wasn’t entirely successful, as I think the only way I’ll find the perfect program is to write it myself or bully my husband into writing it for me to my exact specifications. However, I did find one that came darn close, and after evaluating it, I ended up buying The Writer’s Scribe from Swatski Enterprises.

I’ve think it’s safe to say that I’ve given the program a complete workout since acquiring it. I did run into a few small hiccups along the way, learning the program’s ins and outs, but the support from Doug Swatski was quick, thorough, and altogether wonderful. I’m very happy with the program now and expect that I’ll be using it for the forseeable future.

The image I’ve included (from the program website) is the Submissions Overview screen, and as you can see, it does provide a very nice overview. You can see at a glance what subs you have out, how long since you sent them, and the results of the last submission for any given piece of work, as well as picking up on stories that are due to be sent out to a new market. It also provides a running total of acceptances, rejections, and subs that are pending.

On the other tabs, you can view the details of a story, publisher, or submission. Depending on the level of detail you choose to include on publishers, the program can also suggest publishers for a particular story. It will provide alerts on a time scale you set, to let you know when the date of an expected reply is past. It also tracks sales and expenses, and allows the generation of many different types of reports.

When I said I’ve given the program a thorough workout, here’s what I meant: I input the data for 72 works, 114 markets, and 193 submissions. I went all the way back to when I first started submitting stories, and although it’s quite possible I missed a few, it’s a pretty good record. All my various scraps and folders of paper data are gathered together to give me a nice overview of my submission habits and history, and I can easily see what I should now prioritize.

I did send the developer a few suggestions for features that might be useful to add to future versions of the program, to which he responded very positively.

I’d definitely recommend this program (especially at its very reasonable price of $25 US) for any writer who wants to get serious about tracking submissions. It’s available for both Windows-based and Mac machines.

Hello, 2011

This is the promised “writing goals” post. I’ve sorted my plans for the year into short-term, medium-term, and long-term. I think I will also print them out and put them up on my bulletin board, because the fact that I habitually have to hunt around at the end of the year to find the last year’s goals makes me think I’m not using them to the greatest advantage.

Short-term (within the next one to two months)
1. Finish anthology story
2. Organize submission history/tracking
3. Submit Murder Prophet to second market

Medium-term (within the next six months)
1. Get short story submissions moving again (and keep them moving)
2. Revise and complete last year’s NaNo novel

Long-Term (by the end of the year)
1. Write five new short stories
2. Get another novel ms into submission

Besides all these things, I will be doing more school visits, regular critiquing for my SL writer’s group, and in the first part of the year, acting as a first reader for a writing competition, so I don’t think there’s any worry that I won’t have enough to do.

*Photo courtesy of rdragan79

Goodbye, 2010

Yes, it’s been a while. The end of 2010 flew past without even giving me a chance to properly say goodbye here. But it’s not too late.  I’m pretty sure I had made some writing goals for 2010…(digs around a bit and comes up with a dusty list)…yep, here they are:

1. Plan more structured writing time, if not daily then most days. Most of
the time I do a lot of procrastinating before I actually get down to
writing, and I know that’s a bad habit.

Result: I did get into a better writing schedule for at least part of the year.  I can’t give myself full marks for this one, but I made some progress.

2. Log my writing time for at least a month, so that I have an idea of how
much time I actually spend on writing.

Result: I kept these logs for a while, and decided that I did not spend nearly enough time actually writing, and too much time on writing-related-but-not-really-writing things.  However, I didn’t *fix* that problem as well as I might have.

1. By the end of January, finish the last pass of the novel edit that is
almost done, and get it to my first reader.

Result: Completed this goal, but it was in July, not January.

2. By the end of February, finish the two (or three?) short stories I have

Result: Sadly, I can’t remember precisely what stories I was talking about here, so I don’t know if I did it or not.  I’m thinking not.

3. Get some more stories back into submission.

Result: Again, I did make some subs, but did not complete this goal as fully as I would have liked.

1. By the end of the year, complete the novel I started this past NaNoWriMo
and get it submitted.

Result: Did not do this, but wrote the second half of this story during NaNoWriMo 2010.

2. Complete the second anthology Third Person Press is working on, with a
projected release date of October 1st, 2010.

Result: Full marks for this one.  We completed the anthology and released it on schedule.

I’ve already made some decisions on writing goals for 2011, but I haven’t put them into short, medium, and long-term form.  I’m going to think about that some more and include the new goals in my next post.

Aside from actual goals, I also had three short stories published in 2010 and got a third novel into submission, did some great school visits, gave some classes and readings in Second Life, and, I think, grew as a writer and editor.  So all in all I’d have to say it was a good writing year.

Ask a Librarian

The other day I discovered a very cool program offered by the Halifax Public Library system–Ask A Librarian. You can email the research librarians there and ask a basic question. Within a day or two they will try to get back to you with an answer, links to further information, or suggestions for where you should start research for a more in-depth or complex question.

I thought this was a great idea, and I discovered the service precisely because I had a question. I wanted to know if there was a library in Halifax during the time period in which my novel is set (1901). Although I am writing alternate history and don’t have to have all the facts right, I like to be able to integrate some factually correct details along with things I’ve…er…tweaked. So I emailed them on the spot.

The next day I had my answer! A very nice email arrived to tell me that there was indeed a Citizen’s Free Library in Halifax in 1901, housed on the second floor of the City Hall building on Duke Street. The librarian told me the names of the Head Librarian and Assistant Librarian, and sent me a link to the actual catalogue, which I could read online.

I think that’s a fabulous service. I was telling my son and daughter about it and my son said, “Wow, are they Super Librarians?”

Maybe so. :)

The Waiting Game

old typewriter keysRome wasn’t built in a day.

Good things come to those who wait.

A watched pot never boils.

These are the things we tell ourselves as we wait for our manuscripts to be read, evaluated, and (we hope) accepted by editors and publishers. One of my novel manuscripts has made another jump up the ladder, an email today informs me.

{happy dance, happy dance, happy dance}

Okay, back to the waiting game. I’ll try to put it out of my mind again for another little while.

The Chain Story

A while back, I wrote here about The Chain Story Project, Michael A. Stackpole’s ongoing online anthology. Today my own story in the chain, “The Longest Distance,” went live.

You can reach it from the main project page at, or since you’re already here, from the link in the right-hand sidebar. :)

It’s been an interesting process and fun to participate. It helped me finish a ten-year-old story, and creating the “cover” artwork was cool. And much, much easier (and faster!) than writing the story itself!

Vacation Notes

As some of you may know, I’ve been on vacation all the past week. I brought along lots of things to keep me busy in case the Muse had an opportunity to visit, but the chances of that happening were severely curtailed when my laptop screen died the night before we left home. I brought it along anyway–since there was some work for Airborne that had to get done, vacation or no–and a small external monitor allowed me to use it. However, after consulting with my resident computer expert (hubby), we decided that probably it would be expedient for me to shop for a new laptop. With some trepidation, I did so, with the result that I’m typing this now on a new HP ProBook. I’ve spent quite a few hours copying and moving things from the old machine to the new one, and I think I’m pretty much there. It’s a nice fast machine with a pretty sweet keyboard, so I think I’m going to like it, although I wasn’t really ready to part with my old one.

In writing news, Airborne is done to the point that we’ve ordered the proof and it has been shipped, so if there are no problems with the proof when we get it, we’ll be ready to order copies. Whew! I feel a bit nervous calling it “done” until I’ve seen that proof, but it does feel like we’re almost there.

Two other writing notes–I’ve realized that one of the characters in the novel I’m writing requires a change of gender (not as part of the story; I mean I have to go back and rewrite him as a woman). And I’ll have more writing news come Monday. Stay tuned!

*Photo: Cavendish Beach, from Yes, I’m on Prince Edward Island. :)

Dante & Virgil Encounter the Shapeshifters

Continuing the exploration of Famous Paintings with SF titles, we discover:

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Dante & Virgil Encounter the Shapeshifters

In a little-known side adventure, the Italian poet Dante encounters three savage beasts deep in a forest. Dante then meets the ancient poet Virgil, who offers to be his guide through Purgatory and Hell. The beasts then reveal themselves to be aliens from the planet Zorg, who try to talk Dante out of this whole silly journey through Hell business, inviting him instead to come back to their mothership and join in the fun of buzzing primitive planets. Not trusting the aliens, eventually the poets ditch the shapeshifters by distracting them with raw meat and continue on their way.

(Okay, it’s actually just titled Dante & Virgil and was painted in 1859, but I think my story is better.)