Over the Shoulder and Down the Road

the-road-to-your-destiny-by-stealth37-nice-wallpaper-1600x1200In other words, looking back and looking ahead. :)

2013 was a great writing year for me. I started the year by completing revisions on One’s Aspect to the Sun, which then came out from Tyche Books in November. So far it’s been getting wonderful reviews and readers really seem to be enjoying it, which makes me very happy. That was my big news and my big accomplishment, but there were other writing accomplishments, too.

My story, “ePrayer,” came out in Third Person Press’ newest anthology, Grey Area, which also added another notch to my editorial belt. Grey Area was partially funded through our Indiegogo campaign, which was quite an experience in itself–time consuming and sometimes frustrating, but ultimately satisfying. Also with Third Person Press, we read submissions and made final decisions for our next anthology, Flashpoint, so we’ll be moving on to line edits for those stories soon.

I finished a short story for submission to another anthology, and that story became the jumping-off point for my NaNoWriMo effort. NNWM was a win, and although that story is far from finished, I’m pleased with it and will continue to work on it.

I also put two other novels into submission, in March. I’m still waiting to hear on those, and, to tell the truth, I’m getting impatient. Having been through the experience of waiting a long time for a publisher and eventually pulling the manuscript, I’ve vowed not to do that again. That’s a blog post all by itself, though, so I’ll talk more about that another day.

I worked on yet another novel manuscript, which is very close to being finished. I had planned a “novel swap” with a writer friend, but it didn’t come to be. I just couldn’t seem to finish the last few chapters in a way that satisfied me. With luck, he’ll still be willing and we’ll get to that this year, once I wrangle those chapters into shape.

I did preliminary revision work on two other unfinished novel manuscripts, and did some background work on Nearspace, the setting for One’s Aspect to the Sun. Yes, there are more stories to be told in that universe. No, I don’t have any details to share with you yet.

All of which is wonderful but…I could do more.

Once upon a time, I used to start more stories than I finished. Over time, I learned that this was, at least in part, due to starting to write too soon. I’d get an idea and start writing before I had let it “simmer” long enough in my brain. I don’t get along well with outlines, but I’ve learned that I do need to be able to see the structure of the story in my head before I start writing that first scene. That scene usually comes to me full-blown, so it’s very, very tempting to just “get it down” quickly. But as I said, I learned not to give in to that temptation, and finished more stories.

However, I find myself in the position of having a lot of unfinished manuscripts on my hard drive again. I’m not sure what the problem is now; partly trying to juggle too many projects, partly spending too much time on “writerly” things that are not actually writing, partly my propensity to procrastinate. (There, I’ve admitted it!) This time they are mostly novels, as opposed to short stories, thanks to NaNoWriMo, but still…they need to be finished. I came close to finishing that one I mentioned earlier, but didn’t quite make it.

Last year I set just one goal for myself for 2013; I would publish a novel. I’ve decided to make 2014 the Year of Finishing. I’m not saying I won’t start anything new this year, of course, but I really like many of these stories that are languishing only partially complete. I want to go back to them, finish writing them, and make them shine.

I also hope to blog more consistently this year. Last night at our New Year’s celebrations I threw two hopes into the resolution box: more consistency and less procrastinating in my writing life overall. With some luck and determination, they should combine to produce more finished manuscripts in the months to come. Stay tuned and we’ll see what happens from here.

Photo credit: Stealth37

Storyboarding with Pinterest

pinterestI know I’m not the first writer to use Pinterest as a visual aid in story-writing, but I was thinking about all the ways it could be used and thought–I may as well think out loud!

I started a Pinterest storyboard for my new novel, One’s Aspect to the Sun, during one of its numerous rewrites. If I remember correctly, I was trying to draw my mind back into the world of the novel after being away from it for a while, and I always find visual imagery very creatively stimulating. At first the board was a “secret” one, which is a great Pinterest feature for a board you’re not ready to share with the world yet. I was throwing all kinds of things into the mix to put me back inside the story.

Later, though, I realized that it also makes a good marketing tool. With judicious pinning, a writer can create a board that really reflects the mood, genre, time period, setting, and style of a book or story, as well as elements that play into the plot. Potential readers can get an impression about whether the book might be one they’d enjoy. Images can also pique a reader’s interest…why did the author include *this* particular image? My One’s Aspect to the Sun board is here: http://www.pinterest.com/wordsmith101/storyboard-ones-aspect-to-the-sun/

I’m currently creating a Pinterest storyboard for my current NaNoWriMo novel, which has a working title of B.R.A.N.E., Inc. I’m using this board as a repository for things I might want to refer back to as I’m writing, as well as images that represent places in the novel, clothing, ideas, and bits of plot that are floating around in my head but not committed to paper or file yet. I have a mockup of a cover for the book, so that’s there, too. No doubt this board will be a mishmash of many things as the novel develops, but I can always pare it down later to better reflect the actual tale that emerges.

Do you use Pinterest in your writing life? If so, how?

Eleven Reasons To Love Deadlines

Photo by stockarch“Yeah, right,” I can hear you saying. “Deadlines are horrible. Deadlines are stressful. Nobody likes deadlines, let alone loves them!”

Well, I can see your point. Even the name is kind of scary, isn’t it? Deadline. Obviously there are going to be dire consequences if such a thing arrives and you are not prepared.

For writers, though (as well as others, but on this blog, we mainly talk writers, right?), having a deadline can be a positive experience—if you look at it in the right light. Here are eleven* reasons that a deadline can actually be your friend.

1. Deadlines force you to plan your time realistically. You’re always trying to get more organized and use your time better, right? Well, a deadline will make you look at how you’re spending your time and how much time it actually takes you to accomplish something. If you take that knowledge with you beyond the deadline, that time-planning can spill over into your other work and help your productivity beyond this one project.

2. Deadlines make you take control of your work instead of letting it control you. This is a common pitfall for writers; let me give you an example. If you are going to have this eight-thousand-word short story ready to submit before the submission period closes, you don’t have the luxury of following every whimsy of subplot and character idiosyncrasy that your brain comes up with. You have to write this story in a good tight first draft, edit it judiciously, and call it done. You have to take control. Bring that kind of control to other projects, and you’ll end up more productive overall.

3. Deadlines force you to be focused and efficient. Here’s another example. You have five days to finish this manuscript. It shouldn’t take you more than one of those five days to figure out, for instance, that you work most productively in the mornings and are essentially useless after dinner. The next four days, you’re going to make sure you spend time on your deadline project in the mornings. Take this knowledge with you to the next project, and stop doing email and blogging in the mornings instead of writing. Let deadlines teach you skills that go beyond a single project.

4. Deadlines force you to re-evaluate your level of perfectionism. If you have too many manuscripts sitting around on your hard drive because they’re just “not quite ready yet,” this one is for you. Yes, you may end up with a less-than-perfect manuscript if you set a deadline to finish it. But the perfect manuscript is something of a mirage, anyway. Better to have a finished one in submission than a never-done one languishing in a drawer.

5. Deadlines make you develop strategies to bypass procrastination. This one doesn’t need much explanation. You may have the cleanest house on the block or be the best Angry Birds player in town, but if you’re going to meet deadlines, you have to learn to recognize and bypass your own procrastination strategies. One way to do this is to make your procrastination tasks reward tasks instead. You can play ten minutes of Angry Birds or switch your laundry loads along after you work on your project for an hour (be sure to set timers for both!). You may find such things less appealing as rewards. If so, swap them out for something that really appeals to you–as a reward.

6. Deadlines make you realize what it is actually possible for you to achieve. Anyone who’s participated successfully in NaNoWriMo understands this one. Deadlines take all the skills we’re talking about here and let you smoosh them into a big ball of I-can-do-this. And once you know what’s possible…well, you’re likely to take on, and accomplish, more.

7. Deadlines allow you to plan for what’s beyond the deadline. If you have a deadline to meet, it means you’re actually going to finish this project and be able to move on to something else. No-one really wants to edit the same novel manuscript for the rest of their lives, do they? Of course not! You want to finish something so you can get to the Next Big Thing. But neither do you want to drop half-finished projects just to get to the next one. Deadlines let you set parameters to work on things, finish them, and then move ahead.

8. Deadlines help you figure out what your real priorities are. This is sort of related to #7. Sometimes you’ll have to choose between projects because of conflicting deadlines. If you’ve been dithering, trying to work on two or more projects but not really making satisfying progress on anything, a deadline can make you choose what’s important and focus on that.

9. Deadlines make you stop wasting time and actually complete something. Maybe you’re one of those people who’s always talking about writing but not really writing. Maybe you’ve been working on the same damn manuscript for so long that even you’re sick of it. Maybe you’re really trying to write, but something is holding you back—fear of failure, fear of success, yada, yada, you know the list as well as I do. A deadline can make you, er, produce—or get off the pot.

10. Deadlines let you cross something off your project list. Ah, the list. Don’t tell me you don’t have one, and that you don’t know the sweet, sweet satisfaction of crossing something off it. And if you don’t, you should make one. Really. Because there’s nothing as lovely as “Finish X by DD/MM/YYYY” with a big fat strikethrough running across it.  Unless it’s writing “The End.”

Off to try and meet a big deadline of my own.

*Why eleven? Because everyone does lists of ten. I’m trying to think outside the box, here, people.

Photo credit: stockarch

Help for the NaNo-Panicked (Part 1)

Image courtesy of UncyclomediaOkay, it’s October 5th, 26 days until NaNoWriMo, and you don’t know what you’re writing about. You know folks who have been planning this year’s novel for months (we hates, them, Precious, what has they got in their pocketses? Index cards!), but you have–nothing. No plot, no characters, no ideas.

It’s a horrible place to be, but there’s hope. And that hope has a name–random generators.

As an experiment, one year for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a novel which was almost entirely based on the results of random generators. I started with the title. Then anytime I needed to name a character, create a place or object, or find a plot twist, I went to a generator. I can hear you laughing, but here’s a secret–that novel is one of the ones that I, in my ten-year expedition with NNWM, completed, edited, and am now doing the final line-edit pass on before sending it out to a publisher. It’s one of my best stories. So don’t be too quick to pooh-pooh the idea of generators.

The thing about generators is knowing how to use them. They are great for sparking ideas, putting together ideas that you might not have thought of combining, and pulling words up to the top of your subconscious where you can play with them. You don’t have to feel constrained by them…once that idea is sparking, it will eventually take on a life of its own.

Here is a list of a few generators that I particularly like. Play around with them–don’t just look for loglines, bring up some plot twists, conflicts, character names, oddities, anything at all–and write down anything that sounds interesting. Maybe use a mind map like Freemind to gather together everything that speaks to you, and then look for connections in the jumble of ideas. Think of it as brainstorming, with the help of an outside brain. :)

StoryToolz.com: At StoryToolz, you’ll find a generator that gives you three conflicts, and a brief explanation of how to use them to flesh out a story idea. There’s also a random conflict generator, and a half title generator.

Seventh Sanctum: Here you’ll find a motherlode of generators, for all sorts of endeavours. You might want to start with the ones in the writing section for story ideas, but you never know where inspiration will strike!

The Writer’s Den at Pantomimepony: Another great collection of generators, including one for first lines. Sometimes a great first line is all you need to grow a story. (I tried it out and got: “That weekend, shortly before the parrot bit my Dad, Aunt Maude became a gangster’s tailor.” Now really, if you can’t grow a story out of that, there’s something wrong with you!)

Serendipity: Although recovering from a spam attack that took the old site down, the owner has restored some of the generators here and I hope will be able to continue to add more back in–this was one of my favorites.

Archetype: Three nice generators here, along with a link to a great article on all the different ways of beginning your story.

There are lots more generators on the net; if you don’t like these, do a search and find one that suits you. In my next post, we’ll take a look at a way to be your OWN random generator. Sounds like fun, huh?

The Five Stages of Novel Revision

Pick an emotion…any emotion…

The other day I watched a video by James Andrew Wilson, called The Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel. It’s both funny and true, so if you’re a writer (or even if you’re not) you should go and watch it.

Having recently been asked by an editor to revise a novel*, I think there are several stages to that process, as well. Here they are:

1. Elation Disappointment Disalation? I don’t know what to call this stage. Someone likes your novel and has said nice things about it! They think it has promise! Hurray! But you have to change things. It’s not perfect. The road ahead is paved with hard, hard work. Wah! It’s wonderful and horrible at the same time. You need a drink, some ice cream, or (insert favorite comfort item here) while it all sinks in.

2. Despair You don’t know how to do this. You can’t do this! Those changes won’t work! They’re too hard! They’ll wreck your novel! You can’t cut that subplot because then no-one will understand why the vagrant had to be blind. You can’t cut the busboy character because wasn’t it obvious that he was the one who saw the murder and reported it anonymously to the police? And how can the novel work at all without the circus? *headdesk*

3. Planning Okay, you just need to take a while and think about this. Think, and make a lot of notes. Maybe buy one of those huge whiteboards and diagram the entire novel on it. No! Better still, paint a wall of your office with chalkboard paint and diagram it there! Also, print out all the editor’s comments and highlight them with different colors according to level of importance, then glue them onto giant pieces of bristol board and brainstorm revision ideas around them! Oh yes, the pieces are all going to fall into place now…

4. Actual Work Half the time allotted for the revisions has now flown past. You’ve started seven different methods for working out how to fix your novel, but they’re all too much work or are too confusing. Finally you sit down with a printout of your novel and a red pen, and start reading and making notes. When you’re done, you start typing in your changes. It takes you all the rest of the time you’ve got and you have to alienate your family and friends to get it finished, but you do it. You think it stinks.**

5. Collapse You’ve sent in the revision just in time. By now you hardly care if the editor likes it or not–all that matters is that it’s done and you don’t have to look at the horrible thing any more…at least until the editor emails you…

*more details on that another day
** or you think it’s brilliant. Don’t worry, that won’t last.

Spice Tins D.I.Y.

And now for something completely different…but I can’t write about writing all the time, can I? “All work and no play”, you know?

So, this is not my own original idea, but I did tweak it to fit my needs, so I thought I would share. I saw the idea over at A Beautiful Mess, to make these cool spice tins that were space-saving, efficient, and nice to look at. However, the original idea was to add magnets to the backs of the tins so that they could stick on the refrigerator. My refrigerator is already full of pictures, notes, and magnetic poetry, so I wasn’t interested in that. I was, however, interested in cleaning up my spice cupboard, and I’m going to swallow my pride and show you why.

Yes, it’s a horrible mess. You can just see some adhesive on the inside of the cupboard door where I had some cork for holding takeout menus, but my idea was to utilize the spice tins idea there. At first I thought I would have to find a thin sheet of tin or something, to put inside the door for the magnets to stick to, but then I realized I was looking at it the wrong way around–all I needed was a magnet for the tins to stick on to, since they’re already metal. This also cut down the work considerably since I didn’t have to cut pieces of magnet sheets for every tin. I knew I could get magnet sheets, since I had found them before. So, line the inside of the cupboard with those, and I’d have my magnetic surface.

As the gals at A Beautiful Mess did, I ordered my little tins from here, but I think you can get similar items from bulk stores. The other materials needed were the magnet sheet (I got mine at Michael’s, a nice long roll that just needed a bit of trimming to fit my cupboard door), scissors, ruler, pencil, and some labels.

I washed all the tins out first, and if you’re doing this, I’d recommend leaving them overnight to dry. The covers tend to hold a bit of water around the edges, and you don’t want to get your spices wet. Dry them off and then give the residual water time to evaporate.

While you’re waiting, you can take stock of your spices and go off and make your labels. I did mine on the computer and used plain white mailing labels (they needed just a little trimming on the edges), but you could hand-letter them, use colored labels, or whatever strikes your fancy. Get creative!

The magnet sheet was easy to trim to shape with just scissors, but the adhesive was VERY sticky. I could have used another set of hands to help me get it in place, nice and straight with no air bubbles. I was alone, so this took me a few minutes, and was actually the hardest part of the project. It turned out well in the end, though.

The final part of the project was to transfer the spices into the new tins. I did discover that the tins would hold only about half a jar of spice, so I have a few jars left hanging around, waiting until it’s time to refill the appropriate tin. From now on I will plan to buy spices in bulk, so I’ll only buy enough to fill the tins. The final product looks great, I think! I arranged them with those I use most on the bottom, within easy reach. You could, of course, arrange them alphabetically, or by color or texture, or whatever way your heart desires. The magnet strength is just perfect–the hold is nice and firm (they don’t fall off if the cupboard door bangs shut) but it takes only the tiniest bit of effort to pull off the one you want to use. They look much nicer than the previous jumble of jars, it’s much easier to find what you want, and BONUS! I have a clean cupboard with much more space for other things.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (your words)

Something old can turn into something new, with a little work…

I’m pretty big on “living green” wherever possible, and lately I’ve been thinking about how it’s possible for writers to get more mileage out of their writing projects by recycling, too. That’s because I have a project underway that’s taking something old and making it into something new.

Writers have always had the option of reprints–re-selling something that’s already been published, to a new market–but we don’t always think of doing so. In part, perhaps, because many markets specifically say “no reprints,” we are more likely to be thinking about the next new thing than something we might have published a few years ago. That kind of thinking can make us miss out on opportunities, though.

Another kind of recycling involves taking short stories and building on them for larger projects. This works in reverse, too–sometimes a section of a novel can stand alone as a short story or novella, or provide the seed for a tangential story. Everything does not have to be brand spanking new and shiny all the time.

My current project–and this is the first time I’ve mentioned it to anyone, anywhere–involves taking an old ebook project and revamping it with a new twist. Much of the already-written text is completely reusable, but the new product will (if all goes according to plan) be fresh and new for a new audience. I’m getting kind of excited about it, since I’ve actually had time to work on it lately.

What about you? Do you have something “old” in your writing folder that you can reuse or recycle? Maybe there’s buried treasure on your hard drive, so take a look!

Image courtesy of kathaer at morguefile.com

Tales of Tales ~ Part 1

To celebrate the release of my short story collection, To Unimagined Shores, I thought I’d do a series of blog posts about some of the stories in the collection. Where the inspiration for the story came from, or maybe something interesting that happened while I was writing it, or where it was published.

I’m starting with a little story called “The Big Freeze,” since it was one of the stories I read at last night’s launch. It’s also one of my favorites (although as writers, are we supposed to say things like that? I don’t know…but I guess I also don’t care!).

As I look through the table of contents for To Unimagined Shores, I realize that many of the stories I write have a common idea spark: a call for submissions for a themed anthology. I begin pondering ideas to fit the theme, and usually after much mental cogitation come up with a story idea. Now, I don’t always finish writing the story by the anthology deadline, so in many cases I end up sending the story elsewhere. But that’s all right, because the idea spark has served its purpose.

“The Big Freeze” is one of those stories. It was published in Australia’s Semaphore Magazine last year, but I initially wrote it years ago, in response to an anthology call. The idea of the anthology was that all of the stories should be based around a saying about “Hell”–going to Hell in a handbasket, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, etc. I started thinking about “when Hell freezes over”–what might cause such a thing to happen? How would the denizens of Hell react? And what would be the repercussions on Earth?

Here’s a little snippet from “The Big Freeze”:

“Is it getting…chilly in here?”

Beelzebub, the Devil, the Prince of Hell, (or Lord B., as he preferred his most intimate minions to call him) shifted uneasily on the polished red marble of his throne and stroked the tips of his horns. There was no doubt about it. They felt decidedly and unnaturally cool.

He’d been thinking it for some time, but now that he’d finally spoken the words, they hung hesitantly in the sulphurous air like lost souls unsure if they were in the right place. Imps ranged at humming computer terminals around the perennially smouldering room looked up, then glanced at each other. One rubbed his scaly hands together.

“You know,” he chittered slowly, “now that you mention it, my mouse hand’s gone a little cold.”

Another imp nodded. “And my tail. I thought I was getting a chill in my tail, and now I’m sure of it.”

“Right.” Lord B. straightened on his throne and bellowed, “Mr. Snizzle! Get in here!”

A slight, harried-looking demon entered the room at a trot. A pair of tortoiseshell spectacles perched on his nose, and he wore an unexpectedly conservative waistcoat tailored in tasteful ebony silk. “Yes, Lord B.?”

“Mr. Snizzle, run a diagnostic on the temperature controls. This room is falling below acceptable heat standards. Even the imps have noticed it.”

Mr. Snizzle, Lord B.’s administrative assistant, was well-versed in interpreting the subtleties of his employer’s speech. After several centuries in his current position without a vacation, that was hardly surprising. The relative politeness of the Devil’s request worried him. He nodded briskly and hurried back to his own computer to run the heat diagnostics…

As you might guess, “The Big Freeze” is meant to be a fun story—and it got some laughs at last night’s reading. I also read it for an audience in Second Life a while back.

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com.

15k Short Fiction Writing Challenge

Back in January, I threw out a challenge to my Quillian colleagues: write 15k words of new short fiction by the end of June. It could break down any way at all–one 15k story, three 5k stories, fifteen 1k flash stories–any combination was acceptable. The only stipulation was that they had to be new words (revising old stories would not count) and it had to be short fiction (not work on novel-length projects).

I came up with this challenge for a couple of reasons. Although we hear a lot about the “death” of short fiction, I think there’s a lot of life in the form yet. Newer writers can finish short stories much more easily and quickly than long projects, which in turn provides something to edit, workshop, and get feedback on. Short stories provide a great introduction to one’s writing and can be offered freely on websites or sold as .99 ebooks as promotional material.

Still, a lot of writers feel they aren’t doing “real” work unless they’re writing novels. Perhaps this is in part that some writers don’t particularly care to read short stories, either. For myself, I really enjoy short fiction, so maybe I’m just partial to it.

At any rate, I threw out the challenge. I think the first to reach the mark was fellow Quillian Chuck Heintzelman who, unknown to me, had already set himself a short fiction writing goal for the year: 50 new short stories. Whoa. I was blown away by the audacity of that goal, secretly struggling as I was with the question of how many new short stories I should challenge myself to write in the year–3, or 5? I felt suitably dismayed, and secretly promised myself to write 5, although that is strictly off the record, you hear? So far I’ve finished one and have three others in various stages of completion. But I still have six months!

Ahem. So anyway, Chuck hit the 15k in short order (and is still writing, of course; you can find a lot of his stories on his website. And you should!) I’ve been trundling along, and yesterday, I hit the goal! Which is good, because, you know, it would have been pretty sad if I’d been the one to throw out the challenge and then proceeded to fail.

I’ll be polling other members of the group at the next couple of meetings to see how they’re doing, and encourage them along to the finish line. At the end of June, I’ll post links for the other challenge-meeters here.

Photo: me. It’s the magnetic poetry on the side of my fridge. And I think the ‘beautiful spine’ poem is by my daughter.

Lowering the Scalpel

The past number of weeks I’ve been busy with revisions to a novel manuscript. A publisher requested them, and I have a deadline, and it’s been an interesting and challenging task. My first thought when I got the email requesting them, of course, was, I don’t know how to do this!

But I soon found out that, also of course, I did. It turned out to be a pretty logical process, once I took a few minutes to think about it. Re-read the manuscript, because it had been some time since I’d actually looked at it. Make copious notes about what to change and how to change it and how best to address the concerns. And then—do it.

The reading and note-making took the bulk of the time, because I wanted to be thorough. It’s also sometimes a precarious undertaking, to start tinkering with the innards of a novel manuscript, because if you’ve done it right, it all stands up, nicely stacked and interdependent like a house of cards. Switching out and adding in new cards after the fact can cause the entire thing to come tumbling down, so it takes a lot of care and a steady hand.

I got to a point eventually, though, where I knew it was time to turn on the change-tracking feature and start making those changes. Beginning that part of the process was something I had to push myself into a bit. To switch analogies from cards to medicine, starting to mark up the manuscript felt like the start of a surgical procedure. The scalpel is in hand, you know it’s time, but you haven’t cut into the skin yet, and there’s a moment of hesitation. You have a plan, but you don’t really know how much blood there’s going to be once you start to cut. Any number of things could go wrong. Once you make that initial incision, there’s no going back—you’re committed to seeing the whole thing through to the end.

However, the surgery is the only treatment option, and you know it. And I knew it. So I pushed past that moment of hesitation, and so far the surgery is going well. It has a ways to go yet, but I think the patient is going to survive, and emerge stronger than ever. I’ll report on the prognosis as it becomes available.

Photo credit: chrisgan