Archive for June, 2009

Jun 24 2009

busy writing (and traveling) bee

Published by under conventions,Editing,steve,Writing

Whew. Back from 4th Street, which was great, of course. I think I talked with others about writing for about 12 hours on Sunday alone, not to mention all the other wonderful conversations with amazing people that happened throughout the con. I didn’t get to attend as many of the panels as I wanted to (in part due to arriving later than planned on Friday night), but I do have some good notes that I hope to share on the panels I did attend.

I got to meet an old friend of Steve’s at lunch after the con on Monday that involved me missing the post-con Fish outing. I really enjoyed seeing Neil and Steve interact with each other; I understand much better now why Steve refers to him as his “evil twin”. The lunch was delicious, the conversation and stories delightful, and Steve got more exercise wandering around the grounds looking at cool plants and animals than he has in a year! We should definitely go on more walks together, that was fun.

Even though I’ve traveled from California to Texas to Minnesota back to Texas all in the past two weeks, I’ve *still* managed to get two short stories viciously dissected and put back together into (hopefully) better stories during that time. The revisions on the latest one were an especially fun editing mini-workshop with Steve and Nathan on Sunday night when we all probably should have been in bed hours earlier. It was intense but really enjoyable and there was only one part that none of us could agree on or easily fix when it was all through. (Nathan, by the way, shows some early signs of developing into an awesome editor.)

And speaking of editors, one of my few epiphanies of the past weekend is that I don’t tend to categorize writers, even those with some measure of public fame, as larger-than-life in my head…but put me around brilliant editors like Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Beth Meacham, Debbie Notkin, Sharyn November (and others I met but didn’t get time to talk with), and internally I turn into a fascinated wide-eyed fan-girl. Hopefully it’s not TOO obvious on the outside…

Okay, back to sending off one of these stories, finishing inputting the edits on the other one before sending it off, and then maybe I can get back to such cat-waxing activities as typing up my 4th street notes. And my main character in the next novel I shall be writing can QUIT hijacking the mental processes already because I won’t write her story until this novel is finished. Back in your box!

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Jun 14 2009

We won!!!

That’s right, folks, the anthology I sold my first story to that was published last year just won the Stoker award for superior achievement in an anthology! That would be Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, available for purchase at the link, in case you’ve somehow missed reading it. I’m very excited, so glad to have been able to attend the conference (thanks again mom!), and I adore my editors (Vince Liaguno, Chad Helder)! They are wonderful, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting them and my fellow contributors, along with many wonderful people too numerous to list individually. I was very impressed by the con, it is by far the most professionally organized con I’ve yet had the pleasure to attend on this side of the ocean. (Tel Aviv’s Icon was the largest and most organized overall, that I’ve attended so far.)

Congratulations to my fellow contributors and editors, I am honored to have been a part of this wonderful project and am looking forward to many more!

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Jun 10 2009

story revisions done, packing for travel

Published by under conventions

I finished an editing and revision pass of “…Elmer the Cat” today, thanks to Nathan, Steve, Andrea, and Lynn for great beta reader feedback. I like the story much better now.

I have a couple of writing post ideas written down so I won’t forget them, but am already behind on packing for my flight leaving tomorrow morning so for now I’ll squee about my trip. My mom and I are going to the Stoker Weekend conference in Burbank, California; I’m excited about it, it’s my first horror writing convention, though I’ve been to several sff conventions. I signed up for the Marketing Workshop and there look to be some good discussion panels as well, so we’ll try to catch a couple of those. My publishers are hosting a signing on Thursday at the Dark Delicacies bookstore, and also the Saturday pre-banquet party. It sounds like it will be a busy and interesting weekend, I’m looking forward to observing some of the similarities and differences in the sff and horror conventions. I also expect to meet a bunch of cool and interesting people, which is always great! And hopefully learn a lot.

See you back here on the blog next week!

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Jun 05 2009

Speaking of progress…short story draft done!

It’s unsatisfying at this time, but I have a done draft of “The Explainable and Entirely Expected Expiration of Elmer The Cat”. Done enough to start on the fun of revising it into something good enough for others to read, anyway. It was one of the easiest stories I’ve written recently, the protagonist’s voice was distinct and flowed well through the narrative. I felt rather bad at what all he had to go through by the end, poor kid.

This is a good story, and I still love the title even if it is a bit absurd. And now I revise and go back to working on the novel, where Chapter Three eagerly awaits me. Here’s hoping it writes as smoothly as the first two chapters did!

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Jun 05 2009

Upcoming travel

Next weekend I’ll be in Burbank, California for the Stoker Awards Weekend conference. The anthology I was published in last year, Unspeakable Horror, is nominated for an award. It will be cool to meet my editors and some of my fellow writers. I’ll even have a new story finished just in case. I’m going with my mom as her birthday present to me, thanks greatest mom in the world! I expect we’ll have lots of fun. Come up and say hello if you’ve been reading me and happen to be there!

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Jun 01 2009

The Dreaded Middle

I’ve heard a lot of writers complain that they can write the beginning of a story, and many can even write the end of a story. The expanse of unknown territory between those two points is a large part of what stops beginning writers from finishing projects. How do you get a reasonably coherent story with the bits between the beginning and the end filled in?

One writer, Marissa Lingen, seems to solve this dilemma by writing non-linearly. (I’m sure there are other non-linear writers, but I know her so she’s my example.) I would definitely check out her website or LJ to find out more about her process, since I’ve only dabbled in experimenting with non-linear story writing, and she’s quite good and experienced at this technique. But essentially, if you can get your mind to have no problem writing chapter 27 after your chapter 9 which followed Chapter 31 and so on, the middle-of-the-book becomes much less worrisome as a concept.

A variant suggested by several authors is to break your project down into more manageable goals. If you’re trying to fill in the entire story between what you know about the beginning and the end, the project can seem large enough to feel overwhelming, especially if you’re writing a novel. If, however, you know a few major scenes or events that happen along the way, write those scenes, then see if you can figure out how to get from the beginning to the first of those written scenes, then from there to the next one, and repeat until you reach the end. (This process can also be done non-linearly for those who prefer that method.)

For me, on larger projects like novels, I find that working for too long on the novel can get discouraging in part because it feels like I haven’t accomplished anything — an irrational feeling, to be sure, but it still slows down my writing process. Once I get too frustrated at the slowness of forward progress on a larger work, I’ll give myself a couple of weeks to switch my main focus to writing a short story instead. I find that the act of writing and completing a shorter work tends to rejuvenate my desire to work on the novel. I don’t usually have the “Dreaded Middle” issue come up for my shorter stories, but hopefully someone reading will have some good thoughts to share on how to get through that for anyone who struggles with it.

Similar to this, you might find it helpful to create an actual checklist where you can record your completed stages and goals still pending and have the physical record of your progress where you can see it. If you have a writing support network, telling them about your stages of progress when you finish them will get you some pats on the back that many writers find helps them continue creating. A more controversial suggestion is (for trusted writerly supporters only) show them the completed sections or chapters as you finish them; your early fans will be begging you for the next installment and that can be a big motivation to keep writing. Do NOT try this option if you are the sort of writer that feels that once you tell the story to someone else there’s no point in continuing work on it, or if a fan failing to respond in timely fashion will crush your spirit or bring your work progress to a halt.

If you can work in a group setting, consider having regular meetings with likeminded folk where you all share space and work on your own projects. Sometimes just the proximity of others will help keep you focused and on task. If the group contains other writers, a creative roadblock can often be gotten around with a shared brainstorming session. If you’re the type of writer who prefers solo work, you can still get some of this effect if you have a public blog and post your progress markers there. Either way, remember to genuinely congratulate yourself for accomplishing the pieces along the way toward a finished story, and don’t beat yourself up for all the work that still needs doing unless you really, genuinely are motivated best with the stick rather than the carrot. And speaking of carrots, for those of you that work best that way, make sure to have rewards that you are working toward for completing your more manageable milestones. And then, remember to actually give yourself the rewards when you get to those points.

One thing to keep in mind, especially for novel-length works, is that project planning and organizing skills, even those gained in other areas than writing, can be quite useful. While writing is art, and a creative process, most people can’t get to a completed major work on creative drive alone. Finding ways to educate yourself on the skills needed to keep forward momentum going on a project; breaking large unmanageable project pieces down into smaller, achievable chunks; learning to manage your resources and energy so that you don’t get burned out along the way: all these skills and more aren’t just useful for writers, and there’s more than one venue you can learn them in.

As always, don’t forget to care for the main tool of your trade–your body! Getting enough sleep, eating meals with a variety of needed nutrients, getting some form of physical activity or exercise that occasionally gets you out of your chair, and monitoring your mental and emotional health and needs are all ways that you can keep yourself in optimal writing form. The more you are stressed, exhausted, or unhealthy, the less well your mind functions, and the more likely you’ll experience roadblocks in the way of completing your writing project.

There are even things you can do to alleviate accumulated stress while keeping your butt in that writing chair. Writers often spend long amounts of time sitting in one position and staring intently at a computer screen. The same healthy habits you’re supposed to be practicing when you do that behavior in an office setting (that no one really does, but they DO make a difference and really are a good idea) will help you not get too stuck on one thinking track. Every 20 minutes, take 1-2 minutes to look away from the computer screen and focus at something on the far wall from you. Stretch out your hands and arms or give yourself a little hand rub while you do. Every hour, take 5 minutes to get up out of that chair again and stretch your legs, arms, neck, and any other sore parts. Pace around a bit if you have the space and find that you are feeling slow or sedentary, to get your blood circulating more vigorously. Every 2-4 hours, take a short break away from the computer to do 20 minutes of more vigorous stretching or eat a meal. Don’t forget to eat! If you’re having problems remembering these, and it won’t be disruptive to your process, consider setting an alarm.

If you’re the sort of person likely to forget to eat or take breaks when you get caught up in your project, arrange your workspace so that you have (preferably nutritious) snacks at hand. Buy a big drink container with a sealed lid for water and make space to have it next to you. Staying hydrated and fed will feed your mind and help generate ideas as well as more writing.

Steven Brust suggests that “the illusion of progress can often lead to real progress”, or it’s better to write something bad and delete it later than it is to be stuck and not writing. He also mentions that if you can manage it, find ways to enjoy writing the middle part for its own sake, and turn your focus away from the goal-oriented attitude. Trust that the end will arrive eventually, and if you succeed you’ll often find that the middle part writes fairly quickly.

This reminds me of my one of my own writing mantras that I’ll wrap up with : Remember, it doesn’t have to be good, it has to be done. You can always edit, revise, and improve a crappy first draft into something better; it’s pretty hard to do that with something that isn’t at least technically “finished”.

What are your preferred ways of getting through the middle parts of a major project without getting bogged down?

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