Yesterday, I finished a full draft of the latest version of Never. It’s horribly broken, and needs at least one more full redraft, but it’s finished.
And in probably related news, I am burned out. Empty. Burned out on writing, burned out on reviewing. So I’m going to be taking a short break away from both. An actual holiday, even. I’m anticipating lots of Aurealis reading coming in, so there will be that. And I’ve technically finished my challenge for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, but I’d still like to add some more decent reviews (namely to the things I’ve read and marked over at Goodreads as wanting to review).
Now, what is that people do when they’re not running around a mouse wheel made of words? I forget.
For most of that time, I was tracking wordcount on the Magic Spreadsheet. For the last few months, I’ve stopped using the Magic Spreadsheet, but have been tracking my word counts on my own Google spreadsheet.
For the last two days, I did not write.
It felt very strange not to be getting in word count for those two days, but it also felt kind of awesome. I was feeling very, very burned out, and just generally exhausted. It’s the end of school holidays, and I’ve been sick on and off for months, and the cold weather has not been fun to the arthritis and fibromyalgia.
And so, on Saturday and Sunday, I did not write. And I’m thinking that I might go back to only writing on weekdays. Treating writing as a “real” job again.
This year has actually been a really useful experiment for me. I’ve proved that I can write every day if I need to (though probably not indefinitely). In this time, I’ve managed a draft and a half of a novel, two short stories that have been sold, and a novella that I’ve sent out. Those two short stories were actually really hard to write and took a long time (as short works tend to for me, I’m slowly accepting the fact that I’m a slow writer in terms of getting stuff to the finished stage).
But should I keep doing it just because I can? I don’t think so. At some point, I may come back to it, and I will probably end up writing some weekends, but for now, I need some time off.
First, this is somewhat relevant to the panel I was on at Swancon about what makes a good short story, today’s daily writing kick from David Farland which discusses how to judge a story. And for anyone who’s trying to work their way up in the writing field, I can highly recommend subscribing to David Farland’s daily kicks emails.
Second, something I actually meant to mention on that panel was Forevermagazine, a reprint-only magazine recently launched by Neil Clarke (of Clarkesworld). I’ve been a long-time subscriber of Clarkesworld and subscribed to Forever when it first came out. And I have been utterly astonished at the brilliance of the stories that have been reprinted. You want to know what makes a good story? This is a really good place to start looking. It’s subscription-only, but cheap and in my opinion, worth the money.
And third, I’d also like to recommend the new podcast by Mur Lafferty (of I Should Be Writing and the Shambling Guide books) and Matt Wallace – Ditch Diggers. I’ve listened to every episode of I Should Be Writing and highly recommend it for all writers (and especially beginning writers, it’s very worth getting access to the archives by supporting Mur on Patreon and listening to all the episodes). Ditch Diggers aims to explore writing as a business, and is highly entertaining besides. Kameron Hurley and Chuck Wendig have guested, and the latest episode has an interview with Brianna Wu. Go and listen and learn.
Yesterday I made a somewhat wobbly appearance at Swancon, as evidenced by my badge (with similarly wobbly name written by me!).
Things of awesome in this photo: shiny Ditmar pin! I count my chance of winning a Ditmar as being slim, but I am so damn chuffed to be nominated (technically twice, since I was part of the Snapshot team which also garnered a nomination this year). And the cute little chicken, which I got as a bonus for funding Defying Doomsday (link goes to the Pozible campaign, which you should totally fund if you haven’t.).
I also sat on a panel on the writing of good short stories. During which I recommended a bunch of authors, so I figured that I might make some notes here, in case someone wants to chase up the authors that I spoke about. Helen Stubbs also posted about the panel briefly here and tweeted some really useful pieces of advice (and posted a photo in which I manage to look utterly bored, heh).
One of the things we talked about was the need to read a lot of good short stories to get a good idea of what makes a good short story. Juliet Marillier recommended the work of Thoraiya Dyer and Robert G. Cook in particular, and I recommended Juliet’s “By Bone Light”, as well as work by Angela Slatter (whom I think we all pretty much mentioned at one point or other as being one of the outstanding writers of short fiction in Australia), Lisa L.Hannett, Kirstyn McDermott, Stephen Dedman (who was on the panel with us, and is a massive font of useful knowledge about writing in general) and Martin Livings. Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter also got a mention. I wish also that I could go back in time and add Helen Marshall and Kelly Link to the list, but we did mainly try and constrain ourselves to Australian authors.
I also may have confessed to hating short stories at one point in my life. Which is true, and, thinking more on it, I blame it mostly on the kinds of short stories we had to read in high school. I got truly lucky and got to read some amazing poems and novels during my school years, but the short stories left me cold. It was starting to read some of the amazing short story writers publishing in Australia that really got me into the genre.
We also made much mention of how lucky we are to have some amazing small presses in Australia helping to publish short fiction. I talked up Twelfth Planet’s Twelve Planets a lot (I’m sorry, I cannot help how much I love with them I am!), and we also mentioned Fablecroft and Ticonderoga (in particular the Australian Years Best that have been coming out from them).
And some other general pieces of advice, as I remember them:
Read good short stories. You cannot learn how to write short stories from reading novels, and you cannot compact a novel into a short story length.
The beginning and end of a short story are the crucial points. The beginning must hook a reader – whether with an actual catchy hook, some beautiful imagery or gorgeous writing (or all three). Vague meandering at the beginning will make many readers put down the story – we need something to care about or be interested in. And likewise, a strong ending will linger in the mind long after the story has been finished. Stephen Dedman described a story as being a bridge, with the beginning and end anchoring everything.
You need to take out everything that does not serve the story. You’re constrained by word length, and things cannot take up space without needing to be there. However, Juliet Marillier warned that you shouldn’t go too far and take out all of your beautiful prose and kill the voice of the piece.
I talked briefly (and probably too vaguely) about resonance. One of the things that gets me about a truly good story is resonance – having a deeper meaning or layered connections. Tangentially, we also talked about a good story feeling like a gut punch (I believe these words were Stephen Dedman’s, and I agree with them wholeheartedly).
You need to know the basic rules of writing before you can break them. And short stories are a great place to break them and experiment. I have problems writing longer pieces in anything but a linear fashion, but in short stories I really like fragmenting time lines. You can write stories in any fashion you like – linearly, backwards, inside out. Learn the rules, and then have fun.
I’d like to thank everyone quickly who came to the panel yesterday, and all of my fellow panel members. I really loved being on it, and I hope that it was useful for the people who attended.
You see that picture? That’s what wordcounts for writing every day look like.
I don’t want to harp on about the Magic Spreadsheet too much, but I do want to spend a bit of time actually making note of how I’m working on my writing process, and right now, it’s part of it.
I’ve always kind of flailed about a bit with my writing process. I’ve logged wordcounts for a while, but I inevitably forget to note down one day, and then it’s all gone to hell. I’ve worked for periods of time without logging wordcounts. I’ve gotten some stuff done – I’ve finished a novel (currently trunked), I’ve finished short stories and novelettes.
But – as anyone who gets to talk to me about writing will tell you – I’ve always despaired of being too damn slow. At the moment, I’m writing a first draft of Never, and I needed to break myself out of the habit of fiddling about too much with small parts of it. I’m not the kind of writer who can produce a wonderful first draft, and I need to accept that, and accept, too, that my time is better spent on redrafting and editing rather than trying to get it all down on the page the first time.
As a side note, I know that authors exist who can write really clean first drafts. I salute them and their brains. Maybe in time, when I’ve worn the grooves in my brain enough, I’ll be able to produce better first drafts.
Which is to say that I am allowing myself to write what is possibly one of the worst first drafts ever. I am not deleting anything, but I am simply pushing on every day to make my word count. I’ll go back and add notes in previous chapters of things that need to be added, but that’s all.
As you’ll see, this last week I have been sick. Yet another damn respiratory infection (yay having a kid at kindy for the first time and being moderately immunosuppressed). And I have still been writing. I am kind of scared to look at the words for those really sick days, but I’m thinking of them as a framework. A skeleton which I’m going to flesh out in the next draft. It’s forward motion, baby, and I feel like I’m actually getting somewhere.
As I type this, I’ve just crested 70k on this draft. Glancing at the magic spreadsheet, which handily collates these things for me, I’ve written 77, 720 words since starting with the spreadsheet on May 25th. Yes, some of those words were discarded (bad writer, no cookie). And it’s going to take me a good while to hammer this into good enough shape to get sent to some beta readers, but it’s a start. And I’ll take that.
The table of contents for the Ticonderoga Publications anthology Kisses by Clockwork, edited by Liz Gryzb, has been announced:
Marilag Angway, “Smuggler’s Deal”
Cherith Baldry, “The Venetian Cat”
Gio Clairval, “The Writing Cembalo”
M L D Curelas, “Ironclad”
Ray Dean, “Practically Perfect”
Stephanie Gunn, “Escapement”
Richard Harland, “The Kiss of Reba Maul”
Rebecca Harwell, “Love in the Time of Clockwork Horses”
Faith Mudge, “Descension”
Nicole Murphy, “The Wild Colonial Clockwork Boy”
Katrina Nicholson, “Lady Presto Magnifico and the Disappearing Glass Ceiling”
Anthony Panegyres, “The Tic-Toc Boy of Constantinople”
Amanda Pillar, “A Clockwork Heart”
Angela Rega, “The Law of Love”
Carol Ryles, “Siri and the Chaos-Maker”
DC White, “South, to Glory”
I am most pleased about this sale, because Escapement is one of a twinned set of novellas/novelettes that explore a new world – a kind of twisted post-apocalyptic steampunk world – for me. I very much look forward to the release of the anthology in April.
Via Ferrett Steinmetz – who is an extraordinarily talented writer and whose blog is very much worth the read – Wonderbook’s Editor’s Roundtable, wherein a group of editors look at the same story and give feedback, as though they were reading the story from the slush pile.
Seriously, anyone who’s trying to sell short fiction (especially if you’ve had little success or a lot of close-but-not-close-enough rejections), go and read this. Even if you don’t have time to look at the detailed comments, look at the general comments.
I read slush for ASIM. Sometimes, I get very frustrated reading slush for ASIM, but that’s another story entirely.
Well, I’ll give one one part of that story: I usually know by the time I’ve finished the first paragraph if I’m going to give the story a positive or negative response. If there’s nothing to grab me there, I will not want to read on. Note that I always read the whole story out of fairness to authors who have sweated over the work, but I have yet to come across anything where the first paragraph hasn’t grabbed me, and then the rest of the story is awesome.
Now, Dust and Deadduns. If I came across this story in the slush pile, it would probably have been a “meh” vote – middle of the line. I am a reader who is drawn to character primarily, and there’s very little about the actual characters in the first paragraphs. However, there is also a character of type in the interesting setting, and that’s the only thing that would have kept me reading long enough to get into the actual characters. The dialect, I find off-putting, but it’s not done badly enough to make me stop reading.
And then I would have read down to the introduction of zombies, and this is probably the point at which I would have lost interest. Because a vaguely interesting setting, combined with characters who feel, at this stage, two-dimensional, and a trope that’s been done a thousand times, equals loss of interest for me.
And I emphasise that for me. And note that I am merely a lowly slush reader, and then point you to the awesome editors and their opinions.
Seriously, go and read the post. It’s worth it. I suspect that the entirety of Wonderbook will be worth the purchase, and I am eagerly awaiting my own copy, which is somewhere in the world on its way to me.
I was tagged by Martin Livings in the seemingly never-ending chain of Next Big Thing meme that’s been doing the rounds of pretty much every online writer in Oz (or so it seems).
1) What is the working title of your next book?
At the moment, I’m reworking Shaede, the first book in the Crossing trilogy.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’m honestly not certain where the original idea came from, I’ve been working in this story universe for so long. I have a long fascination with the idea of a city built around the worship of art and creativity, a place where being a creative is something almost mystical and to be worshipped. Old Quarter’s Crossing, the city which is the focus of the trilogy, is such a place.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
Once upon a time I would have called it urban fantasy. But these days, I see UF being applied more and more to what are, in my mind, paranormal romances. Nothing again PR, but this book isn’t it. So I’d have to say contemporary fantasy.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I have no idea. I do spend time working up character sketches, including trying to find photos of people who resemble my characters. I tend to use stock photos, though, not anyone famous, as sources.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
After the unexpected suicide of her boyfriend, Sycamore Brannen takes his ashes back to his home town, Old Quarter’s Crossing, and discovers a place devoted to creation and steeped in magic.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
No agency representation yet, though my plan is to pursue that first, with self-publishing an option to be explored if that doesn’t work out.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Too long. Also known as, I have no idea. This is currently something like a fifth draft.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I have to go with Charles de Lint’s Newford books, in feel only.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I have a wonderful writer’s group and several beta readers who have loved earlier drafts (some have even read more than one draft, the poor things). I was flailing about working on another novel a few months ago, and my astute critique partner persuaded me to give Shaede another go (as it had previously been trunked). Not certain if it’s going to end up being publishable, but it’s a good writing lesson at least. And I get to see how much my writing has improved over the last few years. I actually came close to agent representation with an earlier draft, and I’m glad that didn’t happen, to be honest.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
The Crossing is a city founded on magic and by magic, though few people who live there are aware of that fact. When you walk in a dream all your life, you grow accustomed to it, and no longer see it for a dream. Its only by looking differently that you can see the dream. I want to make people see the magic in their own lives.
I’m now supposed to tag five people to do the meme, but pretty much everyone I know has already completed it. I can find two – Pia Ravenari and Sarah Diemer, it’s your turn.
About six weeks ago, I decided to give myself a self imposed deadline to finish the current draft of Never.
I finished the draft, at just a smidge over 100k, last week. I wrote at least five days a week (with a few days where I wrote six days) and averaged 2k a day. There were a couple of 3k days in there as well, and a handful of 1.5k days (mostly following 3k days).
You will notice that I’m blogging about this about a week after I finished the draft. I proved that I can work to a deadline, but I also proved that in doing so, I burn myself out. It’s not bad burnout – I’ve been noodling about with a short story over the last few days, but it’s burnout nonetheless.
You will also likely have noticed a serious lack of blogging here, though I have been doing some blogging privately elsewhere. I have been reading some, but I’ve fallen behind on slush reading and review reading.
It’s nice to know that I can work relatively fast. I suspect I could push my word counts much higher if I wanted to, and arranged someone to watch the kidlet all day, instead of the few hours I currently have an arrangement for.
I’m not certain if I’d actually want to keep up such a pace on a day to day basis. And it kind of feels ridiculous to be stating that 2k feels like a lot. Once upon a time, that would have been nothing. But once upon a time, I didn’t also have a kid in my life 😉
I’m going to drop back to what feels like a relatively useful pace for me, which is 1k a day while working on a first draft. That way, I can hopefully tackle my pile of reviews, as well as catch up on slush and Aurealis reading. And actually get some fun reading in there as well.
For now, Never is off with a few beta readers, and will be resting for a while – I’m not sure how long, it will depend on how long my betas take, really. And how long it takes me to feel that I can actually step away enough from the manuscript to be critical. I’m working on a few short stories in the meantime, and will also be outlining The White Raven anew.