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March 20, 2015

Progress report – A month of novelling

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 11:40 am

So today marks four weeks since I started work on my novel. Things are going pretty well so far – I passed the 20,000 word mark a couple of days ago, averaging a touch over 700 words a day. I’ve written every day, a minimum of 500 words. Only once in all that time have I achieved four figues in a single writing day, and I’m pretty sure (without having my spreadsheet to hand) that I managed that on a weekend across about three writing sessions. Mostly the writing does not start until after the kids are in bed, so 8:30 pm at the earliest. I’d love to be a first-thing-in-the-morning writer, but it would probably require getting up at 4:30 or so to fit in with the rest of the house’s schedule, and I can’t bring myself to start down that road just yet.

Once again, the writing streak is working for me. I’ve written every day, without fail. Last night, I procrastinated and dithered until well past the point where it became silly (it was very hot and stuffy in Canberra and I was really feeling it), but fear and disdain for breaking my writing streak meant that I eventually sat down and cranked out the words. I wrote exactly 500 words of story, as well as some notes for my next writing session.

Often I need to remind myself that it actually feels good to write once I get started. I’m a dreadful procrastinator (I may have discussed this at length in the past). I’ll make cups of tea, pay bills, burn CDs – anything to get out of starting work. If you see me tweeting up a storm of an evening, you can be pretty confident that I’m sitting in front of the computer with a Scrivener tab open (and pushed to the back).

Anyway – where’s the novel at? I’ve got through four chapters of about 5000 words each and closed out what I think of as the first act (although structurally that might not be quite right). My main character is starting to firm up in my head, and the secondary characters are coming to the fore in lots of intriguing and unexpected ways. An interesting subplot has emerged that was not present in the original outline, one that may need careful management or reining in because it’s probably a bit of a post-apocalyptic YA cliche (and the novel itself is a post-apocalyptic YA story, though not necessarily in the sense that the term is usually used).

A problem is looming in that my primary antagonist is only just coming forward in what is the start of the second act, which is probably too late for her to make the required impact (I’ll know for sure soon, because the next scene I will write is the first confrontation between my POV character and her nemesis-to-be). I suspect that I will need to rewrite the first couple of chapters to establish a couple of characters early, so that when they are off-stage for a few chapters their presence will still be felt. I should have known all this befiore I started, but sometimes strucutral weaknesses only emerge in the construction phase.

(Architecture is not my core competency, obviously).

At some point fairly soon I expect to have to revisit my outline and rework the latter chapters. It’s looking a lot like I’ve distributed the story load a bit unevenly (architecture!) and may have put too much of the action at the start and end. The middle is looking – not boring, exactly, but perhaps the stakes are a little too low and inconsequential considering what comes befoer and after. It’s also possible that the end point I have been working towards is not the right one for this book (which is the first volume in a trilogy).

 

Oh, the the thing I discovered is that I can’t count. 500 words a day for 90 days does not, as it turns out, add up to 75,000 words. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking when I did my first estimates. It’s going to take four months to get this done, not three – although at the current rate of output, it should not be any longer than that.

As long as I don’t break my streak, that is.

February 20, 2015

Timestamp – ‘A Flash of Black Wings’ started

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 1:03 pm

Alert – Self-accountability post.

Hoo boy. I’ve jumped early. As of 11 pm yesterday, I am once again officially writing a novel. With a working title of ‘A Flash of Black Wings’ (which I very much doubt will survive the writing process), it will be a young adult-ish science fiction survival-action story of between 80 and 90 thousand words. Well, that’s what’s planned, anyway.

Saying that I’m just starting now is slightly disingenuous, mind you. I have been planning this novel in some detail for about a year now, working out the storyline chapter by chapter and doing my best to pre-plan the pacing and structure, in the hopes that I would be able to write it pretty quickly and without too many self-imposed roadblocks. How successful a planner I’ve been will be revealed in due course, I suppose.

So far I’ve written a shade under 500 words. Not very impressive for a first stint, I know, but kicking off at eleven at night is never going to lead to a power-writing session. And 500 is my target daily wordcount for the project, so at least I’m not starting off behind the pace (actually, I am, by eight words, but I’m okay with that).

If all goes to plan, I will be finished the first draft of this sucker by the end of May. In practise it is likely to take a little longer than that, as I still have those outstanding short pieces to finish writing and thence to edit. But as far as possible, I’ll be doing my novel writing first and everything else second each day.

In terms of being tedious on the blog about my process, I’ll probably mention where I’m once in a while, but I’m not planning to post daily word counts or snippets of amusing dialogue.

Right. Time to get to it.

February 16, 2015

Writing goals – The other stuff

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:47 pm

The goals I talked about in the last post are what I consider my baseline: the minimum I need to do for me to meet my own definition of a working writer. Without wishing to quibble over definitions, if I get that stuff done, then I know that I’ve been working on my craft (critical to success), contributing to my community (important if incidental) and building a public platform (a necessary evil to support a future career).

But let’s face it: I get bored easily. I crave novelty. I’m not going to be satisfied with diligently knuckling down and doing all the homework I set for myself. To keep myself from going spare as soon as things get boring and/or difficult, I came up with a collection of other projects that I am either hoping to fit into my year or quietly turning over in my head to see how to make them work.

Collaboration

Apart from a few round-robin stories and Lexicon games, I’ve never actually collaborated on any writing project longer than a song. I’ve never co-written a short story, scripted a comic for an artist or a film maker or written a play for live production [1], much less plotted and written a novel with someone. I like working with other people on creative projects. More to the point, I finally feel like I’m at a point in my life where I could stand my collaborator telling me that one of my ideas sucks and we should go in a different direction. Once that would have been a crushing blow to my ego. These days – eh, ideas are easy, and if by chance I disagree about the suckiness of the idea, I can always use it for something else.

One of the things I will be doing this year is looking for opportunities to collaborate. With someone. On something.

Serialised fiction

I keep going back to look at Wattpad, a mobile-friendly platform where tens of thousands of authors post short fiction for readers to consume on their phones. Apart from masses of fan-fiction and fictionalised erotica concerning members of boy bands, Wattpad hosts a large quantity of serialised fiction. Some writers post their draft novels chapter by chapter (in various state of polish from ‘ready to publish’ to ‘might have been spell-checked’) while others just follow the story and see where it takes them.

The idea of writing in full view of the public is in equal parts repellent and fascinating to me. I’ve seen authors discuss using Wattpad as a sort of crowd-sourced critique, which I think would definitely have its pros and cons. I’m personally uncomfortable with the idea of someone watching me as I write, reading over my shoulder and commenting as I go. In trying to imagine what that would be like with even a tiny fraction of Wattpad’s 40 million readers, I’m coming around to the idea that I have to try it, just to see what it’s like.

If I dip my toes in that raging torrent, it will be with some form of serialised fiction – short chapters of a longer piece that might or might not cleave to novel structure, designed to move along at a fast pace and have reusable characters and setting. That’s a kind of writing I feel reasonably confident with, although I would definitely have to work on nailing my endings.

Shared world

I’ve always liked the concept of a shared world, where different writers working from the same core idea, often outlined in a ‘setting bible’, come up with their own storytelling angles. George R R Martin used to be famous for a series called Wild Cards (a modern, realistic take on superhumans before that was its own subgenre) and I’ve always liked the concept if not particularly the execution of the shared world anthology. Which is not to say that I think I could do it better, per se, but it would be interesting to create a source document laying out the world, the tone, the important characters and setting details and see what other people make of it.

I think the only thing stopping me would be working out what to do with it afterwards. Well, that, and coming up with an world sufficiently interesting that anyone else would want to play with it.

Comic script

I mentioned this earlier, but I’ve only ever dabbled secretly in writing comics. I’ve written/drawn a few over the years (none remain!) but I’m pretty sure I’ve never written a straight script to be illustrated (either by me or by someone else). I’d expect to find scripting challenging – a focus on spare dialogue and crisp description doesn’t leave a writer with much to hide behind – but it feels like something that would be worthwhile.

 

That’s my list of standby projects, in case I suddenly inherit a great wedge of spare time from somewhere. and of course in between all this I’m working, minding kids, doing domestic chore and house renovations, regaining the minimal command of the ukelele I had when I was eleven or so, and doing all that writing stuff I mentioned in the last blog post. Easy!

 

[1] Actually I kind of did a couple of these back in high school, mainly with my buddies Evan and Chris, but I wasn’t usually the one who took the reins and made anything happen, so I don’t really count those either. Besides which, that was going on thirty years ago…

 

February 12, 2015

Writing goals for 2015

Filed under: administraviata,news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:51 pm

Like the Christmas tree in the living room that we still haven’t taken down, so too are my New Years’ writing resolutions coming through grotesquely late. Or no, wait, let’s pretend these are Chinese New Year resolutions, because those are totally a tradition in my Mediterranean-descended, lapsed Anglican leftie ex-pat Queenslander subculture. Besides, I’m quite fond of goats.

Anyway, this is my now-annual hold-myself-to-account post on my writing goals for the year. This is what I want to achieve at a minimum. Ideally I’ll beat these goals by a wide margin, especially if I get my writing streak back in place.

Short stories

At the moment I have about seven completed stories in circulation, which is to say out for submission to various publishers.

One of my goals last year was to complete ten stories, which was eminently achievable, even if I didn’t quite achieve it. This year, my plans are a little more modest. Because I intend to shift my focus onto novel writing (see below) but want to retain some short story momentum, the plan is to always have at least ten finished stories in circulation.

That means that if I retire one from circulation (like the one that’s out now for its 20th and probably final submission) or if one is actually accepted for publication, I need to get a replacement out there as soon as possible. In practise, that means that step one is to complete the three or four stories I have in rough draft, and then maybe sketch out another one or two in preparation for the next time I need to return the budget to surplus (so to speak).

Of course, the caveat here is that the stories have to be good enough for me to want to send them out under my own name. There’s a minimum standard of quality here that I won’t allow myself to slip below. On the other hand, what I’ll need to watch out for is that I don’t let my natural self-critical inclinations get in the way of getting things finished and out the door. Evidence suggests that I am more than capable of chewing over drafts and procrastinating on edits for months at a time, to the detriment of other, more valuable work. I have to make sure I stay out of my own way.

Short story goals: (i) Get my submittable stories up to ten; (ii) always have ten stories in circulation.

Novels

For me, this is the big one. From the painful experience of couple of fairly attempts in the past, I’ve convinced myself that novel-length stories are not a comfortable fit for me. I’ve had a novel outline worked out in (for me) quite a lot of detail for almost a year now.

In all that time, I’ve come up with every excuse under the sun not to start: “I need to finish these short stories first.” “I don’t know if I can fit it in with my job hunting.” (Yes, seriously, i used that one a lot!) “I don’t really know what’s happened in the middle of the novel.” “Am I really sure my lead character doesn’t have the stupidest name in all literature?” and of course, “I really, really want to watch Breaking Bad before I get spoiled for the ending.” (PS: Still winning on that last one. Please don’t spoil the ending of Breaking Bad for me. I’m more than halfway through now).

In the end, all the excuses are blithering nonsense. I want to be a not-completely-obscure writer, so I need to write what people are reading. Pretty much only Ken Liu and Kelly Link are capable of becoming huge in the science fiction and fantasy genre without writing novels. I am neither, nor do I have the requisite initials of KL. Anyone else who wants to make a mark writes a novel.

So, I’m writing a novel. I think I’m going to start on the first of March, or thereabouts. The goal is to finish it by the end of July, which will require a mildly demanding commitment of 500 words a day. The presence of a detailed outline should help, but we’ll see.

The novel, by the way, is the first volume in a young adult science fiction trilogy. Yes, one of those – do feel free to groan audibly. So I will be writing (a) a novel which is (b) part of a series with (c) a young adult protagonist in (d) a fairly-hard science fiction setting. Every single one of those is outside my comfort zone. Put them all together and I expect to be either a gibbering wreck or a phoenix ascending on wings of flaming triumph. Possibly somewhere between the two.

Novel goal: Write a first draft of an 80,000-ish word novel by the end of July.

Supplementary goal: Don’t become a gibbering wreck.

Community activity

I like being a member of a writing community. So much so that I’ve volunteered as the Treasurer of the CSFG committee this. Apart from getting my head around the minor complexities of double-entry bookkeeping, one of my less glamorous writing projects for the year will be to prepare a how-to manual for being the club treasurer. Handovers from one committee to the next have traditional been slow, stuttering affairs – I want to do my bit to make the handover to the next poor sap as seamless as possible by giving them a reference.

Okay, it’s pretty boring, but technical writing is still writing, and in the end it might be among the more demonstrably useful things I do this year. Market analytics indicate the potential audience could be as high as one person every two years, which is on a par with the current audience for my fiction. ;)

Treasurer goal: Write the book on being the CSFG Treasurer. Also, do all the treasuring stuff.

I’ve also taken a relatively minor, straightforward job with the Conflux convention organising committee. I’ll be coordinating the dealers’ room, which means organising vendors, setting up tables and probably getting a heap of coffees for people. In reality I’ll probably end up being roped into other tasks, but at this stage my contribution will be low-key. It didn’t occur to me until later that the not-immediately-obvious benefit of this particular job is that I will have an excuse – no, obligation – to introduce myself to as many publishers of science fiction and fantasy fiction as possible.

Blogging

By trivial coincidence, this should be the 700th blog post on Lexifabricographer. That’s a little hard to believe, but I’m prepared to accept the word of my blog dashboard rather than go back and count. My buddy Andrew kicked my first Lexifab blog over to WordPress back in February 2006, which means this one has been going even longer than the old Blogger one.

It’s looking a bit long in the tooth, to be honest. Since I only started using searchable tags at the start of last year, it’s a bit of a pain to find anything specific on this site. well, if there were anything particularly worth searching for, which is not a call I’d make.

Time for a makeover!

Or rather, time to build a completely new website, dedicated to the whole “being an author” thing. I’ll blog my news and writing stuff there, post up free fiction for Marco, and sales portals for anything that I eventually get published (or published myself). Plus I will totally get a swanky author photo, possibly featuring the subject leaning nonchalantly against something and smirking awkwardly.

With the hosts’ permission, I’ll probably keep this site around for family-and-friends blogging. That separation feels important, not particularly because I’ll be hiding anything, but more because I do occasionally feel moved to commit acts of diary. I can see times when that’s probably not what readers of my epic fourteen-novel series about vampire Hussars on the Trans-Siberian railway will be hunting for.

(PS: Someone commission me to write about railway vampires, because I could totally lock that corner of the market).

As part of the push to furnish the new site with some content, I’ll probably be pushing some free content out – flash pieces and drabbles, most likely. I had a mad urge to undertake a Drabble-a-Day challenge (a drabble is a short story of exactly 100 words, by the way) but I’m not going to distract myself with that until I’ve got the story and novel projects well underway.

None of this will happen quickly. I’ll be teaching myself all of the web administration stuff as I go (or more likely cadging favours from friends who already know how to do all this stuff). So far I don’t even have the domain name. Will get to that after the weekend.

Blog goal: Build a new author website like a real grownup might have.

Let’s go, 2015!

Those are my concrete must-haves for 2015. Those are the things I want to have done and locked by the end of the year. I reckon it’s all achievable, though how comfortably so will depend a lot on how readily I overcome my various anxieties relating to long-form fiction, unfamiliar social interactions and systems administration.

In my next post, I’ll go through a shopping list of more esoteric writing goals – stuff I feel like I want to try my hand at, even if I don’t have a specific purpose in mind just yet.

 

 

 

February 2, 2015

February made me shiver

Filed under: fitter/happier,wordsmithery — Tags: — lexifab @ 5:23 pm

By now I should have a plan.

I mean, I keep feeling like I should have a plan, but the idea of sitting down and plotting out a plan is giving me chills. I already know that I work better to deadlines. Surely the smart thing to do is set myself some deadlines and then stick to them?

Except no, because I can’t quite bring myself to sit down and make a plan.

Making plans is just asking for trouble really. Anything could happen to throw my carefully-crafted schemes into utter disarray. Who am I, thinking I can impose order on an essentially chaotic universe?

Or if it’s not an essentially chaotic universe, what then? “If you want to make God laugh,” said Woody Allen, “tell him your plans.” Hmm, actually I’m not sure I care to take advice from a ghastly old child abuser. Neither of them.

Still, just because I have a plan, doesn’t mean I have to stick by it through hell and high water, does it? I could just make myself a rough guide. A mudmap. A fritzy GPS with a “near enough is good enough” approach to software updates. I could sketch out a skeleton scheme and make changes as circumstances prescribe. Stay loose. Stay flexible. Keep skating and don’t look back.

…oh hell. I need a plan, don’t I?

*grumbles.

*plans.

January 27, 2015

Dithering in January

Filed under: administraviata,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 1:54 pm

This hasn’t exactly been the month for covering myself in glory, writing-wise. I’ve written almost nothing – about one-and-two-thirds short stories, adding up to perhaps five or six thousand words. More than I had when I started the month, certainly, but a long way short of my starry-eyed projections from the end of November. Come to think of it, December was a bit of a wash as well.

Certainly there have been valid distractions – we’ve renovated an entire bedroom, the kids have been at home more, there have been festive season commitments and bits of travel, and as of the middle of the month, I’ve gone back to work.

Even so, it’s a bit disappointing. I was hoping to make January a month of deck-clearing. I wanted to polish up a couple of old story drafts, knock out a couple of new ones, and have a clean plate for diving into a new novel attempt from the start of February. But with a bunch of admin jobs still hanging over my head and gathering an odium of stagnation about them, I’m skeptical that I can really hit the ground running come Sunday the first.

So be it. I’m making lists and ticking them off, and at some point I’ll have stripped off enough of these other obligations that I can feel free to focus on the words.

Until then – more dithering. Early in February I will set myself some goals for the year, but until then I’ll concentrate on getting my jungle of distractions under control.

Pass the defoliant.

January 7, 2015

Late breaking news – not a winner

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 10:10 pm

To my not very great surprise, the winners of the Writers of the Future quarter finals have been announced. To save you from clicking on the potentially heartbreaking link, my name is notably absent from the list.

Not to worry. As I noted to a couple of well-wishers today, the momentary disappointment of not getting picked was more than dispelled by the possibility that Tim Powers (one of the listed judges) might have read something I wrote. All right, it seems the odds are better than even that he didn’t like it, but I reiterate: Tim Freaking Powers!

(Also on the list of judges was Nnedi Okorafor, whose alien-invasion-in-Lagos novel Lagoon I read and enjoyed just last week, and a bunch of little-known emerging writers by the names of Silverberg, Niven, Pournelle and Card, who I’m sure will become popular in years to come.)

I didn’t win. Don’t care. I still have a *serious* case of fanboy giddiness.

January 5, 2015

Quarter finalist

I’m rather excited that my story “Mnemo’s Memory” [1] has been selected as a quarter finalist for the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future competition. My name appears in this press release and everything! My gleefully science-ignoring adventurous yarn of airships, steam automatons and an evil villain with an Antarctic lair will be, at the very least, read and critiqued by a luminary of the field. (Seriously, the Big Names associated with WotF are people whose work I’ve been reading across the last thirty years. I am dead-set thrilled that someone like Tim freakin’ Powers or Larry freakin’ Niven might read my work). And that’s before you look at the prize of a week-long intensive writing workshop in Los Angeles with a host of said luminaries, followed by a gala award ceremony to pick the overall winner. Not bad. My friend and CSFG colleague Shauna O’Meara was a finalist in 2013 and blogged about it at length.

Like the quarter-finals at the Olympics, only the top three of eight stories go through to the finals, while everyone else goes back to the drawing board to try again next time. Mind you in this case “next time” is pretty much straight away, since they run these competitions every three months. Anyone who has yet to make three professional sales (defined as a minimum payment of 6c per word) is eligible to enter. That definitely includes me.

Does my little story have the legs to make it all the way to the finals? Eh, I dunno. I’d like to think so, but I’ve written and learned quite a lot since I penned that one over two years ago. I think I could do even better now. Even if it doesn’t make it, I’m still happy. This is a definite signal that I’m moving in the direction I want.

 

[1] …which is a title I have *never once* typed correctly the first time, which is probably a lesson of some sort.

January 3, 2015

Late exit to 2014

I’ve been away up the coast for a week, so I missed the usual barrage of blog posts summarising my 2014. Just because I’m late doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it though.

Just to note, this is mainly for my benefit, holding myself to account for my plans for the year, as articulated way back in January in this subtly-named post.

Checking the checklist:

1) Finish the current draft of the novel: Done. Man, it feels like such a long time ago that I even thought about my novel (well, not strictly true, since I thought about it today during the fourteen-hour drive back from northern NSW [1]). I finished up the full-rewrite draft of the novel (working title Ms Cole’s Arrangements) a couple of days into March, then immediately put it on the back burner. Two full drafts through, I still can’t work out whether it should be one novel, two novels, or a novel and two novellas; the shape of the story just defeats me every time I try to think about it. I’m quite sure there’s a decent yarn in there, but I honestly don’t know if I can hang it on a framework that will make it readable. I know I have to go back to it sooner or later, but I don’t mind admitting that I’m still intimidated by it. I met my word count goal, but I didn’t really knock over the target.

2) Write 10 publishable short stories: Partial credit. “Should be a doddle”, I said. Ho ho ho. I sort of achieved this goal and sort of not. I got 7 stories polished to the point where I was happy to start sending them out for submission (identified by truncated titles here): Feast, Dogs, Hat Trick, Season One, Teahouse, Lighthouse, Violin. Pleasingly, one of them – The Teahouse of Serendipitous Unions – sold to the professional market it was written for. However, a sale isn’t the benchmark here, completion is.

I also wrote complete drafts of School Hall and Incidental, both of which I have yet to finish revising (soon!), I wrote about 10,000 words all up on multiple versions of Serpentine Precipice and The Countess, though neither is yet complete. I wrote about fifteen incomplete flash fiction pieces i.e. ideas that I couldn’t work out how to turn into an actual story i.e. they don’t count here. And on the morning of the 31st of December I wrote the first half of a mildly comic crime story which I will finish later tonight or tomorrow morning.

So that’s seven that fit the criteria, two more that would have were I a more diligent editor, two major dead ends which might still lead somewhere later, and a start on the new year. Not a clean landing, but I tried a lot of different things and I’m happy with the overall results.

3) Submit 25 times: Done and then some. Between the couple of existing stories and the new material, I made a total of 45 submissions (and resubmissions) in 2014. Of those, *one* was accepted for publication. I learned yesterday afternoon that another one (written last year) has been shortlisted for a competition, so that one is in with a chance. Everything else is in the hands of the gods (defined here as “bored slush readers and overworked/underpaid magazine editors”). This business is a slow grind, people. I won’t be happy until I have at least 10 stories in circulation. Preferably more. In terms of diligence and application to the grind of reading and complying with submission guidelines and finding new ways to write the same damn cover letter over and over again, I did what I set out to do.

4) Non-specific target markets: To do. I wrote a few pieces this year with specific markets in mind. Teahouse hit the mark, but Lighthouse didn’t and the jury is still out on Violin. I mentioned on Facebook that the Australia-based Ticonderoga themed anthologies are becoming my white whale – I write to them, with some of my best work, and haven’t yet broken through. I haven’t even tried to get into Cosmos yet (because I haven’t written any science fiction this year, but also because I know what it takes to make it and I’m not there yet). In terms of international markets, I will probably still be trying to get into Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Clarkesworld, in particular, in five years time. I’m not going to stop trying though.

 

2014 could have been better in a lot of ways, but in terms of my writing I achieved close enough to everything I set out to. In retrospect I probably set the bar a little too low and then didn’t really push myself very hard. Over the course of the year I worked up outlines for several novels, any one of which I might reasonably have had a stab at writing. In all honesty I’m not confident of my ability to write to a novel length – my attempts to date have been unsatisfying, but in ways where I haven’t felt like I’ve learned something useful. I feel like I should take that ignorance as a challenge and learn-by-doing and then learn-by-doing-again. But I have yet to make the mental leap to convince myself that a failed attempt is not a waste of time or misapplied effort. Right now it seems like an awful lot of work to write a novel only to confirm that I don’t know how to write a novel

But then again I made the conscious decision at the start of the year to focus on short stories. And I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, which certainly includes some of the best stories I’ve ever written. Over the course of the year and across the various projects I’ve completed, I’ve had a distinct feeling of gradually but decisively leveling up my skill. Definitely not misapplied effort, even if individual stories never find the readership that I think (in my egotistical heart) they deserve.

I think that at least for the first couple of months of 2015 short stories are where I’ll continue to put my energy. I want to get a few more under my belt before I decide whether to change tack and try for a novel. But that’s a post for another day.

 

[1] Sorry Clam, there was absolutely no time for a surprise visit. One of these days though!

December 21, 2014

Contemplating my trunk

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , , , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:17 pm

I’ve hit a new and unwelcome writing milestone: one of my stories appears to be unsellable.

I want to be a paid author. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my goals as a short story writer – learn the craft, improve my skills, become a recognisable name outside my immediate personal circles and eventually cultivate a reputation that results in editors commissioning work from me.

Money isn’t one of my specific benchmarks. I don’t expect to make a living from writing just short stories (the best short story writers in the genre can’t do that, and I’m not arrogant enough to believe that I will ever compete on the level of someone like Ken Liu or Kaaron Warren or Ramsay Campbell or insert-your-favourite-short-story-writer-here).

That said, the quality of the markets that accept my work will provide a rough guide to how I’m doing on that path, and in terms of professional recognition and industry credibility, the better-paying the market, the more confident I can feel that I’m getting it right. So when I submit my (finished, polished) work for publication, I start with the professional markets and work my way down.

There are a lot of markets for fiction. A *lot*. Dozens or maybe hundreds. At the top of the heap are the established print magazines, major online periodicals and anthologies by the top editors in the business – everything from Asimov’s and F&SF to newer places like Tor.com, Clarkesworld Magazine and (locally) Aurealis. These are the targets I’m aiming at, the ones that attract and solicit professional writers with loyal readerships and broad name recognition.

Yeah, I’m not there yet. Maybe I never will be. It’s still a good light to navigate by.

Below that are the semi-pro markets. Semi-pro is generally defined by lower per-word rates of pay (i.e. less than six US cents per word, the SFWA-recognised minimum standard rate) but still with strong name recognition and well-regarded editors. Below those are the token markets, which offer minor payments for first-publication rights, and below that are the non-paying markets, which – well, if I wanted to write for “the exposure”, I really would just slap stuff up on Wattpad and/or my blog.

On my positive days, I reckon I am writing at or near a semi-professional rate. I know I’ve got more work to do to get there with any degree of reliability – my stories miss more often than they hit. But I’ve proven to myself that I can do it, so it only remains to show the rest of the world.

Which brings me to the story in question. I’m very proud of the piece. Perhaps inordinately so. I wrote the first draft as part of a CSFG 24-hour short story challenge, taking a collection of random prompts and translating them into a tale of strange pilgrims, opportunistic inn-keepers and the implosion of a group of friends. The story solidified over a couple of additional editing passes, and eventually I decided I couldn’t make it any better.

So I sent it out to market.

When I was drafting it, I had a specific market in mind – high-end professional online magazine publishing second-world fantasy – and that’s where I submitted it first. They didn’t take it. Mildly disappointing, but not a huge surprise. I sent it out again, picking another website with similar tastes. Another rejection. And so on, and suchlike, all year.

This week I sent the story out for the twentieth time. On the one hand, I regard this as a good sign that I am persevering appropriately. It’s not easy to get an acceptance, and an editor might reject a good story for reasons that have nothing to do with its quality (length, voice, similarity in theme or structure to another piece in that month’s issue, etc). You can’t win without the lottery ticket, and you’ve got to roll with the rejections and you’ve got to develop a thick skin. I’ve probably missed a few hoary old standards, but those are the main ones.

On the other hand, it’s becoming apparent that the story isn’t as good as I think it is. It may well be nearly that good – several of the more personalised responses indicated that it was enjoyable but “not a good fit” or “not what we’re looking for” – but that’s not the same thing as “too good to refuse”.

Over the past fourteen months I’ve pushed it out to every pro and semi-pro market with guidelines that match the piece (it’s second-world or “not-Earth” fantasy, it’s on the longish side of what most publishers are looking for at over 7000 words, and it has mildly adult situations that exclude it from certain markets).

Now I’m down to the markets offering token payments (like ten or twenty bucks, or a contributor copy, or a free e-subscription) and – look, I know it sounds snobbish, but the question I’m asking myself is, is it worth selling my work to a publication that I probably would personally not read?

Am I better off retiring the story from circulation, and either dumping it in a folder of shame on Dropbox – the modern equivalent of dropping the manuscript in a trunk in the attic, never to be seen again in my lifetime – or putting it up on a “free stories” page on my website? Bearing in mind that I have every intention anyway of posting up any stories that I’ve sold, once their online publication rights revert to me?

In effect, should I give up on this one, or keep plugging away until it finally finds a home, no matter how modest or tucked-away? Certain regular correspondents have already expressed opinions (hi Clam!) and those opinions are by no means invalid. At least putting it up on my website allows for the possibility that a few people will read it, which is always gratifying.

The question I struggle with, though, is whether I should be thinking of this as a setback or an inevitable by-product of the submission grind? Or both? Or neither?

I dunno.

What I do know is that right at the moment I am writing a story that is best summed up as “magic robots versus werewolves”, and it is self-evidently the best thing I have ever written.

Or at the very least, the latest.

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