10/27/18

The Tools I Use as a Writer

Yesterday I mentioned the writer’s toolbox in passing.  At the time I was referring to figurative tools such as verbs and adjectives and adverbs.  Tonight, I’m going to go over actual implements I use to write.  The order of these listed tools is random, and will include both hardware and software.

 

Pen or Pencil and Paper

I don’t write much long hand anymore, but I always keep a pen and some paper in my laptop back as a backup.  While I don’t usually write prose with paper and pen, I do work on outlines in that medium.  I wrote the entire first outline for The Exorcism of Jack Evans using my notepad, and during the first draft of Spin City, I kept re-outlining the ending in my notepad.

One problem I have writing with a pen or pencil is that my wrist starts to hurt fairly quickly.  Another problem paper tends to get lost or destroyed if it spends too much time in my bag.  I generally resort to pen and paper as a last resort, and whatever I hand write gets transferred to a digital medium as soon as it’s convenient.

 

Microsoft Word

The very first word processor I used was Appleworks on the Apple IIc and eventually IIgs.  When I switched to PC, I started using Word.  The first draft of The Repossessed Ghost and several short stories were done in Word.

Though I don’t spend as much time in Word as I used to, I still open my manuscripts in Word to make sure that formatting is correct.  Some contests require the writer to omit their name from their manuscript, so I use Word to edit the headers and footers and make sure my compiled draft complies with the rules.

 

Scrivener

These days, I draft almost exclusively in Scrivener and I really like it.  Scrivener offers a lot of writing project management tools that are not present in Word.  In fact, Scrivener is so full of tools, I probably use less than half of them.  I really like the corkboard view, the compilation options, and the manuscript tree.  The character sketch templates are nice, as is the front matter that you can inject in a compiled draft automatically.

Scrivener is a great tool and I highly recommend it to writers looking for a complete solution for their writing environment.

 

OneDrive

This one might seem like a weird entry on this list but it’s absolutely vital.  OneDrive is where I save my drafts and my Scrivener projects.  I’ve used DropBox in the past, but OneDrive is already present on all my Windows machines without having to do a secondary install.

Because I’m using OneDrive, all of my writing is automatically backed up.  Even better, regardless of which computer I’m using, I can pick up immediately wherever I left off.  Knowing that my work is safe gives me peace of mind.  During the years before I started saving my work to the cloud, I lost dozens of stories.

 

Surface Pro 2

I have several laptops but the Surface is my go-to device for writing.  It’s got some years on it but it still works fine.  The battery lasts 6 or 7 hours on a single charge.  It’s the device I take to conventions and the one I use at Starbucks every Wednesday evening.  Melissa has given me permission to upgrade and replace it but I just haven’t felt the need.  It’s a good little workhorse.

I have other PCs I use for writing, such as the Dell laptop issued by work and my gaming computer in my garage.  The Surface is the only one I use enough to warrant its own placement on this list.

 

Lofree Bluetooth Mechanical Keyboard

This is a relatively new addition to my writing tools.  I love it so much I just had to give it its own spot on the list.  The Lofree keyboard has a retroactive style.  According to the documentation, it can go months at a time between charges.  The keyboard operates both wired and wirelessly, and it makes wonderful clackety noises because of the Gateron blue switches.

I like mechanical keyboards.  If I didn’t have to share my office at work, I’d probably use one while programming.  The physical feedback and the clickety-clack is just so satisfying and calming to me.  Though the Lofree is a little heavy, it’s still small enough I can carry it around with me in my bag with the Surface.

 

OneNote

Though I could probably do outlining and note taking in Scrivener, I still prefer to use OneNote for this kind of work.  Sometimes I use a stylus to hand write my notes in OneNote.  At conventions, I spend most of my time in OneNote.  Since it’s also backed up to the cloud, it feels safe and always at hand, even on my phone.

 

Google

When I’m about to use a word and a nagging doubt creeps in my mind as to whether or not I’m using it right, I type the word into google and look up the definition.  I also go to Google to verify the spelling of an esoteric words that Scrivener or Word aren’t familiar with.  When spell checks and autocorrects are trying to do me a disservice, Google’s got my back.

I also use Google for general research.  For Spin City, I needed to look up various details of what it would be like to live inside what is essentially a centrifuge.  I remembered that there was a term for the strange movement of objects within such a system but I couldn’t recall the name.  Google helped me out.  In addition to providing the name, the Coriolis effect, Google lead me to a number of useful diagrams which helped inform my writing.

Most of the stories I write, I don’t need to go too deep into any particular field of research.  As a writer, I’m not looking to become an expert on every field my stories touch.  I’m only looking to know more than the average person so that I can make the average person think I know what I’m talking about.  Anything beyond that and the story starts to take on a weird shape or become boring.

 

A Pair of Size 11 1/2 Shoes

When I’m stuck or needing inspiration, I go for a walk.  Sometimes while I’m out strolling, I talk to myself.  Other times I’m silent, carefully working things out in my head.  Whether the walks are long or short, I consider the time spent valuable to my writing.

One of the best things I can do writing becomes hard is get up go outside.  The physical exercise unlocks areas of my brain that I wouldn’t otherwise explore.  A simple walk, even when I’m not blocked, can see me returning to the keyboard with greater focus and energy.

 

That’s my list.  There is one honorable mention: AutoCrit.  A few writer friends swear by it, and I don’t blame them.  It’s a web service which can go through your draft and give you a lot of interesting statistics about your writing.  It can tell you how often you’re using passive voice, how many adverbs you’ve used, your most repeated words, the quantity of non-standard dialog tags, and the average reading grade level.  I tried it and liked it quite a bit, but it’s a paid service.  At this time, I don’t want to subscribe.

 

What tools do you use that you think I should try?

10/26/18

Pithy Writing Advice

A number of writers I respect and admire have written books on how to write.  These books range widely in detail and quality.  Some are short and deep, others are large and shallow.  I’ve consumed a few books on writing, with one of my favorites being by Stephen King called On Writing.

I’ve been a writer off and on for over 30 years.  The last 10 have been particularly rich in terms of skill growth and quality output.  For all of that, I wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to write a book on the subject.  I have enough information to fill an essay or a blog post, though, so that’s what we’re doing tonight!

 

1. Read Widely

I’ve already talked about this earlier in the month so I’ll be brief.  Writers need to read broadly and continuously in order to see what works and what doesn’t work.  They need to be entertained and immersed in the kinds of stories that they want to create.  I don’t know any good writers that aren’t also voracious readers.  So go read.

 

2. Use Strong Verbs

This is the most useful advice I’ve ever been, and it has drastically improved my writing.  Verbs make your sentences stand out.  They lift your story off the page and kindle the imagination.  I’m using stronger verbs right now and this is probably the most exciting paragraph you’re going to read tonight because this paragraph yearns to prove itself and make you understand.  Just as the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, so too are verbs the muscles of the sentence.

Let’s try a quick example off the top of my head.

Joe was on the couch.

This pedestrian sentence doesn’t excite anyone.  It lacks a strong verb and it lacks specificity.  From this sentence alone, I have no idea what Joe is actually doing.  He has commandeered the couch in some vague fashion and the writer hasn’t given us a clue as to whether or not there’s room on the couch for anyone else.

Joe was sitting on the couch.

This seems a little bit better, but a good rule of thumb is that if your verb takes more than one word, it’s weak.  The verb in this sentence is “was sitting.” That pesky “was” isn’t helping Joe out at all.  We can do better.  Let’s drop the word “was” and make Joe an actual participant in this sentence.

Joe sat on the couch.

This is a good sentence.  It’s brief and to the point.  A little bit boring, but at least Joe’s an active character now.  He’s a contributing member of society.  He votes, and he sits on couches rather than being placed on them like a doll.  We can add more detail if we want the sentence to be a little bit less boring.

Joe sat on the couch with his legs stretched out on an ottoman, one arm draped over the seat back next to him as if waiting to wrap it around the first person to sit beside to him.

You might not like this sentence.  I’m not sure I like it.  That comma splice in the middle worries me a little.  But Joe is now an active member of this sentence with hints of his character starting to shine through.  I don’t know much about him but I know that a man sitting like that, open and inviting, has confidence.  He might even be displaying power and social status.

We’re done with Joe for now.  I hope I made my point about verbs.  Strong verbs keep the reader awake and turning the page.  Weak verbs invite yawns and boredom.

 

3. Avoid Adverbs

New writers hear this one all the time.  It’s not horrendous advice but it is often overstated.  This piece of advice is often repeated often without an explanation of why.

Here are the two main reasons you should avoid adverbs:

  1. They weaken the verb they’re meant to amplify
  2. They tend to do a lot more telling than showing

That first point I’ve already touched on.  The more words involved in the verb, the weaker the verb is.  Let’s bring Joe back for another couple of examples.

Joe knocked on the door angrily.

At a glance, that sentence might seem fine.  It’s okay.  It’s not the worst sentence in the world.  It shows up to work and does its job, but it’s not winning any awards and it certainly isn’t winning any promotions.  Let’s make it better.

Joe pounded on the door.

This sentence is putting in a little bit of overtime and it’s using less words to do it.  With this one, I can hear Joe’s fist slamming on the wood.  I can see how Joe is holding his arm, his bicep flexed and his knuckles white as he strikes the door with bottom of his fist rather than the front of his fingers.

The second sentence is better than the first.  It’s both more efficient and more descriptive at the same time.

Some writers offering advice on eschewing adverbs go too far.  They might go so far as to say never use them.  I subscribe to a much more lenient philosophy.

Adverbs are a tool in your toolbox.  New writers have a tendency to overuse them because they’re easy to drop into sentences.  They provide a shortcut to telling the reader some information that they want to get across.  Sometimes it’s fine to use the shortcut.

Sometimes the right adverb can make a sentence fun.  I remember looking at a video of an old fashioned printing press.  The contraption had all these moving parts collapsing in on themselves, making it look like a partly unfolded wood chipper.  There were no safety rails or guards on this device that I could see.  I remember writing about it:

I can see someone misjudging and pulling their hand back with freshly waffled fingers.

This isn’t a bad sentence.  I particularly like the last part because the cadence of “freshly waffled fingers” has a bounce to it that makes the sentence sparkle.

Of course, I’m kind of cheating with this example because while “freshly” looks like an adverb, it’s amplifying “waffled” which is an adjective enhancing “fingers.”  There aren’t any adverbs in that sentence.  Be that as it may, if we rearranged it so that “freshly” did become a proper adverb again, and we managed to keep that delightful rhythm in tact, wouldn’t the sentence still work?

Adverbs are a tool in the writer’s toolbox.  They’re a special tool and should be used sparingly, but that doesn’t mean they should never be used.  Just use them wisely.

4. Adjectives are Delicious

Marketers learned this trick a long time ago and they take advantage of it constantly.  If you want to make something delicious, pour on the adjectives.

Let’s do another exercise.

Bacon.

Lots of people like bacon, but we can do better.

Crispy bacon.

Now we’re talking.  We added one word and already I’m hankering for a BLT.

Bacon is easy, though.  Let’s try something a little more challenging.  And here’s a hint: the adjectives don’t even have to make sense or have anything to do with the food that you’re describing.  Just adding the extra words makes the food more desirable.

Oatmeal.

Yuck.  No one wants plain oatmeal.

Fresh oatmeal.

Better. What else ya got?

Fresh, buttered, steel-cut oatmeal sweetened with cinnamon, brown sugar, and maple syrup.

A little known fact… I make the best oatmeal.  Seriously you should try it sometime.

I’m saying that adjectives are delicious, but what I really mean is that adjectives are multipliers.  When you’re describing food, you can make the food more delicious by stacking adjectives.  You can also make a corpse more terrifying, a monster more frightening, a weapon more deadly, a dress more beautiful… you get the idea.

The cost of using adjectives as amplifiers is pacing.  Going back to food as the metaphor, adjectives will make your dessert more rich.  The reader will have to chew more slowly to get through your descriptive sentence.  If you’re in the middle of a chase scene, the reader isn’t going to want to sniff the sweet and honeyed flowers, the petals of which are smooth and soft and bursting with Spring colors.  When the story needs to go quickly, you need to ditch the frills.  Stick with what’s important and keep the sentences short.

Rich sentences with thick adjectives are great right after a fast sequence, not only because you can contrasting the pacing, but also because you can enhance the emotional reaction of the reader by focusing on the details that invoke the desired emotions.

5. Emotions and Chapters

This one is a little bit complicated.  Also, we’re pulling back a little bit.  Focusing on verbs, adjectives, and adverbs is getting right down into the microscopic level of sentence construction.  With chapters, we’re pulling back far enough to see more of the structure.

If you begin your chapter at an emotionally high place, end your chapter at an emotionally low place.  If the characters are comfortable in the beginning of the chapter, driving along with their windows down and the radio playing, end the chapter with the character pulled over, stressed out, wondering what the hell they’re going to do next.

The length of a chapter doesn’t really matter.  All that matters is that something changed between the beginning and the end of the chapter.  There should be an emotional curve.

Also, it’s best when your chapters end in such a way that the readers are encouraged to the turn the page and keeping going on into the next.  Some people might describe this as a cliffhanger, but really it’s just ending with a question.  It doesn’t matter if the character is in peril or if they just opened the treasure chest they’ve been seeking and they’re about to look inside.  If you end a chapter on a question, any kind of question, the reader will turn the page looking for an answer.  If you end a chapter too cleanly, they might put the book down and forget to pick it back up again.

6. Do Whatever Works

Every writer is different.  We’re all people.  Some like to listen to music while they write, and others (like me) prefer silence or white noise.  Some people need detailed outlines in order to feel comfortable writing, while others get bored with the story if they know too much of what happens before they even begin.  Some writers need seven or eight drafts before they get it right.  Others get it done in one or two (but I would argue that the ones that actually get it done in one are rare).

There are lots of writers on the internet, and most of them offer advice.  Listen to them with an open mind, but only do what works for you.  You’re unique.  Your writing journey is going to be different than anyone else’s.  What works for me isn’t necessarily what’s going to work for you.

Here is an example of something I do which may or may not work for you.  When I need to end a writing session, I often stop in the middle of a sentence.  That way when I go back to start writing again, I’m forced to get into the mindset inhabited before I took the break.  This method works well for me.

I write chronologically.  Some writers write whatever scene they want to work on at the time, wherever that may be in their story’s timeline.  I start from the beginning and proceed until I get to the end.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Do you write a lot of stuff in first person?  Try something in third.  Or second!  Do you write in past tense?  Try writing something in present tense.

Artists doodle in their sketchbook.  Musicians practice on their instruments playing riffs and scales.  Writers shouldn’t be afraid to practice and play around, too.  Open up your word processor or notepad and write a story that you know you’re going to throw away.  It’s fine.  Free yourself from the expectation of presenting your work to someone else and just see what you create when there is no pressure.

As much writing advice as there is out there, as many books as there are published on the subject, none of it is as useful as the experience of writing.  In the process of writing and experimenting, you will find what works for you and what doesn’t.

Figure out what works for you.  Then keep doing that.

10/25/18

My Novelette: The Exorcism of Jack Evans

Good evening! Tonight is the final entry in my three part series talking about the most ambitious stories I’ve written.  Like the previous two entries, I’ll be sticking with the same format.  The primary goal is to provide insight into my creative process.  A secondary goal, which I don’t think I mentioned in the previous posts, is to practice talking about my stories and describing what makes them special.  I think this kind of practice is important for making me better at querying.

Here is a list of the things I’ll talk about regarding The Exorcism of Jack Evans.

  • What It’s About
  • The Inspiration
  • The Writing Process

 

What It’s About

The Exorcism of Jack Evans is about a man named Jack that is murdered before the story even begins.  He finds himself as a ghost hovering over his own still cooling body.  He soon sets out after the person that shot him hoping that he can somehow make his revenge.

 

What is it REALLY About

This is actually the first time I’ve talked about this story like this, so I’m having a more difficult time describing this story than I had the other two.  The Exorcism of Jack Evans is split into three equal parts.  The first part follows Jack as a ghost and his struggles and horror at existing without a body.  The second part follows Jack’s murderer once Jack has caught up with him, and the third part follows the priest that ultimately brings Jack’s story to an end.

When I started the story, I didn’t realize I was writing psychological horror.  Given the things I knew would take place, I should have known.  I probably didn’t think about it because I’ve never tried to write a horror story before.  This one went to some very dark places.

In terms of themes, there is quite a bit going on in a very short amount of time.  There is a contrast across all three characters in how they deal with loss.  I don’t want to talk about spoilers, but I will say that this touches on suicide, and there is some sexually graphic content.  I think I handle both in a way that is respectful.  I think the material belongs in this story.  None of it is there for shock value or titillation.  However, I feel it’s important to give people a fair warning before they read it.

 

The Inspiration

While listening to N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, I had a really hard time with the parts that were in second person.  I think it had a lot to do with it being an audio book.  The narrator kept telling me that I did certain things and felt certain ways and I just kept arguing with her.  The second person parts of the story made me feel uncomfortable.  It made me feel like someone was trying to take over, and I didn’t like it.  I wound up turning off the audio book without finishing it.

The experience of fighting with the second person narration stuck with me.  Some time later, I asked myself what I could do with a story in second person?  Remembering how the audio book of The Fifth Season made me feel, I decided that it would be perfect for a possession story.

After that, I decided to write the story in three parts.  The first part would be in first person, the second in second, the third in third.  I came up with the name of the main character and the name of the story first.  Then I did some plotting.

All of the beats I wanted to cover in the first and second part seemed obvious to me from the start.  The third part, on the other hand, gave me a hard time.  I knew there’d be a funeral but I didn’t have a clear vision of anything else.  For the longest time, I had no idea how I was going to wrap up the story because I didn’t know what the third part was all about.

After listening to an episode of Writing Excuses talking about character arcs, I decided to apply the DREAM tool to all three parts or my outline to see what that would reveal.  If you don’t click the link, DREAM stands for:

  • Denial
  • Resistance
  • Acceptance
  • Exploration
  • Manifestation

After applying that tool, I had a concrete view of what I was going to explore in the first and second part.  The third part was still a little bit fuzzy, but I had enough to work with.  I felt confident that I could write the story and that it would be powerful.

On the cruise, I pulled out my outline and started writing it.  I finished it earlier this week.

 

Where is it Now?

I haven’t shared it with anyone.  I finished the first draft and I still need to do a good edit.  It is 15,000 words which makes it a novelette.  If you’re curious, the word count ranges look like this:

Word Count Classification
Under 7500 Short Story
7500 to 17,499 Novelette
17,500 to 39,999 Novella
40,000 and above Novel

I’ve written a few short stories before but I think this is my first novelette.  It’s also my first adult psychological horror.  I don’t know where I’d be able to sell this or if I even could.

It is a really good story.  Even though I started writing it for my own amusement and with no other audience in mind, I think it’s something special.  However, with its length and subject matter, I won’t be surprised if it’s something that never goes anywhere.  I’ll keep my eyes open but I won’t hold my breath.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts.  In November, I’m going to restart the novel I put on pause for NaNoWriMo last year.  I don’t expect to reach 50,000 words in thirty days due to the nature of the story.  I don’t think it’s going to be something I can rush.  But I do have a complete outline to work from.  In many ways, I’m more prepared for this year than I’ve been any other year.  Starting in about a week, we’ll see how prepared I really am.

10/24/18

Facts Leading to Today’s Bomb Threats

I wanted to write about a novelette I just finished, but then a bunch of bombs went to Trump’s political opponents this morning and I felt like I should probably get my thoughts out of my head while it’s still fresh.

I’m going to state a series of facts.  It might look at first like I’m playing the “both sides” game, but I’m not.  I’m just going to lay out a series of facts, with links when I can find them, and then state my thoughts and conclusions based on those facts at the end.  If it looks like I’m cherry-picking the news, it is not my intention.  Please let me know what I’ve missed, but only if you can provide a link to a credible source.  I’m not interested in spreading or engaging in bullshit.

  • Trump encouraged violence at a rally in 2015 and said later on Fox and Friends that he should have been roughed up

 

  • Trump incited violence at a rally in 2016.

  • February of 2016, Trump said as a protester is escorted out of a rally, “Knock the crap out of him, would you? I promise you, I will pay your legal fees.” (Not posting more videos… there are plenty of these Trump quotes and they are easily verifiable)
  • March of 2016, Trump said “Part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other anymore.”
  • March of 2016, Trump said “The audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.”
  • March of 2016, another rally, Trump said as a protester is escorted out, “If you do (hurt him), I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it.”
  • June of 2017, Sara Huckabee-Sanders says that Trump has never encouraged violence.

  • A couple of weeks ago, Fox News and other right-wing leaning bloggers and journalists play half of Eric Holder’s speech, making it look like Eric Holder was inciting violence.  Here’s an example:

  • But here’s the rest of what he said that say.  He said “Don’t do anything inappropriate.  Don’t do anything illegal.”

 

Those are facts.  In summary:

  • Trump has a long history of encouraging violence at his rallies
  • His staff lie for him
  • Right-wing supporters lie for him
  • Right-wing activists have acted out violently, killing people
  • Left-wing activists have upset people’s dinners
  • Every person that received a bomb today was someone that Trump has targeted with his rhetoric

Even tonight… TONIGHT… people at Trump’s rally were shouting “Lock her up.”

There is no “both sides” to this.  The fish rots from the head, and Trump has lead his party and his supporters to this violent end.

If you consider yourself a Christian, you should not be a Trump supporter.

If you consider yourself a decent human being, you should not be a Trump supporter.

Trump has built his entire campaign on hatred and fear.  Fear of Muslims and immigrants and Democrats and Obama’s legacy.  And the Republican party is supporting him.

We obviously have to vote the Republican party out.  We need to peacefully reject all of the people that continue to prop up an incompetent, lying, ignorant, egotistical, violence-inducing proto-fascist so that he can be removed from power and tried in court.

We also need a new conservative party to replace the Republicans.

10/23/18

My Novel: Spin City

Good evening! Tonight it’s time for part two of my three part series in which I talk about the most important stories I’ve written so far.  We’ll be going over Spin City in this part, sticking close to the same format I used last night.  I’m hoping I provide some valuable insight into my creative process.  I don’t want to just gush over my own work, but I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of that, too.

Here is a list of the things I’ll talk about regarding Spin City:

  • What It’s About
  • The Inspiration
  • The Writing Process

Before I get going, I want to say something quick about titles.  I’m not attached to any of them.  The Repossessed Ghost and Spin City are both temporary names as far as I’m concerned.  When going the traditional publication route, it’s important to not grow too attached to things that are best left to the marketing department.

 

What It’s About

Spin City is about a down-on-his-luck private investigator named Arthur that works and lives in a spinning city on The Moon.  The case starts off simple enough.  He’s hired to take pictures for a man wanting to know if his wife is having an affair.  It turns into a murder investigation when that same client turns up dead in his own apartment.  As Arthur and his partner are drawn deeper into the inner workings of the city, from robot dog fights to glamorous night clubs, Arthur realizes that he must get to the bottom of the case before the place he calls home is taken over by a psychotic criminal.

 

What is it REALLY About

This is a more serious story about a desperate man struggling with alcoholism.  While the character of a drunk private eye is kind of a cliche, this story deals with alcoholism in a much more realistic way.  The question of why Arthur drinks is important as well as how his drinking impacts his business and his relationships.

Within the story are themes pertaining to immigration and personal responsibility.  I’m not sure what more I can say about this story in regards to theme without giving away some spoilers.  I will say that while I like Arthur in this story very much, a side character named Victoria is probably my favorite.

 

The Inspiration

I’ve already talked a little bit about the inspiration for this story earlier this month.  The very first time I wrote about the character named Arthur Kane, I’d just come home from visiting my friend Douglas.  He’d written a story about a detective and I decided to try writing a similar story of my own.

After my Dad died, I sat down and started a novel length story which I called The Arthur Kane stories.  Spin City is the grown up re-imagining of that novel.  As you might imagine, it’s very different from the original work.  While the names remained the same, the characters grew deeper and more realistic.  The plot is radically different though I kept a couple of significant events.  I tried to keep the good ideas from the original story and lift them up with stronger writing and a more intentional noir feel.

 

The Writing Process

When I wrote The Repossessed Ghost, I went up to the edge of the unknown and jotted down what I could glimpse just ahead.  Most of that story involved discovery writing and I didn’t have a clue how it was going to end until I got about halfway through the first draft.  Since I rewrote that ending in the 3rd draft, you could say I didn’t know how that story would until a few years after I started.

With Spin City, I couldn’t leave things up to chance.  I wanted to create a complicated mystery with crime elements.  To do that and have it make sense, I needed to work backwards.  First I figured out who the antagonists were.  I determined their motivations and their available resources, which told me what kind of crimes they could try to get away with.  Then I worked backwards chronologically.  For person X to accomplish crime Y, they needed to get the aid of Person Z.  That sort of thing.

Once I worked back far enough, I had a fairly comprehensive map of everything the bad guys accomplished.  That gave me ideas for how Arthur could find clues and be a disruption in some of the antagonist’s plans.  At that point, I started doing some loose outlining from the beginning and going forward.

This sounds way fancier and more complicated than it really is.  While I created an outline that went from the beginning to the end, it was not a very complete outline.  I left plenty unplanned.  Also, the exact details of the end were a little bit fuzzy.  I left plenty for me to discover along the way.

Like with The Repossessed Ghost, a couple of characters I expected to have much smaller parts wound up gaining more prominence in the story after I realized how much I liked writing them.  I knew that Arthur and his partner were going to need to bring in a specialist.  I assumed it was going to be a hacker named Victor.  She turned out to be a wet-wired net-head named Victoria, and I think she may be one of the best characters I’ve ever written.

The overall process still involved a lot of discovery writing even though I stuck with the outlined structure.  I wound up changing the outline in minor ways a few times when I realized that what I’d planned wasn’t as cool as some ideas I had along the way.  I made adjustments to the outline, rechecked the reverse chronological map to make sure everything still made sense, then kept going.

I wound up changing the ending quite a bit just before I got there.  Without going into spoilers, I thought I was going to end with a bigger action sequence.  While there is still quite a bit of action, the whole story is much more psychological than physical, so the ending shifted to follow suit.  I’m currently very satisfied with the ending.

 

Where is it Now?

I’ve submitted two queries.  One was a request for full that came out of the New York Writer’s Digest Pitchslam.  The other was to a prominent agent I’ve met several times at WorldCon.  The agent turned down the query without seeing the manuscript.  I haven’t heard from the one via Pitchslam yet.  It’ll be another month before I ping them.

I quit my writer’s group before submitting Spin City to them.  I don’t have a lot of people I can send it to that will provide a critique.  Most of my friends on Twitter are busy reading other things.  I finished this thing that I think I should be proud of, but I need fresh eyes and reader reactions to see where I can improve it.

Michael Gallowglas heard me lamenting my lack of critique partners and he volunteered to read it.  This is a big deal because he’s developed a significant critical eye on his quest to acquire is MFA.  Also, neither of us have critiqued each other before.  It’s kind of scary, but I trust our friendship to be able to handle this however it goes.  I’m sure Michael will tell me some stuff I don’t want to hear.  I’ll tense up for a moment, take a few moments to process, then try to see what he sees.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.

And just so you don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not exactly a first draft.  I did a lightning fast edit of the entire thing, reading it out loud to Melissa in order to find the most egregious errors.  I don’t like to share first draft stories with people anymore.  The current state of Spin City is that it is more than a first draft, not quite a second.  It’s also the rework of something I previously wrote.  I’m note sure how that affects the draft version math.

When Michael agreed to read it, he talked about printing it.  I printed it for him.  The damn this is 100,000 words and the chapters are short.  I knew it was going to take a lot of paper.  When I printed it for him, I had a copy printed for Melissa.  To give a literal answer to the question of where it is, Spin City is in two places.  One copy is with Michael, and one is buried under some of Melissa’s clothes in our room.

10/22/18

My Novel: The Repossessed Ghost

Hello friends, and welcome to the first in a three part series where I talk about stories I have written.  These will be a little bit self-indulgent, but maybe I’m hoping that some of what I’ve gone through with each of these stories is helpful to other writers.

Here is a list of the things I’ll talk about regarding this novel:

  • What It’s About
  • The Inspiration
  • The Writing Process

 

What It’s About

The Repossessed Ghost is about a young repo man named Mel that discovers he’s psychic when he finds a ghost named Kate in the back of a car.  When he becomes a suspect in her murder, Mel gives up the life he’s known in New Orleans and goes to Sacramento, Kate’s home town.  There, he becomes entangled in a much larger supernatural community.  He must learn to use his powers, figure out who he can trust, and solve Kate’s murder in order to stop the one that killed her from killing again and unleashing an unspeakable evil on the world.

 

What is it REALLY About

I’m glad you asked, imposing type font.

While it’s a fun adventure set in a modern world, it’s really about a young man taking the last few steps into adulthood and learning to take responsibility and ownership of problems rather than just get by.  It’s also about a young woman that literally loses everything and thinks she’s powerless.  It’s not until she exercises her own agency that she truly finds her own strength.

The story is fun and light with plenty of humor and an interesting take on how some of the fantastical elements work in Mel’s world.  Also woven through the story is a theme regarding power demanding sacrifice.  There are a few other things in the story that I think are better discovered than explained.

 

The Inspiration

Many years ago, Michael, Robin, Jason, and I were players in a game run by David Mullin.  The underlying system was Champions, but that didn’t really matter.  It didn’t last that long.  Just long enough for me to really fall in love with my character, Mel Walker.

That first version of Mel was a bit older than the one I wound up writing about.  When playing him, I spoke with an outrageous Southern accent.  He was a little bit creepy in the way he used his powers, but he had a heart of gold.

Imagine an immature man with psychic powers and low impulse control.  On the surface, that was Mel.  What made me really like him was that he had quite a bit more beneath the surface, and I was quite interested in exploring his depth.

Long after the game petered out, Mel stayed in my imagination.  For years, I wanted to write a story featuring him.  In 2013 for NaNoWriMo, I finally decided to give him a shot.  I’d been listening to The Dresden Files on audiobook for months leading up to November, and I was really interested in writing something light and fun.  So began what was initially called “The Mel Walker Story.”

 

The Writing Process

Up to this point, I eschewed outlining.  I didn’t want to spoil the story for myself.  I always saw the writing process as sitting in front of the keyboard and reading the words into existence.  That’s how writing felt going all the way back to when I started in my early teens.

For The Mel Walker Story, I did something a little bit different.  I outlined fractions of the story at a time.  I didn’t spend a lot of time on the outlines.  Most of the time it was just me writing down a few thoughts on what I thought was going to happen next.  It was like creeping up to the edge of the unknown and shining a flashlight into the darkness.  Whatever I saw up ahead, I jotted down.  That was the extent of my outline.

When I started writing, I thought I knew where the story was going up to the point when Mel would leave New Orleans.  I knew the ghost (a nameless character at the start) would be the one pulling Mel out of his comfort zone and forcing him to become a hero.  I thought Mel would leave her behind and get on with his life within the first Act.  Helping her out of a bad situation would be his first taste of the supernatural life, and he’d go off in search of more.

After I started writing Kate, I knew that I wanted her to have a larger part in the story.  I still wasn’t sure how large a part, but I really loved the dynamic between Mel and Kate.  I felt a strong bond forming between these two characters and I was enjoying their dialog.

I had plotted out that Mel would go to the police and things would go badly for him.  Kate surprised me by saying, “Or, you could make an anonymous phone call.”

All of this that I’m describing is at the beginning of the book.  I’m not going to spoil anything and talk about any of the major twists and turns that happen along the way.  I’ll just say that writing the book often involved me plotting a little bit ahead and thinking I know exactly what’s going to happen, only to have Mel or Kate surprise me at the last minute.  I had a lot of fun writing them because they’re voices were very strong and clear to me.

I wrote the first 50,000 words in November of 2013.  I wrote another 11,000 between December and the end of January.  At 61,000 words, I reached the end, and I shared it with my writer’s group at the time.

That first draft was way too short and the writing wasn’t all that great.  Too much passive voice.  Too many basic mistakes.  I polished up the first couple of chapters and sent them to a Writer’s Workshop at Convolution the next year, and got some overwhelmingly positive feedback.  I made some friends during that convention, and one of the professionals, Jennifer Carson, continued to pester and provide encouragement to getting the next draft done.  It took me well over a year, but I finished the 2nd draft and sent it on to Jennifer.

Jennifer, my new writer’s group, and my wife both had fantastic feedback.  Some of it wasn’t easy to hear.  For example, my ending didn’t work.  I’d had doubts about the ending in the first draft and I hadn’t changed it that much in the second.  So I had to go back into the think tank on that.  Other advice involved bringing some characters out more that seemed to fade in the middle of the story, and fulfilling promises that I made to the reader but never resolved in a satisfying way.

I finished my third draft.  I fixed the ending.  I’d listened to all the advice and critiques, and after four years, had something I felt ready to submit for publication.  It’s now a novel coming in at just under 80,000 words.

 

Where Is it Now?

I sent it to someone about a year ago and received a rejection.  Then I let it sit in a drawer for a while.  I pitched it during the New York Writer’s Digest Pitchslam, and one person asked for the full, another person asked for the first 50 pages.  Just this weekend, I sent off those queries.

I think it’s a good story.  It’s fun.  I hope it sells but I’m not holding my breath and I’m not waiting around for it.  It’s not that I don’t believe in the story.  One of the problems is that it’s Urban Fantasy.  I’ve been hearing too many agents that I trust state that Urban Fantasy isn’t getting picked up by traditional publishing right now.  The Independents have cornered that market.

As I see opportunities, I’ll send queries.  I’m not giving up on it.  At the same time, I’m not interested in working on it until the change requests are from a professional editor.  I’m also not interested in publishing it on my own because that’s not a business I want to start right now.

So Mel… I raise a glass to you.  I hope you find a good home.  I have other stories I’d love to tell with you, but I’m not going to write those stories unless there’s a readership out there waiting for you.

10/21/18

Identifying as a Writer

When people ask me what I do, I almost always say, “Full time programmer, part time writer.” Sometimes I add, “Looking to reverse those.” Whether or not I add the sassy secondary part, I always identify myself as a writer.

Why do I do this?  What does it mean, and how does it affect me and the people I’m interacting with?

 

Why Tell People

I tell people I’m a writer because I’m proud of it.  I want to talk about the stories I’ve written and by telling people that I’m writer, the next question from them is usually predictable.  It’s either, “What do you write?” which is a question I like.  Or it’s “Are you published?” or “Where can I get your books?” I’m not particularly happy with either of these questions.

I tell people I’m a writer because that’s what I want to be doing.  The more I tell other people, the more I reinforce to myself that yes, that is what I am, and no, I’m not an impostor.  I’ve written two novels!  And just tonight, I finished a novelette!  And I’ve got short stories, too!  And a blog!  And flash fiction!

I tell people I’m a writer because that’s the truth and I don’t want to hide it.

 

What It Means

When someone tells you that they’re a writer, they’re revealing to you that they are committed to a long form art style that probably won’t earn them nearly as much money or recognition as the time they’re investing.  I read Spin City to Melissa as a way of getting a super fast edit in before submitting it to people, and I managed to read all 100,000 words to her over the course of 3 evenings.  It took me about 7 months to write that draft, or about 30 years if you count the version of that story I started when I was 16.  That’s a huge time investment into something that almost no one has read.  Something that, statistically speaking, almost no one will read.

When someone tells you that they’re a writer, they’re telling you that they’re dedicated to a craft that isolates them a great deal of the time.  Even when I’m doing word sprints with other writers, the actual writing is solitary work.  Sure, there are some writers that are able to work in pairs and teams.  Most novelists are working along, though.  They might go to a write-in, socialize with other awkward word nerds, maybe tell some jokes or laugh at someone else’s.  But when it’s time to do the work, they’re alone even when they’re in a crowded room.

When someone tells you that they are a writer, they’re telling you that they spend a lot of time building things out of metaphors and imagination, and they do that either by meticulously planning out something that doesn’t exist yet, or they’re going into a trance-like state, awake and alive and daydreaming while their fingers twitch people and places into word form.  Scratch that.  All writers do the daydreaming thing.  The difference between a discovery writer and a heavy plotter is when they are lucid during the dream.

 

Ramifications of Identifying as a Writer

When I identify as a writer, I’m exposing myself to questions and criticism I don’t necessarily want.  I already mentioned a couple of questions I don’t want to answer at this stage of my career, mostly because those questions act as a spotlight, illuminating the part of my writer’s journey that isn’t complete.  The part I have the most anxiety over.  Yesterday, I started the post with the whole “Don’t quit your day job!” scene which I’ve experienced more often than I like.

Beyond those questions and pithy sayings, a number of people think that as a writer, I need their story ideas.  I do not.  I doubt any writer does.  We like to be inspired, but we don’t like to write other people’s stories.  No one needs to give me more work to do.  What I need is time to work on the ideas I already have.

When I identify myself as a writer to another writer, the result can be complicated.  Most of the time, it’s all good.  There is a mutual understanding of what the other person has gone through and will go through, so it’s like finding a tribesman.  We are writers, therefore, we can understand each other and be cool with one another.

Sometimes, however, a measuring contest is triggered.  From other writers I’ve received judgement on how long I’ve been writing, the kind of stories I write, the amount of accomplishments I’ve achieved in the time I’ve been writing, the number of queries I’ve submitted and number rejections I’ve received.  I’ve been judged over a slew of various subcategories such as marketing and social media presence.  Writers are people.  Some people are insecure assholes.  The worst is when I’M the insecure asshole.  I try not to judge or engage in the measuring contest.  But like I said, writers are people and I’m a writer.

 

Who Should Identify as a Writer

Anyone that writes is a writer.  It doesn’t matter if you write long form or short form.  It doesn’t matter if you write literary fiction, genre fiction, or non-fiction.  It doesn’t matter if you write by hand or if you use a word processor, or if you dictate into a recording device and transpose later.  It doesn’t matter if you’re published traditionally, independently, on Wattpad, or unpublished.  If you write, you’re a writer, and you have every right to identify yourself as such.

You also have the right to keep it secret.  Some people do and I don’t blame them for it.

 

I identify as a writer.  But you know what?  I would really rather be able to identify myself as an author.

I’m still working on that.

10/20/18

The Day Job

“Don’t quit your day job!” the jerk says as if imparting some kind of folksy wisdom that the artist would never figure out on their own.

The artist offers a weak laugh in response.  Maybe trades finger guns with the person offering the unsolicited employment advice.  Pew!  Pew!

If no one offers me that advice again, I’d be okay with it.  But if they did suggest I keep my current job and I ignored their words, what job is it that I’d be leaving?  And what would that be like?

I’m a programmer working in the solar industry.  I usually work a little bit more than 40 hours a week, a lot of those extra hours taking place at home.  It’s a good job, even if it keeps me busy, and it pays well.

I don’t want to get too much into the details of my job, other than to talk about the ways it impacts my writing.  This whole blog is about my writing journey and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  I’m not going to go deep into inverter controls and communication protocols.  That’s not what you’re here for.

The writer benefits to having my job is that it supports my writing life both financially and emotionally.  I have enough vacation time that I’m able to go to all the events I want to throughout the year.  I’m able to afford the plane tickets and the hotel room and all of the sundry costs that go with spending a week or a weekend at an event.  Even when the event is in New York.

In addition to the financial stability, the people at work understand that I’m a writer and they work with my schedule.  Earlier this year when I found out I could go to LTUE in the last minute, I called my boss and he not only gave me the green light, he encouraged me to go.  I have several coworkers that ask about my writing process and when they’ll get to see one of my books published.  Throughout November, people give me space during my lunch hour when I’m trying to write and keep my word count up.  I work in a very writer friendly environment.

One of the downsides of having my job as a writer is the work itself.  The programming eats up some of my creative energy and mental fortitude.  By the time I get home a lot of nights, I don’t have the willpower or drive to create fiction.  That can be really rough.

I like being a programmer.  Even if I managed to sell books well enough to sustain myself, I’d still want to be a programmer in some capacity.  Maybe I’d get back into Unity and develop a game or two.  Maybe I’d work on some web apps.  I’m not sure.  I’m always going to be a programmer of some variety.

If I did manage to quit the day job, I’d probably take on the same kind of schedule a lot of professional authors seem to adopt.  I’d write for 3 to 4 hours in the morning, then spend the afternoon attending the business side of writing.  I don’t think I’d have a problem working from home and maintaining productivity.  I work from home already, and those are my best work days.

Tying back to how I began this post, I would like to quit my day job.  Getting to do that would be a privilege.

So when someone tells me NOT to quit my day job, what they’re really saying is that I shouldn’t try and achieve one of my dreams yet.  That’s kind of a shitty thing to say to a person, isn’t it?

10/19/18

Maintaining Self-Care as a Writer

Yesterday I wrote about lessons learned from conventions.  I felt very comfortable covering that topic because of my level of experience and because I apply those lessons regularly.

Tonight is a different story.  Some of what I have to say about self-care is really only theoretical for me.  I think tonight’s subject was suggested to me because it’s something I personally need to work on.  Nevertheless, I have some things to say about self-care as a writer.  Whether or not I practice what I preach, this advice can help you.

Here are the main items:

  • Be Kind to Yourself
  • Set Reachable Goals
  • Have a Life
  • Seriously, Be Kind to Yourself

 

Be Kind to Yourself

For three nights in a row, I’ve mentioned perseverance.  You need to persevere, but getting to the other side of something difficult doesn’t mean you have to travel through a wood chipper to get there.  Forgive yourself your typos and passive voice and accept and celebrate the praise you receive.

If you’re a writer trying to put your stories in front of people, you’re going to face rejection.  The traditional publication route will offer direct rejection from agents, editors, and publishers.  Independently published writers will find rejection via poor book sales, or people walking past your table without making eye contact.  All writers are going to get one star reviews.  There will be be beta readers that don’t get what you were trying to say, critique partners that can’t get into your character’s head, and writer’s groups that fail to see the value of your contributions.

Be kind.  Forgive yourself.  Allow yourself to feel the pain, give yourself time to breathe and grow distant from the moment of rejection, then learn what you can learn from the incident so you can move on.  You’re a human and you’re a writer.  Sometimes those two conditions line up in such a way as to magnify the pain.

 

Set Reachable Goals

It might be tempting to say something like, “I’m going to work really hard and I’m going to be get this book published by the end of the year!”

The problem with this kind of goal is that there are too many factors outside of your control.  You can hope for a published-by date, but it’s not something you should measure yourself against.  Many fantastic writers have wonderful stories that they’ve worked very hard on, but they can’t get their work published because the market isn’t right for their story, or they’re having trouble getting it in front of the right people, or some similar story might have just been picked up or… you get the idea.  No one really knows how any of this works and they’re comfortable describing it as magic at conferences.  If you don’t have actual control over the outcome, it’s not something that you can use as a measurable, reachable goal.

Here are a few examples of achievable goals:

  • Write 1,500 words per day
  • Keep at least 2 queries submitted at all times
  • Write a blog post every day for the month of October
  • Finish a novelette before November 1st
  • Show up at the coffee shop every Wednesday and Sunday, ready to write

If you’ve been following me long, you might recognize that list as my personal goals.  The first one I only pay attention to through the month of November, and the second one I’ve never actually succeeded to meet.  But that whole list is achievable, measurable, and completely within my control.

 

Have a Life

Writers shouldn’t just be writers.  They should be parents, coworkers, siblings, gamers, bowlers… the list goes on and on.  There is a world outside the word processor.  There is more to life than just drafting the next novel, or writing the next query, or pushing the next promotion.

Take care of yourself as a writer by going out and doing things that have nothing to do with writing.  Crochet.  Golf.  Ride a bike.  Start a garden.  Watch a movie.  Bake a cake.  Clean your garage.  Call a gardener to clean up that failed project you started in the back yard.  Go to the beach.  Swim in the lake.  Drink chocolate rum from a boot-shaped shot glass.

Tell your wife that you love her and that she’s pretty.

When you return to the writing, you’ll feel better and you’ll find fresh inspiration.  You have one life.  Make it a well-rounded one.  Not only will you feel better, your writing will improve.

 

Seriously, Be Kind to Yourself

This is so important that it has to be mentioned twice.  The critics outside the writer’s brain do not compare to the evil editor in the writer’s head, constantly nitpicking and finding fault.  That evil editor can be your friend, but they’re often a bully that needs to be put in their place.

As much good advice as I’ve laid out in this post, this is the one piece I struggle with the most.  I’m mean to myself when I should be nice.  I doubt myself when I should act with confidence.  I tear myself down in the face of success, and I have a hard time accepting compliments because I spend so much time internally berating myself for not being good enough.

I had a therapist give me some practical advice once.  He said when I’m at my worst, ripping myself apart, stop and talk to that voice in my head.  Have a conversation.  Ask him what’s up.

One day while I was driving to work, my inner editor was really working me over and I asked, “Why?”

To my surprise, I had an answer. “I want you to be the best, and I’m afraid.”

Fear is my biggest adversary.  I think it’s a problem for most writers.  It’s okay to be afraid.  Just don’t tear yourself apart over it.

Be kind to yourself, because you deserve it and you’re going to write something special.

10/18/18

Most Important Lessons Gained from Conventions

I’ve been to quite a few conventions now, so I feel I have quite a bit I can say on the subject of conventions in general.  There’s even been a couple of conventions where I’ve been a volunteer, giving me an interesting perspective on how that particular sausage is made.

Tonight I’m going to talk about some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.  I’m going to split this into two sections.

  • Attending: Lessons I’ve learned regarding attending a convention
  • Living: Lessons I’ve learned from conventions that I apply in my writing life

 

Attending

1. Pace Yourself

At the beginning of a convention, you get a schedule.  Sometimes it’s a little book, but most of the time these days it’s in an app on your phone.  It’s usually online via the convention’s web site.

If you try to do everything without giving yourself time to eat, breathe, and process, you’ll miss things that you don’t want to miss, and you won’t retain half the things you attend.

Pace yourself both during the day with the panels, and in the evening with the parties.  Be kind to yourself and to others, and don’t push beyond your limits.

2. Decide in Advance What You’re Going to Do

At the macro level, make some goals for this event you’re attending.  Are you looking to learn something?  Are you trying to meet an Agent?  Are you hoping to meet some writer or artist that you admire?  Decide on some goals in advance so you can get the most out of the convention.

With your goal in mind, look at the schedule.  I like to try and plan out my day the night before, but sometimes I’ll get up and figure out my plans over breakfast.

Don’t be afraid to change your plans.  You have to use your best judgement, but sometimes opportunities present themselves that are too rich to pass up.  Keep your goals in mind, but also keep your eyes open for these unexpected treasures.

3. Don’t Be Desperate

Whether you’re there to network, improve your craft, or rub elbows with your idols, desperation has a kind of social stink to it that acts as a natural repellent.  I’ve seen a lot of hungry writers get this predatory gleam in their eye.  It is not endearing.  Try to avoid it.

How do you avoid this? First, take a deep breath. Then put aside your story and live in the moment.  Focus on other things.  And when you find yourself talking to someone that might be interested in what you have to offer, try to listen more than you speak.  Ask questions.  Be a partner in the conversation rather than a bad actor hogging up the spotlight.

4. Stay at the Hotel

I learned this lesson the hard way.  When Westercon came to Sacramento, I had to attend.  From what I saw, it was a good convention!  However, I only attended half of it.  Since I went home every night, I had enough distance between myself and the con that I could easily talk myself out of the drive on one of the days when the schedule didn’t look stellar.

Since that Westercon, I try to stay at the hotel where the convention is taking place, or as close as I can get.  It forces me to come out of my shell and stay engaged.  Also, it frees me up to have a drink or two at the bar are the after parties because I don’t have as far to travel.

5. Attend Barcon and the After Parties

Usually there’s a bar at the hotel, and usually that’s where Barcon takes place.  It’s the informal con within the con, and it’s a great way to talk to people in a relaxed environment.

Unexpected things can happen at Barcon.  Jim Butcher found his agent at Barcon.  She’d turned him down before, but after meeting him in person in a relaxed environment, changed her mind and took him on.

Don’t go into Barcon or con parties with this story in mind.  It can happen, but it’s not going to happen if you go in desperate and hungry.  Just go and relax and have a good time.  Be a good listener.  Make friends.

That’s what conventions are really for, after all.  We say “networking” but really that’s just a fancy word for making friends.  The same skills apply.

 

Living

1. Be Professional

This is one of those lessons they teach you at conventions, which applies both at the convention and outside in the regular world.  Agents, editors, and publishers are looking for people that they can work with.  They want people that can follow directions and listen to instructions.  They also want people that can present themselves in a fashion that is suitable for doing business.

You don’t have to be a stick-in-the-mud.  You don’t have to pack your personality in a closet and hide it from the reset of the world.  Being professional doesn’t mean turning into an automaton.

Professionals respond to emails in a timely fashion.  They’re polite.  They’re engaging.  They’re honest without being cruel, and they’re confident without being too cocky (most of the time).  They dress appropriately for the event they’re attending, though this can mean a lot of things and isn’t nearly as restrictive as a regular day job.  You can get away with weird color hair and most tattoos (probably want to avoid the face).

Receiving rejection as a professional means grieving in private and not responding emotionally.  Often it means you don’t respond at all, though you can probably get away with a simple thank you.  Don’t go to your blog or social media and start blasting the person that rejected you.  That is unprofessional behavior, and it will be a quick and easy sign to people that you’re not someone that they can work with.

2. Don’t Quit Your Day Job

In addition to being a shitty thing to say to an artist, it’s one of those truisms that you just have to accept.  I’ve completed two novels and a fist full of short stories, and even if I get all of it published, I’m not going to be able to quit my job.  That’s not practical.

It’s fine to dream it.  It’s fine to aim for it.  Just don’t be too disappointed when it doesn’t happen.  It’s better odds than playing the lottery, but it’s still a long shot.

I think this is the third night in a row where I’m going to mention perseverance.  That’s what this is all about.  Keep the day job, as it will act as a pillar supporting the rest of your life, enabling you to live while you write.  If you’re too stressed over figuring out how to pay your bills, you’re too stressed to write.

3. Rejection is Normal

Agents and editors are looking for stories they can sell.  But they’re receiving a wealth of stories from hopeful writers, and any excuse to let a story go will do.  Sometimes the story can be great, but they still can’t use it because it’s too close to something else that’s just been published, or they don’t see a market to sell the story to.

Rejection sucks.  It stings.  It works to confirm all those feelings of impostor syndrome.  Every time I get a rejection, I have to fight all my doubts and fears all over again.  It’s the hardest part of the job.

But it’s normal.  Everyone is rejected.  Stephen King’s wife had to fish out Carrie from the garbage after he’d given up on it from rejection.  Keep that in mind when the rejection makes you feel like giving up.

 

I think I could go on and on about the business of writing, pros and cons of self publishing, world building, themes, editing… I’ve attended a lot of panels over the years, and I’ve taken a lot of notes.  I think that’s too much for a Thursday night post, though.

Beginners at conventions will get a lot of out panels.  People trying to make the transition from undiscovered to published (like me) are going to get more from meeting people and making friends.  The pros at conventions get the benefits of networking as well as opportunities to promote their books.

Whatever you’re there for, have fun.  And after you leave and you get back into the real world?  Have some more fun.  Writing is work, but it’s also creation and escapism and expression.  When I’m feeling down about my writing, it helps sometimes to remind myself that this is something I enjoy.  Something that brings me peace and quiets my anxiousness.