inasmuch as it concerns Spit and Polish:
Contortions performed upon that endless search for perfection.
whining intensifies but so does determination
Hi. It's been another week. Almost two. And I'm still having trouble keeping the novel on my radar. This certainly has to do with all the time management problems I strategized about last post, but only in part. There's another problem larger than all of those combined.
The self-appointed gurus of writing with their demoralizing pronunciations that pass for "advice" like to say that no real writer would have trouble finding time to write. If you want to write, they say, you darn well make time, and if you don't, well, you must not want to write that badly, huh? And despite the utter toxicity and privilege behind that so-called advice, I must grudgingly admit that in this very particular case, it's applicable. I don't want to work on the novel. When I think about the novel, I do not get excited. I fill with dread and embarrassment instead. So, no, I don't go out of my way to make time for it, and I often forget even to put it on my daily timesheet.
And for once it's not just the usual miasmic avoidance dread that afflicts almost every project I work on at some point or another. No, this is very specific avoidance dread. It comes into play for a very specific reason. That being, this novel sucks.
No, it really does. I'm not just suffering from revision pessimism when I say this. No. This novel draft is really, really terrible. And it's not just because I spat it out during National Novel Writing Month. I've got plenty of NaNoWriMo drafts from over more than a decade of participation, so I've got some basis for comparison here.
The main problem is, the main character is unlikeable. No, this isn't just widespread social misogyny speaking. She's actually kind of horrible. She does and says and thinks horrible things off-hand, and it's got nothing to do with how I envisioned her character or what I was trying to do with her character arc. There are so many places where my margin notes say "Stop that. That's obnoxious." and "Gah, I hate it when people do this in real life, why is Gwen doing it?" I think mainly I was just trying to log my daily 1,667, and I guess I got a bunch of wordcount out of letting her indulge in whatever behavior enraged me the most about certain people I had the misfortune to encounter repeatedly that month? (Note to self and others: Being a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison does not oblige you to endure bullying and bigotry at your write-ins in the name of Being a Gracious Host.) So the more I examined the 2006 draft, the more I realized what a jerk my protagonist was, and the less time I wanted to spend in her company. Thus I find myself avoiding the novel now.
So that's the big problem. There are others, none of them particularly daunting on their own. It's set in New York City but the people behave like they live in a stereotypical rural small town. Fine. I can fix that. There are so many ways I can fix that. I have no more idea how the story ends than I did in 2006, but that's fine. That's a story drafting issue, not a revision issue. Story drafting is my favorite part of this writing gig. The motivations driving two of the major side characters are implausible, to say the least. Cool. I'll brainstorm on it. Brainstorming is fun.
These are all fixable things! And they should be fun to fix. But during the read-through, the combination of the plot's aimlessness and the protagonist's horribleness rather dampened my enthusiasm. So I've been avoiding the whole shebang.
I mentioned other drafts. Maybe I just chose the wrong draft to spend time with? Maybe I should pick up one that I'm more excited for, one that's objectively less terrible? Maybe... but revision pessimism is still a thing, even if it isn't the only thing. I'm dreadfully afraid that whatever novel draft I pick up with the intent of Finally Finishing a Novel, time spent examining it will leave me similarly unenthused.
So this is the novel I'm going to work on, despite my misgivings. The Bookwyrm's Hoard. And I'm going to work on it by pretending I'm not revising an existing draft at all. The existing draft is just a 50,000-word outline, a collection of story ideas, a place from which I can start writing a brand new story. A story that happens to share mostly the same characters, setting, and premise, but a new story nonetheless.
And new story ideas are where I'm a superstar!
dear dev team i have found a bug in the spacetime continuum there is not enough of it
So! As promised: WHINING. Well, wittering. Thinking out loud in public about what's working, what isn't, and what I might do about it. Thanks for being my sounding board.
As I said Tuesday, I'm trying to make August another novel-progress month. How much progress did I make on the novel during that first week in August? None. Zero, zilch, zip. And even on the days when I did make progress, that progress consisted of five minutes smashing the keyboard about how much the first draft sucks.
It turns out, time is finite.
Trust me, I have complained to the management about this. Loudly. However, the bug remains outstanding and I don't think it's even on the development team's priority list. So I'm trying to come up with strategies for working around this limitation.
STRATEGY #1: Put It On the Daily To-Do List.
I have a LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet I add a page to every weekday morning. The basic template lists all the usual writing tasks I want to get done daily. Then there's space to add any other to-do items like meetings, events, volunteer shifts, derby practice sessions, household chores, etc.
Since specificity in planning makes me more likely to follow through, I'll write a brief description: "Freewriting: 3 random words and Inspirobot." "Fictionette: Please finally finish the Aug 14 draft!!!" I'll clock in and clock out so as to have a record of how much time everything took. After the task is completed, I'll jot a brief note in the Outcome column about how it went.
Great! So let's put "New Novel Draft" in the description for the "Revision" line item. Great! Except "Revision," after "Blogging," tends to be item most likely to fall off my schedule when things don't go to plan. Where's your novel progress plans then, Niki?
Basically, the Daily To-Do List is a strategy for planning. It is not a strategy for dealing with failure cases. No, for that we have...
STRATEGY #2: Start Where I Left Off
At the end of the day, every task that didn't happen gets a big NOPE in the Outcome column, boldfaced and maybe even highlighted in red the better to
shame myself instantly see what needs to be prioritized the next day. And the next day I paste those rows right onto the top of the new day's timesheet. The timesheet template now starts with a Leftover Items block specifically for this purpose.
So far it's working. When Monday's submissions procedures session went epic so that I never got to my planned short story revisions, I started Tuesday morning off with those revisions. When those revisions gobbled up more time than expected so that I never got to my daily Freewriting and Fictionette block, I made sure those came first on Wednesday. And when I didn't have time to finish this blog post on Wednesday, I continued it first thing today.
Great! Now no missed task will languish for longer than a day. Plus I'm starting to get a realistic idea of how my expectations match up to reality. Things always take longer than I expect. Also they take more energy. It'll be a rare day when the Leftover Items block on my timesheet stays blank. Maybe I can't actually fit every single task into every single day. Maybe I need a better plan.
STRATEGY #3: Put It On The Weekly To-Do List
Some things are daily things: Morning Pages as daily mental hygiene, freewriting as a warm-up exercise and story idea generator, a little progress on the next Friday Fictionette every day so I don't fall behind. But some things can stand to be done only one day a week.
This year, I moved my submission activities from a daily to a weekly routine. I'd do that, and only that, on Monday afternoons. Why Mondays? Well, for one thing, Monday isn't a derby night, so I'd have time and energy to spare. (These days, thanks to the pandemic, no night is derby night, but I still try to skate or exercise when I would have had derby practice.) Also Mondays conveniently happens to be the one day a week when Strange Horizons is open to submissions.
I wasn't sure it would work. I worried that it was a form of putting all my eggs in one basket, and possibly not a big enough basket. But I told myself it was an experiment. If the experiment failed, at least I'd have gathered data.
It's turned out wildly successful. I feel comfortable taking all the time I need without any pressure to rush through to the next item, because there is no other item. And since Monday is the only day reserved for submissions, I might as well submit everything I can. This past Monday, I subbed five things (including a short story to Strange Horizons). Then I gave myself time to putter around the internet doing market research and considering what I'd submit next week.
So the basket is definitely big enough. And if the basket gets wrecked, Strategy #2 means I can catch the eggs in Tuesday's basket, so to speak. And if rescheduling submissions procedures for Tuesday means some daily thing doesn't get done, well, again, see Strategy #2.
Theoretically, I should be able to wedge a weekly novel-writing/revising session into my week. I've got four afternoons left in which I try to hit revisions; three of them can be for short stories and poetry, and one can be reserved for the novel in progress, right?
Except when a short story wants revising, there's usually a sense of urgency about it. Submission windows close. Contests have deadlines. My critique group is on a schedule. If I get to the revision item on my timesheet at all--and, again, I don't have a good track record on this--I tend to want to use that time to prep a manuscript for imminent submission.
What I need to do is clear the decks.
STRATEGY #4: Pick A Novel Writing Month
I got the idea from NaNoWriMo and Camp Nano: Pick a month and devote it to the novel. It doesn't have to be the same month as those national events. It just has to be is a month where I schlep stories out on Mondays and otherwise ignore them.
August was supposed to be that month. I'd just written a handful of new things for submission in June and July! I knew where I wanted to send them when they came back! Except... one of them came back and I wanted to revise it, since I'd done a rush job of writing it in the first place. Another came back from my critique group and I really want to hit it before my sense of what needs to change fades. Short story urgency strikes again!
I may just have to pick another month. Or, at the very least...
STRATEGY #5: If You Can't Do A Lot, Do A Little
...reduce my expectations. Maybe five minutes a day thinking aloud on the page is acceptable. For August, anyway.
So that's me thinking about my novel-related scheduling problems. There are other problems related to the novel, but we shall talk about them another day.
but i guess temptation was strong and i was weak
So the thing about the novel is, it's a NaNoWriMo novel. As such, it's got certain features that are making it a challenge to edit.
Way back in the day, when I was more active on the NaNoWriMo forums, there was a particular category of "advice" that popped up at the beginning of the month. "When you're reaching for 50,000 words, every word counts," certain contributors would say, "so make sure you spell out every contraction and every acronym! Write 'do not' instead of don't, 'Personal Identification Number,' instead of PIN. Be conscientious about this and you'll hit 50K in no time!"
This would invariably make me *facepalm*. I mean, fine, if you think of NaNoWriMo as a game, there's nothing wrong with wordcount-padding strategies to help you win it. But if you think of NaNoWriMo as the motivation to finally write the first draft of an eventually publishable novel, why in heaven's name would you send your character to use an Automated Teller Machine on campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Why would you strew your first draft with litter when you'll only have to clean it up at the revision stage? I mean, yes, first drafts aren't perfect, sure, and sometimes you do babble out any old thing as a placeholder for those names or details you'd rather not break your current flow to research. But that's a different animal than deliberately inserting crap that A. you know is crap, and B. serves no purpose other than to pad your word count!
Look, I compose my drafts on 4thewords. Every day is NaNoWriMo when you've got monsters to battle. The interface counts words as they are typed, rather than words I commit to saving, and yes, I will take all sorts of advantage of that. I will happily babble and keyboard-smash my wordy way into a story idea. But that babble is actually serving a purpose. I think out loud on the page; that's the only way I find out what I'm thinking. If the babble weren't genuinely part of my process, if it weren't serving my art and my career, then I might as well win my monster battles by copy-pasting Wikipedia entries for all the good it would do me.
So. Those are my holier-than-thou thoughts about NaNoWriMo. So you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered that I, too, was playing the game of Wordy For Word Count's Sake back in 2006. And, y'know, I'm pretty sure I knew that's what I was doing at the time. Maybe I wasn't omitting contractions or spelling out acronyms, but I was definitely--just for instance--having my protagonist list the songs on favorite albums, or having her say in quoted dialogue something that she'd already told the reader via first-person narration. I was absolutely padding my wordcount with crap that I knew was crap and that served no purpose in the draft or to my process, except inasmuch as my process was "win NaNoWriMo."
And now it's my job to clean it up.
Thanks, past me. Thanks awfully much.
In other news, the granny square afghan continues apace. Here, pictured above, are the squares I've begun or finished, laid out according to the pattern's directions for assembly. I think there's a metaphor in there for assembling a second draft novel out of first draft scenes, but I don't really feel like going into it. Dealing with the novel itself is hard enough as it is; I don't need to deal with it on the meta level as well.
talk about foreshadowing
About that novel: The easy part is almost over.
I have imported into the new Scrivener project seven chapters comprising in total 13 scenes and 26,455 words. Since the entire novel is just over the NaNoWriMo finishing line of 50,000 words long, that means I've imported half of the existing novel in about a week. Taking it slow, remember. Reading each scene through and jotting down notes along the way.
The problem is, my notes are already saying things like, "You don't know either, do you?" and "Ah, still need to figure this out, I see."
In one of the scenes I imported today, a teenager, Tess, says to the protagonist, Gwen, "Have you found Mrs. Nimbel's quill pen yet? It's important!" and Gwen says that no, sorry, she hasn't even had a chance to look for it, what with trying to save the bookstore from a really nasty and unfounded reputation in the neighborhood, trying to stay alive long enough to do that, and, oh yeah, trying not to miss the deadline on her next book. "Can you tell me why it's so important?"
This is where the reader (who is me) says Yes, please tell us! What is up with the damn quill?! And Tess... does not tell us. She says, "You mean you don't know? You expect me to believe you practically grew up in this bookstore, and now you own the place, and you don't know? You don't know anything, do you?" Whereupon she runs off in a passion and loses herself among the bookstore shelves.
Which is where I say to the author (who was me), "You don't know either, do you? You never figured it out at all. Oh crap. That means I'm going to have to figure it out. Great."
So, yeah. I'm only halfway through the easy part in terms of word count, but I'm very much almost to the hard part in terms of content. I'm very much almost to the part where I have to come up with the answers I failed to come up with fourteen years ago. And then I'll have the harder part still to do, which is to make it all hang together as an actual novel I might consider sending out to agents someday.
See, I remember thinking up the quill. I remember being so damn proud of it. I'd gotten to one of those middle-of-November crisis points where I had no idea what to write next, so I pulled one of my usual tricks: I reread my material so far looking for a throwaway detail that I could make into a plot point. I found a description of Mrs. Nimbel's desk with its permanent inkwell, and how Gwen remembered watching her dip a quill pen in that ink to write special notes and letters and even sign credit card slips. Ah-ha, said I, that quill pen will be the engine that drives the next third of the novel! It's gone missing, and Gwen has to find it in order to save the bookstore! I'll figure out the details later.
I guess later is now.
Amusingly, when Tess comes back out from among the shelves with a book to buy and an apology for her tantrum (which Gwen, not being a total jerk, meets with an apology of her own), she and Gwen exchange email addresses so they can talk about it later. You know what that means, right? Come on. What happens in pretty much any story full of intrigue when a secondary character has vital information but, instead of revealing it right away, tells the protagonist that they will have to tell them later?
Well, no. There will be no underage deaths in this book. But Tess is probably going to have to be the next kid to go missing, isn't she?
If I didn't write that in the first draft, I'm damn well writing it into the second.
i show you a thing! two things! only one might make you go eww!
Work on the Magic Pens anthology is progressing. Author bios are getting finalized, and final story edits are due back in the next couple of days. My story got the benefit of a couple more pairs of eyes, and I'm thrilled with all the care and attention that this editorial team is bringing to the project. I'm also thrilled to see who else is in the table of contents with me; the Codex online writers' group is well represented.
And the cover art is finalized! I get to share it with you!
If you want to get a head start on ordering your copy, the preorders page is here. Note that the limited editions are only guaranteed available through March. Mid-May is what I'm hearing for shipping (of any edition).
Because you have come to expect foodie content on this blog, and I am loathe to disappoint, BEHOLD: How I learned to
love tolerate liverwurst.
Look. I picked some up thinking, "Hey, look! Liverwurst! I've never had liverwurst. I wonder if I'll like it?" because that's how I approach food. I sliced off some and spread it on toast and lo, I did not like it. The ingredient list said "pork, pork liver, spices," but as far as my mouth was concerned, it was just liver paste. I may have actually gagged.
But I didn't want to throw the rest away. I hate wasting food. So I found these sandwich recipes. I like the cream cheese and cucumber one best; it has enough bright, crisp flavors in it to
balance out mask the liver muddiness. And, as a bonus, there's literary content.
(I was also open to frying slices of liverwurst in bacon fat along with a bunch of chopped collard greens, as I remember actually liking a charbroiled liver and collards dish I got at the French Quarter Fest some years back. I had no fresh collard greens in the house at the same time as the liverwurst, however. Maybe next time. If there is a next time.)
And that's what I've got for you today!
within range of the smell of the violets that grow atop Mt. Overdue
- 996 words (if poetry, lines) long
I released another overdue Friday Fictionette the other day! The January 24 offering is "Listening," the aforementioned Momo fanfiction piece. It turned out not to be nearly the act of character assassination I feared. It's just that she's a grown-up and so are all her friends, and grown-up problems are complicated and don't always have good solutions. The ebook, available at the $1/month subscription tier, is here; the audiobook for the $3 monthly sub tier is here.
Meanwhile, the text of the Friday Fictionette that was due last week, February 7, is done and ready for production tomorrow morning. Which in theory means the February 14 offering could be ready to release on February 14. Not making any promises, mind you; Friday afternoons remain difficult and low-energy. But if it doesn't go live on February 14, it'll show up not long after. And then I'll be back on schedule: one release every first through fourth Friday, requiring only 25 minutes of work per day for me to keep up.
Then I will be able to do so much short story revision! Three two-hour sessions of short story revision per week! Luxury! There's so much I want to do. I want to expand the creepy doll flash piece, for one thing; I just got a personal rejection from a big-name magazine on it, and that feedback has finally convinced me that the story needs another scene or two to make it feel less rushed and railroaded. And I was halfway through rewriting the potato salad story towards the end of December when I laid it aside because A. it wasn't going to make GALACTIC STEW's deadline, and B. right about then I began the aggressive push to get the Friday Fictionette project back on schedule. I'm eager to return to the potato salad story, not least because I originally wrote it something like six years ago and it's time, y'all, it's more than time I sent that sucker out. I've got at least a couple "science fantasy" style pieces released as part of the Friday Fictionette project that, with a bit of expansion, might be good candidates to submit to Escape Pod, especially considering how warmly the Escape Artists podcasts encourage Patreon reprints. (See also.) And I'm just finishing up the final week of a rapid-fire flash fiction contest, which means I have four new flash-length stories ready for revision attention.
All those short stories, waiting for my loving attention! Not long now, friends! I'll be with you soooooooon!
In news of imminent publication, I just turned in my biography paragraph for Community of Magic Pens, and the latest estimated release date I'm hearing for that anthology is mid-May. Pencil it onto your calendars, y'all.
there will be book
I signed a contract today! You know what that means? DETAILS! Here are all the joyous details. Almost all, anyway. Everything I know thus far. Which is this:
My brand new short story, "One Story, Two People," will be included in Community of Magic Pens, a forthcoming anthology from Atthis Arts. It will be a multi-genre celebration of "the joy, power, community, and diversity of writing"--and it's going to be fun! You can preorder copies in hardback, ebook, or in special commemorative limited editions, right now! Shipping is estimated to be sometime in May. (I don't know the precise release date yet.)
So I already told the tale of how this story got written, how I stayed home from roller derby practice on Deadline Day, January 15th, to make sure it got written and submitted in time. What I haven't mentioned is how, after I got the story drafted and more or less in its final form, when I gave it one final line-editing pass, and I got to the end, the damn thing made me cry. John got home around about then, and I had to reassure him: "It's OK! These are good tears. These are 'I wrote a story and it appears to have emotional weight' tears." Except, between y'all and me, I cry at any damn thing. It's true. I am so known for it, I don't even bother to be embarrassed about it anymore. So I'm never actually sure how useful "Author cried during revisions Y/N" is as a metric for whether my story's any good.
But it did get accepted, so there's that. And in the acceptance letter, the editor talked about the story in terms that made me think that maybe I'm not the only one who got a bit weepy at the end...? So, not sure whether it's a metric, but it's a data point. We can correlate it with the more salient data point, "Story got published Y/N" and see if there's supporting evidence for the hypothesis.
As of right now, my story has been through an initial round of line edits with the editor. It may get tweaked just a titch more, since I took her recommendation that we give it to a particular other editor on the team for a look-through. In any case, the contract is signed and THIS THING IS HAPPENING. Excitement! Happy dance! Whee!
Now get over to the publisher's website and check it out!
trick or treat, you get a new poem, it's over there
- 29 words (if poetry, lines) long
It's very nearly Halloween, which means it's also very nearly RELEASE DAY for the inaugural issue of The Macabre Museum, "a quarterly horror literary journal and online gallery featuring fiction, poetry, and art." You can pre-order the issue for Kindle on Amazon, but if you're a supporter of the Macabre Museum's Patreon, you can get the digital issue into your hot little hands (so to speak) right now this minute as well as snag yourself exclusive access to the online gallery.
The reason I'm bothering telling you so is not just because horror poetry is a pretty cool thing which you should support and read and enjoy, but also because this issue features one of my poems: "Your Disembodied Friends Would Like to Remind You". (This is one of the poetry sales I somewhat coyly announced late in the summer. The other is still waiting on its contract and publication date; stay tuned.) The poem is--well, I've been calling it an interrupted sonnet, but apparently that term is already taken, so let's try this: It is a blank-verse sonnet with lines of free verse interspersed throughout. The sonnet describes an everyday scene of a father and son talking over breakfast; the free verse lines describe something altogether more horrific. Think of it as a cold open for a sort of CSI/X-Files crossover TV show.
Content warning, if you wind up reading it, for harm to a child and for graphic description of a dismembered body. Just so we're clear. This is supernatural horror with a heavier emphasis on the horror part than is my usual.
In other news:
I just got a full-length short story back from my writing group with a pretty clear roadmap for revision. That's exciting. It's been a while since I had a new full-length short story to shop around. This one started as a response to a submission prompt for The First Line, and that was its first slush outing, but, as expected, it came home with a rejection letter. It was still very rough at the time. Also it's SF-horror in the Lovecraftian mode, and, word is, The First Line doesn't typically accept speculative fiction at all. Not that I'm going to stop trying them, mind you--their prompts generally turn into stories worth polishing up and sending out. Like this one.
I'm also about to throw a new flash piece into the slush arena, a trick-or-treat story in the tradition of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Its first incarnation was an attempt at Reedsy's weekly flash fiction contest, back before they started grabbing up the first publication rights of every entrant and not just the winner of the $50 prize. (I recommend subscribing to Reedsy's weekly writing prompts email. I recommend absolutely nothing else about Reedsy.) Later, I chopped the story down to 500 words and entered it into a Codex contest. The feedback it got served as guidance for yesterday's revision, in which I expanded it back up to about 850 words. And today--today it hits the slush!
I'm almost caught up with the Friday Fictionette release schedule. All the posts still overdue had October 2019 release dates, and look! it is still October 2019. That's as hopeful as things have been for months. Getting caught up there gives me a little breathing room to start moving hard on all those overdue Fictionette Artifacts. I miss my typewriter, y'all!
And then there's NaNoWriMo. I intend to commemorate NaNoWriMo in some way or another; I just haven't decided precisely how. I just might write a brand new novel draft from scratch. *gasp!*
There's also this convention I just went to--but that's definitely a story for another day.
ah that new writing group smell
It would appear I am in a writing group again. An honest-to-gosh manuscript-exchange-and-critique group! We have had ONE MEETING so far and I am EXCITE.
This one came about because a colleague on Codex who is also soon to be a fellow Viable Paradise alum decided they strongly enough wanted a writing group to be willing to do the heavy lifting required to set one up. Which is to say: recruiting for it, organizing it, making executive decisions where necessary, and facilitating more consensual decisions where feasible. Also being willing to play the role of Heavy-handed Moderator should that turn out to be a Thing.
This is the sort of heavy lifting I personally have not had the wherewithal to even consider doing lately, and I'm grateful they took it on. And I'm grateful I was active in one of the online communities where they were recruiting. Because I miss being in a writing group and now I am in one. Hooray!
I haven't been in writing group since, oh, 2011? 2012? Not regularly, in any case. I tried! But mostly all I did was collect a series of less-than-ideal experiences with writing-related MeetUp groups that turned out to be, as the typical rejection letter puts it, not a good fit for our needs at this time.
In one case, the group fizzled soon after our first manuscript exchange. I think we must have had wildly different expectations regarding critiques.
In another, the critique process was, on a purely mechanistic level, and in my not-so-humble opinion, doomed. There were two hours during which some thirty-five members were each to take their turn commenting, at length, on a full-length short story, which the author had read aloud earlier in the meeting. And this was supposed to happen twice in those two hours. Just, how?
In yet another, I was one of the very few speculative fiction authors in a group mostly dedicated to literary fiction, creative non-fiction, and journaling. Complete mismatch of goals, yes, but also complete mismatch of reading protocols, which is guaranteed to get in the way of giving each other helpful critiques.
And then there was that one group where the facilitator brought in all these exciting guest speakers! Authors of popular self-published books! Who gave us really questionable publishing advice and held terribly hostile opinions of "traditional publishing." Y'all, I had not signed up for two hours of correcting misconceptions and defending friends and colleagues in the publishing industry.
(In later years I found out, via the magic of Facebook birthday fundraisers, that the facilitator of one of these not-for-me groups was a confirmed anti-vaxxer. This rather saddened me and confirmed my reluctance to take their advice on anything at all, be it medical, literary, or other.)
This new group is a much better fit. Its founder was deliberate about where they solicited members. We are a group of seven spec-fic neo-pros looking to improve our craft and publish more fiction at paying markets, fully in the spirit of the Viable Paradise Oath. We had our first online meeting via a Discord channel on Tuesday. During that hour and a half, we hashed out critique format, decided on a preliminary schedule, shared our goals, and talked a little shop. I'm looking forward to sharing with them the story I'm currently revising, whenever the draft-in-progress is complete and polished up. In a month, maybe? Hopefully? If the inch or two I moved it along today is not indicative of the next few weeks? Please?
Anyway. Writing group! I am excite.
but the demons thing i only figured out just now
I'm nearing the end of today's writing tasks, and it's not even 8:30 PM. What the crud am I gonna do with myself for the rest of the night? Answer: Probably replay PixelJunk Eden until either my eyes fall out or my thumbs fall off, whichever comes first. Then go to bed early. LUXURY.
During today's short story revision session, I finally moved out of the babble stage and into the drafting process. This shift got me thinking about how I revise stuff. Like I said before, some stories are more fun to revise than others (which isn't the same as being easier or taking less time) and some revision strategies seem more appropriate to some stories than others. But I'm starting to realize that every story I revise requires all my revision strategies, though not all in the same proportion. Which is to say, each time I produce a new version of any given story, the process moves through (loosely speaking) three phases, remaining in each phase for whatever period of time is required and revisiting those phases as necessary.
And I'm gonna blog about those phases, because 1. someone reading this might find such a blog post useful or at least interesting, and 2. blogging about this sort of stuff forces me to think about it closely and concretely terms, and that usually helps to refine and improve my process.
So. Here are the three (loosely speaking) phases of revision I wind up spending time in:
Identifying problems. I wouldn't be revising the story in the first place if it didn't have problems. So the first step of any revision is to identify those problems. This may involve my printing out the existing draft and scribbling on it a bunch, then translating those scribbles into a neat and orderly list. Sometimes the list isn't so neat and orderly. Usually neatness and order break down several items as I discover that the problems are fractal--every problem contains a multitude of sub-problems, each of which contain sub-sub-problems, and so forth down through the layers of the onion whose core is made up of DESPAIR.
I'm finding the DESPAIR quotient non-negotiable. There is always at least one hot second, usually more, during which I just know the story is worthless, nothing will make it better, there is no justifying the time and effort I've spent on it thus far, and shame on me for even thinking I might submit it in any form to professional paying markets. Lately I've been dealing with DESPAIR by simply writing that down on my list: "Problem #92: Story is garbage and should be buried in the compost under the used tea bags and moldy zucchini peelings." And then I just keep going.
It's sort of like rock climbing that way. Several years' practice at the climbing gym didn't "cure" my gut-level fear of heights; instead, it taught me how to keep climbing through an attack of acrophobia rather than freezing up and hanging there trembling until I came off the wall. It's also sort of like the meditation ideal of acknowledging the negative thought in a neutral way. Yep, that's a thought I'm having. Next?
Finding Solutions. This is where I spent the first week I had the current story on the metaphorical workbench. It was fun! Basically, for each listed problem, I opened up a new document and babbled to myself about it, restating the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, and pouncing on new ideas as they arose.This process spawned new documents and more enthusiastic babbling as other facets of worldbuilding or character creation or backstory came to light.
And just as the problem-identification phase has its demon DESPAIR, the problem-solving phase has its own demon: DEPRECATION. "Yeah, you're having fun babbling, sure, but are all these hundreds of words actually getting you closer to a new draft? No. They are not. Basically you are wasting your time. You are pretending to get work done when you actually aren't working at all. That's why you're having fun. If you were actually doing anything worthwhile, it would not be fun." That's what the demon says. I'm working on responding to the demon with "Yep, you're totally right" in my most neutral and boring interior voice while I continue babbling away uninterrupted.
That demon actually means well, but it's laboring under a big misconception. It thinks that finding a solution and implementing it should happen simultaneously. And, well, maybe another writer can go right from "here is the problem" to perfectly polished final draft words all in one go; I, at this time, cannot. I need to give myself room to just talk out a problem with myself in a process- rather than results-oriented way. Once I realized this, life at the metaphorical workbench got a lot more liveable.
Implementing the solutions. This is the phase where I start drafting the new version of the story. I decide to begin doing that today not because I thought I'd successfully addressed every single problem I'd identified thus far, but rather because I'd addressed those problems relevant to the first couple pages of the story. Also I suspected that I'd gotten to the point where the solutions I'd come up with so far would obviate some of the problems still waiting to be addressed. And so they have.
The demon hiding in this phase is PERFECTIONISM, and I have to ignore it. I'm still not trying for perfectly polished prose at this stage. I'm just writing a new draft that implements the solutions to the previous draft's problems. If the protagonist has new and better reasons for their actions, if I've chosen to include a more appropriate memory from their backstory than the one I had before, if the facts of the case are now altered to close the previous draft's plot holes, if each paragraph of the new draft serves a valid story purpose, then the draft is a success.
After all the problems are solved and a new draft is in front of me, then I can worry about polishing the prose to a fine shine. But that's line edits, which I don't really consider part of the revision/rewriting process. Until the revision is complete and every line on the page can justify its existence in the story, there's no point editing those lines for style, spelling, grammar, and flow. They might still get replaced, after all.
I expect I won't make it out of revision and into line edits without having to revisit every phase a couple times. I'll hit a place in the draft where I can't continue without brainstorming some more. I'll probably identify more problems whose solutions will require rewriting bits of story I already rewrote. The three phases are very fluid and lead into each other in unpredictable ways. But if I can tell myself which of the three phases I'm currently working in at any given moment, that helps keep me from trying to do all of it at once, and that in turn keeps things possible.
All the above requires the usual caveat, which is: Different writers do things differently. The above strategies are mine (all mine!). They may not be yours nor that of another favorite author. All strategies are valid to the extent that some writer somewhere finds them effective. And which strategies a writer finds effective will change over time--one's best process is an evolving rather than static thing.
Main thing is, it's not wrong if it works.