we have people to do that for us
Today I got the quickest response to a rejection ever. I think it came in under twelve hours. I submitted "...Not With a Bang, But a Snicker" (previously titled "Anything For a Laugh") to UFO3 last night, and got a personal note back this morning saying that it wasn't a good fit for the anthology.
That is awesome. No, seriously. Given that most publications I might submit will not consider simultaneous submissions (a story that is being simultaneously sent out to other markets) nor multiple submissions (sending several stories to a single market at one time), a quick rejection does two things: it frees that story up to be submitted to a new market, and it frees that market up such that the author can submit a new story to them.
Roughly speaking, of course. The latter is subject to some conditions. Some markets ask authors to wait a minimum number of days before sending something new. So a quick rejection means that countdown begins sooner. And of course some markets do allow multiple submissions; still, once you've sent your ten drabbles to SpeckLit, you have to wait for their response before you can send more. The idea is, each market defines what a single go-round in their slush pile looks like, and you have to wait for one go-round to be done before you can go another round.
In the case of Unidentified Funny Objects, authors may only send one story at a time. If that story gets rejected before the submissions window closes on March 31, the author may send a second story. (But not a third after the second is rejected, I think.) Unfortunately, I don't have a second story that's remotely appropriate. But I appreciate the speed and decisiveness of the editorial team for giving me the option.
That kind of rapid decisiveness is helped along, it must be said, by sending a story that was easily recognizable as not their kind of thing. I was afraid that might be the case. Witness all that maundering about "But is it actually humor, or is it just 'rocks fall, everyone dies' with some comic relief?" At the end of the day, it's a story about all life on Earth being wiped out. This is something that is intrinsically kind of depressing. OK, maybe Douglas Adams succeeded at making the destruction of the planet hilarious, but first off, we can't all be Douglas Adams, and second off, there's a lot more going on in his books than just "rocks fall, everyone but Arthur Dent dies."
My understanding is, the UFO anthology series wants humor of the uplifting sort rather than the bleak. My story falls more on the bleak side of the line.
So how come I submitted that story despite suspecting its balance of humor to bummer might not be quite their cup of tea?
Well, as the commonplace goes, "Don't self-reject. We have editors to do that for us."
That's not to say a writer needn't do any market research nor have any discernment at all. It's more a reminder that, beyond a certain point, the fit of story to market becomes too subjective a call for the author to make on the editor's behalf.
I can make the easy calls, like, "Send the 'soft' SF that's borderline fantasy to Asimov's, not Analog" or "Don't send a story with graphic sex and obscene language to Intergalactic Medicine Show, since they want to keep things PG." And I think I have a decent handle on what makes a story a Shimmer story. (I could be wrong.)
But it's possible to second-guess oneself into immobility, and that's no way to pursue a career.
Basically, as long as I genuinely think my story's in the near ballpark of what they're looking for, then I'm (probably) not wasting their time by sending it. I might be wrong, but that's what rejection letters are for.
And if I don't send it, they can't say "Yes."
So that's my take on not letting market research turn into self-rejection.
the meticulous and paranoid author submits a story for publication
Just because I got to the end of my story revision last night didn't mean it was ready to submit.
I mean, there's spell-checking. Which apparently can't be done in the current beta version of Scrivener for Windows. (I am very brave, to beta-test Scrivener with my precious, precious stories. Or very foolish. It's so hard to tell.) So we'll compile to RTF and spell-check that way, making sure to make any corrections in the Scrivener project and not in the RTF.
Then there's reading the story out loud to myself, stopping every few sentences to cringe at the awkwardness and try to figure out how to tidy it up, tighten it down, and make it sound like something a reasonably competent author came up with. And then thinking better of the somewhat related bit three pages ago. And then realizing that the three-pages-ago bit, having been changed, requires a small change six pages ahead.
At some point, the thought occurs to me that three thousand and some-odd words shouldn't take this long to read aloud. We'll brush that thought under the rug because it is not helping.
Then there's another Scrivener-to-RTF compile, another spell-check for the sake of all the bits that got typed anew, and finally a half-hesitant nod of approval from myself to me.
Off to the submissions guidelines web page! Create new email message! Fill in subject header exactly as specified! Fill in correct email address and check it three times! Attach manuscript!
Read the rest of the submissions guidelines. Note, with a sense of "Shouldn't I have noticed this before?" that submissions are read blind, and, as such, attached RTF or DOC manuscripts should have absolutely no identifying information inside.
Open up RTF manuscript. Remove name and contact info from upper-left corner of first page. Remove byline from beneath the title. Remove last name from the header that appears on every page after the first.
Attach manuscript to email, replacing previous attachment.
Send email. High-five self. (Tricky, but worth it.) Log submission in personal records and over at The Submissions Grinder. Check off related HabitRPG to-do item and very nearly reach Level 11 thereby.
Realize that, since [MARKET REDACTED] uses a blind submissions process, perhaps I should not be blogging so chattily about how "Anything For a Laugh," which is the story about the [IDENTIFYING CONTENT REDACTED] and whose title I have changed to [NEW TITLE REDACTED], just got sent there today.
But it did just get sent there today. I am pleased.
Now. Back to "Snowflakes" for a few minutes today, with the greatest hopes for getting all the way through it tomorrow and tidying it up over the weekend. It, too, must be submitted by March 31. Working on it tonight is how I'm going to finish my 5 hours. I am going to reach my 5 hours, darn it, even though I have to be up until 1:00 AM to do it.
Look, I had ever so many good intentions for starting early today. But I didn't get much sleep last night. And no, it wasn't because I was up late playing addictive games. It was because all my roller derby playing bits were sore, with a stealth soreness that doesn't make itself usefully known until I've been tossing and turning and almost drifting away and then waking up again to wonder, "Why am I not sleeping?" and then realizing "Oh, it's because of what feels like a deep tissue bruise on my right arm that yelps when I lie on my right side, and the aching muscle of the inner left thigh that's yelping every time I roll over. And also, I have a headache." At which point I drag myself out of bed and take two ibuprofin, knowing that they won't actually start doing me any good until it's wake-up time. And then it's wake-up time, and I'm only just starting to enjoy sweet, sweet unconsciousness, so I say, "Eff it, I'm not going to stop now that I'm getting good at it." And I turn off my alarm clock.
And that's how oversleeping happened this morning. Also, my imaginary dog ate my homework.
But I did get that story submitted though. Hooray!
musing on hours allotment at the late-night office
Today's blog post comes to you live from Breaker's Grill in downtown Longmont. Breaker's Grill supports the Boulder County Bombers, so we support them back. At this late hour, all the activity is centering around the bar and the many billiards tables. The table seating area is entirely deserted. It is also separated from the bar-and-billiards area by an opaque partition. So although I can hear loud voices and pool balls going click, I'm effectively isolated: all alone in a room full of empty tables, just me and my laptop and what's left of my dinner.
It's perfect. I've spent two hours finishing up the rewrite of the snow-glue-from-space story ("Anything For a Laugh" isn't quite right, but I haven't come up with a new title yet), and now here I am writing this blog post.
As anticipated, today was totally a Wednesday. Which is to say, in addition to being Wednesday, it suffered from all the distractions and delays to which a Wednesday workday is prone. Only I can't blame roller derby practice or volunteer reading. I sort of overslept. By sort of a lot. (Why? I don't know. It can't possibly have to do with staying up until 2:30 playing 2048.) Thus my late start in the afternoon. Thus my needing to log another two and a half hours of writing after roller derby practice.
Now that I'm reaching the five-hour mark more regularly, I'm beginning to feel that five hours isn't enough. But I'm not quite trusting that feeling. On the one hand, I don't think it should have taken three days to rewrite a 2,300-word story. That it's taken me so long has to do with splitting my five hours each day between short story revision, content writing, and the "scales and arpeggios" stuff like freewriting and morning pages and so on. On the other hand, I know I don't actually function well when I do the same thing for five hours straight. I work best when I vary my tasks throughout the day.
What's to do? Experiment, I guess. Try spending more time tomorrow on short story revision ("Snowflakes" is waiting for me to return to it) and defer Examiner or Demand Media Studios to another day--like I did today, I guess. Definitely get started earlier in the day--especially considering Thursday is another day that ends in roller derby practice. Maybe log extra time beyond the five hours, breaking it up into reasonable chunks, and see how that feels.
The simultaneous advantage and drawback of working for yourself on your own schedule is that there's no one forcing you into a particular work-a-day rhythm. You get to work at the pace that serves you best. But first you have to figure out what pace serves you best.
In any case, one sure conclusion is this: don't wait until the week the story is due to start its rewrite! Right? Right. For what it does me now, anyway.
mildly guilted into (almost) perfect productivity
Today's report comes to you live from the wilds of Habitica, where Vortexae's party faces the inexplicable rage of a being made of fog, magic, and the spirit of springtime. The Ghost Stag charges! One warrior of the party raises her axe, doing 10.2 damage to the Stag. The Stag attacks back! It misses. The round continues--
So. One of my friends who's playing HabitRPG, they got ahold of a quest. They formed a party. I accepted their invitation.
This changes things.
It's no longer, "Eh, I can take a few hit points of damage tonight. Big whoop. I'll level up before it catches up with me."
Oh no. Now, it's, "I have to do all my Dailies! Or else I'll be responsible for everyone taking damage! That is so not OK!"
The happy effect of this benign and silent friend-on-friend pressure has been two "perfect" weekdays in a row. I'm logging my five or more writing hours without pulling weird late-night tricks out of my magic hat. They're good, solid hours spent on short story revision (making progress on the snow glue apocalypse from space), new story drafts (the ongoing portfolio of drabbles), blogging and content writing (Examiner as well as this blog here), and of course the daily morning pages about which I had so much to say the other day. And, as "5 hours of writing" is not my only daily task, I'm also exercising a little, both on- and off-skates, on my own time; writing down every dream memory I can get my hands on; catching up with the dreaded Box of the Doing of the Books (of Doom); and being more meticulous than ever about household and personal chores.
It would appear that, through all these years of inconsistency and struggle, all I've really needed is a gaming environment in which someone other than me suffers pretend injuries for my failures. Huh. Who knew? Thanks, Habit RPG!
I'm still not done with revising the space snow-glue apocalypse story, mind you. This is somewhat distressing to me, since I'd hoped for otherwise.
And I still have Wednesday ahead of me. Wednesday starts with an hour and change of reading employment ads for AINC. It ends with roller derby practice. In between, Wednesday is not very tolerant of random delays, interruptions, or travel time.
That's the bad news. The good news is this: If I can manage a "perfect" Wednesday, I can manage anything.
Although this particular Saturday might be a challenge... but how about we worry about Saturday when it gets here? Indeed. Sounds like a plan.
not quite ready for carnegie hall
I'm switching gears for a moment. At the rate I'm poking at "Snowflakes," it won't be done by March 31 of next year. And it would be unfortunate if I missed a chance to submit the snow-glue-from-space story to UFO3 because of that. So I got to work on that rewrite today.
Here's the thing: I'm not entirely certain that it's funny. It has its funny moments, but I don't think you'd quite shelve this sucker under "Humor." Humor is hard to do. I'm not sure I've got the knack.
At best, what I've got here is a "science-fiction-flavored horror story with moments of comic relief." I've got "grimly slapstick pair of bad guys." I have an Arthur Dentish character reacting Arthur Dentishly to inexplicable things that seem determined to happen to him despite his not having really given them his approval.
But what I don't got is "funny science fiction."
Maybe by the end of the revision (end of day tomorrow?) it will have recategorized itself. Whether it'll be funny enough for UFO3, only Alex Shvartsman will be able to say for sure. One way or another, though, it'll be a story. And I will submit it.
Then maybe I'll be able to come back to "Snowflakes" with a bit more fuel in the jet-pack.
I have begun composing drabbles during my daily freewriting time. Drabbles are stories that are exactly 100 words long. Apparently there are a handful of online markets, some as blogs and some as podcasts, that publish them. So it's a multiply useful venture.
Drabbles, like certain forms of poetry, impose rules and restrictions. Restrictions make for very effective writing exercises. They exert a pressure under which the writer discovers what she's really capable of.
If nothing else, you learn to be very choosy about the right word in the right place. You only get one hundred of 'em, after all.
agency is for other people's characters
I'm a lot better at spotting mistakes in others' fiction than in my own. That's why I participate in critique workshops. It means that while I'm pointing out the motes in my colleagues' eyes, I'm putting the ginormous vision-occluding planks of my own right where they can see 'em and tell me about 'em.
None of this should be a surprise. And yet.
I remember once telling a fellow workshop member that his story didn't ultimately work for me because his protagonist's emotionally satisfying ending came at the cost of the supporting character's agency. "I don't buy that she just accepts what he did to her and falls into his arms like that. I'd expect her to be angry. The romantic moment you're aiming for doesn't strike me as earned."
That critique session predated the first draft of "The Impact of Snowflakes."
You would think--well, I would think--that, having spotted in another author's manuscript this de-agentifying of a supporting female character to provide a touching denouement for a male protagonist--that having discussed it not only in terms of his story but also that of the larger unfortunate media trends it slots neatly into--well. I'd have expected myself to be alert to this sort of thing when writing stories of my own.
But what happens in my story? The female protagonists slowly learns the true situation (which is not a good one), comes to realize it was either caused by or at least known about far in advance by the male supporting character, and reacts to this realization by saying, and I quote, "The last man alive in my world is coming to meet me... I think I'd like to meet him halfway."
A close friend and one of my story's recent workshop critics gently pointed out that the ending was, well, kind of more gendered than what she'd come to expect of me. And also she wanted to know if the last woman alive in this world had a name?
I had not even given the protagonist a name, y'all. All the *facepalm.*
OK, so, now it goes like this. Her name is Ashley. She's been isolated much of her life because the male supporting character has been subtly and with the best of intentions manipulating her since her early years. By the end of the story she knows this, and she's kind of pissed off.
(She is also, seriously, I promise you, not into him that way. But that's the jumping-off point for a whole separate rant which I will save for later. Later!)
three pages of longhand navel-gazing with a fountain pen: totally worth it
So what's the point of doing something called "morning pages" when it's nine o'clock at night, anyway? This is something I ask myself when I have days like yesterday. I also periodically ask myself why I still do Morning Pages at all. It's good to reevaluate a long-standing daily ritual, the way you might reevaluate whether some keepsake still belongs on the mantelpiece after all these years. Is it still there for a reason, or is it just there because no one's taken it down? Is this habit still useful, or am I just doing it because I've always done it?
A quick review: Morning Pages is a practice popularized by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way. The book is a twelve-week course in creativity and identity. As the reader works their way through the chapters, they gradually build a new toolbox full of tips, tricks, exercises and inspiration. Morning Pages is the very first tool that Cameron puts in the reader's hand.
Simply put, it's three pages of longhand writing which you do all at once, without pausing for interruption or thought. You just splat your brain down on the page. Whatever thought crosses your mind, deep or petty, banal or beautiful, you write it down from beginning to end. Then you move on to the next thought.
Cameron has a particular warning for writers: Don't "write" your Morning Pages. Just do them. This is not meant to be an act of deathless or even competent prose.
When my kind and generous husband first agreed that I could leave the nine-to-five world and take my writing full time, I made gleeful plans for what my writing day would look like. I would start with Morning Pages, of course. I would then do timed writing exercises, at least three sessions of fifteen minutes each, to really get the juices flowing for the day. And then--
"And how much of your day will be left after you've done all this noodling around?" said one of the self-assigned gurus in the online writing community I frequented at that time. "My advice to you is, don't waste your time. Just write."
This was ten years ago. I was, well, younger and more impressionable and more easily made to feel ashamed then than I am now. Admittedly, we're not talking "college freshman" levels of young and impressionable--I quit my full time job just before my 28th birthday--but "young and impressionable" comes in waves. It's amazing how easy it can be to poison someone else's innocent enthusiasm, no matter what their age.
So I bowed to my unasked-for advisor's wisdom and did the newsgroup version of shuffling my feet in embarrassment, and I shut my mouth. And I abandoned for a while the activities that he disparaged, because every time I thought about doing them, I heard his words in my head again: "How much of your time are you willing to waste with these things?" For months I couldn't even pick up Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones without feeling ashamed.
Oddly enough, the daily routine my correspondent shamed me into abandoning then is very similar to the one I try to adhere to now. I begin with Morning Pages, and I try to include a 25-minute freewriting session early in the working day. These two things combined take up about an hour, tops, and it's an hour well-spent.
More about freewriting another time, I think. Suffice it to say that my unasked-for advisor might as usefully have told a pianist not to waste her precious time with scales and arpeggios, or a roller derby player not to waste her time warming up and stretching.
"My advice to you is, just play."
How about no?
Anyway. One reason I still do Morning Pages is because they help me focus my mind on the day ahead. I tend to describe to myself what I want to do with my writing time. I also mention other to-do items I don't want to forget. It helps me keep from floating passively from whim to whim. It gives me direction.
More generally, Morning Pages is where I meet myself on the page. I take stock of what's in my head. Maybe I don't want to actually face everything that's in my head, maybe I'm not going to write the crappy stuff down, maybe I'm just going to say, "There's a thing that came up yesterday that I don't want to think about and so I'm not gonna," but even that much is more "facing it" than I'd do without the pen moving across the page.
If I've got a story revision in progress, I sometimes end up brainstorming on it during Morning Pages. "Brainstorming" might be overstating things. I talk to myself on the page. I ask myself questions. I don't always have answers, but it helps to know what the questions are. As previously observed, "How do I find space to include Backstory Point A in this scene?" is much more useful than "How do I get started when rewrites are clearly IMPOSSIBLE?"
Midway through Morning Pages, I sometimes surprise myself by remembering a piece of the previous night's dream. When that happens, I'll pause whatever thought I'm on, maybe start a new paragraph or make a free-floating text block off to the side, and I'll write down whatever dream memory just occurred to me. Then I'll draw a little crescent moon in the margin so I can find it later when I've got a moment to put it into my dream journal.
Morning Pages is where I practice my handwriting. I would like to have nice handwriting.
Morning Pages is a chance to play with fountain pens filled with ink in fun colors. I like Sheaffer pens with fine-tipped nibs and refillable converters. I like saffron orange, peacock blue, foggy gray, purple. Sometimes the ink gets all over my fingers, an indelible reminder all the rest of that day that I Am A Writer.
Morning Pages, even when I don't get to them until nine o'clock at night, is a task I know I can accomplish. There is no question of not being able to finish. And on a day when I get nothing done until that late at night, I need to experience achievement. I need to remind myself that I am capable of finishing a thing I start. You know how one of the benefits of short story writing is that it lets you practice story endings more frequently than novel writing does? Morning Pages lets me practice feeling accomplished.
In the end, there's a sort of faithfulness that happens in Morning Pages. That rendezvous with myself on the page is a matter of trust and self-care. Doing it every day, no matter how late, is a way of reinforcing the assertion that I'm worth trusting, I'm worth treating well, I'm not a lost cause to give up on. (These are assertions I need reaffirmed from time to time. I sometimes catch myself doubting them.) Also that my brain's a worthwhile place to spend time in.
Doing Morning Pages even when it's gone nine o'clock at night is a way of holding that faith up against all the disparagements of the world, the rejection letters we all must face and the dismissiveness we shouldn't have to, all the naysaying, all the temptation to hopelessness, and saying, "No. It's never too late to begin."
So that's why I still do it after all these years.
the cure for the imperfection blues
A little while ago, I found that my use of Habit RPG was exacerbating the imperfection blues. Improvising upon them, you might say. Writing new verses. Singing them incessantly. Giving me, in fact, an earworm.
The imperfection blues is that self-defeating feeling that if you can't be perfect then why even try at all? If you were to give them lyrics and sing them over a three-chord progression, they might go something like this:
I got so much stuff to do today. But I can't get past thing one.
Oh lord, I got stuff to do today. And I can't get past thing one.
I done failed at thing number one, so I know I ain't gonna get nothing done.
But today, oddly enough, Habit RPG cured those blues. Temporary cure? Permanent? I don't know and I don't care. It got me through the day.
The cure for the imperfection blues might be lyricized like this:
So sometimes you can't do it all
And that can make you sad.
But I bet you can still do this!
So it ain't all that bad.
This bit of hopeful doggerel, like so many other song lyrics and most Emily Dickinson poems, employs common meter and thus may be sung to the tune of "Amazing Grace." Sorry about that.
The real-world application of this was to realize I could still do my morning pages even though it was nine o'clock at night. I could still earn the right to check the little checkbox and get rewards for my little 8-bit avatar. And then I could go ahead and submit the phantom phone story to WOMEN DESTROY FANTASY! and check off that box (and get rewarded for it). And then I could check off the "1 hour of writing" sub-item under the "5 hours of writing" daily item and thus minimize the overnight hit point loss.
By rewarding me in-game for doing individual tasks, Habit RPG encourages me to appreciate my accomplishments, however small, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And even though there are days when I can't seem to summon any emotional buy-in for that appreciation, the game mechanic serves as a sort of "fake it 'til you make it" device.
It's really kind of genius, this game.
And now I'm going to check off the "post to 'actually writing blog'" item. Maybe I'll get a random drop! I hope it's cotton candy. My pet wolf cub is hungry!
march's overflowing plate of doom
OK, so I mentioned in a previous post that "My plate is already full to overflowing for the month of March." Tomorrow is when that plate's contents start slopping over onto the carpet, making a huge mess under the dining room table, and generally becoming impossible to ignore.
Tomorrow is March 15, which is when the two-week (ish) submissions periods for Women Destroy Fantasy! and Women Destroy Horror! begin. Those periods end on March 31. I've got my submission for Fantasy! ready to go: the phantom phone story currently titled "It's For You" was declined by the last place I sent it to, so it's available and ready to hit the slush. But my hopeful for Horror!, the snow apocalypse in June story currently titled "The Impact of Snowflakes," is in the process of revision and is really digging its heels in about it.
Also this past week has been depressingly unproductive. Put it this way: I've lost an embarrassing amount of hit points over on Habit RPG. Today's especially gonna hurt; I spent most of the day running around trying to figure out how to make the best of bad skates while my good skates are unusable thanks to broken plates and the new plates don't arrive until Monday. Also cleaning bearings. Very old-school bearings, with solid cases and no way to expose the interior. Very filthy old-school bearings. Oh, roller derby, you eat up so much of my life, with your constant demands for time, attention, energy, and functional equipment.
And that's before we talk about yet another submissions period I want to get in on. I should very much like to send my funny snow-glue apocalypse story, currently titled "Anything For A Laugh," to Unidentified Funny Objects #3 before their March 31 deadline. And I haven't even begun the revision process on that sucker. I have a rough intuitive sense that it will be less harrowing than that required by "The Impact of Snowflakes," but I'm not optimistic about the accuracy of this non-observation.
(A friend who critiqued both "Snowflakes" and "Laugh," noticing the similarity in theme, asked me, "What's up with you and snow?" Without missing a beat, I answered, "I don't like it." Which is roughly true. But I had entirely failed to notice that I was building a sort of track record with snow apocalypses.)
Next week is a whole new week. This is what I keep telling myself. And it's true! The sun'll come up tomorrow, and all that. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there aren't a lot of whole new weeks left March.
So now you know what I'll be working on next week. And why the whole "doom" thing above. Although it must be said, everything's better with doom. Or chainsaws. It depends on your aesthetic.