Tag Archives: Desk

This seems doable, but arbitrary.

writing-towards-a-word-countSince my pseudo-New Year’s resolution to actually write this year, I have stayed tightly focused on only a few projects:

Short stories all.

Novel and non-fiction book ideas have floated into the window, settled on my desk and sneezed twice, at which point I squeezed them into my hard drive in some fashion or other.

They remain unstructured, unrefined, and most of all, incomplete.

I should finish one.

And it’s been said that without milestones and deadlines, a project will never be finished. What’s the deadline? What are the milestones?

I asked my grandboss (that’s “boss’ boss”) who used to work at the Times what he thought good deadlines for a novelist would be. As he began to answer, I had to cut him off:

No, no, not deadlines for a novelist whose job is being a novelist. Deadlines for someone with a completely unrelated day job. Someon like…and of course we’re just speaking hypothetically, because I love this company and would never leave…me.

He didn’t know. His wife didn’t know. Everything from “take your time even if you only write a page/year” to “spend every free waking moment writing” seems equally viable good advice on the subject.

I think a reasonable deadline in my case would be the end of 2009. I started off the year with the purpose to write more; this would fulfill that purpose. And it doesn’t give you the cramped-lack-of-quality produced by NaNoMo, where the goal is to finish the novel within a month. Yikes.

So today I did some rusty math. (Footnote: Any math performed by me is rusty; I’m a words man.) To finish a 100,000 word novel, which is a relatively short novel (but I’m aiming for a tighter style than my wordier compatriots anyway), I would have to write 500 words a day.

That’s not a lot. 500 words is about 2 pages double-spaced. I’ve written articles here which were three and four times that length without too much effort.

I immediately thought: HA! I can do this!

…or can I?

A novel is more than a loose collection of words. Writing stream-of-consciousness non-fiction (hereafter to be referred to as either “blogging” or “crap”) is far easier than serious fiction.

Before I know which scene to write next, I have to know the characters, the circumstances, the upcoming events, the past events. I have to reread what came before, I have to visualize what comes after. This means researching, outlining, brainstorming, and in general a lot of activities which are equally part of the writing process, but don’t add to the word count.

Nevertheless, 500 words/day seems like a reasonable goal. To help relieve pressure for all the outlining, I could try to write non-chronologically for me, which has always been a barrier I’d like to overcome. Whatever scene I want to write that day, that’s the scene I write.

Will it work? I have no idea. Will it produce quality fiction? I have no idea. Will it result in publication? I have no idea.

Will it put words on a page?

…yes.

OUCH!

yousuckRemember the goal with submitting Woman’s Best Friend? I was going to have so many other balls in the air by March (when a reply was due) that I’d almost forgotten about this story, thus let the circle of new submissions continue unabated.

Well, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction got back to me early. REALLY early. Barely 30% into my next story, I got their reply in the mail.

It says:

Dear Mr. Peters:

Thank you for submitting “Woman’s Best Friend,” but I’m going to pass on it. This tale didn’t grab my interest, I’m afraid. Good luck to you with this one, and thanks again for sending it our way.”

Remember the stage fright I described when I painstakingly formatted this baby, addressed the envelope and so forth?

Smackdown! “You’re no good, kid!”

Megan (unintentially) added salt to this fresh wound by unwittingly and hopefully asking, “Pass it on to who?” (That should’ve been “to whom,” but nevermind.)  Not pass it on to someone, pass on it, I explained to her.

Past rejection letters have been phrased very generally, and my first one even encouraged me to send more work. They’re usually signed “the editors” and use the less blunt pronoun, “we”. This note (though perfectly professional by industry standards) came across to me as:

Why did you waste my time with this lousy story? I personally found it quite boring. I’d rather watch grass grow, or paint dry…or better yet, race the growth of grass against the drying of the paint and take bets on each. I can’t tell you it isn’t right for us at this time, or that I want to see more work. Maybe when you finally write something interesting, you’ll have a career as a novelist. Until then, I try to keep my desk full of compelling stories, and clearly you don’t have one.

That’s all very extreme, of course, and the editor said no such thing. But that’s the flavor rejection takes. It hurts mostly because — even if this IS just a form letter — it isn’t phrased generally enough for me to assume that I may have formatted wrong, have irreconcilable grammatical errors, or be too similar to four stories they just ran. It says quite clearly, “didn’t grab my interest.”

Well <foul expletive deleted>.

Here’s the problem being a writer, too:

I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS STORY READS.

I begin the story behind the curtain; I’ve never read ONE WORD of it without knowing how the scene and story would end. I have no idea how much suspense it creates — or doesn’t create. I have no idea how scary it is — or isn’t. I have no idea how interesting it is — or isn’t. (I’m sure the masters know, but I don’t yet have enough experience.)

This is where I must rely on friendly readers to be test subjects, and to be brutally honest. A co-worker said this story “started slow” — that’s the closest thing I have to a fix for this story being uninteresting so far.

What else could improve it? I realize having already finished it, some of you are already behind the curtain with this one, but you at least had one first impression I never got.

What can I do to make it more gripping?

Halfway to draftsville

percent-761534By the initial wordcount goal, Woman’s Best Friend is 50% done. And at least half of what’s written so far is already in third revision, because each time I load a story, I can’t help rereading the preceding portions to get back into it’s rhythm, pace, and setting. And when I reread any draft, I can’t help making revisions, most often deleting words.

(Actually it can be quite depressing at first, because the wordcount may drop by a sizeable margin before I get to the bottom of the document to begin adding new content.)

I didn’t write that much last night due to a severe headache, but I’m also proud to say I didn’t play much either. I just didn’t do much of anything.

By the time I went to bed, the remaining scenes kept playing in my head and I couldn’t keep myself from composing the words to tell them.

It’s a fair bet this story will be completed by the weekend, probably by Friday or at the latest, Saturday morning. I’ve hit the groove, man, and the more I work on it, the easier it gets.

Look for a preview of the story soon.

writersmarketMegan brought the Writer’s Market 2009 home for me last night. A little late on my part; like cars for the following year, these actually come out several months before the year in question. Better late than never.

The “bad query” examples are hilarious. To my delight, my favorite from previous years was included in this year’s edition. This particular writer stated he’d spent his lifetime chained to his desk in the basement working on an epic story and, “it can be yours!” The editors, who usually give helpful asides (both for the good query examples and bad) simply wrote, “I’m at a loss for words” in the margin beside that paragraph.

That writer also claimed he was selling a “short story novel” and the editor wanted to know which was it: A short story, or a novel?

Sometimes it scares me that in “get published” guides, writers are advised to know as much about the publishing industry as about their craft. (I’m not a business analyst, I’m a writer, fo’shizzle?) But when I see glaring mistakes like that, it encourages me to think that simply being professional and precise are already big steps in the right direction.

Let us hope so. Looks like I’ll be sending another submission soon.