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End of Year Wrap-up

This year was my first for submitting my work for publication.  Over all, it was frustrating, but I think I made a lot of progress as a writer, so it could have been worse.

My ‘stats’ for the year:

8 short stories written.

1 novel finished.

38 rejections, 26 of which came with personal and generally positive notes (only one neg note).

1 novella finished, 1 started.

1 novel started and not finished.

Multiple writer friends connected with, and a ton of information and good advice gleaned (hard thing to quantify, but man I’ve learned a lot this year and really expanded my support/information network).

All in all, not that bad considering that grad school hijacked by time and energy for a while, as did family/obligations for much of last summer.

So I close out 2009 still unpublished, but a better writer.  I’ve learned how to finish things, I’ve stopped being afraid of writing dialog, and I have some idea of what I want to accomplish in the future and how to start doing it.  I also developed some pretty good writing habits, which I hope to continue and improve upon in 2010. And I seem to have more or less gotten over my crippling fear of submitting my work or letting other people read it at all.  Go me.

Update:  I do not, in fact, finish 2009 without selling a story.  Sweet.

New Year’s Resolutions, Early!

That’s right, I’m bucking the trend baby.  I’m posting my writing resolutions early.  Sit back and be amazed at how high my expectations can soar.  Though I am keeping the goals/resolutions limited to things within my power.

1. Write 4 novels and submit them

2. Have at least 30 short stories in my folders and keep them out on markets until they sell or have nowhere to go

3. Finish everything I start

4. Submit everything I finish

5. Keep track of receipts and other things for taxes (I was abominable about it this last year, sigh)

6. Try writing at least three things outside my genre comforts (mystery, horror, erotica, something…)

7. Keep going, never look back, never surrender and all that

That’s it.  Well “it” is pretty relative here.  That’s a lot, I think, but not out of the realms of possibility.  And it will get a lot of things out there were someone might see them, which is a good thing if I want to ever actually make any money at this whole “my job” thing.  Yep.

Holiday Blues and Sundry

Had a small slew of rejections come in, and while I’d love to turn the stories around and submit somewhere else, most of the markets next on my list are closed right now.  Stupid holidays.  I guess I’m taking a couple weeks off submitting until things open back up.  In some ways this isn’t so bad.  It means that I three stories I can choose from for the first quarter of WotF if I decide I can’t get the novella formerly known as Werewolves in Space done in time to send it in.

Made a new spreadsheet for tracking submissions as well.  Before I just had a single rather messy page in excel with stories down one side and markets across the top.  But I kept adding stories and markets and it started to look like a giant mess.  So now there’s a master list of stories on the first sheet, and then each story has its own sheet with markets listed down the side.  Each row has room for date submitted, date rejected/sold (wishful future-thinking there), and a place to put any editor comments that might come back with it. (“graceful” “unexpectedly moving” “writing is top quality” always followed by some version of “this ultimately didn’t work for me, good luck elsewhere, send us more!”).  I have about 25 markets listed, not all pro-rate of course, but the few that aren’t are either damn close or else highly regarded.  This means that even if I wrote nothing new (which is practically impossible), it’ll be more than a hundred rejections before I run out of markets for my current 12 stories.  Not every story fits every market, of course, but each has at least 10-14 it can go out to.

In more thrilling news, or not, I finally have a working title for Chwedl that actually sounds readable.  So novel project #2, formerly known as “Chwedl” is now called “A Heart in Sun and Shadow”.  That sounds appropriately fantasy I think and somewhat captures the themes/images within the novel.  If I manage to sell this thing, I doubt that will be its final title, but hopefully this new title will catch the eye better than “incomprehensible word” did.

Now, if I could just figure out the title to novel project #3, and a good title for formerly “werewolves in space”.  Originally that novel was going to be called “Predators”, so I suppose I could title the novella such until its written at least.  Titles are funny things.  A good one makes me want to read something, a bad one might turn me away (though rarely).  This is even more true with short stories for me than books.  And yet titles are my least favorite part.  I suck at them.  I have a hell of a time thinking them up and always feel like I could have done so much better.  Just part of my process I guess.

Well, happy holidays.  I’m going to be right here, at the computer, busting my ass to try to make “A Heart in Sun and Shadow” into something someone might want to buy someday.  “Busting my ass” of course might also mean “working on novel project #3”, but hey, it’s all work, right? Right?

Mind: Blown

Went to Orycon this weekend, spent too much money on art (damn you awesome artists at conventions, why do you tempt me?), and attended some panels where I learned some things, had other things I already knew drilled deeper into my head, and generally had a decent time.  The insomnia issue meant I had a very short energy buffer for dealing with people, but I adjusted (and spent Friday night sitting in a hotel room playing Magic the Gathering).

Also had lunch with an author/friend who was very reassuring even if yet another story of 10+ years of toil= overnight success is somewhat daunting.  But after 10 months of trying to be a working writer, I suppose I shouldn’t complain yet.

Came home to yet another ‘nice’ rejection and felt like tearing my hair out and giving it all up for the ghost, but decided to haunt the internets instead.  On a suggestion from aforementioned writer friend, I signed up for Dean Welsey Smith’s novel workshop in Feb.  I Hopefully that’ll get me on a good path to selling this thing.  As prep I decided to read all of his blog last night.  Mind blown.  Seriously.  There is some fairly tough to hear information contained in his posts, and I’m not sure all of it would work for me, but there are things I think I should give a shot.

What especially called to me was the publishing as numbers game.  I agree wholeheartedly that writing is practice, and rewriting/editing isn’t really practice, though I do think some things can benefit from a pass or two.  But the only way to get better that I’ve found is to write new things taking what I’m learned worked or didn’t work from the stuff that came before.  I also was floored by the whole goals side of things on Dean’s blog.  I like the idea of having a sort of shoot for the moon longer term goal and then shorter term goals entirely within your power.  I started this blog to record my journey to write ten novels in ten years, but really, wouldn’t it be cooler to publish ten novels in ten years?  According to Dean, that means I should write 3 novels a year.

At first, that number looks crazy daunting.  But really, is it?  At the pace I write novels, I can get 100k word novel done in about 2 months.  Then take a month off to let my readers weigh in and have a month to revise/clean up.  Send it out, rinse, repeat.  Really, not that bad.  And I could use the month off between edits and writing to work on short stories.  I aim to have 30 shorts making the rounds by next year, I’ve got 10 now, with two more that will be sent out in about a week as soon as I take another pass at them to catch the last (hopefully) typos and such.

So that’s where I am.  Going to revise Chwedl this month, write a couple new stories, get something in for 1st quarter WotF, and get started on this new novel.  Hello December.

Boring but Short Update #2

It’s nearly the end of the first week, and due to the depression and resulting insomnia (I’ve been averaging about 8 hours of sleep a week for the last month, fun eh?), I’ve been way down on productive things.

However, I still managed to get a second story written, this one also over 4k words (5160 actually).  Oh well, hopefully in the editing process I’ll cut some of that out.  5k seems to be my natural first draft for stories length I guess.  Well, except the occasional 7k one, but that’s definitely the exception so far, thank god.

The bright side is that I feel both of these stories will be submittable after editing.  They’re both a little weird, and one needs some propping up of the plot elements, but nothing that an editing pass or three won’t solve.  So we’ll see.  Next up I might tackle the novella I’ve been meaning to do since Worldcon, or maybe the story about the Rusalka.  Or the one about magic chalk.

So NaShoWriMo isn’t much of a success so far in terms of getting lots produced, but two stories a week wouldn’t be the worst pace ever (as Oso keeps reminding me, heh).  I’m just so used to novel writing lately that getting two things done in a week seems really slow to me.  But novel writing is a totally different beast than composing a fresh new world on the fly constantly, so I guess there’s that.  I’ll keep plugging away.  Maybe I can get three done this next week, now that I have some momentum going.  *grin*

Boring but Short Update #1

I finished my first NaShoWriMo story.  It clocks in at about 5500 words, which, once again, is longer than 4000.  Oh well, one of these days I will write another story under 4000 words.  I think (hope?) I’ll end up cutting a couple hundred from this story once I get around to editing it (December is apparently editing month, January is submission month. Weee).  For anyone on OWW it’s now up there.  I figured for the kick-off story, I’d post it for fun (and comments?).  I don’t think I’ll be posting any of the future stories there until they’ve seen one edit at least (I didn’t even give this one a read over).

So it begins.  Day 3 and I’ve completed one story.  Time to decide today what’s next.  I’m thinking something short and on the sillier side, because I really don’t want to have to process information right now.  Insomnia is kicking my ass.  But hey, time to write!  Now, to spend a few hours building the next story in my head.  This one will have less research attached, damnit.  I’m going to make it up whole cloth so I don’t have to spend nine hours reading about flora and fauna and names and rivers and yeah…  I just love research too much. Grr.

One story down, at least 11 more to go.

NaShoWriMo in Peril?

Well, I think I can safely say that day one of my crazy story plan was a bust.  I have two paragraphs written on a story.  I first conceived of this plan over a month ago, before I finished my novel even.  I figured it would be a good way to keep my writing production up while I’m taking a break from novel writing.

What I didn’t count on was a major depressive episode (I suffer from clinical/unipolar depression) which has meant, among other things, that I’m not sleeping.  For the last three weeks I’ve been getting an average of 1-2 hours of sleep a night, with some 24-36 hour periods without any sleep at all in there.  Some nights I take sleeping meds to get 4-5 hours of sleep in, but they zombify me the day after and leave me mentally and physically useless, so I try to limit how often I use them.  This, sadly, effects my ability to write.  The less sleep I get, the harder it is to focus on things or retain anything in my brain.

It’s very frustrating, because I know that as a writer I’m fully capable of completing this challenge.  I have notes galore on stories I’d like to write, and my novel writing output is generally 2-5k words a day.  But with my brain addled from lack of sleep (plus the other fun side-effects of depression), I’m finding it very hard to run at full capacity on this.

I’m not giving up, however.  I might just revise the goal down to 12-20 stories.  I think with effort and focus and hopefully my antidepressants kicking in soon (they take a couple weeks to really start working, alas), that I can still manage to get a lot done.  So, back to work.  Since I’m not sleeping, I might as well be writing.  Slowly.

Reflections and Going Forward

I’ve now been writing full-time for over a year, technically. I say technically because this time last year, I’d just started graduate school, and it was eating my life while I sat confused and miserable wondering how something that had seemed like such a good idea at the time could go so wrong.  In the end, I determined the program I was in wasn’t a good fit for me.  I gave it a year, and thought about pushing through the final year.  However, I wanted to know if I could actually get a decent amount of writing done without grad school, since my production while in it was pretty poor (about as bad as when I was working 70 hours a week, really).

So I quit.  This summer was full of moving, vacations, family obligations, and Worldcon.  Even so, in the last four months I’ve managed to write two short stories, get all 10 short stories currently on submission polished as best I’m able, and finish a novel.  It’s not been the smoothest going, nor the easiest thing ever.  There are days when the rejections stream in (today there were two more…) and everything I do feels like it’ll never amount to anything at all.  I even start scanning the job listings wondering if anyone will hire someone who has been out of work a year and has two pretty useless degrees (unless you need some Anglo Saxon translated?).

Then something happens to remind me, to nudge me back onto the path.  Some days it’s schadenfreude, I’ll be honest.  I read a forum post, or a workshop story post, or I’m talking to someone, or occasionally see something in a magazine and think “god, that’s stupid/terrible/sad, I’m totally not that clueless/bad/pathetic.”  Some days it’s seeing how far I’ve come, the days when I read over a line or a paragraph and think “hey, that kinda works, what I did there.  I think I understand foreshadowing now!”   Some days it’s other people like my first readers who read my stuff and tell me they like this or that, or that they can really see improvement.  And some days, the best days, it’s the writing itself, when it grabs me by the brains and I race along the story with every piece falling into place like a master level Go game on fast forward.

And looking ahead, I think I can keep going.  I’ve got a novel done, and three people have already finished reading it for me, with two more due to finish in the next week or two.  They’re compiling lots of information and commentary for me to sift through so I can make it the best it can be.  And reading about the market right now, I’m sort of happy I decided to work on this novel, which is a fantasy with pretty strong romantic elements, instead of trying to finish Casimir Hypogean.  Debut science fiction seems like it’s a tough sell right now, so breaking in with a fantasy novel might be easier.  Of course, there’s no way to know if Chwedl will even sell.  But I’m glad I’m making this the first effort the world might see and saving the more complex stuff for later.

Novel project 2 will have to start in a couple months, as soon as Chwedl’s query is out the door to agents.  I’m not sure what to do.  Part of me really wants to finish Casimir Hypogean to polished draft and then do roughs of the other two novels in the series just so I have them done enough that if by some chance the first sells, I won’t be coming back years later and tackling that world cold.  However, while I think the novels have great potential, I think in some ways the steampunk mysteries I want to write might be an easier pitch.  Local alternate history, alchemy, airships, murder, clockwork cats, and quirky characters?  I mean, how can I lose?  The Casimir story is in my head right now, however.  It’s been coalescing for a few years now, ever since I wrote that terrible rough draft.  I’m not sure how the third book ends, but I know how the second one goes, and how the third begins.  I figure by the time I get there, it’ll be clear how it has to go.  The steampunk book will take a lot of research, the Casimir books almost none (and what research there is I can keep doing as I go).

So I have some thinking to do.  Meanwhile, I’ve been researching and doing rough quasi-outlines/notes for stories for my crazy short story month plans.  It’s definitely time to start thinking about the workshop applications too.  I want to apply early this year to all of them, get it out of the way.  In some ways, I’m stressing about it more this year than I was last.  Last year I really wanted to go, but it was mostly because I wanted to work with the people at CW.  This year, I want to go for me.  I think that either the Clarions or Odyssey could help push my writing to the next level.  I’m clearly on the threshold, if my “nice” rejection stack means anything.  I want to get past the personal rejections and make a sale, to write the kinds of stories that editors can’t put down.  I think the workshops could help with this, could help me find out what I need to learn or practice to get closer to where I want to be as a writer.

I’ll likely be posting very boring somewhat daily updates during November about my short story mission.  Stay tuned for the crazy!

Slog Slog Slog (rant ahead)

I think this is one of the parts of kick-starting a writing career that *isn’t* fun.  The novel is grinding along, and the rejections are pouring in for my short work.  Everywhere I turn it seems I hear “this was good but…”  which as all the how-to books and advice out there will tell you is a very good thing ™ and a sign of progress ™.

What they don’t tell you is that almost good enough starts to get really really depressing after the first couple of near-misses.  Yay, my writing is improving.  Yay editors are clearly reading the entirety of my stories before they dash off the rejection note.  Yay, progress!  Head down, keep going.  Right?  Well, sure. Not much else I can do.  But it’s frustrating (and I doubt  any established writer would tell me that it wasn’t frustrating for them in the beginning either, or even still is on occasion).  And who knows how many years of near-missing I’ll have to muddle through?  At Worldcon I met a woman who’s been getting those nice rejections for 11 years without a single sale.  Now, I suppose she could have been lying about the nature of the rejections, and to be fair she only sends out five or six stories a year, but still.  11 years.  Frankly, I just don’t know if I have that kind of fortitude.  I joke about 500 rejections, but can I really hang on without a single sale through 479 more of these?  My spreadsheet that tracks what is out where is starting to look like a mess of black and the word Rejected covers the screen.

On the somewhat plus side, I’m nearly done with the novel.  It’s slow going, my normal cruising speed has been down  to a third because I’m having to carefully pull together two storylines and three POV characters.  And here I thought the ending would be a cakewalk to write.  Nothing is predictable about this process, is it?  Technically I gave myself the deadline of the end of the month, but I’ve got about 15k words left I think.  So it’s not going to be done tomorrow.  By the weekend though, hopefully.  Then I can put it aside and worry about something else for a while.  (And maybe, by the time I’m done I’ll know about my WotF entry? Maybe… though I suppose at this stage no news could be good news.)

Don’t worry. I haven’t been rejected to death yet.  I promised myself ten novels and ten years.  Will I be a ranting crazy person or a catatonic ball by the end? Perhaps.  Or I might be a selling writer.

Only one way to be the latter: Finish this damn novel.

Sometimes it Pours

Woke up at 4am because of the cat.  Stayed awake because I’d been having an awesome dream about being a stowaway on an alien ship that then got attacked by pirates and knew it could be a super cool short story.  Normally when I have a story idea it has to brew for a week or a month or a year.  Apparently all this one wanted was about 4 hours.

Well, it’s a story anyway.  After 7.5 hours of nearly continuous writing, the monstrosity that is “Crawlies” is now complete.  After a “oh god how messy is this” editing pass it stands at 7715 words.  Bleh.  I was aiming for 4000.  Is this what plot does?  Cause baby, this story has plot.  Hell, it’s got everyting. Provided that everything means aliens, pirates, an 11 year old protagonist, bombs, and exploding head jokes.  My research firefox window currently has open windows from wikipedia for oxygen toxicity, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and squid.  Lord save me, there’s even slang.  It was like this character waltzed into my head and wouldn’t shut the hell up.  Of course, she’s 11, she doesn’t shut the hell out anyway.  I wish writing was always this easy.  Even if it doesn’t let me do anything else.

Now that my work day is gone, I’m going to go eat something (sorta forgot to do that in the ‘writer will finish or she gets the hose again’ fog I’ve been in most of today).

In the other kinda of ego-boosting news (no, not the yet again “close but try again” rejection I got today), one of my poetry chapbooks sold at the bookstore COLD.  As in a random stranger who is no relation to me chose my little self-published being sold on commission chapbook all by himself with no arm twisting from my mother and paid COLD DELICIOUS CASH for it.  I feel pretty good about that.  Poetry is hard to sell, and this means that mine was good enough to attract a random human’s interest.  Or you know, so bad he couldn’t resist buying it to chortle at the next wine and schadenfreude party.  I’m going to believe the former.  For my peanut-sized ego’s sake.

Ok, now, to post this monstrous new baby of mine somewhere for critique.  Oh why oh why is it so long?  Curse you baby.

But I love you.  In fact, today (and probably only today), I love writing.  Thank you writing gods.  Now, can I please have a nice compelling dream about how to finish this novel? K thanx.

Oh yeah, and if you think I was kidding about my mother arm twisting people, you should talk to Ken Scholes*.  I’m surprised he made it out of there without a chapbook.  Lucky bastard.  You know you’ve hit a sad sad hole in your social life when your mother has to do your networking for you.  Thanks mom.  28 is just like 8, somedays.  At least she didn’t try to arrange a play date or anything.

(*Ken Scholes is, in fact, as far as my limited mother-twisted arm contact with him has gone, a supremely tolerant and nice guy. Buy his books).