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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

“The Pain Period”

I recently read an article on persistence and the value/necessity of it in success over at tynan.net.  The article is here.

I’ll quote my favorite part from Tynan here:

Here’s the progression of success as best I understand it:

1. Get an idea
2. Start working
3. PAIN PERIOD
4. Success

1. Getting an idea is easy. Everyone has ideas and thinks they’re so smart for coming up with them (myself included, of course). The thing is, the IDEA is probably the least important part. Why is Jay-Z a great drug dealer and a great rapper and a great clothing line creator? Is it because these are great ideas? NO. It’s because he’s a hustler (baby).

2. Start working. This is the fun part where you have 99 parts of your project, 50 of which are fun and easy. You work on those and feel great.

3. Pain Period. This is where I ALWAYS used to give up. Things stop going perfectly and it’s time to batten the hatches and start rocking. It’s time to put your WANTS aside and focus on the NEEDS of your project. THIS IS THE KEY PART! If you get past here, you succeed. If you don’t, you don’t succeed. Period.

I could write about 10 posts about this alone. Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about how his one skill is pushing through the pain period. And look! He’s a successful body builder, actor, and politician. Good ideas? Natural talents? NOPE. Just pushing through.

4. Success. This is the holy grail. People think that what you’ve done is easy once you get here. “50 cent is a crappy rapper. If I got to work with Eminem and Dr. Dre I’d be as good as him.” Yeah, but you know what? He PUSHED through the pain period of getting there and now enjoys success, which is a lot easier. You see the result, not the process.

It’s weeks like the one I’ve just had where I need to remember the whole “persist” thing.  Multiple rejections, half of them form letters, have come in.  My shoulder is still hurt, dulling my mind and making me cranky as well as making it tough for me to spend significant time typing.  I cracked a tooth as well playing DnD (don’t ask).  Generally it hasn’t been the best week ever.  And there’s the bigger picture, too.  Some days it feels as though I’m not getting any better, not ever going to sell anything ever again, etc…  It’s easy sitting alone in my office, drugged and tired and cranky, to despair and wonder if I’ve jumped off the high-dive without checking for water in the pool.

I think this is what is called the pain period, at least for me.  Not just the physical pain, but the constant doubts as well.  Tynan’s post is timely, as were Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s two posts on giving up on yourself, found here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).  I especially like Rusch’s point about giving up on yourself by degrees, a little at a time so that it is tough to notice the change of direction.  I think in the “pain period” that Tynan talks about, it is easy to do this, to lose sight of what you really want to achieve because success seems too hard to attain, too far away, with too many unknowns standing in the path.

These articles hit the spot for me exactly.  Keep writing, keep submitting, keep improving and learning and trying.  I just need to remember to hold these things in my mind.  This last week of disappointment and teeth-gritting has been a blessing in disguise in some ways.  It’s helped me think about what I want and where I’m going, helped me make those tiny adjustments to my goals and progress that Rusch talks about being so vital.  Every time I defeat the voice in my head that says I’ll never be good enough, that everything I write is worse than everything I’ve written, every time I press on beyond the doubts and rejections, I find a kind of success.  I don’t know that the “pain period” ever really ends, as each level of goal achieving will likely bring new challenges and ways to fall apart, but I believe with persistence it will get easier;  each success lining up, giving me more ammunition against the doubts.

It never ends.

My Goals… And Speed.

I feel I should clarify my goals and my writing speed.  Dean’s already warned me to keep my mouth shut in public about how much or how fast I write, and while I’ll probably take his advice and be more vague at Cons and such, this is my blog and I’m not a prevaricating kind of girl *grin*.

First, my goals are just that.  Mine.  They certainly don’t reflect anything but how I want to go about pursuing writing as my career.  I’ve never been a “kinda” person.  I learned to win at poker by playing 2 cent/4 cent limit online 15-20 hours a day, everyday for weeks while reading every source on poker that I could get my hands on (And I still graduated college, a miracle!).  I did this because I liked poker, I was broke, and I hate being crappy at things (and broke).  I took that same mentality to my jobs over the years, too, and it got me stressed-out with 70 work weeks.  I’m not saying it is always a good mindset, this all or nothing.  But it’s mine, and that’s how I am, so I deal with it.

Writing is the same way for me.  I spent 20 years writing stories, showing very few to anyone because I was certain they sucked (and they did, they really did) and very very frustrated that I couldn’t improve.  I was trapped in the “real writers are re-writers” myth and going nowhere.

Then I basically said “fuck it”, applied to an MFA program, started writing more, realized the MFA program was not at all for me (but I learned some tricks and made a couple friends in one of the workshops at the least, so it wasn’t a total waste).  Then I discovered Heinlein’s Rules, had a writer friend point me to Dean Wesley Smith’s website, and suddenly (or so it seemed), I started improving.  Because I was writing. I was writing a lot (well, a lot more anyway).  New stuff. Not picking over draft after draft, but just taking what I thought worked and trying it again. And again. And again.

Writing all this new stuff has opened methods of practicing things I’d never gotten to really try before.  Picking over the same old story again and again didn’t let me try out the techniques I found in the books I love.  But writing a new story did.  I could take that story and write it with Donald E. Westlake’s surprising way of describing things in mind.  Or with Terry Brook’s way of making you love a character and then twisting the knife.  Or Elizabeth Moon’s way of making kick-ass seem normal and flawed and still cool.  Or Michael Connelly’s way of making each victory both awesome and Pyrrhic. Or George RR Martin’s epic feel. I could go on and on.  Writing new stuff lets me practice these things over and over, and if I fail it isn’t a teeth-grinding ordeal anymore because I know that I can just try to fail differently (fail better?) next time instead of knowing I now have to spend the next six months of my life editing and rewriting the failed story.

So, how this relates to speed is two-fold.  One, I want to be the best damn writer I’m capable of being at any given point in time.  The more practice I get in, the better I’ll get (hopefully).  Second, I have a crazy brain full of a million things all the time and writing is the best way I’ve found to let off the pressure.  The faster I write, the sooner I’ll finish any one thing and be able to start another, and the more quiet I might gain inside my head.  So between the two, and for my goals, I want to get faster and more consistent.  For me, because that’s the way I work.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to work up to full eight-hour days writing (which would get me 7,500 to 10,000 words done) because I am also crazy about other things like reading and gaming (rpgs and videogames).  But I do hope to be able to consistently write multiple books a year as well as keep a goodly number of shorts circulating.  And I want to keep my level of practice up, because every time I open a book it seems I find some new thing or idea or technique I want to try in my own work.

So basically to sum up:  I want to get faster with my writing because writing lots is how I practice and I want to practice as much as I can (and hopefully someday sell as much as I can, cause hey, this *is* my career, after all).  That’s it, I’m just long-winded at 4am I guess.

Getting Over Lazy

I’ve been writing a fair amount in the last month, but when I looked at the results in terms of finishing projects, it doesn’t look so good.  I’ve finished two things in the last month. Two.  Not exactly on target with where I want to be by the end of the year.  It’s time to quit being lazy and work on the second of Heinlein’s Rules: finish what you write.

It’s easy for me to finish short stories generally.  Once I’m writing one, I tend to just get it done (usually within one or two sittings).  Novels are tougher to finish, though the endings so far of them are a lot easier than the beginnings and middles.  I’ve been tinkering between two novels lately, getting some done on each but not really making huge progress with either.  Part of this is fear.  Once I’m done, I have to send it out.  I’ve worked out a way to overcome that fear by putting together the package for each novel before I finish, so at least that part of the work will be done so I can just focus on getting the book done.

The other part of this is just sheer laziness.  I like to work in bursts, when stuff “comes” to me because I’m lazy and making my brain focus and compose is annoying if I’m not in the mood.  Yep, just lazy.  I know it is laziness because if I have deadlines (real or imagined), I have no problem dumping the “must be in the mood” and getting the work done.  I think I can combat my current lazy with some good old habit-forming.  I like to take days off writing, but for the next while, I’m not going to.  I think I need to build up a nice streak, get in the habit of not letting myself take days off (usually I justify days off because I know I *can* write 10k words in a day to catch up if I have to).  So starting today, I’m going to get in at least 3,900 words of fiction a day at least 6 days a week, with the seventh day goal being 1,250 words.  At that pace I should be able to finish everything I want to finish by the end of the year.  It really doesn’t help that I keep adding things I’d like to finish to my project list.

When I started out this year, I was thinking I’d write four novels and get to 30 or so short stories out to markets.  Then I kept having novel ideas, so it turned into five novels.  Then because of a conversation at one of the workshops, I decided I was going to aim for 80 short stories on top of that.  I’ve since revised that down to 40 or so shorts, not because I don’t think I could write 80, but because at 27 I’m already a little sick of the admin work of keeping track of them so I don’t accidentally sim-sub or something that I think 40-50 will be the max I want to track at a time (and it’ll be a level that, god forbid, if I start selling some, I can replace them).  And on top of that, the novel ideas just keep pouring in.  I’ve shunted four over to next year already.  I’m aiming at seven this year (two of which are shorter, one 50k, one 65-75k).  Frankly, I’d love to slow down, but my brain won’t let me.  See why I can’t afford to continue being fearful and lazy?  I don’t have time!  At the least I’ll be getting a lot of practice in and hopefully improving.

Current projects and current word count:

MG novel- ~12k

Suspense/Crime novel- ~8k

Sci/fi novel- ~7k

Sekrit Experiment project- ~1k

Paranormal Mystery, Horror Western, Irish Historical, and Regency Romance- no words yet

Also have one novella that stands at ~1300 words and another that had nearly 5k on it (which I haven’t touched in a year since I really need to redraft the whole beginning, grr).

So… plenty to finish.  I should get on that.

Random Thoughts #209

That thing I said last week about starting long stuff? I guess I meant medium stuff.  I finished a novella, which will be my WotF Q3 entry.  It kept trying to become a novel.  I won though, the story stayed under 17,000 words.   Now, to actually finish a novel. Seriously.  As soon as I finish just one last short story. (I’m like an addict, one more hit, just one more, ooh, wait, okay, one more).

First up on the plate is my middle grade novel.  I’m practicing not doing any research.  I realize this is a strange thing for a writer to practice, but I think sometimes I clog my brain with needing to find “true” details to stick in and don’t let the imagination run where it might.  The story is a fantasy with entirely made up everything, so it seemed like a good time to just, well, make shit up.  I’ve always believed that internal consistency matters a hell of a lot more for storytelling (especially in any story with magic or a made-up world) than having things be “realistic”.  I decided to make this novel my practice for making shit up after I was brainstorming about it and realized the princess in my head had bright pink hair.  My first thought after that was “oh, she can’t have pink hair, that’s totally unrealistic.”  Yeah, this is doubly funny if you know me, since I rarely have ‘hair’ colored hair (it’s blue and purple at the moment).  That was when it clicked that maybe my critical side was interfering in the fun of writing.  So I’m rolling with my imagination, whatever it wants, it gets this time around.  Pink hair it is!

I’m attending two more workshops this year, and hopefully Orycon as well (I’m thinking of seeing if I can’t get on a panel or two).

4 more rejections until I throw a 100 rejection party.  The more stuff goes out, the faster the responses stack up.  I figure once I hit 100 I’m going to go back to not keeping track anymore until I think I might be getting close to 200, when I plan to throw another party (100,200,500, 1000, 10000 etc).

Oh, and in cool news, an artist friend of mine is doing up a graphic novel version of one of my favorite stories (story hasn’t sold yet, sigh, but I’m hopeful).  Even if I never sell the story, I originally envisioned it as a script for her, so that is pretty sweet.  She and I used to do a webcomic together years and years ago, and I miss comics as a medium.  It’ll be cool to see what she does with the story visually.

But I Get Up Again

I never realized how stuck I’d gotten after writing that story that just failed.  I’ve started and not finished three stories in the last week.  Not finished.  I usually finish shorts in one sitting.  It’s the novels I poke at (and I’m poking, I’m poking.  Gotta get the MG one done soon, seriously).  I got stuck because I’m afraid that every word is more fail.

Fuck it. Seriously.  So I failed. That story really doesn’t work at all and nothing will save it (maybe the setting, the setting might, the setting is good.)  I have to get over that.  Move past it.  It’s so easy to dwell on what doesn’t work, what feels or reads wrong.  I think my academic side lets me down here, because I’ve been trained to pick things apart.  It’s time to get back up.  The mini self-inflicted rollercoaster of “I suck!” and “I might not suck!” annoys me.  It’s stupid and it is stopping my writing.

In 11 minutes I turn 29.  I hope that someday I’ll look back at my 20s as the years it really started.  Addicts have their sobriety dates, I guess writers have their “got serious” dates.  Mine is Feb 4th 2009.  I’ve got a year left of my 20s.  I want to make it a good one, one where I did everything in my power to reach my goals.  For my birthday I wrote myself a check and dated it Feb 4th, 2020.  I won’t say the amount, but it is fairly ambitious, at least I hope.  As I enter the final year of this decade of life, I want to know that I didn’t let the little things get me down.  And that when they did, I got back up.

Now, I should go practice what I preach and finish some damn stories.  Because no one is going to buy stuff I haven’t written and submitted.

Whew, Back to Work!

Got home from my trip to find two rejections waiting for me.  The one in my mailbox was a nice fat envelope from Analog, but alas, it faked me out.  It was fat because they’d folded up a couple pages of my story to send back, along with the longest form letter rejection I’ve ever seen.  Two single-spaced pages outlining guidelines and with check boxes next to things (none of which were checked…).  Oh well.  That story has space squid and FTL travel, so I figured it was a long shot story for that market anyway.  But in the name of not making decisions for editors, I sent it anyway.

Both stories are back out, one to a brand new market I’d never heard of (they aren’t that new, just my knowing about them).    I also managed to get two more stories out, one is new, one is the story I sold that has reverted to me, so I figured why not try to sell it again?  This brings me up to 22 stories out to markets.  Not quite up to 80 yet, am I? Oh well, there’s plenty of time left in the year to get there.

I’ve been doing a bunch of targeted reading lately as well.  If I’m going to get 80 stories out, they can’t all be spec fic.  I have 4 “literary” stories out at the moment and an idea for another one.  I went to the bookstore and got some mystery and thriller short story collections to pick through and dissect.  So far I’m really enjoying reading the stories, so hopefully that means I’ll enjoy writing some as well.  Meanwhile I’m trying to decide which novels of the ones I’ve read lately I want to reverse outline.  I’ve read about 15 books in the last couple weeks, hence the needing to decide which to focus on picking apart to see how they work.   The best part about this stretching and trying new genres is that I’m discovering authors and stories I’d never even heard of before (though I’m reading and re-reading some best-sellers, too).  I’ve been trying to focus on books by authors who have a long track record, since I figure if they’ve sold 10 or 30 or more books that something in all those books has to be working.

Once again, Dean Wesley Smith has a great post up about writers and practicing.  His comment about knowing what you are focusing on and working on with each piece of writing really hit home for me.  Sometimes I remember to figure that out, but lately I’ve been working on so many things I hadn’t really given it a ton of thought.  So I sat down and looked at my various projects and decided what I was going to work on for each.  So, because lists are so much fun, here they are:

Menagerie– not researching, ie just making shit up.  It’s fantasy and supposed to be fun and weird.

Hunting Delilah– pacing.

The City is Still Hungry– setting and noir pacing/feel.

To Honor and Obey– sex scenes, writing to a particular historical feel and tone.

The Weapons Master– sex scenes, not censoring myself.

And that’s just the novels.  Each short story I’m working on has its own practice goal as well. I’ve got about five lined up that need to get done in the next few weeks, one of which is about an hour from done… still. Sigh.  Need to stop poking at it and just get it done.  I think my practice failed with this one because man is it being stubborn about getting written, but oh well, I’ll keep the idea and re-do it at some point if I want.  Meanwhile, the story can go out into the wide world and get off my desk, so to speak.

Well, back to work.  Between family obligations, trips, and car issues, I’m feeling quite broke.  Need to write more, because no one can pay me for work I don’t do.

Vacation!

I’m on vacation.  Because I work for myself and can go on vacation when I want.  Seriously.  Also, I was stressing myself out with made up deadlines because I knew I was going to be gone for almost two weeks in the beginning of April and the writing was starting to be very very not fun.  When I did my writing schedule at the start of the year, I left room for 6 months of “off” time because I know how I write and function.  I wanted to make sure I worked out a schedule that left me time for the rest of the things in my life I enjoy doing.  I’ve gotten a bunch accomplished this year already, I can afford a couple weeks off, especially if I return to the writing revitalized and ready to tackle it.  (And I’ll admit, I haven’t totally been on vacation, I’ve clocked a few hundred words on a story because it was there and I wanted to.  And my brain is full of scenes and ideas for one of my novels, plus I’ve been reading a lot of thrillers and looking at pacing and mood in them.)

I’ll be at Norwescon from the 1st through the 4th.  I imagine it will be a different experience than last year.  I’ve sold a story, have a lot more knowledge about publishing and writing, and will actually know people this year.  I’m looking forward to it, as well as the workshop portion.  I’m curious how the stories will go over, both have now garnered a few very nice rejections from various places, so I’m interested to see what this batch of pros has to say about them.

Then I’m down to Cali to see family, during which I will ride lots of rollercoasters and get zero writing done.  But I’m back and resuming mad writing plans as of the 12th.

So, to restate my crazy plan.  Get home, write five novels and 16 short stories.  That’s it. Though it looks like two of those novels will be done first, since they are getting the most brain time.  Also, once I get back I’ll be making my first ever submission to the market that started the whole wanting to be  writer madness: “MZB’s Sword and Sorceress”.  Finally have a story I think might work, after about 19 years.  It’ll be an historic moment.  Or something.  And if I get accepted I’m pretty sure my head will explode.  Good times.

Evolution of a Blog (and a writer)

It’s funny.  When I started this blog, I had little idea of what I wanted to put here.  Then I ran across an article in one of the Writer’s Market books.  In it, the author was talking about “how do you know when to quit?”.  He proposed that a person might be best served by writing a novel a year for ten years, and at the end of each year sending the finished novel out and moving to the next one.  If, after ten novels and ten years, you are unpublished, he suggested that then you might consider quitting.  Looking back, I’m not sure he, and I say he, because I recall the author being a he, but I’ve donated that book now, so I don’t have it to reference.  If I’m wrong, I apologize!, anyway, he probably knew that by the time a person got a few years and books in, they would likely never think of quitting.  When I first read the article, however, I thought “okay, I can do that.  And then I’ll know if I’m no good at all.”

I’m technically two years into that plan.  I’ve learned a ton (not the least of which was that hey, I can write a novel).  And the plan no longer works for me.  This blog was originally my ‘ten in ten’ record.  Now it has evolved to something else.  It’s just about me, as a writer and my plans to make a living (and a good one, hopefully) at writing fiction.

I had some funny realizations at the Dean Wesley Smith workshops I went to, things I have spent the last few weeks processing.  One was that even a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to get all I got out of that experience.  It would have terrified me, froze me up.  Not because a year ago I felt that differently than I do now (I still feel like a rank amateur and imposter).  I’m not even sure why or what changed.  Somewhere I got serious about this.  And even I hadn’t realized that until the end of the week when a bunch of us at the workshop were sitting around and Dean asked if anyone was actually following completely Heinlein’s writing rules.

That is the moment it hit me, the moment I’ve been thinking about and using to put everything else about myself as a writer into context.

I am. I am following all of the rules now, almost completely by accident.  And I think this is what feels different.  A year ago, I wasn’t following the rules.  I had a lot of issues making myself mail things out.  I mailed some things but not others.  I was slow to get stuff back out.  I rewrote over and over and over on a few stories, worried that they were “bad” and “not perfect”.    I started a few things and had trouble finishing them (the novel currently out on submission, for example).  And then somehow I started following the rules.  I started pushing myself to finish things, even if they felt “wrong” or “bad”.  I gave myself permission to suck.  To fail.

And I finished a novel.  And I sold a story.

Ever since about October, I’ve been following the rules.  Stories that come back go right back out.  My novel is out to people who can pay me for it if they so choose (ie editors, not agents).  I’m working on five more novels and a bunch of short stories.  I finish something, it goes out after a clean up pass.  No multiple drafts, no crazy rewriting and agonizing because it isn’t “perfect”.

And that’s how I managed to survive a week surrounded by “real” pros as a complete impostor who sucks (so says the evil voice in my head), and still learned things.  I was ready to hear what they all had to say because I’m really doing this.  Having a name for it (Heinlein’s Rules), helps.  But in the end, it just is a way for me to see that I’m truly working at something and going for what I really want. And that feels really really good.

It’s easy to get discouraged.  The downside of having a lot of stuff in the mail is that sometimes I get two or three rejections in a day.  It is easy for me to get frustrated and feel like I have no control over anything.  That’s why I like rules.  I think it is what attracted me to the article about ten novels in ten years.  That in a way was someone else saying “do this! see what happens”.  Heinlein’s rules are the same way, but without an end date.

I can write and finish what I write.  I can rewrite only to editorial order (and only if I agree).  I can send what I write out to someone who can pay me for it and keep it out until it sells.  I have control over these things.  That’s a job description I can live with.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say in this post is coming across, but basically I’m ditching (have already ditched) the ten in ten idea.  I’m going with the unending plan of writing, finishing, mailing.  That’s what this blog will be about (and has really been about for a while, even though I was too wrapped up in the process to tell).  I’m following a simple set of rules, and I’ve never felt so free.  Which isn’t to say there won’t be hiccups, because fear gets me all the time.  I imagine that if I start selling more I’ll likely face a whole new set of fears since success has always been one for me (that’s another post for another time, for sure).

So yeah. That’s where I am right now.  Now, back to my job.  *grin*

Workshop Week

I’m headed out shortly to go the Coast for two Dean Wesley Smith workshops.  First is a novel workshop, the second a short story one.  I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t totally nervous, but hey, worst that can happen is … wait… let’s not think about that. *grin*

I imagine in reality I’ll just learn a ton, and at the end of the novel workshop at least I’ll have my novel wending its way to the desks of editors, ready for the cold harsh evil world.  And I’ll get to meet a lot of interesting people.

In other news, I’m back in nail biting territory on a couple of submissions.  Having a nice spreadsheet that tracks what is where and how long each rejection took etc is very nice.  Having all this information so that I know when a market is behaving differently from the 5-10 times previous that I submitted? Not as nice.  Right now two, yes two, markets have held stories far longer than they usually do.  And a third is right at the query point, which they’ve done to me before (last time I got a very nice, detailed rejection on the day I was going to query).  So either somehow all three stories were lost in transit (I know that at least one wasn’t because of the email auto-reply), or they are all maybe getting real consideration.  Yeah, yeah. I know I shouldn’t even be thinking about it or trying to dissect what it all ‘means’ because it probably doesn’t mean anything.  But I can’t help getting anxious.  Le sigh.

I’ll take notes and hopefully have something more interesting to say after the workshops.