Sign up to hear about new releases and other exciting news from Annie Bellet.

Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

Stuck Again?

Heh, it would figure that I would post about goals and dreams and then… get stuck.  Yeah, it happens.  I don’t get idea block, I get too many ideas and they make it hard to focus.  That is what usually happens when I’m stuck, anyway.

This time is a combination of too many ideas and just plain old self-pity/loathing.  A bunch of rejections came in, every single one of them with the general message “close, but no thanks, please send more”.  This is good on one level.  I’m close!  On the other hand, I’ve been there before.  I don’t want to have a story come close, I want the story to sell.  Close is just frustrating at this point.  The other reason I’m stuck is because I wrote a story that failed.  My writing brain was fighting me the whole process and then I made myself finish the story (and send it out, because I knew if I let anyone read it before I did I would never get the courage to mail it).

What did my first reader say?  “Awesome setting but I don’t care about the characters or what is happening until page 11.”  Ok, I could cut the first ten pages, but wait, it is only a 12 page story.  Yeah. Sigh.  So what I was trying to do didn’t go well.  But hey, setting!  Maybe some editor out there will love the feel of the story enough to ignore the rest.  Who knows?

But inside I feel a bit down.  I wrote a story last week that both my first readers thought was the best thing I’ve done yet.  Then this week, I fail.  It makes getting back on the horse tough.  I’ve made myself start another story and gotten about a thousand words down, but I keep finding reasons to walk away from the keyboard.  Like posting here. And doing house chores.

So I failed at the story I was trying to tell. So what? I need to pick myself up.  It’s just a story. I still have the idea, I can always write a better version knowing what went wrong with the first one.  Meanwhile, I have other projects that have deadlines (at least, the places I want to submit them close very soon, so it is kinda like a deadline).  I can do this.  Write, finish, mail.  Fire and forget.

It’s going to be a scary day when I get up to 80 stories out.  If the stars align, I could technically get 80 rejections in one day.  Yeah. Scary.

(Flip side is that I could also make 80 sales in one day.  I think one is about as likely as the other, so I should stop tilting at windmills and get writing, right?)

Strangely Stuck

I don’t generally start short stories and not finish them in one or maybe two sittings.  Usually by the time I’m sitting at the computer and writing I’ve spent weeks or months working on the story in my head and it is ready to hit the page.

I currently have four short stories and one novella sitting between 200-1000 words on each.  1-4 pages, basically, on each one.  I can’t seem to finish them.  It isn’t that I don’t know exactly what happens (in fact, if we count scribbled notes and scenes, the novella has a few thousand more words on it).  I know all of these stories beginning to end.  Which is maybe the problem.  I already know what is going on, so somehow the urgency to ‘tell’ the story is gone.  My brain has moved on.  I’m in novel mode (specifically Sindra’s Storm), and I really need to finish up the other bits before I spring into that.  And on top of it all, I have to write a story this week for the workshop I’m attending.  I have that story figured out too, though a few details came to me today while I was walking that will help refine the plot.

I know I just need to buckle down and get it all done.  Not just the writing, but the reading and other parts too.  But the writing is foremost.  If I get these stories done by the time I’m out of town for a week, I’ll have five more things in the submission launcher to fire and forget.  Five more things that can start collecting rejections.  That would put me at 16 stories out on submission, which is halfway towards my goal of at least 30.

But mostly, at the moment, my brain wants to be writing “Sindra’s Storm” and doing pretty much nothing else.  Maybe I’ll just stop fighting it (after I fulfill my workshop obligations) and go with that.  Though I truly hate leaving a short story sitting in a file unfinished.  Grr.  Welcome to my crazy process, heh.  There’s the insane part of me that wonders if I could finish all five in a giant push this week, which would mean finishing about two a day.  Also, of course, wondering if the stories would end up any good that way.  Can I jump through five totally different voices and worlds that fast?  One is first person from a macro-biologist’s POV and is sort of survival/thriller sci/fi, one is about an aging militia facing its final battle, one is about a  damaged bounty-hunter set in a re-imagined Ukraine,  another deals with Munchhausen’s by Proxy and sort of a Cinderella myth, and the final one has a man dealing with an unwanted gift.  Five stories.  One a novella, so it’s sort of like two stories length-wise.  But to have them done, that would be nice.  We’ll see how crazy I feel.

Guess it is time to stop blogging and start writing.  I think I can get a couple thousand words in tonight.  Must. Get. Unstuck.

Grind Grind Grind

After elation of making a sale, I’m back to grinding away.  Rejections keep trickling in, though some have been very nice.  I’m trying not to get too down about having so many nice rejections.  I know it’s a good sign, I just wish I knew what I could do to push the stories over the edge of “good” and into “sold”.  I’m hoping that the workshop I’m attending in Feb will help shed some light on how to do this.   I plan to work my ass off at the workshop, and to try to absorb everything I can, and be as open minded as I can.

I’m more nervous in some ways about the novel workshop.  I’m almost done on the editing pass of “A Heart in Sun and Shadow” and have been riding the rollercoaster of “this is good” and “zomg, how did I write something this bad?”  I really have no idea if it is any good at all.

The hardest part of the editing has been the fact that my brain has moved on.  I am no longer living and breathing this world.  My mind is out of Cymru and running around the mountain kingdom in “Sindra’s Storm” (which still refuses to be outlined).  So the few parts I added to might not really work with the whole.  I’m not sure.  I guess I’ll find out in Feb, for it will be interesting to see if anyone can even tell where I added things.  I didn’t end up adding as much as I at first thought I might, and I’ve cut a few things, so the novel is still quite short and will likely top out around 87,500 words.  The final 50 pages should be quick to finish.  Just a few tweaks of some scenes, and of course the copy/paste of the proper spelling of my main character’s name.  The first half took so much longer because I hadn’t started bothering to use proper dialog punctuation yet.  Never. Doing. That. Again.  From now on, I am not going to be lazy on the first draft.  Nor will I EVER take 8 months off in the middle of a novel. Ever. Again.

So that’s my project for today.  Then next week I’m going to finish the three short stories I’ve started, finish the novella, and then get it out the door for Q2 WOTF.  Then, then it’s time to write “Sindra’s Storm”.  For better or for worse, outline or no outline.

On a side note, I should really look up a market for the erotic non-speculative story I’m part way done with.  Yay for trying things totally outside my comfort zone.  Now, if only it will sell.  Sigh.

Writers of the Future Q4

I’m on the HM list that was just posted tonight.  I won’t pretend I’m not disappointed.  I thought my story really had a chance, given the feedback I’ve gotten on it.  It stings to just get another HM.  And yes, I know that this is better than a straight rejection, but at this point I’ve been pretty much spoiled by the fact that a form letter is actually a fairly rare occurrence for me.  I’m at over 2-1 on personal vs form.  I’m aiming for the stars here, not for “almost”.

Oh well. Keep writing, keep sending out, keep hoping I win before I’m disqualified (it only takes one novel sale, and as much as I’d love to have that sale, winning WotF seems to be a huge advantage/door opener).

Going to finish my novella this week for second quarter and send it in.  Then finish edits on novel.  Then, I’m going to write some erotica novellas I think.  I need to give my brain something new to do and I have some markets in mind for that sort of writing.  Besides, I’ve always been curious if I could actually write a coherent erotica/romance story.  Time to find out, and hopefully they’ll sell, cause this whole poor artist thing pretty much sucks.

I’m starting to get super nervous about the workshops in Feb.  I keep looking at my novel and thinking it is going to be the worst one there. Sigh.  The short story workshop also makes me nervous.  What if I’m the only one whose story doesn’t get chosen for an anthology? Or what if after reading my sample (of the story or the novel…) I get told that I’m not right for the workshop and should work on things and come back another time?

Bleh. I’ve just had a pretty awful week so far.  Clearly I need to just stick the whining, insecure bits of my brain in a ditch and get back to work.

And Congrats to Oso for being a finalist.  I might be biased (having read his story), but damnit, he better win 😉

Revisions and Worries

Started revising Chwedl.  Turned the first chapter into the prologue that it is, and began the slow and painful process of cleaning up the prose and fixing my terrible dialog punctuation.  I’ve had nearly two months break from this novel, and I still can’t look at it objectively.  It’s probably not as terrible as I think it is.  Probably.  Also, I really need a real title for the book.  The best so far I can come up with is something like “The Hounds of Llynwg” or just “Cwn” (welsh for “hounds”).  Both of which aren’t terribly catchy and still probably too “oh god, book full of unpronounceable names ahead” flashing.  Of course, this book is full of welsh names.  Word spellcheck hates it, with a passion (actually, active spellcheck packed up and went home about 50k words into the novel).  I’ve doomed myself to doing something with this book, however, by signing up for a workshop which involves editing the first 50 or so pages, writing a proposal/query to a real editor, and then mailing the damn thing.  I’m not panicking. Yet.

I also seem to have sent out all my stories on submission, leaving myself nothing to send in for the first quarter Writers of the Future contest.  Oops.  So I have about 20 days to write something and get it in the mail.  I have about four short story ideas brewing that should be ready for the page when I find a moment, as well as a novella.  I’d like to get the novella done and submit that for WotF, but with the holidays and my novel revisions, I’m not holding my breath.

My third novel project is started, but I have no outline or concrete plot yet.  I do have a working title “One and Many”.  Not catchy, I know. I suck at titles.  I need to inject myself with essence of Elizabeth Bear (don’t ask me what that might be) because she has the best titles all the time and I could really use her brain about now.  Or I could just call it “fat fantasy with maps”, which is what it is.  I’m aiming for less than 110k words.  I also want it done by the time I go to the workshops in Feb.

The next novel project was supposed to be the Casimir Hypogean trilogy redrafting, but that’s now pushed back to at least March, and probably back more since my brain has been half-hijacked by a vampire novel.  Yeah, fricken vampires.  And no, not sparkly ones.  Abusive, control freak, obsessive, scary ones.  So we’ll see.  I’m not writing that novel without an outline though, so it better shape up.  One seat-of-pants novel is enough for the year. Seriously.  I love me my outlines.

I’m also taking a short story workshop.  And quaking in fear about that, too.  I know it’ll be good for me, but I worry about not being any good, not being able to deliver a story at all, and other stupid fears that hopefully will get out of my system before Feb.

So that’s what’s up with me.  Now, back to the novel.  Maybe in a hundred pages or so I’ll start liking it. Maybe.

Rinse, Repeat

Writing is a whole lot of doing the same sort of thing over and over and hoping for different results.  It’s a lot of starting over, trying something slightly different (or radically different).  Over and over.

Just got another rejection with more nice comments saying how the editor enjoyed the story but it wasn’t right and they hope I’ll submit something else and wished me luck placing this story somewhere else.  Which is nice to hear, and I’ll definitely submit something else to them, but man, I’d really like “we loved this story, here’s your check”.  I’ve had quite a few “nice” rejections now.  They in fact far outbalance the form letters (and my one “mean” rejection).   I know, objectively, that this is good.  My writing is improving, people like it, it’s only a matter of time, etc…  But inside, it still hurts.  What am I missing? What can I do to push past this “good but not good enough” point?  Keep writing. Try something else.  Rinse, repeat.

In other news, I accidently started another novel.  These things happen, I guess.  One minute I’m laying awake at 3am wishing this month long bout of insomnia would go the hell away and the next I’ve got a teenage girl’s voice talking to me about how she doesn’t want to join the military and quoting Sun Tzu and *bam* suddenly there’s shapeshifters and an alternate realm and all sorts of plot-filled worldbuilding goodness pouring into my head.  Next thing I know it’s two hours later and I have three strong main characters, an adversary, and a rough sketch of the world that is slowly getting populated.  Don’t have an outline yet, still working on the characters and worldbuilding, but this novel is going to be a tiny bit epic I think.  The scenes already in my head are pretty grusome and horrific, with a few that are painfully tender.  I hadn’t intended to start another novel until Jan at the earliest, and the next one was supposed to be another project (which is already outlined, damnit!), but hey, I’m hardly going to argue with the muse.

I figure once I’ve got the world set up and a decent working outline, this novel won’t take more than a couple months to write (though the start will be slow because I have to take lots of time in December to edit my other novel).  That’s the benefit of being able to churn out 3-5k words a day once I’m in a groove I guess.  Hopefully someday if (when?) I’m a working writer that ability will stand me in good stead.  For now I’ll just keep developing good habits I guess.

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!

Drafting the Novel: recap

The first novel I’m counting into my 10 novels in 10 years project is now a finished rough draft.  The next step is to hand it out to my first readers and then ignore it for a month or two.  In December I’ll revise it and write a query letter or ten to start the agent hunt in January.  And in Jan I’ll also start novel number 2 in the project (or really, finish it, since I’m 3 chapters into it already from before).

Chwedl came in at 86,560 words.  I was aiming for 100k, and clearly fell short.  I’ve let my first readers know that I’d like to ideally add about 10,000 words to the book and asked them to especially point out places where they feel scenes/descriptions/whathaveyou can be added in a way that will help and not bloat the novel.  87k is a little short, but in the end, if it comes out there, it comes out there and I’ll just have to sell a shorter novel.  At least it isn’t 120k, right?

I learned a lot about my process on this novel.  I like to write in spurts, which I already knew.  I have trouble with middles and tough emotional scenes.  One of the major climax moments in the novel took me nearly two weeks to write of working on it 5-9 hours a day, every weekday.  It’s only about 4k words long.  I was paralyzed with fear that this part wouldn’t come out exactly perfect and thus break the entire ending of the novel which sort of hinges on this moment.  Eventually, I said screw it and made myself stop deleting what I’d drafted and leave it as is.  It’ll need work in the revisions, but that’s what editing is for, after all.

I also made a huge mistake during the writing of this novel that I do not intend to repeat EVER.  I wrote the first half and then promptly got stuck.  Instead of muddling through it as I should have done (and eventually did), I put the novel aside for nearly 8 months.  While I got plenty of work done in that time on short stories and I think greatly improved my writing skills, the novel sat.  By the time I got back to it I’d forgotten a lot of world details and spent a lot of time rereading notes and fixing continuity errors in the new writing (like shoes, how did she lose her shoes? One scene she has them, then for the rest of the time she doesn’t, where did the shoes go? The novel had no idea).  I eventually gave up trying to read back through hundreds of pages of text and started making bracket notes in text where I wasn’t sure about something (which leg did she break before? I’m still not sure…).  I’d lost the tone, the diction, the threads of character.  I’d lost my momentum.

I hope this won’t be a critical mistake, but it definitely means that I’ll have a lot more work during the editing process than I might otherwise.  The only bright point is that I’m fairly sure the writing in the second half of the book is better because I’m a better writer now.  I have a better feel for character and dialogue and I’m working on the whole actually describing things and slowing down for a longer work, where the beginning of the novel is probably written with a lot of skimming on details.  Writing a novel and writing a short story are different things.  Sure, some skills cross over, but it’s still more like the crossover between riding Dressage and riding Jumper.   They take different levels of things, like description.  In a short story, I try to only describe what I absolutely have to and to make any given sentence do as much work for the story as it can.  In novel writing, there’s more leeway to paint the scene (though having things do double duty for character and plot doesn’t hurt, surely).  I have to remember when writing a novel that I’ve got lots of space to build things up and draw out the picture.  I think I got much better at it in the second half of the book.

One of the things I’ll be working on in the revision is slipping in better historical details.  I used ‘fantasy generic’ for things like the clothing and general props.  I have books on early Medieval clothing, and plenty of resources for other details like dishes, everyday implements, and food.  There will definitely be some retrofitting in the descriptions to better reflect the era I’m going for, though I’m claiming this as a re-imagined ancient Wales, not the historic one, so I’m not going to be too anal about it.  But I think details like this will ground a reader better and help make the novel more unique.

But for now I get to battle post-novel-enui.  I have some ideas for how I’m going to do that, which I’ll outline in another post this week.  (I know, two posts in a week, you’ll all be spoiled).

Of course, not helping is the 3rd quarter WotF results that are trickling in.  I’m not in them, you see.  No HM, no for rejection, no semi-finalist notification.  I’m somewhat expecting a form rejection after rereading my story (which I also don’t recommend.  Never reread something out on submission, seriously).  But I’d be psyched with HM.  No news though, this I am not fond of.  The longer I wait, the more my hopes keep trying to creep up.  Not sure why, but somehow the contest makes me far more nervous than the 7 other stories I have out on submission.  Maybe because I know a few people who have won, and they are really going places with their careers.  It sure would be nice to do well in WotF.

All right, enough angsting.  I’m rewarding myself for finishing the draft by reading a ton of books and playing a ton of video games.  Soon enough the rest of the work will start, but in the meantime, I have to go buy a spaceship and mine some asteroids.

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.