Time to revise my goals

Yesterday marked the first official/proper publication of one of my stories. That’s ten months since I started to try writing as more than just a bit of fun, so I thought I’d talk a bit about how it’s been so far and what comes next.

As with so many people, I’d like to write a novel. I’ve had the same story growing in the back, and front, of my mind for a good number of years now, but turning that idea into the final product always seemed too daunting. In fact, even getting started seemed too daunting. So, at the start of the year, when I finally kicked myself up the butt, I began reading around how to write, and one bit of advice that resonated was that you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) expect to jump right in without first learning the tricks of the trade, and a great way to do this was by short story writing. And so it was that the novel got put on hold before it’d really been taken off hold (sniff of fear and procrastination, maybe?) and I began scribing short stories.

I set myself the goal of getting some (clearly defined goal if ever I saw one) stories published in decent markets by the end of the year, and quietly expected to do this quite easily. It isn’t easy! I wrote a lot and started submitting to carefully chosen markets, and got rejected. This was disappointing, but I selected another market and tried again. Important lesson here: focus on quality when you’re writing, but when it comes to submitting, go for quantity—good markets reject even good stories, so chances are slim. Maximise your chances by submitting more. Along the way I also learned about the less favourable markets that are only there to mess you around (Avid Writers, who were the source of this excited post, then disappeared before publishing anything).

I set myself the goal of 1000 words a day, which seemed reasonable and was recommended by some authors I’d researched. Here is something I still have to work on. I’m a slow writer. Really slow. I worry about every word, sentence, paragraph and page. I go back over them, and try to pick the perfect expression first time. I’m quite aware that a far better way to do things is just splurge it all down then edit it, and I think I’m pretty good on the editing side. Nevertheless, I’m still facing this problem of slow writing—something I need to work on.

Another goal I had which has proven hard to achieve is creating more than I edit. This was easy at the beginning, when I had less content. Now, with 27 pieces logged in The Submission Grinder, and about an equal number in various states of construction, repair or disrepair, it’s pretty hard to find any time to write new things due to all the editing and submitting rejected pieces to new markets. Something I’ve recently tried is realising when a piece actually isn’t that great, and so sending it to less picky markets (with the goal of getting it out of the way quicker). I’ve also retired a couple of stories that I am unsure are worth the effort.

Going back to that initial goal of improving my writing, though, I am happy to say that I really have done this. Well, maybe. I’ve learned a lot, mostly about what not to do, and I’m now better able to look at my work and think ‘Oh yeah, I’m doing something I shouldn’t be again.’ Anyway, I do feel that my dialogue, pace, removal of waffle, simplicity of language, character development, inclusion of interesting conflict, etc has improved a lot. Learning these things has been my favourite part of the process so far.

To finish off for today, I’m going to give my new goals. I’m feeling tired of writing super short stories , and also think it’s time to face the difficulty that is planning and holding together a longer work. That’s why, from now on, I’m shifting my focus to novelettes and novellas—still not too long (Novelette = 7,500-20,000 words; Novella = 20,000-50,000 words), but long enough to require a plan. And, in the meantime, I’ve got two or three of my short stories that I still think are really good, and still hope to find a top-tier home for.

The pipeline to publication

I’m fascinated by the process a story goes through from idea to the final product. Firstly inside the author’s head, including their interactions with the world on the way to forming the idea into what they attempt to get onto the paper, and then the sculpting that comes after that through repeated edits to chisel off the rough bits and emphasise the fine features.

But also, there’s the process a story goes through after it’s been submitted. Recently, I’m doing a LOT of submissions. To begin with I thought it’d be one or two, then it’d be accepted (silly me), then just turning them round when they were rejected, but right now I’m taking advantage of markets that allow simultaneous submissions so I can have multiple subs for the same story at different places.

Looking at the market stats on Submission Grinder, response time for different markets vary from 1 to around 200(!) days, so what do they do in this time? Obviously, there are very different models out there, and the model the market employs must also be dependent on the volume of submissions they receive. Actually, I’m familiar with the pipeline from submission to publication in scientific journals, as that’s where I work, but I was pleasantly surprised recently to find a fiction magazine that had dedicated a page to laying this process out… and also pleasantly surprised to see that it isn’t all that different to the way we do it at work!

Here is the page, provided by Empyreome, and also including the percentages for the different kinds of response they send out, and the typical wording of each.

Work (-.-;)

It’s been some time since I wrote anything here. That isn’t because I’ve not been writing, but because I started a new job and have been having trouble finding time to do all the things I want to. So, here’s a little chat about the challenge of rearranging time.

After the previous job, I took a few months to mentally recover and apply for something else, then finally took on a little English teaching work when the money situation got dire. All this gave me plenty of time for writing and other bits and bobs, but in June, I got a exactly the kind of job I’d been looking for. Time-wise, it’s a standard-ish 9.30-5.30 affair, but travelling across London adds an extra hour on either side of this, and I soon found that a rush-hour journey home after a busy day at work just destroyed me: after making and eating dinner, then chilling a while with the other half and the needy cat, I had absolutely no get up and go.

My solution to this has been to try get in the habit of waking up earlier, avoiding morning rush hour with an early tuberide, then working in a cafe near the office before work starts. So, how’s that working out? Well, I’ve been working for four-ish months, and doing this early routine for about two of those, and this is the first week I’ve managed every morning (it’s also a week I’ve had far less alcohol… correlation?). Currently, my alarm is waking me at 6.30 a.m., though I’ve had to work towards that. I’m aiming for 6 a.m. at some point, but I’m happy to let it take some time.

Now, as far as writing is concerned, this isn’t ideal because it gives be only about 1.5 hours per day (and I also do my other things in that time, so it’s probably only one or two days a week at the moment), but, especially recently, I’ve been managing to utilise it well. It’s quite a driver to know that you have little other time. It’s also quite useful to work in a cafe that has a rather poor internet connection, as I often end up just switching WiFi off and not getting distracted.

There are also effects outside the writing though. On the positive side, having this early routine has made me feel like I am (suffering?) putting in effort to be more effective, and this feeling in itself has given me more drive to be even more effective, so there’s a nice little positive feedback loop in there. However, the change in routine completely killed my evenings. I’ve been falling asleep on the sofa, on the floor, on my other half and of the cat. Though it’s hard to wake up early, it’s possibly harder to go to bed early! Thursdays and Fridays I’ve been zombetic, and Saturday mornings have seen me not getting up till midday. As you can imagine, this has all affected my other half and her routine, too.

However, like I said, this week this new routine has actually felt more natural, and I am very happy with the results. So, here’s to early morning writing!

Style tips from a target magazine

A while back I wrote a little post about Strange Horizons’ magazines webpage discussing over-used story themes. Today I found a similar goldmine of info on Metaphorosis magazine’s page, but this time relating to style and the kind of things and editor thinks while reading and deciding upon a story. Here’s the page.

As a summary, the page includes

  • a description of the process an editor goes through (it’s interesting and reassuring to see how formulaic it is)
  • descriptions of how your Opener, Prose, and Resolution should impress them
  • how to interpret their feedback on a story you’ve submitted to them
  • links to other magazines you can submit to that also offer feedback when you submit to them: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Deep Magic and Andromeda Spaceways.

Additionally, the Metaphorosis site has other useful style related pages on stuff to avoid in your writing and a rather fascinating page on the submission statistics.

Places to submit

The dream is that you wrestle with your inner demons and the particular monsters of your peculiar experience to create a story that is so brilliant that its genius cannot be denied.

The reality is that you write a story, it gets rejected, you write another, it goes the same way, you write a hundred more, and maybe get one accepted.

So, with a hundred stories, and an uncountable number of target magazine/journals/websites, how do you keep track of your own submissions and the places you could possibly submit to in the future.

Now, my amazing idea when I started submitting the stories I wrote, not so very long ago, was to create a Google Doc with all the targets and my stories. I figured I’d fiddle with it a little over the coming months, hone it down to a perfect piece of productive software, then let others have it…

Yep, great idea.

Well, here it is: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1BPeq0K-CBqrk6AJtiFBxXGDY91kL13PnOJ1OoGtGCMw/edit#gid=552055455/copy

It’s a pretty useful tool as it contains a number of targets you can apply to, along with their details, as well as a place to store your stories and see what’s happening with them, and an automatic count of your submissions, rejections and acceptances.

(note: there may be a problem with the automatic count, which means you need to copy the special code on this page to a script (Data–>script editor))

HOWEVER

HOWEVER

HOWEVER

With experience comes knowledge! (Remember that, you snot-nosed infants… but even more you snot-nosed OAPs). Today I found a tool (that most people more experienced know about) that is really useful. This is Submission Grinder. This is a great way to see different magazines/journals/websites that you can target, and also see their stats (mean number of days till they read you story, etc).

Ok, it isn’t quite the same personalised experience as the Google Doc I was making, but it’s damn useful.

As well as this, the best I’ve come across is Submittable (which you probably know if you’ve submitted anything).

If you know other ways to keep track of what you’re doing and of the places to submit to, please let me know.

A column of story

How to entitle this… ‘A column of story’… ‘Linear writing’… ‘Following time’…

To be honest, I can’t even describe to myself what I want to say!

Two steps back: I’d like to talk about something I’ve noticed in my writing and others in the few months I’ve been writing and submitting flash fiction (aiming at the 1000 word mark). It primarily concerns how time flow is dealt with in story telling.

About two months ago I wrote a story called ‘Megafauna’. Super quick summary: humans mess things up, wipe out humanity except for a few people who jump into cryostorage, pop out XXXX years later and the story happens. The first part (the background about the fall of humanity) was written as an ad-lib exercise, but I knew it was background, so the whole lot flashed by quickly and was written in past perfect tense (they had messed things up, a select few had decided to end it, et cetera). I wrote the rest of the story (past simple; standard stuff) and really liked it, but felt the beginning was, for lack of a better term, shit. Every time I re-read it, I was struck by how boring it was just reading through a bunch of background in an extremely distant and non-narrative tense before the exciting part of the story even began.

Eventually, after fiddling with it for a few weeks, I came to my first real learning moment since I started: If there is anything you are less than 100% sure about in your story, it means it’s crap (just the bit you ain’t sure about)… if its own father/mother doesn’t love it, there’s no way a stranger will.

So, I decreed to keep my crap-dar keenly engaged while reading my own work and if it quivered even slightly, I would be willing to engage in hardcore re-writing.

Back to Megafauna: the problem was the background section. I trimmed it and trimmed it until finally I realised that if I think it needs trimming so much, it just needs removing–so I removed the whole bit. It was approximately half the story (500 words) to begin with, and essential background for the main bit of the story, but I thought I would attempt to integrate it with the main characters’ chatter. It turns out that 500 words of background narration can be reduced to about 50 words of careful hints!

Well bugger me!

Or, to put it another way: Tris had spent much time fiddling with the story and had realised it needed changing before he asked the world to bugger him.

Now, it doesn’t finish there. I’ve just read the novel (series of novellas?) Wool by Hugh Howey and while my review is far from glowing, it does employ this ‘forward’ storytelling technique exceptionally well. In fact, I had a peculiar feeling that the text was a long, thin column of words that flowed downwards exactly in synch with with time. I haven’t experienced that sensation before with a piece of fiction, but it did make it very easy to read.

So, in short, things I’ve learnt recently are: if you don’t love a bit of your story, it needs changing AND you should do your best to tell the story in chronological order, starting with the first relevant event that befalls the protagonist.

Bored now.

Bye