Come to My New Blog!

If you followed a link here from a comment I made on somebody's google blog, I would love to have you visit my blog, but this is no longer it. While I may occasionally post things here again once in a long while, virtually all my content will be at from here on out. If you were curious enough to come this far, why not give me one more click?

Friday, January 30, 2009

I need to get automatic at this

“Here, let me show you around,” said Michelle. Chris followed her as she gave him the tour of the house.

I looked at that pair of sentences about five times, knowing it needed something, before I realized: that second sentence doesn't convey any information whatsoever that isn't already obvious. And it sets up what must invariably be a bunch of passive sentences, because it makes the tour complete, which makes any sentences I write about the tour a recap.

Here's something that sucks less:

“Here, let me show you around,” Michelle said, leading him out of the kitchen and into the living room. As he passed the door Lionel had stormed through, she gestured and said, “that’s the study.”

It sucks less because it's people doing stuff, not a narrator reporting on stuff having been done.

I need to get better at spotting those sentences that don't actually say anything.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More of the same

Monday I cheated on my revision and spent the day writing a new short story--only to figure out one scene in that the structure was hopelessly broken and that I needed to take some time to reimagine it. This actually isn't a bad thing; in the past I would have plowed through and written a crappy story. Part of why would have been an inability to see why a story wasn't working. This time I was able to see some of my past writing sins in their infancy, and stop myself before I'd let them take over the story. I'm still excited about the idea, and I think I'm on my way to making a better story out of it.

The experience has also given me a lot of food for thought about how I plot, and the merits and demerits of what I do. This summer I was asked by an agent what my biggest strength as a writer was, and I said plotting. Hah! In my defense, I wasn't lying, just stupid. But I've started to realize that, even as I read this or that guideline on how to plot, I nod my head and say "yep" and then proceed to try to force that paradigm on top of what I do as an afterthought. That doesn't mean there wasn't merit to what I was already doing, but that I wasn't getting any benefit to the tools I was trying, because I wasn't using them honestly.

For instance, one structure I've heard of for a novel is three disasters (of increasing magnitude) followed by a resolution. Now I look back on Vanishing Act and realize that I had the structure I wanted in mind, and just went through it trying to rationalize it into fitting that model, rather than seeing what useful insights, if any, the model could give me. There's nothing wrong with doing your own thing, necessarily, but rationalizing things into being what they ain't is probably just so much wasted time.

Similarly, most short story models I've seen focus on a character's repeated attempts to gain or accomplish something. Three failures plus a resoluiton, say. But I've come to realize that most of my short stories aren't generated by starting with a premise or a character and seeing where it goes, but actually from starting with a conclusion, and making up the story that gets me there. I tend to start with a desired "punchline"--that's what I call it, anyway. The effect I'm trying to achieve at the end of the story. Then I try to generate a story that will get me there. I know there's nothing wrong with that, but now that I realize that, I can look for more fruitful ways to integrate the suggestions I read with my habitual pattern.

As for this chapter I'm revising . . . ugh. The suck continues. So much freaking telling and not showing. The weird thing is that almost every sentence is worthwhile, but almost every one needs to be rewritten. I need a sentence that says pretty much *this*, but that doesn't *suck*.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The suck is strong in this chapter

Back in November I mentioned that I felt like I learned a thing or two about tight prose around chapter eight. I'm doing a close pass on chapter six right now, and man is it work! It's an awkward scene for Chris, and I feel for him. I'm the kind of person who closes my eyes or changes the channel when movie or television characters are placed in really uncomfortable positions, and here I am putting Chris in one. And what I really need to improve this chapter is tighter point of view. Ack! So that's part of the problem. Another part is I feel like my suck vacuum is broken and I'm having to use suck tweezers instead.

Must . . . resist . . . the urge . . . to wax . . . the cat!

(I spent hours today on Google looking for a picture that could inspire me to see the inside of Danny's tacky custom van--with no luck. Everything was either too much or not enough!)

Monday, January 19, 2009

What have you done for me lately?

I'm really struggling to keep my focus on Vanishing Act right now. I've been immersed in this for so long, and I've learned so much that what I really want to do is write something new. I want a chance to put the lessons I've learned about story structure and character motivation and what makes short stories work into practice, not as an afterthought, going through and fixing an existing project, but from the get-go. And, on the grand scheme of things, it probably wouldn't be awful if I took a break and wrote two or three short stories to get it out of my system, except for a few things. First of all, I've got beta readers who are awaiting chapters from me, and I'm trying to go through my own tight edits before I send anything out to them. The more I lose my steam, the more they will lose theirs. Second, I've got agents who've expressed interest in this story, and I haven't followed up on those opportunities. That borders on criminally stupid. And possibly most importantly, there's this little voice in my head telling me to trunk this book despite the fact that I haven't sent a submission to a single agent or editor, telling me that I could make the next one so much better. And I don't want to be that guy--the guy who writes tons of stuff but never sends anything out. I've been that guy in the past; it's an easy pattern to fall into. So I need to make myself push on ahead.

I got a rather gracious rejection on "Unintended Consequences" the other day. The editor complimented my writing and expressed interest in seeing future work from me. The negative side of me can come up with all sorts of reasons not to take that as a positive sign, but I'm going to try to ignore that destructive voice.

That's part of what has me so motivated to write a new story--I think I'm close. This time the writing was there; the story just didn't do it for this editor. I'm inclined to believe part of that comes down to the fact that I'm trying to rework and improve old stories; in the end, they're still old stories. I think if I write some new ones now, I may just be crossing the gap between where I was and publishable.

Last week grades were due, and I was so focused on my day job, and how stressed out and behind I felt, that I had little time for anything else. Now the workload should ease up for a bit. I have no backlog. I have work to do, but I'm completely caught up. So who knows? Maybe I can stay ahead of my critters on VA and still manage to crank out a story or two.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bitter Writer Syndrome

I've started to notice a lot of bitterness in the comments of the agents and editors' blogs I read. It's not exactly a new thing, but it's been on my mind lately. I keep seeing people claiming that getting published is not at all about craftsmanship, or that Agent So-and-so's blog readers are just a bunch of sycophants, that being a sycophant is what it takes to get published. For some reason, I've been dwelling on what a shame this is, because, to my mind, what people who complain about the unfairness of publishing are really doing is looking for ways to avoid examining the reasons for their lack of success. My lack of success is due to my not being good enough. I have thought I was better than I was, and then learned a thing or two and looked back to see just how much I was doing wrong. But I'm getting better. I'm reading, and studying, and practicing, and thinking. The gap between me and successful writers is narrowing, and eventually I will have some publishing success. Watch me and see if I don't.

Are there iniquities in the publishing world? Sure there are. Agenting and publishing decisions are made by human beings who are capable of simply being wrong. But at the end of the day, agents, editors, and publishers are in business to make money, not to help out sycophants or to grind some axe or another. It strains credulity to suggest that they're all going to pass up on commercially viable projects in favor of inferior work. If you think this is happening, maybe you're not seeing the merit in the works they do publish, or maybe you're not seeing the faults in the work you've written. I'm certainly capable of seeing flaws in my work now that I didn't even know to look for a year ago.

People who are so certain that their lack of success is rooted in a cruel, unfair world instead of in the quality of the work they do are basically embracing powerlessness. I believe that if I get good enough, I will succeed. That means my success is in my hands. That's empowering.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The delicate psyche of the aspiring writer

I went to a writing workshop last weekend. It's how my wife and I spent our anniversary, in fact. Yeah, I know, we're nerds. We've made our peace with it.

It was a one-day version of Todd A. Stone's Writer's Boot Camp. I definitely learned a few useful things, but the day had an effect on me that surprised me. I normally eat this sort of stuff up. I like learning about writing. I have at least a dozen books on fiction-writing, and I read a lot of writers' blogs to see what useful tips I can glean. I look forward to conference sessions and hope they'll be time well spent.

But this time I found my spirits getting down. Maybe it's the timing. A lot of times books on writing and workshops spark my creativity. This time, though, I kept hearing these great ideas on character development and thinking, "I didn't do that. My characters suck." And then these great ideas on plotting, and thinking, "I didn't do that. My plotting sucks." And then these great ideas on revision and thinking, "I didn't do that. My book sucks."


It was hard not to come out feeling as if I'd been set back.

Ultimately, I had to compartmentalize a lot of what I learned, as great ideas for the next book, because it's too crippling at this point to think I need to tear my book apart and rewrite it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I'm a mean critter. I just am. :(

I hate making people unhappy. Why can't they be pleased when I tear into their hours of work?!


In other news, I seem to be using the "blarging" tag a lot more lately. This is troubling.


I've been productive on my book today. I finished rewriting my synop from scratch and I incorporated the remarks by one of my critters into my current draft.

I'm still behind on other (read: non-writing) stuff, though. This will need to change. I think I need to stop playing writer for the next two days.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Good thing I waited a few days to make those resolutions

After being pretty successful with my New Year's resolution for 2008, I had some pretty ambitious plans for 2009. Then Monday came and reality slapped me in the face. I'm now sitting here at my desk, surrounded by piles of paperwork I need to get through, and coming to the realization that I need to reprioritize. I know what you're supposed to do when you finish one writing project: begin the next one. Writers write. Duh. But I've got four preps, two of which are new to me, and way more work each week than I can get done in a measly forty hours. It isn't fair, but that's the way it is: I need to devote more of my off-time to my day job.

I'm deeply conflicted about this. I don't want to be one of those people who say they want to write but always have some excuse for not doing so. How many times on this very blog have I commented on how much of this year's growth could have come sooner if I'd just pushed a little harder? But until someone wants to pay me to sit around and write, I need to make sure I keep giving my employers reasons to keep me around. Hopefully what I've done this year will keep my internal self-critic quiet for a few weeks.

Twenty, to be precise.

So here are my scaled back resolutions for 2009:

  • Finish revising Vanishing Act, including the feedback from my critters.
  • Send Vanishing Act to Moonrat for the critique I won, and incorporate her feedback into my submission.
  • Begin sending Vanishing Act to literary agents, starting with the ones who've asked to see it.
  • I can't control whether or not I sell any fiction in 2009, but I resolve to either sell something in 2009 or have rejections for at least five different works to show for myself. This isn't as ambitious as it sounds, because I have a backlog of completed and unsubmitted stories.
  • Do the preliminary work for my next novel.
  • This summer I will begin writing that novel.
  • Complete a first draft of that novel.

That last one may be a bit iffy, if I don't even get started until June, but I can work pretty solidly for almost ten weeks over the summer, and then I'll still have about twenty weeks left in 2009.

No specific goals for writing short stories or for attending conferences and such.

EDIT TO ADD: One more resolution I nearly forgot:

  • I resolve to stop bringing up my blog traffic stats anywhere else, no matter how fascinating, troubling, or just plain weird they are, because it makes me look like a total goober.