January 2010 - Posts

Plotting the Course
Friday, January 29, 2010 11:17 AM
I believe it was Joan d'Arc that said, "I never for a moment lose sight of my divine mission. Everything else is a means to that end." I wouldn't dare presume that I have a divine mission in my literary goals but the point she makes is a relevant one. Keep your objective in mind and work towards that. This can be applied to the how a writer manages his or her time, making sure that the tasks that you devote yourself too contribute to your goals or on the much small scale of a single story. In his 1947 essay, "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction," my favorite author Heinlein said "You must finish what you start." He may have been talking about finishing the stories that you start but I took it to mean that within a story itself you must solve the problems that you create and the end must fit the rest of the tale. A rock that trips up a lot of amateur writers is creating a clear conflict or problem in the beginning of the story, complicating things along the way, this raises the stakes and builds the tension to a climax where, in the end, that conflict is resolved.

With these things in mind I'd like to point out a flow chart method of sorts that I won't fully take credit for "inventing" but I didn't learn it in writing school. I'm just convinced that there is nothing new under the sun and in the plethora of books about writing someone expounded on a similar technique. Regardless, this is something I do. Instead of drawing an up-side-down check mark or creating an outline (I do but of those sometimes too) I will write on a piece of paper or my white board three words as underlined headers of columns, "Problems," "Complications," and finally "Resolutions." Then I write all the stuff that happens in the story with arrows pointing to show how one event complicates one problem and then how it leads to the prescribed resolution. Hey, I didn't say I reinvented the wheel here, it's just a simple way of keeping things straight if you can't do it in your head. I find it particularly helpful in organizing stories with multiple plot lines and problems.

A quick update on how the week went. Two more rejections, two more chapters written in the book! Plugging away at another short story and I deployed another handful of submissions. I'm feeling pretty good, over all.

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished writer.

by DMI | with no comments
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George Singleton and a long, littered road
Monday, January 25, 2010 2:28 PM
I recently read a humorous article by writer George Singleton published in the Oxford American called "How to Write Stories...And lose weight, clean up the environment and make a million dollars." If you're not familiar with Singleton he is a hilarious "southern" writer whose stories I really enjoy, usually having to stop several times in the middle to roll around on the floor, and after I read I come to the conclusion that I will never write anything that witty. If I come up with a one-liner I'm pretty pleased with myself. This guy makes a whole story out of them making them add up into funnier situational jokes and story that has some kind of meaning that I can't quite put my finger on but according to several former literature professors I shouldn't try to analyze so I just drop it. They always told me this with a mystical look in their eyes like that matronly relative talking about the undefinable uniqueness of their spaghetti recipe (I'm on to you Aunt Cissy!).

I digress. The basic point of the article, which no one should take too seriously, is that you should wake up, write 1,000 words and then walk down the road picking up cans. The next day you do the same thing. The walking will help you lose weight, the picking up cans will clean up the environment and then you can sell them to buy postage to mail your stories out. By the end of the week you've got a couple bucks worth of aluminum and one short story. Skip ahead a few years and you might be published in a few magazines. After twenty you'll be a successful writer.

Singleton doesn't fail to point out that if you have a job or a spouse this plan might not work but the real point behind his humor is clear. No one gets to be a writer overnight and if you aren't willing to deal with that and put in a lot of work, "then, don't write."

by DMI | with no comments
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Looking back at an old story; Looking back at a successful week
Friday, January 22, 2010 1:50 PM
Too often in this quest, I find myself having to give up because something I'm trying to write or trying to revise just isn't working and I don't know how to fix it. I'm faced with the choice of continuing to stare at my computer screen not accomplishing anything or give up and try something else. For the sake of my sanity and being productive, my modus operandi in this situation has been to give up, but that is never easy and always a little painful. Every new idea, every story is something that excites and propels me to write. Maybe this could be the one, maybe this will the story I knock out of the park, that really kicks ass and magazines can't wait to publish. I know, I need to chill. I'm becoming more realistic about my expectations but each failed story feels like a personal failure and set back.

Earlier this week, just after I opened the web browser and navigated here to find my shiny new blog, I decided to pick up an old story. Not that old, I wrote it last summer and my then fiancee gave me some great criticism but I struggled in the revision process. I had a professor tell me once to give it some time between writing and revising but I usually take that to mean a few days or a week. Well, half a year later I started reading through my wife's comments and looking at the draft that just wasn't where I wanted it to be and with time's gift of a new perspective, I fixed the damn thing. I won't be so bold to say, look for it in a fiction magazine near you, but I can warn editors, look for it in a submission box near you.

There is a great deal of joy when you complete the task of turning vision to reality and on that high note I'd like to mention the success of this week as a whole. Besides the redemption of an old failure and the brand spanking new blog, I broke ground on a promising new story (to which I will return following this entry) and I scribed another chapter in the novel. Add in a few more stories I moved along in the submission process, I'd call that a pretty successful week. Maybe one of the most productive in quite awhile.

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished fiction writer.

by DMI | with no comments
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Facelift
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 10:33 AM
I'd like to give a big ole thanks to Will Burns of Blogiversity for giving my blog this amazing facelift! I hope my readers enjoy this crisp new look as much as I do. The font is of the courier suite which I requested because that is the standard for manuscript formatting (other rules on manuscript formatting can be found here: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~mslee/format.html). Blue is my favorite color and I love the new graphic banner that captures my frustration and my warrior spirit (if my hair gets any longer I might be able to pull of that samurai bun). You did an excellent job, Mr. Burns.

A change like this one can often bring reinvigoration to an endeavor, shaking up the normal goings-on and providing a rush of air into idle lungs. And it can be the same with writing. I began reading a book recently that I'd been meaning to get to for some time. "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," by Joseph Campbell is a study of the archetypal hero's journey through classic myths and legends from around the world. I heard about the book in college through a friend taking a course in mythology and even read some of the handouts he got on Campbell's studies that laid out the archetypal story lines of a hero's journey. In fact, I did everything but attend the class, as I read the material and helped him write papers. Recently, I was reminded of the book while watching a documentary on Star Wars where George Lucas said he began writing his famous story while taking Campbell's class. My wife bought the book for me (the latest edition has Luke Skywalker on the cover, though Campbell doesn't talk about the trilogy in the book) and now as I've begun reading it I have attacked my novel with renewed vigor. I never stopped working on it, but in the last few weeks my efforts have been split and the time I spent on the book was in writing about the fictional world in which it was set, pre-writing in other words. A necessary task, to be sure, but now I find myself giving that first chapter a facelift and having written quite a lot just in this morning as my hero encounters what Campbell deems, "The Call to Adventure."

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished fiction writer.

by DMI | 1 comment(s)
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What a Writer Wants in Rejection
Thursday, January 14, 2010 2:49 PM
I recently got a rejection letter that made me so excited you would have thought rejection was what I was going for. I get a lot of these things and normally they aren't worth mentioning to my wife, so when I said, "Hey, honey, I got an awesome letter from a magazine I submitted to," you can imagine how confused she was when I said they didn't want my stuff (not to mention a little peeved for getting her hopes up, but I like to have fun like that). Even though they were rejecting my work, I was excited because in their e-mail they included the brief commentary of two different readers who had read my story. It wasn't much but for a guy starving for anyone to look at his material it was enough to send me through the roof, especially since some of what they mentioned was very fixable and not all of the rest was bad. Too put a cherry on top, they got back to me within five days! FIVE! That's unheard of. The speed demons will get things back to you in a couple of weeks. Five days, in my experience is unprecedented.

What magnificent magazine deserves credit for this fine feat of rejection? "Mindflights." http://mindflights.com/

You see, normally what you get back from a magazine is a form rejection. These under staffed institutions are so swamped with submissions that they don't have time to write a letter to the writer about why they aren't accepting their work and make suggestions to fix it. It's sad but understandable. Out of these form rejections I expect only simples niceties and platitudes such as "thank you for submitting your story," "unfortunately, we're going to pass on your work," "good luck placing your work elsewhere," and "tastes vary by market." I haven't gotten a form rejection that really made me mad, although it's nice when it comes with some cool letterhead. Esquire's was neat though, it included a lengthy list of tips on submitting specifically to them, such as what exactly they are and are not looking for.

The worst thing of course, is to never hear back and, unfortunately, sometimes that happens. It's even worse than that time I got my story back with a green post-it note that said, "Sorry, we are no longer accepting fiction." Hey, they at least sent me back my story. I suppose the only thing that could have improved Mindflight's rejection would have been some cool letterhead. Or an acceptance.

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm still writing and submitting.

by DMI | 1 comment(s)
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If you're bored, good God, think of your readers!
Friday, January 08, 2010 4:51 PM
The week didn't go exactly as planned but, what does? By Tuesday I was bored with the Sulphur Springs story. It just wasn't working. I didn't care about the character, the dialogue wasn't funny, and the action was going nowhere. As I was trying to muscle farther into it on Wednesday I realized, if I'm bored by my own story, why on Earth would a slush reader be interested and why would an editor want to publish it? If you can't entertain yourself, who can you entertain? (Interestingly enough, that is among the rejected Russel Crowe lines from the movie "Gladiator.")

So I gave it up. I didn't delete it or anything and maybe I'll come back to it later if the mood strikes me, but it until then, there is no sense wasting my precious writing time doing something I don't enjoy and generally slows me down. Sulphur Springs may have failed (or did I fail it?) but the week was not a total loss. Actually, I wouldn't call it a loss at all. I did a significant amount of work on the novel and churned out out two scifi flash fiction pieces. To round out this little progress report, I sent two stories off to mags and did some research into submitting to others. Mostly that includes low to no pay, small operation online stuff, but if I can't get a story taken by the major mags I might as well try it there and see if it helps get my name out.

Definitely planning to keep up the work on the novel next week but I'm still up in there about what short story project I want to try and tackle. I've got a huge bag of ideas to pull from and more than a few stories I started and never finished. I don't even know if I want to try mainstream literary or more science fiction. Whatever I decide I just hope I have better luck than I did with Sulphur Springs.

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm a hard working amateur fiction writer.

by DMI | with no comments
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Resolute
Monday, January 04, 2010 9:32 AM
On this first monday of 2010, with the long holidays over I am here to report nothing of great importance. I will make no grand resolutions, commitments of promises on the occasion of a new year over than to say I am resolute in goals already established and again putting keyboard to word processor, stamp to submission, mind to story and working towards a brighter future for myself and my loved ones. Written atop the white board on my desk is the phrase, "Ad astra per aspera," meaning, in the latin, "to the stars despite adversity." Though there has been and will continue to be adversity in this struggle, my wild thrashing in the waters of obscurity, I persevere not only to come out alive at the end of it all, whatever that end may be, but that on the other side will be nothing but the stars. In shorter achievement will hardly be an achievement at all.

When I say I record nothing of great importance, I mean that to other people this will doubtlessly seem unimportant and thats fine. For me, this is a tool to be used to record progress and motivate my self to write better. For this tool to be used successfully, I will from this point forward be more specific in those goals that are not wavering. I completed a story over the holidays that is now in the editing phase as my readers look at it for me and I give that particular project a brief rest so that I might gain perspective and distance on it. I am starting full scale work on another story that is only slightly started and giving myself the deadline of Friday for first draft completion. Tentatively titled, "Sulphur Springs" it will be general fiction and were dreams daily happenings, it would go in the short story collection, "Florida Boy."

I don't intend to finish it today but time permitting, throughout the week I will of course be plugging away at a novel project and perhaps playing in a few other ideas to see what develops into possibilities for later weeks. Also, after rejection from all major high-paying print scifi markets, I am going to submit a short short scifi story to the e-zine, "Strange Horizons."

Until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished fiction writer.

by DMI | with no comments
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