The Art of Waiting

Waiting for the Mail by Grant Wright Christian (WPA mural)
Waiting is hard.

Any writer that is submitting stories is in a constant state of waiting to hear back. That’s just life. Some markets are quick (Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Daily Science Fiction to name a few), but once I’ve collected my rejections from them, it’s time to get on the slow boat and submit to the markets that take 30, 60, even 90 days -or more- to respond to that precious story I worked and slaved over.

For me, the only way to stay sane about this process is to keep stuffing stories into the machine.

One thing about writing more stories is that each story becomes a little less precious, which helps. Sure, it’s the most important thing while I’m writing it (you know, love the one you’re with), but then it’s on to the next.
In order to keep the hopper full, I can’t just focus on writing things, I have to finish them. The key here is to know when you are finished.

In the introduction to her book Two Worlds and In Between, Caitlin Kiernan describes looking back at her earlier stories and seeing a kind of snapshot of herself at a certain point in time. Saying that, in her stories,

 “I see the procession of me.”

I love that! After I’ve taken a story though drafting, revision, critique, final changes and proofing, I have to be able to look at it and say, this is the very best story I can write today. 

One of the most important skills for anyone making any kind of art is the ability to really see what you’ve made. To be able to make a clear-eyed critical self-assessment of a story not only allows me to write the best story I can, it also gives me an understanding of my current skills and talents that will allow me to improve. Since I’m an optimist, I am going to assume that, with hard work, I will  be a better writer next year than I am today. 

But, I’m not going to go back to a finished story and rework it because it is what it is. My job is to write better NEW stories. Reworking old ones is chasing a kind of perfection that is not only impossible but, I believe, irrelevant. 


When I’m constantly working on something new, striving to write my best story, waiting on my submitted stories is still hard, but just the business that goes on in the background. I keep my focus on making today’s story the best it can be.

Zombie Envy is up at Flashes in the Dark

A member of staff at the Angels Fancy Dress shop works in their Shaftsbury Avenue branch 
in a Halloween costume, Oct. 28, 2011 in London, England. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

 I got the word rather late last night that one of my stories had been accepted, so here’s the official announcement that my story Zombie Envy up at Flashes in the Dark along with a lot of other great, short horror fiction.


Since zombies are pretty overplayed right now, I wanted to try to write a story that came at the subject from a little different angle. I got to wondering about how much the undead might retain as far as, if not memory, perhaps old habits. That and the idea that old relationships can sometimes kind of shamble on in our hearts in an undead way. I really had fun writing this one. Be warned, it’s a little gross because – zombies.

A Story a Week in 2013

Not every story will be a butterfly, so write more stories!
I have my ongoing writing goals and a queue of story ideas waiting to be written so I was debating wheather to come up actual resolutions this year. But the fact is, I kinda like making resolutions, even if only 10% stick, I figure I’m still in the black. Then I read Chuck Wendig’s post pooh poohing the anti-New Year’s resolutioners:

“This is of course the time of the year when frowny-faced naysayers tell you your resolutions are stupid and why are you waiting till today to make them and keep them, as if your today must conform to their today, as if your decision to evolve or change or Do Something is somehow offensive to them. It’s the same cynical thing you hear at Valentine’s Day — “I don’t need a day to buy flowers for my wife,” they say, which is true, but of course they probably don’t buy flowers for their wives on any other day anyway.”

And that sealed it!

Not only am I going to make resolutions. I’ll tell you about them so that you, fair reader, can hold me accountable. First, be sure to read the rest of Wendig’s short, inspiring rant here.

Then on New Year’s day, I stumbled upon Jay Lake’s great essay where he gives his own four rules of writing:

1) Write a story every week.
2) Finish everything you start.
3) Don’t self-critique while you’re writing
4) Work on one thing at a time.

I think I’m ready to step up my game to produce a story a week, so I’ve decided to participate in Write 1 Sub 1 This year.

I am modifying this challenge since while I think writing a story a week is achievable, I agree with Lake that not all those stories will be keepers. So, I am resolving to write (i.e. finish) one story a week and to submit two stories per month allowing for a 50% success/failure rate. It will just about double my submission numbers which were closer to one per month last year. I like how Lake looks at his stories as inventory with the point being that you want lots of inventory.

I’m going to keep up with my daily freewriting with a timed piece of true free writing and a timed piece that is a story exercise from one my my many prompt books, games, apps, etc. This represents about 20 – 40 minutes of warm up activity – what any good athlete or musician puts in.


I will still be blogging every Thursday and might even post a flash story or three. 

A New Genre Magazine: Deimos eZine

and a handsome cover too!
I am proud to have a story in this first issue of Deimos eZine. My story Fairview 619 may be familiar to you as it was previously at Revolution SF’s website. That little story has legs!

According to their website:

“Welcome to Deimos eZine. Deimos comes from the Greek Δεῖμος, one of the many words translated as dread. Deimos eZine embodies dread in the stories we believe in, the artwork we showcase, and in the lifestyle that many writers lead.”

I don’t know if I have a “dread” lifestyle (as cool as that may sound), but I’ve started to read through this issue and so far I like the company. I’m looking forward to getting to know these other writers through their work. The editors have plans to make Deimos available on Kindle and Nook as well as in print. 

For the writers among you, they are open to submissions and are also running a contest for longer pieces:

“We accept longer pieces for the contest, up to 7,500 words, and the contest winner receives a monetary award and publication in the September issue in a special Contest Winner section.”

Whether you’re interested in writing or reading, go check out this new kid on the genre block.

Quitting


Yeah, sorry Story A Day. Like National Novel Writing Month, it’s a great concept and got me really worked up and (this is important) set me on a more productive course. I have generated and written more complete drafts in these past two weeks, than maybe ever.

This happened because I tried this challenge, but failing it has showed me something about my process. And this year is all about me figuring out my process. How to generate and manage new ideas while drafting material and shaping them into stories. And how to keep up with revising what I wrote last week. I would like to write a novel starting in 2013, but I don’t want to entirely give up writing short stories so there’s a lot to figure out.

I discovered that yes I can generate and draft a flash fiction story in a day, but I also found out that I cannot know how long any given story will be once I start writing it. Starting something requires an emotional committment, which means I must to see it through to the end even if doesn’t happen for 6,000 words or more. Given my commitments I cannot hole up for 25 hours to write a novelette so Story A Day, while it’s wonderful – is not a great fit for me.

So I’ve set some new goals. Actually they’re old new goals as in ones I’ve set before, only this time I seem to be achieving them!

  • Write 1,000 words a day (That gives me one standard length story a week or a couple shorter ones.)
  • Keep up with revisions
  • Try to submit one story a week (it won’t be that week’s story because, you know, revising)



For now to heck with deadlines. It’s all about keeping things moving through the pipeline.

Writers Groups & the Value of Critique

The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop was excellent again this year. The morning was devoted to a wide-ranging discussion about different aspects of writing and publishing. Pros who write, edit, publish and review all had great advice and opinions about the process of writing and the business of getting published.

After lunch we broke into separate critique groups. The ratio of pros to students was nearly 1:1. My group had four students and three pros! (Cat Rambo, Liz Gorinsky from Tor, and Stina Leicht) Everyone, student and pro alike, put their egos aside and came to work. I feel like everyone gave and got good feedback for the chapters and stories they brought. I’ll be revising my short story next week and look forward to sending it out into the world.

I have always felt that both getting AND giving critiques are valuable tools when learning how to write. There are so many techniques that you must manage to produce really good prose. When I write I try to get inside the story, the characters, and their world. It’s easy to loose perspective about what’s working and what isn’t. Putting the work away for a few days can help (and I do that too). But getting a critical perspective on a work in progress is often what will help me take it to the next level.

The key is a CRITICAL perspective. It sounds scary, and the endeavor is not without pitfalls. There isn’t really any instruction for critiquing, so most of us just have to learn how to do it any way we can. The world of critiquing is full of trolls and ogres who will tear your work down so they can show how brilliant they are (NOT). There are well-meaning dolts, toadies and yes men (usually relatives) only interested in heaping praise on anything you show them.

Learning how to give good criticism will help you recognize and find good critiquers for your own work. I started out reading slush for the Austin Film Festival‘s annual screenwriting competition. I would recommend looking for slush work. It’s an eye-opening introduction to the basics of presentation and storytelling, and you don’t need that much experience to weed out the awful.

Most of the time the only option is to dive in. Take a workshop if you can, or look for a group in your area. Many people form their own groups after attending a workshop like the ArmadilloCon Writer’s Workshop. With Skype and other chat services it’s possible to have a real-time discussion regardless of where you all live.

Here in Austin, Texas I attend the Slugtribe writer’s group, which is an open critique group. I like meeting face-to-face because it allows for a give and take that can be useful and illuminating. People in the group can ask you questions and tailor their comments to your stated intention. Also, people can disagree, which often generates a discussion about the piece that goes in interesting places.

When you’re live and/or in-person the Milford rules are a good format, which is essentially keep your trap shut – and listen, really listen – while everyone gives their thoughts and impressions on your work. Don’t worry you’ll get your turn at the end. But remember a critique is not about you defending your work against all comers, it’s about problem solving and making what you’ve done better.

You may find that learning how to articulate how a story isn’t working, will teach you as much about writing techniques as any book or class. Good criticism requires you to fully engage with the work of others; to think not about how YOU would write this story or chapter but about what this writer is trying to accomplish.

The more you learn how to give it the easier it is to take it. Getting good criticism helps you to develop a thick skin, because you can’t write good stories without becoming emotionally involved, and even if you know they aren’t perfect, it still hurts to have their imperfections pointed out.

Also, it will teach you to be brave. By accepting errors (in a story in particular or your work in general), you reduce their cost. Once you see that the flaws pointed out by a good critique session can be addressed, you can spend less time perfecting your work before anybody sees it and more time being daring and trying new techniques.

There are also some online groups out there for genre writers. Most of them require you to critique other members’ work in order to put yours up for critique, providing both an opportunity to give and receive critiques. The downsides of these groups are the same as with any web-based endeavor of this sort: from amateur or lazy critiques to snark and worse. I still think it’s better than nothing, just gird yourself for the experience. Critters is an open and free group. It’s quite high volume and can be a good place to start. Currently, I use the Online Writing Workshop they charge a small annual fee. I feel that this investment shows in both higher quality work and better critiques.

Just remember to critique in the spirit of generosity. No matter how bad someone’s work is, they were still brave enough to put it out there, so find a way to be both kind and honest. Just remember, it’s about the work and, I believe, about supporting each other on the journey.

The Joys of Flash Fiction

Lately I’ve been adding flash fiction to both my reading and writing. A good flash piece can set a scene, tell a story and pack a punch. It doesn’t take as long to write a flash fiction piece as it does to write a five to six thousand word short story, but it’s just as challenging.

I’m reading and writing my way through The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction,

Which is the best book I’ve found so far. Like flash fiction itself, instead of one long multi-chapter text, it is a series of essays/lessons about the form from different authors and teachers who specialize in writing flash fiction.

There are a lot of interesting sites around the net to read flash fiction and some that provide weekly or even daily prompts. Personally, I’m going to step up my flash fiction writing for publication. I’ll also be writing and posting one flash piece a month here.

Here are some of the places I’ve been going for my flash fiction fixes. They are genre friendly places to read, share or submit* flash fiction.


Abyss & Apex: Magazine of Speculative Fiction









FlashQuake



Every Day Fiction




Flash Fiction Online



Daily Science Fiction 







And here are some sites that provide flash fiction writing prompts. I plan to try them all out in the coming months. Be aware that posting your writing to these sites or on your own blog is generally considered publishing it. So if you write something you feel might sell don’t post it, submit it instead!


Flash Fiction Friday

According to their site: “Flash Fiction Friday is a weekly writing project to encourage new thought and writing by providing a weekly story prompt for writers of all levels….Once you’re done post the story to your blog, website, or some place that you can share. Return to the original prompt post and submit the link in the comments.”

io9 flash fiction

io9 posts a visual prompt every Saturday and encourages people to post their flash stories in the comments section. I love writing from visual prompts so will definitely be trying out some of these. (The picture above is just one example of their prompts.)

Chuck Wendig’s site

Chuck Wendig’s site has tons of fun and useful writing advice, so it’s worth the trip even if you’re not interested in flash fiction. Every Friday he posts a flash fiction challenges with interesting twists geared to make you think about and improve your writing. Do be warned his language is spicy.

*Many markets are open to flash even if they’re not looking for it exclusively looking for it.