I’m disappointed in myself.
I hate these disclosure blog posts but hopefully folks can learn from my example.
Here’s the situation. I signed up for the Fairwood Writers Workshop at Westercon this year. However, I didn’t sign up (or know about it) until Norwescon, earlier this month. The deadline for submissions was, oh, last night. Now, I have a new puppy, I’ve been seriously sick and work has been vigorous this month. Heck of an April. That hasn’t left a lot of time for writing. Except for this weekend.
I have a short story, set in the same world as Angel Odyssey, about a boy living in a death-worshipping culture. Honestly, I think it might have one of my stronger short stories. It was about a quarter done before this weekend, aiming for a word count of 7~8k. It was a story I really wanted a pro’s opinion on.*
This weekend was the first time all month where I felt well enough and Logan Tiberious was ‘behaving’ well enough for me to try to get some writing done. It wasn’t a huge window of time, a few hours on Saturday, a few hours on Sunday. But it was enough. If I had used my time wisely.
That’s the setup, here’s what happened. I worked 13 hours Friday and Saturday…well…I felt like sitting on the couch or taking Logan for a walk**. So, video games and resting won out over writing. Not the end of the world, I thought. I have Sunday morning. I knew the basic plot. And I can seriously crank out wordcount when I’m in the zone.
What did I do Sunday morning? I wrote a DIFFERENT story.*** I spent several precious hours writing a fifteen page short story. It was one of those stories that popped into my head and I felt like I needed to blow out my tubes with, so to speak, so I could write what I really needed to write.
Bad idea. I finished the throwaway story. That left me with two hours to write about 6k words. Not. Going. To. Happen.
See, when I get into the zone and write like I did Sunday morning, it seriously takes a lot out of me. I end up sweaty and achy**** I have to rest, refuel and recover. I did and I even got some more writing in (getting to the half-way point in the story) but I basically wasted my best shot. And I wasn’t trying to write around writer’s block. I wasn’t at a loss for ideas in the story. I just had this story in my head that wanted to jump to the front of the line.
So this is coming from the heart, here. If you want to be a professional writer, like I do. You need to act like a professional. That doesn’t mean wearing a sportcoat to conventions.***** It means writing what you need to write and not what you want to.
Video games, TV, throwaway writing…those are all rewards for doing the work you need to do. You can’t let them be a barrier to doing the work itself.******
I ended up submitting an older story. Not a bad story by any means but one that I’ve gotten Wordslinger feedback on already and that I was already planning on revising******* before sending out. Now, I’ll be interested in hearing what folks have to say about it, more eyes are good. But I didn’t send out the story I really wanted to. And I’m not likely to be able to submit it to any other workshops this year.
Learn from my screw up. Write what you need to write. Don’t goof around with a deadline.
*though I’m finding the feedback from the Wordslingers to be as useful, if not more so.
**It was also one of those rare sunny, warm Spring days.
***not a salable one, I suspect, either.
****from not getting up and moving around. I’d say ‘don’t do that’ but to be honest, when I’m in the zone, nothing else exists. I can no more get up and walk around than I can stop doing the Humpty Dance halfway through. Annnnd, that’s not a great metaphor.
*****Though that helps :)
******Notice I’m not including reading on that list. Book reading can’t get in the way of your writing but it’s so vital for a writer that if you’re going to goof off, reading sort of gets a pass, I think.
*******And expanding to novella length, I think. Or maybe a novelette. It feels like it wants to break the 10k barrier but I’m not sure by how much, yet.
Hey folks, sorry for the silence. Work has been/is busy as heck. I have an embarrassment of riches with no less than six Wordslinger short stories or chapters to critique before Saturday. Sadly, my writing and blogging output has suffered.
I'll try to get more writing done this weekend and have more thoughts for you all next week.
I’ve been slowly working on a short story set in my Angel Oddysey world. I’m a big fan of writing short stories in the same world as my novels.* It’s fun from a world-building perspective, which will help future novels as more of the world is clear in my head. And it’s also a way to explore other characters, perspectives and cultures apart from the main story line.
This story is set in the Death God, Bohan’s, kingdom. I was interested in the idea of a culture who’s whole focus is on death. Not on the act of killing or sacrifice, but in the idea that all of life is testing ground to determine each person’s status in the afterlife. Criminals and heretics (anyone from the culture that does not worship Bohan in the approved way) will have their sprits entombed in the flesh of the dead. Which is a pretty nasty punishment. Greedy or selfish people may have their corpse boiled down to the bones and then serve eternally as a skeletal servant. And there are the higher orders of undead, who do not rot but are immune to pain and discomfort. Those undead are viewed as blessed by Bohan.
It’s a theocratic empire, ruled directly by a god and his priesthood and it serves as the ‘big bad’ in Angel Odyssey and several other books I have planned. But the people in the culture are just people. They have conflicts and problems, they love and fear just like any sailor on the Shallow Sea or farmer in the Dragon Rider lands. They have their thugs and ruffians just like any other culture but they aren’t evil, despite worshipping a death god.
I’m about a third of the way through, I think. I’m concerned that I’m not getting sufficient conflict front-loaded (this IS a short story, after all) and as always, the gap between the story in my head and what ends up on the page can be maddening. But, I have high hopes for this story. Maybe not as a salable piece (I’m just not finding a lot of pro markets for Fantasy short stories) but I hope it’s entertaining, full of wonder and strangeness with a sympathetic hero or two.
Anyway, six pages in, twelve to go. I only hope I can make more time to write. Puppies are demanding.
*My next short story is set in my Mageborn Mechanic world.
This comes out of some Wordslinger discussions about the Fairwood Writers workshop. Some of us got pretty mixed feedback and took it hard. I know what that’s like and last year’s feedback was, in part, discouraging. Other Wordslingers got feedback that said that the reviewer doesn’t care for that genre (or subgenre) and wanted to story to be about something different.
Now hearing that someone doesn’t like or get your genre, that’s the sort of feedback we can/should pretty much dismiss out of hand. Everyone likes different things and that’s fine but if I hate mysteries*then my critique of a mystery story should be taken with a whole handful of salt. But someone telling you to re-write your story to please them? Frankly, unless they’re dumping a truckload of money onto your front porch, you should tell them to take a hike. Mentally.
I say ‘mentally’ because dealing with negative feedback has two components. The internal and external. Let’s talk about the external first.
Externally, thank the reviewer for their time and for reading it.** Be polite. Be professional.*** Impressions matter, that monkey might be someone who is going to sitting on a review board or voting for you on an award or editing an anthology you’re dying to get into. They may not remember your story but they will remember you. Finally, no matter if the feedback is positive or negative, ignore it and write another story/chapter. That links into the internal response to feedback.
You can’t take let it stop or even slow down your writing. Momentum counts, in writing as well as the physical universe. If they praise you to the heavens, write another story. If they tell you that your story sucks, write another story. Otherwise, if someone’s feedback is REALLY going to make you stop writing, then you don’t want to be a writer badly enough.
That doesn’t mean that negative feedback or reviews don’t hurt. They do and I’m not trivializing the psychic damage and cruel or thoughtless review can cause. But you have to absorb it. You can’t take it personally, even if the reviewer is making personal attacks. You have to keep going.
Dealing with the negative feedback is hard enough, at least you know that hurts. How do you deal with feedback in general or praise that nonetheless steers your story in a different direction. For example, one piece of positive feedback I got for Mageborn Mechanic was they liked Simon’s interactions with machines and they wanted more of it. What could be more positive? Except if I take it too literally, I could bog down my lean, mean narrative speed with random conversations and divergences. These may entertain that reader, or most readers, even. But it wouldn’t be right for the story.
You have to accept or reject feedback in moderation. Never forget the story you were first inspired to tell. Weigh every piece of feedback against this standard: Does this feedback get me closer to the story that is in my head? If it does (and often it does, we NEED extra pairs of eyes to see and weigh and evaluate our stories), then accept that feedback, use it to improve your story. If the answer is no, then reject that feedback and forget it. With one caveat…if a lot of people are giving the same feedback, pay attention to it, even if it goes against what you were trying to do. It may mean that what you’re trying for doesn’t have a wide market or isn’t well executed or is a bad idea. It happens.
The fact is, if you want to write for any audience, for any other person, you have to submit your work to other people. You have to let them judge it. IT, not you. All they are evaluating is your work, no matter what they say.
Take the feedback, digest it and then use it or discard it and MOVE ON. Don’t let feedback slow you down. Keep writing, keep submitting and…keep in mind how it feels when it’s your turn to critique someone else’s work. There is something to be learned, even from the most negative feedback, even if it’s how not to do it, yourself.
*which I don’t. I can’t WRITE one but I don’t hate the genre
**Of course, if they didn’t even finish reading it…well…that’s another handful of salt. Though ask them where they stopped. That might be worth looking at, even if they are some nut.
***and have a plan to kill everyone in the room. Or maybe that’s from the USMC’s writing guidelines?
So this is a week late. What can I say, I got sick and got a puppy. :)
The Fairwood Writers are a critique group that started about 25 or so years ago. They’re an invitation-only group that has changed membership a bit over the years but is still very active. They also run the writers workshop at Norwescon. I highly recommend submitting, it does not have an additional fee and it is a good way of toughening up your skin and getting critiques from professional writers and editors. You can submit novel excerpts or a short story.
Short stories are critiqued Round-Robin, with a mix of other writers as well as pros. Everyone reads everyone’s story prior to the critique and they go around the room commenting on what worked and what didn’t.
Novels are critiqued different. You go in, alone, to face a panel of four pros. You sit, as quietly as you can, while they each take turns giving you’re their critique. Then at the end, you can respond back and ask questions. It’s not easy to take but it is one of your best shots at finding out what published authors think of your work.
That’s not to say they’ll all agree, of course. If anything, it’s a bit heartening to see how some things that really bother some readers, get glossed over by another. It’s all just feedback, all just opinion. And you have to take it like that. But I’m skipping ahead a bit.
This year, my critiquers were: Rhiannon Held (moderating), Alma Alexander, Jak Koke and Peter Dennis Pautz. Each were great and gave very useful feedback, even those who didn’t care for my story*. We talked, or they talked and I listened, about the sample chapters and about the novel structure as a whole, as outlined in my synopsis. Some were focused on formatting and font** while others discussed character choices and worldbuilding. They pointed out teases that were actually annoying and made good suggestions to have Simon interact with machines even more.
All of my critiquers brought something useful to the table. I am very grateful to each and every one of them. Thank you, if you’re reading.
It isn’t easy getting critiqued but it is essential if you’re serious about becoming a professional writers. It really is valuable getting experienced writers, who don’t know you (or just met you, Hi Jak!), giving you the benefit of their opinion. You will find out which hooks worked. Where your character development or motivation is weak. You will find out if your character voice is strong. Most of all, you’ll find out if they would keep reading and that’s the ultimate question.
In the end, all the feedback is just that. Hard on the ears but it’s up to you to decide what you want to do about it. It is your story, not theirs. Now, if all four people love the same thing…you’re probably doing that write. If all of them hate something else…you’re probably doing it wrong. Take it all in, weigh it, digest it. I suggest not even looking at the notes for a while. Then, when it’s time to revise, all those words, of wisdom and of otherwise, will stand out and you can hear them without defensiveness.
I highly, highly, highly recommend this writers workshop to anyone who wants to take their story to the next level.
*or more accurately, Simon, my protagonist for The Mageborn Mechanic
** Really? That’s what’s going to be a hangup? I’m tempted to start using Comic Sans.
Well. THIS may be a monkey wrench into my writing plans, but it's a welcome one. This is my new pup, Logan Tiberius. He's a Rottie, about 8 weeks old. He love attention...well...needs it, really. But he's adapting to the loss of his littermates pretty well. After the first bonding week, we're going to try to wean him onto being on his own.
Here you see him claiming on of my shirts and a very vanquished Easter Duck. Poor, poor duck. He won't be long for this world, I fear.
And here is Logan outside, sleeping. I really, really want to get him crate-broken so he can stay inside more. Right now, I'm letting him outside unsupervised only for short durations.
Eventually, I'm hoping to be able to write with him in the room, once he's housebroken and learns 'down, stay' well.
I hesitate calling this a ‘post mortem’ considering how bloody sick I got but, let’s tempt fate a little more.
This might be one of the best Norwescon’s I’ve been to, and that’s even with missing half of it. It was great seeing people I knew this time, including a good crop of fellow Wordslingers and new friends I met at the Rainforest Writers Retreat. There was a good mix of writing workshops that were…relevant to my interests (I miss cat macros). And my Fairwood Writers Workshop went much better than last year.
There are a lot of good reasons to go to a fantasy and science fiction convention. Hot girls in tight/skimpy clothes. Cool T-shirts and other gamer gear (my ‘damn right, I shot first’ Han Solo shirt to be appearing in public soon). Art by the original artist, often stuff I can’t afford (damn you, Todd Lockwood) but love to look at. But the best reason are the people.*
Norwescon attracts a large number of professional authors, many of whom are local to the great Northwest. Many of them do readings of their work, most of them appear on panels, there’s even a good chance you’ll run into them at the bar or at a party. It is a great opportunity to meet these folks, to listen to them and learn from their experiences and points of view.
In addition to the established authors, there are the new writers, just breaking out. I met Richelle Mead at a Norwescon, and got to talk about the new YA Vampire School novel she and her agent had been talking about. This year, I got to meet (and get critiqued by, for better or for worse) by Rhiannon Held. I suspect we’ll all be talking about her in the same way we talk about Richelle Mead, soon.
And more than this, are the writers like myself. Just getting published or just about there. It is a great way to meet and support fellow aspiring authors, to form friendships and critique groups. Very, very cool.
Ok, on to the nitty gritty.
Thursday is sort of a light day, the first day of the con. I attended a panel on small press vs. large press vs. self-publishing. That was interesting and very encouraging for those authors thinking about going Indie and publishing themselves on Amazon/Barnes and Noble. The pros for going large press is the money, no question about it. The cons are pretty much lack of control over anything apart from your writing. Even the editing from large houses is going downhill, according to the panelists. The pros of small press is more involvement, if not control. Close attention (your editor in a small press is actually the person who edits you) and a higher likelihood to take a risk on a newbie. The cons are less cash, smaller print runs, somewhat smaller prestige. Self-publishing pros: the barriers to entry are lower, costs are low, for a good-quality product, it is easy to make your investment back and then some. The cons, lower prestige (thought I detected a lot less self-publishing sneering at Norwescon compared to, say, Potlatch), no support, the only editing and cover help is what you pay for.
Whew. Let me start summarizing or we’ll be both be here all day. :)
Friday had one of the best panels, Synopsis writing for novels. I think…I THINK I might have a handle on how to write a short synopsis now. I’ll try it out and see how it goes.
I also attended DAWs ‘coming attractions panel’ and I learned a few things. One is that DAW is not owned by one of the mega corps. That’s pretty cool, they make all their editorial decisions in-house. Two, they seem to be looking for cocky/funny protagonists and author’s who’s ‘day job’ experiences lend credibility to what they’re writing. Tough news, maybe, for software test monkeys like myself.
The panel on Residential Writing Workshops was interesting, I wish I’d had time to ask Rhiannon more about Oddyssey. They also mentioned Viable Paradise, which is a shorter workshop and might bear looking into. I think my question about whether it was ‘worth it’** to go to Clarion West as opposed to just writing a novel in six weeks ticked off KC Ball. He said some sharp things about my Wordslingers and I had to bite back an equally sharp reply. I think we’ve got a damn good critique group. KC seemed to consider us vastly inferior to what Clarion West offered. I don’t know where that came from, it’s one of the first instances of snobbism I’ve seen from a Clarion grad. Or maybe I was still downcast about missing the cut this year as well.
There were also two panels on superheroes I attended with the lovely and talented Minerva Zimmerman. (seriously, check out her work at http://minervazimmerman.com/
) I was pleased to see that the panel and attendees are tired of the trend of deconstructing superheroes and wanted a return to ‘good guys’ again.
Saturday’s Novel Outline panel was a perfect bookend to the Synopsis panel. Again, very useful. Much thanks to Irene Radford for her thoughts and words. J.A. Pitt’s two hour panel (with guest appearance by Jay Lake) on Saturday afternoon was amazing and useful. He basically spent two hours answering our writing questions and sharing how he broke through. Can’t praise that session enough.
One thing I noticed this year that stuck me odd. There was a LOT of ‘alternative lifestyle’ programming during the daytime hours. Most, though not all, of the sex panels (and there are a lot of them at Norwescon) were at night. But there was a lot of polyamory, transgender, etc panels. I’m pretty sex positive for a straight, vanilla guy but for others not used to Seattle’s….kinks, be aware.
The majority of the rest of the weekend was spent in author readings. I’ve come to enjoy these as much, if not more, than most of the panels. Thursday I go to hear Jay Lake and then Ben Lake/Joshua Palmeteri. Then Karen Gussoff and Jennifer Brozek (it takes an editor to really do horror). Friday I got to listen to Jak Koke and Janine Young. Then I had a rock block of rockers: Lizzy Shannon, Mary Robinette Kowal and the mighty Randy Henderson. Good, good stuff.
Finally there came the Fairwood Writers Workshop. This is getting a bit (a bit?) long so I’ll talk in generalities today and get specific tomorrow. I will say that submitting your work to the Fairwood Writers Workshop (or any workshop where professional, published writers will critique it) is incredibly valuable. Even if it hurts. Even if you disagree with them. They are going to be kinder and more detailed in their feedback than an editor or agent will be. It doesn’t cost anything extra. Do you want to be a professional writer? Then sign up. You’ll be glad you did, seriously.
Then…I got sick. NotLeigonaire’s Diseases but this is the worst bout of influenza I’ve had in….jeez, maybe a decade. And this was despite me washing my hands frequently and popping cold-ease and Airborne constantly. It may have been something I picked up prior to the con. If so, I sincerely hope I left before I got anyone else sick.
That’s it. Despite missing half of Saturday and all of Sunday and almost ALL the parties, I had a great time. I highly recommend it to any sci-fi/fantasy fan and especially to aspiring writers.
*and not just the aforementioned hot girls
** My question was: “Is there sufficient extra value from the instructors at, say, Clarion West. Or is the value in the disclipline of just writing a lot? Would I be just as well served to take 6 weeks off, stay home and write for 6 hours a day and share my work with my critique group?”
Sorry for the silence. I assure you, it's anything but quiet here at home. What with all the coughing and hacking and wheezing, there's lots of noise here. But not a lot of work getting done.
I DO intend to do a write up for my Norwescon experience (which was wonderful, apart from getting sick and missing half of it), but it may be a day or two.
Also, to anyone who starts coughing, wheezing, etc...I'm terribly sorry. Go to a clinic because that cough medicine with codeine is AMAZING.
I’m Ho! for Norwescon* today…after work, that is. Yep, it’s finally that time of year again. Norwescon, for you folks not in the area or who have just never gone, is the biggest Sci-fi/Fantasy convention in the Northwest. Huge numbers of professional authors attend, give lectures and sit on panels. Publishers and agents come as well, meeting with clients and (very quietly) trying to drum up business. And then there are the fans.
Norwescon is very heavily attended, thousands and (I think) tens of thousands of fans attend. It’s a mix of media con and professional con. There is a writing workshop run by the Fairwood writers**, numerous panels on writing and on being a writer. But there are also panels on costuming (there is a lot of cosplay at Norwescon) and ‘why series X is better than series Y’. And don’t get me started on the kinky and alternative sex panels. Yes they’re real. No they are not*** a good place to hook up at.
My goals for this year are more relaxed. In previous year, I was burning to learn as much as I could at the writer’s panels. Then I was burning to meet editors and agents…not that I knew how to do that. This year is different for me. I will be attending some writing panels but I’m not sure how much new stuff I’ll learn. The ‘secret’ to writing is just to…write. Write a lot. Think about stories, read stories, write stories. Then share them with people who also read and write stories. Improvement comes from writing and looking at your own work and seeing how to improve it. It rarely comes from sitting in on a panel.
No, I’m just going to see if I can bump into a few friends I’ve made in the past year or two. I’m going to attend more readings. That lets me show support for writers I like and, to be honest, I’ll learn more about story telling listening to a story than I will listening to a panel. Panels that do pique my interest, I’ll queue up for (there’s always a line, at least until 10pm or so) but I’ll also make time to go to the art show, visit the dealer’s room and spend some money in both places. I’ll go to dinner with friends and just chat and be social.
Conventions are a LOT easier on you if you don’t go in with an agenda. My writing career is going to advance by writing and sending my work out. Not by going to conventions. So why not relax, enjoy the sights (though not the smells, sadly that stereotype is accurate enough) and have fun?
This Norwescon is going to be fun. Not work. :)
** This will be my second time submitting work here
***unless they are.
Inertia is a powerful force. I don’t refer to just the physical law that an object in motion will tend to remain in motion and that an object at rest will remain at rest. I mean emotional and creative intertia.
As writers, what we direct our attention towards – or away from – is where our creativity goes. If we focus on a story or a novel, writing it or thinking about it every day, it is comparatively easy to work on it. Coming back to the same story after leaving it alone for several weeks or months (or…years?), it can be hard to work up the motivation to attend to it. Relatedly, if we haven’t written at all for a few days, weeks, etc it can be very hard to get started again.
Momentum is everything. It really is. I was reminded of that this morning. My sleep and work schedule has changed, so my weekday writing is no longer taking place in the evenings but (in theory) in the morning before work. This disruption in routine killed some of my momentum and it has been hard to get back to committing myself to two hours a day of writing each weekday.
Similarly, the novel sequel I started at the Rainforest Writer’s Retreat (Smooth Vengeance) has been sitting on my hard drive since I got back. Apart from one chapter, I haven’t added to it and I DIDN’T write towards it today.* Getting up the motivation, or more properly ‘just getting my hinder into the Throne of Writing(tm) and working on the damn thing’ has been difficult.
Distractions. Excuses. Inertia. All bad things, the way they’re working on me now.
So how do I (we) change it?
First, of course, is noticing the problem. Done.
Second, dream. Start thinking about and planning out the story, during the day when you have spare moments. Think about the character, act out scenes in your head, jot and email snippets of in-character dialog to yourself. As you direct your creative attention, it will get easier and easier.
Third, read. Re-read the story, or if it’s not too stale, reread the last two chapters. Just read it. Read your notes or outline, if you have it. Read your plot description from your main character’s POV (if you did that). Reading will help build the momentum you need to get back to where you were.
Last, just write. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry about. Don’t stress about it. Just sit down after you’ve read your previous work and write what comes next. If you’re stuck, skip ahead, write the next scene. Write the sex/fight/emotional scene you really want to see. Then keep writing, every day, no matter how much or how little. At the same time, if you can, but keep writing.
Then your creative energies will be in motion and it will be easier to keep it in motion. Inertia is powerful, make it work for you.
*I have been doing other things, two short stories popped out this week, one might even be salable