Where to Go from Here?

NaNoWriMo has ended, about a week past.  I’ve written about my expectations, about what it’s taught me, and about whether I feel I met those expectations.

So, now what?

Well, as I said at the outset – NaNoWriMo is viewed by some writers as tourist season, where the population of Authorville skyrockets, the summer folk hang around making a mess in all the gift shops and restaurants.  They crowd the beaches for a spell, and then head back to their daily lives.  The rest of us remain, and keep on with our writing lives.

And that’s what I’ll do.  I’m just going to keep writing.

Right now, Authorville is a quiet and lonely place again.  The shops are empty, the pubs too but for the locals.  The bright sunny days and blaring music are gone, and the Autumn storms are approaching.  But this is where I belong.

I fear my productivity will lapse.  I fear my impetus will wane.  I fear my first act drags.  I fear my prose is navel-gazing nonsense.  I fear the ~35,000 words I wrote in November will be the high water mark of my productivity.

But I will not let my fear stop me.  I’m a writer.  I am here to stay.  And I need to keep writing.

Here I Go,

Matt

 

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What Have I Learned?

So, today’s the 29th of 30 days in November, and NaNoWriMo 2015 is drawing to a close soon.  What have I learned?  How have I done?  And did I meet my goals?

Well, first let’s look at the metric most people judge NaNoWriMo success by – did you write 50,000 words?  With almost two days left, I can give you an unequivocal ‘No.’  I’m just a hair shy of 35,000 words, and I know that there’s no way, with my current skill level, I’ll be able to bang out 15,000 words in the next day and a half.  I certainly expect to break 40,000 before tomorrow night at midnight, and I am thrilled with that.

Seriously, 40,000 words with the month I’ve had?  I am over the moon with that progress.  Honestly, that’s more words than I’ve written combined in the last year.  Somewhat of a shameful confession for someone purporting to be a ‘professional author,’ but there you are.

But let’s look now at my stated goals for NaNoWriMo, as posted last month at the outset:

  1. Volume
  2. Persistence
  3. Perseverance
  4. Let It Suck

I’ve already covered 1. Volume, and I consider that a success, even though I’m not getting a badge from the NaNo website.  What about 2. Persistence?  This was my goal of continuing through the hard parts, even though they’re hard.  It was about not giving up on the project and putting it with the rest of my half begun and abandoned novels and stories (and there are a lot).

Well, I am still writing the same novel I started, and I am still every bit excited about it as I was in October, if not more so.  I’ve hit a few sections where I’ve thought, ‘Man, I have no idea how to write this scene,’ or ‘There’s no way I can do this part,’ and yet I’ve kept going.  I haven’t lost any steam yet.

So we’ll call goal 2 a success, so far.  There’s always the chance that it will turn on me, and I’ll be tempted to put it down again later, but this time it feels different.  This time, I don’t think I will.  So, success as far as I am concerned.

Goal 3. Perseverance: This was where I was adamant that I get over the hump of starting every day.  Not frittering away days navel-gazing and calling it ‘background’ for my writing.  How did I do? Well, let’s look at his handy chart that I’ve made of my daily progress.  NaNoWordsAs you can see, there are a few days with 0 words written.  But, there are only a few days with 0 words written.  In any given month of the last 18, that graph would have been almost inverted, with the majority of days at 0, and the minority up around 1-2,000 words.  And even at that, the five days I had no word counts, it’s not that I was just farting around.  I was either so busy I never saw my computer, or so sleep-deprived that when I did see it, I couldn’t focus on the screen.  So, despite not having a positive word count every day, I definitely consider this goal met.  I am thrilled.

Goal 4. Let It Suck – Oh yeah.  Let me tell you, as I told Di last night.  I love the story that is unfolding, I love the characters and the plot, and how it is going.  But the words on the page?  Yeah, those need to go.  They suck.  It’s not stopping me though.  I just keep going, I keep writing.  I am amazed and flabbergasted at this development.  I am thrilled.

So, how did we do on the goals?  I would call this year’s NaNoWriMo (my first) a resounding success.

But I’m not stopping here.  This novel wasn’t just an experiment for NaNo.  This is one that I have every desire to complete, polish for publication, and shop around to every possible publishing house until I find one interested in buying it and publishing it.

Now, before I let you go, let’s look at that chart above again, and one more, below.  What can I learn about my writing from these two charts?  From the first chart, my daily word counts are all over the place.  I’ve got 5 days with zero words, only seven when I wrote more than the desired 1,667 words, with the other 15 days all below the goal.  Granted, there were extenuating circumstances, like in-laws visiting for two weeks, a house full of even more relatives for three days, a major holiday, and so on.  But, every month is going to have (and has had!) it’s constant interruptions and distractions.  If I want to truly be a professional at this job, not only do I need to have a more consistent ability to work despite distraction, I also need to bring up the mean word count per day.  If you don’t count the 5 days I didn’t write, then my average daily word count is around 1556 words.  It’s higher than it’s been, all things considered, but it needs to be higher still.NaNoOverallYou can also see from the second chart that I was writing pretty much on track for the first two weeks, and then things tapered off fast.  Why?  Did I just run out of steam?  Not really.  I still had the desire to write.  But that was around when I started letting life get in the way of my writing.  And once I let up, it took an entire week to get myself started again, and even once I started up again, I haven’t gotten back to full speed yet.  The good news: Kidlets are on their way back to school after a break, extended family have gone home, in-laws are headed home in a few days, holiday run up has wound down.  In other words, life is getting back to normal.  At least for three weeks.

I look forward to getting back to a normal writing schedule again.

So, final thoughts?  I am very proud of and thrilled with my progress, but I can see where I still need to work on things.  This writing life is a constant work in progress.  So, let’s progress, shall we?

Here I Go,

Matt

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Hey, I wrote a book, will you read it?

I’ve been reading and listening to author interviews for years, hoping to better understand what it’s like to be an author.  And one of the things they always mention with dread is when some random stranger asks them to read something they wrote.  I think it’s like when actors are eating lunch in Hollywood, and the waiter gives them a screenplay they wrote.

Most of them talk about how they have spent years learning how to say ‘no’ to these requests, but it’s hard, because you don’t want to be an asshole to someone who positively values your feedback, but at the same time, writing is hard work, and very few people know how to do it well, so the odds of reading something cool are low, and those of reading painful dreck are astonishingly high.

This is a problem I never really thought about all that much.  I’ve never given any thought to people asking me to read their work because, well, so far I’m nobody as writers go.  I figured I had a long way to go until I had the luxury of that ‘problem.’

A friend of mine from back in the day, however, just pushed the issue to the fore by sending me the first 4 chapters of a book he is writing.  (First draft, still writing).  I want to make this absolutely clear from the get go.  I have not yet read a single word of it, though I plan to.  Please do not get the idea that I am about to mock, ridicule, or lampoon this man, or his feelings.  It takes balls of titanium to put yourself out there like that, asking someone to pick through your passion and tell you if you’re any good at it.  There’s no way I’m going to treat it lightly or with anything but respect.

But one thing didn’t sit well with me when we were talking back and forth.  This friend, let’s call him ‘Rob,’ told me the he wanted to know if I thought it was good enough for him to keep writing it.  I told him that if it was a first draft, there was no way I could tell, because first drafts suck.  But he asked me anyway.  Don’t give me that kind of responsibility, I’m not asking for that.  But it took me a while for my thoughts to crystallize, and the other day i figured out what it was that didn’t feel right.  So, I wrote him an email, and before I got around to sending it, he gave me a prompt, asking if I’ve had a chance to read his work yet.  So, I sent him what I wrote, and now I’m going to share it with you, because why the hell not?

Hey ‘Rob’ –

I have been meaning to write you for a few days now, actually. No, I haven’t had a chance to read your chapters yet. I want to, but between my own writing, and some stuff going on with my family, it’s been crazy busy. I know how nerve wracking it is when someone else is sitting on your writing, and you’re waiting to hear what they think, so I know it sucks, and I’m sorry. I promise I’ll try to get to it soon, but I don’t know when that will be.

All that said, here’s some thoughts I’ve had. You mentioned in an earlier email that you were trying to figure out whether it was worth continuing writing it. Well, that’s not an answer I can give you. Not to use big words or anything, but if you’re going to write, you can’t do it contigent on external validation. Because without reading a single word of it, I know that it will suck. That’s not because it’s bad or because you wrote it, it’s because it’s an unfinished first draft, and they always suck. From Stephen King to J.K.Rowling to Shakespeare, first drafts always suck, especially when they’re unfinished. So, if you give those 4 chapters to someone to read, and they get back to you saying ‘Yeah, it was great, I loved it,’ either they’re lying through their teeth (either to spare your feelings or for whatever), or they don’t read enough books for their opinion to be worth anything.

If you want to know whether or not to keep writing, ask yourself this: Are you writing it because it’s a fun thing to dabble around with, or a great way to fill time, or because you want to become a famous author, or because there is a story burning a hole in your brain and unless you write it down you’ll go crazy?

The answer to 3 of those questions is keep writing. If you enjoy it, if it’s fun, if you NEED to do it, then do it. Write the whole novel.  When it’s done, set it aside for a month and don’t think about it. After the month, go through it once, twice, ten times. Cut out 10%. Either scenes, or paragraphs, or a word here and a word there. Fiddle with it. Take some things your described, and describe it differently using completely different words and metaphors. Do a search for l-y-(space) That will find all of your adverbs. Take out at least half of them. Either by just removing them from the sentence, or by reworking the sentence to say the same thing but with a vivid example instead of an adverb. Read it through for consistency, character growth, clarity, and whether it makes any sense. If any part of it bores you, it’ll bore potential readers, so change those parts.

If it’s any good at the end, then send it out to a bunch of editors and/or agents.

If it’s not any good (and really, how can you tell? the first Harry Potter book got rejected from like 17 different book editors before it sold), then you’ve still written a novel, learned a lot about yourself, improved your skills as a writer, and accomplished something only a very small percent of the population can say that they’ve done.

Besides, very few authors are ever able to sell the first book they write. It’s usually more like the 4th, 5th, or even 7th. You can’t write because someone else thinks it might be good. You have to write because you have to write.

So, yeah, I’ll read what you sent me. I am truly sorry I haven’t yet. But don’t even bother reading my reply. Write if you need to write. If you’re just noodling around (and four chapters in, I can’t imagine that’s all it is), then stop writing, and go read about 75 books a year for a while, then if you’ve still got the writing bug, try it again.

All the best,
Matt

And that, dear readers, are my thoughts on the subject of whether or not you should keep writing.

In the meantime, I need to go get back to my own writing.  NaNoWriMo is calling, and for the next three weeks, I’m still it’s bitch.

Here I Go,

Matt

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Shattering Myths and Misconceptions

Shattering Myths and Misconceptions, or

What I’ve learned about myself from less than a week of NaNoWriMo

Myth #1: Writing Takes Time

I have always operated based on the belief, backed up by years of experience, that in order to write, I need several hours to sit and let the story coalesce in my mind before the words will flow.  I knew it would always be the case, because it always had been.  I needed large swathes of BICHOK (butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard) time in order to get anything written.  So, when I only had 45 minutes available, I wouldn’t even try to write, I’d just tinker and plan.

Five days of trying to hit 1600 words a day has completely shattered that belief in me. The first day, I managed to crank out 800 words of narrative in less than an hour from when I cracked open my laptop.  Much of the rest of the writing since then has also been in short bursts of frenetic writing, all without frittering away two hours navel-gazing and calling it ‘thinking’. The truth of the matter is, I planned ahead this time.  Not in the sense of having written an outline ahead of time, because I always have an outline.  I always know the major scheme of what I am planning to sit down and write.  The difference this time is I wrote up beforehand a sort of shorthand jot of the progress of the scenes I had planned.  And that wound up breaking down the nitty gritty into more manageable chunks, so that when the time came to sit and put fingers to keyboard, the story was all ready to be put down.

I’m probably not explaining this very well, because we’re talking about the extent to which I planned ahead, which is just points on a continuum, so not a discrete yes/no switch I can point to having been flipped.  But the point is that by doing just a touch more background legwork ahead of time, the actual time spent BICHOK plummeted for the same written word count.

My mind is blown.

Myth #2: I Can’t Turn Off My Internal Editor

Once I got past the navel-gazing stage and actually started clicking away at my keyboard, a large part of my writing time has always been backtracking and perfecting the sentences that I had just written.  I could’t move ahead unless I was satisfied with what was behind.  Needless to say, this leads to glacial progress, and by the time you finish one paragraph, you’ve forgotten what was going to be in the next one, and all forward momentum is lost.

As they say, “The perfect is the enemy of the good”

Over the past 5 days, I have been able to forge ahead with bits here and there that I know are not good enough, and I know I will need to change later. Not going back now is bugging me, but it’s not the screaming necessity I always believed it to be. It’s finally and ignorable itch, rather than an all-powerful need. And I am beyond thrilled at this development.

I can’t believe what this has done to my productivity!

Myth #3: I Can’t Make Writing Time, or Write with Distractions

If the previous two sections didn’t convince me I could boost my productivity enormously, this one drives it home.  I remember reading a comment by an author (whose name I can’t remember) that she shared a taxi from an airport to a hotel with Neil Gaiman once, and Neil was scribbling in a notebook for the entire ride.  The point being that when you’re a writer, you can make the time to write wherever you are.

It’s not that I didn’t believe that it applied to me, it’s more that I didn’t believe I was capable of it.  Well this week has certainly changed that attitude.  The kidlets had no school on Tuesday, while the wife still needed to work, so that meant parenting duty and writing time overlapped.  Normally (see my posts about this past summer), this was a zero-sum game, and no writing would get done, losing out to the parenting.  But somehow, I got nearly 1,000 words written.

Over the course of this week, I have written while the kidlets were running around, singing, yelling, and watching TV – all in the same room as me, and in many cases, all at the same time.  And yet the words still came.  Plus there was time for the playground, and homework, and meals, and baths.  So, not forsaking the parenting for the writing, either.   I have written on the couch beside my wife, having an intelligent conversation.  And I have written coherent continuations of started paragraphs in several small fits and spurts, picking up where I left off without trouble.

I didn’t think I was capable of any of this, just a week ago.

Parting Words

I neet to wrap this up, because the 850 words I’ve of this post don’t count towards my NaNoWriMo daily word count.  My point is just this – I knew I was going to use NaNoWriMo to get a great head start on the first draft of my book.  And I already have, at almost 9,000 words in.  And I had hoped I would learn something, and maybe even push towards being a better writer.

I definitely have.  And we’re only 5 days in.  I can’t wait to see how the next 25 go.

Here I Go,

Matt

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NaNoWriMo

November is a strange time for writers. There’s this thing called NoNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It’s a contest where participating writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words of a new novel solely within the 30-day span labeled ‘November.’

Prize for winning? Personal pride and a sense of accomplishment. Penalty for losing? The confirmation and validation of all the relentless nagging fear inside your bottomless pit of a tortured soul that tells you you are no good, you’re an imposter, that they’ll all soon realize you’re no real writer, and that you are indeed the talentless hack you pretend not to be.

So, it’s all good, right?

I hear it began somewhere around the early 2000s, and has grown into quite the fasion among hobbyist writers and such. As Chuck Wendig describes it, professional authors sort of view NaNoWriMo contestants as tourists. The pros are there every single day year long, pounding their hearts into word-shaped things on a page, while these dilettantes saunter in, dip their wicks in the ink for a few weeks, and go away giggling and squealing a few weeks later saying, “Ooh, look honey, I’m an author!”

That said, 50,000 words in a 30 day period is nothing to sneeze at. Maybe cough politely behind a hand and make eyebrow raising gestures to the person next to you to the effect of, “Hey, look at what he was able to do!”

50,000 words in 30 days is over 2000 words a day if you’re only working weekdays, over 1600 a day if you’re going every day. That’s not exactly farting around. That’s good productivity. Especially for a month that includes a major American holiday renowned for it’s torpor-inducing qualities, as well as shopping for Chrisumerismas.

In the past, I have often daydreamed about joining, and winning, NaNoWriMo, but never gave it serious contemplation because of time constraints, both real and imagined.

Last year, though I presumably had the time, I chose not to because I wanted to follow Ray Bradbury’s advice and write only short stories for a year. One story a week. Turns out, I’m about 13 times less productive than he assumed, only getting about 4 short stories done in that time. In my defense, I’m a black-belt level procrastinator and navel gazer, with Kryptonian levels of skill at needing to put out multiple simultaneous fires out of nowhere.  The drama in this family can never be overstated.

This year, though.  This year I am trying out NaNoWriMo for the first time.

So, let’s set forth some expectations and goals, shall we? What do I want to accomplish, and what do I hope to learn?

1 – Volume:
50,000. I don’t realistically believe I’ll reach this level, but I can’t grow if I don’t challenge myself. I have had (very very few) days where I’ve written close to 8,000 words in an afternoon. Not often, but it’s happened. I’m far closer to a 1,000 word a day kind of pace as it stands, on the best of days, but I need to increase those numbers if I ever want to finish a first, let alone a seventh, novel.

2 – Persistence
I have several begun and abandoned novels and short stories. This is unacceptable. The first rule of writing is that you must write. But the second rule of writing is that you must finish what you write. You can’t just write a piece until you get stuck, and then abandon it. This is one of my three biggest hurdles. I don’t expect to finish a complete novel in 50,000 words. But I can expect to get through half of a decent first draft in that space. I know I’m going to hit hard parts, blocks and obstacles in the course of this month. I hope to learn how to either plow through them or go around without letting them trip up my momentum.

3 – Perserverence
I must write. Every day. For far too long, I have let extenuating circumstances of daily life get in the way of my career. Commuting, illness, parenting, etc. A lot of that is valid time commitment. But a lot of it is just an excuse—using the other areas of my life as a shield to cover my fear of failure. I know that this seems a lot like #2 above, but there’s a subtle difference here. That one is more about pushing through the hard parts, the big hurdles of the story. Thir is about getting past that daily hurdle of beginning. Once I make myself start, I can write all day in a blissful state of unseeing. This is perhaps the biggest of my three hurdles.  This month, I hope to make that daily starting easier.

4 – Let it suck
This goes hand in hand with both 2 and 3 above. A lot of what keeps me from writing is that I know my first draft isn’t what I want it to be, or what editors need it to be to buy it. But it isn’t that for any author. First drafts are universally just fountains of shit frothing forth from the fingers. And yet there’s thousands of authors out there every year who push on past the shit-frothing stage, and root around in that loose wet brown mush for the chunks of tarnished gold. And then they pull up the gold, wash it clean, and polish it to gleaming. But if you stopper the word-sphincter and keep the excrement from coming out, a) you can never reach the gold, and b) it just piles up inside you, and that can’t be healthy for anyone.

I’m not going to measure my success based on the 50,000 word cutoff.  It’s a great goal to aim for, but success, to me, this year, is going to be whether or not I write consistently, getting a decent word count more than 20 days of the month, and whether or not I push that 1,000 words a day up higher.

Is there more? Most definitely.

Can I think of it right now? Decidedly not.

Is anyone still reading this far down the page? Highly doubtful.

Anyway, I’m going to go get ready to write most of a novel. Wish me luck.

Until next time, Here I Go.

Matt

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Getting Back into a Rhythm

In the Season 3 finale episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Graduation Day: Part 2), the gang has just graduated high school, as well as fought and (SPOILER!) defeated the Big Bad of the season. In the aftermath, Seth Green’s character, Oz, calls on them to sit a moment and reflect on the fact that they have survived high school.  They have passed a major milestone, and it is an event of gravity that deserves a moment of their attention.  While my milestone is hardly equivalent to surviving 18 years on a Hellmouth constantly being prey to vampires and demons, I feel the need to pause and reflect.

The kidlets’ summer vacation has ended. Let’s all take a moment to sit and soak that up.

This past summer was crammed with activities, both planned and not. There were family trips – zoos and aquaria, family visits and friend playdates, concerts and cabins in the mountains. Birthday parties. Plenty to keep us busy.

In my allusion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer above, I want to be clear, having my kids home from school was not the giant hurdle of a life chased by vampires.  Rather, not having easy writing time was.  In all, I think I managed to squeeze out 1 hr writing time each on three different days, and 3 other full days writing. In 10 weeks. Good writing. Got lots done in those spurts. But not enough.

Now that my beloved offspring are once again being educated outside of my purview and according to a schedule, I have both a designated time and space in which to write.

Aside from a spattering of holidays off from school and a short-term houseguest, I will be in a position where hopefully the only thing getting between me and my daily writing goals is my own procrastination, not an externally imposed to-do list.

Wish me luck,

Here I go.

Matt

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Handling Rejection

Rejection is never far away from a working author.

Some of the major speculative fiction (that’s industry terminology for science fiction, fantasy, or horror.  All three also collectively known as ‘genre fiction’) markets for short stories have acceptance rates of below 1%.  They have to.  They get on the order of 1,000 submissions a month, and publish on the order of half a dozen.

Not to mention how many people there are trying to sell the novel they just wrote.  If every novel written in the past five years had actually been sold to publishers, I think the planet might have imploded into a black hole under the weight of all of the paper.  

Rejection is part and parcel of being an author.  It’s competitive.  You have to be prepared to be rejected.  But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.

I like to think I’m a guy that takes rejection well.

In high school, I once asked out a certain young lady, and rather than saying, “Yes!,” or even, “I’ve got nothing better to do, I guess so,” both of which would have had me dancing victory laps back and forth across suburban New Jersey, she declined.  She could have said, “I’m not really interested, but thanks for asking,” or even just, “No, Matt.  Just, no.”  I wouldn’t have liked it, but since I’m a guy that handles rejection well, I would have shouldered on.  (Instead, in what I can only assume was an ill advised ad hoc attempt to spare my feelings, she said something to the effect of, “I was in Israel last year, and I met a boy on a train and we fell in love, and I promised myself to him.  And it wouldn’t be fair to you to go on a date with you, knowing I’ll only ever be with him.”)

I got off the phone with her as politely as I could, blinked at the wall a few times in confusion as to what exactly just happened, and went about the rest of my evening, utimately no worse for the wear.

I have also dealt with rejection in other areas than romance.  Take college, for example.  Around 8 years old, I developed a fascination with M.I.T., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and vowed that I would attend there, and that was that.  (There was a special on the nightly news about students building LEGO robots to compete in contests, for a grade.  Duh, of course I was going to go there.) So, when time came to apply to colleges, I applied there (and if I had had my way – only there.)  Thankfully, my mother had some sense in her head, even if I didn’t, and she forced me to apply to other schools as well.  Anyway, I got my rejection from M.I.T. in due course.  My mother valiantly refrained from any hint of an ‘I told you so,’ and asked me what I planned to do.  Well, I couldn’t go to M.I.T., so I sat at my piano, told her I would go to my second choice, if they would have me, and then pounded out my rejection via the works of Beethoven and Tori Amos for an hour.  And then I was fine.  Ever since that day, it’s just been an amusing anecdote.

See?  I am a guy that takes rejection well.

And now, I am trying to deal with an entirely different form of rejection.

The story that I entered into a contest, and have been waiting in suspense for a decision on, has been rejected.  In the last week – not once, not twice, but three times.

Submitting the story is not the goal.  Getting published is the goal.  You always have to keep that in mind.  So, when you have a story that you know is ready, you send it.  And if one market rejects it, then you just have to turn around and send it right back out the door to a different one.  That’s the gig.  That’s what being a writer is.  It’s getting off the phone with one teenage girl who doesn’t want to date you, and calling a new one immediately after that, and then another one, and another, until one says yes.  (Metaphorically speaking.  I haven’t been calling teenage girls, not for over twenty years, I promise Chris Hansen.)

So that’s what I did.  When my story didn’t win the contest, I went to the next market on my list, and I sent it out again that very day.

The next day I had a rejection.  So, I sent it out again the next day to a third market.  And the next day, I had a rejection.

I’ve got to tell you though.  I’m not Superman.  I have a heart.  It hurts.  It feels like I poured every ounce of my heart and personality and essence and love into a vase, and gently offered it up to a blithe and uncaring toddler, who knocked it mindlessly off a table to shatter irrevocably into a jumble of fractured bleeding stumps of pain, and then took off his diaper and smeared it on them, laughing.  Yeah, it hurts.  But I’ll be OK.  And I’m not crying.  See?  No tear stains on the monitor you’re reading this on.  I’m OK.  And now I’m going to just go back to submitting it again, until it’s published.  Because I am an author.

So, folks, pop some popcorn and pull up a chair, because this might take a while.  I’m just going to keep submitting it until it gets published.

Because I am a guy that takes rejection well.

Here I Go…

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Suspense

I’m not writing today about how to write suspense, but rather about the sense of suspense I am living in.

I posted back at the end of March that I had submitted my first real story submission, and in the 3+ months since then, I haven’t updated here with how that submission turned out yet. That’s because I still don’t know.

Most professional writing markets have a pretty quick turn-around time. From what I’ve seen online, two to four weeks seems a pretty consistent standard, depending on the specific market. But I submitted not to a typical market (a magazine) but instead to a contest. It’s a quarterly contest, so it has four deadlines a year.

And the people who submitted to the same deadline as I did are starting to receive word of how their entries have fared. There’s a forum on the website for the contest, and a few dozen writers are populating a thread with word of whether they’ve been rejected or not. (For this particular contest, there’s the initial rejections, then those that are considered further before being weeded out, and then finally the winners.)

I have not yet received word of a rejection, while reports are trickling in from other authors that they have.

This is leaving me in a heightened state of suspense. Am I about to receive the same rejection letter they did? Statistically speaking, that is the most likely option. But I have no idea. Will I receive a different email, with better news? Who knows?

But for the past 18 hours, as I’ve been constantly refreshing the forum website, there has been little else getting accomplished here at SheanHQ.

Wish me luck, here I go!

Matt

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Thoughts on Convergence and Plagiarism

Hello all.

It’s been just over 2 months since I’ve posted here.  No real reason why yea or nay.  Don’t have enough interesting to say to put it here daily, and in the writing time I have, I’d rather spend it on fiction than blogging.  But, when I do have something to say, I’ll be here.

I want to talk today a little bit about the differences between similar ideas, and out and out plagiarism.

I’m sure you’ve all heard periodically of some person coming out of the woodwork in the wake of some sweepingly popular novel, and claiming that the author stole their idea.  The two that most readily come to mind have to do with Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code.  In both cases, authors of other works found similarities between their own works, and those that came out later and were far more successful.  And the similarities, to the injured authors at least, were numerous, uncanny, and suspicious.

But, as Craig Mazin on the Scriptnotes podcast so often puts it, you can’t trademark an idea.  Whether J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown read the novels of the offended authors and incorporated ideas from those works into their own isn’t the point.  The point is, was their own work (novel) a product of their work (effort)?  And in both cases, the answer is an unequivocal yes.  So, in those cases, since Rowling and Brown contributed their own words, imagination, and effort, regardless of whether or not they were inspired-or set upon a given path-by another’s works, their work was their own.  The didn’t copy passages, phrases, or characters.

No plagiarism occurred.    No matter how many owls or uses of the word ‘muggle’ appear.

These are examples of convergence.  Not plagiarism.  Two independent individuals had similar (even if only glancingly so) ideas, and in following where those ideas lead, came up with something ringing of familiarity to the other.

There was always been a part of me that wondered about the motives of people who brought up these kinds of complaints or lawsuits.  Were they just people out to tap a rich vein in any way they could?  Were they truly aggrieved?  Or were they just people with rotten luck, doing their best to turn the ideas in their heads into published works, and getting close, but not close enough, to the ultimate dream of almost any author?

But now I find myself in a distressingly similar situation.  Now, I’m not claiming anyone has plagiarized me.  How could they, when I have not published anything?  And there is no one out there publishing my unpublished works as their own.  I want to make that clear.

But I have come across an amazing instance of convergence, and the sheer level of eeriness involved has set me to reeling.

I have mentioned here in the blog before that I have been writing in my spare time somewhere in the vicinity of twenty years.  In that time, I have pretty thoroughly outlined at least two different novels, with everything from main characters fully developed, to a strong sense of how the worlds of the novels differ from our own.  (Both are set in the future of our world, one about 20 years ahead, one a few centuries so)  I’d even written the first act (about 7 or 8 chapters) of each.  These drafts are terrible, a few years old, and in sore need of redoing.  I have shown them to a few friends, but less than a dozen people all told, and none of them professional fiction authors.

One of the stories in particular is a near future sci-fi medical thriller about trying to save the human race from a killer virus.  That in and of itself has been done at least dozens of times, I’m sure.  There’s nothing from that one sentence that could possible set my draft apart multitudes of other works.

That said, I recently checked a book out of the library.  I had read a trilogy about a serial killer from this author previously, and really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d try out some of his other works.  And it’s a near future sci-fi medical thriller about trying to save the human race from a killer virus.  OK, great.  It might be nice to get a feel for how someone else treated the same subject, gain some insight or perspective.  Maybe see an example of what not to do, or tropes I want to avoid.

But then the similarities started getting more specific, more uncanny, more unnerving.

At this point, even though there is no similarity in the main characters, or the main conflict of the novel, or even the POV choice between this published novel and my outlined and unfinished draft, the world-building between the two is so similar, so specific, so exact in their convergence, that should I ever try to publish my own work, the comparisons will be immediate and clear.

Now, I;m not trying to compare myself to Rowling or Brown.  I’m not saying that once I write and publish this, it’ll be a worldwide hit and the author of this other book will come suing me looking for recompense.  I should be so lucky.  But it means I am aware of the similarities.

I have three choices now.  1 – Continue with my proposed novel as is, trusting that the similarities I am so worried about will fade into the background as the differences-which account for the vast majority of plot, character, and structure-prove these to be independent works.  2 – Administer a dose of caution now, and change the most pernicious of the similarities-those that are specific, too close to be considered coincidence, and ultimately irrelevant to the greater work.  Or 3 – scrap this novel as a lost cause, because it will never be different enough, no matter how different.

What am I to do?

Well, in all honesty – this entire discussion is premature.  Let me finish some more short stories and a novel or two beside this one, and I’ll get back to you.  Until then, my honest opinion is that option 1 is by far the only one worth discussing.  We’ll see.

I only bring it up here and now as a way of venting my stress at seeing so much of my own imagination put onto the page by someone else’s hand.  In the grand scheme of things, this matters not a whit.  I’m just freaking out over things out of my control, as usual.

Here I go,

Matt

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Thoughts on Beginnings 2 – On Starting, The Gap, and Letting It Suck.

I am sitting here in my living room, trying to get back into some sort of writing groove.

I had nearly two weeks of time with my kidlets home from school, and it felt like there was no time at all to write.  I did manage to get a rough draft of most of a short story banged out in various fits and spurts over that time.  I’m proud of that, because I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, and I didn’t think I’d even try to do it, but I did it.

But, in addition to not getting a ton of writing done, I haven’t updated this blog so much either.  I’m not going to beat myself up over that.  I got off to a good start a few weeks ago, posting somewhat close to daily, but I never set myself to any deadline or goal of how often I would post.

This leads me to today’s topic.  We’re sticking with beginnings (for a little while longer, at least).  Today, I’m going to think out loud a bit about why it takes me so long to get started writing on a daily basis.

Starting

I sit down to write more or less first thing once the family is out the door in the morning, but it can often take until well after lunch before I actually start banging out any words.  That’s not a recipe for success in the long run, but I’m working on turning that around.

So, why does it take me so long?  And what am I doing all the rest of the while?  Is it all just procrastination?

Time was a few years ago, I would have said that it’s just that my creative brain takes several hours to shift into gear.  That my subconscious mind is churning, and once it finishes and goes *ding*, then most of what I need in order to actually get the words down on the page will be right there at the forefront, ready to pour out of my hands.  And I would have believed every word of it.  That it takes me 2-3 hours to get started.  That I need that time to get into the right mindset, to clear my head of distractions.  That to let the deep down part of my brain work, I have to let the surface part wander free and unchaperoned.  So I would goof off.  I still think there’s a core of truth there, but that isn’t all of it.  You can train yourself to get to a place where that 2-3 hours is as short as blinking.  I’ve had 8 months or so, and I haven’t yet.  So, I ask again, is it all just procrastination?

Sure, I spend way too much time on the internet – Facebook, fandom and genre news sites, watching Netflix and Hulu.  And I play video games.  And I putter around the house – playing the piano, teasing the cats, etc.  But those are the symptom, not the disease.  The real problem is that staring at the page hurts.

I think a lot of it is fear, if I’m going to be brutally honest, and if my writing is ever going to resonate or make people feel the feels, then it needs to be honest, so let’s start there.

I am afraid of how disappointed I will be in myself when I read what I write.  It’s not going to say what I want it to say, even though I wracked my brain for the words, the phrases to say it right.

The Gap

I’ve seen this video of Ira Glass’s advice from a handful of sources, including the original interview that has a lot of excised parts intact.  The crux of it is that when creative people first get started on creating, there’s a gap between their taste, which is refined, and their talent, which is underdeveloped.  And since it takes years and years of hard work, practice, and failure to refine the talent to the point that it equals the taste, the majority of the people that try get so disheartened that they quit.

I am currently well entrenched in the gap Mr. Glass talks about.  I’ve read great books, great short stories.  I’ve read decent ones.  And I’ve read some real dross too.  And I look at the things I write, and I see which end of the spectrum the majority of it falls closest to. It’s definitely discouraging.

But the thing I need to keep remembering, when I see the cursor crawling across the screen as I try to put the clear, crisp, vivid images in my head into blocky, coarse, clunky words and I despair – the thing I need to remind myself of is that I am comparing my rough draft with other people’s polished finish products.

Let It Suck

Of the many writing-related podcasts I listen to (and will undoubtedly plug repeatedly on Here I Go), Children of Tendu is from two television writers, Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina.  The thing about writing for episodic television is that, during the course of the season, you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration.  You can’t let yourself get stuck because the ideas aren’t coming.  You have to keep working at it and keep plugging along.   The show needs to get written and produced every week without fail, whether you have a great script or not.   And they have mentioned that one of the mantras they have employ to keep them moving is to “Let it suck.”

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  The point isn’t to write crap and move on.  This isn’t about giving up or deciding something isn’t worth doing well.  This is about getting past that little voice inside your head shouting “God, this is all a festering pile.  No one is going to want to even wipe their asses with this, let alone read it.  Why even bother writing any more of this story, when even your wife and kids would have stopped reading 200 words ago if you bothered to show this to them?”

I’ve read interviews with successful authors.  People whose books I adore.  And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that that voice doesn’t shut up.  It doesn’t go away.  It’s always there.  So there is no stopping it.  There is only ignoring it.  All you can do, when you look at the steaming crap pouring out of your fingers and onto the page is to just acknowledge that it sucks – for now.  Know that it is going to suck.  First drafts always suck.  But first drafts are not published novels.  First drafts are not filmed T.V. scripts.  They are just that – drafts.

The trick is to remember that once you get it out, then you clean it up.  It will get better.  It will suck less.  And less.  And less.  With revision, and refining, and honing, that first draft will become a real story.  And with all that refining, something else happens too.  The next first draft will suck just a tiny bit less.  And the next even less.  But only if you get those first drafts out.  If you let the voice telling you how bad you are at writing stop you, then you will never get better.  So, let it suck.  Just long enough to get it out and onto the page.  Then make it better.

Parting Thoughts

So, with all of that said and kept in mind, where do I go from here?

Well, first and foremost, I have to remind myself every day to let it suck.  I can’t let the fear of being bad keep me from getting better.  That’s easy for me to sit here and write down.  But doing it, well…  Do or do not, there is no try, as they say on Dagobah.

Every day it’s going to be a one foot in front of the other type of road, until the first step of the day becomes easier than it was the day before.  And hopefully before too much longer, getting started in the mornings won’t be so painful.

I’d like to leave therefore with a different video today.  While Ira Glass’s words were helpful, they weren’t what I would call a springboard.  This video says many of the same things Ira said, but ends with more of a forward motion, and right now, I like that thought a lot.  So, watch the video, and while you do, I am going to go make more awesome crap.

Here I go,

Matt

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