Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Story Live

Just a quick note to say my story "Daughters of Demeter" is now live at Eternal Haunted Summer.

The story is a re-imaging of the Persephone/Hades myth. I always thought Demeter's scorched earth policy when Persephone disappeared was a bit of an overreaction, which made me wonder just what else she would do to keep her daughter safe.

And if you enjoy mythology and other pagan themes, check out the rest of the Autumn Equinox issue.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Feedback: It Gets Easier

This is a post I couldn’t write a few years ago. Back then, I had just started sharing my work with others. Although I desperately needed feedback, sometimes it hurt. Sometimes the criticisms made me doubt. And sometimes those criticisms made me change my stories, for better and worse.

But it doesn’t change the fact that feedback is a necessary evil in writing.

That first project? You know the one. The story that started them all, the one you’ll see through the bitter end, and the one you fear will end up in the bottom of the desk drawer. That one—your baby.

Feedback on that story is always the hardest. There’s no way around that, unless you have a Teflon-coated ego (and if you have one of those maybe you shouldn’t writing). You put so much of yourself into that first book, your dreams and hopes that you’ll buck the trend and get on the NY Times bestseller list. Any critical feedback will seem like an indictment against all that labor and love.

But if you’re writing for publication, you’ll get over that eventually. You’ll have to. Along with revising and revising some more until it’s time to start the feedback cycle all over again. It’ll go easier the second time around. After all, you already understand how it works. You have a stronger sense of your story’s strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps more importantly, you’ll understand yourself better. Which means knowing when you are overreacting to a piece of criticism and knowing which suggestions you need to consider and which ones you need to ignore. This is a huge milestone, but it takes practice with the feedback cycle, and sometimes a strong understanding of the people reading your work.

It takes time to do this. But it’s time well spent, because you need to get all this out of your system in order to start on the next project, regardless of whether your baby sells.

With the next project, you’ve told yourself you’re not going to make the same mistakes as the first. And you won’t—you’ll just make different ones. And then the feedback circuit will give you time to fix them.

It’ll be even easier this time. You know why? Because you don’t have nearly the same emotional investment in this project as you did in the one before. I’m not saying you don’t care about this project—you most certainly do. But now you know that this project isn’t the be-all and end-all of your writing career. You have other stories in you. This new story proves it.

So feedback this time may still sting, but you’ll be better able to compartmentalize it and use it to fuel positive changes in your work. And this is hugely valuable when you’re faced with tough revision decisions like restructuring your novel, adding or subtracting characters, or simply gutting the story and starting all over again.

The hard work that maybe you weren’t strong enough to even consider with your baby. But now, when the hunger for getting published—getting out there—when you have enough confidence in your craft that it’s just a matter of the right story hitting at the right time? Yeah, that. That’s when the tough decisions get made.

(and if this sounds like a pep talk, it kinda is for me)

The takeaway is this:

The more you write, the more mistakes you get to learn from.
The more mistakes you learn from, the more viable stories you create.
The more viable stories, the easier it is to deal with feedback.

Why? Because you can be more objective about your work. Because you no longer have the one story to care about, you have other projects now. All that emotion, good and bad, gets distributed across them. The successes and failures of individual projects gets muted, which makes it easier to make objective decisions how to manage them.

It’s a good thing, I think. It’s just important stay engaged, move forward, and above all, keep writing.

In my experience, my objectivity is reduced the longer I spend working on something. Tunnel vision is inevitable—that’s why it’s so important to take a break from your projects every now and then to gain perspective. It’s also why you need other readers.

But at the very least, if you keep writing, the less likely you’ll fall into the trap you did when writing your baby.

*Time spent working on a project could be equated to length of project as well. For example, negative criticism on my shorter pieces doesn’t nearly affect me as much as for my novel-length stories. But your mileage may vary. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Delayed Miscellany

I forgot to post this Wednesday, but life and writing happened, so I’m not too repentant.

If you didn’t know, Gearing Up to Get an Agent (#GUTGAA) is going on right now, and I’ve been busy polishing my own pitch and critiquing others this week. And I got the good news this morning that I successfully entered the preliminary round for agent judging. Yay! Even if I don't move on to the next round, my pitch has already benefited from entering.

I was also bestowed the Very Inspiring Blogger Award by the wonderful Jen McConnel. If you haven’t checked her out, you need to as she blogs about the writing life and provides insightful book reviews.

As a Very Inspiring Blogger Award recipient, I need to post seven interesting things about myself. Since I’ve done variations on this before, I’ll stick to writing-related things this time around.

1.  My Wily Writers story "Chicken Feet" is being reprinted in Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s The Shining Cities: An Anthology of Pagan Science Fiction. "Chicken Feet" is about a young girl who makes chicken foot ornaments, an aspect of Hoodoo culture, to survive a post-apocalyptic world. So please check out the anthology and the other great stories it contains.

2.  I won a partial request in this month’s Secret Agent contest through Miss Snark’s First Victim. Here’s a hint—it was for my YA SF story I’ve been working on. Keep your fingers crossed for me. And get your logline ready for the Third Annual Baker's Dozen Agent Auction coming up later this year.

3.  I’m joining a new in-person writing group. I’m still keeping my current group of course, but this new group is comprised of members a little further along in their writing journey (think pro sales and book deals). I’m lucky to have been invited, and the first session is this weekend. Hopefully I’ll have more to share about this soon.

4.  I went to my first SF/F convention two weekends ago. And I lived to tell about it! It was a local convention, and much more focused on books and trends than fandom, which I appreciated. Worldcon didn’t make sense for me this year, but I’ll definitely be attending next year when it’s in San Antonio.

5.  I received my print of the cover illustration for the Fat Girl in a Strange Land Anthology – a reward I received for supporting their Kickstarter campaign to pay pro rates and bring back their magazine. I’m going to frame it and hang it along with the illustration for my story in the Memory Eater Anthology in my office. Cuz yeah I’m a dork like that—and I need all the inspiration and encouragement I can get sometimes.

6.  Elizabeth Craig will be interviewing me in an upcoming edition of the Writers Knowledge Database newsletter. If you haven’t signed up (which you can do here), you are missing out. The Writers Knowledge Database is a great way to find resources on craft, publishing trends, you name it.

Writer's Knowledge Base

7.  Finally, I picked up a copy of Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence after reading Janice Hardy’s interview with author Lisa Cron. This is the first craft book I’ve felt compelled to read in a long time. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Okay... That's it for me. Have a wonderful weekend and happy writing!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pitfalls of Writing Tight

We are constantly told to write tight. No unnecessary words. Story as iceberg. Kill our darlings. Et cetera. You know, the Elmore Leonard school of writing.

And this is something I’ve taken to heart as I’ve tried to further my craft over the years. I like to think I’ve developed a spare style for myself. Which also may have evolved out of my experience writing flash fiction in one of my early writing groups. Still, I try to write tight, no matter what project I’m working on.

But sometimes this hurts me.

A long time ago, I wrote a post on how I have to write in layers, starting with a skeleton of action and dialogue and layering in all that other stuff that makes for a coherent and satisfying story.

Once I have a sense for my story, I’m eager to get it all down on the page and move on. I know what my characters need to do, when, and how. And then try to convey that as efficiently as possible.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Because I’ve already figured out what happens, there’s not always enough of an intellectual challenge to flesh the story out. Another reason is that there’s always another story jumping up and down in the back of my brain, waiting for its turn to be written. I have to take care to manage both of these impulses since I’m writing for publication, which requires a higher level of storytelling from me than if I were writing for my own entertainment.

Writing tight is great for controlling a story’s pacing. But if I’m too thin on the details, the character insights, the scene setting, and so on, I often rob my story of its full potential. So I have to spend a significant amount of time lingering over my scenes to ensure they are fully realized without slowing things down. And I often rely on my CPs and trusted readers to figure out what the right balance is.

Plot complications are another area I have to watch out for. After all, why delay the inevitable? I already know what happens in my stories, and complications just muck that up. But it’s also those complications that ratchet up tension and make the story’s climax awesome (or at least they should contribute).

There’s a reason I’ve stayed away from writing mysteries and suspense novels. So many of those stories rely on misinformation and red herrings to carry the story until the real plot is revealed at the three-quarters mark. And it’s hard for me to justify spending so much time developing irrelevant plot threads, when there’s a real story to cover. But I guess that’s just another writerly flaw of mine.

So while my craft has definitely benefited from learning to write tight, there are some pitfalls:

  • Write too sparely, and you risk confusing your reader. 
  • Write too lean, and you rob your story of its full emotional impact. 
  • Write too tight, and you could ruin the journey for the reader.

How do you strike that balance between tight writing and fully realized stories?
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