Saturday, July 22, 2017

MOVING ALONG

The writing life, especially for me is hard, my mood ranging from depression to elation in a matter of days and, occasionally, hours.  Just a week ago I was at sea about where the WIP was going or even if  it was going anywhere at all and today I find myself roaring along at the three quarters of the way through the projected plot with the path clearly before me.

I cannot explain when my subconscious climbed the mountain and received its revelation.  I awoke a few days after writing about the difficulties I faced with no tablets in my arms, no memories of a visitation, and certainly no hastily and undecipherable bedside note that would be a guidepost.  No, I once more faced a scene's blank screen and struggled to compose a first sentence, not expecting to move the story any further along.

Strangely, as I typed that first word, more began to form and one sentence after another was completed; stitching together a few plot points that I'd left dangling and granting a hitherto-fore dull spear carrier with a touch of personality. With a clarity that I'd thought I had lost, the entire sequence of how the plot would unfold became obvious.  Not only could I complete the current scene but I saw where it would connect to the  next and onward to the elusive epiphany.

But that would only complete a first draft.  From there I will move scenes around to make the sequence appear more natural if not sequential* order, repurpose dialogue, impute motives, and toss away much of the difficult parts I sweated into reality. Later edits, in say the fourth or fifth draft, I will correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  During each successive draft I'll probably have second or third thoughts on some things and rewrite, only to regret it later and bring back the first version or maybe write a few different lines instead. Trying to nail down what the final, final draft will become is like trying to determine the plot's velocity and position at the same time or determine what the condition of the contents will have when the box is finally opened and a manuscript is submitted: An impossible task.

On reflection, I am probably doomed to continue to bumble along, typing words that MAY turn into something I can send to an editor.

P.S. I am now reconsidering the underlying premise.


* ALL of my first drafts are initially sequential


#SFWApro

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Depths of Despair

I'm a short story writer (see my recent Non-Parallel Universes) but I do occasionally venture into longer works which usually and sadly end up as e-books, hardly ever to be read. Success at the long form has evaded me and every time I venture into that world I run into the same misgivings.

All my stories start out to be short - a few words initially, but in the process of writing, connections begin to form, linkages occur between events and/or characters and scenes, all of which require additional wordage and, less frequently but inevitably, the dreaded exposition! Unlike other literary forms, Science Fiction writers always need to explain things to those ignorant of the technology that (may) form the core of the tale.   The "As you know, Bob," sort of dialogue is just one horrible an repeated example.

But I deviate. My intended short stories often grow beyond my original intent by becoming more complex (or complicated - its awkward little sister) or by the sudden spontaneous generation of additional characters who confuse the tale by infusing combinations of complications AND complexities.

All of this results in my humble tale breaking the 7,500 word barrier, which is when I realize horribly that the plot still has considerable ground to cover before it can resolve. That's all right, I tell myself: a novelette is a perfectly reasonable length if the story merits it.  So, I push on, pounding words on my writing anvil, tempering sentences into glistening chains of narrative, and binding paragraphs into cogent scene frames.  Life is good. I assure myself that this may not be the masterpiece I intended, but will certainly be marketable.

Shortly after I hit the wall of self-doubt.  My inspired writng now appears on rereading little more than scribbled attempts to  make my characters strut and fret their brief time in scenes that seem to add little moment in the overall plot.  I also realize that one of my characters is crafted of tissue and too weak to carry the plot load I've designed.  Another semi-protagonist has no moral core and seems to often act without justification and suffers no consequences.  On and on it goes, the puerile scenes seem to be empty of meaning, the landscape descriptions a mush of ill-conceived scenery, and everyone's  motivations all are weaker than the promise of a cat's affection.

This is the point where I start to wonder if I will ever complete the tale.  The choices churn inside my writer's brain: Which is the proper path for the plot to take, who should lead the charge, and what is the point of spending so many words to reach this point without promising some reward, a debt that I MUST deliver to the reader for investing their time and energy?  The weight of that obligation weighs heavily on me, so burdensome that I cannot think clearly or type another word before I find the answers those pesky questions. I despair that I've invested so much and see no way forward and question whether I should continue to push ahead, hoping that somehow I will be able to shape the mess I've created into something barely adequate or just consign this unfinished tale to the trunk and scribble something better (and shorter?)  Do I have the energy and time to waste on a complete first draft, let alone muster the energy needed to do the revisions for the second or succeeding drafts?  But the story still needs to be told, the plot rescued from its confusion, and the antagonist vanquished.

That's what a writer does.



#SFWApro

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ideas

Years ago someone asked in a panel discussion;"Where do you get your ideas?" to which I replied that there was a man in NJ who sent me a postcard of ideas each month for a few bucks.  Afterward several of the audience asked for his address*....  Such is the desperation of the idea-poor whose desire to have written often exceeds their common sense.

When I began writing I had too many ideas and, honestly, most of my ambitious concepts were beyond my fledgling ability to write competently, although that did not stop me from doing so, submitting them, or stem the tsunami of rejections that resulted.  Eventually, I began to reduce the scope of my ideas to match my ability and produced some decent short stories. This did not unfortunately stop me from having ambitious ideas, so for years I maintained a file of story ideas and prompts in hopes that one might be interesting enough to write.

Few of these ideas ever managed to encourage me to write the stories, but those that did kept coming back, time and again, until I could no longer ignore their cries.  I often wrote just to get them out of my head and, of these, a few were published. Many more of my ideas remained too ambitious to be completed and languish still in the file. Someday, I promise myself, I will finish them.

Some day.

Other ideas arise from reading magazine articles, newspapers, or someone else's story.  A few come from chance conversations at conventions or overheard remarks. One was scribbled between panels on the back of a program book so I would not forget it.  Sadly, the note made no sense when I later read it, much like the scribbled notes of half-remembered dreams.  For me, dreams seldom ignite a spark, although they seem to be a source of inspiration for others.

Rarely do ideas come from editors and, of those that do, are mostly for themed anthologies where an external prompt is provided to inspire the story and whose length, scope, and deadline constrain the story possibilities.

 So the true answer to the question of where ideas come from is "everywhere."

* This was a lie: There 
is no such place as NJ.

#SFWApro

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Demographics

As most of you know I am the SFWA CFO,  job few want and even fewer care about.  Nevertheless that makes me a member of the SFWA Board who are fucking desperate to get a grip on SFWA's membership demographics and wishes.  This is part of a multi-pronged effort to align SFWA's operations and policies with the problems facing all writers in this emerging chaos of writing and publishing where no one not only grasps where the changes are taking us nor understands how to survive, given the tiny rewards from the e-publishing industry and the declining number of pro magazines.

Recently SFWA created a survey form that now resides in your in-box that attempts to gather such data as we move forward.  Filling out this form gives you, the writer, a voice in how SFWA is governed, the policies that are written or modified, and the actions necessary to improve the lot of all of us.

IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU FILL IT OUT!

Historically response to anything having to do with SFWA has been poor; few people recommend stories for the Nebula Award, fewer yet vote for the final awardees, and only controversy seems to impel members to become involved.  I've often joked that were SFWA to have a survey on apathy we'd only get a 16% response - which coincidentally is about the same response we get on recommendations or awards.

PLEASE  TAKE THE TIME (a few minutes, I promise) TO COMPLETE THE SURVEY.





#SFWApro

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Shop Talk

I came to the realization at BaltiCon that writers at conventions talk a lot. A whole lot.  They babble on and on as they sit on panels.  They gabble in the con suite.  They converse in the Green Room.  And, whenever they meet in the hallways between panels or while wandering aimlessly in the dealers' room(s) or art gallery they talk, talk, talk. It's very much like the evening congregation of crows squawking their  presence to each other as if the flags on their badges were not sufficient evidence  of their existence in this time and place.

Sometimes liquor is involved and always, food!

I used to attend business conferences and, inevitably, there would be a gathering of like-minded souls in the bar exchanging friendly insults, observations, occasionally politics, and always focusing attractive people who were also attending but never among your group.  Sometimes the conversation would veer into business-land for a few moments, or turn to the subject of the conference.  Hardly ever would there be discussions of hobbies, pastimes, or family. Certainly no one mentioned being blocked, or feelings of alienation, or having fits of intense creativity.  Self-doubt was NEVER mentioned although Imposter Syndrome was laughingly referred as a small bother at times.

And yes, sometimes liquor was involved and always, food!

So what do the authors discuss you may ask?  Well, we talk about where the green, party, and con suite rooms are located, what panels we're on, and where the most convenient rest rooms are located. Seldom is there serious discussion of our current undertakings or the craft of writing.   Contracts are seldom discussed but opportunities frequent populate the conversation.  We talk about who is writing what, gossip about the industry (altho this had diminished enormously with the ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter, and similar social time wasters), and commiserate with one another on the cruelty of editors and slow payments from publishers.  In other words, writers at conventions have much in common with shoe salesmen, accountants, or engineers.

Including the liquor and food.

The one thing that differentiates writers is that occasional spark that ignites the what-if-ness within each writers' soul and flares into an intense conversational conflagration of ideas, concepts, and suppositions that everyone involved is eager to steal adapt to their own uses. The ad hoc discussion that might encompass this (and other) universe(s), each person contributing to the  crowd's mix that is altered as the participants churn like a pot of stew.

It is for being a part of these impromptu  conversations that I am willing to put up with the craziness and chaos surrounding every convention. Yeah, that and the adulation of adoring fans.

As if!

#SFWApro

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Curse of the Galley


It takes hours of Herculean effort to finally get a story polished to the point that some kind editor finds it acceptable enough to respond with a contract.  That response indicates that the work was not, like so many, a failure and doomed to sit in the darkness of a trunk forever.  The response alone is ample reward for what was clearly a well-composed, structured gem of the genre.  Pat on the back, cheers, and dancing follows before the writer must return to the electronic anvil and pound out the next speculative masterpiece as the pleasant glow of success continues.

That is, until the galleys arrive.

You read through them and are devastated. Clearly whoever prepared the galleys screwed up the sentence structure, substituted inappropriate words in some places, misspelled others, and clearly randomly missed the stellar punctuation.  You experience feelings of being violated, abused, and hurt that some ignorant lackey could so interfere with an obviously well-crafted story.  With rightful indignation you vow to go through the galleys mistake by agonizing mistake against the clean submitted manuscript and reveal what that unskilled fool had done.  The harsh words of a cover letter are forming as you proceed to the first error.

Hmmm, the galley seems to agree with the submission.  All right, so maybe you made that minor mistake,   You correct it and move on.  At the second error you feel shame that you had so poorly chosen that word, when another would be so much better.  You concede the point and correct that as well.  Later and you blush that you structured a sentence so badly and scribble a better phrasing in the (virtual) margin.

And so it goes, page after page of correcting what you realize with growing horror were your own damn mistakes!  The galley bleeds from wounds inflicted by your red pen as you try to undo the damage and bring the story to perfection you require.  There was no abusive copy editor: You have been the perpetrator of these mistakes.  The red ink makes clear where the necessary changes are needed, except in the process of corrections even better phrasing occurs.

Finally you return the much edited galleys, satisfied that you have avoided embarassment and polished the submission to gleaming perfection.  Only to realize moments later that there were a few more things you should have done.....

Is a story ever finished?



#SFWApro





Saturday, May 6, 2017

Persistence

Every writer eventually comes to the point where they question whether to follow the arc of their writing career or to find something equally fascinating and interesting elsewhere.  Perhaps this angst occurs when you find that you just can't write another crappy scene/story/novel like the (mostly unsold) hundreds you've struggled with before. Or maybe it happens because you discover that you just can't muster the elegance and sophistication others seem to achieve without effort. Maybe it's because you want to add depth to your project but have not yet developed the skill and/or emotional intelligence to pull it off.  Could it be because you are simply tired of sitting for day after day trying to get something done or editing your earlier crap drafts into the crystalline clarity readers demand?

Well, join the crowd.  Your angst is the curse of being literate in a world that places little value on the effort involved to produce a cogent contribution to literature.Yours are no different from the difficulties of millions of us who daily struggle with the challenge of sculpturing raw words into elaborate stories that resonate with readers.  The great majority, regardless of how much they struggle, will not succeed in ever publishing their work or gaining recognition. Those so discouraged may decide to consign their efforts to the trash, unread and unmourned. Alongside the trail of literature are the remains of the many who wanted their words to inform the world but only saw their creations die unrealized.

Despite the many setbacks there nevertheless is that burning desire of every nascent author to express their personal view of the world as it should or could be, or discourse on another's view. There is a long line of literature stretching back thousands of years that speak to the human condition, to dreams, and aspirations, all of which beg commentary through whatever glass the writer wishes to use.  It matters little how successful you become so long as you continually perfect your craft, hone your sense of structure, and continually craft more interesting stories.

In the end, the only audience that counts is yourself.



#SFWApro