Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Bane & Pleasure of Writing

Recently ANALOG published my blog on writing so I decided to share it here for those who might have missed the announcement on Facebook or web site.
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I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a conscientious writer. In fact my writing efforts occur occasionally in spasmodic bursts of creativity but more often in damn, slogging drudgework. I am also easily distracted (ADD) and not very good on details, a combination that definitely curtails my efforts. Too often I’m distracted by something bright and shiny and lose my often-tattered thread of plot. As I’ve mentioned in my weekly blog (www.budsparhawk.blogspot.com), elements of my drafts such as names, places, and descriptions seem to remain liquid, never resolving until the penultimate draft is unknowingly submitted. I too often have regrets immediately after submission because of my PSS (premature-submission-syndrome).
All of my stories begin with far more words than ever reach the reader. Most of my short stories were almost three times as long in their original draft. As the sculptor said modestly about his works, “It’s easy to a produce a statue once you see the part of marble you need to remove.”
Editing provides both the bane and pleasure of writing. The bane is realizing that the piece I just completed is in fact an atrocious piece of poorly worded, rambling, disorganized crap. The pleasure comes from the continual polishing of successive drafts to make each word matter until the pearl steps from the oyster as it were.
To begin with, editing a first draft is easier than the writing of a story. At that nescient stage, errors of haste become glaringly obvious, as does any material irrelevant to the story. Most misspelled words and grammar mistakes are hopefully taken care of automatically so are of no concern (except when you’re writing SF of course). Editing becomes increasingly harder with each succeeding draft as I struggle to clarify and improve the action while honing descriptive and expository sentences into razor-sharp clarity. This last effort (reaching for the perfect word/sequence) often becomes as tedious as picking fly scats from the pepper line and would appear being overly compulsive to any rational observer.
I always carry a burden of guilt about my lack of discipline and fret that, should I not write for a while, the gift of creativity will depart, never to return. Occasionally I can become extremely focused, so much so that I ignore not only outside distractions but, occasionally, the physical cries of bladder and stomach. These periods come when my inner demons use their spurs to ride me to exhaustion. A similar narrow focus descends when I become captivated by a compelling story, so much so that my copyediting persona stops mentally correcting words, sentences, or sometimes entire scenes to the point that I actually understand the author’s intent. I wish I could be as critical of my own drafts instead of having these damnable teflon eyes that too frequently slide over outrageous errors of speliing and grammer.
Yet, there is a time, a brief moment when clarity prevails, when I am graced with a scene, a line of dialogue, or a plot detail that is suffused with such brilliance that it takes my breath away. When I attempt to capture it, the resulting effort captures only a pale shadow of that revelation and no amount of editing ever restores the luster of the original insight.
So I continue plodding along my punctuated path, stumbling too often, and missing many of the more clever possibilities as I strain to craft stories well beyond my skill level. My tortuous struggle to achieve something meaningful seems to be both a curse and a blessing.
But it doesn’t stop me from writing.



#SFWApro

Thursday, January 3, 2019

My Year in Review


Soon after the last day of 2018, as in other years, I updated my archives, cleaned out the messes I've created, and looked at the various pieces I've worked on during the past year.  I've been doing this assessment since I started writing again in 1990, partly to see how far I've come and partly to torture myself with the realization that I could have done much better.  It also makes me to reassess the wisdom of what I've been doing.

 During the last year I managed to sell several short stories and publish a long languishing novel published.  My remaining WIP remain around 98% completed due to continual rethinking and rewriting/revising. I am anticipating the publication of another novel (SHATTERED DREAMS) in May as well as three more pieces in Analog.

The number of pieces I count in a given year is the gross number of files, so novels get the same weight as novellas, novelettes, short stories and articles.  I do not count the number of multiple drafts, edits, and crap I threw away in frustration at my fickle muse.  Some of my friends obsessively count and report their word production and suggest that I really ought to keep track of total words written (drafts, sketches, edits,etc ) instead of a simple file count, but even for me the resulting number would be too horrifyingly large with ratios of written words to words sold at  millions to one.**

The chart at right shows the arc - the blue line representing the cumulative number of files worked on and the red the cumulative number of stories sold year by year (I haven't included sales of reprints, audio productions, or donated stories.)  The total number of unique sales is 137 (ffive in 2018) and the cumulative number of files is just  559. This makes my "lifetime" sales average  24.5%, a full tenth of a point increase! The green line is the ratio of sales to files each year, which seems to be smoothing out as the number of works increases.

The chart shows the ups and downs of my working/writing career. Strangely, the years I had problems with my day job turned out to be the most productive for writing.  In my peak year
(2013, when I really retired) I sold almost a  third of what I wrote.  The chart also shows the decline of the novella markets, which was my first love, and which I continue to pursue against all reason.  It was only after I'd relearned how to write short, that my sales increased. Periods I've spent attempting to complete my draft novels also meant a decline in the total count, much to my regret.

So, looking back on 2018 I have to say I've not done badly.

* I also made progress in getting some 
more work done on the remaining ones.

**I am a  brutal editor of my drafts!

#SFWApro

Monday, December 31, 2018

Reflctions on a Writing Life

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a conscientious writer. In fact my writing efforts occur occasionally in spasmodic bursts of creativity but more often in damn, slogging drudgework. I am also easily distracted (ADD) and not very good on details, a combination that definitely curtails my efforts. Too often I’m distracted by something bright and shiny and lose my often-tattered thread of plot. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog, elements of my drafts such as names, places, and descriptions seem to remain liquid, never resolving until the penultimate draft is unknowingly submitted. I too often have regrets immediately after submission because of my PSS (premature-submission-syndrome).
All of my stories begin with far more words than ever reach the reader. Most of my short stories were almost three times as long in their original draft. As the sculptor said modestly about his works, “It’s easy to a produce a statue once you see the part of marble you need to remove.”
Editing provides both the bane and pleasure of writing. The bane is realizing that the piece I just completed is in fact an atrocious piece of poorly worded, rambling, disorganized crap. The pleasure comes from the continual polishing of successive drafts to make each word matter until the pearl steps from the oyster as it were.
To begin with, editing a first draft is easier than the writing of a story. At that nescient stage, errors of haste become glaringly obvious, as does any material irrelevant to the story. Most misspelled words and grammar mistakes are hopefully taken care of automatically so are of no concern (except when you’re writing SF of course). Editing becomes increasingly harder with each succeeding draft as I struggle to clarify and improve the action while honing descriptive and expository sentences into razor-sharp clarity. This last effort (reaching for the perfect word/sequence) often becomes as tedious as picking fly scats from the pepper line and would appear being overly compulsive to any rational observer.
I always carry a burden of guilt about my lack of discipline and fret that, should I not write for a while, the gift of creativity will depart, never to return. Occasionally I can become extremely focused, so much so that I ignore not only outside distractions but, occasionally, the physical cries of bladder and stomach. These periods come when my inner demons use their spurs to ride me to exhaustion. A similar narrow focus descends when I become captivated by a compelling story, so much so that my copyediting persona stops mentally correcting words, sentences, or sometimes entire scenes to the point that I actually understand the author’s intent. I wish I could be as critical of my own drafts instead of having these damnable teflon eyes that too frequently slide over outrageous errors of speliing and grammer.
Yet, there is a time, a brief moment when clarity prevails, when I am graced with a scene, a line of dialogue, or a plot detail that is suffused with such brilliance that it takes my breath away. When I attempt to capture it, the resulting effort captures only a pale shadow of that revelation and no amount of editing ever restores the luster of the original insight.
So I continue plodding along my punctuated path, stumbling too often, and missing many of the more clever possibilities as I strain to craft stories well beyond my skill level. My tortuous struggle to achieve something meaningful seems to be both a curse and a blessing.
But it doesn’t stop me from writing.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Christmas Story

Two years ago I wrote a little Christmas tale for Analog's December issue.  Kate Baker, a good friend of mine, was sufficiently taken with it that she recorded/narrated it as a present.  This was accepted very quickly by Analog's standards.

So here, I pass Kate's wonderful gift to you.  May all your holidays be merry and bright.


#SFWApro

Friday, November 9, 2018

Slogging Toward Spontaneity

In my optimistic youthful days I imagined writing to be an alloyed joy; envisioning hours spent flowing golden words onto page after page of a compelling tale, and having writ, hardly pausing my moving fingers to erase or revise a line of it.  I imaginged swimming in the clouds of creativity, grasping truth and raining delightful insights on my (mostly imaginary) fans.  I threw my stories about with great abandon, waiting for the adulation that would surely follow.

And waiting.  

As rejections amassed to a startling number, I began to intuit that perhaps my masturbatory tales were not so brilliant as I imagined and that my words had been more base metal than golden.

Thats when I realized that the writing game involved more than dreaming fantastic stories and vomiting words onto pages upon pages. Not only was laying out the story line properly important but writing also involved honing descriptive and narrative words into something meaningful to editors and readers instead of being random reflections of my own not-so-deep thoughts. I realized that there is craft involved that must be mastered.

My discovery that writing is an iterative process that never really begins to take shape until I have the rudiments* of a rough draft or a sketch plan/plot.  My first drafts are more often than not, sloppy messes of awkward phrasing, poor to horrible word choices, and a jumble of rambling chunks that are poorly organized relative to each other.  My second or third draft will see actual scenes being formed, which allows me to arrange them in the order that best tells the tale.  Another pass-through lets me filter each paragraph to contain but one strong thought as it advances the plot.

Once I've done these simple fixes I embark upon the long, slow slog of polishing each sentence, selecting the best way of phrasing an idea using the most effective words.  I've discovered that, as I slog along, my paragraphs become clearer and better serve to propel the plot.  I also often sense the emergence of rhythm or melody in the scenes.  I sometimes play these against the bass line to create novelty, heighten tension, or convey more emotion than mere sentences can achieve.

These are the actions that take me through consecutive versions until I reach the point where I am finally ready to present it for the judgement of others.

Then there are the revisions...

*Character(s), settings, chronology, and tone 



#SFWApro 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Trifecta

I was recently congraduated for my productivity when I announced that my three (3!) of my novels would be completed within a rather short period.  The truth is that this is more a confluence of circumstance and editorial processes than a reflection on my less than rapid drafting.  All will be available in trade paperback, eBook, and audio formats.


SHATTERED DREAMS is a mil-scify novel about encountering a deadly and intracable alien force and the eithical/moral choices that humanity must consider when faced with certain eradication.  This novel illustrates how various levels of commmand act through the eyes of a disgruntled marine who grows into his ultimate destiny.

This novel is a compilation of several short stories and other material from several anthologies and magazines. It is the result of two years of effort to compile and write the major portions of the story's arc.

Can now be ordered as pre-release.


DREAMS OF EARTH is the culmination of a five-year effort to imagine what space-faring humanity would become over a  long time span. In this I deal with what facets of we humans posess, which will be retained as we continue to become into a star-spanning civilization , those which may emerge as we continue to evolve, and which aspects might shrivel through disuse.

Throw in genetic modification, the impact of environmental effects, and social pressures as gaps begin to grow to produce a diverse and varigated "human' race.

Oh yeah, I threw a few aliens into the mix as well.


MAGICIAN is a reissue of an expansion of my Nebula finalist novella MAGIC'S PRICE (Analog, March 2001.)

Unsatisfied that I left my young protagonist being carried away from friends, family, and certain death in the novella, I decided to follow him as he tried to discover the magicians' secrets.

But first he must master the sklls of surviving the wilds of this partially terraformed planet from the three who accompany him.  As he learns his own limitations and struggles to adapt to the magicians' society he uncovers far more about his past and what the future promises than he ever thought possible.


#SFWApro



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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Productivity - NOT!

I am sitting here performing one-handed typing and looking forward to at least  seven or more weeks before escaping my sling.*  After that I have to have therapy to get muscles back in shape and restore mobility.

Typing w/one hand sucks.  Worse, I discovered that dictation results in short sentences and poor word choices which leads to a LOT of post-draft editing, and not in a good way!
So my productivity is in the toilet and with my wife dressing me, cutting my food, and keeping me clean I am starting to feel like a damn invalid - a foretaste of what is to come no doubt as I approach my dotage.

The understandable depression that now assails me due to my limitations makes me wonder if it isn't time to bank the forge fires, lay aside my literary hammer, and put this fussy wordmaking aside so I can once more become an uncritical reader who cares not one whit about the inevitable errors that infest our published works.

It will be a while before this becomes obvious:  I have a backlog of sold shorts, a couple of novels in the pipeline, and a few drafts to finish before I disappear.

Or maybe I'll feel different down the line.

 *Long story short: grip slipped, extended left arm took 
the entire weight of heavy box resulting in four rotator 
cuff  tears, shredded bicept, and two detached  tendons.  

#SFWApro