Saturday, February 10, 2018

Plotting/Plodding

Where to start?  Another blank page stares at me two days after my last submission and I am bereft of  ideas.  My first instinct is to just write off the top of my head without thought to the route to the end or even as to where the destination might be found. Should I posit a character and then surround it with complications, compulsions, or contradictions?  Maybe I should think of a problem and then solve it - but no, that never works. Perhaps I can contrive a series of improbable events and populate them with seemingly intelligent, but actually brutally stupid, actors.  But what kind of events would be interesting?  What sorts of characters would find, much less allow, themselves to be involved?

You see the problem: the entrances to the maze of plotting are many as are the exits but the core of the maze, the intricacies of turns and twists, and the barriers to a straightforward plot will always be clouded. Each turn presents new challenges, each twist a new character who, incidentally is just as confused about their part as the protagonist. Then there are the trap doors of non-sequiturs, grammatical snares for the unwary, and the dead ends of failing imagination. Characters multiply like ants at a picnic, wandering into and out of the narrative with few lines to speak and fewer descriptive details.  Some even have the temerity to possess names!

Often one can crawl thousands of words into the maze only to find they've strayed so far that there is no hope finding where they started or even a hint of where the next passage might take them, let alone show them an easy path to the exit. You may force yourself through more thousands of words only to discover suddenly that the tissue of lies you have been telling is crap and on exposure likely to drop you into a pit of shame.  It  appears to have been so much wasted effort.

You are lost, hopelessly, bitterly lost.

You could go back to find a more inviting way to begin, retrace your steps to discover where you could have turned a better phrase or altered a scene, and bravely struggle onward, all the while wondering if those the paths you ignored might have been better choices.  But at this point, you've become so invested in your course that you feign to discard it.  Yet you stumble on, keeping your eyes on the prize until, at last, you reach an end, any end.

And begin to edit.


#SFWApro

Friday, February 2, 2018

IS and OTH

I just sold a few more short stories which should be a time for celebration.  This would have been a balm to my persistent Imposter Syndrome (IS,) which has bedeviled me for more years than I care to count in both my former professional and now writing life. I have never been comfortable since I am continually  waiting for a red-robed fanatic to jump through the door screaming my unworthiness and revealing that I am a fraud, a cheat, and a charlatan.  That I am unable to produce anything worth reading without a maddening amount of rewriting, editing, more rewriting, editing, going back and rewriting the rewrite to its original form, and changing words even as the galleys are being reviewed.  I'd scribble improvements (edits) in the margins of magazines if B&N didn't take offense.

But the sale(s) didn't give me the congratulatory euphoria I expected because I'd just read a twitter post by Charlie Stross* bemoaning another writer's affliction that I fear has afflicted me - the dreaded OTH (Over The Hill) syndrome.  OTH makes me worry that my best writing years are behind me, that I am no longer the innovative upstart I once fantasized I was, that words no longer seem to flow effortlessly from my fingers to the page, and that the modest skills I've acquired over the succeeding years have been steadily deteriorating. Every new draft begs the question if I will be able or capable of finishing it.  Every editing pass of endless drafts seem to highlight the unworthiness of my scribliing.  Every rejection is a stake in my heart that illogically reinforces both my IS and OTH syndromes!

Sure, you struggling, beginning writers might scoff: "That will never happen to me," but in the late dark hours of your career these thoughts will  haunt you, wrapping their tangles of hopelessness about your creative imagination and suffusing your muse with doubts even as you struggle to do one more sentence, one more scene, one more story, one more chapter, and one more submission.

But you continue to write.

*who introduced me to Scrivener years ago





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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Of Ovens, Writers, and Perseverance

Now that I've recovered from my most recent mini-disaster I've managed to work my way through the remaining 30k of the novel and returned it to the hands of my editor/copyeditor for further butchery in hopes that she will tell me how to carve delicious steaks from its carcass.

The best thing to do instead of nervously biting finger and toenails to the quick while I await the next round of edits, I turned back to some incomplete drafts in hopes that work on them would clarify the issues that impeded their completion.

I pulled one draft out of the pie-oven* to see how it had turned out from the perspective of a few weeks and with my recent near-death editing/rewriting experience, behind me.  The draft on this read was barely acceptable and contained more errors and misplaced emphasis than I'd realized.  The rewrite was extensive with as many words deleted as changed.  In the end I had a decent draft that I thought I could present to my (mostly) short story writers' group without embarrassment.

Although I did not identify members of the group as my target audience, they listened respectfully and then provided a barrage of insightful comments that revealed where more work was needed.  Some even suggested changes that might amplify and improve the story's message.  This process also revealed that three other writers in the group WERE in my target demographic after all. This shows  how naive I was to think what they wrote was what they liked to read.

The story, after a day's work of patching, shifting, adjusting, and rewriting to fix the problems identified, a much improved story is back in the oven where it will sit for another few weeks before my next read-through.   Hopefully** that next read will convince me to finally send it out for acceptance.

*I learned the pie oven technique
 from Michael Swanwick.

**As ever

#SFWApro

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Abrupt Deletion, Frustration, and Recovery

Forget what I said last week about the joys of editing. In an attempt to clarify a few points in my latest novel revision I spent an entire day writing about 2,000 words of new material when, to my dismay, I accidentally erased not only the freshly minted words, but the outline for the remaining changes I hadn't yet made.  In desperation I tried every trick I knew to recover the work but, thanks to my normally safe setting for auto backup, all I was doing was overwriting the draft deeper every 30 seconds!

I cursed with every word I knew and, being a writer, probably crafted a few new combinations, swore I'd never write another damn thing, and fumed for hours at the injustice of it all.  Most of all at my stupidity for not taking additional protections.

The morning after the disastrous erasure, I sat down and tried to recall what I had lost and, little by little, managed to put together a rough outline of what I had (and intended to add) written.  I probably missed a few points and added some new material, but in general felt I'd managed to recover the flow and bits of the important dialogue.

Using that new outline as a basis, I recreated what I had lost as best I could, but did so knowing in my heart of hearts that the original lost material had been pure gold and worthy of acclimation.  Or so I kept deluding myself as I continued to slog ahead.

After all, they were just words.



#SFWApro

Friday, January 12, 2018

Writing, Revinsing, Revising damnit!, Modifying, Editing


Writing, Revinsing, Revising damnit!, Modifying, 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.

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."

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 you 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) can become as tedious as picking fly scats from the pepper line and would appear being overly compulsive to any rational observer.

As a case in point, take the piece I just completed (on the fifth draft.)  The opening paragraph was the most important scene in that it was supposed to  grasp the readers attention, raise questions that impel them to continue, and create a sense of anticipation so that they immerse themselves in the story's progress.  At the fourth revision my opening paragraph was 566 words long and, I thought, rather inelegant. After a full day (six hours) of struggle I had reduced the word count to a  more precise 213 words with greater impact.

I did this with two key internal scenes as well and, on reflection, the third draft would have been acceptable ( to the right editor, of course) and I question whether I was needlessly embellishing the piece without actually improving it. This is a question that remains  uppermost in my mind as I grind and polish each facet to get microscospic improvement to the work.

But then, that's just me.




#SFWApro


Friday, January 5, 2018

2017 in Review



Soon after the turn of the year, as in other years, I've updated my archive files, 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 1991, partly to see how far I've come and partly to torture myself with the realization that I could have done much better and causes me to reassess what I am doing.

During the last year I managed to get a collection, several short stories and another novel sold.*  These seem to remain around 98% completed due to continual rethinking and rewriting. I am anticipating the publication of another novel in May.

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 don't count sales of reprints,audio productions, or donated stories.)  The total number of unique sales is 132 (six in 2017) and the cumulative number of files is just  540. This makes my "lifetime" sales average  24.4%. The green line is the ratio of sales to files each year, which declines 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 years I sold almost as many as I wrote, the bad news being that I didn't write very much in those years.  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 spent attempting novels also meant a lower production count, much to my regret.

So, looking back on 2017 I have to say I've not done badly.

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

**I am a  brutal editor of my drafts!

#SFWApro

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reflections at Solstice

The solstice, that darkest day, is my time for reflection on the year that has passed and a time to plan what to do in the lengthening meteorological winter daylight that follows. What will I do in the forthcoming dark, cold weeks, that I haven't done in seasons past? Will I continue to follow my muse's capricious whims and add more words to things attempted earlier without resolution or should I embark upon new drafts without assurance that they will ever be completed and end up like their predecessors, languish half finished on my cluttered desktop? Will I work on more pieces this year than last or, more importantly, publish more?

I always resolve to do better, to work on a new idea until the writing is sufficient and it can start the rounds of editors, but find that random thoughts switch me to onto different trains of thought, leaving completed scenes parked on the siding awaiting the return of the muse's engine? Will abandoning the scattered snatches and bits already "complete" persist, or can a renewed resolution overcome bad habits? Maybe this is why I have so many incomplete longer works languishing, that I am constitutionally incapable of concentrating on one damn thing without being enticed onto something else?

No matter how I struggle to overcome my ADD it continues to govern my writing. Perhaps the restricting mechanics of the shorter stories allow me to focus in the brief while before something else distracts me.  That affliction also helps me avoid the Novel's need for providing excessive detail or expounding with expansive commentary that distracts from a perfectly good short story.

At least I hope so.



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