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.


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.


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!


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.


Saturday, December 9, 2017


Lightning strikes where and when it may.  As you've seen, the agony of a writer (well, me, actually) occasionally turns to ecstasy when something (anything!) is completed.

For the last three months I've been struggling to come up with a concept for a story that would fit an anthology I'd been invited to join. I wrote several outlines and attempted four successive drafts, none of which seemed promising, getting four or five pages down before realizing that the idea wasn't going to be worth the effort, and bemoaning the fact that my creative well of ideas was going dry. Now, this wasn't the only thing I had going: I always seem to have a handful of projects (actually struggles to make sense of a lot of half-baked ideas thatI'd already invested too much time in to abandon) going so this proximate problem commandeered only a small part of my general misery.

Then virtual lightening struck. A germ of an idea came from God-knows-where and I began writing a list of things to be considered which quickly turned into three characters, a plot, and actual scenes.  As quickly as that the entire story came together and, a day later, it was a finished piece.

Now I have no idea of how or why this happened. Some of my friends say its because my subconscious was working on this full time while I screwed around.  Others say it was my muse, that fickle bitch, who decided to embrace me for a time.  Personally I don't give a damn about why it happened, but I care deeply about the how of it.  Why did one sentence build upon another and create something out of whole cloth, the words building a world without forethought?  What magic bends the mind into creative channels and not the prosaic humdrum of reality?  What spell illuminates the joy of words that let you fly to unseen, unknown worlds?

But maybe that's why I struggle to write; just so I can get an occasional ticket to ride that incredible flight.


Sunday, December 3, 2017


I'll be the first to admit that I am not a conscientious writer. In fact my writing occurs occasionally in spasmodic bursts of creativity and more often damn, slogging drudge work.  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 some bright shiny and lose my often tattered thread of plot.  As I've mentioned elsewhere in my blogs, things such as names, places, and descriptions seem to remain liquid, never resolving until the penultimate draft is unknowingly submitted.* The result is that I carry a burden of guilt about my lack of discipline and fret that should I not write for  a while the magic will go away, never to return.

At the same time I can become extremely focused at times, so much so that I ignore not only outside distractions but occasionally, the physical cries of bladder and stomach.  These periods come when  my demons uses their spurs to ride me to exhaustion. A similar focus descends when I am captured by a compelling book, so much so that my copy-editing persona stops mentally correcting words,  sentences, or sometimes an entire scenes to the  point that I often miss the author's intent.  I wish I could be as critical of my own drafts instead of having these damnable teflon eyes that slide over outrageous errors of speliing or grammer.

Yet, there is a time, a brief moment when clarity prevails, when a scene, a line of dialogue, or a plot detail is suffused with such brilliance that it takes my breath away.  I try to capture this as quickly as possible before the next distracting thing pulls me away.  Too often these flashes happen when I am away from the computer, in a meeting, or struggling with another unrelated story. When I attempt to write it down later the result seems only a pale shadow of that revelation.

So I continue plodding along my punctuated path, stumbling too often, and missing many of the possibilities that may be scattered along the way as I try to produce stories beyond my skill level.  This tortuous practice of achieving something memorable seems to be both a curse and a blessing.

But it doesn't stop me from  writing.

*I too often have regrets immediately 
after submission because of my PSS**



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Demons Abound

 Every writer has their imps, demons, and vexing monsters.

Many are the little ear imps that whisper discouragement whenever you begin to write.  They cajole and criticize every sentence written, they distain every word selected and scoff at attempts to  replace it with a more precise one. They pester you with niggling thoughts of other ways you could have chosen to twist the plot.  All of these ever-present voices are irritating in the same way as mosquito bites; ever present and absolutely impossible to ignore, although not enough to interrupt your creative flow.

The demons speak of somewhat larger irritants; concerns about where your recently submitted  piece sits in the editor's queue, if you are going to make a (usually self-imposed) deadline, and how you are going to extricate the protagonist from this or that dilemma.  Other concerns are that you've just sent off a piece that could have used a bit more polish, or that your most recent attempt did not measure up to your earlier works. Being lost in the mail used to be a concern, but now that only applies to missing royalty checks.

The hulking monsters that straddle you and dig their spurs into your psyche are evil beings who create daily nightmares with their black thoughts. The greatest of these is Self-Doubt which seizes on every disappointment, every failed attempt to think of the proper word, every mistake in the drafts as clear evidence that you are a fraud, a failure, and one who only accidentally acquired what little name recognition  you may imagine you have.  Its companion,  Jealousy is the most insidious monster and as capable of crippling your art as the others; everyone you read writes better than the drivel you produce - they are more articulate, their plots more realistic, and backgrounds are more vivid than any you could write.  Then there is the deadly Procrastination that always tugs on the reins of desire, and prevents you from progressing.  This monster is ever offering more pleasant alternatives to sitting at the writing anvil: reading, having lunch with friends, taking a drink of two, just putting things aside, sleeping, or writing meaningless blog posts.