Friday, February 22, 2013

A Plague of Worms

Just when I felt in the groove, so to speak, those little worms of doubt once again began to nibble at my psyche. Made some sales, work-in-progresses going well, got galleys to proof, etc. I even made another couple of submissions to keep the flow going. Things appeared to be going great, I thought, and that's where the little bastards bite me in the ass and bring me back to Earth (as opposed to Greater Bingattra or wherever my brain happens to take me.)

The worms had lay doggo for so long that I was barely aware that they were still with me.  But they were doing the nasty down there, below my level of consciousness, working their insidious way into my brain, waiting for an opportunity to pounce, waiting for that first hint of vulnerability. That happened within hours of submitting a story to the steely eyes of an editor and their demonic horde of slush readers.  (Or maybe that's the drugs talking? I just had back surgery and they give really, really good pain pills.)

The first bite came from the anticipatory fear that I somehow missed an irreparable error through ignorance or haste.  Would that obvious error be gleefully pointed out by the knowledgeable editor? Or perhaps my protagonist had inexplicably acquired a new name halfway through the text and I, being sick to death of proofreading the same damn lines over and over and ..., well, did I make that rookie mistake or not?  Back to reread the draft too make sure and, on that rereading I wondered if the protagonist was behaving out of character, or - worse - had knowledge of something they have no way of knowing?  Why did these minor characters randomly pop into existence? Did they emerge from the quantum foam, without any justification within the story?  Worse, I worried that the plot twists and turns might appear illogical, as it they had been made simply to provide continuity to the story.

I go through these periods once in the while and, somehow, sharing the misery lessens the pain. I know others suffer the worms as well and to those of you who do, I want you to know that you aren't alone. On reflection, perhaps these sorts of doubts make me more attentive to details, to perfecting the craft that I being to my work,

Perhaps I see the peanuts and not the elephant.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Letting the Muse Take the Wheel

For years I've sort of plotted stories in my head before embarking on writing anything.  Sometimes it's taking a simple idea like "what would happen if...." or "let's torture some characters this way and see what happens." At some point in the rough draft I have enough materials to start assembling it into scenes, figure out what's missing, and start figuring how that will work to reach a conclusion, which five times out of six, turns out to be something different than I intended.

In other words, I generally work from a plan - dynamic, vague, and imprecise plan - but generally one that is continuously improving.  I have prepared a full outline on occasion and forced the story to conform, despite what my muse wants to do: A writer must crack the whip once in the while to show the muse who is boss of this outfit.

When the muse failed to contribute to two works-in-process recently I decided it needed a break, something to fire up the imagination, something that might spark the solutions to the WIP conundrums. With that thought in mind, I put both drafts aside, brought up a blank screen, and let my inner muse free-associate.

"Why not a fantasy," thought I as I typed the word "incantation."  My muse apparently veering toward  something Randal Garrett-ish, with a touch of Sam Boone perhaps.  I continued typing, letting muse go on for pages unimpeded by common sense.  On occasion my rational brain took command to establish a character when needed or scribbling in a little about him/her, maybe about what he did at work, who his friends might be, and what might take place in his environment.  When that rambling mess dribbled out I put the muse back to work.  The meandering story rolled out in a continuous stream, page after page as I let my muse dictate where and how it would go, darting this way and that into diversionary paths.

Surprisingly, at about ten thousand words, a story started to emerge. I hadn't thought of what might result when I let the muse push the characters around but along the line a romance seems to have emerged, as well as theft, a gruff detective, an escaped criminal, german spies, dirigibles, pay phones, a College of Psychomancy, and a dispute over academic funding. I have no idea of where this is going at this point (17,000 words) but the ride is thrilling and I am going to see it to the conclusion, it there is one.

Unable to resist going back to my regular practices, I've already started editing the first seven thousand words into a smooth second draft replete with back stories, historical notes, character sketches, descriptions, and local color.  Based on that, the first draft pieces I have yet to edit, and an estimate of how long it will take to get to the end, I figure this might come in around 25,000 words, but I could be wrong.

It might be a novel.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Keeping Track, Part II

Tracking has always been a rather anal pursuit for me from the very first submission to today's mailings. In that time I've used index cards, spreadsheets, hypercard stacks, MS Access, and, finally, FileMaker Pro.  I've continually added more details, often going back to fill in data I hadn't thought important at the time. Through all this I've managed to accumulate data on the markets so that I can make decent estimates on return times.

A few weeks ago, when I republished an old article on keeping track of submissions, I was informed by a reader that a new free site had opened up that covers everything I described.  The site is named The Submission Grinder. This site was generated by the demise of Duotrope as a free service.  The Grinder is in its early stages of development but already nicely addressees most of the tracking issues I raised in my earlier post and should prove useful to short story writers.

The Grinder not only facilitates keeping track of submissions but also collects and presents return times for each market, which can give you some indication of why your particular story appears to be languishing on an editors's desk and when you need to send a query about its status.  This is a wonderful example of crowd sourcing the markets so that each of us can take advantage of each other's return information. Further, it may reveal new markets sooner than other sites - especially those hard-to-find anthology openings.

I believe that this site deserves every writer's support,  The more users who contribute their works to this site can only produce better information for all of us.