Friday, January 24, 2014

The Long March

I generally have multiple projects open at once - jumping from one to the other when I get bored, run into a problem, of simply get too frustrated, disappointed, or depressed.  Been doing this for years without ever feeling that I've accomplished anything.  The whole time it has felt as if I was on a long march to ... somewhere indefinable.  Then I was directed to a well-wrtiten blogpost by Kameron Hurley about persistence being the secret to becoming a writer and it all came clear.

The reality of being a writer is that, despite distractions of family and friends, of television and books, of temptations beyond measure, you have to write, and write, and write some more until there are no more stories to be told, no more inner voices to chide, and no more gnawing worms eating you inside.    Ideas fill your head to the point where getting them down as a story, as a fragment, as an outline, or as a short note to yourself is necessary to keep your head from exploding.

Or maybe writing's  a worm in your belly that gnaws at your guts until you have to find release from the pain and give birth. It could be the nagging muse behind your eyes that challenges you to come to grips with it, to wrestle it into concrete reality and silence it for a time.

Writing also means moving beyond the creation and slogging away for days, weeks, months, or years to get it down right.  And when you finally finish it to your satisfaction you have to submit it against the slim chance that someone, somewhere might be affected by your words and flip a comment or a few coins your way. Even if those don't come to pass you might warm yourself with the thought that at least somebody read your offering before rejecting it. That infinitesimal bit of acknowledgement might not mean much, but it's a whole lot better than leaving something you've created sitting unread on your hard drive.

It's now clear to me that the long march doesn't have a destination.  It is a process through which you improve your craft.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Dismal Valley

I  like to think of myself as a fun-loving guy, albeit somewhat socially inept and a little bit of an anchorite. Nevertheless I've written some funny stuff, a few really HARD SF stories, and a bunch that were neither.  The few I've sold follow the same pattern (yes, sad to say, I write a LOT more stories than ever get published.)

Of late I've realized that my writing has drifted into a dismal valley since 9/11, which caused me to write BRIGHT RED STAR in which everybody dies.  Then I wrote GLASS BOX in which both the protagonist and his companion die.  Followed by CYBERMARINE which... well, it does not end well.  Then there was SCOUT where, as you probably guessed, the protagonist sort of dies. After that came TRUE FRIENDS where the dog might have been killed, and most recently TOMMY AND THE BEAST where alien, man, dog, and beast die.  Somewhere in valley was DECELERATION where I wiped out the entire human race. Even HAUNTED, my recent (unsold) novella collaboration with Cat Rambo turned out dark, for God's sake! 

I wonder at times if I am depressed, disillusioned (hard not to be when you write short fiction), or just a dreary person.  Maybe I need to get out more, talk to people, and have some fun instead of sitting alone in a semi-dark room, scribbling, scribbling, scribbling.

Which gives me an idea for a story.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Annual Writing Review

Every January I update my archive files, clean out the messes I've created, and do an assessment of what I've written in the past year.  I've been doing this since I started writing again in 1991, partly to see how far I've come and partly to torture myself that I could have done better. Twice, this practice has caused me to reassess what I was doing and change my behavior.

The chart at right shows the arc - the blue representing the total number of pieces written, the red the cumulative number of sales and the green the ratio of sales to production year by year. For those who might be interested in figures the total number is just under 500 and the peak ratio is 100%. My "lifetime" sales average is 24% (which sometime produces enough income to  order extra fries.)

It is interesting to reflect on how things have gone so far as sales and production are concerned.  Since I only did a gross count of files, any novels get the same weight as novellas,novelettes, short stories and articles to get the total for production. I really ought to count words of megabytes, but even for me that's too detailed.

The chart indicates the ups and downs of my working/writing career. Strangely the years I had problems with work also 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 pursued against all reason.  It was only after I'd relearned how to write short, that my sales increased. Periods spent attempting novels also meant low production, much to my regret.

So, looking back on the year just passed I have to say I didn't do badly.


Sunday, January 5, 2014


The rules of a three-part structure are to provide background, explore the thesis, and resolve the central issue of the story.  This can be accomplished in a number of technical ways all of which have been endlessly explored and exploited.

It is the last part that I question.  Few activites in my life are ever so clearly resolved as a fairy tale's happily-ever-after.  Even when I've sold a story I want to change things again and only the pressure of publication dissuades me.  I've learned over the years that any resolution is merely the beginning of another issue: Marriage is not the culmination of a romance but merely the beginning of a relationship. Whether that relationship ends happily or not is something that must be dealt with continuously and too often, unsuccessfully.  No story ever ends in finality, else there would be no need for sequels.  Life it like that, an endless series of temporary resolutions that always give rise to new beginnings, new battles.  Even the aging princess of the tale must eventually contend with her overweight prince and her fractious teenagers in the happily-ever-after phase.

Resolution is an illusion then, an artificial element forced into a story to solve a specific phase of a problem. Writers contort themselves in strange ways to resolve all the plot points, often abusing logic and human nature to wrest some sort of solution from their draft.

But can a story without resolution, and I include those where the protagonist accepts that they cannot change anything, satisfy the reader?  Until that question can be answered I will continue to plod onwards, creating resolutions that deceive the reader into believing things are nicely tied up.