Thursday, February 25, 2016


Let's be honest: The world doesn't really give a damn about your writing or how much effort went into your latest attempt at literacy.  Let's face it, there are dozens of better writers, better stylists, better plotters, and better salesmen than you. There is no way your attempts are going to measure up to the standards of the published stories you've read.  Worse, compared to any random selections you choose to read, the pathetic scribblings of  your drafts are downright embarrassing. Your words choices unsuitability are only matched by your inadequate plotting and the cardboard characters who lack any resemblance to a real person.  You realize sooner or later that you don't have Imposter Syndrome but that you are an imposter!

It's enough to make you think about quitting.

Only you can't.  Some demon has cursed you with literary ambitions far beyond your abilities and talent.  Words tumble out in an endless, unsaleable stream, a river, a flood and nothing seems to work for you.  No matter how hard you try success seems ever beyond the pale of possibility.  You feel like Sisyphus, eternally pushing a mass of manuscript up editorial hills only to fall to the bottom where you must do it again and again. You once again vow to quit.

Then you keep doing it.

If you keep at it you might get a modicum of encouragement; perhaps a note from an editor, praise from one of your peers, or even a kind word from one of the pros you've met.  On the face of it these small graces do little save to bolster your unjustified feelings of worth.  Some day, these tiny graces seem to say, you will earn the acclaim you so richly deserve.  You will get the rewards visited upon you for your work.  You will get fan mail.  You might even get mentioned in a trade publication.

Just don't count on it.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Bud's Year in Review

Once again, as in other Januaries, I've updated my archive files, cleaned out the messes I've created, and looked at the various pieces I'd been working on in 2015.  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 so much better.  Sometimes this review causes me to reassess what I am doing and change my writing objectives.  This past year I've published one novel, completed another (currently in peer review) and continuing to work on whatever crosses my ADD-afflicted mind.

The number of pieces I count in any 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 deleted or threw away in frustration at my fickle muse.  Neither do I count the number of multiple drafts to reach the final version of a story. Some of my friends suggest I should keep track of total words or megabytes instead of my simple file count, but to me the resulting number would be too horrifyingly large with ratios of written words to words sold at millions to one, e.g. I do a LOT of drafts!

Writing 1990-2015
The chart at the right shows the arc - the blue representing the cumulative number of files worked on and the red line shows the cumulative number of files sold year by year (not included in the count are sales of reprints, audio productions, or donated stories.)  The green line is the ratio of sales to work each year, which disappointingly declines as the number of files increases.  The lesson I take for this annual compilation of misery it that I have to kiss a lot of frogs, among other things, to make a sale

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 all that much  in those years.  Post-retirement periods have been spent attempting to finish novels (I worked on four in 2015) which also meant a lower overall production count, much to my regret.

So, looking back on 2015 I have to say that I've not done badly.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Thoughts on a Snowy Afternoon (that I forgot to post)

As I sit here blizzard assaults the house, burying everything in a blanket of soft, powdery snow.  After an unusually warm December it appears that my old adversary, winter has arrived.

Back in early December, having put the final touches on my "first" draft of a novel twenty- two years in development and sending it to a few peer readers I thought there might be a better way to build a novel.  Instead of  merely bumbling along, making shit up as the plot develops, as I have always done, why not pay more attention to the plot and background BEFORE the first word is written.

OK, so everybody outlines and I am just coming late to the party so kick me.  I haven't done this before, choosing in my short stories to focus on the proximate issue and then beating the hell out of it.  This time I decided to handle things scientifically.  The concept was already in my head, else I wouldn't even have made the decision to try, so all I had to do was lay out how my protagonist & associates get from the here of the beginning to the there of of the ending.

No problem.

First I needed to paint with a broad brush the primary arc of the novel and spread it over about twenty chapters or so.  That done I proceeded to draw a temporal map of when and where events take place.  This set the stage for sketching in the minor arcs - those interplays of characters that will pull the reader along-- and identifying where they should break away from the main plot line and what actions they would invove.  That was followed by having a casting call for a brace of characters; names, their positions, relations to each other and the principle characters, and their desired personalities, etc.

 Then the hard work began, positing the things that would turn this into a science fiction story - world building in other words.

By the third week of January I had a seven page outline that sketched out each scene of each chapter with a word or phrase just as the massive storm was arriving.  Time, I said, to begin to see if this was a better way to go rather than struggling along the swamps and deserts of Plotland .

So I began to write and was amazed at how easily the words flow when you know so much of the world and all within it.  Four days after beginning I had four chapters, about 16,000 words in hand and had not had to go back and cancel half a line or clear up an inconsistency.  This was a revelation for me.

We shall see what obtains when I reach the dreaded 50k mark, which should be mid February and have completed the "first" draft by April, unless I have to take a break to produce a short story or throw something at an anthology.

Or find that this process is no easier than anything else.



Recently I've been rereading In Search of Wonder, the collection of Damon Knight's essays on the state of the field of Science Fiction/Fantasy since the early 1950's.

The book is a pleasure to read both as a tutorial on plotting, characterization, and structure as well as a stroll down memory lane.  December 1950 was the year I first picked up a copy of  Astounding Science Fiction and thus began my sad descent into this special olympics of literature.

It is fascinating to read Damon's take on the "new" writers of the fifties and sixties and their works; books that I read when they first appeared and some of which are now honored volumes of the canon. Even more interesting are the criticisms heaped upon the first appearance of volumes such a Player Piano, The Stars My Destination, and collections of Vance, Clarke, and too many others. He is particularly cutting with regards to van Vogt, although he savaged others just as cruelly.

Knight also describes the bumbling mistakes the writers of that time were making, itemizes their shortfalls, successes, their styles and affectations. Included throughout are asides about writers, the community in which they worked, and the changes overtaking the field.  In one section he speaks of the decline in writing by the new crowd and how, were it to go on, the excellent writers would become crowded out by less capable writers and consequently would have no place to sell their works.

Little has changed in the intervening years, I'm afraid.

The subtext that grabbed me was discovering that the giants of the field were at one time as insecure, naive, and struggling as me. Discovering that their failures of plot, characterization, and structure traced my own and that their working methods were as different from each other as mine are from yours.

What I've discovered is that struggling with the form is ever with us and trying to win that struggle is what moves our genre forward.