Monday, December 31, 2018

Reflctions on a Writing Life

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a conscientious writer. In fact my writing efforts occur occasionally in spasmodic bursts of creativity but more often in damn, slogging drudgework. 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 something bright and shiny and lose my often-tattered thread of plot. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog, elements of my drafts such as names, places, and descriptions seem to remain liquid, never resolving until the penultimate draft is unknowingly submitted. I too often have regrets immediately after submission because of my PSS (premature-submission-syndrome).
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.”
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.
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 I 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) often becomes as tedious as picking fly scats from the pepper line and would appear being overly compulsive to any rational observer.
I always carry a burden of guilt about my lack of discipline and fret that, should I not write for a while, the gift of creativity will depart, never to return. Occasionally I can become extremely focused, so much so that I ignore not only outside distractions but, occasionally, the physical cries of bladder and stomach. These periods come when my inner demons use their spurs to ride me to exhaustion. A similar narrow focus descends when I become captivated by a compelling story, so much so that my copyediting persona stops mentally correcting words, sentences, or sometimes entire scenes to the point that I actually understand the author’s intent. I wish I could be as critical of my own drafts instead of having these damnable teflon eyes that too frequently slide over outrageous errors of speliing and grammer.
Yet, there is a time, a brief moment when clarity prevails, when I am graced with a scene, a line of dialogue, or a plot detail that is suffused with such brilliance that it takes my breath away. When I attempt to capture it, the resulting effort captures only a pale shadow of that revelation and no amount of editing ever restores the luster of the original insight.
So I continue plodding along my punctuated path, stumbling too often, and missing many of the more clever possibilities as I strain to craft stories well beyond my skill level. My tortuous struggle to achieve something meaningful seems to be both a curse and a blessing.
But it doesn’t stop me from writing.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Christmas Story

Two years ago I wrote a little Christmas tale for Analog's December issue.  Kate Baker, a good friend of mine, was sufficiently taken with it that she recorded/narrated it as a present.  This was accepted very quickly by Analog's standards.

So here, I pass Kate's wonderful gift to you.  May all your holidays be merry and bright.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Slogging Toward Spontaneity

In my optimistic youthful days I imagined writing to be an alloyed joy; envisioning hours spent flowing golden words onto page after page of a compelling tale, and having writ, hardly pausing my moving fingers to erase or revise a line of it.  I imaginged swimming in the clouds of creativity, grasping truth and raining delightful insights on my (mostly imaginary) fans.  I threw my stories about with great abandon, waiting for the adulation that would surely follow.

And waiting.  

As rejections amassed to a startling number, I began to intuit that perhaps my masturbatory tales were not so brilliant as I imagined and that my words had been more base metal than golden.

Thats when I realized that the writing game involved more than dreaming fantastic stories and vomiting words onto pages upon pages. Not only was laying out the story line properly important but writing also involved honing descriptive and narrative words into something meaningful to editors and readers instead of being random reflections of my own not-so-deep thoughts. I realized that there is craft involved that must be mastered.

My discovery that writing is an iterative process that never really begins to take shape until I have the rudiments* of a rough draft or a sketch plan/plot.  My first drafts are more often than not, sloppy messes of awkward phrasing, poor to horrible word choices, and a jumble of rambling chunks that are poorly organized relative to each other.  My second or third draft will see actual scenes being formed, which allows me to arrange them in the order that best tells the tale.  Another pass-through lets me filter each paragraph to contain but one strong thought as it advances the plot.

Once I've done these simple fixes I embark upon the long, slow slog of polishing each sentence, selecting the best way of phrasing an idea using the most effective words.  I've discovered that, as I slog along, my paragraphs become clearer and better serve to propel the plot.  I also often sense the emergence of rhythm or melody in the scenes.  I sometimes play these against the bass line to create novelty, heighten tension, or convey more emotion than mere sentences can achieve.

These are the actions that take me through consecutive versions until I reach the point where I am finally ready to present it for the judgement of others.

Then there are the revisions...

*Character(s), settings, chronology, and tone 


Friday, November 2, 2018


I was recently congraduated for my productivity when I announced that my three (3!) of my novels would be completed within a rather short period.  The truth is that this is more a confluence of circumstance and editorial processes than a reflection on my less than rapid drafting.  All will be available in trade paperback, eBook, and audio formats.

SHATTERED DREAMS is a mil-scify novel about encountering a deadly and intracable alien force and the eithical/moral choices that humanity must consider when faced with certain eradication.  This novel illustrates how various levels of commmand act through the eyes of a disgruntled marine who grows into his ultimate destiny.

This novel is a compilation of several short stories and other material from several anthologies and magazines. It is the result of two years of effort to compile and write the major portions of the story's arc.

Can now be ordered as pre-release.

DREAMS OF EARTH is the culmination of a five-year effort to imagine what space-faring humanity would become over a  long time span. In this I deal with what facets of we humans posess, which will be retained as we continue to become into a star-spanning civilization , those which may emerge as we continue to evolve, and which aspects might shrivel through disuse.

Throw in genetic modification, the impact of environmental effects, and social pressures as gaps begin to grow to produce a diverse and varigated "human' race.

Oh yeah, I threw a few aliens into the mix as well.

MAGICIAN is a reissue of an expansion of my Nebula finalist novella MAGIC'S PRICE (Analog, March 2001.)

Unsatisfied that I left my young protagonist being carried away from friends, family, and certain death in the novella, I decided to follow him as he tried to discover the magicians' secrets.

But first he must master the sklls of surviving the wilds of this partially terraformed planet from the three who accompany him.  As he learns his own limitations and struggles to adapt to the magicians' society he uncovers far more about his past and what the future promises than he ever thought possible.



Monday, September 10, 2018

Teflon Eyes

I just finished correcting the galleys of my latest novel after compiling a seven page list of mistakes that had somehow evaded the eagle eyes of beta readers, copyeditors, editors and, regrettably, my own pair.  People who write novels, someone recently observed, should be forced to re-read them dozens of times*.

First, there's multiple drafts which you write, then rewrite, and too often delete passages until you have a semblance of a scene, which you then must stitch to other scenes to form a plot, all the while creating characters, backgrounds, activities, and any other idea that occurs whether or not they make sense.  When this is done you finally have an incomplete mess of ideas which you then edit/redraft/arrange into a "first" draft and send to your beta readers.

Beta readers who are too often horrid persons who niggle over every detail you've omitted, gotten wrong, or which doesn't, in their mind, fit. They take delight in gently suggesting changes to "clarify a few things," "improve the flow," or "heighten the drama" which means that you not only have to read the damn thing again, but rewrite/correct huge portions and everything you suddenly notice to have evaded your careful review.  "Why," you scream in the darkness of your writing lair, "Why can't they just admire the genius of the story and praise my work?

Nevertheless, your tired eyes once more read through your much abused draft to correct all the things the beta readers have noted.  By this time your eyeballs are coated with teflon and slide over the most obvious of mistakes.  But you soldier on rereading the piece, patching mistakes, rewriting entire sections, and hopefully correcting everything identified as well as a few things that you thankfully caught on the umpty-ninth read through.

* As if that wasn't already the case


Saturday, August 25, 2018


I have yet to start a story whose breadth and depth I fully understood before the first word was drafted. Nor have I ever been aware of the personalities, beliefs, and activities of all the characters the story would embrace.  Instead I start the process with only a vague idea of the general background and details that may be added later as I navigate the path to the epiphany, punchline, or conclusion (altho occasionally said conclusion follows the epiphany.)

Instead, I embark on a path of discovery, bumbling from one scene to the next, jumping to a different idea, haring down paths less than fruitful, and striking whole volumes of narrative exposition for their  mind-numbing detail.  Sometimes the story's path ahead seems clear but more often the steps it takes to reach that is an indeterminate fuzz whose clarity most often comes at a cost of plot or pace.

Unless you are extremely organized and have the ability to stick to a predetermined outline you will record your journey of discovery with a jumble of assorted notes that beg to be assembled into something that resembles a story.  I usually arrange my scenes/sketches on a time line. This usually  reveals temporal gaps that will need to be filled with some indication of time's passing.  Another approach is to arrange the scenes emotionally through the use of flashback or prolepsis (e.g. flashforward).  Playing with viewpoint might yield another series of scenes.  Eventually, through successive experiments* I find an arrangement that seems to look like a story e.g. with the pieces that feel like the right** order.

From there it is merely a matter of enforcing consistency, grinding the scenes' edges to fit, and pounding whatever words it takes to made the story flow properly.

But then, isn't that what writing is all about?

* I use Scrivener to make rearranging easier.

** This is largely a matter or personal taste 


Monday, August 20, 2018

WorldCon 2018

WorldCon is underway on the left edge of the country and I am not there. This will be the second WorldCon I have missed in the last ten years.

WorldCons have always been a mixed bag, partly due to my SFWA office which consumed much time with meetings scheduled and otherwise, and the eternal problem of too many panels conflicting with each other, random encounters initiating fascinating conversations, running into acquaintances and fellow writers, missing meals, and drinking far more than usual.  Sleep, when it comes, is usually from exhaustion of the adrenal glands as they dribble out their last dose of mania.

The reason most professional writers attend WorldCon is to promote their books, be visible to their fans, and hopefully conduct a little business with agents and publishers. Rubbing professional elbows in the SFWA suite or Green Room is a huge bonus and well worth the time consumed on panels.  Of course, speaking on favorite subjects is a lot of fun and hopefully entertaining* to the audience as well as educational. For short story writers it is an opportunity to give fans, who otherwise would not encounter your work, a taste  of what you  do.

But WorldCons are a multi-ring circus with something for everyone. In this tent we have the elephants, those prolific authors who routinely churn out doorstop sized  novels.  In another we have the booksellers and merchants enticing all with tempting offerings too numerous and weighty to carry home on the plane. Oh look, over there we have the parade of readers mumbling snippets of their work to attentive groups who, for once, are not relatives. Then there's the crowd; a delicious  feast of people dressed in fannish fanny pack and denim garb, seasoned by a plethora of fairy wings, a dash of red velour tees, and innumerable ears of spock, or perhaps elfen provenance.

And, sadly, I am not among their wonderful number.

*Yes, this is how conventions "pay" the guests.  We're 
the clowns in the little car, the trained monkeys,  and 
the ringmasters of the performance.                          .     


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Reality Bites

When I was a wee tadpole, barely shed of my beginner's tale on the way to writer maturity I envisioned eventually conversing with more accomplished and well-known writers. In my fanciful thoughts were images of wise heads exploring the bounds of universes, of expostulating on the possibilities raised by the latest technological innovation, of dimensions unplumbed and beyond number.  How I yearned to be a part of those conversations and perhaps being blessed by gaining a smidgen of a story idea from the intellectual crumbs being dropped as they feasted on fantastic dreams and imaginary realms.

Being able to mingle with the greats in the convention Green Rooms was an objective I dearly cherished and, when the opportunity came by virtue of being a panelist I felt privileged beyond measure. Would I be able to contribute to the rolling debate or show myself to be a raw amateur whose words were undeserving of merit?

In the days before social media seized everyone by the throat the interplay between the professionals were along the lines of "How are you doing?" or "Did you hear about..." followed by the rumors de jour of someone in the field misbehaving.  In the main the conversations were not much different than those one would hear at any professional gathering and hardly memorable.  Movies, television, music, and food loomed large, but the most frequent discussion topic was "Where are we going for dinner?" followed by arguing over the time, scheduling conflicts, and participation (which is almost always dependent on whoever is in the lobby at departure time.)

Now, with social media providing endless minutiae of everyone's daily life, the conversations have shifted not a bit although with greater nuance than before.  The most serious discussions now range from "Who's buying what?" to "Have you read...?" and only occasionally verve over to talk of agents,  Amazon, and politics.  The conversations are no different than one would hear at any sales convention.

Just people trying to get by as best they can.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

External Memories

The world suddenly became a much more frightening place this past weekend when my iPhone died en route to a distant convention.

I should have known something was going wrong when it became very, very hot and the battery indicator showed red and quickly went from 3% to zero before my horrified eyes.  Recharging didn't work and neither did a borrowed charger restore the blessed green.  Because I was traveling light I had neither my iPad nor laptop with me.  No problem says I and then tried for an hour to remember first my wife's phone number and then ANY goddamn number I might be able to use.  When none came to mind I used the hotel computer to get on the internet and send an email.  That's when I recalled that security conscious me had enabled two-factor identification on ALL of my email accounts.  Since my cell was out of service, I could not get any of the four confirmation codes that would open an account (my passwords were on the phone, along with all my panel notes, reminders, schedule and even my plane e-tickets.)

The horrifying truth hit me that I had surrendered ownership of my memory to a chunk of hi-tech plastic, glass, and software without which I have no agency save for the cards in my wallet.

Fortunately my clever wife, who had worked herself into a fine fluff when I didn't call as promised, managed to track me down at the hotel and left her phone number so we could resume contact.

I now have a new phone and a list of phone numbers with the wallet cards.

The worse part of it was that, through the entire agonizing process, I could not stop thinking the same thought over and over: There HAS to be an SF story here!


Monday, July 30, 2018

The Copyedit Curse

I'm starting to believe that the last thing a writer should do is copyedit something they wrote..  Wait, let  me amend that: the last thing a writer should do is copyedit.  Someone once said that writer would copyedit his own death sentence, given half a chance.

 I cannot read anything I wrote without mentally rephrasing it. Sometimes this happens in situ while I'm writing.  Worse when I am going over something the copyeditor caught or a sentence nearby that happened to fall within the firing zone of review - collateral damage as it were.  I try to restrain this impulse when going over the galleys but, as Analog will attest, it is a rare set that goes back to them without change.  I once managed to add a complete paragraph to a short piece to perfect the story (and to use up some unproductive space on a page.

Quote: No story is ever completed, rather it is abandoned by the author. 

It has been a  massive effort to restrain my rewriting impulses as I went over the copyedits of four long pieces needing completion by August 1, 2018. Some were done because I disagreed with the suggested changes but thought that section could have been written better, Others were things that fell under my scanning eye and IMHO  just had to be corrected/modified/rewritten.

How does one lift this affliction?


Friday, July 20, 2018

Post Retirement Life

After ten years of work on SFWA's Board of Directors and eight or nine as CFO I am now officially free to do as I wish*.

Since I also changed residence at the same time I was somewhat preoccupied and consequently didn't write anything for nearly two months; a time I fervently wished to do something, anything, to get back into the Science Fiction flow.

Finally, I got the writing forge in place, our furniture arranged, and everything we brought from Annapolis to Midlothian stored or placed somewhere.  Now, I thought, I can sit down and pay attention to the unfinished novels and short stories that litter my desktop.

That's when I discovered that I managed to "lose" about ten thousand plus words of one of the WIP.  No problem, I thought as I fruitlessly scrambled to find out where they ended up while trying to gather my memories of what I had written so I could restore what I couldn't find.

I'd barely begun when a set of galleys arrived from Analog that needed immediate review to meet the deadlines.  No problem, one of the more enjoyable tasks of writing is proof reading something I'd almost forgotten writing and marveling at my brilliance.**

I had barely gotten back to the search and recovery task when another editor sent corrections/suggestions for a novel now in its final production stages.  Once again, putting aside the search and recovery job, I started reviewing what she wanted, but before I could get the first chapter read yet another editor wanted me to confirm/correct all the changes he and his copyeditor had suggested for another long piece.

That was before a third editor wanted immediate attention to the novel in front of him, of course, and which were daunting in prospect.  A three week job, I estimated.  This brought the entire review time to a month at minimum before I could get back to the WIP or maybe something fresh and new.

Nevertheless, JOY!  Nothing pleases me more than being deliriously, happily engaged in rewriting three long pieces at once. I placed that short Analog request ahead of the others since it would be a task done quickly and I could complete the more more complicated ones in a week or three, four on the outside.

Of course, all the editors expect me to get back to them by the end of the month.

I need to be more careful about what I wish for.

*That being on hot standby in case 
anything needs my attention.

** He said immodestly.


Thursday, June 28, 2018


Over a month lost as I downsized the  house and set up housekeeping in Richmond Virginia where I shall probably remain forever.  I NEVER want to repeat the downsizing/moving process!

So, dealing with packing and the un- of it consumed enormous amounts of time and energy, not to mention creating forests of boxes and hectares of wrapping paper, all of which must be conveyed elsewhere least we lose the cats and ourselves in the overburden of used materials.  Because of this there was scant time to do much writing, especially with the Nebula weekend coming in the midst of the move  Nevertheless, I did manage to do a final editorial pass on a new novel and make arrangements for publishing two more sometime later this year.

During that final editorial pass I reflected on how a novel grows as it makes its way to the publishing sea.  The plot seemed to twist and turn whenever it encountered an obstacle or rushed forward in a torrent of words when there was no resistance or distraction.  Strange characters and scenes appeared abruptly and sometimes either vanished later without notice or become a vital part of the flow. When the novel is initially "finished" its blemishes and shortcomings become all too apparent as does the overall "message" -- as Nancy Kress once told me, "You never know that your novel is really about until it's finished." She was, of course talking about the first draft.

It is sanding down the rough sections, adding grace notes, and fitting pieces into where they belong (as opposed to where you originally placed them) that occupies many of the subsequent edited versions. Finally, in the penultimate edit you face the choice of whether the product is good enough or needs further refinements to reach perfection.  The latter is impossible, of course, so often the choice is to eventually abandon further efforts and release the imperfect ms into the hands of others.

While you go on to the next project.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018


When I wrote "DOWNSIZING" for Analog back in 2015 I had no idea of how quickly the situation would apply to me.  We are in the  midst of moving from a 2700 sq ft house filled with years of memories to an apartment one third that size.  Choosing which furniture to take and what to dispose of was easy but as the triage procedure continued it becomes fraught with emotion over the memories evoked. Each piece of art brings to mind the where and when of its acquisition or creation and the images of happier times plays across your mind.  A cheap vase has no intrinsic value but as a goad to memory it is more precious than the expensive silver teapot. But the winnowing must proceed as moving day approaches and the number of people who would take ownership dwindles. The kids have come to take what they wanted (early Christmas gifts to my mind) and now we are left to make our own painful decisions.

The worst part for me was getting rid of my bookcase filled with reference material, beloved novels, textbooks, and , of course,  my private collection of every piece in which my stories have appeared.  The realization hit me as I put these in book boxes that I will never see these again.  Inscribed books from other writers are as hard to pack away and perhaps might end up at the SFWA auction sale or as gifts to close friends.  Some of the signed first editions, like Vonnegut's PLAYER PIANO and Martin's GAME OF THRONES, have considerable value and might be e-Bayed when I have the time.  Since most of my writing life is electronic I have few paper files to deal with so I am spared the agony of trashing drafts and sketches.

Needless to say, damn little writing is taking place until we are settled.


Thursday, March 29, 2018


It's no secret that we are trying to sell our home of the last twenty years and so we've begun cleaning out, packing, and choosing what goes where, to who, and whether it is worth the trouble to hang onto something that signifies only a memorable occasion - such as autographed books, con badges, and old newspapers and magazines.

Serial issues of DUNE WORLD
I pulled one box from the back of the closet that I'd brought from our former dwelling (and probably three or four before that) that hadn't been opened for at least forty years.  Inside were newspapers announcing the end of WWII,  another reporting man's first steps on the moon, and a few covering the impact of hurricane Camille on Biloxi MS.  There was also a much beloved and frequently read copy of I GO POGO, and a National Geographic issue, whose pages are as pristine as they were when first printed, covering the first moon explorations.  Towards the bottom of the box were five copies of the large format ANALOG magazines containing the original serial of DUNE WORLD and three of THE PROPHET OF DUNE, which later formed the backbone of Herbert's DUNE. The final two issues of PROPHET were in digest format and not saved.

Browsing through the pages I saw stories by many once well-known writers; Anderson, Anvil, Brunner, Campbell, Garrett, Reynolds, Spinrad,  Schmitz, and Temple. There were also stories by                                                                writers I've since forgotten or who never had another appearance. I wonder if these minor lights had only a short burst of creativity before they retired from writing or had moved on to more lucrative work than writing?

Most of the stories in these five issues are readable but dated in style and viewpoint. Rereading them sent my mind back to my more fannish pre-writing mind.  The exercise also humbled me in that some day, somewhere, someone is also going to uncover a stash of forgotten ANALOGs and thumb through the ToC to find gems written by authors who later went on to fame and glory.

And, among them, I hope they might also find my name.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Life, It's One Damn thing After Another

Excuse me for the brevity of this post, but I am massively distracted by the imminent sale and move from our home of twenty-some years to a purchased apartment half its size.  You'd think that decisions on furniture and rugs would dominate, but you would be wrong; its the little things that consume time as you emotionally debate whether to discard, give away, or save  every damn knick-knack, picture, book, or momento you managed to acquire, cherish and forget about. Then there's the packing, arranging, moving, settling, and dealing with a seemingly endless parade of friends, agents, lawyers, vendors, etc who stumble over each other trying to make things "easier."

Then there's the attempts at writing.  Hardly a spare hour goes by without a phone call, neighbor dropping by, the spouse screaming for "a few minutes of your time," as the ideas dissolve into a meaningless morass of random thoughts and ill-structured sentences.  The hell of it is that after you again grasp a few moments you can't immediately jump back to where your mind was before the interruption and by the time you almost recover that blessed state there's another interruption!

But then, how is this any different from my day to day life?


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Busy,busy, busy

No time to pontificate this week because of personal and professional issues: signed another contract (third this year), waiting for the next round of copyedits from my novel's publisher, working on a novella that has not yet resolved into a coherent story while trying to finish two draft novels (both at 97% of completion), preparing to make a scary move from my current house to a smaller apartment, and waiting for three galleys to arrive for proofreading.

Needless to say my nerves are shot and March has arrived sooner than expected! Thank the lord that I am not running for office this year!          


Saturday, February 10, 2018


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.


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


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


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!