Regulators Mount Up

CoffeeShopWriting

So, yeah, I just finished writing a short story. Wrapped up the ending yesterday, and started another one today. I’ll give the former some time to ferment and stay busy brewing up the latter with the intent of having the first edited, published and out to fans this month and the second lined up and ready for similar treatment in November.

I’ve been writing at one of the local coffee shops again and that seems to make all the difference. Even with interruptions, I can knock out an easy thousand words a morning and they’ve started providing free refills so it couldn’t be better.

Given that I’m restarting my creative process all over again, I’ve been trying to remain conscious of how much of me it’s consuming. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read and write as much as just about anything else, but I’ve felt a certain amount of fatigue in the past that hasn’t panned out for me in the long run.

“Okay,” you wonder. “What makes writing more of a task than a pleasure?” And I respond with a list.

  1. Socializing around writing. NaNoWriMo is shortly upon us, and in the past, that has meant I’ve been attended write-ins and the like. Add to that the end of the year conventions and writers groups and Clarior West weekend symposiums and suddenly I’m staring into the headlights of a social-anxiety train. If I try and to that again, it’s a done deal, my x-mas break you’ll have to fish my carcass out of the Sound. My plan this time around is to do everything on my time, commit to nothing and stay sane.
  2. Tying myself to arbitrary deadlines. No one gets to dictate how many words a day I can or even should produce. Not even me. I’ve stopped counting, in fact, and it’s been liberating. Here’s a simple truth that most how-to-write books won’t tell you. Writing more words doesn’t make your writing any better. This is a common trap I’ve fallen into in the past, especially during things like NaNoWriMo. You sit down with a word goal — I’ve got to write 1,472 words a day to complete the NaNo on time, blah blah blah — and pretty soon you’re cramming junk words into a chapter because without them you’ll never have a hope of finishing. Worse, you’ll start splitting out all your contractions because two words are better than one, right? So, at least for me, counting ain’t the way. I write a story because I have a story to write. If it’s only a 200-word story well, then so be it.
  3. No more using writing to excuse other work. If I’m honest, I’ve done this in the past. Mountain of stinky laundry need washing but I’d rather do anything else? Well “writing” can be a convenient get out of doing laundry card. Scared of crawling along your roof-line to clean gutters because you might fall? Tell everyone you’ve got some words to get down. At least for a while, I’m going to make sure that when it’s time to write that’s what I’m doing and when it’s time to do other things there will be my focus.
  4. Rejection! Complicated by all of the above, this is what killed my desire to write last year. A fuck-ton of rejection. And yeah, the advice “grow thicker skin, keep submitting” is good, but only to a point.

    I’m going to be a lot more selective about who and when I submit anything from here on out. Plus, I’m going to raise my expectations. Don’t want my piece? That’s fine, just tell me why. Over the years I’ve submitted over and over again and there have been a couple of good rejectors. C.C. Finley comes to mind. He never responds with boilerplate. He never tells me that I’ve written junk (and should kill myself because I’ll never make it as a writer you rotten slob how could you think you could ever amount to anything …). And he always gives me some indication of why he’s not interested. Even if it’s “Hey, I’m not sure where this would fit in this month’s line-up” or “I just didn’t find your story interesting, but keep trying.”

    If and when I submit, I’m going to do so judiciously. When I’m rejected, I’m going to note down if I learned anything from the rejection. If the answer is no then I won’t resubmit.

Okay, so there are my four guiding principles that I hope will allow me to continue to write. Expect a new story on Patreon in the next couple of weeks.

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Refactor

This morning has been productive. I did some work with the bees (corrected an issue with the installation I created … sorry girls), took Aral to school, spent some time at the coffee shop talking with friends, even made a decision regarding the usefulness of yet-another-EEG.

I think the most important takeaway from this morning are some rules I wrote for myself for my writing. Since last year’s river of rejection left me feeling all my attempts to write were worthless I’ve had a very hard time doing the necessary. Still, I’ve got ideas, whole worlds that are banging on the inside of my skull demanding to get out. But I haven’t done what I need to write any of this down and that’s a problem. I need to start writing again as a practice, but the rules I follow regarding this craft also necessarily must change. I can’t write and write only to feel like what I’ve written is a piss poor result for all that time.

New rules are written. They’re simple and the mean that my practice becomes a much more self-contained experience.

Rules to Live By:

  1. Stop seeking criticism from people with no skin IN YOUR GAME. The rule is to write what you want, what you know, and what you’ve planned as fast or slow as you can.
  2. Build the world for “Distance,” “Winter City,” and “Friend of Bees” and other stories methodically and from scratch. Share and talk about ideas only with people you trust.
  3. Begin each story by outlining its plot and understand how it fits into the timeline.
  4. Take your time, spend as much time reading/editing what you’ve written as you spend writing.
  5. Get good at editing your own work.
  6. Remember that publication is only a milestone along any story’s trajectory. It’s not a goal, nor is making money. Keep this in mind when it feels like you’re wasting your time. You’ve written books, and not a lot of people can say that.
  7. Love your stories.
  8. Stop caring so much about a world that doesn’t give two shits about you.

The Ten Year Plan

One thing you can easily and always find on the internet is advice. It’s everywhere and I mean everywhere. Some places will charge you for a little, other people will lavish that stuff on you like scented unguents over a decadent Roman emperor, and free of charge.

I end up accepting, relative to the sheer, mind-boggling expanse of what is available, an insignificant mote of the stuff. So much advice either doesn’t apply or is bone-headed nonsense when scrutinized even for a tender moment. And, this rule goes double for writing advice.

In 2014, at DetCon, I got into a discussion with a couple of much more accomplished authors. We were talking about the advice that is often dispensed to independently published authors about “how to make it.” “It” being that undefined often variable bar after which you have a couple of clams to rub together for all your efforts deep in the manuscript mines. Success, baby. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I made the observation that this advice is usually “lottery winners telling you how to make it big, just like they did.” And my meaning was that most of these people couldn’t tell you exactly what worked for them and what didn’t, and that at least some of their success must be the direct result of luck. That’s the thing about this “career” path; of all authors, no two of them are alike. Some of us make a JK Rowling-sized swimming pool of money after writing a single meritless POJ while others will always languish in obscurity.

This morning, after getting my 1k down, I noticed that Hugh Howey posted the following. So You Want to be a Writer … could be just another repetition of the same tired “work harder, write more” advice that pops up pretty much anywhere, but I’d urge you to spend a little time with this one. It’s not that.

In fact, Howey gives authors aspiring to make a living from their art some pretty objective milestones by which we might plot our own course. Immediately, I saw the utility of what Howey has proffered.

Long-Term Writing Plan: (2016-2026)

Below is my ten-year plan to become a successful author. It is based on the advice Hugh Howey provided in the post linked above, but it’s my plan. Laid out and customized for me.

Reading: Hugh Howey is completely correct. I’m surprised how few writers I meet just don’t make the time to read.

  • Read for at least an hour a day.
  • Log the reading the same way I log my writing.
  • Figure out a way to integrate audiobooks into the ledger.

Practice: Yeah this one is obvious, it almost does not bear mentioning, but this is also where I’m going to quantify my discipline. Where the ink meets the page, so to speak.

  • Three blog posts a week (not about things that make me angry).
  • Weekday writing time is 9:00 AM to 12:00 or 1,000 words. No internet, not distractions before this. This is dedicated story time, not blogging time.
  • One full-length novel, plus two short(er) stories per year for ten years.

Daydream:

  • Hugh’s advice here is spot on. I know that if I’m not filling myself up as much as my work drains me, the deficit will quickly show in my words. For me, the best, and most reliable flow state–where my mind wanders and explores–is when I’m moving. So to daydream effectively, I need to walk, run or ride. Daily, without over-training.
  • You can’t write science fiction without science. So I will continue to network with people working in the sciences. I will stand in awe of them, I will be their fanboy, and I will learn as much as I can from these people.

Learn to Fail:

  • Far from perfect here, but I’m much better than when I began. I will continue to learn from the feedback and review I get, when and where it’s available. And I will revise, revise, revise, and revise until what I’ve written no longer wakes me up in the middle of the night.
  • I will re-read everything I write at least three times before I move on.

Things to Lose: These are the things that I’ve got to toss overboard and fast. They’re getting in the way and despite the fact that I know this, I haven’t been able to let them go. No more, they’re going.

  1. Limit game time, approach zero.
  2. Limit screen time, approach zero.
  3. Take care of your house and hobbies proactively.
  4. Get exercise, daily. Stop being a slug.
  5. Want to be the person I’ve envisioned. Cut out the thought loops that make me fail.
  6. Stop talking about what I am writing until it’s ready. Then don’t talk about it much, work on the next project.

Don’t Forget to Dream

D.S.I Helium 3 Transport Vehicle by Adam Burn

I’m sitting in the coffee shop; A-bear is playing his heart over at preschool, and I’m just not getting into it this morning. Derp move number one, I’ve been tugging at my chin hairs while I read from the ever expanding athenaeum of “Advice Offered to Writers on Writing and Stuff.” The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what I’m going to write next, and my Twitter feed has once again delivered up this highly distracting narrative in which I willingly participate. Hunched over and fuming, once more, it occurs to me that this is not a good way to live your life.

More importantly, it doesn’t seem like a very productive way to spend your precious writing time.

It’s probably not helping that the new baristas have changed up the music, and I’ve since had to plug my headphones in and crank up the subtle white noise of Coffitivity. Yeah, that’s right, I’m listening to “Morning Murmur” — a recording of a coffee shop while sitting in an actual cafe drinking coffee — how’s that for bathos?

“So what, precisely, is the problem Matt?” you ask.

Well, I started with this blog post from the esteemed and successful Chuck Wendig: Peaks and Valleys: The Financial Realities of a Writer’s Life. Realize, in no way is this me jumping onto his current cluster event. Rather, it’s me taking a critical look at why I seem to come away from his advice posts feeling defeated and ready to quit.

This post and the advice it references are just one member of a distinguished lineage of columns I’d like to label “The Stark Reality Collection.” I’m starting to wonder if it’s even possible for authors, especially those in the SFF community, first to begin making a living from their work and later not tell the world how hard it’s going to be. Often I come away from reading this stuff convinced I’ve done everything wrong. I live in the wrong place, I know all the wrong people, I didn’t go to the right school, or workshop, I write the wrong things, and I put my pants on the wrong way — that’s how wrong I feel.

Defeated before I begin, my options seem limited. Maybe I should just take Wendig’s intimation and “move on to more stable ground.”

Here’s the thing. Fiction moves me. Let me say that again. FICTION MOVES ME. I love a good story. Terry Pratchett’s farewell piece The Sheperd’s Crown recently reduced me to a blubbering mess more than once. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my recent readings of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Wild Shore Triptych.

I know that I’ve discovered my earthworm. I know that my stories are good enough, and my writing is compelling and entertaining. And yes, I love doing this, even when it’s fucking difficult.

Standing up to assert these strong feelings of self-determination and conviction I rip the headphone out of my computer and nearly dump hot coffee all over my lap. “But really,” I say to myself taking a calming breath. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how hard it’s going to be.”

Want to help successful-author-making-a-living-from-your-words? Stop telling everyone about the big pile of shit we can look forward to wading. That’s the thing about piles of crap; they’re apparent. Everyone knows that they’re there, usually because, much like yourselves, we’re busy trying to clean it off our shoes.

Better, tell us what moves you. Why did you stick with writing even when you weren’t sure when your next meal was coming? What do you do in the morning to warm up for writing? What inspired some piece of fiction we can’t put down. How do you deal with criticism fro your readers or even your editor? Writer’s, especially the good ones, I’ve realized have developed strategies to exceed the piles of crap life leaves on our paths.

I write a lot, I don’t sell a lot (yet). I know that I’ve yet to develop a “real” audience. The numbers necessary to lift me out of this valley just aren’t there yet. This is the sole reason I keep looking into the Library of Stark Reality. I’m looking for feasible ways to grow my audience as I get ready for near term release dates. Want to help? Tell me about the concrete things you did to expand your audience.

And while I acknowledge that it won’t always be easy, this morning I’m resolved that as I build my author platform and find more readers, I will endeavor to imagine with audacity. The boundaries that limit me aren’t worth talking about except when exceeded.

 

Off to the Editor

Oh, that’s a good feeling. No, strike that, it’s a great feeling! I just submitted a 7,500-word short story for an upcoming Future Chronicles anthology. Doomsday Chronicles isn’t due out until February 2016, but my story is very done. I’m very satisfied with the work as well.

This piece should cement my SFWA membership, if not this year, then early next year. Added to this In Goat I’ve managed to turn out an entertaining, compelling, topical tale I’m certain will make readers think. So, yeah, I’m congratulating myself just a little bit. I think this may be an overlooked part of writing for a living that more authors need to take in hand. Celebrate your accomplishments people.

“What’s next?” you ask. I’m contributing to another anthology — this time steampunk’s Drifting Isles — and I’ve already begun this one. It’s due in November so I’ve got time and since this tale is outlined and just needs words I’m going to have more time to work on other things concurrently. So I’m left wondering where I should focus.

The top contenders are two novel-length projects and a novella length speculative fiction piece. Counterfeit Horizon is something like 70,000 words (currently) of very rough work. Part of my reluctance in finishing this story — that I began back in 2013 — is the sheer volume of editing that it’s going to take. Counterfeit was my first attempt at a novel length anything, and consequently it’s just riddled with mistakes and plot holes. One strategy I’ve been contemplating is to junk the old manuscript and just re-write the story using the characters, settings and plot I’ve already developed. I wrote the bulk of Counterfeit Horizon during NaNoWriMo, so I know I could knock this out comfortably in a short space of time.

Second is the novella project. Fire Weather is almost there now; a short sprint could have this piece ready for publication by late winter. With the incredible fire season, we’ve seen this summer the story is topical. Right now my big problem is that the tension in the tale tends to fall off. There are interpersonal battles, health issues, and of course, the fireline fight, but when I read my work I’m left wanting more. This story needs some Spike, and my feeling is that I don’t know how much to add. I suppose I can add spice in small amounts, reworking by chapter and scene, until I think it’s got the right flavor. Now that I write this out, this begins to appeal to me.

The final candidate is Winter City Above the Clouds. The first two chapters have been written, and I’ve spent some time this summer working on the outline for this science fiction epic. This project is daunting. And what I mean by that is that right now, I’m looking at what I want to do with it, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skills necessary to reach that lofty goal. I’ll be making everything up, and this tale requires a rich, expansive cultural backdrop just to make the stage believable.

Of these projects, Winter City is where I’d like to be spending my time, it’s where I go to get lost in my own imagination right now. I based my first Future Chronicles contribution Ser Pan Comido in the universe I’ve been developing for Winter City. So it has that element of guilty pleasure about it. I just don’t want that to interfere with the final quality of the piece. Better, I don’t want to find myself back in the same situation I’m in with Counterfeit Horizon.

Conclusion, it’s sometimes very easy to be your own boss and other times it approaches impossible to be at the helm. Option paralysis is real.

Writer’s Tool Box: Not Facebook Part Zwei

“So where ever you’re targeting advertising your page on Facebook is a waste of money. I wish Facebook would remove all the fake likes from my page and from all the others, but that would mean admitting that they have generated significant ad revenue from clicks that weren’t genuine which then supress the reach of of page which had low engagement. Forcing those pages to pay again to reach unauthentic fans. So the truth is that Facebook benefits by maintaining the status quo. Because the reality is *NOBODY LIKES THAT MANY THINGS*”.

I found this on KB today and if you’re using Facebook to promote something there is ample evidence you’re wasting your time and money. Paying for page likes, or page promotions for that matter, seems increasingly like willingly donating to a racketeering scheme.

I will continue to cross post information about my writing to Facebook, but don’t expect me to ever use their services to promote through that particular social network. The noise to signal ratio is full of static.

Writer’s Tool Box: Deadlines

This afternoon I spent some time exchanging emails with yet another editor. From her examples I gather, she is exactly the kind of editor I need, but, at least right now, I’m not certain our schedules are going to synchronize.

I have a high degree of confidence that I will have the manuscript for Up Slope in second draft by early March.  After that, its simply a matter of ping pong with an editor to put the final polish on my next published book. My target for publication is the middle of April.

The reason I’m writing about deadlines today is because I’ve got many. These are self imposed and I use them every day to manage the writing process. They are one of the more important tools I keep in my writing tool box.

Drive to Completion

One of the most important features of this tool is that it helps push a writing project toward completion. Without deadlines and project milestones my super slacker powers take over and things just sort of fall by the way side. A complete story idea, stored in memory for only a short while, may never make it onto the page. When I schedule out a project, setting dates and critical milestones along the way, I have to use some guess work, but the intent is to ensure I have the reins all the way until publication.

All along the way I can evaluate if I’m on track to complete the project on time or if I need to get the Led out and knock out the words at hyper speed. Deadlines force me to evaluate how I’m doing and ensure that I get to the end of the project.

Accountability

There is myth out there, repeated endlessly by the nefarious they, which tags Independent authors lower in the literary hierarchy because they don’t know how to deliver a project. Because we don’t have the same kind of external management that a traditionally published author must deal with, we’re somehow less capable of delivering on time.

Yeah, sure, I don’t have a contract or an editor telling me when something is due. My deadlines are my own, but because I know they give my writing projects a level of accountability I stick to them.

The accountability is between me, as the author, and my audience. Sure, it is completely self imposed, but it is no less important because it is internal to the project. Deadlines in writing always come back to the reader. Publishing when you’ve said you will means that people can look forward to your next story. This can actually help build anticipation and may even invigorate future sales.

Conclusion

I’ve tried in the past to pants my way to a complete story and the problem is that I never get there. An it is not just laziness. I get distracted and confused easily if there is not a target for me to aim at.

Rigorous and complete management of a writing project is probably one of the best ways to remove confusion and provide focus. Even from within the creative process. I have sat in front of my laptop and found myself contemplating the many ways a story might go only to realize that I’m wasting critical golden time. The deadline and my dedication to it makes it possible for me to pick a story path and stick to it.