Snow Day

So today is a Snow Day for me.  The semester was supposed to start today, but school was closed, so I’m taking a day to get mentally set and prepared for the upcoming semester.  Specifically, I will be trying to work on writing and getting ideas down on to paper and planning stories today.  I will also be working on revisions and editing also if there’s time.

I hope to get a lot accomplished today (while also resting a little as well).  I’ve learned from my time as a Middle School teacher–you want to really use Snow Days effectively (and I have several projects that could use a little more time to work on them!).

Be safe!

Sidney
Read Skin Deep for Free at Aurora Wolf
Read Childe Roland for Free at Electric Spec

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“Don’t Be a ‘Writer.’ Be Writing”

This quote from William Faulkner is as close to a New Year’s Resolution as I will allow myself for this year.  I’ve tried too hard to be a “writer.”  I need to just write.  I need to plan what I want to write (for me that generally means character sketches and plot outlines, along with world building) and I need to revise what I write (getting it in good enough shape to submit and making adjustments as necessary).  But most importantly I need to just write (to draft project after project regardless of whether I’m selling the projects or not).

Planning to Write
I’m working on planning at least one project to write every month.  If I finish planning a project early, then I will pull out another project and plan it, but every month I plan to have at least one project done (so I should have 12 new projects ready by the end of 2018).  This is both attainable (hopefully given school work) and measurable (I report back at the end of the year to see how closely I matched this goal).  I created a Planning Checklist in Numbers (Apple’s answer to Excel) to track the days that I can actually work on planning and on the days I do, I simply place a checkmark beside it to give visual feedback on how well I’m doing.  Thanks to my illness, I only got to work on planning 2 days last week.

Writing
This is where the rubber meets the road.  This where I actually sit down and draft out a story, trying to adhere to all the story conventions (Character, plot, dialogue, setting, beginning, middle, end, exposition, rising action, climax, resolution, etc.).  I intend to create a checklist for this process as well to help give me visual feedback on how well I’m doing.  Thanks to my illness last week, I didn’t get any drafting done last week, although I did draft 5 days consecutively the week before Christmas.  The same thing applies: every month I’m drafting 1 project, so that at the end of the year I should have at least 12 projects written.  I want to be a little “harder” on myself on this step as it is doable.  Just pull the internet connection on the laptop and write until the battery drains (which in the case of my late 2008 Macbook Pro is only about 45-50 minutes), so this is where Faulkner’s quote comes in: don’t be a ‘writer’ Be writing.  This is where I really want to show growth/improvement in the coming year–(again, based on schoolwork).

Revision
While I understand the market isn’t perfect and I’m not the flavor of the month, I still want to publish my work.  To that end, like the other two steps, I want to try to revise at least 1 project every month and put it out on the market.  I plan to follow the same “mold” as the other two steps in creating a checklist to help give me visual feedback on the days I worked on the project.  I worked 1 day on HawkeMoon last week due to the illness.  I want to submit it to an anthology that has a deadline of Feb. 1st, 2018.  I intend to enlist aid from either another grad. student or the Writing Center to help get the story where I want it for this market.  I intend to write an Author’s Note for it as well as to write a more in-depth Revision Note section on what I want to revise and why and try to solicit feedback on how to achieve this goal.  As I type these words, I just got an email from a market that Silence Will Fall made it to the second stage (the “maybes” pile) at a market–so there’s hope still that some markets do, in fact, like what I write.

Well, that’s all for now–while I might not touch on this monthly (although I might give periodic updates, I’m not sure yet), I will try to revisit this in an end-of-year post to see how well I’ve done.  All of this is dependent on school/classwork which is the great unknown in this endeavor, but hopefully I can find 45 minutes somewhere in my day to not be a writer, but to be writing.

Back to Basics Writing Approach

Sorry that I’ve been away from blogging for a while, but between grading, students’ presentations, my own Final Exams and related schoolwork, I’ve been too overworked to get much in the way of writing (for this blog or for myself) done.  However, I realize after getting a particularly “hard” rejection letter that I’m probably never going to be much more than a “hobby” writer despite my best efforts.  I like different things than what editors and audiences want apparently (as seemingly confirmed by the Rejection Letter that found its way into my inbox not more than 5 minutes ago).  What I like are heroes and what’s popular are villains who masquerade as heroes, so with two different competing philosophies, the one who controls the “gate” (aka the “gatekeepers”) win.  So be it.  Since it looks like I’m not going to be doing this for the “money” and only for the “love,” I intend to do this my way.  Rereading a book on writing and the writing process as I brainstormed how I would set up my next class, I came across a simple statement of the writing process that I’m going to adhere to: research, prewriting, drafting, and revision.

Research
Most of the time, I’m inspired to write something based on something external, so I do research, but I don’t really make it a formal step.  For instance, All Tomorrow’s Children was inspired by a Special Report on Sky News about Jihadi Brides.  However, rather than have a formal “research” period, I took the idea and started writing.  I think now I’m going to actually take a period of time (a week, two, whatever is necessary) and find out all I can about that topic.

Prewriting
I generally start here with an outline.  I think the outline comes too soon.  I think here is where I need character traits, motivations, etc.  Once I nail this down, then I think my outline will work better.  There’s nothing wrong so much with my plots (to me), but I think my characters leave a lot to be desired.  I feel that the characterizations are consistent and adequately explained, but the rejections notices would say otherwise.

Drafting
Here I think I’m pretty good, although I’ll look for places to get better.  I can write a rough draft in a day or two usually, and (when school isn’t too rough), I can write a submission draft in a couple of weeks to a month.  Drafting isn’t really a problem, except when life comes pounding at my door, demanding that I do X, Y, and Z all in one day or the entire world will explode–that’s when I don’t do drafting well (as this past Finals Week has illustrated).

Revision
Again, I feel I’m pretty good here too, although I feel that I have work to do.  I usually only revise or change when I feel it is necessary, but I’m trying to be more receptive to feedback that I get back from editors.  There’s a danger in listening to someone who’s rejecting your story as they don’t have a vested interest in seeing it succeed (as opposed to someone who offers to publish it if it is revised.  However, I’m trying to submit to markets who seem to give good feedback (say, Cosmic Landscapes) as opposed to markets whose comments have been “nitpicky.”  I think this is where going to the Writing Center and running it by a Consultant that I trust is also helpful–it helps me see it with an objective eye, something I can’t do no matter how much time passes between my writing it and my revising it.

 

Students Hate to Revise (Figuring out how to get past the Do It Once paradigm)

So, I don’t usually talk about teaching or my students or anything like on my blog as the purpose of the blog and my teaching endeavors don’t usually mix.  However, something happened in a class a couple of days ago that I really feel merits discussion.  I don’t have a lot of time so I’ll be brief: a discussion came up about revising and having the opportunity to revise and change an essay, and the comment was made (and I’m paraphrasing): I know its not quite right, but I just don’t want to have to go in and work on it again.

That’s the whole point of Revising/the Revision Process.  We got into a short discussion about it and I tried to make it a “teachable moment” by telling them that’s how real writers write.  They weren’t having it (for the most part–I think I got through to some of them).  To them, the whole I idea of revision stinks because it means more work on their part–not the it is to make it better part.

Yesterday, I had to reread Kate Chopin’s The Awakening for class.  I’d already read it in High School, but I went back and dutifully read it again.  I got much more out of it than I had before just by going over it a second time and I revised my opinion of the work (see what I did there).  In addition, I got a Rejection Notice on a story.  The editor was nice enough to provide feedback and gave two places where the story broke down for her.  I went in, revised the story, “fixing” those to places (i.e., adding in more detail that I thought would explain those places better) and resubmitted it to another publisher, but I will submit another story to that market until I get one that sells.

Not to dilute my message, but I’m convinced that’s the reason that people also don’t want to outline either.  Too much work involved.  So, no (or little preparation) to write something, and no (or little) revision after the work is written.  I, as an educator, have to break down these barriers if I want my students to truly be successful writers.

Whale Song Revision

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MTSU Writing Center, Image Source: Tucolla.Wordpress.com

Another short (and late) blog post.  I went to the writing center yesterday as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post entry and it was EXTREMELY helpful.  I had a short-story entitled, Whale Song that I’d sent out for a while before becoming frustrated by the rejections.  Specifically, when markets gave feedback on the story, they mentioned that the protagonist felt very “high-handed” and didn’t come across as sympathetic.

During the session, I mentioned this and brainstormed ways to combat this impression while keeping the core of the story intact.  With the help of my consultant, I was able to think of ways to both change the character as well as the structure so as to better tell the story that I wanted.

I will post an Author’s Note here when the revisions are complete.  There is an anthology that I’m hoping to submit the story to and its deadline is Nov. 1, so (in addition to the graphic novel and the rough draft of the short story I’m trying to create), I will be revising the story with this deadline in mind.  I keep you posted on my progress.

Using the Writing Center

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Writing Center, Image Source: Towsend.edu

So–yes another shorter blog entry–I’m going to the University’s Writing Center today to workshop a short-story.  The story is called Whale Song and I’ve submitted it frequently, but I’ve been told that the main character comes across as a bit of a jerk.  I didn’t really know how to fix it, so I stuck it in the “drawer.”

Well, there is anthology that is open until Nov. 1st, so I want to polish it up and send it out.  My goal is going to be to find out if the main character is a jerk and if so, brainstorm a couple of ideas that I have for a revision.

For some reason, my students are reluctant to go to the Writing Center in order to improve their writing.  I guess they see it as a mark of “weakness” or “failure” if you need to get extra help.  What I’m trying to get them to see is that the writing center gives them knowledgable people that they can bounce ideas off of.  No writing center can “fix” a paper because the paper is the tangible expression of the writer and (generally speaking) we don’t go around “fixing” people.  Maybe through my example, my students will become more used to going to the Writing Center to help themselves become better writers.

Potpourri ( . . . a little bit of everything)

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So this blog post contains a little bit everything (hence the title).  I will try to keep this post shorter than normal; it (hopefully) will be just an update post.

WRITING

I was really happy with the way “Here Be Monsters” (HBM) turned out.  I haven’t heard a response from the 1st market that I sent it to yet, but having the setting allowed me to focus on the characters in a way that I haven’t been able to since “Dragonhawk” (DH).  I actually like HBM a quite a bit more than DH although they have a lot in common.

READING

Finished “Conquistadors” (finally) after struggling to read it all summer and fall.  I shouldn’t complain because it gave be the initial idea and setting for HBM.  I loved learning about the Conquistadors and the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca.  It’s just that I’m so stressed from teaching that it is hard to pay attention to an in-depth non-fiction work. For the past couple of years, I usually read Fantasy (David Eddings, Brandon Sanderson, and Diane Duane) or Science Fiction (David Weber, Elizabeth Moon) in order to “de-stress.”

Picked a new “history” book from the back of the Conquistadors.  It is the Condottieri. Hopefully, lightning will strike twice and I’ll be able to find an awesome story from this time period.  I just ordered a used copy from Amazon.com today.

REVISION

I plan on revising Rocketman for my next project.  It will follow the same 3 act structure (beginning, middle, end) as HBM, but I think I need a short half a page prologue/epilogue to completely get it where I want it.  I think I’ve settled on an epigraph to highlight the theme.  More on this later.

SCHOOL

I really want to see if I can raise my game and go back to school.  I’d like to perhaps teach in Higher Education and for that I’ll need a PhD.  I’m going to apply to PhD programs this year in hopes that I will be accepted.  Much of my “free” time will be spent studying for the GRE and preparing applications for various schools, so my writing output will be reduced temporarily as I try to accomplish this goal.

NEW STORY

The creative process will not wait, however.  I’ve begun to write down ideas for my next story.  I don’t have a title yet (although I have a tentative grasp of some of the characters and some of the plot.)  All I can say at this point is the inspiration that inspired me to start planning out the story.  One was a dream that I had last night with a gunslinger.  The other was a phrase that I wrote down about a month ago while still working on HBM: “Jedi Gunslingers.”  More on this later!

That’s all I have at the moment!