Early Morning Writing: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Early morning sunrise, Image Source: Keeptothewrite.com

So, yesterday I thought I’d try an experiment: I often wake up early (5:00-5:30am), but I don’t usually have to start getting ready for another hour/hour and half.  I usually use that time for leisurely waking up, reading, catching up on homework, etc., but I thought that since I was having such a hard time finding writing time during my busy schedule that I would get up and get ready early and use the extra 2-3 hours as writing time.  Well, here are the results:

The Good
I ACTUALLY got writing done!  Yay!  I was able to write approximately 250-500 words written on a Sci-Fi story (Project Children) that I’ve been working on (outline, character sketches, etc.).  I was able to completely finish the first scene of the story.  I also was able write a rough draft of my Teaching Philosophy that we were asked to do for our Graduate Teaching Discussion Group.  I was also able to write yesterday’s blog entry and post it on schedule (something that was really hard for me to do all of last week).

The Bad
You would think with 3 successful writing projects worked on yesterday, there would be no bad side.  NOT TRUE!  I rolled into my morning duties with no problem, but then I had the afternoon to get through and I was so tired that as soon as I came in I CRASHED.  I had so much reading that I needed to do for class, but the moment I opened the textbook the words just all blurred together and I just couldn’t read any of it.  I went to lay down to “rest my eyes” and recover, but of course, I fell asleep and it was time for dinner.  Also, MTSU’s library opens at 7:00am and I wanted to get there as close to the opening as possible to give myself approx. 2 hours of writing time, but thanks to clothes, traffic, forgetting things, etc., I was only able to get there at about 8:00am and felt rushed to work on my story and the Teaching Philosophy at the same time.  So instead of the 2 hours I’d envisioned on when I embarked on this experiment, it really only came out to be 55 minutes.  55 productive minutes, but 55 minutes nonetheless.

The Ugly
The worst part of this is that I was never really able to recover after dinner to read the material for school, so as I type these words, I’m really going to have to really use my morning to “catch-up” and read the material before class today at 2:40pm.  While there’s not a lot of it, there’s enough and this is a struggle that may not have needed to have happened.  Also, I struggled to get out of bed this morning, so even if I wanted to, there will be no miraculous repeat of yesterday’s writing performance.

The Lesson
So while I was successful early yesterday, I struggled later in the day yesterday and made today a much harder day than it needed to be.  The early morning writing works, but I’m going to have be more strategic in where and when I use it (perhaps weekends, holidays, MWFs, TU/THs, not really sure), but I this experiment has given me some idea of my body’s capacities and limitations when trying to find a good consistent time to write.

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Finished The Green Rider by Kristen Britain 


I finally finished the novel The Green Rider by Kristen Britain and I liked it.  It wasn’t my favorite fantasy novel ever but it had enough characterization and and action that I forgave some of its flaws. 

According to Wikipedia, this book is a first novel and I could tell.  Not to be disparaging, but there were elements that seemed out of place.  The meeting with sisters early on in the book seemed to exist only to give the protagonist items she would need later on in the story–a la Tolkien.  Her desire to ignore the repeated attempts to get her to believe that she had the necessary talent to be a good “Greenie” based on all that she had gone through was also particularly irksome.  But overall, I’d say it was pretty good.  Will I read the sequels? Probably, just not right away.

Yet, Kristen Britain did in 1999, what I haven’t yet found a way to accomplish yet in 2017.  She wrote, finished, and published her first novel.  This is the goal I’m working towards.  I hope one day (soon) that I can also reach this milestone myself.  Fingers crossed! 😀

Overall Grade: B-/C+

Character Sketches

 

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Character Sketch slide, Image Source: Slideshare.net

This will be a shorter blog post–limited time before class.  However, watching Star Trek:Deeps Space Nine has helped clue me into the fact that there is a piece missing from my writing: Character Sketches.

I can see clearly the importance that character sketches can add to the story.  In fact, this idea was one that I discovered sometime last year, but haven’t really put into practice when I saw a young lady on a motorcycle last autumn in Chattanooga.  She wasn’t riding a scooter, but a full on Kawasaki motorcycle with black leathers.  The only concession to her gender was a pink motorcycle helmet with the black sunshade pulled down.  I remember her vividly because I have a project that calls for a someone riding a motorcycle over the dunes of Mars and she fit the bill perfectly, but I never “wrote” her down in my notebook or anything.

Of course, I promptly forgot about this image and have limped along barely completing projects and wondering why the projects I’ve finished so far aren’t being accepted–and that’s the reason.  The young lady on the bike was compelling because of distinctness–she was a unique individual with a character all her own.  I create characters that are just ciphers for the actions that I want to happen in the story.  I need to create character sketches that match the complexity and uniqueness of the individuals that I see in daily life.

You can be sure that after class today, I will take a moment to put her sketch (& any other unique people I run across today) down in my notebook in order to remember that Sci-Fi is about people affected by science.  It doesn’t work without both parts.

Henry James, The Art of Fiction, and Me


So this is why studying the old “masters” are important: sometimes their writing can reach across centuries and happened speak to readers  at just the right time.  That is what happened last night when I read “The Art of Fiction” excerpt by Henry James last night.  

James said that the novelist should be concerned with both character and incident.  This is where I err. I’m all about incident and I’m not as concerned with character as I should be.  I like knowing what happened rather than who it happened to.  For instance, when I was a child,my parents used to take me to the local amusement park.  They would often take breaks and people-watch whereas I was there for the rides and people-watching was so boring.

I realize that I’m not really focusing enough on my characters and their characterization. I need to either get better at illustrating my characters in the outlining/rough draft phase (character sketches) or I may need to do a “character pass” in the revision phase to ensure my characters are real characters and not simply “ciphers” for the incident that I want to relate.  Henry James has given me something to consider to help me become a better writer.  Thanks to Dr. Renfroe for assigning him for me to read for class!

Submissions: An Introspection

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Pen and Writer, Image Source: Shut Up and Write

Okay, I finally think that I have a system together to deal with submissions effectively.  It has taken me close to a year and half to develop this system so that it is effective (for me, at least), but I have refined and refined it over the past year and a half so that now I spend less time stressing over rejections and more time getting the work out and into the hands of markets.  I try my best to ascertain whether my story is appropriate for the market based on their guidelines and the stories that are on their websites/in the journals and/or magazines, but at the end of the day it is still a crapshoot as my taste in fiction apparently runs counter to “modern” (I would say, more nihilistic) sensibilities.  As a LibraryDella, a reader of this blog and librarian who has read my work, would tell you, some of my stories don’t end happily.  But, for the most part they do–LibraryDella just happened to read and respond to the batch that didn’t (sorry about that , LibraryDella! :)).  Anyway, today I wanted to talk about a little bit more about submissions to markets and my submission process.

Trailblazing New Markets
So, I use Duotrope to find new markets and to track the temporary opening and closing of submission periods throughout short fiction market (and novels once I start writing & submitting them).  Duotrope charges a yearly subscription, but I find that their service allows me to better track other submission opportunities (like anthologies, for instance) to help me publish more widely.  Their are other places to find markets–The Submissions Grinder–comes quickly to mind that are free, so please don’t feel that this post is an advertisement for Duotrope.  I just happen to like Duotrope’s layout, tracking services, etc., and it works best for my workflow.  I use Duotrope’s weekly newsletters to find out about new markets and opportunities for my stories.  From there, I try to figure out which markets my stories would be best suited to which markets and then submit.

8.88%
Currently, thanks to my Acceptances earlier this year and late last year, my Acceptance ratio is 8.88% (and Duotrope notes that this is above average).  I’m not bragging–I just want to point out how hard it is to write professionally and creatively.  A major league baseball player is considered successful hitting at .250-.350 range.  A creative writer, it seems, is “successful” at a much smaller range (just below 10%) according to Duotrope, at least.  So that’s on average, 1 in every 10 submissions, or in my case (approximately, 8 Acceptances out of every 100) as for me, my Acceptances tend to come in bunches–nothing for a long time (two or three years) and then 2 or 3 Acceptances in a fairly short order.

Persistence
The key is persistence.  I’ve come close a couple of times this year (2 stories short-listed, i.e., made it to the second-round of reviews), but they just didn’t make it for publication.  I will continue to submit them until they do.  I’d hoped that they would have both found homes in their respective markets, but they only thing that I can do is continue to try and submit the stories that are finished, write news stories to start the submission process all over again, and brainstorm new stories.  I just need to keep working and submitting.

Deja Vu Dreaming: Dreaming in Sequels

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Image Source: i-Spirit.ca

We all know that dreams are strange beasts.  Psychologists tell us that our dreams are our brain’s way of trying to make sense of the world and to process the days’ (weeks, months, years) events and integrate them into our psyche.  So, dream logic is strange, wonderful, and the source of both inspirations and nightmares.  I’m a writer, and a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy, so I expect my dreams to be strange and I try to harness that “strangeness” and turn the most coherent of dreams into characters, or plot ideas, or stories, etc.

Last night, however, I experienced a type of dream that I usually only experience rarely (maybe once a year or once every two years) that I’m going to call the “sequel” dream.  It is a dream that tells a fairly coherent narrative (at least, for a dream) and then fades away upon waking so that you remember only small flashes or bits of the dream, but by the end of the day even those flashes are gone.  I hate those because they were usually so vivid that if I could have awakened before the dream faded, I would have written it down in my journal of ideas for stories.  Yet, I experience a curious phenomenon where I will (much) later, either dream the same dream again (I call it Deja Vu Dreaming), but this time I will remember most if not all of the dream AND have the feeling of Deja Vu, somehow recalling that I’ve already dreamed the dream once before all ready.  Or (like tonight), I’ll have that Deja Vu dream experience, but this time my mind will actively create additional segments to the dream (it will turn the dream into a sequel, of sorts).  Again, I will remember that I’ve dreamed the dream before, but I will also get new additional “chapters” to the dream-story.

I first noticed this phenomenon as a child, but I really became invested in documenting the dreams when I decided to become a writer.  The previous most recent example is a dream that I still haven’t found a way to turn into a story just yet, but it involves a Sidhe (Elf-like faerie) who marries a mortal, but there is a “creepy” house that disapproves of the marriage (this is just a synopsis of the dream–the dream itself is more complicated as the house is more of a “horror” house than it is creepy.  Yet, the horror part of the house didn’t come to me in the first dream, but rather in that second Deja Vu-Sequel dream.  Last night’s dream was more of a “police procedural” as I used to watch a lot of (the original) Law & Order reruns on TNT on my free days working at the public library.  I found myself trying to negotiate a hostage situation and then chasing the perpetrator when the situation went sour. Again, upon waking I remembered that I’ve dreamed that dream before and I remembered so much more about the dream upon waking.  As I don’t write police procedurals, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to work this dream into a story, but at least the dream allowed me to be introspective about my dreams and dreaming process.  Maybe my experience will allow you, the reader, to become more introspective about your own dreams.

As long as they aren’t nightmares, I’ll take Deja Vu – Sequel Dreams any day.

Rough Draft vs. Working Draft

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Image Source: WikiHow

Rough Draft = Present Tense (Visualizing the story)

When I write the Rough Draft for my stories, I’ve discovered that I tend to write in the present tense in order tell myself the story.  This where I “Tell, don’t show.” When I write my rough drafts, I could almost call these “discovery” drafts because I’m discovering the story and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.  I’m trying to accurately put on paper the visuals that I see in my head and that means that I’m not worrying about the audience.  I’m trying to make sure that my plot makes sense (what’s happening in the story), the characters make sense (their motivations and why they do the things I envision), and the setting makes sense (where everything’s happening).  This is where all the notes that I’ve taken/written down about the story get put into the structure of a story (Exposition, Opening Incident, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action/Resolution) to see if they work correctly as a story.  I’m simply relating to myself what I “see” in my mind and trying to accurately form/shape it into a story.

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Image Source: CUCSA cucsa.org.uk

Working Draft = Past Tense (Dramatizing the story)

The Working Draft is sort of my shortened name for a “Work-in-Progress Draft.”  This is where I do the REAL work for the audience.  This is where characters names get finalized, this is where dialogue becomes more than a place holder and is what I believe that the characters really would say.  This is where vivid details and description comes into play, this is where I really begin to try to “Show, don’t tell.”  I try to find places to show emotions, to appeal to the five senses, and to foreshadow events crucial to the rising action and the climax.  This is where my goals as the creator meets the needs of the audience.  How can I best tell my story (that I came up with in the Rough Draft) that engages and exhilarates the audience?  What techniques or effects can I use to maximum effect?  This is where I do the “hard work” of writing.  And the cool thing is that it isn’t set in stone–if I’m happy with the draft, I can stop and move onto the editing and submission phases, but if I’m not happy, I can go back and fix what isn’t working (which I did for the ending of Silence Will Fall) or I can start all over and re-draft the whole thing again from scratch–which I plan to do for Rocket-Man.)

I believe that a lot of my trouble (& I would suspect other writers as well) comes from the fact that for stories where I don’t lay the groundwork and do the rough draft (or the outline, or any of the other myriad words for prewriting), I find that the Working Draft RARELY (if ever) matches the vision that I had in my head for the story.  And the opposite is true, I find that the more I use rough drafts and the more I use prewriting strategies, the more confident I am in the writing process and the more enjoyable the Working Draft stage becomes.