Writing Log: July 2020 (Part Deux)

A bullet log with the words January 2017 handwritten at the top with a calendar for the month, a key, notes, events , goals, to do, b-days, and February calendar along with dates all on two journal pages
Image Souce: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/522065781795050452/

So, that’s the thing about trying to a “monthly” series–sometimes, due to the way the calendar rolls around, these come up before the month is technically up. I’ve not decided how I will handle these month-to-month perturbations. This time I’m going with a Part 2 for my Writing Log, but I could also just do these monthly (once a month) without actually worrying about what happens when the month doesn’t cooperate with me. Like everything, this will be a constantly evolving decision. If you have a preference (once a month update vs a two-part update then let me know in the comments. I’m leaning towards once a month, but I don’t have any firm opinions either way.

I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)

Completion %:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Okay, so this one is the big offender for the month. Totally my fault, but I got seduced by a deadline of August 1st for a market that wanted submissions using their “starter sentence” discusses a fictional library, The Simmons Public Library. They wanted to be the first ones to see stories built on this framework (which I can totally understand), but the Aug. 1st deadline proved to be way too close. I thought that because I worked in a public library and this story is set in a public library, I could “breeze” through the drafting of it. Well, not so fair reader. Even though I did the rough draft for the story–that’s the easy part. It is essential for me so that I don’t meander or get lost in the weeds, but the hard part is dramatizing the story (POV, setting, characterization, feelings, 5 senses, etc.) which takes time, energy, and is difficult. So I got bogged down in the first section for most of the month. Finally, last week I just had to temporarily abandon the project or I wasn’t going to get anything finished. What lesson did I learn: Show, don’t tell is good advice, but Tell, then show is even better advice. The problem is telling is easy (and fun), and showing is hard (and hard work). Make sure you have enough time to go through both stages. Also, it is better to affix your own deadlines than to work to someone else’s (though this may be unique to just me). I’m going to remove it from my “Project List” at the bottom of my signature, for now, and replace it with another project.

Project Wall (Sci-Fi Story)

Completion Percentage:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’m going to go ahead and basically mark this one as completed. I was only supposed to create a “rough draft” this month. I got carried away and started dramatizing that rough draft and got through the 1st section. However, I stopped and rewrote out a draft in my notebook–yes, I do still hand write things (mostly notes). However, I did hand write a rough draft that is waiting to get put into the computer later today or sometime over the weekend.

This one almost didn’t come together as I did the research for it, but none of the research ended up in the first version of the “rough draft.” This one is going to be a much harder and much more complex thing to get down correctly. It deals with a brother trying to save his sister and I don’t want it to get bogged down in gender relations–this story is strictly about filial love and duty and that’s what I’m having a hard time capturing. Also, I don’t want to be too close to the inspiration of this project. Basically, I know a lot of what I don’t what from this project, but less about what I do want. I’m interested to see how this one turns out.

Unhallowed
(Weird Western Fantasy Story)

Completion Percentage:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This story is getting there. I’ve revised most of the earlier sections and I’m now working on the final section. I estimate that I still have a week or two left before I’m finished working on the 2nd draft (Working Draft) of the story. The first draft of the story went “crazy well” (and, I guess why I went in the same direction with Project Wall) and now I’m just fleshing out setting and characterization issues mostly. The end is where I am and is what needs the most amount of work: I want to imply that there is a scientific theory at work (branes), but the characters have no conception of this theory, so I’m going to have to explain it in a way that implies this, but doesn’t actually name it. I’ve done a little of that work in the 1st draft, but I’m going to have to really do it well in this draft. This is the one that I should have been concentrating on all month and I might have finished by now, but that’s okay. Lesson learned.

KnightWatch
(Fantasy Graphic Novel)

Completion Percentage:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I only recently started this story (last week). I’m currently writing Issue #1 and if I had to hazard a guess, I’m on script page 5 or 6 (the actual document is currently 4 pages long). This is a long-term project, so my personal deadline isn’t until Christmas (although I hope to finish it sooner). Ship of Shadows issue #1 is finished, but I have had no desire to work on issue 2 because I’m telling the same story over again. The goal was to retell the short story in issue 1 and 2 and then finish off issue 3 and 4 with new material, but another lesson that I’ve learned is that once I finish a story (and published it), I have no real desire to go back and tell the same story over again–I want new challenges and to advance the plot. Bringing back characters is fine or putting them in situations that are later in their lives is also fine, but to just redo the same story doesn’t work for me.

KnightWatch is set in the same world as the short story Sister-Knight that is no longer in print (even though it was published on the internet), but follows a different group of characters. The original characters do make a cameo appearance in the story, but the focus isn’t on them. Hopefully, by the end of the year I can start looking for publishers and/or artists who might like to work on this project. If nothing else, it will give me an opportunity to reach out to some of the artists who’ve done illustrations for my work in the past and maybe allowing me to move into new (and longer) formats. I’ll keep you updated. This will replace Childe Roland in the signature line.

Well, that’s all I have for today! Have a great weekend!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Completed: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
  • KnightWatch Graphic Novel (Fantasy Graphic Novel)
    Up Next: 1st Draft (Issue 1 – 7 story pages)

Research for Project Wall

A futuristic city with gleaming towers and skyscrapers, all surrounded by a gigantic wall that dwarfs even the most massive skyscraper.  This image is from Killzone Shadowfall of Vekta City.
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lYz2VnDtTs

I’m trying to get a “Rough Draft” down of all the story ideas that I want to do. For me, a “rough draft” is simply me telling the story to myself. It has none (or very little) of the narrative techniques that one might associate with a traditional story: no pov, little-to-no characterization in terms of the 5 senses, feelings, etc. No internal monologue, and rarely even any dialogue. Heck, sometimes the characters aren’t even named yet, and are only identified by generic placeholder names that are usually their occupation or function in the story (“the antagonist” or ” the Ranger”). My “rough drafts” look an awful lot like Hollywood treatments or plot outlines for novels in that I’m only really interested in fleshing out the idea so that I know what I want to write about and how I want to dramatize it on the 2nd draft.

Researching Project Wall–Atlanta, GA and Quantum Mechanics

Unlike Unhallowed (formerly “Project Arizona”), where I specifically set out to learn a lot more about the time frame of the Old West, Project Wall is set in Atlanta, Georgia in the US. I live within a 2 hour drive of the city and I’ve been there several times, so I feel I have a pretty good working knowledge of the city. I did do research about the city (the city’s “crest” will actually feature into the story and was something I learned from research), but I have to confess, I did’t really do research on the same level as Unhallowed and I can’t but help wonder if that helped to throw me off my stride.

Mainly, however, I did research in Quantum Mechanics, something that features prominently in the reason for the story to be unfolding in the way that it is. I looked at various episodes of science shows that I watch and Youtube channels (on science) that I subscribe to as well.

When the Research Phase Doesn’t Go Well

I have a whole page of notes and things that I wanted to include in the “rough draft” and some things that I wanted to set up for the 1st draft where I start to do some of that expected narrative dramatization. However, thanks to trying to work on more than one project, I didn’t really emphasize research as heavily as I did for Unhallowed and my first “rough draft” totally looks and feels different than that from Unhallowed.

So much so, that I decided to start over. I’m going to scrap the first section of the story. However, I’ve already handwritten (in a notebook) the new versions of sections 1, 2 & 3 for the story. I just need to put it into the computer before Saturday, August 1st and I will have still met my own self-imposed monthly deadline. The original first section was just exposition and none of it matched anything that I had in my research or notes.

Sometimes, when the research portion (or even in the drafting phase) doesn’t go well, while you can continue to work, oftentimes it becomes muddled and not what you the writer want it to say. Sometimes you just have to start over and redo the process. Every story, and sometimes even every draft, is a learning experience. We talk about failure and how it is important to the learning process, but here in America, no one actually wants to fail. I suppose it comes from our American “exceptionalism” ideas and ideology, but writing is not a mathematical formula that works as expressed 100% of the time. Like any art or creative endeavor, sometimes seeing what you don’t want is sometimes as helpful as seeing what you do want as it forces you to take stock of the project and figure out if you’re going in the right direction or not.

Anyway, I’ve learned that what I was putting on the paper, while long, wasn’t actually good and was all exposition. The rough draft I’m writing now is much shorter, but is much closer to the original vision that I had in mind for the story.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
    
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
    
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

A Distressing Trend for Writers of Short Fiction

A picture of the Godfather with the caption It's Nothing Personal, Its Strictly Business
Image Source: https://www.quora.com/Is-it-rude-that-companies-dont-send-out-rejection-letters-leaving-you-checking-your-email-every-5-minutes

*Author’s Note*: I pulled this image from a website in which some HR managers were answering a question about candidates for work/school where this has become standard practice. I find it both ironic and somewhat prophetic that the rhetorical image used to portray and normalize this behavior is drawn from a movie glorifying the Mob/Organized Crime where fear, threats/intimidation, and outright violence and murder are also considered “acceptable” business tactics–food for thought, don’t you think? So, my response to those on that website who think that candidates (read writers, for my purposes) are whiners on this subject–yeah, job candidates/school candidates/writers, etc., are also all humans, not cogs in some giant “wheel” and I don’t care how much of buyer’s market it is out there–it is still unacceptable not to update candidates/writers on their statuses. Courtesy is “Good Business” as well!


In the world of writing short fiction, there’s a distressing new trend that’s emerging that I assume will become standard practice for many markets in a few years. While I don’t want to be another “angry voice” on the internet, I do feel that it is important to call attention to practices that are not fair to the writer. Charging writers fees to submit is something that gained prominence in the early to mid 2000s. While it remained controversial for that time, it has become normalized and there are many, many markets who would like to make their money both off the writers who submit work to them, hoping for publication and from the readers they hope to sell the work to in the future.

Submit All You Want, We Still Don’t Want to Talk To You

So, to be brief, I’ve noticed that now many markets want to actively submit works from writers, but now they no longer want to respond to you. More and more, I’m seeing markets that say that editors will not respond to every manuscript they receive. On Duotrope, the listing notes that you should wait “a reasonable amount of time . . .” to wait for a response before assuming that the submission has been declined.

“A reasonable amount of time?” BWHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHA!

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be dismissive or sarcastic, but . . .

BWAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHA!

Okay, sorry, no more laughing fits. A “reasonable time” to me is one month or 30 days. Fully 75% – 80% of my submissions have been been longer than this with a couple at the 9 month mark. What I might consider reasonable is (obviously) going to be different from someone else–and since I can’t say yes, publish this and cut me a check, only they can, then I (as a writer) need them to actually make a decision and let me know the result.

A Slow But Steady Trend Away From the Editor/Writer Relationship

One of the reasons why I’m a little more cutting in this blog post than I might normally be is that I see it as yet another way that certain markets are trying to distance themselves away from the very writers they (say) they need. In the 1950s and 60s, fiction writers used to get feedback from editors about their stories. Tolkien, for example, “shopped” Lord of the Rings around to different publishers because he was distressed at the initial feedback that he reportedly received from an editorial reader (not the publisher himself, btw, who was the only one empowered to buy the work) if I remember the story from the Tolkien biography correctly.

In the 1970s and especially in the 1980s, the big thing became the “rejection slip” where rejections were preprinted on little slips of paper with a “canned” rejection notice on them–maybe there was a handwritten note on the back of them, but more often than not, it was just the slip.

Writers retaliated by going to Simultaneous Submissions (SS), which was also a reaction against very long wait times to hear back from markets (just to get a “rejection slip”). The thinking was that SS helped writers maximize their time and energy by sending out stories to a bulk of markets, hoping on finding just the one or two that were interested.

Then came Reading Fees, which I’ve noted in a previous blog, are not helpful to writers. Reading fees were once the province of “contests,” but they’ve become more mainstream in the intervening years and now you can see them in certain magazines as requirements before submitting work.

Why This is Bad For Writers

One of the reasons why “open submissions” (i.e., “the Slush Pile”) exists is because it is expensive to keep people on staff and on payroll to create content. For most markets, it is way cheaper to buy content as needed rather than to pay salary and benefits to someone to always be available to produce content. That’s why you have “submissions.” With things like Rejection Slips, Reading Fees, Agented Submissions, and the like, markets seem to be intent on removing any vestiges of human contact between editors and writers, and trying to turn writers (who are pesky human beings) into commodities that produce work and nothing else. Many of these markets keep trying to create their own version of the “phone tree” system in which they never have to interact with the writers they are actively solicit work. The easiest way to not have to deal with writers is to close submissions and have an on-staff writer–but let’s see, a year’s salary plus benefits vs $50 per story and you only buy 10 of those a quarter. 10*50 = 500 (1 quarter). $500*4 = $2000 per year. Good luck trying to hire someone who will work for that a year.

And yet, those same markets now want to turn around and ask you to submit work to them, but don’t want to take the time to let you know whether you were accepted or rejected. “Assume if you’ve not heard from us in two weeks/1 month/3 months/1 year” that your work is rejected.

Really? I, as a writer, can take the time to read your guidelines, make sure it matches everything as closely as you the editor/market requests, but you don’t have the time to reply to my submission. I’m to assume that I didn’t get in because you’re too busy to actually tell me?

Not to be “Mr. Angry Guy” on the internet, but I’m going to just say: if you’re going to solicit my work by allowing open submissions, then please do me the courtesy (and yes, it is a courtesy–an interaction between two humans) of telling me whether or not it is accepted.

If you’re too busy to do that, then I respectfully submit that you are too busy to be in business in the first place. Or maybe consider hiring that $15,000 a year on-staff writer that you seem to need rather than paying the $2,000 to us freelancers who are way too “needy” and “bothersome” just because we’d like to know definitely whether or not our stories have been accepted or not.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
    
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
    
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

Potpourri: A Little Bit of This and A Little Bit of That

White bowl of Potpourri on a wooden platter with four white lit candles..
Image Source: https://www.livinghours.com/potpourri/

So, I’ve not done one of these in a while. For more recent subscribers to the blog, I used to do a Potpourri blog post fairly often. Usually, I’d do them on the days when I didn’t have a set topic to work on or was too busy to do a full-on blog post (nowadays, I just usually miss a day when that happens–hey, not proud of the fact–just being honest–but these Potpourri posts used to cover several topics and would tide me over until the next day or the day after that, when I had something I felt was worth blogging about.

Potpourri (I’ll stop bolding it now) can mean a mixture of spices designed to act as an air freshener (more specifically), or more generally, as a mixture of things. This is how the TV show Jeopardy! uses it and this where I got both the term and the concept. Just a hodge-podge of various topics that I discuss that may or may not have any relationship to each other, but I don’t feel really warrant the time or energy to devote a full-on blog post to covering. While I’ll probably be doing more of these over the coming weeks/months as I prep for school, I will try to keep them to a minimum. Like anything else, it can lose its “specialness” when overused.

English Language Homophones

“Through” does not equal “throw.” To be honest, they aren’t even true homophones. And yet, that’s what I wrote in a previous blog post a day or two ago–and that’s not the only one I’ve caught this week. I do know the difference (I promise); I’m a English PhD Candidate, after all. However, I’ve noticed that quite a few of my posts recently have places where I’ve used the wrong word. So what’s going on?

Well, two things: 1) I’m writing these on my Chromebook now instead of Macbook Pro. Both Apple and Google have an auto-correct feature built into the OS. However, the last time I checked, the Apple auto-correct didn’t extend to the WordPress editor (or if it did, it wasn’t nearly as aggressive). Google’s auto-correct definitely does extend to the WordPress editor and it is very aggressive (except with obvious typos like teh–which it will underline and tell me it is spelled wrong, but it won’t actually correct those things) and 2) I’m writing these blog entries much faster than I ever used to in the past. I’ve said it multiple times, but most blog entries take anywhere from 45 mins (low side) to 90 mins (high side) to write. I (mostly) write them the day they are posted (although I’m trying to “bank” more of them to go up in the future). I usually have work (or something that needs to be done that day, so I can’t spend too much time on them. So after writing them (the most time), finding and image and sourcing it, going back to a previous blog to find my “Signature” and then putting the categories and tags in, I give the blog a final cursory glance, looking for any glaring errors, and then I publish it. However, homophones are not “glaring errors.” They stick out in context, when you read it, but when I do my scan, my mind just “skips” right over them. I try to fix them when I see them, but sometimes I see them when I’m reading over them later in the day if I see them, but sometimes I’m not in WordPresses’ “editor” mode and I forget to go back to them when I am writing the next post.

So, if you’re wondering how someone with pretty obvious mistakes can be a PhD Candidate in English, let me assure that I really do know the correct word in context. However, being the both writer and editor is really hard, and it’s even harder when you’re on a time limit.

Akira

As I mentioned a while back, I’m trying to spread out my weekly movie viewing throughout my various streaming services in order to maximize the value from them–I was finding that I was really only watching one or two services even though I’m paying for several (discounted because I’m a student, but still . . .). I’ve watched things from Tubi (free), Netfilix, and Amazon Prime Video recently, so I thought I’d give Akira on Hulu a watch.

I have to say . . . this is NOT looking promising. I’m familiar with Akira, but I’ve never actually seen the movie. I bought an issue of the manga when it was released here in the 1980s (I think for the futuristic bike on the cover), but as it was an issue that was well into the story, I had no clue who the characters were or what was going on, and so didn’t pick up any other issues. While everyone always raved about it in sci-fi magazines that I read at the time, I didn’t see the appeal and went back to other anime properties (Appleseed and the Japanese/American hybrid of Robotech).

However, Saturday night, I thought now might be a good time to take a look at the original, especially since there is a planned Hollywood live action movie (a la Ghost in the Shell) planned to be released in a couple of years (although Covid may have pushed that back).

I gotta’ say, for all the accolades, I’m not really all that impressed by what I’ve seen so far. I’m only 35 minutes in (it is a 2 hour and 5 minute movie), but even trying to look at it through my 1980s/1990s lens, I still have yet to see what all the fuss was about. Yes, it is one of the first cyberpunk movies (and an anime at that), but the ideas and the execution are, so far, subpar. Mad Max (and all of its future sequels) got the aesthetic down far better for a post-apocalyptic and we won’t even talk about how Bladerunner (so far) is superior in every way, even though it came out years earlier–in terms of Neo-futurism of the cityscape. So far, there’s a anarchy that is implying that the system has broken down and yet the system is still in place with the schools, the malls, the army, and the police. While I won’t judge it until after I finish it, the 35 minutes that I watched felt like it was an hour (not a good thing) and the last time that happened lead to me being mightily unimpressed by a little movie called The Dark Knight. And with me, that’s not a good trajectory to be on.

Not the Same Old Story, But A New Story

Okay, so while I’ve had success as a writer by getting published and by receiving payment, I’ve not had much success in getting my work “reprinted.” I’ve had zero success in having any of my stories reprinted. However, I was talking to a friend at the Writing Center and was indicating that I felt that just by the fact the stories were published, indicated that they had potential and something special that I felt I did right and I wanted to use those to write longer projects.

However, over the Covid break, I’ve learned that I simply can’t tell the same story over again in a different format. This is what I tried to do with Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel. I wrote half of the short story over again in issue 1 and issue 2 was supposed be the 2nd half, issue 3 & 4 would be new material, expanding out the story. While it was a good try, what I learned is after I’ve written the story, I don’t have any interest to revisit it again. The story has been told to my satisfaction, so I need to find a different story to tell–maybe at a different point in the lives of the characters or a different story with the characters coming back to interact in some way (cameos or the like).

Thinking back to some of my favorite movies and their sequels–I really love movies like Alien & Aliens and Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, & Return of the Jedi because it takes the story forward and advances the plot forward. The sequels that I hate are Karate Kid II, Jurassic Park The Lost World, and Home Alone 2, where take the same characters and situations and just transports them to a new setting. So, they’re essentially telling the same story–just in a different place. I think that’s why Alien 3 is one of my most hated movies–they wipe away all that Aliens worked to achieve, just so they could go back to the formula of the original Alien movie, but this time set on prison planet instead of a ship. Same basic story, different setting.

I’ve learned that I can’t do this. I have to advance the story or tell a new story with new characters or old characters returning in new roles. That’s what I’m working on now–instead of reprints–trying to make and market longer works based on new stories and ideas from my older published works.

This has a precedence that isn’t seen much in the publishing world anymore. Writers of sci-fi and fantasy novels, mostly sci-fi though, often cut their teeth on shorter works and developed them into their blockbuster series–Anne McCaffrey and her Dragonriders of Pern series was created this way, as was 2001 from Arthur C. Clarke, which came from a short tory (called “The Sentinel,” if I remember correctly). Now, however, this is considered “old fashioned” and most everyone, including those who probably shouldn’t, go straight to novels, graphic novels, and screenplays because we can’t have building the craft anymore–nope, thanks to Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, everyone wants the “big score.” Everyone wants the immediate “mega-success” and overnight stardom that the authors of those two series enjoyed–although, it should be noted that Martin was publishing mid tier books that weren’t “hits” in the 80s and 90s (Fevre Dream, anyone?). For me, the enjoyable part of the writing process is over once I’ve published my story–trying to duplicate it, just in a different form just doesn’t have an appeal for me apparently.

I’ll talk more about this later, but for now, work first, talk later. Have a great day!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
    
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
    
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

Why Deadlines Are Rough (Creative Writers Edition)

Man pointing to his forehead in a "thinking" position with the words in white lettering: You Can't Miss The Deadline If You Make The Deadline
Image Source: https://memegenerator.net/instance/78055825/man-thinking-meme-you-cant-miss-the-deadline-if-you-make-the-deadline

Deadlines can be both a blessing and a curse. Deadlines are when things are required to be due. For me, I generally do well with deadlines and can appropriately apportion my time to work on said project and have it finished by the deadline. The blessing part is that there is a “fixed” end date. There’s none of this faffing about with a project that just goes on and on indeterminately–once the deadline is fixed, you have a goal to work towards in order to hit that target date. However, all is not “peachy” and rosy with deadlines. If I personally get behind, whether it is my fault or not, usually the quality of the work suffers in order to hit the deadline. And sometimes, world events also conspire to keep you from hitting your deadlines. A small digression here, but rush-hour traffic all across the world would probably be less aggressive and road-rage inducing if we had flexible hours for most jobs–where you could come in up to 15 minutes early/late for your job, but as long as you worked the correct number of hours, you wouldn’t be penalized for it. A little flexibility in deadlines would go a long way to mitigating life’s propensity to throw roadblocks in the way.

A Tale of Two Projects

Why this long rumination on deadlines? Well, I have two projects that I’m working on and one has a deadline and the other doesn’t. I’d planned to work on the 2nd draft of Unhallowed this month. Then I saw a market that wanted you to use a starter sentence about the “Simmons Public Library,” a fictional library (to my knowledge) and they’d like to see it by August 1st (next week). So, over the month, I’ve dutifully bounced between both projects–with a stopover at Project Wall, which only has 1 of its 3 sections done.

Essentially, in trying to work on 3 projects–the one for this market and two for myself, I’m probably not going to finish the one by its deadline of August 1, which means I’ll have to strip sections out–don’t want to be accused of plagiarism as many people will probably be using that same starter sentence. It also means that I probably won’t get my own projects in order by the beginning of next month–meaning that my nice new system is already going down the drain.

This is where deadlines become a curse for me as it means that I split my time between projects rather than focusing on 1 project and getting it done the best that I can and then moving on, As the deadline seemed more important, I spent a lot of time on this story rather than the story I really wanted to be focusing on–Unhallowed.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

And this may be the true downside of deadlines–when used as motivation for writing projects. I’ve already sunk so much time into my revision for the August 1st deadline that I don’t want to abandon it even though I only have a week left and I know I won’t be able to marshal the story that’s in my mind onto the page in a week’s time.

Do I accept a (sizable) dip in quality to get the story out on time or do I go back to working on Unhallowed, knowing that the time invested in the other story is just lost and I’ll have to spend extra time later removing the “story prompt” sentences and ideas?

The Writer and the Finite Time Conundrum

As a student and graduate teaching assistant, I know my time is finite. I know there’s only going to be a limited number of hours in a day and some of that is going to have be devoted to answering student emails, working on grading, working on assignments, working hybrid instruction methods due to Covid, working my own research and writing for school.

Creative writing, while getting a boon this summer, still is finite. And I still struggle with the trying to get all the ideas that I have out there. And it is frustrating to try for a deadline and to realize with a week left, that there’s not enough time and that I should I have just stuck with my original plan.

Deadlines are like Reading Fees

I’ll close this (fairly long) rumination with an epiphany that I’ve just had: deadlines are just like reading fees. Early in my college career, I had a professor who helped inspire my love of creative writing. Her advice was to not do any of the contests that charged reading fees. Now, in the early 90s, reading fees were still considered gauche, and very few places used them, although they were becoming more common. Nowadays, it is rare (and remarkable) when there’s a contest that doesn’t charge a reading fee. Her point was that, as students, your money was finite resource. It was a “better play” to use your money to improve yourself as a writer by buying books on the craft, or attending conferences, or that type of thing, rather than using your money to enter competitions (even if there was a substantial prize offered).

I think you see where I’m going with this: my time is also a finite resource. While it seems “easy” to revise a story for a “deadline,” there’s actually just as much work involved as if I was writing a whole new story. I need to be more cognizant of deadlines in terms of my own projects and my own finite time. I recognize now that, like the lure of a huge cash prize for “winning the contest,” themed deadlines offer the lure of getting publication (and money) if you could just successfully execute the theme by the appointed time. And just like contests, I need to be ultra selective for the deadlines I take on if I don’t want to be disappointed by not finishing the story (or other stories that I might be working on) on time.

Lesson learned! I’ll let you know next week on my formal Writing Log post just what writing projects (if any) I managed to salvage this month.

Have a good weekend!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
    
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
    
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

Writing Log: July 2020 (7/2020)

A Bullet Journal that shows a bar graph and a smaller set of boxes that indicate days/acts written with the boxes colored in when done.
Image Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/365776800984668476/

Wrap-up for June 2020 (6/2020)

Before I move into new projects for July 2020, I wanted to take a moment to wrap-up what I’ve done for June 2020 to both tell you, the reader, what I’ve accomplished on a monthly basis, but also to hold myself accountable for the goals that I’ve set for myself during this time-period with the hope of becoming more professional over time and finishing more (and longer) projects as time goes on.

The Independent: Finished my revision of the project for a goal of submitting it to a market by June 30th. I originally revised it with help from the MTSU University Writing Center, but then I saw a short segment by Neil Degrasse Tyson in which he explained what a “flatlander” in two dimensions might interpret someone like us who live in three dimensions if they tried to interact with them. I tried to do the same, but with time. We live in space (three dimensional space-height, width, depth), but there is also a time component that we aren’t privy to (except to note its passing). I tried to take that idea a little further–what if there was a race who lived in a “curled” up region that we can’t interact with because it is mostly a region of time–what would that look like, how would that act, etc.? The I tried to have my “space truckers interact with this “dimension” in the story briefly. I think it came off moderately well. I don’t feel that I necessarily hit it out of the park, but I don’t feel that it is particularly bad or without merit. I feel that if I had more time, I might have been able to handle it better, but the story (from seed to this revision) is already 3+ years in the making, so I really need to get it out there. Maybe feedback (if I get any) will help me push the story into a stronger position if it doesn’t sell.

Project Arizona: Although I started on this one late (well into the month of June), I still have almost finished the 1st Draft of the story. This is where the power of working on the story consistently has helped. This is the story I will be working on for July.

Project Wall: This is the one next story will be working on. While I won’t draft it until next month, I will be working on character sketches, world history, politics, and other “Bible” documents for it all through July.

Prospectus (School): Finished my prospectus (hurray!). Even though I need to get “official” approval from my graduate director and my graduate committee, I’m going to start putting together a tentative dissertation outline and begin preliminary work on the dissertation with the books that I have available to me. I probably won’t get to work on it “formally”/”officially” until September at the earliest, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still put together a draft so that it isn’t a burdensome to do in the Fall and Spring of next year.


What’s on tap for July 2020?

Well, there are several goals that I’m hoping to do, however I only want to talk about a couple of them in-depth here:

  • Work on 2nd Draft (and officially unveil the title) for Project Arizona. I don’t think I will dive right into a 2nd draft of this story immediately as I think I will do another project in the interim. Hopefully, though by the 2nd week of July I will be ready to start drafting a second draft. I actually like the way much of the 1st draft turned out, so I will try to begin turning those places where I’m “telling” the story into places where I’m “showing” the story (dramatizing). It will be a beginning to end look at the draft, where I rewrite as necessary. I also have a title in mind for the story and I intend to start using it once I unveil it officially.
  • Plan Project Wall: Now that I have a “rough draft” down on paper, I’m going to do what Hollywood would call “pre-production.” I’m going to try to nail down the elements of the story that may not necessarily appear in the story, but are crucial to the reason the story exists. Basically, answering a lot of What, Why, Where, When, and How questions that I still have about the story. It also has a title, but I’ll wait to unveil it.
  • Lastly, I really want to get back into the “graphic novel”/comic book writer mode. That’s a place where I feel I can grow. Eagle-eyed blog readers will notice that the “Ship of Shadows” line under What I’m Working On” hasn’t changed in a while. Now, whether the graphic novel actually is me working on that or another project altogether, I want to put together a script that I can try to market by the end of the year at the latest, so I’m planning on working on it starting this month.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope that this month will be a productive one as last month was. Have a great weekend, and if you’re in the U.S., have a safe and fun July 4th Holiday weekend!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (6/2020):

  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Finished: Revision 1

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: First Draft

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2

Rating: 1 out of 5.
  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Weird West Story Project Arizona = Unhallowed

Female Gunslinger in wide-brimmed hat and long flowing duster with a gun in a holster and knives on her belt looking out towards the audience with a orange sky and yellow sun at her back.
Image Source: https://www.wattpad.com/296700758-fantasy-sub-genre-guide-weird-west

On Monday, June 29th, I finished the first draft of Project Arizona. I’m sure it needs a lot of work, but I like the way it turned out (except for the end, but I’ll talk more about that later in the post). It’s official title is Unhallowed, and it is a Weird West story (a fantasy story with magic and the like mixed with tropes from the Old West — American West). The main character’s name is Arizona and she is an African American woman who becomes a “gunslinger” (one who is Hallowed) in the parlance of the world to fight the evil of the Unhallowed.

Why This Story and Why Now?

Much of the theme around this story has to do with the idea of Justice vs Vengeance. Justice means literally means “just behavior or treatment” and/or the “impartial adjudication of laws” (google it to fact-check me). Vengeance means “punishment inflicted or retribution exacted for an injury or wrong” (again, fact-check me). As we have visual evidence from the past two months (May and June 2020), the American Justice System says that it stands for justice, but what many people involved with it actually try to dispense is vengeance. Now, people may see this as political, but I recognized this much earlier based on the way in which America has conducted its wars in the 20th and 21st centuries (remember, I minored in History). I noticed a discrepancy in which the way America articulates its values and the ways those values actually get realized when we go to war–in my mind, they are two different things, and I wrote this story to explore that idea. The fact that there were multiple high profile cases of social injustice as I was writing this story, just galvanized my desire and need to write it. America (and Americans) say one thing, but do another, and to me, that’s a problem that I’ve been seeing for a while now and major failing that we need to solve.

Why a Weird West Story?

Well, let’s not overlook the fact that Weird West stories are cool 🙂

Also, on a more serious note, Weird West stories are enjoying a moment. As noted in an older blog, the Western as a genre is pretty much dead (for now, especially in movies and TV), but with rise in popularity of the Red Dead Redemption video games by Rockstar, the Western is actually seeing a bit of a resurgence. As such, more inventive stories in the Old West/Wild West are seeing a spike in interest. I think there are at least 3 different Wild West/Weird West games in development (and one of them is actually called Weird West). Not to mention there is at least one RPG that is devoted to the setting (Deadlands). I think that if there is a resurgence in popularity for the Old West/Wild West, it will come from the Weird West genre.

Also, Weird West stories don’t always have to involve Fantasy and Magic. They can be Science Fiction stories as well. Cowboys and Aliens was attempt at such a fusion that didn’t quite work–the title, in typical Hollywood misguided fashion gives an indication why. Still, as one can see, the fusion of different genres can, if done right, infuse the Old West/Wild West with some much needed originality in the storytelling and setting (which is what I hope to accomplish with Unhallowed).

What’s Next For Unhallowed?

I’m working on the 1st Draft for another project now. When I finish it, I will return to Unhallowed for the 2nd Draft. I think I did well on the character, but I want to add in more sensory details, more setting, and fix the ending.

The ending was supposed to feature an elaborate fight scene and “will she/won’t she” choice. The fight scene was massively cut down and the choice was effectively taken from the main character by a discussion in an earlier scene–if she does it, then she loses all support from her team. These are two places that I most definitely need to revisit as they rob the ending of much of the suspense that I envisioned for the end of the story.

Hopefully, during my second pass, I can make the ending as suspenseful as I envisioned it being in my mind’s eye when I had the original idea and wrote out the Rough Draft for the story. But at least it is finished (and done within a month and not the 2+ years that I normally do things, so hurray for small victories!

Have a great day!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Up Next: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)

Writing Log: May 15, 2020

A hand holding a pen and writing in blue ink in a journal.
Image Source: https://www.grandforksherald.com/lifestyle/2199089-share-your-story-logging-exercise-food-and-life-journals

So, I’m still in the process of figuring out what I want for these “logs” in terms of content. Ideally, I’d like them to appear about 1 every four weeks (about a month apart) to give you (and myself) a monthly look at what I’ve been able to accomplish in terms of the major areas in my life that I feel are important: Reading, Writing, and Video Games. However, as you can see, I’m missing a fourth category. I could do media such as TV/Movies, but I already discuss them at length with mini-reviews and rewatch posts. I guess the point is that, for the time-being, these will probably be every three weeks until I can find a strong “fourth” category that would make a good “log” topic in order to appear on Fridays. And now without further ado, on to the writing:

Creative: “Project Arizona”

This is the project that I’ve been working on so far this month. I’ve finished the rough draft of the story. I’m working on the first draft now. I’ve decided to try to work in “stages” with this story. Basically, I’m trying to build my story from ideas into execution into a “story” in stages (drafts). We’ll see how well it works. So far, I’ve liked the fact that the story seems to be coming together fairly well. I’m consistently writing it out in long hand in my “notebook.” I’ve been less successful in transferring what I’ve written into my notebook on to the computer where the “magic” happens. I think I’m trying to “dramatize” what I’m writing too soon, and that I’m trying to put in character moments when I should be focused (in this draft) of just establishing and interesting and believable plot that makes sense and doesn’t have any “huh?” moments for the reader.

Creative: The Independent

I’ve been working on editing this story. I’ve managed, with the help of the MTSU Writing Center to edit the story. Max, the husband of my mentor professor, is also a short-story writer and has worked at the Writing Center this semester. We’ve gone through about two-thirds of the story. One of the things that I’ve realized by doing this is that I’m rushing through the editing process. Like writing, good editing takes time, so I’m slowing down and trying to spend a month on editing, just as I would on writing. Another thing that I’ve learned is that I’m getting stronger at characterization, but at the expense of world-building. The plot is there, the characters are (getting) there, but the world is suffering because I’m putting a lot of my focus on what’s happening and the character–and that’s something that I’m going to want to address going forward.

Academic: Prospectus “Outline”

One of the things that I was supposed to produce this semester was the prospectus that I would “defend.” Basically, the prospectus is a tentative outline of what you propose to write your dissertation about. It used to be very informal, and as long as your director signed off on it, you could begin writing your dissertation. However, a couple of semester ago, they put in a new rule at my school that the dissertation committee had to sign off on it and that you had to “defend” it in public (like a dissertation). So, in essence, the prospectus has become a “mock” dissertation — same basic accouterments (full committee, defense of it, etc.) of a dissertation, but not nearly as long or detailed.

Well, Covid-19 put this on hold, so my director suggested working on the prospectus in the summer and defending it in early Fall. So, I slowed down on trying to get one written. However, over the past few weeks I was able to get an outline down that I really liked. My mentor this semester, Dr. Meyers, helped me integrate the idea of “empathy” into the outline as well, and this is what I’m currently working towards now. I have a written a (very) crappy introduction that I intend to redo.. I think I’m going to start working first on the video game section as the two major video game projects this week discussed ways in which they were bringing in filmic techniques to gaming, which is a central thesis as to why I’m discussing them in relation to Afrofuturism.

Writing Time: Waking Up to Write

As I mentioned above, I’ve found great success over the past three weeks with writing consistently. I tend to wake up early, but my body doesn’t actually want to get up (not a coffee drinker–so even though I’m awake, I’m not really awake, if that makes sense–so now, I’ve taken to grabbing the notebook and either drafting the next section of the story or jotting down dreams/story “seeds”/character ideas that I’ve thought of over night. This has helped me really me move along on “Project Arizona.” I’ve been less successful, as I’ve noted, actually getting what’s in the notebook translated to the computer. The ideas just seem to flow easier and better writing in the notebook than on the computer. However, I really need to do this daily. I caught an interview with Stephen King on NPR and he writes for four (4) hours daily. In essence, King has made writing his “part-time” job (20 hours a week in America is considered part-time while 40 hours is considered a full time job). And I have to say, as much as I might fault some of his works individually, he is still one of the most consistent and successful authors out there (mainly because he puts in the work). Outside of these blog posts, I struggle with putting in more than an hour (1) daily at the keyboard daily. So while I’m finding a fair amount of success writing daily in my notebook, I still need to work on finding “keyboard” time as well (as NO ONE is going to pay for handwritten copy, no matter how good it is).

Well, that’s all I have time for today–hopefully, I will find that 4th category so that I can give you a proper update in about a month or so. Next week should be the return of the Reading Log, so until next moth, Happy Writing!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft (Idea phase)
    Next: First Draft (Plot phase)

What Writers Can Learn from Disney Star Wars Trilogy’s Mistakes

A combination of all 3 Disney Star Wars Trilogy movie posters side-by-side.
Image Source: https://www.quora.com/How-would-you-fix-the-Star-Wars-sequel-trilogy-1

Okay, not to flog a dead topic, but as SO many other reviewers have noted, while Rise of Skywalker does some things well, it turns out to be an unsatisfying end to the trilogy and 9 movie arc because it shows that there was no consistent plan. As the story goes, after J.J. Abrams finished Force Awakens, he had “loose” notes on the way the story should go that the next director, in this case Rian Johnson could use or not use as he saw fit.

Mistake! This why I’m always “banging” on about about the need/importance of outlines and trying to minimize “discovery” writing (for myself) as much as possible.

Why Outlines are Important!

I feel outlines are critical because stories (either fictional or ones that we hear about/tell others about in real life) are not just events. You’re not just relying a set of events that happened to you or someone else–although that’s part of it. You’re relating a series of events in order to 1) make a point about something or 2) reveal something (usually something you discovered as a result of those related events). Each case, while different, gets at the heart of storytelling and narrative.

Yet, if you’re just throwing random events together, or even if you are trying to following a logical progression of events, the one element you’re missing is the element of planning. What events are you going to foreground because they’re necessary to understanding the point of the story or what was learned/gained from the story? These are all questions that an outline helps to answer.

Let’s take Rey’s parents as an example as this was a particularly contentious “bone” that both Rian Johnson and Star Wars fans hotly debated. Let’s, for the sake of argument, pretend that The Last Jedi contained the “outline” that is supposed to have existed after Force Awakens. Had Johnson followed the idea, we could have been given the information about Rey’s parents (spoiler so I won’t reveal it here) in the 2nd movie (last act), and then she would have had to wrestle with it at the end of the 2nd movie, during the intervening time between movies (for characters) and then all through the 3rd movie. I mean, since we’re paying “homage” to Lucas anyway with the set-ups for these movies as they are very similar to the original trilogy, then this is what happens in Empire. Luke learns his parentage at the end of that movie, simmers over it during the intervening time, and then confronts Ben Kenobi’s Force ghost about it in Return of the Jedi. The revelation meant something, his conflict (inner turmoil) meant something, and him confronting Vader meant something (because Vader, at that point, wasn’t a nameless, faceless enemy, but his own father). A point was made and delivered. Not so with the Disney trilogy. As the reveal of Rey’s parentage comes in the 3rd act (or late 2nd act) Rise, there’s next to no impact on Rey outside of “shock value.” There was no emotional investment of the information.

Essentially, the storyteller focused on the “wrong” thing–shock value in learning Rey’s parents/heritage over emotional investment in seeing Rey struggle with the knowledge of who she was and is and a choice that she has to make as to whether to be defined by her heritage or break free from it. There could have been a powerful (American) introspection of are you bound by your circumstances or can you rise above them. However, with no outline, this is NOT in the story and helps to create the audience dissatisfaction that we see reflected in the 52% Rotten Tomatoes score.

In Defense of Outlines (and Drafts)

In closing, outlines help to provide a coherent framework to a story and keep it from meandering. It also helps the writer see (and focus) on the details that will most strongly make his/her points. Lastly, it allows the storyteller to see what the ultimate point or goal of his/her story is and make more effective choices on how to get there.

If you’re a “discovery” writer, should you drop that and start using outlines? No! That’s not what I’m advocating. I’m of the opinion that whatever works for you is something that you should do more of it. I might suggest however, that once you’ve finished the discovery draft, to go back and rewrite it (heresy, I know) because you now know you’re point and what events in the story have led you to the point and you may be able to get there more effectively with another draft or two, but if it’s working, I say keep doing it. As always, however, if it isn’t working, then you might give outlining a try.

Here’s an example of several writers who would like to “fix” Star Wars and the story outlines provided. They are all really interesting and, even though there are elements that I don’t agree with or would do differently, if I could “fix” Star Wars, they still illustrate how a cohesive (and competent, maybe even compelling) story can be told through outlining. (There are some spoilers for the movies, so be warned if you’ve not yet seen them all.)

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft
    Next: First Draft

Blogging My Way to a Novel

A book cover showing a writer using a pen in a notebook/journal.  The book's title is How Blogging can help you Write Your Novel.
Image Search: https://www.eadeverell.com/blogging-can-help-write-novel/

One of the things that I noticed when I was looking over the stats for my blog posts is the amount of words that I’ve been averaging. I’m actually down overall in terms of words from the past couple of years because I’m not publishing posts as regularly even though the actual word count for the posts has gone way up.

However, when I looked at the word count for the year, I was astounded. Taking the overall yearly word count just for the blog into account, I’ve written enough words to have written a novel every year since 2016!

Yup, you read that right–just doing what I’ve been doing for the blog would have been enough for a novel for the past four years!

60,000 Words (2016)

So, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which happens in November has a goal of 50,000 words. In theory, while there is no set amount of words for a novel, 60,000 words has generally become the accepted length in practice–although some would argue that NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 word length could also be considered novel length.

Looking at the blog’s stats–I reached 60,000 words (and change) in 2016. I was fairly committed to blogging–but I didn’t do it every day. If you were to use the calendar function on an old 2016 post, you would see that there were long gaps in posting, although I did post routinely at 5-6 days out of the month (yes, I think there may be some 3-4 days in their, but I generally average 5-6, maybe more). As you can see, while not consistent, I at least wrote something on monthly basis, even if it wasn’t a lot (or daily).

Had I done the exact same with my creative writing as I did with my blog posts, I would have had enough for a (depending on the font choice) 200 – 225 page manuscript and would have completed my first novel.

117,000 Words (2018)

My high water mark (so far) for the blog came in 2018, where somewhere around April/May, I hit my stride and blogged pretty much consistently for rest of the year. I blogged much like I’m trying to get back to now and what works best for me: Mondays-Fridays, 5 days a week. I actually usually do one or two blog posts on the weekend (maybe 3, but usually not more than 3) and then fill out the rest of the week with blog posts either written on that day (or at most, a day earlier).

I managed 117,000 words (and change) that year. Enough for 2 full novels or 1 door-stopper epic fantasy novel. This is the stat that really floored me and set me thinking about my writing, my writing process, and that helped to inspire this post. Just think of all that could have been accomplished had I taken the time to do with my creative writing that I managed with my blog.

Lessons Learned

I’ve learned two lessons from looking at my stats for the blog over the previous years of blogging:

  1. I need to be more consistent in my writing process if I want success. Even if I can’t find the “time,” I need to always be moving forward and to make sure I find time to write at least 5-6 days monthly. If I can also find a way to write daily (Monday-Friday) along with my blog, great–and that will put me in better stead–but at the bare minimum, I must be more consistent about writing.
  2. I should try to use the format of my blog to help me draft my longer works. This format works well for me–Introduction, 2-3 headings, and a paragraph or two for each heading. This is how I’m hoping to help myself become a better and more productive writer without “breaking my process.” That’s the key and I’m hoping that because I like this format–it will work for me.

Well, that’s all I have for today–nothing earth-shattering. Just a realization that I have the capabilities within me to make my dreams come true–if I can just find the consistency (and willpower) to get it done. And of course, not let it interfere with my dissertation for school.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft
    Next: First Draft

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