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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Lovely Fall Break 

I am currently on fall break. While I have a lot of things to do, I also want to make sure that I take time to rest. The first part of the semester has been very intense, so I want to be sure that I don’t burn myself out.
I am also trying to recover some writing time, meaning that I’m trying to rediscover a time to simply draft.  I only need a little time–anywhere from half an hour to one hour–but it needs to be consistent.  I’m more dedicated when I can tie my projects to something that I already have to do. For example, I finished Kristen Britain’s The Green Rider just this weekend by reading a little bit each day with the nightly snack that I eat each day.

This is what I need for my drafting–to find a simple time when I’m at my most creative and just draft.  I may just have to do something similar to what I’m doing now, which is to compose on the phone.  It is more convenient, but it is also much slower.  Hopefully, I’ll find a good time/activity to help me get back into not just creating projects/revising projects, but also drafting projects.

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.

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.

(Not) a Short Fiction Market Renaissance

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Science Fiction Fantasy Writers Association Qualifying Markets Word Cloud, Image Source: KLWagoner.com

I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast and one of the presenters mentioned that there is something of a short fiction renaissance market happening right now.  The presenter mentioned that there were more fairly well paying markets for short fiction (speculative–sci-fi/fan) right now and that in the past there used to be only the big three (such as Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Analog).  As someone who is currently “in the trenches,” I have to take a bit of an issue with that characterization of the market.

With all due respect to the presenters on the podcast, they are named authors.  They don’t have to worry nearly as much about the fierce competition from all of us unnamed authors trying to earn recognition and money in this system.  No matter how much people may say having a recognizable name doesn’t matter, it does.  I received another rejection letter yesterday (it noted that the story was well-written, but the publisher decided not to publish it (one of these days I may do a postmortem on a rejection letter in a blog post, but I digress).  That lowered my average acceptance rate (tracked via Duotrope) to 7.9%,.   Try going to your boss and telling him or her that you have succeeded in 7.9% of your tasks and because you’re doing more than others, you deserve a raise.

Also, what the presenters on the podcast don’t realize because they are both named authors and they don’t have to try to make a living at selling short fiction/this isn’t their primary “gig” so to speak, is that only half of the markets are available at any given time. Sure, there are a lot of markets, but many of the higher paying markets that they are alluding to are either “on hiatus” or “temporarily closed,” or worse yet, “permanently closed.”  Some even have fairly ludicrous submission requirements just to limit the number of submissions that come in.  Nearly half of the places where I’ve submitted stories to in the past are currently unavailable for submissions and those that are available either pay little to no money or are brand new on the market place (& usually can’t afford to pay writers or pay them very much as they have no audience yet).

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Fantasy Scroll Mag Cover (currently listed as DNQ on Duotrope at the time of this writing).  Image Source: nerds-feather.com

For example, Lightspeed, a well paying market is temp. closed and has been for most of the year.  The Leading Edge (where supposedly a couple of the named authors on the podcast got their start as listed in mag’s description on Duotrope) has 0.00% acceptance rate of authors who have tracked their submission through Duotrope and currently has an astounding 444.9 day(!) response time to authors who submit stories to them.  That’s a year and half (approx.) for short-fiction.  Imagine waiting 444.9 days for your next burger and fries!  One magazine is only open for submission 4 weeks out of the year (one week in Apr., June, Sept., and December) and if you miss those periods, too bad.  One magazine is only open for submissions between for about 24 hours every Monday/Tuesday, and I could go on.  Looking at my list of submissions, I see so many Temp. Closed, On Hiatus, Closed, Defunct, and Does Not Qualify (DNQ–the publisher has made some change, no longer lists guidelines, no longer accepts submissions from unagented writers, etc) listings that it gets harder and harder to find places that I haven’t sent the story (that actually pay money).

So, while I enjoy listening to the podcast and I have learned a lot about writing, and being successful in writing, I simply must take issue with the characterization that we’re in short fiction market renaissance.  I respectfully submit, having been in the trenches for way longer, that the waters are as turbulent as ever for writers trying to make a name for themselves through short-fiction markets so as to make the jump to the more lucrative novel writing profession.

The Green Rider

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Green Rider Book Cover, Image Source: Amazon.com

So far, I’m about a quarter of a way through The Green Rider and I’m liking it.  It isn’t a favorite like the work of Brandon Sanderson, Tad Williams or Elizabeth Moon (my current favorite go-to authors), but it isn’t as bad as I remember it.  I think that I was wanting it (based on the reviews and the way people were talking about it) to be amazing and while it is a good, solid fantasy, it isn’t, for me, amazing.

I suppose I could look it up to see if this is Kristen Britain’s first novel (my computer isn’t actually connected to the internet as I’m typing this so as not to get distracted), even if it isn’t, it seems to have many of the first novel issues.  Just in the first third of the novel, there are pacing issues.  We get introduced to the “big bad” (who apparently is under an even “bigger bad.”  We get a world that is both incredibly airy and light intermixed with one that is incredibly savage.  The main character seems quite unprepared for both–the savagery of the world where she has to fight for her life and the rustic, almost idyllic world of the sisters who offer her respite.

I think this is one of the reasons why it is so hard for me personally to commit myself to writing novels (even though that is what I really want to do as a writer).  I find myself doing exactly the same thing–too many storylines and plot lines when what I want is a coherent whole that doesn’t meander, that doesn’t wander, but tells a compelling story from start to end about a character who starts out one way, but learns about himself/herself on the journey of the novel.  I’m sure that I can learn and master this form as it is the primary form that I read and enjoy, but when I sit down to write it, I find myself doing exactly what is occurring in The Green Rider where I am going down diverse tangents and the story doesn’t seem to have the linearity that I’m looking for and I end up abandoning the project.  Perhaps the lesson The Green Rider can teach me is to finish a rough draft for the project.  Write the whole thing for start to finish and then try to find ways/techniques to revise the story on the paper/page into the one that resides inside my head (& heart).