Hope I’m not Overdoing It

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Image Source: Pinterst (Calvin and Hobbes, Created by Bill Watterson)

Every since I was a lowly undergraduate, cruising the English Department offices at U.T. Knoxville (& later U.T. Chattanooga) and seeing all those wonderful English related comics strips taped to professors doors, I’ve thought to myself that I’ve always wanted to something like that “when I grew up.”

I’ve never been one for customizing my “workspace” as the colleagues who I worked with at the public library can attest and I’m rarely at my workspace to begin with if I can help it.  However, you could always find one or two comic strips (like the one I found above by Bill Watterson) adorning my workspace in some capacity–either on the desk itself or in a drawer or stuck unobtrusively to a wall.

Now that I’ve completed a year at MTSU, I’ve begun to do the same with the small cabinet  that I was assigned in the Graduate Teaching Assistants office.  However, for some reason, I also find that I want to add copies of the first pages of my published work.  I hope I’m not trying to “show off” or “impress” the other G.T.A.s (nothing good comes of me trying to show off–I’ve learned that  through HARD experience).

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Image Source: Greensoul

Yet, I feel the need to customize my space, and to say, “hey, I’m a creative writer and this is what I do.” Perhaps, it is because at this level, creative writing is somewhat frowned upon.  There’s this idea that you’re not a true academic, that you’re not truly one of us, if you’re not writing papers for conferences, for (academic) publication, and for scholarly pursuits.  Perhaps, customizing my workspace is my need to say, “no, my creative writing is just as hard and matters just as much as your academic writing, maybe more so, because I’m doing both . . . your academic writing and my creative writing.”  I just hope that I’m not overdoing it and setting myself up for a fall.  It would be awesome to be able to put clips from both cartoon strips and my own published writing on my very own office door one day.

Keeping it Simple

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Image Source: iTunes (Apple.com)

When I write rough drafts for my stories, I’ve discovered that almost anything will work for me–notebook paper, notepads, scraps of paper that are around, the computer, the Notes App on my phone–pretty much anything that will allow me to get the idea into a fixed form.

However, once I’m ready to start drafting the “Working Draft,” I try whenever possible (for fiction) to move to SimpleNote.  I like SimpleNote because it is free (at least it was for me when I signed up at simplenote.com), but even more than that, I like it and use it because it allows me to quickly and easily sync between all my devices and as well as wherever I may be.  It has a website that you can use and log into, or an app that you can download.  I personally use the website on my laptop and the app on my phone and tablet.

For instance, I started Project OPaK on my phone at Walgreens Pharmacy while waiting on a prescription to be filled.  I hadn’t intended on waiting for the prescription, but since the pharmacist said that it wouldn’t take that long, I waited and in that time, I was able to write 3 basic paragraphs on my phone.  I can now log into my SimpleNote account on my computer and expand those paragraphs more.  Also, if I want to, as long as I log into my account and bring up the story beforehand, I disconnect from the internet while I’m writing to give myself a distraction free writing session and then when I reconnect to the internet, I only need to hit the little “save” button on the screen and my changes are uploaded to the server.

For me, SimpleNote gives me the flexibility to work on the working draft of the story pretty much anywhere even if the conditions aren’t ideal.  If I were ever to have enough time when school starts (which is doubtful) and I wanted to work on my story, I could log into my account on the school’s library computers or the writing center ones and use them to work on Project OPaK or any other story that I’m writing (so at least I know the capability is there should there be any downtime).  Now, before this starts to sound like an ad, there are many other apps that do the same thing/similar things (EverNote and OneNote are two that come to mind immediately), but in my quest to work “smarter, not harder,” I’ve found that SimpleNote helps to increase my productivity by allowing me to access my stories everywhere I go and it helps my writing process because I know that I always have access to the most current version of my story available for editing on SimpleNote’s servers.

The Writing Life: An Update

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Image Source: Really Deep Stuff

Before I start this blog entry, I’d like to say thanks to the bloggers who read (& liked) yesterday’s post).  It was really gratifying see that people really responded to it so much!

And now, on with today’s blog.  So, after last semester, I managed to have four stories out to markets that I was proud of and didn’t think needed major work (in terms of revision).    In other words, I had them in a state where I thought they were strong stories and marketable to markets that deal in Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I’ve got some news on them, so I thought I update you how where they stand currently.

hawkemoon_haikudeck

Image Source: Haiku Deck

HAWKEMOON: Just heard from this market today.  It is currently on the “maybe” list.  If it holds up well against the other stories that come in during the reading period, then it has a chance to be published.  This is actually very good news.  It’s sort of like going to a job with two Interview components and passing the first Interview.  If HawkeMoon passes the second “interview,” then it gets the” job” (to extend the metaphor).  It is also a lesson in persistence; this is the 10th story that I’ve submitted to them (they’ve actually seen my entire catalog except for Silence Will Fall & Citizen X), but this is the first time that I’ve gotten onto the “maybe” list!  Wahoo for small victories!  (I won’t name the market until they actually accept the piece, but fingers crossed that the “maybe” turns into a “yes!”)

silencewillfall_seriabledotcom

Image Source: Seriable.com

SILENCE WILL FALL: On this one, I actually wanted to revise it and did so last semester with the help of the MTSU Writing Center (where I also worked as a Consultant, in addition to teaching a Freshman English Class).  I knew that I wanted the ending to more closely match the ending of the dream that had originally inspired to the story, so I rewrote it and made sure (via the Writing Center) that it made sense and have started to submit it again.  It received a rejection letter (again just this morning), but I’m happy with the way the story ends, so I will continue to send it out until I find a market that likes it (see above about persistence).   Will be sending it to a new market this weekend.

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Image Source: Pinterest

I, MAGI: So this one went out to the market in January and I still haven’t heard about its fate.  According to Duotrope, it has been out for about 150 days.  The market is still replying to submissions, but I’m probably going to have to request an update for the story over the weekend.  Now, I’m patient (I’ve waited over 9 months for a response for one market before), but they do say to query if they’ve taken over 45 days to respond and  I would like to send I, Magi back out if they aren’t going to use it.  If they don’t respond, I’ll probably give them another 30 days and then move onto the next market.

conquistadors_pinterest

Image Source: Pinterest

HERE BE MONSTERS: The market for this one unexpectedly went on hiatus this week with my story still under consideration.  I’m usually pretty good about sensing a market’s imminent change in status (this is actually only the 2nd time this has happened to me in over a 132 total submissions tracked by Duotrope).  However, this one caught me off-guard.  There was nothing to indicate there was anything out of the ordinary happening, until I checked the listing on Duotrope and saw that the website was no longer functioning.  Alarm bells began ringing at that point and I hoped that it was just a temporary hiccup, but no, it looks like the market just didn’t have the resources to continue.  So, I’ll pick a new market and resubmit this story over the weekend.

So there you have it–a (mostly) complete update on the status of the four stories that I currently have out at the moment.  Lesson to take away = persistence, persistence, and more persistence.

Breakfast and a Blog

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Image Source: Hostelling International Blog

Long time readers of the blog may have noticed that I have blogged six days out of the week (Monday-Saturday) for the past two weeks.  This is highly unusual for me and you might be wondering why I made this change.  Well, to be succinct, I’ve been wanting to change my writing habits for a while.  I’ve wanted to follow the advice of one my professors who suggested that life as a PhD student would be much easier if you found a regular time to write that works you and you stuck to it.

Now, I have a lot of dedication, but I tend to be more mercenary with my time as an adult than as a child.  As a child, I read every night from 10:00pm to 11:00 pm (my curfew) without fail.  Even as an adult, I read regularly on my 30 min. breaks at the Public Library (17 years of regular reading).

Yet, as an adult I’ve written (creatively) on my lunch hour when I worked at Eastgate Public Library (the air conditioning was too cold, so I’d sit out in the car) and that’s how I wrote, revised, and published my first article.  I’ve written short-stories at 7:00 pm (right after dinner), 8:00 pm, 8:30 pm, 2:00-4:00 pm, 5:00 pm (right before dinner), etc.  My point is, unlike my reading habits, my writing habits have been much more scattered.

I’ve attempting to follow the advice by regularly writing this blog as I eat breakfast.  This gives me a chance to collect my thoughts and put them down on (digital) paper before the day starts for me–no matter how hectic the day is.  I’m finding that by doing this, I’ve been much more creative and I’m enjoying the writing process even more.  I also try to keep the blog entries much shorter and tighter, and I try not to write more than 30 minutes (I’m actually at 35 mins. right now) in order to not to be too long-winded.  Here’s hoping that I can keep up this routine as I really enjoy the effect that it is having on both my enjoyment of writing and the production of entries on this blog–and here’s hoping that I can find a way to transfer this technique to my creative writing.

I don’t know if you read the blog, but thanks for the advice, Dr. R!  It has been really, really helpful!

Summer Inspiration & Writing Projects

Typewriterinthefield_Pinterest

Now that E3 is over, I find myself turning my attention back to my creative writing.  I found that I’ve been very inspired to create new projects over the last few weeks and I’ve been brainstorming several.  On Friday afternoon, I actually just took a moment and sat at the kitchen table and wrote the “rough draft” of a new short-story (fantasy) that I want to write.  I wrote it from the outline I’d written earlier in the year and the drafting process was super easy as well as very rewarding creatively.

Now comes the much more difficult part, drafting a “Working Draft,” which is my terminology for the draft that “shows, don’t tell.”  The Working Draft forms the basis of the story that people will be reading.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to write it, but the as many creative people will tell, the true joy is in the initial creation of the work.  The rough draft was pure creativity, but the Working Draft is about evolution and refinement.  Often, the success of the project hinges on how well I can translate the passion of the rough draft into the refinement of the Working Draft.  This is where characterization, sensory details, imagery, dialogue, setting, etc., all get “set” into place.

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Image Source: RenaissanceClothingCostumes.com

Project OPaK

So this is my new naming convention for stories that I’m working on.  In most cases, I already know what the title is.  Project OPaK is just the first letters of the title.  I’ve divided the story into three parts (Beginning, Middle, and End) and I will update you when I’ve finished each of the main parts, with a beginning update letting you know when I’ve actually started writing the project.  At the end, when I’ve finished Project OPaK, I will continue to do an Author’s Note and give a detailed breakdown of the genesis of the work (how it came into being, what my writing process was for it, etc.).  If it gets published in a hardcopy form, I will also try to remember to take pictures of the work and post those pics on the blog (like I did for The Last GunKnight, but forgot to do for other projects). The above picture, while not representative of the actual characters in the story, gives a good idea of the time period and themes that I’m aiming for within Project OPaK.

Here’s to a successful writing project–and a successful summer of developing many more!

 

 

The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story) Redux

Outline

Source: bcourses.berkeley.edu

OUTLINING (Why the Hate?)

When I mention (either in person, or on the blog) that I outline, people react violently as if it is wrong to want/need to plan out a story.  There’s almost an elitist attitude toward creative writing without a plan, as if it is some badge of honor or mark of genius to just sit down and start writing and hope that the story will come to you as you write.  However, I think a lot of this anxiety over the outline comes from the image above.  Outlining, as you can see from an outline that I found online, requires much forethought and planning.  Inside this particular outline, you have topics, subtopics, and even nested subtopics.  If you look at this outline, however, you could write this paper.  The thesis (main idea of the paper is clearly listed and each topic relates back to this one idea.  You would only need to go and research those individual topics to craft a paragraph (or chapter) on each of those subjects, right?

Boring!  This is what makes academic papers so hated by so many students because they don’t see the need for this highly stylized way of writing.  They don’t understand the conventions behind the academic essay nor do they see the need for creating an outline that helps you to write in this formal way.  They hate it and, by extension, they dislike the process of outline.  This is too much trouble.  Why in the world would anyone put themselves through this willingly?

The reason is simple: It gives a concrete roadmap as to where the paper is going.  You, or I, with enough research could write this paper.  We know what we need and we know where to put it.  Now that the outline is done, we simply just need to find out what we don’t know about the subject (the research) and then start drafting it.

CREATIVE WRITING 101

So, do you need to outline like this for a story?  No, of course not–an outline can be as simple (or complex) as you need it to be for your own purposes.  For me, I use a slightly modified version of this outline:

This has the bare minimum that I need to tell my story.  I need to know the setting (where and when the story is taking place), the major characters and any minor characters that I’ve thought up.  I need to know what the main character’s problem is  and why it is so important to them.  I need to know the three main scenes that happen in the story (beginning, middle, and end)–I used to use five scenes and I would structure it like a Shakespearian play, but I discovered that it was making my stories too long for many markets and it wasn’t really adding a whole lot to the story–that’s why I’ve gone back to just the essentials.  I also need to know the outcome of the story (how does it end).  I’ve also added one thing: the Theme (why does this story matter, or what am I trying to impart to the reader).  Now, I’m not trying to give a moral to the story, but I do want to have the character discover some “truth” about themselves, life, or others at the conclusion of a story and knowing what a possible theme could be at the beginning helps me to do this.  Outlines don’t inhibit creativity; rather, they provide a sense of knowing one’s destination and the steps needed to get there.

AN IMAGINARY TRIP TO FLORIDA

So, right now, I could go jump in my car and go to Florida.  I know that Florida is south and east of me and I know which direction southeast is from where I sit as I’m typing these letters.  I would only need to get on the highway, keep going in a southeasterly direction, and eventually I would make it to Florida.

google maps 2

But in real life that’s not what I would do, nor most of us, if we’re truthful.  We would open up Google Maps or Apple Map or some other mapping application on our phones (or other navigational aid, or, if you’re old school, a physical map) and we’d plan out our trip and use the app or navigational aid to help us navigate the highway system.

So, how is this any different from outlining a story?  To quote Yoda: “No, no different, only different in your mind.”  Just like I could get to Florida by heading in a general southeasterly direction, I could write a story by just jumping in without outlining, but there would be so many wrong turns, dead-ends, and general confusion, that I wouldn’t be having any fun and I would most likely abandon the project before I finished (or to continue the metaphor, turned around and went back home in frustration).

SAVING THE STORY, ONE OUTLINE (STORY MAP) AT A TIME

Now I’m a great proponent in finding the process that works for you as an individual.  No two writers are going to write in the same way, using the exact same process.  I’m also a great proponent for the idea of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”  If what works for you is to jump write in without an outline, and you’re a successful writer (aka making a living at it), then don’t try to change it.

However, I’m also a proponent of tinkering and adjusting something that’s broken until I get it to work (longtime readers of the blog know of my almost year long quest to find the solution to my wi-fi issues back in 2014-2015–read the posts from that year for more info).  If you find yourself not as successful as you’d like to be as a writer, or you are abandoning story after story, or that you can’t your stories to match the vision in your head (like what was happening to me about a year ago when I wrote the original blog entry “The Outline’s the Thing (to Catch a Story)”), outlining should be a technique that you should at least try in order to see if it might work for you.  My process was broken because I need to outline.  Just jumping in only results in frustration for me.

In conclusion, writing is such an individual process that the only way to know what works for you is to try it.   The advice to just dive right in and not to worry about outlines, while well meaning, isn’t really helpful or useful advice unless that’s what works for you.  If it doesn’t, it’s like telling a drowning man, “hey, just suck it up and keep struggling, you might just learn how to swim eventually,” whereas the process of outlining could be the “life-preserver” that the drowning man can use to keep himself afloat.

P.S. In case you think I’m the only one who thinks this way, I’d encourage you to take a moment to enjoy some of these quotes by other writers who “think” the same way I do:

I force myself to outline, but not too closely, so I guess I plot by the seat of my pants? My natural instinct is to dive right in, but I know I’ll get stuck. I like to stick with the architect vs. gardener metaphor. I guess I’m a gardener who plants tomatoes. I have the sticks in the ground and let the vines grow along those parameters.
–Victoria Aveyard

I am a big outliner. For my adult book, ‘The Visibles,’ I did not outline, and it took me two years to write because I just didn’t outline, and I had no path.
–Sara Shepard

I am a writer who works from an outline. What I generally do when I build an outline is I find focal, important scenes, and I build them in my head and I don’t write them yet, but I build towards them.
–Brandon Sanderson (one of my personal favorite authors at the moment)

If you take a few days to write an outline, you’re just making up scenes that you think will work, that you think will be interesting. But as you write it, other ideas occur – better ideas that have to do with what you’re writing.
–Elmore Leonard

I have a number of writers I work with regularly. I write an outline for a book. The outlines are very specific about what each scene is supposed to accomplish.
–James Patterson

and probably the most telling of all:

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write.
–J. K. Rowling

(Source: http://www.brainyquotes.com)

Book Haul for April 2017

 

books images

I love books and I love reading.  I love going to bookstores and libraries and just walking down the rows of books, pulling out books that look interesting, reading the blurbs on the dust jackets and the backs of the books.  However, I don’t love the modern incarnation/conception of libraries and bookstores with their focus on book “communities,” reading “clubs” (aka reading “circles” or “groups”), and focus on other non-narrative media (movies, audio, and even video games are fine for me because of the narrative aspects of those media, but when start moving into toys, and food and beverages, that is where I lose interest).  However, I discovered that if I’m able to get to the bookstores/libraries early enough in the day, I can recapture some of that joy in cruising the aisles in order discover that special book that I can lose myself in.  So, I thought I write this week’s blog entry on the four books that I bought recently at a used bookstore.  I don’t know if this will become a regular feature of the blog, but it seemed like something fun to write about.  I bought two fiction books and two non-fiction books this time around.

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT (Book 13 of the Wheel of Time Series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Towers_of_Midnight_hardcover

I have read this book before.  I have completed the entire Wheel of Time novel series having started reading them way back as an undergraduate when I started my college career at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) before I transferred to U.T. Chattanooga (UTC) a couple of years later.  This series is one that I found with help from a friend from high school who was also attending UTK  (An aside: quite a few of us actually ended up at UTK, especially in that first year and we often talked about cool Fantasy novels that we were reading).  I read this book about a year or two after it was published.  I didn’t read it initially because I concerned about Sanderson’s (or any other writer’s, for that matter) ability to successfully conclude the story that Jordan had been working on for so many years.  However, after reading an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, I felt confident in Sanderson’s approach that I went ahead and finished the three books the Wheel of Time Series.

WRITING FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION: HOW TO CREATE OUT-OF-THIS WORLD NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake & the Editors of Writer’s Digest.

Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

Source: Amazon.com

This is one of those books that I simply couldn’t resist based on the cover and the title.  I try to buy only one book in each genre (in this case, how to: writing), but I simply couldn’t help myself when I saw it.  It covers a lot of material that I already know and/or have in other forms somewhere else, but I”m super interested in transitioning from short form Fantasy and Science Fiction into long form Fantasy and Science Fiction and I’m looking for any tips and techniques that I can find to aid me in my process.  It also has a very comprehensive “reference” section that relates to various historical elements that might be useful to a Fantasy writer, in particular and I just couldn’t resist.  I don’t think it will be as helpful to me as the other book on writing that I bought (see below), but it did have a dragon on the cover.  Note to future authors: if you want to pique my interest, just put a dragon or a spaceship on the cover.

BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens

bleak houseOkay, so this is one of those books for “school.”  My program has a fairly exhaustive list of famous/important literary works for incoming PhD students to read and take a test on.  Now I’ve already taken (and PASSED! 🙂 ) this exam, but I the idea of a list of important literary works is a “challenge” that I really want to undertake.  So I’ve made it my goal to finish all the books on this list.  I actually downloaded the audio version of this book to listen to on the drive to and from school, but I really do follow the story better when I can read it, rather than listen to it.  So, I decided to buy this copy and read it during my “downtime” between classes, waiting in lines, etc.  I’ve read Dickens before, but not this specific book, so I’ll be interested to see if I like it as I do all of the other Dickens novels that I have read.

WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by Albert Zuckerman

Writing the blockbuster novel

Source: Amazon.co.uk

This is another book that I’ve read before–I read it at the Chattanooga Public Library long before I started working there.  It didn’t really make all that much of an impression on me at the time as I was primarily interested in learning “short story” writing.  I wanted to learn how to write short form fiction before stepping up to the “big” works of novels, screenplays, and the like (graphic novels, while around, were not really viable options at that time).  Now, however, I think that I’m ready to learn the lessons of novel writing.  I especially love the fact that point number on the dust jacket in the inside cover is “how to develop and use an outline.”  Anyone following the conversation that I had two weeks ago with a blog commentor named Tom Cordle will appreciate the fact that I like outlines to guide my stories into rough draft stages.  Outlines make sense to me where as just jumping in blind does not.  I can’t tell you how many novels that I have “in my mind” that did not make the translation onto the page because I did not complete a strong outline/rough draft.  I’m hopeful that this book will allow me to produce an outline for a novel over the summer and (fingers crossed) a rough draft for it by Christmas of this year as well.  Well, I can dream big, at least.

Well, that’s it for me.  Here’s hoping you have wonderful, book-filled, week.