#IWSG – Delaying one project for another

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I really wanted to get work done on Far Flung in May! That was the plan!

But then a juicy opportunity to write something for a project called Bound came along. I’ve been in talks with two of the people behind Bound, and I’ve been working on a potential story that could use the mobile fiction platform they are developing. The story I’ve been planning out is entirely different from Far Flung, but something that’s been in my head for far longer.

I learned something interesting about myself as a writer – I handle the news that somebody is interested in my writing and wants more almost as poorly as I handle rejection!

After I learned that Bound was interested, I went through weird stages of nervous anticipation, and I had great difficulty reading books or listening to audiobooks. Obsession with planning a good outline and producing something good took over, it was hard to think about anything else. Far Flung got placed firmly on the back burner – I barely even tried to work on it while this exciting new possibility filled my head.

For the Insecure Writer’s Support Group: How well do you handle multiple writing projects? Do you find that one story-in-progress simply takes up too much mental real estate?

As for me, I find out in another week or two what will happen. The idea I was obsessed with for May has been submitted for consideration, and I just have to wait and see what they say. Maybe I can get back to Far Flung for a bit. Maybe I’ll read a book or two. One thing’s for sure – it’ll be a tough wait.

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#IWSG December 2015 – Writing in Sickness and in Health

One of the hardest things about writing is doing it e.v.e.r.y. d.a.y., no matter what.

I’m a father, a full-time teacher, a part-time tutor, a weekend teacher, a member of a good writing group, AND a writer. I’m sorry to say that yes, several days can go by when I do not write fiction. Now, I do make an effort to at least read various stories, especially those on Jukepop, where I’m trying to make a splash.

I like to think that writing reviews and blog posts “counts” as writing, and that reading is every bit as important as writing. As long as I do something that furthers my dream of being a full-time author, every single day. Even today, when I’m coughing like crazy, falling asleep in my chair, and faced with a huge stack of emails from the Creative Writing ESL class I teach at my full-time job.

I’ve been taking my time on my current serial, but this has also meant that the social side – the reviewing, following up, and promotion that I have to do to keep it alive – has fallen behind. I’m sick, darn it! Yeah, well – that old excuse just don’t cut it in the writing world, eh?

For the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, I’d like to ask:

Do you “count” your blogging in with your writing, or do you feel you have to write some bit of fiction, every day, no matter what? How do you handle sick days – would you say it’s better to slug it out, or give yourself a bit of a rest?

Well, happy writing folks. I gotta take my medicine…

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Oh, I’m going to submit to Mothership Zeta.

Just a quick Wednesday post here.

I just found out about Mothership Zeta through another writer, and I have to try my luck. It’s rather short notice, but what the hey – worth a try!

http://mothershipzeta.org/submission-guidelines/

I wonder if any other members of the Busan Writing Group will try with me? I’ll have to find out tonight!

Busan Writing Group, June 17 – Pitches, please!

This week we looked at pitches for stories – the 250-word summary of a story that a writer has to compose to get the attention of agents and publishers.

The Busan Writing Group first took a look at pitches written by one of our members. The stories looked awesome – some of them were ones we’ve run through our critique process before. The main difficulty with the pitches was the complexity – there was a lot going on, and it was difficult to boil down the most important info into 250 words.

We then looked over the most popular choices for Pitchapalooza 2015, over at the Book Doctors. Popular votes from readers favored the weird and offbeat. The key to gaining votes seemed to be setting up a weird or creepy situation right at the start, or to present an everyday situation and then have a quick twist that makes it weird.

Last, we looked over the winners of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. These winning pitches were simple and to the point, clearly outlying what to expect in the story. When weirdness entered into these pitches, it was clearly integrated – we found we could easily understand how the unusual factors really affect the characters. This was key to any appreciation of the pitches – for fantasy or sci-fi elements to mean anything and sell the story, we have to know what those elements mean to the characters who have to deal with them.

My general takeaway from all this:

It’s damn hard to simplify a story and get the most important details across in a meaningful way. However, that is the exact skill needed for a great pitch – the skill of delivering major plot points, along with how they affect relatable characters, in a quick, simple way.

Easy to see why it’s so damn hard, huh?

 

Image from http://www.theinfluencebusiness.com/

#IWSG June 2015 – The Problem with Sixfold, and How It Should Work

This isn't just about not getting my own submissions to Sixfold published, I swear.

 

This is about a wonderful idea that should work  – the idea of an all-writer-voted, open-to-all writing journal for fiction.

Sixfold.org handles this in a way which sounds wonderful at first. Everybody who participates in each submission contest is tasked with critiquing 6 other pieces of work, and rating them on a scale of 1 to 6. After each round, the slush pile is reduced to the top third. After 3 rounds, the top 3 submissions win money, and the top 15 are featured in the journal.

Sounds cool, right?

Sure, if you are already a very, very good author, or at least a very popular one!

Chances are pretty high you’ll be out after the first round. You won’t know it, though – the process does not let you know when you’re tossed out. You are still expected to give 18 critiques over the 3 rounds.

At the end, you’ll likely find that you didn’t even get 6 critiques. In my case, only 3 of the people who saw my story even made some kind of comment, and only 2 of those offered any usable criticism (the remainder was nigh-incomprehensible). The others who saw my story left a rating only, a meaningless number that does not help me improve.

IF you are lucky or skilled enough to make round two, you’ll get a maximum of 12 ratings and maybe 12 critiques. IF you are extremely lucky or skilled and make the third round, you might get one critique for every critique you gave.

But you won’t need them as badly! Your story would already be damn good if it got that far!

A little cost-benefit analysis here:

What are you most likely to end up with?

6 ratings, and a few useful comments, if you’re lucky.

What do you put in?

If you’re like me and appreciate the spirit of the venture, you put in 18 thoughtful critiques along with rankings.

What do most people put in?

A number, plus comments that come break down to either “Sorry, didn’t like it” or “Hey, this is kind of good, but the others were better”. Or no comment at all.

Making it better.

The basic system of a vote-based submission process is wonderful. There has to be more incentive, though. If I give 18 critiques, then I want to get some good thoughts back from others. Here’s what I’d like to see in a Sixfold-like system:

  1. Throw out the lowest 1/3, but only after the first round. This (should) remove the stuff that nobody wants to waste time considering seriously.
  2. Let people know their entries didn’t make the top 2/3. They need to spend more time learning to write, and can thus be excused from further critiquing.
  3. Keep the remaining 2/3 through Round 2 and 3. This lets a variety of readers see each work, meaning there’s a much better chance that authors get good feedback.
  4.  The final rating for each story comes from the results of 3 rounds. The top 15 stories make the publication, but every story that survived the first round has 18 ratings.
  5. Folks who consistently leave good critiques, rather than just leaving a number, need to be recognized. I admit – I’m not sure how to make this happen!

Other thoughts? Has anybody seen a vote-based system like Sixfold’s that worked well? Would love to hear the Insecure Writers Support Group‘s thoughts on this!

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April 2015 #IWSG – A-to-Z put aside this year for other pursuits

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andromeda_Galaxy_(with_h-alpha).jpg

I did the A-to-Z challenge this time last year…

It was fun, challenging, and time-consuming. It was work – and I have a lot of that. I’m busy with the Busan Writing Group following the release of our book – the group has talked about doing more content to share on the group blog. Some other members are doing Camp NanoWriMo for April. I know what I want to do – I want to write serial short fiction!

I’m taking it as a reduced-word-count NaNo – I’ve set 500 words as my daily goal in April. Sounds like a low number, yet it’s more than I normally get done per day. I write in huge, infrequent spurts, what can I say?

Instead of A-to-Z, I’m drafting around 10 short pieces, all set in the same universe, all following an overall arc, but each story will serve as an ‘episode’ of sorts. When pieces of this are revised and ‘approved’ by the writing group, they will appear as content on Write, or Else!, and I will link to them from the Writing Group Blog. We need more content to show off, so I’m getting ready to contribute.

Once pieces are drafted and revised at least once without help, I will run them through our regular weekly workshops. Only after a few runs through the group will they be posted – I’ve vowed never to publish anything that hasn’t seen critique from others. There is work on this very website that I published without help, and … it shows.

So that’s my excuse. As for why I haven’t gone and used the A-to-Z research I did last year on evil spirits … I don’t have a good excuse for that. I’ll only say that the research has fueled my creative process and will definitely be used in the novel I’m currently, s l o w l y, writing.

To all those who are doing A-to-Z – I’ll be stopping by your blogs! Keep up the good work – it’s a great experience and I do highly recommend seeing it through. You’ll be glad you did – I know I am.

#IWSG

 

 

Image: Andromeda Galaxy, from Wikimedia Commons

“She Never Left Her Coffee” Writing Exercise

I’m going to try to do more writing exercises right here on this blog in the following weeks.

Today’s attempt is taken from a prompt in Chapter 1 of Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich. It’s on Page 22 in the Second Edition, Exercise 7: “Write ‘My mother never …’ at the top of a page, then complete the sentence and keep going.

Here’s what I came up with:

—-

My mother never left her cup of coffee unfinished. Steam still rolls up from it as I pace around the coffee table. The moment replays countless times – I try to get Dad to let me ride with him, and he makes me stay home with Steve. Despite all the worlds my mind makes for my toys and daydreams, it won’t create one where I stay with her. Dad closes the ambulance door every time, leaving me to care for my brother.

Steve is just sitting there, though. Not even really watching the cartoons endlessly fight on the TV screen. Where else will he go? He’s not causing trouble now! I should be with Mom.

I pace. I replay. I wait.

A ring breaks the silence. I run to the stand next to the sofa and snatch the phone from the receiver before the first ring finishes.

Dad’s voice is calm. He says he won’t be home for a long time. He tells me to get Steve to bed. He doesn’t even tell me about Mom. He doesn’t have to. I remember when Grandma was in the hospital, and how he talked then. Grandma didn’t come back.

I hang up the phone. I look back to the steaming cup, and Mom is there. I jump, but she smiles at us, and I feel calm. Steve turns off the TV, and we both watch her silently.

“Thank you,” she says, “I know you wanted to come, but really – it’s quite boring. A lot of people asking questions, papers to sign – nothing you kids would be interested in.”

She takes up the cup of coffee, taking a long sip.

“Mom,” I ask, “You won’t come home?”

“No, dear. I’m going away. Dad will be alone – don’t let him cry too much.”

“Will we… will we see you again?”

Mom takes another long sip. She holds the cup low – one more sip left.

“I think so. Not for a long, long time, though.”

Steve and I both watch her. I see for the first time that Steve is crying, then I realize that I am, too. 

Just then, a headlight shines in through the living room window. The car stops, and Dad walks up to the door.

Mom takes the last sip, and then she’s gone. The door opens, and Dad walks in to see us before the empty TV screen, crying in our dazed stupor. 

“I’ll have to go back out,” Dad says, “I had to check – had to see how you were.”

He hugs Steve first, but stops as he reaches me. He points to the empty cup clasped in my shaking fingers. I notice that my lips and throat are burning with dull pain.

“Mom finished it. She always does. Right Steve?”

Steve nods silently. He turns his lip in the faintest smile, and I know he really did see her too.

Dad’s eyes narrow. Slowly, carefully, he nods. Steve takes the empty mug, and I hug Dad tightly.