Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Say It With Kindness.

Offering your stories up for crit can be scary, although it doesn't worry me anywhere near as much as it used to. The first time I gave over a story for others to comment on is one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. Of course it didn't help that Sean Williams was in the group.

I've just sent off my latest story for a bunch of other writers to look at. There is, of course, the hope that nice things will be said and the nervous anticipation that they will think it's awful and you can't write and why the heck are you in this writers' group at all. 

None of us like to be told our work is dreadful. All of us secretly want to be praised. Mostly these days all I want is honesty. Fair critiquing and comments on how I can improve my story. Ideas on how I can develop as a writer. Signposting of weak areas in my work.

But whatever you say, please be kind. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another Year.

I've had a great break, but it's almost time to start work again. Back to school on Tuesday, and I must admit to looking forward to some of the classes I have.

We have some great texts to teach this year, including World Shaker by Richard Harland, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Minimum of Two by Tim Winton and the film Gattaca.

Generally I have great students who enjoy these books, but like any sample of kids you find some who have absolutely no interest in reading. And that is my biggest challenge. I understand kids who don't like reading, the same as some don't like maths, or sports, but it is necessary and I find I need to make them at least accept they have to put up with it.

From time to time I can turn one around; one who doesn't think they like reading, and end up enjoying the book and picking up more.

And for me, that's a win.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Writing Rules.

Last year I posted on David McDonald's blog about writing rules and the need to develop your own. I spent a bit of time looking at rules from other writers and found that none of them worked for me or suited my circumstances.

Anyone who has spent some time writing should be familiar with Heinlein's Rules, handed down from writer to writer and treated as though sacred and holy. Generally I find them to be outdated and simplistic.

I've never actually articulated the rules I'm developing (I guess they're more of a 'vibe'). Perhaps they should even simply be guidelines. But here goes, bearing in mind they are appropriate for me and subject to change and development. (I've also posted them on a seperate page, where they may be updated and revised.)

1. Define your goals.
Do you want to be a full time professional? Someone who writes as a hobby? Someone who just wants to see their name in print? Short stories, novels or both? None of these ambitions are any less valid than the others. There are a number of famous novelists who hold down full time jobs still. By choice. But it helps if you are clear in your intentions.

2. Write.
This is one where I agree with Heinlein. Many people intend to write, few actually do. It doesn't have to be everyday, just as often as you can and appropriate to your goals. Don't complain you don't have the time - none of us do. If you want to do something badly enough you'll make the time. I also think the rule about "finishing it" is implicit in this rule. There's no point in only writing opening or paragraphs unless they are exercises for practice.

3. Read widely.
Fiction, non-fiction, news, science, classics, literature, biographies, cross-genre - even genres you would never normally read. Take it all in and let it swish around inside you.

4. Rewrite as required but don't tinker endlessly.
As you progress as a writer it becomes easier to see flaws in your own work. I took an older story that wouldn't sell, a story I loved, applied new learning to it and rewrote parts of it resulting in a story double the original length. It sold, was nominated for an award and has received great comments and reviews. On the other hand don't keep tweaking it endlessly. And don't be afraid to lose words to better the story. Your words aren't that sacred.

5. Let it be read.
I'm amazed at the number of people who want to be a writer but are too scared to show their writing to anyone. I'll admit it was terrifying the first time, but you soon get used to it. Show your work to people, submit it to markets. Get it out there. Isn't that what storytelling is all about?

Writers' groups, workshops, online classes, writing books, writing buddies and so on. Develop your skills and learn. Everything. Grammar is a good place to start. Strunk & White is very useful.

7. Listen to critiques.
But that doesn't mean you need to need to treat them all equally. A reader may be able to tell you it didn't work for them but not be able to explain why. A writer might be able to explain why. Remember that your story is aimed at readers. If it doesn't work for one, it may not work for others. On the other hand beware of advice starting with "I would have written it like this..."

8. Be part of the community.
Writing is generally a solitary activity. Spend time with the community, both online and in person. Go to conventions, meet people and socialise. It's amazing the doors that will open. Remember networking is important, but networking is a two-way street. It's not just about what others can do for you. If you take and never give you will soon be ignored. Social media is supposed to be social. By all means mention a new release, or a sale, or even the occasional writing problem or word count. But if you're solely on Facebook to promote your work it soon becomes little more than spam.

9. Be professional.
In all aspects of your public life - at conventions, online and when dealing with editors and publishers. I know of several writers whose works I refuse to buy simply because they've been rude or arrogant towards me. And just because you've made a sale doesn't mean you're now an expert on writing or anything else. Don't sermonise, pontificate or put others down.

10. Have fun.
There are times you'll pull your hair out, curse editors and publishers and declare you're hopeless and can't write. But then there are those time you get to hold your newly published work in your hands, or make a sale, or receive positive emails from writers. And there is nothing like the feeling of typing the final full-stop at the end of a piece you just know is the best thing you've ever written.

11. Don't rest on your laurels.
You're best work is not necessarily behind you. Keep writing.

That's what I have so far. But, as I said, it's subject to change and development. And I'm interested in comments and feedback.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Green Eyes on Gitte.

I was thrilled when I heard that my friend, Gitte Christensen, had sold a story to Aliens: Recent Encounters (Edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane.)  This anthology has an amazing TOC; writers whose names I can only dream of  being alongside. Ursula K. LeGuin, Alastair Reynolds, Robert Reed, Nancy Kress, etc, etc.

Of course I was jealous - I'd subbed there too - but jealous in an inspiring, motivating kind of way. Gitte is one of the loveliest people you could ever meet and, as I've posted previously, a quiet achiever who goes around her business of writing quality stories without any fanfare.

Gitte truly deserves this.  Well done, and congratulations. Here's the TOC.

Aliens: Recent Encounters.

An Owomoyela - Frozen Voice
Ken Liu - The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species
Catherynne M. Valente - Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy
Zen Cho - The Four Generations of Chang E
Vandana Singh - The Tetrahedon
Paul McAuley - The Man
Ursula K. Le Guin - Seasons of the Ansarac
Molly Gloss - Lambing Season
Desirina Boskovich - Celadon
Genevieve Valentine - Carthago Delenda Est
CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan - I Am the Abyss and I Am the Light
Jamie Barras - The Beekeeper
Robert Reed - Noumenon
Elizabeth Bear - The Death of Terrestial Radio
Sofia Samatar - Honey Bear
Karin Lowachee - The Forgotten Ones
Jeremiah Tolbert - The Godfall's Chemsong
Alastair Reynolds - For the Ages
Brooke Bolander - Sun Dogs
Nisi Shawl - Honorary Earthling
Samantha Henderson - Shallot
Sonya Taaffe - The Boy Who Learned How to Shudder
Eleanor Arnason - Knacksack Poems
Gitte Christensen - Nullipara
Indrapramit Das - muo-ka's Child
Jeffrey Ford - The Dismantled Invention of Fate
Karin Tidbeck - Jagannath
Pervin Saket - Test of Fire
Nancy Kress - My Mother, Dancing
Greg van Eekhout - Native Aliens
Lavie Tidhar - Covenant
Yoon Ha Lee - A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This Week So Far.

A good week's writing so far. I've broken the back of a story that was giving me a few problems. I knew what I wanted to do in part of it but just couldn't find my way into it. I'd tried a number of different approaches, re-wrote the beginning of a scene several times, but none of these worked. So yesterday I tried something different and it was much better. There's been a change in personality of the character that needed to be introduced in this scene and this has changed elements later in the story. And it's made a vast improvement.

Now the story is pouring out of me and I'm happy with how it's progressing.

I plan to wrap this beast up this afternoon and get onto another story. Next to my computer I have a list of stories that need to be revised or started. I plan to complete all the revisions and start a new one by Friday. Tomorrow is going to be hot. Very hot. A perfect day to sit inside and write.

And then by early next week I must have all my available stories back out in circulation. They'll never sell if they're not out there.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What's In A Name?

It's funny, but sometimes a name just doesn't suit the character you're writing.

I'm neck deep in a story at the moment where the main character's name was Ben. It was bugging me. For some reason, it just didn't suit him. As soon as I did a search and replace (with Mike), everything seemed to flow a lot better.

I'm also starting to notice that I have a tendency towards certain letters. I suddenly realised that a whole bunch of my writings have characters with names starting with the letter 'J'.

I wonder what that's all about.

But one thing I recently found that was useful was a random name generator. Enter the country, culture, gender and so on, and it creates names and addresses that are reasonably authentic without being real. It even includes Hobbit and Ninja names.

And who knows? Somewhere, in some universe, you may actually be creating these people.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Novel Idea.

Yesterday, as an exercise for a workshop I'm currently undertaking with Dean Wesley Smith, I sat down and outlined a novel.

I consider myself a short story writer and I've given little thought to writing anything longer for the moment. I feel I need to develop my skills at the shorter length before I attempt anything bigger.  A novel not only means more words, but a bigger vision and world to write in. So I was very surprised at how I managed to get this exercise done.

And I was pretty happy with the result.

Not that I'm planning on working on this particular idea, but writing a novel no longer seems as unreachable as it did even two days ago.

And, I must say, Dean Wesley Smith is my new hero. If I could only convince him to come to Australia to run his Character voice and setting workshop here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Never Tell Me The Odds.

One thing to always remember about odds is that they only pertain to chance - and generally only when all outcomes are equally possible.

When a writer looks at Duotrope (sigh...) and its acceptance rates, it's important to remember this. An acceptance rate of  .25 does not mean you have a one in 400 chance of selling to that market. That would presume that all submissions are of an equal standard. From what I've been told, as much as 90% of submissions are rejected before the end of the first page. Most editors can reject a story after reading only a paragraph or two.

I still find it hard to believe, but I've been told that one SF market (and I'm sure this is true of most markets) receives submissions of all sorts; non-fiction, articles, poetry and even recipes/cookbooks. Don't people read guidelines?

And so the odds are actually much lower than advertised, once you reach a certain standard. But even then it's not a random selection. It comes down to competing with the other submissions regarding quality of writing, editorial tastes, themes, differences to other recently accepted stories, word length and even whether you have a recognised name.

It's not a crap shoot. The odds don't matter.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Smart Goals.

And so 2013 begins. I hope you all had a relaxing Christmas and New Year.

I was planning to write about an article by Germaine Greer that I read last week, but my friend Gitte Christensen beat me to it. So I'll simply link to her comments, and write about my plans instead.

I have made a number of plans for this year - I hesitate to call them resolutions. Resolutions have always felt a little flaky to me. My goals are definite and clearly defined.

Goals need to be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Anything less is simply a vague notion or a good intention.
  • I aim to write a minimum of 35 stories this year. 
  • I aim to submit them all.
  • I aim to sell a minimum of 15 stories. 
  • I aim to sell at least three to professional markets.
  • I aim to SFWA qualify.
I also have  goals connected with writing, such as attending conventions and so on, and these too will be undertaken. And very specific goals that I won't elaborate upon in this blog. Be sure that I will achieve them all. And, hopefully, achieve well above and beyond them.

Have you defined your goals for this year?