I am pleased to announce that my story, Death for the Living, is now available in Bete Noire Issue #25. Find it here: Death for the Living
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With November almost upon us, I wanted to broach the subject of National Novel Writing Month. Quite simply, this is a short outline of the prospective positives and negatives of participating in NaNoWriMo. By their own description, NaNoWriMo “…is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” Quite a novel concept, right?
So, should you participate in this challenge or not? There are many reasons to do so, and I’m going to touch on a few of them. If you’re someone who has a ton of ideas, and who is constantly outlining, researching, and conceptualizing them without actually writing much, if at all, this might be for you. If you’ve written lots of short stories, but aren’t sure if you’re ready to step up to writing novels, NaNoWriMo can be a nice exercise to see if it’s something for you. I mean, if you can manage the daily word count necessary to complete it, you can handle a nice, steady word count to work on longer novels. That leads me to time. If you’ve been wanting to write a novel, and you have time on your hands in November, well, this is a great use of your time and the perfect opportunity to try.
You don’t have to be a beginner to make good use of NaNoWriMo, either. For writers who have fallen out of the habit of working on their WIP (work-in-progress), it can be a nice, structured method of pushing yourself to work on it. There’s no rule against merely continuing a WIP, either. If you’re seeking a spark to get you started on a new project, this might be for you, too.
That said, NaNoWriMo isn’t for every writer every year. I’ll give you the reasons I won’t be taking part this year. I participated in it a while back, and while it was perfect for me then, it would be a terrible idea for me now. Why? I’m plugging along and making great headway with my WIP, and have an established process for it. Changing my process and forcing myself to increase my word count per day would take me out of my rhythm. I also don’t want to stop my WIP to write a short novel project this November. And, with the types of genres I’m writing, it would be difficult to market an extremely short, stand-alone novel; writing more books to go along with it would further delay my WIP, and I don’t want another novel that probably won’t sell. I may do NaNoWriMo again in the future, but not this year.
These are just a few of the reasons why it might not make sense to participate in NaNoWriMo. I could come up with more, just as I could come up with more positives to doing so. In the end, as a writer, you must weigh the pros and cons of NaNoWriMo and decide if it’s right for you. Having the organization and the concept out there, along with all the support it provides, can be nothing but positive, because it gives us writers creative options.
I am pleased to announce that my story “Lady Donegal’s Fuel” has just gone live on Space Squid. Find it here:
“And here’s the donation jar. It pays for cheese, to put in the coffee.” This was the explanation my new boss gave me in my dream last night. Sound strange? It’s perfectly normal, even on the blasé side, for me.
Everyone dreams. Many people have weird dreams from time to time. A large number of those only remember them for a short period in the morning before those dreams fade away. For the lucky few of us, however, certain dreams stick. And they can provide a gold mine of inspiration for writers.
Take last night’s dream, for instance. I had just been hired to work in a garage (which is strange enough by itself), and my boss was showing me around the shop. Turns out you’re only allowed to put twenties into the aforementioned donation jar, for some reason. The good news is that the fridge was full of gourmet cheeses and coffees–no k-cup nonsense in that garage! And…that’s it. A short, weird dream with some absurdities that made me smile.
Although I currently have no plans to turn last night’s dream into a story or book, I’ve done so before. The last story I had published, Josiah Luck, Plumber (of Oddities) in the Strangely Funny IV anthology, came from a pointed dream. The first thing I remembered upon awakening was a character and theme, which I wrote down immediately: supernatural midget (which later became little person) plumber. As the morning wore on, more details from the dream came into focus. Floating ghosts with huge, corporeal teeth, a gaping hell mouth in a bathroom, a plumber with a giant box of invented weaponry and tools. I incorporated all of these and more into the story.
So, writers, keep a note pad next to your bed. Or be ready to sprint to a tablet or computer once you wake up. Ideas are the building blocks of our craft. You never know what concepts your dreams might inspire in you. Sometimes cheese in your coffee is just what you need.
My short story, Josiah Luck, Plumber (of Oddities) has been published in the anthology Strangely Funny IV.
Today, I don’t think I’m a good writer; I know I am. I’ve worked on my craft for many moons now. My strengths range from tight prose to realistic characters to strong voice. And I know it. I developed my skills through short fiction, and have moved on to writing strong novels. And I know it. My ability to create professional-level short stories has taken off. And I know it.
I did go through a period–a years-long period–of imposter syndrome. I swear it! I despaired that my short fiction would be anything but formulaic. While completing my first polished novel, which I am now submitting, I fretted that it would never be finished, let alone any good. Perhaps, without all the elbow grease and concentration and time investment, that imposter syndrome phase would have remained relevant. Yet I put in the work, developed my craft, and became a good writer. I know I did. So why in the hell am I still getting rejected all the time?
During the holiday season, I had three short story acceptances and a request for the first fifty pages of my novel, all in the span of a seven-day period. One week, one glorious week, that told me that 2017 was going to be my year. My breakout year, wherein all that hard work would be vindicated, and I would join the ranks of professional writers. My novel would sell, I’d have another one in the pipe, and would be working on a third. I’d churn out sort stories and flip them to e-zines and anthologies at least once a month.
Well, fast forward to June, and I’ve had exactly zero short story sales, few nibbles, and zero full requests on my book. Needless to say, the rest of my novel wasn’t even requested, let alone bought. I’m being told my 55,000 word fantasy novel is not only too short, but too hard to sell based on content. What gives?
Success in this industry can be slow, no matter how talented a writer you are. Stephen King has some poignant tales to tell on the topic, as well as on imposter syndrome. Time and again, I’ve been advised to be patient and to keep at it. No worries there, as I doubt it’s possible for me to give up. I came into this ready for rejection and, though it’s getting rough right now, I’m still plugging away. Sure, I’m getting incredibly tired of reading those incredibly kind and complimentary rejection emails–but at least I’m getting those. I remember a time when a kind rejection would have been a thrilling occasion. So there’s progress, however slow.
The point is, just because you reach a high level of confidence as a writer doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to succeed. Defeating imposter syndrome is an exciting achievement for a writer, but it doesn’t equal sales. You’ll continue to be rejected, even if and when you become successful. The battle against reverting to imposter syndrome and allowing yourself to become dejected is constant. The struggle is real. If you know you’re a good writer, just keep banging out words. Maybe you’ll get there. Maybe you’ll never achieve success, whatever your metric for success may be. Either way, you have stories to tell, so tell them.
An interview of mine with Siobhan Caughey went live on the blog Bibliophile Ramblings today. You can find the interview at the blog here:
This post is inspired by something @MaryRobinette tweeted last week, and a takeaway I had from the Nebula Conference. On a panel there about what’s popular now in genre fiction, the mashup Queer Space Opera got thrown around a lot. It’s trending in the spec fic community, and that’s pretty cool. Several days later, I read Mary’s tweet, and it really hit home. She said: “It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”
Is it okay to make a character queer simply because it doesn’t change the story and it might help you sell the piece? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, per se. You aren’t harming anyone, but you’re certainly not advocating for diversity or acting as much of an ally in doing so. It’s a bit of harmless pandering, trying to use hot button topics and key words to market your fiction.
Instead, why not try to do what Mary suggests, and use diversity as a tool to build realistic worlds? Would an alien planet really be ruled by just one government, or populated by one culture? What are the gender dynamics of the evil empire in your epic fantasy tome? How does racial bias figure into the race for survival in a haunting story? When populist regimes clash with equality movements in your dystopian future, in what directions could the conflict move?
Too often we find ourselves building homogenous countries, organizations, or even worlds, in our genre fiction. True, we might do so to pit one against the other, or delve into some kind of social commentary, but we’re often missing out on a key implement in our writing toolbox: the ability to use reality to aid our fiction.
When dining out, a good meal isn’t all a writer can find on the menu. Such an outing can offer up a few hundred words for a main course, or a good chunk of an outline on the side, perhaps even some editing for desert. Even better, these tidbits come without calories. More and more, I’m finding that writing out rather than in my home office (my recliner) provides a welcome creative spark.
This isn’t a revelation. Writers have been working in coffee shops for untold millennia (I’m assured the Egyptians served a good latte), bars, and any other place with a comfy chair and good Wi-Fi (which the ancient Egyptians invented, of course). Often this is because the home is not a good work environment. Whether it’s because the house is occupied by rambunctious children and/or an unaccommodating spouse, has no comfortable place to write, or whatnot, many people have to get out to get work done. Some view the home as a place of rest and not work. Others simply feel too comfortable at home to write. Whatever the reason, there’s nothing new about writers writing outside the home. And, occasionally, a writer will have a snack or a meal while out and about and writing.
So why am I bothering to write about an already commonplace occurrence? Because I’ve come to enjoy the benefits of Shut Up & Write!. This organization brings writers together at local meetings across the country so they can get work done. The structure is simple: once a week you come together, chat for a short amount of time, then enjoy a complete hour of uninterrupted writing.
Sounds simple, and sounds like much ado about nothing, right? Well I (and Benedick) disagree. Oftentimes writers stall out not through block, but because they don’t dedicate time to write. Surely a person can find a measly hour a week to write, though, right? Well, when you have a busy schedule and add on the potential problems with writing at home, it’s easy for the week to slip by without managing a single word. Shut Up & Write! gives writers the opportunity to slip away from their daily grind and grant themselves a bit of writing time. What’s more, you’re not confined to just one hour a week. If there are multiple meetings in multiple locations around your area, you’re free to attend any and all of them. If you find your schedule simply won’t allow you to get away to a meeting in a given week, that’s no problem. Attendance is voluntary, after all.
For me, Shut Up & Write! isn’t what’s keeping me writing. I’m off on an injury disability, and so get loads of time (in my easy chair) to write to my heart’s content. Except sometimes it feels like a slog. It’s nice and quiet–too quiet; it’s nice and comfy–too comfy; it’s right in front of my TV–a simple distraction. My one hour a week at Shut Up & Write! is on a Thursday, a time of the week when I’m starting to flag. The meeting gives me a vital period of reinvigoration, which gets the old imagination churning again.
You might be wondering what Shut Up & Write! has to do with dining out. It just so happens that my group meets at a lovely Iraqi restaurant with a menu chock full of delectable items. Most groups meet in places with food options. While there, you can stick with water, you can come early and get a full meal plus desert, or you can do any and everything in between. The choice is yours. At Shut Up & Write! food may or may not be on the menu for you, but writing certainly is.