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Writing Update: New Projects and Wishing for a Rapid-Response Critique

August 28, 2014
...More (virtual) red ink...

…More (virtual) red ink…

If you visit my blog more than once every other week or so (my blog stats do not convince me that there are more than maybe a few of you who do, if any), then you may have noticed some activity on the blog’s sidebar; namely: a new project in the Writing Project Progress Update block.

The new project is code-titled “Story of K”, and I’m writing it for a specific market.  (On spec, of course. I wasn’t invited to submit anything. As such, my expectations for it’s future at said market are at a realistically low level; which is not to say I’m not excited and hopeful.)  The market for which I’m writing it has a hard upper-limit of 6,000 words for submissions.  My personal goal was to keep it under 5,000 words.  I overshot both, with a finished first draft of 7,500 words – which I completed in about two weeks.

I actually managed to trim that to 6,400 words on my first edit pass for the second draft.  I’m reading through it again already and I’ve trimmed it further still.

But… as we speak, I still have another 200 words to cut to get it under 6,000 words.  Each consecutive word to cut gets harder and harder to find.

The deadline for this market is the end of August – that is to say, days away.

If there are any of you out there still reading this – and possessed of sufficient bandwidth over the next couple days – who might have a desire to read and critique a story with a very short turn-around, I’d be most grateful.  That’s my fantasy, anyway.  I don’t actually expect any of you out there to have the time to sign on… especially as I’m still in a “can’t make any promises” state about offering return critiques.

So that’s what’s going on.  Naturally, because of this, forward movement on the novel has taken a temporary back-seat.  Likely after I”m done with this I’ll return to revising my other short-story project so I can try to do something with that, too.  Then back to the novel.  For now: the looming question is will I get this downsized enough in time? Stay tuned.


Image Source: “Editing” by Nic McPhee CC-BY-SA (additional photo edits by myself)

2014: Mid(ish) Year Review

August 1, 2014

Well… that middle-of-the-year point has come and passed, and that means it’s time for me to take a look back at the first half of 2014, and measure myself up to what I’d hoped to accomplish for the year.  Public accountability and all that.  So I’ll go through my 2014 goals one-by-one and say a word or two on them.  Feel free to, you know, move along until I post something of actual interest to you, but hey, I wouldn’t mind you sticking around and commenting at the end to help keep all of us honest!


2014 Goals

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: This was a goal well-met, which wasn’t surprising, but was a welcome milestone.  I can’t be sure of the exact number of words I read through July 1st, because I hadn’t recorded an updated on the progress of the novel I was reading at the time for several weeks, but I believe it was somewhere in the neighborhood 600,000 words to 630,000 words.  Not too shabby.  If I set the goal of reading 400,000 words in the second half of the year, I’ll surpass 1,000,000 words of fiction read in 2014 easily.  So, that’s what I’m going with.  One Million: here we come.

(Click on down to read the rest of the goals…)

Read more…

The Unbearable Awfulness of Something I Wrote Last Year

July 14, 2014
facepalm by Jes

Facepalm: I write the prose that makes the ancestors weep…

I’ve started on the next writing thing.  I’m working on something I started writing last year.  I made the mistake of looking back over some of what I’d previously written.


It’s pretty bad in some (many) (maybe most) places.  It needs a lot of editing work.

Which of the various options did I decide to work on? It’s probably pretty easy to predict.  I’m back (finally) to working on my novel (CodeName: Book of M).  And what I’ve written so far is nowhere near what I want it to be.  It doesn’t reflect the tone and quality of the story in my head… not at all.

But! I am resisting the urge to edit/revise/rewrite/whatever.  I allowed myself the indulgence of a small number of notes – two or three – but on the whole I am pressing forward.  Slowly, mind you.  I haven’t written much by way of new material yet.  But the old book is moving in the right direction.  Hey, maybe in another decade-ish, some, all, or none of you dear readers will actually be able to read it!

My operating plan, currently, is to press ahead a certain amount on the Book of M project until I reach some predetermined point.  I haven’t yet predetermined that point, but it’ll be something like hitting a particular wordcount goal, or completing a particular scene, or writing consistently over a certain period of time.  Whenever I hit that milestone, I’ll temporarily switch gears to focus on a shorter story project.  This way I don’t let the novel consume all my writing time and prevent myself from writing short-stories, which have a shorter market lifespan.

Image Source: “Facepalm” by Jes, CC BY-SA

Post Script Process Analysis: “Story of V Second Draft”

June 30, 2014
"I Tend to Scribble A Lot" by Nic McPhee

Someone’s been editing…

Previously, I alluded to the idea of taking a more in-depth look at my writing process vis-à-vis the latest draft of my current short story project, code-named “Story of V”.  And hey, you know what, this sounds like a good idea to do in general whenever I finish a draft or a major milestone of a writing project.  Take a more critical look at what I wrote and the process that achieved it, and see what I can learn from it to apply to future writing projects.  So here goes the first of my probably too infrequent series of Post Script Process Analysis posts.

In my prior post, I started talking about how significantly the wordcount on this story increased from the first draft to the second draft, and what comprised that wordcount.  Just so you don’t have to go back and read it, the leap in length was from a little over 5,600 words to just over the 10,000 word line – an increase of nearly 80%, or close enough to doubling in length as makes little difference. So, why the big increase?

So, MS Word has this handy “Compare Documents” feature that allows you to take two DOC files, presumably earlier and later drafts of the same  document, and see what changes were made between them.  Word creates a new document with the changes conveniently marked in red text.  Looking at the latest draft and the first draft of “Story of V” allows me to quickly (-ish) see what changes I made.  On page 1, for instance, I added some character description for the POV character, switched some of the descriptive details of the environment and setting around to put character details closer to the beginning, heightened the use of the character’s senses, and made some attempts to improve the flow and the writing style.  On page 2, I made the POV character’s immediate goals clearer, provided more details about the character and his state of mind, still more setting and environment description, clearer and fuller descriptions of two additional characters, and made more attempts to improve the style.  I could go on like this for the next 30+ pages, but I’ll spare you the minutiae.  What I’m really interested in is the bigger picture.

Read more…

A Productive Few Weeks and a Call for Betas

June 6, 2014

The last few weeks have been pretty good, and in particular as it relates to writing time. I’ve found time to write on at least two or three days in each of the last several weeks, and it’s proven quite productive for me. I’ve gone from virtually no editing work done at all on “Story of V” to done, finished, complete with the latest draft.

Of course, my editing process being what it is, I’ve also gone from comfortably under 6,000 words to just past 10,000. Obviously that’s a big jump: way more than I’d either anticipated or planned. I knew it would go up some, but I figured probably around a thousand words, maybe two. A 75% increase in length must be some kind of record, even for me. But even under normal circumstances, I’m learning it’s not unusual for me to have an increase in length of something like 20 to 50%.  (My first completed story which I consider to be of “professional” quality, “People for the Ethical Treatment of Dragons”, which earned an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s of the Future contest, increased in size by about 25% between the two main drafts, from about 9,500 words to about 12,100 words.  My second, Resurrection Spell increased almost 50% from 7,800 words to 11,700 words.)

Which leaves one (i.e. me) to wonder: what’s up with my writing process that this large increase in wordcounts between drafts is normal for me?  Don’t other writers go the other way?

Okay, so I’m not really the best person to say what other writers do, but I expect I’m the most qualified to talk about my own process (even if I’m still learning it, myself). A common thread I’ve noticed between these the stories is about what, precisely, goes into that extra wordcount. The largest part: increased depth of characterization. The second largest part: additional worldbuilding details. The third: some mix of clearing up needless obfuscation and attempts to wax a little more poetic.

You know… I think there’s a good post to be written on this topic.  So, with this hopefully as a teaser, I’ll leave a further examination of what I’ve learned about my writing process until the next time.

For now… the second draft of “Story of V” is finished, and you know what? I think it’s pretty good.  Much better, I believe, than I’d originally expected it to be.  But while I’m happy enough with this draft, I don’t think I’ve reached the end of the writing process here.

And that’s where you, dear reader, may be able to help out.  I always feel a little bit like a tool doing this, but I’m reaching out and looking for volunteer Beta Readers.  What are the qualifications?  An interest in reading a 10,000-word length story, to begin with.  An appreciation for the Epic Fantasy genre would help.  An ability to articulate what you liked and disliked is pretty crucial.

If and when I get any respondents offering their “services”, I do have a few specific requests for certain kinds of feedback, which I’ll detail to those who volunteer.  Basically, at this stage I’m somewhat more interested in style over substance, since I think I’ve got the nuts-and-bolts part pretty well figured out.  Of course… I’m close to the work, and there’s certainly a non-insubstantial chance that I’ve missed some obvious, glaring deficiencies in the work, and I appreciate having those pointed out to me as well.

For those who answer the call I can’t really offer anything but my appreciation: I can’t even make a promise of quid-pro-quo critiquing of something you’ve written.  (I can entertain doing critiques on a case-by-case basis for those who have something they’d like me to critique if I find I have bandwidth, but I can make no solid predictions about what my bandwidth looks like over more than about a week at a time.  Naturally, I would likewise expect no promised quid-pro-quo in return if I am able to take on a critique for anyone out there.)

Shout out here in the comments if you’ve got the time, means, and wherewithal to take a crack at an epic fantasy novelette written by yours truly.

I Can Haz Writing Tymz?

May 13, 2014

So… I wrote something last night. Actual words of fiction. And not just notes about actual words of fiction that I intend to write in the future (although I did that, too). I didn’t keep a wordcount on it – it wasn’t a whole heckuva lot of words, anyway, and the net might actually be a negative wordcount since I was editing on a prior draft of a short story, and I cut out a fair amount, too.

But it felt good.

The work in question is the story I’d code-named “Story of V”. This one’s been a long time in coming… I think I first started work on it sometime in early 2013. Now there’s a real chance I’ll finish it in 2014. Huzzah!

Links to Chew On: Art and Eruptions and AI Bookbots

April 30, 2014

Okay, so here goes with the trying to put these up on a quarterly basis (on the last day of the first month of each quarter; although I’m going to have to decide what to do since Halloween always falls on the last day of the first month of the 4th quarter…) A bridge to cross when we come to it. For now, lessons learned: don’t try to compile a list of links on recent genre controversies for one of these posts.  Those take a lot of thought to say anything cogent about them. (So I had to save all my genre controversy links for a later post…)

  • Every Award-Winning Book Sucks: Scalzi’s faux-sensationalistic headline makes a very basic point – the book with universal appeal has yet to be written, and the most highly-praised books will be a let-down for someone.  So enjoy this sampling of one-star reviews of Hugo award-winning novels from the past decade…
  • The Future is Now! At least, last year, a ton of science-fictional concepts made giants leaps closer to reality. You know, the really cool stuff, like mental control of a robotic arm (hello Cyborg and RoboCop) and robotic exoskeletons, spray-on skin, the legalization of self-driving cars (in some states), and artificial leaf technology. This stuff is mind-boggling.
  • Amtrak may be making Residencies for Writers on Trains a thing… I like trains. And I like writing. It would never have occurred to me to put the two together. Note that the article linked calls these “free rides for writers” in the headline, but in reality if this becomes an ongoing thing, there will be a cost. Discounted tickets maybe? Who knows, since there was only an individual, promotional test-run.
  • I feel like this is something I’ve shared an opinion or two about before, but NPR recently aired a story questioning whether popular, famous, even universally-acclaimed works of art have achieved such status wholly on the merit and quality of the work or… if there’s something else, some element of chance, involved in their rise to ubiquitous-praise.  “Good art is popular because it’s good, right?” But a study on that question suggests: well… not quite. Chance plays a huge factor: what gets buzz early tends to build on that buzz over time, such that a small but crucially-timed bit of word-of-mouth can lead to a massive response, and vice-versa. The caveat: there’s a minimum threshold of quality to which a work of art must rise before this element of chance can have it’s effect. In essence: you can’t accidentally explode the popularity of something that’s truly crap. The caveat to the caveat, of course: quality is in the eye of the art beholder. But my feelings are that this is reflective of the writing world, as well. You have to be good, to write good and engaging stories. Good writing, I’ve come to believe, is a necessary but insufficient precondition to success in the writing world. The other factor is wildly erratic good luck. There’s a lot you can do about the first part. (I.e. practice, practice, practice, write, write, and write some more. Also, read a lot, too.) There’s roughly squat you can do about the second. Still… the second won’t do you a bit of good unless you’ve got the first. “Opportunity Knocks” is a lot of chance and luck, but Opportunity only comes in and stays a while if you’ve cleaned the place up and have a special place reserved, I guess.  Have I beat this string of metaphors enough?
  • Author Jim C. Hines adds a little more context to his annual Writing Income reveal, for those that are interested in this sort of information (i.e., yours truly).
  • Hines also has some advice on Chasing the Market: don’t.  Sounds like good advice to me.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many of us who write dream of making it big and writing a book that can be fairly described as “the next Harry Potter” or “the next Hunger Games” or “the next” whatever it takes to be a massive best-seller.  Not all of us, but some of us, and I daresay many if not most.  But frankly? I don’t think you’ll get there unless you first abide by the maxim: “Write what you love.”  Because otherwise? I think the writing will show that your heart ain’t in it – and your reader’s hearts won’t be in it either.  Which is not to say that writing what you love is a guaranteed path to riches – far from it, of course – but I do believe it’s a necessary prerequisite for finding that path if you’re looking for it down the writing road.
  • Speaking of writing what you love, I’m sure you’ve heard that old aphorism “Do what you love”.  But maybe we should stop saying that? “You keep saying that.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Miya Tokumitsu, writing for Slate Magazine, argues that the aphorism unnecessarily apotheosizes the many “lovable” career options and roles available to the already-elite, but degrades and demeans the hard, often physical labor options available to the middle and lower classes – work that’s rarely “lovable” but always necessary to making something valuable happen.  I must say, I found the article compelling, and not just in a “Solidarity Forever” sort of way.  It gets to something science-fictional but fast become socio-economic reality that I’ve often wondered about: someday, there will undoubtedly be robots to do all (or most of) the hard, physical, manual, and unpleasant labor that is necessary for the functioning of society.  Is this a good thing?  What happens to the human workers it displaces? Do higher level “service” and knowledge-work roles expand as a result, requiring the efforts of those displaced? Do folks whose roles have been replaced by machines get another shot at taking on service, creative or knowledge-based work?  Is there sufficiently increased demand for this increased supply of labor? Seems doubtful. Does it simply drive down the real wages of people working in these sectors such that they are now paid for less than what it costs to maintain a robot?  In many ways, it’s the same set of moral and ethical questions presented by the problems of outsourcing.  To which I have few if any easy answers.
  • Want to know the truth about Hermione Granger? Author J.K. Rowling says she got it wrong! Hermione would’ve been with Harry, not Ron. Say it ain’t so? Okay, let’s be honest: this is not earth-shattering news. Not earth-shattering because many, many of us knew this a long time ago. Most of us (or at least your humble correspondent) shrugged our shoulders and said “Oh, well, that’s how the author wanted it to go,” and we were fine with that because taken as a whole, including little quibbling flaws like that, the Harry Potter series was pretty fantastic.  But, I mean, this was self-evident from at least the second book (Chamber of Secrets) when Ginny came basically out of nowhere (she was barely even mentioned in the first book) to play a damsel-in-distress with a crush on Harry, and you could immediately see the plot machinations that were going to force Harry and Ginny together since Hermione and Ron were already predestined to be together.
  • While we’re on the topic of Harry Potter, have you heard the news that there are more HP-universe movies coming? Now, Harry won’t be in them, but the scuttle-butt on the street is that “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and “Quidditch Through the Ages” are headed for the big screen.  I’m of two minds. First, let’s be upfront and clear about this: yes this is a mercenary cash grab. You and I both know that Harry’s story is done, and being a tale well-told, there’s no need to tell more. However, and you knew this was coming, didn’t you: there may not be the need, but there’s so very clearly the desire for more. So many people fell in love with the characters and world of the Harry Potter stories, and many of them would dearly love to see more stories told in that universe. And they’ll pay to see these movies. So why shouldn’t those movies exist? Will they be as good as the HP movies? Will they make as much of the so-much-money? Well, no and no. But I’d put money on this: they’ll be entertaining, and they’ll be successful.
  • Back on the subject of publishing, and of self-publishing, Chuck Wendig calls for criticism of the Self-publishing movement – as in folks actually being willing to post negative reviews and/or find some way of separating the proverbial self-published wheat from the tons and tons of self-published chaff (oh so much chaff… and so much of it is actually crap).  Le Gasp!  What Madness Eez Thees? His thesis is pretty simple, and hard-to-dispute: If self-publishing is every bit as legitimate a career choice as traditional publishing (and he argues that it is), then it (i.e. the culture around self-publishing) needs to stop being self-congratulatory, stop celebrating mediocrity, and start building systems that allow high-quality and professional work to be recognized and found.  But who will fill this role? Wendig offers few answers. It won’t be editors and publishing houses – that’s the traditional gatekeeper method. Perhaps it will be other (successful) self-pubbers? But I’m not sure I see much of an impetus to create these traditions and mechanisms.
  • Continuing on his critique of the culture of self-publishing, Wending compares the glut of low-quality material to a volcano that spews… well… this is an expletive-light blog, so let’s just call it fecal matter. The real meat of the post is about the problem of “discovery” in a field of self-publishing where large number of (mostly) low-quality work are available – how do readers avoid the stuff that doesn’t work for them and find the stuff that does? It’s hard. And blogger Suw Charman-Anderson warns that the eruption of said volcano is unlikely to abate any time soon – and she makes a very interesting logical argument about the problems of the Dunning-Kruger effect in relation to self-publishing. I find myself in the category where I consider myself moderately competent at what I do (vis-a-vis writing), but not sufficiently competent to warrant a paying career in this industry as yet. That’s in part because I lack much by way of objective external validation of my competency, and I don’t trust my inner sense of that competency. So what Suw says here resonated with me. Mike Cane believes that Amazon itself will have sufficient motive to put an end to the glut of low-quality (and, importantly, non-selling) literary output, on the basis that hosting this material takes up server space and disrupts the Amazon search and recommendation algorithms. This is, of course, predicated on the assumption that the costs to Amazon of hosting very-low selling titles is non-negligible, that they won’t make substantive improvements to their search and recommendation algorithms over time, and that the cost of each of these would be greater than the negative goodwill this move would generate among the hosts of digital self-publisher’s cheerleaders. So there’s some logic and merit to the argument, but we on the outside can’t really penetrate the opaque walls of Amazon’s own self-interest (or any other corporation’s self-interest, for that matter) to gauge which of these factors is more influential to their strategy and thinking. Suw reiterates these limitations to Mike’s theory, with a bonus helping of actual numbers that suggest that the cost to Amazon of hosting large amounts of literary excrement is entirely negligible. Then she fantasizes about the impact of post-singularity  technologies (she doesn’t use that phrase, but still…) on discoverability and the future utopia of reading that AI will bring. The latter, of course, reads like science fiction, but hey it could happen – and I could dig it.



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