What to Expect When…

…You’re Reading the Undiscovered Author

Last week I posted for the first time literally in four years, and I mentioned that I would be blogging again more regularly as a means of staying honest about my writing progress as I try to get back into my groove and really focus myself on my lifelong goal of becoming a professional author.

So, what does that mean in real terms for the blog? How often will I be posting, and what will I be posting?

For starters: I plan to post regularly once a month. Other odd posts may creep in here or there, but the plan is once, early in the new month to report on the previous month’s writing activity. I haven’t thought out yet how much detail I’ll share – probably just the total wordcount, maybe the actual number of days in which I actually sat down to write, that sort of things.

I’ll probably test how I feel about sharing snippets of what happened in my life during that month as well. But I’ll do my best to keep it all short and sweet. Realistically, I want to save most of my writing mojo for whatever fiction I’m working on at the time – right now that’s still my code-named “Book of M” project.

As a sample, here’s a quick recap of my writing activity in 2019:

  • Total Wordcount: 11,448 Words Written
  • Writing Days: 23 Days
  • Average Wordcount Per Writing Day: 498

Not super-productive by any means. 2020 WILL BE DIFFERENT.


The Writing Rules & Rewards

I also want to be clear about my approach to writing – the “rules” I’ll try to follow, as it were. Writing is intended to take priority over a lot of ways that I could spend my time… but not over every activity.

Accordingly: activities with my wife and family – including playing board games, and rarely also including watching movies or TV with them – will always take a higher priority. Writing, on the other hand, takes priority over just watching TV.

There’s an exception to the above, however: every let’s say 5,000 words I complete in my current project, I am allowed to reward myself by watching an episode – one! – of some of the shows I’d like to watch: catching up on The Mandalorian and Stranger Things, for instance, or checking out Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and The Witcher. Yeah, fact is I don’t actually watch a lot of TV on my own, so I’m way behind on all of these shows that everyone else has already seen… What usually happens, instead, is that I end up vegging out while my wife has one of her shows on – sometimes a show that I enjoy, but sometimes a show that I watch for no better reason than because it’s on. The latter: that’s the kind of thing I want to cut out going forward.


Long story short: 2020 is going to be the year of ME. I’m going to do big things this year, and make major progress on “The Book of M“, on which I’m rapidly approach what I believe to be the halfway point. I’m so excited to be diving back into this story and this world, and I can’t wait to write the scenes that come next – scenes that I’ve been anticipating writing for the better part of the last decade!

Whatever you have planned for the year to come: I wish you good-luck, too! Let’s make it a year to remember!

Getting Back in the Saddle, New Year's Resolutions (and Other Cliched Metaphors)

Have you ever been away from doing something for so long that doing it again sounds difficult?  Where you’re not even sure if you still can do whatever it is?  Where the prospect of even trying it is actually frightening?

Yeah.

Blogging is that way. Seriously: it’s been literally four years since I last posted here. Basically, it’s just easier not to blog. And yet, here I am, after what feels like forever, dusting this old thing off and actively thinking about regular blogging again. But blogging is not what I’m here to talk about today.

For me, sitting down to write – to really write, to write the fiction I crave to write, that I must write – after a roughly 13-week hiatus brought on by a million-and-one reasons (some good, some bad, but all unfortunately valid) is sometimes one of those scary things.  Sure, like I said, I have reasons.  Many of those reasons I am powerless to alter.  (We could argue the point, I suppose, but I’m also not here to talk about the reasons writers don’t write.)  It doesn’t matter.  Whatever the reasons, they are standing in the way between me and engaging in an activity that is fundamental to who I am.  (I’m not me if I’m not writing.)

(Apparently I’m also not me if I’m not making parenthetical asides.  I jest.  I can totally stop making parenthetical asides anytime I want.  Parenthetical asides aren’t the boss of me.)

I don’t have a magic bullet answer for this.  (This isn’t a writing advice blog.)

I guess… If the opportunity to write presents itself, whatever valid but usually insurmountable reasons I don’t often get to write there are, then I should shut up, put my but in the chair, hands on the keyboard and just, you know, write.


So I have a lot of lofty goals for 2020: get in shape, lose weight, exercise more, eat healthy. The standard list. And I don’t mean to give these short shrift – I hope I can actualize those things in my life. But my true goals live elsewhere: in my heart and soul, I am a writer.

In respect to that, I need 2020 to be the year I start taking my career as a writer seriously. You read that right: my career.

No, I haven’t garnered any publications in the years I’ve been away from this blog. But here’s the thing: I’ve long considered myself to be an aspiring author. Except there’s one thing that’s lacking: I haven’t acted as though I’m seriously pursuing this as an actual career. It’s always just been this little hobby of mine.

On the plus side, treating it like a hobby has insulated me from most of my own self-criticism when it comes to lack of writing. No big deal, I reasoned, It’s just a hobby, and I have other priorities, like my actual career, and my family, and being a homeowner. Sometimes I just don’t have time to write and that’s okay. Well, those things aren’t going anywhere. I’m still a father, still a homeowner, still a corporate desk jockey. So I still have priorities which will often supersede my writing. And when those things are done, I’m still going to need days where I just have a little downtime, when I’m not working.

But I’m changing my perspective. I’m also a writer. And that means I write. That means that when I have have the bandwidth, when I’m presented a choice between spending my “free time” vegging on the couch watching TV, or writing, I will (more often than not) choose writing.

It’s not going to be easy. Those other priorities will mean that sometimes I can’t choose to write. Sometimes, I’ll have a choice, for instance, between playing a boardgame with my wife and writing – and I’m going to choose to play the boardgame, because time with my wife having fun is a priority for me. (Have I mentioned that I’ve gotten the itch to start designing more own boardgames? Yeah. I actually have a prototype game design that I’ve printed up [it’s terrible, mind you, but I made it]. Maybe more on that later.) Sometimes, I’ll have the choice between TV and writing, and I’ll choose TV because I have a deficit of mental energy. These aren’t inherently bad things, obviously.

My point is: sometimes I won’t write when I have the time, and that’s okay. Recently, however, I’ve just gotten used to not writing. It’s literally been months since I added any real words to my novel. And diving back in is daunting, because I have to reorient myself to what was going on, reread the last five or ten pages, and as often as not that takes up all of whatever free time to write I had. Inertia sets in, and I just don’t even think about it.

That’s not an excuse. And starting now, in 2020, that’s not happening anymore.


What does this mean for my blog?

I’m going to start updating here again. Mostly just to keep myself honest about my writing. How much did I write this month? What did I write about? What did I do if I chose not to write? That sort of thing. Maybe, occasionally, I’ll geek out over something or other.

I’m not going to try to stay abreast of the industry, or comment on ongoing trends in SF&F literature. I’m not going to offer writing advice. There are other sites and blogs that do these things and better than I could ever hope to. Realistically – I’m still learning the ropes same as the rest of you.

If, however, you’re interested in me as a writer, if you’re interested in my writing: then you’ve come to the write place. Err… right place.

Welcome (back) to the Undiscovered Author.

~Sincerely,

Stephen A. Watkins


Header image from: https://pixnio.com/fauna-animals/horses/field-horse-macro-saddle-animal

I Wrote Some Things!

Hey, look at that progress bar!  Over there, to the right —————–>

(Okay, no, no, wait.  Over to the right and scroll down just a teensy weensy bit.  There.  There red line.  Do you see it now?)

I hadn’t updated it in a while.  But look what it says, now.  I’m past the one-quarter mark on “Book of M”.  I’ve actually written stuff this year.

Still, of course, a long, long, long way to go, considering I officially began work on the first draft over three years ago.  (I first recorded a wordcount update on the first draft of Book of M in early March of 2012 – and that only after another year spent in outlining and worldbuilding.)

In total this year, I’ve written some 12,800 words in “Book of M”.  If my current rate continues for the remainder of the year, I should be able to finish an additional 9,000 words by the end of the year.  If that holds true, and I top out over 57,000 words complete on Book of M, of which some 38%, or slightly over a third of the total wordcount for the book will have been written in 2015.

All of which means, basically, if you crunch the numbers and do the math that at my current rate of development it should only take me… let’s see… {divide by this… carry the one… multiply that here… }

Yes… that’s it.  It should only take me another… 6 and a half years to finish writing the first draft of this book.

Why did I run those numbers?  I think I was happier not knowing how much more I had to go…

Submission Update: “Story of K”

Rejected!

Rejected!

I got back a response on my submission of the story code-named “Story of K” this week.  The response wasn’t too much of a surprise.  The market in question was apparently flooded in submissions, and my story didn’t quite pass muster.

The rejection notice read mostly like boilerplate.  I realize there’s no point in playing the “Rejectomancy” game.  Seeing as there was nothing specific or personal in the rejection (a remark that the rejection does not reflect on the quality of the work, a comment on the volume of submissions versus number of acceptance slots, and an encouragement to continue submitting to said market), I can only conclude that the relevant market didn’t like the story.  Did they hate it?  Who knows?  Was it high on the list of considerations? Impossible to say, but rather unlikely.  Put off because the story was based on a flash-length work/draft first published on this blog? Possibly the tipping point on the rejection side of the accounts, or possibly entirely irrelevant if the story wasn’t good enough for that to make much of a difference.

Either way, I’m not hurt over it.  While the rejection was boilerplate, it read as professional and considerate.  While I thought my story was very good, and professional-quality prose, I’m not surprised over the rejection: I’d assume going in that it’s going to take me a long time, and a lot of submissions, for the dice come up in my favor.  Because the way I figure it, once your work passes a certain quality threshold (and assuming this story did, in fact, pass that threshold), with the extremely large number of aspiring authors competing against the large number of established authors already out there, from the aspirant’s perspective  it’s basically a game of chance as to which aspiring author makes the cut in any given submission.

I’m also not likely to be one to “celebrate” my rejections.  I don’t view a rejection as being “one step closer to an acceptance”.  All a rejection really means is that I submitted something, and it wasn’t accepted.  Rejections aren’t milestones on the writing career path.  They’re road blocks and detour signs.  The celebration-worthy events, in my opinion, are the occasions of submissions and acceptances.

Next steps, besides finishing up my revision of “Story of V” as I find the time, is to research additional markets and see if there’s any possible alternate homes for “Story of K”.  If nothing else, as I work my way down the lists, I’m relatively confident (hopeful?) I can eventually place this story at the very least at a semi-pro market.

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye on this market.  I don’t have any immediate plans to submit again to it, but that’s because I don’t have anything submission-worthy that I feel fits with this market.  Should that ever occur, it’s not at all unlikely that I’ll submit again.


Image source: “Rejected” by Sean MacEntee, CC-BY

 

Post Script Process Analysis: “Story of K Final Draft”

Editing by David Silver

Time to slash and burn…

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working on another short story project.  I started on it roughly near the beginning of August when I ran across an F&SF market listing (which specific market I will not presently disclose) that immediately sparked my imagination.  The code-named “Story of K” wasn’t a story I’d intended to write.  But here we are: I’ve written the thing, it’s done, and it’s been submitted (barely by the market’s deadline).  So that means it’s time for me to do another Post Script Process Analysis.

This time, I’ll be looking at the whole process of writing this one, from start to final draft – which is something I can do since that process was completely contained within a single month.  As with “Story of V”, whose final draft I still need to get to, this story was based on a flash-length piece of fiction that I’d posted on this site back a couple years ago when I was participating in a weekly flash fiction writing exercise.  When I encountered the aforementioned market and read the theme and requirements, this particular flash piece immediately leapt to my mind: I felt it resonated strongly with the desired theme of the market.  Of course, however, said flash piece was really more of a vignette than a full-fledged story, and if I was going to try to submit this to an actual, paying market, I was going to need to delve into it more deeply.

Going in, I was concerned that the fact this was based on a “published” story on my own blog would render the heavily revised story inadmissible.  I decided to go ahead with the new story, even knowing that this possibility was out there.  If the story were rejected because it’s based on an existing, previously-published story, what’s the worst that could happen?  It gets rejected.  That’s the most probable fate, anyway, statistically speaking.  Time will now tell whether the story’s ultimate fate is acceptance or rejection – and if the latter, there’s little chance I’ll ever actually know if the cause of rejection was the pre-existing version available here.  So, not gonna sweat it.

That decision made, here’s how the writing actually went down. Continue reading

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

...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

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…)

Continue reading

The Unbearable Awfulness of Something I Wrote Last Year

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.

Noooooooooooooo!

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”

"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.

Continue reading

Links to Chew On: Can You Hack It?

So… I’m going to try to make this a regular feature – regular here meaning “happening on a consistent basis” as opposed to the very irregular thing they’ve been in the past.  I’m thinking, the last day of the first month of each quarter (thus, January 31st, and subsequently March 31st, June 30th, etc.).

And so without further ado, here are some tasty links to chew on:

  • Author Jason Sanford has some wise and reasonable words to share with you about all the “rules” of writing: don’t let them turn you into a hack!  Now, I’m no pro (as yet and, who knows, possibly ever) but I get this feeling I’ve expressed similar sentiments before.  Good to know I’m in good company when it comes to thinking that way.
  • Who would win in a fight between Zombies and Mother Nature?  BoingBoing says Mother Nature.  Her secret weapons include vultures, the California Condor, flies and their maggoty offspring, bacteria, molds, and fungi.
  • Musician David Lowery says “Silicon Valley Must Be Stopped, or Creativity Will Be Destroyed” in an interview that mainly seems to be a response to the GoldieBlox/Beastie Boys controversy. What he means is that tech start-ups that intend to make money off of the work of artists and creatives without first obtaining permission from those creatives for the use of the the things those creatives created need to be reigned in, and copyright law needs to be followed.  And, while this is undoubtedly true, it makes for a rather less-sensationalist headline.  And, frankly, in this particular instance, at least, it’s difficult for me to feel a lot of sympathy for the Beastie Boys – this may not be, as the article says, a “David and Goliath” story in terms of who’s got the money, but it’s certainly a “Daisy and Goliath” story in terms of the broader cultural headwinds. Still, it’s an interesting read – and while I might personally fall slightly on GoldieBlox’s side in this round (for one thing, I’m actually inclined to like GoldieBlox’s version of the song in question), I can definitely appreciate how this can be abused.
  • So, more and more teenagers are getting published, both through traditional means and through new digital self-publishing means.  This is a thing.  Oh, what I wouldn’t have given, at the age of something-less-than-twenty, to have had a book published.  And oh how glad I am, at the age of something-more-than-thirty, that what I wrote back then wasn’t published. I’ll stand by the Scalzi quote in that article: “The bad news [for teenage writers]: Right now your writing sucks.”  Mine did.  (I’d say it sucks arguably a lot less now.)
  • Chuck Wendig talks about the Digital Book World survey of self-publishers, traditionally-published authors, and hybrid-authors, and about digital author-publisher Hugh Howey’s response to that survey (along with a link to a rundown of this discussion by Porter Anderson).  Later, Chuck discusses the latest big news-splash author turning down a major traditional deal (i.e. romance author Brenna Aubrey) and gives his take on it.  The summary version: There’s different things going on in the different worlds of digital self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and they have different risks and different rewards, and authors should take into account a lot more than just the money side of the equation into their decision-making matrix.  That’s more-or-less how I roll on this ongoing digital evolution discussion. So Wendig gets my vote for “guy (i.e. person) who actually thinks before blathering on the internet about digital self-publishing”.
  • The Smithsonian talks about a new study published in PLOS ONE that demonstrates a strong statistical correlation between the language and tone of a book and the economic conditions that preceded it.  Or, in other words, books published after hard economic times with high unemployment tend to be darker and more negative.  I wonder what this suggests about the book(s) I will someday write…?
  • So Daddy Blogs are a thing that exists. I did not know this before. (I have a wife, so of course I knew that Mommy Blogs were a thing). And here’s a daddy who’s kicking butt and taking names – especially when it comes to diaper-changing stations in public Men’s restrooms.  As a dad, this is something that I’ve been aware of as being a problem already, but since reading this post I’ve started noticing a little more often whether a men’s restroom has a changing station or not. Suffice to say, of course, that as a devoted and loving father, I’m on-board with this campaign.  So far, most places I’ve been out to have had changing stations in the men’s rooms.  Next thing I’d like to add to this list, as a father of a semi-independent pre-schooler: retractable step stools for at least one of the sinks (in both men’s and women’s rooms).  Try holding a baby, the baby’s diaper bag, and then trying to lift a 3-4 year old up so he can reach the faucet to wash his hands! It’s cumbersome to say the least… I’ve seen these places so I know it’s a thing that can be done, but I see them far-too rarely, and often not at places where I think they’d make the most sense (like places specifically catering to the toddler or younger crowd).