I was in Germany the first full week in May.
For reasons that may become clear later in this conversation, after I returned, Lisa and I were talking about work hours and work ethic and flexible work balance and whatnot. By flexible work balance I mean the ability to mix your work and life in whatever ways you need. This is something that’s very different today than it was when I first came into the workforce. When I started working, if you worked twelve hours a day it was likely to entail a stint at the office that ran from 7:30AM to 8:00PM (including a quick dash to the cafeteria for lunch).
In my younger days I ran at that pace, but these days I do about 9-10 hours a day in the day job (this will be important later), but it’s easier to do those 9-10 hours because they are often spread out across the day. I no longer really pay much attention to the 8:00AM start time or the 4:30 end time, or whatever. Instead, I work on work things when they are interesting (or just flat-out due, of course…nothing motivates like a due date). If I hit 11:00 AM and my brain is struggling to grab something about work, I step away. I take a quick walk, often accompanied by a manuscript I need to read or edit–basically anything that IS NOT work. That’s right. I do personal things during the day … but, then, I am also often doing work at nine at night or 5:30 in the morning or whatever.
This is flexible work balance and I’ve evolved my approach to it over time, morphing from an 11-12 hour a day office monster to a 9-10 hour a day flexible worker.
I find this interesting because people who are new to this concept can seem to struggle. Like Lisa. She joined the company I work for about six years ago after years of working for herself as s freelance copy editor. I see her struggling sometimes. Part of her struggle is because she’s always been a person who appreciates structure and process. She likes everything in their place and time, and when she ran her own business it marched to a very controlled beat. Another part of her struggle is that she came into the company through an office union which has rules that limit an employee’s ability to work from home or go the extra mile by adding hours. Her expectation of work is formed by the environment she’s worked in.
It’s interesting (to me) to note that our conversation was jump started by a discussion about the work culture in the area of Germany I was visiting–which is full of very hard workers, but is “shackled” (if I can call it that from my very mid-American frame of reference) with labor laws that very firmly limit the raw number of hours a person is allowed to work. (I should also note here that I am no expert on German culture as a whole. Perhaps things are different in different areas of the country … I have no idea of what I don’t know here).
Anyway, the purpose of this entire discussion was to note that I’ve been chewing on a new revelation for me. It shouldn’t be a new revelation, but it is. You see, I’ve been considering myself to be working 9-10 hours a day, and that’s still true. But that’s only the work I’m doing in the day-job. I’m certain I also spend 15-20 hours a week on this writing gig, which I approach as a professional to the greatest degree I can. In other words, it’s a job … though I’ve never really considered it as such, and so I’ve never considered the time I’ve spent on it as “working.”
If I change my frame of reference I see that I’m working 60-70 hours a week.
I find it interesting for several reasons, the first of which is that I now have a new perspective by which to grant myself the right to be tired all the time [grin]. The second is that I realize I do not resent at all the amount of time I put into by work. This is different from the past. When I was working 12 hour days in my younger-days job (and traveling a boatload) I often resented being away from home. I loved the work, mind you. It was great stuff, and very “romantic” from an engineering standpoint, very heady stuff for a late-twenties kid to be driving. But it wasn’t how I wanted to be. Especially when my daughter came along. The third thing I find interesting is that while I don’t resent the work hours, I do resent all the time we have to spend doing the base logistical things it takes to keep the world around us running. I don’t remember thinking that before.
I realize there are a lot of things tied up in this conversation. An advantage of the “old” days is that work very rarely bled into the home environment. Now everything is a mix. I also note that after Brigid arrived in our lives, Lisa stayed home. She did 99% of all the home logistics, so there was considerably less to be resentful of in those days.
* Aside: — Lisa has said a time or two that I probably appreciate her more now that she’s working and we have to do all the basics together in our “free” time. And I say, no, I’ve always respected and appreciated the work she did at those times … but that I don’t think she respected herself as much then as she does/would now. Having a spouse stay home is a major competitive advantage, and dads and moms who chose do to stay at home should be viewed as a critical enabler of the family unit.
But I also think it’s interesting that the breakage of work location with working schedule has allowed people to be more effective overall. At least that’s my take on myself. For example, when I need to break at 11:00AM from work because my brain is locked, and I take a fifteen minute walk, or whatever I do to remove myself from the situation, it pretty much never fails that when I come back to the work/problem, I’ve come back with a solid solution as well as a refreshed level of energy to apply to it. Same thing in the morning when I’m writing. I will often get to a blocked point, not know what to do and instead of looking at a flashing cursor I’ll hop onto my work mail to get a read on what the day will be like … and ten minutes later I’ll come back to the cursor and all will be well.
The downside, though, are months like this, where the two (three, counting life logistics) don’t fit into twenty four hours. In May the day job swelled to eat up a ton of time (including the trip to Germany), and my commitment to a writer’s conference this past Saturday ate up a lot of my normal time on the writing job. What hasn’t been taken by the conference was sucked up in launching “Three Days in May.” So I haven’t been getting the word count I like, and so I admit to feeling frustrated at that.
The problem with this modern work-life world, you see, (at least in the mid-American frame of reference) is that you need a lot of personal discipline to keep things apart. You have to make priorities and you have to subordinate one thing to another on any particular day.
And that’s hard.
To make it harder, you know that the decisions you make get viewed and judged by others. In some ways, they define you. Most of the time those judgments will be wrong, of course. And sometimes they will even be a bit unjust. For example, I am of the opinion that some of my mid-American co-workers (who don’t have any understanding of the German work environment) feel that their German counter-parts are incapable, or lazy, or merely unproductive. This is not correct, of course. Having been there, I know they are very productive, perhaps even more efficient than we are because, in some ways, work compresses to fill the allotted time. But they cannot possibly get the same amount of work done in 35 hours than we can do in 55. So what do they do?
Life is tough, you know?
I admit I’m not fully certain what the point of this discussion really is. All I can say is this: Calling writing a “job” (rather than just something I’m approaching as a professional) has me looking at my use of time in a different light. It’s making me step back and assess the way the world works and the places that Lisa and I sit in it. It’s making me thing about my own sense of self-discipline in fresh ways. It’s making me asses who I am again.
I thought you might find it valuable to do the same thing.
May 13, 2013 Daily Writing
Why is it that just when you think you’ve got things under some semblance of control, the world just hits the accelerator and everything starts moving three times as fast? I was all kinda caught up and moving on with several projects when I hopped on a plane and went to Germany for a week. And there went the flow.
Slowly getting back to it, though. As you probably saw, John and I released Three Days in May. And I’m nearing the end of the reading I need to do for the critique sessions I signed up for at next week’s writing conference.
And I suppose I should note that while I was away I received a very nice email from Sheila Williams reporting that she found my story “Primes” to be exciting, and wanted to include it in a future issue of Asimov’s. Very happy, happy here.
And this evening I went through the copy edits of “Teammates,” the story that will be in Galaxy’s Edge in mid-summer sometime.
My pedometer shows 27K steps and counting tonight.
So, yeah. Things are getting back to normal.
A couple weeks back, I noted that John Bodin and I were collaborating again. This has resulted in the short story “Speeding,” which will be prominently featured in a short anthology that we’ll be releasing in about two weeks. The anthology’s title will be Three Days in May, The Greatest Spectacle in Science Fiction, and will include our previously published short stories “Oh-oh” from the Fictionwise anthology School’s Out: Switchblade and “The Day the Track Stood Still,” of Analog fame. All of these are based on the Indianapolis 500, naturally, and the goal is to have it available as the track opens up.
I’ll drop you the cover later today or tomorrow.
I think I can speak for John when we say we’re really excited about this work.
I can’t begin to tell you how busy this past week or more has felt. Besides getting Three Days … together, I can announce this morning that Episode Six of the fantasy series is finally “done” (meaning it’s ready for a beta-read and copy editing and all the other “post-creative” work it takes to make it into a real thing that I want others to have access to.
And work. Three days in Indy last week (fitting, given the anthology, right?), and then four days “off-site” this week, and an entire week next week. These off-site things change the dynamic of the day, and can be really wearing–especially since it seems like nothing else really gets done in the everyday of the process, you know?
Then there’s been reading. Of course. There is always reading. In addition to a bunch of short stories, I’m currently reading astronaut Jerry Ross’s memoir–which was a gift from Lisa Silverthorne.
And there’s fitness–well over 20K steps a day, and several trips to the health club to make sure we hit our monthly “quota.”
And grass cutting.
If you read this blog for any time, you’ll eventually come to the conclusion that I’m interested in a few things–writing (of course), fitness, and how people think and react.
In light of the third element, I’ve seen some recent churn on the viral video from Dove wherein a forensic artist is asked to sketch women as they describe themselves, and then do a different one where other people describe them. The result is a more “traditionally beautiful” image when someone other than the subject describes the subject rather than when the subject describes herself.
The churn is a slow-burn that questions why women feel the need to be “traditionally” beautiful in the first place. I think that’s a fair enough question, but misses the point of the exercise.
For the 10 people in the world who haven’t seen it, here’s the video:
The detractors I’ve seen generally argue that women shouldn’t feel the need to meet some standard of beauty at all. Why should they want to look a particular way? Why should they want to be “pretty” as defined by a societal norm? While I agree with that basic sentiment, I don’t find those questions to be particularly interesting or valuable. The answer is fairly obvious, and I don’t think that it’s ever going away. (The other point that’s relevant is that Dove, by running the event, is accentuating the societal norm, which again is fair … but not particularly interesting or surprising to me for the same reasons as above).
But I have to admit that I think the actual point of the video is far more interesting, and, since it has roots in individual perception rather than in societal norm, is far more addressable. I am always interested in how people think versus what is “reality.” I think it’s far more interesting to ask why a person misjudges themselves relative to what others think than ask why the baseline of human nature is what it is. And in this case, the fact that women grade themselves down relative to how other people see them (whether it’s physically, intellectually, or in areas of achievement) is important.
I mean, I think it’s fair to say that given the choice, a majority of men would pretty much all prefer to be 6’4″ and cut like a diamond with a set of washboard abs, too. So it’s not like women hold the market on being interested in looking good as defined by the majority of human existence. At its root, though, this exercise (which could well have lots of scientific issues, of course) still stands as a banner for situations where people (in this case, of course, women) misread what is real about themselves.
For example, some years ago, Lisa and I were talking about performance of kids at school. Lisa felt girls were held back in the classroom. Which is true in many ways … a mixed classroom has been often proven to be male dominated. But I said that, while this should be addressed, classroom behavior may not be the actual measure that matters. I said it was always known that the girls in my high school were the smart ones. That 4.0s and honor society kids were very often girls. I don’t know about your city, but our local paper prints the lists of the top 10 students at each high school each spring, so I told her she should look in the paper every time they are printed, really look, and she would find these lists are heavily dominated by girls–despite the male domination of the classroom environment. Those conversations were at least ten, maybe fifteen years ago. And I’m fairly certain that every list since that time has been at least 60% female–most of them 70%. This past spring one of our three or four schools top 10 list was nine female and one male. I knew I could make this highly unscientific statement because I’ve been actually watching.
I think it’s fascinating that populations of people who are different react and perceive things differently. I think it’s important to understand these differences, and it’s important to ensure these differences are not being used to the detriment of the people involved in them merely for the fact that they exist. But I think it’s also important to understand that these differences are a normal part of human behavior.
In both of these cases, you can ask: Is the problem the norm, or is the problem the perception of self? In both the quest for physical beauty and the quest to feel comfortable in the classroom, a female can be made to feel uncomfortable–and that’s a problem of itself. But in both cases, one can also ask if we’re actually looking at the subject “correctly.” The top females apparently learn quite well in the classroom (at least relative to males in Columbus, anyway), despite any angst they feel. And females are often not as happy with how they look relative to others reality. Or let’s run the counter experiment with males and see what we come up with. As I said, male humans have their own hierarchical needs of self-fulfillment.
I don’t have any grand answers here. I don’t have any chest-beating philosophy of the “right” way to look at things. I agree with the naysayers regarding the video and its reliance upon the societal norm. But I don’t want to discount the fundamental aspect of human nature behind the experiment itself. I mean, just look at the expressions on the women’s faces as they are exposed to the way they see themselves. Those expressions are, to me, the point of the story. We are not going to get rid of perception, of people slanting the meanings of various events and situations. But the expressions on these women’s faces define the gap between their perceptions and the “reality” of the world with regard to this one very individually charged issue.
They are the things that are most interesting to me.
Since I’ve “finished” episode six, I’ve decided to spend the next day or two reading through the raw material that will complete the next section. I’m doing this to plant the whole of the story back into my head so that I know where everything is going when I begin to write it anger.
Of course, having started this, I’ve already hit upon a couple small pieces that I think belong better in the last episode–which means I’m not actually done with episode six.
This is, of course, why I’m working on the entire suite before I decide to release it again. In terms of raw work, it doesn’t matter whether the stuff fits in six or seven episodes, of course. But I’m finding it psychologically difficult to keep going back to something I had earlier felt was done up just fine and dandy.
Still, back I go.
I’ve created two place holders in episode six, and half-filled one. Will finish up once again tomorrow, or perhaps tonight.
Apr 15, 2013 Daily Writing
Another good morning sees episode six drawing near its end. The shape of it is done, though I still need to smooth the last 1-15 pages again. Then it will be time for the full read-through. Then it will be truly “done.” Except, of course, there’s the beta reading, and the copy editing.
This leaves only episode seven before I consider the full piece “done.” There may be more afterward. I have ideas. But I’ll let the first seven episodes carry the weight for a while and see what happens. So, as we move on to the last bits of the actual writing, I find myself peering occasionally at the decisions I’ll be making regarding how to progress toward market. Do I Indie it directly, as I had originally planned, or do I point to a small press and see what the options are? The Magic 8 Ball reads “Check Back Later.”
But, yeah, it will be good to move onto different things.
A good long morning in the chair has seen me run through more than half of episode 6 in one setting, and for the first time I think it all flows really well. Perhaps one more day and the whole thing will be basically done. Perhaps.
The “final” enabling process to this successful resorting was taking time to draw out a flow chart that was a combination of a chronological time flow and a plot outline. Doing this exposed the exact place I was getting myself confused, thereby making it easier to figure out what I needed to do.
These things are interesting proofs of the things I think about work in general. There is an order to things, and set of steps by which work goes properly, and when you try to force a process without doing things in the right order (or sometimes with the right frame of mind), then they just don’t work out as you want them to. For example, I’m fairly sure I needed to fix the plotline problem I talked about last post before I was really able to make this view of the story work. In fact, there’s no question about this at all–the place of my confusion was directly tied to the fact that a vital scene of the story wasn’t in existence, so I had nothing to pivot the rest of the plotline around. Once that scene existed, it was so much easier to find this problem.
Ron’s law for today is that this fact applies to every kind of work in existence, though it’s perhaps more clear in a production oriented world like writing. But it’s a strong rule of thumb in the corporate world, too, or any other collaborative thing. If you’re at the office Monday morning and thinking about something that isn’t working well, my advice to you is to see what things your team is trying to do without some basic building block of support (and my prediction is that that missing building block is most likely created by a fact of human nature that a manager or leader someplace has either discounted or missed someplace).
Anyway. Great morning/afternoon writing. Special thanks to my beloved Lisa for selflessly doing the grocery shopping alone this morning so I could work.
My wife. I hope she’ll keep me.
Work (among other things) is kicking my tail this week. That’s what happens when you have two full days of off-site training, I guess. It’s all good, though. I guess. I also went to a local writer’s group session, wherein I passed back a read of Bill Johnson’s next novel. His first, Earth 2.0: Prison Planet, is pretty good (especially if you like your SF as an equal part space opera and pulpy goodness). This one is even better.
Anyway, this morning I finished adding a new section of episode six of my Lords of Existence series. Definitely needed that. For the first time, I think the whole story is now together. I’ll take a and give the whole thing a single-setting read to see what I think then. This is actually one problem with doing the morning writing thing–it’s hard to find a long stretch of time to do one consolidated read of anything long. Perhaps this is another reason I find so much enjoyment of the short story field. While I’m constantly reading in small stints of time, I like absorbing things in their entirety. Similarly, working on long, novel length pieces using an hour or two a day feels a lot like the old story about blind me describing an elephant.
Perhaps that’s just me, though. Yes, I know … first world problems … woe is me. Whatever. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the weekend.
Apr 8, 2013 Daily Writing
Besides watching two great basketball games this weekend (Go Cards!), I managed to get considerable work done on two projects. First, I finished a draft of a short story tentatively titled “Racing Against Time.” This is the collaboration with John Bodin I mentioned a few days back. It’s sitting back in his queue and we’ll see how he reacts to it in the next few days (grinning). Then I spent most of yesterday on episode six of my fantasy series.
It’s strange how things work out.
Earlier, I had removed a short story’s worth of work from the bulk of the piece, and it felt good. But this weekend I worked out all the kinks to the storyline, and realized I wanted it back in there–and (here’s the kicker) that the process of pulling it out and looking at the storyline without it (or looking at the short story line on its own) revealed to me a major plot point that I had just kinda glossed over.
It’s too late in the morning to complete it comfortably now, but I’ve jotted notes, and tomorrow I’ll come back and add it in. And I believe, insert gif of Ron knocking on virtual wood, the story will flow quite easily from this point on.
Time will tell, though. Time will tell.
And, uh, Go Cards!
John Bodin and I are, once again, committing collaboration on another piece inspired by the Indy 500. These are great fun to write. First, I think John’s a great idea guy, and so that’s just fun to be around. Second, writing about the 500 reminds me of my grandfather, who made his living running a service station, and whose passion for cars and auto racing almost certainly instilled a similar interest in me (though don’t expect me to fix much of anything on a car these days). I will always remember sitting on his back porch and listening to the race on an old radio on a hot day in May, the aluminum glasses of coke we had sitting on a wire-frame table and sweating in the humidity of the noontime in late May.
Anyway, John sent me a draft of a story a few days back. I read it through the first time and, sure enough, it had some great ideas in it, and characters of interest, and a twist that was so, so sweet. I let it sit a day and went back to it. Yes, it was missing a bit, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I did some streamlining, mostly to get a feel for the characters. I took maybe 400 words out of the story. Then, as I was finishing up that activity I was struck by some questions. I spent five minutes in a furious free-writing exercise wherein I created a paragraph each about who these characters were, and what they cared about. As I went upstairs I thought about their family lives–who do they have close to them? What were their dreams? Had they achieved them? How did those dreams drive their actions in the story?
And then (warning: stereotypical cliche coming) in the shower (yes, I know, too much info), it hit me what needed to happen to make this work fully for me.
The cool thing here is that I can actually see these things in the draft John wrote. I have no idea if they are there on purpose or whether they are there as part of the subconscious of John’s creative process. Or perhaps they are only there to my eyes, which are tied to a brain with both these pre-conceived notions and its all-to-human propensity to see patterns where none exist. Who knows? All I can say is that I really like what’s come together for me, and I’m betting John will, too. We’re good collab partners, so it seems to just kind of work like that for us.
Anyway, I spent half the morning doing some research, and the other half beginning to re-sketch part of the story. With luck, it’ll be back in his court in a couple days.
Some say a collaboration is twice the work for half the pay. This may be true. But with the right collaborator, it’s also twice the fun.
Apr 1, 2013 Daily Writing
Since I’m now essentially working on two episodes at once, I’ve decided to compartmentalize my near-term the work into three buckets. Prior to this morning, I had bucket 1) Fix up short story to make it, you know, like, a full short story (with a point of being all by itself), and I had bucket 2) Deal with a stronger launch of the protagonist into episode seven, and I had Bucket 3) Better explain the disappearance of a main character that will be the driving force of that same episode seven.
This morning I think I fixed bucket 3.
Yeah, I know. Doesn’t sound like much of a resume stuffer (Achievements: “I fixed bucket three” just doesn’t resonate, does it?). But I’m reminded of Dean Smith’s conversation from Oregon. “Just write scenes,” he said. And if you do that consistently, everything works out.
So today I wrote on a scene. And tomorrow I’ll write on another one, and before you know it these three buckets will be in the rearview mirror and I’ll be onto a fresh set of problems.
I’ve spent the last couple mornings working to restructure episodes 6 and 7 into a short story and a short novella (perhaps even dropping it into novelette territory–though we will see). It was a bit difficult to concentrate to concentrate this morning, though. First, I woke up considerably later this morning than normal (the cat alarm clock has been slipping lately). Second, Brigid and Nick being here draw me upstairs much earlier than normal–this is a good interruption, of course!. And third, I have to admit to being distracted by the upcoming game between my beloved Louisville Cardinals and the dastardly Blue Devils from Duke.
Still, work has been accomplished.
And that is good.
The short story should be fairly simple to complete now that I’ve separated it. The novella is a little more complex because it needs (1) a new way to knit two story threads together, and (2) a new segment to deal with a deep character interaction that occurred off-stage in my earlier work.
Ah, the fun of writing never ends, I say. It never ends!
On a last note, here’s another bit of SF-related history from the Letters of Note site.
I grabbed this list of Joss Whedon’s writing tips from another place–someone’s twitter or Facebook page–a day or three ago, and thought it was great (of course). Then I followed the link at its bottom to these tips from Neil Gaiman, which are equally full of tremendous, but even more so.
The reason I say more so is that Gaiman adds what I consider to be his most important commentary on the act of writing–his advice in item number eight: The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
I love the use of the words assurance and confidence in that advice. For me, they are what set this piece apart–that and the fact that Gaiman is aware enough to lift his commentary up out of the morass of writing advice to suggest it might be applied to all areas of life. Think about that as you sit down to write today–or as you sit down to do anything. What does it take for you to be confident and assured? How does your voice change when you take on that feeling? How does your work feel? How do the people who are affected by your work (whatever it is) feel?
For what it’s worth, the item on Whedon’s list that strikes me most right now is his number three: Have Something to Say. I’ve been reading a lot of unpublished material the past month from a lot of different writers, and I find routinely that these two pieces of advice go together in some form of synchronicity that is hard to define other than to say that pieces with something to say tend to be ones wherein the author grabs you confidently with something that’s interesting early in the piece and then never lets you go.
Mar 26, 2013 Daily Writing
The lull between basketball games is a good thing, I think.
Turning to episode six has been an interesting adventure. The overall story arc of the world is currently lying in several threads, the “main” arc is really three chords twining together, but the third one of these is really a bit of a dead-end in that it will play out to its end shortly, then (having served its characters and its story purpose in noble fashion), will fade to black.
When I was jamming this into the novel, it was a side-story that I think had enough interest to carry people along, and that did have some value in fleshing out the story in a deeper fashion, but didn’t really have a full place of its own. It wasn’t absolutely necessary for a reader to get the intent of the work as a whole. I remember thinking I should consider killing it for the greater good. Now, though, I’m beginning to think “Short story” or “Mini-episode.”
Though I retain the right to change my mind, as I sit here this morning just digging into the episode-six stuff, the idea of a mini-episode fits. The plot line feels like it carries its own purpose, and is interesting (to me, and hopefully to readers of the series) because it delves into a prominent, but secondary character much more deeply than I’ve done in the past with this series. If it sat on its own, it might feel better than it does sitting in the midst of all this other stuff going on.
These are the kinds of things I’m enjoying about the process of breaking this thing into pieces that seem to work better. This is what I mean when I say that I think the work breathes better.
Or, well, maybe I’m just making stuff up, you know? Kidding myself. I’m a writer, after all. I make stuff up all the time.
It was a big basketball weekend, of course. My Cardinals of Louisville are riding high, and seem to be a reasonable favorite to win it all. Lots of good teams out there, though, far too much competition left to get particularly cocky.
Myke Cole, a writing acquaintance of mine who I recently met in person for the first time, tweeted yesterday that “Writing short stories because you want to be a novelist is like practicing to ride a motorcycle because you want to drive a car.”
Given that there exist many very fine race drivers throughout history who learned their race craft on motorcycles before moving to automobile racing (can you say world champion John Surtees, among many others?), and given the fact that for many, many years a gajillion novelists in our speculative field of Fantasy and Science Fiction got their starts writing short stories, I have to admit I found Myke’s commentary a bit too restrictive. Myke and I bandied about conversation on his FB page, and then let it die. As I said there, we would agree, I think (I hope?), about more than we disagree. Myke is a completely Grade A guy, and I admire the heck out of him for many reasons. Realize, too, that at the end of the day, though I’ve written several novel-length works, Myke is successfully publishing them. In that light, I am a short story guy. So take my thoughts with big grains of thought-salt.
And my thoughts here are that–especially for new writers–the most important thing is to learn how to actually write as rapidly as possible. And I think you learn to write by writing things that get you excited. For some folks writing novels is what gets them excited–they can deal with the time investment required to complete one on spec and move on. But a vast majority of new writers I run into don’t have that psychology. They want a sense of having completed something … and in most cases that’s an important aspect of the learning curve. For them, short stories work as their proving grounds just fine. For them, the act of writing short stories provides them the ability to rapidly try out new and different forms of storytelling–fiddle with plot points, and with structure, and characterization and dialect and whatever. Writing short stories gives new writers a place to practice basic prose craft, and work out how to make the flow of information in their work happen well for them.
Of course, plotting a novel is different than plotting a short story. The pacing is different. The short story is more precise–more focused. But ultimately, I think a novel has many short stories in it. A good one, anyway. I think every major secondary character in a good novel has his or her own storyline, and that storyline is essentially a short story in itself–the telling of which is spread out over the entirety of the book. So it seems to me that the act of writing short stories can’t possibly do anything but augment a new writer’s ability to write a good novel.
Perhaps I’m just making that up. I don’t know.
I’m a short story guy, you see?
So, while I agree totally with Myke that novelists can learn to be novelists by writing novels (and that perhaps that’s even the best way), I think there is no reason you can’t include writing short stories on your list of activities that will help you become a novelist, just like riding a motorcycle over a road course is a helluva good way to learn the racing line (which is paramount to being a great race car driver).
That’s my .02, anyway.
So, after this morning’s work episode 5, Lords of Existence, is “in the can.” This means, to me anyway, that the creation of story is now done and it’s moving into the steps more closely aligned with production rather than deep story telling. I personally include some beta reading in this production phase, but that’s just me. It rings in at about 25,400 words by the trusty Microsoft counter, and brings our hero to a new understanding of both himself and the world at large. I’m quite enjoying it.
We now move to episode 6, which I’ve laid out previously but which will need a bit of tweaking based on a small turn that rose itself up in episode five. That happens, you know. And mostly it’s pretty good when it does–though a bit annoying with the rewrites it causes.
My intention is to get either seven or eight episodes complete prior to moving into the release phase–which could, of course, go a few different directions. More coming on that in the future.
Mar 24, 2013 Daily Writing
Excellent morning at the keyboard, though it started too late. I was a slacker and didn’t rise until just past 8:00 AM today, which is surprising since usually the cat will wake me well before then. Stranger and stranger, this feline thing we live with.
Anyway, I’ve made it through Lords of Existence. Kind of.
This means, I’ve gotten to the end, and I think it’s good. Except that I know I need to do one more thing with it, and as I’m sitting here right this moment–having completed two 90 minute writing stints–I don’t have the emotional drive to do what I need to do with it. So, I’ll pause for lunch.
Then I’ll see what’s up with Lisa, but I expect we’ll probably run to the health club. And by then I suspect I’ll be ready to make the actual end happen. And I suspect it will be good–much better than if I plowed through for another thirty minutes right this moment. I’m strange that way. Or maybe it’s just my form of creativity as a whole. If I give it space, it comes back.
Gotta love that.
I actually use this thing about me a lot at work, too. Folks will see me occasionally taking a fifteen minute walk around the building, and most the time it’s just me getting my brain back into shape to actually accomplish the thing I want to finish with good quality.
But I digress … and I’m hungry.
See you on the other side of lunch. [grin]
Mar 23, 2013 Daily Writing
Holy cripes there’s a lot to do this weekend. If the world were just we would get two day work weeks and five day weekends. But the world, alas, is not just.
That’s what I retain from my college course in logic, anyway.
It’s been a good morning, though. I managed to zip through a bunch of Episode Five. It’s down to just under twenty pages to go–though the next five or so just may need some serious pruning. This novella will wind up some 25K word long before it’s all said and done. Now it’s time to grab a snack and hit the health club. Then comes a big snack, some other stuff, and then maybe a heavier lunch out. Of course, Louisville plays tonight (Go Cards!). Evening time is for light reading and editing or Netting or whatnot.
Then tomorrow’s all filled up, too–not the least should be the finishing of Episode Five.
Yes, my friends, life is tough.
And, seriously, let’s give a thought to this idea of the five-day weekend, m’kay?
Mar 22, 2013 Daily Writing
Very good morning at the keyboard. I’m now two-thirds through what I expect to be the last run through Lords of Existence, and the work is flowing really well. I’m getting that feeling where everything makes sense (which shouldn’t be too remarkable, I suppose, since a few days back when I realized what the story was about). I have a gajillion other things to deal with over the weekend, but I’m in the last 30-40 pages of this one, and you can be sure that I’ll work hard to finish the work on it before the weekend is done.
Off to work, now.
Have a great day.
See you on the other side.
Mar 21, 2013 Daily Writing
As projected, I was side-tracked with a short story rewrite that took up a morning and a half of my time. This was “The Guardians a Chicago,” a story I expect to be in an anthology soonish. And it wasn’t a rewrite so much as it was a very detailed pass at the language of the piece. Based on the last two days, I think I’m through with that, though. Will read it one more time tomorrow and (ideally) away it will go.
As I sit here at my writing desk, I have a pile of paper in the middle that is are early drafts of the next couple episodes of the fantasy series, and there’s a map of the land, and a single-page, condensed network diagram of the plot lines these episodes will follow, and on the right side of my desk is a pile of short story manuscripts of things either in process or that are now complete and I need to file away or dump.
In the meantime, I’m also reading a friend’s WIP (novel) and have received a couple stories for the critique sessions I’ve agreed to do at a conference in April. Then, of course, there’s this thing called “real work,” or “the day job,” or … well, you get the drift.
In other words, it’s definitely busy.
Mar 19, 2013 Daily Writing
I’m in what I expect to be the final dash for Episode 5, Lords of Existence. Now that I fully get it, I went back to the beginning this morning, and ran through the first half of it again (55-60 pages or so). I would like to get the second half done tomorrow morning, but knowing the back-end is still a little suspect, I imagine it will take two mornings.
Who knows, though? Maybe it will take three? Or maybe work will rise up and steal a morning, or maybe another project will wriggle in there somewhere. Maybe, as happened last night, I’ll need to do a quick pass on a copyedit for a story in the pipeline–one is actually due to pop up again pretty soon in the form of some work I’m planning on for “The Guardians of Chicago”–the short story slated to be included in Kerrie Hughes’s Hex in the City.
All I can say for sure right this moment is that I’ll use the time I have, I’ll hit the deadlines I need to hit, and all will work out in the end.
Mar 18, 2013 Daily Writing
A story, I think, really ought to have something to say. And episode 5, which will almost certainly be titled Lords of Existence, is at that point where I’m working particularly hard to ensure it says what I want it to say. To me at least.
The great thing about the “have something to say,” thing is that if it’s done well that something to say can be and should be interpreted through the eyes of the reader. And I am, of course, attempting to do it well. Aside: Why am I suddenly flashing back to hearing Mike Resnick’s voice saying “no one in Hollywood ever sat down and said ‘I’m going to make a crappy movie?’” I suppose it has something to do with that phrase, done well. Shiver.
Regardless, I’m finding myself very much interested in Ep 5, and now that I know what it’s about more deeply at its core I am thinking through a bit of re-arranging of the furniture. I’m asking if bits currently embedded in Ep 5 need to be pushed into Ep 6. I’m thinking maybe they do. We shall see.
It’s all much fun.
See you tomorrow. Or tonight [he says, grinning].
Happy anniversary to my sweetie!
So, yeah, I’ve been working on the fantasy series again, and it’s been going well enough. But this morning I finally figured out what episode 5 is about, and suddenly things seem so much easier. Like most such epiphanies, this one had a sense of “well, duh” about it.
The problem, I think, is that the parts of the story I’m working on now had only been complete through first draft in their novel form. Since my base work is to cut the story back into its novella chunk origins, I’m left with some ragged edges. Once the surgery is done, I need to be able to step back and look at the whole thing and re-image it in ways that makes sense as stand-alone pieces as well as within the full context of the macro-story arc.
Anyway, this means episode 5 is in the bag.
Not in the can, of course. But in the bag. Episodes 1 and 2 are “in the can” (as in ready to release into final production), and episodes 3 and 4 are in the final beta reader stage–beyond “in the bag,” and very close to being “in the can.” Episode 5 is merely “in the bag.” But that’s all good.
Hey, it’s writer logic. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but me.
Mar 14, 2013 Daily Writing
Last night, I had another brief distraction from the novellas in the form of the need to review the copy edited manuscript of “The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane.” This is the story that will be published soon in the Fiction River anthology titled “How to Save the World.” It’s always interesting to get a manuscript back after copy edit, because no matter how much you think it’s perfect in every way, a good copy editor can make it better.
I’m thinking a lot about this aspect of things lately due to the workshop, and due to the fact that I’ve now got several things in various stages of production. And, I guess, because of the talk I did last October on rewriting. So many (new) writers think that “writing” is about word choice and perfect grammar and running spell check. Don’t get me wrong–all those are important in the end. But writing is not about any of those things to me.
Writing, to me, is about story. It’s about the events that happen and it’s about the characters that they happen to and it’s about what the reader walks away with. Of course you need to pick good words, and of course you need to present them in a way that is clear to the reader. But grammar, spelling, and even (to a lesser degree) finding that perfect word in the perfect place, are things that fit in my mind better in the “production line” side of the process (wherein a great story is made to shine like the diamond it is).
And yet, when I talk to newer writers or folks who are not yet thinking about things in what I’ll (so grandiosely) call professional ways, all they focus on are the words. They want the words to sound pretty together. I’m not sure what drives this. Perhaps it’s a thing wrapped up in the urge not to look silly that we humans have. Words that don’t go together well kid of clunk together and make us appear stupid. So, yeah, I get that. In addition, the words you use do have this essence of definition of your art–powerful use of language can be a joy to read all in itself.
But in the end, we have barely any ability to affect those things. We are who we are, and in the end that is enough. Our words, assuming a base-level ability to use them at all, are just fine. And manuscripts will rarely be rejected for a misplaced word here or there, whereas they will almost certainly be rejected for a story that just doesn’t work.
So, I think at these times, why is it that when new writers think of rewriting, they think of line editing and copy editing (which are product-line, preparation processes, and which can be outsourced) rather than content editing and storytelling analysis (which are, in my thinking) the real skills a writer needs to have?
Anyway, this morning it was back to the novella’s, where I’m up to about page 80 of episode five. All is moving along nicely.
Yes, I did say that yesterday I started back on the fantasy novella project, and I did say that yesterday it went well. Of course, today I was diverted by some work I needed to accomplish on a pair of short stories. Welcome to the life of a writer with a day-job. One of those short stories is now out in the cold, cold world wherein it’s soon to be submitted to the harsh reality of inspection wherein it could be gobbled up, or could be spit out for some perceived faulty use of characterization or weak-kneed attempt at metaphor or perhaps some problem that might exist in a run-on sentence. The other remains in process.
Tomorrow I assume it will be back to the fantasy novella’s.
Quick recommendation. Here’s “Creator of the Cosmos Job Interview,”a fun little story from Nick DiChario found on the new online mag Galaxy’s Edge. It’s very Nick-like, which is a good thing. I think. [grin]
Finally — my latest step-quest update.
I have to be straight here, while going to the workshop in Oregon was an absolute, and maybe life-changing event, it played holy havoc on my step count. Only one of those days did I manage as many at 14K, and at least two of those days I was down between 3K and 5K. This the means that even with a 30K day or two recently, I need to hit it pretty well the next few days to get back into the ballpark of my goal (which I remind all is to average 20K/day).
I’m only at 15.5K so far today.
Mar 11, 2013 Daily Writing
This morning found me return to the series of fantasy novellas I had been working on so diligently last fall until I got side-tracked by NaNoWriMo, and then a series of short stories, and then the Oregon Writer’s Workshop. I still have work running on a couple short stories, and I have a friend’s WIP novel that I’m reading, but since early January, I had planned on picking up the saga of Garrick and the rest of my Glamour of the God-Touched/Lords of Existence world come March.
This will wind up being at least eight or nine novellas or short novels in the end–perhaps considerably more, depending. Yes, I understand about novella’s. But they are what they are. We will love them just the same, eh?
Anyway, this morning I picked up at episode five and made my way through the first forty pages or so. I hope it says something that I found them quite easy to read through, and that I found myself getting wrapped into the intrigue of the story so easily.
It’s good to be back.
Sunday afternoon, before we left, Lisa Silverthorne and I walked on the beach along the Cost of Lincoln City, Oregon. It was a sunny day, but cold. I was wearing layers, as was Lisa, but the wind can still somehow manage to get through. It didn’t matter, though. It was, at that moment, the perfect place to be.
The previous four days had been spent at a workshop with 25 other writers and four editors in what Kris Rusch and Dean Smith call their Anthology Workshop, but might just as well have been labeled A Crash Course in Blowing Ron’s Mind.
We said almost nothing. For the 30 minutes or so we were out there we probably exchanged 15 words apiece. I took pictures. I toed rocks that had been rounded from the pounding surf. Lisa walked with her head down and her back bent, looking for sea glass, I’m sure. All the while the waves played out in the open ocean. For what it’s worth, the smell of the ocean is different in Oregon than it is in other areas I’ve been–mostly Florida, and the Carolinas. It’s a lighter aroma, more salt, perhaps less organic. What do I know, though? We were only there for a little while.
I can’t say everything that was going through Lisa’s mind.
For me, though, I was reflecting on these previous four days and trying to put them into some context. I’ve been to workshops before, of course. And writers groups. And I’ve been doing this writing gig for a while (checking the record books, yeah, “The Spearhead” came out in 1994). I can’t do it, though. It was a small thing, only four days in a twenty+ year journey, but it felt huge. It was 65 hours built of probably a hundred different pieces, few of which maybe make a dent standing by themselves, but each magnifying the whole. Moments such as:
- A discussion with Matt Buchman that was enlightening and inspiring, but was made complete merely by the expression on his face at one crystal-clear moment.
- Lisa selling a story, and then me following along in her footsteps. I’m happy for all the others’ success, too, including Angie Penrose’s first sale … which was pretty danged cool. But Lisa, man, she’s my bud. [grin]
- Listening to John Helfers argue with himself over a story and get so spun up about something that almost, but didn’t quite work. And realizing just how much he was rooting for that writer, how much that editor wanted the writer to succeed even though he was rejecting the work.
- High-fiving Lisa after Kris pointed out our long and winding road of submissions to F&SF during her tenure.
- The set on Carrie’s jaw as she argued with Dean for more words. And Dean’s tight-lipped shaking of the head. The way these two actions define the business so deeply.
- Going to dinner and having an already full table of writers scooch around to make room for me at the table.
- Sitting at the Anchor Inn and being tempted by two more pancakes.
- Writers being happy for others’ success.
- Breakfast with Irette and DeAnna.
- Going to bed at 2:00AM for only a 1-hour nap because I was so damned tired, but the story wasn’t done, and then 30 seconds after hitting the pillow feeling the next line rise out of my brain like a whale breaching.
- Finishing the damned thing at 5:30AM and feeling so close to my young, black, female protagonists that I could hear her blues harp in my brain as I finally drifted to sleep.
- Dean describing for me the WMG war room of white boards that contained their work schedules. I freaking love war rooms.
- Lunch on Saturday with Lisa.
- The writing dare Lisa and I took on Thursday afternoon that yielded a short story titled “Survivors”
- Reading 26 stories in a day. After having written two in the two days prior. And between sitting in three workshop session. The workload was intense.
- Doing a quick audio cut-over, and hearing little Nola’s work before mine.
- Sharing pizza at the end.
Yeah, I’m dwelling. But it’s really, really hard not to dwell right now. This was a remarkable four days. I have to thank Kris and Dean, and Kerrie and John, and the 26 other writers who were there, and the rest of the folks at WMG, and the Anchor (a hotel and the people of which, believe me, are every bit as important to this thing as any other part of it).
So we walked on the beach. I stopped every so often and stared out over the water, wishing I could peer out farther and farther and maybe even see Japan. But the world doesn’t work that way, of course. A mist hung over the cresting waves to obscure the horizon, and even if it hadn’t the geometry of the earth itself would put a crimp to my fancy for the Far East. There is a bend on the beach, too, a cliff with a rocky outcropping that protects the area behind it from prying eyes. I ran up there, though, and I looked at the rest of the beach that ran out to the north.
The world hides what it can, you know? If I’ve learned anything in my twenty years or so of figuring out this field it’s that the world will hide everything it can. But every now and again, you can run up on a ridge and small bits will be revealed to you.
When we returned to the car Lisa and I talked about the session, and about writing, and about how these things define certain things in ways that are impossible to really describe.
Then I turned the key, backed out of the parking area, and we drove onward. Onward, as the world will always have it.
I’m pleased to announce that John Helfers has accepted my short story “The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane” for publication in his Fiction River anthology “How to Save the World.”
I’m sitting here in a hotel room in Portland, Oregon, reflecting back on four outstanding days spent at a workshop hosted by Kris Rusch and Dean Smith, and supported by John Helfers and Kerrie L. Hughes–not to mention attended by 26 other really fantastic writers. I can’t begin to say what a joy it is to be in an environment that’s as writer-positive as this. I feel like I could write for days–except, of course, that I’m also pretty much brain-dead from two nights in a row of something approaching zero sleep.
Yes, John presented his news to me at the session. Perhaps even more cool is that my bestest writing buddie of all times ever, Lisa Silverthorne sold a pair of stories at the workshop. Pretty danged cool.
I lost Friday night’s sleep to writing a story titled “Guardians of Chicago,” a story we wrote in essentially one day and had reviewed immediately thereafter. At four-thousand words, it’s a story I really fought for. It received remarkably good reaction, which I admit I’m quite pleased about. I’m hoping for some good news on this sometime soon–will update when possible.
I lost Saturday’s sleep to a combination of time spent discussing the writing environment with the gang, and reading material to be prepared for the (last) segment of the workshop that ran earlier this morning.
Lisa and I also wrote a “challenge” story in the three hours of Thursday afternoon we had while waiting for the session to start. With only three hours to utilize, the stories are obviously short. But it was fun, and I would not be surprised at all if they both wind up doing well.
I learned a ton watching the editors do their work, and I met a bunch of really outstanding people. I’m leaving with my head spinning and totally soaked with about a hundred different thoughts. Really a great experience.
Will be back in Columbus tomorrow, though. And then it will be back to the same-old, same-old.
Feb 23, 2013 Daily Writing
So, I know what I’ll be doing for the next few days worth of my “free time.”
I’ll be heading to Oregon next Wednesday to participate in a workshop focused on anthologies, hosted by Kris Rusch and Dean Smith. This morning we received a reading assignment–work through 20+ stories by the time the workshop begins. That’s a lot of reading for me.
On the bright side, at least I won’t have any problem meeting my goals of reading at least one short story a day.
Of course, that didn’t keep me from completing the second pass on “Unfolding the Multi-Cloud,” my recent work inspired by 80s pop. Lisa seems to like it, which is, of course, the main reason to write. [grin]
I’ll do a small clean-up tomorrow and probably get it into the mail streams.
And so it goes.
Back to the grindstone.
So the “80s Song Story” turned out to be 3,000 words, rather than 2,500. Who can estimate, eh?
This is relevant to a conversation Brigid (my daughter) and I had yesterday. She’s working on a short story as a partial break from her book, and I asked her to guess how long it would be–realizing my mistake as soon as I said it. Stories wind up being what they need to be, or else they just aren’t much of a story–and until that first draft is done and analyzed, you just never know.
Tomorrow I’ll go through the whole thing again and we’ll see what I think of it. My working title is “Unfolding the Multi-Cloud.” It might stick, or it might not.
Any way it ends, it’s been a fun little three-day foray into story.