February 2013


If you happen to be like me (i.e., lazy) then here’s something I finally got around to making for myself.  It’s very simple, provided that you have either a flash-drive you keep plugged in or an external backup hard-drive, either of which has a fixed drive letter.  Oh, and provided that you keep all your writing in a single folder (I do — it’s fine if you have subfolders within that folder, but it all needs to have a single parent folder you can point the batch at).  And also, provided that you’re using Windows.  I’m sure there are equally simple solutions in other operating systems, but I don’t use them.

Anyway – to make it as easy to back up your writing as a double-click, put the following on a single line a text file:

xcopy c:\path\to\your\writing j:\path\to\your\backup /Y /S /E /C /H /K

Some of those optional flags are probably redundant, but they’re everything I put in place to try and make sure the copy goes smoothly.  To make it work for you, just replace c:\path\to\your\writing with the actual drive location of your main writing folder (you can right click on the folder in Windows, select Properties, and then copy it from the Location value that is displayed if you’re not sure what it is) and then replace the j:\path\to\your\backup with the corresponding backup folder location.

Save the text file as WritingBackup.bat (note — it must be saved as a .bat file and not a .txt file, or it will simply open up in a text editor instead of running), and then put it somewhere convenient on your desktop.  Then, whenever you want to back up your writing, just double click it, and your system will run the backup for you.

Nice and easy!

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One of my friends is a professor of English, who teaches a variety of classes and courses.  He’s extraordinarily smart, making me feel a little daft at times to be honest, and he has what is a substantially different approach to novel-writing to me.  Where I write in a mainly front-to-back fashion, starting the novel at the beginning and then finishing it at the end, he writes scenes out individually when they strike them, having a beginning and an end that he’s thought of, and then tries to assemble them jigsaw-fashion to create his narrative arc.

This is a narrative arc, also mostly known as "what we mostly write without thinking, why do we need a diagram?"

This is a narrative arc.  Also makes a good hat.

He described to me how he printed out all the scenes he’d written, cleared all the furniture from the living room and then set about layering them between the two scenes, figuring out which one goes where with printed piles of scenes end to end.  I liked the image, partly because it reminded me of my hare-brained approach to things, even though at the time I thought it was massively different to how I write.

Now that I’m sitting here and tinkering with my own novel, I’m not sure it’s as different as I thought.

My first draft ended up being 94k words (which is, at best, only half of the complete, finished tale, and probably less than that.  It’s where I draw the line for a “volume 1”, mostly — a critical turning-point that opens a new, directly connected tale while, at the same time, closing the initial story-arc that the tale is built up around.  The break point allows me to take a step back, revise and rethink what comes next.)

My second draft is currently just short of 20k.  This is a mixture of about fifty percent new writing, forty percent directly copied from the original draft and the remainder a mix minor tweaks and edits.  But what I’ve noticed is that as I restructure the narrative arc, although some of the writing is completely new, some scenes get pulled in from the first draft and dropped into wherever they fit within the second draft’s progression.  Although some of the tale seems to be dependent upon the characters’ drive and direction, the specifics of where some of the scenes land is clearly more loose than I’d thought.

And what’s also clear about this is that, if you’re just writing scenes you like and that are individually strong, then you’re rarely going to end up in that “What happens next?” situation where you fill in the gaps between A and B with Scene That Seems Like You Need It, but Is Incredibly Dull and Crap.  I have a few of those scenes, and generally when I get around to editing, I cut out the entire scene and summarise the entire thing back down to a single sentence, if I can’t eliminate it completely.

All rambling nonsense really.  But I write a lot of this junk for myself, to get my ducks in a row.  And now it’s time to return to actually writing the novel, instead of rambling on about novel writing.

I’ve discovered recently that I’m more accomplished if I write early in the day. If I write in the morning, I don’t just get more writing done, I get more of everything done. It sets my day up well, and everything moves on in great fashion. I used to have a habit of leaving my writing until later, to think I could only write after I’d done everything else. But learning to treat it as more of a responsibility is having an impact on everything else too.

I love writing — it makes me feel good, and it also makes me feel productive. So when I do it earlier in the day, it helps to set me up in the right frame of mind to get things done.

This guy maybe started a little TOO early.

This guy maybe started a little too early.

So this morning, I’ve been working on an old short story I half finished before, provisionally titled The Journeymen. This version is a completely fresh rewrite, inspired by the fact that I thought of a new first line for it in the shower yesterday. It’s a light-hearted, occasionally comic sci-fi tale now, but in its previous incarnation it was much more serious. This version is closer to what I think I’d originally envisaged. I like it more, and I’m enjoying working on it again.

But for later in the day, I also have lined up some editing; I have several stories just sitting and waiting to be finished and printed for submission, and I keep putting it off. I looked through my notes, and discovered to my surprise that I haven’t submitted anything since mid-2009; as with so many things, the habit isn’t there yet. I need to give myself a nudge to get back into the habit of actually submitting what I write, or it’ll just sit here on my computer, never read by anyone other than me (or, occasionally, my wife).

It always seems like that should be the easy part…but somehow, it never is.

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this. I may not be particularly good at it yet, but I’m managing to balance what I do for a living with writing regularly, and finally managing to balance my writing a little between working on short fiction and working on my novel.

(I have also spilled coffee all over my work, my notes, my ideas book and my writing log this morning. This is NOT a key part of the balancing act.)

The main thing is, I want to be able to enjoy my writing without just pouring all my efforts into an empty, worthless hole. That means working on my novel, even if that novel may eventually go nowhere; because the act of working on a novel will improve me as a novelist. But at the same time, I need to write short fiction to improve myself as a short story writer — and I believe that becoming stronger at short-form fiction, using tighter and more refined prose, will ultimately roll over and improve me as a novelist too. So both disciplines are required.  And balancing them is critical to getting what I want out of it.

I just discovered even elephants have better balance than I do.

I just discovered even elephants have better balance than I do.  That’s sort of depressing.

I may also consider an online creative-writing course at some point. That’s something I’ve resisted more out of wanting to work on my writing myself than out of anything else, but I think it could be something very useful to me. I strongly doubt I’d come away from it any worse as a writer, and I may discover something that would improve what I do. It seems likely, at least. Classes in person are also an option, but I think the time investment there may be too much for me to afford — it’s hard enough balancing everything I already have going on without adding in something like that.

However; yesterday, I worked on my novel some more, and today I’m putting it partly to one side. Later on, I will be re-reading parts of my first draft again, as well as some of the background stories, and I may well go back into the text to make a few small revisions and additions. But for now, this morning, the main focus is a simple, mainstream slightly-black humour short story — a piece called The Mighty Pie Man, though I’ll leave out all explanation of the premise for this one. As with much of my short fiction, I feel wonderfully liberated while writing it. I have no expectations of it being anything that I might get printed, so I’m simply enjoying writing it.

I do need to spend some time today editing some of my other pieces, though, as I have some lined up for submission. I have a plan of action, which includes submission to a number of markets. And I have a market sequence lined up for some stories, planning ahead for the rejections. Eventually, something won’t get rejected; but it seems sensible to plan ahead nonetheless.

The first piece I’m planning to submit I have low expectations of, even though I like it a great deal. It lacks a traditional story-arc, largely bereft of elevation, conflict and conclusion, but those facts were all deliberate, as I was attempting to give the story a hollow feel that befitted it. I think they’ll count against it for publication, but it’s a piece that I will keep in this form, and I won’t rewrite it to give it what it’s missing. What it’s missing is at least partly the point. So I’ll submit it, and when it comes back, I’ll submit it to somewhere else. I’ll give it a proper run at least. If it did get published, I’d be delighted, as I really love this story — but as I say, my expectations are low, as I’m not sure how easy it will be to find a market that thinks it would suit them.

That’s a lesson I’ve been learning lately. If you write a good story, and it comes back, it’s still good. It simply may not suit the market you submitted to. (Or, alternatively, it may be awful, and you may be wrong. But hey, you’ve got to be optimistic!)

Partly as a way to spike my interest, I’ve been looking at a couple of sites that run themed story competitions. I recently assembled a database for my writing, adding in my stories and also markets, with genres and length restrictions so that I can automatically match them together (though for short fiction only, novel-length being another game entirely), and while scanning over interesting markets — this one good for me, that one good for a friend of mine occasionally given to a Cthulhu tilt — I came across a couple that run contests.

If you’re interested in taking a swing at them yourself, you’ll find them here:

http://www.onthepremises.com/
http://www.toasted-cheese.com/

I’ve only entered large competitions in the past (see: Bridport Prize, a rather hefty British annual writing contest), meeting with outright failure in all cases, but these are smaller and different, and each is themed. The two I’ve chosen both kick off their next hop in March, one in the first half, one in the second.  (But if you’re reading this later than March 2013, then give them a look anyway.  They each run several competitions a year.)

Of these, the first is a sixty-day deal, where you write, revise, review, improve, and try to perfect the tale that you’re submitting. The second is more rapid, lasting 48 hours from start to finish.  It opens, you write, you submit and it closes, with little room for you to spend hammering away at the same tale. I like the second one particularly, because it forces a certain brevity in the approach, though I think I’ll like the one later in the year better.  The Spring one is Mystery themed, which is something I have precious little experience with writing.

(Toasted Cheese run four competitions a year; the Spring and Autumn contests are 48-hour ones, while the Summer and Winter contests are longer.)

Both are currently closed until the next window opens, but yesterday I toyed with an old theme from the former for a writing warm-up. The results were poor, not least because I forced myself to write into an idea when I hadn’t fully established the concept of exactly what it was I was trying to write, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I’m looking forward to the official opening of each.

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I took some time today to dig through my copies of both the Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines, in search of a sub-250 word flash fiction tale.  Both magazines publish them, EQMM apparently as an open submission, and AHMM as (at least in my old copies) as the “tale that won” in response to some kind of challenge.

(In this case, stories are inspired by a “mysterious photograph”, an interesting and far more open take on the more usual given theme, title or subject matter.)

Anyway — in the back of the March 2007 copy of AHMM, I found a tale called “A Prickly Figure” by one Monica Clark.  I tried to find her online to see if I could request permission to repost it, but had no luck; all I can find is that she also won the contest in May 2007, with another tale called “Three Amigos?” that I don’t have.  However, I’m going to type out and post “A Prickly Figure” as a password-protected post.  The password is the short, one-word name of the school I went to when I was fourteen, give or take a couple of years either side, all in lower-case.  So to get at it, you’ll have to know me; I’m not planning to post it publicly without given permission!

The whole story will be in the post following this one.

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