…that went swiftly.

From four days ago, writing that short story, I ended up today making very minor tweaks and submitting it.  That makes both the fastest process from start to submission that I’ve ever gone through, and also the first time I’ve ever had more than one story out at the same time, and it was great fun, as the first draft ended up surprisingly good.

I believe Stephen King said something once about protecting the first draft.  That’s part of what I tried to do here.

I also have a third that I now need to work on before sending out, though there’ll be no first-draft preservation going on there.  It’s much longer than this story, around triple the length, and needs a little TLC before it’ll be ready to send out.  But it’s next on my radar.

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I’m currently working on another short story, and this time it’s one that I’ve tried to write twice before.  I’ve always liked the idea, which (like some other stories I’ve written) has a bit of a Twilight Zone feel to it in the premise, though not in the actual telling.  I’ve never been able to get it the way I wanted, as every attempt to write it has turned out disappointingly.

I kicked off another attempt yesterday, and I think that this time all the pieces are falling into place properly.  Nice when it happens!

I recently received another rejection — three, now, for the same story — but this time, instead of a form rejection email or letter I actually got feedback from the magazine, which was a wonderful thing!  Not only did I agree with the criticism — and just as importantly, I think, the criticism is something I can remedy with only a little work and rethinking — but it also included some praise for elements of the story I tried hard to get right, and it was clear from the feedback that the responder read through the entire story.  That was a particularly pleasant thought, as until this point I had visions of people looking at the first page or two and dismissing the whole story out of hand before getting any further in.

It’s one of two rejections I’ve received from magazines or publishers with comments; once for the forgotten novel whose lead character’s name adorns this blog, and once for this short story.  And on both occasions, the comments have been encouraging.  So although it’s a rejection, it’s really put me in a good mood this morning.

Sick days suck.  Days when I’m sick, or days when my wife’s sick — they both blow mighty chunks that would make the many Gods proud.  And as far as writing goes, the stickiest, stinkiest chunk of all is that I feel pretty blah, low on energy, low on inspiration.  Given my ongoing commitment to try and work on my writing every single day, it presents a problem; if I pick up a project that I care about, something that I genuinely want to bring to a satisfying conclusion, then there’s a very real risk that my writing will plummet down hard into turdsville and deliver something that would best be deposited in the Bog of Eternal Stench.

See that?  That's your writing, that is.

See that? That’s your writing, that is.

Today is a sick day.  But today, I find that I have a perfect task for days like this — editing.  Editing is not much fun at the best of times, but what it doesn’t need (or at least, what it doesn’t need as much of) is inspiration and fresh ideas, namely the kinds of things that my sick-day brain seems loath to provide.

This doesn’t always hold true.  Sometimes, when I’m sick or miserable or in other states of emotional funk, I can channel it directly into my writing either in reflection or opposition of that emotional state.  The emotions can drive a different way of thinking, prompting my brain to ask different questions than it might otherwise, and in that process give me different answers that either take a story in a new direction, or reveal entirely new stories to be written.  But in a state of Blah, my brain doesn’t want to answer questions at all.  Not the interesting kind, anyway.

Fortunately, it does seem willing to be asked “does this sentence work”, “did you forget anything obvious”, “do his actions actually make sense” and the other kinds of questions that are useful during editing.  And editing seems to be able to warm my brain up a bit, so that by the time I’m done, I may even be ready to tackle something a little bit more interesting.  Today, should it strike me, I have a path lined up towards a small light horror tale I began writing; the idea is still fresh in my head, and I’d like to pursue it.

However, editing first.  And that’s probably not a bad thing; editing is a task I hate, as I enjoy creating more than correcting.  I can be perfectionistic, but I lack the patience to achieve perfection, which can make for a frustrating conflict.  Today, however, editing is on my table, and I’m already actually enjoying it.

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!

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.