Saturday, June 29, 2013

Feel free to write crap? No. Never.

Possibly one of the worst pieces of advice I see writers telling beginners is to "feel free to write crap."

This is intended to encourage beginners to turn off their internal editors and internal censors, freeing them to put something--anything!--on the page. The belief is that something on the page can be edited later; a blank page can't be fixed.

This leads to sloppy writing and far too much time spent at the back end of the creative process, trying to turn all that crap into usable compost and then to grow something worthwhile in the compost.

In no other profession is it advisable to do bad work on purpose. Imagine if my cardiac surgeon had approached my bypass surgery with this attitude: "I'll make a couple of cuts and toss in a few stitches. It's only a first draft. I can go back later and clean it up."

I believe writers should always strive to write the best they can when they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Always striving to produce the best writing means more time spent creating and less time wasted polishing turds.

Do I sometimes write crap? Absolutely, but never on purpose.

When I sit down to write I produce the best work I can at that time on that day. If it turns out to be crap, I deal with it.

But I never "feel free" to write crap.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Untreed Reads short story sale

From now until July 4, Untreed Reads is running a special where readers can purchase any four short stories for $1.00. Just add four short stories (priced $0.99 or less) to the shopping cart, enter coupon code FIREWORKS and presto...only $1.00.

Due to pricing restrictions at Untreed Reads' retailers, this sale is only good in The Untreed Reads Store. Full details of the sale are available at: http://goo.gl/bT4j2.

Three of my short stories are available from Untreed Reads: "Chalkers," "Lost Soul," and "News Flash." Why not order all three and then toss in one from another author to round out your order?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Twenty-two

I finished and submitted my twenty-second short story of the year this evening. This one's a 3,500-word confession I started on June 16.

Doug Danielson

Doug Danielson, a fellow writer I met through the Short Mystery Fiction Society's discussion list, died May 23 in Ventura, CA. According to an email I received earlier today from a mutual friend, he had been battling cancer for sometime.

Doug authored the novels Wet Dreams*, Shore Loser, and Sea-Duction as well as a handful of short stories and several articles.

An active member of the Puerta Vallarta Writers Group, he conceived of their annual writers conference, and he organized the first and several of the subsequent conferences.

We don't often have the opportunity to meet the writers we know from discussion lists, but I had the honor of staying with Doug and his wife Karen while participating in the PVWG conference in 2011. They were kind and generous hosts.

Doug was an experienced yachtsman and I tapped his knowledge for at least one of my short stories.

Though I did not know Doug as well as I would have liked, I will miss him.

----

*Wet Dreams seems to have disappeared from Doug's official bio, but I have a signed copy in my collection.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Quoted

I'm quoted in "Turning a No into a Yes" by Glynis Scrivens, an article about selling stories that have suffered multiple rejections. The article previously appeared in Writers Forum, a magazine published in England.

Show your work

One of the things I disliked most about learning math was the constant requirement that I show my work. If I knew the answer to the math problem, why was I not allowed to simply provide the answer?

As I progressed through school, math became increasingly difficult and I learned that solving some math problems required so many steps that it was no longer possible to do them all in my head and write down the answer. When I later entered the work world and became a typographer, I wrote computer programs using R-DOS, AOS-VS, and Penta Systems' typesetting language to generate typeset material. For example, I wrote programs that figured out how to make a variable amount of text fit a specific shape by either enlarging or reducing the type and the leading in specific increments until the text fit exactly. The formula had to work no matter how much text I input and it had to work no matter what shape I had to fit the text into. In effect, the formula was me showing my work.

Writing successful fiction also involves showing your work.

I've read many short stories by beginning writers where things happen for no apparent reason, where important objects appear out of the blue at the climax of the story, and where characters make important decisions without any of the information necessary for making that decision. These are examples of writers failing to show their work because the information is in the writers' heads and not anywhere on the page.

For example, if our hero pulls out a gun at the end of the story and shoots the villain, where did he get the gun? Somewhere in the early part of the story the writer needs to establish that the hero carries a gun or that the hero keeps a gun in his desk drawer.

If the detective solves the crime because he hears the killer whistling a snippet of Beethoven's Leonore Overture #3, it needs to be established early in the story that the detective has an extensive knowledge of and appreciation for classical music.

If, at the end of the story, the protagonist decides to remove her mother from life support, somewhere early in the story the author needs to establish that the mother has a living will giving her daughter the authority to do this and we need to establish that mother and daughter have, in some way, addressed this issue.

This is, in some sense, the opposite of the advice frequently attributed to Chekov (If there's a shotgun over the mantel in the first act, somebody better fire it by the third act.): If somebody fires a shotgun in the third act, there had better be a shotgun over the mantel in the first act.

In other words: Show your work.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Plot Monkey evolves

For several years a close friend of mine--often identified here as Plot Monkey--helped me plot some of my short stories.

Her help began over a dinner conversation where I described a pair of stories that seemed to have dead-ended halfway through the writing process. I told her what I had written to that point, she thought about it for a moment, and then she outlined in detail how each story should proceed. She was right. I sold both stories using her ideas to finish what I had already started.

Since then she has helped me plot my way out of several deadened stories and has, on occasion, provided complete story plots that I've used.

Throughout much of the time I have known her, and especially once I learned of her gift for plotting, I have encouraged her to write her own stories. She finally has.

Though it took more than a year, Plot Monkey worked her way through several drafts of a short story until she felt satisfied that it was the best it could be. Yesterday she submitted it to an editor.

Then I gave her one of the most cliched pieces of advice any writer will ever give another: Forget about that story and start writing the next one.

I hope she has.

Plot Monkey has evolved and now she's one of us. She's a writer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Twenty-one

I finished and submitted my twenty-first short story of the year this afternoon. This one's a 4,100-word confession I started writing in February 2011.

21

I received my 21st acceptance of the year this afternoon, this time for a back-to-school confession.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Twenty

I finished and submitted my twentieth short story of the year this afternoon. This one's a 3,600-word confession I started writing in July 2012.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Death of the first draft

I don't know precisely when I stopped writing first drafts, but I do know I haven't written a first draft in years.

When I started writing as a teenager in the 1970s, I drafted everything on a typewriter. First drafts were horrendous, messy stacks of paper that I wrote all over, cut apart, and taped back together. Second drafts--typed from the Frankenstein's monster that the first draft had become--were much like the first, but not quite so messy.

Each subsequent draft was retyped until I felt I had a submittable manuscript.

I worked much the same way even after acquiring my first personal computer and word processing software. After writing the first draft, I printed a hardcopy and treated it exactly as I had a typewritten first draft, only I didn't have to retype everything.

Decades have passed since I first used a personal computer and a word processing program, and I find that I no longer produce "first drafts." I produce "full drafts."

I write and revise on screen as I work through a story so that by the time I print a hardcopy no revision--or no significant revision--is usually necessary.

I read all or part of the story aloud, listening for rhythm. I look for sound-alike or sound-similar words that I may have misused ("insure" vs. "ensure," for example). I double-check that the blonde on page two isn't a brunette on page seven. By the time I've worked through a typical short story I've marked a half dozen or a dozen things for correction.

I have my final draft once I make those changes to the computer file, and the final draft is then submitted to an editor.

Do I sometimes have a story that requires a second "full draft" or even a third before I have a final draft? Occasionally, yes.

But I haven't produce a true first draft in years.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Nineteen

I finished and submitted my nineteenth short story of the year this evening. This one's a 2,200-word confession I started writing in May 2012.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Eighteen

I finished and submitted my eighteenth story of the year this evening. This one's a 5,200-word back-to-school confession I started writing in December 2007.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

20

I received my 20th acceptance of the year, this time for a confession I submitted in June of last year.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Seventeen

I finished and submitted my seventeenth short story of the year this evening. This one's a 6,200-word back-to-school confession I started in February 2012.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Reviewed

Nichelle reviewed "Cowboy Lust: Erotic Romance for Women" (Cleis Press) at Romancing the Book and had this to say about my contribution, "Drought":
"Amanda is in a sexual drought just like the Texas city she moved to. Until she meets Garrett and her drought is appeased. This had all the right sexual tension and then the perfect ending though I will have to say it made me want to read more. It’s great when you can get pulled into the story by an author and can really see the characters. It was really well developed."
Read the entire review here.

Published 2x

My story "My Musical 4th of July" appears in the July True Confessions and my story "Unexpected Fireworks" appears in the July True Story.

19

I received my 19th acceptance of the year this morning. This one's for yet another confession.