Huh

I have to admit, I’m a little surprised.

Back in… April? (it’s been a while) I submitted two short stories for a contest. It’s open only to people who are attending a local writers’ and readers’ festival/convention. My amazing husband submitted last year and was shortlisted. He didn’t place in the top three, but he did get his story published in a little chapbook and they did an event at the convention where the top ten writers read a bit of their submission. Afterwards, all the writers signed each other’s books and then the judges announced their overall thoughts of each finalist before finally announcing the top three winners.

They offer a critique of your work whether you win or not, and I figured: why not give it a go? So I polished up two short stories that I’ve had floating around for a few years and emailed them off to the editor for this year’s contest. And then I waited. And waited. And waited.

I’m not very good at waiting. I had some consolation, though, in that two of our friends and my husband had also submitted. I had mostly forgotten about it until it was pointed out that, last year, my husband had heard back by late June. Then the waiting got even harder. Together we checked our email multiple times daily, waiting in agony, asking each other at least weekly whether any of us had heard anything about the contest at all.

Finally, a month later than we expected, we heard something. I found out on Saturday that one of my two short stories was among the top ten! I was pleased, but not really surprised, because I figured both the stories had a solid chance at placing. (And yes, I did jump up and scream and hug my friends and call my parents and all that when I found out).

What surprised me was the story that placed. Of the two I thought that the one that was selected was the weaker, and it was the one I suspected might not be chosen. Lucky for me, I was wrong! I guess there’s a home for every story and the second one might find its place elsewhere. In fact, I’m sure that it will.

But now, I have to write a biography for my first little short story to be published! Let’s hope that it’s the first of many.

A Big Decision

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Image from Dreamstime

 

I have a big decision to make that I can’t really talk about.  I know, I know: way to be vague, Candice.  I promise that I will share the details as soon as I can.  In the meantime, I ponder.

 

Well, that’s not true, I know exactly what I’m going to do, I just need to convince myself that it’s really the right answer.  And sadly, it doesn’t involve whether I should quit my day job to be a full-time writer.  Maybe soon, though.

 

It’s a decision fraught with emotion that’s been sapping away my energy for writing and has made me second-guess everything that I thought I knew about myself, everything that I thought I knew, and everything that I desire.  And that’s hard too: to try and re-recognize what you really want and what’s really important.  And it definitely hasn’t been easy: that’s why I’ve been so quiet lately, and making so little progress on the writing front.

 

But soon, things will be settled again, and I will start to become productive.  And hopefully that will happen sometime before November!  I do know that, as I come closer to actually making the decision, that the overwhelming uncertainty that I have been feeling is starting to subside, only to be replaced with grief at the things I will be losing.

 

I need to do what’s right for me, I know that.  But what’s right for me isn’t necessarily the easy thing.  In fact, this decision is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do.  And I’ve had to do a lot of difficult things in the last couple of years.

 

I hope that you’ll all cross your fingers for me and wish me luck and strength as I make this choice.

 

How do you process difficult choices?

“Real” Writer – Part Two

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Image from Dreamstime

 

So… I have an update on my last post (delay courtesy of Thanksgiving weekend!).  I heard back last Monday from the editor and learned that my story wasn’t accepted.  I’m trying to see this as an opportunity to send the story to another market and maybe hear back more quickly, but it’s my first rejection and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t a little upset.  Still, all I can do is move on and keep trying.  One day, I’ll get my first yes.

 

Fortunately, I didn’t have to think too hard about it over the weekend, as I spent some time with my parents, helping them build a deck and playing with their new dog Gypsy.  She’s six and was rescued from a broken home, and she’s the sweetest little girl that I’ve ever met.   Only time will tell if she gets along with my cats (they have yet to be introduced).

Reflections on a Year

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Image from Dreamstime

 

 

I don’t know if I’ve posted about it before, but just over a year ago, I started tracking how and on what project I was spending my writing time.  This includes everything from research/development, to editing, to critiquing, to career research.  My ultimate goal is to get to 2,000 hours written total, which is the point at which one is considered “proficient” in a craft.  10,000 hours of work means one is a master.  Given that I’m at 1626.5 hours to date, I’m close to proficient, but far from a master.

 

Another benefit of tracking is that it’s ended up teaching me a lot about how and when I work and where I spend the bulk of my hours.

 

On August 13, 2012, I completed my first year of tracking.  In that time, I have:

  • Done 118 hours of research and development (including outlining)
  • Spent 185.25 hours on first drafts
  • Spent 45.75 hours editing
  • Written over 195,000 words
  • Spent an average of 6.7 hours/week on writing or related tasks

 

Of those hours, I spent:

  • 208.5 on novels
  • 34.5 on short stories
  • 34.25 on critiques
  • 18 on blogging
  • 16.25 on my April Screnzy graphic novel
  • 6 on flash fiction
  • 31 on other writing related projects

 

I think it’s pretty obvious that I need to spend a little bit more time editing, so I expect to see those numbers creep up over the next year.  I also want to start spending more time on short stories (which kind of means that I need to start writing more of them), although I am generally pleased with where I’ve spent the rest of my time.

 

I was a little surprised by the total number of words and especially the weekly hourly average, given that it was about 5 hours/week a few months ago.  Clearly I’ve gotten that much more serious in the last few months!  It’s interesting to see how I was rather slow the first few months, but that quickly picked up in the months that followed.

 

Theoretically, in less than 400 hours (about a year at my current rate) I should be close to ready for publication.  That is and has always been the ultimate goal, but I think that a little more dedication, much like I’ve been putting in recently, will really help.  Of course, the time I put in can only do so much – it needs to be quality time too.  And that’s the real struggle, isn’t it?

 

How do you track where you’re at with your career?

On Fear and Rejection

This is what an editor looks like, right?

This is what an editor looks like, right?

Image from Dreamstime

 

I went to When Words Collide, a local writers and readers conference, this weekend.  I attended last year, and enjoyed it enough to attend again this year.  Of course, we put on a NaNoWriMo panel that went really well (much better than we anticipated), but there were so many other highlights that I couldn’t even begin to share them all with you now.  Maybe in the coming days, as I have time to process all that I have learned, I will be able to summarize some of the key lessons.  Most of the best information was actually shared by Kevin J. Anderson and his lovely wife Rebecca Moesta, and I suspect that I will be telling you a little bit more about those lessons as well.

 

The theme of this weekend seemed to be taking risks.  First off, I signed up for a blue pencil cafe (a one-on-one with an author or editor to review the first few pages of a manuscript).  Sadly, mine was a little rushed, because another author had to cancel so they tried to shove us all through, but I still got some valuable feedback.  Second, I decided somewhat last minute to attend a Live Action Slush Pile (more on this in a bit).  Finally, my partner was brave enough (and ready enough) to try pitching to a local publisher and was asked to submit a few chapters.  So positive news all around.

 

What I really wanted to talk about today was confidence.  I’ve blogged before that I’m new to sending my work out for others and a little worried about rejection.  I’ve only submitted one story to date, and that was for a writing competition (I wasn’t even long listed) with no harsh letter or feedback on the other end of it.  So when I submitted my first page to the Live Action Slush Pile on Saturday night, I was nervous.  The point of a Live Action Slush is for editors to listen to a bit of your manuscript and decide whether they liked it or when they would stop reading if they were reading from a slush pile at a publishing house.  My poor first chapter only made it through two paragraphs before three of the four readers stopped.

 

At first, I was crushed.  I worked hard at that opening paragraph, and I thought it was pretty good.  It didn’t help when the two entries after mine were writers that I know and were read all the way through.  I tried to brush it off, but it was pretty clear to me that it still needed a lot of work.  In what was perhaps a backwards sense of timing, on Sunday I decided to attend a panel about fighting fear and rejection.  While it didn’t reveal much to me that I didn’t already know, at least superficially, it was positive to hear that everyone else had some of the same problems with confidence as I do, especially at first.

 

I learned that emotions (especially fear) can colour how you receive a response, that I need sounding boards beyond friends and family (maybe my critique group is good enough?), and that it’s okay to be upset about a rejection, like I was the night before.  The most important thing that I picked up, though, was that we are in the business of no.  99 times out of 100, the answer will be no.  And although that’s hard, that’s the nature of writing.

 

So I’m going to try and look at my submissions a little differently from now on.  From now on, I am a rejections collector.  I’m going to collect as many rejections as I can and get more than anyone else that I know.  And eventually, maybe after the first 99 NOs, I’ll finally get a YES.

 

How do you handle rejection and disappointment?

Learning to Let Go

Originally posted February 5, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

This week I did something terrifying…

 

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Photo from Dreamtime

 

… no, not that.  Although that would be terrifying too.

 

No, this week, I released some of my babies into the world.

 

Not real babies.  My stories.  I can’t believe you’d think like that!

 

Now, I don’t share my writing easily.  I guess I’m afraid of rejection, of being told that my writing is terrible and that I should give up on it.  Especially when it comes to my novels; I put a lot of time and energy into them, and to be told that they are absolute rubbish would really hurt.

 

But this week, I sucked it up, and sent a short story and chapter one of “Fighter One” out to my critiquers.  They are all nice people who wouldn’t deliberately try to make me feel bad, but I still worry that they will tell me that my novel’s broken.  The novel that I’ve had in my mind for over a decade!  I keep having to remind myself that they only want to help make it better, that the concept and world of the story aren’t as bad as I think they are.  It’s normal for me to lose faith in the concept at this point in the process (I’m at the 25% point of completely re-writing the thing.  Completely.  I think I’ve kept maybe three pages of the original document…) but that doesn’t mean I want to hear it from others.

 

This is a necessary evil and something that I need to get over if I’m ever going to be published, since publishing by necessity means that I’ll have to let complete strangers rip my babies to pieces.

 

My story babies, not my real ones.

 

So I read them over and made them the very best that I could, and then I held my breath and hit the “send” button.  It felt very freeing, but scary at the same time.  I know my babies are in good hands, and I have to trust that they’ll have the impact that I want them to have.  They have to be read to have that impact, after all.

 

But critiquers?  If you’re listening?

 

Please be gentle!

Rest and Recovery

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Image from Dreamstime

 

So I took Thursday and Friday off this week.  The plan, initially, had been to take the cats to the vet, rest, and WRITE.  A lot.

 

Sadly, only two of these things happened.

 

I did indeed get the cats to the vet, and it was a resounding success.  Much better, and more hilarious, than in previous years, and I only have one scratch to show for it.  The scratch was a direct result of my impatience and my cat’s desire not to go in the carrier, rather than from the visit itself, so I can’t even count it as a strike against the experiment.

 

I also got lots of resting done.  You see, my handsomer half managed to get a stomach flu mid-week, and I caught it too.  Sadly, the half of Thursday and the Friday I had envisioned spending writing in the silence of my house were spent curled up on the couch drinking gingerale and cleaning off my PVR.

 

I only finally felt up to writing/doing anything yesterday, and that mostly surrounded knitting.  I wrote a chapter in my novel yesterday and another one today, so I feel pretty good about that, but I am still weak and (now) behind on my Camp NaNo goals.  Fortunately, the fact that I was ahead earlier in the week and that I wrote an extra 500 words both yesterday and today mean that I’m now only a day behind, but that’s not entirely comforting to the girl who’s usually confidently ahead by three or four days.

 

Anyway, I was definitely sick (when I’m too sick for surf and turf, I’m too sick for anything), so I’m comforting myself with the knowledge that resting was more important.  And it’s not worth getting angry at myself over now that I’m nearly caught back up.  Life is going to throw curve balls like that at me, and I think it’s the recovery from the setback that’s important.

 

And I’m well on my way to recovery!

The Muse Returns?

Originally posted January 26, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

Maybe… maybe not.

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But like wisps of steam rising off a freezing pond, ideas are slowly coming to me.

 

I posted a few weeks ago about how my muse has abandoned me.  At the time, I felt like I had the drive and the motivation to work but, other than my novel, no good ideas.

 

I still can’t claim to have any good ideas (I can’t claim anything is good when I’m still so close to it), but I did find some inspiration in the suggestions of my twitter followers.  Consequently, I just finished draft one of a short story that came to me, nearly all at once, at the zoo last Saturday.  I’ll have to get some other people’s input onto it, but I’m excited about it.  It’s dark, and unusual for me, but maybe that’s just the thing I’ve been looking for.  As a little drawing of a coffin in my Pintrest account says “You’ll have a whole eternity to think inside the box.”

 

I also have one short story about 2/3 done and another plotted and ready to go.  I’m not sure that I’m crazy about them yet, but I’ll finish them and drop them in a drawer for a few months and see if I can find anything redeeming in them.

 

In more positive writerly news, the novel I am currently re-writing is going well and I am nearly at 15,000 words!  Just another 65,000 to go!  It stands a good chance of getting done before the end of June, which would be nice, because it gives me a fair chunk of time to do some plotting and planning before NaNo this year.  What am I going to write this November?

When Good Novels Go Bad

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Image from Dreamstime

 

As you may have noticed from the sidebar, I’ve put my current novel on hold for now.  I did this after a lot of very careful thought, and it certainly wasn’t because the writing wasn’t going well.  Actually, the writing for this project was going extremely well – I knew exactly what I was writing and I was even ahead of my schedule.

 

Unfortunately, the more I wrote, the less I liked the story.  I still loved the characters and the setting (partly because I’ve been working on this series for over a decade) but the plot seemed a little… thin.  The driving actions of the plot weren’t believable enough and the beginning dragged on and on (and on…).  I forged ahead because I wasn’t quite willing to admit that the story I’ve been working on for so very long was so very broken.  But the more I thought about it and the more people I talked to the more I realized that the story needed work.

 

A lot of it.

 

So I’ve decided on a complete overhaul!  I’m still re-working the details, but I’ve moved the entirety of the plot line “back” in time (earlier in the timeline of my world).  Unfortunately, it means basically throwing out everything that I’ve written to date, but it gives a lot more opportunity for action and conflict and tension and all those good things.  It can now involve fights and political intrigue and conspiracy and treason.  I think it will not only be a more exciting read, but a lot more fun to write.

 

Now I just have to get to that point (again)!

 

What do you do when a project stalls out?