Leveling Up, Writer Style

Often, I attribute these things to research. There’s so much to learn, and so many ways to apply that knowledge. I’m also staying on my writer’s track, though, and part of that means learning about self-publishing, marketing, and sales of books. It’s a lot to figure out all at once.

So since I’ve been working so hard on an outline (I’m not even sure what comes up in your mind for outline, but it’s not the one we learned in school) and I’m learning to convert that into a pitch. I know the basic information, and I can keep rewriting my book while I consider what to add to make that into a pitch for a book people definitely want to read.

Some people are naturally gifted at how to make things sell with their words. Mom was great at that, keeping the truth to the words but making it sounds more employable for the context. (She made a good living as a technical recruiter.) I think often writers like me are so focused on creating our worlds and making that narrative flow that we don’t spend as much time with things like how to sell it others. That weak writing muscle then becomes something we’d rather farm out than practice.

Maybe that’s just me. Except I’m pushing myself to learn. I’m going to tell myself they’re like push-ups; they bring strength to a bunch of different parts through working together and if I practice I’ll learn to nail it.

Fluorescent Cats and Other Writer Madness

I made one deadline and I need to finish up a thing for another deadline this week. I’m excited to be close to making these deadlines. I’m also starting a new story, and it started with a thought experiment a month ago or so and it lit my brain on fire. While catching up with a few panels that had been recorded at WorldCon, I remember why I love being around creatives so much. There’s no limit to what comes out of us.


So while talking about destroying things, someone had an idea that fluorescent cats might be a good idea at Chernobyl to keep people away, and I am just pretty positive that there’s a significant portion of the population that would simply yell KITTY and want one of those cats. (Okay, it’s not just me and my son, I swear.)

The point was about finding something that would be available for the next ten thousand years to keep people out of places that aren’t healthy for them – and I’m not sure there’s a universal thing that would do that. However, Fluorescent Cats in Chernobyl is the best band you’ve never heard with their breakout album of Disaster.

It doesn’t even work with my current random obsession with fungi. I hope someone will read that story soon.

Plot Twist

I’ve been reading one of my novel drafts. Usually I put it into online format for the zero draft. I find it acceptable for a read-through and markups since I don’t do line edits at that stage.

Imagine my surprise on page 161.

The last 60 pages are true single spaced. Could be worse, but still going to see if i can finish the draft within a week or so. Wish me luck. Good thing my notes are in another notebook…

A Thousand Words?

 I spent a good portion of my daughter’s gymnastics meet taking pictures. Some of them are so interesting to look at on their own, and some of them make more sense in context. I still an unsure how the judges manage to be so critical while simply watching, but I also know they’ve watched so much for so long that it looks different to them than it does to me.

Yet, with my eye looking through the viewfinder, a different part of my brain engages. I saw that my daughter would scratch her vault before she made the decision. (The coaches asked her. She’d been planning on rocking it. Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.) I can explain it with just the one picture, and when I showed it to her, she agreed. It felt different to her, and she scratched it (meaning she didn’t compete that event) because it felt all wrong and she was afraid she would not be able to hold onto the table or hurt herself on the way over.

Because I was in the parent gallery, I couldn’t hear the coaches when they spoke to her. I didn’t know they asked her how she felt about it, and offered the spot (a hand in the right spot as she performs) if she wanted to take it. She’s got some good coaches, and I’m really glad they’re there.

I haven’t taken so many pictures for a long time. I don’t really like to do it with my phone. There’s lag time and it just won’t do what the DSLR will. And that camera is just fun to play with. I enjoy figuring out the different settings. Except some of them have flash, and I can’t take flash photos at a meet.

In college, I would look at pictures in my head and try to describe them with words. Sometimes it takes less than a thousand. Sometimes it takes more. It depends on if I need something specific to come through, or if this is part of the backdrop for the entire story. When I was younger, as soon as I got my first camera, I took pictures. With film. And I had to wait to develop it. Sometimes I developed them myself in art class, because i loved taking pictures.

For a while after college, I thought my mother was following me into writing. I didn’t understand how she had left it behind for so long and then picked it up again. But life gets in the way of these things. My mother’s a poet, and she has been recognized for that talent. I understand now, picking up a camera again and just taking pictures for fun.

There’s a bit of a dichotomy to having a camera. For one thing, you can record what’s going on – but with that kind of camera, you’re rarely the one in front of it. I asked an old classmate about a photo, and she said that I had taken it, but she wished I had been in it. I did, too, because I didn’t remember that moment. But I did take so many photos, I didn’t question that she remembered I had taken it. It made sense.

The relationship with the camera changes. It’s never a simple – are you part of life or are you recording it – because there are nuances that we don’t see when we reduce things to simple questions. Do you wonder about how many people spent so much time writing in a diary but never wanted anyone else to read it? Do you wonder about how many scrapbooks have taken so much time and effort but aren’t enjoyed as much by anyone around the person who created it (or sometimes the person who it was created for)? Do I still need a thousand words to get my image across in words, or have I still left things out despite my best efforts?

The Answer Has Always Been Dragon.

If you could choose to be anything… There are a lot of t-shirts that start like this. I have one that says to choose to be yourself, unless you can be a mermaid. My daughter has one to be a unicorn. How I don’t have one that proclaims to be a dragon yet is beyond me, but I’m sure it’ll happen one day.

In our myths, we find things we love and fear and everything in between. Many proclaim affinity to one type or another, and we bring in all kinds of fictional worlds to also represent those facets of us.

Some of us are looking for magic and what’s unexpected from the average, normal day. We cannot all be contained within the mundane world. Magic exists as we see it, as we expect something or not. It isn’t always in a magician’s tricks, though it can be. How much do you want to see magic, versus understanding the process behind it?

I found a poem called Expecting Dragons in a copy of Lyrical Iowa. The poet saw wings, and she expected a dragon. It turned out to be an eagle, but despite the beauty of the sight, she was still waiting for the dragons.

But I would choose a dragon. It might be a light at the end of the tunnel. And then someone asked if it was a train. No, it’s a dragon. It’s always a dragon. I’ve been expecting dragons since I read that poem, and I look for the signs in the air. It might just be an eagle, but no one knows until we get there.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up off a shelf because of the word dragon in the title. Many of them I’ve brought home to enjoy.

Dragons exist. But only if you allow them to take up the space. One problem is they’re huge. They take up a lot more room than mermaids and unicorns and faeries. Yet no one else knows what to do with these things that are not true but exist in our minds.

Rarely do you see dragons as beasts. Most often they’re very intelligent, extremely capable

Witches and goblins might be a thing, but though some aspire to be witches, none seem to aspire to be goblins or gremlins. I often wonder why. One of the oldest forms of tag I remember playing was Witches and Goblins. I think I was six and the ringleader of the group’s activities. But we had fun.

Dragons are in my head. Dragons fill my dreams. Dragons carry me to different heights. Dragons might be tiny and intelligent. They might be huge and stupid. They might fill the skies or the seas or the mountains or the underground spaces.

As humans, we lose so much time doing what we’re supposed to do, saying what we’re supposed to say, and fulfilling expectations. Can you imagine a dragon taking that as an answer? My lovely imagination says no. The dragon would choose to be its own being, and it would be free to do as it chose.

A world without magic becomes boring. It may not be a dragon, but allowing that magic in the world makes me smile, and it keeps me writing. That might be one reason why my heart is set on speculative fiction. And yes, I’ve been writing something with a dragon lately. No answer on when I’ll finish it, but coming back to writing – after such a long time not pursuing much fiction during 2020, is nice. I’m reminded of the morning pages when she said she wrote and just waited to see what would show up. I’ve been writing, and a dragon showed up one day.

Impossible Goals

I’ve always been fond of the movie What About Bob? and partly because it has that great theory of baby steps. Of course Bob makes it hilarious-  Baby Stepping out the door. Baby stepping into the elevator. But the truth of that theory has worked for me. I don’t like to set big New Year’s Resolutions because it feels like too much to take on at once. I prefer the method of adding on something small to medium-sized and re-evaluating at the end of a month and the beginning of the next.

It’s how I combat procrastination – I spent how many hours playing video games this month? (Okay, that was a couple years ago- I don’t do it much now.) I’ve turned much of that time into more productive activities toward my goals.

So when someone close to me rattled off a median income for writers as “$70 000 a year,” I almost fell off my chair. And I was belted into a car. Median is supposedly the middle of all the writers out there, so while a straight average might take into account the big earners like Patterson and King and Rowling, the middle would be where the 50% percentile earner had income.

I’m skeptical. I want proof. I couldn’t get it, and I’d like to see where that kind of number comes from. There are so many writers out there, some of whom only send out one book and self-publish, some of whom have one book and traditionally publish, and some of whom keep sending out book after book. Some of these make great money, and others struggle along without much notice.

That median supposedly takes into account all writers, nonfiction and television and tech writers and fiction. If that had any truth, wouldn’t more of us be attempting to be writers?

Mostly, the part that makes me sad is when I think about that as a goal, as an answer to when I’ll be successful is when I hit the median of “writers,” it feels impossible. I don’t rise to impossible overnight. I like small goals. Like, how about, make more money this year than I pay out? And try to do that a couple years running?

Please send me a  comment with what you think it takes to be a successful writer – and what the goals are that keep you going on your path.

Yesterday I completed 720 days in a row of writing at least 750 words per day. I also received a rejection for my manuscript from an agent. Today’s task list includes rewriting. I haven’t given up on this writing dream.

Poetry Challenge

One thing I love about poetry is the way you look at words differently. I won’t call myself a poet. I don’t spend nearly enough time on it for that. I know little about forms. Meter and rhyme mostly serve to frustrate me.

But I read this op-ed, and I was thinking. I know some poets. They have beautiful words to share. One thing about those writer groups where you go and take something to read out loud – poetry is perfect for that medium. It’s also easy to print out 20 copies of a poem to share so they can find typos or anything else.

A friend of mine is running a poetry challenge this month, and every day we’re writing a poem. The challenge comes in finding something to say about the prompt – yesterday was Celestial Musings – and not using any of the forbidden words while using all of the required words and it was the first day we had the option of finding a form (any form).

I find it very intimidating to go find a form and just use it. I like it when someone tells me to try a pantoum or a tanka or a jozzonet. There are so many forms out there I’ve never heard of and I’m not sure where to go find them.

When the month is over and I have 30 new poems – because I’m not the kind of person who backs away from a challenge – I’m going back to my novel edits. I’m doing it to look at the words differently. To change how I see them in my head. To alter how they come out while I’m describing things. Wish me luck. I have 17 down and 13 to go.

My Character Took a Turn

While it isn’t my main character, a major character in the book revealed that he had something to do with one of the Bad Events. He seemed neutral at the beginning, a necessary bridge between protagonist and antagonist and someone who worked with both.

I suppose it all started when a different character – who was supposed to remain in the backstory – left traces of herself from the first page and arrived front and center when my protagonist needed an ally.

So much for my outline- except I’m still following the outline. I don’t believe in cornering myself with the details. I discover it as I write it, with the outline more like a street map. And just like my GPS system, every now and then it tells me to take a u-turn at 70 mph through a four-foot concrete barrier. I always choose not to follow that advice. I’m nearly at the destination now, and I know if I keep writing I’ll find my way.

I’m always amazed by well-meaning other writers who don’t know me well. They say “save it for later.” I’m not going to fix this guy. Except to make this reveal seem planned after the rewrite, of course.

Then, I thought, Man, your wife is way too cool for you. But maybe she also knew. I guess I’d better check in with her and see.

I hear it’s good for characters to get lives of their own, but they definitely make my book interesting. I also can’t wait to see how it turns out – even though I am following an outline. I’m not sure I could write this book without some kind of guide. I think I’m 125k words in, and I’m not sure where it will end.

A New Level

I write. Every day. I don’t take off weekends or holidays. I also write at least 750 words each of those days.

As my writing habit has grown stronger, I’ve really missed the days when it hasn’t happened. Part of it is the way I can see 750words.com tell me “You have written x days in a row.” But at the bottom of my statistics, I have a number. That number is 384, which is the most days I had written in a row.

I’ve been very proud of 384. Through that time, I moved twice and had a baby. When I broke that streak (July 2012), it was a regular day that went out of the regular routine. I learned through that it wasn’t the big things I could see coming that breaks my writing; it was the little things that you can’t plan for.

Once the streak was broken, the pressure was off to keep going. I even gave myself a month off (December 2012). Big mistake. I felt off the entire month. Like I hadn’t accomplished anything. Like some part of myself couldn’t be connected.

Today that number changes. Today my longest streak starts picking up again. Today is 385. 

I’m still struggling to put my editing into the same perspective. Maybe I’ll start putting star stickers on my binder and start a new row every time I break a streak. Any ideas?

Project Cycle

Every project begins with an image in someone’s head. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s going to be ten thousand or a hundred thousand when I begin.

The first step is to spew out the rough draft. Sometimes, and with more regularity, an outline takes shape before that. I’ve been learning to get better about running through a draft until it’s done. When I stop things in the middle, I lose my place. I can’t figure out where I’m going. It takes forever to build the momentum back up again.

There is a need to let a draft sit, but not for too long. That rough draft turns into a pile of words on pages. The half-edited bundle of papers becomes something I have to re-read to connect to each time a long break happens. Yet I also get little tidbits of ideas about projects I haven’t worked on for a couple months. Sometimes those bits fit and sometimes it takes a change in the entire project to encompass the new idea.

How do you overcome that distance? What do you do to make yourself get through to the end without those long, awkward pauses of, ‘oh, yeah, I’m working on that book’? I’m also working through my resistance to editing. Somehow I will make progress.