Writing Projects: words, words & more words

words-words-words-words-words

Twitter #SeptWritingChallenge Update:

Overall, I am glad I signed up. If I hadn’t stepped up, the Maze idea would still be in a notebook as a future project among a pile of others. Now, it’s actually progressing, and pages are adding up, building into something concrete.

Since Maze is a dark action thriller, scenes are fairly short and action is helping move things along at a clipped pace. In the first few days of participation, I set the personal goal of writing one scene a day, regardless of whether I was spending time working on any other story as well. I’m averaging just below 500 words a day, but it doesn’t include the time I have spent brainstorming and outlining, so including everything I am meeting the challenge, and more.

If I can keep up this pace, a first draft of the novel should be completed in about six months. Only ten days in, it seems a rather big mountain to climb. But I think it’s something that can be done maintaining a slow and steady pace, rather than aiming to write 10,000 word-blocks in a weekend every now and then.

I report on this project daily on Twitter @JennerMichaud (and, interestingly, my number of Twitter followers has increased by a third since I began the challenge on September 1). If you want to join the challenge to meet your own writing goals, find out more at WritingChallenge.org.

Summer Project Update:

The end of September is coming up fast and I am nowhere near where I had hoped to be at this stage. The Twitter challenge has only eaten into my writing time this month but most of the 30+ short stories / works in progress were not even touched over the summer. I did however make a small dent in the pile as some short stories were completed submitted. I have received only one rejection to date, meaning a handful of stories remain under consideration so there is hope yet. The next anthology I have set my sights on (zombies!) has a September 27 deadline, so another short story will be completed and submitted very soon.

Working on WIPs sometimes feels like I am trying to reinvent the wheel by rewriting something I have read so many times. Starting a new project – the Maze novel – has helped get the creative juices flowing again by focusing on something new.

Happy writing.

WWR1437

The Freedom of Writing It Down

Write it Down and Carry On

For the past six weeks, I have been focusing on my Summer Writing Project, which is to complete and submit as many of my short stories already in progress (WiP). Because of this, I have not spent much time on new work and I have been itching to get new stories down.

I’m currently finalizing “Canal Ward”, a zombie story exploring how polite Canadians are in dealing with everything–and anything–live or dead. As there are still a few weeks until the submission deadline, I spent time this week thinking about some story ideas that have been cogitating for a while now, but that had not quite yet come together as a united idea. Just focusing on them seems to have made them more coherent. It has also uncapped a geyser of details about setting, character traits, dialogue, and everything else that I need to get down before I forget.

I cracked open one of my shiny new notebooks and began jotting down notes on what I have dubbed the “Maze Project”, completely unstructured and pell-mell. (One of the brainstorm sessions occurred while I was in the eye doctor’s waiting room after getting pupil-dilating drops, and I literally had my eyes closed as I was scrawling into the notebook.) I have already filled quite a few pages and there is no sign that it’s going to slow down anytime soon. Structure is already coming out of this disorderly brainstorm, chief among them are clear scenes, perhaps even chapters, as this work appears to want to be a novel rather than a short story.

It’s doubtful that I will type all the notes I have written longhand. I suspect this is more of a pre-draft process and, when I’m ready, I will just sit down at the computer and begin writing the story from Chapter One, referring to the notebook only after the first draft is done.

By writing it down, I think it has freed my brain to dig deeper rather than remain stuck on the general idea. It’s quite interesting as I feel the story’s development is tangible, the words spilled on the pages are expanding the idea further, like branches and leaves growing on a tree at an accelerated rate.

Write it down quote (Ornstein)

That’s how all stories come to be, I suppose, but writing it by hand rather than typing it has somehow made it a much more visual process.

One thing that isn’t yet clear is the story’s conclusion (the protagonist will survive, but at what price?), and I can’t wait to find out what comes out at the end of the Maze.

WWR#1433

Clutter vs. Chaos: Stories Filing System

Clutter vs Chaos

When you’re hours away from a submission deadline and can’t find the file meant to be submitted (as happened to me this week), a filing system can become a crisis verging on disaster.

t find anything. I thought I had deleted the correct file by mistake, and spent the day banging my head against the wall in regret, only to later discover it had been there all along, just filed under a different name.

While it made sense at the time to delete a few files to clean up the drive, in retrospect, it just created a lot of unnecessary chaos and wasted time that would have been better spent writing. All of it was unnecessary; all of it was a waste of time; all of it could easily have been avoided with a better electronic filing system.

Here is how I resolve to sort my story files moving forward:

Top Folder

First rule: One folder per story

Name=StoryHandle

Story Handle vs. Story Title: Titles can be problematic, and can even change when submitted to different markets. What’s the one word that describes the story, the one word that comes to mind when thinking of the story? I will pick one and stick to it for filing purposes.

Subfolders

This is where it all goes haywire. No order, different file names, senseless version numbering (v1, v91, 140730A, etc.). And when I work from a memory stick or copy a file from a cloud-based folder, I can’t even rely on the dates to help sort it out.

My solution: filename=StoryHandle-v#. (e.g. Elysium-v7). Simple, to the point, and the files will display chronologically.

It’s not an all-new format to me as I have used version numbers in the past, and move up versions only during a significant rewrite. So whether it’s Thirty-One’s Elysium, or Helix of Elysium, Elysium’s Web, or Theo’s Way, it’s all going to be Elysium-v# until submission time.

And yes, second-level subfolders (research, backgrounders, etc.) do come into play, but I somehow have not encountered problems with those as they are standard subfolders for each writing project. The stories themselves, which are constantly worked on and edited, are the misfiling culprits and I hope this simple system will help resolve any further issues.

If you know of a better system, I am all ears (eyes?). Feel free to share better solutions by posting on this page. I would love to know what others are using.

The next serious issue I need to address, much sooner than later, is backup systems. I hate working from cloud-based files because they have to be downloaded first so it seems pointless to go through the trouble every time, so I tend to do periodic backups instead (I know, bad, bad, Jenner). It’s a hassle but I need to figure it out to prevent further head banging sessions before I end up giving myself a concussion.

Summer Project Update: A few stories were submitted this week, meaning they are now off the pile (at least until they get rejected). They include the aforementioned Elysium’s Web, and it is yet another post-apocalyptic plague story. This story is one I especially like, and for which I rose from bed at four a.m. to get down on paper before it escaped me. By five am, I had a dozen pages written longhand, something quite unusual for me. I had intended for those pages to be used as the basis of a novel (and it still may become one), but many tangential stories have sprouted from this story idea. While what came out of those pages serves as the general background and setting for Elysium’s Web, little more than the main character’s name directly made it into it. Theo may yet come back from the dead to make it through another story inspired by those handwritten pages.

Up next: As no anthologies with an August deadline have caught my eye, I may turn my focus to stories I could submit to “big” markets (Tor.com being one of them). Since this summer project started, it’s the first time I feel the pressure has eased up and I must admit it’s nice not to feel so under the gun to produce and finalize work, even if all of it is self-imposed.

I will nonetheless continue to forge ahead and keep writing, lest I fall off the wagon and dare enjoy a day of summer before it’s gone.

WWR#1431

Story Titles: Titling Titillating Tales

Insert Title HereFinding the perfect story title can be challenging. I struggle for days, weeks, or sometimes months, before settling on The One. I’m not sure if it’s because my stack of written stories is constantly growing higher, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find fully satisfying titles, ones that don’t keep me up at night as I strive to find something better.

I was asked this week how I came up with the title for “All of a Heap”, which was published a few days ago in Plague: Aftermath. It is a title I am proud of because as you read the story, it can be interpreted in more than one way, which is always a thrilling accomplishment.

The story had gone untitled, referenced as “the ebola story” from its origins and was still unnamed as the submission deadline loomed. I didn’t want to make the title obvious by using ebola or plague, or something relating to the missing daughter. I wanted something that represented the story well, but wrapped in subtlety.

Despite the almost deserted part of the town used as the setting (most everyone has fled to escape the deadly plague), I kept returning to the idea of a crowd because the crux of the story revolves around a collection of victims piled high on the street.

I read and re-read the story without coming up with anything satisfactory so a word association and brainstorming session followed beginning with the word “crowd”. Mob. Congregation. Herd. Confluence.

Nothing felt right so I entered the results in turn in Thesaurus.com. Rable. Posse. Great unwashed. Rank and file. Not necessarily off from what I was looking for but none of the results were le mot juste.

Then I thought of a gathering crowd. Not right, but definitely heading in the right direction. “Gathering” yielded many duplicate results from the previous searches but lower on the page there is a section on related adjectives. Most of the results posted seemed like made-up words (allemang, agminate, coacervate) but one idiom stood out from the group in all its glory as if surrounded by glowing neon arrows: all of a heap.

So thank you for your help, Thesaurus.com. “The ebola project” became “All of a Heap” and was accepted within two days of submission. I like to think the title helped propel it to the top of the…heap.

In future, when I am really at a loss for naming a story, perhaps I should consider turning to Metallica for inspiration. Their song titles are more than fitting when not in the lyrics. Enter Sandman. Welcome Home. Fade to Black. No Leaf Clover (okay, though one of my favourites, I still haven’t figured out this one yet but…“then it comes to be, yeah” so it all works out in the end).

Summer Project Update: I am hoping to submit at least two stories in the coming week, three if I can swing it by the Wednesday and Thursday deadlines, but I have a feeling the titles for those stories might not be settled yet.

WWR#1430

Getting Away with Murder

Presentation by Dr. Debra Komar, forensic anthropologist and historical crime author.

I attended a presentation this week by renowned forensic anthropologist and historical crime author, Dr. Debra Komar, called “Getting Away with Murder”. Her talk focused on how cutting-edge investigative methods are rewriting legal history, and how she’s using her modern forensic skills to right the wrongs on some of Canada’s most notorious historical crimes. (Her presentation was of great interest to me because even though I didn’t know what it was called then, growing up I dreamed of being a forensic anthropologist, though no one believes me since the explosion of all the CSI tv shows.)

Her presentation included a reference to universal lethality, a somewhat controversial theory (and one used in serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s defence), meaning everyone has the potential to kill and, under the right circumstances, will act upon that innate impulse. The writer in me couldn’t help but speculate what story could be created from such a world. If this theory holds true, it means everyone would likely kill at least once in their lifetime. What if a world existed where everyone had one-time free pass to kill because of it? Who would they kill, and would the act be premeditated or impulsive? Would there be age restrictions, either for the killer or the victim? Allowed only on strangers or relatives? Specific locations only? Any exceptions? Thoughts on universal lethality are going into my story idea file for future consideration – feel free to share any thoughts on this theory on this page.

2014 Summer Project update:

  • Still Daughter, my story about a very different and creepy little girl facing the major life challenge of being dead, was completed and submitted. The 8 to 12 weeks waiting period for a response begins;
  • I completed a rewrite of Arctic Marauder (formerly titled Frozen in Time) and submitted it for online critique. The story is about a modern polar research expedition finding a downed aircraft and a lone survivor, some seventy years younger than he should be. The mysterious cargo aboard the 1943 B-26 Marauder may have something to do with the surviving soldier’s youthfulness and murderous disposition;
  • I did some research this week of potential markets and found a handful of interesting anthologies coming up, three of them with deadlines by the end of July. I’m now shifting my focus to the stories Walker Watcher (an alternate Hell story), Thirty One’s Elysium (a post-apocalyptic tale), and Ringleader (a retelling of The Three Little Pigs fairy tale). Ringleader will be the most challenging because it is probably not twisted enough for the anthology call but hey, that’s just the kind of challenge I’m up for.

Happy writing.

WWR#1429

Ideas Galore

Ideas Galore

Ideas Galore

I participated in a workshop for speculative fiction writers this week called “Getting the Science Right”. It was a very science-oriented talk (DNA, mutation, genetic drift, evolution, speciation, etc.) that expanded my horizons about what to consider when world-building in science fiction and fantasy, as well as how to set up new life forms in a believable way. I especially enjoyed the part of the discussion on the immune system, symbiosis, parasitism and fungi (parasites and fungi can be awesomely creepy). One of the workshop’s goals was to show how to “turn speculative ideas into metaphors that enrich stories”. After the workshop’s exercises and discussion, I left with no less than 14 new story ideas. I’m not sure if I can wrap my brain around any of them just yet but a few of the ideas will be very interesting to explore.

The Summer Project is progressing well, though not as fast as I would have hoped. One story – Still Daughter, I’m still tinkering with the name – will be submitted within the next few days to meet a market’s deadline. I’ve added several scenes to flesh out the plot and character motivation. I have to write out one more scene (the inciting incident) and tweak the rewritten ending before it’s good to go.

I have also been receiving critiques all week on Fossil Lake, an 8,500-word story. The feedback has been very positive overall and more than half of the readers have suggested that I expand it into a longer work or even a novel(!) While that’s not out of the realm of possibility, I won’t make it longer than it needs to be. I could easily see it double it in size but markets for close to 20k words are few. When I revise it, I intend to focus on develop it in a way that serves the story and not worry too much about the word count.

The third story seeing action this week is called Frozen in Time, which I’m revising based on feedback I received quite a while back. Since some of the changes are quite extensive, my plan is to submit it for online feedback before sending it out to a market. I’m not addicted to critiques but getting fresh eyes on a story is always good. The feedback I received on Fossil Lake this week was quite stellar, offering very detailed and pointed commentary that will help bring that story to the next level. You only get one shot when submitting a story to a market so it’s best to make sure it’s fully ready, even if it takes a little longer. I don’t have a deadline on this one so I will take advantage of another round of feedback, this time with online strangers who are blunter than any others.

With all that, I still managed to critique three stories this week (the stories totalled close to 20k words).

I also finished reading Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean. I read just about anything I can get my hands on relating to the Arctic and Antarctic and this thriller is set in an atomic submarine under the North-polar ice cap so I could not pass it up. The book was first published in 1963 but its age did not prevent me from finding it wildly entertaining. I loved this Scottish writer’s laconic style and really appreciated wording like “He had the grace to colour slightly” instead of “He reddened in embarrassment”. Great stuff and look forward to reading more of his work.

Happy writing.

WWR#1428

WWR#1427 – 2014 Summer Project: The Starting Line

Cluttered EnvAs mentioned last week, my summer project is to finalize and submit as many of my stories as I can for publishing consideration. Before doing the actual count of stories in my pile, I had estimated the number of stories at about a dozen. That number was significant but the plan was to finalize at least ten of those and get them out the door by the end September, which would be a great accomplishment.

The actual count came to an astonishing thirty-four projects, and that’s after discarding—for now—about a half dozen short stories too early in the process to be included in the summer project. Two of those thirty-four stories are novels, which leaves 32 short stories. They are of a variety of genres, including horror, science fiction, action-adventure post-apocalyptic, and a few I can’t even begin to categorize (anyone up for a story about a collection of active brains stored in a fishbowl the size of an Olympic pool during a body shortage?)

In an ideal world, those thirty-two short stories would be submitted by the end of September, which averages out to close to three submissions a week. Considering I’m also working on new stories and will likely lose my mind if I set new work completely aside, I feel like the odds of finalizing all 32 short stories in three months are about as good as me summiting Mount Everest this weekend.

At least I know where I stand and all I can do is pick one and start.

The first story from the summer project pile is Still Daughter, for which I have found a great market. As that anthology’s submission deadline is fast approaching, I’m trying to make good use of the feedback I received to make it all come together within the next few weeks. I’m confident I can get it done by the July 15 deadline (I need to), even if the story essentially needed an entire rewrite when I first dusted it off. I think I have resolved all but one of the major issues and it’s now mostly a matter of fine tuning.

Happy writing!