Of Subs and Crows

Submissions by the numbers – or not

I made four short story submissions in March, doubling my goal of 2 per month. Of course when I look back to the beginning of the year, I’m 4/6, or 4/8 including April so numbers continue to dampen any moment of celebration I might have.

Focusing on the submissions themselves, one story was rejected within 24 hours, two await a response, while Arctic Marauder made it through the first level of slush and has moved up the ranks for review by a senior editor. It’s not yet an acceptance but makes me feel pretty good.

My real-life horror story

dark-souls-wallpaper-3 (hdwallpapersearly)I use my daily walks to work out plot issues and mentally outline stories as I circle a 5K section of the Rideau Canal. I’ve been walking the same section for years and could pretty much do it blind if not for other pedestrians, runners, cyclists, strollers, pets and gaping holes peppering the East side that open all the way down into canal water, threatening the loss of a lower limb. Other than for those life-threatening dangers, I can pay minimal attention to my surroundings and focus on stories.

Usually around this time of the year, and for several weeks, I need to change my route as a family of crows have taken to nesting on the Pretoria bridge and mommy crow attacks me every time, approaching from a blind spot and holds on to my cap for dear life with her prehistoric claws as she pecks the hell out of my head until I run – wildly screaming and swinging – out of the kill zone. I’ve never seen others attacked so I’m not sure if it’s to protect her young or a protest against my fashion sense, but the experience is always terrifying. It’s probably happened 8 or 10 times by now, but invariably I think it’s a whole murder of crows attacking and find out it was one  lone bird. I can’t even imagine how Tippi Hedren felt filming that scene in “The Birds” but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had to keep a defibrillator nearby.

It’s still snowing these days so maybe the crows are also off-schedule but they will be coming for me soon. I still wear the hat but I am currently shopping for trekking poles so I least I will have a fighting chance this year. That walking loop is mine and when I divert I can’t get my writer thinking done so watch out for me this year, mother crow.

I’ll be ready for you.

WWR#1515

Nose to the Grindstone (writing WIPs, accomplishments & upcoming projects)

Nose to GrindstoneThe weather has been unreliable and temperamental, and it seems tree leaves have been drifting onto the city streets for weeks now. These past few weeks, I’ve also somehow missed any conversation, or even reference, to the official change in seasons and just realized that Summer is officially over.

I did not take any vacation, and the few days I took off work were dedicated writing days so I’m in shock at the realization that an entire season has come and gone when I had not realized it had even arrived. I guess I have to resign myself to looking forward to next summer as this one has zoomed by, and I’ve missed it by spending most of my time hovering over a keyboard.

September Review: As part of the Twitter Writing Challenge, I began a novel (“Maze”) on September 1. In a month, I wrote 12 scenes and logged in over 11,000 words, in addition to many hours of brainstorming that have filled a thick stack of pages in my Maze notebook. To help me track the many short scenes in this dark action-adventure-thriller, I’ve organized an index card system, which will also help me track scenes and balance the two points of view (hero and villain) I’ve settled on for this book. I also spent some time working on short stories (revisions, two submissions) and did some research on markets to help me determine which short stories I will finalize next. This was on top of writing 5 critiques (some 5,000 words) and receiving close to 30 critiques in response to a short story I offered for feedback (Ringleader).

October Plans: It looks even busier than September: keeping up progress and pace on Maze, and submit at least 2 short stories. I will be attending CAN-CON from October 3 to 5, and only have a few hours to figure out how to clone myself so I can attend all of the promising panels and workshops scheduled over the same blocks of time over three days (5 or 6 events are scheduled every hour). I am also considering organizing a prep meeting for NaNoWriMo for the Ottawa Writers’ Circle, a meeting which would have to happen in the next few weeks if there are enough takers.

Happy (continued) writing!

WWR1440

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

September Writing Challenge

Word Count Program

It was only a few weeks ago that I blogged about the challenges of using word count as a measure of productivity, and my decision to abandon counting words on a daily basis.

Feedback on this issue has been interesting and unexpected: it turns out word count matters to a lot of writers, and they are passionate about it.

While not a perfect method, I agree it is worth using if it can help motivate and reach writing goals. For me, it had reached the point where it made me stop writing altogether and that’s why I had to stop.

After more readings and discussions on the issue, I still have mixed feelings about word counts. Therefore when I was challenged to participate in the #SeptWritingChallenge on Twitter, my knee-jerk reaction was to immediately decline.

I am always up for trying new methods if it can help my writing in any way so after some reflection, I decided to try it for a month. WritingChallenge.org’s challenge is to write 500 words a day, and they accept one hour of editing as the equivalent of writing 500 words, which addresses my main concern about word counts not taking into account revisions. Participants are asked to tweet everyday about their results, whether the writing day was productive on not.

It’s still not a perfect system but it is still better than pure word count. Revision time is often not easy to calculate as I don’t use a stopwatch to eliminate every interruption, but it can still be estimated. It also doesn’t address time spent on research or critiques, among other things, but I still take them into account in my Twitter reports.

We’ll see at the end of the month if it has helped with my writing production. I have so many projects on the go, I can use any help I can get to get me to the finish line. Just knowing I have to share my results on Twitter for everyone to see forces me to make sure I have something to report: the reporting of results is an even bigger motivator than the word count itself so perhaps that is the key to everything.

I believe no system is perfect and most everything can be improved upon, so it’s a worth a try. Like my mother says – “Il y a juste les fous qui ne changent pas d’idée.” (Only fools never change their minds.)

My progress can be followed on Twitter @JennerMichaud.

WWR1436

Fools Quote

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

Word Count vs. Productivity

Einstein Quote-Counting

Since Einstein said it, it may just be true.

I used to measure my writing productivity by word count. It seemed the most straightforward way of setting and achieving writing goals (e.g. write 300 words a day, which I almost always surpassed). I even designed an Excel spreadsheet with a multitude of formulas for totalling per month, averaging word count per day/month/quarter, etc.

It worked well for months, until I began revising stories instead of writing new ones. One day, I spent hours reworking a story, taking out entire sections, and writing new ones from scratch. I was in “the zone”, and completely rewrote a story in one intense ten-hour stretch that flew by and felt like no longer than a mere hour. I was also incredibly proud of the end product, where a story had all come together to my complete satisfaction.

Then I looked at the final word count. The net result was exactly minus forty words from where I had started that morning. Minus forty words in ten hours where I felt I had accomplished so much. I dejectedly entered zero in my spreadsheet, and felt like a failure as the pre-programmed formulas spewed the twisted results.

I created another column to note that it was revision/rewrite, and wrote several lines as if to justify that I did indeed write that day. I kept up the database but as I continued spending time on revisions, my averaged stats continued to take a dive, as if all my work counted for nothing.

It reached a point where I made excuses not to write so I didn’t have to open the database. So I put a stop to it and I archived the database, and stopped counting.

I sometimes miss the spreadsheet, especially on days when I write explosively, thousands upon thousands of words. Even if I want to somehow track that successful production, I don’t as the alternative is just not worth it.

Whether it’s new words, revisions, rewrites, or even research, it’s all part of the writing process, MY writing process.

I alone know the work I put in and can only report to myself. I won’t—and can’t—let hard statistics affect what I know I have accomplished, and impact me to a degree that makes me stop doing what I love to do.

So without reporting, recording, or word count tracking, I just keep writing.

WWR#1432

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