A Week of Writing: 1/13/20 to 1/19/20

One more week of writing in the books. Let’s see how I did.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from novelist Hallie Ephron.

“Outlining is like putting on training wheels. It gives me the courage to write, but we always go off the outline.”

– Hallie Ephron

Since I’m deep into the outlining stage of my novel, I really like this quote from Hallie Ephron. I outline for a number of reasons, and one of them is it lets me dip my toe into the story before I dive into the deep, cold water of the first draft. It’s that training wheels aspect from the quote. Sure, an outline has a ton of other benefits too. It gives me a roadmap to write the story and lets me work out some of the plot and character issues before I get into the thick of a draft. Still, I do find, as Hallie Ephron says, that the outline gives me the courage to write the book and the courage to stray from it when the novel and its characters need to go off script.

The (New) Novel

I’ve mostly outlined the first act of the novel, and I like where it’s headed. I’ve also done some character plotting, using aspects of my own experiences in certain things for the background of the protagonist. My hope there is her backstory and motivations will ring truer to the reader. My outlines are always three acts and thirty chapters, so I’ve still got a bit of work to do. I hope to finish up by early next week with an outline that clock in between 8,000 and 10,000 words.

Short Stories

A sad week for short story submissions, unfortunately, as I didn’t send a single one.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I need three more submission this month to stay on pace for one-hundred for the year. One would think I could do that, but we’ll see. The rejection was a simple standard form rejection of no particular note. I might pad my monthly total with a few reprints, as there’s a few anthologies coming that might work for some of the horror stories I’ve sold in the past.

Microfiction

Here’s this week’s batch of #vss365 microfiction. I’ll admit I struggled a bit with the prompt words this week (a failing entirely my own and not the prompter’s), so it’s not my brightest and best bunch of micros. I do like the last one, though. As usual, you can click the link in the date to go to the specific tweet.

January 13th, 2020

“Look at that beautiful #opaline sky.”

“Opaline? It’s gray. It’s always GRAY.”

“Nah, you just have to learn to appreciate the weather here in Seattle.”

“Weather? WEATHER?! Weather changes, dude. This shit hasn’t budged from morbid murder clouds for six fucking months!”

January 14th, 2020

He found the first growth on his palm. Hers bloomed on one pale cheek. They sat in the warm dark apartment, watching their growths multiply and extend #fibrous tendrils that laced together and intertwined. Soon, they were bound together by malignancy, closer than ever.

January 15th, 2020

“Is that a revolver?” Lucky asked.

Sal drew the old single-action from its holster with a #flourish. “Yep, gonna try something new.”

“What? Like a gunfight?”

“Uh huh. I wanna see how fast I am.”

“Sal, it ain’t a good sign when just murdering folks loses its thrill.”

January 16th, 2020

We had shelter, food and water for a lifetime, but as the immediate danger passed and years mounted, we all felt a terrible #yearning. The grim truth inside our concrete savior loomed over everything, and one by one we chose a quick end over decades of pointless survival.

January 17th, 2020

The ancient ruins on the planet’s equator indicated a #riparian culture. The towering idols and strange domed structures hinted at a deeply religious society. Lastly, the mangled remains of the inhabitants spoke of a people plagued by sins we humans could easily recognize.

January 18th, 2020

All contact guys drink. Unless you’re a psychopath, you gotta quiet the demons. But it makes you sloppy, #muddles your thoughts, puts you in situations that’ll get you killed. The truth is you hope for those situations. The drink just gives you the guts to look for them.

January 19th, 2020

I’m not as #articulate as I once was. The bullet they dug out of my skull makes thoughts and words distant cousins at best. I don’t really need to speak, though. As I thumb back the hammer and point my pistol, the man who tried and failed to kill me understands perfectly.

Goals

Outline, outline, outline. Then, in between outlining, finish a short story or two and submit them. It would be great to finish the outline by the end of the week, but I feel like it might take me a tad longer.


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 1/6/20 to 1/12/20

Well, it’s a new year, so it’s time to start accounting for my writing and submission endeavors again. Here we go.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote comes from Vincent van Gogh.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.

– Vincent van Gogh

This one resonates with me at the moment as I start writing another novel. Long-form fiction can be overwhelming, especially if you look at it as a single monolithic piece of work. I finish novels by breaking them down into smaller tasks, manageable bits and pieces, that once assembled create something greater than the component parts. Of course, this is oversimplifying to some extent, but I think the sentiment is sound. I approach a novel in terms of what can I can accomplish today, usually that’s a single chapter or somewhere around 2,500 words. That’s served me well in the past, and I hope it continues to for the foreseeable future.

The (New) Novel

I’ve started a new novel, yet untitled, based around characters from an existing short story. The story in question is one I’ve sold more than any other, and I think it may be the most quintessentially me of all the pieces I’ve written. I’m deep into outlining at the moment, putting together my typical three-act thirty-chapter roadmap for the story. That’ll probably take me most of the week and maybe part of next. Then it’s on to the first draft, which I’ll write at 2.000 to 2,500 words a day, five days a week, until I have a complete novel.

Short Stories

Last year I fell short of my goal of one-hundred submissions by nineteen subs. This year, I plan to stay on track. Here’s how I did last week.

  • Submissions Sent: 6
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

In truth, one of those six submissions was sent the week prior, but I’ll just count it here. So that’s five submission this week, and one last, which puts me on a very nice pace. I need to be around nine submissions a month to hit my goal of one-hundred. The rejection was your typical, garden variety form rejection, but the acceptance was a good one. It’s a story I shopped quite a bit, and it was even shortlisted at Flash Fiction Online and NewMyths. It’s nice to finally find a home for it. More on that acceptance when it’s published.

Microfiction

I’m writing microfiction everyday over on Twitter based on the #vss365 prompts. Here’s this week’s batch. If you’re unfamiliar with vss365, the hashtagged word in each micro is the prompt word for the day. You can click the link on each date if you wanna throw me a like or a retweet. 🙂

January 6th, 2020

I drag my busted leg behind me. It’s gone numb, but at least I can’t feel the bone grinding into the sand anymore. That’s the least of my worries, though. The excited #yips and howls have grown closer. They smell the blood, the sickness, the meat. I used to think coyotes were cute.

January 7th, 2020

“My shotgun #obviates the need for the .45,” Lucky said and hefted his Remington 870. “Leave it.”

Sal blinked and set down his 1911. “It does what to the .45?”

“You know, obviate. Removes.”

“Those word-a-day shit tickets are really workin’ out for you, huh, Lucky?”

January 8th, 2020

Gary stared up at the new girl, eyes wide, nose gushing blood. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, he had ruled the 6th-grade playground, hurting any who resisted his bullying. His #usurper was half his size but had a boxer’s grace and a roll of quarters in each clenched fist.

January 9th, 2020

She defied her opponent’s sword, his height and reach, with #kinetic and overwhelming skill. His feet and hands blared his intentions like a neon sign, heralding a clumsy thrust. With a languid turn of her shoulder, she slipped his blade and filled his heart with steel.

January 10th, 2020

I’m not #inquisitive. That’s why I’m still here and all my friends are gone. Jon asked what they were. Amy wanted to know why they’d come. I just worked the jobs they gave us, ate their food, and kept quiet. Now, alone, I do have a question. What’s the point of going on?

January 11th, 2020

“What do you tell people when they ask what you do?” Lucky asked and took a drag from his cigarette.

Sal shrugged. “The truth. I tell ’em I’m a contract killer.”

“And that doesn’t freak people out?”

“Nope,” Sal said and grinned. “Death makes for a #lively discussion.”

January 12th, 2020

After he finished his work, rinsed off the blood, and disposed of the body, he would sink into a quiet #languor and ignore the terrible presence squirming beneath his skin. He’d feed it’s urges eventually, but the blessed peace following a kill made him feel almost human.

Goals

Continue outlining the new novel is priority one, but I need to finish some short stories if I want to keep up my submission pace. I have a number that are half-finished, and I’ll aim to complete at least one this week.


That was my week. How was yours?

Proofing Checklist: Just Nod & Smile

I recently finished the latest revision of my novel, and after all the heavy lifting was done–you know, adding new scenes, tweaking character motivations, all that–it was time for one more proof before it goes back to my agent. Now I have a pretty lengthy proofing checklist that includes all kinds of things, from overused words, sentence structure bugaboos, adverb annihilation, dialog tag correctification, the works. What I want to focus on today, though, is body language and nonverbal cues, and more importantly the ones I tend to overuse.

As usual for these things, what follows is how I write, revise, etc. I’m trying for a specific style with my work that won’t be a good fit for everyone. So with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s nod, smile, shake our heads, and grimace this thing to death. 🙂

As I alluded to above, the prime suspects for overused body language in my work are nod, smile, and shaking heads. The first two, especially, can get pretty egregious, and I end up removing half or more of them in a given manuscript. I also tend to overuse frown, grimace, and, oddly, shudder to a lesser degree, plus a few others.

So how and why do I fix my nods and smiles and so on? Well, here are some examples.

1) It doesn’t make sense. Sometimes I’m just writing along, making everybody nod and smile, and for some reason I pop one into sentence where it doesn’t make sense. Case in point:

When are you going after them?” Everett asked.

She nodded. “Soon, and you’re coming with us.”

So, uh, why is she nodding there? No good reason. This one just gets nuked, and the sentence and dialog are fine without it.

2) It’s redundant with the dialog. This is kind of a stylistic choice, but I prefer to let the dialog do the heavy lifting when it comes to character emotions, intent, and so on. Often as not, the body language is just redundant. Example:

Everett nodded. “Yeah, that night.” He took a risk and lied. “I spoke with Howard on the inside. He saw the same thing.”

I don’t really need the nodded here because he gives the affirmative in the dialog and I don’t think it adds anything. I might rewrite this one as:

“Yeah, that night.” Everett took a risk and lied. “I spoke with Howard on the inside. He saw the same thing.”

Now there are times where the body language, a nod in this case, does add something to the dialog. Case in point:

He didn’t sit, but he put his hands on the back of the chair and nodded. “Go on.”

I could remove the nod here, but I actually like the three little bits of nonverbal communication here followed by the dialog. Your mileage may vary, but this is one I’d keep.

3) There’s a better word. Sometimes I’ll default to one of my go-to bits of body language even when there’s a better choice. Now, this differs from point number one in that I actually want some kind of nonverbal cue in the sentence. Just, you know, a different one. Example:

He grimaced. “They could have brought you at night to spare you that.” He remembered his own troubles with the sun.

Now a grimace is usually used to denote disgust or pain, but that’s not what the character is feeling here. It’s frustration or even anger, so something different is needed. Maybe it’s:

“Goddamn it,” Everett said through clenched teeth. “They could have brought you at night to spare you that.”

In this case I think that extra bit of dialog and the nonverbal cue sells the emotion I want better than just a facial expression. I also think it works better without the last sentence.


So how many of the offending words did a remove from my 103,000-word manuscript? Here’s the score.

Word Start End
nod/nodded/nodding 108 47
Smile/smiled/smiling 89 47
shake/shook head 88 38
shudder/shuddered/shuddering 23 11
frown/frowned/frowning 15 14
grimace/grimaced/grimacing 13 9

Not bad. As you can see, I removed half or more of the prime offenders while I was more lenient with the others. It should be noted that not all those nods, smiles, and shaking of heads were simply deleted. Like the examples I included, sometimes they were replaced with a more appropriate word or action.

Well, that’s a glimpse into my proofing process, and, again, this is just how I do it. You may use more nods and smiles than me, and that’s cool. Hell, I recently looked at a best-selling novel around the same length as my book, and it had 276 instances of nod/nodded/nodding. That clearly didn’t keep it from getting published or selling in great numbers.

What types of body language and nonverbal cues do you tend to overuse? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 6/10/19 to 6/16/2019

Another week of writing and stuff.

Words to Write By

This week’s quote is another from Mark Twain.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

― Mark Twain

I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity or more precisely the lack of it. A lot of folks call that writer’s block, but when I’m not productive it’s generally not because I can’t write, it’s because I’m terrified to start writing or editing or revising or whatever. Mark Twain’s quote describes almost exactly what I do to get out of my funk. Looking at something like a novel (or the revision of said novel) as one colossal task is completely overwhelming, so much so that I just spin my wheels and fail to get anything done. If I break down that huge task into a bunch of little ones, like Mr. Twain suggests, I can get on with it.

With a novel, those little tasks are writing an outline, then finishing the first chapter, then writing 2,000 words a day. Basically, I never let myself dwell too long on the overall task, I just complete the task(s) I assigned myself for the day. If I do that for like 90 days in a row, one day I’ll look up and have a completed first draft. For revision, it’s roughly the same process. I’ll assign myself one or two plot points to resolve and focus entirely on those, or if I’m doing a more general proof, I’ll assign myself a number of pages per day.

There’s a bit of self trickery in this process, but I’ll use every dirty trick in the book if it means I can push past the fear and doubt and get more done. 🙂

The Novel

Well, I’m back to revising Late Risers and making good progress. Last week I primarily focused on starting from page one and re-reading the first half of the novel. I did a lot of work in the first half and added a ton of new material. So I needed to reacquaint myself with all those shiny new words and figure out if they’re worth keeping. The good news is that most of them are worth keeping, and, as usual, with a little distance from the novel, it reads a lot better and more cohesively than I thought it would. This week I plan to plow through the second half of the book. I won’t need to revise as much, but there’s one huge plot point I need to rework in the third act. After that, it should be pretty smooth sailing. I hope.

Short Stories

Yes, behold my shame.

  • Submissions Sent: 0
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

No submissions last week, but, hey, I did get a form rejection (womp womp). I’m lagging this month with new submissions, though I am working on new short stories that will become new submissions. I hope to get one or two or three of those out this week. I was also invited to contribute a story or two to a sword & sorcery magazine, so I’ll be starting those stories this week.

The Blog

Here are the blog posts from last week.

6/12/19: Weeks of Writing: 5/20/19 to 6/9/19

Getting caught up on the weeks I missed.

6/15/19: Submissions: A Pair of Never Have I Evers

In this post I discuss two publisher responses I’ve never received.

Goals

Novel, novel, novel. Short story, short story, short story.

Curious Fictions

I’ve started posting some of my reprint flash fiction and short stories up at Curious Fictions, and I plan to do that every Monday for a while. I’ll eventually get around to posting new material, and maybe even a serialized novella. For the moment, getting some of my old reprints some fresh air has been a lot of fun.

This week’s story is “Caroline,” a zombie tale published by Red Sun Magazine a few years ago. It’s definitely one of the darker pieces I’ve written, and you can check it out by clicking the link(s) below.

“Caroline”

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash


That was my week. How was yours?

Deadlines: What Can They Teach You?

I’m currently writing on deadline, something I’ve done a lot in my career. From short stories to novels, I’ve frequently had to bang out the words under the gun. That got me thinking. What has writing under a deadline taught me and how has it shaped my writing? Here are three deadline-induced skills I’ve developed, which I’ve reduced down to acronyms because it’s more fun. So, lets talk about ABO, GID, and FIP.

1) ABO (Always be Outlining)

Look, I’m not saying outlining is the one true way. A lot of writers prefer to fly by the seat of their pants, and that clearly works for them. For me, however, outlining a fiction project does two things. One, it alleviates a lot of the worry that goes hand-in-hand with writing under a (tight) deadline. If I know where the story is going, and I have a solid road map to get there, I worry less about that and can focus on the writing. Two, it makes it easier to get started. An outline is kind of like a practice run or a warm-up, and it allows me to dive into the story without all the anxiety-inducing baggage of actually writing it (yet). That, for some reason, make the whole thing easier.

What ABO has Taught Me

Well, this is pretty simple. I’ve become a dedicated plotter in my own work for the same reasons I describe above. I write detailed outlines for short stories and novels, and it’s made both starting and finishing my own projects much easier. As I said above, outlining is not for everyone, and I get that, but it’s been an invaluable tool for me.

2) GID (Get it Down)

When I’m writing on a deadline, I don’t have time to let self-doubt and fear get in my way. That’s not to say they aren’t present (they are), but the only thing that frightens me more than getting those words on the page is, uh, not getting those words on the page and missing my deadline. So I sit down and write, no matter how I’m feeling, not matter how my brain is screaming “THIS IS ALL TERRIBLE.” I just forge ahead, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, at a pace of 2,000 to 3,000 words per day until I have a first draft. Basically, I tell myself “just get it down,” which is to say get it on the page, get that first draft done, and, most importantly, you can worry about the rest later.

What GID has Taught Me

With my own writing, I often pretend I’m on a deadline. For a novel, I figure out a writing schedule that requires a pace of about 10,000 words a week. I write my outline, and then, well, I just get it down. It allows me to knock out a first draft in about nine to twelve weeks. Really, what GID has allowed me to do, in conjunction with outlining, is finish things. It’s often a struggle, but if I can allow myself to not care about everything being perfect as I write it and really just focus on getting words on the page, I can get things done, and it’s never as bad as I think it’s gonna be, which leads me to the next skill.

3) FIP (Fix it in Post)

The bosom buddy of get it down, fix it in post or FIP is another mantra I recite as I’m writing a first draft. It’s more of a film/TV term than a writing term, but the concept of cleaning up and editing raw footage still applies. Working in the gaming industry as an editor and writer for all those years taught me just about everything can be fixed (often at the last minute) once you have a complete draft to work with.

What FIP Taught Me

Like the rest of these acronyms, FIP is all about finishing. It’s another way to do an end run around the fear and doubt that might keep me from writing. When I’m working on that first draft of a story or a novel, and I start to get a little freaked out that it’s not going well or whatever, I tell myself “fix it in post,” often right after I tell myself “just get it down.” Those two together are a powerful force that lets me forge ahead and keep working.


Armed with ABO, GID, and FIP, I feel I can go into just about any project with the understanding that a) I can complete it, b) it won’t be nearly as bad as I fear it will be, and c) even if it needs work, I can DO that work. They’ve been a great confidence booster, and I learned them all because of the looming threat and ticking doom clock of years and years of deadlines. Those skills–though I guess they’re more mindsets than actual skills–have definitely paid dividends in my own work.

So that’s what deadlines have done for me. What have they done for you? Tell me about it in the comments.

A Week of Writing: 4/29/19 to 5/5/19

A day late, but here’s another week of writing wins and woes.

Words to Write By

The quote this week comes from Ernest Hemingway.

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.”

– Ernest Hemingway

I’m featuring this quote not because I think it’s how everyone should write, but because it’s how I tend to approach writing. Hemingway is famous for spare, unadorned prose, and I tend to write in a similar fashion (note, I am not making any kind of qualitative comparison between my own writing and Hemingway’s). I certainly look at my prose as a means to and end rather than anything approaching the end product itself. What does that mean, though? Generally, it means I don’t spend a lot of time describing people, places, and things; I rely heavily on dialog to express plot points and develop characters; and I weed out passive voice, most adverbs, and try not to get too complex with my sentence structure. If I do it right, I end up with lean, fast-paced prose that conveys a story efficiently and is, hopefully, compelling. So, why do I write this way? Simple. It’s a style that tends to highlight things I’m good at, like action and dialog, and downplays things I’m not so good at, like truly stylish prose and expansive descriptions. Once more, this is not the best way to write (there’s no such thing), but it’s how I write. Looking at my prose like architecture, as Hemingway suggests, has helped me do what all authors must–finish stories and novels.

The Novel

I was out for a few days last week for a badly needed vacation, but I did manage to get a fair amount done on the current revision of Late Risers. I’m confident things will speed up once I get out of the first act where the bulk of the heavy revisions are taking place. This week, I’m working on the last bit of completely new material, and my goal is to finish that, integrate it into the manuscript, and get beyond the halfway point in the revision.

Short Stories

Finally, a respectable submission week.

  • Submissions Sent: 4
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I got 4 submissions out last week. That’s solid, and it’s a good start to May. That gives me 39 for the year and puts me back on track for 100 for 2019. I’d like to end up somewhere around 10 to 12 submissions for the month.

The Blog

Three blog posts last week.

4/29/19: A Week of Writing: 4/22/19 to 4/28/19

The usual weekly writing update.

5/1/19: Submission Protocol: For the Record

In this post I discuss why it’s important to keep detailed records of all your submissions.

5/3/19: Submission Statement: April 2019

A detailed account of my submission endeavors for the month of April.

Goals

Keep revising the novel and chugging toward that finish line. As usual, I’d like a side dish of short story submissions to go with my revision main course.


That was my week. How was yours?

A Week of Writing: 2/4/18 to 2/10/18

After a month hiatus on the ol’ writing updates, it’s time to get back on that horse. Here’s how I did last week.

Words to Write By

This week’ quotes comes from Anita Shreve.

“To ward off a feeling of failure, she joked that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejection slips, which she chose not to see as messages to stop, but rather as tickets to the game.”

– Anita Shreve

I love this quote. Referring to rejections as “tickets to the game” feels so on point to me, because I truly believe they’re part of the dues every writer pays to grow, to get better, and to get published. Basically, you don’t get into the show without spending some time in the minors taking your licks. (Sorry, baseball analogy.) While I don’t think you need to celebrate rejection, taking some solace and strength in what rejections signify, i.e., you’re writing and submitting your work, is a good thing in my book.

The Novel

About a month ago, I sent my novel Late Risers to my agent for his first read. Last week, he got back to me with feedback. He said the novel was interesting and even compelling, but there’s some work to do before he starts subbing it to editors. I won’t go into a ton of detail here, but the highlights are essentially as follows. Punch up the beginning so the book stands apart from others in the same genre. Fix some issues that do not pass the “reasonable man” test. Add more action-oriented scenes that demonstrate certain key plot points. What I’m most happy with about this feedback is that I agree with 99% of it. More than him hating the book, I was afraid he might want changes that would drastically alter what I wanted to say with the novel. That wasn’t the case, and I feel good about where the book needs to go. Better than that, I feel like I know how to get it there.

Short Stories

Slow week, and so far a slow month.

  • Submissions Sent: 2
  • Rejections: 1
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 0
  • Shortlist: 0

I only have two submission for February to date, but one of my favorite markets opens for publication next week and there are some new contests I want to enter. So, I predict I’ll end the month  somewhere between eight and ten submissions.

The Blog

Two blog posts last week.

2/5/19: The Rejection Archives: Rejection #1

A new feature on the blog where I’ll share a single rejection from my extensive library of no’s and not for us’s.

2/8/19: One-Hour Flash – End of the Line

Another entry into my one-hour flash series, hastily scribbled stories not quite good enough for submission.

Goals

The next revision of Late Risers will have to wait just a bit longer as I have a Privateer Press novella outline I need to work on. I’ll finish the outline soon, though, and get cracking on Late Risers again while the outline is under review.

Submission Spotlight

This week I’d like to call your attention to a short story contest hosted by one of my favorite publishers, The Arcanist. They’ve been a flash fiction publisher for the last couple of years, and this contest marks their first foray into longer fiction. The contest calls for short stories up to 5,000 words with a broad theme of magic. The deadline is 4/1/19. For more details about the contest, prizes, and whatnot, click the link below.

The Arcanist Short Story Contest


How was your writing week? Tell me about it in the comments.