A Week of Writing: 4/13/20 to 4/19/20

I’m settling in, writing more frequently, and my days now resemble something like my old routine. Time to dust off the weekly update posts.

Words to Write By

Today’s quote comes from Stephen King.

“I believe the first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months… Any longer and — for me, at least — the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel.”

— Stephen King

As you might have guessed, I’m writing the first draft of a new novel. I tend to write first drafts in the time frame King mentions here. It generally takes me between 60 and 90 days to complete a draft between 90,000 and 120,000 words. That said, the last first draft I wrote took me almost 111 days, almost four months, and that odd foreign feel King describes did begin to set in. For me, I think it’s because I start to lose the thread of the story as more time builds up between where I started and where I’m at. If I get the story out quicker, it all feels more cohesive. Now, of course, King’s prescription for first drafts isn’t going to work for everyone, but it resonates and works for me. There are no few authors who take much, much longer and produce excellent work.

The (New) Novel

Last week I wrote the first three chapters of a new novel tentatively titled Hell to Play. I wanted 10,000 words for the week, but I ended up with just over 6,000. That puts me a little behind the pace I set, but not too far, and I should be able to make up lost ground in the next couple weeks. I like what I’ve written so far, and I’m sticking pretty close to the outline. The first and third act are very clear in my mind, but the second act is still a little murky. I know what needs to happen, but how the characters navigate the middle part is still unclear. My hope is that it will come to me as I complete the first act.

Short Story Submissions

I had a pretty good week of submissions.

  • Submissions Sent: 3
  • Rejections: 4
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 2
  • Shortlist: 0

I sent three submission last week, all for the same piece. That generally happens when I have a new short story I’m shopping it to all the pro markets, many of which get back to you a few day (or even a few hours). The rejections include three for the above mentioned story, all form rejections, and a nice personal rejection from a pro market for a reprint flash story. The three submissions last week give me 6 for the month and 30 for the year, which is slightly off my goal of 100. If I can knock out another four subs this month, that should put me back on track.

The acceptance and first publication was a microfiction story at 50-Word Stories, which you can read right here.

The second publication is one I’ve been waiting for. My story “The Back-Off” is in the latest issue of On Spec Magazine. You can click the link in the cover below to get more info on the issue.

Microfiction

Still writing #vss365 microfiction. I used to give you the entire week, but I think I’ll shorten that and just give you the best or at least the most popular microfiction. As always, if you want to read my microfiction in real time, follow me on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

April 18th, 2020

Those who survived the plague lost the ability to see color. At first it seemed a small price to avoid the fate of millions dead, but suicides spiked in the months and years after. I remember the first we investigated. His note said only: Remember #blue?

I still can’t.

Goals

The goals for this week are going to be kind of the template for the next few months. I want to get at least 10,000 words on Hell to Play and submit two or three stories. I think that’s all pretty doable. I mean, I’ve done it before, but it’s a weird and stressful new world we live in, so I need to remember it’s okay to extend myself a little grace if I need it.


That was my week. How was yours?

How Long Does It Take to Write a First Draft?

How long does it take to write the first draft of a novel? Well, that’s going to be pretty subjective, and I’m only going to answer as it relates to me. This post will be how long it takes me to write a first draft. It is absolutely not a judgment of how long it takes you to write a first draft. Every author has their own system, timetable, and workflow that allows them to get from point A to point B. Keep that in mind as you read on.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about the novels I’ve written and how long it took me to knock out that first draft. First, a bit about my process. I am a dedicated plotter, and the first thing I write is a thirty chapter outline broken into three acts, ten chapters each. That document runs between five and eight thousand words. When it’s complete, I have someone look it over. In the case of the media tie-in novels at Privateer Press, that’ll be an editor and likely Matthew D. Wilson (the owner and chief creative officer of Privateer). I’ll get notes on the outline, make changes, resubmit, and at some point I’ll have an approved document I can start writing from. My own novels go through a similar process, in that I have one my critique partners look over the outline and make suggestions before I start writing.

Once I have my outline, I create a simple writing schedule. It’s just a spreadsheet where I plan out my daily word count goals, fill in how much I actually write in a given day, and add a few other numbers I like to see. Here’s what that looks like.

The image above is a piece of my writing spreadsheet for the novel Acts of War: Aftershock. It’s pretty straightforward. You have the day and date, the word count goal for the day (2,000 words), what I actually wrote that day, and then a running tally of total word count (TWC) and how many words I average per writing day. You’ll notice I shoot for a five-day-a-week writing schedule and 10,000 words for the week. I will write a bit on the weekend if necessary, as you see on Sunday, January 1st (and you’d see more of that further down) so I can hit my 10,000-word goal (or a bit more) for the week. I find this to be a manageable and even comfortable pace.

Okay, now let’s talk about the first drafts themselves. Since I left my full-time gig at Privateer Press in 2015, I have written five novels, three published and two unpublished. I’m only going to give you the details on four of them because one of them was written episodically and is outside my usual process. Also, because one of these novels is semi-secret, I’m just going to call it Novel X. Here are the basic numbers for the four books.

Start Date Finish Date Total Days Writing Days Word Count WPWD
Novel X 8/8/2015 11/10/2015 85 53 110272 2081
Acts of War: Flashpoint 12/7/2015 2/7/2016 63 39 79077 2028
Acts of War: Aftershock 12/12/2016 2/9/2017 60 39 95303 2444
Late Risers 1/24/2018 5/14/2018 111 47 92684 1972

Okay, so we have the start and end date for each first draft, which is pretty self-explanatory. Then we have total writing days, which is the number of days the first draft hung over my head like the sword of Damocles, even on the days I wasn’t specifically working on it. Next is writing days, the actual number of days I put words on the page. Total word count is next. No need for further explanation there. Finally, we have WPWD, which stands for Word Per Writing Day. That’s how many words I managed, on average, on the days I worked on the novel.

You’ll notice my WPWD is pretty consistent, and I will generally bang out at least 2,000 words when I’m working. Of course, some questions might arise from this chart as well. For one, why did Novel X and Late Risers take longer than the two Acts of War novels. Well, Novel X was the first big novel I wrote (and maybe over wrote), so there was a pretty steep learning curve there. It took me a little while to get me sea legs, as it were. Late Risers, which is my own IP, took longer because, well, it was harder to write, and I found myself taking breaks from the book for a couple days at a time that led to a lengthier time table. It’s currently still in revision, or well, it will be when I figure out what needs to be done with it.

You might wonder why there’s a discrepancy between total days and actual days. I mean, why am I not working on the novel every single day? The answer is simply I need to work on other projects, and sometimes I need time away from the BIG project to recharge, puzzle out plot issues, and so on. Still, I think I’m knocking out first drafts at a decent clip. At the rate I’m going, I could write two novels a year pretty comfortably. (Yeah, I know. Maybe I should do that.)

So we have a range of between two to four months for the first draft of a novel. I think, for me, that’s a pretty good sample of how long it takes me to write a first draft. The one that go smoothly can be done in a couple of months. The ones that go, uh, less smoothly, take a month or two longer. As I said at the beginning of this post, this is all specific to the way I do things. It’s not the right way or the best way, but it’s the way that works for me. If some of this works for you, please take it and use it with my blessing.

Yesterday, I started a new novel, following all the steps above. I have my outline, my writing schedule, and I managed to complete the first day of writing and hit my 2,000-word goal. How long will this one take me? Well, I’m shooting for two months, but if it takes three, that’s okay too.


Of course, nothing in this post references what happens after I finish a first draft. You know, the dreaded editing stage. That one’s a little harder to pin down, but I might talk about that process in another post. In the meantime, how do you go about writing your first drafts? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Micromanagement II: 4 MORE Benefits of Writing Tiny

Almost exactly one year ago I published an article called Micromanagement: 4 Benefits of Writing Tiny. I had just started writing microfiction, and I found a number of tangible benefits from doing so. To quickly recap, those benefits are: better self-editing, a chance to try new genres and styles, great story seed generator, and easy to share. If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on those points, just click the link in the first sentence. Okay, so now a year and some three hundred micros later, I’ve had time to further reflect and recognize other benefits of squeezing a story into a 50-word Tweet. Let’s have a look at four more reasons to write tiny.

  1. New Markets. Believe it or not, there are (many) places to submit your tiny tales. I’ve published two microfictions at such markets in the past year, and I have a third pending. If you expand a bit into drabbles (exactly 100-word stories) and other short forms, there are even MORE markets. Getting published in these markets is pretty great too because most of them share your easily digestible story far and wide, which can bring folks to your blog, get you Twitter followers, and generally get more folks reading your work. It’s certainly worked that way for me.
  2. Warm Up. Often the very first thing I write everyday is my #vss365 Twitter story. It’s challenging enough to get the ol’ creative juices flowing and get me nice and warmed up for the day’s writing. It’s like a good long stretch, really, useful on it’s own and as a complement to writing other things.
  3. Distraction/Validation. Really important at the moment. I’m finding microfiction to be a welcome distraction. It’s a moment I can focus without all the stress, doubt, and worry that comes along with writing longer works, like my novel. Sometimes it’s even cathartic, and I might spin out a microfiction as a way of exorcising the demons to some extent. (I’ve been writing A LOT of post apocalyptic stuff). Additionally, when I complete and post a micro, I get a nice little boost of confidence. Yeah, it’s a small thing, but I wrote it, finished it, and shared it. That’s not a bad way to begin your day.
  4. Community. I mentioned this in the first article, but it wasn’t one of the main points. After a year-plus of writing Twitter microfiction I can definitely say one of my favorite things has been the discovery of a vast community of talented authors who also write tiny. The talent level is pretty staggering, really, and I’ve ended up following a lot of these folks on Twitter, visiting their blogs/websites, and reading their other works. In other words, microfiction is a great way to tap into a wonderful and supportive group of writers.

So there you go, four more reasons you should be writing microfiction. If you’d like to take a gander at my own micro-efforts, follow me on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

Any reasons to write tiny I missed here or in the other article? Tell me about it in the comments.

Aeryn’s Archives: Roll Credits

Today on Aeryn’s Archives I’m doing something a little different. Instead of looking at a single piece of work I published, we’re gonna look at, uh, all of them. Some of you may have noticed the professional credits page on the blog, but it’s honestly not something I expect folks to read. In fact, it’s mostly for me, a place where I can keep track of everything I do. Sure, it gets a few views now and then, but it’s just a boring list of I wrote this, edited that, and produced this other thing.

Anyway, I rarely talk about my writing history/career as a whole because, well, I’ve done a lot of different things that don’t fit neatly together. This seems like a decent way to approach the plurality of my professional writing experience in a way that’s somewhat succinct and hopefully not as dreadfully dull as looking at a pages-long list. 🙂

Total Writing Credits: 280

If I did my math right, I have 280 distinct writing credits. That’s 280 things my name appeared on/in alongside the word author or designer or whatever. Now, this comes with a couple caveats. Not all of this is fiction, and some of it is self-published. So anyway, let’s break this down into three categories.

Fiction Credits: 108

When I say fiction, I mean fully narrative fiction. It’s kind of a weird distinction to draw because a lot of my game design credits are fiction(ish), but they have that historical documentary vibe, which I consider a slightly different beast. Anyway, these 108 credits run the gamut between short stories, flash fiction, microfiction, and longer works like novels, novellas, and novelettes. Oh, and a handful of them are co-author credits. I’d say about half these credits are things I published with Privateer Press before and after my tenure there and fall under media tie-in. The others are all mine, the short stories and whatnot you see me talk about on this blog.

Game Design: 102

Game design is a broad term, and I use it here to describe any non-narrative writing in service to a tabletop roleplaying or miniatures game. This category includes things like Dungeons & Dragons adventures I wrote for companies like Goodman Games and Wizards of the Coast, game material for WARMACHINE and HORDES, the principal tabletop miniature games produced by Privateer Press, and, finally, a whole bunch of history-book-style articles exploring the various IPs of the games I worked on (mostly the Iron Kingdoms). Like above with fiction, a handful of these are also co-authored.

Now, as I said before, some of these credits are fiction(ish), and some folks might consider something like the voice-y Gavyn Kyle articles I wrote for No Quarter magazine as fiction. That’s cool, and I wouldn’t put up much of an argument, really, but to me they fit more comfortably under game design.

Self-Published Game Design: 70

Finally, we have the digital gaming supplements and adventures I wrote and produced under my own little RPG company Blackdirge Publishing between 2005 and 2010. All these supplements are designed for use with Dungeons & Dragons, either 3.5 or 4th edition. Running this little “company” was a good experience, and I learned a lot from it. I separated these out because they’re somewhat different than the other work I’ve done and I acted as author, producer, and publisher all at once. Most of these are micro-supplements, just a few pages long. I did produce a handful of longer ones, though rarely more than 30 pages or so.


So there you have it. My writing bona fides, such as they are. Of course, I also have a bunch of editing and production credits, but those are even less interesting than the writing credits. 🙂

That New Story Smell

I recently finished a short story, one I really like. After letting my critique partners work it over, I revised the piece, shaved off 500 words, and now I’ll start submitting it. What I want to talk about in this post is the wonderful, exhilarating experience of completing a new story and sending it out on it’s first submission. Let’s dive in.

I like lists. Maybe you’ve noticed. So here are three things I love about finishing a new story.

  1. The best thing I’ve ever written. This isn’t always true, of course, but often when I finish a new story I feel like I’ve grown as a writer, if only a little. It might just be the bright, shiny allure of NEW THING that makes me feel this way, or in the case of this particular story, it might be I pushed myself, tried something new, and as scary as it was, I did it (and I think it worked). That feeling of accomplishing something new is pretty sweet.
  2. Limitless potential. A new story has a blank slate. It hasn’t been rejected yet, and, at least for me, it’s the best I can make it without additional objective feedback. You know, the kind that comes from editors in the form of rejections. I almost always start at the top when I submit a new piece. I send it to all those dream, bucket-list publishers, and, yeah, I might even imagine how awesome it would be to place a story there. I don’t spend too long on fantasy island, though. Cracking those top markets is tough, and you have to be pragmatic about these things. Still, a new story lets you dream a little, and that’s a good thing.
  3. Sweet validation. One thing that makes me feel like a real, honest-to-god writer is finishing something, be it a short story, a novel or, hell, even a blog post. The knowledge that I can get an idea, execute that idea, and produce something that is (hopefully) of publishable quality is a great confidence booster. Never mind the dozen half-finished stories collecting dust on my hard drive, this time I did it. This time I overcame the fear and doubt, pushed through, and made a new thing. I’ll bask in that glow until the first rejections arrives. 🙂

So that’s a bit about how I feel when I complete a new story. How do you feel when you finish a piece? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Aeryn’s Archives: Paint-Eater

Today’s installment of Aeryn’s Archives features a short story called “Paint-Eater.” It’s an interesting piece in that it’s one of those stories that took a lot of refining (and a bunch of rejections) to get to a place where it was sellable. I’ll discuss that further below, but in the meantime you can head on out to The Arcanist and read the story by clicking this link or the illustration below:

“Paint-Eater” began life as the very first flash fiction piece I attempted way back in April of 2012 in a one-hour flash fiction writing contest. The story was well received enough (it took second, I believe) that I thought, “Hey, maybe I should write more of this flash stuff.” Despite that, I viewed my first flash as simply an idea for a story rather than a story unto itself, so I set about expanding it into a full-fledged short story. I still believe that was the right decision; the idea was too big to fit into 1,000 words. I ended up with a 3,500-word short in 2013, but I didn’t start submitting it until 2016. I’m not sure why I waited that long, but once I started sending the story out into the world the rejections rolled in. I was sitting on seven rejections when the eighth arrived with some solid feedback. The editor recommended a change to the story that was absolutely the right thing to do. Still, it took me a full year to revise and submit it again.

After a big revision I sent “Paint-Eater” in to The Arcanists Magical Story short story contest, where it took third place. So the edits I made seemed to be effective, and it was nice to finally place this one. Sometimes that’s what it takes to sell a story. It needs to evolve as you evolve as a writer, as this one did (and a few pointers from kindly editors don’t hurt either). I learned SO MUCH about writing and submitting between the time I wrote this story and the time I sold it, and “Paint-Eater” definitely benefitted from my continuing education.


Anyway, head out to The Arcanist and give “Paint-Eater” a read. 🙂

365 Rejections: A Year’s Worth of No

Yesterday I received my 365th rejection since I started tracking my submissions seriously through Duotrope back in 2012. I think that’s kind of a cool milestone, and, well, like the headline says, it’s a whole year’s worth of rejections. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to dig into the numbers and see what 365 rejections looks like. First, let me offer up proof that I’ve actually hit this specific number. Below is a screenshot from my Duotrope account:

I’ve (crudely) circled the important things in red and removed the story and publisher name from my very first rejection through Duotrope way back in May of 2012. Now here are some interesting data point from those 365 rejections.

Unique Stories – 82

I have 82 distinct stories rejected, though a few of these were submitted as flash, rejected, then expanded to longer pieces, and also rejected. I went ahead and lumped those together as one story. Let’s look closer at the numbers on the stories.

Accepted: I managed to sell 41 of the stories in my rejected list. That’s exactly half, and that’s not too shabby. I think this further illustrates a couple of things I say all the time on this blog: selling a story is often about right story, right market, right time and even good stories get rejected. Here you see 41 stories that were rejected at least once (probably a lot more) but eventually sold.

Ten-Spots: Of the 82 stories rejected here, 11 of them were rejected 10 times or more. The good news is that I actually sold 7 of those stories. Again, this further illustrates that rejections are inevitable, even for good stories, even for stories you eventually sell to a pro market.

Unique Markets – 105

I have been rejected by 105 distinct markets. Some of these markets, like The Arcanist and The Molotov Cocktail, run contests as well as accept standard submissions. Those are separate entries in Duotrope, but I counted them as one market. Also, publishers like Flame Tree Publishing that run multiple anthologies I counted as a single market. Let’s look dig deeper into these numbers.

Lots of No: Of the 105 markets I submitted to 11 of them have rejected me more than 10 times. Most of these are top-tier pro markets and hard to crack. That said, I have managed to sell one or more stories to 4 of these markets. I hope to improve that number this year.

Pay: Going off Duotrope’s definitions of pay scale, which divides markets into Professional (.08/word or more), Semi-Pro (.01/word to .07/word), and Token (under .01/word), the markets I submitted to broke down as such.

  • Professional – 44
  • Semi-Pro – 51
  • Token – 10

One small caveat. The definition of professional has changed a few times since I’ve been submitting, mostly based on the SFWA’s recommendation for what should be considered a professional rate. If a market qualified as professional when I submitted a story to it, then I counted it as a “pro” market.

Status: Of the 105 markets that rejected me, 44 of them are not accepting submissions any longer. Duotrope codes these reasons as follows. Closed – The market has permanently shut down.  Believed Defunct – This indicates the publication is believed to be no longer active. DNQ – This indicates the publication does not qualify for a full listing. On Hiatus – This indicates they are closed indefinitely to submissions and may or may not re-open at a later date.

The markets that rejected me that fall under these categories break down like this.

  • Closed – 20
  • Believed Defunct – 6
  • DNQ – 8
  • On Hiatus – 10

In my experience, markets listed as DNQ and a number listed as On Hiatus (but not all) are in truth closed, but they haven’t made any kind of official announcement. I present these numbers simply to illustrate how tough it is to for a short story publisher to make it these days.

More Fun Facts

As you can likely tell, I like data. I find the little nuggets of information you can find in the numbers to be pretty interesting, if not particularly useful. The following bits of lore pulled from my 365 rejections fall into the latter category, but, hey, let’s look at them anyway.

Days of Doom: The most rejections I’ve received in a single day is 4. That surprised me. I thought there would be at least one 5-spot in there, but nope. I’ve done the quad twice, on 10/30/18 and 5/15/19. I’ve done the hat trick (3 rejections) a bunch, seven times to be exact.

Months of Mayhem: There have been six months where I received 10 or more rejections. It feels like there should be more, but the numbers don’t lie. My most rejected month, however, was January of 2018, where I received 15 rejections.


Well, that’s the skinny on my 365 rejections. How are your submission (and rejection) endeavors going. Tell me about it in the comments.