State of the My Writing Life

It’s time once again for a update on "What am I doing?"

Short answer: my novel. Long answer: I’m editing my novel.

Really long answer:

In February, I had what one would call a slump. It wasn’t depression, actually, nor the blues. I lost my cell phone, and then a couple of celebrities who were part of my childhood world died: Whitney Houston and Davey Jones. I had fallen behind on the Month of Letters activity, and each day that passed accused me that I wasn’t using all that fancy paper and stamps I bought. and finally, I found myself deep in revisions in a short story that I had sworn I wouldn’t go back to and feeling glum that I hadn’t learned a thing at Viable Paradise, because here I was, six months later, going back over revisions and repeating the process of rewriting an entire story from scratch, grumpy because I had put Willow aside again, to finish this short story…

I was reworking a pivotal scene in my short story, angry, tired, and just full of grump, when a part of me split off and said, why are you rewriting this?

Because it needs to be rewritten, I said.

Why?

Because it needs to be stronger.

You thought it was stronger when you rewrote the last time, did you not?

Well, yeah, but that was then. Look at all these weak sentences and–

What did you learn at Viable Paradise?

Huh?

What. Did. You. Learn?

Well, I learned how to trust my words and–

Then stop trying to revise every fricken sentence and send it out.

But let me just finish rewriting this ending–

No.

I should at least change this sentence–

No.

But what about–

No.

I–

No.

Trust. Your. Words.

And suddenly,  it clicked.

I ran spell check, tidied up the story, and sent it out. That was the middle of March.

Then I turned to Willow, and suddenly, I knew how to fix it. After all these years, I knew what I needed to do. Cut. Cut. Cut. And the more I cut, the clearer the story became , with what needed to stay, what needed to be clarified, and what needed to go. I’m learning to look at my scenes with a critical eye, to see if they’re needed to advance the story. I’m even learning when not to rewrite. If what I needed to convey works well for that scene, I don’t need to rewrite a whole new scenario to make it better. I just tidy it up and move on to the next scene.

As of this writing, I’m now up to Chapter 11. My goal had been to work exclusively on Willow until Worldcon, but I might not be done by then. That’s okay, though. I have a synopsis, and I have a pitch. And finally, I can honestly say that the first three chapters are good enough that, if I need to, I can send them out. I won’t make a decision on that though until after Worldcon.

But I got something, and that feels good.

Now, I do have some important publishing announcements, but that can wait until the next post. Heck, if you follow me on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus, you already know the special news. ^_^.

10 Lessons of Writing (that I took away from VP)

There’s a meme going around us Viable Paradise XV folk (started by thanate) on what would be your 10 lessons of writing. Since I’ve been meaning to do a list anyway of what I learned from VP, I decided to do that instead. So burn this into your brain.

1) I wrote it once, I wrote it again, by golly, let’s do it one more time: it doesn’t matter how smart you are–all that matters is to tell a good story.

2) And in that vein: in terms of the adage “Write What You Know” you know a lot more than you think. I came to Viable Paradise thinking, “Everyone is smarter, or been to more places, or done more things, than I have.” That’s not true. Every single one of us has a different set of know-how, memories, and skills to draw back on. And if you don’t…

3) The rest can be faked–with a little help from your friends. The internets is your friend. Libraries are your friend. Your friends are your friend. (Wait…your friends…uh, never mind.) You have a wealth of knowledge surrounding you. Don’t be afraid to use your status as a writer to get outside help on something you don’t know. People love it when you say, “Hey, I’m a writer and I can use your help.” Ply them with attention and maybe a croissant and they’ll help flesh out your world.

4) If you put in a lot of stuff in your story to flesh it out because you don’t think you know enough, stop it. There’s a difference between details and “a telling detail”. The latter gives you the necessary info a reader needs to know, the former is just filler. Which means:

5)Tighten, tighten, tighten your prose. Oh, my gosh. Stephen King was right. The hardest part of writing isn’t the first draft. It’s the second, when you got to figure out what stays in and what is dragging down the story. And then there’s the third draft: making sure your words work for you (killing -ly words, strengthening verbs, etc). I think this was probably the most important tip I learned at VP.

6) Even swear words have their own grammar.  Really. It’s true.

7) Become a slushreader. One of the advantages I had at VP was that I slush for Fantasy Magazine and Lightspeed, so I already knew what made a good story. But going to VP also helped me become a better slushreader because I can see why most stories don’t work. I can also see what would make them become better stories. So keep an eye on the nets, and if you see a magazine calling for readers, take it.

8.) Get in a good writer’s group, or at least have beta readers. And don’t get readers who would just say “this is good” or “this is bad”. Find readers who will be brutal. You’ll need brutal. But also find readers who can dig the good parts too. Balance is always key. You don’t need to physically meet. Google Plus is awesome place to hook up with writers. Heck, doing the Hangouts alone is worth it.

9) Don’t just write. Also read. Read everything. And watch movies. And go out and hang with friends. And do things. And Live.

10) You can cook greens by simply drizzling them with olive oil and salt, covering them with tin foil, and letting them bake in a low oven for about an hour or so. So this isn’t exactly a writing tip. I don’t care. Those greens Mac made were AWESOME!

On the aftermath of Viable Paradise XV

My brain feels full. Gooey full. Gooey-ooey-chewy full.

People have been asking me how my time went at Viable Paradise last week. I’ve been using various terms. “Intense” “Writer’s Boot Camp” “Heavy” were a few words I’ve thrown out. I’ve also used “Enlightening” “Inspiring” “Exciting”.

But now that I’m sitting down to write this blog, I can’t adequately put into words how it was.

Yes, it was intense. Yes, I learned so much I’m surprised my head hasn’t exploded. But there were also these moments of quiet enlightenment, when I wasn’t thinking much of anything at all. That was the night we all went down to the beach, and the moon was shining on the ocean like milk, and in the water was tiny jellyfish that lit up like fireflies.

And the friendships. Oh…the friendships….

I think the only way I can give you a taste of VP is by reprinting, in its entirety, the rambling post I made on Google Plus on the night of the Dreaded Thursday (and to my surprise, there really is a Dreaded Thursday–it’s not a myth after all). This was a post from an emotional me, a vulnerable me, a me that had just gone through the wringer and had emerged on the other side blinking in broad daylight.

Oh, and I had a drink or two. Just to warn you:

So…it’s the dreaded Thursday at Viable Paradise. I am an emotional wreck, weepy-eyed, sleep deprived, and every word I’m typing here feels like I’m drudging it out of my head using a rusty hook. But I need to get this out, because it’s also the day of epiphany, so here it is:

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a damn thing about anything. What matters is that you tell a good story.

See, up to now, I’ve had this complex. I read all these awesome stories and I think to myself, man, these writers know so much. They know so much about biology/The Renaissance/World War II/quantum physics, and here am I, who don’t know diddly-squat, who have to go on Wikipedia to throw stuff into my story. I’ve never went backpacking in Europe, I don’t know how to lasso a bull, I can’t for the life of me debug a computer program, and for the love of God, I don’t know the inner workings of the Tea Party and how it differentiates between Republicans and Democrats and Liberterians, because it’s they’re all the same as hell to me. Every fricken one.

So for our VP Writing Assignment, I was to write a hard science fiction story about global warming. It had to be a positive, inspiring story. And it had to include a stomach. A disembodied stomach. Don’t ask. I don’t know how to write a hard science fiction story. Yes, I’ve written scifi before, but hard scifi? I hadn’t the faintest clue how to begin. And all I know about global warming is that polar bears hate us now for shrinking the ice caps. That’s it. That’s all. And how the hell am I supposed to write about a stomach?!

When I wrote it, I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I couldn’t even edit it–it took me so long, when it came time to turn it in, all I had was a first draft. In my opinion, it sucked. It sucked on cheese, it sucked on toast, it sucked on crackers, it sucked, sucked, sucked. And as we read it, I had to admit, I got emotional, because to me everyone else’s stories was so much better than mine, because I didn’t have a fricken clue what I was doing. And then, worse of all, we posted our stories on the wall. So everyone could read it. Everyone.

And you know what? A lot of people came up to me. And they said, “LaShawn, that’s an awesome story.” “That beginning? How did you do that beginning?” “I love how you ended it. Awesome image.” “Great story.”

All that story knowledge consisted of a weird tidbit my mother in law shared and a couple of facts I read from Wikipedia. Everything else was “What if…what if….”
The reason why I was freaking out was that I felt that everyone else had better experience with things than I had. But we all have experience. Every single one of us. And I don’t see my own experience because…well…I’m experiencing it. You have not been to Africa like I have. You don’t know the difference between Japanese katakana and hiragana like I do. You never been in childbirth, have your inlaws move into your house, grown tomatoes, sat in a rocking chair at 4am with a nursing baby listening to geese honk sleepily in the neighboring pond like I have. And if you have done those things, it still would be different, because it would be through your own filter, not mine.
And as for the rest of the stuff, that can easily be supplied by other sources. Wikipedia. Books. That friend you can take out to lunch and pick his brain for details that will help flesh out your world. That sort of thing.

Our role as writers is not to be the smartest people on the planet. Our role is to use what we know to stretch out the unknown and bend it into the framework of a story.

Let me write that again. In bold. And in capital letters.

OUR ROLE AS WRITERS IS NOT TO BE THE SMARTEST PEOPLE ON THE PLANET. OUR ROLE IS TO USE WHAT WE KNOW TO STRETCH OUT THE UNKNOWN AND BEND IT INTO THE FRAMEWORK OF A STORY.

So I’m not going to be jealous anymore of writers who are better than me. Well, I guess being human, I will, but I’m not going to sweat it anymore. I’m going to enjoy their stories, learn what I can from them, and apply it to my own writing. And I’m going have fun doing it.

Starting tomorrow…

::collapses from exhaustion::

Dang, that’s gold.

You know what else I learned at Viable Paradise? Turns out, I really am one of those writers who do cram a lot into their stories. It’s the reason why I’ve been writing these huge 12,000 novelettes that I have a hard time selling. There’s a good chance that I can cut words out without sacrificing plot at all.

So, as you can see, I have some work to do.

First, I’m going to work on this short story I’ve sent out twice. It’s at 12,700 words. My goal is to cut 3000 words from it. I thought I had done it before, but at VP I pulled it out and saw about 100 words I could cut out from the first page alone. And that was just from glancing at it.

Then I’m going to tackle Willow. I have an after-VP assignment to trim my synopsis down so it fits on three pages. From that, I use that synopsis to put Willow on a diet. I’m going to cut out some characters entirely or hold off on other plotlines until the next book. It’s going to be brutal and a little painful, but I’m eager to dive into it. I finally got a handle on what to do with Willow now.

Heck, I may not have a doorstopper of a book after all…

Edit: When I read the post after posting it, in my recuperating from VP mind, I thought “Gooey-ooey-suey? Oo, I don’t want to imply that I’m sueing VP. DUDE NO! VIABLE PARADISE WAS THE BEST AWESOMEST WORKSHOP IN THE WORLD. So I changed it to chewy.

LaShawn’s Super Secret Funding Project Revealed: A Calendar of Tales COMING SOON!

So a couple of posts ago, I mentioned I had been accepted into Viable Paradise this October. Since then, I’ve been tossing around ideas on how exactly I would pay to get myself there. I took the first step today by increasing my hours at my day job so that I’m now full-time (temporarily), but I wanted to do something that appealed to my writer skills as well.

At this year’s Wiscon, I picked up The Honey Month by Amal el-Mohtar, a series of short stories and poems inspired by a sampler gift of 28 jars of honey she received. The book itself is divine–most of the stories are centered around bees, but not the type of bees you’ll find in any old hive. These are stories that are meant to be savored…they are to be read slowly, aloud, but just under your breath, and preferably barefoot.

Reading her book, it got me thinking: what if I could do something like that?  I’ve been wanting to do a special project for a long time now where I write a series of stories/poetry that have a common theme. I wanted to emulate The Honey Month’s format (emulation being the best form of flattery, I hope), but unfortunately, I don’t have twenty-eight jars of honey at my disposal. But what I do have is co-workers–Co-workers who love to take pictures.

So here’s the plan: I’ve chosen 12 photos from what my gracious co-workers at InterVarsity have sent in. I will create a "Calendar of Tales", flash stories and poetry set in each month and based on a photo. It will start off as an ebook, but I’m looking into finding a way to get it into print as an actual calendar of some sort, or at least a published book. I’m also looking into Kickstarter to see if I can offer more incentives: i.e. handwritten thank yous, handwritten calligraphy copies of the stories/poems, appearance as a character, that sort of thing.

As you can tell, self-publishing is a whole new venture for me. I’ll have to come up with 12 original stories, put them in ebook format, put together the incentives, figure out costs, work on promotion, etc, what have you. But let me tell you, I’m excited about this project. Yesterday, I wrote the first story: "Fat Elvis and Lemon Lover" (pictures taken by my friend Matt Rust) and when I finished, I sat back and thought, dang, this is going to be FUN!

Fat ElvisLemon Lover

So tell your family, tell your friends and keep watching the Café. I got a lot of work to do, but trust me, it will be worth it!

New Story & Viable Paradise XV

I’ll post about Wiscon in a bit, but first, NEWS.

I have a short story called "With Breath Too Sweet" that’s out in an anthology called "There was a Crooked House", put out by Pill Hill Press.

You can order the print anthology at Pill Hill Press for $14.49 or order the ebook for only $3.99 at Kindle or Nook.

Now, for the second bit of news. I’M GOING TO VIABLE PARADISE!

BlueHeadline

I’ve been selected along with 23 other SF writers to head over to Martha’s Vineyard in October to be part of the 15th class of Viable Paradise. Our instructors will be Elizabeth Bear, Debra Doyle, Steven Gould, James D. Macdonald, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Steven Brust and Sherwood Smith.

As you can tell, I’ve been sort of stalling on Willow, so I’m hoping the workshop will give me a swift kick in the pants to finish it. In fact, even sending in the application helped me out–I had to send in an outline for Willow, which I’ve never actually sat down and did (well, I did something like it Writer’s Café, but not an actual document).

First step to all of this is figuring out logistics. I’ve gone from OH MY GOSH I MADE IT mode into holy crap I’m in how exactly am I going to pay for it mode. I’m tossing around some ideas, talking with some people. I’m thinking about doing a fundraiser, so if you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to do so. And stay tuned to the Café over the next couple of weeks. Big things are afoot.

Last October, I was hanging out with Neil Gaiman. This October, I’ll be in Martha’s Vineyard. This is going to be great, folks. No. This is going to be awesome.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers