Journal

Friday Update:

Friday finally swings around again, wrapping up a tolerably productive week. The weather’s been lovely, and we even slept with the windows open last night for the first time in I don’t know how long. There’s no bliss like reading by book light, listening to the spring peepers.

Accomplished This Week…

Hit my 3k words on the book comfortably by end of day Tuesday, which meant I had time to come up with the first short story of April’s Chekhov month!

I wanted to avoid the brain-blankness of last week, so on Tuesday afternoon, I went through my massive idea list and plucked out any that sparked interest in me at that moment. Sometimes you have a great idea, but you’re just not feeling it. I’ve found it rarely works to force an idea when my heart’s not in it.

I know I’m onto something when the narrative starts coming to me unbidden in clips and chunks. In order to give myself the best chance at hitting on something that excites me in a defined period of time, it definitely helps to pull up some options before I need them and let my subconscious figure out its approach.

That seemed to work this time, because I spat out a semi-decent humorous Snow White retelling. It definitely will need some work, but I’m a firm believer that in creative work, at least, quantity begets quality eventually. I’m kind of hoping this weekly split between long form and short form work will let me produce a lot more short story drafts.

Finishing this last draft also means, I’ve hit my goal of five new story drafts! Way earlier than I expected, but I’m delighted by having some new stories on hand. Now to see what rises to the top as cream.

Inspiring Me This Week…

This week has been utterly dominated by Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami. Jeez Louise, the chapter near the end, “Take it or Leave it?” The scene with Yuriko? *sobs* That messed me up for a day or two. I’m hoping there’s some semblance of a happy ending, or at least general acceptance, because DANG.

Also, charging back to the fore: How to Write Funny (vol 1) by Scott Dikkers. I’m going back through it as a reference for continuing on to How To Write Funnier, which seems to tackle longer form humor, compared to the basics of humor writing in Vol 1. But I’m enjoying it all over again, and it’s really lighting my fire for funny fiction.

I’m also about halfway through The Admissions Scandal, about the Varsity Blues fraud case, on Netflix and it’s surprising how many very strange feels it delivers, particularly as a parent, watching these incredibly complicated parent-child relationships. It will give you thinks, that’s for sure. (Also, the Social Dilemma is pretty interesting, too, as pop-sci/pop-culture documentaries go!)

For Next Week…

Carry on carrying on. Another 3k to do, another short story to write. I’m hoping to carve out some time this weekend to edit and review another short story to possibly submit somewhere, so we’ll see what that does to the time for a new story. A story submitted is worth two in the head, you know what I mean?

Pretty soon, I’m going to need to whip my book synopsis into shape, too. It’s not due for a little bit yet, but I’d rather have it off my plate.

But how was your week? Things getting any easier? Or is the full pressure of spring hitting you hard? What have you been reading/watching lately?

Journal

Poly-Reader Notes: APRIL 2021

It may be hard to tell from my currently-reading list, but I’ve actually had a huge amount more time to read, since Goldbug has decided that 8:45 is a good bedtime…for both of us. XD But it does set aside a good couple hours in the evening to just lose myself in the silence of a good read, so I can’t complain.

So I’ve been making steady progress, even in some big books, and I picked up a few extra, just for fun, because why not?

Notes:

The Power Broker – So I haven’t made much progress on this, though I do have the audiobook now, so it’s really just a matter of making time for it. I’ve been primarily listening to Cetaganda, so I haven’t been picking this one up.

Gideon the Ninth – This one is…good. I like it. There’s just something about it that I can’t quite pin down, maybe an authorial intensity that is just a touch exhausting? I think in part it’s the fact that the world is so intricately developed–like brocade fabric–absolutely nothing is left to the reader to fill in. The author has an iron grasp on what you see and why you see it, which in one way is marvelous in that the world can be incredibly detailed and incredibly unique, but can also feel a touch exhausting for me as a reader, trying to keep every tiny detail in mind all the time. Your mileage may vary. I’m still interested in it, but sometimes I’m just too tired to wedge myself back into its folds.

Designology – Buh, I know I should pick this one up, but lately I just…haven’t been interested. I think I may just need to skim this one part on patterns and noise-level and just get to the place type discussion, which sounds more interesting.

Cetaganda – Just a couple hours left on this one! Man, I love a good Vorkosigan saga book when I just need a fun, comfortable, charming read. I love the characters, the dialogue, the pacing, and most of the world-building. Sometimes, this girl just wants to have fun, you know?

The City of Lead and Gold – We’ve started back up on this one, but we’ve been competing with Dogman comics lately, which are hard to beat, so we’ll see where we go with this one in the coming weeks.

Breasts and Eggs – This is absolutely my new favorite book. I’ve been skipping just about everything else, other than Cetaganda, and just devouring this one. It’s exactly what my soul needs right now. I suspect I’ll be finishing this one up in a week or two at this rate.

The White Spider – Just picked this one up last week, to dig into the historical account of all the attempts (successful and unsuccessful) of climbing the Eiger. I’ve actually seen the mountain in person, though not from up close. Makes me want to go back to Grindelwald with binoculars.

Banker – Just picked this one up last night. Wanted a quick, easy, exciting read in that mystery vein. Only half a chapter in so far, but it starts with a bang, so I’m looking forward to where he takes it from here!

^ ^ ^

What about you? What are you reading right now? What have you finished reading recently? My Goodreads To-Read list is growing bigger and bigger, but I’m always open to recommendations!

Journal

Friday Update: Onto April

So many goals, so little time…

Well, I’ve given myself permission not to write a short story today. I was waiting to see if a contest prompt kind of kicked me into gear for a flash story, but the prompt hit me like a bellyflop in cold water, so we’re just gonna let that float there, I think…

But there’s four full weeks of April, so I’m going to try to write a short story each full week, starting next week. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve realized I probably need to think about the story earlier in the week, maybe no later than Tuesday, to have it somewhat thought-out before I have to write it Thursday/Friday.

Otherwise, it was a good week. I’ve changed up my exercise routine to include jogging again, which is–I’ll say it again and again–the absolute BEST pre-writing thing I’ve ever done. Something about getting a solid run in (even a half-solid run, like me, doing the Couch to 5K training app via the NHS) get the body just the right kind of tired.

Other exercise is better than nothing, but jogging specifically kicks the mental gears into a whirl and just lets the words dump out. It seemed to me that other workouts–even pretty intense ones–just left me drained, but not pumped. Jogging leaves me pumped, and that definitely impacts the writing afterwards. I need to make sure I’m jogging on the days I need to produce the most words!

Accomplished This Week…

I got my 3k done on the novel, and finally–FINALLY–pinned down a solid version of the last half and the end via summary draft. I love summary drafting. There’s something so refreshing about just dumping a story out on paper in the dumbest language (totally unreadable to anyone, and I’m not saying this just to be self-depreciating, I mean it includes text like, “So, the main character, she’s like–what?–seventeen? Yeah, that’s about right. So she’s going to get on that train, with the villains guys behind her, and she’s gonna hide. Where? Where would she hide? Under the seats? Nah, too easy. Maybe in the space between train cars? Could be, but won’t they check there, too? Luggage cabin? Maybe…”). It really helps me to see the big picture story, without worrying about POV/voice/style/setting–literally anything but plot. It’s fantastic.

Anyway. I got that written down, so next Monday, I’ll probably take a look at it and see about splitting it into usable scenes, combining scenes to keep the pace right, all that jazz. At least then I’ll be able to jump around when I’m writing and hit the scenes I’m most excited about first, and eventually fill in the parts I’m less motivated by later. That seems–at least for this book–to be a very functional process for me that keep the words flowing.

I didn’t write a short story, like I mentioned above, but I did re-read “The Showerlier” draft I wrote a couple weeks ago, and DAMN. I love that story. It needs a solid cut-and-polish pass, and there are some logic issues I need to finalize, but they’re minor, so I don’t think it’ll be too horrible. Maybe (maybe?!) I’ll actually get it up and out this month, which would be AH-MAZ-ING.

Inspiring Me This Week…

Okay, first, do yourself a favor and go read Joy Kennedy-O’Neill’s flash story “Build-A-Grudge” at Daily Science Fiction. It’s cool. I’ll wait. Come on, it can’t be more than six hundred, seven hundred words, tops, and it’s funny and heartwarming and just…it’s fantastic. Reminds me of what a pleasure a fun, well-crafted short story is.

Also inspiring me this week, Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami. I’ll probably chat about it more during my Poly-Reader Notes post next week, but I was so, so, so worried that this book was all hype. I’ve been seeing it everywhere, but given that I love Haruki Murakami novels despite almost exclusively being from the male POV, I was really hoping to get something similar in tone, but from a woman’s perspective. (I’m very much looking forward to reading Who We’re Reading When We’re Reading Murakami by David Karashima about how Murakami novels have been translated and promoted in the USA.)

And my word, Kawakami has not disappointed. I think I may be in love. And she’s clearly got a love of mugicha that rivals my own! (Seriously, the best summer drink ever is chilled mugicha with ice: no caffeine, super refreshing, and not plain water. I had a Japanese tutor back in high school who introduced me to mugicha with a side of biscotti, and that’s literally my food and beverage happy place.)

I haven’t been taking in a lot of TV or movies lately (Goldbug is at that age where he wants to go to bed earlier, but won’t sleep well if he wakes up and I’m not there–seriously, this kid is a major cling-on, unlike my first, who was totally cool with me laying him down, settling him, and then letting me sneak out. *sigh* We’ll get there.).

But I did start watching the latest season of Drive to Survive: Inside Formula 1 Racing–it’s part of my extreme sports hangup. I enjoyed the last two seasons, but this new one is…surreal. It starts right at the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s just the most bizarre thing to see people keeping distance and washing their hands a lot but not wearing masks and sitting in closed spaces, talking about the virus. Geez. Kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies in that “I know what’s coming” way, but it’s also, you know, about rivalry and intense competition and peak performance and really cool cars, so I’m all there.

Goals for Next Week…

Next week, we continue the pattern of 3k/novel and then trying to pen a new short story draft. We’ll see if that’s really feasible if I make sure I take time to think about what story I’d want to write. One of my favorite prompt tools is to keep a list of theme anthologies I thought looked really cool but didn’t have time/an idea for them at the time (I may do a post on why I hesitate to write to anthology calls someday) and use those as jumping off points for later stories. But it’s fun, because I can take what I want from the prompt, but nothing I don’t want, which is kind of nice.

Other than that, just keeping up with reading a short story a day. It’s a great habit! You should try it if you write short fiction! And you can start by reading Joy Kennedy-O’Neill’s piece right here! XD

^ ^ ^

Okay, but seriously. How was you guys’ week? Is impending Spring giving you a skip in your step? Or are you feeling listless and empty? Spring is such a strange creative time, when so much is bursting with potential, and yet the mud and rain kind of hold you back, you know?

Any goals for next week? Any exciting plans or books or stories or TV or movies that are blowing your mind right now? I’m always down for recommendations!

Journal

Stats and Tracking: How Do You Quantify Editing and Thinking?

Nothing prettier than a brand new tracking spread!

As a writer, I have a vested interest in learning both how my process works and where my process can improve. In order to gauge progress, I track a lot of different metrics. Word count, of course, is a big one. It lets me see how much I’m producing in raw, rough words. But I always run into a wall when I try to quantify the time required for thinking and editing. When I focus only on word count, it looks like the days I do more thinking than writing are missed opportunities, or at least breaks in the habit chain. 

But thinking is such an important part of the process, and with limited writing time, it’s inevitable that I’ll have to spend some of what time I have planning.

Editing runs into the same tracking problem. How do you quantify progress when editing? I’ve seen some talk about words removed (smart, in that in the final edit throes, it encourages the right mentality of “Trim it Back!”); some do pages or word count edited (but what if you’re reworking or adding scenes that push you end-point marker farther away? It’s not like you weren’t *working*.). 

Some people say there isn’t good way to track editing time, and that it’s a waste of time to try. (This technical writing post argues even tracking new word count is pointless, because it doesn’t measure quality, but any fiction writer worth their byline knows a lot of quality in fiction is generated through quantity, so we’ll just leave that there for the folks who have to produce specific writing for specific clients.) But I have to disagree.

Finding out how much thinking time developing a story (on average) takes, determining how much time you’ll need to budget (on average) to edit a rough draft into something tolerably readable, knowing how to set reasonable and reachable deadlines—all of that is useful information to have on hand. 

(“Average” is the key word here—no two stories are the same, and the time they take to write or develop will differ substantially, but having a ballpark for how long the process takes from start-to-finish seems like a useful metric to be aware of, if only for myself!)

I learned in my search that there’s a way to check total document editing time in Word, which is FABULOUS, but only at the very end of the process. Incredibly useful data, I think, but not so helpful in achieving my main priority: maintaining the habit chain. 

I track daily word count, but some days I need to think or edit. In order to not have gaps in my day-to-day tracking (which is startlingly demoralizing from a habit-maintaining perspective), I’ve decided to track minutes worked on those days. 

It’s the closest way I can approximate the effort of the work (30m = ~600 words, for example, which is pretty close to my usual words/hour), without relying solely on undependable word count metrics. 

Because thinking *is* work, and I don’t want to undervalue that time compared to new words. New words are great, but they’ll always need a solid application of time and brainpower to make them shine. 

^ ^ ^

Fellow writers! How do you quantify editing and thinking time in order to escape the endless pursuit of new words?

Journal

Friday Update: It’s Friday?

Whew. It’s actually Friday, right? Like, really Friday?

I feel like the end of the week really crept up on me. Some of that is probably because I didn’t manage to finish the short story I started this week. It was one of those times when something just feels…off about the story. I dunno. Like lugging a gear.

Accomplished this week…

I got my 3k done on the novel by end of Tuesday, so that felt good. The short story is…meh. Not sure what’s off on it, but I suspect it has to do with the main character.

I spent some time thinking her through, but she’s coming off very flat. I probably need to sharpen some discord at the beginning and really show her change by the end. One of the pitfalls of writing the climax first may be making sure the character at the beginning has enough room to change.

I also just wasn’t feeling it. That doesn’t necessarily mean the writing itself is bad, but it could be a sign that I’m not totally invested in it yet. I love the concept, but I’m not sure I love or fully understand the characters. Hmmm…

Inspiring Me This Week…

Just finished You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas (follow her blog here!) and wow. Without giving anything away, it’s a master class in excellent, painful endings. It’s both wholly satisfying and yet really drives home some frustrating life lessons.

Also just started Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami, and it’s already dragging me in wholesale. I was a bit worried it might be all hype–I’ve been hearing and reading about it everywhere, it seems–but at least so far, it’s incredibly grabbing. I look forward to reading it every night.

Also I’m getting the card game bug again. Must be something about this time of year. But I’m taking what I learned from the last time and trying to keep things simple. We’ll see what happens.

Goals for Next Week:

I’m tempted to try to finish the story I couldn’t finish this week, but I’m somewhat worried it’s not ready yet. So maybe I’ll try something new next week. Only sure bet is that I’ll be tackling 3k on the novel.

…and maybe pinning down some more late-Act 2 plot points…

What about you? How was your week? Did you hit your goals or miss them a bit? What do you think got in your way? Anything fun inspiring you lately?

Journal

MONTHLY GOALS REVIEW – March 2021

Time for my monthly check-in, and boy, this month has been amazing for short fiction.

  • I submitted a new story for the first time in 2021 (“Local” to the Furious Fiction – March contest).
  • I wrote three brand new rough drafts of short stories: “Local,” “The Showerlier”, and “Blood and Cigarettes”.
  • I feel like I’ve maybe turned a corner on understanding how short fiction works. Yeah, I know, I’ve been doing this for ten years, but you never stop learning, do you?

I’m really tempted (perhaps foolishly, for those of you who know my penchant for wildly optimistic goals!) to try doing a Chekhov month in April. For those not in the know, years and years and years ago, I wrote a short story a week for a year (or just shy of a year, taking time for the holidays). I wrote 48 rough drafts, and despite being relatively new to short fiction, I got several drafts out of that year that have gone on to be polished and sold. (Many of them were hot garbage, lol. But we’re going for quantity here, not quality!)

But I still remember that year so fondly. It taught me so much about short-form writing, and about overcoming writer’s block, and about perseverance and dedication. It also taught me that I really only need about two days to write a short story, if I’ve planned it out a little, because most weeks I procrastinated until Thursday/Friday anyway.

I’m committed to writing 3k/week on the novel, but I can usually hit that in 2-3 days (sometimes 4 if we have a particularly bad nap-week). That leaves Thursday/Friday for short fiction if I want to. And I do! Becoming a novelist is my long-term goal, but writing short fiction is a NOW joy, and I don’t want to lose those skills. They’re too useful!

My word count for the year is already 54,084 / 100,000, so I’m well ahead of schedule on that. With the novel likely to clock in around 100k in and of itself, the short stories may well put me significantly over that. And if I can punch out a bunch of new stories and clean out the inspiration pipes, I might also manage to restock my stable of submittable stories. We’ll see.

Reading-wise, I’ve finished four books this month: Saga – Book 3 (*sobs*), Into the Planet, The Usual Suspects, and You Beneath Your Skin. It leaves me in the weird position of only having five books I’m currently reading, which feels oddly thin. XD Oh, the problems of a poly-reader.

I’ve already picked up one new one, and am eyeing several others as possibilities, too. I’ve got a light read, a sci-fi read, two very different non-fiction reads, a biography, and a kid’s book I’m reading with B-Bug (slowly–our nighttime routine has had to change for Goldbug’s earlier bedtime, and we haven’t quite adjusted to that yet…). I’ve got room for a writing book (I’ve been wanting to pick up How to Write Funnier), and maybe a regular fiction/classic, since I’ve actually got quite a bit of sci-fi/fantasy on my list currently.

And I got my new writing bullet journal! I decided to split my day-to-day stuff from my writing notebook, because my writing notes and trackers and scribbles were eating dozens of pages, and my unrelated stuff was getting lost. So we’ll try this! Maybe I’ll do a tour of it once I’ve got my needed pages set up.

TL;DR

1 / 4 New Submissions

4 / 5 New Rough Drafts

0 / 1 New Summary Drafts

54,084 / 100,000 Total Word Count

13 / 52 Books Read

Other Stats:

4 Submission Attempts

0 Personal Rejections

1 Story Sold (waiting on contract to announce)

Journal

Friday Updates: Like A Train

So that happened… in one sitting… in about two hours… And it wasn’t the solo incident I expected, because another short story punched its way out of me this afternoon, clocking in at a more reasonable 3k in two hours.

Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind week. I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. I’d been planning to force-finish the retype/edit pass of a story that just hasn’t been working all that well, and otherwise wasn’t sure what to focus on. And then Tuesday happened, and I typed so fast my fingers were almost numb by the end of that madcap session. Story just poured out of me like it was already written and just waiting for me to get it on paper. That does not happen often, and I felt deliciously drained afterwards. Figured that was it for zone-work.

Yesterday, I didn’t even write because Goldbug’s been toothing again, and he didn’t wind up taking a nap until right before dinner…on top of me. I could have probably chipped away at something on my phone, but meh. I was still wiped out from Tuesday’s inspiration-fueled madness and finishing the painful retyping Wednesday.

And today, my only goal was to start the opening of a new story. 2,600 words later, it was finished. THAT’S THREE NEW ROUGH DRAFTS IN A MONTH! 😱😱😱

So I’m spent, hence the short update. Glad it’s Friday!

How was your week? What’s been inspiring you? What’s been whispering in your ear?

Journal

Will This One Habit Increase Your Chances of Selling Your Fiction?

If there were one thing, a relatively easy and free thing, you could do to increase your chances of selling your SF/Fantasy/Horror short story, would you do it?

Sounds like a trick question, right? I’m going to say something obvious like “Write it!” or “Edit it!” or “Submit it!” All are vital, obviously.

But I’m actually talking about something I absolutely refused to do for years when I first started submitting. Part of it was on principle. Part of it was ignorance. A wee bit of it was access. Most of it was stubbornness.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about reading the market you’re submitting to.

Yes! I know! There are tons excuses, and I have used them ALL.

  • It’s pointless when markets give you guidelines!
  • I don’t want to self-reject!
  • I don’t want to “write to a market”!
  • It won’t really matter if my story is good enough!
  • I don’t want to get discouraged by all the amazing fiction I fear I’m not on-par with yet! // I don’t want to get discouraged by the crap that gets published when my own stuff is *so* much better and still not selling!
  • There are so many markets, I don’t have time to read them all! 
  • I can’t afford it!*

*I can’t afford it!

The last one is the only real reason reading a market might be hard at times. But honestly? Most of the pro speculative fiction markets release some free fiction online these days, so it’s not really an excuse unless you struggle to find consistent internet access. In which case? Ignore me and focus on doing what you need to do to get by and still write.

But if you have steady internet access, there’s no excuse for not reading a market’s free offerings.

It’s pointless when markets give you guidelines!

I used to think this kind of research (and it is research) was a waste of time. Markets have guidelines! They tell you what they want! True.

However, no guidelines (save a few that are reeeeeally detailed and tend to end with “but don’t take our word for it: surprise us!”) can really give you the gut-sense of the kind of work a market tends to take.

Reading a couple of issues, or a smattering of free stories, will help you see if your story really does fit their market, or whether it’s a stretch. There’s a big difference between a market that likes whimsical, bittersweet stories set in the modern day with a just a hint of magic or aliens, and a market that likes grimdark Fantasy and dark SF. Both might still say they take “SF/Fantasy” but reading a couple issues will give you a gist of what they really mean. 

Which leads me to excuse #3:

But I don’t want to self-reject!

For those not in the know (or who haven’t struggled with toxic perfectionism), self-rejecting is when you want to submit your work, but decide (preemptively) that the editor at X market won’t like it, so you don’t send it. 

Is the risk of self-rejection increased by reading a market? Not in my experience. As someone who absolutely has struggled with toxic perfectionism and a tendency to tuck things away in a drawer “until I really know how to fix it” (i.e. never), reading a market before I submit actually gives me more confidence when I submit. I know whether my story is right up their alley, or whether it’s a stretch.

There’s nothing about reading a market that means you can’t push the envelope of what they tend to publish, but reading a market does give you an idea of the various editors’ tastes. If there aren’t ANY splatterpunk-style stories in their recent issues, there’s a chance the editors just don’t like those kinds of stories. However, if–for example–your story otherwise fits their melancholy, poetic style, they may be willing to take a risk on a bloodier story.

Knowing a market is smart: the more you know, the more you can push the boundaries, while still running a much higher chance of success. Think of it as a band covering a classic song. If you know the type of stories a market publishes, you may be able to show the editor a new interpretation of that tone and style, while still being completely unique to yourself. 

Which leads me to:

But I don’t want to “write to the market”!

I’m not suggesting you only write stories that suit a given market. Write what you want, what appeals to you, and what you love. Reading several issues of a magazine will simply inform you of what markets your story has the best shot at, and if those are pro markets, you may want to send your story there first, before sending it to other markets that may not be as obviously a perfect fit. 

Not knowing the style of a market won’t help you be more authentic. It likely just means you’ll send a lot of good work to the wrong markets and waste your time and theirs before your story eventually works its way (by chance and luck) to a better suited market. 

During my time as a slush reader, one of the #1 reasons a story was rejected was because it didn’t suit the market. At the time, the magazine took specifically dark sci-fi, but we got tons of high fantasy, tons of light sci-fi, tons of straight-up horror (biggest offender was no sci-fi element). The stories could be fantastic, but if they didn’t fit what we were looking for, they got rejected. 

Which leads me to…

If the story is good enough, it won’t matter!

It does, though. A well-targeted submission will absolutely beat out a poorly-targeted one. You may have written the best golden-era hard SF story in history, but if you send it to a fantasy market or a market that prefers sociological SF, or a dark fiction market, it’s going to be dead in the water. While I’m sure it occasionally happens that a market publishes something completely outside its usual sphere, I suspect that’s probably the province of top-tier pros whose names will sell copies even with an erotic clown novella. 

At almost every convention panel on submitting fiction, slush editors complain that the number one reason for rejection is that writers don’t follow guidelines. Even if you follow the guidelines generally, you’ll follow them a hell of a lot better if you’ve read the market once or twice. I remember getting a query for a children’s novel while slushing at that dark sci-fi market. I still have no idea why the agent thought that wasn’t a waste of everybody’s time. 

And it’s not just about the editor’s tastes. It’s about the readership, too. If someone’s paid money for an issue of a hard SF magazine, and they get an issue with a high fantasy romance story, they may not buy another issue. If they want to read ghost stories, they may be put off by super-gory splatter punk monster horror. A market presents a certain kind of entertainment to its readership, and it’ll take a lot for it to buck that reader expectation. 

I don’t want to get discouraged by the awesome stuff/terrible stuff a market publishes!

I relied on this excuse for a long time (more on the “awesome stuff” side, but occasionally rage-reading rotten fiction and wondering how the heck it got published). I didn’t want to be influenced1, but more, I didn’t want to feel that horrible sinking dread in my stomach that whispered, “Your work isn’t good enough yet.” 

That was my toxic perfectionism. It made me tuck stories into drawers “to cool” (forever) until I was “a good enough writer” to do them “justice.” That time never came. And when I did finally get around to submitting some of those stories I thought weren’t quite good enough yet? I sold a lot of them. 

Writers are terrible judges of their own work. Whether you inflate your awesomeness or magnify the awesomeness of others, we just can’t always see the truth about our own work. Submitting means giving our work to an unbiased eye and letting them make a call on it. Sometimes that’s a No. Sometimes it’s a Yes. Sometimes a story you adore just will not sell, while another one you thought was kind of middling sells to the first market you send it to. 

That’s the fiction market, baby. The only way to know if your work will compete is to submit it. The only way to give yourself a teensy leg up in submitting is to have a good idea of the kind of work a market publishes, and you get that by reading it.

(And if you hate everything a market publishes, why are you submitting to them? They’re obviously not your cup of tea. At least reading the market ahead of time will help you realize that before wasting everybody’s time.)

I don’t have time to read all the markets I want to submit to!

I know. And here I make a confession: I don’t actually think you should read EVERY market you want to submit to. I KNOW! TRICKSEY LIES! 

But seriously: there are hundreds of markets. Many come and go throughout the year. Fledgling markets die in infancy. Old Dependables croak after a hundred years. 

But I’ll bet there are a couple markets you almost always submit to, your favorites, the ones that would make you faint if you got an acceptance from them. We’ve all got our white whales, maybe even a whole pod of them.

So read those. Read the top three markets you’ve recently submitted to. Read the one or two that you’re dying to crack. It will absolutely not hurt your chances, and it could very well launch you out of the slush pile. 

But I’m lazy…

I have to be honest: not reading markets came down to me being lazy. I had a dozen excuses that justified it, but in the end, I just didn’t want to put in the time or effort. I barely had time to write, how could I make more time to read a bunch of magazines (you know, besides the obvious: that reading short fiction helps you write short fiction. And reading, in general, for a writer is a kind of a requirement.) 

It took me a long time to choke down my own reluctance and get to work. It has helped. Has it guaranteed sales? No. There are markets I’ve read over and over that I haven’t cracked yet. But the more I read them, the more familiar I become with their style; the more familiar I am, the better I target my work to them, which means more often than not, I get a hold notice and sometimes personalized rejections.

That puts the onus back on me to improve. But it shows my work–even when imperfect–is getting closer and closer to the mark. It has unquestionably improved my odds.

During my time as a slush editor, on more than one occasion, I witnessed a writer whose work was professional-grade, but had to be rejected because the story wasn’t a good fit, or wasn’t as good of a fit as another story we were considering at the time. It wasn’t a judgement on the quality of the story, just on its suitability for the market. I also witnessed with delight the times those writers got closer and closer to the mark, learned more what we were looking for, and finally hit it. I think I was as excited as the author, so glad to finally have a chance to say YES. 

Finally…

I’m going to go out on a limb here (based on what I’ve heard agents and book editors say), and suggest this is true for submitting any kind of fiction, short or long-form. Knowing the kind of thing an agent represents, reading some of their previous offerings, reading what a publisher tends to take–it’s all good research.

Do you have to? No, but you’re going to be competing with folks who will do their research, and I can guarantee they’ll be giving themselves a leg-up over you. Why not arm yourself with a little knowledge? It certainly won’t hurt your odds. 

^ ^ ^

1 Although I have worried about this in the past (when I was brand-spanking new writer and protective of my delicate ego), I didn’t feel this excuse warranted its own segment. Reading will always be a part of writing. You can’t avoid it forever. And if you’re worried about your voice or style being influenced by others, you know what the cure is?

READ MORE. Read broadly. Read all sorts of writers on all sorts of subjects. Doing that will ensure you don’t unintentionally become a stylistic copycat, writing in somebody else’s style. You’ll bring ALL of your favorite stylists to the table, and the unique combination of those, melded within you and mixed with your perspective, will develop your own voice. Trust the process. You’ll be fine.

^ ^ ^

So what’s your excuse? Do you make a habit of reading magazines you submit to? If yes, how do you fit it into your reading schedule? Do you prefer reading online or on paper? If no, what do you think holds you back? What keeps you from looking? 

Journal

Friday Update: The Updates of Friday

And another week has passed (phew!). The weather is starting to warm, and the sun-! Oh, it feels so good.

Not a lot of words to point to this week, but that’s largely because it was a thinking and retyping week. Goldbug’s naps have (mostly) returned, at least enough for me to get a little work done everyday, and my AWC course–Novel Writing Essentials–has wrapped up, but there’s a little lull until Write Your Novel kicks in, which is kind of nice. I’ve been going all-out for the past couple months. While it’d be really nice to just kick back and write some new stuff or play without trying to get anything specific accomplished, I–of course–have probably been too ambitious about my goals for this two week chunk.

Accomplished This Week:

Lots of thinking. I went through the second half of the novel-in-progress and at least pinned down some of what needs to happen (though by no means, all.) At some point, I really am going to have to sit down and tack everything down so I can leapfrog a bit during the writing, but at least I’ve got the general synopsis written up for class. The first reviews are of the synopsis, I believe, so that may change some things, too.

I also hoped to get a story submitted by today (HAHAHAHAHA!), which didn’t happen with last week’s disruptions and–let’s be honest–it was a bit ambitious as a goal anyway. But I am moving along on the story, retyping it from scratch while cutting everything I can. It’ll need time to cool off, though, before I edit more, and I think I’ll solicit some solid opinions from some writer pals to give me a fresh eye on it before continuing.

Inspiring Me This Week:

The weather! Oh, it’s been lovely the last couple days. I know it won’t last (it’s March in New England, so hahahaha, yeah, winter doesn’t end with the “start of spring” up here), but it’s been a treat to go outside without a coat and just putz in the sunlight.

I’ve also started playing Return of the Obra Dinn, which is kind of a first-person mystery game for the Nintendo Switch. It’s a bit gruesome at times, so finding a way to play it without B-Bug being around has been a bit challenging. Luckily it’s all black and white and usually there’s a bit of warning before something gross pops up, so he knows to look away if he’s passing through while I’m playing.

And just finished Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth about cave-diving, which was fascinating. Really enjoyed it. It’s funny, but caving and cave-diving is such a small community in some ways, that it’s not rare to read books that follow different people who reappear in each other’s memoirs. Kind of fun! I wonder if one could write a sci-fi series that way, as a collection of memoirs and biographies of “the people who were there”… Kind of a cool idea. Hmmm…

For Next Week:

One more week before my next course starts, which really isn’t a lot of time. I think, primarily, I’m going to try to hammer out this third draft of “Earthbound,” and maybe send it to a couple friends to read at their leisure. Then I’m torn.

I’d really like to have the book plotted out before class starts, but then if I change things based on the synopsis review, will that be wasted time? Maybe.

On the other hand, I know I won’t get anything submittable by the end of the week. I could write a new flash story that’s been tugging in my head. I could plunge ahead on a rewrite of a story I’d like to polish up and submit this year, but I may not finish it in time. Or I might. HRMRMRMRMRMRmmmmmmm….

Well, finish Draft 3 of the short story, for sure. After that, I may bang out the flash fiction just to have it done and resting. The other rewrite I might be able to “cheat” on my novel with, when I need a mental break from long-form. One thing’s for sure, I need to make sure I work on short fiction on a somewhat steady basis, even when the novel is taking front-and-center, otherwise I’ll lose my mind.

So there’s that.

^ ^ ^

How’s your week been? Get anything crossed off your to-do list or was mere survival paramount this week? Some weeks are like that. All we can do is hang on and get through it and see what can be salvaged the next week or next month. Hang in there! And I’m always open to book recommendations, so let me know about the coolest book you’ve read recently!

Journal

How Do YOU Cope With Rejection?

Back in fifth grade, when I first started dreaming about becoming an author, I had no idea how much rejection comes with that goal. Back then, writing was all sunshine and flowers. A fun thing I did that maybe (maybe?) I had some skill for and enjoyed doing. 

I wrote because it was fun. I wrote precisely what I liked, without worrying about whether something was cliché, or had been overdone, or was basically the book I’d just read, or was too Mary-Sue-ish. I wrote epic fan fiction (so fun). I wrote “novels” in a weekend that were 100 pages long. I wrote short stories that went on and on and on without a conflict. Nobody else ever had to read them, so I indulged myself however I liked. 

So Many No’s…

But by the time I started submitting short fiction to actual markets (for actual money), I quickly began to realize that rejections aren’t just common, they’re the norm, especially for beginning authors. My short stories were too long. They didn’t have any tension. They didn’t have character-driven plots, or involve a new concept, or spin an old concept in a new way. They didn’t start with a hook. They didn’t end with change. 

It quickly became clear that I had a lot to learn, and the #1 skill I needed to learn was how to deal with NO. No Thank You’s and Hell No’s; Slow No’s and Fast No’s. (My fastest rejection took—I believe—about three hours from submission to NO.) There were Sorry, No’s from editor friends. There were No’s—then Oops, Yes!—then Actually, No’s. There were We Love This So Much OMG, But No’s. 

Devastated

At first, a rejection slip would devastate me. For several days I’d replay the words of those classic Form No’s–“Thank you for submitting X for our consideration. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for us.”–wallowing in the fact that a story I had such high hopes for had crashed and burned. It would sink my mood into the muck. Rejections like that seemed to stand as proof that I sucked, that my writing sucked, that I’d never sell anything or “make it” (whatever that means) as a Real Writer. 

I used to have elaborate processes for getting over rejections: a square of chocolate, a used book, TV or video games and tea, a new cheap notebook. I even created a placebo called “Rejection Balm” and I’d glob a tablespoon of Fluff into my mouth to “cure” the rejection blues. (At least a faux cure was funny and usually made me laugh, whether I took the “remedy” or not!) 

Nothing like a spoonful of Fluff to get over the rejection bends…

The Joy of Personal Rejections

But over the years, as I submitted more often and learned how to write a hook, how to trim out extra words, how to make sure something changes by the end of the story, I started getting nicer rejections: Personal Rejections that actually tell you what they liked or didn’t like about your story, and what you could fix to do better next time. I started getting Send More rejections. And I started getting Yes. Still not as often as I’d like, but even a couple Yeses make you feel like you’ve got a shot. 

These days, I work on my craft. I submit whenever I can. A story is only “finished” to me when it’s sent out into the world (a fatal perfectionistic flaw of mine early in my career, when I still felt sure I could make every story I wrote absolutely perfect before submitting). I still get a lot of No’s, but more and more of them are Personal No’s, Encouraging No’s, and I’m getting more Yeses, too. 

Losing Their Sting

After hundreds of No’s, they start to lose their sting. They’re not personal anymore, not gut-wrenching. I still feel a little sad (even today, I got one from a market I love for a story I love, and still feel a little pang of “Aw, Man!” but it’s not the same), but I’ve learned a lot. Sometimes a story just isn’t a good fit for a market. Sometimes it’s simply not good enough to beat out the one other story on the editor’s desk. Sometimes an editor likes your style, sometimes they don’t. 

And it’s okay. It doesn’t mean your story sucks. It doesn’t mean you suck. It just means it’s time to get that submission out to the next place.

Letting Go

I specifically don’t edit stories once I’ve sent them out anymore, unless the fix is an easy tweak that won’t delay a story getting back out there ASAP. For me, that’s necessary, because I could tinker with a story forever in the hopes of making it perfect, but I’ve learned to let go. 

There will always be another idea. There will always be another market. And I’ve sold some stories to fantastic markets after they’ve been rejected by a LOT of other places, even less prestigious ones! The most important thing is to keep moving forward. The No’s are just hurdles. If you’re running fast enough, and aiming high enough, you won’t even notice when you fly over them. 

^ ^ ^

How do you handle rejection? Do you have a special routine or treat for coping when you receive one? Are you still in the early phases where each one feels like a coal dropped into your shoe, or are you a hardened Rejection Warrior, who eats rejection slips for breakfast? What have you learned about rejections during your writing journey? I’d love to hear from you!