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Distractions

I recently finished reading The Black Prism by Brent Weeks.  A great novel that is full of characters you can relate to and a plot that is imaginative and engaging to the reader.  It has a well thought out world that has depth and dynamic. The magic is believable and based a bit on real life.  In other words, you should go by this novel if you have any love for Fantasy novels.  You can wait until you finish reading my post, but as soon as you are done, go buy it.

Like every great story I finish, I find myself sad it is over.  But, I also find myself inspired to write a great novel of my own.  I also find myself looking at my latest novel and wondering why I have not done much to advance it.  When I undertook writing with a serious intention of being published this past March, I told myself I would complete one short story a month and a novel by the end of the year.

That means I should have written nine short stories and one novel.  Currently I have completed four short stories and about 2,500 words into the second draft of my novel (the first draft was written years ago, so really this is a rewrite first draft).  I also completed a Children’s picture book my son and I wrote together.  A far cry from being where I wanted to be.

There are some pluses.  First, two of those four stories were published this year.  The other two are currently out to markets.  The children’s book is currently waiting on the illustrator to complete the drawings.  It has a scheduled release for the early part of 2012.  Both of which I think are good accomplishments for a writer in his first serious year of writing.

But, why I have fallen so short of my goals?  When I finished The Black Prism, I really began to quiz myself of the true cause of my short comings.  The answer was simple: Distractions.

I have a long list of distractions.  Many of those distractions are worth it and they have to to come first.  Those include: My kids, my wife, my health, my chores, my job (when I had one), and searching for a job.  But there are some I could trim out.  Such as: Television, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Battlefield 3, and the internet.

Of course, the real trouble is actually making those cuts.  Every time I power up this laptop the first sight I go to is Facebook.  I can’t help it.  Then I have to check Twitter now (a site I used to hate and now for some reason I can’t avoid it).  Then I go look for work, then I go check out all the sites related to Battlefield 3, then I check my writers forum, then check the site stats for this blog, then I go back to Facebook, and then I check Google+.  By then I am tired of the internet, so I shut off my lap top and turn on the TV.  Through all of this my children need my attention.  I cook dinner, put the kids to bed, my wife comes home from work, we watch TV, and then off to bed.  And I always say, “Tomorrow I will have to get some writing done.”

Perhaps I am not taking writing serious enough.  I don’t think so.  I like doing it and I enjoy seeing the positive reviews of the things people have read of mine.  The truth is, and I have mentioned this before, I just have to make the time.  Most of the time there is nothing on TV, but I watch it anyway.  Most of the time there is nothing new on Facebook, but I check it anyway.  I am finding Google+ useless but I still check it.  And I don’t know why I am so addicted to Twitter now.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are great for me to get in touch with my fans and fellow writers.  I won’t cut them out completely.  I certainly won’t be able to cut out Battlefield 3 for a while.  I enjoy the game.  But, I can limit them.  I intend to limit them and focus on my novel.

One thousand words a day would reach novel length in just forty days.  Of course my novel may be longer and I almost never just write 1000 words in a writing session, but that certainly seems like a reasonable goal.  However goals are not worth much if you don’t try.  I will try to hold to that goal, and you can always follow me on Facebook and Twitter to see how I do.

So I know have two 2012 resolutions: 1) Exercise and lose weight, 2) Write more.

Of course I have more, but I will save that for another post.

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Quality Versus Quantity

Recently there was a post in my writer’s forum on Robert A. Heinlein’s Rules for Writing Speculative Fiction (Appeared in his essay On Writing Speculative Fiction in 1947).  The poster argued that the rule; “You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.” was no longer a valid business practice in today’s market.  His argument is sound, and I have already blogged on my thoughts on the rewriting circle several times (mentioned here), so I don’t plan to do into it.

But it did involve lengthy discussion about the need to constantly rewrite and ensure you put out high quality work.  The argument was that, in the 1950s, there were so many pro rate markets that there was far more demand then supply.  Therefore established authors (and new ones) could quickly turn out a high amounts of manuscripts and be able to sell them.  So I thought I would elaborate on the quality versus quantity debate

Quantity

If you throw darts at a target, one at a time, you might hit the bulls-eye but it may take a while.  But, if you throw 1,000 darts at the target, surely one of them will hit the bull-eye and quickly.

Obviously, simple statistics would show that the more works, you put out the more likely you should be to get published faster.  And the slower you put out works the longer is should take.  But, if there is one thing I have learned, math has little place is art.

But the truth is you have to submit works to ever get them published.  And very few people are ever satisfied with one published work.

Quality

If you take time learning how to throw a dart.  You study how darts fly, how to aim, and the correct throwing techniques.  Then you take that one dart, and throw it at the target, you are more likely to hit the bulls-eye.

There are a lot fewer pro rate markets out there. It would be a good idea to understand the craft, and write well, before you cast your dart.  However, when is a manuscript ever perfect?  I’ve never written one.

But the truth is you have to write well, and edit them well, to ever get published.

The Debate

So do you throw 1000 darts or cast that one best shot?  I think it is a bit more complex then that.  After all, you could throw 1000 darts and they all miss the bulls-eye.  Or you could spend years studying darts, only to miss that one best shot.

There is really a fine balance between the two.  If you throw one dart a year, you won’t hit the target much (maybe with blind luck) but you also won’t get better.  But if you throw darts regularly, slowly you will get closer to your bulls-eye.  You need to submit often and you need to do a few rewrites.  How many?  Well that depends on your target.

I think the first thing you have to do is define your bulls-eye.  If it is just getting published, then there are a ton of markets.  If you want some type of payment, there are still a lot.  And, if you want a pro-rate payment there are only a few.

This is why I use the Darts analogy.  Because I think you should have a target, with a bulls-eye in the middle.  That bulls-eye is you best case scenario, the big deal for you.  Mine looks something like this:

So, make your target.  After all you need to know what you are aiming for.  Always aim for your bulls-eye.  You may not hit it, but keep throwing those darts.  Throw your darts often enough that you learn each time, but not so fast that you sacrifice accuracy for the odds.

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Dream Job: The process of crafting an idea into a story.

My story “Dream Job” in Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction, which you can read for free here, was the first short story I had written since High School.  And, the first thing I ever wrote with the intentions of having it published.  So now that it is out for the public to read, I felt I needed to say a bit about it.  After all, there is a lot to be said for it.

I talk a lot about ideas, you can read my post about them.  I had made up my mind I wanted to be a published writer, and I though it would be best to start with a short story.  The real problem was, I couldn’t come up with a good idea.  Well, scratch that, I had ideas but I was having trouble developing them into anything.  Finally, the idea hit me in a nightmare.

If you have read the story, you know this line (if not please go read it):

“An icy cold began to rush over her body, slowly flooding around her arm and across her body. She
began to gasp for air in panic as she realized the cold-flowing blood was reaching her heart.”

That was my dream.  One line.  Thirty-seven words out of about 4,600 words.  I had a dream that someone was in the room, I was injected, and a cool oozing feeling flowed towards my chest.  And, like Samantha, I woke up feeling the cold.  It scared the shit out of me.  So much so, that I thought about it for the whole night (I worked graveyard shift at the time).

I started to wonder what might cause that feeling, which had long since passed.  I wondered how I remembered it so clearly and how would something from the dream world transfer so easily to the waking world.  Then, but the end of my day, I wondered how I could make this into a story.

The first draft of Dream Job was a disaster.  Though when I wrote it, I thought I was a master of the craft.  I posted it for my writer’s group, Hatrack River, which I had just joined.  And, they very nicely told me that my intro was cliche.  They even referred me to The Turkey City Lexicon, a must read of new writers (which I re-read all the time). I had used the “White Room Syndrome” opening… ouch.

I realized I needed a complete rewrite of the opening lines (also known as the hook).  When I did that, it took the story in a different direction (although it was was along the same plot points), and thus my second draft was a total rewrite.

I posted the new Opening for my group to read.  They told me it was still missing something.  There was not much for readers to grab on to.  I was frustrated because I thought I was was writing gold, and they were not getting it.  Of course, they were right. After I looked things over again.  I went for a third rewrite of the opening lines.

Now, this third one was troublesome to come up with.  I spent a week mulling over different openings.  And then it hit me.  My dream was so emotional to me because it happened in my own bed.  My own house.  This was my house, my bed, and my room and it was invaded by this nightmare.

BINGO!

So I put Samantha at her home, and hat it invaded.  Government Agents had always been a part of the plot, so naturally they were the invaders.  The story took a third complete rewrite, very different from the first and second drafts.  Then I posted it again on my writers forum.  I don’t know if my forum LOVED IT, but they certainly liked it.

From there it was just a few minor tweeks for Grammar (ugh… grammar cops), a bit of tightening up based on suggestions from fellow writers, and then it was out for submission.  Shortly after submitting it, I got the idea for “Death Watch” and started this process all over again.  “Death Watch” was accepted first (12 days before its big brother).

From the time I started writing until “Dream Job” went for its first submission was almost exactly two months (59 days).  From first submission to acceptance was just over five months.  I am proud of it, and to see it in print is a great thing.

The title may seem obvious to you after reading it (sorry no spoilers here, just go read it).  But, for me it was also a bit of an inside story too.  After all, writing is one of my dream jobs.  This being the first thing I wrote, it only seemed fitting.

So please, head over to Smashwords and download your free copy of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  Read it and review it on Goodreads.  And on the topic of Goodreads, check out my Author page and become a fan.

As always your comments are welcome.

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New Short Story Out

Today Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction published Issue 1, which features my story “Dream Job”.  I am excited about this publication for two reasons:

First, this is the first short story I have written since my choice to be a published writer.  I did write a short story in High School that people seemed to like, but its long gone.  So really, I consider this my first short story.  I am blessed that it was published.  I know many very talented authors whose firsts are still awaiting the acceptance letter.

Second, it was chosen to be in the first issue of a new publication.  This may not seem like a big deal, but when a magazine starts up, there is a lot of pressure to be good (if not great).  Editors have to choose the stories they publish in their first issues carefully, as they set the bar for the entire publication.  That doesn’t mean publications don’t grow and become better.  It just means that you want to make a good first impression when you start up.  So I feel privileged that “Dream Job” was chosen to be among those stories that represent the start of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.

The Editors have also chosen to provide the electronic copy of their first issue free on Smashwords (Kindle, Nook, PDF and more).  It is also available on the Amazon Kindle Store for 99 cents, but I am sure you would prefer free.  So please, click here and check out “Dream Job” as well as the other works published in Issue One of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.

Then come back here and let me know what you thought of the story and the Characters.  I would love to hear from you.

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Novels or Short Stories

I wasn’t sure what I was going to go with for this weeks blog post.  John Miller posted on my Facebook page about a survey he has out now.  Of course I had to check it out, but it got me thinking about something else.  What do people like to read?  How does an author decide what they want to write?  Is it better to write a novel, or a short?

First, lets set some definitions here:

People have trouble defining fiction length.  This seems to the widely accepted standard.  Probably the most disputed will be Flash, as the definitions seems to vary from publication to publication.  Here are the SFWA guidelines.

Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
Novel: 40,000 words or more.

SFWA does not have a “Flash Fiction” definition, but I will go with what I believe to be widely accepted which is anything less then 1000 words.

As a Reader:

This is where I would love to hear for you guys.  Leave me a comment below and let me know what you like to read.  Do you like short works (Novella, Novelette, Shorts, or Flash) or do you prefer a Novel?  If so, why?

Go ahead, scroll down to the comments and let me know.  I will be here when you get back.

Thanks for you comment!

For me, I have found a recent love for Flash as a reader.  For one, I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction.  So I get short fiction (not always Flash but always on the shorter side) in my email Monday – Thursday with a longer one on Friday.   I don’t have a lot of time.  Flash fiction is a short entertaining read for me.

As I have mentioned before it is important for Authors to read.  So this is a good way for me to get a lot of reading in from different Authors.  This gives me diversity in my reading, as far as styles go.

I also subscribe to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as read several e-publications.

I love a good Novel too.   So I wonder if there is any advantage to one or the other.  If you are an author, read both.

However, strictly as a reader the advantage to short is growing with our impatient world.  But I think people still like a good novel.  Something they can get connected with, live in the world for a while, and really savor.

Shorts can be really moving and powerful too.  But there is a lack of time there to really bond the reader with the story. And it can be easier to read shorts when you like to read during those brief breaks in your life (doctor’s waiting room, ect.).

So my suggestion is that if you like quick stories, with a wham and bang type impact, go for the shorts.  If you like going for gold and really bonding with a story go for the Novel.  If you like both, like I do, read both.

For Writers:

I never gave a thought to writing anything other then a Novel when I started taking up writing as a hobby.  I didn’t really know anything of the craft and didn’t think there was much of a short story market.  And really it had not ever crossed my mind.  When I began my self study in writing and professional writing, I learned that speculative fiction has one of the strongest short story markets in the industry.

So I gave a short story a try.  That first short story will be featured in the upcoming issue of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  I liked it a lot.  It allowed me to get the immediate satisfaction of writing, editing, and eventually publishing in a relatively short amount of time.  Of course short amount of time depends on a number of things.

Well, I liked writing that short so much that I wrote my first Flash piece.  “Death Watch”, which is out now on Liquid Imagination Online, did well based on what readers have told me.  I have since written a third piece which is making its rounds at markets and I have a fourth one in the editing phase.

So I have three going on four shorts completed in a matter of around ten months.  This is a lot slower then I want, and I hope to pick up the pace.  But considering I was learning the short story market at the same time, I feel I did well to get started.

In any case, lets compare this to my Novel in progress.  While I have written out two and half novels, many years ago, those where not publishable novels.  They were things I put on paper to escape stress in my real job of the time.  Anyway, I probably still have six to eight months before this novel is ready.  I think I am may even be giving myself too little time.  We will see.  Since I have not completed a publishable novel, this is really more of a guess.  Now once it is done, it has editing, rewrites, and then query.  After query, which can take forever, I then have to submit the full manuscript.  My point, Novels take a lot of time.

So what should you write?  Well write what you like.  If you don’t like to read shorts, don’t like to write them, and don’t like anything about them, then don’t write them.  If you don’t like taking time on a Novel, then don’t write that.

I write both for the same reason I read both.  I like that shorts give me imediate gratification while Novels give me the satisfaction of crafting an in depth world and a longer work.

Please don’t misunderstand me at all.  My short stories get my entire heart and sole, just the same as my novel.  Shorts can be deep and meaningful, they just don’t have the length that a Novel has.

Of course I would be foolish not to bring up the money side of things.  So call me foolish.  (Actually since I have not sold a Novel, I can’t really compare them for you).

Final Verdict?

Well in the battle over Novels and Short Stories, I don’t really think you get a winner or loser.  It is really all about what you like.  The market for both is strong.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you prefer.  Let me know if you are a writer, reader, or both.  What do you like?

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Want-A-Be Writers Vs True Writers

Just because you write, doesn’t make you a writer.

I have recently discovered that writing has this in common with Photography.  Everyone who picks up a camera, takes pictures of their family reunion, and posts them on a Facebook Page they made; calls themselves a photographer.  That is a steamy load of crap.

Photography is an art form and requires a lot more then point and shoot.  Over the years, photography has been watered down by many factors:  Easy exposure, easier to use equipment, easy digital printing, and friends/family who won’t tell them they suck.  The result has been an over abundance of people calling themselves photographers and they have watered down the craft.  Add this to the fact that photography is a misunderstood art form (that is to say most people don’t know what makes a photo art), and the true photographers are ripping their hair out.

Writing is clearly not much different anymore.  First, most people won’t know good writing if it bit them in the ass.  I am not talking about styles, genres, or your own reading preference.  I am talking about a well written story.  There are plenty of books I don’t like, but they were written very well.  It was just not something I enjoyed reading.  Writing, like photography, is a craft.  It takes time to perfect each piece (though a true writer never reaches perfection).  But most people accept anything written on the page that is must be good to get published.

Writing is getting watered down now, just like writing.   Easy exposure, digital printing, easier to use equipment, and  friends/family who won’t tell them they suck.

Easy Exposure:

Anyone can create a Facebook Page.  I have four of them.  Anyone can create a blog.  Twitter, Google+, good reads, and much more.  Don’t get me wrong these are great tools for the Author to use, I use all of them.  However, anyone can slap “Writer of…” on their page.  It makes it harder to establish the true writer’s from the hacks.

Digital Printing:

Lulu, Create Space, and a ton of other print on demand publishers have made it so anyone with an email address can publish something.  Don’t get me wrong.  This, and the e-publishing for e-readers, is revolutionizing the publishing industry.  For years publishers have excluded excellent writers based on editors opinions, agents, and other such problems.  But it has also removed the filter.  This means we are getting all kinds of utter crap out their too.  It makes it harder to know who to buy from and who to avoid.  It has also put an undeserved negative stigma on self published authors.

Easier to Use Equipment:

Word Processors, writer’s programs, easy to use publishing software, and a slew of other programs to help writers.  They are great tools, but again they enable many people to fool themselves into thinking they can write because some program keeps track of grammar errors, or characters, or chapters.  However, most want-a-be writers don’t know anything about plot threads, prose, or even when to use bad grammar.  Have you ever read a book where every character speaks perfect English?  That’s horrible, because I have never met anyone who always speaks perfect English.

Friends/Family won’t tell them they suck:

This is where you can help out.  If you have a friend or family member who writes, and they are no good at it.  Please tell them to stop.  Thank you.

Truth be told, that is hard to do.  At the very least though, please don’t tell them they are good at it.  As the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  You don’t have to tell them how good they are.  Just don’t say anything.

The true problem here is that most want-a-be writers never show their works to other writers or join writers groups.  They assume they either don’t have to share, or they are delusional to their own abilities.

How can readers find good, real writers.

You used to have some level of trust, that if they made it to bookshelves they were at least somewhat skilled in the craft.  That is simply no longer the case.   Anyone can make their way on to Amazon.com.  How do we decipher the good from the bad?  It really is harder then you think.  Many great writers are self published.  They have great blogs, Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, and more.  So how do we really tell?

Well in many cases, it is simply trial and error.  You buy a book from them, they are clearly a hack so you never buy from them again.  Or you buy their book, love it, and can’t wait to get something from them again.  But there is something you can do to help with this.

Read the reviews.  The reviews will tell you what other readers thought.  Read them carefully.  Look for items that are simple opinion versus objective facts.  For example:  “I didn’t like that the entire book takes place in space.” (opinion) versus “There was an entire section of text that was formatted in red ink for no reason, punctuation is missing, and the Point of View changes mid-paragraph.” (objective facts).  Ignore the comments that simply say “it sucks” or “the best book ever”, neither of those gives you any insight to the book.  Lastly, remember rating systems (stars or number scales) are almost always opinion based.

But you, as the reader, need to go one step further.  Write a review.  Most people don’t write reviews on their purchases, despite the fact that nearly every online retailer has the ability to review.  Write a detailed review about why you liked, or did not like, the book.  If it was because the writing was bad, point out examples.  Share both your opinions and facts.  Say you liked it because of this reason and then point out the writing is strong with believable dialogue.  A good well written review helps the Author sell more books, but it also helps other readers know if they should stay away.  Bad reviews are just as important as good ones.  So write both.

I am trying to make it a habit of writing a review on everything I read.  I write reviews on Good Reads, and on the site in which I purchased the book.  You should do the same.  It really doesn’t take much time, especially in comparison to what you spent on reading the book, and it helps everyone involved.

There are a ton of good writers out there.  It is great that it is so easy to find and buy great writing from all over the world.  The downside is that some garbage is getting in too.  Hopefully more people will help the true writers filter out the hacks.  The hacks are what have given self-publishing a bad name.

Lastly, if any of you hacks are reading this.  Study the craft, work hard at it, and chances are you can be just as good as many writers.  Like any art form, writing needs to be studied.  The true writer will study his craft constantly, the hack doesn’t take it serious enough to bother.

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