Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Writing Every Day

So I've been reading Stephan King's "On Writing."  It's one of those books that every author needs to have read at least once.  The book is an autobiography of sorts mixed with writing advice.

In general I find the writing insufferable.  The entire work seems to drip with pompous self-assurance which, given the man's achievements, I don't entirely blame him for it's just annoying to read.  I just can't help but shake the feeling that he only issues the advice that he does because he's so successful.  Like it would have been interesting to me to read an autobiography by a young King and compare it to the style of established King.

But despite the moments of teeth grinding, there are quite a few gems littered around the book.  Sometimes you have to dig for them, but they're there.  In retrospect, I will probably be going back to reread the book.  It's the type of work that you'll just get different things out of at different times of your writing career.

After my first read through the one thing that really stuck with me is his advice about writing schedules.   It's only a tiny little section compared to the rest of the book but for some reason is just struck me as being really relevant to what I'm going through now as a writer.

About a year ago, I decided to make writing a side business.  A short phone call to my accountant, a few minor changes to Quickbooks and I was ready to go.  Psychologically it was a big deal for me even if the reality was not.  I had switched gears in my head from writing when the spirit moves to writing on a schedule.

And I'm proud to say I've done pretty darn well following my writing schedule.  At first I was worried that it would stifle the creative juices but it has, in fact, increased them.  It also made my publishing output more consistent which has led to a slow (read: slooooooooooooow) but steady increase in writing income.

So then I read this book by this King fellow and he says, "write every day."  At first I scoffed at this.  Writing, though a now serious side business for me, is not my main job.  I teach 5 billion children a day and Stephan King has nothing but time on his hands to write until his fingers bleed.

Then he states his reason.  He says it keeps the characters alive in his mind.

This was enough to make me pause.  Even though it's not my job I'm serious enough about writing to have a strong desire to improve my craft.  And even though I had done (in my mind) an exemplary job sticking to my schedule, I had noticed that some days it took a while to get into a writing flow.  Especially between Friday and Monday (two days of non-writing in between).

So I thought, "what the heck?"  I don't have to have enormous word count goals every day.  On Saturday and Sunday, for example, it would be easy enough to jot down another 100 words.  The goal was just to write every day, no matter how much, and see what happened.

I'm now kicking myself for not doing this sooner.

Not only has my weekly word count doubled but the actual act of putting words on a page is becoming effortless (who knows if the words are good or not).   I no longer have that glazed Monday look as I try to yank an action scene out of my coffee-fuzzed brain.  My brain is still coffee-fuzzed but because I just worked on the scene the day before, the story flow is still fresh.  Before it used to take me almost my entire allotted writing hour to meet my word count goal since the starts were slow.  Now I find I'm completing the goal is half the time and still have enough momentum to keep going.

The moral to this story: King was right, damn the man!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review of "Fallen Leaves," short story by Rachel Elizabeth Cole



Summary:
For as long as fifteen-year-old Grace Sather can remember, her great-grandmother has hated her mother. And now Mom wants Gran to move in with them. But before Mom can talk Gran into it, Gran has a bad fall and winds up in the hospital. Now a long buried secret is about to emerge. A secret that could shake the family to its very core.

Review:
This story is good but for some reason left me dissatisfied.  The result was that I had to think about it for a few days before writing this review which is a quality I do appreciate in a short story.  I like having to digest a plot.

While the plot is from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old, it is mostly focused on the mother figure.  Grace is watching her mom react to the grandmother.  The point of view choice was excellent given the plot content.  It was just enough to make the details vague.  Grace is as in the dark as the reader so you want to keep reading to find out what the bad blood was between the mother and grandmother.

The horrible secret is revealed (you'll have to read to find out) and suffice to say you realize that the story is really about the mother coming to terms with a terrible past mistake.  She's trying to make her peace with God.

The story concludes with the implication that she has come to terms with her actions.  And it was this aspect of the story that really left me feeling unsatisfied.  After some mulling I realized it was because there was nothing to indicate why she felt at peace.  The grandmother personified the mom's guilt (hence the bad blood) but was not the source.  Therefore, I wasn't sure why taking the grandmother out of the picture cured the mom's guilty conscious?

It's hard to say.  I don't mind dangling endings but I do have a problem if they leave too many question marks.  Either way, it's a good story with excellent characterization and well worth picking up a copy.  

3.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez 

Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Writing is Just So Sutble

I find the lack of measurable progress in writing to be frustrating.

Let me explain: I'm a professional musician.  I also have a variety of hobbies that range from disc golf to beer making to archery.  In pretty much every area except for writing, there are clear markers to tell you if you're improving or not.

Can you play the hard section that old piece more easily?  What was your score at the end of 18 holes of golf?  Did that batch of beer taste better than the last batch?

Measurable progress.

If you make a stout three times and each time it tastes better, you know you're doing something right.  If your violin is making fewer glass-shattering squeaks, you know you're on the right track.

Writing doesn't have any markers like that.  Sure, you find yourself more easily forming scenes or maybe your vocabulary has expanded or even your story lines more complex.  But does that necessarily mean you're a better writer?

This problem is further compounded by the fact that older works usually sell better in the ebook world.  They've been out for longer, more eyes have seen them and they've had more of a chance to trickle into the "customers also bought" sections on online bookstores.  So even if your latest stories are better crafted, your older stories are more successful.

So how do I know if I'm on the right track or not?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

SFWG 2013 Flash Fiction Competition

Make it short and sweet! SFWG is looking forward to our 2013 Flash Fiction Competition!

Submission Guidelines:

  • Entries have a limit of 1,000 words. Stories beyond that will not be considered.
  • Stories may be previously published.
  • Any genre is accepted. The contest is about originality and depth of story given a limited number of words.
  • Entries will be accepted beginning on August 5, 2013.
  • Entry Deadline: September 2, 2013.
  • All submissions should be sent as a PDF attachment to shortfictionwriters@gmail.com with “SFWG Contest” as the subject.

We will announce the winners by October 7, 2013.

First Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog, announced on various forums and websites, included in a future Anthology (with your approval), given an SFWG logo and winner image that can be used on your book cover, receive 10,000 words of free beta reading from both Book Brouhaha and Short Fiction Spotlight Beta Reading services (20,000 words total).

Second Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog and announced on various forums and websites.

Third Place: Will be featured on the SFWG Blog and announced on various forums and websites.