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Short Story Boot Camp!

Short Story Boot Camp. Day one, August 12, 2015.

I’m trying to teach myself how to edit better. Usually my editing process involves a lot of flailing around, spell checking, some conceptual thinking, and then a lot of quitting. Does not make for very good stories, do not recommend.

Right now I have 10 short stories, including 3 flash stories, 1 Novella, and 1 full novel to edit. I can write. I can produce. I can knock out words with the best.. Okay maybe with the second best of them. No one can keep up with Seanan McGuire so don’t even try. I just hadn’t figured out the editing process.

Lately I’ve been doing some more reading and thinking about writing and backing up to that conceptual process. Two things that have really sparked me is Mary Robinette Kowal’s lovely answer to a Goodreads question I posted about process.

The second is, yes you can giggle. Writing Fiction for Dummies.  What these two authors did here that’s different than most writing books was simplify some basic steps for editing that either hadn’t been explain this way before or I just hadn’t grokked the way it had been explained.

OK three things. My good friend Erin Hoffman also answered the same question I asked MRK about process that helped me tweak my ideas. [ go read Erin’s books now pls. I want her to write more. ] Erin is the most plotter of plotters in that her outline really is her first draft. Erin’s second draft is the actual word flow, her outline fleshed out. She finishes that, then edits, and third draft is what’s submitted. Her outline might take her a month or better, but from there, it’s fast, clean, and rather elegant. Much like everything Erin does. That’s how she’s taught her brain to work and I am hella jealous. I’ve come to realize that I’m the exact opposite. My first draft is an exploratory exercise so that I can write an outline from there.

Helpful hint I learned from this: What kind of writer you are will dictate what kind of editor you are.

What I’m finding out for me is that once my exploratory is done, I have to go back and do what Erin did in the beginning. I start by reading through and creating an outline, do some conceptual thinking, then apply these next few steps:

1. Storyline/concept. What is this story? What is the elevator pitch? Distill the entire story into 25 words. Does this feel right/match expectations? If not, tweak until it does.
2. Three Act Structure outline. What is my opening act structure and the inciting incident that opens act two. What is the body of act two and identify the middle inciting incident that twists the story, then the third inciting incident/disaster that forces act three. What is the climax to the story and the aftermath/wrap up.
3. Character synopsis. Who are these people? What do they want? How does the action in the story help or hinder them? Are they really necessary or can I combine characters to make the story flow better. Sometimes this happens after the next two steps.
4. Chapter by chapter synopsis. Going back through the outline and deciding what changes need to be made on a macro level. Is this incident really powerful enough? Or can I twist it harder to make my characters cry more.
5. Scene by scene synopsis based on the CbC synopsis. (these two steps are combined in a short story, of course) This is the papercut under the fingernail before slicing lemons level. For both me and the characters. Does each scene do what it needs to do to advance the action?
6. Third draft. Send to my awesome friends who have agreed to beta read.
7. Take beta reactions, read through story again, make those edits.
8. Submit. Make sales!

Back to Short Story Boot Camp. I’m going to take these concepts and 7 steps to make step 8 happen. I’m taking those ten stories and the novella and applying this new way of editing to see if the flailing stops and actual work happens. Ironically, the easiest ones aren’t the shortest ones, but the ones that make me the most excited. So I’m tackling Makewater Station first. It’s my prairie punk story with an alternate history of the US.

I use Scrivener to write with so I created a blank project just for Boot Camp. Each story has it’s own folder and the most recent copy of the text after previous edits pasted into them. I love the split screen option and side note screen to work in to keep track of characters/things/etc. And I’ve created a folder to chronicle/write blog posts in about my adventures in editing.

My goal is to make some sell-able short stories as well as figure out how to tweak my editing process in order to tackle the book. Here goes!


writing rules

I have a confession to make.  I’ve thrown a few of the writing rules out the window.  Which ones?  Well, let’s go down the list.


1. Turn off everything to focus on your writing.  Yeah, tried that.  Spun in my chair. Took two hours to write 250 words.   Even what I wrote looked bored.  Eventually I gave up on that tactic all together.  Partly because there’s too much to read and do that I’ve not quite given up on yet.  Tumblr, I’m looking at you.  Also because I work nights and therefore sleep days, so if I want to talk to friends and game with them online, I have to dedicate half my waking time to that.  Leaves fewer hours for chores and bill paying and dog playing. 


So while I’m chatting and scrolling through Twitter and Tumblr and reading articles, I also have Scrivener open and either the TV on or Netflix streaming and a couple instant message windows open.  And I get my words done quicker.  It’s weird. I know.   Sometimes it’s because I have the last thirty minutes of my evening before going to work to get my words done, but they get done. 

See also: turn off the internet, or use a computer that’s not connected to the internet.


2. Work on one project at a time. As you can see from above, I’m quite used to multitasking.   I’m more used to letting a project bubble in the back of my head like the Witch’s cauldron in Brave until that perfect cake comes out of it for my plot/character/issue.


3.  This rule depends on whether you’ve read “Around the Writer’s Block” or not.  Have separate times for self care, play, and working time.  I… tend to do it all at the same time.  Take that whole list above and add in knitting and/or playing games.  Yes, I’ve knitted while playing World of Warcraft.  It takes a long time to fly from point to point!  I’ve also put the needles down to flip screens and add a couple sentences then flip back to keep from getting ganked on arrival. 


4.  Don’t read while you work.  Norman Mailer is quoted as only reading the New York Times while he works.  I don’t have time for that.  In addition to all the above, I have podcasts to listen to at work, and audio books.  I also read in the tub or on the web when Twitter and Tumblr don’t have enough to amuse me.  The only variation on this rule that I have is that I don’t read during the times I have Scrivener open.  Those words are mine and I can’t concentrate on someone else’s work then. 


What I don’t go against:


1. Write every day.  This I do.  The Magic Spreadsheet community keeps me going, and I’ve friended a few other users to share encouragement.  I’ve got an 80 day chain now. I’ve leveled up to where I now have a 350 words a day, but I still get them done.  Since it’s so close, I often push to get 500.  In the same amount of time that I got 250 done in.


2.  Edit while I write.  I don’t do this, or I’d still be working on chapter one instead of chapter 21.  I told myself to write crap and second draft will fix that.  Future me might hate me greatly for that crap, but.. she’ll just have to deal with it.


3.  Apply butt to chair and do not release until day’s wordage has been done.  Despite my multitasking and online life, I have been known to shut it all off in that desperate 30 minutes to get it done.  I try to do it earlier, but I don’t yell at myself unless I don’t do it.  Then I write at work on breaks and lunch.  But I get the words done.


Maybe some day I’ll be able to wean myself off all the distraction and put out a bigger word count, but right now, this is what works.  I’m not saying that it’s ok to dump all the hard stuff just so you can goof off.  If you don’t get the words done because you’re goofing off, then you need more discipline.  All I’m saying is, sometimes you need to distract your anxiety and your hyper critical self to get the words done.  And if you work better with distraction, that’s okay too.  What counts is the work getting done.

More on writing, inspiration, determination, and accountability.

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Once upon a time, during a wild crazy summer, I managed to kick out over 200,000 words in just a few months.  I remember the high and the thrill of the story just running through me like a bad relationship.  You know the kind, where you know the person is bad for you but the thrill of running on the edge of the cliff is too intoxicating to stop; until you slip and crash and end up with half your stuff busted and the other half stolen.  Sometimes writing is like that too.

This summer was exactly that, because my writing was based off roleplay with a friend.  She got tired of it long before I did and stepped away.  And suddenly I felt myself in freefall.  It’s more complicated than that, but excuse me for trying not to embarrass myself again, kay?

That was nearly 8 years ago, and I’ve had a complex about writing ever since. 

I changed my focus.  Stepped way from roleplay and fan fiction.  Started focusing on my own stories again.  Took writing courses in college as a side interest to my major.  Graduated with a bachelors, history major with creative writing minor. 

Still couldn’t get my butt in the chair to get the words done.  So I started reading again.  [I mentioned “Around the Writer’s Block” in a previous post, btw.] Tried to find a job, couldn’t.  Sidestepped my position at my current job, then slipped out of the job.

So here I am, working a temp job to keep the bills paid.  But I’ve written at least 250 words a day for the past 30 days.  Why?  Mur Lafferty’s podcast “I Should Be Writing” and her mention of the Magic Spreadsheet.  I looked into it.  Then I said hell yeah and jumped in feet first.

The main point about the Spreadsheet is the accountability.  I see the empty lines on the sheet and cringe, then I open up my current story and make sure I don’t become one of those.  Seeing others updating their lines gives me a community feeling that I haven’t had since the roleplay group I mentioned at the beginning of the post.   We posted our stories for each other to read and the immediate feedback was addicting.

 With the Spreadsheet, there isn’t any feedback, but the encouragement of seeing everyone else meet their goals for the day is a form of solidarity.  We’re all doing it together. And even I don’t know these people, I still support them, and I know they support me, even though we don’t speak. It’s just the act of updating for each other to see that supplies the support.

Addenum: there is a Facebook page for the Magic Spreadsheet, plus a Google + group. So you do have some conversation, if you prefer. 

But maan… breaking this block has been amazing.  And the story I started with this experiment has just run away with me and I think I might actually be able to finish it.  I still have words to write on it today, as well as this post.  But they both count towards my totals and add to my pleasure of words happening.

Thank you Mur, Tony Pisculli, and Derek Chamberlain and everyone connected with the Spreadsheet.

Happily plugging:  Lafferty just released “The Shambling Guide to New York” and it’s sequel was written with the support of the Magic Spreadsheet.  It’s a great rollicking romp and worth the read.

The Fragile Ego

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The writer’s ego is an interesting thing.  We are literally gods to do as we please to our world and our characters [see: The episode of Friends where Joey was dropped down an elevator shaft for disgruntling a Writer.], and we can write you out as fast as we wrote you in, no matter how much our readers may love you.

But the writer’s ego is a fragile thing too. It’s a bubble that’s made of sugar glass and the least bit of pressure it pops and sends us into a spiral.  It takes time to trust in that spun gossamer webbing that surrounds us.  For me, it’s taken a lifetime.

This past week I’ve stumbled onto one of my ego poppers, and now I’m having to learn to ignore it.   Write this into the column of what NOT to say to a writer, new or experienced. “You’re so lucky you can write.”  “I wish I could write too.”  “I’ve given up on being able to do that too.”

Those three sentences, and other variations on that theme, are manipulators.  You may very well be jealous of someone who’s able to push out the wordage.  God knows I am, and I’ve been guilty of saying such things to other writer friends. [I hereby apologize. Sincerely.]  But those type of phrases are guilt makers, at least to me.  Deep down inside, I’m a facilitator.  I want you to be able to do what you love too and if I can help, I will.  But these phrases make me feel guilty that I’m doing something you can’t.  These phrases serve to put me back into the closet of writer’s block, out of fear I will hurt your ego by expressing mine.  The roots of this tendency of mine extend way back into childhood and others trying to be helpful in encouraging things I could do, away from things they didn’t believe I could manage.  I’m learning to shake free of those shackles, but phrases like this, gentle reader, make me cringe.

So jealous though you may be of someone stretching out their wings and crowing over writing being done, encourage, and let their success be encouragement to you too.  Writing is 90% determination, 10% talent.  Cliche, because it’s true. Harness your determination and then we’ll be jealous of you.


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Watching Jules & Julia again and it reminded me I had started a blog *cough* weeks ago and haven’t updated since.

Other than making me hungry and reminding myself that I’m a horrible cook, I love this movie because I consider it a writing movie.  The character Jules has to face some of her own personal demons as she writes her blog and that is something I’m all too familiar with, writing demons.

Recently I found me a shield to protect myself from those demons, in the form of a book.  I picked up “Around the Writer’s Block” by Rosanne Bane as an impulse buy at my favorite bookstore.  Then when my free time exploded due to lack of work a month or so later, I picked it back up to read again.  Like most writers, I have a round dozen books on writing [ Jason Ridler is not a normal writer, therefore he has several dozens], but this one resonated with me because she used cognitive research and therapy techniques in her advice on how to deal with your own personal block.

A lot of mine centers around this one little thought:  My friends don’t even want to read my stuff, so why bother?

That right there froze five years of writing potential out of me.  Five years I’ll never get back.

I had gotten used to instant feedback from the fanfic community.  You posted it, they didn’t care if it wasn’t exactly publishable or that it had plot holes and more typos than a third grade essay, it was something about characters they already loved and they also loved to tell you about it.  When I switched to writing my own fiction, all those comments dried up.

So now my intent is to rely on just my First Reader.  She’s already read the first chapter of my new novel and has given her approval to keep going.  And she likes my title!  [Titles are harder than endings for me, I swear.]  And here’s the kicker: No one else is allowed to read it until I finish.   And damned if I’m not just, well if not flying along, I’m faster than not writing at all!

Not every writer has the same process, and not everything that works for me will work for you. That’s why there’s so many writing books out there, and why people keep writing more.  What works for you is what works for you, and may work for someone else. But if you really want to write, and you can’t stop thinking of stories to write, you WILL find a way.  Never stop trying, never give up.