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The Art of Not Wasting Your Time, but Also Not Wasting a Story
I’m sure that there are writers out there with oodles of time to waste by not directing their emotional, mental, and physical energy on what will help them progress as a writer and, you know, have actual short stories/novels on that market. But how do you determine the best way to spend your resources?
To begin, this is going to look a little different for everyone (which I say 50x a day as a mom and a Pilates instructor). But to be more specific…
I think just about every writer has heard of Heinlein’s 5 Rules for Writers. If you haven’t, or need a refresher, here they are:
- You must write.
- You must finish what you write.
- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
- You must put the work on the market.
- You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
Overall, great advice!
I absolutely agree that writers need to write AND finish what they start. I also strongly believe in putting your work on the market, and keeping it on the market until it’s sold. I have more than a few friends that send a story to five markets and stop there, assuming their work isn’t as good as they thought it was, then they trunk it.
“????” is usually my first thought. But. Obviously that’s their choice, and I’ve trunked a few stories after developing as a writer and human being, and becoming uncomfortable with what some might read as racist, ableist, etc. Actually, that recently happened with one of the earliest stories I sold. I was considering sending it out as a reprint, and reread it, and… cringed.
Did I intend for it to read offensively? Of course not. But because readers read the story in front of them, not the intent you MEANT them to get, you still gotta be your own gatekeeper. So that story had its time, and now it’s sitting in my Retired category on The Submission Grinder. So yes, sometimes you wrote a story, learn from it, and hide it. Forever.
You’ll notice I didn’t totally agree with Heinlein’s third rule, right? The one about not rewriting ever? Is this is the most controversial rule?
And here’s why.
Remember what I said at the beginning about not wanting to waste your resources? Heinlein gave that advice because too many writers tinker and tinker with their stories like they’re Geppetto, hoping that just one more edit will bring their story to life like a literary Pinocchio.
The problem is, you can only grow as a writer so fast. And sometimes it doesn’t matter how fast you think you’re developing, sometimes your brain just needs time away from the story.
I have an example of another story. This one I wrote back in 2012, only a month or two after I wrote the trunked story I mentioned earlier.
That’s right, it’s been nine, almost ten years since I wrote that story. Guys, I’ve submitted it 40 times. FORTY. It’s almost, but never quite, sold. This story has earned a semi-finalist at one contest, nine personal rejections, and a rewrite request that I just couldn’t fulfill because though the editor’s advice was sound, my brain could never wrap around how to change what the story REALLY needed to change.
Trying to force it to take perfect shape when my brain wasn’t ready was going to be a waste of my resources. Honestly, it was like sourdough that I wasn’t sure would rise any higher, but would probably still be a tasty loaf. And so I continued to send it out, knowing that I had done my level best with that story.
Until last week.
Last week, I was submitting my stories, when my brain FINALLY figured out what the story needed to be truly complete. And so, more than 9 years later, in about an hour or two, I ended up revising two scenes, adding about 500 words to the story. It’s nothing like the direction the editor who had requested a rewrite thought my story should go, probably, but I’m happy with the story. It finally feels complete.
And you know what? It wasn’t a waste of my time to go back and rewrite those scenes, and it wasn’t a waste to my story that I sent it out so many times. I’m happy that I did what I did. It was good to grow as a writer by fixing those scenes, I have an even better story than I did before, and there’s STILL great pro-markets to send it to, believe it or not.
The funny thing about last week is that I also found and read THREE other short stories that have always been pretty great stories, but seemed to be lacking something, and have a pretty good idea of what those fixes might be. But I’m not working on those yet, and you know why?
Because they’re not fully formed in my head yet, and I’m going to get more out of my time working on my current novel.
So ultimately, do your best with your stories. Take them as far as you can, and send them out when you’ve done so. But don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve grown. Tinkering with a story when you’re ready CAN be a great use of your resources, and a great way to see your growth as a writer.
Science Fictions stories for YOUR eyeballs only
With the last few months *cough*YEAR*cough* being as jam-packed as they have been, I’ve neglected to announce I’ve had several stories published lately.
The first is “Livecasting My Descent into the Martian Underworld,” which came out in Galaxy’s Edge #35. As always, the cover artwork is amazing!
This story is probably as ‘hard SF’ as I’m likely to get, but the concept of what havoc social media could wreak on a scientific mission is one that I was itching to write.
The second is “In All Possible Futures” which came out in the brand new magazine Future Science Fiction. The artwork here is eye-catching as well!
This is my newest story, one that I wrote to explore what death might mean to an intelligence capable of running endless algorithms. My story won’t be free to read until the end of January, but you can buy the magazine online now!
This will also be my first story to be translated (yes, TRANSLATED) into another language – in this case, Chinese. (!!!!) More news on that when the Chinese version is published.
The THIRD is that “Miss Darcy’s First Intergalactic Ballet Class” continues to get love, and was included in Best of Galaxy’s Edge 2015-2017. I love this story, and have plans to continue irritable Miss Darcy’s galactic adventures in the future.
And now, after all that science fiction excitement, I’ll get back to writing my epic medieval Mongolian/Persian fantasy…
ArmadilloCon, a retrospective
In 2011, I had just moved away from the arid desert climate of Idaho into the most miserable summer heat I had ever, ever experienced of Texas (yes, THAT miserable summer).
I had completed my bachelors degree in English, and had attended a well-known writers workshop the year before, but still felt like I knew next to no one in the writing world, knew less than a handful of short story markets to submit to, and had never even realized until it was too late that there were conventions I could have attended in Utah.
In moving, I had left all of my dance, yoga, and Pilates jobs in Idaho, and knew that my paychecks would be slow to build to anything substantial, as often happens when there’s a gap between leaving successful setups in one location and moving to another.
In the midst of this, I knew that what I needed, even though it HURT to spend the money, was to go to this event that I’d somehow stumbled across online called ArmadilloCon. I was hungry for friends, I was hungry for knowledge, and I knew that my “can-do attitude” had taken me as far as it could on my journey to being a writer.
So I showed up to ArmadilloCon, not even knowing where I was going to sleep because I knew that I couldn’t afford the convention hotel prices.
And then the convention started. An hour or two in during Meet the Pros, I met someone that is now my best friend (and was very gracious about letting me share her hotel room that weekend -thanks again, Megan!)
I met more friends over the weekend, and formed my first writer’s group with some of them.
Between all these new friends and the informative panels, my eyes were opened to DuoTrope, to other Texas conventions, to new short story markets, to writers I needed to be reading, to OTHER wonderful friends, to ideas that had been hitherto alien to me.
I’m sure there are other things I was introduced to that have greatly improved me as a person and as a writer, but can’t remember them now because memories are slippery things.
All in all, it’s safe to say that ArmadilloCon 2011 was hugely influential.
But the best part is that wasn’t a one-off experience. ArmadilloCon is always awesome (although the years where I was juggling a baby or toddler are… perhaps lower on the list, for reasons).
This year was just as rejuvenating as my first, though obviously in different ways. I reconnected with old friends (some of whom are those first friends I made in Texas, thanks again, guys!), I made new friends, shared my Pilates passion with a roomful of fellow fans and writers (thanks again for coming, guys! Go forth with your Couch Potato Pilates knowledge and conquer!), sold a couple books, had a blast in panels and readings, brainstormed novels, and hopefully didn’t say too many stupid things or talk too much.
There are wonderful people at these conventions, y’all. People with beautiful stories to tell, talents and knowledge to share. I feel privileged to have been among them and, hopefully, give someone a much-needed boost in some aspect of their life.
Thanks to all the volunteers for helping out so we could all come and participate in a Weekend of Awesome. You are The Best, and I salute you. To all the people I chatted with, waved at, taught, gave candy to, thanks for being you. I hope you had as good a time as I did.
“The Price of Love” is freeeeeee!
I was just informed that “The Price of Love,” my short story that was published by Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show last November and was previously only available for subscribers to read, is now free to read on the website!
This story had its origins last summer after too many viewing of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with my then-two year old, and I began wondering why the queen didn’t just cut that pretty little snow-white face up. About the same time I was reading about abusive relationships with narcissists, and I was soon frantically typing, trying to keep up with the fully-realized story in my head before I lost it. Very soon after this story was purchased by Edmund Schubert at IGMS for the 10 year anniversary issue, comprised of stories by former Literary Boot Campers, Schubert, and Card.
(And now, looking back, I can’t find a blog post announcing the sale or pointing anyone toward the preview… I’m clearly promoting my stories hardcore. SMH. Anyway. Rectifying that problem now.)
I’d hoped this story would be read more widely, and now I get that chance.
So if you’re interested in a dark retelling of Snow White that explores just why the queen was so concerned about being the ‘fairest in the land,’ follow this link!
Also, on a related note, here’s a quick link highlighting 8 mental abuse tactics that narcissists use on their spouses. If these hit a little too close to home and these tactics have been used on you, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You are not crazy. You are wonderful, and there are communities out there that can help you work through this abuse.
The grouchy ones want to feel special too
Quick story I thought I’d share here, as it’s been running through my mind the last two days:
I’m the music leader for the children at church. Being the music leader means that every Sunday, for 2 hours, I circulate between 4 groups of children and we sing music. Having taught dance for half my life and studied a little about what helps children’s brain develop, we use lots of movement and lots of props. Props include paper stars, felt raindrops, windwands (pictured below), paper plates, rhythm sticks, and so on. The children love the variety.
Well, most of the children do. Sometimes I offer a prop to a child and they don’t want to take it and that’s okay – the option for them to get one is always open.
This Sunday we used paper plates for one of the first songs (it’s amazing what kind of choreography you can up using two paper plates), and as the children had used them last week for a different song, they were excited to make noise with them again – well, most of them.
One boy sat on his chair with a scowl on his face and body posture that said not to bother him – he was NOT in the mood. He didn’t volunteer or participate in any of the activities leading up, and even as I taught the simple paper plates choreography (I was the only one using paper plates at the beginning), it was clear that, like the week before, he wouldn’t be participating.
It came time to ask for helpers. Normally I try to reward positive behavior and let the grumpy slide by, but my eyes fell on that little boy and I knew he needed to help me. Or, in reality, I needed to offer him the chance.
So I asked him to stand by me and be my helper.
The brightening of his face lit up the room. I asked an even younger boy, equally struggling that day for whatever reason, to be my second helper, and he responded similarly. They loved helping me, and I won’t lie, it felt so good to know I’d helped them feel special.
It doesn’t always work out like that. Sometimes, as a dance teacher, I’d give a child a special part or ask them to help me in some way, and the idea would fall flat. The same thing has played out at church, too. Sometimes people don’t want the special part or to help or to have attention drawn to them, and that’s okay.
But the reaching out is the important part for me, as I could have passed the grouchy kids by until they had a better attitude. This time I didn’t, and it seemed to me that we had a happier group of children after the fact.
So that’s my simple reminder today – if we only bestow kindnesses upon those in our group, or upon those who are already deserving, and withhold it from the ‘naughty’ ones, we may be waiting to reward the ones who need that love and kindness the most for a long, long time. Let’s offer a kindness today to someone who didn’t show up on the obvious list, because they deserve to feel loved and included too.