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.
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.
I’ve been so caught up with taxes and preparing for DFWCon that I neglected to mention that C/O The Village of Monsters Past went live at Galaxy’s Edge. So go and read! It’s free to read online until the end of April.
I love this setting with the heat of a hundred and two suns, and I’m excited to write more stories about it when I have time.
In related news, Tangent Online went and reviewed it. As usual they keep their reviews brief, but I’ll take ‘heartwarming’ and snuggle that until my next sale comes along.
Doing a post mortem on a convention sounds awfully grim, doesn’t it? But I suppose recap sounds like we’re talking about sports, and a summary just sounds boring.
Anyway, ConDFW ended yesterday and I’m still recovering. I got to meet up with lovely friends and meet new ones. My reading and signing, while not swarming with people, were pleasant. I got to sign a couple of my books and read some of my stories, and that’s all I need, really. I didn’t spend as much time socializing as I’d planned to, because I had deadlines I was trying to hit and it was just too tempting not to take advantage of a little of that time to get some writing in.
Speaking of new people and signings! Seanan McGuire, one of the GOH, was a treat to listen to. I never got to any of her panels, though, which I was disappointed by. Somehow I didn’t make it to any of John Scalzi’s events, either. I’d wanted to ask him to sign one of his books for me, but everything I have of his is on Audible, so! Alas. That’s what I get for saving shelf space.
Oh, and that slam poetry contest? I won 2nd place. (woot!) Rie Sheridan Rose won with a fun bawdy poem about Jenny the pirate, I believe, which seems appropriate as first place, especially considering the Seadog Slam was hosting the contest. Not that I didn’t love my own piece, “Livecasting My Descent into the Martian Underworld,” but it makes sense, doesn’t it? Now I’m trying to decide if I should send it out to markets as a poem or as a weird little bit of flash.
I was quite pleased with my assigned panels: Worldbuilding in Steampunk, How to Brainstorm a Story, and The Short Story: Advantages and Benefits. I love reading and writing steampunk, and I left the steampunk panel with even more books to add to my list. In particular I’m looking forward to reading Shanna Swenson’s Rebel Mechanics.
The panel on the advantages and benefits of writing short stories didn’t go as I expected it would – we spent precious little time on talking about the advantages and benefits of writing short stories – but we covered that eventually, and I think it was still an interesting panel for the audience members. We covered quite a bit of ground on quite a few topics, including resolving issues with writing short stories, deciding how to utilize critiques, and finding markets to submit to. I love what Rhonda Eudaly said about the markets available, pro or semi pro.
BTW, if you were there and you have any questions about something we talked about, please don’t hesitate to contact me. As to the resources I mentioned, here is the link to The Submission Grinder, and another for Ralan.com. I’d post a link to Duotrope, but the Grinder is a better, cost-free version of Duotrope with more tools, so I feel confident someone can find it if they really wanted to.
Final thoughts: I want to mention Patrice Sarath’s post yesterday (link here). I DID have a good time, but everything she wrote matches what I’d felt at different points over the weekend. Her thoughts are kind but blunt, and I love how she summed it up at the end:
“We’re all in this together. The pressure from media cons and the aging of fandom means that cons are threatened as never before. We need to bring in the anime fans, the cosplayers, and the media fans and show them that they can have as much fun here — and for far less money — than at a big ComiCon or Comicpalooza. For most of us, we were fans first. Let’s remember the excitement of our first cons and try to recreate that. It’s not always easy, and I will be the first to admit I didn’t exactly bring my game this weekend. But let’s try to get our mojo back, hmm?
Because the alternative is not that much fun — boring conventions with a dwindling fan base.”
I want these local conventions to stick around for a long, long time, but they need a little more oomph from all of us to keep them so exciting, thought-provoking, and enticing that the younger fans can’t help but come.
Sometime in the recent past (I haven’t kept track, so this could have been over a year ago) I realized that the reason I was usually struggling with writing my stories was because I didn’t really know the characters’ motivations. I looked back at my stories written thus far, and found that the stories in which I figured out the character motivations early were the stories I had less frustration writing, tended to be written quicker, and I considered them to be my strongest stories – not just for understanding the characters, but plot and such too.
This was a very important revelation to have, and it’s a sign that I’m growing as a writer.
It’s also made it extremely aggravating to write when I don’t know the characters’ motivations. Now I know the reason why some stories are written with ease and others aren’t; my trouble is knowing how to find the character motivations for the works-in-progress that I don’t fully understand yet (which is a bit of a ‘chicken and the egg’ conundrum). Like all things in writing (and all facets of life) the hard things seem hard and nearly impossible until you’ve done it enough that it feels easy, or at least doable – and often that doesn’t come until some new hard thing reveals itself and then you stress over improving that.
Still, there’s no way around it, is there? Shining a light on our weaknesses is the only way to make the changes we need to improve.
Onwards and upwards.
No post again this week, folks. Lately I only have time for blogging OR writing stories. I’ve got to pick one for a while. I’m hoping that after the middle of December I’ll have more time to devote to writing in general, but until then all my posts will need to be ones that don’t require oodles of research and carefully inserted photos and videos, which is how I’d prefer to do the Shape Up Saturdays. So until then, I’m putting Shape Up Saturday on indefinite hiatus and will be writing less stress-inducing posts.