Interchangeable Goals

Sometimes, you just have to be good with getting anything done at all.

At least, that’s my perspective on things these days. Normally, I’d beat myself up over not hitting a certain word count per day. Or failing to work on novel revisions. Okay, so I still beat myself up over these things. But I beat myself up less. Which is important, relatively speaking.

I digress.

Getting mad at myself for failing to complete certain tasks repeatedly isn’t productive and tends to throw me into a cycle of failure. That is, if I failed yesterday, I’ll fail today, so why even try?

But this negative self-talk is harmful and counterproductive. I still engage in it often, but trying to put my focus onto what I do accomplish is much more helpful. For instance, I didn’t write any new fiction today.  But I did write this blog post and finish a critique for a writing friend that I’ve owed him since forever (sorry!). That feels good to check off the to-do list. Once I finish this post, I may even conquer revisions on something small, like a short story or a scene in my novel.

My point here is if a strict plan of action isn’t working for you and causing too much stress or self doubt, dial it back. This doesn’t mean you should change your goals; rather, it means you should refocus them. Become flexible. So long as you’re accomplishing something you want to accomplish, be happy. I’m hoping that checking things off my to-do list on a daily basis will inspire me and build the confidence I need to tackle larger projects.

I know this all sounds like armchair psychology. Honestly, it probably is. But I’m trying to work through complex mental blocks in how I view tasks, failure, and success. Bear with me as I struggle. And please, feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.

Links and Things for May 11, 2012

I’m afraid this is going to be a short one today. I’ve been busy this week and haven’t had as much time as I usually do to devote to reading blogs and engaging in media in general. But I did happen across a few cool things I wanted to share.

Blog Posts of Note

Too Smart for Kids: A Promise to the Readers of Fairyland by Catherynne Valente – Because books should be challenging and reading for kids is an act of discovery. Yes, yes, yes.

Vocabulary  by Christie Yant – Discusses the joy of learning new vocabulary while reading. I’m lazy and often try to glean the meaning of a word I don’t know from context alone. Since a Kindle has been added to my life, I can look up words as I go. My desire to learn new words and my laziness are satisfied.

Using Index Cards to Plan Short Fiction Submissions by Michael Haynes – It’s exactly what it sounds like but I think I need to do something similar if I want to get all these languishing stories off my hard drive and back out into the world.

Free Fiction

“An Old Acquaintance” by K.G. Jewell

What I’m Reading

I finally finished Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane. It’s really a quick read, I was just reading slow, if that makes sense. Super fun and I recommend the whole series so far. I may read the next book in this series, City of Ghosts or maybe something else like Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig. Not sure what I’ll dive into next. Anybody have suggestions?

What have you found this week? Leave it in the comments!

On “Knit” and the Writing Process

I thought I’d try out something new here. I recently had a short story published at The Drabblecast, and I was thinking it might be fun to go into a bit of detail about my approach to the story and how it met its final form.

This is the first story I consider to be a part of my most current batch. Even though it was written in 2010, my approach was considerably different on this tale than on those previous.

What was the difference, you might be asking?

Simple: I didn’t fret about quality.

Well, at least in the drafting phase. This was the first time I can recall throwing caution to the wind and writing a story just because I wanted to. Because certain words sounded nice together. Because I wanted to tell something creepy and beautiful at the same time.

And the first draft was horrendous, as most first drafts are. It made next to no sense and was filled with tangents that took the story off course. So I focused the plot and trimmed it down. I cut out phrases I thought were cool. I killed my darlings.

Once satisfied, “Knit” was sent to 9 different markets, one after the other. I piled up the rejections. I received additional feedback from beta readers along the way and made a few subtle tweaks for clarity and consistency. Finally, I sent the story off to The Drabblecast.

But the acceptance didn’t come right away. I received a rewrite request first that required me to cut the story again by about 300 words. Much of the rewrite revolved around removing a distracting subplot involving the mother character. Basically, I had to focus the story more on the father to make it fulfilling emotionally.

They were right. I made the revisions, showed a few beta readers and off it went. Yay for acceptance!

I’m proud of “Knit” and the process required to get to the end product. I wrote freely for the first time. I channeled personal anguish into the tale–something that I’ve since done with regularity. And the story that I was left with is filled with darkness, yet there is beauty there. If sadness can be beautiful.

I hope you all enjoyed the end result.

Links and Things for May 4, 2012

Wow, this week went by fast. Which means that it’s time for my obligatory post about things I found interesting for the week. I just include links to things that came across my Twitter feed or that I encountered throughout the week. It’s not scientific, but hopefully you enjoy some of the stuff I found.

Blog Posts of Note

“Magic in the Library” by Sam Webb – Libraries are filled with wonder. I thought this post captured the magic that’s found between the card catalogues and bookshelves well.

“Advice on Advice” by Michael Haynes – This was a guest post on my blog, but I thought I’d link to it here because it’s good to remind ourselves once in a while that not all advice is equal.

“Around and Around the Writer’s Carousel: Comparisons Are Evil” by Me – Yeah, it’s narcissistic to link to my own blog post, but it was my offering to Michael’s blog. It was a fun experiment and it’s likely I’ll be offering (and posting) more guest posts in the near future.

“Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake” by Stephen King – It’s been said before but it needs to be said again and again by more people of wealth and status. Plus, King’s tone is biting and appropriate for the anger sweeping across the country.

Free Fiction

I read a lot of fantastic fiction this week in the Daily Science Fiction email subscription. Of course, I can’t link to those yet. Next week! Other stories I found interesting and fun for the week are included below:

“Heads You Win” by Lydia S. Gray

“Dolly at the End of the World” by Amanda C. Davis

Film Recommendation

Midnight in Paris – I loved this film. I was worried at first it may devolve into pretension, but considering it’s a Woody Allen film, it quickly dismisses (and despises) those with pretentious attitudes and uplifts our everyman artist protagonist, Gil. It wasn’t afraid to be romantic, to delve into nostalgia. Oftentimes, writers are told to dismiss the romantic side of “being a writer” because this doesn’t ultimately help shape your craft. But if heading down memory lane helps you realize something essential about the present and your work, what’s the harm? Plus, the depictions of famous 1920’s authors and artists are alone worth a view .

What I’m Reading

Unholy Magic by Stacia Kane – Still. Yes, I’m the slowest reader ever. But I’m still enjoying this book a lot. Every scene counts and Chess is a flawed character that you can’t help liking because she reads as authentic. Plus, this entire series so far is fun.

Did you find anything cool this week? Leave it in the comments. I’d love to hear about it 🙂

Guest Post: “Advice on Advice” by Michael Haynes

I’m trying something different out on the old blog today. Michael Haynes and I have exchanged blog posts, so you’ll be reading some excellent words of advice from him today in lieu of my usual rants and raves. Michael blogs at A Writing Blog and tweets at @mohio73. He’s been published in Kazka Press, Goldfish Grimm, and has work forthcoming from Nature, Ray Gun Revival, among other publications.

When you’re done here, check out my post on his blog about the drawbacks of comparing yourself to other writers. But now, let’s take a look at the subject of writing advice itself and how in the end, it’s all relative:

As a writer on the internet here in the early-21st century there’s no shortage of writing advice to be found. In fact, quite the opposite, there’s a mountain of advice out there. If you tried to read all of it, you wouldn’t have time to write. Seriously!

While picking your way through the advice you can come across some truly helpful information. There are web pages devoted to topics like understanding the (nowadays-slightly-less-standard) “standard” manuscript formatting for short fiction which are extremely valuable. You also will almost certainly eventually come across some bad advice, people who say that you should never-ever under any circumstance whatsoever write in the present tense or in the second person. (I’ve sold stories in both present tense and second person and came *thisclose* to selling a second-person present tense story to a major print publication. Close only counts in horseshoes? Bah.)

Here’s a hint: advice that says you should “never” do X or “always” do Y should raise your antennae just a bit. It’s often not as clear-cut as that. But not always. 🙂

The most troublesome class of writing advice, in my opinion, is writing process advice. Somewhat ironic that I say this, since a non-trivial amount lot of what I blog about is on just such topics. Writing process advice is not bad. It can be manna from heaven for the struggling writer. It can also be the death kneel to the hopes and dreams of a writer — even one who wasn’t struggling before.

Here’s why. Writing process advice, advice about “how” you actually do the act of getting words out of your brain and onto a page or a screen or a scrap of napkin… It’s almost entirely subjective. There really is almost no absolutely wrong way, or right way, to do it.

Take one of my favorite techniques. I write every day. It’s not always new fiction. I write blog posts, I’ve worked on some non-fiction projects, I even include the words I write for critiquing fellow writers’ stories as “writing” for these purposes. But one way or another, 500 words or more every day come out of my brain and into the world. I’ve done this for — well, this is a pleasant coincidence — exactly 250 days in a row now as of today, May 3rd. This comes after twenty-ish adult years of hardly ever writing after a childhood often spent writing. I am happy, some days ecstatic, about what I’ve accomplished. I fervently believe that if I hadn’t committed to writing every day that I would have lost momentum months ago, when I wasn’t getting any sales, or when one of various life catastrophes came around to sap my energy and my time.

And yet.

And yet I know people who say that the “advice” to write every day, especially when offered as a dictum — “You must write every day or you’re not taking this seriously and have no hope of a real career as a writer” — has been oppressive to them. They’ve felt like they were a failure because there were days when the kids had the flu or they had the flu or they just could not find the energy, that day, for whatever reason to write.

Even if you take out the condescending crap from that last paragraph about not taking “it” seriously and just give the well-meaning advice “Write every day,” well, guess what? There are still going to be some people who find this a miserable way to write. They may want to blaze through 5000 words of writing over a weekend and then not write during the week. And that is awesome if it’s a way that’s letting them work towards their goals and feel good about their writing.

And that’s the nub of it. When you get down to the “how” of writing, I feel that every writer has to find their own way. They don’t have to do it in the dark. They can learn from others’ experiences and see if what’s worked for those writers can work for them.

And if it’s not working? Throw it out. There’s always another approach you can consider. Don’t be too hasty to give up on an approach which you initially find uncomfortable; sometimes there’s an adjustment period even for positive changes. But if it’s truly making you miserable then it’s time to move on to another approach.

Define your own goals; don’t let others define them for you. Be patient and open-minded as you develop the tool kit of approaches that lets you make progress you find satisfactory towards those goals.

Oh, and remember to breathe. Breathing’s good. Always.