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.

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May Stories Up at Goldfish Grimm

It’s that time once again. The new issue of Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi is up and I’ve just got to spread the word.

Issue 3 breaks down like this:

“Through Bleached Bone” by Cate Gardner

“Twenty-Seven Rules for Coping” by Michael Haynes

As always, there are interviews with both authors on the site as well.

This issue is is considerably darker than our previous issues and really carries a cohesive theme. Matt and I are pretty pleased with it and I hope you’ll all stop by and read the stories and leave a comment. Also, isn’t Matt’s artwork awesome? It’s the first time he’s incorporated some subtle animation and I hope it’s something he continues. I like it!

Goal Setting: Am I My Own Worst Enemy?

For some people, the process of setting goals inspires them, motivates them, helps them strive to be better people. For me, goals are intimidating, creepy-crawly things that I run away from as soon as they’ve settled into their scabrous bodies.

This is not to be confused with my daily to-do lists, which I seem to manage okay.

I’m talking about long-term goals. I may be able to “Write 500 words on a short story” for a day, but if I try to section bits and pieces of a larger project to complete, I freeze up. For instance, I’ve been meaning to edit a novel for the past couple of months. I’ve only made it a few chapters in. What the hell? I want to finish this book because I want to start querying it. I have another novel idea brewing that I’d like to get words down for at some point before I pop a human out of me.

So what’s stopping me? It seems there’s always something else I need to be doing. Finishing a short story, doing critiques, writing blog posts, reading slush. There’s always something else that has a due date of right now.

I would set a hard due date for myself on the novel revisions, but I know they’re self-imposed. Am I rambling or does this make sense to anyone else? All I know is it’s a continuous struggle and I’m getting tired of not moving forward because of a million other commitments and priorities.

Normally, I try to offer a word of advice on this here blog, but today, I’m frustrated with myself. How do you do it? How do you enforce a novel deadline on yourself? I know it’s as simple as picking a manageable date and sticking to a schedule. But I want to know, how do you do it?

“Knit” published at Drabblecast

Wow, I’m oblivious! A short story of mine went up on April 20 and I had no idea!

The story is called “Knit” and it’s in issue 240 of Drabblecast. It’s a part of a Trifecta. The theme is “Family Unties.” Go and listen! It’s read by Ray Sizemore, who did an excellent job. Here’s the quote from the story on the site:

We bought our first yarn baby at a garage sale. The ends of its arms were frayed and its eye buttons dangled loose on bare threads.

This is my first podcast, so as you can tell, I’m SUPER excited. Yes, I’m so excited I’m resorting to using all caps. And look at the awesome illustration by Gino Moretto!

Other stories from the issue include “Divorce in the House of Flies”  by  Dustin Reade, “Wendigo Bake Sale”  by  Leslianne Wilder, and a drabble called “How to Deal”  by  Chris Schryer

I’m off to go squee some more. And please let me know what you think.

Links and Things for Friday April 20, 2012

So I’m thinking about starting a new feature on this here blog. Every Friday, I’ll go into some detail about things I’ve found interesting/enjoyable/thought-provoking for the week. They might be other blog posts. They might be short stories. They might even be movies I’ve watched. It will all depend on the week and what I came across during the previous seven days. Sound good?

For the first installment of Links and Things, I offer a truly mixed bag of treats, originating online and off.

Blog Posts of Note

“Dear Daughter” by Mur Lafferty
As someone who’s popping out a kid in a few months, this touched me. If I have a little girl, I’m already thinking of ways to combat the culture of girl=bad.

“Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Gender and the Fallout Over Christopher Priest” by Catherynne Valente
So technically, this was posted last week, but it resonated with me so I’m linking to it anyway. Essentially, Cat argues that women experience much harsher criticism for daring to state their opinions. And read the comments. They prove her point.

Free Fiction

Here are a few short stories I enjoyed this week:

“Far From Shore” by Lydia S. Gray

“A Shard Glows in Brooklyn” by Alex Shvartsman

“Older, Wiser, Time Traveler” by M. Bennardo

Film Recommendation

Drive. Awesome film. From the very first scene, I was tensed up and holding my breath. Stylized, surreal, and foreboding are words that come to mind when trying to describe it. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.

What I’m Reading

Shadows Linger by Glen Cook. I recently finished The Black Company, so I’m delving into book 2 of the series. Luckily,  I have the edition with the first three books in one volume, so I’m set on reading material for a bit.

That’s it for now. Care to share anything you found interesting this week? Leave a note in the comments!

77-7-7 Challenge

Two people on Twitter tagged me in this challenge last month and now I can only locate one. That was the kind Zakillia. I’ve searched Twitter, looked high and low for the other person, and still I’m left empty-handed. To the other kind person that tagged me: thank you! I’m sorry I can’t remember who did it, so I’ll just be tagging new people here. If you tagged me and see this, let me know! I’ll link to your 77-7-7 entries.

For those that are unfamiliar, here are the rules:

  1. Go to page 77 of your current manuscript.
  2. Go to line 7.
  3. Copy down the next seven sentences — lines or paragraphs — and post them as they’re written. No cheating.
  4. Tag 7 other authors.
  5. Let them know.

The following excerpt comes from the novel I’m currently revising called Dr. Fantastic’s Prodigious Prestidigitator.

“What once was not there, is now there. What once was impossible, now possible,” Socorro said, walking around Abby as if to prove she was not a projection. And then she flickered again, lost opacity, sparked out of existence.

“I am just a mere messenger, folks,” Socorro said, walking back over to the door of the machine. “For I only bring word of Dr. Fantastic’s knowledge of the unknowable. And if you are to take anything from today’s offering, it’s that amazing things are possible with a little bit of magic.”

He yanked open the door to the machine and Abby staggered out before the audience, resuming her posed position: one arm up, one knee cocked, permanent smile.

No context for you. 🙂

I’m tagging the following people to complete this challenge:

Lydia S. Gray
Alex Shvartsman
Siobhan Gallagher
Lisa Rodgers
Damien Walters Grintalis
Ken Liu
Christie Yant

Note to those I tagged: if you don’t have a manuscript with at least 77 pages, perhaps pick page 7 of your most recent work? And if you’ve already done this challenge, my apologies!

April Stories Up at Goldfish Grimm

I’m seriously late posting this here, but better late than never, right?

Over at Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi, two new stories are up for the month of April.  It’s quite different than Issue 1 and contains stories that span the gamut of fiction from fairytale to post-apocalyptic. The table of contents includes:

“The Lady With An Ax” by Kurt Newton.

“Clank-Clank Nanny” by Jaym Gates

Head on over there to read the stories and leave a comment if you haven’t already. I’m sure the authors would appreciate it!