July 2nd, 2009


Things I've Learned About Writing

Deadlines Are Good

For 30 June and 1 July, I had three deadlines looming. One of the reasons why I like the Writers of the Future (WOTF) contest is that there are four contest deadlines a year. Coming up with a new or rebuilt story four times a year is pretty doable, plus you start building up "Invenstory" which you can send out to other markets. Contests have deadlines. So do theme issues for magazines and anthologies.

Three deadlines coming right at the end of a semester looked bad. Two anthologies and WOTF. But the 1 July anthology deadline moved to 1 August. Too bad, I think I had chosen a story ready-to-ship for that one. For the other anthology I went through several different choices in the required word range, before deciding on a completely different one and shipping that. Two stories required now, one deadline met. Go me.

Workshop Experience

What I learned at the Clarion and WOTF workshops is how to write fast. For me I start with something of a skeleton of a story, then fill in through a couple of versions. What sending out over 250 submissions has taught me is how to edit. At Clarion in 2004, I wrote seven stories in six weeks. At WOTF in 2008, we had a 24 hour story project. Most of those had rough edges, but you do learn you can work fast and hard in a pinch. Call it burst mode.

It's too easy to stress yourself into feeling that a rushed story will be too full of errors to be good for anything. Well, it possibly could, but remember that I've found typos and word errors in stories which have been through dozens of edits and actually sent out to more than ten markets. And I have a pretty good grasp of grammar and spelling! In writing SF/F, you do have to decide whether to include your made-up and new words in your spellchecker's dictionary. But even forgetting that, do pay attention to those little red underlined words.

Your best friend, however, is to read the words aloud. Your mind can play tricks and you can skim over text and read what you thought you wanted to say. But when the tongue trips up, you know the words on the page are wrong. (grin)

Time In Chair

For the WOTF story I wanted to come up with a totally new story, not finish something I'd already started or re-edit something completed. In this case I had a few handwritten notes from March and April, but hadn't put one word into a computer file. With a deadline of 5pm at the Post Office on Tuesday, I started writing on Sunday. Had office hours on campus on Monday. Worked late writing on Monday night, and then started in at 11am on Tuesday.

My goal was to print out the story at 4pm and get it ready to mail. At 3:20pm I was essentially done, so I did a full read-through and filled in a couple of details. 6000 words. Wrote the cover letter. Started printing at 4:02pm. Left for the Post Office at 4:40pm, mailed at 4:52pm.

Mission accomplished. Is it a winner? It could be. But if it isn't, no worries. (double-edged-grin) I'll rewrite and send it along to another market. Today? I took a story that had been out once in August 2006, cleaned it up and sent it off to one of the majors. Maybe two hours of editing and printing time to get it out.

It's been a very productive week. (triple-word-score-grin)

Dr. Phil

Reading The July News

It's The Second Of July

And that means new issues of three of my favorite non-fiction SF/F sources. Yeah, I've probably written about this before -- so are you reading these, too? What, not yet? Yeesh!

More Words And Pictures Than You Can Shake A Stick At

The July 2009 issue of Locus magazine arrived today. We didn't get any mail on the 1st, so I think our postal person must've been sitting by the side of the road reading my copy. (Actually, it comes in a sealed envelope so no one gets it before you do!) When I first started reading Locus, I'd see the coverage of events and cons and see all these pictures -- and I'd find out what my favorite authors look like. Now I look and see my friends. People I've seen or even done panels on at cons. People I've workshopped with or were instructors at workshops. What? Am I becoming an insider in the biz? No, probably not. But I know the insiders now. (grin) I keep recommending Locus both to new writers who want to know how it all works and to SF/F/H fans who want to read interviews and learn about who's who and what's coming.

You can get subscription information from LocusOnline. Really, it's a LOT of content and the one print magazine I receive that I devour from cover to cover the day it arrives. It seems like all magazines are suffering from subscription shrinkage and Locus is no different. But so many authors and publishers reference Locus that I don't know what we'd do without it. PLEASE give it a try. There are some stores which carry single copy sales, but not around here. (grin)


Then there's IROSF -- The Internet Review of Science Fiction. It's free right now, but you want to subscribe. Why? So you get a nifty little e-mail reminder at the beginning of the month reminding you that the new issue is up. Reviews and neat articles about people and sub-genres and history. Check it out here and also their cool logo gear at CafePress.

Speaking of you, our beloved readers, we wanted to point out that IROSF no longer requires a subscription to view—for now. We've been experimenting with ways to make our material more accessible, and this particular one has been a mixed blessing. More and more people are stopping by to read an article or two each month, but then there's the trouble of being forgotten about the following month. We'd like to invite you to sign up for the site, which is not only free, but also keeps you in the loop. You can comment on our forums and articles, becoming part of the conversation here. You'll also receive an email each month, letting you know that a new issue has come out. So take a moment and "subscribe." It's fun, you won't miss all the great stuff that's coming in August, and did I mention that it's free?

And Across The Universe

And then there's David Langford's legendary Ansible. If nothing else, this long running (July 2009 is the 264th monthly installment) U.K. e-fanzine will make you laugh. Thog's Master Class is legendary.

And now I've done my community service for the month -- and I'm going back to reading IROSF and Ansible... having already made one pass through Locus. (double-steal-grin)

Dr. Phil