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Writing at the end of the world: NaNoWriMo 2016

Some of you know that the publisher of Waking Up Naked in Strange Places went out of business — it was last year, but let’s just call it this year, because 2016 deserves it. I’ve been going through the usual struggles of “hey, what do you do when your publisher goes out of business, anyway?” My decision was to bring out the first novel and its two planned sequels as self-published books, and I started studying how to do that. But of course, the first thing I had to do with the two sequels was write them. Book 2 (current title:…

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2016 Write-a-thon Week 5 report: little failures

Halfway through the final week — we’re really in the home stretch now! (At the actual workshop, this was the point where we started painting each others’ toenails.) Accomplishment-wise, week 5 was kind of a mixed bag. I was on vacation for my birthday and was hoping to check two of my remaining goals off the list. But I actually got less writing done than in a normal work week. I think this was because my writing strategy was “optimistically carry my iPad around all day with its brand new copy of Scrivener installed and hope vaguely to snatch a…

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2016 Write-a-thon Week 3 report: the second step

My simple goal, to send out that one story to at least one place, became a quest to devise a plan for how to send out stories, period. I put some time into thinking about the process of submitting short fiction at a meta level. What is it? Is there an art to it? How many steps does it take? I realized there are, practically speaking, three steps: Match a story with a market. Polish the story for that market. Perform whatever clerical work (making printouts, etc.) is required to actually send the thing off to the editor. I think…

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2016 Write-a-thon Week 2 report: the first step

This is the Write-a-thon week 2 report. What, you missed the week 1 report? That’s because I didn’t get to it. And here it is, my week 2 report, coming in the middle of the week. That… tells you something about what’s going on in my life right now. I’m at one of those points where the setting is maximum chaos. And some of it is about what’s going on externally, and all the various distractions and time vacuums, and some of it is about the way the stress affects my brain. Sometimes, right when I need to be most…

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NaNoWriMo 2015 Recap

NaNoWriMo 2015: I succeeded, but barely, and a little sloppily. The words weren’t all from the same novel, for example. And normally when I write, if I change my mind mid-scene about how the scene should go or what line of dialog the person should say, I will delete the previous stuff. Here, I just marked it off and kept going. Anyway, it’s NaNoWriMo so it’s okay. Originally, I wanted to do NaNo this year because I had an SF idea that I wanted to explore, when I’m actually really supposed to be working on a final draft of the…

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The Shadow Workshop [5]: Joy of deadlines

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon Returning to my notebook observations after the first Shadow Workshop: I sometimes put barriers up that are wholly artificial. Like, “I have to finish this thing before I work on this other thing.” If you’re like me, you’re constantly juggling a lot of different projects all at the same time, and have a to-do list that never seems to end. Right now, sitting here, at the end of Clarion West Week 5, there are at least a dozen different things I…

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The Shadow Workshop [3]: When is it time to let go?

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon Writing six stories in six weeks means six ideas, right? At least, that’s what I thought during my do-it-yourself Clarion West shadow workshop. With a deadline only I cared about, and nobody critiquing the stories but me, I still put in a good faith effort to write six stories. But only one of them ended up being a finished story of the type that I might hypothetically submit for publication somewhere. The others were a collection of scenes and notes and…

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The Shadow Workshop [2]: A crit group of one

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon For my second Write-a-thon topic, I want to tackle the last thought in my notebook: Sometimes I like my work. Sometimes I hate it. I don’t know which time I’m correct. When I did my shadow Clarion West, I knew that there was one thing a real student would get that I didn’t get: critiques. What I didn’t know was that giving critiques, and listening to the critiques of others, was actually the more significant experience. (Discussed here in last year’s…

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The Shadow Workshop [1] : Ants & housework

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon Memory is funny. I would have sworn that the first time I tried my own do-it-yourself Clarion West Write-a-thon was the first year I applied, but didn’t get in — 2002. But I also keep notebooks, and discovered that my memory is faulty. My first “Clarion Rejects Write-a-thon” was actually in 2004, which was the second time I applied but didn’t get in. My goal was to write six short stories in six weeks, which was the Clarion West Challenge as…

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Write-a-thon 2014 wrap-up

The Clarion West 2014 Write-a-thon is over, but it’s not too late to donate to the cause! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon This year, my goals were to 1. Write every day, 2. Stay away from social media except on Sundays and in general spend less time dorking around on the Internet, 3. Try to goof off in the evening less in order to get both a morning and evening writing session going. My unexpressed, super-secret goal #4 was to get a rough draft of the sequel to Waking up Naked in Strange Places…

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What did I learn at Clarion West [6]: The lifelong workshop

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Part of the Clarion West 2014 Write-a-thon series.
Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

My final essay is about the most important and career-changing thing that I learned at Clarion West: how to approach my own work from the meta direction. This lesson is still working for me today. It’s what allowed me to read a book like Save the Cat! and use it to improve the structure of my novel in progress, or how to get a series of really excellent editorial critiques from Anne Mini and improve every sentence I’ve written since then. (Not to mention that I finally figured out how to write a novel synopsis.)

I learned how to learn.

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What did I learn at Clarion West [5]: Everybody gathers in the kitchen for a nice cup of tea

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Part of the Clarion West 2014 Write-a-thon series.
Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

Did you know that the essence of story is conflict?

I mean — I probably knew that, actually, even before Clarion West. I’m sure I’ve (correctly) identified the central conflict in a story on a multiple choice test as “man vs. nature” “man vs. man” or “man vs. himself.” And even before Clarion West I probably had some dim notion that if you get a story idea, like “I want to write about a werewolf in New Orleans,” it’s not really a story idea until you have given that werewolf a problem to solve. “Going around being a werewolf” sounds cool and everything, but it’s not a story.

Before Clarion, the big problem I needed to solve (other than my submitaphobia) was the sophomore novel problem. I had cleared the first important hurdle: I had succeeded in producing a thing of novel length that more or less resembled a novel. (It took four or five years, uncountable hours of typing, and three computers.)

Every piece of advice said pretty much the same thing: while you’re trying to sell the first novel, work on the next novel. I think the idea is that you probably won’t sell the first one, but eventually you’ll have a second one, plus a better idea of how the selling process works, and valuable feedback which will improve the second one, and maybe you’ll sell that second one. (Repeat process as many times as necessary, accumulating “trunk novels” along the way.)

This seemed totally reasonable.

But I couldn’t do it.

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What did I learn at Clarion West [4]: When in doubt, give everyone superpowers

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Part of the Clarion West 2014 Write-a-thon series.
Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

(As a side note — I’m not sure my “avoid social media except for Sundays” thing is going to work, when I ended up spending most of my Sunday seeing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay at Book-It Reperatory Theater, which was awesome, but that’s why you’re not seeing this until today.)

Each week of the Clarion West workshop — well, 5 of 6 weeks — you’re expected to write a fresh story. The expectation is that these will be new stories, written during the workshop, and not something pulled off your hard drive. The workshop is structured so that you typically have quite a bit of time in your schedule for crafting that story.

But if something isn’t coming together, you don’t have a lot of time to get on with your life, let your subconscious do its thing, and get back to the story later. Part of the pressure of the workshop is that you have to confront that story RIGHT NOW. Forget your life. This IS your life. We’re even going to cook your meals for you. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of your brain power can and should be going to figuring out how to make that story work.
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