Monday, October 10, 2016

Both Feet

Now Playing: SHERLOCK HOLMES by Hans Zimmer

It's October! How miraculously fast time goes, right? It's Fall, y'all!

I've jumped into my first semester of graduate school with both feet, and so far I'm swimming sometimes, treading water sometimes, but otherwise keeping my head above water. Naturally, my writing output has dropped, but I'm not kicking myself for it. It hasn't been a complete desert, and working on anesthesia material has to be my top priority, and it has paid off.

Still, there's news. In my last blog post I mentioned that I received my second honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. Well, I recently received my THIRD! My story "Scouting Trip" won an honorable mention, and tonight I've been trying to read through it for further submission to other venues. I'm super excited about it! Two in a row! This definitely means my writing quality is improving. I already submitted another story to the WotF contest, so wish it luck!

As for new stuff, I wrote about 1000 words of a new story that I'd played around with some in the past but never actually put down. I was thinking it'd be a flash piece but it isn't close to being finished. Gonna shoot for the 2500-3000 range now, I think.

I've been doing a lot of reading, but all of it nonfiction. Which, like I said, is fine. I still have the same number of stories popping into my head, and when I do get some time to read some fiction, like today, it does wonders for my creativity. So, in short, I'm managing.


Friday, August 26, 2016


Now Playing: THE HOURS by Philip Glass
Just Read: OUTLANDER by Diana Gabalon--Very enjoyable. Parts of it felt a bit too slow-paced, but overall it was an engaging read, and I'm definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Reading Now: T-E-X-T-B-O-O-K-S!

It seems like a writer's life is full of things that come between him or her and the actual putting down of words on paper. The "day-job" for example. For some people it's kids or family obligations. Frequently, the writer gets in his or her own way and doesn't write for reasons like "I don't know where the story's going!" or "I just can't relate to these characters." Might as well go see what else is on the TV.

I've faced a lot of obstacles so far in my amateur writing career, and I've written through them all with various successes. The thing about not having a deadline--or, not being a full-time writer who writes to pay the bills--is that I'm the only one who holds me accountable for not writing. I've blogged before about feeling guilty for not writing for long stretches, and that's always been true, but not usually around unavoidable circumstances like going to a family wedding or studying for exams during finals week.

These metaphorical hoops to jump through as an amateur writer, I'm sure, will always exist. Even with them I've written dozens and dozens of short stories and four novel manuscripts, so I think I'm doing okay. Last month I received my second honorable mention from the WotF contest; hopefully that means I'm heading generally upward.

The latest, though, is a doozy--a behemoth called graduate school. You may have noticed my latest update on what I'm reading now: textbooks. I'm in a two-year nurse anesthesia program at Wake Forest, and it's time consuming. There's a lot I have to learn and not a lot of time. We go through classes in just a few weeks and have tests that bear a lot of weight, so it's important to do well on them. My goal of writing and submitting one story per month has never faced such a monstrous obstacle.

Still, I accomplished August. I submitted a few recycled stories and wrote one new one before school really got too underway. Tomorrow I'm planning on doing some editing (as a study break) on the piece I want to submit for this quarter's WotF. Hopefully it turns out okay and doesn't need too much overhaul, because I'm not sure I have the time for it. Test Monday!

Anyway, enough blogging. Back to the books!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Really Great Times

Now Playing: SE MEG by Kate Havnevik
Just Read: WRITERS OF THE FUTURE vol. 28--Another good one. I'm a big fan of these anthologies and think they're making me a better writer.
Reading Now: OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon

Well it's been a heck of a July. I got married! I went on a honeymoon to the Caribbean! I got a story published in Perihelion Magazine (see new link to the left of the page)! I won an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest!

So yeah, I've been a pretty happy camper lately. I'm proud to see my story "Junkyard Dog" in print over at Perihelion--it went through several iterations, including a much longer, clunkier version in which I tried to change up the voice. I scrapped it and started over, eventually landing on the version that was accepted. Maybe one day I will be, but I'm just not very good at deviating from standard language. It's hard!

I basically sat on a beach for a week and read, and it was glorious. I finished the WOTF volume I was on and started OUTLANDER, which I'd been meaning to get to for a while. I first learned of it after catching the first two episodes of the Starz show, and what's nice is that (unlike Game of Thrones) the series is finished! I love discovering great new adventure series that have been completed by the time I start book one. Waiting is the worst!

And I'm very happy about winning an honorable mention in the WotF contest. It's a bit like having warning track power in baseball--solid contact, ultimately an out, but still an at bat to be proud of. It means I'm getting better, which is great, and hopefully that's a trend that will continue in the upcoming quarters.

One thing I haven't done this July is write much new stuff. I started a story but it puttered out, and I'm about to start it over. I meant it to be a kind of dark fantasy but when I got going it became more of a steampunk story. You never know! But the plan is to finish it this week for July's requirement, write another one next week for August's requirement, and then grad school begins!

Lots and lots of changes. Lots and lots of really great times.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

What a Delight

Now Playing: I CAN FLY ANYTHING by John Williams
Just Read: THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King--Not as good as I hoped. Many stories didn't seem to have much a point, like they were only parts of stories. A few were good though.

I had a pretty cool experience last weekend. Last Friday I got to visit my future mother-in-law at her work. She's a middle school Earth Science and English teacher, and she hosts a writing club after school for interested students. She did me the great honor of asking if I would be a guest speaker.

There were about 10 sixth and seventh graders there, and surprisingly they were excited to see me and hear what I had to say about writing. They had lots of astute and familiar questions for me: How do you figure out the best ending? What do you do when the words won't come? How do you know if your writing is good or not? These were all questions I asked when I was eleven years old or so, too.

I answered them as honestly as I could. I wish I had more wisdom to impart, but the message I tried to hammer home was how nothing could substitute for practice. If these kids want to be great writers one day, they had better start writing, and writing a lot. The bad part about that is it means there's no short cuts--no magic formula--no way around the grind of hours at your keyboard (or paper) spilling out words and praying they adhere to each other meaningfully. But the good part is that becoming great is (largely) in their own hands. I felt pretty confident talking to them all that they each had a measure of natural talent, and the passion was obvious--these kids loved stories! All that remained was time and practice (or deliberate practice, if you ask Anders Ericsson).

One of the questions they asked me was: "Are you a writer?" Well I was there as a guest-speaker, wasn't I!?! But honestly it's a question I ask myself sometimes, too. Especially when I'm going through one of my periods of drought. These periods happen for me when my work and life schedules don't allow for much writing time, like when I work several nights in a row and then have to drive out of town on consecutive weekends for wedding errands or social gatherings. The ideas don't stop during those times, but fresh words-to-page production grinds to a halt.

But I told them I was a writer. It may not be what pays the bills, and it isn't even my next goal (that would be the purgatorial mountain that is grad school), yet (to put it poetically) the writer in me is the deep, hot part that's always burning, keeping my soul young and my  vivacious gears turning. It's what I love.

It was truly a delight to speak to those kids and meet them all. I hope I did some good there, and I hope they all go on to write the stories sprouting inside their own imaginations.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Whirlwind Month

Now Playing: NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR TRUTH IN CLICHE by Escape the Fate

I try not to get too hard on myself when my writing output drops during times of "acute busyness" because I have a lot going on in my life that isn't writing--working full time, wedding prep, going to other people's weddings, family events out of town, getting ready for grad school, and enjoying being engaged to my lovely fiance. But DANG I have been a writing slacker this month.

April flashed by and didn't even leave an afterimage in its place. I was away from home every weekend. I worked three nights a week and have another three nights coming up, starting tonight. Unless I hammer out a flash piece on Thursday (unlikely, as I have plans) it's not looking like I'll make my #write1sub1 goals for the first time in a long time. May looks (mercifully) lighter, so perhaps I can double up to make up for it.

The good news is that the ideas don't really stop, ever. I had three or four good ideas for stories hit me this month and find their place in my mental bank of stories, or else in the "Notes" app on my phone. I even brainstormed an intriguing idea for a TV show script with a friend of mine.

I'm imagining a fanciful few nights of feverish writing to get those stories onto paper. Those nights are intimidating. They're demanding. But they're also exciting, and I say "Let them come!" It's been a dry season, but this blog post is like a rain dance--the downpours are coming!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Keep Writing

Now Playing: KING OF THE GOLDEN HALL by Howard Shore
Just Read: FULL DARK, NO STARS by Stephen King--Finally got around to these four stories. Very raw, rough to get through at points. But that's the idea. And noticing it opened my eyes to some of King's characterization techniques I had forgotten (it's been a while).
Reading Now: THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King

Lots going on, lots going on.

The word is "dynamic." I suppose all times are dynamic at certain levels, but it seems that now is particularly so. The climate's changing, Donald Trump keeps winning states, I'm getting married and preparing to start a two-year grinding graduate school program. All this while trying (sometimes succeeding, but far from always) to maintain a satisfactory writing output.

Write1Sub1 is no more, but I've tried to keep up the ethic I built during my years as a member while looking ahead. My revolving goal is to submit to the Writers of the Future Contest until I either win or place out. Considering the upcoming graduate school time requirements, I might not be able to craft worthy stories after August. I'll try to focus my efforts on shorter (though not necessarily easier) stories.

So I've got a few longer WotF works in progress I'm trying to complete this spring for submission in upcoming quarters. Ideally I will be able to finish them and edit my novel "Star Born" before getting married on July 2nd. The time-crunch struggle is real.

Some people work well with deadlines. I'm hoping I'm one of those people.

My sleep schedule lately hasn't helped. I have so much going on, it seems, that my schedule is constantly revolving from night shift (work) to day shift (other requirements). Usually it's a pretty smooth transition. Not rushed. But these past two weeks, as I've been attempting to finish this piece titled "Scouting Trip," have been exhausting.

Writing is hard. I know that, always have. These few weeks have just reminded me. There's only way to tackle it. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.

Keep writing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Net Gains

Now Playing: MEMORYHOUSE by Max Richter
Just Read: RAIN GODS by James Lee Burke--It was okay. I liked the gruff characters and settings but I thought the story ran a bit long and the big climax let me down--set up for a sequel when I thought it should have just ended.

Back in November 2013 I won NaNoWriMo with my novel "Star Born," a story about a girl on an interstellar ship who discovers a plot to sabotage its upcoming landing, and the steps she takes to try to stop it. I wrote about 55K in one month and was very proud of myself.

What I really took away from NaNoWriMo was what exactly it took to achieve those kinds of gains--the time commitment, having the story constantly on my mind, asking questions to uncover plot holes, and planning chapters out on scrap paper to help fill in said holes. Spoiler alert: It's mainly a lot of hard work. But we knew that already, didn't we?

Something happened then in December, 2013. I had this novel, right? I knew it was basically finished--I figured it was 2/3 at least, as I was aiming for about 75K before I wrote THE END. But after the frenetic energy of November died away, I lost momentum. I stopped knowing where the story was supposed to go. I stopped realizing twists and turns were ahead. In short, I didn't know how to finish it, and I moved on.

That's right. With this massive project so close to completion, I left it unfinished to wallow.

Of course, I didn't stop writing. I just stopped writing "Star Born." Instead I refocused my efforts on the Writers of the Future contest and wrote stories I thought would be good for it. These stories ended up submitted to other places in the meantime, and I had a handful published. Not a lot, and not very frequently, but some success at least came my way.

Still, "Star Born" lay undone, always in the back of my mind like a guilty conscience, prodding me to do the morally right thing and finish the damn story. Sometimes, something in my life would remind me of "Star Born" and plant an idea. Then nothing for months. Then another idea.

Finally, in November 2015, two years after I originally started, I thought I had enough ideas collected that I could maybe pull off completing the novel. I got to work. It was a trudge--a slow, weary walk of a story trying to dig some steam and energy from somewhere and reach the finish line. The heat and passion of NaNoWriMo were absent.

Something else was present, though: the day-to-day grit I had developed in the interim. See, writing gets better with practice--it's a bit like strength training that way--and when I revisited the novel I was stronger than I was two years earlier. All the stories I wrote while "Star Born" sat ignored actually gave me the skills I needed. And this month, at long last, I wrote THE END.

The story isn't finished, of course. One thing being away from it for so long did was help identify parts where massive edits are needed. So now I'm going back through it and making those changes. I'm on Chapter 4 of 18. I think a reasonable goal is to have the edits finished by the end of February.

In the meantime, of course, I'll keep writing and keep submitting. I was a bit embarrassed and ashamed that "Star Born" languished for so long, but in the end I think it's a net gain. I have a completed novel, the best I've ever written. And I have all the stories I wrote since December 2013--at least one per month. I'm not going to be too hard on myself. The point is this: I kept writing, and with patience and persistence, my hard work paid off.

Hard work tends to do that.