Procrastinating, or How I Almost Paid for What Was Already in Front of Me

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Shock and surprise, the novel isn’t moving along as smoothly as I’d hoped. Writing a long piece of fiction, at least for me, requires a certain level of investment. When I have that investment, it isn’t a chore, it isn’t a task. It’s a way to let go and release myself.

Unfortunately, the last two weeks at the office have been a little unrelenting.

I won’t dwell on details, but there has been a distinct lack of both free time and sleep in my life lately. That makes for a brain not interested in working on a longer piece of prose, not when it can barely retain one thought to the next. So of course, I did the only natural thing – I started looking at other writing software packages.

In particular, I took a look at Ulysses, an application that has popped up again in my feeds recently. Ulysses’ claim to fame is that it is supposed to be on the simple end of the spectrum. Get rid of the toolbox of random, largely unused tools packaged in other products, and just focus on getting words down. What takes it one step above just being a text pad is that it supports Markdown (and it’s own variation of Markdown) so that you can take plain text and apply formatting to it.

So, never afraid of a challenge, I downloaded a demo, transferred some short stories and the novel in progress to it, and began to play around. Like many products adapting the simple is better philosophy, everything looked very pretty. But as I used Ulysses more and more, I began to realize that it was little more than a well skinned MarkDown editor with a few bells and whistles (chiefly, iCloud and goal tracking). Sure, it has an iPad version, making it a somewhat portable solution, but was that enough?

That’s when I realized that A) I liked using MarkDown for writing a lot, and that B) I didn’t need to pay $45 + $20 for the iPad version to get that experience. Some time ago, and I don’t even remember the specifics of why, but I paid $5 for a MultiMarkDown editor (which supports regular MarkDown too) called MultiMarkdown Composer. On my iPad I already had a free MarkDown editor, and on my Android phone there was already a plethora of free MarkDown editors. In fact, since Markdown files are really just text files (the formatting happens while reading the files, translating *’s, #’s, and other symbols during “compile”), basically what I was looking at was an already existing infrastructure for writing on the go, at my desk, everywhere, with anything, and it was already available to me.

Mind…blown…

So what about word count tracking and other metrics? Sure, I’d have to roll my own to some extent. But after all of the scripting I’ve done to manipulate and mangle word counts out of programs like Scrivener and Storyist in the past, dealing with plain text files is child’s play.

Maybe this won’t last. I’m notorious, at least in my own mind, for changing out writing software and workflow’s almost as often as I am for switching out what my primary web browser is. But given the flexibility of this approach, I might have finally found something that meets all of my portability needs. And it’s even platform agnostic.

Finding my audience

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Well, not literally. I don’t care what any writer tells you, published or not, we all write for the same audience – ourselves. Mostly to get the words out of our heads so they can stop feeding that annoying, screeching monkey of a conscience and give us some peace and quiet. We write to get the stories out, to clear space in our brains so other stories can come in and sit for a while. Some writers like to visit with their stories longer than others, but we’re all writing just to keep ourselves sane.

At some point, though, we have to look to who we’re going to share that writing with. It may start with friends and family, but at some point we have to figure out who, among the countless billions out there, stands the best chance of enjoying what we wrote.

For a long time, I thought my audience would be adults. Why not? By all accounts I’m an adult. My kids think I’m one, anyway, and the state of California treats me like one. I read adult books (not those adult books.)(prude.). Why wouldn’t what I write be for adults?

Then I wrote A Scent of Roses and all of that changed. I don’t want to say I was timid in the writing – I wasn’t – but despite being a full grown adult with all my adult credentials, I found the end product of my muse to be more appropriate to New Adult than full adult. (New Adult is a category of books,  post YA, pre-adult, that allows for more mature content without being 50 Shades of Peuce mature). In other words, PG-13 vs NC-17. There are certainly moments in Roses where you have to be an adult to read them, but by and large its just a fun thriller (with a strong Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Exorcist vibe).

Why do I bring this up? Right now I’m working on short stories largely – both writing new ones and polishing old ones, sending them out and working on the next one. But last night I had a short bout of sleeplessness. I took a shower. I made my lunch for today. I wrote 1000 words in a short story. Then I sat down and did some plotting for a novel that’s been kicking around in my head.

I’ve had this character – Niki Hunter – strolling through my head, kicking ass and doing magic for a few years now. I like her. She’s awesome, both fragile (in the sense that there are limits to her powers, and when she reaches them she’s burned out and likes to hide in a bottle to dull the chaos and pain of it all) and killer (Buffy-esque)(but from the good seasons). There’s a world and plots and turmoils and Writs of Blood and the whole nine yards. What there isn’t is a finished novel.

It’s not from a lack of trying. I’ve even had novels that started off as unrelated, only to end with her walking and taking over all of the action. The problem has been finding satisfactory finishes. But rather than continue to rehash old attempts, I wanted to start fresh.

And this is where target audience comes into the discussion. (I know you were thinking I’d forgotten about it.) I started wondering, what if rather than aiming for an adult audience with all of the implications that that carries (word counts, context, etc.), what if I just aimed for that New Adult audience from the start? It means cleaning things up a little (I’m no saint), but as soon as the key was turned in that lock I filled pages in my notebook with initial plot points and dialog snippets. I think because in some ways, this was the audience that best suit my writing to begin with. Maybe that makes me a dull person.

Of course, this is all talk, just me discussing what’s rambling around in my head. I intend to continue writing short stories while I plan out this novel (I won’t call it outlining – viva la pants!). But that’s where my brain is right now. The Edward Gorey picture at the top of the page? Not a coincidence. I’ve been thinking a lot about Gorey’s work, and the books its appeared in, lately.

And in other news, the rejection list continues to mount even as the number of stories released to the wild increases. When will it end? NEVER.

 

An open apologies to editors I have wronged

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Recently, I acquired a copy of “Playing the Short Game” by Douglas Smith via Storybundle. I honestly haven’t read the other books in the bundle yet, because this book was a game changer for me. It helped me formalize my own suspicions on the kind of writer I have been up to this point, what I’ve been doing wrong, and how to move forward.

The book is not about the craft of writing. That’s mechanics, and there are plenty of other books on the subject. What the book is about – and it’s specific to short fiction, and favors the genres I favor – is how to identify the kind of writer you are, how to persevere in the submission game, and what to do when you finally stack the odds in your favor.

I can honestly say I’ve taken the points of the book to heart (or at least my interpretation of the points). Stories are now going out as soon as I get a rejection notice; I’m only submitting to professional markets (to be treated like a professional, you need to be published like one); I’m taking the time to revise my stories before I send them out. This last one is something I actually started a month or three ago, but its an important one. It’s also on the front of my mind as I go through a pile of stories I never submitted, or only submitted once, and revise them.

This is where my open apology comes in.

I would like to apologize to Cat Rambo, Neil Clarke, Sara Ellis, Scott Andrews, Sheila Williams, and all of the other editors, readers, and folks that put up with my submissions in past years. I made the worst of worst mistakes, from Fantasy Magazine (back in the day) and Clarkesworld to Asimov’s and Beneath Ceaseless Skies and more – I sent out stories that I didn’t re-read, didn’t revise. I honestly thought that the words that flowed from my fingers were perfect in the order they came out the first time.

Now here I sit with stories that I think can be cleaned up into something salable. Versions of these stories have already gone out to these editors (and more), which means my markets are fewer. But if I hadn’t been such impetuous writer at the start, I might have a better chance now.

Luckily, there are more stories, new stories, that haven’t been written yet, waiting for me to share the space opera tales of the Occulted Sun, or the thrilling adventures of a girl that serves as a hit man for the Moth Queen, Ganymede. Buckle in, because I’ve got some writing to do.

Seems like an apropos time for some Ray Bradbury Theater introduction sequence…