So anyone who visits here with any sort of consistency will probably notice that unlike all the cool, organized blogs out there, I'm not. . . well, cool or organized. I tend to stay quiet for a few days and then just ramble on for way too long about whatever is on my mind. It is pretty much writing related every time, but there is no real consistency to what I do here. Since I have began crusading, I have been discovering that so many other writers out there actually have a plan for their blogs that involve discussing certain things on certain days. What's more. . . they stick to these plans! Whoa. . . it's like, almost too much for me to comprehend.
My blogs tend to be more for me, with the hope that someone somewhere might get some enjoyment or a little pearl of good advice out of it and then go on with their lives. And this isn't going to change. While I admire all those cool, organized bloggers, I am just not one of them. Maybe if I ever get to quit my day job and have enough money to hire a maid, an assistant, and someone to do my blog for me, it may turn into something a little more consistent. But until that happens, I am going to keep doing what I do because this weekend, I reached a milestone with my writing. And I am pretty sure that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't taken the time to write out my thoughts on writing in coffee shops last Tuesday.
So what happened? What happened is this: This morning I got up early and wrote the final scene to Tortoise Love, the WIP that I started in 2008 and finished a draft of that same year. I have been revising it on and off ever since. And while there is definitely a benefit to giving yourself some space from your first draft of your WIP, I truthfully have been ignoring it. But it came up as I was blogging about coffee shops. I mentioned I've been having a hard time working on it since my favorite coffee shop closed. This led to the following thought:
WHAT KIND OF LAME EXCUSE IS THAT?
It was a terrible one, that's what kind of excuse it was -- especially considering how close I was to finishing the second draft. So this past week, I worked on it. And this morning, I finished it. All 332 pages of it.
Obviously, I am going to need to revise it yet again. It is actually printing as I type this, and I have my bundle of colored pens ready to go. But now I get to sit down and read it from cover to cover again and take note of how much it has grown and improved since I first wrote it in 2008 -- how much I have grown and improved in that time. But the best part about all this is, I wouldn't have reached this milestone -- at least not this weekend -- if I hadn't blogged about coffee shops last week. Who knew that that was going to be the catalyst needed? It makes me feel good to know that even if I am not all that organized with my blog, or my writing in general, my subconscious is apparently looking out for me.
One of the perks of winning honorable mention in the WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest is that the honor also comes with a $20 Amazon Gift Certificate, which I received earlier this week. Woo hoo! Now I am super excited about the prospect of new books (who wouldn't be!) but as I tend to be pretty self-indulgent when it comes to books, when one comes out that I am dying to read, I buy it. So, my "to buy" list remains pretty short, especially since obtaining a Kindle. (Oh, how I love you, Instant Gratification!) What I would really like is to use my my gift certificate to discover something new.
Soooooooooooooo. . . I am opening myself up for suggestions! Turn me on to something new and exciting! This where you are probably asking yourself, but what in the world does this woman actually like to read? Excellent question! To give you an idea of my varied reading tastes, I am currently dividing my time right now between Margaret Atwood's Blind Assassin, Richelle Mead's Iron Crowned, and Matt Bell's How They Were Found. I am currently loving them all to the point where I am neglecting my writing/crusading/day job that pays my bills/household chores. I also love Jim Butcher's writing to an obsessive point and have a huge soft spot for YA literature. I am a sucker for a great series.
My only request is, please, no more vampire fiction. I have overdosed on something I was never really that crazy about to begin with. The only vampires I plan to read about in the near future are Richelle Mead's when her new series comes out later this year. Though feel free to try and change my mind if you have read or written something really amazing that centers around vampires. I may be stubborn, but not to the point where I will sacrifice an excellent reading experience. :)
Okay, that's it. Please leave reading suggestions as a comment, and you will totally make my day. Crusaders with books out -- I would especially love to read your novel or short story collection so don't be afraid to indulge in some blatant self-promotion.
I've heard a lot of advice over the years on how to set up your writing space. There are entire books written on the matter. There are a lot of good suggestions like keeping your writing space uncluttered and removing any distractions. This goes hand-in-hand with setting a routine. Visit your writing space everyday at the same time for a minimum length of time. This is all sound advice and can lead to great writing habits. My problem is, most of this advice doesn't work for me. I am a coffee shop writer.
I write about 98% of my new material in coffee shops. This habit arose a few years ago when I was newly divorced and my new apartment felt empty. It served to remind me that my life was not going the way I had planned. I found by packing up my laptop and hoofing it to a neighborhood coffee shop, it was much easier to focus on the task at hand. My writing sessions became far more productive away from home to the point where I eventually sold my desk. It was just one more surface to pile stuff on.
I can and have written in any number of places other than coffee shops -- in bed, on the couch, on the train or bus, in doctor's office waiting rooms, standing in line at the post office, and once, sitting in a Las Vegas casino. But these times are the exception, not the rule. These are the times when my muse has shown up with an entire army and the story is pulsing through my veins so hard it is all I can do to get it onto the page at the same rate it comes to me. These are the times where nothing short of the apocalypse is going to keep me from writing. And even then, I am sure my full attention would not be on the end of civilization as we know it.
I wish I could say I wake up every day feeling the story that urgently. But I don't. Most days I wake up knowing I want to write -- right after I watch a Firefly re-run. Or maybe after I just take a quick peek at the latest book I've downloaded to my Kindle. Or maybe after I have spent just half an hour catching up on all those blogs I want to follow. (Hi, Fellow Crusaders!) I think we have all been there. Half an hour turns into two hours, then it is lunchtime, and I remember I really need to do laundry if I am going to have something clean to wear to work tomorrow. It is a downward spiral that leads to very little writing.
The surest way for me to write is to pack up my writing essentials and leave the house while I am still too groggy to recognize there are much easier things I can be doing with my day than trying to come up with the right words to do justice to the brilliant story inside me.
I live in Chicago and I don't own a car. I haven't owned a car in almost nine years. I think I have been behind the wheel of a car once since I got rid of my car. And that was just to move someone from one parking space to another to avoid a parking ticket. That means when I go out to write, I am either walking or taking public transit. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where I have seven different coffee shops that I like to go to write. There are probably half a dozen more than I enjoy writing at when I feel like venturing outside of my 'hood. All are locally owned. Not a chain among them. There are different things I look for in a coffee shop -- essentials for setting up my writing space, if you will.
1. Outlets -- My number one concern when I choose a shop to write in is whether or not I can plug in my laptop. If I am going to sit and linger for a few hours, chances are, I am going to outlast my battery. A coffee shop with lots of outlets gets a higher rating on my list of Places I Can Write.
2. Wi-Fi -- Admittedly, Internet access is a double edged sword. It can just as easily prevent me from writing. But I still consider it necessary for two reasons. First, I prefer streaming music while I write rather than listening to my personal music library. Second, occasionally I have a legitimate writing need for some of that vast knowledge that can be found thanks to All-Knowing-Google. Sometimes I just need to know how long a bus trip from Topeka to Chicago would take. Or I need to find a perfect quote from King Lear to help my MC figure out where her sister is hiding out. Wi-Fi is a must-have.
3. Iced Tea -- Okay, the irony of my need to write in coffee shops is that I really despise coffee. I can't stand the taste or smell and I have no desire to experiment with various amounts of sugar, cream, syrups or other ways to improve it. I would much rather just drink something I like without adding anything. Like iced tea. So my coffee shops have to serve iced tea. And it is really great if they have it year-round. For some reason, some places stop serving it in the winter. Of course I can get around this by ordering hot tea and a cup of ice, but this once led to a rather humorous encounter with a rude barista at a place I rarely frequent anymore. It just makes my life easier if they have iced tea even when there is a wind-chill of -12 outside. If they have flavor choices and meet the previous two requirements, they have earned a very loyal and frequent customer.
Other things come into play when selecting Places I Can Write In, like food selection, number of seats, friendliness of staff, and restroom cleanliness. I find different projects lead me to different coffee shops. My first novel was written almost entirely in a shop in my old neighborhood. It sadly closed down last year, and I am convinced the slow pace of my revisions is due largely to the fact that I can't go back there to work on it. I actually set part of my novel in that very coffee shop and more than one of my short stories has taken place in a coffee shop.
Maybe the experts would say I am doing it wrong, that I would be better off setting up a quiet corner at home. But the fact of the matter is, this works for me. There is no one way to get into a writing routine. You just have to figure out what you need and then find it or create it. What works for you?
Photo by Sura Nualpradid.
I was very excited to learn today that one of my flash fiction stories was selected among the honorable mentions for WOW! Women on Writing's Fall 2010 Flash Fiction contest. You can hop on over by clicking here if you want to see my name in print and learn more about the contest, as well as read the fabulous winning stories. Their winter 2011 contest is currently open if you have a short piece ready t0 make its debut. They did not publish the honorable mentions, but there is a good chance you will be seeing my story in print elsewhere very soon. Check back for updates!
The submission process for short stories, as I may have mentioned before, can be a frustrating one. The best way to stay sane throughout is to stay organized. I started seriously submitting my short stories to literary magazines in 2005 and it quickly became apparent that if I was going to be professional about this, I needed to keep track of what stories were submitted where and when.
I started out with an Excel spreadsheet and that has served me well. I also eventually discovered Duotrope Digest and began using it in earnest around 2007. I am a huge supporter of Duotrope and urge anyone who writes and wants to publish short fiction or poetry to make use of it. It saves a lot of time and research and it is free. I try and make regular donations when my finances allow. A writing friend and I made a deal that we would make a donation to Duotrope every time we received an acceptance as a sort of thank-you for making the process easier.
However, despite the fact that Duotrope is awesome, I like tracking my submissions in a manner that doesn't necessarily rely on internet access, and I like being able to store specific information that there isn't necessarily room for in Duotrope. So, I have continued to maintain both my Duotrope account and my Excel spreadsheet.
In the last year or so I have felt like I have outgrown my spreadsheet. I had over 300 submissions logged with all the pertinent info and other miscellaneous details that I wanted to know, such as the nature of a personal rejection or the name of an editor who I have corresponded with. So began my quest for quality submission tracking software for writers.
There aren't many. And those that do exist usually seem very overpriced. I know programming is hard work (I happen to live with a software engineer), but I am not willing to pay upwards of $100 for something that I can essentially do in a spreadsheet, no matter how pretty it is.
Finally I stumbled upon The Writer's Scribe. It is not only available for a very reasonable fee of $25, they allow you a 20-day free trial to see if it works for you. I downloaded it a couple weeks ago and have been working to input my history of submissions into it. At first I found it not as user-friendly as I had hoped for, but by playing around with it, I quickly figured out everything I needed to use it. I definitely love that you can customize much of it, so it is suitable for not just fiction or poetry, but also freelancing, or contest entries, or other writing mediums. You can also upload files to it, so you have an extra place to back-up work. My favorite feature is that I can just click on the name of a lit mag and see every story I have sent to it without having to go through a filtering process. I also love the ability to put lots of notes and attach them to a story, a publisher, or a submission. I am thinking about copying and pasting in personal rejections so I can remember exactly who said what about my work.
The Writer's Scribe seems to do everything I need it to do and then some. Is it perfect? Not really. It is easy to accidentally overwrite a record if you don't watch out, and it took me a little while to get the hang of how it works. It has also been time consuming inputting the last 6 years worth of submissions into it, but that really isn't the programmers fault. Overall, it is a huge step up from my good ol' spreadsheet and the price is definitely more in line with a struggling writer's budget. I'd definitely recommend it for any writers who are playing the submission game. I am going to go ahead and buy it and consider it money well spent. It will at least tide me over until my sweetie the software engineer has time to custom make me a program. :)
Just a quick note to let any Conversing with Cats fans know that I actually managed to update three times this week! So if you are interested in knowing what happens when a panther-cat comes face-to-face with a wolf-dog, or the secret to a long and luxurious tail, or how a feline perspective might change a beloved children's classic, then I encourage you to go on over and see what the evil kitties have inspired this week.
Rachel Harrie over at Rach Writes. . . is organizing the Second Writers' Platform-Building Crusade and the deadline to join is today. I think this is a fantastic idea and exactly what writers should be doing. We all know that publishing can be a very cutthroat kind of business, but writers need each other. For starters, writers tend to be big readers, so no matter who your audience is, chances are, it includes other writers. It is important that we support each other. We can teach each other a lot and make the journey smoother.
The Crusade is a great opportunity to find other writers and support them by visiting their blogs and spreading the word about all the fantastic stuff they are doing. I am signing up to join and plan to do my part. I already try to support other writers as much as I can, but Rachel is helping to make this task easier by introducing us to each other via the Crusade. Rachel explains it in more detail on her post which you can reach by clicking on the link above.
I hope you will consider joining the Writers' Platform-Building Crusade as well, if you are of the writerly persuasion. I know I am looking forward to all the new connections with the fantastically talented people I am going to meet.
Dearest Watership Down,
Today I felt moved to tell you exactly what you mean to me. Sure, like so many lasting relationships, we got off to a bit of a bumpy start. But I know you understand -- I was so young when we first met! My dear Grandma introduced us when I was only eleven. She was so confident we were soulmates. But me? I wasn't so sure.
I studied your plain beige cover with little on it but your title and a rabbit in front of some sort of compass. Where were the girls in pretty dresses? I began to suspect that you did not hold for me orphans, or girls who wanted to be ballerinas or gymnasts or figure skaters. I was suspicious that you would not tell me love stories or about settler girls who were kidnapped by Indians and would come to love their way of life so much they would refuse to return home to their white families. What could a bunch of rabbits possibly hold for me?
But I gave you a chance, for Grandma's sake. I knew she loved me and only wanted the best for me. I would give you a fair chance and then gently break it to her that, though you were a really nice book, there just wasn't that spark. But you, my dear novel, had other ideas. I soon discovered that buried under that boring beige cover was an adventure story unlike any other. Who knew rabbits could be so fascinating? Well, you did, of course, and Grandma too. I read through your 400+ pages in record time. I was already a voracious reader, but you. . . you I devoured! When I was done, I wanted to start over from the beginning and read you again. I couldn't believe our journey together had ended so quickly.
And so it came to be that I found myself turning to you again and again over the years. I have read you at least once a year since I was eleven, making our relationship over two decades old now. I have long since read that boring beige copy of you to pieces and replaced it with an up-to-date version that is more aesthetically pleasing. And then I read the cover right off that one too. I am not sure how many copies of you I have gone through, and still, no matter what you look like on the outside, you never fail to spark that passion once more.
My mother gifted me a beautiful hardback version of you for Christmas one year when I was in college. It sits on the highest shelf of my bookcase, safe from clutter and cats and where I can gaze up at you lovingly whenever I am in the room. I purchased your sequel on a whim. I hadn't even know it existed until I saw it on the shelf of a discount bookstore that was going out of business. I was so broke at the time, being a student and all, but it was $6 well-spent. It only made me love you more -- not because your sequel is as good as you, but because it is an extension of you, giving me more time with your beloved rabbits.
Over the years you have been there for me. You comforted me when Grandma passed away, and I was living alone in Boston going to grad school. I didn't know a soul and couldn't afford to fly home for the funeral, but you, dearest one, were there waiting to comfort me through my tears. You gently reminded me of so many of the wonderful memories I had of her, and how it is impossible for me to pick you up and hold you without thinking of her.
You have been there for me as I struggle day in and out with this desire to be a writer. I aspire to write something that someday might ignite the same passion in someone else that you ignited in me. Oh to dream! You began my love for adventure stories and tributes to you are constantly finding ways into my stories, often so subtly, only I know they are there. But you, you will always recognize them and know I am only trying to find new ways to say I love you.
There have been some who have questioned my love for you.
"It's about rabbits?"
"Yes! A wonderful adventure story about rabbits. It's an epic tale!" Yes, I gush. Can you blame me?
"But what's it really about?"
I resent this implication that you are hiding something from me. That you were meant for bigger and better things than rabbits. That you have some hidden agenda that could change my feelings for you.
My response is always the same. "It will always just be about rabbits to me."
And today -- today my love for you was validated.
You see, modern technology has a way of changing things, and I was recently introduced to the joys of owning an e-reader. It is all just about convenience of course, as I still love the feel and smell of a good book. But now I get to carry so many with me. Some are good friends, some are good friends waiting to happen.
But today I couldn't focus on any new novel I tried. Nothing was clicking for me. I felt restless and couldn't get more than a few pages into any novel waiting in my queue. I realized that I was missing you. I checked the online bookstore and there you were, waiting for me, at the surprisingly high price of $12.99. Well, this was a dilemma. I have never paid more than about half that for a paper copy of you. Which of course I have waiting at home for me, waiting to be read for the umpteenth time at no additional cost. And most e-books are much cheaper than you. But most books do not hold the memories and joy that you hold for me. It was a battle between my desire to limit unnecessary purchases and a desire to have you with me at all times.
Of course you won. But you knew you would. My love for you is just too strong. And you rewarded me. The minute I opened you up, I was greeted, not with that familiar line about the primroses and the sight of two rabbits about to follow a premonition into a life altering journey, but instead, by an introduction by your author. Now I may have owned copies that Mr. Adams has written an introduction to before. But before I was always too eager to catch up with you and flipped past any unnecessary pages to fling myself heart and soul into you. But today, on my e-reader, I read the words he wrote about you. And I knew he had written them for me. In the very last line of his introduction, he confirmed with I always knew. "It is simply the story about rabbits. . ."
Thanks to Mr. Adams, my love for you is stronger than ever. I knew you wouldn't lie to me like that. He confirms that you were never meant to be an allegory or a parable. He created you for his daughters.
And for me.
I am looking forward to many more decades together.
With all my love,
In celebration of the fact that one of my good friends is moving back to Chicago soon, I wrote a post over at Conversing with Cats dedicated to him and his dogs. While my cats and his woolly mammoths. . . er, I mean, dogs, will never meet in real life, I thought it would be fun to bring them together in a setting where anything is possible. I also went so far as to include a very cheesy stick figure drawing at the end, complete with thought bubbles.
Do I have too much time on my hands? Not even close. Am I using what time I do have wisely? Definitely not. Am I enjoying myself? Of course!
In other news, I received my first publication notification of 2011. I haven't yet got word on when the story will be online, but check back here for details in the next couple of weeks.
I try to submit my short stories to literary magazines on a fairly regular basis. I have a handful of short stories that I feel are of publishable quality and because most lit mags these days are okay with simultaneous submissions, I tend to submit them each to multiple places. This can be a lot of work.
First I need to make sure my story is suitable for each place I want to send it. Not only does this require making sure that it is of the length and format they require and making sure that the lit mag is actually accepting submissions at that time, but I also have to make sure I cater to all their specific requirements. Do they have a submissions manager or do I need to email it to them? Which email address? Do they want a bio? Do I need to put certain requested information in my cover letter? Do they even want a cover letter? It is a process that can be tedious.
But I don't mind because that is the only way I am going to get my stories published in all these great lit mags. And I don't mind catering to all their special requirements because, hey, their jobs are hard. They have to sift through a lot of crappy stories and they also have to turn down good work just because it doesn't fit with their aesthetics. Often they are understaffed and usually they aren't getting paid. Lit mags are a labor of love. So if making sure my margins are the right width and taking the time to type out all my contact info in an email somehow makes their job easier, I am all for it. Writing fiction is my other job and it is one I am usually not paid for, even when I do get an acceptance. So essentially the editors of lit mags and I are in the same boat. Lots of work, little pay, but the joy doing something we love. They are rewarded with a magazine of quality fiction that they helped to select. I am rewarded occasionally with seeing my work in print, but usually I just get a form email saying thanks, but no thanks. And that is enough to keep me trying.
But lately I am noticing a new trend. I have run across two lit mags in recent weeks who currently have stories of mine under consideration. Or so I thought. Part of my job as a writer is to also check up on my stories and make sure that they didn't get lost somewhere along the way. I usually start by going to the lit mag's website and double-checking on their usual response time. This is how I discovered that two places I submitted to in 2010 changed their response policies. Or lack of response policies, I guess would be more accurate.
Some lit mags are now deciding that they get so many submissions that they can't be bothered to respond unless they actually want to publish the story. But yet, they still expect me, as a professional author, to inform them if my story is published somewhere else. They do not bother to state a time frame of when it is safe to assume my story is no longer under consideration.
Well, this causes a few problems for me. First of all, does this mean if I don't get my story published for a year after I submit it, do I have to notify you it has been published then? What about in five years? How about a decade?
Secondly, while many lit mags do accept simultaneous submissions, there are still a lot out there that don't. Now as a rule I am not quick to submit to these places, but if I have a story that I feel would be a good fit for them, especially if they are having a themed issue, I am going to respect their guidelines and make sure that my story is not under consideration elsewhere when they have it. But how do I know if my story is still under consideration if I sent it to one of these "no response" lit mags a few months prior? Or a year prior? It can take a long time to find the right home for some stories. It can take some lit mags over a year to respond. But at least they respond!
Finally, by having a no response policy, the lit mags are depriving all these struggling authors of the one thing that makes this process worthwhile -- confirmation that even though it wasn't accepted, someone did indeed receive and take the time to read our work. Even when it is a form email, it is still somehow encouraging to get back on the computer and submit again.
I understand that many lit mags are hit with thousands of stories, most of which will not be accepted. But there are a lot of great programs out there (like Submishmash) that can make the submission and response process easier for everyone involved. Many of them are free of charge to the lit mags, as long as they are not charging fees to the writers to submit their work. Even if the editors still find it impossible to send everyone a form rejection, at least with a submission manager, as a writer, I can log into my account and obsessively check to see if my piece has been rejected or not.
I suppose I have the option of emailing the editors and asking if my story is still under consideration with them, but if they can't be bothered to send me a form email in the first place, I don't hold out much hope of them going to the trouble of looking in their records for my story and sending a personal response to my email.
I hope that any editors who may read this takes a moment to consider that while you have a tough, time-consuming job, so do all the writers who are trusting you with their work. A impersonal mass email letting us know that we didn't make the cut doesn't seem like too much ask in my opinion.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.