Your Kick Ass 2013 Writing Plan

FUCK

Fuck you, haters. We will do this. (Photo credit: Jone Samsa)

Now that it’s the fourth of January, I will assume that everyone’s hangover has finally worn off* and that you’re ready to grab this year by the frigid snowballs. You’re fired up and ready to kick this year’s ass all around the block while it’s still got than new year smell.

Well, I’m with you. In spite of the bone-numbing cold, January is a hopeful time. We want to change, and we’re willing to try. Good for us. But we need a plan, or we won’t get far. If your resolutions included anything about writing, here’s a plan for you.**

1. Solidify that motherfucker. It’s no good saying, “I want to write more” or “I want to explore more styles”. It’s too fucking vague, and therefore easy to ignore. So get out a pen and paper and make a list. How much more? Do you have a goal you’re shooting for? Maybe finish a novel this year? Or do you want to write something everyday, even if it’s just the word ‘fuck’ a hundred times in different fonts? This is why I attached a number to my rejections. It makes it real.

2. Research and plan, lest you be devoured by the nibbly rabbits of indecision. You wouldn’t set out to become an elephant wrangler in 2013 without knowing where the elephants are, would you? You wouldn’t decide to run a marathon without figuring out how long it is. Writing is no different. Do your research. How long will it take to write that novel working at a speed you’re comfortable with? How many places are looking for the material you have to submit? What are the hallmarks of the space-opera style, and who are some of its greatest writers? Once you know a little more—not everything, just a little—you can make a plan of attack. You’ll need one, because a plan is what you can fall back on when the motivation fails. And it will. I fucking guarantee it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end. It just means you need to keep going, and a plan will keep you on the right path.

3. But sooner or later, you’ve just got to fucking do it. It’s easy to let the research and planning part overtake everything else. You don’t want to start until you feel ready, but the more you research the less ready you feel. Before you know it, it’s March and you’ve made no progress. So you give up. Welcome to most New Year’s resolutions, which die in an elephant’s graveyard of discouragement.
Not this time. Set a date and stick to it. Maybe the first two weeks of the new year can be devoted to research and planning, but after that, you get moving, whether you’re ready or not. Pull the trigger and see where the bullet lands instead of trying to calculate it beforehand. Learn as you go. If you fuck up, the lessons will just stick more. Don’t lose the momentum that comes from the new year. Use it to push yourself out the door before you’re entirely comfortable and go.

4. Log some wins. This is a mental trick I learned last year. We are what we repeatedly do, and we’re most likely to repeat things that make us feel like we’re winning.
Personal example: I usually get between 2000 and 3000 words a day when working. But do you know what’s on my checklist every morning? ‘Write 500 words.’ That’s it. I write that, which takes me around half a hour on average, and I can check that off. It’s considered done. Most times, I go on to write several assloads more than that, but the little goal—the very achievable goal—allows me to do it every day and build up some steam, even on the shittiest of days. I feel pumped. I feel like I won. And you know what I want to do when I feel like that? Write more.
So make a small goal, one that you know you can achieve, and make it consistent. Before you know it, the new thing will be a habit, and habits are hard to break.

5. Enjoy the process. It’s not all about the finish line. It’s not even mostly about the finish line. New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be about change, and change is a process. So enjoy the little moments along the way. Enjoy that first finish chapter, or that first page of a short story. Enjoy learning new things about the secrets of elephant trainers. Enjoy the feeling of fingers on keys and your brain on fire. The finish line can wait; enjoy the scenery while you pass.
So get out there and start, people. Knock it out of the park and don’t look back. I’m pulling for you.

*Or you killed yourself to escape from it. Seriously, four day hangovers: not fun.
**Actually, this could be adapted to most anything. But let’s stick with writing on the blog and pretend we’re staying on topic.

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Back In Black: Year of the Rejection Letter

Black Coffee for Breakfast in White Porcelain Cup

We got an espresso machine for Xmas. This may help. Or I might never sleep again. (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Aaaaand we’re back. Did you miss me? I missed you. It was a lovely holiday here in Bare Knuckle Writer-Land, with many parties and visits. We all survived the Apocalypse of 2012, and started looking forward to the next Apocalypse. My money’s on the next one being dragged out of some ancient Asian text. Dragon of Unhappiness, anyone?

But it wasn’t all chocolates and scotch over the holidays. I always take this time to look back on what was really good about the last year, and what really fucking sucked. And figure out what I can do to improve the sucky parts. I believe these are known in the common tongue as New Year’s Resolutions. Cliche, I know, but there is something compelling about turning over your life in the dead stub of the year and looking at its inner workings. And then seeing what else you can make of it.

As a rule, I usually make three resolutions: one personal, one physical, and one professional. I tend to post them somewhere where they can be read by other people as a half-assed attempt at accountability. And, honestly, I can’t think of a better place to post the professional one than right here. With all those eyes on me, I’m way less likely to flake the fuck out in March. So here it is.

In 2013, I want to get rejected more.

Weird? Yeah. Let me explain: I want to get published more. But by its very nature, that means getting more rejections, because the more your work is out there, the more chances it has of being shot down. But if it’s never out there, it will never be published. So, this year, I resolve to get more rejections. Best part is, if I get an acceptance, it doesn’t count toward the total, so I have to submit more stuff.

This year, I resolve to amass thirteen rejections. Baker’s dozen. Novels, mostly, but I have some short stories I can send out as well. And if I don’t have enough material, well, I’ll just have to write more, won’t I? Until I can pin up those rejections. I will collect those fuckers, and learn from them, and use them to my advantage. Until I can drive them before me and hear the lamentation of their envelopes.

But this isn’t just about me. Why not make your own writing resolution? Resolve to finish a novel, or try a screenplay, or dabble in erotica. Dust off that half-finished manuscript and work on it. Start something entirely new. Submit your first short story to a market. Try something just for the hell of it and see if you make it through the other side. Own the scars and add more.

Me, I’m going to be over here for the rest of the day making a list of markets to submit stories and novels to. Put some speed metal on the stereo, make a cup of coffee, and plan my attack. I will return in December with the hides of thirteen rejections nailed to my shield.

2013: it’s going to be bad ass.

Danger: Brain Goblins At Work

Custard a-boiling

Mm. Needs more zombies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes it feels like I don’t really think of short story ideas. I write them, on occasion, but the ideas…they seem to come from somewhere else. Somewhere down in the dark parts of my hind brain.

I first heard about an anthology more than a month back. Very specific theme, but something not too far removed from what I tend to write. But I didn’t have anything for it right then and there so I put it aside while I worked on some other stuff: editing, rewrite notes, blog posts. I read a few things in the right vein, browsed a few articles, and then let it go.

And then, last week, while I was in the middle of making a vanilla bean custard for a pie, the idea came to me. That’s how it feels, too: it turned up out of the back of my brain like a stray cat. And, very much like a cat, once I made room for it, it promptly stretched out and made itself at home, scratching the couch and pissing in the corners. I thought about it while I whisked and heated and eyeballed the custard, daring it to break while my attention was elsewhere. By the time I had the custard poured into the crust and cooling, most of the story was fleshed out. All I had to do was sit down and write it.* Which I then did. Just a zero draft, but I got 4000 words out in about two and a half hours, so it was a good afternoon.

Sometimes they just turn up like that. My head is kind of a big, chaotic factory. Maybe like the Pits of Isengard, if you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings movies. From a distance it’s just smoke and noise; close up, it’s chaos and work and sweat and evil. And then some goblin** is coming up to me with a twisted new thing it made while I was busy doing other things.

I trust my Brain Goblins.*** They come up with some interesting things down there in the dark, while I’m cooking and reading and (rarely) cleaning and brushing my teeth and all the other crap that makes up a daily life. I throw them some raw materials, in the shape of myths and themes, and they come up with ideas. And, often, nightmares. But I consider that a by-product.

But I needed the prompt first, and the anthology listing was just that. Maybe it was the narrowness of the submission guidelines, or maybe it was the promise of payment. Either way, the story is done now, and soon it will be sent off to its (hopefully) new home.

And in the meantime, I’m going to go browse submission listings again, and see if the Brain Goblins have got anything else for me this week.

*I say that like it’s the easy part, but of course it’s not. Anyone can think of an idea; writing it is the real work.
**Yes, I’m enough of a geek to know that the workers in the Pits were orcs or, more rarely, uruk-hai. I just don’t like the way Brain Orcs reads. Consider this a lesson in editing: it works even in your own head.
***For stories, that is. Not so much with things like, say, talking to the mailman or getting groceries. It never goes well.

Hate Mail: Dealing With Rejection Letters

English: Rejection

Hey, at least they said ‘sorry’.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rejection letters: you’re going to get ‘em.*

Sorry, but that’s the truth. They come in a lot of shapes (the form letter, the slightly encouraging personal note, the newly-popular ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’**), but the underlying message is always the same: no, thank you. And sometimes they leave off the thank you.

It sucks. But there’s only one way to avoid getting rejected, and that’s to never submit anything. If you’re okay with that, then fine. You keep doing your thing. The rest of this entry will be directed to everyone else, so feel free to let your mind wander. I hear there are bunnies over here.

For the rest of you, if you’re going to be a writer, you need to learn to deal with rejection. And I don’t mean ‘deal with it’ by weeping into a bag of chocolate-covered Prozac. You can work with this. You just need to figure out how.

But everyone’s got their own way of doing that, or more than one. By dint of some very unscientific research, I have compiled a list of some of the more popular methods for dealing with rejection for your perusal. Consider them along with your next rejection:

1. The Sad Panda: I always knew the world was against me, but now I have proof. I will scrawl illegibly on this with red Sharpie, cry on it a few times, and then post an evocative picture of it with Instagram. Then they’ll understand.

2. The Air Up There: Clearly, this philistine does not recognize true genius when it deigns to place itself within their view. So what if I use words without knowing what they mean? I know what they should mean. Perhaps my gift is too precious to waste in their tawdry, commercial word factory.

3. The Iron Mike: I WILL TRACK THIS ASSHOLE DOWN AND EAT HIS CHILDREN.

4. The Hemmingway: So. This rejection. Burns like salt. But no manly tears. There is bourbon instead. *Rest of week becomes hazy until you wake up in a dumpster with a scar where your kidney used to be.*

5. The Clinger: God, I’m so sorry I offended this agent with my crappy, pathetic submission. But maybe it’s not too late. Maybe I can change. Maybe if I write them offering to change everything about the story and the characters and name the protagonist after their children they’ll love meeeeeee!

6. The Diviner: This is a sign. The universe is trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be a writer. This is too much for me. I’m out.

7. The Down But Not Out: This fucking sucks. Is there anything I can learn from this letter that can be helpful? Oh, you shouldn’t misspell the editors’ names? Gotcha. *Dusts self off* Right. New game starts now. Let’s go again.

*Except for you. You’re special. Your mother told me so.
** The latter is also known as “Passive-aggressive horseshit that makes me want to spit battery acid into someone’s eyes.”

SUBMIT TO ME

A submissive man worshipping a woman's foot.

I need to start defining the image search terms more carefully. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I really need to start submitting more.

This, to me, is the biggest pain in the ass of writing: getting your stuff out there. It’s not the rejections. I’ve collected enough of those by now to be relatively immune to them, although I do occasionally read the more entertaining ones to other people as a kind of street theatre. As a side note, every time I get a rejection, I think of that scene from The Shawshank Redemption: “I’m up for rejection next week!” Every time.

Once I’ve got my entertainment from a rejection, I put it away in my Folder of Hate records to remember where I’ve already submitted stories and novels. No one wants to be the person who forgets who they submitted to. I imagine that, to editors, this is like being hit on by a drunk guy at a bar who has been so busy trying to get in anyone’s pants that he’s forgotten you already shot him down two hours ago. Might be entertaining, in a tiresome way. But he’s still not getting laid.

The part of submitting that gets me is the research. You need to make sure you’re submitting to the right market, first off. That’s what the Submission Guidelines are for, people. Don’t ignore those. As my old math teacher used to say, you’re not special. No one in this class is special.

Then there’s the letter, and the formatting, and all the other stuff that you have to try not to screw up. It’s not my favourite part of writing. But, and here’s the kicker, it’s necessary. You want other people to read your shit, you have to send it out there. And once it’s rejected, you have to send it out again. Don’t let it sit around, gathering dust and talking about its one big trip with the other dust-covered manuscripts in your drawer. Take that fucker out, polish it up, and send it out the door like your adult son who wants to play Xbox all day until he figures out what to do with his life. Don’t let it come back until it’s got some life experience and maybe a few bruises.

This is a case where I should be taking my own damn advice. So, with that in mind, I’m opening up a new submission line for one of my completed novels. Time to send that bastard brain child of mine out to get some of his edges knocked off. And, in the meantime, I’m going to start something new.  This is the time to bring out the Siren, and see if she’s got what it takes. She can distract me while the other story is testing his wings.

 

And, hey, you don’t always get rejected. Check this out: it’s the cover of the new anthology that one of my stories was accepted for. It’s called Unearthed, and it’s the third in a series of speculative fiction anthologies from Third Person Press. It’ll be out in print and e-book later this year. I’m sure you’ll know when, since my excitement may make me go nova. Further details will be posted as they come available, but for now, just look at it. This is what validation looks like. And it makes all the hoop-jumping that is the submission process worthwhile.