Why do I have this blog anyway?

It has been three months since my last blog post. This is the point where I insert an excuse. Or an explanation. Or maybe a list of exciting things I’ve been doing instead of blogging.

But truthfully, I just didn’t feel like writing blog posts.

When I started this blog, I thought every writer *should* have a blog. The theme I chose was my experiences along the way to becoming a published author. I’m still actively pursuing that goal. I have two short stories published.

But, two years later I know that a blog is actually NOT a requirement for becoming an author. I also arrived at the realization that a blog about me trying to get published isn’t particularly interesting, even to me. Personally, if I want blogger advice about how to write great stories and get them published I’m going to read the blogs of people who are doing it.

And my friends’ blogs. I read those.

This must be the point where I declare a new and inspiring theme. Except. Oh, wait; I don’t have one. Yeah, when I have a new theme I shall declare it. In the mean time I’ll be updating this blog with whatever strikes my fancy.

Miriah in 6th grade

Miriah in 6th grade


btw, it was my birthday on Monday. This photo was taken about four and a half decades ago.

Happy Writing.

Find what works for you and do that.

This is the obligatory after-NaNoWriMo blog post. Sort of. NaNoWriMo ended on December 1, and here I am 28 days later. (But no zombies!)

I did end November with 50,000 words of a first-draft novel written. About half of what I think the final word count will be. So, I “won” Nano, but of course I have a long way to go before I have an actual novel I can shop around.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Profile

For me the biggest win was learning what works for me. To crank out 50,000 words in thirty days means that on average I needed to write 1667 words per day. For authors who write for a living, that’s no big deal. But for me that was a huge stretch, and I learned some valuable lessons.

A standard piece of writing advice is, “Find what works for you and do that.” And just like a lot of advice in general, and writing advice in particular, it’s so simple, and at the same time completely and frustratingly vague.

So here goes, what I learned from NaNoWriMo about what works for me. Your results will vary.

Setting a daily and weekly goal.
I set a goal for the week, taking into account upcoming events and responsibilities. Then I figure out my average daily word count needed to reach that goal. Each week I post my new goal and my success (or lack thereof) for the previous week in a facebook group.

Music.
Until recently, I preferred complete quiet for writing. But around my house, quiet is hard to come by. Also, music with words is extremely distracting to me. So, I bought music from video games – Dragon Age and Halo. I listen when I sit down to write my novel, and when I hear it my brain focuses on the story, and I’m able to ignore background noise wherever I am.

Make the most of non-writing time.
Blocks of uninterrupted time make writing way more productive and satisfying for me. During November there were times when I wanted and needed to write in order to keep up with that crazy 1667 words-per-day goal. But as we all know, there are always unavoidable Things That Must Be Done. I made an effort to take care of business in advance to cut down on interruptions. So for example, I prepared my monthly Slighe nan Gaidheal treasurer report before it was due. While I helped the kids with their homework, I caught up on laundry and other mindless chores. I consciously thought about making the most of my non-writing time to preempt distractions when I did get to sit down and write.

A deer visits my neighbor's yard.

A deer visits my neighbor’s yard.

Also, I learned that worrying-about-not-writing does not help with writing-when-you-finally-can. When I am present in the moment – whether it’s my kids’ birthday party or Thanksgiving dinner or walking with a friend – when I do sit down to write I feel refreshed.

Airplane Mode.
There is some software I’ve heard about called “Freedom” that blocks your computer from accessing the massive distraction that is The Internet. Me, I use Airplane mode on my laptop. I turn on Airplane mode, and bam! No facebook or email or other distractions.

Daydreaming is essential.
I already did a lot of daydreaming. For me it’s sort of like filling the imagination well. But at one point in November I reached the bottom of the well, a point where the story was in a place I hadn’t imagined ahead to. I didn’t know what to write. I had to take a day off from writing just to daydream about the story. So now when I set my writing goals for the week I take daydreaming time into account.

Snow Day! No school.

Snow Day! No school.

So, I “won” NaNoWriMo this year. But more importantly I developed some improved habits and tools.
What writing habits work for you?

Happy Writing.

Historic Site Inspiration

This Friday is November 1st, and that means NaNoWriMo! Thirty days of writing like crazy with the goal of achieving 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel.

Inchmahome Priory on an island in the middle of the Lake of Menteith as seen from a boat

Island in the Lake of Menteith

This year I will be writing the beginning of a novel that’s been rolling around in my head for some time. It’s a hero’s journey set in a post-science fiction world. To me that means the humans in my world are the ancestors of Earth colonists who landed there centuries ago. Technology has devolved, and the aliens that helped them settle have died out completely but their influence remains. The working title is “Dyoza” after the name of the world.

One of the places on Dyoza is the priory located on an island in the middle of Tcharraz lake. The villain and another character grew up there.

Inchmahome Priory on an island in the middle of the Lake of Menteith near Stirling, Scotland

Ruins of Inchmahome Priory

I’ve taken my inspiration for this fictional location from (the real) Inchmahome Priory, located on an island on the Lake of Menteith, in Scotland near Stirling. I visited there this summer with my family. Inchmahome Priory was established in 1238, but Protestant Reformation ended it in the mid-1500s. It’s a small island, absolutely beautiful, with paths around the edge, and across. I could imagine people walking around the island in quiet contemplation.

Paths on the island, location of Inchmahome Priory in the middle of the Lake of Menteith near Stirling, Scotland

Paths around the island

Happy Writing!

Miriah

Urban Green Man – Story Inspiration

Tomorrow, October 2 there will be an online book launch of the Urban Green Man Anthology on the Bitten By Books website.

Farrel McWhirter Park, Redmond WA

Farrel McWhirter Park, Urban Greenman Inspiration

I love the mythology surrounding the Urban Green Man. As I’ve posted before, I’m a huge fan of Charles De Lint. So when I saw the publisher’s call for submissions for a whole book of Urban Green Man stories, with an introduction written by Charles De Lint himself, I knew I was going to submit something.

Farrel McWhirter Park, Redmond WA

Farrel McWhirter Park, Urban Greenman Inspiration

The idea for my story, “Green Salvage” came to me as I was waiting for my children at Farrel McWhirter park in Redmond, where I live. This park is spectacularly gorgeous, and it is five minutes from the Redmond Town Center mall.

Farrel McWhirter Park, Redmond WA

Farrel McWhirter Park, Urban Greenman Inspiration

I like to think of the Urban Green Man as a spirit of nature, present in the actions of ordinary people doing their part to preserve the green places; always there in your peripheral vision. All you have to do is look.

So You Want To Be a First Reader

I thought I would share a few things about what my first reader experience was like. The mileage of other first readers and potential first readers will vary.

I read slowly, so slushing took up a significant amount of time for me. I didn’t keep track for the first four months, but for the last six months (February through July 2013) I first-read 357 stories for a total of 1,391,500 words. That’s like between eight and thirteen novels. And I was barely “keeping up”.

On a few rare occasions, I skimmed after the first 1000 words or so. But most of the time I read the entire story. Many first readers don’t do that – because it’s not a requirement – but I did. I’m not completely sure why I kept reading to the end. I guess I didn’t get jaded, but by the conclusion of my stint I was feeling burned out.

jellybeans

Reading from the slush pile was like eating Bertie Bots Every Flavor Beans. Sometimes the one I pulled out of the queue was like tiramisu. Occasionally I bit into earwax flavor. But generally I read a lot of interesting stories.

An often-repeated piece of writing advice is to read what you’re aspiring to create – read the best authors in the genre you’re writing in. I personally found that the time I spent reading slush severely limited the time I could spend reading anything else. On the plus side, I was exposed to genre stories I wouldn’t have read otherwise. I discovered that I really dislike “squick” and body-horror. I discovered that I quite like character-driven horror. (btw, Strange Horizons is NOT a horror market)

One of the bitter-sweet parts of my First Reader Experience was that when I read a really good story, I couldn’t share it. Because of course all submissions are confidential. But on the up side, if I wanted to I could read submissions even if they weren’t assigned to me. So occasionally I got to read brand-new stories written by authors I knew or knew of from their previous publications.

So, would I ever volunteer as a first reader again? The short answer is yes. I learned a great deal, and it was generally a positive experience. But first, I need to refuel. I have a huge stack of novels at home waiting to be read. I have a bunch of short stories and a novel churning in my head, begging to be written. And I want to apply some of what I’ve learned to my own writing.

I would definitely encourage my writerly (and readerly!) friends to apply for a First Reader position. My main caution would be make sure you have the time.

Have you ever thought about applying to be a first reader? Have you ever been a first reader? What was it like for you?

Happy Writing!

Slushy Confessions

I resigned from my position as a First Reader at Strange Horizons. I held the position from mid-September 2012 to the end of July 2013, so that’s about eight-and-a-half months (SH was closed to submissions in December and January.)

Slush: crushed ice and syrup. Tasty.

the other kind of slush

I’m a bit sad it’s over. Slushing was a good experience, and I learned a great deal.

Writing instructors will often say slushing will benefit your writing. They’ll say it’s good for you. But I have to admit that when I applied I was a little vague about exactly what that benefit would be.

Here are a few things I learned from my first reader experience.

First, I learned that all of the standard advice about writing good fiction that gets repeated in every writing class and how-to-write book is actually true. I knew it on an intellectual level. Now I believe it, on a gut level.

Second, a form rejection letter/email means exactly what it says. The magazine has decided not to publish my story. That’s it. Really. As a First Reader, I sent form rejections most of the time. A thoughtful personal comment for a rejection letter takes time to write. Time that could be spent reading the next story in the FR queue, or writing, or reading that neglected novel.

Third, a personal rejection doesn’t necessarily mean my story is “close” or my submissions are getting better. As a first reader I occasionally added a personal comment to the rejection email because I thought I had something useful or helpful to say about the story. But even then, I only wrote that comment if time allowed.

Fourth, I think I’ve gotten better at giving feedback to members of my critique groups, at least when it comes to identifying story problem areas. Whether or not I’m better at identifying problems in my own writing, or figuring out how to fix them, remains to be seen ;-)

Lastly, I learned the secret to getting your story past the slush reader, and into the hands of an editor. The secret? Write a fantastic story. So simple in theory, but of course difficult in practice. As a first reader, it was the best feeling ever to read a story that I could pass on to the editors with a note that said I loved it. That made my day.

And now that I’m retired from slushing, I’m looking forward to spending more time writing, and making a dent in the piles of books that have accumulated around my house (at a faster rate) since I started slushing.

Happy Writing!

Words Like Lego

One thing that Mary Rosenblum said during the one-day workshop I took with her was: “Words are like Lego Bricks”

That idea really struck a chord with me, and soon after that I saw this Lovecraftian lego sculpture at the business where my oldest daughter works.

giant octopus attacks spaceship

giant octopus attacks spaceship

Words are just building blocks. The magical comes from the way we connect them, and they can be put together in an infinite number of ways. So all I have to do is snap those bricks together and build a story. Edit, and take them apart. Rearrange and build some more.

This is fun, like building with Lego.

Happy Writing!

LegoOctopus_1