Monday, August 24, 2015

Documenting the writing life

At the time this gets published I'm making my way back from Worldcon in Spokane. I'll be tired and cranky and most likely half asleep from the past week's exertions. I'm writing this during the week before Worldcon so I don't know for certain. What I do know right now that I don't have the time or the brain capacity for another thoughtful Mad Max post, though at least one more of those is going to get made sometime soon. So instead I'm going to talk about documenting my writing life.

Query Tracker 

While querying, it's important to know who you've queried and when. Something that's also nice is being able to see the actual query letter. Query Tracker does all this for me as well as providing the option to search for possible agents using various criteria. Query Tracker provides some statistics based on people's reports but from where I'm sitting they don't seem very robust at the moment. None the less Query Tracker even as it is now is an invaluable part of my writing process.


I write short fiction as well as novels. To be perfectly frank, I've written many more short stories than novels. Possibly even more words in short stories than in novels. Duotrope is very similar to Query Tracker, only focused on short stories. Duotrope has wonderful statistics on all the short story markets I've come across so far. It also provides a calendar with upcoming themed and unthemed deadlines of magazine submissions.

Sink or Submit! 

Finally, with regard to submissions, we come to the gamification of submissions. Sink or Submit! is a super simple game created by another Mary Robinette Kowal alumn, Hilary Bisenieks Brenum and it was inspired by yet another MRK alumn, Sunil Patel. Basically, you get a point for every submission and rejection you get. For every acceptance your point count goes to zero. The point of the game is to reward for behavior that should, in the end lead to something positive but where the road to those positive results is sometimes very unpleasant. A sale is a reward all on its own.

The Magic Spreadsheet

The Magic spreadsheet is a way to gamify the amount of words you write every single day. You get more points for every day that you write at least the magic minimum (250 words). You get one point for 250 words (two points for 500 words, 3 for 1000 words and four for 2000 words) plus one point for every day in your chain. I'm currently on my 44th day of my latest chain which means that I'm getting 45 points for today's 300 words. As you accumulate points, you go up a level at intervals that last about a month if you write every day. As you go up a level, your level specific quota goes up by 50 words. Which is to say, on the second level you need to write 300 words every day to maintain your points. You can still maintain your chain even if you don't write to your level quota but that also drops your chain points back to the level highest level quota of those words. So, if today I wrote only 250 words, I would get only 31 points instead of 45. If tomorrow I wrote my 300 words, I would get only 32 points.

The spreadsheet also sports a leaderboard in which you can compete with people around the world on the number of words you've written total, this month and so on.


At all times I have at least three projects ongoing; one short story, one novel either in plotting or revision and one novel being written. On top of that I run two of my own blogs and regularly contribute to three others. If I didn't have some type of project management tool, my head would explode. Literally. Or maybe not. Mind meltdown doesn't seem like it would produce that much heat or expansion. Anyway, I'm digressing.  I use Trello to plan my time in advance because it allows me to see most of the moving parts in advance as well as giving me deadlines for upcoming things that I need to get done.

How do you document your writing life? Do you

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The dangers of wishing

I have a lot of wishing going on tonight. I spent all day with my cat at the vet. Tonight he's staying at the vet, so they can give him fluids and monitor his condition. He should be fine, but I'm a naturally stressed human, and in this case it's near impossible not to stress.

Sometimes I think wishing can be dangerous, particularly when it becomes a substitute for actual effort. When we become so afraid of trying that it's easier to just sit back and wish for good things to come to us.

But in other cases, wishing can be precious. It can be a light in the dark when we have no control over our fate, when we've done everything we can, and all that's left is the wait.

Sometimes, wishing and hope and faith are all we have.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015



Friday, August 14, 2015

Don't miss your Excite

Even the best story ideas can become dull or lifeless at times. Sadly my insurance doesn't cover sick or dying story ideas. If you want a laugh, give your insurance company a call and ask about it. And by 'want a laugh', I mean if you want them to laugh at you.

One thing that I wish or dream about is reviving an older novel I've written called "Going to the Beginning". Last week I spent several hours rewriting the beginning paragraph from scratch. When I was done I had nothing visible to show for it because I had deleted every single attempt.

I could give up. The story is rough and messy. If it was an animal most people wouldn't let it in their house. In fact they'd probably call animal control. Thankfully I'm not most people. I'll happily take in the bedraggled and unloveable. That's probably part of the reason my house is always so cluttered.*

All I can say is "I love clipart", ok well that and what's with the bunny? He looks way too normal.

What I needed was to bring back the excitement it my story. That idea that churns around in my head. It blankets itself over my other thoughts until I expel the words through my fingers and onto the page. 

It was time to go back to the beginning. I'm not editing my old novel. There are too many unnecessary plot and character points to fix. Each time I try it bogs me down and I feel lost. It's hard to clear up something when you can't remember what you want it to look like. 

Since then I have rewritten my core idea and premise for the story. These are the reasons I first wanted to tell this story. The important stuff that I lost track of while I was busy plugging in my daily words.

The core of my novel is about what a sister will endure out of love and a need to protect her sister. It is also about the misconception that having a mental illness means you are broken or less than other people. 

This is what I wrote down for the premise. "After missing for a few days, nine year old Jane is found in a coma. Her sister Julianne is the only one who knows the secret of how her sister disappeared in the first place. She is determined to follow in her sister's footsteps and find a way to save her sister." Dun Dun Dun.**

After writing down my core idea and premise I started to believe in this project again. The premise even ended up being vastly different from my original one. It's going to take more than a few little edits here and there to the story. This doesn't upset me though. I am an intrepid explorer about to uncover the lives and plot of characters I've already come to love. 
I always think I'd write better with a quill pen and perhaps a regency inspired dress
Have you ever gutted a story or revamped it drastically? Did the daunting task give you a new spark of creativity? I'd love to hear from you.

* Although I prefer the term future artifact dig
** I have a hard time writing anything even remotely suspenseful without adding Dun Dun Dun or something similar. I'm very mature that way. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Books I Wish I Wrote

August is all about wishing here on The Prosers. I have a theory that every writer has at least one book they wish they'd written, something that's taken hold of their soul so profoundly that it's almost like someone had crawled up inside their brain and found the pieces there.

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

A government agency filled with living fairy-tales solving crime? I am there for that. I grew up watching cop shows and murder mysteries. My mother was, and probably still is, addicted to them so I have a permanent soft spot. Granted, my favorites more along the lines of NCIS, Bones and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries rather than Hercules Poirot, Inspector Morse and Der Alte but the affinity is still there.

One of the first things that I wrote that I actually remember what happened was a Finnish language assignment of my sister's (she wrote the one she actually turned in but I was so inspired by the assignment that I wrote one just for me); change a key aspect of some fairy-tale and write the story. I've been hooked on subversive fairy-tales ever since.

This book is something that combines both of those elements with dry, dark humor and an episodic story-telling style so reminiscent of all those cop shows I know and love. Every time I read this (I've lost count) I am both in awe of McGuire's work and kicking myself that she got there first.

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Cop just trying to arrest a mass murderer accidentally goes back to his own past and ends up leading a revolution because that's the job that's in front of him.

Sam Vimes in Night Watch is basically a noir hero who's trying to do good. He's Casablanca's Rick Blaine after Elsa gets on that plane (sorry for the spoilers but it's over 70 years old and spoiler warnings have an age limit). He is mainly interested in keeping the piece and protecting a few people.

What he gets is a whole mess of trouble. The Unmentionables, Ankh-Morpork's then patrician's private police, do not like the man who refuses to hand over curfew breakers to them for torturing. The book is filled with social commentary as well as ruminations on the nature of right and wrong.

Pratchett is one of the first authors I started reading who showed me just how subversive humor can be. Because it's "just humorous fantasy", Pratchett can do and say things that "serious" writers would have to work a lot harder for. Night Watch is very much "message fiction" but because it's also laugh-out-loud funny I've never heard it accused of being that. The book sticks with me and I keep coming back to it at least once every year.

Kuka lohduttaisi Nyytiä? By Tove Jansson

Translated to English as Who Will Comfort Toffle? this one is ostensibly a children's picture book. It's all about Toffle, a little troll who's afraid of the dark, of his neighbors, basically everything around him. He's more or less an introverted, depressive agoraphobic who leaves his home to find a safer space, scared to leave but even more scared to stay. Outside he sees many wondrous things that make him feel even more alone because he's too afraid to approach anyone. He finds a lonely seashore that's calm and makes him not afraid and he makes a home there. Then he gets a letter in a bottle from a girl troll who says she's also scared and needs help. The rest is about him overcoming his own fear because there's someone who needs him. They end up comforting each other and, of course, living happily ever after.

I loved this book as a teenager, heck I still love it, because it assured me that however I was feeling at the time, there were people out there who got me and would love me for me. I know it sounds trite but as a writer I would love to have that kind of impact on another person's life. It is, after all, a part of why I write.