Writing and Running

Hey everybody, I’m taking the opportunity today to keep this blog super short (as discussed in my Jan. 1, 2016 post). I have a longer piece I’m working on today and the top priority is getting that done…TOP PRIORITY.Fastest Writer

I will be back on the regular blog schedule next time (2 weeks from now, Feb. 12) with news about this latest  piece and any new developments in my writing.

Stay tuned, things are sure to get interesting.

,Darius


Until then, enjoy the linked article which features one Mohammed Khurshid Hussain, who holds the world record for fastest writer in the world when using only your nose. Quite an achievement. Apparently, he practices this six hours a day. And you thought you had a serious writing schedule!

See you next time!

Rothko, ‘Nothing to Lose and a Vision to Gain’

A man once said, “You must constantly fight against the illusion that you have something to lose” or something very similar. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. And I’ve been wondering if that man didn’t lift or modify that quote from an earlier artist (who also was speaking at a commencement ceremony).

What am I talking about? Last month, I was down in Texas. Houston to be exact. We decided to hit the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (a museum not to be missed, if you’re in the area). They had an retrospective on Mark Rothko. I have to say I have a very hard time appreciating modern art. And the more abstract it is, the harder time I have hooking into it. Rothko’s stuff is abstract in the extreme: There are no figures and few shapes. It’s just a few rough lines and color. But there was something about these works. And it came down to a tag on one of the paintings that explained his work and opened it up for me. The tag said that painting should be not about a representation of a scene or a person. It should be an experience. An experience in and of itself. And that was it. I understood. Instead of judging it by the standards of pictorial representation I could judge the bare image on the wall by its immediate presence, by what it made me feel and think in all immediacy without a critical mind weighing it and ruining it.

Untitled 1951 Rothko, National Gallery of Art 

This is interesting because it’s not unlike the concept of “pure experience” in Buddhism and other Eastern religions. I’m sure Rothko must have been aware of this connection. It seems too close for him to have overlooked. But I’m not sure.

But I digress. The thing that really struck me was a second placard at the exhibition. It had a quote from a speech Rothko gave a year before he died at Yale’s commencement ceremony. As an older, successful artist he looked back on his career.

“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing; no galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet it was a golden time, for then we had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, and consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I will not venture to discuss. But I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow. We must all hope that they find them.”

And I thought: that first stage is fiction writing today, a “lonely thing” where—except for a few Rockstars of fiction—there are “no galleries, no collectors…no money.” Only the galleries are shuttered bookstores, the collectors are missing patrons, “no money” is a constant worry. 

But for all that—and there is a lot on that side—might there be an upside? Might it even be a “golden time”? I hear some of you laughing already. Fair enough. First, I’m all for writers being compensated fairly, excessively even. And I am concerned when I read headlines about writers making wages well below the poverty level ($8,000, come on!). But there’s an upside to having nothing to lose. It can give a you a chance to start over, to find your own vision free from the constraints and demands of commercialization, self-importance and inflated ego.  

That Rothko quote also got me thinking about myself. Wasn’t I in the same position as the younger Rothko? What did I have to lose? What if I just kept going like I have been for the last few years: Going to my 9-to-5 job, clocking in, clocking out. Writing stories on the weekend at the café, one of those “pockets of silence” where I can “root and grow.” What if I just write and write and write and never sell another one of those stories ever again? So what? No really, so what? I still have my 9-to-5 job. I still pay the rent, feed and clothe myself. What difference does it make? How would I be different from any other working stiff? But if I succeed, even modestly, mind you, what then? If I sell a few stories, maybe a novel someday, or a play? Even if they go nowhere—haven’t I gained something? A vision and more? The satisfaction that I did it, that I stayed the course? And didn’t fold? To me that has more worth than a thousand publishing contracts, a huge marketing budget and a bus for a book tour?

All times, golden or otherwise, are what you make of them. What will you make of yours?

Until next time,

Darius


That Rothko retrospective in Houston ends Jan. 24. So, you’ll have to hurry up if you want to catch it.

My Writing Life in 2016

Whew. Is it 2016 already? Man, time flies. So, let’s get right down to it. What are my plans for writing this year? Here they are, broken down into some bite-size chunks. As always, these goals are realistic and “Epictetusian” (not relying on others or outside influences to be accomplished. For example the goal: “Get 2 of My Stories Published” doesn’t cut it.).

1. Go to 2 Cons.londoncitybar 2
My plan last year to go to three Cons, alas, was too ambitious. This year I’m hoping to go to two. One down south, and one up north. I usually go to RavenCon, but would also like to go to one up north (maybe in Philadelphia?). I’ll keep you guys posted on where I decide to go.

2. Blog Changes
Life is short, art is long. So, in that spirit, going to make a couple of changes to ye olde blog this year. I’m going to be changing two things.

First, I will be writing shorter, telegraphic posts. Just updates on my writing or random thoughts on stuff. This means that some of my longer-form blog posts will become less frequent (stuff like Rare B Sides and The Craft will become fewer and further between), but not necessarily go away.

Second, I want to write about more than just writing fiction. That will remain the focus of the blog. But I feel I want to pull back the lens a bit, show more of the general landscape. Though we’re introverts, writers are also products of their time and place and have to deal with other human beings, like it or not. Grappling with their particular time and place has also produced some great writing. So what does it mean for this blog? It means I might write on modern art, then on Turkish politics before switching back to a post on writing fiction. I want to make sure the blog stays fun to write and doesn’t go stale and I think pulling out the lens will help do this.

3. Write What I Want.
I made big progress on this last year. I’m writing a piece right now that I really love, although I know it has dubious marketing potential (kinda like most of my stuff, actually). It’s increasingly and vitally important to me to write stuff I want to write. I think I had this backwards before, writing stuff I wanted to write, but that had to have a marketing/publishing/genre angle. I’m done with that now. I’m at peace. I realize my stuff will be very hard to cram into a genre. That it’s not really literary fiction. Or speculative fiction…or science fiction…Or horror…or fantasy. It touches on all those genres and is influenced by all of them, but doesn’t partake in any of them, per se. And I’m totally fine with that…I’m going to keep writing what I want—regardless of length, genre or subject matter—Marketers be damned.


There. Is that better?

Oh! And Happy New Year, Everyone! I wish you all health, happiness and some serious accomplishments in 2016!

Until Next Time,

Darius

By the way, that shot up there is of the “London City” café/bar in Buenos Aires. If I could write anywhere in the world, it would probably be there. I like to imagine I’m sitting  there in downtown Buenos Aires watching all the people go by, when I’m writing in my local Starbucks…I can dream, can’t I?

A Look Back at My Year in Writing—2015—A Sort of Capitulation

2015 was a tough one. No doubt. I’ll try to recap here the main developments and the things I achieved and didn’t achieve. Next week, we’ll look forward to 2016 and what I’m planning next.  Highsmith


1. I didn’t get a new work published.
This one stings, no doubt. I think two of the stories I wrote this year (“Pacha-Mama” and “Barabanchik”) are both top notch. Unfortunately, the big bad world seems to think otherwise, at least for the time being. That was tough, can’t pretend it wasn’t.

But I view it as a pretty minor setback. I’ve kept writing and feel the writing’s getting better. I’ve also gotten close to getting those works accepted…

2. I got two “good” rejections.
I know this is a weird, but work with me here. When a writer doesn’t get his work accepted he looks for a little, desultory cheer in his rejection letters. And now that I’ve collected over 50 of these, I can speak from experience. Most are stone-cold, not-interested-in-your-stuff standard rejection letters. But then there are those letters like these two (names have been removed to protect the innocent):

Dear Darius Jones,

Thank you so much for submitting to XXXX. We have read your work with interest, and although we are not accepting it, it did come close. We would love to see more work from you, so please feel free to resubmit during our next reading period.

Again, thanks for sending us your work. We hope to read more from you soon.

Signed,

The Editor

That was the first rejection that ever made my day. Getting an invite from an editor to keep submitting is a nice touch. A nice way to say: “Man, you came close. Don’t be discouraged. Keep sending us stuff.” And it was sure nice to get an encouragement after all those rejections. Here’s the next rejection letter:

Dear Darius,

Thank you for sending us “Barabanchik”…

We have decided not to include this piece in an upcoming volume of our anthology. However, since multiple readers review each submission, you may find the following excerpts from their notes useful or interesting…

– This is rather heavy with adult language…I like the narrative style, atmosphere, cultural references, and attention to details. I believe the POV shift…is rather abrupt and deserves a smoother transition. I’m very interested in all three characters, though I was expecting a greater connection to be established between them…I felt it was cut short, and I’m hoping a longer version is in the works!

That bit about getting engaged in the characters and hoping for a longer work I found pleasing. I think the most important thing is to have your reader care about your characters. I also think it’s gratifying to see the reader’s interest in a longer version, since I feel I write better in long form. I ain’t no Chekhov, that’s for sure.

I think I will revisit the works above slightly and keep submitting them this coming year.

3. I finished 3 short stories and made substantial progress on a longer piece.
The three stories I finished were: “The Man with Storms in His Eyes,” “Barabanchik” and “Pacha-Mama.” I have since decided to trunk that first story because I feel it’s not quite up to snuff. The other two pieces have received some good feedback from Beta readers. I’m going to keep submitting those two to editors next year.

I have also made significant progress on my latest piece “SSC.” Which you know,  if you’ve been following my Twitter feed. First: it’s not a novel. So don’t ask me: “How’s the novel going?” I will reveal what it is when the first draft is done, probably in early 2016.

I’m proud of the fact that I kept writing despite rejections. That’s important.

4. I went to one Con.
Although I had planned to go to three. I think that was a bit too ambitious. I made it to RavenCon this year and I’ll be planning my Con schedule for next year in the coming weeks. I think aiming to go to two Cons this time makes more sense. There’s only so much time in a year.

5. I wrote more and blogged less.
I wrote about this last year. I pretty consistently wrote the blog only once every two weeks as planned and this allowed me to write more fiction. I think it’s important that the blog continues and that I keep writing. I’ll have more to say about this one in the coming year.

6. I set a new readership (visitor) record for my blog.
Despite writing less, I broke the readership record for my blog. I guess, like they say, that consistency counts for something on blogs. I think people knowing that you’ll  be there, even if they have to wait two weeks, keeps them coming back for more. I also seem to be enjoying growing interest from UK readers. It’s cool to see readers outside the States getting interested in the blog.

7. I started writing my stuff.
This one is unquantifiable. But the unquantifiable stuff is usually the most important. I would say this year I finally capitulated. I came to realize my stuff isn’t really what “they” call speculative fiction. It doesn’t easily fit into fantasy or science fiction. Some of it comes close to “urban fantasy,” but not really…

Also…I’m not really writing “literary” fiction either. It’s not meticulously crafted prose larded with literary-style effects and plots about couples’ mid-life crises in suburban America/New York City. So, it doesn’t really appeal to that crowd either.

To put it simply, it’s a marketer’s nightmare. Its doesn’t fit the “literary” tag and it doesn’t fit the “speculative” tag. It’s still stuff I want to write. the main difference is that this year, I came to peace with that. And really don’t care much. The manuscript—and only the manuscript—has to come first…And second…And third. Otherwise, all  the marketing, blogging, promotion and events don’t mean a thing.

I think you know where I’m going with this. But I’ll get into it a bit further down the road. Suffice to say 2015 was the year when I decided to write my stuff. Damn the consequences.


So, sounds like a pretty “meh” year. Huh? Well, so be it. I think I matured as a writer over the past year and I think the stories are getting better and sharper. I have some ideas where I want to head next year too. But that’s a post for January. I’ll see you then with a new post and new ideas about where I have been and—more importantly—where I’m headed.

See you then.

Have a Happy New Year, Everybody!

Darius

The Craft: How to Know You’re Ready to Write Your Story

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

Has it been 2 weeks since my last post? Man, time flies. Pebble Ready

So…A couple of posts ago, I talked about rejection. This time, let’s talk emotion. Let’s talk where I’m at in my writing right now. No retrospectives, no looks  at other writers or other writers’ work.  I just want to answer: Where am I at? And where’s my writing at?

I think I’ve made progress in one small area: story selection. I’ve written about this before too. You know, the difficulty of discerning which story to work on next. It’s not easy. Here are just some of the considerations:

  • Is the underlying idea any good?
  • Do the characters seem like living, flawed people, not…(ahem)…characters?
  • Is the story idea mature? That is, is it fleshed out enough to carry the whole story?
  • Are you fired up to write it?

Let’s take these one by one. I think I’ve developed some ideas about how to test whether a story is ripe.  

Is the underlying idea any good?
If you’re not sure if a story idea is any good., there are a couple of ways to find out. First, put away your prewrite or notes on the story. Let it sit. For a week, two weeks, a month. Don’t open or revisit the notes at all. That part is key. Then, take a good long look at them. Read them from start to finish. Does the idea still strike you? Be honest with yourself.

Half the time I’ve done this, I’ve thought. “Oh man, this sucks. This idea is no good.” I have to admit to myself that the enthusiasm that accompanied the first capture of this idea was misplaced. But I archive the idea, in case it pops up in the subconscious later.   

The other half of the time I look at the notes again and think “This is good…Yeah…Yeah…Solid…This works.” And usually, at that point, I find myself adding to the notes and fleshing out the plot as I go. That’s a winner. Time to dress it up and write the first draft.

Do the characters seem like living, flawed people?
My best characters haunt me. I try to put them down, forget about them until I’m ready to write a piece, but they’re always there, popping up, nagging me. I might be at a noisy bar or at the grocery store or in a long, boring work meeting. My mind drifts. I’m brought into their world, the world of their story. And suddenly, they’re there acting out a favorite scene or, perhaps, a new one. They say the most interesting things. All the other characters in the scene turn to them, enthralled. And I feel that I’m simply another minor character in that piece, watching them emote. The scene continues for a moment and then. Poof! They’re all gone. And I’m back at the bar, the store, the office. But the scene lingers in my memory. I’ll often write down what they said on my phone or the shopping list or my notepad. It’s sad to seem them go, but I know they’ll be back. They’ll come around again. They always do.

It’s only the flawed characters that do this. The ones who are basically good, but are messed up or arrogant or conflicted in some way. People, like characters, are only interesting when they have scars. Those who have things too easy, often have little to offer. Only under pressure and with tough choices to make, is one’s true character revealed. They may triumph or fail under this pressure, but the interesting thing comes in seeing them try. So, take that perfect character, give them a back story, give them scars. And then give them a struggle, force them to make tough choices. Perhaps even a situation with no right choices. And, suddenly, you’ll have a story on your hands.

(The funny thing I’ve noticed: The characters do go away once you write their piece. Somehow, they seem to drift away once they’ve been en-souled in a story. Like a ghost, they’re vindicated, they fulfilled their destiny and can drift off.)

Is the story idea mature?
This is a tough one. Haven’t figured it out yet. A story’s not ready, I think, if it’s just a few lines and a character or two. You have to flesh it out a bit more. Maybe write down some major plots points, but you also don’t want to overdo it. If you outline the whole thing, you may not want to write it by the time you’re done. It may seem too predictable or rote to write out. In fact, this recently happened to me. I wrote out a detailed outline of a story, so when it came time to write it just seemed stale and obvious to me. Dead, in a way.

Somehow, you have to sense when the time is right to put down the pen on pre-writing and just launch yourself into the story. It’s never too easy to tell when precisely you should start that page 1, but you have to put away the notes at some point and begin.

Are you fired up to write it?
This should really be first in this list. I wouldn’t have said that even a year ago. But I’m starting to realize that in writing, the heart comes first, not last. You have to lead with your emotion, led it lead you, but guide and temper it with reason.

The stuff that I’ve written recently that I think is best, came from an emotional need to get the piece out, to get it down on paper. It’s that whole “Write What You Love” thing. The best stories are those that are “burning in your belly,” not the one you think will win an award or get accepted by a magazine or that your friends will like. Here’s something from Mike Long, a speechwriter and playwright.

If you write what you think will sell instead of what you’re passionate about, it’ll come through in the form of lesser quality. Why? Because you write better when you care.

I don’t know why that is, but I can verify it’s true. I write better when I’m passionate about something. If you feel strongly about a piece, and all the other things above check out, it’s probably time to sit down and start banging out the first draft.


Those are just random thoughts on writing fiction. And I’ve only found they work for me at this point in my career. They may not work for you. But they might. The only way to find out is to give them a shot.

If you feel you are ready, I wish you the best of luck. The world could use some great writing right about now. 

Good luck,

Darius

Time to (Re)Read A Moveable Feast?


Can’t let this pass without mentioning it.

I’ve had a lot of fun over the years making fun of Hemingway, I admit it. But A Moveable Feast is a great little novel. And obviously, the Paris attacks have been on everyone’s mind this past week. Today, I was very moved to see Hemingway’s memoirs of his younger days in 1920s Paris skyrocket to the top of the bestseller charts in France.

It’s interesting to see a book by an American author heralded as an exemplar of French culture. But you know what? It is. A book written by a Midwesterner is, for me, one of the greatest touchstones of French culture. It’s full of cafes, and writers and great art. What could be more French than that? HemingwayLoeb

And it’s full of great quotes like this one:

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were nor how it was changed nor with what difficulties now what ease, it could be reached. It was always worth it and we received a return for whatever we brought to it.

Well put.

So, here’s a suggestion. Get a copy of the book: physical or digital, it doesn’t matter. And take it out to a café this weekend, order the most insane caffeinated drink you can imagine, tip well, sit down and read the book. And celebrate French culture along with Hemingway. Whether you’re in Paris, or anywhere else in the world. I can’t think of a better way to stick it to the dark forces which struck the City of Light last Friday. Hey, Hemingway would do it if he was still around. Don’t you think?

And believe me, I’ll be right there with you. Except, truth be told, I’ll probably be writing. All for now.

Until next time,

Darius

50 Rejections…and Counting

So, a strange thing happened on the way to racking up 50 rejection letters. That’s right. For those of you wondering, I have submitted my various stories and New Yorker Rejectionnovellas to magazines 50 times and 50 times, those stories have ended up being rejected (according to my Duotrope submission tracker). But here’s the funny thing that happened. I only noticed it after I got the 51st rejection. That 50th rejection passed without notice. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t check my email every 12 hours and sullenly delete the rejection email. The 50th rejection was just one of many, one that I didn’t even notice. So, what I have I learned from this trail of rejection? Here are a few key takeaways:

The First Cut Is the Deepest
My first rejection? Yep, that hurt. Ain’t gonna lie. It was a rejection from Lightspeed for my story “The Hatchlings.” It was a very professional rejection letter and very prompt (only took them 1 day to turn it around). And from a top magazine that accepts very few stories. In other words, I had no reason to think I would have one of my stories accepted right off the bat. But, man it stung. My writing…Out there, being judged by someone else…And they rejected me. Me! The gall! I calmed down a bit, and that same day I sent out the story to the next magazine. Eventually, I got the second rejection and that hurt too, but not as much. The third hurt even less. And one day, it found the right editor and got published in Fiction Vortex. The thrill of getting a pieced accepted washed away all the bad feeling of those previous rejections.

Somewhere Around about Rejection 25—You don’t really notice it any more.
So, I kept writing, kept editing and kept sending in stories. The rejections piled up. You get your 5th, 10th and 25th rejection. And by about that time…You get to this point where you open your email, see the rejection slip and think “Hmm, that sucks.” It’s more like a mosquito sting than an amputation. I might let the story sit for a day or two, but more likely I’ll  find another market that same day and send it on its way.

I can’t even recall my 25th rejection, whatever it was, it didn’t have much of an impact on me.

It Helps Realizing How Much Other Writers Get Rejected
Somehow, there’s this myth that the great writers never have to deal with much rejection. While there are exceptions to this rule, there is the story about Stephen King that is great. It goes that he received so many rejection slips that a nail could no longer hold them all on the wall and it had to be replaced with a spike. I have also covered previously, Lou Antonelli’s assertion that you should have about 25 rejections per story before you decide to give up on the piece.

Yes, other professional writers who have published way more than you face rejection again and again. That’s the reality of the profession. You’re going to have to deal with it.

You Do Want to Follow Those Submission Guidelines—Exactly
It’s true that magazines will reject you outright if you do not follow their submission guidelines. I know. It’s happened to me. They usually say something: “check submission guidelines.”

Don’t do this to yourself, it’s not a good feeling. It’s not even giving the story you slaved over a chance. It’s being rejected simply because it’s the wrong computer file, wrong font or is the clearly wrong subject matter.

Don’t waste your time and the magazine’s by sending in something out of guidelines. Don’t do it. Take it from someone who has—it’s not a good feeling.

You Just Have to Keep Going—Whatever Your Response May Be
Epictetus said that it is often not events we experience that overwhelm us, but our response to them (or something to that effect). If one dwells repeatedly on a past traumatic event replaying it constantly over and over, it’s likely to drag you down. But if you’re able to somehow take that event for what it was, compartmentalize it to a degree, you’re better positioned to view it realistically for what it was worth and move on. (A gross oversimplification, I know, but bare with me a minute).

I’m not one to give you some trite pablum like: “Write like you’ve never been rejected.” People respond differently to rejection. For some, it makes them angry. And anger has produced some great writing. That whole feeling of “I’m going to show them this time,” a la Kingsley Amis. Others might just shrug it off—mostly—though it lingers in the mind. The key is, whatever your reaction: keep going.

It can be compared to jumping in a cold pool. You don’t want to do it at first, you know it’s going to be uncomfortable. But you have to jump in. And when you do, yeah, it IS uncomfortable at first (those first rejections sting), but with each passing minute it’s less and less uncomfortable and after awhile you don’t even notice the cold…That is until you get hypothermia and go into shock…At which point this metaphor hopelessly breaks down.

Anyway, here’s to rejection 52, 53 and 100. As long as I keep getting rejected, I figure it proves I’m still writing, I’m still trying. And even if I fail, I hope to “fail better” each time. In the end, that’s all any writer or artist can hope for. I hope that makes Epictetus smile—wherever he is.


And 1,000 Twitter followers later…
In other news, I’ve got 1,000 followers on Twitter now, which is kind of a cool milestone. It’s actually a pretty useful tool for finding and connecting with other writers and artists. If you want to follow my daily writing activities, the books I’m reading, the thoughts I’m having, etc.—it’s a great way to track them. You can find my handle here. If you’re a human (who doesn’t spam others constantly), there’s a good chance I’ll even follow back.

See you next time,

Darius

Writing, Submitting, Thinking

Guys, back at the blog again and I have little to say here for the time being. I wanted to do a longer piece today, but I’m just not feeling it. So instead of forcing the issue, here’s a little update on my writing.


Writing
I wrote a blown-out outline of a novella last weekend. It was part of my attempt to write more detailed outlines before I dive into a piece. I was happy with some of the scenes and the emotions they conjured…but…I feel that there is a significant logic problem with the plot, one I knew about all along. That logic problem is stopping me from moving forward with it until I figure out the problem. So…Bottom line: I’m going to put this one on the backburner for now. Going to let the subconscious work on that logic problem and see if it can figure it out. It’s usually pretty good at that.

That means that now I have to move onto a new work’s first draft. I’ll be selecting one soon and starting work on it. More on that below…

Submitting
Got to keep submitting. I’m still sending in my latest stories. I think they’re tight and well written. And I’ve noticed that the time to review them is taking longer. I think of this as a good sign: it usually (but not always) means that your piece is going through more gatekeepers before it gets rejected. Of course, a rejection is a still a rejection—whether it takes one day or 120 days. Your piece still doesn’t get published. But in the past I’ve noticed that the best pieces always take longer to get rejected from the get go than the merely “OK” pieces. They’re probably getting through the initial slush readers and moved up to editors before they are turned aside. So, if that’s any indication, these stories just haven’t found the right editors yet.

I’m hoping in time they will and I’ll be able to share them with you.

Thinking
As always, I’m thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking up new ideas and writing them down. Fleshing out older ideas and writing up their plot points. I’ve even created a new “Story Ideas-Ranking” to help me rank my story ideas according to their ripeness. It’s a short list with two categories: Stories that are pretty much ready for a first draft and those that need more work. I don’t rank those in the second part, but I do rank the ones in the first. What makes a story ripe is the passion I have for the story idea, how well-defined the story is, and whether I’ve done a full formal prewrite (describing the plot, setting, characters and research needed). I take all those factors, push around the ideas on the page and one emerges on top. That’s the theory anyway.

So, this weekend, I’ll take a look at the ranking, think about which one deserves to be done next. And dive in.

Hey, “Get Black on White,” right? That’s the only way to get it done. Always has been, always will be.

Alright. See you next time,

Darius

The Craft: How to Hunt and Destroy Gerunds

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

Today’s post is for the writers out there. I’m going to put forward one quick, easy method to sharpen your later drafts. It’s a method that’s simple, but also has a little technological A Gerundtrick to it.

First thing, I’m going to assume you hate gerunds. You know, those words in English that end in –ing. Like walking, talking, etc. One thing I’ve noticed and come to loathe is the use of gerunds in my writing…Dammit…Wait…That one didn’t count…

Anyway, if you don’t hate gerunds, you should. They tend to make sentences and action weaker. And they can interrupt the flow of your story too. Just look at these sentences:

Burke was walking down the street. As he came to the intersection, he was thinking about last night, wondering if Carol had really meant what she said.

or try this:

Burke walked down the street. He came to the intersection, thought about last night and wondered if Carol had really meant what she said.

The second version, is objectively better, just like Ayn Rand said. (I jest). But seriously, I think most people would agree that the second version is stronger and better. Why? The use of verbs in their simple form without –ing, make less passive, they are stronger and  more direct.

So, how do you find and kill these little bastards? It’s easy. You can do it one by one, of course. But the best thing to do is a keyword search in your word processor. Just search for “ing” and you’ll be surprised at how often they crop up. (I was shocked the first time I did this, in fact. I had no idea I wrote so many sentences with gerunds in them.) Once you search, all you have to do is reword the sentence, usually by using the infinitive (put “to” in front of the verb) or putting it in the simple past tense. You’ll be amazed at how a little freshening up like this will help your piece.

And what about adverbs?
Some have said that adverbs (words usually ending in “ly” in English) deserve the same treatment as gerunds: get rid of them. Elmore Leonard did not like to use adverbs to modify the verb “said.” That, at least, is a pretty good idea.

I can’t go there with people who think we should get rid of ALL adverbs, but they can be used as a crutch in situations where the reader should have been able to infer how something was being done from the action and the characters. Besides, if you’re getting rid of adverbs, getting rid of adjectives can’t be far behind. Then, you’re only left with nouns and verbs and a very gray world…but I digress.

So, how to get rid of those adverbs? You got it, do a keyword search for “ly” and, again, you’ll be surprised at what crops up. I don’t always ax the adverbs, but I usually do. It’s trickier fixing them because you have to find a way to subtly make it known how things are done without hitting your reader over the head with an adverb.

But isn’t that what the craft part of writing is all about?

See you next time,

Darius

Forging Ahead—with New Stuff

“Silence is a source of great strength,”—so says Lao Tzu (or something like that). And yet here I am blogging… Anyway…Laozi

Wow. 2 weeks have passed by in a flash. It’s frustrating when my day job gets out of control like it is right now. It means that the fiction writing suffers. And the blog? Well, it becomes just an afterthought. This was the first time in a long time when I really drew a blank on what to write here on the blog. Thus, the Lao Tzu quote. So, in a nod to the time I have had to sacrifice to earning a living, I’m just going to give you a quick cut on where my writing’s at. Here are the stories I’m working on right now:

Barabanchik
Finally got this down to where I like it. On the recommendation of an editor (of a magazine I sent it to), I axed the entire first chapter. And I’m finally pleased with where this ended  up. I’m still waiting to hear back from various editors on an earlier version of this story. In the meantime, I’ll be submitting the new version to see if it garners any interest.

Pacha-Mama
Got to input some changes on the draft of this piece and then decide what to do. I think it will need a little more work before I start submitting it. But overall, I’m pretty pleased where it ended up.

New Stuff/Project Selection
After I figure out what to do with those two stories above, the non-fun act of selecting what work to begin next starts. I like to begin new projects, to write first drafts, but it’s tough to select new stories to start. I dip into my pre-writing notes on my computer. It’s often difficult to decide which stories are ripe for the plucking. It’s not a science, that’s for sure. You have to judge how good the idea is overall and how well-formed it is in your mind. That is, how close it is being a blown-out, mature story. Just the seed of an idea—no matter how good—is enough to start a story. It’s not easy deciding which story idea to finally commit to.

So, wish me luck. I will put Pacha-Mama to bed somehow, and then decide on my next fiction piece. I’ll let you guys know what I decided next time I post in a couple of weeks.

See you then!