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