A Crazy Week—In Real Life

Hey Guys,

I was intending to write a good, substantive post this week, but life has conspired to intervene. Work is crazy, life is hectic…But writing is good, that part…is pretty darn good.

Crazy

So, anyway, everything is pretty unsettled. So instead of writing a proper post when—frankly—I don’t feel like it, I’m going to make this an ultra-short post.

One short note: I am working on revising a short story at an editor’s request, so that is a bit of good news. But of course, that also eats into blog time. Anyway, more on that next time and more on other writing insights.

Alright, gotta run. See you next time,

Darius

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Where My Writing Is Headed in 2018

Well, here we are. The great summing-up is done, and now, for the plan-ahead.

new-year-2018-eve-greeting

To review: Last time, we looked back at my writing in 2017. And despite not submitting works as much as I wanted to, overall, I was pretty satisfied with where my writing is at. Why? Because I’ve remained productive this year. I’ve kept putting words on paper. In fact, I cranked out about 36,300 words of prose. That’s about 7 short stories worth (if you use 5,000 words as the yardstick for a short story). So, I’m pretty proud about that…But that’s so 2017. What about the coming year?


Well, the following are some things I would like to achieve in my writing in 2018. Ranked in their order of importance:

1. Write more in 2018 (as measured by word counts).
As I said, I wrote about 36,000 words in 2017. I will have roughly the same amount of time to write in 2018. But I want to be aspirational about things…So…How about this goal: Write 40,000 words of fiction in 2018.

2. Work harder to get stories accepted.
If I was disappointed in one aspect of my fiction writing in 2017, it was something which had nothing to do with writing fiction: submitting stories. But as this is a key part of being a writer, I need to do a bit better here.

But as I thought about it, I was struggling with how to quantify this. After all, I have little control over whether editors accept my story. But I do control how often I send out my stories. So, adapting an idea from Aeryn Rudel (who has a great blog all you aspiring SFF writers should read), I will submit a story once every two weeks. I will continue to do so until a story is accepted or it reaches 20 rejections.

I would set a goal of once per week, but I know I’m going to be quite busy this year anyway. And once every two weeks would be a vast improvement.

I already have three pieces that are done, proofed and ready for submission. So, it’s just requires grabbing them and sending them along to the right markets. Finding those right markets is where all the work will reside. 

3. Stretch goal: Get my play in production.
One of those pieces is a complete play. It will be one of those pieces I will be sending out every couple of weeks. Now, I know that a play is harder to shop around than a story. And that its submission package is usually more involved (requires a synopsis, only samples of a manuscript, a Bio, etc.) than a story. So, I’m naming this my stretch (extra tough) goal. In other words, I will submit my play to theatres accepting manuscripts throughout the year.

4. Keep blogging.
Lastly, I will  keep blogging. At the same time, I don’t want to make this overly onerous. I want to be able to share a thought, an insight on writing, or some progress I’ve made. But I don’t want the blog to distract from, or worse yet, eat up time that should be devoted to fiction writing. I definitely want to keep my steely determination in the Distraction Wars and not let the Internet or smart phones or idle conversations with strangers keep me from my main mission: writing fiction. And so,

I will post at least 100 words to my blog every two weeks.


That’s it! My goals—my writing resolutions—if you will, for 2018. Simple, easy to understand and easy to measure.

Will I be able to meet my own goals? Or will time management or distraction be my undoing? Will I have self-discipline or will I cave in and go for a walk or listen to a Podcast instead of doing what I really want to do—write?

At this point, it’s too early to tell. You will just have to come along with me on this little journey and see where we net out on Dec. 31, 2018.

Wish me luck! And hope to see you there!

Happy New Year!

,Darius

A Look Back at My Year in Writing—2017

Wow. Another year is here and almost gone. I can’t believe it. I think, overall, it was a good year for my writing…But you always wish you could do more, write more, get a few more words down, get a few more stories accepted. old_school_reporter

So, how to sum up a year of writing fiction? It’s harder than you think. Here’s how I would like to divide this up: into the Hard Stuff and Soft Stuff. The Hard Stuff is easily quantifiable: stories accepted/rejected, word counts, that sort of thing. The Soft Stuff is more qualitative, it’s about style and technique, not stuff  you can easily quantify. Ready? Here we go!

One Story Accepted
Way back on January 1, I had a story published on Between Worlds Magazine. It’s called “So You Found Me.” It was the first flash fiction piece of   mine that was ever published and I was very happy with the way it came out. Check it out if you get a minute.

As for my others stories, will they were sent out, but they haven’t been accepted—yet. These are three other stories, two of which I think have really good chances of getting published. But before I move on, in the interest of normalizing literary rejection, let’s look at the stats for my stories in 2017 so far. Let’s break this down in all its stark brutality:

Number of times stories sent to magazines: 16

Stories rejected: 15

Answers pending: 1

Acceptance percentage: 0%

Ouch! I’m not letting that get me down though. Why? Partially because you have to soldier on through rejection. That’s what writers do. But also because these statistics don’t tell the whole truth.

First, it’s a woefully low statistical sample, which can be misleading. Let’s say many of these magazine have acceptance rates of around 5%. Some are higher, some lower. Now, think about that. It means given they all had a 5% acceptance rate, for every story they accept, they’re rejecting 20 (If my math is right. Is it? I’m horrible at math!). So you have about a 1/20 chance of getting your story accepted. Assuming this hypothetical magazine accepts all worthy stories equally, you would have to send a story 20 times before getting accepted. As it is, I didn’t even match that 20 number, sending my stories out just 16 times. In fact, many established writers I have talked to will send a story out between 20-25 times before trunking (abandoning and archiving) it. So, it’s partially my own fault, because I didn’t send out my stories enough.

Also, my submission spree doesn’t take into account what kind of rejections I received. Some of these were not blanket “form” rejections. They were rejections saying that my story got close to getting accepted in a couple of instances. In another instance a literary magazine rejected one of the stories, but asked for me to send future stories their way. (The first time that has happened with a literary magazine). So, what at first looks pretty abysmal, wasn’t that bad and in fact, gives me hope that these stories will finally find a home.

Word Counts—Keeping It Up
Best of all, I kept the word counts up. This was not an easy year to do this. It has been filled with distractions. But I have been able to remain focused. I have some reasons for this, which I will get into below—but I want to list one here. I think I have been able to keep my schedule and writing ritual consistent. I have minimized distractions from blogging and submitting work and sat down and focused on producing words. That is very important.

I will not get into specific words counts in this post, but bring that up in the next post.

Blog Writing
Blogging can seem like a chore—and it often is! But I kept it up this year: I blogged once every two weeks. Even if it was to say: “I’ll see you guys next time.”

I also changed the name of the blog from “A Writer Begins” to “Inside the Writer’s Mind” on its fifth (!) anniversary. And good news: that posting consistency is paying off. Blog readership is way up this year. The number of visitors is more than double last year and almost triple last year’s total. So, that’s sweet! Thanks for checking in, everyone.

And now for the Soft Stuff…

Writing the Story That Burns in Your Belly
I have written about this one a lot here. Story selection. How do you know which story to write? Which piece of all those in your pre-writing pile to pick out and actually get down on paper? It’s tough, but I think I’m figuring it out.

As I wrote, it’s that story that is “burning in your belly.” The one with the characters/scenes you can’t stop thinking about or embellishing with little details. That’s what you want to write. I’ve known this for some time now, but I haven’t always practiced it. That ended this year in March. When I said “Screw it!,” sat down and started writing the story(ies) that were on the top of my pre-writing pile. I finally started practicing what I preach and I think it’s helping me crank my word counts higher.

Writing with Music
Another thing that is helping the word counts, I think, is the decision to bring back my music. I go to cafes to write usually and they have their own music which is fine. And they usually also have somewhat loud patrons, which can be distracting. So, I went back to something I used to do a long, long time ago: writing with my music on.

When I go write on the weekends now, I bring headphones and plug in to listen to my music. It blocks out any conversations (most importantly), but it also lets me change my mental mood a bit as I pick a faster or slower or happier or darker music depending on the scene I’m putting down on the page. And again—if word count is any indication—this has helped my writing.

I love little tweaks like this that can up your writing game. 

Go to a Con?
This is one thing I said I would do last year that I didn’t do. Oh well. I would like to get to a good writing Con in 2018, but we will have to see. There are so many things to do and it’s always hard to fit this one in.

Overall
Overall, I will call 2017 a great year for stick-to-it-ness in my fiction writing. Did I get any stories accepted? Yeah, just one short piece. But I kept writing and that’s the most important thing. The standard by which all other successes have to be judged because it’s the one thing I can control and that comes down to me. If a story gets accepted or rejected, if people come to the blog or not—I have no control over. So, I’m glad the tweaks I made seem to have worked and the word counts are heading in the right direction. Now, I just have to hone in on editing and submitting more in 2018.

But that’s a post for next time.

Writing On

Hey guys,

Really busy over here with work, writing and Thanksgiving next week. So…Not much of a post this time. I was going to do a big, long hairy post about the Russian Revolution—marking 100 years and all—but that ain’t going to happen this time. Hopefully, next time. And then it will be back to the writing theme.

Fink 3

But on the creativity front: I am writing fiction and sticking with it. So, that’s good. I have fallen down a bit on submitting new stories and following up on them. I’m hoping to take the long Thanksgiving break and finally get to that. So, all in all, not too shabby.

OK. I will see you guys next time with a much bigger post. Until next time,

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius


PS…This post from Daniel Davis’ blog featuring Jack Kerouac with Steve Allen on piano really was pretty cool. And somehow, Kerouac’s writing does go down quite well with jazz. You know, like they were made for one another or something…

Swing, Baby, Swing.

A Writer Goes to New Orleans—For Halloween

What is it about certain towns? You know, those that draw in writers? As places to write. As places to live. Or places to do a little bit of both…

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Internationally, there’s that perennial favorite, Paris. Then there are some of my favorites: Moscow, Istanbul, Madrid, Fes, Buenos Aires, Arequipa. (Why are so many of these former imperial capitals or ports? Or both?…Anyhow…) Man!—Any one of the towns I could (and sometimes have) set up shop in, find some cheap digs and just write, write, write. Closer to home, here in the U.S., there are lots of choices for literary towns. Dear to many an American writer’s heart is the Big Easy, New Orleans. And lucky me, I’m headed that way this weekend.

And not only is it NOLA, it’s Halloween in New Orleans!!! Which will be sweet. One of the biggest impressions of the city is just its overall spookiness. All those cemeteries with their stone avenues of mausoleums, the hints of voodoo practice in little shrines and altars, the old convents and parks with shut wrought-iron gates. Its whole atmosphere lends itself to Halloween.

Then, there’s the music and the food which are, let’s face it, the cornerstone of civilization once you’ve finished your morning coffee. For music, there’s jazz, as the obvious choice, but also lots more on offer. I’m going to try to find myself some good jazz piano this time around. (Let me know if you have any advice on where to go in the Comments section.)

As for food, my mission this time in NOLA is to really understand the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine. I think Cajun is the more rustic and country-food/gamey cuisine and Creole is more seafood-based and, well, mixed. But I will have to do a bit more hands-on research here. I also want to try trout—which is apparently a big thing I missed in my previous trips and some authentic Israeli food.

And finally that great literary heritage. There’s Chopin and Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and John Kennedy Toole—all these great mythologizers of the South, New Orleans and America—and all with some connection to this great city. Want to hunt down some of those places connected with them while I’m there.


Here’s a bit more on literary New Orleans from Huff Post. They do a good job of breaking down some of the highlights.

And PS, here’s the number one tip for doing New Orleans right: Get off Bourbon Street, and better yet, out of the French Quarter, and see what’s happening in the rest of town—you won’t regret it! And Gentlemen, don’t forget your dinner jacket, you’ll need it if you want to get into most of the decent restaurants.

See you next time,

DJ

The Greatest Medium

Well, some say the “medium is the message.” This time it’s true. (Or at least the message of this post is about a medium).

bobcreeksouth _OR

I was out on the Oregon coast this summer, as you know. And I had a great time. Deep-sea fishing, crabbing, going to beer festivals. One small scene unrelated to all of them, really struck me though. It was just a simple moment in the local seaside hotel we were staying in. To one side of the coffee table, I noticed a few used books on the shelf.

It was a cold and misty day, with alterations of sunshine and cloud. With wind at about 50 degrees, you wouldn’t want to stay outside too long (well, we did anyway). It was very tempting to grab one of those books—novels actually—and curl up beside the fire and start reading. But of course, I didn’t. There was too much to do and too much fun to be had.

But it got me thinking…Is there really any other medium like the novel? One in which you can grab a tea or coffee, curl up and be transported to a wholly different world for days on end? Where you can come into another person’s—another soul’s—mind and thoughts and live in their world for such an extended period of time?

I thought about it and I don’t think there is…With the possible exception of video games where you do live in a world for hours or days on end and where you live a sort of first-person existence. But even then, it’s not quite the same. And besides that’s not the point of this post…

The point of this post is that I have always loved the form of the novel. Not for me are short stories with their quick, clever plotting and their swift resolutions. Or even plays which are grand in their immediacy—but too short-lived.

No, best give me a samovar full of tea; a wet, dreary day; and a thick novel. And let me fall into a distant world and learn and grow and develop…and suffer, revel and laugh…along with a character in some far-off realm of imagination. And lit me LIVE there for hours or days until I finally finish the last chapter. That!!! That’s art in its highest form…What could be more sublime? 

Just a thought!

See you next time,

Darius

Five Years of My Blog: A Writer Begins

Well, well, well. It’s a bit early, but this blog has been around for FIVE years. Five years! The first post was on July 20, 2012. And here it is:


My New Novel

July 20 by dariusjones

[This entry is a repost from my earlier, Goodreads blog. It was the first post on “A  Writer Begins.”]

Well, here goes nothing.

My first novel has just been published. It’s on the Amazon Kindle store here. It’s also on Goodreads.

Please take the time to leave a review. And a big thank you to all of you who have already got it and are reading it.

,D


Sarasota Writer

I was so nervous to hit “PUBLISH” on that first post. And I honestly didn’t want to do it, but I felt that’s what a writer should do once they published something in this day and age. So, I did it. The blog has come a long way since then: the posts are longer, have a more conversational tone and have pictures (even GIFs and videos).

I want to use this post to take a deeper look at my blog and my writing over the past five years. I’m going to do this via simple stats and lists.


First, here’s a breakdown of the stats for this blog:

Total posts: 198

Total followers: 188

Comments received: 103

Visitors in the first year: 5

Most popular post: The Craft: Poe’s Unity of Effect

Posting schedule: Once every two weeks.

Not bad, lots of progress there. I’ve also stuck to my established posting schedule of once every two weeks. I wish I could do more, but with my writing fiction, sleeping, working out and…Oh yeah!!!—that full time job—that’s about all I can handle.


Second, here’s a look at my submission/rejection totals for stories.
My first story submission was also in July 2012. This was the rejection letter I received July 8, 2012 (just before the blog began):

Thanks for submitting “The Hatchlings,” but I’m going to pass on it. It didn’t quite work for me, I’m afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way.

Editor XXXX

And yes, I keep all my rejection and acceptance letters. Here’s a deeper look at my submission/rejection stats from my Duotrope listings which I use to track my story submissions. (Hat tip to Aeryn Rudel from which I’m errrrr, “borrowing” this idea of sharing rejection stats. But seriously, you should check out his blog, Rejectomancy!)

Submissions: 102

Rejections: 80

Acceptances:  4

Never heard back from publisher: 8

Withdrawal by author: 7

Pending submissions: 3

Acceptance/Rejection ratio: 3.9%  [Believe it or not, that’s not too bad.]


So, also looking back from the start of this blog…from that moment when I decided I’m going to give this writing thing a shot: What has changed? What’s different? Well, everything is the same, everything is different. I still have the same job, and I still write on the weekends. But certain writing milestones have occurred. I think a Q-and-A format might answer these best, so apologies for the cheesiness, but let’s dive in!

Darius, what writer milestones have you passed in these last five years?

Q: Have you self-published a story or book?

A: Yes. I self-published a novel, The Library of Lost Books and a novella, The Man Who Ran from God on Amazon Kindle. 

Q:  Have you traditionally published a story? That is, has a magazine/publisher published your work?

A: Yes, four times. All of them were stories: The Hatchlings, The Ghul of Yazd, Barabanchik, and So You Found Me.

Q: Have you received payment for publishing a story?

A: Yes, first via Amazon for my self-published work. And also for two of my traditionally-published stories for magazines.

Q: Have you signed a contract for a piece you published?

A: Yes. Twice for the same pieces I received payment for.

Q: Which of your published pieces are you most proud of?

A: The Ghul of Yazd. Its characters, its structure, its dialogue and its tone have that “unity of effect” I’m always looking to create. And it’s simply a good yarn.

Q: Have you attended a Con with a writing track and participated in writer events?

A: Yes. Attended writer panels and workshops at two RavenCons.

Q: Have you written a play?

A: Yes. Something titled The Sludge Ship Chronicles.

Q: Have you had a play staged/performed?

A: Alas, no. But it’s ready to go! Finished, and proofed and everything! If anyone out there can help market it, let me know! It can be produced cheaply, I swear! Anyone? Anyone???

Q: Have you had a novel traditionally published?

A: No.

Q: Have you received an advance for a novel?

A: Oh God, no.

Q: Have you got an agent?

A: Nope.

Q: Have you done a book tour or an event promoting your own work?

A: No.

Q: Have you quit your day job because you thought: “Let’s make a go of it as a pro?”

A: No!


So, there you have it. Five years of this blog, five years of submissions and five years of writing fiction. I’ve come a long way, especially when you consider I’m doing this on the side, catch as catch can.

The most fundamental thing I’ve done in writing and the one thing I’m really sticking to now is: Writing what I want to write. I can not emphasize this point enough. It is absolutely key, as I discussed in this post and many other places. In the end, picking the right story is easy. You know that strange, enduring story? The one that doesn’t let you sleep at night? That has you imagining the main characters as you sit through yet another PowerPoint presentation? That’s running through your mind as you’re on the bike at the gym doing Cardio? That’s the story you have to write! That one, right there! Get it out, and trust me, you’ll feel a lot better.

Well, that’s about it. Thanks to you, the blog readers, for tuning in. And a big thanks to friends, family and my partner for supporting my writing in ways big and small, spiritual and material. It means so very much to me to have you in my life and know you support what I’m doing.

With that, I’m off to write some fiction.

See you guys next time,

Darius

Thank You

Everybody,

Looks like 2017 is going to be a good year here on the blog. Already the blog has surpassed the readership total (visitors) for 2016. And in only 6 months. So, thank you to everybody that keeps coming back for more…and to our new visitors. I promise to keep posting and keep getting you inside the head of this fiction writer.

you_monsters

More Soon,

Darius

How to Write in a World of Distraction

Distracted from distraction by distraction…” –T.S. Eliot

Feeling a bit distracted lately?sIIwU

No?

Really?

Lucky you. I admire your self-discipline. What with the constant news, smart phones, websites and more and more media choices, the human beings of this world are being distracted half to death. It’s also shortening attention spans, among other things, but I’m not here to talk about the larger ramifications of this trend. Instead, I’m here to share a bit about how I tune those voices out when it gets time to write.

Here is what I do every weekend when I go to write and I need all those voices to STOP:

Head to a Public Place
It doesn’t matter if it’s a café, library or rented cube farm. Get to a public place where the cultural expectation is that people are coming there to work. And  then settle in and get going…

Why go out to write? First off: peer pressure. If it’s a place where everybody is expected to do mental work you’ll feel the pressure to do the same. It’s one of the situations where you can use peer pressure, the desire to conform, to your benefit. (It’s on the page where you need to stand out and go your own way!)

Second, home has all those distractions, doesn’t it? Internet, TV, books, reading the mail, doing that project, mowing the lawn. Well, if you’re at a café, you can’t do any of that stuff…But there are other things which can distract, which brings us to.

Put Your Phone on Airplane Mode
I always bring my phone with me to write. But as soon as I get to the café, I put it in flight mode. I understand if all of you out there can’t do this (families, kids, etc.), but I highly recommend it. There is NOTHING that ruins a great writing groove like a call from a friend you haven’t heard from in awhile, or someone trying to sell you something. Believe me, because it’s happened to this writer. And once that groove is gone, you ain’t  getting it back, at least not that day.

At first flight mode silence was difficult for my close friends to accept, but now they know this is what I’m doing on Sundays and they anticipate it. The few times I have accidentally left the phone on during my writing sessions, I have not gotten calls. People have adjusted and learned to work around it—and I’m very, very grateful for that.

Kill the Wi-Fi on Your PC
Most cafes these days offer Wi-Fi which is great—unless it’s a distraction. I usually have the Internet handy as I write in case I need to do some research. I have also found it useful to read a little news before I dive into writing to loosen up the brain. But it can also become a distraction. When I find myself reading too much and writing too little, I press the F2 key and turn off the Wi-Fi. Suddenly, all the distractions are gone.

Any I’m sitting there in a world without cell phones, the Internet or  TV. There’s nothing to distract me…almost.

Put in Your Headphones
It’s only other people or the ambient, piped-in music that will distract me at this point. Usually, the music is ok, but some days there are people (or their children) who dial up the volume a bit. Or, like last week, there was that woman with the high-pitched, squeaky voice. In that case, I bring out my final, secret weapon: ear buds.

I plug in my headphones, access my music library (or Pandora, if I still have Wi-Fi) and crank up the tunes. It has to be something I’ve heard many times or which doesn’t have English lyrics (Brazilian pop and instrumentals work) and I’m back in business. Bring the screaming kids, I don’t care! Just as long as they don’t knock over my coffee, cause then, it’s on!


Now, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually get down to the writing. There have been writing sessions in my past where I just stared at blank screen for four or five hours and didn’t produce a thing. But that’s very, very rare for me now—I haven’t done that in over 10 years. I think I just naturally grew out of that and will eventually force myself to write/edit even if I’m feeling out of it. Usually I write between 800-2,000 words per day, with any day over 1,000 words usually considered “good.”

So what’s my point? Even in this world—the modern world of smart phones, 24-hours news cycles and all sorts of content engineered to hook you—you can still turn it all off, quiet your mind and settle down to do hard, mental work. You just have to have the will, time and energy to do it. I hope those tips above will help you have a productive writing day next time you sit down to write.

See you next time,

DJ

The Craft: Plot, Plot, Plot

Lately, all I’ve been thinking about is plot. That’s right, that little thing that makes a big difference in your story. And like anything we obsess over it’s been invading my subconscious starting with my dreams.

Can’t get Plot out of my head…

So, there I was a couple of nights ago, just enjoying my sleep, minding my own business when I had this dream, which I jotted down as soon as I woke up:

Suddenly, I was reading pulp fiction. A big, long book—400 pages or more. Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, Kresley Cole or something like that…I read and read and read, faster and faster. I understood where the plot was going, where the characters were headed, how the conflict was moving ahead…I was looking down on the words from above.

Suddenly, I turned the next page and realized it was the end of the chapter.  The author wrapped it all up perfectly. The tension reached a climax and—bam! That last sentence was dynamite. It propelled everything forward, but put in that last bit of mystery and fricking INTRODUCED a new, unanswered question.

“Damn! I thought! This guy/girl is good.” I put in my bookmark and thought—I can’t wait for tomorrow night when I can pick this up again and FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. That guy/girl is a CRAFTY author.

And that was it. That was all. But it was enough. It’s exactly what I’m trying to do subconsciously when I write. My conscious brain is too overloaded with dialogue, scene-setting, action, etc., etc, etc., when I’m actually writing to worry much about plot. But that (from the dream above) is exactly what I’m aiming at. So now, the subconscious sleeping Darius and the subconscious awake (and writing) Darius are in synch. United and working on the same problem: How to build tension slowly, all while turning up the heat bit by bit. It’s something I’ve screwed up massively in the past and I really want to get this right this time.

It’s great place to be with the writing for now, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Until next time…

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius