short story rabbit hole

CONFESSION:

I finished polishing my book, assembling the query package, and critiquing the first few pages… in April.

And then I got a bad case of nerves.

And I got it into my head that I’d send out a couple short story submissions, just to ease back into the cycles of submission and rejection and resubmission again, before delving into the deeper waters of an agent search.

And then I thought, “I’ve got two pro story sales under my belt, if I get a third one I can join SFWA and wouldn’t that be a suave addendum to the bio [not to mention access to a great support network]?”

And now it’s been two months! And I keep writing “one more short story” because, well, I’ve got an idea and why let it go fallow when it’ll just take a week to knock out and edit…

Sam. Sam. Stop!

Ayiyi.

I’m going to finish editing the rough drafts glaring balefully at me from my “in progress” folder. I’m going to send them out. And then everything else gets to remain in the notebook for a while because I am starting to get reaaal silly about all this.

If you hear me talking about starting anything else (I mean it! anything!) before querying, I kindly request a slap on the wrist.

Sam out.

FINAL is FINAL (unless it isn’t)

You gggUUUUUuuuyyysss! I finished the quote-unquote “final” draft of my cowboy vs mermaid high fantasy novel! A month ahead of schedule! It’s amazing what you can do when you start staying up an hour later at night.

I use quotes because it’s only truly the final draft if nobody picks it up. If I garner agent interest I’m sure there’ll be tweaks (if not revisions) before sub, and if I get as far as a publishing house there’ll be several rounds of work ahead.

BUT I DIGRESS. The important bit is that I’m one finished query package away from wading into the query trenches. The query itself is basically done. The synopses are in draft form. My documents are formatted and ready. LET’S DO DIS.

If you don’t care about the nitty-gritty of the query process, never fear! I am about to go radio silent on this matter until I have news. So it could be months or a year+ before I bring this up again.

In the meantime! I will be…

  • Sending out short stories
  • Sprucing up the website
  • Starting a newsletter (get ready, guinea pigs!)
  • Outlining the next book
  • …and then writing the next book

So there will be a good amount of work occupying my time/thoughts while I wait for the responses to roll in.

Wish me luck!

(Meanwhile: lap cats think they are getting their lap back. Alas, they are not.)

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the benefits of sleep deprivation

Now, hear me out! This may be the sleep deprivation talking, but I’m going to share the very limited, but potentially very valuable benefits of sleep deprivation.

I came across this great Twitter thread by Delilah Dawson:

And it struck a chord. Boy, did it! I started writing as a hobby when I was 10, so I had a pile of childish (but incrementally better) manuscripts in my trunk by the time I hit 30. However, my singularity moment (the book that finally leveled up to the point I’m eager to query it) was written in a delirious haze around my first kid’s first birthday. He STILL wasn’t sleeping, so I’d gone a solid year pacing the hallway every night, losing my mind with exhaustion and barely writing anything.

I was so sick of not writing that I decided: eff it! Let’s do this! And I set aside whatever scraps of time I could–at 4 a.m. or during naptime or after bedtime–and wrote in a feverish, stream-of-conscious delirium. I wrote about cowboys and ghosts and mermaids and saber-tooth cats and whatever else popped into my head.

The resulting rough draft was definitely, well, ROUGH. But it was also definitely a draft. Soon after I finished it, I started sleeping (sort of) through the night again, and I had the brainpower to edit that mess into something more coherent. And then edit it again. And again.

Something happened to me in that hazy period. I didn’t have enough free time to do anything but stick to my outline–I wrote wrote wrote forward and didn’t look back! And I didn’t have the brainpower to question myself on the sentence level–my doubts turned off, because there simply wasn’t room for them.

And it resulted in something weird, and fun, and full of voice. (She says hopefully.)

Do I recommend purposefully losing sleep to achieve a dream state of coffee-supplemented productivity? HELL NO, IT’S LITERAL TORTURE! But I do recommend treating a rough draft like something that will never see the light of day. Write forward, write for fun, write without worrying about who will ever read it.

And then oh my goodness, edit the shit out of it. D:

It might not be the book you ever share, but it might just be the book that helps your style shake loose.

patience, sam

Let’s pretend it’s January 1st, and I’m still hashing out goals for the year without explicitly calling them New Year’s Resolutions.

With me so far?

Good, because my aspirations for 2018 (baby milestones and reading goals and word counts and submissions) are all well and good, but my degree of success really hinges on one single, overarching, invisible goal underpinning the rest:

Patience, Sam. You’ve got to learn some patience.

(Also, overarching and underpinning? Yes. That’s how important it is.)

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This means taking a deep breath during sleep regressions and potty training setbacks. It means reading more slowly and mindfully and really absorbing content, even if it means I don’t hit a certain arbitrary number of texts.

It means slowing down to spend more time in the planning and revising periods of each book.

This is incredibly difficult for me! Once I get my teeth into something I FULLY COMMIT and I go LUDICROUSLY OVERBOARD and I just chug chug chug ahead without pausing for breath.

But manuscripts need to breathe. The longer they are, the more air they need. Every year I knock out a book, and then I do a round of structural edits to smooth out the bits I rewrote halfway, and then I bound off to the next project. This makes my word count spreadsheet pretty respectable, but as a result I have a pile of manuscripts I consider good but not yet great.

My biggest weakness stems from my primary strength. I love love love writing characters, and my plots revolve around the core character arcs I plan from the get-go. That’s great! It’s my favorite aspect of the books I read, so it’s the aspect I spend the most time writing!

But I write fantasy novels, and in order for a fantasy novel to stand out it needs vibrant worldbuilding to prop up those character arcs. In my eagerness to reach the emotional climax of a book, I have a tendency to start writing before I finish worldbuilding. I end up with a strong story in a plain setting, and that just won’t fly.

So, what does this mean for 2018? It means I’m starting draft five (ugh, FIVE!!) on my weird western 2016 novel, and it’s about to get a lot weirder. The bones of it are good. They just need a bit more flesh. It means I have to stop obsessing over my daily word count and acknowledge that days spent thinking can be just as productive as days spent typing. (So hell yeah they are getting a line on the spreadsheet.)

By waiting three or four more months to start querying (an eternity in impatient Sam time, but hopefully only a blip in my actual lifetime!), I’ll be sending out my best work instead of my best potential work.

And while that’s out in the world, I’ll start planning the next one.

hello 2018

Well, well, well. It’s the year two thousand eighteen, and everything surrounding my life is chaos, but everything IN my life is beginning to take shape. I’m fretting for my country and I’ll probably gnaw my arms off come November, but as far as personal goals go I’m feeling pretty good!

I don’t want to make compleeeetely  outlandish New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to challenge myself. I’m feeling UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC right now, because, you guys… MY BABY SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME! Okay, I had to pat her down once, but I didn’t pick her up, and that practically feels like sleep.

This slight amount of extra energy has me bouncing off the walls. I did yard work! I made banana bread! I promptly had a caffeine crash because I attempted too much, too fast! Work hard, play hard, collapse hard! That’s the samtastic way!

So bear all of this in mind as I lay out my goals for the year.

LIFE

My boy will be turning 3 and my girl will be turning 1, so fill in all the appropriate milestones and setbacks you’d expect me to be engaging with this year. Scurry off to my Twitter account for the self-deprecating jokes that mask my tears!

Goal: Survive.

Mr. Sam and I also have a very vague goal of tentatively beginning to maybe look for a Settle Down House in 2019, which means 2018 needs to be the year of Fixing All the Dumb Little Things That Were Wrong When *We* Bought This Place. Goodbye, savings account.

READING

Nothing fancy here. I want to hit my usual book-a-week , but I’m not going to go wild trying to outstrip that because of the other pulls on my free time. I do want to read more strategically though, because those 52 selections seem to whiz by and leave me wailing at my TBR pile. Goal: Read more SFF new releases and finish the series I started over the last couple of years for goodness’ sake.

Additional goal: Read more short fiction! This year I really committed to reading SFF magazines and I did not regret it. So! Much! Good! Stuff!

WRITING

This is where I go overboard, fail to meet my goals, and rend my garments/gnash my teeth/shake people by the shoulders yelling, “I could have done so much more!”

So let’s be reasonable, Sam.

Goal: Finish editing my 2017 book. It should have been done by now but OH WELL, instead it ought to be done by the end of January, which isn’t the worst.

Goal: Write my 2018 book. Not too crazy, I do tend to finish a book each year. And if I stick with the one I was planning to do next, it should fall more in the 80K range than the 100K range because it’s a more literary kind of fantasy.

Goal: Put at least two more short stories on submission. I won’t make publication the goal, because that isn’t in my control and in that direction lurks self-recrimination. So I’ll make submission the goal, with publication being the obvious desire.

Goal: Put my 2016 book on submission! Ahhh! This is what I was supposed to do in 2017, but ah, life. The extra year gave me excellent time to research, reflect, and refine my approach. Again, I’ll make submission itself the goal and if all else fails I can be proud of the effort, then take everything I learned and apply it to the next book.

Or, you know, it could happen??

So there you have it. I have other intentions as well (join a writing group! spring cleaning! family activities! holiday plans!) but these are my core 2018 wishes and wants.

Wish me luck!

Nay!

Wish me persistence!

so long 2017

Wow, talk about a blur. A year ago I was three months pregnant, juggling work and a toddler, planning our first family vacation, and determinedly putting together a spreadsheet of my top 80 SFF literary agents.

That feels like an eternity ago. Instead of doing a bunch of separate, bloated posts on my reading/writing/daily life in 2017, I’m going to touch on everything at once. LUCKY YOU.

So, what happened in 2017?

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I’d say this sums it up

LIFE

I had a second baby! Her birth was a nightmare, but we survived! She’s six months old already and she’s super mellow and sweet, but even the mellowest, sweetest baby is a slog in the early months and I HAVEN’T SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT SINCE JUNE!!! So when considering everything else in this post, please take my sleep deprivation into account.

I left my beloved day job in June. I had grand plans for how I would spend the rest of the year, because I’m an IDIOT and baby amnesia convinced me I could handle a toddler and an infant and still put a book or two on submission. SPOILER ALERT: I could not. SPOILER ALERT: staying at home with babies is way harder than my day job was, though to be fair, now when I feel like crap I can sit around in my pajamas glaring at the walls instead of getting dressed and smiling at library patrons.

 

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I’m nowhere near done with these

READING

I did it. Barely. I read my 52 books in 2017, and I only had to cheat a little bit with graphic novels/collections at the end. I’m moderately satisfied with this. I still have a towering TBR pile leftover from last year, plus new books trickling in from the holidays. There are SO MANY good books coming out this year, I have no idea how I’ll keep up.

But this year I started regularly reading SFF magazines, partly for research and partly because DANG there is some amazing short SFF coming out these days. I’ve been trying to read short stories while breastfeeding, in particular, rather than scrolling Twitter and feeding my baby rage-infused terror milk.

RECOMMENDATIONS: too many!! Let’s break it down:

Nonfiction: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah; any science humor by Mary Roach (this year I read Grunt and Packing for Mars)

Short story collections: Stories of Your Life, and Others by Ted Chiang; Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks

Novellas: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells; Hammers on Bone and A Song For Quiet by Cassandra Khaw; River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

Novels: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett (end of a trilogy, all great!); The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente; The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden; Red Sister by Mark Lawrence; The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey; A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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But it’s haaaard

WRITING

Clearly I didn’t live up to my grand pre-baby expectations. HOWEVER, when life forcibly slowed me down it actually turned out better for my long-term plans.

I’ve spent the latter half of the year reading industry blogs, following Manuscript Wish List on Twitter, digging deeper into my agent research, and really refining my career goals. When I do wade into the query trenches (IN 2018 I MEAN IT THIS TIME) I’ll be even more prepared for the process, and much clearer about what I’m looking for in representation.

While I am LIVID over the fact that I didn’t finish editing my 2017 book yet (I’m so…close…), the cause was a different kind of productivity: I wrote a small stack of short stories in between editing sprints. They’re the best I’ve ever done. And two of them will be coming out in professional SFF magazines in 2018! Woohoo! It was a bit of much needed validation this year. It’ll also mean I can attach writing credits to my novel queries. And one more pro sale makes me eligible for membership in SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), so hey, more traditional legitimacy.

I wrote about 96,000 words. Galling after 2016’s 180K. I couldn’t even hit 100K? FOUR THOUSAND WORDS OFF, THAT’S NOTHING!! Heck, only 41K of that word count was before the baby was born. Once I got my brain unscrambled in July I added the remaining 55K. Like I said, galling.

The real culprit was editing. According to my fab writing spreadsheet, I worked on 224 days this year (~ 2 out of 3, not bad considering baby), and 125 of them were editing days. The editing was a mix of book editing and short story editing, some of the latter based on professional notes. I also took a month to study and practice writing queries.

What does all that tell me? Well, that my rough drafting speed is great, but my editing speed is atrocious. Time-wise, I’ve basically written my 2017 book twice. The book is a hell of a lot better following the additional drafts, but. Yikes. If I don’t finish it in January I’m gonna blow a gasket. To be fair, it’s incredibly hard to get into an editing mindset for 20-60 minutes at a time, during infant naps, while keeping an eye on a toddler. Luckily, I’m past the worst of it. My writing conditions will drastically improve over the course of the next year.

So that was 2017! Now, as for 2018–

Oh. The baby’s waking up. I better hit “publish” and run.

absorbing writing advice

I’m currently trying to finish a big overhaul second draft on my 2017 book. Every day I change my mind over whether it’s horrible or pretty good, but I’m forging ahead because I made a commitment to always finish my edits. Partly, because the book always improves, duh. And partly to train myself into good habits, because a writing career means you can’t lose interest and wander away after the first draft.

I’m at the 75% point…and…I’m being hit with a tidal wave of nextprojectphilia. This thing I’m working has been chopped into pieces. The SHINY NEW THING, on the other hand, is still shiny and new and maybe if I take everything I’ve learned and start working on that outline instead of these edits, it’ll be even better and I don’t have to look back–!

Yeah that’s a lie. The shiny new thing is always shinier, and when I’m 75% of the way through that one I’ll start staring longingly at the next one. Hence my resolution to always finish my projects. Otherwise I’d have a big digital drawer full of three-quarter-edited manuscripts.

At times like this I ramp up my consumption of writing blogs/books/podcasts, and slow down my consumption of fiction–mostly because I will gnash my teeth and wail and demand to know why my UNFINISHED book isn’t as good as this PROFESSIONALLY POLISHED book?!

The thing about writing advice is that it can strike you anew every time you read it. You think you absorbed it the first time, and to an extent you did. But fast forward a year and a manuscript later, and suddenly that exact same advice will make sense in a new way. Because now you’ve got some actual content to apply it to! You also get better and better at discerning which bits of writerly prescriptions advance your goals, versus which bits you can discard as irrelevant to what you, in particular, are doing.

Advice only matters if it helps you convey your story effectively. It might be perfectly good for one project, and useless on another. Also, you can always translate “never do this” to mean “never do this poorly.” (Nice reminder here.)

With this in mind, I’ve been working my way through the archives of the great 15-minute Writing Excuses podcast and taking notes. I’m still on season one, but there are already plenty of bits that I know I’ve heard before…but which are striking me all over again when delivered in concise, focused episodes, using honest-to-god SFF examples instead of canon literature. *cue holy trumpets*

Will I finish this manuscript by the end of the year? Yeeeeeaaaaarrrggghhhhhh I’m not sure. I’ve been sidetracked by Christmas cards and holiday baking and top secret Santa projects and–GASP–real short story edits from a real editor, which naturally take precedence over my unpaid practice edits.

So I’ll be back in a week or two with some entertaining family Photoshops, but writing news will probably be light until the new year.

ONWARD AND UPWARD.