The lows of writing

Every story, no matter how good or bad, has a lot of work in it. Even if you are a total slacker and you send out your first draft, not even bothering to re-read it, you’ve still put a reasonable effort in to get it finished. For me, I edit and re-edit my stories seemingly endlessly. I cannot read them without wanting to change something. A flash fiction story of 500 words can easily take six hours to get to the standard where I think it is ready to send out. That’s a big investment.

After so much work it is hard to forget about it once it is out in the big wide world. You are so eager to see if it is going to get a chance to be read by the public. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that when I have a story out, every time I check my emails the first thing I do is skim the subject headers to see if there is a response. 99% of the time there is nothing. It is not unusual to be waiting over six months to hear back from a publisher, even for a short story, and that’s if they respond at all.

This part of the process is the one that most undermines my desire to get published. I don’t mind rejection, even form letter rejections (a generic response sent to all rejected stories), but hearing nothing, that’s disheartening. You can’t help but speculate that the story got lost, or wonder if anyone read it at all. What’s even worse is when it was ahead of the pack months ago when you sent it, but now everyone is subbing stories on that topic. That’s the main reason why I try not to write topical stories anymore.

A particular low for me was when an editor announced on social media that they hadn’t received any stories of a certain category that were up to standard for their anthology, so they wanted more of that category. My story fell squarely in that category and I had subbed it a month earlier. So I knew it was rejected, but the editor didn’t send me a formal rejection for another two weeks.

I know editors get inundated with subs, and they often have day jobs, not to mention their own stories that they are trying to write. But I wish they wouldn’t give indicative response times on their sites if they don’t meet those. I also really hope the public rejection before personal rejection doesn’t become the norm.

The whole thing has inspired me to write a story specifically for self-publication. This way I control the timelines and if nothing happens for a while, it’s because I’ve dropped the ball. I’m pretty excited about it too. It’s wonderful knowing that I will be able to count on it being out in the world by a certain date, instead of waiting, potentially for years, for others to reject or accept it.

Travel Journal – 1998 – True love lost

I read a lot of Bill Bryson when I was travelling, as a result I was inspired to make my own travel journal a bit more colourful. So while I rarely commented on the weather, or exactly where I was, the stupid things I did featured large. I’ve transferred some of my hand-written travel diaries (complete with ticket stubs and other holiday paraphernalia) into digital format so I don’t lose them. This snippet is cut from my US holiday diary, from the day my sister and I visited Six Flags Magic Mountain (the setting for Wally World in the movie ‘Vacation’). It made me laugh, so I thought I would share:

 

We were told the Batman Ride was terrifying. Strapped in, your feet were left dangling as it spun you through loops and barrels at breakneck speed. Naturally that put it at the top of our must do list.

It was while we were in the line-up to the ride that I spotted the guy. He looked like Val Kilmer from Top Gun, with cropped blond hair and a cheeky sparkle in his eye (okay, he might have been too far away for me to really make out the sparkle, but I’m sure it was there). Thanks to the back and forward snaking of the line I kept getting to glance at him from different angles. Then it happened; our eyes met and he smiled! Swoon! As we snaked further along the line we kept catching each other’s eyes. Suddenly I loved America.

The dark side of this tale came from the snippets of other people’s conversations I kept hearing. They talked about how this was the scariest of all the rides at the park. Some were even saying that they didn’t know if they would go through with it. The screams coming from the patrons who had made their way onto the ride definitely had more of a note of terror about then than fun.

Then I saw the first sign: No bag storage. It’s like when you spot the first cat hair on your pants and then suddenly you can see hairs everywhere; there were signs at every turn warning us there was nowhere to store our bags. I had a bag! As we drew closer to the ride I could hear a pre-recorded message telling us that whatever you had on you, you had to carry on the ride. I looked around, NO ONE ELSE HAD BAGS! Why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner!?! My whole world was in my bag.

It was at this moment I missed perhaps my one chance at true love. Lost in that vague world in which only I seem to reside, the snaking line brought the boy who I thought was beautiful within touching distance. He walked past me and asked ‘How you going?’

I  DIDN’T  REALISE  HE  WAS  TALKING  TO  ME  BECAUSE  I  WAS  PANICKING  ABOUT  MY  BAG!!!!!!!

My sister looked back at me and said, ‘What did that guy say to you?’ at which point I finally broke out of my lonely weird world (where I’m apparently forever destined to live) and asked ‘Who? What guy?” She pointed to him. It was THE GUY!

He didn’t look at me again and the line did not bring us closer as he was swallowed by the ride that was sure to rob me of my bag and all my worldly possessions. I wanted to scream out to him that I was sorry, that I didn’t realise he was talking to me because I was too busy worrying about where to put my bag, but I never got my chance.

So if someone ever reads this who knows a guy who looked a bit like a young Val Kilmer and rode the Batman Ride on November 21st 1998 please let him know that I’m not a snob, just stupid!

 

Funnily enough I wrote that last paragraph as you read it. So no idea how I thought anyone else would be able to read my diary. Maybe he’ll get the chance now? 🙂

 

Top 10 writer things to do – learn to touch type

I have a lot of friends who write by hand and I know, for some people, that is how they connect with their ‘muse’. There is something enticing about going out to buy a new notebook and knowing that you will fill it with your next story. If that is your thing and you need or enjoy it, that’s fine.

For many others of us, handwriting means cramp in our hand after two pages, never being able to find the right angle to write comfortably, and finding our hand cannot keep up with our brain. If that’s not bad enough we can go back to edit what we clearly remember as being spectacular writing, and we can’t make sense of our messy scribble.

I clearly fall into this latter camp.

I learned to touch type when I was 21. I remember the experience distinctly because my flatmates were paying to do a course that I was too tight to join them in. So from the moment they walked out the door to when they came home, I jumped on the computer and played a touch-typing game. Those few weeks took me from having no idea to a typing speed of about 70 wpm (or 90 if I don’t mind making a few typos).

I can type at a far greater speed than I can manually write. When typing, I never find myself having to slow down my thoughts to get it all down. Even better, I don’t need to look at the keys, or even the screen, so I can blur my eyes and actually watch everything happening in my imagination. And when it comes to editing, nothing compares to having a file you can cut and paste, compared to several notebooks of illegible writing (as is the case if I try handwriting).

In the previous two years I have written two novels within a three-month period. I would never have been able to do that if I couldn’t touch type. Also it is one of the most transferrable skills I’ve got. I’ve been able to use typing through all my many and varied careers. I use it every day and often think how grateful I am to my two more cashed-up flatmates for doing the course all those years ago.

I don’t know why everyone doesn’t learn to touch type, but especially authors. Even if you write by hand, eventually you have to transfer it to a digital format. Yes, you may be able to get quite a good speed up with your three-finger method, but if you are that quick with three fingers, I can almost guarantee you will be even faster if you use all your fingers (and don’t need to watch where they go).

Publication! – Sea Canaries

This is a flash fiction story which I wrote immediately after completing my novella earlier this year. It felt weird not sitting down to write after work each evening, but I knew I wasn’t ready to jump into a novel yet. Sea Canaries was my answer to winding down the writing spring of creativity that was still coiled too tightly.

As soon as I read the call for submissions this story appeared in my head. I wrote the first draft in one sitting (as one would expect of an under 500 word piece) but I edited it over a period of two weeks before I was happy with it. My main issue was that the version of the story I first wrote was about 615 words long, and I had to get it under 500. I was very attached to the excess 115 words.

Without giving too much away, the submission called for horrors of the deep. I wanted to write a story where the horror was coming from the deep, but the monsters were much closer to home. Later this year I’ll publish the full 615 word version on my website so you can read it as I first experienced it. I’m proud of this story and really enjoyed walking around in these skins for a fortnight, as much as I never want to live it for real.

Sea Canaries appears in the Anemone Enemy and is available in both print and ebook formats. I hope you enjoy reading my story as much as I enjoyed writing it!

AnemoneEnemyCover

Most basic communication

Anyone who follows my Twitter account will know that I’m nearly a crazy cat lady. I spend a lot of time talking to my cat. In the past 12 months she has started talking back to me a lot (in meows, not words – this isn’t one of my stories). We have had many very satisfying, nonsensical conversations.

This has really got me thinking about the non-words side of communication. We all know how important body language and facial expressions are when it comes to talking to people, but when it comes to animals that all stops having meaning.

My cat is a rescue cat, and for some reason I can’t explain, it seems morally wrong to me to change her name. The problem is I don’t really like her name. As a result I can call her one of up to about twenty different names; Puss, Pussums, Baby-Doll, Snookums, Honey-Cakes, Baby-Cakes, Babe, Bubalicious etc. (apologies to any ex’s who recognise their own Monika’s in there, I didn’t steal them from you, they were bestowed upon my high-school cat long before they made it to partner level). The funny thing is, she always seems to respond as if I am saying her name.

I can only conclude that it all comes down to my tone when I speak. Interestingly, tone of voice is one of the few things I don’t comment on when writing dialogue. It can be hard to write tone into text without sounding like author intrusion, but when done well it can lend your story more depth and emotion. I’m going to make a more concerted effort to add it in future.

Just an aside; I often trip over the cat because she likes to smooch around my feet. Shocked, I can’t help by yelp ‘Sorry!’ each time I do it. Only recently have I realised that because of the loud and urgent nature of my apology there is every chance the tone sounds more like ‘Got ya!’ to my poor cat. Now I give her and apologetic pat instead.

My cat looking wistfully at the birds outside.
My cat looking wistfully at the birds outside.

Signs or super brain?

The other night I made a very healthy vegetable stir-fry for dinner and, while feeling pretty pleased that my gut flora would eat well in the morning, I was still a bit peckish. Suddenly I remembered I had an unopened box of BBQ Shapes in the pantry. I never eat BBQ Shapes, I don’t really know why I bought them, but they became my sole focus for the next two or three minutes.

Knowing they were not an ideal post-dinner snack, I decided just to have a look to see what the best before date was (I knew they had been in there a long time). It was the next day. Not the next week, or month, but best before the very next day. Clearly it was a sign that I should eat them.

I see signs all the time. I make decisions on signs, some a little more important than if I should allow myself to snack after dinner. I have to confess, I’m pretty happy with where those decisions have got me so far. While I’m not exactly where I’d like to be, I’m also not worried that ignoring the signs would have got me any closer at this point in my life.

But something about the BBQ Shapes ‘sign’ worried me.

The brain is a much more powerful thing than we ever give it credit for. I’m always setting it tasks which it consistently delivers on after spending a bit of time off in mysterious-brain-world. I can’t help but wonder if nearly a year ago when I bought those BBQ shapes, my brain took note of the best before date? Maybe there was a reminder set at that point, and when it did exactly what brains do best, I interpreted it as a sign?

How many of my other signs are actually super brain? And should I be worried? I’m a ridiculously logical person, so my normal brain always gets the last say over signs or super brain (for example, I didn’t eat the whole packet of BBQ shapes). But for me a little bit of magic disappeared from the world when I thought that my amazing sign was actually just amazing biology.

I guess that means the best thing to do would be the other thing my brain is really good at; forget about it. However the rest of the BBQ shapes might just find their way into the compost bin instead of me. I’m sure my microbiome will thank me.

Wham, bam, thank you spam

“Life, no end to this there will be bonded, finally, it will reach the heights of success. Love you could also gift your soul mate diamond…”

Yes, it is very nearly a coherent sentence, but doesn’t quite get there. This is a quote from one of my recent spammers. I get these sorts of things all the time and would dearly like to lift them and put them into a story. I read these little snippets and smile at the idea of a computer getting a chance to be creative. Okay, it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes it almost does.

Of course computers becoming sentient has been done to death, and done really well (Terminator is one of my favourite films of all time). It’s up there with meet the devil or win the lottery for ‘no more please’ stories. But that is like a red flag to a bull for me. I want to find a different angle and I’m sure if I keep reading my spam, I will see it there one day.

I have a terrible habit of setting my brain a subconscious task (yes, I know I’ve told you to work on the novel, but hey while we’re sleeping you have all that spare time on your lobes) and it almost always delivers. There is a magical Eureka! moment when the story, fully-formed, pops into my head.

So let’s see how long this one takes. The clock starts ticking today. Maybe the clock knows it’s ticking? Maybe there is no clock? Honestly, who would want to live in my head!?!

The secret language of handwriting

My approach to the library recently has become more like my approach to Twitter; I let others find the good stuff for me. If I go into the library without a specific book in mind, I’ll head straight to the ‘to be re-shelved’ pile to see what others have recently borrowed. This is where I found a book on decoding handwriting.

It is annoying me how accurate it is. I started with the approach that it would be like star signs and you can probably see yourself in every scenario, but it is a whole lot more precise than that. It has picked up on things about my personality that even I don’t like to admit to myself. I am starting to worry about the hand-written notes I’ve given to others and how much I really told them if they knew how to read it.

What worries me even more is what I will learn about others when I look at their handwriting? After I read ‘What Every Body is Saying’ by Joe Navarro which covered the unconscious communications of body language, my success in meetings went up significantly. I often find myself resorting to tricks and reading people without even realising it. I think the handwriting book will give me an even greater insight into what is really happening inside people’s minds.

There is one big problem with decoding handwriting; you have to get your hands on a copy of hand-written text. In my current workplace, I think I’ve seen the handwriting of only one other person in the past 8 months. Even our informal notes are taken on the computer these days. It’s like I’ve finally been given the keys to the Jet a year after teleportation has been invented.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m going to let this pass me by. I’m reading the book over and over to make sure it sinks in (as would be expected of my evenly spaced, small-lettered handwriting). There are gems in here that I will one day be able to mine, I have no doubt of that.

It also reiterates that the re-shelving piles should always be my first stop at the library.

Top 10 writer things to do – go to writer talks

If you want to feel like a writer, you can’t go past attending writer talks. I have an amazing local library (Mt Barker) which organises fantastic meet-the-writer sessions for many well known local and international authors. But if you are not so lucky to have a library like that nearby, many book shops and universities will sponsor them as well. So let Google be your friend on that one.

When listening to a writer talk about their process of writing, you will be amazed at how often you find yourself nodding and thinking ‘yes, I find that too.’ At the Adelaide Writer’s Festival this year I listened with amused familiarity to a few authors discussing the merits of pantsing vs planning vs plantsing. I loved that I knew exactly what they meant, while many around me had clearly never heard the terms before. I totes felt like a writer that day.

These talks will also often cover the author’s journey to publication. I think it is invaluable hearing these stories, because the ones you read about in popular news are nearly always the overnight sensations who had just started writing six months earlier. For many authors there is a ten+ year slog, poor first book sales and countless low points where they nearly gave up (before they realised that there is no such thing as giving up, our writer daemons won’t let us do that – EVER).

These talks also give you an opportunity to meet writers who have succeeded. I find most of them are really keen for a chat at the inevitable book-signing, and it gives you a chance to see how normal and very much like you they are.

And let’s not forget the final benefit; there are a lot of unpublished writers also going to these talks. So this puts you in a situation where you can mix with many other writers and potentially expand (or start) your writers group.

Facial Recognition

I’ve got terrible facial recognition. I might know if I have seen a face before, but when seen out of context I just assume they are from the bus or a former workplace. I actually did a facial recognition test and got the exact average score, so all I can assume is lots of other people are terrible with faces too.

Last weekend I discovered that my next door neighbour works in my office. There are only about 50 people in my office, and I’ve been there for over six months. I think that gives you some idea of how bad my facial recognition is. (No wonder he never waved at me when I spotted him from my driveway – I must always be blanking him at work).

This got me thinking about my writing. I rarely, if ever, describe what my characters look like. I have an idea, but unless it is necessary to the story, I’ll let you fill in their height, weight, hair and eye colour. Obviously these things are just not that important to me. I would love to know if writers who do describe their characters in lots of detail (to the point where we even know what clothes they are wearing) what are they like with facial recognition?

Oddly, I see ‘faces’ where there are none. Below are two recent examples of faces I managed to capture, but I see them in trees, stones on the footpath, and in clouds. The one thing all these faces have in common is that they are non-human. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that in my writing I love to describe my monsters.

StudyJoeySmall

The journey of a spec fic writer.