Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Year of Writing: Second Month

Last month we have completed three short stories and sent out two. For some this might seem like not a lot, but either you are a person who already does a lot of writing and is just reading this for the honored art of funsies, or you are a person who hasn’t done anything at all and should probably see why compartmentalizing like this might be beneficial.

But this is for people with big dreams of being great novelists and so it understandable why having four short stories feels like it’s nothing. We’re almost done. I promise. All will be revealed in time.

Day 1. Query third short story.

(See First Month how.)

Day 2. Edit fourth short story.

Day 3. Query fourth short story.

Day 4. Begin big project.

Now that all your stories have been sent out and you’re waiting for a response it’s time to turn to the big guns. There’s a lot of ways to start in the literary world, but since this is a “how to” article, I’m going to pick one and stick with it.

First decide what kind of project you want to make. Do you want to be a playwright? A screenwriter? A novelist? A poet? A mix? If you want to do more than one thing, pick the one that will take the shortest amount of time because getting finished material is always the most important thing. At least until you have a lot of it, and then we get to turn to quality. Feel free to be creative. If you want to make a short story anthology, go for it. You already have some works to deal with, so there’d be a benefit.

But because I’m assuming that this is for potential novelists, the rest of the article will be written as though you want to have written a book. If not, take whatever you chose and tweak the following to your personal needs. You might find yourself ahead of the game.

Start by just starting. Write 1,000 to 2,500 words. I personally do the latter, but I have been doing it for years and I tend to crap out at times. So, we’ll say your target goal is 1,750.  Today start at the beginning and write until you hit that mark.

Day 5. Write to 3,500.

Day 6. Write to 5,250.

Day 7. Edit what you’ve written.

Some people argue that editing while writing is a mistake. This has to do with personality type. If you are the sort of person who gets discouraged when reading what you wrote, do not edit while writing. Focus on finishing.

If, however, you are like me, writing constantly finishing stuff, tossing it aside with plans to get to it later and then being completely overwhelmed when you look at this whole thick book that hasn’t been read through once, then slicing it down to itty bitty pieces can help.

It is also important to note that if you do editing as you go, you’re less likely to be traumatized when you have to read 300 pages worth of crap rather then 10.

Day 8. Write to 6,000.

Day 9. Write to 7,750.

Day 10. Write to 9,500.

It’s been about a week so there is the chance that you have heard back about your queries. Not a good one, but still a chance.

If so, you’ve either gotten an acceptance or a rejection. You got in? Congradulations, you’re a published author. Or, more likely, you didn’t get in and now you’re feeling in the dumps.

Here is where you really need to listen to me. If I could convince people of one thing it would be this: rejection doesn’t necessarily mean anything. In fact, it is really likely it doesn’t.

I’m not saying not to try harder; we should always try harder if we’re not where we want to be. But believe me, from my experience as someone who has judged and listened to judging in various professional situations, people get rejected for weird, ridiculous, and stupid reasons all the time.

The people reading your stuff? They’re just people. They might be experienced, open minded, smart, kind, and helpful workers just doing their job, but even if your editor doesn’t have a single flaw that might lead them to denounce your work, they still have their own personal tastes, mood, and circumstances that could affect their decision making.

I’m not saying all rejection is wrong; it’s just often a matter of bad luck. Sure, your choices and actions solicit specific responses, and sometimes those are exactly what you didn’t want, but there’s also those reactions that can’t be expected or helped.

Sometime in the future, give yourself the task of picking the “best” out of a large quantity of options and suddenly you’ll understand why maybe being rejected doesn’t mean anything.

Read over the query, make some changes, send it somewhere else. Accept that you are allowed to fill bad then choose not to succumb to it.

Day 11. Write to 10,250.

Day 12. Edit the most recent 5,000 words.

Day 13. Write to 11,000.

Day 14. Write to 11,750.

Day 15. Write a short story.

While I recommend working with your big project every day, every once in a while it’s important to allow yourself to play with other ideas you have. Plus, when working on a long work we sometimes feel we aren’t getting anywhere. Having finished something can be nice.

You can also use this day to get caught up, or ahead if you’re inspired.

Day 16. Write to 13,500.

Day 17. Write to 14,250.

Day 18. Write to 15,000.

Day 19. Write an outline.

The reason why I put this here instead of at the beginning is because I personally find them more useful midway through the project. Trying to come up with all the ideas at the beginning is forcing it and doesn’t work for me, but as I get about 30 pages in, (60 for double space) I start to have a lot of ideas that it helps to get down.

Write down everything you know about the story. Make sure to note the things you don’t know. For example, you might have decided they’re going to be arrested but have no idea how they’ll get out of jail. Or you have been hinting something happened to Grandma, but you’re not really sure what that is. By consciously acknowledging what you have yet to figure out, your brain will realize it needs to think about those things and you’re more likely to have a Shower Epiphany instead of screeching to a dead stop when you suddenly can’t go forward without an answer.

Day 20. Write to 15,750.

Day 21. Edit the last 5,000 words.

Day 22. Write to 16,500

Day 23. Write to 17,250.

Day 24. Write to 18,000.

Day 25. Write an outline of the next novel you want to write.

Another break that may be used for catching up, writing down everything you know about another idea helps the catharsis of not being able to write that story instead of this one, and will hopefully prevent you from abandoning this project for the next. (It also has the potential of doing the exact opposite.)

Writing down the ideas will prevent you from forgetting them, will prepare you and help you when you finally do get to write your next idea, and will indicate what you think is wrong with this book.

If you haven’t been inspired to write a different book by this point, considering changing your thought trends. Everyone has ideas for stories all of the time, but they don’t always realize it. Authors learn to put interesting thoughts in the context of, “That would be a good novel,” which allows us to sit down and write even when we’re not inspired.

Day 26. Write to 18,750.

Day 27. Write to 19,500.

Day 28. Edit last 5,000 words.

Day 29. Write to 20,250.

Day 30. Write to 21,000.

Day 31. Tell the whole story, with as many details as you can, to a friend.

In the same way outlining will help you discover new ideas, so will discussing it. By saying it out loud or writing it down, you’ll realize what your brain has skipped over and is refusing to answer. You’ll come up with a lot of ideas and your friend may be able to give some feedback without actually having to read it.

AND month two is done! Now we have four short stories written and a quarter to a fifth of a novel written.

You may have received some responses to your query back. Because the time may vary, it’s hard to include them in your day to day activities.

When you receive an acceptance letter, the important thing to recognize it for the accomplishment it is. Just something on an online journal? Still a good deal. Something that no one will read? Doesn’t matter. Pretty sure that everyone who submitted got accepted? Well, it’s a good thing you submitted then. You’re still a published author. Treat the achievement as it is and stop belittling your accomplishments.

Did you get a slew of rejection letters? Congratulations. You’re a real author. The only way to prove yourself now is to keep your head high and try again. That’s what makes you different. That’s what makes you better than average. That’s why you will succeed. Lick your wounds and try again.

For the first rejection, read it again and make edits. Send it out.

For the second rejection, give it to someone else to look at. Talk about it. Make sure it’s someone you respect who respects you, otherwise it’s likely you’ll start crying. Edit it. Send it out again.

For the third rejection, do another edit. Send it out again.

For the fourth, get more outside feedback.

Repeat until you get accepted.

Yes, you can polish a turd. If it really was a turd, your mind wouldn’t have plucked it out of the millions of thoughts you’d already had.

When you have gotten about four rejections for all four stories, then it’s time to question your approach, not your work.

Think about your presentation, your professionalism, the journals you’re choosing, the format you’re sending it in. Pick a good email address, send a proofed cover letter, don’t ask them to go out of their way for you, etc. Look at things outside of the story for reasons why you’re getting rejected.

The trick to writing is to just keep going.