Submitted!

I just sent off my entry to the Geist 10th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. I workshopped the entry with my writers’ group twice, and I’m actually quite pleased with how it turned out. The deadline was originally February 1st, so our group added an extra meeting to give us a chance to whip our pieces into shape in time. When I was checking formatting rules and submission guidelines today, though, the deadline had magically changed to February 28th. So if you’re interested in entering, there’s still time. It’s open to international submissions, as well, not just Canadian content.

I wanted to get my story in before the original deadline, though. Partly because I’m just paranoid that way, and partly because that’s what I had planned and I don’t deal well with last-minute changes. I may, however, think about putting together a second entry just for the fun of it. Because right now starting something new seems preferable to banging my head against the brick wall that is the story I’m SUPPOSED to be working on.

Schrodinger’s Submission

I sent out my first query note today. I submitted a piece back in September that was targeted to a specific themed issue of a lit magazine. That issue hits newsstands this week and I still hadn’t heard anything back. I was just beginning to believe that Canada Post had lost the letter somewhere along the way, and that I’d been waiting for an answer for four months from people who hadn’t ever received my submission.

I was also convinced that it would take days or weeks to get an answer to my query. Editors are very busy people, and really the last thing on their list of priorities should be my insecure pestering. They were great, though. I got an answer back this afternoon, and my piece is still under consideration! That has given me a little boost, even if the ultimate answer is eventually a no.

For the moment, though, I still get to daydream that it might become my first sale…

It’s like pulling teeth with this one.

With my current story, I’m writing from an outline for the first time. Before I started writing, I sat down and charted out all the scenes, and what information needed to come across in each one. (The ending is still a little vague, which I suspect will cause some honking problems later on, but I hope to nail that down as I get to know the story better.)

I thought that having an outline to work with would speed the process up once I sat down to write. But, oh. dear. god. I’ve written less than 500 words in three days. And those 500 words have been slow and awkward and painful. I started my taxes today to avoid sitting down to write.

Seriously.

I suspect I may need to skip past the first scene and go on to the next one. When I wrote essays in school, I used to do the introduction last, once I knew the shape of the essay and what it was I was introducing. I wonder if this is something similar. I may need to know where this story ends before I know how it begins.

Or, I may need to go back to the drawing board and spend some more time getting to know the characters.

Oy.

Well… duh

I ran into this quote last year sometime, and it has had a profound effect on how I look at my writing:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

— Ira Glass

I came across this quote fairly late in my own process. I’m thirty-five now, and I’ve been writing since I was nine years old. I remember laboriously hand-writing a project on the arctic fox for a grade four assignment and thinking, “How am I going to be  a writer when I hate hand-writing so much?” And there’s a box in my living room closet (and I will eventually leave instructions in my will that that box is to be burned to ashes upon my death) that contains notebook after notebook of my scribblings from age 13 onwards. And at this point, in terms of assembling words into sentences, my ability is beginning to approach my taste. So, basically, the quote gave me permission to not feel humiliated by the contents of that box, but for some reason I didn’t think to extrapolate beyond that.

I’ve written before, I think, that I have some confidence in my ability to put together creative non-fiction essays that say what I intend for them to say. But when it comes to fiction, I have a firmly entrenched conviction that I am UNABLE to plot stories. I’ve blamed it on my very logical, linear brain. Plots require lateral thinking, I tell myself. I fully believe that I CAN NOT DO IT.

I have believed this for years. Completely internalised it. And every time I sit down and try to write fiction, it becomes this huge mountain that I need to scale before I can even begin. And I flagellate myself as a failure the whole way up.

And then, the other day, I was on the phone with a friend of mine. He was very patiently helping me talk through the half-baked story idea I’ve been poking at. And I started spouting the usual “I’m so bad at this” routine. And he just kind of shrugged and said, “You’re not bad at it, you just haven’t learned to do it yet.”

And I swear to you, that thought had never occurred to me before, ever.

I just need to practice.

One day, I’ll be better at it.

It’s okay, I’m still learning.

Well… duh.

So, I kind of feel like an idiot just now, but a very relieved idiot. And in addition to removing the whole self-doubt obstacle from my process, it has also given me a new approach. I have spent some time searching the internet for plot-building tools that I can use as training wheels while I learn. (I may do a post later on about what I’ve found.)

So, I just wanted a chance to read the quote again, and to share it. In case anyone out there hasn’t seen it yet. There is a difference between sucking and learning.

Another one for the collection

Last week I posted about Doing the To Dos, and I was pleased with myself for getting my butt in gear and submitting the stories I’d been meaning to submit.

One of the two I submitted last week, the story I wrote for a call on a specific topic (a topic on which I felt I had a lot to say) was rejected by form letter in eight days.

Ouch.

Not even a flicker of consideration there. And there’s not a lot of positive I can take away from this other than it’s practice at being rejected.

I will admit that I sulked for a couple of days.

But last night I sat down and started writing again. Well, world-building technically, but it all needs to be done before I can get to the meat of the story. So I’m staggering back up onto my feet.

Time to haul out the Tubthumping again, I guess.

Doing the To Dos

This has been a getting-stuff-done kind of week.

I finished and submitted a story I wrote specifically for one magazine. They had a call out on a topic that said a lot to me. I started months ago, but it got a bit lost while I tried to beat my fiction piece into shape. The deadline was January 31st, so I made the push to get it done. I cut about 700 words going into the last draft, and it really did make the piece stronger. I submitted it earlier this week.

Today I’m sending out an older story to try and find it a new home. I got the last rejection letter for this one more than two months ago, now, but never actually sat down to revise it and find it somewhere else to go. I finally made the changes I had in mind, and I’m quite pleased with them. It’s all printed up now, and I will mail it on the way to my writing group later this evening.

Next up on the horizon is the 10th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. A friend of mine from my writers’ group sent through the link, and we’ve decided that everyone in the group is going to write an entry and we’ll look at them at our next meeting, which is right before the deadline (Feb 1st, in case you’re interested). I moped around for two days, convinced I’d never come up with an interesting idea, wallowing in defeatist thoughts. And then I sat down and wrote a whole draft of the story in one night. I spent some time in the Wikimedia Commons, and one of the images jumped out at me. The story came from there.

I’m also debating submitting something to this: http://michaelmatheson.wordpress.com/start-a-revolution/ I’m not really a revolutionary kind of girl, so I did the same defeatist do-see-do in my head for this one, but I’ve come up with at least half of an idea. I’m having trouble forcing myself to sit down and actually start it, but I’m hoping that completing the Postcard story might boost my confidence. The deadline on this one is March 31st, which is a reasonable amount of time. I’ll see how things go.

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…

This evening, I intended to go to a new writers’ group. I found it in some local listings, and it’s been on my calendar for more than a week. I printed out copies of my piece and everything. I thought it would be a good chance to workshop a piece that’s getting ready for submission and to meet some new people at the same time.

I didn’t end up going. My day changed shape at the last minute – my boss turfed me out several hours earlier than expected, and I had a wide open slab of time to get some errands done I’d been stressing about finding time for. And by the time I’d gotten all of that done, I was on the wrong side of the city and had burnt out all of my energy.

There’s always next time.

And what ended up happening instead was so much more magical.

Back in late 1995 or early 1996, when the internet was just learning to crawl, I was a regular visitor to an mIRC channel. Internet Relay Chat. It was kind of a precursor to Twitter, I guess, but instead of individuals making statements, it was a giant conversation that everyone on the channel participated in. And there were no character limits. The channel I was a part of was all about Babylon 5, a science fiction television show that was airing at the time. That was meant to be the main topic of conversation, and it often was, but we talked about anything and everything. The people in that channel became good friends of mine, back in the day when people looked at you funny when you said you had friends on the internet.

I was a regular in the Babylon 5 channel until late 2000, when I moved away from home and started travelling with my job. I didn’t realise until today that it was a part of my life for five years. I’d never counted before.

In recent times, some of us from the channel have been finding each other on Facebook, and a couple of weeks ago a conversation with one of them led me to go exploring and see if mIRC is still a thing. It turns out that it is. So tonight, we decided on the spur of the moment to meet up on mIRC again. We rounded up as many of the old guard as we could. I was impressed and amazed at how many of us had stayed in contact, if not as a group, then in small pockets.

It was… mind-blowing. The program, for all intents and purposes, has not changed AT ALL in nearly 20 years. It still looks exactly the same as it did in 1996. Everyone reclaimed their old nicknames, and… it’s hard to explain. It was like a family reunion. Or a glimpse back in time. We talked about people I hadn’t thought of in years. We resurrected in jokes and old habits that were 15 years old. We struggled to remember commands and shortcuts that had once been second nature. (It’s as if, some time in the future, you found yourself struggling to remember a hashtag for the first time in two decades.) And I began to remember the physical construct the channel had once taken on in my head. It had an architecture, a geography. And furniture. There was a couch, a big couch in the middle of the room. And a tree. And with each comment, with each “do you remember…”, a new piece of that construct would come into focus. I could feel my brain stretching to find the old dusty files in the back corners of my memory. It was a wonderful experience.

And I’m so glad that I got to be a part of it. It was an excellent reward for my laziness.

It’s a new dawn, a new day…

I don’t do new year’s resolutions. I’m still me, even when the calendar ticks over. It doesn’t seem worth starting out a new year by setting myself up to fail. Instead, I decided to spend new year’s day actually doing the things that I want to continue doing through the year. Starting off as I mean to go on.

So instead of putting the TV on, I picked up a book. And I spent a chunk of the afternoon writing as well. Step one.

I completely failed to accomplish my own little NaNoWriMo. I had set myself the goal of finishing a draft of my current fictional short story (novella?) by the end of November. I ended up stuck in the same scene for nearly two months. I have rewritten it countless times and it’s still not right. I have, I think, finally isolated why. I’ve been trying to push forward and get to the end, create a draft that I can then fix. But in not addressing some of the problems early in the story, I have created a house with a shoddy foundation, and when I hit this particular scene the whole wall fell down.

Yesterday I sat down and began to address the problems at the beginning of the story. We’ll see how I go from here.

I also wrote a new draft of a piece of creative non-fiction I’ve been working on. It was designed for a particular lit magazine and the deadline is January 31st. I workshopped it with my writers’ group this evening, and I think it’s pretty close to being done. I’ll do some final tweaking and hopefully send it out in the next week or so.

So the new year is going well so far. Step by step.