Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Monthly Archives: January 2013

Organization in Reading

The wonderful Ms. Wonders and I have been having a little dialogue (dia-blog?) about organizing our thoughts as regards writing. I have to admit that my method is more madness than method, and when I see her amazingly regimented and thorough system of keeping track of everything interesting that crosses her path, I am rather envious. If I imagine myself implementing such a system, my imagination wanders to a vision of myself sitting paralyzed in a room stacked to the ceiling with notes and lists, trying frantically to create a list of all the lists. I carry a small notebook around with me, and though I often write down things in it, I rarely go back to look at it except when I am specifically looking for story notes I’ve made. My process tends to be much more organic. I trust my brain and subconscious to notice and retain important things and do the sorting for me. This process has worked pretty well, with some minor failures, but what system doesn’t have those?

That said, there are a few ideas I got from her post, and a couple things I wanted to comment on:

  • Wordcount tracker. I have a couple friends who meticulously track their wordcount written. I confess that I only do this when I’m drafting a novel, and then only because it’s easy to do: all my words are in one file, and Word puts the wordcount right there at the bottom (unless you are working on a Mac and your file goes over 100,000 words; did you know that?). I know it’s useful to keep track of how much you write and when, but I spend enough time reworking and editing stories, and how do you note that down as wordcount? So I kind of go by “wrote X number of novels and stories,” unless I am doing something like the Clarion Write-A-Thon (which you should all do).
  • Submission tracker. Everyone should do this, and do it better than I do, which is to throw all submission-related e-mails into a big folder and/or use Post-It Notes on cardboard.
  • Pre-made bios. This is a terrific idea. As an editor, I know I’m often nagging people to get bios to put in the back of magazines. Having something pre-written (and updated regularly with most recent credits) is really helpful and ensures you don’t write something quickly in a panic that will then be sealed in a publication for all time.
  • New words. This one is interesting too. I certainly love discovering new words, but as with the rest of my knowledge aggregation, this tends to happen organically. I hold with the Stephen King “toolbox” method of vocabulary, which says basically that you should only use words you are familiar with; if you stretch to use big impressive words, you’re likely to miss shades of meaning and use. King does recommend reading widely and accumulating word knowledge that way, and Brooke’s new word lists are just a formalization of that process to ensure that the new words are retained and used properly (I cannot imagine her using a word IMproperly).

The thing that I really need a good list for is my “to-do.” Right now it mostly sits in my head, which is pretty reliable but occasionally prone to failure. Post-It Notes (again) litter my desk, because even if I have a program that reminds me reliably in e-mail of what I have to do, I eventually get numb to those e-mails and stop noticing them.

For story ideas, I’m not as worried. If I have a really good idea, it eats at me until it becomes the beginning of a story and I start writing it down. If it’s worth continuing, I’ll remember it and finish it. I have lots of half-finished stories in my folder, and sometimes I go back to them, but mostly I am moving forward. Things get lost, but so far I don’t lack for stuff to write about, so it seems to be working.

And in general, my organic approach and Brooke’s meticulously documented approach are two different methods that both work for us. The key is to find the things that work for you and keep using them, but also to identify the places where your method is not working and try different solutions until something does work. If word count is important to you, track it. If you want to be a professional, track your submissions. If you find yourself lacking for books to read (I cannot imagine anyone in that situation), start keeping lists of interesting books you hear about.

Reading, Reading, Reading

I have been writing a few short stories (and will get back on the submission train this month), but for the last month, mostly what I have been doing with spare time is reading novel submissions to Sofawolf (and one to the writing group). I admit that in between I read Iain M. Banks’ “Excession,” which was quite delightful. Do you think we could get him to write a furry book? Sorry. Anyway, the novels were generally fun. All of them were interesting, and only one do I need to write up a lot of critique about. One of them you’ll see from Sofawolf later this year (it was past being a submission, technically speaking; this was an editing pass for an already-planned release): Michael Payne’s followup to “The Blood Jaguar.” It’s a lot of fun, and while it bears some stylistic similarity to the first novel, it’s also written differently. It expands on the world and the religion from “The Blood Jaguar” and introduces some new, delightful characters.

The others I can’t really talk about yet, but I think you will see at least one of them from Sofawolf in the next few years.It’s rare that I read a fullĀ  manuscript for Sofawolf. We get 20-30 submissions a year, and of those, about 75% can be rejected based on the query/synopsis/sample (here is a hint: if your query letter/synopsis contains spelling or grammar errors, you will have a hard time getting past that stage). Of the rest, probably about 80% don’t survive the reading of the first three chapters. But it is cool, when I get a submission that does grab me, to imagine it in a Sofawolf edition. So this round was pretty exciting in that I was reading at least two books I felt pretty confident we would end up publishing. In Michael Payne’s sequel, I got to imagine the art as I went through it. I am out of novel submissions for the moment–that is not a hint to send yours in, though. :) I have “A Short History of Myth” to read, courtesy of a friend, and a bunch of Hugo candidates for the nominating.
(If you are nominating for Hugo awards, btw, my story Erzulie Dantor is eligible. Just sayin’.)