Emotional Roller-coaster

As you and the story you’re writing go through time together, do you find yourself on the same type of emotional roller-coaster as with a personal relationship? Do you feel elated by positive events and dejected by negative ones? I’ve been through the process enough to detect a repeatable pattern. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Let’s follow through as I experience the highs and lows of writing a story and getting it published. This is my relationship with a single story, so the line will overlap with other stories in various stages.

Emotional RollercoasterGetting a story idea is enjoyable, having it mature in my mind while I imagine the possibilities, the characters, the plotline, the settings, and some of the dramatic scenes. It’s a good feeling to go through that, because that imaginary, unwritten story is as good as it’s ever going to be. Once the reality starts and I put words down, the story never reaches the exalted heights of perfection that it achieved when just a dream.

Still, putting words down has a gratification all its own. I feel I’m making progress, producing product, assembling widgets on my keyboard / word / sentence / paragraph assembly line.

Until I get stuck with writer’s block. Here I mean the minor writer’s block I’ve described before, where I can’t get out of a plot hole, or I need a character to act contrary to his or her motivations, etc. Although temporary, this is a real downer. I don’t always experience this, (as shown by the reddish line) but there’s usually some drop-off in enthusiasm as the glow of the original idea fades a bit.

Reaching THE END of the first draft is a definite up-tic in satisfaction for me. The mad rush of getting words down is over. It’s good to know I can start the reviewing-editing-improving phase.

For simplicity, my graph only shows two drafts, but there may be more, with minor wave crests for completing each one. I get to the highest emotional state so far when I consider the story done and submit it for publication. “Here, Dear Editor, this is my newborn! Don’t you love it as much as I do?”

That emotional high fades, as they all do, while waiting for a response. Usually I’ve begun another story by then, so I get an overlap with a similar-looking graph displaced in time.

My graph depicts two paths here, one showing a rejection. Despite my earlier advice to look at rejections positively, I still find that hard to do. Rejections stink. Maybe not as much now as my first one, but still…

An acceptance of a story is a very high emotional state, especially the first time. It’s time to celebrate, indulge, and surrender to the grandeur and magnificence of me.

No one can maintain a very high or very low state forever, so I do descend from the grand summit as I get through the rewrites and signing of the contract, though these are not unpleasant.

The launch of a story is another sublime pinnacle of emotional ecstasy, and that’s no hyperbole. “For all human history, readers have awaited a story like this, and today, I, yes I, grant your wish and launch this masterpiece, this seminal work of ultimate prose, so you may purchase and read it. You’re quite welcome.”

After the story is launched, you’ll get occasional uplifting moments, such as favorable reviews, or book signings, etc. These are never quite as exciting as acceptance or launching, but they’re gratifying anyway.

I’ve not gotten through all these stages with a novel yet, but I suppose a novel’s graph is longer in time, and has many more ups and downs than that of a short story.

Also, your mileage may vary such that your graph looks quite different from mine. Leave me a comment and let me know about the emotional stages of your writing experience.

Remember, when on a roller-coaster (emotional or state fair-type), it sometimes helps to raise your hands in the air and scream. Whee! Here goes—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 26, 2014Permalink

10 Reasons You Really Are Good Enough to Write Fiction

Perhaps you have a story inside you, but you feel too scared or intimidated or inadequate to believe you could ever write fiction.  Here are some ways to banish those feelings.

First, there are at least three levels of fiction-writing.  (1) These days you can write and publish something yourself without an editor, at near zero cost.  (2) You can get your writing accepted by a publisher, but not make enough money to live on.  (3) You can write fiction as your sole means of support.  I’ll limit myself to discussing level (2) today.

Never be a writerTrue, some people aren’t cut out to be writers at all.  My purpose today is to keep you from cutting yourself out of the running at the start.  Let’s look at ways you might think you’re not fit to be a writer:

  1. I just know I could never be a writer.  Where is your resistance to writing coming from?  Do you immediately think “I could never do that” when presented with other opportunities in life?  Maybe this isn’t about writing at all, but your general negativity toward trying new activities.  How many amazing human initiatives haven’t happened because somebody said, “I could never do that,” hmm?
  2. I don’t know anything about writing.  Don’t let this stop you.  That’s the part you can get help with, through critique groups, writing courses, books about writing, writing conferences, etc.
  3. I’d never write as well as [insert your favorite famous author’s name here].  Stop comparing yourself to the great authors.  You can’t know today how you’ll stack up against them one day.  So what if you’re not quite as good?  You can still get published and win over some readers.
  4. I’m unknown, and people only read books by known authors.  Think about it; all published authors started off unknown.  What if your favorite author had talked herself or himself out of writing?
  5. No editor will read my stories because I’m unpublished.  Not true.  Consider that latching on to a new, undiscovered top talent is every publisher’s dream.  All they need is one (you?) to make their career.
  6. Novels seem so hard to write.  No need to begin with a novel.  Try a novella, a short story, flash fiction.  Do blog posts for a while.
  7. My teacher told me I’d never be a writer.  Is one long-ago English or Language Arts teacher still in your head criticizing you?  Keep that teacher in your mind, but dedicate yourself to showing how wrong he or she was; sweet revenge will be yours one day.
  8. My story idea seems trite, or already used, etc.  At this point your idea is just a story concept; it might match hundreds of already-published stories.  Once you flesh it out and write it down, it becomes uniquely yours, different from all others, and possibly publishable.
  9. It takes too long to write a story.  True, writing takes time.  But, of all the skills and abilities you’ve developed in life, how many did you master in a day?  Let the strength of your story idea sustain you.  If it’s truly grabbed you, you’ll persevere until you write it all down.
  10. I couldn’t stand being rejected or getting a bad review.  That does stink, no denying it.  Any creative endeavor requires a thick skin.  Look at editor’s rejections as permissions to send your story elsewhere.  As for bad reviews, remember it’s far easier to be the critic.  At the worst, the reviewer may actually have a valid point you can use to improve your writing for the next story.

See?  You are good enough to at least try being a writer.  Shake off those negative emotions.  Let your imagination soar.  Allow yourself to try it out.  Someday, when you’re a famous author, be sure and give partial credit to—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

November 17, 2013Permalink

Is ‘Write a Novel’ on Your Bucket List?

bucketHave you created a bucket list, and decided you’d like to write a novel before you kick the bucket?  Before you commit to that, we need to talk.

First, although I don’t have a bucket list myself, I like the concept.  What a great way to take charge of the rest of your life, to seize the remaining days and bend them to your will, to enjoy the wonders of being alive in this world at this time.

I think your attitude toward your list is important, though.  You shouldn’t consider your life a failure if you don’t cross off every item.  As Robert Browning said, your reach should exceed your grasp.

Most bucket lists contain items that can be thought of as events, or one-time experiences.  In the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List,” the characters’ list items included going skydiving, flying over the North Pole, visiting the Taj Mahal, going on an African safari, and visiting Mount Everest.  Those types of list items are fine; it’s a good idea to experience what our world has to offer.

However, writing a novel isn’t like that at all.  It’s been said that writing a novel is a one-day event.  As in, “one day, I’ll write a novel.”  Unless you sign up for something like Nanowrimo or the 3-day novel contest, writing a novel normally takes many months.

Further, there’s a significant difference between listing ‘write a novel’ and ‘get a novel published.’  Attaining publication is much harder than just writing a novel for your own enjoyment.

True, there’s a great feeling of accomplishment in writing “The End” after your novel’s first draft, and I imagine an ecstatic feeling at seeing your own novel in print, but both of those feelings are preceded by many long, solitary hours/days/weeks/months of writing.  Just in case you didn’t know that.

In short, writing a novel is probably unlike other items on your bucket list.  It’s less like ‘visit the Grand Canyon’ or ‘see a show on Broadway’ and more like ‘learn dentistry’ or ‘become a rock star.’  In other words, be prepared for a major time-suck.

So, you understand all that but have decided to keep ‘write a novel’ on your bucket list anyway?  You’re that determined?  Great!  I say, go for it.  I wish you luck.  Remember, if you are able to get your novel published, that work of creativity will survive your own death.  If it’s good enough, it could even become a classic and live on forever.  Even the work of a sculptor doesn’t survive as long, for stone eventually wears away, but the words of a book can be reprinted endlessly.

If you’ve made a bucket list, I’d love to hear about it, whether or not writing a novel made your list.  Let me know by leaving a comment.  Be assured that ‘one day,’ a novel will be written by—

                                                                               Poseidon’s Scribe

A Path Not Taken

Want to be a published author?  Curious about the best path to take?  In this post, I’m going to suggest you not do what I did, and instead I’ll offer a short cut.

which-way-29941281444641fqVCFirst let me retrace my steps for you.  In the mid-1980s, I had a great idea for a story.  Way too big for a short story, this had to be a novel.  I’d never thought of being a writer, and the notion scared me a bit, but the idea wouldn’t let go.  I studied writing—read books about writing, joined a writer’s group, went to writer’s conferences, joined a critique group.  And began writing.

I stayed enthusiastic about my novel, but only about the writing of it, the first, second and third drafts.  The more I wrote and rewrote, the more scared I got of the next phase, finding an agent and sending my novel out.

In 1999, I took a brief break and wrote a short story called “Target Practice” which I submitted, and it got accepted in the anthology Lower than the Angels by Lite Circle Books.  That should have been a clue I was on the wrong path, but I went back to working on the novel.

Around 2004 or 2005, I abandoned that first great idea novel (yes, after 20 years of work!), and started a different novel.

In 2006, with the second novel about one quarter finished, I resumed writing short stories.  This time I got serious about actually submitting them.  After many rejections, I started getting published.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see where I went wrong.  I should have started with short stories and worked my way up to novels.  It’s distressing to think of the time I wasted, and how much earlier I might have gotten stories in print.

On the other hand, it’s possible that the two decades of work on a now-abandoned novel was time well spent.  One could claim those years contained my 10,000 hours, the time required to develop genius-level capability.  It’s also true that my first novel might have actually gotten published had I bothered to submit it, and might have done well.

Certainly there are cases of authors getting their first novel published and seeing it become a best-seller.  But these are rare enough that I believe a better strategy for most writers is to start with short stories.  Crawling should precede walking for most people.  That method allows you to become familiar, more quickly, with the whole writing-submitting-publishing-marketing process end to end.

There you have it.  Advice, as I say at the top of my web page, straight from Mount Olympus.  Please don’t do what I did; don’t waste twenty years on a low-percentage strategy.  Don’t follow that first path trod by—

                                                     Poseidon’s Scribe

Book Review – A Curse on the Cygnus

At DarkoverCon last November, I met author Kevin M. Houghton, and bought a copy of his book, A Curse on the Cygnus.  It’s the subject of today’s book review.

This steampunk novel follows Royal Defence Service agents Colonel Ian Grey and Lady Victoria Dallas on a trip aboard a British Imperial Airways airship called the Cygnus.  A murder occurs onboard, and the protagonists become involved in the investigation. The question is whether this is a straightforward, naturally explainable crime, or whether it has something to do with the airship’s cargo of ancient Egyptian treasures and an associated, rumored curse.

I found the story engaging and exciting; it’s high adventure in a wonderful steampunk setting.  The novel gives the reader a good feel of being in an airship, conveying a sense of being confined.  Lady Victoria Dallas is a strong character, well able to defend herself.  The author does a fine job of making clear the motivations of all the major characters so their actions are believable.  Tension builds nicely through the story to a dramatic conclusion.  Moreover, the book is short and written in an easy-to-read style.

However, most of the characters seemed rather stock steampunk characters to me.  I would have liked Ian and Victoria to each have an endearing character flaw to make them seem more human and compelling.  I found I didn’t care about them as much as I like to care about protagonists.  There were a lot of characters to keep track of, but the author did a pretty good job of giving the reader little reminding clues to keep them straight.

The story’s beginning was slow, it seemed to me.  I was confused by the Point of View throughout.  Third person POV is most common these days, but this novel seemed to either employ third person POV that flipped frequently within scenes (and once within a paragraph), or else employed omniscient POV.   I was never quite sure whose head I was in.  A large number of grammatical and editorial errors also detracted from my reading enjoyment.

Using my seahorse rating system, I give this novel three seahorses.  If you enjoy steampunk and like a good murder mystery with a touch of the supernatural, then I recommend you read A Curse on the Cygnus.  If you do so, and come away with a different impression, please leave a comment for–

                                                             Poseidon’s Scribe

February 18, 2012Permalink

Just Short Stories? No Novels?

Should an aspiring fiction writer start with novels or short stories?  Don’t look to this blog entry for a concrete recommendation for your situation.  I can only tell you the path I took and my reasons for choosing it.  For you, success could well lie on a different path.

When phrased as an either/or choice – novels or short stories – the question itself is too limiting.  There are a variety of other avenues for the creative writer of prose, including flash fiction, novellas, podcasting, television and movie scriptwriting, and playwriting.  I’m sure I’ve left out some options and many more possibilities remain to be discovered, or forgotten ones rediscovered.  Some writer will have to be the pioneer who leads these expeditions.  Why not you?

While serving aboard a submarine many years ago, I thought of an idea for a story.  So grand was this story idea, I was certain it would make me both famous and rich.  To truly capture this story, only the novel format would do.  I was sure my tale would seize the attention of the country and even the world.  I could already see myself resigning my commission in the Navy, doing the talk show circuit, and traveling to book signings.

Though chock full of enthusiasm and energy, I was less well supplied with writing experience.  I’d heard all the arguments for starting with short stories, of course.  But such well-meaning advice could be safely ignored.  It simply didn’t apply to my case, I was sure.  Undeterred by these considerations, I set to work.

Actually writing the novel proved harder than I’d counted on, which surprised me at the time for some reason.  There was a lot to think about, with plots and subplots, characters, settings, even a theme.  How to keep it all straight?  Confident that my future fans would patiently await the great opus, I struggled on.

The struggle filled some time, like two decades or more.  At the end of that period I found I’d created a manuscript of which even my desk drawer was—and still is–ashamed.  To this day, the desk’s immune system occasionally rejects it and I have to gather up the pages, force them back in, and nail the drawer shut again.

In truth I had more to show from all the work than just an unpublishable manuscript.  Without knowing it, I’d been honing my skills in a harmless way, practicing the craft and making all my early mistakes.

Abandoning that first novel, I started another.  But doubts had set in about whether I was cut out for this.  A novel is a daunting task and a significant investment of time with very uncertain payoff, particularly for the beginning fiction writer.  It’s easy for discouragement to build up and eventually overwhelm enthusiasm.

I then read The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures, edited by Mike Ashley and Eric Brown, published by Carroll and Graf in 2005.  It’s a marvelous collection of short stories inspired by Jules Verne, all written by modern authors.  As a Jules Verne fan, the book inspired me.  I wrote my own short story, a work that would have fit well in that collection, or would if they decided to put out a second anthology in a similar vein.  That story, “The Steam Elephant,” appeared in Steampunk Tales issue #5.

That started me off writing more.  There are several reasons why I’ve enjoyed my switch to short stories.  I can churn out many more of them per year.  They keep my ever-fickle muse interested and focused.  It’s easier to test out different genres.  Short stories represent a good method for further growth as a writer while getting the positive feedback of more frequent acceptances.

At some point I’ll return to the novel length story.  The average non-writer doesn’t regard an author as serious until she or he has published a novel.  Certainly the pay for a published novel is greater as well.  Who knows, one of these days I may dust off the two novels I started, rewrite them, and send them out for consideration.  If you’re engaged in writing a novel equally as good, perhaps I’ll join you on the talk show circuit!  Until then, I’ll remain a short story writer, and—

Poseidon’s Scribe