30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 29 | Review of Fourth Week

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review, Week 2 Review, Week 3 Review]

The fourth week of the challenge has ended. Here’s an update:

  • I spent the week editing one of my short stories, and in that time the form and shape of the story has danced around a good bit. I’m currently starting the second round of editing (I guess you would call this Draft #3?), and I feel like it is settling down into something coherent and logical. Who knows if it’ll stay that way as I trudge on, but the great thing is this: I think it’s getting better. Time will tell if it ever ends up good, but it’s encouraging to see it is at least pointing in that direction and not the other way.
  • As I laid out in last week’s post, I plan on eventually submitting these stories to publishers. I would say that I don’t know what to expect, but that would be a lie: I expect I’ll be rejected continuously for the foreseeable future. I’ve seen too many interviews with wonderful authors telling of the many years trying to get anything accepted to have much hope for the near-term. All the same, I plan on keeping you informed of my manuscripts’ journeys from the submission box to the trash heap.
  • In fitting with these goals, I’ve done a little homework at the library this week. I went through the last four years of The Best American Short Stories, which if you don’t know is a great anthology series of stories published the prior year, and I tallied up the magazines and journals where these stories (and the list of “notable” stories in the back of the book) were published. So now I have a list of some ~120 or so places that could conceivably publish my stories (Ok, fine–The New Yorker ain’t never going to publish me).
  • Here’s an interesting development: I’ve stopped timing how much I write every day. And here’s a related story why: One winter in college, I trained to run a marathon. I’m the kind of guy that gets really into numbers: I planned out my mileage week by week, wrote down my run times, optimized, dialed everything in. And you know what happened? A little more than a month before the race, I burned out after a 19 mile training run. My body was shot. My knees ached. I had pushed it too hard, driven to maintain a satisfying string of numbers in a spreadsheet. I never made it to the starting line. Since then, I’ve learned to run without a watch. To not calculate precisely how many miles my run is. To run by feel. And last week I realized that such an approach is probably also best for my writing: writing by feel, not to flesh out a quota, whether words or time. Which isn’t to say I plan on writing less or giving up on discipline, just that I tend to tip the other way into achievement obsession – and that is what I need to guard against.

 

One. More. Day.

cropped-ProfilePic.001-1.png

The Darn Ecologist

Advertisements

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 22 | Review of Third Week

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review, Week 2 Review]

The third week of the challenge has ended. Here’s an update:

  • For the third week of the challenge, I wrote fiction for 33 hours and 23 minutes total or 4 hours and 46 minutes per day.
  • So far in the challenge I’ve written complete first drafts for 6 short stories (list of story prompts here).
  • I’ve almost made it to my goal of 35 hours of writing or writing-related activity (e.g. editing) per week. Initially, I thought 35 hours was a pretty ambitious goal, but it hasn’t been too difficult actually. The hardest part is starting to write. Once I get going, it’s pretty easy to put in a few hours. The focus for Week 4 will be to emphasize maintaining this amount of writing.
  • I think it ended up being a good idea to stop writing blog posts every day, because that extra hour really was funneled into other productive (and more enjoyable) writing. With that in mind, my next update will be in another week.
  • I’ve noticed that after the first week to 10 days, and after I had completed a few stories, that I have settled down into a natural routine. I’ve figured out ways that work for me to 1) brainstorm/outline story ideas, 2) get into “writing mode”, and 3) structure/schedule my day consistently (←if I have a hard time one day, this is probably the reason).

For the next week, I’m going to go through and start revising my stories. My current thinking is that I would like to cycle through revising, writing, and submitting on a rolling basis. So for instance, if I have 6 first drafts written, I would go back and revise/edit story #1 and get it ready to submit to a publisher. When it’s ready, send it off to some place. Then write the first draft to a new story (story #7). (Then start revising/editing story #2, etc.)

This strategy should allow me to switch back and forth between revising and writing new material, so I don’t get stuck in a rut with either one and I keep both skills in practice. It also should allow a nice delay of a few weeks between writing and revising the same story, so I’ll be revising each story with “fresh eyes”. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, because this strategy is a continuous process, there won’t be long periods of down time.

It would also mean that I’d constantly be sending my work out for others to read, which is probably a good thing, especially considering how much rejection I’ll likely be facing. Mentally, I think it is important to be working on the next thing when a rejection comes… it keeps you looking to the future.

At least, that’s the idea. We’ll see!

cropped-ProfilePic.001-1.png

The Darn Ecologist

 

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 15 | Review of Second Week

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14]

Yesterday I wrote for 2 hours and 34 minutes.

The second week of the challenge has ended. I have now worked on writing fiction every day for the last two weeks – the longest writing streak of my life, for sure. So if nothing else comes of this challenge, I have at least accomplished that.

Here’s where things stand:Read More »

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 14 | Blah-ging

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12, Day 13]

Yesterday I wrote for 4 hours and 4 minutes.

I’ve run into an interesting hiccup with this 30 Day Writing Challenge: I’m discovering that I am much more interested in the actual writing (writing my fictional stories based on these prompts – I’m on #4 now, by the way) than I am in doing these update blog posts.

Don’t get me wrong, I do find satisfaction in writing up the occasional book review (list here) or analysis piece – but I find that I am dragging my feet when I wake up in the morning because I’m secretly dreading the roughly one hour that I spend on these posts. I feel like there is some pressure to make them good – whatever that means – because I don’t want to waste your time, Dear Reader.

And the whole point of this challenge being to see whether I can bring myself to put in “full time” hours writing, this is a rather relevant aversion. Hmm, something to think about…

cropped-ProfilePic.001-1.png

The Darn Ecologist

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 13 | Nested Narratives

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12]

Yesterday I wrote for 2 hours and 59 minutes.

I recently finished reading Slapstick, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut (see my reading list here), and I was trying to figure out the way he puts together his narratives. He has a very distinctive style – if you’ve read any Vonnegut, you’ll know what I mean. Here’s my theory: nested narratives.

Read More »

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 12 | Thoughts on Novelty

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11]

Yesterday I wrote for 4 hours and 26 minutes.

Some career advice that I’ve heard repeatedly goes something like this: Either stay with your current employer/industry and develop new skills; OR, Keep your developed skill set and apply it with a new employer/in a new industry.

Let’s see how the same idea might look with respect to writing and novelty, swapping employer/industry for the “topic” and skills for “writing technique”. [Note: When I use the world “novel” in this post, I’m not talking about a book.]

ThoughtsOnNoveltyPic

1. If you’re going to write a story with a conventional topic using conventional techniques, it had better be extraordinarily well-executed. Because what else is going to help it stand out? Why else would a reader chose your story over many others?

2 and 3. These combinations are similar to the career advice. I think these approaches are appealing because people like to be entertained, but they don’t actually like too much creativity (e.g. teachers say they like creative students, but in reality don’t). And it works similarly for both reader and writer: one foot on solid ground to feel comfortable and the other dangling over the ledge to feel excitement.

4. The challenge here is to keep sight of land. You might find your story about the ancestry of a Nebraskan grasshopper told in the second person to be groundbreaking, and maybe it is, but it has to be deeply relatable and relevant to the reader – otherwise why would they try so hard to understand it (and it will take a lot of mental effort). The wilder things get, the more attention should be paid to relatability and relevance to the reader.

I don’t think that any of these 4 quadrants should be “off limits”, although commercial success is probably dominated by 1 (extremely well done at minimum) and 2 (gene stories with some interesting  twist or quirk, competently executed at minimum).

Write on!

cropped-ProfilePic.001-1.png

The Darn Ecologist

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 11 | Elbow Grease

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review, Day 9, Day 10]

Yesterday I wrote for 3 hours and 56 minutes.

If you’ve read more than a couple good books on writing (unfortunately, and counter to their own raison d’être, there are bad books on writing), then you probably already know most of the core essentials that you’ll ever need to know. Oh sure, there are special techniques for plotting or characterization…whatever. These are individual functions in your programming toolbox (explanation), and you’ll probably eventually develop and use your own customized functions anyway. You could spend hours reading about these special techniques, and maybe they are helpful in your writing, and maybe they are just procrastination under the guise of learning craft. Really, once you are halfway up the learning curve, the only thing left is elbow grease.

Which leads the modern writer into a weird, introspective hole that is equal parts inspiring and pathetic. To wit:

I am finding that turning off the Internet during the day is working for boosting my writing concentration and productivity. But then again, that isn’t much of a surprise is it? Of course it would. The revelation isn’t that it would work, but that I can do it. Which leads to this kind of mental dialogue:

Me: You did it! You focused on the work at hand without giving into distractions!

Also Me: Wait a minute. All you did was turn off the Internet (or insert your modern tech vice instead) – a luxury than many people don’t have at all – for a few hours. And you want a cookie for that?

Me: But it was hard.

Also Me: No, it wasn’t.

I sympathize with Me, but Also Me is right. Also Me is the one who gets things done – things that Future Me will appreciate. Here’s hoping that your Also Me wins today.

cropped-ProfilePic.001-1.png

The Darn Ecologist

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 10 | The Master Process

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review, Day 9]

Yesterday I wrote for 3 hours and 34 minutes.

When an idea keeps showing up in a number of different disciplines, you know there’s something to it. There’s an idea central to the arts that’s also central to the sciences and to nature generally, a process that underlies them all – a “master” process.

Here it is: iterative revision.

Read More »

30 Day Writing Challenge: Day 9 | Breaking the Spell

apple blank business computer
Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

[Previously: Week 1 Review]

Yesterday I wrote for 4 hours and 24 minutes. A new record for this challenge!

Reading and writing both seem to revolve around altered mental states. With respect to reading, John Gardner in The Art of Fiction refers to this state as the “vivid and continuous fictional dream”:

If we carefully inspect our experience as we read, we discover that the importance of physical detail is that it creates for us a kind of dream, a rich and vivid play in the mind. We read a few words at the beginning of the book or the particular story, and suddenly we find ourselves seeing not words on a page, but a train moving through Russia, an old Italian crying, or a farmhouse battered by rain. We read on – dream on – not passively but actively, worrying about the choices the characters have to make, listening in panic for some sound behind the fictional door, exulting in characters’ successes, bemoaning their failures. In great fiction, the dream engages us heart and soul; we not only respond to imaginary things – sights, sounds, smells – as though they were real, we respond to fictional problems as through they were real: We sympathize, think, and judge.

The best reading is when we slip into this spell quickly and have difficulty leaving it: we lose track of time while in the book, and we keep daydreaming in its world for a while after we’ve stopped reading.

At the end of the day, all the elements of good writing (grammar, punctuation, plot, theme, characterization, etc.) are in service to that reader’s dream. It isn’t bad, per se, to break the “rules” for any of these elements; it’s that breaking the rules often interrupts the reader from the dream – at that is the sin. The spell has been broken, they’ve been pulled out of the story, and are now just looking at the writer’s words.

But writers seem to have their own ideal state. From what I can tell, it’s a state of seamless switching between the dream state of the reader and flow state of the builder: both passenger and conductor at the same time. Stephen King calls writing “self-hypnosis”, and it brings to light why so many professional writers have strict and stereotyped writing routines: these are cues and rituals which help prime their minds to enter the writing state.

Which brings to mind the second, personal craft of writing: learning how to avoid breaking your own spell when you sit down to write, so that you can get in and stay in “the zone” easier and longer. This week I am turning off the Internet during the afternoon afternoon hours when I normally write to see if that helps.

[Random But Related Tip: I am highly distracted by environmental sounds, and I have found that wearing noise reduction safety ear muffs (e.g. the kind that people use at shooting ranges) to be great for minimizing this distraction. They are cheap too.]

cropped-ProfilePic.001-1.png

The Darn Ecologist