Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Workshopping

Yesterday my husband asked me about how my writing workshop/class was going. I told him that I'd turned in my assignment, and he asked if I got a grade for it.

"I get feedback," I said.

I realized then that I hadn't explained exactly what this online workshop was about. For the last several years, I'd been working on a writing degree. That kind of learning, my husband understood. I read things, wrote things and received grades. Clear metrics.

This online workshop with Dean Wesley Smith is something entirely different. I'm taking the class to learn specific new writing skills. The "assignments" aren't required, but the more I do of them, the more I'll get out of the workshop as a whole. The Depth workshop that I'm taking is all about learning how to write better.

That's not something I ever got out of the workshop classes I took at school. There, we read stories, wrote stories, critiqued each other's stories and ended up with no better idea of how to improve them than we'd started with. Everyone had a dozen critics with a dozen points of view and re-writing to please any one of us would undoubtedly fail to please every other.

The last class I took at school was such a workshop class, because I couldn't take the class that I wanted to take (work schedule conflict). I went into that class with a different kind of attitude, because I'd been reading Dean's blog for years by that point. I wrote to please myself, and re-wrote just enough to get a satisfactory grade (okay, satisfactory by my standards is an A, so I re-wrote substantially, while treating the whole thing as an exercise).

The Depth workshop has no grades. I'm not going to get a certificate of completion or even a pat on the head for turning in all the assignments.

The proof of the value of this workshop is going to come out in what I write after I'm done. I know my writing has improved (now I get some personalized rejections) and I know it has room to improve more (they are still rejections). So can I take the information from the workshop, absorb it and let it loose in my writing? Can I make my writing better because of understanding this technique? Will my husband notice the difference?

That's the evaluation, the proof of worth. Once the workshop is over, he'll have to let me know.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Story Submissions

I've got a story out on submission that has been out for long enough that the magazine recommends querying. But a part of me doesn't want to query. I have this hope that they're considering it, thinking about it, and waiting for me to demand an answer so that they can say no.

Wow, writing that fear out makes it look pretty ridiculous.

Because it is a fear.

The three other stories I've submitted to this magazine so far got quicker and quicker rejections. First 42 days, then 22 days for the next one and a mere 19 days for them to decide my third offering was not the story they were looking for.

But this one. 93 days and counting. Longer than the 3 months after which it is recommended to query. So I wonder, is this a good thing? Are they on the fence? Looking for a place where it might fit? Or did it slip through some electronic crack and they just forgot to fire off the rejection?

I'm pretty sure it's the latter, and I don't want to query and get that rejection in return for my effort. It's so much safer just to wait and hope that it's being held because they want to place it.

Of course, the real solution is to get more stories out for submission so I don't keep obsessing over this particular one. I haven't run out of venues for other stories yet. I just need to take some time to give that project some dedicated focus.

Which probably won't happen this week, because I'm in a training at work that is sucking all of my mental energy. It's a good thing, because I'm learning a lot, and a horrible thing because it's very concentrated learning. My head feels full after two days of it and there's two more to go. Ah, but this weekend is a long weekend. There will be time there, as long as I make it happen.

And the first thing I should do is write that query!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Learning Excites Me

I'm starting an online writing workshop through WMG Publishing today. I was so excited about receiving the pre-workshop, getting started email on Sunday morning that I sat myself down and wrote over 6600 words on a new story over the course of the day. (There was a football game that day, right?)

That's actually kind of bad news in a way. Over the summer, I had a goal of writing at least 500 words per day (100 on days I was backpacking). That felt, at times, like an insurmountable challenge. There were evenings when I would write, check word count, sigh, play Spider Solitaire, write, check word count again and the number just went up so slowly! I had some good days, reaching over 1000 words several times, but I never thought I actually had the ability to write 5000 words in a day.

And now, here I am, proving that I can write over 6500 words in one day. And the words weren't difficult. I'd write for a time, get up and do something else to ease my poor butt and wrists, then back to the story. The bad part is I've got myself into a situation like my husband's forgetting to remember that he's supposed to be forgetful.

See, it's to my husband's advantage to have me think that he's forgetful. But lately, he's been especially prone to actually remembering things, like dates and even people's names. So is his memory worse because he forgets to act forgetful or better because he actually remembers things? I'm leaning towards his memory getting better, based on the evidence thus far.

It's funny. I had some strange dreams on Saturday night, and I knew there was a story to tell in them. Not the exact story of the dream, because the dream only made sense inside itself. Dream logic. But there was a spark of something interesting in it, something I wanted to explore. I let it simmer while I made breakfast, and after my husband went to the gym I watched the introductory video for the online workshop.

And then, the combination of the excitement over the workshop, the strange dream I remembered and the lack of distractions afforded by an empty apartment compelled me to sit at the computer and start writing. I truly doubt that I would have started it though, without the impetus from the excitement.

The story isn't finished yet. I don't know where it's going. But I'm excited to find out - almost as excited as I am to start the workshop.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Fear

Dean Wesley Smith is spending some time digging into writers' fears over on his blog. The fear of success, the fear of injury to reputation, the fear of putting a story in the public eye, the fear that it really can't be this easy - just write and sell/publish? That's not what they say to do!

Overall, the fears are of the made up variety - not surprising for a group of people trying to make a living by making things up.

It's almost as if we get so involved in telling stories that we can't stop. When we aren't writing - especially when we feel "blocked" from writing - our minds continue making stories. And when our moods are down, those stories are sad and destructive and our creative energy, no longer harnessed to fun and joy, runs wild towards the downward spiral. We imagine the terrible consequences of writing and publishing a bad story, the derisive laughter of our critics, the humiliation of knowing we created something "worthless." The consequences grow vivid in our minds.

We create layers upon layers of fears, because we are so good at creating.

When I find myself in a situation that has actual things to fear, I have a choice. I can make more things up to fear in addition, or I can take responsibility for what I can handle, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

I go solo backpacking in the Idaho wilderness. There are bears, mountain lions and wolves out there, as well as elk that wouldn't mean to harm you but could easily trample you to death by accident. Wildfire is always a risk, especially in late summer. I could fall down a cliff, break a limb, slip in a stream and drown OR get hypothermia. There's altitude sickness, exposure, heat exhaustion, allergic reactions, landslides, sinkholes... heck, a tree could fall on my head.

I have some fears when I go into the wilderness alone, but I don't feed them. I don't give them more energy. I acknowledge them, plan for them if necessary, but there is so much more that needs my attention out there.

I used to get scared at night backpacking. I would be afraid to go out in the dark when I needed to pee. Afraid that animals were out there, ready to pounce on me. Afraid of really nothing at all.

But when I went on my solo trip in 2016, I had no fear at night. Waking with a full bladder didn't give me pause because I didn't want to venture out into the dark. The only hesitation came on the third night, and that was because of how cold it was outside my sleeping bag.

I had been expecting the night fears. Dreading them, even. I was afraid of the fear to come. I noticed when it didn't. I could feel how leaving my tent in the night was different. The possibility of an animal attack was still present, but I wasn't afraid of it. Cautious, aware, yes. Afraid, no.

That trip had so much more that I needed to think about than being afraid of the dark. My planned trip had me covering distances I'd never attempted before along trails that I'd never walked before. I had no room in my mind for fear.

I think that's where writing goals can help. The focus is placed on something else, something external. Reach a word count. Reach a story count. Finish what you start. I wrote more and better when I challenged myself to reach a daily word count last summer. I started some days without knowing what I was going to write, but the challenge got my butt in the seat and the words followed.

If you can't stop telling stories, then either you take control and write them or the fear takes control and writes you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

To Book or Not To Book

I'm not happy with the amount that I have to charge for the paper version of my latest Hike with Me book. It's long, and therefore costs more to print with the full color interior. I could print it in black and white and reduce cost considerably, but that's never appealed to me. The photos are just so much more striking in color. Sure, an ereader might not be in color, but someone who buys the ebook has the option of opening it with a device that does do color, such as a computer.

The other option for reducing page count, and therefore cost, is to create regular size print versions. Now, since the originals were created as large print, the photos were placed in it to correspond with the story as closely as possible that was going on in the text. Shrinking the text means that there are suddenly a lot more photos compared to the amount of text I have to place them between.

In the past, I've considered this, even started the project, but turned back because it didn't seem like it was worth the effort. I felt like it wouldn't be the same book, because the pictures would be presented in a different style. And, in redoing this most recent book with smaller print, I've ended up with three and sometimes four pages of just pictures in a row in order to keep each picture at least in the same chapter/day where they belong.

I'll leave it to my husband to decide whether or not it should be made available for sale. I think getting the cost down to a reasonable price would be a great boon for all the Hike with Me books, because part of the fun of them is in holding them and seeing the printing of the pictures. And it would increase the number of sales channels, which is a good thing business-wise.

After my husband gets a look at it, I'll either put the project to rest for good or get cracking at the other books in the series to make each one a normal sized print edition.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Physical Books!

Now my book is real. The copies that I've ordered have arrived and I'll be getting them in the mail soon. A little late for Christmas gifts, but I think the spirit will be understood.



There's nothing quite like holding that physical book in my hand. Paging through and looking at the pictures. I put a lot of sweat into that hike and a good deal of time into the book itself. I'm happy with it. Excited to set it free in the world and share it with my family.

Now, of course, all my excuses are gone. I've finished this book project. It's time for the next projects. It's time to get back to writing fiction and see if I can improve on my rejections-with-comments to actual story sales. There's still one pending right now, and it's been out there for a while. I'm taking that as a good thing, but I don't expect a sale at this point. I am hoping for another rejection-with-comment though.

And then there's the guidebook that Ambrose wants me to write about the Chamberlain Basin. Nothing too fancy, but something that gives more of the scoop on the current state of those trails than anything we found. I like that project as something that will be more straightforward to write, get my butt in the seat and the words flowing.

And I still have to finish that story from over the summer. Time to get back in the habit of writing fiction every day. That's where my improvements came from over the summer. Practice, practice, practice. Just like the process of getting these books out improves with practice, so does my fiction.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book!

The book is done!

Hike with Me: Idaho Centennial Trail Sawtooths is finished. The large print softcover is available through CreateSpace and Amazon. The ebook is available from Amazon right now, additional retailers soon.

I use Smashwords for distribution to additional retailers and unfortunately, I stuffed this book so full of beautiful pictures of the Idaho Sawtooths that the file is too large for processing. There's a way to get around the larger file size, I think, so I'm going to give that a try. But for now, it's available, if not as available as it will be. The work is almost done.

I'm happy with the amount of time that it took me to produce this one. It was a longer trip than in previous years, but I think the main reason that I took longer with it was that my attention was split between doing well in Spanish class and writing this book with a good amount of thought and style. The one year that I finished my book relatively early was the same year that I was taking a creative nonfiction writing class. The class itself helped me focus on the work of my book. The Spanish class took away from focusing on the book, simply because it was a very different type of learning.

Every one of my Hike with Me books is better than the last. It's not just that I'm having bigger and better adventures, though that is part of it. It's also practice and experience and the fact that my husband has become less hesitant about giving me critique that can help improve my writing.

I'm excited to put this book out into the world, and I'm excited to move onto my next projects. There's another nonfiction project in the works, and I still have a story to finish from last summer. I'm finally going to do an online writing workshop that I've wanted to do for years and I'm going to keep writing, keep publishing, keep improving and keep enjoying sharing stories.