Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Querying as Directed

I did finally send that email query regarding my story that had not received a response within the magazine's specified time. At first, nothing happened. There was - surprise - no immediate response of REJECTED. Nothing, really, to be afraid of after all.

A response came, about a week after the query, letting me know that they were still considering stories submitted around the time mine was, thanks for the patience, etc...

So, it wasn't actually that scary of a thing to do, and I'm glad I did it. Still pretty sure the story is going to be rejected, in part because I've learned a lot in the depth workshop that I did and I know that story has room for improvement. Though it is one that got secondary consideration from another magazine, so who knows? Maybe it will have appeal to an editor. As the writer, I can't really judge.

I learned that lesson again when completing assignments for the depth workshop. The last assignment was challenging, and I really didn't think I'd done well on it. But my reply from Dean revealed that I had fulfilled the requirements of the assignment, even though I didn't think that I had. Looking back, I think that my critical voice was complaining about the prose even though I was doing the right things.

Now that the workshop is over, I need to set aside some time for writing. I have three great starts that are begging to be finished. Of course, the solo trip preparation takes precedence, but I think I can find some time. It's all about setting the goals and holding myself accountable.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Adding It All Up

I joke about math and how difficult it can be when I'm at cross fit. To be fair, that's because when you work out at 5 in the morning, and you work out hard, numbers can get a bit more complicated to deal with. I joke about it, but I actually keep pretty good, some might say obsessive, track of my numbers.

I like math.

I always have. I was the kid in 2nd grade who got pumped when the teacher announced we'd be taking a "mad minute" math quiz (one page of problems, one minute time limit - go!).

Recently, I talked with my brother and had a realization. He said that he didn't try hard at school, and that's why he didn't get the best grades. He put his energy into sport. Implied, though not stated, was that I tried hard at school. From my perspective, I didn't. I put my energy into reading, but I didn't read textbooks beyond what was assigned. I excelled at school with minimal effort (for the most part - I do still remember how I almost failed vocabulary in 6th grade because I refused to memorize and regurgitate the exact definitions in the book).

For him to match my grades would have taken effort he didn't wish to expend. For me to approach his prowess at sports, I would have had to give an effort I didn't even know I had when I was young. Our perspectives were just so different.

And so, when I encounter people who aren't "math" people, who have a genuinely bad relationship with numbers, I have a hard time understanding. I think it's an important perspective for me to understand, as a writer, but it's also hard to grasp. Algebra makes sense in my brain; it's simple, consistent, and intuitive. To imagine that not being true is foreign.

Even after a hard workout, summing a column of numbers is a relaxing exercise for me. I do have problems with counting sometimes, mid-workout, but burpees do have a way of jarring numbers out of my head.

In my mind, the jokes about not liking math, or numbers, were just jokes. Sure, we say math sucks, like we say Monday sucks or burpees suck - wait, no, burpees really do suck. But the funny part is that math doesn't suck. Isn't it?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Busy Is Good. Right?

Work is getting extra crazy for some reason. Just when things should be slowing down... 

Usually, this time of year would be a lull, but the lull has been filled with new project development. I attended a conference last week, which took nearly my entire work week. This week, I've got three full days of solid meetings, and everything else needs to get squeezed in wherever it will fit. 

I'm working on being "documentative" when it comes to everything I'm doing. I demonstrate a technique, I document it, I follow up on meetings, I make records here, there and everywhere. 

In some ways, it feels like I'm doing two or three times the work that I need to, but I know it will all pay off in the long run. Having processes documented increases the ability of everyone in my unit to do the required work without struggling. 

On top of my intense meeting schedule, I think I'm getting some cold/crud thing - headache, body ache, too hot and too cold at the same time. I probably shouldn't have worked out today, but I guess I'm glad to have experienced the infamous 12.1 open workout. Anyone can do it - it's just 7 minutes of burpees to a six inch target! 

Ideally, next week should be less full of meetings, but I'm not entirely sure that will be the case. This week's set of meetings is the start of a build project, and I'm pretty sure I'll be the main contact for follow up work. Just a feeling that I have. 

My bosses do at least know that I'm in this situation and doing my best to keep my head above water, but I'm frustrated that I don't have the time I want to spend on projects that have been on hold for nearly a month. (I had four out of five days in meetings the week of 2/13, a four day work week for the 2/20 holiday, the conference, then this week. I'm feeling a wee bit behind.) 

Oh, and I'm also doing an online writing workshop. And preparing for a 100 mile hike the first week of May, which includes physical training, research and prep work. 

I am not bored. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Learning Cycles - Setting

One of the things that I learned from doing the 2nd workshop assignment is something that I already knew, but that I hadn't revisited. I mean, I guess I thought I'd fixed it, but now I know that I haven't. The fact is, I'm not very good at describing setting. I fall back too much on details that are generic on the page even though I have a good picture of them in my head.

A few years ago, I tried to refocus on describing places. I took pictures and tried to describe them in words to practice. But I still ran into the fact that I will use a word and assume that it means to everyone what it means to me. It doesn't. A noun alone is rarely sufficient. I need to consider that I could have readers from all over the world, with experiences that cause their word definitions to differ from mine significantly. A house is not a house is not a house.

I'm going to blame Hemingway for my spare setting descriptions- not the writer himself, but the way that his writing is taught in classes. There was a certain fawning admiration on the part of several instructors in my writing classes for the simplicity of his prose. An emphasis came about that a story should have the fewest words possible to convey what it needed to convey. The problem was, no one taught which words were the necessary ones. It was just - cut! cut! cut!

Too much description would bog the story down.

Less is more.

Simplicity!

In a way, I can't blame instructors of writing for having that attitude. When faced with the prospect of reading 20 student written stories, an emphasis on shorter probably saves their sanity. But it doesn't do the students much good.

With my backpacking books, I focused less on describing setting in the first couple because I was leaning on my pictures. I didn't need to place the reader in a setting - that's what the pictures were for! But starting with The Wild Coast I began to try and use those little black marks on the page to put the reader in a place. A very specific place, with a specific emotion. And I continued that with ICT: Sawtooths, writing the reader into the scene more often than pointing them at the pictures.

So now I need to bring that attitude into my fiction writing. Define the place as the character sees it. Make the reader see what I see in my mind, using the magic of little black marks on a page.

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.