Wednesday, February 22, 2017


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.