Monday, July 29, 2019

ON WRITING: Finding Luck (hint--you need to write)

There are a few things you need, in order to find some success writing (or with any creative endeavor):  talent, perseverance, and luck. 

One of the earliest pieces of advice that I took to heart, when I finally began to take my writing seriously, was to seek out any venue for publication of my (your) work, even if said venue might not be within the genre or format to which one aspires, i.e. if you want to write novels you may need to start small--write short stories and try to get them published, or you could even try to write a regular column for an online or print publication.  In 2007, I did the latter and landed a weekly column for a now-defunct online pop culture and comic book website, The Pulse.  I wanted to write fiction, at the time focusing on short stories with a plan to move up to novels eventually, but I also took to heart the advice above, understanding that seeing my words in print would allow me to view them differently, hopefully leading to an improvement in my writing, while also knowing the more I wrote, the better I would get, as well. 

For the next year, I wrote my column, "For Your Consideration," which offered a quick synopsis and analysis of a recent(ish) comic not published by the larger entities--Marvel or DC, as examples--along with a short Q&A with the creator(s) or other involved party, such as an editor or publisher.  Each column ran about 2,000 words, and having a weekly deadline really pushed me to ramp up my writing and get past the need for inspiration to strike, because your editor doesn't care if you were inspired or not, they just need the work at the time you promised it.  I also got to interview a number amazing creators:  Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Jason, Gilbert Hernandez, Paul Pope, Steve Rude, and P. Craig Russell, among others [and I still lament the fact that my assumptions led to Matt Fraction, rightfully, chewing me out over email, after I held onto a "Casanova" FYC too long].  I wrote a lot for the Pulse that year, and it was a good time.

I have also sought out a variety of avenues for publication of my short stories, while managing to land a few with various anthologies.  But, as I seem to harp on about, you have to do the work.  Not just the writing, though that should be obvious, but also the work in finding places where your stories can be published, landing at these publications during an open submissions window, then following the guidelines needed to get your story in front of the reader who will ultimately accept or reject your story.

Do.  The.  Work.

Of course, there are plenty who don't do the work and don't appear to want to do the work.  They just drop into comments sections to make themselves known.  [attention:  Pet Peeve (TM) territory ahead, proceed with caution]  On more than one occasion, I've discovered either a call for writers (at CBR, another comic-centric site) or found a call for submissions of short fiction (Needle: a Magazine of Noir, for one) and discovered a bunch of comments, in the thread that followed, that made me bristle.  Maybe that was too strong a reaction, but what can I say, I'm human, and I've been working at this writing thing for quite some time, so I was irritated with the responses and the respondents.

In the first instance, there were a number of people proclaiming how excited they would be to have the opportunity to write for CBR . . . if only they had some writing to share . . . and why did you need examples, anyway?  (I had examples -- over 50 -- which could demonstrate how I would approach the subject matter upon which CBR focused; and as an aside, when I applied to the UMaine magazine for a writing position, I wrote a mock article to include with my application, as an example of what they could expect from me ---- do the work!

In the latter instance, I found comments left after submissions had closed, asking for the editor to contact them when the next submission window came open.  What?!?  (Needle was a magazine I greatly wanted to be a part of, and eventually was, so I regularly checked in at the website to see if submissions were open.  I also had a story ready and waiting, for when submissions did become open.  Going further, I had a short story rejected by Needle, but Steve Weddle [the editor] included comments stating there was a lot to like in my story, but that maybe I should consider expanding it to take away any of the coincidental aspects of the narrative.  I not only took his advice, but I also signed up for an online class about writing and submitting short stories through LitReactor, which Weddle moderated, so that I could not only learn more about my craft but also get my name in front of Weddle again.  In the end, that expanded story was published in the last issue of Needle.   Do. The. Damn. Work!

This is what people mean when they say you need to "make your own luck."  Sitting around, hoping that luck will strike (or inspiration, as I note in this previous piece), takes all the agency, all the responsibility, out of your hands.  It's nice in that relying on luck, a capricious facet of the universe, absolves you of any of the responsibility for your shortcomings or your rejections.  Hell, you won't even get rejected, because you won't send anything in, because you won't have done the work . . . but at least you can ponder how sorry they must be that they didn't get a story from you, because that would have been the best and could have really helped the publication with the popularity it would have generated.  Not writing means no rejections, and it also means you're allowed to continue to live in your fantasy world, where, if only luck had fallen your way, you would have been the greatest. 

Yeah, I'm harping on this one thing:  Do The Work.  But it's important.  And just stating it once certainly won't -- for most people -- allow it to stick in the front of your brain, festering there until you accept its inherent truth.  So, I harp, like the harpingest harpy that ever harped.

  • I wrote a story specifically for Needle.  I submitted it.  It was rejected, but with some insightful notes.  I went back.  Rewrote it.  Re-submitted it.  It was published in Needle #10.  
  • I wrote a comic review column for a fledgling site -- Independent Propaganda.  It went under, but I had examples to share with Jen Contino at the Pulse.  She allowed me to write a weekly comic review/interview column for the Pulse, for a year.  
  • I saw a call for submissions to a steampunk anthology, centered around Civil War-era New Orleans.  I read up on steampunk.  I wrote a story.  I submitted it.  It was published in New Orleans by Gaslight.  
  • There was a call for comic stories based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  I read Frankenstein.  I made notes.  I conceived a story.  Wrote an outline.  Wrote a script.  Took the editor's suggestions and incorporated them into a revised script.  It was accepted and published in Unfashioned Creatures.

I've done the work.  I've had some small bit of success in getting things published [to this point I've had 20 accepted pieces (some of which were not published due to funds dissolving or other aspects out of my control), I've withdrawn 25 submissions for a variety of reasons, and I've been rejected 224 times].  I've gotten lucky.  But that luck would not have materialized had I not already been doing the work, doing the writing, doing the revising, doing the daily grind of sitting at a computer and typing away at the keyboard.  Luck has a lot to do with how successful you might be as a writer, but you'll never find that luck if you don't first work hard.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

ON WRITING: Luring the Muse (hint--make it a habit)

Luck.  Inspiration.  The Muse.

When discussing writing . . . it's all drivel.  An anthropomorphizing of human ideas that romanticizes writing to an almost divine plane, while also diminishing it by ignoring the amount of work that goes into the act of writing.  You can wait until inspiration strikes.  Wait for the muse to land on your shoulder.  Hope for a lucky break.  But if you're focusing on this, you're probably not writing, and that's the key to it all.

The biggest problem with this romanticization is the fact that it takes a writer's success out of their hands, relegating it to some outside force.  Now, this may be well and good if the writer in question wants to deflect the harsh feeling of rejection away from themselves--it can be a coping mechanism, sure.  But it also means they needn't take any responsibility for their shortcomings (and all of us who write have those; it's just a matter of being self-reflective enough to recognize them).  You have to be proactive if you want to write and be successful.  You need to put in the work.  You need to read.  You need to analyze.  You need to write.  And you need to submit.  Do the damn work, if you want to be a writer.

And even then, there's no guarantee you will find success.

If you want The Muse (TM) to visit, to inspire you, to make the words flow from your fingers like golden skeins of thread being woven by the ancient Gods, there is something you can do.  Make your writing a habit.

It's not an easy thing to sit down with a blank page and start to write.  It takes a bit of ego, a bit of talent, a bit of delusion.  Most importantly, though, it takes persistence.  So, make writing a habit, and make it as regular a thing as you can.  When you sit to write (especially if you're starting out), do it at the same time of day, in the same spot, with (as near as possible) the same circumstances, every single day.  Writing is like working out, except it's using different muscles--if we want to think of the brain as a muscle, especially.  And, like working out or practicing with your teammates, you can develop a muscle memory with writing, as well.  Writing at the same time of day in the same place allows it to become familiar, taking away some of the anxiety that can cause writer's block.  Eventually, it just becomes part of your routine.  It will feel natural to sit down and write, something as familiar as brushing your teeth when you wake in the morning or slipping on your silk pajamas before watching "This Is Us" (because we all have silk PJs, right?).

Once you're comfortably in the habit, you'll be less anxious about it, just a natural part of your day.  And, you'll find that the words come to you more easily, that inspiration arrives more often and without as much struggle, that your fingers just seem to get away from you, racing to keep up with your imagination.  Keep in mind, also, that it behooves you to set a daily goal for your writing, so that you're always moving forward.  This can be whatever works best for you--a timed goal like an hour of writing, or a quantifiable word count: 500, 1000, 3000.  We're all different, so we have to find what's most comfortable for us.  But having that daily goal allows you to achieve one of the most important rules of writing I can think of, as stated by Neil Gaiman, "finish what you're writing."

And if you finish what you write, then you can begin to make your own luck, which, as with The Muse (TM), comes with making your writing a habit.