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Writing: The Life of a Writer

I try once a week to take my laptop and go off to a local cafe/restaurant, have a couple of drinks and work on a novel. If I don’t do this, I tend to get distracted with many other writing projects.

I’m not writing any poetry at the moment but rewriting a bit, trying to redo a story for one anthology, finish a new story for another, and work on my novel. Sometimes ideas flow and sometimes it’s stop and start, the idea complex, the world taking some thinking. How much to put in of the world without veering too far from the story becomes a balancing act. It’s almost time to go through my bookmarked literary and speculative markets again, tossing the broken links and moving the ones that take online subs into a separate folder. I’m behind on submitting because of some freelance work and the writing.

An example of a submission night: I sit down at 8:00 pm and start going through the markets, continuing from where I left off the last night. By 11:30 I’ve weeded through the markets and sent out poems to about four magazines. That’s about four poems per magazine and they’re already written. I also submit two stories to two other magazines. But just doing that, searching through, finding the right poems, reading through them, making a few changes, reading other guidelines took three and a half hours.

When I submit stories/poetry in paper format it takes even longer because I must take the template letter, fill in the titles on each one, print the poems and letters off, match them up, fill out envelopes, make up SASEs, put stamps on, put the material inside, seal them up and take them to the post office. Usually I’ll do a batch of about ten magazines at once and it will take me three solid nights to get everything sorted.

Although I could keep track of where my stories and poems go on an Excel spreadsheet I find that I need a tactile, visual aid. I still use index cards. For the markets I have a 5X7  index card and I write the editor, magazine name, address, pay and type of writing that they accept at the top. Then I write the title of the pieces I’m sending and the date I sent them, usually just the month and year: 03/09. When the story/poem comes back I write the return date. If they’ve accepted a piece I put a circled P beside the piece and the date.

I have a separate 3X5 card for every poem and story. I have categorized these cards by color: pink for erotica and mainstream, green for fantasy, yellow for SF, blue for dark fantasy. That’s for stories. For poems I have them on white cards or green for the speculative poems. I put the title and the length at the top of the card and then list the market and date sent on each one as I send them out. When I have sent to the market, I put the market card at the back of my large index box. When I have submitted a story/poem I put that card to the back of the story/poem box behind a paper-clipped card. I have one box for poems (I have that many) and one for fiction. One larger box holds the markets. If a story/poem has been out too long I will send a query and I mark that with a Q and the date. If I hear nothing after a couple of months, I put the card back into the submission flow again.

I confess to not having a card for every market. If they’re fairly new or a one-of anthology, I sometimes don’t make a card. I’ll wait to see if they continue and if I submit more than once. But I do have one for every piece I’ve written. It lets me see how often I’ve sent a piece out, where I’ve sent it and which ones are becoming trunk stories; the ones that keep going out again and again and again.

I tried computerized index systems before but I found that if I wanted to find a poem about deadly flowers for market X that was doing a theme issue, and SF stories dealing with a dark future for market Y, that it was easier to sort the cards back and forth and match them up to the best market. Say that I have one futuristic SF story and there are three markets. I look at the story, make sure I haven’t sent it to the markets and then will try to match it to the highest paying one first. But if I have a secondary story, SF but Utopian and only one magazine likes that type then I may switch them about. To me, this is far easier with the cards than by clicking through various screens.

Writing is about 40% creation (breaking that down to 15% writing and 25% rewriting) and 60% perseverance. It’s true that if you persevere long enough, you will get items published. Some stories have sat for years and then ended up at the right market at the right time. But it also means you must be willing to rewrite and drop your favored line or character. Some editors will give a short statement of what worked or didn’t. You can get contradictory statements so take them with a grain of salt, but if you’re saying the editor was out to lunch for every rejection, then you’ll probably continue to get a lot of rejections.

The advent of computers meant suddenly that everyone could write. But not everyone can write well. It takes practice, and magazines are inundated with good works as well as bad. The more polished a piece, the better the chance of acceptance. Continuing to submit and not give up is half the battle.

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Writing: A Fable–The Demon

Once upon a time there was a person much like you and me who came upon puberty and began to write feelings and thoughts upon paper. This person loved words and reading and loved to imagine and create things.

Eventually the person decided that maybe it would be good to share these words and ideas with others, to show them the ways of this person’s expression. After all art is part for viewing and part for showing. The first creations were poems but the person found that the words lacked and although thoughts and feelings had been expressed, they didn’t connect with other people.

The person decided to get advice and seek courses so that a common language could be found, while still keeping a unique mixture of words, thoughts and images. There was a need to show others the visions. It was a scary time, for the person did not know what others would think of these fledgling designs. Would the person be pulled down or ridiculed for such pretensions? This new writer had seen one person changed into a demon when other writers and readers had read about the terrible character in his story. Those writers and readers took the skin of that story character and pulled it over the writer of the story. It was very hard for him to shed it and say, I am not that person.

The writer had not yet built up the thickened skin that comes from critiquing and dissection. But the writer went on to write a couple more stories, perhaps four in all. They were all raw constructs, crawling out upon the land with their newborn descriptions. Sometimes they had more limbs than were needed or lacked eyes, such was the new writer’s unformed talent. Two stories were tried in one class and then the writer felt emboldened to move into an acolyte’s workshop, sending off two stories, for no one entered the hallowed halls of the workshop without first being judged on merit.

Some merit must have been discovered, for the writer joined others in the apprenticeship of their craft. After completing the rigorous conditioning the writer learned how much there was still to learn and that it would take a  lifetime to be perfect or become a god of writing. The writer was invited into a small enclave, where mages of imagination met and discussed the secret ways of writing, delving into the mysteries of words and how to make their words more powerful.

Here, the writer in innocence brought a story from that time before the workshop, when only a few stories had been painstakingly born. A  few stories were still wriggling infants, not yet shaped into gods or monsters. The other word magicians looked upon the work and saw where the incantations would not evoke the right responses.

However, there was one who looked upon the work and said, You have taken my words. The writer was confused because their stories were very different, and professed to having written the piece before even knowing the other wordsmith existed. Yet the other wordsmith proclaimed that the writer should be careful where one took their ideas from for people weaving had become sacred in the wordsmith’s story and the writer had used creatures weaving. The writer had written the story before meeting the enclave or reading the other’s story but suspicions were laid, of black arts used to gleaned the weaving idea.

The venerated wordsmith left the secret enclave since the other word magicians would not oust the new writer.  However the wordsmith was part of another group that gave displays of their skills in hopes that rich people would notice their wordfame and remember their names. From that group, the wordsmith pulled out the demon skin and waved it about, then threw it toward the new writer.

Although the new writer ducked, seeing some dark cloud descending, the demon skin stuck to the writer’s flesh. Not everyone believed the wordsmith’s words but the stigma remained on the new writer. Like a scarlet letter, others would wonder what it meant and really, could that new writer be trusted? Surely there must be some truth to the wordsmith’s allegations. And the writer, whether innocent or not, would always now stand out as “that one.”

The writer, who was just a person, did not understand. The brand did indeed burn though the demon skin was invisible and the new writer felt like everyone else. The other group never allowed the new writer in, stating that the wordsmith’s words and opinion were powerful. All other writers in the region could join but not the one new writer. The group was not rich nor powerful except in exclusion but that exclusion had done the job.

The writer, now a partial demon, had been wounded by these actions. Having always been a champion of copyright and protecting the artist’s right, and having enough ego as any artist, the writer believed in creating unique worlds, not copying someone else’s. But it was as if the one scouring agent, rare and expensive, that could clean the partial demon from the writer’s flesh and soul, was kept hidden away.

Though some wordsmiths supported the writer-demon in private, no one stood up to the wordsmith who had thrown the demon skin. The person who was a writer, who wasn’t a demon but had some of the skin of a demon would never be free of that taint. Ostracized for a crime not committed, that  person’s soul was marked with the knowledge that people saw the person as false.

The demon-writer could always feel the skin, no matter how small the patch and spent the rest of the long years of writing, trying to do what was right, trying to champion the arts or at least not go against any enclave. In one short burst the demon-writer tried to retaliate in long festering hurt, and barred the writer from one reading. But it was not the demon-writer’s true way. No matter what happened this writer who was really just a person felt different and felt that the other wordsmiths always saw it that way, and that the rift in the writers’ enclaves would never be healed. Just like those early days of trying to share words and thoughts, the demon-writer found that people didn’t see things the same way.

But it would not be the end of the demon-writer’s travails for others held skins and waited.

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