Rejecting self-rejection

So… some good news. Not only am I eligible to receive the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, two of my stories are included in the reader anthology, Up and Coming: Stories from the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Writers.

But those stories would not have been included in the anthology if I’d been left to my own devices. More than that, I probably wouldn’t have been acknowledged as eligible if I not for a fortuitous push from my writing friends.

When I finish a story or an art project, I’m usually incredibly pleased it. I’m proud of the result.

… for like, 17 seconds.

After that, the narrative changes.

“I hate it.”

“It’s stupid.”

“The whole idea was kinda stupid to begin with.”

“Anyone who sees it will undoubtedly think that I’m stupid.”

“This new project I have in mind is way better, and I probably should have been working on it instead.”

I’m far more likely to trunk a story than I am to submit it for publication. And awards contention? That’s never even been on my radar. Awards are for the authors that I go out of my way to find and read.

So when the call went out for Campbell-eligible writers to submit their published works, I read the announcement and associated qualification criteria with a detachment that was too bland to be wistful. I thought, “Some day… some day.”

But according to the eligibility requirements, my clock was already ticking. ‘Some day’ had arrived.

A new writer is eligible for the Campbell for two years following her first qualifying sale in a professional market. That’s it. Then the window closes. And my first thought was, “I won’t submit. But maybe next year. Maybe. If I have some better stuff published.”

I took myself out of the running after barely even acknowledging my eligibility.

Luckily, a special guest sat in at my weekly writing group meeting. Mary Robinette Kowal is both a Campbell and multiple Hugo Award-winning writer. My writing group have all attended Mary’s seminar courses, and the Campbell anthology came up when she joined us for our online meeting.

As an aside, I’ve benefitted from several of Mary’s writing classes. If you’re quick enough with a computer to get in before they fill up, I highly recommend her as an instructor.

Go.

Go, now.

Find her online at maryrobinettekowal.com or @MaryRobinette on Twitter.

Aaaany who… I mentioned that I wasn’t going to submit for publication in the anthology and she slapped me around for being a dolt. The gist of the admonition being, “Don’t self-reject.”

Which seems obvious and true. I mean, if you never ask an editor to publish your work, the answer is by default a no. They don’t even get the choice if you’ve already drafted the rejection for them. The same is true for awards.

Submission, rejection and resubmission are elemental components of success as a writing professional. But I’m so good at giving myself reasons not to participate in final, commercial activities of a working artist.

Why is that?

For one thing, words on a page are a poor reflection of the iconic imaginings in a writer’s mind. I’ve found the same to be true of music, and perhaps this is something endemic to artist pursuits of all varieties.

I believe Guy Gavriel Kay had the right of it when he said, “I don‘t know a serious artist in any field who does not wrestle with the limitations of their own talent and energy, the space between the imagined work and what is produced.”

My own stories – irrespective of how well others appreciate them – always fall short of my expectations, even if only in some small measure. That they will always fall short is something I need to become better at accepting.

The harsh clarity of hindsight is another challenge.

I’m always learning some new piece of writing craft. It’s super easy to look back at completed works through the lens of whatever writing-nit I’m currently picking away at. The older the story, the more nits I have to pick.

Combine rear-view cynicism with a chronic excitement for each new, shiny idea and it’s easy to see how completed works struggle to compete against the vision of future accomplishments. I find it way too easy to write-off a good story as ‘just practice’ or ‘an interesting learning experience.’

But self-rejection is a miserable return for the investment of effort that the creative process demands. So rather than let my two-year window of Campbell Award eligibility swing shut, I’ve pulled aside the curtain and thrown the shutters wide.

Two of my stories appear in the Up and Coming anthology. I’m super excited to share those pages with friends I’ve made at writer conventions, classes and seminars.

Writers like Marin Cahill and Sunil Patel who attended the Writing Excuses Retreat with me in 2014. Jeanne Kramer-Smith who was in my first-ever writing class. Jamie Gilman Kress and Kim May who I met at my very first Worldcon in 2013.

I’m under no illusion that I’ll win the Campbell Award; that honor will be reserved for a writer better equipped to compress the gap between their imagined work and what manifests on the page.

But I’m part of a freshman class of blossoming science fiction and fantasy writers. I’m proud of that. And I’m very thankful that I didn’t pass on the opportunity to be included in the anthology or our debut works.

The Up and Coming anthology is free to download and available only for the month of March, 2016.

My short story The Doom of Sallee is a historical fiction about Barbary pirates and North African politics. It is set in Eric Flint’s 1632 universe and appeared in the November 2015 issue of the Grantville Gazette.

Brothers In Arms is a novella written for Star Citizen’s Jump Point Magazine. It is a tale of two ne’er-do-well brothers trying to go legit on the edges of colonized space. It was originally published in four parts starting May of 2015.

Best wishes to all the new writers out there, whatever your genre might be. And remember, don’t self-reject! I look forward to reading all of your work for many, many years to come!

 

Writing Income – August 2015

My Writing Income posts are inspired by Jim C. Hines
and his willingness to help authors understand the personal finance side of writing.

August was a travel month. My wife is from Slovakia, and we hopped over the pole with the kids to visit her father and family friends.

Given the breakneck (back breaking?) pace that I kept during June and July, the slow month was hugely welcome. If I had to characterize my writing pace for August, I’d describe it as “treading water.”

I most certainly wasn’t phoning it in with regards to performance. Quite the contrary, it felt like I produced a better work product than I did in July. Still, the pace was modest. Even though I was writing, August felt like a vacation.

… and that’s a good thing.

Quick note about fiction
I had a nice development on the fiction front in August. It’s nothing that I’m willing to share specifics on yet, but I had some interest in a short story that I wrote back in June.

More on that if/when I have a contract in hand.

On to the numbers!

August 2015
I wrote non-fiction and edited a short story in August. Although I got some cool story ideas from Slovakia, it was a bad month for new fiction.

Non-fiction revenue: $1,430

Expenses:                     $37

Net:                                $1,393

About my writing
For the record, I’m married with two young children and am very active with the family. My wife travels (often for extended periods of time), so I single parent when she’s away. I have a full-time job and we own a small business. My wife and I coach mountain biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter.

Writing for me is predominately constrained to evenings, with an occasional weekend-daytime sprint. Fiction is my passion, but I sell more non-fiction words.

Writing Income – July 2015

My Writing Income posts are inspired by Jim C. Hines
and his willingness to help authors understand the personal finance side of writing.

I hit a bit of a wall in July. I think my writing may have suffered because of it. I certainly feel that I suffered because of it. But even so, it was a good month for the revenue numbers.

With regards to non-fiction work, July was very similar in volume to June.

I’ll be dialing that back starting in August. It’s just too much work on top of life, kids, summer and all. I turned in a sub-par piece to one of my best clients, something I’m not at all comfortable with. I didn’t charge them for the work, so July’s numbers should have been even better.

On the plus side, I was able to bill for the balance of a 2013 fiction sale. It’s nice to finally get some fiction numbers into these updates!

July 2015
I wrote and invoiced for both fiction and nonfiction in July.

Non-fiction revenue:    $2,306
Short fiction revenue:  $1,400

Expenses:                         $144

Net:                                    $3,562

About my writing

For the record, I’m married with two young children and am very active with the family. My wife travels (often for extended periods of time), so I single parent when she’s away. I have a full-time job and we own a small business. My wife and I coach mountain biking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter.

Writing for me is predominately constrained to evenings, with an occasional weekend-daytime sprint. Fiction is my passion, but I sell more non-fiction words.

Character Description – Reprise

DescriptionThe October 21 episode of Drive Write focused on including an appropriate amount of description in stories. I recorded the podcast in response to some comments that David Farland made in an online panel and discussion of those comments in this thread on the WotF forums.

Please give that podcast a listen and read through the comments for more context, but the gist is this:

Many starting authors fail to include enough description in their stories. This doesn’t mean that all stories will benefit from more narrative description. It means that otherwise good stories will suffer if they don’t have the description necessary to engage the reader and drive the plot.

It was a good podcast and well-recieved. I’m sure my thoughts on the topic will continue to evolve as I gain experience and improve as a writer.

The topic generated enough discussion for me to keep it in mind as I worked through NaNoWriMo this year. I was reminded of it again when I saw this Dave Wolverton quote in an email update from the Writers of the Future contest.

Again, I’m not saying that every story needs some hypothetical percentage increase in descriptive content. There are, however, plenty of us who suffer from the white room syndrome. A little reminder to clue listeners in on the whos and wheres of our stories is a valuable thing.

So… this is a comment from Dave Wolverton. Wolverton is the Coordinating Judge for the Writers of the Future contest and this is in response to a question about common mistakes that judges find in WotF submissions.

“Originality is the key element to a story being selected as a finalist in this Contest. It always has been and always will be. You need to come up with fresh ideas to be a successful writer, so we are looking for those who have their own imagination.

“Your story must also resonate with the reader. The main problem that I see are that setting or character description are lacking. The writer has not informed the reader enough about where you are, the circumstances, or the character is barely described. This accounts for 90% of all story flaws.

“Other flaws include the fact that the idea is not new, or the ‘world’ that the story is situated in has not been thought through enough.”

Interesting advice from someone who sees more than his fair share of stories. I felt a quick reprise on the subject of appropriate description was worth a post.

Cheers!

Drive Write: Writing Out of Order

Drive Write podcast

DriveWrite: Episode 13 – Writing Out of Order

This week on Drive Write I’m talking about writing out of order. The gist of my argument is, if there’s a piece of your book that you’re excited to write… write it. Stitch everything together later.

You’re going to have to write the entire story eventually. Might as well write the stuff you’re excited to write when you’re excited to write it. Right?

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, you should be past the half-way mark at this point. Great job!

Regardless of how you’re doing this year on your NaNoWriMo project, you might benefit from a little encouragement and strategic advice. If you’re not already listening to them, I’d encourage you to check out Mur Lafferty’s daily I Should Be Writing podcasts. She’s posting every day through the month of November to help us all accomplish our 50k word goal.

Thanks, Mighty Mur! =)

Until next week. Good luck, be well and write hard.

Drive Write: Word Count

Drive Write podcast

Drive Write – Episode 11 – Word Count

Hello and welcome to Drive Write, the podcast about one storyteller’s journey to becoming a published author. Today on Drive Write, I talk about word count. What is it, why is it important, and why is it timely to talk about word count in November?

For those unaware, November is National Novel Writing Month. Or, NaNoWriMo, for short. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. And why, you might ask, does NaNo measure progress by number of words?

Great question!

If you’re interested in writing fiction (or writing anything, for that matter) then word count is a great way to track your progress. Much better, I think, than page count or time spent. Setting and tracking your performance against a word count goal is a fine way to keep you moving on your projects and to keep you honest.

And that’s what I cover in today’s Drive Write podcast.

As a brief aside… I also mention that Droblar.com launched today. Droblar is a weekly web comic that started as a bedtime story for my kids. I’ll update the site each week on Tuesday morning. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Drive Write: Writing on the Road

Drive Write podcast

Drive Write: Episode 9 – Writing on the Road

The past six weeks have had me at three conferences in as many states. I’ve traveled from Alaska to Texas, back to Alaska, down and over to South Carolina, back again to Anchorage, up north to Fairbanks, and finally back home to stay.

Whew…

Somewhere between coming home from Charleston and leaving again for Fairbanks, I recorded this. It’s a collection of my thoughts on writing while on the road and how to keep productive. I don’t know about you, but planes, late nights and strange hotel rooms don’t necessarily inspire me to great volumes of writing. However, I’ve found a couple defensive measures that keep me in the game. I hope you find them valuable on your travels.

If you have any travel tips for writers, please share them in the comments. Safe travels and get your words in! =)

Drive Write: Character Descriptions

Drive Write podcast

Drive Write: Episode 8 – Character Descriptions

This week on Drive Write, I talk about describing characters for your readers. One of the critiques that I’ve received in the past is that I fail to give enough physical description of my characters. I still think that there are plenty of situations when it’s more appropriate to leave a lot to the reader’s imagination. However, I will concede that a reader should at least have enough descriptive context to form their own mental image of characters and the settings that they’re in.

Like most things, this can be done well or poorly. In today’s cast, I give an example of a classic descriptive-blunder that I made in an early draft of Cravings. Let me know in the comments if you have description tips or pitfalls to share of your own.