Fiction for Beginners

January 12, 2010

Last week was the week I was supposed to get right down to it: writing a novel. Most days I feel like I’m pretty good at this writing thing. I got a really nice compliment on it the other day. I can crack open a file and find evidence that I have gotten college credit for being good at it in the past. Once or twice, I even got published. I have more than five linear feet of desk space devoted to books about the craft and trade of writing.

I still have to drag myself to the keyboard.

My fiction writing student got a rejection letter last week. It was an email from an editor, and it had those magic words: “try me again”! This is a big deal. I was thrilled and I told him so. I am, apparently, also good at teaching beginning fiction.

And yet… I am such a noob. I wanna be like Dave Barry and the rest of the “we don’t get writer’s block” set. Or like Steven King, and everyone else who knows how to sit down in a chair, at the same time every day, no matter what.

So, 2:00 PM is the new Novel Writing Time. Jerry Cleaver suggests that people with my problem try just sitting there for five minutes, thinking, “This is novel time,” for the first week. I don’t think I’m doing quite that badly, but I guess I’ll find out for sure tomorrow. My cell phone has this nifty alarm feature; that should help.

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Snowflake Fiction

October 30, 2009

Someone in my regional NaNo forum recommended this webpage, which uses the Koch Curve as an allegory for the process of creating a structure for your novel. The author calls it the Snowflake Method, and (before I clicked) I thought, Snowflakes are pretty, not useful. This is going to be lame. Then I saw that it was Koch’s Snowflake! The lameness evaporated. Anything that combines fiction and fractals is cool.

Fiction Returns

August 17, 2009

It’s been a while. Fiction has been creeping up on me for a week or so. I’ve had some material floating back and forth in my head, taking up space and attention and energy… I guess it just wasn’t going to go away unless I wrote it down.

Good.

Muse-calling, Week One

June 12, 2009

I am beginning to train myself to focus on fiction writing (and only fiction writing) for thirty minutes every day. I would like to start at 8:30 AM, but, as you can see, I’m not quite hitting that mark.

Thursday

Log in: 8:35 AM
Log out: 9:25 AM
FWC: 1805

Friday

Log in: 9:04
Log out: 9:35
FWC: 2261

Pass/fail on my goal of 1,500 words per day this week: fail.

Muse-calling is the first goal I have set that is not focused on output. Rather, the point is to force me to designate a certain time slot each day for fiction, and use that slot only for its intended purpose. I have noticed that I am not at all eager to stay in my chair. I want to jump up and grab a snack. I think of something that needs to be done, or I get distracted by a problem, and I want to get up and move around the house. But the conditions I have placed on this experiment require me to sit and think about fiction. Since this is easiest if I’m writing fiction, I tend to write more under these rules.

It’s only half an hour, so my word count is low. I’m going to be okay with that for two more weeks while I cement the habit (and nudge myself into starting at 8:30 on the dot). Maybe my output per minute will increase; maybe it won’t. What will happen is that I will get used to giving that time to fiction, and only fiction.

I got the idea for this approach from Jerry Cleaver’s book Immediate Fiction. Mostly. Plenty of authors and teachers advise writing on a fixed schedule. Most of my favorite bloggers recommend baby steps when tackling a big dream. Cleaver, however, ran The Writer’s Loft in Chicago, and he may be the best writing instructor out there. He has certainly made a persuasive and motivating case for developing good writing habits.

Happy Tuesday

May 26, 2009

I hope you all had as much fun this weekend as I did.

The teenaged writer I’m coaching told me he was thinking about self-publishing his short stories. I told him that the next step is not so much publishing a collection as it is submitting his best stories to genre magazines. I said that real-world feedback is important to his development as an author.

Or, really, into an author. I realized that I give this kid pretty good advice, and I should follow it myself.

I have not deluded myself that fiction writing is likely to be a lucrative career, and I know there is an excellent chance that it won’t be a career at all, certainly not if we define “career” as “work one does for money.” However, I came across a book that makes me slightly more optimistic. At least, I feel like it’s possible to take this one-in-a-million chance and do… something… with it.

Here’s the book. It’s a free download, too, which can only be because the author is awesome. That, and he has a new book out, and part of his chapter (in the free one) on genre trends is out date, despite his best efforts to focus on macro movements. There’s a paragraph or two where he talks about how fantasy doesn’t get enough industry respect… clearly Harry Potter hadn’t happened yet. Other than that, it looks solid.

It’s easy to find inspiration in a book designed to promote hope. This guy doesn’t do that. He’s very clear that it’ll be a good five years after you publish (if you publish) before you’re likely to be accepted as a novelist. Not “as an established novelist,” just a novelist; not a flash in the pan. The book offers plenty of perspective from the business side of a career in fiction. I recommend it.

I promised you a follow-up about why I decided to change focus from FLCW to fiction. It’s been building for a while, but there was one incident at the end of February that got me thinking.

A friend gave me a heads-up about an entrepreneur’s cocktail hour downtown. We got to the bar, tried the saurkraut’n’sausage balls (almost as good as they sound) and started talking to people. No, that’s a lie. I am not a natural saleswoman. Talking to new people is fairly scary, and it takes me about an hour to psych myself up for something like a networking event. I can do it, but it’s draining. That night I had not done it. I was feeling “out of it” and told myself that 90% of life is just showing up. That worked as far as it went; I did exchange business cards with someone who was looking for a web content writer. But I knew that I would have to ramp up my game if I really wanted to make events like that one work for my little business-to-be. Meanwhile, my friend spotted a real, live FLCW.

I watched her from my barstool. She was working the crowd,  smiling—but not too much, and exuding confidence in a way I could identify with. Some psyching up had taken place earlier that evening, I was sure of it. She was wearing what I would wear if I wanted to both stand out and look professional at a semi-casual event, and she looked a bit like me. Even her hair was of similar length, color, and style… and she was a FLCW. Clearly, I needed to learn more.

When I finally cornered her an hour later, I learned that she graduated about two years ahead of me, and that she had a polished (and strangely familiar) set of answers to my basic questions. I asked how she got started. She had read the same freelance business book I had read, and was following the plan its author laid out. The familiarity clicked: she had used one of his lines in her spiel. It occurred to me that I would probably have to do the same, and practice a spiel of my own. It had already occurred to me that I was looking at my future self.

The conversation was less bubbly from that point on. I had identified myself as competition, and a newcomer who was not in a position to toss overflow projects her way. I was thinking, I can do that. I can work this crowd, I can land those gigs, I can fake it and make it, and she was watching me think it. Sadly, she was all out of business cards. Too bad, maybe we’d meet up at a future event.

I can’t fault her. She’s working hard for something she wants, and the market gods are not smiling these days. If I had taken her path, I would be her, committed to the effort and proud of my success.

But I don’t want that job.

Another friend in another bar heard the news: I’m giving up on the freelance career. His comment: “It’s a lot of work.” Meaning: Running a business is tough; I understand you punking out.

My response was, “It’s all work.” Meaning: Thanks, dude; I’ll remind you of that when I’m on the fifth novel draft.

What I want is to live up to this idea I had when I was seven: that I can be a writer. Maybe even a novelist. It’s one idea that hasn’t gone away or gotten old.