Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
I haven’t written much — here, but also in general — since the end of NaNoWriMo in November of last year. A couple of book reviews and the stories of how all three of my blogs got their names, but that’s about it.
I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been busy as a beaver writing and haven’t had time to compose a blog post.
I’d dearly love to say that. Unfortunately, if I do, I’ll be lying.
I could blame it on a lot of things. Blame is fun, as long as it’s not aimed at myself. Let’s try it, shall we?
I broke my good glasses1 last November, just six days into NaNoWriMo, and had to send them in for warranty replacement. So I’ve been struggling to see because my backup glasses aren’t adjusted for the distance between my eyes and where the laptop sits. However . . . I managed somehow to finish out NaNoWriMo with 50,000+ words using those glasses. And now, in late February, I finally have my glasses back, good as new. Actually, they are new. Warranty replacements.
Or I could claim that my right shoulder that I hurt in a fall last summer has been giving me fits, and that the long, drawn-out process of waiting on workers comp to do what’s right has increased my frustration level to the boiling point. And it would be true, but that wouldn’t take into account the fact that it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything else fun that I wanted to do.
So the Finger of Blame™ turns once more to point firmly back at me. Stupid Finger. :)
I did participate in Weekend Warrior over on CodexWriters, and this means I have five brand-new flash pieces to do something with (such as edit and submit). But I also did Weekend Warrior last year, and had five pieces of flash to do something with . . . and I did nothing with them. I have recently started editing those stories2 and sending them through my own little critique process, trying to get feedback on how I can improve them enough to send them out on submission. Because that’s the goal, here: submission. With the ultimate goal of publication.
I’m certainly not doing it for whatever money I might get; writing is not a profession to take up if you plan on making a ton of money, unless you’re Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, Jim Butcher, or someone like that. No, this is about proving to myself that I can write well enough to make people want to read it. I have stories to tell, dammit, and I want to tell them in a way that people find compelling.
The problem is, what I’ve proven to myself is that even I don’t want to read my writing, sometimes. Allow me to explain.
On Weekend Warrior, the goal is to write a 750-word flash story between Friday at 9 pm and Sunday at midnight, using one or more of five prompts given on Friday night. Once all the stories are submitted, each participant reads all the submitted stories and rates them on a 1–10 scale. Various people use the scale differently, but since each individual uses their scale consistently, it works out even if everyone’s use is slightly different.
Across all nine of my submitted stories (I missed the deadline on week four, this year, but still wrote the story), my average scores have been in the mid-5 range. What a 5 means is that the story has potential, but doesn’t have enough of something to really get the readers involved. (This is based on several writers’ comments on the very topic of how they score others’ stories.)
In other words, my stories didn’t grab the majority. They didn’t keep their interest. They failed to make readers care or want to know the ending. Or the ending failed to satisfy. In essence, it means that my writing is OK, but not exceptional.
Granted, I do get some scores in the 7–9 range (I’ve never received a 10). But I also get scores in the 1–4 range. But in general, it’s firmly wavering between a five and a six.
I should also note that the winners of each round are generally in the high-6 to mid-7 range. I have never seen a story score an average of above a 7, although granted my experience is limited to the two years I have participated. But that extra point or two makes a big difference. The difference between “OK” and “exceptional.”
These are 750 word stories, maximum. And it’s difficult to introduce characters, setting, plot, conflict, an arc of character growth, world-building, and a satisfying resolution in only 750 words. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Others can obviously do it, so it shouldn’t be beyond me.
These readers aren’t just average, run-of-the-mill readers, either: these are my writing peers. These are the same types of people (and frequently the same exact people) who will be making the ‘buy/not buy’ decision at a market where I have submitted.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t take every negative comment to heart and immediately think, “I suck.” What I think is, “I can do better than this.” Followed immediately by, “But how?” And that’s been my stumbling block. Going from “This doesn’t work,” to “Why doesn’t it work?” to “How can I make it work?”
And how can I see this before I submit rather than after the critiques?
And it finally dawned on me that I also read all the same stories they did, these people who are my peers. Many of them are published authors3. A few are award-winning authors in my genres. But on the whole, the stories I scored high were the same ones most of the others did. So we agreed on the stories that did best. And that’s the key.
So, what can I learn from those stories? The ones that not only I, but others whose judgment I respect, judged to be better than the rest.
That’s what finally clicked. I can examine those stories that worked for me as both a reader and a writer, take them apart, analyze them, and try to work out why they work for me.4 What part or parts did or did not draw me in. There are some patterns, and the trick will be to identify when I am following one of those patterns and nip it, as Barney Fyfe famously quipped, in the bud.
This is usually difficult for me, especially if the writing is something I enjoy. When I’m in critique mode, I do it without much effort, unless the story is very gripping, in which case I occasionally forget to critique. But that very fact often becomes part of my critique: “I got so caught up in this section that I forgot I was reading it for critique and just enjoyed it.”
I know for a fact that writers like that kind of comment. :)
I can’t think of a single time anyone has ever told me that. So it’s time to raise the stakes.
And I realize, writing this, that . . . I say this at the beginning of every year. It loses its meaning because I’m always saying, “This year, I’m going to do better! I’m going to write! I’m going to submit!”
And then, along about February, the doldrums hit and I lose impetus. Something falters. I lose confidence. Or I fail to get any good critiques. Or I find other things more important than writing. Like YouTube or podcasts or what few hours of TV I allow myself to watch.5
And I’d like to say “this year, it’s going to be different!” After all, I waited until the last part of February to break my silence. To do that ‘resolutions’ thing that people tend to put so much stock in at the start of a new year.
I’d like to say it. And I hope I will look back and say, “This year was different! I got published!”
But for now, I’m going to concentrate on what is important.
More on that next time.
I did something amusing. I wrote this over the course of several days, and the tone has changed drastically. And it’s so typical of me. I remembered my scores as being worse than they were on Weekend Warrior for both years. In researching for this entry, I went back and examined all my votes and discovered that I actually scored way higher than I remembered. Three of the stories were in the high-4 range, but all of the other seven were firmly in the 5 range. I remembered them being overwhelmingly below 5. So I edited this to have a little more positive tone and outlook. Any maudlin tone that remains is purely unintentional. I actually feel pretty good about the stories I’ve written. I just need to translate that, as stated, into forward momentum.
- I bought a pair of SuperFocus glasses in spring last year, and while I was cleaning them one morning in November, the inner lens popped and oil went everywhere. Luckily, the warranty covers them for full replacement for one year.
- Of the ten stories I wrote, I really like the ideas in seven of them. Two of the others are unsalvageable (one was accidental fanfic and the other was so clichéd, it actually hurts), and the last one is too long to tell effectively in a flash piece.
- To get into Codex, you either have to be published or have completed a juried workshop, which I did in 2012 at Viable Paradise. So some of these peers are literal peers — they have published nothing, but are working to get better. Others are peers only in that we both type on keyboards in the hopes that someone will read the output and enjoy it.
- By the same token, I can take apart the ones that were consistently scored low by others and myself and figure out what didn’t work.
- I know that TV is the bane of many writers’ lives. I actually don’t have cable or local digital TV. I have NetFlix and Hulu Plus and a ton of DVDs. My housemate and I are working through Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and Doctor Who right now. And Jonathan Creek when we find time.