Writing

Being Creative: Writing with Music

It should not be a surprise to anyone that music and writing are often closely linked. While some people can write in absolute silence, I generally benefit from music to help block out the world. 20140525-224514-81914107.jpg

The trick is in finding the right music. Something that stirs the creative mind, something which matches the mood of the work, and most importantly of all, something which isn't overly distracting.

For example, listening to Queen generally doesn't help. Instead of writing, I end up singing along. Power ballads are too powerful. They distract me from the writing process.

I don't have to avoid lyrics: there are many songs that work well with lyrics, so long as they don't overpower the music.

Lately, I've been really enjoying the latest Daft Punk album "Random Access Memories". I've been pleasantly surprised by this album. It's a big change since the days of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. They're still incredibly creative though. It's a fun album, and rather different from what I normally listen to. And as I'm writing science fiction, it seems somehow fitting that the music is performed by glittering robots.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gkhol2Q1og&list=PLxws1M2-zjAPNbXeJrH_TTstwSQdm9KZ4&feature=share&index=6

Sometimes, when I'm looking for something a little more frenetic, I'll listen to some Nine Inch Nails. The 'Ghosts' album is mostly non-vocals, and rather atmospheric and haunting.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102164689" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=true&show_artwork=true" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

Another really great soundtrack to listen to while writing is the soundtrack to Blade Runner, by Vangelis.

http://youtu.be/uXXo1YDA9tE

If I was writing a story in the Wild West, I would likely want to listen to something more evocative of westerns, possibly some older country music. If I was writing something a little more Enlightenment or Reformation period, I'd listen to something more classical. Futurism however, has the distinct advantage of catering to more eclectic tastes.

NaNoWriMo To Go

NaNoWriMo Day 3I'm taking a stab at NaNoWriMo this year. Writing a novel in a month certainly sounds like a challenging task, especially as I'm perpetually busy.

One of the most common pieces of advice I've read is to take every possible moment to write. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is not just to drive aspiring authors insane, but to foster the habits of daily writing.

What tools can help an author on the go? Software like Scrivener is great if you're sitting down at a desk, but it's not as helpful when you're on the go.

My challenges in time management mean that I need to be able to write anywhere, at a moments notice. Lugging around a laptop just isn't going to cut it. Even carting around an iPad isn't going to give me the flexibility I need.

I've already started writing my novel on the iPhone. It's a compact device I always have with me, and it's possible to type one-handed. I'm impressed with the autocorrect behavior, even when typing one-handed.

While typing speed may not be as fast as with a full-sized keyboard, the main point is that you can write when you otherwise wouldn't be able to. You can fill in those otherwise dead spaces, and actually write.

The recent advances in cloud computing allow the work to be saved online, which both provides backups as well as the ability to resume writing on a different device when the opportunity arises. For example, this post was composed on the iPhone to this point, where I switched to writing it on the iPad with an attached bluetooth keyboard. Before published my post, I did a final edit on the desktop in a browser.

If the primary block to writing is finding the time, consider using a mobile platform. A common saying in writing is "butt in chair, hands on keyboard", but that doesn't really serve the mobile writer very well. To fill in those smaller blocks of time throughout the day, I've found that I need a solution that doesn't involve sitting in a particular spot.

As a tool, I'm using the Elements text editor on iOS, by Second Gear software, which has Dropbox support. It has a folder structure, which allows me to group files together, and separate the work by chapter, or as supplemental notes. Also important is the easy info button which provides the important word counts. Because it's plain text being stored in Dropbox, it's easy to do any later edits on the desktop.

The Quest for Excellence

Now that my daughter has turned three, she's moved up to the next level in gymnastics. Instead of having myself out on the floor spotting her in a class of younger kids, she's now out on the floor with a group of older kids and a coach. The difference has been spectacular. As the youngest kid, she has suddenly become motivated to try harder, to follow instructions, and generally behave more responsibly than when she was the oldest. Where a month ago she was afraid to let go of my hands while walking on the balance beam, for three weeks straight she has walked solo, without a hitch. Gymnastics, like many other sports, encourages participants to excel, not just through self improvement and positive reinforcement, but also through the examples set by more experienced gymnasts. Before her sessions, my daughter watches the teenaged gymnasts practicing their backflips on the floor. "That's cool!" she exclaims.

This same quest for excellence can be seen in the technical fields. With the recent launch of Google+, many authors have begun writers hangouts, where they can talk shop and write together. More traditional writers groups, such as the East Block Irregulars, continually challenge each other to write great fiction. The results can be seen by the number of nominations the writers in the group have received recently. The trick with writers groups is to properly match the skill levels of all the members. Just as it wouldn't make sense to pair a three year old with a thirteen year old at gymnastics, a beginning writer such as myself would slow down an experienced group such as the Irregulars.

Even without participating in one of these groups, the wider writers community still provides support and encouragement. Attending local conventions provides inspiration and a sense of belonging.

Of course, nothing helps quite as much as the practice of writing words down. This too is an area where accountability with other writers can help. Some authors can seem to write two thousand words in a day. I'm not anywhere near that point in my writing career. I've got enough other things on the go right now that I'm happy with a few hundred words a day. Right now, I just think it's cool to see how many words the writers I look up to can write in a day. Someday, maybe I can reach that same level of excellence.

Writing With a Baby

With an infant, tablet computers like the iPad are great. They provide casual use of the internet from an extremely portable position. The thing is, they still aren't that great for content creation. The adage of "butt in chair, hands on keyboard" is difficult to do without a keyboard. It's even more interesting when there's a three year old around as well. It's very difficult to find the time or energy to find some time to sit down and crank out any writing.

The trick appears to have a chair where you can partially recline at your desk, with the keyboard within reach, and have your infant on your chest, snuggled up against your shoulder. There isn't much mobility available, make sure the mouse is within reach.

In the reclined position, the monitor is likely further away than usual. Increasing font sizes, or remembering the hot key combinations to increase zoom levels would be a good idea. On the Mac, pressing control while scrolling your mouse wheel will zoom the screen in.

Inevitably, you'll end up shifting slightly, disturbing the peaceful rest of the little furnace on your chest. If you're lucky, this will be momentary. Other times, it's game over, and your writing will be left in stasis, until your eventual return. Over the past month and a half, I've had a number of half-finished posts which seem to take forever to complete.

When I come back to them, it is sometimes difficult to piece through the half-connected thoughts on the screen. Other times, I'm just too tired to think through them coherently. I'm reasonably certain that this post is going to come across as a stream of consciousness. The trick is to let the words flow.

Some advantages of writing with a baby on your shoulder is that you're likely to be left alone. After all, you're making sure the baby isn't crying. (Note well: this advice does not apply to three year olds. They're even more likely to want to interrupt if you're trying to write and hold a baby at the same time). Disturbing your peace is likely to wake the baby. There is some common advice, "don't wake a sleeping baby". Use this to your advantage.

And keep the words flowing. Seriously, the slight tapping of the keys gives a gentle rocking motion to your body, and to the small bundle you're supporting. With a proper writing cadence, this can be relaxing. Or maybe that's just my overtired eyes closing on me.

Hush! The little one awakes...

Writing Resumed

I haven't been posting for the last few weeks. Originally, I was taking a break so I could focus on writing essays due on consecutive days. That excuse only covers a brief interval of time. Like writing of any kind, its easy to say that you'll take "just another day off". A week can easily snowball into two weeks. This post is my attempt to get back into the swing of things, and start writing again. Not much of a post today, but I should have more up later this week.

Convergence Culture and Fan Fiction

So I've been reading Henry Jenkins' book Convergence Culture, which talks a great deal about new forms of interaction with media. One chapter, Why Heather Can Write: Media Literacy and the Harry Potter Wars caused me a bit of trouble. This chapter practically evangelizes fan fiction as a legitimate form of writing, with the strong implication that it can and will lead to commercial writing contracts. I somewhat understand where Jenkins is going with this. It's exploring areas of a franchise which are otherwise left alone by the original author. Fan fiction allows the audience to participate, to deepen their connection to the works in question.

Let's talk early web media. Back in 1997, a 10 minute short film called Troops effectively accomplished what Jenkins is discussing in this chapter. The  film has Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars out on a domestic disturbance call at the Lars farm seen in A New Hope.

Vader and Stormtroopers at Ad Astra

To my knowledge, Troops really started the whole short films launched on the internet. While fan movies had been made in the past, they were not shared as extensively, and did not have the same capacity for collective enjoyment.

Troops was embraced by the fan community, and was even recognized by Lucasfilm with the Pioneer Award at the 2002 Star Wars Fan Film Awards. Since directing the film, Kevin Rubio has been working as a freelance writer, and has even written an episode of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated TV series.

Is film more receptive to fan participation? Perhaps George Lucas is more receptive to this type of collective intelligence? Lucas did have the foresight to maintain the merchandising rights to Star Wars, so this may be part of his goals for a larger media empire.

There is an ever-growing Star Wars fans who own their own Stormtrooper costumes, such as the above photo which I took at the 2009 Ad-Astra science fiction convention. The 501st Legion epitomizes many of the convergence tactics that Jenkins discusses, and makes numerous appearances at fan conventions, as well as charitable events. From what I can gather, they have a relatively good relationship with Lucasfilm's Fan Relations department.

The 501st testimonal page includes a quote from Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm Content Manager and Head of Fan Relations saying that "e consider the members of the 501st part of the extended Lucasfilm family. They have fun and share a sense of community, while at the same time bringing joy to a lot of people.”

How does this fit in with novel and short story writing? Copyright law is in general fairly unambiguous, in that fan fiction firmly crosses that invisible line that marks out a publisher's rights. While some franchises, such as the Harry Potter universe have a thriving fan community, under the implicit approval of Rowling, most publishers and the authors they represent actively discourage fan fiction. The above link notes that Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey and Raymond Feist have in the past asked fanfiction.net to remove derivative works.

How then should fan fiction be judged? Is it a valid attempt at engaging with an author's world, or is it something which has the potential to damage audience perception of a work?

Two Months In

So, I'm two months into my regular posting schedule to my blog. So far, I haven't really been able to build up any kind of appreciable buffer. I have a couple of posts in progress, but they don't really fit the vision I have for this blog. I also haven't been able to transition from writing blog entries into writing my fiction. There just isn't time right now to do everything I had hoped to. Since I'm approaching the end of the school term, the assignments are going to start piling up again shortly.

I'm therefore planning on changing my schedule to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. This should give me more time to properly craft my posts. I shouldn't feel as rushed as I do currently, with some of my writing. My posts will likely be longer. I might also add more shiny pictures. Everybody likes shiny pictures. I'm also likely going to start a second, separate blog for the other posts. It's kind of a niche project, very much unrelated to what I'm doing here. It would have at most a weekly posting schedule.

Over the past two months, I have proven to myself that I can write each day. I plan to keep that up, I just want to be a little more polished.

Years Passing By

In one of my first classes upon returning to university, one of my professors urged the class to "think ahead to the future. What do you see yourself doing at the age of 23?" I laughed at the time, as I didn't remember what I had done just a few years previous. It was a reminder however, that returning to undergraduate studies as a part time student would bring an increasing age difference. It hasn't stopped me from making friends with my classmates, although they have this nasty habit of graduating and moving off for grad school. I hear conversations about parties, and bars, or just going out to see a movie last minute, and I just shake my head. I have to remember if I need to pick up another pack of Pull-Ups on my way home. Life has a tendency to catch up, when you're not expecting it.

One of the coop students in the office once revealed that they are younger than the Simpsons TV show. While they didn't watch it as a child, they have not lived in a world without Bart Simpson. That's kind of a cultural touchstone for me, and its disconcerting to learn that it predates people I work with.

Fear of the Blank Page

One thing I've found while doing my daily blog posts, is that I've lost most of my fear of the blank page. While I may occasionally have difficulty in deciding what to write about, either as a book review, or current events, it's usually a narrowing of possible topics, rather than coming up with something new. Writing on a daily basis has become a habit. I set down, and my fingers type. Perhaps this is what they advocate during Nanowrimo. November tends to be the busiest time of year for me, so I've never blocked off time to participate. Maybe I'll be able to do so this year.

I was afraid when starting my daily posts that I would quickly run out of things to say, or that I'd sit in front of the blank screen for hours. Some posts tend to take time to write, those are the ones that require a little research. When I'm talking about current events, for example, I like to ensure that I check a few semi-reliable sources first. Being connected to the internet doesn't always help my productivity either.

My blog posts have been coming faster, as well. On average, it's taking much less time to make my minimum word counts. I'm still not making much progress in writing them several days in advance, like I had originally hoped. I have a few drafts in progress, but they're more for exploring ideas which may not really go anywhere. We'll see what happens.

For now, I remain pleased with my blogging experience. I'm certainly making better progress than I at first feared.

Write For Your Audience

There are many ways in which communication fails. Very often, this is because the writer (or speaker) forgets to take the audience into account. This is becoming increasingly clear in English 408A, the course on Media Writing that I'm taking this term. The current chapter we're discussing is Copywriting and Advertising. Batty and Cain have a lot to say about this, but the most important part of writing effective copy is to "always put the reader first" (p 159). I've attended lectures and presentations where the speaker is often from business management, speaking to technical developers, where much of the message is lost because they're using the specific jargon of the business environment. Those of us in the audience spend our time trying to figure out what euphemisms like business process excellence, and synergy really mean, rather than trying to follow the speaker's line of thought.

While Batty and Cain are talking about writing copy that sells products, the same theories apply to speeches where you want to influence others. I read a great blog post by John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, which suggests that great leadership has a strong storytelling component.

This is also one of the key points of Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen. With a great story narrative, a speaker can weave together the elements that would have been dropped into technical bullet points. They will be more memorable if related with a good story.

Essay Writing Strategies

When writing essays, I've tried several strategies. I'll likely continue to try many more. I've yet to find one that works perfectly for me all the time. The first roadblock is always what to write about. What is the thesis of the essay? Often, the assignment will provide a general topic, but it rarely gives enough direction to even suggest topics. Sometimes it will dictate what specific scene you should write about, but not indicate any kind of stance to take.

Often, I don't completely narrow down the thesis right away. It rarely remains the same after several pages. It's good to get a primary direction in place, and then revise the thesis statement after part of the essay has been written. As the different arguments are made, there are multiple ways to link them together, and it is often the possible links which provide direction for the essay as a whole.

When reading the primary text, I've started underlining key phrases, putting boxes around other words, and making margin notes in pencil. I haven't yet decided on any concrete scheme for my markups. I'd really like to start a more comprehensive system of notes.

Often, I find it useful to write out single words relating to my arguments on post-it notes, and then arrange them on the wall beside my desk. I can then arrange my arguments in different ways, which improve the structure of my essay, and hopefully provide insight as to the direction of my final thesis argument.

I'm thinking about getting a small corkboard, so I can use strings and pushpins to weave a web of connections which I'm missing with post-its.

Formulas For Writing

I'm really enjoying my Media Writing course this term at the University of Waterloo. Every week, we have a different writing assignment, and so far, they've been quite varied. Week one was an obituary. Morbid perhaps, but as the format is extremely well defined, it was a good introduction to writing for the media. We have since written newspaper feature articles, magazine feature articles, broadcast journalism, and the current assignment is writing some public relations material.

Part of the challenge in this course is applying writing skills to a particular format. Each week's assignment tends to take a different approach. It's a combination of changing audience, and purpose. The expectations of the different formats require a much more comprehensive approach to writing. It's far different from creative or essay based writing which I'm familiar with. Its also really quite enjoyable. While I don't see myself joining the dead beat (obituary writing), all of the other formats I've been writing in have opened new possibilities for writing, which I've never seriously considered before now.

While at the Ad Astra science fiction conference in past years, I've often attended the various sessions on writing groups, and breaking in to the fiction market. Many of the writers on these panels have advocated freelance writing of one sort or another. It's something to keep the mind focused on writing, and keeps the skills finely honed.

Which is all well and good, if I wasn't swimming in essays at the moment. The only non-coursework writing I've been able to manage the past few weeks has been my daily blog posts. I'm not quite ready to give up on them yet.

Writing with the iPad

The iPad can be one of the most frustrating devices to write with. It also has the potential to be one of the best, under certain circumstances. I've had the device for a few months, and in this time, it has been used primarily to consume media. It's quite easy to load TV and movies from my MacBook, and there are a number of addictive games, such as Plants vs. Zombies, and Angry Birds available. The web browsing experience is a little lacking. Pages take longer to load than expected, and the cache is small. Switching tabs in the mobile browser often results in a fresh request to the server, adding extra delays. I've found that on some websites, scrolling just doesn't work.

As the iPad doesn't support flash, many of the richer web experiences, as well as numerous flash games, don't work. While I can certainly appreciate the processing requirements of flash -- I often disable flash on the desktop -- the fact remains that there is a great deal of content, including puzzle games, only available in flash.

The on-screen virtual keyboard is functional, though awkward to use. I believe that there is a special place in hell reserved for those brilliant engineers who inflicted the iPad with the horrendous auto-replace functionality. Without tactile feedback, one is forced to watch where your fingers are typing. Because I'm watching my fingers, I'm often not watching the little popup dialog elsewhere on the screen, warning me that the system is going to replace the awesome word I just typed with nonsense. Maybe it actually corrects far more than it wrecks, but the experience can be frustrating.

Still, the keyboard is functional, especially for short notes and emails. Where it is entirely unsuitable is for longer writing sessions, or for speed. Forget about using the virtual keyboard for in depth course notes. Try and type as little as possible in these situations. You're lucky if you can get down meaningful point form notes.

Until the iOS 4.2 update, I had been able to connect a USB keyboard to the iPad using the camera connection kit. While the system claimed that the device was unsupported, it still performed admirably. With iOS 4.2 however, the hardware handling has changed, and the iPad no longer recognizes USB keyboards. I suspect Apple has adjusted the USB voltage, or something else of that sort.

As such, I purchased an Apple Wireless Keyboard, which uses bluetooth. Thankfully, this keyboard is much smaller than the older USB keyboard I had been using, and better still, the bluetooth functionality allows me to charge the iPad while typing. Pairing the keyboard with the iPad is simple, and the keyboard is only slightly wider than the iPad itself. With the keyboard, my typing speed should be about the same speed as on a desktop system. Also with the keyboard is the quick ability to cancel an autocorrect suggestion by using the escape key. As such, it becomes much easier to allow the autocorrect to fix words you misspell, while avoiding any undesired changes.

One clear advantage the iPad provides when writing, is the single-task nature of the iPad. As the iPad only presents a single window, it enforces a single-track mentality. There are no bouncing dock icons, no web browser or twitter to distract you. Just you and your text editor, unfiltered. Much better for concentrating on writing.

Blogging software on the iPad

I was actually very surprised by the lack of good blogging software for the iPad. The Wordpress app isn't all that friendly, especially if you're trying to use it offline. Without a network connection, it pops up six or seven dialogs in a row complaining about the lack of connectivity. Really quite frustrating. The interface is clumsy, which is frustrating. And of course, now that I've finished reading all of this, a new release of the WordPress app is available. It still shows the same XMLRPC error dialog I saw before. Perhaps it is more stable in other areas, but I'm not that impressed. It's also awkward to select the scheduling for a given post. Every time I push a post to WordPress, either as an online draft, or a post scheduled in the future, I always get the impression that it is being posted immediately. Not a good feeling.

The other contender is BlogPress, which I have to admit, seems to be much more polished. It clearly separates local drafts, online drafts, and published posts. The interface for selecting tags for the post is a little awkward, but it's there. Selecting the save button will provide you with a popup dialog showing how you want to save the post (ie, publish, save as online draft, etc). Now, unlike the WordPress app, BlogPress does not provide any ability to see or moderate comments on your blog. Not really a big deal, but something that would be nice. Another difference is that BlogPress doesn't cache your online content. If you disconnect from the internet, you will be unable to read or edit anything that is stored online, even in draft form. I've also encountered several crashes while attempting to post entries as online drafts. Thankfully, there does not appear to be any data loss, as the posts do appear online, but it doesn't reflect well on the app.

There is also MacJournal, from Mariner software. From the reviews I've read, it lacks considerable functionality from the desktop, and it eats whitespace.

I was quite surprised that there weren't more blogging apps available for the iPad. In particular, I was hoping for MarsEdit, which is a really popular client on the Mac. The Red Sweater Software forum has posts indicating that other things keep coming up. I can appreciate the need to keep existing customers happy, by maintaining his existing software, but I am surprised that he hasn't made a port to the iPad yet. I obviously don't know what his codebase looks like, but I would hope that at least parts of it would be portable to the iPad. Opening up a whole new market would seem to be a worthwhile endeavor, especially while there is not much in the way of serious competition.

What I can say is that with the Apple Wireless Keyboard, or any other bluetooth keyboard, typing on the iPad is just as fast as using a laptop or desktop machine. The iPad is a serious contender for those who wish to write, although the web browser fails to impress when using the WordPress web interface. Scrolling... well, let's just say that the Mobile Safari kind of fails to scroll on pages where I seem to think that it should. Also, something about the WordPress editing page leaves the browser with some fairly serious rendering issues, as in completely failing to render text in the editing area.

For now, BlogPress seems to be the way to go, despite the glitches.

Post a day

So far, I've managed a blog post every day this year. I've already posted more this month than I managed to post for all of last year. One of my goals this year is to have a blog post every day. Some days may have more (i.e. longer) content than others, but I aim to have something for every day this year. This is my version of the 365day photo projects others do. I should probably do one of those as well, as I'm certainly interested in photography, but I'm not going to start that in January. Maybe I'll start a 365 day photo project in the summer, or maybe I'll start a weekly photo posting soon.

So, what will I be blogging about? The most obvious concerns will be related to reading and writing, primarily science fiction. I will be commenting on interesting topics and concerns in my classes, and things of interest that come up in the news.

You can likely expect some posts in the next few months about Homer's Odyssey. Once I get things a little more organized, I may try to schedule certain topics for certain days. For example, I may review books on Thursdays, or something. Right now, the concern is to get words written, and published in a timely fashion.

One of the reasons for getting a regular blogging schedule in place will be to transition from blog writing to fiction writing. I have several story ideas floating around, with some outlines written down. I'd really like to get back to writing them. It's been said that writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised, and I have found that once I've started writing anything, it's much easier to keep going on other projects.

Feel free to stick around. There should be an RSS feed around here somewhere, for those who are inclined. Better yet, sound off in the comments. Discussion can be fun. Hopefully I'll be at least mildly entertaining or informative at least part of the time.

Writer pay rates

There have been two stories going around recently, about writers and publishing. The first was the whole harlequin vanity press. The more recent story has to do with pay rates for different markets. I'm a beginning writer. I have submitted a single story to the Tesseracts 14 anthology, which pays $50 for stories under 1500 words, rising to $100 for 5000 words. That works out to 3 cents a word for low word-count stories, and 2 cents a word for longer stories. This doesn't meet SFWA requirements for a pro market -- although it would have prior to 2004 -- but it's certainly better than the 1/5 of a cent per word that Black Matrix is offering.

The fact that Tesseracts is a well respected anthology of Canadian imaginative literature (SF/F/H etc) year is great. The editors of the anthology this year are John Robert Colombo, a much respected editor of Canadiana, and Brett Alexander Savory, publisher of ChiZine publications. I believe that having a publication in Tesseracts would enhance my career. Do I think this particular story will make it? I'll find out soon, as they have a short reading period, but I'll likely receive my first rejection.

As Jim C. Hines notes, "most of us suck when we’re new". Rejection can be horrible, but it's also a reason to get better. It's one of those Calvin and Hobbes "character building" exercises. I would rather submit a reasonably good story and have it rejected than submit crap that does get published. Don't get me wrong, I look forward to seeing my name in print someday, but I'm not looking for fast self-validation.

One thing that Scalzi notes, but which has been overlooked in some cases, is that there is a difference between "for the love, no one is making money" publications, and businesses launching multiple magazines, as well as two book lines.

Shaun Duke has thrown his two bits in. Small markets, such as the Survival by Storytelling magazine, are perfectly justified in their pay scale: a portion of royalties only. In fact, from their magazine's submission guidelines, 2/3 of all profit goes to the issue's contributors, while the remaining third goes to Young Writers Online. Duke isn't making anything from this.

In regards to publishers such as Black Matrix, I can't currently justify submitting a story to a for-profit company that pays so poorly. This is no longer a "for the love" market. Rachael Swirsky guest-blogged on Jeff VanderMeer's blog about the value of certain publishing credits. I would have to agree with her, and with Cat Rambo, editor for Fantasy Magazine. Too many unknown credits on a cover letter are a possible sign that the author may have been underselling their work, and may be used to lower standards. As a slush reader, I have anecdotal evidence to support this.

Markets like this exist. They will likely continue to exist. The moral question here, is whether the publisher is making money without paying their writers adequately. What else do they offer? Why would an author submit to markets like this? I won't, but others have and will. So long as they know what they're getting into, that's great.

Scalzi may have come across a little harsh. But really, when has he ever shown gentle softness and tact? This is the man who has published a Hugo-winning essay collection criticizing the hate mail he's received. He may have seen a few more hits on his blog than usual from this incident, but he already has a big audience. Instead, he's using his platform to call out a group that appears to be underpaying writers for profit. He's trying to help the community out. It's unfortunate that this comes across as an attack on all publications.

Jeff VanderMeer writes about goals in Booklife, suggesting that "many writers never progress in their careers -- except in a shambling, two-steps-forward-one-step-back way -- because they always focus on the moment, and the moment after that" (p 20). What does submitting to a market such as this accomplish for your long-term career goals, that submitting to a better paying market doesn't? Maybe having to wait a little longer by submitting to multiple, more discriminating markets first might be worthwhile? After all, the story is written, you can start writing the next while shuffling the manuscript between markets. Writing and publishing books is a lengthy task. Use some discretion, and some patience.

New blog posts to this story include another Fantasy Magazine slush reader, and also now assistant editor, Molly Tanzer, which is full of fantastic advice.

Another post is from Nick Mamatas, a very "to the point" kind of response.

There has also been a followup to Rachael Swirsky's posting on Jeff VanderMeer's blog.

Self Critic

I had my creative writing class again this evening. We broke into small groups for critiques of flash fiction. Despite having one fewer member in our group this week, we finished at least half an hour later than some of the other groups. It was a fun little session. The stories showed good promise, and I hope my suggestions were helpful. I don't think I pull any punches while providing my criticism. I certainly don't start off every critique with another version of "I really liked this story". Where there are problems, either in plot progression, character development, description or dialogue, I point it out, usually with a suggestion as to how to do things better.

My story somehow got selected to be last for review yet again. Thankfully, in the smaller sessions, we're not working under the same time restraints. I find it disappointing though, to receive minimal feedback, most of which dealt with things I did well. While I'm pleased that people enjoyed it, as a workshop draft, it's not at a state where I'm particularly happy with it. In fact, I think my story has major issues in plot, pacing, characterization, and point of view. Some characters were certainly not used as well as they could have been.

A few parts of this were mentioned, but nothing specific was cited as being a point for improvement. Maybe my expectations for this course were too high? Ah well. I know where I want this story to go. I'll revise it over the weekend. I also want to revise one of my stories this weekend so I can submit it for the Tesseracts 14 anthology. It's a dark little Canadian steampunk story. Hopefully it will interest John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory.

Words

Words flutter around my head, droning like tiny insects. Lazily, I watch them. Careening through the air, they cast shadows on the page below, like those from clouds on a farmers field. Finally, I act. Slowly, I reach out with my pen. Carefully, I select a target. Swiftly, I strike out. Spearing my target, I drag it to the pristine page. Screeching, it spills out ink on the page. The process now started, I select another target quickly. Again and again I lash out, laying the corpses of these words down in a row on the page. I harness the words together, forming thoughts, bending them to my will. Evidence of these words now litters the page. The words pile up on the page. I pause and reflect the carnage. What did I accomplish? Did the words accomplish my goal? In committing the words to the page, did I succeed in expressing my thoughts? A short writing exercise I used in order to jump start my creativity.