April 4th, 2007


Department of things to watch out for

Always wonder where no-fee writing contests get their money. If there's an obvious sponsor, and a good reputation, that's one thing. This one has a passage in their terms of services which reads:

Property Content on this site and all intellectual property rights (including, without limitation, domain names, trade marks, copyright in the stories, copyright in the website design and copyright in the images and graphics.) associated with such content belong to and shall remain the property of editred.com and its licensors.

I have no idea if that's a deliberate rights grab or just sloppy writing in the terms of service (elsewhere they reserve copyright to authors in a more usual manner), but watch that stuff.

One more thing...

I think there's some new readers here lately. Open question time. Ask me anything in comments here, about writing, my life, your life, the Hawley-Smoot Tariff, whatever. I'll answer in follow up posts. I'm going to leave comments on moderation in this post for confidentiality, just in case.

Alas poor clockpunk, we hardly knew ye

Neverscapes takes a quite reasonable exception to clockpunk.

Just for the record, I find the whole business of "movements" quite funny. (This I say having been in the thick of the slipstream "movement" for a while alongside mme_publisher.) My serious view of literary movements is that they generally are significant only in critical retrospect. It's kind of like genres -- I write what I write. Somebody else can label it.

If I ever write a manifesto, you can bet the farm that I'll be joking.

Ask me no more lies, I'll tell you no more questions

Here's the first set of answers from the ask me a question post. Feel free to pop over there and add to the fun.

kradical: So what is your take on the Hawley-Smoot Tarrif?

Other than the fact that I can't spell, without it American history would not have an event as giggle-inducing as Europe's Diet of Worms.

eljaydaly: Ooh! I've got a question for you!

I'm trying to puzzle out some mechanics. When you were a wee puppy starting out, when you first decided that the way to go was to write a story a week, what did you do about the editing? If I understand correctly, you're wary about revision because of its tendency to file away uniqueness of voice. But I've also read that of the stories you write, some percentage of the worthwhile ones need rewriting or editing. (Please forgive me if I've misinterpreted something or have otherwise managed to marry apples and oranges.)

So. Is it better to write a story a week, give it a shave and a haircut, and send it out the door for rejection (which is getting so very old)? Or is it better to write a story a week, let it sit for a few weeks, look at it again, rewrite it, revise it, rewrite it, then send it out, assuming that other stories-a-week are being created during the editing time?

I can manage a story a week. I can't manage a
good story a week.

You've pretty much got it on the nose about my underlying philosophy. I don't think anyone would argue that improving my self-editing skills isn't important, but honestly that's not the rainbow I'm chasing. One the underlying points of the story-a-week rubric is that practice will improve you. This is just as true of editing as it is of writing.

If you have the time, patience and maturity for self-editing (I myself am lacking in all three of those qualities), then letting it steep for revision is an excellent thing. Essentially stories would age through the process, so that you could produce a draft a week, and a finished piece a week, or perhaps every two weeks.

Remember, even now a decent percentage of my drafts are below my standards. When I first launched down that path in 2000/2001, I set my goal at 50% throwaway, 25% salvagable, 25% usable. I'm probably at 25/25/50 now, or even a little better, but that's with a lot of practice.

snickelish: I'm a semi-new reader (waves hi), and I've been wanting to ask you: you've said somewhere that nowadays you tend not to do much rewriting on your short stories (you may have mentioned novels, too - I can't remember). So, at what point did you start feeling that you were able to write the right story, the first time? And what were you doing before that?

Basically, I'd like a whole post on revision, please, from the man who tells me to write 52 stories a year - something *I* write in a week is in no shape to see the light of day, let me tell you.

In your spare time, of course. :)

:: waves back ::

I can do a post on revision sometime soon -- might be interrupted by Norwescon and next week's trip to Omaha. Feel free to remind me, though, if it doesn't turn up by Tuesday or so.

I've always thought I could write the right story, the first time. I was just wrong for a very long time. I'm still not right nearly as often as I'd like -- my rejections continue to exceed my acceptances -- but it's that sense of confidence that keeps me plowing forward. I may err on the side of too much forward motion and insufficient introspection, but I've seen far too many writers disappear up their own existenz for a while, or permanently, caught in an endless loop of revision and self-criticism.

I wrote my way out of it, in other words, buoyed by an idiot optimism that eventually was justified.

houseboatonstyx: Okay, here's a question.

Every so often on a Usenet forum or fmwriters.com or such, someone makes a post like, "I've made four story submissions in the last four years and none of them worked! Obviously my writing is hopeless and I should just give up!"

I usually post a vague answer like, "Some quite successful writers talk about sending the same story out many times blah blah." I've never named names or given LJ urls. Would you want your name or a link posted outside LJ? Or even at someone else's LJ blog that doesn't read yours?

You obviously have a very good idea how I'd take that complaint head on. Feel free to post my name or this LJ anywhere it pleases you. I view this blog as a combination of mental scratch pad for my thought process and public soap box for my bloviating. That it seems to help some folks with their writing is an excellent bonus.

For the record, my most-submitted story went out 21 times before it sold, and I have over 1,000 rejections now across the past six years, with over 1,200 submissions and over 200 sales.

mucoviscidosis: Maybe you explained this one already: are you a full-time writer now, or do you still retain a "dayjob" for bill-paying or other purposes?

I am fully entrenched in a day job. I need regular income to stave off my ulcers, and I need benefits for the_child and her mother. Even if my book contracts were 10X larger than they are, I would continue to work, specifically for the health insurance.

(Hence my frequent trips to Omaha, a recurring feature here on this blog to the amusement of several.)

criada: [question redacted]

Welcome, and I'm glad you find it interesting and useful.

karindira: [question redacted]

There's only one way to find out.

More on getting better

In the comments thread to my recent post on getting better, iamrazorwing asks:

"There are so many little trips and triggers which are largely invisible to a casual perusal, and we file them out of our prose over time without ever quite realizing they are there."

How, exactly? By writing more? By being more conscientious while you're writing? By getting consistently valuable feedback?

I know that I don't make the same mistakes I did when I first started writing, but now I'm making brand new ones. I can only hope that's natural.

My answer:

"How, exactly? By writing more? By being more conscientious while you're writing? By getting consistently valuable feedback?"

Really, all of the above. Writing more is the key, at least as far as I'm concerned. There's a threshold that happens when you've been writing seriously a while, at the pro level, with good workshop(s) in your life, where you pass from unconscious competence to conscious competence. I'm on that transition now -- call it semiconscious competence. I used to need to beaten over the head to see my mistakes, because I thought all my stuff was fabulous. Of course, none of it sold back then... These days I'm able to identify errors-of-craft and development issues for myself, then work through them gradually, usually through a process of conscious education, followed by conscious practice, followed by internalization (read: ignoring the whole thing for a while), until the change emerges in my writing.

"I know that I don't make the same mistakes I did when I first started writing, but now I'm making brand new ones. I can only hope that's natural."

Extremely natural. It's a sign of development. In a slightly different context, I have a friend who talks about "trading up to a better class of problems." Ie, too many book deadlines as a problem, vs. not having sold anything. Ideally you're trading up to a better class of mistakes.

As bram452 recently pointed out, if you're being published, you're already in a top fraction.

Hell, even being mediocre at a commercial level is incredibly difficult and a whole lot of work. Excellence? An aspiration, not a destination.

Part 2: Ask me no more lies, I'll tell you no more questions

Here's the second set of answers from the ask me a question post. Feel free to pop over there and add to the fun.

kara_gnome: I'm one of the new readers; Hi, pleased to meet you!

I'd read an interview you'd given to Locus. Before I read your article, I'd been writing a story a week for a few months, maybe not that long, and it was hard. People were saying that was too much to expect, it wasn't a reasonable goal, and etc, and maybe I was thinking about giving up the idea.

After reading your interview, I felt better about it and that it wasn't such an out-there idea at all. Look, I'd say, see this guy? He does it like this, too, and he really makes sense!

You'd also talked about holding a story in a frame--something like that--and that once you could put the idea in this frame, that it worked for you. Also, that over time you've been able to encompass more, and that is exactly how it is for me, too :). I thought I was freaky because I'd try talking about this with others and it really never went over very well. I don't remember if you'd called it a frame in the interview; it's certainly how I think of it, though.

Anyway, I found your interview very inspirational and just wanted you to know and say thank you! And I'd have to add; your blog is fantabulous :)

You're thinking about the concept of "span of control." See here and here for a detailed discussion of that, plus some related stuff. I'm glad the interview gave you some constructive food for thought. I can't do much to pay back the people who have helped me (and continue to help me), so it pleases me when I'm able to pay forward.

icedrake: IThis one is completely egotistical in nature :) Well, almost.

As far as you're concerned what is good feedback for an advance reader of one of your books? What is bad feedback?

Also, what is the meaning of Life, Universe, and Everything?

"I loved it. I'm buying copies for everyone I've ever met as soon as it comes out."


bluesgirly: I write humor books and columns. I write things about "Waking up looking like Keith Richards, and why the Dirt Devil was actually invented by Satan." This may provide some context here.

I don't understand most of the stuff you say. Should I keep with it and you can tell me to try harder or do you have plans for a jay lake for dummies LJ area? That'd be good. Please advise.

May I suggest this reading aid, which I have found invaluable in the past.

scott_e_d: What do you feel about Silmarilical Inerrancy?

Also, where's the cheese? I've been an occasional lurker in the past, and I really miss the pictures, and discussions of cheese. Those posts are almost enough to make me want to live in (or at least near) a city again.



Well, clearly we have a schism among the Men of the West when it comes to Silmarilical Inerrancy. Consistency with the writ of The Philologist is far more critical than any crass concerns of logic or observable evidence, and so I shall begin now to produce such music as will bring about a new world from the waters of the old.

Or maybe I'll just go drink some tea.

As for the cheese, it's mostly a holiday season thing. There was a bunch of cheese blogging two or three months ago, and there will be more. If you're ever jonesing for some, try:


r0ck3tsci3ntist: 1) What do you do, by way of constructive feedback, with the sentence: "It is written well, but it just didn’t grab me." when appended to a rejection (provided you get those)?

Learn to grab? *scratches head*

2) Will you do a post on revision? Because it would be awesome if you did.

Oh, I get those all the time. I look at the story to make sure there's nothing missing -- maybe no verbs on the first page or something -- then stick it back in the mail. Every editor has different tastes.

As for 2), yes. Soon. As promised.

ktempest: How much do you love me? (In metric *and* in kilobytes)

Yo, girl. I love you thiiiiiiiis much. In metric, it's thaaaaaaat much. Multiply by 1024 to get the kilobytes, ba-bee.

I'm sorry, have we met?