A Break for NaNoWriMo

As I’ve done a few times in years past, I’m participating in this years NaNoWriMo challenge. Fifty thousand words, thirty days, and what figures to be several dozen hours of writing, while also finishing the last three stories in my other 2019 fiction goal.

Finding time for all that work will require taking time away from other activities, and I’ve decided that means stepping back from blogging. I’ll check in on occasion with updates on this novel-length project that’s just started (over 7700 words in the first three days, a solid start indeed) and whenever I have a free moment. But there won’t be much activity here for a few weeks, after which I hope to have some good news.

Submitting to the Process

Now that I’ve recovered from my little meltdown, I’m back to focusing on my 2019 short fiction goal.

I reached a significant milestone along that path two weeks ago, by submitting the last of my eight stories to one of my writers’ groups. Once that story is reviewed a week from this Saturday, I’ll have professional, informed, and valuable feedback (without any self-important unimaginative snark) on each story. It’s taken a lot of work to reach this point, and I’m glad I’ve put in the effort.

I do need to get back on track with my submissions, though. After reaching 13 submissions in early July, I haven’t sent out my work anywhere. And yeah, while I’ve been doing a lot of writing, I’ve also been avoiding what I find to be a tiresome and deflating process. Formatting documents to conform with guidelines, uploading files to Submittable or some other online submission tool, paying the reading fees (at $3, each individual fee is negligible, but submitting each of my eight stories to ten journals… I’ll let you do the math, because it depresses me), all the while knowing that a 1% acceptance rate for my submissions would be doing pretty well — there’s a reason for my avoidance.

Yet this is the path I’ve chosen, so it’s time to hit the road again. With four more stories ready to be submitted in the next few months, I still have a shot at reaching 100 submissions by the end of the year. It will take a lot of work, much of it not enjoyable, to reach that next milestone, but I know reaching it will transform how I perceive myself.

Maybe? Not

Some posts on this blog have made me look foolish, and dozens of others could have used a few more minutes of editing before I hit Publish. And while I don’t regret anything I’ve posted here, last week’s angsty diatribe wasn’t one of my prouder moments.

For better or worse, this is how I operate. When my pride is wounded, I have to feel the pain fully. That means allowing myself to think some pretty dark thoughts, and getting those ideas out. Once I have that release, when the illness is no longer festering in silence, can I look past it and move on.

I expected to be over my little snit in about a week, and sure enough, I’m back in the saddle. I’m not going to let an over-educated, self-important punk with an absurd theory about fiction (“I don’t like stories, I like writers”) gaslight me out of this profession. I’m following through on my 2019 short fiction goal of beginning the submission process for each of the eight stories I feel have potential. I’m curious to see what type of person I become on reaching that milestone.

I do think it’s time, though, to take a break from fiction workshops. The three I’ve attended the past few months have enabled me to make significant updates on my stories, but the work (not only on my only writing, but commenting on the submissions of other workshop participants) has been exhausting, and working on my own schedule the rest of the year will do well for me. I’ve already submitted to my monthly writer’s group meeting in October, but when that review happens, it’s all on me for the rest of 2019.

As for the ass-clown who saw no worth to my fiction (and who, during evaluation of his own work, compared himself to an Old Testament prophet)… he needs to be satirized through one of my fictional character someday.

Time, Maybe

After some good experiences with fiction workshops in the spring and summer, I decided to take another at the beginning of this month. Got a lot out of the sessions — updated a story I’d drafted, received constructive feedback from the instructor and most of the participants, and provided my own comments to other writers who appreciated my insights.

And then… there was this one reviewer. Who had nothing positive to say about my writing. Who was very creative in his sarcasm. Who underlined one sentence and wrote “Ridiculous” in the margin.

He reminded me of students I knew in graduate school. The ones who were brighter and more well-read than me, and went out of their way to remind me how ill-informed, illogical, and just plain laughable were my opinions. Didn’t matter the subject — literature, philosophy, religion, politics, relationships, sports, which restaurants to eat at, which route to take home.

I didn’t have a term for my experience at the time, but if I could have looked forward to today’s terminology I would say they did a very effective job of gaslighting me. They made an overwhelmingly convincing case that I didn’t know what I was talking about, so I might as well shut up.

The experience convinced me that I had no career in academia. After getting my degree, I knew it was time to move on. The abuse had become too much.

And judging by what’s happened to me in the quarter century since I left, I say I made the right decision. I’ve become more successful than I ever imagined myself being back in my graduate school days. I’m married to a creative and beautiful woman. My children are healthy and are on the cusp of starting their own careers. It’s been great.

And then, I decided to trust imagination, and start doing the only job I’ve ever wanted to do. A job which included writing my own fiction. Finish the novels I’d been working on, and revise the short stories I’d drafted. And until this latest workshop, I felt I was gathering momentum.

But now my writing is ridiculous.

My mind tells me to dismiss the comment, and focus on the positive responses. But that’s not how I feel.

I’ve been living a fantasy the past year and a half, reacting to a mid-life crisis. I’m thinking it’s time to face reality: this isn’t going to work out.

Tonight was the last session of the workshop, so I’m probably going to feel better in the morning. Give me a week, I’ll probably be back on schedule.

But before I make that turn, I wanted to get how I felt out of me. I might find these words absurd in the near future, but right now, I’m thinking it’s time to put this writing ambition of mine to rest.

Maybe.

An Incomplete Turn

A few weeks ago, I began an exercise from a fiction writing workshop, using entries from over three decades ago in my journal as my starting point. This lead to the creation of a fictional couple, Merry and Bernie, and vignettes from their marriage.

The first and second vignettes were promising, but my final entry was disappointing. When they’re left with themselves after their youngest child leaves for college, their struggles need to be more dramatic. Bernie needs to resent being tasked with obligations he never wanted, and Merry has to fight against the restrictions imposed on her intellect and desires. Both need to think about the lives they could have lead, and come to terms with their abandoned ambitions.

But as much as I want to explore those ideas, now is not the time for completing this project. I’ll set it aside for now, and return to these two very interesting characters when I want to further develop their rich voices.

Half Way There

Earlier this year, I announced a goal for my short fiction — start the submission process for seven stories I felt had potential. Now that the year’s half over, it’s time for an update.

Since I’m ambitious to a fault, I’ve added an eighth story to the goal, and as of the first Friday in July, I’ve submitted four to journals. Four done in six months, four more in the next six. This could actually happen.

But I’m already starting to feel fatigued. After submitting the story last a week ago Friday, I dove right in to the next story, largely because I wanted to submit it to a short story workshop I’m currently taking. That turned out to be a mistake; I needed some down time between stories, as well as a day a week when I don’t fire up the engines of creativity.

I’ll push through for a few more weeks, until the workshop is over, and get that fifth story out for submission. Then it’s off to a cabin next to a wooded lake for a long weekend of not doing much at all, and when September comes, pick up the pace again.

Letting Go

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’re probably familiar with the fiction I’ve occassionally posted. You may also have noticed that, aside from entries for Friday Fictioneers and similar contests, I haven’t posted any new stories for a while.

I’m finally getting around to explaining why.

Some of the stories I’ve drafted here have some potential, I believe. All of them are rough, but if I may use a familiar metaphor that has lost none of its power from overuse, each contains the seed of a story which, with a properly nurturing revision strategy, could bloom into an arresting flower. I’ve chosen six, and a seventh that I drafted this past year entirely outside this blog. My goal for this year is to revise all seven, and by year’s end begin submitting them to literary journals, genre magazines, fiction contests, online collections — any place that will get my name out there, or at least send a rejection to add to my collection. Party at my place when I reach 100!

This ambition comes at a bit of price, however. Every writer I’ve heard speak, every editor I’ve spoken with, every submission guideline I’ve read, have been consistent in one message: no story will be published if it exists in a previous version available anywhere, including a rough draft on a blog. Those half-dozen stories I feel have promise? They’re no longer available on The Diligent Dilettante. And going forward, I’ll only be posting flash fiction, and stories I have no intention of publishing elsewhere.

While this action obviously needed to happen, I didn’t enjoy letting go of these stories. I’ve enjoyed sharing them with you, and have learned from your comments. Taking the stories down sounds similar to preparing a good dinner for my friends, and taking the food away before they can finish. Sure, I’m investing far too much significance to taking these stories down — but I’m gonna channel my inner Lesley Gore, and proclaim, it’s my blog space, and I’ll moan if I want to.

But here’s the good news: you’re going to see these stories again, as soon as I have the URL that points to its online publication location.

Milestone Checkin

A few months ago, I announced my intention to update the eighth chapter of my fencing novel, Gray Metal Faces, during NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s now past time to report on how that worked out.

Awesome.

Yes, well enough to deserve a one-word paragraph. Italicized, even.

I completed the updates to the eighth chapter weighs on November 30, and after added my work to the draft of the previous seven chapters, I used the consolidated document to validate my results. This means I “won” the NaNoWriMo challenge of fifty thousand words — yeah, it’s supposed to be all original work, and my updated chapter weighed in at “only” 24K words. They say you’re not a cheater if you’re never caught; I say it’s impossible to cheat if nobody ever checks up on you.

At the beginning of December, I took inventory of the novel. Finishing the update to chapter 8 left me with one more chapter still in rough draft format; revising chapter nine would give me a second draft of the entire novel. My annual holiday vacation was coming at the end of the month. Did I really want to devote a good chunk of time during those two and a half weeks to working on that update?

Oh yeah, baby.

It wasn’t easy, and I doubt I’ll ever work on another major writing project during that time — but on January 8, a few hours before my flight back home, I posted the final entry to the chapter 9 revision.

The second draft of Gray Metal Faces is now complete. At over two hundred a five thousand words (a number so large that it must be spelled out in letters), it is far too large to be published as one novel. A number of options are available (cut out a third? separate the nine chapters into three trilogies? market the work as nine novellas?), but I’m not in a rush to deliberate among them.

What I want to do at the moment, is appreciate having reached this milestone. When I began working on this novel almost eight years ago, I had no idea how I could even complete a first draft. Completing this revision was an enormous accomplishment, and for the moment, I am content.

What, Where, and When

Been a while since I’ve posted an update, and I didn’t want anyone to think I’ve disappeared:

  • The update to chapter 8 of Gray Metal Faces should be completed by the end of this year’s NaNoWriMo on Friday. This project has been largely successful, and my progress has inspired me to update the ninth and final chapter in December and January.
  • For the past several months, I’ve been teaching at a community college. Once the semester ends a few weeks from now, I’ll post about my experience there, and explain why I’ve yet to comment on teaching in this blog.
  • My non-fiction writing has been stagnant for far too long, primarily because I’ve been so focused on teaching. I’ll have more to say on that as well in the coming weeks.

Since deciding to trust my instincts, life has been predictably unpredictable. I’m still learning how to make this new life work for me, but I’ve never been more certain about my decision.

Good and Tired

Made myself get up early on a Sunday and work on my revision of chapter 8. Completed the first of four new scenes that will appear in the middle of that chapter. After I’m done with those, then it’s on to minor revisions of the chapter’s beginning, then major revisions, including one more new scene, to its conclusion.

Yeah, it was hard to drag my ass out of bed this morning, and there’s something to be said for getting adequate rest. But I can’t be afraid of being tired. The image of the leisurely writer, composing at ease while sipping a cool drink, is a dangerous myth that I’ve too easily fallen for. If the only way to make this career work is to be good and tired, then fire up the coffee maker.