Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Revising, revising, revising

Time Spent: 3 hours

I spent the day revising and looking at a list of publishers and their websites.

I thought the revising wouldn't be too bad. It really wasn't, but it showed me that I feel I really don't know what I'm doing as far as revising goes. To be fair, I revised a couple of shorter stories, ones where a lot of revising wasn't needed, only some polishing. But what about when it comes time to start revising the longer stories? I can't submit all flash fiction - I'll have to submit something longer than two pages sometime during the semester. This is what scares me. After three semesters of creative writing, I still don't really know how to revise that well. If at all.

I pulled down the list of member publishers from the Children's Book Council and marked all the ones that are currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts, which looks to be about a third of them. I also marked the ones that say query letters first, which adds a few more possibilities.

Something I don't understand, and maybe I'm being too logical about this, is why an organization would include publishers who aren't accepting unsolicited MSs or will only accept them from agents/published authors. Technically, I could just whip off a query letter to the former and it would probably be alright, and I could hire an agent that doesn't get paid unless I get published for the latter, but for someone who's just starting off (like me) that sounds like a lot of time that I don't want to waste. Or maybe I don't want it badly enough, I don't know. Maybe I'm just playing it safe by only going with the companies accepting unsolicited MSs.

Anyway, just to get a feel for each of the publishers, I visited their websites. Got through about half of them. It's interesting to read submission guidelines from company to company. With all the marking and reading I did today, it kind of felt like I was actually looking for a job. I wasn't expecting it to feel like that, and it's a good feeling, but a scary one as well. It's been a long time since I've had to look for a job, especially one that matters, and it's exciting to have that feeling that I'm looking for something I know I'll enjoy. On the other hand, this is a job where my success doesn't depend solely on my abilities but on others liking/appreciating what I have to say.

It's starting to feel very real right now, and I know that is going to get more intense when I actually start submitting to different houses.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

More research and ideas molding in my brain

Time Spent: 3 hours

I was a bad girl last night - I did some research at the end of the evening, but was too tired to journal so I'm counting it on today's time. Bad Steph, Bad, BAD!

Anyway, I did a lot of research for today. A lot of it was going into some of the Writer's Digest links from the 100 best websites. I looked at three sites - it's like looking at any other website. One link leads to another to another. What a wealth of information! I saw link for contests, for submission venues, for articles about what it takes to get published, and that was from just one of those sites.

One link leading to another led me to Glimmer Train. They have some exciting contests going on right now, one of which is for a very short story award - in other words, flash fiction, which is my thing. And they allow 2000 words for it. HA! I can do it in 250! ;)

But from all this research I did last night and today, the thing that struck me most is some research I did on primates. I'm thinking of writing this Science Fiction story and am exploring the possibilities of writing about evolution (It will make more sense when the story's finished, I promise). Anyway, that got my mind turning with a bunch of what if's and I wonder's. The most important thing I learned is that evolutionarily (is that a word even?) speaking, humans are most closely related to a group called bonobos. We share certain social traits with them, and the main difference, besides appearance, is that humans have bigger brains and cerebral cortexes than bonobos ( a type of ape). At least that's what I got from the reading I did. Now here's the deal - I understand evolution, but I don't really believe in it. I'm a pretty literal seven day creation type person, but I also understand that the important point in Genesis is that God created us. I personally think that God created all species as they are, which means no common ancestor for the humans and the apes, but I'm also willing to be wrong because the theory of evolution is so damn interesting. Perhaps God created the common ancestors and left evolution to do the rest of the job. It's not a question I need answered now anyway. It is so interesting though to study the theory and see what biology says about evolution, and it got me thinking - what if there was another in the hominid family more advanced than homo sapiens? I was exhausted last night, yet it took me forever to get to sleep because I continued to mull this over in my mind for a while, all in pursuit of a fictional story.

So I think what I learned can be condensed to two things;
1. science is fascinating and I should consider writing about it; and
2. I shouldn't read interesting things before bed!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A page a day

Time Spent: 3 hours

I wasn't feeling up to writing today, so went to Barnes and Noble to look at writer's magazines and literary journals. I came home with two magazines and two journals.

I spent my time today reading all of the first magazine, the Writer's Digest Writer's Yearbook 2006, and about half of the second, Writer's Journal. I came away with a lot from both.

I'll be honest, this is the first time I've really sat down and read things like this specifically for writers. Up until a year ago, writing was something that I dreamed of doing full time, but never really imagined myself actually doing for a living. I've had that same dream since I was about fifteen, but it took a huge vacation about the time I was seventeen and started thinking about "real life" and "being practical." It wasn't until an extra credit assignment last spring led me to a lot more belief in my abilities. So now I'm reading writer's magazines! What a huge step for me.

At the very end of WD Writer's Yearbook 2006, there is an article by Chelan David called, "Five Tips for Getting Published." Step Four is "Think How-to: Write about what you learn." (WY2006, 72) I wanted to insert that quote because it is SO appropriate for the AST. Now on to other things.

Most impressive thing in Writer's Yearbook 2006? "The Best 101 Web Sites for Writers" is definitely something I'll be checking out in the next few days. And I'm on the right track with my research - I've visited a few of these web sites already (including Toasted Cheese, which came in under online writing and critique groups). It's great to know that I really AM doing something positive when it comes to researching places to submit to.

But I also read something that really put this in perspective for me. Writer's Journal has an article titled, "Beating Procrastination: Adopt and Adapt an Ad." (Dennis E. Hensley) Hensley says, "Write even one page a day and you'll wind up with a 365-page book at the end of the year." (WJ, 14) This made me stop and think about it immediately, and even comment on it to my husband. I think about all the great books I've read, some of them longer than this by double, and the writers are doing more than that in a day. An example: JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. "The Order of the Phoenix" was well over 700 pages long itself and was released in 2003. Two years later (only two years!), in 2005, "The Half Blood Prince" was released - it was shorter than its predecessor, but it was still well over 700 pages long. And Rowling took time off to have a her third child during that time. There's also the issue of revisions, a trip to the publisher's, printing time and a release date, all of which took probably five to six months. So let's say that in the two years between the releases, Rowling really only had, at most, a year and a half to write her sixth book. And that doesn't count maternity leave - let's say another three months for that, leaving a total of fifteen months to write a 700+ page novel. That's a good two pages a day plus (my math is off, I'm just guessing), and I'm sure that she took a day off during the week as well, and probably had those days where she just couldn't imagine sitting in front of a computer (if you've ever been pregnant, you understand), so that's probably a daily average of four to six pages. Here's the lesson learned from all that perspective (and it's quite a lot of it): Be consistent, even, as Hensley says, if it's only a page a day.

So I feel silly for skipping the writing today, but on the plus side, I did three or four pages yesterday, so I'm not going to worry about it too much.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Retelling a parable

Time Spent: 2 hours

I've mentioned this story I've had in my head a couple of times, and it has yet to receive a working title, but it's a retelling of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15.

The reason I'm writing this story is because I'm writing a bunch of short stories based on Bible stories. This started with a set of stories I wrote last spring based on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. One is told from the POV of the fallen angels, including the Chief Liar, and the other is told from the perspective of Jesus. I'm trying to look at these stories (some parables, some true) from a different angle, and this one is no different. I tend to think inside the box way too much, and this helps stretch my though processes - not to mention it's a lot of fun to write a story based on something everyone's heard from a POV that they may never have thought about.

What I learned today:

1. Jesus tells this story better then I can.
2. The older brother was a prodigal too, in his own way. The story doesn't end when the youngest son comes home - it continues with the father and the eldest son.

This isn't the first time I've reflected on this story in this way, simply because spiritually, I'm the brother who stayed and followed all the rules, and has missed out on a lot of parties worrying about the ones who left for "better things." But to actually write a story like this is hard - it's just a strict retelling from the older brother's POV without any of my messiness thrown in to the mix.

Most of these types of stories end up being flash, but this one is currently at about 1500 words, and it's not one I want to pare down. I haven't decided yet, but my second "story" might be a series of stories like this. It's a nice challenge for me to write these.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Dealing with people

Time Spent: 2 hours, 15 minutes

One of the things I really like about this AST is that I don't have to work with that many people. I'm a shy person when I don't know someone very well and it hasn't gotten any better as I've gotten older; in fact, it's probably gotten worse as I find more and more creative ways to stay in my little bubble and can do so because I'm an adult. Heck, this semester all my classes are online, and it's so much easier to deal with my classmates from this side of the computer screen.

But all of this makes it more difficult when I DO have to deal with people for my project; after all, one can't live in a bubble and hope to submit work to journals, can one? I don't mind emailing others at all, but when I have to deal with a person on the phone or in person, I literally have to force myself to do it.

Today I talked to Allison Joseph, editor of the Crab Orchard Review, on the phone about doing a visit to COR later in the semester. When I got off the phone, I felt a true sense of accomplishment, even though she told me to email her and we didn't have time to set anything up over the phone. I was scared of making the phone call, and I did it anyway, and I was shaking when I got off the phone. But I DID IT. (I emailed her as well - though it took longer, it was much easier on my nerves.)

You might be asking me what I learned about making a stupid phone call. I learned that yes, I'm still scared of people, but that doesn't have to stop me from accomplishing what I want to accomplish.

I started story number two today, the one that had been molding in my head for a couple of weeks. After all this time, starting a new story really is still the most difficult part of writing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

An Extremely Productive Day

Time Spent: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Ok, so it's been awhile since I've updated. I really wanted to get more done before the semester started, but real life happened. I had the time to let it happen this time, but I'll have to ignore it if it happens again the rest of the semester. In order to make up for it though, I had a REALLY productive day today while my son napped.

I did several different things today, which was nice. I did quite a bit of writing - finished "Heavenly Peace" up and read through it a couple of times. Now I just need to let it sit for awhile, and I'll come back to it on a slow day and make some changes. Since this is one of the stories I wrote fresh for this project, I don't need to have it up to submission standards right now, but this is one I'll be submitting somewhere in the future for sure.

I also did a lot of research, specifically on print journals in Illinois that I could submit some stories to. One of them, the Crab Orchard Review, is one I'd like to visit as part of this project later in the semester. COR is part of the English Department at SIU Carbondale. A couple of nice things about COR: 1) They accept simultaneous submissions (there are some online journals that will actually ban you from future submissions if you submitted simultaneously and they find out about it - urgh!) and 2) they pay for accepted work.

Another possibility is Down State Story out of Peoria, which also pays for published stories. They look to be a little less conservative than I would have expected, but all I have to worry about is submitting. The other notable journal is Boulevard, which accepts simultaneous AND multiple submissions (so I could send everything to them and get it all out of the way at once! Kidding, Joanna, kidding!), and they pay for accepted work. What I need to do now is go buy some of these print journals and read through them to get a feel for what each different one accepts. I would be really embarrassed to send something to a journal that printed mostly science fiction when I've never written a paragraph of sci-fi in my life. This is all part of the learning process as well.

The other "big" thing I did today was to start going through some of the stories I've written for the three previous creative writing classes I've taken. I started with my creative writing 1 stories and noted some changes I could make in the revisions for just about all of them. There are a couple of them that, in my opinion, just need to be polished up, but they're flash fiction (short stories of 500 words or less), so they won't need much anyway. No, that's not true. One of them is ALL marked up, ha. The most important thing I've learned about flash fiction is stick to the point. There isn't a lot of room for embellishment in that short a story - that's not to say that the whole "show, don't tell" thing gets thrown out the door, but you have to be short and sweet about it. The piece that is all marked up is my first piece of flash. It's a really good story, and it's really going to get edited down - I think the story has about 400 words right now, I think I'm going to end up taking out 100 of them when it's all done. There are two others that are good stories, but they definitely need some major changes. The great thing about rereading some of the longer stories is to see how much I've learned as an author. If I were writing these stories from scratch now, what would they look like? And I think that might be the whole point of revisions (would someone please tell me if I'm wrong?). I still have two more semesters worth of stories to go through, and I think each story I reread is going to get reread three or four times, but that's still OK - it's part of really getting a feel for my work and knowing where I truly need to make changes in it.

That's all for tonight. The semester officially started today, yeah! No really, I'm excited about it. I'm ahead in two of my classes already, and this is my last semester of school. I'm excited to be getting nearer to graduation, but it's also sad because I really enjoy school. At any rate, this means that I'll be updating this journal several times a week. My hope is that by the time I post the last journal entry, I will be well on my way to not only being published again, but getting paid for it.