Boxes, a quote, and a melon.

I’m waiting for the Malware scanner to finish on the girlfriend’s PC before I run off to work on my writing. So I have some random thoughts to offer, and a comment on writing progress.


Writing has been a little stiff lately. I find I’m feeling a little paranoid about my writing. Between advice I’ve been given and stuff I’ve learned about myself as a writer, it’s made me a little cautious about what I write. So I’ve been writing much more slowly than before. It’s a little frustrating.

What’s always frustrating is when you try to follow advice you’ve been given and you come across a successful writer who doesn’t follow that advice. I’ve been reading through Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, which won a Hugo many years ago. Every time I notice an adverb I feel a little annoyed. “You mean I’ve been beating my head against the wall, trying to choose stronger verbs and avoid adverbs because they are ‘the refuge of a weak writer,’ and Dan Simmons won a Hugo using them?”

Which I feel is an important reminder: Rules about writing are, ultimately, an opinion. They can be opinions formed from experience in an industry. They can be opinions held by editors that will turn down my stories if I ignore them. But God did not carve the Chicago Manual of Style for Moses to carry down the mountains. There are no platonic writing ideals casting their shadows onto our world. They are just boxes that we make for ourselves.

It can be good to know where the boundaries of these boxes exist on a practical level, but there’s no value in beating myself up if I make break a rule that I’ve been taught.

Hyperion also had a quote that came up. It stuck out for me on a lot of levels. It’s given from the point of view of a character who is a poet and is talking about the beginning of his writing career:

Belief in one’s identity as a poet or writer prior to the acid test of publication is as naive and harmless as the youthful belief in one’s immortality… and the inevitable disillusionment is just as painful.

There’s a lot of contention about what makes a person an artist of any sort, writing or otherwise. Do you need to make money, or meet some other criteria, in order to be an artist. I hear it with writing most of all, probably because it seems like I know more writers than anything else. And writing does have a lower threshold for entry than art. Being able to read and write is a more common ability than ability to play an instrument or draw.

So if you spend all your time drawing for your own enjoyment or writing fan fic, does that make you less of an artist than someone who does it professionally? Is a very talented writer of fan fic less of an artist than Stephanie Meyer? On a certain level this comes down again to the boxes we define.

Before I wrap this up, I’m going to poach an idea. Previously when I’ve tried to track my progress, I would do word counts. But that’s a little less helpful now that I have goals I’m working towards. Elizabeth Bear does what she calls her “honeydew” list. (It’s a play on words, in case it’s not obvious to you.) Since I have a bunch of cascading deadlines, I figure it’s good to keep a public list going to keep myself honest. My focus has been lacking lately, so I figure I can do with a completion metric of some sort.

Some of these may, by necessity, need to fall to the wayside. I’ll underline the ones that are harder deadlines.

6/15/2010: Submit my three stories for workshopping in Kansas. 80%

6/30/2010: Wily Writer’s “Song” issue. 0%

6/30/2010: Crossed Genres “Invasion” issue. 90% (Story is written. Just need to proof it and get feedback.)

6/30/2010: Crossed Genres “Science in my Fiction” contest. (I wasn’t going to submit, but I have the kernel of an idea for a story based off an article the girlfriend showed me.)

6/30/2010: Pill Hill Press’s Flesh & Bones: Rise of the Necromancers anthology. 0%

6/30/2010: Finish first draft of novel. 80%

7/1/2010: Hallow’s Eve Press Steampunk anthology. 80% (Thinking of trying to rework “No Country for Tick-Tock Men.”)

7/4/2010 – 7/18/2010: SF Writer’s Workshop and Campbell Conference

7/13/2010: Blood Bound Books’ Rock & Roll is Dead anthology. 90%

7/22/2010 – 7/25/2010: PNWA Summer conference.

8/1/2010: Timid Pirate Press’s Cobalt City Timeslip anthology. 80% (Ran into a wall. Waiting for feedback from Nate.)

9/20/2010: Horror Flash Fiction anthology.

9/24/2010 – 9/26/2010: Foolscap.

10/31/2010: Top Secret Project A

11/1/2010 – 11/30/2010: NaNoWriMo. (I need to do this, if only to shake off the dust and limber up, get back to writing for pleasure than writing for deadlines.)

11/4/2010 – 11/7/2010: Ambercon Northwest.

11/30/2010: Start looking for guidelines for the Norwescon Fairwood Writing Workshop.

11/30/2010: Contact RustyCon about becoming a panelist.

1/14/2011: RustyCon.

7/31/2011: Wicked East Press’s Once Bitten, Never Die anthology.

No Due Date:

– Submit “Thus Have I Heard” to Residential Aliens.

– Submit story to Writers of the Future

4 thoughts on “Boxes, a quote, and a melon.

  1. vretallin

    Writing has been a little stiff lately. I find I’m feeling a little paranoid about my writing. Between advice I’ve been given and stuff I’ve learned about myself as a writer, it’s made me a little cautious about what I write. So I’ve been writing much more slowly than before. It’s a little frustrating.

    I have enjoyed every story of yours that I have read. I think you have a very creative mind that puts a great deal of depth into your stories. Even the humorous fan ones I didn’t get all the ref’s on. ;) I can be slow that way sometimes.

    Oh and I think it rocks you will be at the Campbell conference. I will finally get to meet you in person!

  2. admin Post author

    Thank you. I think I just get paranoid as I learn more. I haven’t been raked over the coals by a wide range of editors, either, which probably gives me a skewed perspective as well. It’s probably worth remembering that it’s not always that the story sucks. It could just be that it doesn’t click with the person reading it.

    Somehow it didn’t click that you lived in Missouri. The Midwest is all a giant geographic smear for me. So Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and Minnesota all smear together in my head. But Dawn’s from St. Louis originally, and I’ve been getting a crash course in that location. And she goes out to Kansas City about once a month for work.

    So, yeah, it’d be nice to meet you! I’ll be in Lawrence for two weeks surrounded by strangers. Hopefully I’ll make friends quickly, but it’s all a little “deep end of the pool” for me. It would be nice to see a familiar face. =)

  3. vretallin

    The best thing you can do is to read and study the works put out by any publisher/editor, that you are interested in. Then you will see just how much slippage of various things they allow. :) And of course, as you know, it allows you to see the types of stories arcs they want. Just because they take science fiction doesn’t mean they want anything other than hard science, space ships, and action. I heard a lot about that from Toni Weisskopf and Michael Swanwick this last weekend.

    I am sure you will quickly get to know the others in the workshop and you will all go through the ups and downs together. Also remember you were accepted into the workshop so they believe you have potential.

    Very cool Dawn is out here regularly and from St. Louis. If she’s ever bored in town or wants a massage she’ll have to let me know when she’s coming in.

    I am registered for Campbell Conference, not sure if my husband is coming with me or not. That will determine when I come in and how long I stay. I might come in early and stay an extra day or so. I only live about 1.5 to 2 hrs from Lawrence KS.

    When do you get in and leave? Have you set travel plans yet or no?

  4. admin Post author

    I get in on the fourth. I leave on the Sunday of the conference. (18th?) Dawn may or may not be in town during that time as well, depending on whether or not her work travel plans work out.

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