Tags: writing

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I was interviewed last month for the Online Writing Workshop, where I am a Resident Editor.  At the end of the interview, they asked me: What one piece of advice would you give to anyone submitting to Strange Horizons?  This is what I said:

Send us work you love, the stories that really mean something to you. Stories that are exciting and surprising. Don't be afraid to pour yourself into fiction, to reveal your inner strangeness. Not everything is going to work for us, but so what? We'd rather read something startling and new than just a competent, flat rehashing of the same types of story we've seen before. Think about where your true interests lie, the ideas you care about, the elements and characters that genuinely matter to you, and bring them into your work. Be brave. Or what's the point?
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heartening proof

It's been a long time since I read John Gardner's On Becoming A Novelist, but I remember thrilling to his portrait of writing as a noble calling, a life of meaning and artistic purpose.  It was rich stuff: principled, passionate beliefs combined with a practical nuts-and-bolts approach to the technical craft. 

And of course, I am still a complete sucker for the romance of it; see this bit from On Becoming a Novelist:

If, on the other hand, you miserably fail, you have only three choices: start over, or start something else, or quit.

Finally, the true novelist is the one who doesn't quit. Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or "way," an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world.

Gardner is on my mind today because of an essay, "Notes from the Underground", by Stewart O'Nan (courtesy of the Tiptree-licious Ms. Gwenda Bond). O'Nan writes about finding stacks of early drafts while doing research in the Gardner archives:
But the one set of drafts that meant the most to me was that of Grendel. A boxful. I wanted to see that wonderful first sentence, the first time he came up with the cascade and cadence of it.

The first draft didn't have it. It was a different sentence, a bad one. Laughably bad.

Later, he pencilled in what would become the first sentence, but it was nowhere near what I presumed--foolishly--was the original. It was just as clunky and atrocious as the other one. Draft after draft, he'd crafted that opening so it seemed natural, seemed to flow from Grendel's throat and his pen effortlessly.

I'd heard how hard writers worked at revising, but here was concrete and heartening proof. I'd been impatient with my work because my early drafts lacked depth and precision; now I realized I had completely misjudged them, and misjudged the effort required to write well. It was not brilliance or facility that was necessary, but the determination to bear and even enjoy the dull process of wading into one's own bad prose again, one more time, and then once again, with the utmost concentration and taste, looking for opportunities to mine deeper....

(I think a bit of brilliance and facility helps too, but let's start with the assumption that we are all wonderfully clever people with oodles of worthwhile things to say and stories to tell, shall we?  Yes, let's do.)

Exactly what I needed to read, this week.  I hope it's good for you too. 
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hugo, girl!

Or actually, boy. Well, really boys. Because Benjamin Rosenbaum's story "The House Beyond Your Sky", published in Strange Horizons, is up for a Hugo award!  Hooray for Ben! This is the first time a Strange Horizons story has been a finalist on the Hugo ballot; it's an honor, and we're all very happy about it.

But I must cheer for boys-plural not only because 48 out of 55 finalists are male (hello) but because my darlin' Tim Pratt is also on the short story ballot.  First time he's up for a Hugo, I think?  Though not, I suspect, the last.  Anyway: you go, boys!  I'm so proud of you both.
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got to have some faith in the sound

I got a lot of writing done.  Not only the getting-done-ness of it, but also the learning/creating/bolstering a mode of writing: this is what I'd secretly hoped to get out of the week, and did. 

Writer friends of mine often comment on how they can't imagine getting any writing done with a little kid around.  And I can easily fall into feeling the same way, because it's a handy excuse, but really that attitude is missing the point.  Of course taking care of a kid can be a challenge for a writer.  So can all sorts of factors, many of them obstacles much less pleasant than parenthood.  The point is that if you are sufficiently disciplined, you can get the work done.  I've never been disciplined about writing.  And I know that I need to be, need to develop a mode wherein I'm writing and focused and I shut out distractions and I keep the faith and don't give up and keep on going until I've gotten something done.  But that's the thing that's hard to learn in the middle of a life filled with distractions.  Unlike, say, in a cabin on an echoing expanse of desert, population five (plus bugs, lizards, coyotes, and hummingbirds).

So that's what I was able to start doing last week.  I went into a intense kind of lockdown mode and came up with some discipline.

Also, I read good books and drank a lot and talked into the wee hours and now it keeps feeling strange and a little sad that there is not a hot tub in my back yard and that jenfu, alicek, snurri and megmccarron are not in it, along with margaritas.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

- Robert Frost

Ce qui embellit le désert, dit le petit prince, c'est qu'il cache un puits quelque part...
What makes the desert beautiful, said the little prince, is that somewhere it hides a well.

- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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that badonkadonk tank would come in handy

This is the time of year when I start to feel I need more to-do lists to keep track of my to-do lists.  Things are slipping through the cracks.

However, I am leaving tomorrow for a week of bunkering down in an undisclosed desert location, which makes it all okay. There will be good friends and writing and a hot tub.  Expect us to return transfigured.
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ira glass on getting good

Adorable Ira Glass of "This American Life" talks about learning to tell stories (or really, to make anything):

"It takes a while. It's normal to take a while, and you just have to fight your way through that. You will be fierce, you will be a warrior, and you will make things that aren't as good as you know in your heart you want them to be."

See also the full series of him discussing storytelling.

(via Jonathan Carroll)
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lit agent blogging

For anyone who's looking into finding and dealing with literary agents: here's an informative post by Kristin Nelson.  Pub Rants is her blog of various "polite rants about queries, writers, and the publishing industry", and don't miss the sidebar, linking to other agents who blog.

I don't know how her perspective stacks up against other people's experiences with agents, particularly in the SF field -- I can think of a few exceptions to some of the guidelines she lays down -- but she's not claiming to speak for everyone, and it's interesting to hear about this side of the publishing process.

(via annesible -- thanks!)
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Hooray for Theodora Goss, whose Strange Horizons story "Pip and the Fairies" is on the final Nebula Award ballot!  This is the third story we've published that's made it onto the final ballot (the previous being Tim Pratt's "Little Gods" and Greg Van Eekhout's "In The Late December"), so we're extremely pleased and proud.

And congratulations to all the other Nebula and Norton finalists!  Looks like a terrific lineup this year.  I'm kvelling for all of you, bubbelehs.

This seems as good a moment as any to quote something Dora wrote in her journal a couple months back:

"The difference between the writer and the critic is that the critic is concerned with large things, like The Conflict Between Desire and Faith, The Place of the Intellectual in Our Century, and The Consequences of Totalitarianism on the Human Soul, while the writer is concerned with small things, like how one particular woman held up her hand to wave goodbye, or how the sea looked from a particular dune on a summer morning, or what a father said to his son and whether it was true, and why not. What a prisoner imagined in the minute before his death, or what breakfast smelled like in a kitchen in southern Virginia, half a century ago.

For the critic, a flower is a symbol. For the writer, a flower is a flower."