So, an old friend has re-emerged in my life and as a direct result I am now working on scripts again.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve seriously focused on screenplays and the like, and it makes for an interesting break from the stories I usually write.  I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

The reason for the mixed feelings is that things went so very wrong last time we went this route.  It wasn’t the fact that the projects we worked on together didn’t get off the ground, that was just… well, life really.  Sometimes things don’t work.  the problem last time was that I and another writing friend were sort of left in the dark about everything.  We were told good news, good news, good news, then no news, no news, no news.  We tried to contact people, tried to find out what was going on, and nobody would talk to us.  we just sat there, twiddling our thumbs, waiting and waiting.  When somebody finally did talk to us, they gave us a cheery view of things, said not to worry, and then we didn’t hear anything for months and months.  next thing you know, the whole thing fell apart and we were never sure why.  Because nobody talked to us.

That’s my fear now, being kept out of the loop.  If all comes to naught… well, that’s life.  But damn it, don’t let the world fall apart without ever letting me know it’s happening.

My writer friend, the one who also got left out in the cold, is even more concerned about this than I am.  He things I might be making a mistake by trusting my old friend again.  But only time will tell.

So, I’m part of this one writers’ group online.  Mostly there are writers early in their development who come on and ask about this or that, or vent about their frustrations.  I go on from time to time and give an opinion on subjects ranging from how long a chapter should be, to how long someone should spend editing the same story before they move on to the next one.

It’s an easy way to reach out and connect with other authors.

Recently, though, I found somebody in the group who claims to be an editor or something at a publishing firm.  I noticed something interesting happening after that:  whenever that member had something to say about ANYTHING, they were immediately complimented, at the very least by the person who posted the original question, and usually by two or three other people.

Doesn’t matter if the suggestion she gave was already given by somebody else, doesn’t matter if the advice was any good, somebody automatically made a point of thanking them for their great suggestion.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand.  I’ve been to writers’ conferences.  I’ve sat around the table listening to all the other writers give their elevator pitch, hoping and praying for that ‘sure, send me a few pages’ reply before the next writer got to spout out their pitch.

I know how desperate it can be to try to make it as a writer.  In fact, I know it better than most people.

But I get a burning, twisting sensation in my gut when I see people kissing ass like this.  Our industry is in the crapper.  The people who are supposed to be controlling the floodgates, who are supposed to be making sure that the best work makes its way into the hands of the public, are completely unable to do their job.  I’m not saying it’s their fault, but the fact that the best idea a writer can come up with in order to get their attention long enough to make a pitch is to tell them how wonderful they are?

It’s awful.  And it’s annoying.  And it’s wrong.

As Danny Glover said in Silverado:  “It ain’t right.  And I’m tired of what ain’t right.”

The funny thing is, I think I might be able to do something about it.  I’ve been working on this idea for a while now…. maybe I need to take the next step.  Or more accurately, maybe I need to find someone who can help me take the next step.

So, I was on facebook, a place where I spend far too much time, and I found this link to a lovely little story about a guy who is a professional artist now, who came across some pictures he’d drawn when he was young.  Like, really young.  Like five.  So he redrew them.  He took the basic sketch he’d drawn as a child, recreated the shape, then added details and background with the skills he’s developed since them.  The effect is… bizarre, but kind of awesome!

 

I know, I should have gotten a link to it.  Totally didn’t think to do that, sorry.

 

Anyhow, the thing is, it made me think: what if I, as a writer, tried that?  What if I took the bizarre and often absurd story ideas I had as a child, then recreated them with the skills I’ve developed in the years that followed?  Would the result be just another absurdity, or would I be able to come up with something new, cool, weird, crazy….

 

Now, the bad news is that a couple of computer crashes over the years have cost me most of my more interesting stories, but maybe someday, if I come across one of those troves of childish writing that we all find from time to time, I might give it a shot.

 

Just something that popped into my head.  Thought I’d share.

So, I’ve challenged one of my writing friends to a write-off for September.  Essentially, we’re going to keep track of our story writing for the month, winner to be determined by total word count.

The reason I challenged him isn’t actually to increase the number of words I produce for the coming month, although I certainly hope that I will see some high numbers for that period.  It’s more about keeping track of my writing.  The friend in question informed me that one of his writing heroes suggested that all writers try to get a minimum of 350 words written a day, realizing that if they did better, well, good on you, but as long as they lived up to the minimum they’d write 90,000 words a year.

My problem is that, when it comes to things like remembering to record my progress in a given month, I tend to lose track pretty fast.  It’s not that I don’t try, I just don’t think about it.  My theory is this: if I’m in competition with someone, I’m more likely to have that competition in mind throughout the day, and whenever I finish up for the day, I’m more likely to remember to record my progress.  I’m hoping that, after a month of keeping careful track, I’ll get in the habit of recording my progress.  And if I get in the habit of recording my progress, I’m more likely to force myself to make progress on days when I’d rather watch t.v. or lie in bed staring at the ceiling.

Isn’t it funny how much time we spend trying to outsmart our own brain?

Back in my younger years, you know, when I was young enough to know everything, I hesitated to share anything that I was writing about with anyone because I was afraid of having my ideas stolen.  Since then, of course, I’ve come to realize that I stole pretty much all of my ideas from somewhere else, and that two people writing the same story will generally produce completely unrelated results.

That being said, I’ve been contemplating how much to share, or not to share of particular stories.  The problem is that I find that if I share too much, if I go too deep into my description of what I plan to do in a particular project, when I actually go to write that project, I feel like I’m rewriting it. which makes it nearly impossible to focus on.

For those of you who have never had the experience, where writing a story for the first time is invigorating and exciting, the act of rewriting a story is like dragging a thousand sandbags across a muddy field.  It’s exhausting, frustrating and miserable.

But where over-explaining a story is dangerous, there is a great deal to be said for bouncing ideas off of unsuspecting friends.  Talking through a project out loud can help you find continuity problems and plot holes that would otherwise sneak up on you unawares.  You can save yourself major rewrites by discussing a story with a friend before you get too far into it.

So where is that line?  How do you take full advantage of those willing to listen to your ramblings, without turning the adventure of writing into the drudgery of repetition?

It’s hard to know exactly where the line in the sand is, but I think that part of it involves keeping some small twist to yourself.  Knowing that there is some secret piece of your story that has yet to be shared with the world can help you maintain the exhilaration of creation.

Perhaps, as well, you need to avoid mapping out your story too thoroughly in your conversations.  It seems to me, from my own experiences in the matter, that one of the frustrations I face in rewriting is the certainty that I had something in it the first time which I lost in the repetition.

These are only one man’s guesses however.  Do you find that talking about a story too much before you write it ruins it for you?  What about after?  Do you become burned out talking about the stories you’ve already done?

Sometimes I think that disappointment, that inevitable bastard, serves to help us reexamine our goals.  Not to change them, mind you, but to think about what they really mean.

At present, my goals as a writer are not doing so well.  I’ve got a number of short stories out at different magazines, and, so far, I’ve had eight rejections and zero acceptances.  I’ve got a couple of books that I self published and made available on Amazon and Smashwords, and, so far, most of the copies I’ve ‘sold’ were distributed when my book was, briefly, available for free.

I’m not giving up, of course, not by any stretch.  I’ll keep trudging along, chipping away, whatever metaphor you want to use.  The thing is, the other night as I lay down in bed, I had one of my little fantasies about success.  We all do it, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.  We imagine going on a talk show circuit, or a book signing tour, we imagine thousands of people lining up for the chance to see us, the chance to thank us, get our autograph, whatever.

But my fantasy the other night wasn’t quite what it normally is.  This time I imagined that I had one fan.  One dying fan.  I imagined that somebody contacted me, told me that they had a few months to live, and one of the things they really wanted to experience before they died, was the final book in my first trilogy.

I know, I know, I’ve got an ego on me….  Anyhow, it was actually a very effective fantasy, the kind you can roll around in and really enjoy.  And it got me thinking.  See, usually I fantasize about the big successes, the commercial ones.  I fantasize about someone making a movie out of my work, or, like I said before, having a hugely successful tour.  I dream big.  But this time I found as much satisfaction at the thought of one truly devoted fan as I normally do when I dream of faceless masses.

It made me realize something about art in general.  Years ago, I found myself trying to define what art is.  It’s a difficult thing to do in the modern world, where walls are decorated with mass produced nonsense, while works of true beauty are made and destroyed practically in the same stroke.  Eventually I came to define art as: ‘the desperate attempt to say something worth remembering.’  It isn’t the perfect definition, but it’s one that seems to encompass most of what I see as real art, while excluding most of what I see as bogus art.

The point is, thinking over my definition of art, and my bizarre little fantasy, it occurred to me that while we might define success IN art in many different ways, the success OF art might be defined as a connection between the artist and the observer.  A moment when the person observing art understands it, and through it develops a relationship with the artist.

Again, it’s not a perfect definition, but I think it’s the start of one.

So, one of my favorite websites for authors is Duotrope.  It’s an amazingly awesome resource if you’re looking to get short stories published.  When I first joined Duotrope it was free, but they struggled with financing and after trying to get people to donate, they eventually decided to turn themselves into a pay site.  When that happened, I quit using it for over a year.  A few weeks ago I joined back up, and I have to admit, for me, Duotrope is worth the 5 dollars a month.

They have several tools to help an aspiring author out.  First off, they have accumulated information on an absurd number of magazines which publish short stories of all sorts.  And it isn’t just a list, they’ve got the key information all sorted out.  You can search for magazines by the genre that they publish, whether they pay nothing, token payments, semi-professional payments, or professional payments, and the length of stories that they accept.

Once you’ve submitted to a magazine, you fill out a quick form on duotrope telling when you submitted, what story you submitted, etc.  Then, when you get a reply, you enter what reply you got, and when you got it.

They take that information, and provide authors with insight into how long to expect a submission to any particular magazine to take, and what percentage of people who submitted got accepted.

It’s brilliant.

And it’s easy.

I’ve currently got nine short stories out, and every time I get a rejection, I spend three or four minutes on the computer and bam, presto, I’ve got it sent to a new magazine.

The thing is, you get a lot of rejections before you get accepted.  And they hurt.  I hadn’t actually forgotten that, but it had been a while since somebody sent me a ‘sorry charlie’ letter, and I didn’t actually remember how personal it all felt.

The thing is, I know I’m getting better about it.  I know my skin is getting thicker, because I remember taking it a lot harder the first time I did this, but it still stings.  And each time I get a rejection, I feel like I’m getting stabbed.  The bottom seems to fall out of my stomach whenever I go to the inbox and see a letter from one of them, because I can’t imagine them saying yes.

And yes, this is better, much better than last time.  Guh, I did not handle it well the first time.

Rejection is painful, but the only way to learn how to deal with it is to deal with it.  There is no practice that I know of that builds you up to it.  You just get stabbed, over and over again until you don’t feel it anymore.  Or until people stop rejecting you.  Whichever comes first, I suppose.