A Wild Submissions Tracker Appears!

I’ve mentioned Duotrope’s Digest here before, I’m sure.  It’s  a website/service that helps you keep track of your submissions and collects data on markets so that you can get some sense of how long you’ll be waiting on any particular submission, as well as how likely you might be to get your piece accepted.

When I started using Duotrope’s Digest, the service was free, though they were always accepting donations (and I would donate whenever I could), but last year they went paid because they were struggling under upkeep costs.  You can pay by the month, but the most economical way is to plunk down $50 for a year of the service, which I think is a good deal for all that the service offers: submissions tracking, detailed statistics, a searchable database of markets.  And so I’ve paid.  I’ve got a lot of submissions logged there over the years, and that alone has been enough to keep my business.

Now, though, there’s another option.  (Actually, they’ve been around since sometime after Duotrope went paid in 2012, but I only found it, via Cat Rambo’s Twitter, very recently.)  The (Submission) Grinder is, well, pretty much the same thing as Duotrope, though at the moment, they only track fiction markets (which is most of what I’m writing and trying to sell anyway, so that don’t make no nevermind to me right now).  They’re also free and aim to stay that way.

So, other than not needing to pay and only being able (at the moment) to track fiction markets, what’s the difference?

The first, and most noticeable difference to my eye is that the Grinder’s submission tracker includes fields for tracking if and when you’ve been paid and when your piece has actually seen publication.  Beyond that, they also keep track of which markets have been recognized by SFWA and which have been nominated for or have won Hugo or Nebula awards, which is pretty snazzy.

So which should you use?

If you only write fiction and currently don’t use either service, you really can’t beat free.  If you already use Duotrope (and/or you write more than just fiction), you may as well get your money’s worth.  However, if you’re a Duotroper and a fiction-writer, especially one who likes getting paid, it may be worth your while to contribute your data to the Grinder–it’s not much more work, and it helps them provide more accurate statistics.  And, hey; it’s free.


Writing Your Story Now

In my last post, I wrote about the process I’m going through right now of totally re-writing a story that I first wrote almost nine years ago, and that got me to thinking about a common trap that writers fall into (and I’m as guilty as anyone).

Writers, especially new ones, often have a story, the story, that they want to write but which they hold off on because they feel that they aren’t good enough yet to do their story, their perfect, precious story-baby, justice.  This is a noble thought, sort of.  Except that if you can’t write any of your stories now because you’re not good enough, there’s no way for you to put in the work to get good enough.

I feel like this idea often comes out of some strange belief that once you write your story, that’s it: there’s nothing left to do.  But that isn’t true at all.  Writing the story down is often just the first step in what can be quite a long process of edits and re-tooling, if not re-writing altogether.

There’s nothing to stop you from revisiting a story, even years later.  Sometimes you’ll write something, and it just won’t quite work.  Maybe you can’t figure out what the problem is, or maybe you know exactly what the problem is and know that you don’t have the skill to fix it right then, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to fix it later.

So if you’ve got that story that you don’t think you can write yet because it needs to be perfect, maybe instead just give it your best shot now.  It might not be perfect, but you won’t be able to see where it isn’t working until you’ve gotten it down.

Hopefully it won’t take you nine years to get back to it.


The Fruits of Re-Writing

There is a story that I wrote back in 2005 (almost 9 years ago, now, if you can believe that) which, at the time, I thought was quite good.  Hell, George Scithers, editor of Weird Tales at the time told me that it was “Damn good.”  (Words I’ll never forget.)  I think, in retrospect, that he was saying that the story itself was good.  The writing may have been the best of my abilities at the time, but it does not hold up well today.

(You can actually find an early draft of this story online still if you know where to look, though I’m not going to tell you where.)

There is a website that I wrote back in 2009, which isn’t quite so long ago, but it feels like it was ages ago, since I was still in college at the time.  It was alright for what it was at the time, because all I could really do was some HTML and CSS, and when I learned a few tricks with PHP, it got to be a little better (though not much).  Still, it was clunky: if I wanted to add a page link to the menu, for instance, I had to add it to the index file for every single page.  Until I learned about the date() function in PHP, I even had to make sure I touched the site on the first of every year just to update the copyright notice at the bottom of every page.

I don’t make any bones about where to find that website.  You can get to it at www.HilaryBisenieks.com.

But the site you’ll find there today isn’t the site that I first wrote back in 2009.  Yes, it has the same copy, and yes, that copy is a bit out-dated in some places or incomplete in others, and yes, if you hadn’t visited the old site in a long time, you might not notice the difference visually, since the layout is about the same.  But those things are like the story; the underlying code, the HTML, CSS, and PHP that let me make a change just once and have it apply to the whole site, that’s the writing.  It’s mechanically better.

The other day, I took another look at that old story, maybe inspired by my work re-writing my website.  I cringed a little (I did a fair bit of cringing trying to sort through all the tables I used to lay out my old site and find the actual content).  The re-write isn’t done yet, and I’ll have to put it in front of my betas a few times before I let it out into the wild, but it’s getting there.

George died a few years ago.  I wrote about the influence he had on me as a young writer at the time of his death.  I hope that the new version of this story lives up to the potential he saw in those early drafts.


A Call for Readers

Today (finally), I finished the story of which I offered a very brief teaser recently, so, you guessed it, I’m now making a call for beta readers.  Read on if you’d like to beta a 3700-ish word (hopefully at least a little bit) scary story.

Continue reading


Rewriting

I hate rewriting.  I really strongly dislike it.  A lot.  I like writing something, editing it a bit, cleaning it up, and then saying, “there; it’s done.”  But sometimes things don’t work quite like that.  Sometimes you write something that’s as good as you can make it at the time, but it doesn’t get traction, or you’re just not satisfied with it because you just don’t think you can reach that piece’s potential from where you are right then.

And yet I’m in the process of rewriting something right now.  Not a story.  A website.  I wrote my website back in 2009, using the HTML chops that I had at the time, which were pretty poor.  And it shows.  It’s not quite pretty, and while it’s functional enough, editing it, especially adding to it, is painfully slow, especially if it’s something that I want to add to every page.  It’s also not the most skillful site you’ve ever seen when looking at the source.  In fact, what you can see right now if you visit my website is something that still uses tables for layout.  Tables.

And so I started rewriting it.  Because I’d never really been satisfied with the site, and all the little fixes I’d done in the past were just patches that didn’t address the underlying problems, but I didn’t want to spend any more time on it right then because I needed to improve first.  I knew, before, that I couldn’t really fix it because I didn’t quite know how.

That new site will be online sometime soon, and although it won’t look hugely different from what’s up right now, it will be a whole lot more polished, and for me, it will be a whole lot easier to work with when I need to make updates.

Rewriting a story I think is a lot like that.  The shape of the story doesn’t necessarily change that much, but the way that it comes together is much more refined.  It’s still sometimes frustrating, doing so much work to end up pretty much right back where you were when you started, but if you don’t do the work, you can’t improve.


The Shapes of Stories, a Kurt Vonnegut Infographic

Originally posted on Maya Eilam:

My take on visually presenting Kurt Vonnegut’s theories about archetypal stories, designed after researching the subject.

Prints will be available soon. I’m happy to personally notify you when they’re ready, just comment here or email me.

11″x17″

(click for larger version)

View original


Pay the Price

Reading an article about the new remake of Robocop today got me thinking about violence in fiction.  The gist of the article, which you can read here, is that movies are getting more violent in some ways–there’s higher body-counts–but that violence is getting more sanitized, so audiences have to think less about it.  That feels empty to me.  It’s desensitizing.  (It’s also the reason that the stormtroopers in the original trilogy are faceless and impersonal–the violence in Star Wars would feel a lot worse if the Imperial grunts all had faces.)

In the last book I wrote, only two people died on-screen (as it were), one of them by the hands of a point-of-view character, the other by a nameless soldier.  In both cases, though, I tried to be very intentional about those deaths in some way because lives, even the lives of “baddies” have weight: they have some meaning.  Every life has value, and in the case of fiction, it is up to us, the authors, to convey that properly.  The first death, early in the book, leaves the two characters who survive that scene shaken.  Neither of them had ever shot a person before, and although the man who pulled the trigger had seen deaths before, he’d never been so intimately involved with one until then.

I’m not interested in getting (any more) heavy-handed, here, but I think that it’s important, in fiction as in life, to consider the value of the lives around you.  Even the people you dislike have lives, families, joys and sorrows.  Everybody is the hero of their own story.  Honor their lives.  Doing anything else cheapens the narrative and may put some readers off.  If a character just goes off and shoots someone without giving it a second thought, it will affect how readers see that character from then on, and depending on what emotional role that character is mean to play, it may well hurt your narrative.


In-Progress

Not much today except that I’m hitting my stride on a new piece that’s been clawing to get out of my brain for a few weeks now.  So, in lieu of a substantial blog post, I’ll leave a little teaser here from the first draft.

It was only for a second as I scrolled down, and when I went back and looked again, it refused to reappear, but for a moment, there was the suggestion of a shape, a distinct outline of something, among the un-data.

(I will probably be wanting a few beta readers in the near future, so if you’re interested, hit me up in the comments or via the tip-line.)


How I Work

So I’ve done a lot of talking (writing, really, I suppose) about how I have my work environment set up, but pictures/words truism.  So.

2014-02-18 16.46.12Yes, this is my desk at work, and no, this isn’t where I do much writing (save banging out the occasional 0.5K at lunch), but it is where I spend most of my time in front of a screen.  Well, three screens, but you get the point.  Honestly, if I had the time and money to get my office set up like this at home, I probably wouldn’t do much differently, although I don’t think that I really need three monitors at home, nor would having two different keyboards and three pointing devices be as useful there.  The point is that I’ve had some time to tweak my space to my liking–what you see in this picture represents about a year of experimentation since moving to a standing desk.  Will it always look like this?  Maybe not.  Will it keep evolving as my needs change?  Absolutely.  That’s what’s important: the ability to adapt, both in your work space and in your practices and approaches to the craft and business of writing.


Sit or Stand

Rounding out what I didn’t expect to be a series on the tools and environment of writers, I thought I’d talk a little bit today about the physical aspects of a writing environment.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to assume that you’re writing on a computer, because that’s how I do most of my writing.

As with everything else, there’s a huge range of options available to a writer when they’re thinking about making a writing space.  You can go with the sort of stereotypical laptop-at-a-coffee-shop thing that a lot of people think of when they picture a writer at work (or at least what they think of when picturing an undiscovered/”aspiring” writer at work), but I find that coffee shops are a pretty terrible environment to work from for any serious length of time because there are too many variables that are outside of your locus of control.  That said, by all means experiment with your setup, because everybody is comfortable with different things.

Rather than going into all the minutiae of an environment in excruciating detail, I think that we can break a writing environment down into three categories: sonic, body-position, and equipment.

I like to write with some music on.  In the past, I didn’t have a dedicated space for writing, so having headphones was essential because it let me create my own little writing bubble even when I was in a shared/common space.  Sound is a vital component of a writer’s environment, whether it’s background/ambient music, white noise, silence, or something in between those.  I have at various points used a dedicated writing playlist of songs that I know well enough that they won’t distract me, and on occasion I’ll change out some of the tracks on it to better suit the mood of the piece I’m working.

Body position is one of those things that a lot of people may not think about as much, which is detrimental to a lot of writers.  Being comfortable is important, yes, but you need to tune that comfort to not be harmful to your body in the long run.  This does to some extent come down to the equipment that you use, too, but I’ll touch on that part in a minute.

For short writing sessions stolen from otherwise wasted moments, maybe in a coffee shop or on a bus/plane/train/boat, just plonking away on your laptop isn’t too bad, but even as I write this, sitting slumped over on my couch at home, I can feel my neck starting to crick.  Ergonomics are key for your regular writing space.  Find a chair that’s comfortable, and a desk that allows your arms to stay pretty much parallel to the floor, then get your monitor at the right height so that the top of the screen is level with your eyes when you sit up and look straight ahead.  Better yet, ditch your normal chair altogether.  Some people like sitting on those big inflatable exercise balls, which purportedly helps work your abs while you sit, but for my money, a standing desk (and a tall chair for those times when you can’t be bothered to stand any longer) is the way to go.  I switched over to a standing desk at work a year ago, and although I do still spend a portion of my day sitting down in a tall chair, I find that standing while I work leaves me feeling physically better at the end of the day.  (If you’re going to commit to the standing desk route, get a good mat to stand on, too, or you’ll quickly give up on the whole standing thing.)

There are a lot of articles on the benefits of standing desks that you can find if you like, but I’d recommend just trying it out for a little while.  You don’t need to lay out a ton of money for a standing desk (though you easily can).  I’ve been eying a solution to convert a regular desk to a standing desk that can be pulled off for about $22 and a little bit of work, though I have yet to commit to even that expense at home.  What I’m really saying, though, is that you should experiment to find what’s most comfortable for you.

The final part of the writing space equation is the equipment that you use: mouse, keyboard, and monitor.  Please, for your own benefit if you’re using a laptop as your only computer, at least get an external keyboard and mouse so that you can elevate your screen to be at a comfortable height, but consider getting another monitor, too.  Some people like to have huge monitors so they can have their notes/story bible/wikipedia up on-screen along with their writing without having to click back and forth between windows, while others like a multi-monitor setup for the same reason.  Do what you can afford and what feels best for you (honestly, I could just delete all of this and leave it at that, but I’m not going to because this is my blog, and you don’t tell me what to do).

Keyboards alone could have their own post, but I’m not going to bore you with that.  (The same likely goes for mice, though that’s often more gamer-focused.)  Some people really like laptop-style keyboards with very short key-press distances, while others prefer older-style keyboards which require a much farther keypress.  Experiment.  Never assume that what’s best for you is what you’ve always been using just because you haven’t tried anything else.  I really like my split keyboard (one thing that Microsoft is actually really great at), which I’ve found helps minimize wrist pain when I’m typing for hours at a stretch without a real break.  I also changed up my mouse, going for a trackball, because of wrist pain.

Wrist pain sucks, guys.  Avoid it.  Especially if you want to write for anything resembling a living.

So, I think that’s it (at least for the moment) on writing spaces and tools.


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