Swanwick on developing stories

I’m reading Michael Swanwick’s Not So Much, Said the Cat, and I liked this description, in his introduction, of his writing process:

On the side of the bookshelf by my writing desk are twenty or so Post-it notes with the names of stories and novels I am actively working on. In a Rolodex nearby are the titles of a great many more I hope to get around to soon. New ideas constantly swim up from the murky seas of the unconscious, demanding to be told. I scribble them down in notebooks and the best of them are added to the queue. The only limits to the number of stories I might eventually write are time and mortality.

A defence of the literary life

I recently finished reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, one of those writing books that seems to be on every list of recommendations. I found the book a bit off-putting… suffice to say that it wasn’t for me.

However, I did like the closing section of the book. Liked it quite a lot actually. At the end, Lamott comes around to talk about what might be worthwhile about writing. Here’s part of a longer passage:

There are a lot of us, some published, some not, who think the literary life is the loveliest one possible, this life of reading and writing and corresponding. We think this life is nearly ideal […] One can find in writing a perfect focus for life. It offers challenge and delight and agony and commitment.


Pixar’s The Art of Storytelling!

What makes someone a good storyteller? Storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a young age, but there’s a difference between good storytelling and great storytelling. In this lesson you’ll hear from Pixar directors and story artists about how they got their start, what stories inspire them, and you’ll begin to think about what kinds of stories you might want to tell.

Jim C. Hines wraps up his author survey.

For some reason this Savage Chickens cartoon (Branding) made me think of story ideas… 100% mutant supermeat for the win!

Steve Barnes writes up a spirited defence of getting practice writing short stories before attempting a novel: “What if I write novels?”

My path is slow, and steady, and works.   So far as I know, every time.   If you want to write novels, great!   Novels are where you get paid. Short stories are where you learn your craft.  EVERYTHING you need to know how to write a novel is in the seed form of short stories, including all the tactical and strategic elements of marketing.  If necessary, write stories set in the universe of your novel, with characters from the novel.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN IDEA WITH AN INTRINSIC LENGTH.  ONLY THE TREATMENT OR EXPRESSION OF AN IDEA HAS AN INTRINSIC LENGTH.

A writing prompt, and 3 interesting links

I feel like this could generate any number of stories:

What do different colors symbolize in different countries?

Jim C. Hines has been doing a fascinating Novelist Income Survey. Overview of income:

Average Income: $114,124

Median Income: $17,000

(I think the median is more useful than the average, here. The average is pulled up significantly by those very successful outliers.)

Linda Nagata talks about how her process has changed:

I used to always keep an up-to-date printed copy of a novel as I worked on it, but that habit faded away and these days I don’t print anything out until the end. Then, as the last step in the process**, I read straight through the printed copy from beginning to end, ALOUD. I listen for clumsy bits and look for errors, fixing them (by hand) along the way.

It’s amazing how many little problem spots I still find. But simply viewing the novel in a different context — in this case printed, instead of on-screen — causes the brain to see/hear issues that were invisible before. Reading aloud means it’s going to be slow, but for me it’s an essential step. And the end is in sight!

And Steve Barnes on the “writing machine”:

The “Machine” is the overall structure of a writing career, and ANY problem you have will be on one stage or another. If you follow it, you will simply succeed:

  1. Write at least one sentence every day
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month
  3. Finish what you write
  4. Submit them, continue to submit until you sell.
  5. Don’t re-write except to editorial request
  6. Read 10X what you write
  7. Continue for 100 stories.

Two writing links

I found this post by Alexander Jablokov a fascinating one. In Laying rails for the locomotive, he talks about the really specific writing method that works for him:

Some writers are able to think of stuff while they write.

I sure can think of stuff, but it is almost always clever, glittery distractions from whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. Pointless flashbacks, cool devices, elaborately describe artworks…name it, I’ve done it.

In order to actually write a scene, something unified in space and time that has a structure and focus and conflict and a decent ending that kicks you into the next scene, I have to already know all of those things before I actually write it. I’ve learned this through long experience.

I’ve been thinking about as I’ve dipped back into some writing advice books; the best advice still seems to be to find the method that works best for you!

And check this out: Which Paid Marketing Works (and Doesn’t Work) for Books. Tons of details about running your own writing promotion.

Person of Interest, Epic Fantasy, Writing Advice

The Stealth Futurism of ‘Person of Interest’

Andrew Marr’s Paperback Heroes – a masculine view of epic fantasy entrenching bias.

The Authors of The Kingkiller Chronicle and An Ember in the Ashes Offer Writing Advice in This Fun Chat

Get Inspired for NaNoWriMo with Advice from Your Favorite SFF Authors!

Also, I loved this post from Captain Awkward: #913: “You don’t have to quit your day job right this second to follow a creative dream.”

You need to get connected to your passions right now, TODAY.

Some ways to do that, listed in no particular order of importance:

  • Collect your heroes. Read Steal Like An Artist and choose your hall of virtual mentors. Whose art makes you want to make art? Dig into their work and read, watch, listen intently.
  • Create rituals. Look into The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and whether or not the “spiritual” language works for you, think about trying out her daily practices (free-writing three pages every morning) and weekly practices (The Artist’s Date, where you spend 1-2 hours by yourself exploring and giving yourself permission to daydream and absorb and create).
  • Get social. What is a professional group, MeetUp group, online community or other social network of people who do what you want to do? Join one of those and practice saying out loud to other people what it is that you want to do. “My name is ______ and I’m an attorney but I also _______ and want to be a ______.
  • Find the local scene. Chances are that where you live someone is doing the thing you want to be doing with your life. Subscribe to the local theater company. Go to the local indie film screening. Get on the list for art openings at galleries, readings, humanities festivals. Sit on boards, volunteer behind the scenes if you can. In a careerist sense this is “building your network.” In a creative sense this is “filling the well.”
  • Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Is there an evening or weekend class in what you want to be doing that you could take? Try something out. Don’t put the pressure on yourself to be immediately supporting yourself with this creative pursuit. Experiment and play.
  • Use your breaks. Do you get vacation time at this nice law job of yours? Can you plan to take some of it specifically around a film festival or artists’ retreat or concert or play you want to see? Plan out your vacation time over the next 22 months and make sure you’re giving yourself regular intervals to recharge and soak up what you want to do.

Urban fantasy and finish your book

Two interesting links this week:

I found this post by Carrie Vaughn quite thought-provoking. In The Great Urban Fantasy Crash, she writes:

So the word around writing and publishing circles over the last couple of years is: urban fantasy isn’t selling anymore. Publishers aren’t buying it. What was hugely popular five years ago is now done. That ship has sailed.

I’ve seen some commentary about this being some big publisher conspiracy to kill the genre — just as I also saw commentary that the popularity of the genre was a publishing conspiracy in the first place.  But I’m here to tell you, as an urban fantasy author and someone who worked in a bookstore twenty years ago, publishers are highly reactive and not very good at manufacturing any kind of popularity. They react to sales numbers, and they’re usually chasing trends rather than creating them. (One of my favorite statements ever about publishing trends: everyone was looking for the next Harry Potter, which turned out to be Twilight, then everyone was looking for the next Twilight, which turned out to be The Hunger Games.  They’re still looking for the next Hunger Games…)

However it happened, the results have been increasingly clear: authors are having a harder time selling urban fantasy, and readers have had a harder time finding a good series to follow.

In the comments, she writes this:

A lot of authors moved to Kindle after getting dropped by publishers. A lot of UF readers figured out there’s a lot more stuff on Kindle. There’s some speculation that e-pub is replacing that niche once filled by mass market paperbacks. It seems to me there are several vicious circles fueling each other in this whole scenario.

I have some thoughts about Kindle and the Amazon ecosystem, but they’re not yet fully formed. I’m a bit worried, from the authors’ side, but I’m also seeing stuff, like this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, about how traditional publishers are screwing over authors (more so than usual).

One last point: this is all academic if one doesn’t have a book to sell! Here’s Chuck Wendig: Here’s How To Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster

Gollancz tips

Gollancz has started a series of writing tips from various authors. From Part 1:

Miles Cameron:

‘There is no substitute for experience. If a character needs to have a skill, it’s better to try and do that thing, no matter how difficult, than to pretend the knowledge, even from an expert opinion. I learned more from an hour of trying to write on parchment with period ink than all the books I read on calligraphy.’

The advice from Connie Willis is typically witty, and it starts with:

I suppose I have learned a couple of things that might be useful.  They are:

– Never slap anyone, no matter how satisfying it might be.

– Instead, practice something polite to say to all the people who offer you unsolicited advice and/or criticism. And practice a smile that is not a grimace while saying it.

– Never wear anything white to a booksigning. It immediately attracts coffee stains, soup stains, spaghetti sauce, indelible ink, and unflattering comparisons to Emily Dickinson and/or Tom Wolfe (for which you will need the polite response and the smile.)