So what do terminal insomniac writers do at nine in the morning when they’ve had no sleep, can’t think of any decent story ideas to get going, and are bored out of their brains? Write a first blog post, apparently. I hope the three of you that read this all the way through can resist the urge to shoot yourselves.
I’m not entirely sure what to put on this thing or how often it’ll get updated, but I’ll give it a shot, and at least stick something up when I’ve got new stories on the horizon, or perhaps some random burblings about writing that I need to get off my chest.
To start with though, I might as well put some things down concerning where I’ve come from as a writer. Some self-absorbed scribbling about what led me to where I’m at now.
I think writing must be in the blood. It seems like no matter how long I go, no matter how far I travel, I always come back to it eventually. Possibly because it’s the only thing in the world that I ever felt I might be remotely good at.
Once, back in school days, we were all given a homework assignment for English: go write a story. Mine ended up being some terrible Predator clone. There was a jungle, and a monster, and lots of disposable Viet-Cong soldiers. Not quite sure where the Viet-Cong guys came from (maybe it was a terrible Platoon clone as well), why the monster was hunting them, or if there was any purpose to the story other than Monster kills people, then hero kills monster, but I thought it was pretty awesome at the time. Hell, it’s good enough for half the screenwriters in Hollywood, so why not a 12-year-old me?
My next homework story was an Alien clone. There was a spaceship, and a monster, and lots of disposable crew. But when I finished it, as much as I’d enjoyed working on it, I realised something: it wasn’t good enough. The characters didn’t have enough personality. The story didn’t have enough meat on its bones. The monster wasn’t scary enough. So I scrapped it, and started from scratch.
This time, it turned out better. The crew were actual characters who were capable of having conversations with each other about something other than the monster. I tried to put tension and suspense into the attack scenes. The ship the whole thing took place on had a definable layout and space to it. Oh, and they all had a reason for being on the ship in the first place, not that I can remember it now.
But it was long. When the homework was due to be handed in, I told the teacher that I hadn’t quite finished, I’d just need a couple more days. At the next lesson, I said the same thing.
And the next.
It must have strained credulity. Best I can remember, the story topped out at 19 single-spaced double-sided pages before I finally gave up. Never finished it. Could never make it good enough.
So if that English teacher happens to be reading this, now you know: it wasn’t because I was lazy, it was because the damn story just Wasn’t. Good. Enough.
Writing came sporadically since then, though for a long while I was fixated on the idea of getting into the film industry, and spent my time writing terrible screenplays instead of terrible prose. I’m delighted to say that not a single word of those screenplays exists anymore. At least, I hope not.
The turning point for me came about ten years ago. I was off work sick with some lovely cocktail of depression and anxiety, and just about at rock bottom, when a strange little thought barged its way into my brain: Write a novel.
Why not? It wasn’t like I was doing a whole lot else at the time. I didn’t know if I was capable of it, but was sure willing to give it a go. It became the focus of my existence for a while. I’d wake up in the morning and pull out notebooks, scribble down every little thought I had. There was a dining room table perpetually covered with 3×5 cards outlining every inch of the plot. I ate, slept, breathed that novel, and thanks to it, I picked myself back up and got back into work, and into life.
Working on it, I felt renewed. I’d sit at the keyboard for hours each day, pouring scene after scene onto the screen and watching in amazement as this huge frickin’ story that I had created sprung to life before my eyes. I felt more optimistic and energised than I had in years, enough that I even decided why the hell not? I’ll study for a degree too.
So I was working full time, studying for a degree with the Open University, and also trying to write a novel. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that something had to give.
Between working and studying, writing fell by the wayside. I didn’t have the time to deal with studying, writing essays, and stressing out over exams, while also worrying about getting the necessary words down. It didn’t help that I was stuck in an annoying rewrite phase that was draining all of my enthusiasm away. So, I made a deal with myself that once I’d polished off the last assignment, I’d return to writing immediately.
That didn’t really happen. After I’d collected my degree, I was out of work, but with a healthy redundancy payment and all the time in the world to play video games. Rather than writing, I spent my time playing RPGs and whining about how terrible the ending to Mass Effect 3 was. And by God, was it ever terrible. Just… horrible. Worst ending since Battlestar Galactica.
But that’s not the point.
It was a good seven months before I finally returned to the keyboard, and started back on the rewrites. A month or so later, I was finished. The damn thing was close to ten years in the making! I could proudly proclaim that I had finished a novel! A bad, bloated, overwritten, 153,000 word Fantasy Doorstop of Doom that will never, ever, ever be sent out anywhere, but still! A novel!
(And at least it was better than the ending of Mass Effect 3. No, I’m not letting it go. I don’t care if it’s been 21 months, it still stings.)
So I’d caught the bug again, and was determined to improve. Short fiction seemed like a natural, sensible option. I figured that it was better to mess up lots of smaller pieces with shorter time commitments than sink a whole load of time and effort into another mammoth undertaking that was destined to stink.
That was April, the time that I first made the concrete decision to write as many short stories as I could, with the aim of publication. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and committed every newbie mistake in the book, but that’s the way it goes, I guess.
I received my first form rejection on the first of May, and even though I’d been fully expecting it, I’ve got to admit, it still hurt. But one after the next they started to come through, and while I’d never say that I’ve gotten used to it, they don’t sting so much nowadays.
My first taste of publication came at the beginning of July, with “Things Found”, a piece of flash fiction that took all of three hours to write, from initial idea to submission. Ray Bradbury had a neat little idea about writing a new story each week, reasoning that it didn’t matter how terrible you are, at least one of those 52 stories should turn out well. I figured that since I’d somehow managed to pull a complete story out of nowhere in three hours, finding a new one each week should be quite doable. I had a good thing going for a little while; five out of the first six weeks’ stories were accepted for publication at one place or another. It soon burned me out though, and I had to relax my goals or risk having some kind of breakdown. I figure one story a month rather than a week is a more reasonable goal, and will help a lot more with quality too!
Now the year is coming to a close. It is eight months on from when I first started writing short fiction, and here be the stats:
Stories written: 18
All things considered, I don’t think that’s a bad start. Next year will be better though! I’m planning on hitting 100 rejections. Why count the rejections instead of acceptances? Because receiving those rejections and getting the stories back out into the slush means that the game is being played. To get that high a number also means that quite a number of stories need to be out to markets at any one time, which encourages constantly adding to the inventory with new stories.
Plus, unlike acceptances, rejections are guaranteed!