Process

The Wolfsbane Incantation

My flash fiction story "The Wolfsbane Incantation" is now live at the website Every Day Fiction:

http://www.everydayfiction.com/the-wolfsbane-incantation-by-todd-wheeler/
 

What made this more valuable was the feedback from the editors. While they accepted the story as submitted, they provided thoughtful suggestions about where the story could be stronger and how a particularly violent element of the story would not appeal to their readers. I knew I would be a fool not to take this free advice. I made several revisions and resubmitted the piece.
 

The Every Day Fiction site also allows readers to post comments and rate the story. In a matter of hours, my story has averaged four stars and has very positive comments. I'm glad I took their advice.

Letting Go


"When I let go of what I am, I become what I may be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need"
- attributed to Lao Tzu


 

At the beginning of the year I set lofty goals. One thousand words a day. One blog post a week. One story submission per month. Quite poetic in its symmetry of a quantity of one task over each time span.
 

At the time I believed I could accomplish the goals. It would be hard and require strict discipline and focus and time management and the lack of any other factors that might possibly cause the slightest distraction. These were unrealistic goals.
 


"Know thyself."
- ancient Greek aphorism



 

The problem with committing to something unrealistic is it can be difficult to disengage, particularly if others are involved. If I commit to help a friend move a piano I will surely live up to that promise, no matter how much my back may regret it later.
 

When my commitments are internal, that is when I am the only one affected by the doing or not doing, it is still hard for me to renege. The completion of that task is linked to my image of myself, my self esteem, my character. If I don't complete the task I am a failure.
 

The end result of this cycle is obvious. Frustration. Low self-esteem. Sadness. Depression. Procrastination. Repeat.
 

When the commitment involves others, a promised favor, a work assignment, a relationship, letting go can be very difficult and painful. If the promise is only to myself, no matter how public I have made it, the only person who will be affected is me.
 

Harry Potter and the Word Puzzle of Doom

There is a word game where the starter word is transformed to the ending word by changing one letter at a time. It is known by many names (Doublets, Word-Links, Word Ladder, etc.) and the creation of it is credited to Lewis Carroll. On the plane during a recent trip I challenged myself and my daughter to transform SNAPE to HARRY.
 

Yes, we had recently watched some Harry Potter videos.
 

What I thought would be moderately challenging became a very difficult puzzle. Spoiler: the answer I arrived at is at the end. As I worked my way through, it seemed this process compared well to that of writing in several respects.
 

1. There are rules to follow.


SNAPE
SNAKE
STAKE
STARE
STORE
STORY
SORRY <-- Two letters changed. Not Allowed!

2. Working backwards can lead to discoveries.


HARRY
HARRS <-- Plural of harr, a sea mist or wind from the east.
HERRS <-- Old Norse word for army. Non-english word, Not Allowed!

3. Mastering the rules allows one to bend or break them.


HARRY
LARRY <-- Well, we are going from one proper name to another, right? Also another spelling of lorry.

Below is the full progression that I arrived at. I would love to see other solutions!

SNAPE
SNAKE
STAKE
STARE
STARS
SPARS
SPURS
SOURS
LOURS
LOURY
LORRY
LARRY
HARRY

NaNoWriMo 2011

If it is November it must be time to write a book. National Novel Writing Month has commenced and I have dived into the crazy pool of writing.
 

This attempt will be a challenge for many reasons. Unlike previous efforts, I have no plot or plan. Where before there might have been a map of an outline and character sketches and research, now there is nothing but imagination and a fierce desire to write.
 

I have also sundered easy connection to the internet. This will limit distractions and provide some focus for the work ahead. It may also limit connecting with fellow mad writers. I shall do my best to support you all in our common goal. 50,000 words in 30 days.
 

So, enough blogging. Onward and upward!
 

tags:

NaNoWriMo Ends

Another NaNoWriMo has been completed. Congratulations go to Rick O. for completing more than 50,000 words in the month of November. Nice work, Sir!
 

Many thanks to writing pals Jack, Tim, and Peggy. Special honors go to Peggy who topped 35,000 words for not only her first attempt at NaNoWriMo but her first attempt at writing a book length piece of fiction. Congrats!
 

That is what I love about this crazy event. It inspires people to write, to tackle an objective they've always wanted to do but never got around to trying.
 

My own attempt did not get to 50k, though I did get north of 35k. I still like the idea for the book as well as the characters who have developed in interesting ways over the past 30 days. Just remains to keep plugging away.
 

Many thanks to everyone who stopped by here to offer encouragement. It helped more than you could know.
 

The Madness Begins

Day one of NaNoWriMo went well with a total word count of almost 3,600. Once the organizations widget-ry is up and running, I'll put up some kind of statistical thingy (technical term) to show progress.
 

In the meantime, here is a YouTube video of a band my sister plays in called The Slighted. As is typical of music videos, the drummer doesn't get sufficient screen time.
 

Clear The Decks

Congrats to my good friend Rick O.! His review of a poetry reading was published by the Bakersfield Express. The review can be read here.
 

Congrats to L.A. Mitchell who was kicking butt and taking names during her two week fast draft writing marathon. I envy and covet her daily word counts.
 

Starting next Sunday, I will have a chance to match her speed as I dive in headfirst once again into National Novel Writing Month. Contrary to earlier plans, I will have an outline for this next novel. Too many scenes have suggested themselves to just wing it.
 

I've also got some writing buddies to cheer on, both real space and virtual. It is going to be a busy month; I hope to surface for air and coffee once in a while.

Payment Due

Still here? I wouldn't be surprised if you wandered away as I obviously did. I owe a visit to many of your own blogs.
 

Been a little busy here, for reasons many of you had a hand in. Many, many thanks to Camille, Derek,Gustavo, Marcus, Martin, Matt, Nathan, and Rick O. for all your comments, insights, and critiques over the last couple months of my book, my synopsis, and my query letter. You all rock.
 

At the transition from "I want to be a writer" to "I am a writer", I felt I was taking on a certain obligation. It would no longer be good enough to talk about it. Writers write, and submit, and interact with their peers. Sometimes they even get published. They definitely give back.
 

I've done the above but sometimes feel like I've taken more than I've given. I certainly owe those listed above. If nothing else, I feel I have to at least follow through.
 

This week I sent out my first agent query.

 

I had planned to finish this post in a different fashion. But I have to share this instead. I received my first agent rejection 17 hours and 41 minutes later. And you know, it's true. It hurts less when you rip the band-aid off quickly.
 

Next step: send out another agent query. Because that's what writers do.

 

We Have Second Draft

My novel Garbageland has graduated from shitty first draft to crappy second draft.
 

Along the way one character was excised, two others were morphed together, and paragraphs, scenes, and chapters were slashed. Total word count dropped about 10k; I expect to add words back in the next round. And all that only took nine months.
 

One problem was the method. I read in another writer's blog how they printed out the first draft, made corrections on paper, and then re-typed the whole thing for the second draft. I decided to do the same.
 

There was some benefit. It certainly slowed me down, making me think more about the words I didn't touch. I've found it works well on short stories. Novel length works: not so much. I'd get bogged down frequently, looking at how few pages I'd gotten through in a day.
 

I must have a stubborn streak because I didn't give up on that method until September. Returning to live editing, for lack of a better term, the pages flew by. Perhaps that will require more changes in the third draft, but at least that draft will go quickly.
 

Work on the third draft starts Wednesday, or as soon as I've recovered from election night.

Writing By The Numbers

I've been working on a short story for about 18 months. It's been submitted and rejected several times. I put it aside, worked on it, put it aside again, worked on it. I've been procrastinating on sending it out for a few reasons.
 

First, I want to get it right. I really like the story and obviously want to see it published. Second, I get a blind spot with stories I like. It isn't just the 'darlings', sections that are oh, so clever but don't move the story. I become blind to what the reader sees because the movie in my head for the story is so complete.
 

At that point I seek out critiques. I've done that already. I think the story is ready to go, but still I hesitate. So I wondered if there were some other means to evaluate the text.
 

For novels, I use software called yWriter. It has a tool that counts words, total and unique, and number of times each word is used. If I plugged my story in, would I see anything useful? Then again, I've got a blind spot. What I need to do is compare numbers on my story to another, say by a pro writer. So I found a great story by another author and typed it in.
 

Let's start with the big numbers.
 

  Pro Story My Story
Total Words 5,862 6,153
Unique Words 1,447 1,794
% of Total 25% 29%

 

Unique words are those that appear once, never repeated. Scrolling through the lists I see these are good words, descriptive words, interesting words. In the two stories, my unique words are a slightly higher percentage than the pro story. I like this statistic.
 

Lesson #1: Use interesting words.
 

Besides the unique words, the rest have been used at least twice in the stories. The usual suspects have been used hundreds of times in both: the, and, of, to. I notice that my story uses "was" 59 times while the slightly shorter pro story has 89 instances. So much for active voice.
 

Lesson #2: Know how to break the rules.
 

Going down the list, it's hard to make much comparison. The words, cut out of their context, seem so ordinary. They are the lunch-pail words, working hard at their job without expectation of big rewards. I'm not seeing any pattern or useful information.
 

How about the bottom, the words that are used twice to ten times? Maybe I'll see something there. Maybe I'm overusing a lot of filler words. Below shows the number of words used for each number of times. For example, if the word "what" and "should" are both used five times then the total is two for five uses. I know, this is getting abstract, bear with me.
 

# of uses Pro Story My Story
Ten Times 10 7
Nine Times 7 12
Eight Times 15 9
Seven Times 20 14
Six Times 21 38
Five Times 36 39
Four Times 54 72
Three Times 91 124
Two Times 217 258

 

My numbers are slightly higher, but only by thousandths as a percentage of the whole. What does this mean?
 

Lesson #3: Writing is about words, not numbers.
 

Perhaps this was a futile exercise. I thought as an experiment it was interesting. I think the final lesson for me is:
 

Send the damn story out already!

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