Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Silver Keys and Schizophrenics February 1, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:59 PM
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Their logo, taken from I encourage anyone from grades 7-12 to apply next year. It's a good experience even if you get rejected (which happens to everyone, believe me.)

Some short stories take time. Others, especially flash fiction pieces of around one thousand words or less, are written in a sudden frenzy of inspiration. That’s what happened to me when I wrote Maria and the Angels. The sudden idea – a schizophrenic’s take on the end of the world (or is it?) – and a few striking images combined. I wrote the whole thing out in a notebook, forgot about it, and then retyped it a few months later into a 600-ish word piece of flash fiction. When I decided to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, I brushed it off and sent it along with a longer short story and a group of poems. Maria was an afterthought. I never expected it to win.

So naturally I got a Silver Key. This seems to happen to me a lot. (The guessing wrong bit, not the winning things. That’s tragically rare.)

For a quick background, SAWA is a teen art and writing contest that moves through regional and national levels. Winning a Silver Key is a big honor – that means my piece was scored in the top 10% of my region – but also kind of disappointing. For me, the line stops here. Only Gold Keys move on to nationals, where they have a chance of getting a professional critique or cash rewards. It’s completely selfish to feel disappointed – I’m aware of that – but I can’t help it. I think humans are born always wanting more.

However, that won’t stop me from celebrating just a little, quietly and inside my head. This is one more thing to put on my resumé, one more step into the publishing world. At the beginning of this year, I had nothing. That’s what I call progress.


My Short Story Ate Chicago December 24, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 11:38 AM
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Some short stories I can churn out in one sitting. Others… take a bit longer. Such as one I’ve been working on since this summer. To be fair, I took a very long break. From, about… August to December. What can I say? School got in the way.

Anyway, the story I’ve been working on has got out of hand. Earlier I wrote a post about the same story, talking about how the plot completely changed. And since this stupid computer won’t let me link to it – it’s the one entitled ‘Wait… What Just Happened?’ Moving on. Basically, this short story got a lot less short and a whole lot more story. It currently weighs in at 20 pages and over 8000 words. And I haven’t even written the final scene yet! As I complained to a friend, it’s now too short for a novel and too long to send to a magazine as a short story. “Stupid story!” I told it, “You’re marketably unviable!” (Is marketably a word? I’m making it one.) I didn’t get it as bad as my friend, however, whose ‘short story’ is currently over 75000 words and still growing. We’ve all got problems.

So what do you do when your story has a mind of its own? The first thing to do – which I am currently doing – is to finish it out. See how long it is and decide if you want to keep it as it is, chop it down, or stretch it out. If you’re just writing for the fun of it, and never intend to publish anything, then it doesn’t matter. But if you do want to publish this, you may have to make a few adjustments. Generally the size for short stories in magazines is around 2000 to 5000 words. And novels clock in at over 50000 words – and that’s short. But if you really can’t make your story fit in either of these ranges, don’t sweat it. You can always put it in a collection of other short-ish stories and try to publish that. Of course, short story anthologies aren’t exactly flying off the shelves, but we do what we can. And sometimes, unfortunately, a story just won’t work. But at least you got the fun and experience out of writing it, and you can always read it yourself, or send it to friends and family.


Writing With ADD August 10, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 4:13 PM
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I think every writer contracts ADD at some point in their career. Whether ADD is actually contractable doesn’t matter. Go with the analogy.

Anyway, you’ll be typing away at a short story or novel and be hitting the doldrums. The dull, boring sections of the story where nothing’s going right, the characters are hopless, and you might as well scrap the whole thing anyway. Then, a flash of light. A new, shiny story idea that promises to always keep your attention, never get boring… you stop typing and begin to chase this new promising thought. The cycle repeats.

The problem is, something will always look better. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably think of one of these ‘wonderful’ ideas every day. Here’s some advice to stay on track.

1. Write the idea down on an index card or in a notebook, then leave it alone for a few weeks. It’s amazing how many ideas seem completely wonderful when you’ve just come up with them, but you see them later and realize that they’re completely ridiculous. The index card method prevents you from getting a start on the actual story before you come to this sobering conclusion. It’ll save you a lot of grief once you realize the idea was impossible, copying another author, or just plain bad.

2. I’ve just started this method today, but already I feel myself wanting to break it. I have loads of projects in the works, and jumping from one to the other prevents any of them from getting done. Therefore, I pinned a paper up to my bulletin board. (I really need a dry erase board for this.) On it, I listed the three writing projects I’m allowed to work on.

Finish “Two Dances”, a not so short short story I’ve been working on on and off for weeks.

Edit Sable, a Nano novel that just might have some promise if I could clean it up.

And edit “Ghost Story”, a short story I might submit some time, but needs some fine tuning.

Until I’ve accomplished one of these, I can’t do anything else. Obviously, a whole novel is going to take years to edit. Having it on the list now just means I’m going to pay extra attention to it. After a month or so, I’ll take it off to stew while I tackle something else.

I don’t know how this method will work now, but I have hopes that it’ll keep me on track and help me finish some projects that have been in the works for years. Try either of these methods yourself, and tell me how they work for you.


The Great Character Recycling Bin August 5, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:27 PM
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You’re writing a story and you need a character to throw in for extra depth. Maybe you even need a main character – you’ve got a story idea, but no one to live it. But don’t worry – chances are that you’ve got a database of ready-made characters, with names, families, backstories, and much much more.

Where? If you’ve ever written something that just fell apart into a horrible mess, such as a NaNo novel or even a particularly bad short story, characters probably weren’t the thing that sunk it. In fact, you might have even had a great character or two, whose sparkle just couldn’t keep the plot alive. But they can be saved – like a heart transplant, taken from one dying body and giving life to a new one.

Two of my NaNo novels were complete train wrecks, un-editable. One might work out, but that’s another story. Anyway, I needed a name for the main character in a short story I’m working on. I pulled her name, and the names of a couple of her friends, from my 2009 novel. I’ve never liked thinking up names, and this made it a whole lot easier.

Names and characters aren’t the only thing you can borrow. My 2008 NaNo (I had a bad streak) had some good ideas; I just overweighted it with about 20 different unneccessary plots trying to reach 50000 words. So I pulled out the main plot and created a short story, one I liked enough to send into a magazine. Of course, that resulted in the rejection letter I posted earlier, but lots of people get rejected at first. I’ll keep trying, keep writing, and keep recycling. That’s what you’ve got to do.


My First Rejection Letter! July 31, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:29 PM
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Yes, I know, super exciting. Just like you can’t be a bicyclist without falling once or twice, you can’t be an author without getting rejected. It’s a career fraught with rejection. And it’s rather exciting to know that you’ve put your name out there in the writing world, so to speak, even if you did get shot down. For now. But as everyone knows, you’ve got to submit like a million things before you get accepted.

I shall share the typed and hand written text:

Dear Author:

Thank you for submitting your work to (magazine). Though it doesn’t meet our current needs, we appreciate the opportunity to consider it for publication. we wish you luck in placing it elsewhere. Keep up the good work.

(Handwritten section): Thank you for your story submission. Although we will not be able to publish this piece, we think you have very good potential. Please consider sending us more of your work in the future.

This is open to severe analysis. Though it doesn’t meet our current needs… does that mean you can submit it again later? We wish you luck in placing it elsewhere. Do they think it’s good enough to be accepted somewhere else? Very good potential? Is that true, or just some ego salve. And please consider sending us more. That makes sense, at least. They sent me a flyer encouraging me to enter in a contest. Of course they want me to enter as many times as I want – there’s an entry fee.

Who knew you could find so many mysteries in a rejection notice? I’m sure I’ll find more as my stack of rejections grows higher… and maybe eventually I’ll get a whole different kind of letter…

(This stupid image won’t go where I tell it to, no matter how many times I try. Sorry. It’s supposed to be centered.)


The Art of the Short Story July 22, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:46 PM
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Ahhhh, the short story. An underrepresented mode of writing, for sure. Even I’m guilty of ignoring the short story. For most of my writing life, I was either interested in poems or chasing the dream of all dreams, a novel.

The problem with novels is they’re, well, big. It takes a while to get through them, and as you’re trucking through it you see some brand new, shiny idea in the distance and break off to chase that one instead. So you end up with about fifty beginnings of novels, and nothing else. Plus, you’ve got to fit so much into a novel, so many characters and subplots and settings. Sometimes you haven’t got a big enough idea for a full blown novel.

That’s where short stories can save your life. They’re usually not super short – mine are usually ten pages or so, but they might be long – but they’re definitely not full blown novels. They allow you to view a tiny cross section of a world, a day in the life, if you will. You don’t have to drag protesting characters through situation after ridiculous situation to hit the hundred page mark. And before you get bored, you’re done. I can write a good sized first draft in four or five days, if I’m working hard on it.

Short stories are more of an art form than novels. Novels are so often written to sell – cookie cutter romances and mysteries engineered to be read on a lazy afternoon by someone who is sick of watching TV. Not all novels are like this, but far too many are. And it’s hard to find enough deep and poignant stuff to fill 100 + pages. In a short story, you can be deeper, more thoughtful. A reader of a short story is more often someone who wants to think and experience, not just kill time. It’s more than entertainment, it’s enlightenment.

I’ve waxed lyrical over the pros of short stories. But what are the cons? Unfortunately, deep, poignant, short pieces of literature aren’t that popular with the general audience. And if you do manage to get a short story published in a literary magazine, the income might be $20 a page or something. Barely enough to cover the stamps. Basically, don’t expect short stories to pave your way for life. But if you love to write, but can never make your way through a novel, give short stories a try. I did, and I fell in love.

Tom Gauld illustration.


Wait… What Just Happened? July 12, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 5:54 PM
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As this is a blog for a ‘compulsive writer’, I figured it was high time to write a post about… writing.

If any of you have written anything, you know that it’s a spur of the moment thing. No matter how much you’ve planned, no matter how many little character charts you’ve drawn out in detail, once you sit down at that keyboard the words have free range. New characters, scenes, plot lines just blossom out of nowhere, demanding to be added in. And who are you to deny them? In the end of a typing session, I often find myself with things I’ve never expected.

Sometimes these changes aren’t just unexpected, they’re completely… strange. It’s one thing if you have no idea what you’re doing. When I was doing NaNoWriMo my first year (if you have no idea what that is, I’ll explain in another post) I started out with a title and an image. Everything else was ad libbed. So in that situation, I couldn’t be surprised with weird things sprouting from my fingers. However, if you have a story idea planned out and come across something unexpected while executing it, that’s when you just have to sit back in your chair and ask, “What the **** just happened?”

New York Times Crossword Puzzle

For example, I was working on a simple short story about two people who meet at a dance and break up at the next one. It was supposed to be just a snapshot of a typical, short teenage relationship. So I’m just typing along, and then I realize I’ve thrown in an abusive ex-boyfriend and psychological problems. Definitely a WTF moment. What was I supposed to do? I went along with it. Anyway, sometimes these last minute add – ins can really help your story along. Other times, they just look disjointed and random. The last thing you want your reader to do is lean back in their chair and ask, “What the **** just happened?”