June 2016 update

Heyyyy, it’s monthly update time! Everyone’s favorite time.

Maybe someone’s favorite time?

Either way, it’s been a good month! Chock-full of exclamation points:

  1. My story “The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R.” came out in Strange Horizons! I’m super proud of this one!
  2. I sold two stories! “The Time Cookie Wars” to Flash Fiction Online, and “Shiplight” to Metaphorosis.
  3. I returned to the Fourth Street Fantasy convention. I got to speak on a panel! I learned tons of things (including 45 specific action items for my novel)! I got to talk to lots of amazing people!
  4. I revised 2 short stories, and drafted one new piece of flash!
  5. The novel is on track! Currently at 76,000 words, and I’m hoping to finish the first draft at the end of July, if it doesn’t end up running long.

May 2016 Update

Hey! It’s another month! Where did it go?

  1. It went into 20k more words on my novel, bringing me slightly above my 50k target. Should I be done with Act 2 (of five) by now? This may go on longer than planned, but that’s fine, it’s epic fantasy. I’m aiming for 25k next month, since I have no more business trips and am done with:
  2. Rewriting and finishing a new short story that I loooove. It’s currently up for judging in an anonymized contest, so I can’t say anything about it yet.
  3. I got a revise & resubmit on one of my old stories! Would be nice to send this out; part of it feels like “me two years ago” but some parts I still really love. Will dig into rewrites next week.
  4. I’ve been working my way through Dr. Who; a few months ago I’d never seen a single episode of the modern series. But my wife has seen ’em, and I need to be in on the conversation! I usually don’t watch TV-type stuff (the life of a scientist+writer), but if I watch an episode on the exercise bike, it keeps me pedaling for 40 minutes! I’m now halfway into Season 5 (the first Matt Smith season); enjoying his new take on the doctor just fine, but the writing seems a lot sloppier.
  5. Got some neat convention-related news that I can’t share yet! I AM A TEASE.

I’m so excited for June. St. Louis may get hot, but there’s Fourth Street Fantasy on the 17th! My ghost story coming out on the 6th! So much awesome stuff to write! And less than 3 months until my wife returns from Mars!

April 2016 Update

Today’s monthly update brought to you by the letter Coffee and the number 5:

5) Novel progress: on schedule, despite two weekends traveling! As of last night, the #cdnovel is just under 30k words.

4) Got an expected publication date for my next Strange Horizons story: June 6.

3) Loving my current short story. Can’t give you any details because it’s for an anonymized contest, but the project has me very excited (if slightly distracted from my novel).

2) I conjured a flash story from scratch to submission: a bit of black humor called The Time Cookie Wars. Because some days, snacktime destroys the multiverse.

1) This weekend I’m finally going to send something out to my mailing list. Sign up on the right if you want to hear publication announcements, exclusive content, and possible cat pictures!

Scientist Ghosts

So, in that March monthly update the other day, I concluded with a mention of some good news that’s not yet ready for release. Tease time is over, and I am superthrilled to announce that I have sold another story to the illustrious Strange Horizons!

“The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R.” (aka the Scientist Ghost story) is a story about what it’s like to be the ghost who’s eternally repeating the moment of their death.

It’s the most challenging story I’ve ever written, and as a result of that battle, it’s one of my best for sure. I can’t wait to share it with all of you, and I’ll announce all over the place (especially twitter and mailing list) when I have a date & a release!

March 2016 Update

March has been a busy month! It saw the publication of my first pro story, and many more of my recent stories getting released into the wilds for the first time. Of my 11 stories currently out on submission, 7 of them were launched in March. That includes first releases for my Conquistador Dragon epic fantasy (my many-times-rewritten Viable Paradise application piece), and the Sentient Mining Equipment space opera.

I also produced a new first draft, but I rather hate it, so it may go straight to the trunk. If I want to dig out and rewrite a story, I have better options in my backlog.

Despite that one diversion, I focused on a lot of revisions and releases this past month, because I wanted to clear my plate to focus on my novel! After about two weeks of work, the as-yet-unnamed Conquistador Dragon Novel is about 10k words in, and thus already the longest thing I’ve already written. I post regular novel-progress updates on twitter with the #cdnovel hashtag; not because the world cares about my daily wordcounts, but because the public announcement process keeps me motivated. Those 400-word days are embarrassing!

I seem to have joined a “Novel Before Worldcon” challenge (ahem, #NovelBeforeWorldCon), though I hope to have the first draft done well before then, despite the serious word count I need to rack up for an epic fantasy.

Finally, I have some good news that’s not yet ready for release. Stay tuned!

February 2016 Update

Not too much to report this month! I had a ton of non-writing things to overfill my time. Two long-weekend vacations (including a 16-hour drive transformed into 25 by a rockslide, oy), and running a giant historical fantasy live-action roleplaying game. Which went awesomely! All the contingencies happened, both political and esoteric!

I did sell a story to Strange Horizons at the beginning of the month, but if you’re reading this blog, you already know that! What else? I launched two pieces out for critique, and I began outlining my novel. I have one short story that everyone says “this should be a novel,” and it’s time to put the money where my words are1. Of course, I still need to figure out Acts 4-5 before I dig into the prose, but it’s coming along!

January 2016 update

One month of 2016 already down! Goodbye, time. I scarcely new you.

  1. I’ve been spending a bunch of my creative energy working on a historical fantasy live-action roleplaying game set at the 1815 Congress of Vienna, which will run at Intercon P in Massachusetts in two and a half weeks. 38 characters! Swathes of system! Politics, intrigue, secret societies, guest appearances by Edmund Blackadder, even a totally shoehorned reference to Aaron Burr! I’m very excited to see this thing go live. Doubly so now that the work is all done.
  2. My other major timesink this month has been the Weekend Warrior contest on Codex. Every weekend, 51 hours to produce a 750-word story. After 4 stories, I can conclude that I’m not great at flash fiction; but it’s still a great productive experience, since at least 3 of these will be worth expanding into a real story.
  3. I’ve also been touching up the Conquistador Dragons story. It’s in “final read-aloud” stage and should go off to beta readers before the weekend. I’ve spent so long staring at this story, my eyes have lost all objectivity.
  4. This year I’ll be going to my first Worldcon. More excitingly yet, I’ll be a panelist! Probably more for my science and Mars-spouse status than for my writing, but it’ll be a few months before I have the specifics.
  5. Current submission count: 13 live ones; at least one on shortlist.

Finally, this morning I just got some awesome news — but that’s February news, so y’all will have to wait!

Friends of the Merrill contest

Normally I don’t participate in pay-to-enter writing contests, but I decided last month to go in on  the Friends of the Merrill short story contest, where those entry fees support the Friends of the Merrill, “a volunteer organization to support and promote the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy, a public access collection consisting of science fiction, fantasy, gaming materials, graphic novels, and other related items. The Collection is named after acclaimed SF author Judith Merril, who’s original donation of material formed its nucleus.”

I’m thrilled to see that my story is one of the twelve finalists! We’re off to an exciting panel of judges1, who should announce the winner and two runners-up at the end of January.

2015 In Review

2015 drew to a close last week, the end of a year stacked with writing. What did I do, and what did I learn?

First, some statistics and numbers:

  1. 76 stories submitted: 63 rejected, 1 accepted, 12 under consideration.
  2. I wrote 7 new stories this year. Of those, 6 are out on submission, while the last is still in second-draft state. I also gave major top-to-bottom overhauls to 6 older stories.
  3. My first story came out!
  4. I sold a second story!
  5. I attended my first convention of any kind in about 10 years, and then I attended my first convention as a guest. Two very different cons: Fourth Street a small writing con, Archon a big all-media con, both with a lot to love!
  6. I participated in 3 Codex writing contests; I won one of them, came in 2nd in another.
  7. Hey wait, this was also the year I joined Codex. That place has been an amazing source of community, feedback, and advice!

Some deeper thoughts and lessons:

  1. I appear to be an “idea writer.” So many times this year I got feedback from editors or critiquers that began, “This is incredibly clever, but…”
  2. I’ve learned that if I’m spending hours agonizing over how to phrase a sentence, 75% odds the solution is “delete it entirely.”
  3. I got a lot more shortlist spots and personal rejections, but I’m still struggling to make my first pro sale.
  4. I miss so many faraway writing friends! Classmates, mentors, Codexians, and other awesome folks of all kinds. Twitter is nice, but St. Louis is pretty remote from the SFF scene.
  5. I am definitely getting better at this. Four of my last five finished stories (Jewish Sorcery, Scientist Ghost, Posthuman Romance, and Fairy Gentrification) are all massively, qualitatively better than anything else I’ve done. Now I just have to convince someone to buy one of them…

Plans for next year include:

  1. Write the first draft of a novel
  2. Keep producing short stories: at least 6 new ones, and two overhauls
  3. Attend my first WorldCon
  4. Run a 38-person historical fantasy live action roleplaying game
  5. Be more diligent about reviewing/annotating the books I read
  6. Engage in interplanetary warfare to get my wife back from Mars

May the new year be better than the last, for all of us!

Discarding First Ideas

Many sources of writing advice, from Orson Scott Card on down, offer some form of this suggestion: “Don’t stop at your first idea. It’s a cliche. Keep thinking. Your second idea, third idea, fourth — those are where you’ll find the interesting and novel.”

This advice has some practical merit to it. Keep thinking, keep improving; beware of easy answers.

However, there’s nothing unique about your first answer, nor your fourth. Whatever cliches and tired ideas you’ve absorbed from your media consumption, they’re still in your brain after you’ve produced the first six variants of an idea. If your ideas get better through iteration, it’s not because “First Ideas Are Trash,” but because by idea #3 you’ve spent more time thinking about the issue.

Still, I classify this advice under “complete bunkum” for one reason: it’s a straight-up example of the availability heuristic. This cognitive bias occurs because the human brain grabs onto the memorable and striking events, and forgets the brief and irrelevant. You remember the one time you foretold the future, but forget the thousand other intuitions that never came true.

How is the availability heuristic relevant here? When a new idea flits through your head, you’re not going to latch onto it unless it seems better than your old idea. Any new idea you remember is, by definition, better than your old idea.

Go ahead and find a better idea than your first one. But don’t go teaching new writers a truism as if it’s valuable insight.

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