prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2008-08-26 12:22 pm
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Theshold of revelation

This is apparently the month where lessons I learned at VP pop in my head and suddenly make sense. (And they happen at the oddest times, never when I expect them.) Either I went to VP two years too early, or it just two years for these lessons to incubate (for me, anyway.)

So, I now have to go de-rivet a story. They're perfectly good rivets. Anyone who knows rivets will know that I used precisely the right rivets every time. But, you know, the train hurtling down the tracks towards the oscillating suspension bridge. The cable stays are snapping. Railroad ties are plummeting into the harbor. How will little Suzy ever get the Cummerbund of Righteousness to Tuxedoman now? Who knows? I'm busy showing you the ways each rivet on the train is almost but not quite circular. *headdesk*
(I've always thought the story was a bit long. Now it'll be shorter...)

On the plus side, I also wrote a short story, from start to finish, in the midst of a somewhat hectic work week. I figure if I can't do that, applying to Clarion [West] is a complete waste of time. This is, of course, not the same thing as doing this for 6 weeks in a row.

Ok, it was really 8 days. However, I figure if were, say, on a vacation or leave of absence from the day job, it might have gone faster. Of course, if I were writing furiously at every free moment, it might have also gone faster. (I definitely spun my wheels for at least a few hours. OTOH, I think I know how to avoid that now.)

The curious thing is that the story may be the best thing I've written yet. Certainly, it's in better shape than some stories that I've been working for months on. Actually, the story that needs de-riveting isn't in bad shape either. The de-riveting is the only change I currently plan to make to it. I wrote that story fairly quickly too.

Sometimes, I think I get in my own way.
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2008-03-02 08:46 pm
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Yes, beast, I get the point: trust you.

I've been extremely frustrated of late by the story I'm currently working on. At first glance, there are so many things I need to in-clue before anyone has the first clue as to what's happening. On the other hand, the text can't actually hold all that in-cluing without sounding desperate (or worse, like exposition). Of course, I don't feel like I can do any of this until I know exactly what's happening down the movement of each molecule of air. Not to mention, every time I think about this story, I get the strange sense that I'm never going to hit an ending. (Most of you are probably ahead of me at this point. Yes, I was seriously over-thinking this.) The result was that either I stare frozen at the screen, or a write a lot of very desperate prose which fortunately no one will ever get to see.

Anyway, today was my last improv class of the term. (The penultimate class was the weekend of Boskone. We had a week off in between.) It was review, work on heightening emotion, and a preview of what we're in for next term. (We're going into long form. Our ten scenes all of the theme of travel worked surprisingly well.)

The thing about improv is that you get on stage without even the first clue as to what's happening. Then you're expected to construct a scene with your partner that, ideally, people will want to watch. (e.g., "You and Ian are eating at a restaurant. Go!") Personally, just the notion of improv scares me to death. For me, doing it is definitely an act of risk and commitment.

After several weeks of being skittish and unwilling to commit in my writing, today, I had probably the best improv session ever. (It's all relative, of course. The pros have nothing to worry about.) The instructor used me as an example of how much we've all improved this term. Even I thought my scenes worked. (I had several "Where the hell did that come from?" moments, in good ways.)

Of course, those scenes worked because I made choices, committed to them and just went for broke without worrying about whether they were any good or not. Sound familiar?

So, lesson learned.

I had to do some shopping after class. But after that, I didn't worry about in-cluing, what the long term structure was, or where the story would end up. I just sat down and wrote what had to happen at the start of the story. And look at that, it's coherent, and tells you unobtrusively what you need to know right now, and sets up the rest of the story. I don't know if I'll keep this opening. (Unlike improv, I'm not ultimately forced to keep my choices.) But it'll get me going to the next scene.

Trust the beast. Always trust the beast.
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2007-07-22 07:33 am
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OWW and Critters

I said I'd write about Online Writing Workshop and Critters, since I'm actually a member of both right now. I've been a Critter for over a year, but a member of OWW for only just under two months. My impressions of Critters are fairly well baked at this point. I'm still feeling out OWW so I have nothing conclusive to say about it. Also, since I joined Critters first, my impressions to OWW will be in comparison to Critters.

Critters is a free service. You stay an active member by submitting, on average, at least one critique three weeks out of every four. (75% crits to weeks of membership ratio.) Short stories are worth one crit. Short shorts are worth half. Novels, submitted as such (rather than chapter by chapter), are worth more. (I've never done a novel.) At minimum, you need to submit at least once a month. Each Wednesday, Andrew Burt releases a set of stories to be critiqued. Everyone has until the following Wednesday to critique those stories. On the following Saturday, Mr. Burt releases the critiques so that everyone can see them.

You submit stories to a queue for critique. You need to be an active member when it comes up to the top of the queue in order for it to be released to the Critters for critique. Your story can jump the queue if you have submitted the most critiques in a week, or if you have written more than 10 critiques in a week.

(The process is actually slightly more complicated than this, but I think this is fundamentally accurate.)

What this means is that there is one week when everyone is focused on your story, among maybe 30 stories. So over the course of the week, you can count on maybe 10 or more critiques showing up in your mailbox. (Or in my case, they got trapped in my spam filter. D'oh.) The quality of the critique is like the quality of the stories at Critters, variable. This isn't at all surprising.

Overall, I think the process works really well. It effectively guarantees that, as long as the story is recognizably in English, it will receive a wide variety of critiques. Whether you find any of them useful is a grab bag. The process also effectively forces you to critique continuously (so that you are an active member when you submit your own story). I think this is actually far more useful, and a better learning experience than receiving critiques. Elizabeth Bear has said that any author ought to spend a year reading slush. I've never done that, but I suspect that doing Critters approximates that experience. If nothing else, I've become much more coherent about what works and doesn't work in a story.

OWW works on a different model. Stories you send to OWW are visible the moment you send them and they stay there until you withdraw them. (Actually, I think there are several other reasons for withdrawal, but I don't remember right now.) Anyone can critique them at any time. Anyone can see anyone else's critique. You get a point for each critique you write. You need to spend 4 points to put a story on the site. You get 4 when you join so you can put up a story right away. Also, every month, each pro involved in OWW will make an Editor's Choice. Each pro chooses a work submitted within the past month and critiques it. You can have at most 3 stories up at once. Editor's Choices don't count against that limit.

Because the only way to submit a novel to OWW is in pieces, I notice a lot more novel sections in OWW than I do in Critters. I doubt that there are actually more novels, just that Critters, for the most part, keeps them where I don't have to see them if I don't want to. I don't know that the quality of stories or critique is any better or worse than that of Critters. In both cases, you have dedicated writers working on becoming better writers. However, OWW is a pay service but Critters is free.

For me, the key difference between the two (aside from money) is the story is available for one week on Critters, and for, essentially, as long as you want on OWW. Critters gives you this concentrated burst of critiques and there isn't much you need to do to encourage them. That's baked into the system. OWW relies more on the social component to encourage critiques. (Critters has a social component too. I just don't pay attention to it.) For example, people tend to trade critiques.

Also, the OWW system and culture encourages uploading revised stories. It's not that people don't submit revised stories at Critters. But I see it happening more often at OWW, perhaps because it's called out.

I tend not to do well on anything which relies on the social component. However, if the way to encourage more critiques of my stories is to critique other people's stories, I can do that. This may be the extent of any social interaction I have though. So if I need to do more than this to get critiques via OWW, I may be out of luck.

I'm currently experiencing a weird side effect though which I'm sure is not the common case. So far, I've put up a grand total of one story, which I sent off to a market fairly soon after. I'm not actively looking for critiques for the story right now (but I may later depending on what happens at that market). Since critiquing other people's stories would cause those other people to critique that story, I've been totally unmotivated to do any critiquing at OWW.

Of course, if I'm not looking for critiques on that story, what I should do is take that story off the site. That way, I could keep racking up points for submitting stories without wasting other people's time. However, I never got around to doing that. This is totally me not using the system correctly. It's not any issue with OWW.

Amusingly, I got an e-mail a few days ago telling me not to take my story down because it is a nominee for an Editor's Choice. The body of the e-mail makes it sound like my story is not just a nominee but Editor's Choice proper. So now I can't take it down. But, OTOH, a pro will critique my story. That's always a good thing.

I have no idea what qualifies a story to be an Editor's Choice. I assume it contains a teachable moment or two. Either way, I'm looking forward to the critique.
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2007-07-13 09:20 pm
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Oh, yeah, one more thing I learned at ReaderCon

I went to Barry Longyear's "How to Write Good" lecture/workshop. For the most part, it didn't do much for me. I'm already doing, or have tried everything that anyone mentioned. Like I said, what I really need to do is to put into play everything that I've learned. For me, this is much harder than it sounds. However, Barry did say something which has really hit home now that I'm going through this week's Critters stories looking for something to critique. Again, I don't think it's anything that I haven't heard before, but hearing it again, I think it's starting to sink in.

He warned us of the danger of workshops. Basically, we should be careful not to end up writing to the order of the workshop. Your story is ultimately your story. Your judgement should prevail. Again, I don't think this is something I didn't know. (Note that knowing has never stopped me from walking straight into any pitfall before.) He went on the say that a good story is not one which does nothing wrong. A good story is one which does some things right. It may, in fact, do some things wrong. But what's right about it outweighs all of its flaws.

This is really hitting home with me right now looking at this week's Critters stories. There are a bunch where the authors don't do anything wrong. The spelling and grammar are fine. The writing is the clean and neat. The author has clearly paid attention to all the rules for clear writing. The story dutifully clues us into the world. It builds up the characters. It reveals the plot. The main character makes some sort of crucial character changing choice that somehow resolves the dilemma revealed by the plot.

But you know what? They're all really boring. They don't do anything wrong, but they don't do anything right either. They read as if they're so concerned with adhering to the proscriptions against bad writing, that they've forgotten to be interesting. I lose interest in every one of them about 4 paragraphs in. Now, I know no one sets out to write a boring story and to be interesting is difficult. But I'm desperately searching for a sign of life and I'm not finding one.

[BTW, this is not to say anything bad about Critters or anyone who submits to Critters. I think you can see this in any random pile of slush or stories submitted for an amateur workshop.]

So my lesson here is that I have to keep everything I've learned in mind, while I simultaneously let go off everything I've learned so I don't train all of my energy on not getting it wrong, as opposed to getting it right.

Hmm... I'm clearly missing something here. Is writing a good story supposed to be an act of contradiction?
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2007-07-08 09:02 pm
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What I learned from ReaderCon 18

I may joke that ReaderCon is a Lit Crit conference masquerading as an SF convention and that, at times, it's really WriterCon, but that doesn't mean they aren't true. I also think that, for me, those are two of ReaderCon's best qualities. I love that people take genre writing seriously enough to debate its merits and to have fun with it.

This year, as usual, there are lots of interesting panel discussions. The ones that I found most interesting were the slipstream panels, the fairy tale panel and the "intimidated by story potential" panel. The latter was especially terrific in that it got into (literally) the Zen of the writing process. This, frankly, is exactly what I need right now. I was glad to hear Elizabeth Bear stress the need for mindful practice. That is, at some point, merely writing isn't enough. You really do have to pay attention to what you're doing to make sure all of the lessons you've learned take.

There was one question that I never got a chance to ask because I could never figure out how to phrase it. The panelists in the two slipstream panels agreed that slipstream describes fiction for which convention reading protocols don't apply. It leaves the reader confused as to the state of world and what actually happened in the story. Now, what's interesting is that some of the qualities we associate with slipstream are also the qualities we associate with poorly written fiction. Now, when I read it, I can distinguish between slipstream and poorly written. However, the provision definitions they came up with don't really articulate what that difference is. So, how do we articulate that difference?

I never asked because I hate being a virtual panelist. i.e., instead of asking the panel interesting questions, virtual panelists pontificate. I'm not saying that people shouldn't do that (although I find them annoy if they simply use to run out the clock bloviating). However, I don't want to be one of those people. I don't see why the audience at large or the panelists should care about my personal reaction to what they said. This pretty much means I'm not asking any question with a paragraph long set up. If I want to ask this question that badly, I'm going to do it by writing so well, they ask me to be on a ReaderCon panel on slipstream. (i.e., if I want to be on a panel so much, I'm going to earn that position. However, this actually isn't an incentive to write well for me.)

Now as for what I actually learned...

A two pound palmtop computing device feels like much more than two pounds by the end of the day. I wonder how the people with actual laptops were dealing with it. (A sub one pound device which fits in my pant pocket would have worked out much better than a two pound device which fits in my jacket pocket. I wasn't always wearing the jacket. If I had been, I don't think I would have noticed the weight as much.)

The handheld computing device so absolutely works in this context. Now, I didn't use it to take notes. But that's mostly because I don't really take notes during these things. (I did jot down the names of some magazines I should be reading and submitting to, but that's about it. That went into my moleskine.) But it was terrific because I got to do some writing and editing during ReaderCon. I think if I deferred handwriting recognition, I so could have taken notes with it during any given panel. (I'd defer recognition because the likelihood that it would recognize "velocipede" without me inserting it into the dictionary ahead of time is about zero.)

No one can define slipstream, but we are willing to spend hours trying. I should point out that I thoroughly enjoyed the slipstream panels. They were fascinating hours. They may be because the working canon of slipstream books one panel came up with looks suspiciously like my list of books that I haven't gotten to yet. I always leave ReaderCon with this urge to write slipstream fiction. The only problem is that one of the properties of slipstream fiction seems to be that no one does it deliberately. Or at least no one has admitted to this during a ReaderCon panel on slipstream.

I discovered that there's a lot about writing that I already know. I just need to focus on keeping all of that in mind when I write so that I can make brand new mistakes rather than the same ones over and over again. I think that's the only way I'm going to learn the lots of things about writing I don't know, and become a better writer at this point. (It was also good to hear Elizabeth Bear say that it's ok, actually necessary, to break your really good ideas in your growth as a writer. She suggested that, in ten years, you could go back and rewrite them.)

If I find going to cons an exhausting experience (and I do), then going to a two hour class on improv right afterwards was perhaps not the smartest thing I could do. (However, this was when the improv course started. Oh well, it's not like anything bad happened. I was just not especially participatory.)

Anyways, I spent a bunch of time with [ profile] avocadovpx and a bunch of other VPers which was lots of fun.

I'm definitely going next year. I should probably volunteer.
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2007-06-14 11:12 pm
Entry tags:

-able words

Like I've said, the portable computing device that I'm currently ogling right now is the OQO Model 02. Doing the web search, there is this very weird dust up over whether it is pocketable or not. Its dimensions are approximately a double thick moleskine pocket notebook. This takes into account that you can't really get two moleskin notebooks flush against each other. The binding expands. The dimensiions are 5.5x3.5x1in more or less

The dust up is weird because there have been several video blogs where the blogger demonstrates putting the device into his pocket. You can see a clear outline, the way you would when someone puts a wallet into his front pocket. (I avoid the thick wallet by using a thin billfold made of spinnaker. However, I also carry a moleskin pocket notebook in the same pocket.) I think it's questionable whether you'd be able to pull it out of your front pocket while you're sitting. However, if you really wanted your computer with you at all times, carrying it in your pocket looks like a possibility, if you're willing to make a couple compromises.

This hasn't stopped people, who have seen the videos, from proclaiming that the OQO Model 02 is not pocketable. One even goes so far as to declare that no UMPC will ever be pocketable. Given that computers used to take up whole rooms, I'm not so quick to discount miniaturization. The people that do this are extremely insistent. They carry the banner at every possible chance (presumably as an antidote for the gulled masses or something.)

This really confused me until I realized that we're dealing with two different definitions of the word "pocketable." I had been reading it as "able to be placed in a pocket." In that case, the video blogs should have settled the dispute. It fits in a pant pocket, albeit snugly. The reason for the dust up is that people actually mean "to be such that one would want to place it in a pocket." So, for example, an unwrapped Hershey's Kiss is not pocketable.

I've run into this before with the word "hummable." That is, the old canard that Stephen Sondheim's music is "unhummable." The traditional retort is "well, if it can be sung, it can be hummed." Of course, people who say that Sondheim's music is "unhummable" do not mean that they are literally unable to hum the music. What they mean is that Sondheim's music is such that they would not want to hum it.

I like the literal definitions better. I mean, is there any other use for the other definitions besides to express your opinions in factual sounding declarative statements? (e.g., "Sondheim's music isn't hummable." Not "I don't find Sondheim's music attractive enough to hum." "The OQO Model 02 is not pocketable." Not "The OQO Model 02 fits too snugly for me to carry in my pocket practically.")

Are flammable objects things that you want to burn? (i.e., if you don't want to burn them, they cease to be flammable.)

So is the OQO Model 02 pocketable? Yes. Would you want to? Well, that's up to you. Would I want to? I have no idea. (Keeping it in pocket may work better in theory than in practice.) I just find how we define -able words interesting.
prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
2007-06-14 01:51 pm
Entry tags:

Why I version control my fiction...

The first draft of "alttrust" went pretty easily... too easily. It pretty much wrote itself. I finished it before I realized it. (Part of this is because the story ended in a different place than I had expected.) However, there were clearly stuff I needed to fix with it before I could let anyone see it. No problem, right? I then proceeded to spend the next week or so spinning my wheels. I think I've written three different openings to the story. None of them are actually an improvement to what I had in my completed first draft.

So, I'm backing out. I'm going back to my complete first draft and trying again. I thought it needed major surgery. Apparently, it just needed some polishing. (Oh, and also lots of copy editing for consistency. Contents shifted during transport.) I can write the story I had intended to write later.

There's probably a Valuable Life Lesson here somewhere. (I'm hoping it also means that my first drafts are getting better.)