Failure and Clarion

This year, I’ve decided to apply for Clarion West, and this week is the deadline for Clarion applications, so I’ve been spending my time revising stories, writing up a biographical piece, and filling out scholarship applications. I’m excited about applying, and I’m very happy with the story I’m submitting, but in the back of my head, I’m already bracing for the possibility of rejection.

So it was in this anxious frame of mind that I came across two articles on failure. The first article is by Wil Wheaton. The second article is by Phil Jourdan at Litreactor.com

Both articles are worth a read. Wil describes a talk he had with John Scalzi about failures and failing to write. He talks about how important it is to write daily and about the experience of taking a failed piece of writing and turning it into something worth while. In the second article, Phil talks about how failure is in fact the norm when it comes to writing, and how improvement comes from learning from those failures instead of repeating them.

On the one hand, these are difficult things to read. And they might be a bit discouraging when putting together the application. I mean, I don’t expect to be admitted. I think the story I’m submitting is the best work I’ve done. It’s different and longer–an evolution. But I won’t know if it’s good enough for a couple of weeks. And I have to prepare myself for the possibility of rejection. Of course I hope it’s good enough. But it’s articles like this that help in that preparation.

But I’m not going to stare at my phone for those weeks. I’m going to keep writing, to keep working. To figure out where I can submit that story if Clarion doesn’t want me.

Rejection may be a failure. But it doesn’t have to be the end. Hopefully, it’ll be just a lesson. I’ll move on and move forward. After a stiff drink or two.

Of course, I do hope that instead I get to share some good news with you in a couple of weeks. If so, you’ll be among the first to know. Fingers crossed, contingency plans in my back pocket.

My Experience with Writers’ Groups

When I recently interviewed Myke Cole (Part One, Part Two), he stressed the importance of good beta readers. He said he has been lucky to have a handful of people he can rely on, and he lives in fear of the day when they get sick or hurt or angry with him. I have a similar need for a fresh set of eyes (usually several sets) to look over my writing. Even more, I appreciate their feedback when it’s good.

Now, I don’t mean that I’m looking for readers to kiss my ass and praise my writing to the heavens. I’m looking for useful, productive comments, comments that will help me improve. So I think it’s pretty important to talk to readers about what you do and do not want from them. I think groups like Clarion and Critters have developed really helpful rules. Things like, “Give your subjective opinion.” “Don’t just say this is good/bad. Explain why you think so.” “Don’t lecture or teach.” “Speak just for yourself, not all readers.” “Don’t use the word ‘should.'” Similarly, the writer who is putting his or her work up for comment is expected to remain silent–no responding, no defending, no explaining or justifying (clarification questions are okay though).

Writers, though, being creative, independent, strong-willed people, sometimes like to flaunt or ignore the rules. And sometimes such acts are great–like when you’re blowing up conventions or subverting tropes. But this can also be dangerous for a writer’s group. People can get angry, feelings can get hurt, and the writing will not be helped.

Look, I’m still a beginner. I know I have a lot to learn. I’m not saying the rules I’ve outlined here are the end-all, be-all. They’re just the rules that I have found to be the best for me. There may be better ones out there.

This is just on my mind because I recently left one writers’ group and joined another after having an issue with the former group. Because I felt that rules were bring broken, I started to ignore the comments. And that made me realize–what’s the point of being in a group, if I was ignoring the critiques?

I’m not going to go into details about my “writers’ group breakup” here, but I’d love to hear stories about what sort of rules people use in groups, how they find good beta readers, and when/how they decide to jump ship. And if you want to post about your writers’ group disaster stories, feel free.

NaNoWriMo is Coming

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is right around the corner. Starting November 1, writers around the world will have 30 days to write 50,000 words. On the one hand, that’s a very short novel (too short for some genres in fact), but on the other hand, November is a short month, and (for American writers) who wants to sit down and write on Thanksgiving day? But what a great opportunity NaNoWriMo is. By the end of November, you will have a large portion of a novel’s rough draft ready to go. Then while you’re hibernating during the winter, you can take that NaNoWriMo rough draft and polish it into something special.

Here is a brief article by Wired Magazine’s Geekmom, Jenny Williams, to give you a better idea of what you are in for. Williams does say that writing ahead of time is forbidden. While I agree as far as it comes to prose, I don’t see anything wrong with outlining before November, especially if you prefer to have a solid skeleton in place before you flesh it out with thousands of words of prose. Hence the heads up today.

Take October to work on your outline. Then you will be good to go come November. It will be easier to make your word count if you know where you are headed before you sit down. You may even get a little ahead, so you can take the occasional (Turkey) day off.

Oh, and when you’re done with NaNoWriMo, it’s time to switch gears and get your short stories ready, because applications for the Clarion Writers’ Workshop open on December 1. Fun times!

If you are planning doing NaNoWriMo, let me know below. I’d love to hear what kind of story you are thinking about writing.

Grab Bag of Miscellany

First off, let me thank everyone who saw my comment on Bruce Schneir’s blog and checked out my site. I hope you liked what you found, and I hope you keep coming back.

Second, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that my work project continues, and it’s keeping me super busy. So, the posting will be light. The good news is that the project has a deadline of tomorrow evening, so normal scheduling should return on Friday (and if you dislike my posts, I guess I have only bad news for you, but thanks for visiting anyway).

Third, because I hate to send you away with nothing, I have some goodies for you. As I wrote about yesterday, Asimov was a great writer not only because he was able to think creatively about technology, but also because his writing displayed his empathy. It seems like I may have been on to something because renowned author Ben Bova also wrote something similar about his own writing on the Clarion Foundation’s blog (yes, it posted yesterday, but I swear I didn’t read it until this morning).

And just in case Ben Bova isn’t enough, to tide you over during my long absence, I also point you toward this: a biography of Philip K. Dick on hilowbrow.com. It’s long enough that you may just finish it by the time I get back. Enjoy.

Happy Labor Day Weekend, Everyone.

Not much of a second post today. I need to head out soon to meet up with my in-laws. But before I do, I wanted to wish everyone a happy Labor Day weekend.

This weekend, my wife and I will spend time with family (much of it convincing my mother-in-law that our dog is, in fact, adorable) eating, watching baseball and football, and relaxing. I hope you enjoy the time off as well.

Just make time to write. Keep your skills sharp and keep putting words down on paper. After all, NaNoWriMo is right around the corner, and Clairon will start accepting applications shortly after that.

Don’t let my touristy itinerary fool you. I’ll be busy completing a rough draft of a new story this weekend too. It will be quite a bit longer than “A Birthday Surprise” but not altogether different in style or tone. It’s inspired by true events, and it’s about a woman who wants something very badly and what happens when she finally gets a glimpse of it. Yes, that’s vague, but it’s just a teaser. I plan on submitting it soon, and thanks to Duotrope, I’ve got a great list of publications to work with. If I get lucky, I’ll let everyone know where they can read it. If no one decides to publish it, I’ll put it up here.

So stay tuned. Have a great weekend, everybody.