What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up

During a conversation with my husband, he admitted that he didn’t have a dream, or at least he didn’t know of one, that he still didn’t know what he wanted in life. The thought of not having something to strive for, something to reach for, depressed me. He assured me that he was far from alone. That at 27 plenty of people had no idea what career they wanted. But it wasn’t about careers to me, it was about dreams, even the impossible or improbable. How can you not know what you want in life?

But truthfully, while I know what I dream, what I want my life to be, which is writing, writing and more writing, I couldn’t tell you what I’d want to do with my life if I can’t write. So is there just a disconnect between us, both of us thinking different definitions to the question of dreams or am I just the dreamer in the relationship and he’s the doer, bring home the money so I can follow my unpaid dream while we share the responsibility of raising two little ones, a dream I think we share, to give them lives full of love and laughter and education and responsibility and civic duty and obedience and worship and on and on. But we can’t live through our children and I don’t think either of us wants that.

So now I want to help him find his dream, find what he wants to strive for, to give him the freedom to pursue what some might call impossible. For he has given me the gift of understanding and loving for me to pursue what fulfills me without expectation. And that is why my husband is the greatest man and I love him dearly. And no, I’m not letting him go.

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Setting Realistic Expectations

One thing therapy has taught me is that I have unrealistic expectations of myself. And then when I don’t make a goal, I take it out on myself. And I never make my goals because they are too far out of my reach. I’ve instituted making realistic expectations when it comes to housework. I prioritize now and I don’t beat myself up if I don’t get everything done. This way I get some things done, am satisfied with myself and finish off the rest at a later time. Though to be honest there is no such thing as being done with housework. Before I would make a lofty list, stall out on the first item and then go eat some ice cream and play video games, nothing getting done.

So while I have accomplished some in setting realistic expectations, I still struggle with it for my writing. It being the last month of the year, I’ve been goal setting for 2014 and man my goals are awesome. I’ll list my writing goals below:

1. Finish the rough draft, the revision and submit the queries of With Teeth.

2. Finish the revision and submit the queries for Heroes in Name.

3. Write and submit 52 flash fiction stories (one per week)

4. Write and submit 12 short stories (one per month)

5. Finish the rough drafts of Bad Apple and Duty, Love, Honor.

Anyone else tired after all of that? For some people the above is entirely possible. For me, it may even be possible, if I forsake my kids, my responsibilities and any other activity but writing. It isn’t very realistic of me. So I have a couple of choices in how I handle my goals. I can set the high goal and be happy that I accomplished anything that I do or I can make my goals much more reasonable. I’m going with reasonable.

1. Finish first draft of something

2. Revise a novel and submit queries

But these are “simple”. I know I can do it so I’m going to also make some stretch goals, aka goals that are just a little bit out of reach. Goals that I probably won’t make but that I will accomplish much in trying to reach them. I’ve decided not to plan out which projects I’m going to work on and let my muse have a little bit more room rather than being boxed in.

My stretch goal for 2014 is to write 1 million words. This can be first draft, blog posts, rewrites, anything. I want to reach 1 million words written in a year. Breaking this goal down, I am aiming for 20k words written a week or about 3k a day.

So when making goals for yourself, how do you go about it? And what are your goals for 2014?

Pratical Time Management

I can waste hours talking about time management but at that point it is more about procrastination than truly using my time wisely. So I thought I’d back up the theoretical with some practical, how I personally manage my time.

I’m not nearly as time starved as others out there. I have the luxury of working from home. But rather than having a block of time to work, I have to find the time in between house keeping, running after a three year old, chauffeuring a five year old to school and supplementing his education at home. Add in time with my husband after an exhausting day for the both of us and unless I am being intentional with my time I go to bed each night too late to wake up to early to have done anything work related.

My time during the day is certainly not wasted. I enjoy the time with my children and I know it is important to keep a healthy and clean house, however if I’m not intentional I find myself wasting the moments of quiet (relative quiet, it is never truly quiet with a 3 year old) on facebook and reddit.

The first time I open my lap top, I no longer fire up firefox and check my email. I immediately open scrivener and get to work. There will be interruptions, there always are but I’d rather tell my child, one more minute while I finish this sentence than one more minute while mommy finishes this meme. Its all about priority. If something is important to you, whether it’s work or pleasure, make it the first thing you do when time allows. So how does a day for me look?

Any time there is a lull, when I know I have at least five minutes to check my email or play a facebook game, I work on most important project at the time. I continue to work on this project, in between inevitable interruptions until I meet my word or page goal (depending on if it’s new work or editing). I work down my list until I have it finished for the day. The priority of the list is dependent on deadlines on whether I’m editing or drafting first. Once that is done, any other free time is spent on social media building brand. This is where I get to check my email, play on facebook and chat with friends. I get to call this work even though it’s far more fun and rewarding.

I spend the relative quiet of driving my son to school twice a day to work on plot problems and think. Driving is a great time to get lost in your own thoughts, just be careful. On longer rides, I find listening to podcasts or audio books a great use of my time.

I also spend most of my evenings before bed reading. Reading is second only to actually writing in importance to being a working writer. The downside to my nightly sessions are if I’m at a really good part, I don’t want to stop which equals zombie me in the morning.

Time Management for the Time Starved

There are never enough hours in the day for anyone. Our lives are full of work, family, friends, hobbies, sleep, food, responsibilities, more sleep, more food, more responsibilities, etc. I struggle to balance the all day, every day work of keeping a household and wrangling two little ones. And while I have access to more stolen moments being home than if I was clocking a nine to five, finding more than fifteen minutes of silence and solitude is a challenge. Even after the kiddos are asleep, the husband needs some of my time as well lest our marriage dies.

So how do we find time for all of those activities that matter to us? The first step in time management is the simple realization that it isn’t about finding time, but rather about prioritizing our time. This is what separates the hobbyist from the professional in any creative endeavor. A hobbyist will create when he has the time, rather than carving time specifically. A professional not only carves out specific time but does it on a regular basis.

If only it were as simple as that though. Not only do we need to have the time to create, we need to have enough time. I tend to underestimate how much time I need for any one activity. It becomes more complicated when I don’t consider all the time requirements of a project. When I’m writing, I don’t just need the time it takes to put words on paper, I need time to think, to plan, to become absorbed.

I especially find it difficult to plan ahead the actual time. Even if I know how long I need, I never know when that time will come. Having a three year old and a five year old who never wake up at the same time or go to bed at the same time every day, planning to write before or after they are in bed are a challenge that can often times be squashed with a little bad luck.

I never know when during the day that I will have a whole uninterrupted hour to get my word count in. I simply have to be ready to pounce on the opportunity and be flexible enough to go with whatever interruptions may occur. This means I have to be active in making choices during the day.

For example, both kids are currently in the bedroom with their father, absorbed in whatever it is that they are doing. I don’t know how long it will be before one or both of them decide that mommy is more interesting right now than daddy, but at this very moment I have both the time and the quiet I need to work. And it doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that I’m working and need quiet. They are too young to not be selfish. Before I started typing this post, I had a brief moment where I realized the opportunity I had. Now I could have gone online, checked my email, checked twitter, or even started up Mass Effect. But I knew that I prioritized my writing above those things and took advantage.

But that often isn’t enough. Many times I will have the time and yet have no idea what to say. Instead I find the minutes ticking away as I stare at the blank page and as more time disappears into the ether, the more frantic and stressed I become because I know that I have only mere minutes before the blessed silence is broken. Now I have wasted that time and still have nothing to show for it.

This is where knowing exactly what you need is important. I know that I will need some time to think, to grow the words in my head before my fingers can tell the story. Thinking can come at any moment, though the best ones are when I’m engaged in an otherwise mindless task such as laundry or dishes. Housework, while I loathe it, is a writers second best friend (after the computer). It needs to be done so it gives you a built in time to live in your mind, to explore story problems, brainstorm blog ideas, and play with characters and plot. Just don’t assume that whatever you think of will still be there in the stolen moments to come. I always keep a small notebook nearby so when epiphanies strike, I can scribble enough down that it will jog my memory later. Showers work great as well and if you are really worried that the ideas will die before you can write them down, invest in those bath markers they sell to kids and just write it on the tile.

Flash and Short Fiction Collections

If you choose to self-publish your own flash and short fiction on amazon, you’re going to find that you can’t just upload one flash story and sell it. Amazon has a minimum on minimum word count. Besides you want to give your reader enough bang for their buck (literal buck. I advise to keep your collections at 99 cents. You won’t be making a lot of money, its more to get your work out there and read).

So how do you decide what stories to put together? Well you have a lot of options. Some of these you may want to think about before you even start writing. Collections can be tied together in many ways.

1. Theme. Using one theme, tell many different stories that reflect it, that examine it.

2. Character. Using one character, tell a bunch of stories about them.

3. Magic. Write a bunch of stories that explain and show off your magic system.

4. World. Write a bunch of stories that explain and show off your world.

5. Multi-linked. This is where each story that follows is linked to the one before it but not to any of the rest. For example my first story is about elves. The second story is also about elves but has the theme of light always conquers the darkness. The next short wouldn’t have elves but would examine the same theme of light and darkness. And so forth.

6. Genre. The only thing linking the stories is a similar genre, especially if you focus on a sub-genre.

Another thing you can do that can help sell your other self-published (or even traditionally published) longer works is making short story collections that reflect an aspect of your theme, world, characters, magic systems or all of the above of the longer work. This lets people “try out” your story without putting down a lot of money. It can also make them fall in love with your work and make it impossible not to purchase more.

So whether or not you use your short fiction to promote any other writing you do, short story collections can be a lot of fun to both make and sell.

Has anyone self-published their short fiction work? How did you do it and how well did it do?

How to Write Flash Fiction

Writing flash fiction that has meaning is as simple as following a formula. Now some people hear the word formula and they immediately think derivative however I don’t believe that. I think formulas are useful. I’m going to share what I use as a formula that I learned from Holly Lisle’s How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck.

First you take a character plus a need plus something standing in the way of their need and you have the beginning of a story. This can be for a flash or even a longer story. My example is a lost (need) fairy (character) searching for home as the sun sets (problem).

Next you add two complications to your problem (three for longer works). My example complications are sun sets and with it her powers disappear (complication one) and then the night creatures come out to stalk her (complication two).

Finally you resolve the problem, either giving the character what they need or denying the character what they need. Add some meaning to it and you’ve got your story. I find the endings are the hardest part of writing flash fiction. Tying everything up and then leaving the reader satisfied but wanting more is a tough challenge. I find that I tend to use two different kinds of endings. One is the opposite of what the reader expects and the other is the opposite of what the character expects happening. My example ending is the fairy uses her wits to outsmart the night creatures and finds home. Nice happy ending for my story. (Which is rare for me. The ending I’d expect is for her to get eaten, but that isn’t very satisfying).

Check out Holly Lisle’s FREE flash fiction course for more detailed breakdowns of beginning, middles and ends. What she says about endings is particularly awesome. And its free.

My example isn’t great but it wrote itself basically in ten minutes or so. I just did the small amount of planning beforehand and then wrote. Your finished piece won’t necessarily look like your outline (just as it is with longer works).

If you have a hard time coming up with ideas, random generators are always fun to use. Just don’t feel constrained by them. Use it to spark your own creativity.

How do you write flash fiction? How do you get your ideas?

Short Fiction: Yay or Nay

Another common question often asked is if it’s important to write and sell short fiction. I personally think anyone can benefit from writing and selling short fiction, even if it isn’t something that is natural to you. My natural story length seems to be novellas, up to 50,000 words but not shorter than 17,500. It is work for me to write a complete story in less words or even more words. And while there is a market now for novella length fiction in e-books, other traditional markets are closed off. I’ll talk later about the benefits of writing novel length fiction at a later time. Today I want to focus on writing short.

Other than not taking the same amount of time as a longer work, there are many benefits to mastering (or at least learning) the short form. Not all of these skills transfer over to longer works, but many do. First, when writing to a certain word count, the value of each individual word goes up in direct proportion to how low the word count is. Flash fiction, that is stories shorter than 1,000 words, will drill into you the importance of the right word. It will also limit info-dumping and over explaining.

A short story has all the components (beginning, middle and end)of longer works, you can just get them out much faster. This allows us to practice our beginnings, middles, and ends over and over rather than just once with a given novel. Every writer has a weakness to one or more of these. Some struggle with how to start, others how to end and even more how to get from one to the other.

Short fiction also has a more visible finish line. For those of us who struggle with finishing our work (our hard drives are usually full of started but not completed manuscripts languishing about lazily), we can complete an entire work in the time it would usually take us to write a chapter or two of a novel. This not only gets us to focus on finishing a work before beginning the ever enticing edit, it gives us a burst of endorphines for crossing that finish line. I know for me, it doesn’t matter what the length of the work is, I always get that rush when I type the words the end.

Finishing gives another upside of getting us to the point of being able to practice that all important skill revision. The famous adage that writers don’t write, they rewrite is true. While its hard to consider that our hard won first drafts are crap (though repeating the phrase that all first drafts are crap while writing often does shut up that inner critic), the power that revision gives us as writers to take what’s in our heads that are now words on paper that can now be shaped closer to the perfect vision in our heads. But revision is a skill just like all other aspects of writing, a skill that needs to be practiced and worked in order for us to grow. However, I strongly believe that a work should not be touched with revision’s pen until it is completed. Now looking at a novel, how many can you write in a year? Compare that to the short story, which can take a day or a month, but is still a whole lot faster, which means a whole lot more to practice.

Remember writer’s write. Whether its long or short, every bit of writing is further practice, further refinement. You lose nothing by working on shorter fiction, nor does it mean you can’t also work on longer fiction at the same time, benefiting from the lessons learned while writing short.

All these benefits does not mean that a short story is just a novel written in fewer words. Short fiction is a form all its own and mastering it does not translate to mastered novels. I’ll post in the future some ideas on how to write short fiction and resources for study.

A big stated disadvantage to short stories over novels is selling your work. There just isn’t the same amount of traditional markets for short fiction, though there are markets out there (especially for you speclative fiction writers like myself).

Who else writes short fiction?