Minor Contest: Who Wears Short Shorts?

May have just dated myself with that question (anyone else remember those L'Eggs commercials of the early eighties?), lol. Anyway, I mentioned this topic a few weeks ago on the QueryTracker forum, but I've been thinking about it, so I'm bringing it up again. I'd LOVE some input from other writers out there (please, oh please comment? Pretty please? I need some insight.) Small bonus: if you submit a comment on the topic and follow my blog, you'll be entered to win your choice of four writing books: 1) Chris Baty's NaNoWriMo bible, otherwise known as NO PLOT, NO PROBLEM, 2) Anne Lamott's classic BIRD BY BIRD, 3) the incomparable Sol Stein's HOW TO GROW A NOVEL: THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM, or if you're thinking about writing paranormal or dark fiction, 4) ON WRITING HORROR, a handbook by the Horror Writers Association.

So, the question (well, three questions) concerns short stories:

Uno: Do you think they're necessary to a long-term career? They seem to be, especially in horror, especially when it comes to building a name for yourself, and also for telling an agent that you're serious and professional. For the longest time, I just haven't messed with them, figured I wasn't any good at the short form. But maybe I need to be. What do you think?

Dos: How  long does it take you to write one? I know it varies from person to person, but I have a couple of short spec or horror stories percolating - and it just seems like I can't take the precious writing time and focus away from my full-length WIP to write them. So I'm curious as to how long it takes other writers to pen a short (including revisions.) A weekend? A week? One day? A month?

Tres: Does anyone out there have a short story writing & submission strategy? If so, what is it? What's your ideal submission cycle like? Do you strive to always have a certain number of pieces out on rotation at any given time? Do you use sites like Duotrope's Digest?

As for myself, I still just don't know. I have a story that's been tugging and tugging at me, but, again, if I'm writing, I want to spend the time finishing up my WIP. Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions?


Two Links that Made Me Think

Don't usually blog daily; as you know, I limit posts to once, maybe twice, per week. But these two blog entries (thanks Ricki Schultz!) really spoke to me this week, so I'm linking to 'em here, in the hopes that you'll also find them helpful  :

1. Adrien-Luc Sanders' post: Getting Past Author Fatigue on the Lyrical Press blog- though I'm way more than 50 pages in, I think this is what caused the Great Chapter Eight Malaise last week.

2. Ami Hendrickson's guest post, The Three-Step Process of Self-Editing, over on on Missy Frye's blog - the tip about reading your work as if from the perspective of your rival writer? A stand-out piece of advice.

3. And, okay, I said two posts, but this isn't a blog post; it's a link to Joe Hill and his book "Horns", which also spoke to me as I read it this week--because, man, Hill does everything a writer should. His writing just works. Every time. (And so it should, given his pedigree.)

What Me, Flail?

I was thinking recently (which is always a good thing), during a particularly angsty moment with my MS, and asked myself: "What's with all the flailing?" Indeed, I'd spent the greater part of three days agonizing over revisions to Chapter Eight. I wrote, hacked, overwrote, back-spaced, streamlined, grimaced, and once actually cried over this handful of scenes as the days piled up. And each day, more terror struck (Back! Back, ye foul Chapter! Back, I say!!). So I did what I usually do in such times: I Avoided. The Manuscript. Strenuously.

So there I was, skimming over all the writer blogs I follow, keeping the snarling, tortured chapter at bay, and I came across this link (I can't remember on whose blog I found it), called As Soon As You Care, You Lose. It was remarkable if looked at in the context of aspiring novelists. Anyway, it struck me: If I flail so over ruined chapters, it must be because I'm not hungry, I'm starving to write this novel. And that's all wrong. There should be no flailing, not for a single manuscript. Not when there are so many novels to be written across one's career.

When I X'd out of the article, I looked back at the other writer blogs open in other tabs, and I wondered: would Peter Straub have spent so many hours blogging? Had the interwebz existed at the start of his career, would he have posted fretfully about writing, about the process, how hard it is, the odds of being published--would he compare rejections en masse, would he cheer so vigorously for people as they scrambled near the pinnacle, rejoicing as they received requests for partials, fulls?

Would King have? Proulx? Sontag? Mailer? Hell, Steele?

So how am I ever to become one of them if I agonize thus over a single manuscript --? Crikey, there are so many novels yet to be written. Am I going to carry on so each time? 

Paradigm shift, peeps. So I'm working to become a novelist. As a career. With a lot of books to go. I guess I'd better get to work.

ZOMG! A Blog Award :)

So, I click on the blog of the ever fabulous and MUY supportive Laura Diamond and what do I see? That she's just passed me the Sugar Doll blog award. ZOMG! From a great weekly round-up of helpful and interesting links to her (and Lydia's!) AWESOME Mental Health Monday posts, Laura's blog is a great place to stop by on a regular basis. Check it out: http://lbdiamond.wordpress.com/

Okay, on to the rules: I have to share ten things about myself, and then pass the award on to five "sugary sweet" bloggers.

Ten Things About Me:
1) I cried all over Stephen King when he touched me. EDIT: 'Twas the Atlanta signing of his new book THE DOME, for which me and the hubs waited in line for more than four hours, and King smiled at me and said he liked my (oh GAWDWHATAGEEKICANBESOMETIMES) Miskatonic University sweatshirt, at which point I proceeded to tear up, and then do that flapping my hands in front of my face thing that girls inexplicably do when crying in public, at which point he reached out, TOUCHED ME on the hand (sort of like, oh, you poor slow girl you), and said he was honored to sign for us all and thanked me for coming. Ahem.
2) I'm one of those freakish H.P. Lovecraft fans who own things like a plush Cthulhu :D
3) I was born on Andrews Air Force Base.
4) I'm bi-racial, and have HUGE. FREAKIN. HAIR.
5) My kid, Gabriel, beatboxes like nobody's business.
6) I get all kinds of excited about the throat-rumbling roars of giant CGI creatures, a la the Kraken in the upcoming "Clash of the Titans" or the Reek in "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones."
7) I'm a freelance copywriter & editor who's been writing professionally for about 10 years.
8) I'm THAT cat lover who posts daily pics of my baby Ragdoll kitten, Wampa (see: Star Wars) to Facebook.
9) One of my favorite bands to write to is Kaizers Orchestra, who have the best "absinthe and dirty fingernails" sound I know. Or, yanno, the ONLY "absinthe and dirty fingernails" sound I know.
10) I'm new to blogging and have CUH-RAZY social media anxiety. :D

Now, to announce my five picks for the Sugar Doll award!!
1) Cipherqueen, who was sweet enough to give me my first blog award! http://cipherqueen.blogspot.com/
2) Bobby Mathews - yep, he's a boy, but he just finished his MS so he gets a SUGAR HIGH! today!! http://bobthewriter.com/
3) Tahereh (Dude, love the manic energy of your posts!) http://stiryourtea.blogspot.com/
4) Jana Hutcheson (your positivity and tenacity is inspiring!): http://allimsaying-jhutcheson.blogspot.com/
5) Michelle McLean (who had the courage to unplug and work unfettered by distraction! I'm working on it myself!): http://michellemclean.blogspot.com/

Check 'em out!

Creative Conflict - In Approach, Not Writing

So, I'd been struggling through some saggy bits in my middle chapters. And, as I'm wont to do, I began to avoid the manuscript. Rather strenuously. But, obviously, the more I avoided, the more distant I became. (Can I get a DUH??)

Anyway, the more distant I became, the more tenuous were my support threads. I didn't polish up and send the next lot of chapters to my Alphas, so I didn't get the benefit of their tireless cheerleading this week. Talk aboutcher downward spiral. So, in looking for ways to get back to productivity, I stumbled upon this corporate trick: Creative Conflict. Now, usually this means creating different, but related roles within an organization and letting the resulting competition drive both to mutual success. (Here's a great, if reeaallly long, article about it. Scroll way down to #2 - Creating Constructive Tension). An excerpt I found helpful:

"[Electronic Arts has] created a system of checks and balances or creative conflict. The producer focuses on ensuring that the game design is the best… The development director focuses on project management, budget, schedule, on-time delivery, etc. And they clash. We force that conflict and that discussion so that the team will push the envelope."

So, bastardizing this trick to suit my own nefarious needs, I put on my "Development Director" hat and looked critically at the manuscript in terms of project management. I'm getting way behind in schedule (why, thank you, Avoidance, and no, sir, I do not want 'smore), and I have an April 2 deadline to meet. In these troubled chapters, there were weak sections that needed some good, focused, no-excuses work and -- I also looked at the MS in terms of cutting losses, as per the main thrust of the Ivey Journal article -- and some serious cutting. And I worked within a schedule for the morning, with a clear deadline and a clear deliverable: finish the damned chapter by 12 p.m.

The result? Done. A completed chapter, fortified plot line, and some chunks that got tossed. Oh, there's some jumbled bits, for sure, and I'm pretty certain I'm stretching time too much in between some critical events -- but that's for the Revision Pen, the "Development Director" of the editing process to suss out and schedule. Next up? Putting the "Creative Director" hat back on this evening and sketching out two new chapters. Lather, rinse, repeat until that deadline crumbles under the weight of my pen. So back to work, people!! Time is money!

Shambling Toward Word Choice

When most writers think of precision in writing, they think of it in terms of correct word choice. While there are plenty of great blog posts and pages about that (titled vs. entitled, imply vs. infer, effect vs. affect), what I'm talking about is precision in word choice when it comes to action and description. Especially in horror novels, using a single, precise word can often do the work of a string of lesser words - it can help set atmosphere, convey emotion and frame of mind, and describe an action, all at the same time. One of my favorites tends to frequent Stephen King's books: the "shamble." Great, chunky, creepy verb - you don't want a demon shambling toward you, cuz that would suck. So much more than if it were merely moving toward you.  

And precision is a blade you can wield to hack through all kinds of writerly tasks, from choosing an exact feeling (is your protag shocked? Or dismayed?) and action (is the thing crying or keening?) to description (does he have skinny hips? Or economical flanks?) precisely nailing atmosphere (is the room quiet? Or does it ring with silence?). In horror, the right word can make all the difference. And since tightening the dread for the reader is the only way to invoke true horror, you want to lean on those "right" words as much as possible. When you crystallize that moment of dawning horror as the killing blade is raised, you spill more than blood when it comes whistling back down - you'll spill the moment all over your reader, who can only blink, horrified, at what's happening - and then turn the page for more.

What about you? Do you have any favorite, muscle-y word choices?

Thank You And Good Night!

So! Two awesome little milestones:

1) Almost halfway there! Confident I'll hit fiddy percent tomorrow, and am still (hopefully) on track to make my April 2 "draft in three months" deadline. To wit:

2) My first ever blog award! Hey, it's the little moments, right?

Thanks for the "Sparkling Blogger" award, Cipherqueen :)

 All in all, a productive weekend day. Sleeping on a satisfied note.

Do You Do It On Saturday, Too?

Just knocked out a troubling chapter. Sure, I'll have to slice, dice, and julienne that sucker later on. But not right now. Cuz, yanno, I finished the draft of the chapter, so I'm calling it a day. (Yep, I work weekends. I hafta, seeing as transitioning from copywriter to working novelist is, yanno, work. And must be considered as such.) But before I go to write some web copy that's been awaiting me in my freelance, day job capacity, here's some word count fuh ya:

Yep, 45 percent. Not too shabby. So how did you progress toward your goals -- any goals -- on this fine weekend day? Do you have a reward system for weekend work? I tend to use time-blocks and rewards. For today, it was finish Chapter Eight by 2:30 p.m., then complete four pages of client web copy. If I hit my two to-dos, I get to get outside and jog, then have a blissful, work-free afternoon and early evening. What about you? Got a weekend motivator that works?

What Is It About Fear?

You know why I'm blogging right now? Because there's something wrong with my manuscript. I can pinpoint the chapter that's troublesome, and also have a sinking feeling about my middle chapters. Typically, that sinking feeling is spot-on. And that makes me worry. 

So I procrastinate. And look up links about creativity, resistance and fear. Like this one (damn you, amygdala!!). And this one. And even this one, which offers a helpful nugget: "...accepting and working with fear is an essential part of the creative process...your skill at being able to nourish yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them is your single greatest attribute as an artist." Okay, so I feel a bit better.

Until I start to wonder if it's fear or just laziness. The first few chapters tumbled out so effortlessly, like buttah. The next ones were more like a hardened, ancient slab o' lard (like that yellowed block that's been in your great-aunt's icebox since the 50s). I don't want to chisel through that slab and see what I dig up. It's stinky. Hard. Kind of gross. But I have to press on, and so I do, telling myself: don't look at the fear, the gathering horde starting to snuffle around my heels, growling, snarling -- just write what happens next. Head down, no peeking. Just what happens next. And so on. 

Because my ace in the hole, the last-minute cavalry, has to be the revision pen. I can fix all those saggy, non-compelling, untrue scenes then. I just have to have the courage to keep writing what happens next. Say it with me, y'all. What happens next. What happens next. What happens next..until I get to The End.

Is It In You? Mottos & Taglines That Sum It Up for You

So, a great post over on Elana Johnson's blog (as usual). In it, she talks about how inspirational a great motto can be, and I totally agreed. It hit a little nerve with me, because I'd chosen one for myself a few months ago - after a tiny epiphany showed me where I'd been erring in my writing. To sum it up, my comment to her post:

"My new motto is "Do It Dark." It's just my way of embracing who I truly am as a writer (a horror/dark fiction writer), and a reminder to me that none of my fiction worked until I stopped pussy-footin' around with other styles (fantasy, YA) and just committed to the style that made me uniquely me. So I'm "Doin' it Dark" all the way, everyday, writing some straight-up commercial horror--and staying true to myself in the process :)"

What about you?

I give. I give!

Yeah, so I've caved in and reverted back to my Blogspot account, seeing as the crappy embedded blog on my Network Solutions site didn't allow some key functions, like "following", or subscribing, or RSS, or...anything. So. I'm going to drop some old posts from my main writing site, www.zoecourtman.com, into this one, for continuity's sake and all that. Please comment, follow, and subscribe as ye will. Carry on! 

P.S. Here's a little daily word count for ya :)