Thank you authors! Thank you artists!
Thank you editors!
And, most of all, thank you readers!
Luckily something came a long that gave me the push I needed: a deadline and peer pressure. I was taking my first creative writing class at the University of North Texas and needed something to turn in. The only story I had ready was Guinevere's, and everyone in my workshop was turning in such wonderful works and I knew anything that I came up with last minute wouldn’t hold up against theirs. I get competitive in workshops, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do, but I can’t help it. I wanted to write the best story of the course, and the best in me was the story I’d been sitting on for almost a year.
I forced myself to sit down and outline it as a short story, and then I stayed up all night pounding out a first draft that I hated, as we all do with our first drafts. I revised. I rewrote. I made it better. I turned in something I wasn’t proud of. I got good feedback from talented classmates. I revised. I rewrote. Rinse and repeat.
I could go into the grueling submission process I went through after that, but it would look pretty similar. Writing is about creativity and inspiration and character and all of that, but all of that is worthless without discipline. I needed outside forces to get me started on that path, but after I found it I was able to discipline myself.
Writing is hard work, but for us that commit to it, it’s work worth doing. Even the hard parts. Guinevere taught me that.
Thanks, Amelia! Very interesting!
Be sure to read "Guinevere" and the rest of our stories tomorrow, in the fabulous February 28, 2019 issue of Electric Spec!
Dry Spells: Block or Boon?
I’ve often heard the advice to write every day. I’ve tried that many times, and it seems to result in very few worthwhile pages. When I’m in “writing as creative practice” mode rather than “first draft, go go go!” mode, I don’t force myself to write every single day. Instead, I try to write on a semi-regular basis for two reasons: to be ready for a story that is almost ready to bloom, and to explore concepts and ideas in search of stories that haven’t formed yet. I experience it as tending a wild and unpredictable garden. Sometimes the soil needs to rest. Sometimes it needs to be nourished with the writing, music-making, and art of others. Sometimes I just need to ignore it and let the briars and wild flowers take it over until there is so much life and color that I have to get back into the work.
Even so, there are a few tricks I use to get through writing blocks. Having a small space that you associated with writing is really helpful, whether that’s a desk, a library study carrel, or a home office. I’m very lucky to have a dedicated room for my writing, and when I go there I know that it’s creativity time. It’s also the space where I do yoga and meditate. I also primarily use this room for all the peripheral work associated with promoting and selling my writing. Having some writing rituals or objects, such as lighting a candle, using a writing-only notebook, or staking claim to a corner of the coffee shop has also worked for me!
I've recently been working on staying creative by doing art and craft projects that are completely outside of writing. Hand embroidery allows my mind to run down whatever paths present themselves, while providing a sense of satisfaction from producing something tangible. Plot points and character motivations tend to untangle themselves when I am not staring into a Word file, but at something else. The vigilante part of my mind that shoots down rogue ideas left and right tends to check out when I’m involved in a non-writing project. That’s when the cool stuff sneaks in.
Thanks, Rachel! Be sure to check out her story this week in the February 28, 2019 issue of Electric Spec!
Be sure to check out his new SF story "The Blessing of Song" in Electric Spec on February 28, 2019!
Writing is very difficult, and I probably shouldn't be doing it. I have a job and a three-year-old. They're both very demanding, but have their lovely moments. The three-year-old has more lovely moments than the job, but he also has more excruciating moments than the job, so it kind of evens out.
I can't give up the job, because it pays my mortgage, and I can't give up the three-year-old, because he’s my little guy and I love him to the stars and back (which is a longer trip than to the moon). Writing would seem to be the expendable thing. Except it isn’t.
I used to write when my son was sleeping, but he doesn't nap in the daytime anymore, so I write in the evenings and on into the night, even when I know I have to get up early for work the next day, because I don’t love my job--or even my health--the way I love this.
So what is it? Why do I find it so easy to write about the negatives of writing, but not the positives?
I think it’s because the positives are as fundamental as breathing, so I don’t think about them much. My favourite is probably spending time with my characters in my head--listening to their various gripes and jokes and morose predictions--which I realize is something I did before I knew how to write, and still do now in the long moments when I don’t have a pen in my hand.
But there's also:
1) Day-tripping in other perspectives and other worlds, which you can wrap around you like a shawl when it’s cold and horrible outside.
2) Building up worlds in which you have the intoxicating power of control, and then realizing that you don’t.
3) Thinking, when you manage to pin down the slimmest, clumsiest shadow of a thought, that somebody else might recognize it, and say "Yes, that’s it--I’ve thought that too!"
4) Challenging yourself to think: what would this feel like? What would this look like? as though every scene is an intricate puzzle with no right or wrong answer.
5) Telling stories to please yourself, when the books you buy seem to miss the mark.
6) Re-writing other people’s stories the way you think they should have gone.
It's all the fun of reading, with the added bonus that you can congratulate yourself on having come up with it all.
That's probably where I should stop, because that’s the contradiction about writing I can never quite resolve: it’s losing yourself while at the same time pandering to yourself. Some people call it escapism, but everything about it is inescapably you.
That's quite a nice break for a mother, of course, because when you’re looking after a little one, you’re expected to be a Mother and not a person. I've written for most of my life, but never so feverishly as in the months after my son was born.
Anyway. I'll keep at it. I used to think I was doing it for the praise, but that has tailed off, and I’m still scribbling, so I guess I am doing it for love.
Interesting, Lucy! Thanks!
Check out all the stories on February 28, 2019!
Some days, there just don't seem to be any words. The blank document sits in front of you, inviolable. An empty snowfield that you can't imagine trekking across, because the bright sun and bitter cold would wear you down before your trail of footprints made it halfway across. Every word seems wrong; before you get halfway through a sentence, you delete it.
What does this have to do with my story, "When He Stopped Crying"? I wrote it on one of those days, when the blinding whiteness of the page seemed an insurmountable obstacle. A feeling that returned to me, only a little bit ago, when I was trying to think about what I have to say about this particular story. Because at some level, "When He Stopped Crying" says everything I wanted to say about itself, right there on the page: it's about being so tired that you're not sure what's real anymore, and it's also about how strange it is that a tiny creature like a baby can rule every aspect of your life, like some kind of mystical goblin emperor. There's nothing else to it.
However, I remember staring at the blank page that day, and feeling like I had no words inside of me. And yet, I had to find some, because I was at a writing date with a bunch of other writers. I could hear their keyboards tip-tapping, and I knew there was another forty minutes until we would take a break and check in. It would have been weird to simply pack up and leave early, but I couldn't take the pressure of listening to those keys tappity-tapping away for forty minutes without finding a way to join in. So, I succumbed to the peer pressure, and I put some words down on the page, even though I was sure they were somehow the wrong words and would lead nowhere. Eventually though, as I kept typing, they started to make sense, and now that story's in Electric Spec.
Sometimes, it's better to run into that snowfield without a plan, and
leave footprints everywhere, than to simply stare at it until you get
too cold, and it's time to go home. At least, one way you get to spend
some time playing in the snow.
One of the most striking features of short stories is that they offer the reader incredible value, with so much packed into a few thousand words. I like to think that The Blessing of Song is a good example of that- there’s a lot in there!
The Blessing of Song is a space opera, one with actual arias. It came out of a simple idea that didn’t stay simple- an exploration ship dispatched on a hundred-year voyage to a distant planet, eventually all but forgotten as life goes on back on Earth .
Thrown back on their own ingenuity and hiding in orbit for generations, the crew of the Columbus change both physically and mentally, developing their own moral code and bizarre version of sanity. Probably no crazier than anything we accept as normal.
They survive, naked and filthy, on the decaying ruin of Columbus, but have a devious plan to live on the arc planet of Alifee, accepted by the Alifeeans.
When Earth finally shows up in the form of the Trek, a powerful warship, set for invasion of the world they have come to think of as theirs and the destruction of the Alifeeans, they are horrified. A moral dilemma is presented, one upon which the future of mankind may rest, but the reader is not asked to view Earthlings as the heroes of the story. The crew of the Trek plan to repeat the same barbaric acts that have seen indigenous peoples destroyed on Earth and (in the story) brought the planet to ruin.
Any loyalty the Columbus crew felt towards Earth evaporated generations ago. Earth is seen as alien, warlike and hostile. Both crews are strikingly ignorant of Earth, unsure, for instance, whether birds are venomous.
It might not be obvious at first read, but the story also offers a possible view of visitors to our own planet. Fallible and even incompetent, some of the efforts of the Columbus crew come to disaster and they are spotted and even captured, stories multiplying about them. But, they have quietly infiltrated themselves into Alifee’s systems, seeding it with technology that they control.
A final feature of the story is the dialogue of the crew of the Columbus, which I hope the reader will enjoy- I had fun writing it. I wanted rich and colorful speech patterns, musical and amusing but with martial overtones, and based it on the British naval language of the Napoleonic era. The wonderful Patrick O’Brian, who wrote the ‘Master and Commander’ series, does that so much better than me.
The hold-for-voting zeitgeist for this issue appeared to be some kind of London Fog. We had more than one spooky, London-based, and/or fog-filled story. I find this whole zeitgeist thing to be fascinating! Don't you?
In surreal news, we had to navigate through hundreds of golden retrievers to get to our meeting. I kid you not!
Next time: more specifics about the upcoming issue!