Friday, 14 August 2015

Write Wordmonkey, Write!

Time marches ever on and as the due date for my thesis submission (not-so-affectionately known as T-day) approaches, my mind is starting to turn to what might come after. And as usual get closer and closer to not being a student any more, I've realised that I don't really want a proper grown up job; increasingly I want to make a living from my writing somehow and as a result I've been reading lots of advice about writing. Particularly advice about having a successful fiction writing career.

I'm quite fond of reading Chuck Wendig's writing advice, mostly due to his irreverent and (often sweary) style, but I've also been devouring books by Rachel Aaron, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith as well as listening to podcasts like Writing Excuses and I Should Be Writing. There's a hell of a lot of advice out there for a budding fiction writer, almost too much I've come to realise. It makes sense to a degree, the fiction publishing business is in flux and there are a lot of new things to learn about having a successful career in a world with lots of options for traditional, small press and self publishing.

But as far as advice on the actual writing part is concerned I sometimes feel that there's a lot of over-thinking going on. I mean yeah, who am i to be judging these professional writers on the advice they're giving? Surely they know what they're talking about more than I do? Well I might not be making any money from my writing and the only place I've been published is on my blog, but I like to think I know a thing or two about writing despite a pretty busy life. I mean, I've somehow managed to rack up a word count in the region of 60,000 words so far this year while I've been writing up my thesis. And those are just the words I've been keeping track of. And I've managed to do that by following three simple steps:

1) Make yourself sit down and write (preferably every day) with a few distractions as possible.
2) Keep track of how much you're writing and when.
3) When you finish one piece move on the next as quickly as possible. Always be writing.

Seems simple doesn't it? And it is really, but it is also incredibly difficult. Number one in particular is a real belly ache at times when there's work and cleaning and food to cook and videogames to play and a billion other things demanding your attention.

And then there's the beast called writer's block to consider. The best way I've found to beat writer's block is to just sit down and make yourself write something, anything. Whether that's a stream of consciousness whinge about the fact you can't think of anything to write, just make yourself sit there and tap out some words. More often than not it'll get the ball rolling.

I'm also a big fan of word sprints as a method of getting stuff onto the page. 15 minute chunks seem to work best for me, and I can get 500-600 words written in that time, which I don't is too shabby.

Point number two has helped me more than I thought it would. At the moment I'm tracking word count and the date, along with a monthly total and a daily average. You could even track where and what time of day you're writing, or divided it up into genre or fiction and non fiction. Whatever is most useful for you. The point is if you known the number of words you've committed to paper (or screen) you have something definitive, something tangible. And watching that number go up is incredibly satisfying. Had a relatively unproductive week or month? Push yourself to get a higher number next time. A little bit of competition with yourself never hurt, just remember to be kind to yourself if your number goes down one week. Life is allowed to get in the way sometimes, the trick is to pick yourself back up again and try again.

Which leads quite nicely to number three; start a new piece as soon as you can after finishing your current piece. It can be tempting to sit back and revel in the victory of having finished a story or poem or article, whether it's a 100 word drabble or an epic novel. Very tempting, but you have to get back on the house and keep going. Writers write. Yes there's editing and proofreading and a million other things to do, especially if you're submitting something for publication, but that shouldn't get in the way of writing something new.

Just finished writing a 40,000 word novella and suffering a little from writing fatigue? Write something short and sweet to change it up. Found something in your craft that needs work? Write a coupled of short pieces focussing on that aspect to practice. But you need to move on and start writing again, even before you edit something you just finished. Always. Be. Writing.

Three simple rules. Not that hard on the face of it, but they definitely require a little self discipline. That's up to you. Follow these steps and you should seen your productivity increase. Once you're writing on a regular basis you can worry about other stuff. But whatever happens keep writing. And if you need a few more rules I've found Heinlein's rules to be useful too. But keep it simple. Maybe set yourself a word count. 500 words a day is eminently doable, and kept up over the course of a year adds up to enough words for two novels. Wouldn't that be cool? That's what I'm aiming for.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have writing--I mean thesis to do.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Top 10 SF Stories by Women

Over on the old Twitters, @BellJarred for recommendation for short stories by women. As I've spent this year trying to read more scifi/fantasy (or speculative fiction if you're feeling all fancy) by women AND trying to read more short stories in general this lay within my general realm of expertise. I might have gotten a little bit excited and accidentally compiled a list of my current top ten short stories by women.  And because I have a blog doohicky and also to keep them all in one place, I'm posting the list here. Story time!

CaptainRaz's Current Top Ten SF Stories by Women (in no particular order)

Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster

This Nebula Award winning novelette by the sadly late Eugie Foster is difficult to describe.  It's about a future in which the masks we wear every day are literal and they change a person's lives and identity. No one is allowed to know who is really underneath the mask, though of course there are those who want to. This story is breathtaking and it's hard to put into words why I love it so much. It's the only story on my list I couldn't find on the web for free. It's only 99p though and well worth it. Just put it in your face holes.

Selkie Stories Are For Losers by Sofia Samatar

I listened to the audio version of this over on Escape Pod and loved it. It's a beautiful story that weaves folk tales with the modern day, and it kept me guessing right until the end. One of those where the SF elements are downplayed, but no less powerful for it. So far it's the only story I've read by Sofia Samatar, but I intend to change that.

Boojum by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

I read this in The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women (a number of the stories on this list are also in that) and it was one of my favourites in the anthology. A story about a living ship and her crew—which I always love—with a surprisingly Lovecraftian ending. I remember basically forcing my spousal unit to read this because I loved it so much.

Spider the Artist by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a writer about who I've heard good things about but not read very much. This story though. This story. Zombies and robots and a woman trying to escape an abusive household. This story packs such a punch and somehow left me grinning despite the subject matter.

The Narcomancer by N.K. Jemisin

Oh man how much do I love N.K. Jemisin. Well, I devoured her Inheritance Trilogy (which weighs in at approximately 1500 pages) in about three days, utterly wrecking my sleep cycle resulting in me emotionally tweeting Susan at 3am. That's how much I love N.K. Jemisin. The Narcomancer is actually the first thing I read by her, and is a lead in to her Dreamblood duology, which I desperately want to read. Set in Gujaareh, where peace is the only law, we follow a priest tasked with bringing down the Narcomancer of the title (sleep wizard–I could use one of those) in order to save a village. Only there are complications (aren't there always). Read. It. And also the Inheritance trilogy as well.

Effigy Nights by Yoon Ha Lee

(See edit)

Yoon Ha Lee is another writer I've been flailing about a lot this year. I bought her his anthology, Conservation of Shadows, on the back of another short story (Combustion Hour) and this ended up being my favourite. Lee's strength is in the interplay of her his words; I just love the way she he puts them together. I can flail for hours over the second line in this story. The second line! The story is about books, and is haunting and moving. I don't want to say any more. Read this story, then Combustion Hour, then buy her his anthology. You won't regret it.

Astrophilia by Carrie Vaughn

Another entry from the Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women from the author of some of my favourite werewolf stories. No werewolves in this one though. Set after some cataclysm in which the human race has lost almost everything, this story is about one woman's search for knowledge and her struggle to fit in, with a little bit of romance as well.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu

This is one of those stories I wish I'd written. It is so, so good. Look at that title. Just look at it. Map-making wasps, bees rising up to overthrow their oppressors. Go. Read.

Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet

This is an interesting one, having been caught up in the Hugos shenanigans this year (which I stayed the fuck away from thankfully), but I didn't hold that against it. From the middle book in John Joseph Adams' Apocalypse Triptych, this story is set smack bang in the middle of the end of the world. It's small scale, focussing in on a few people amid all the tragedy. It's a great story and made me want to get all three books in the triptych.

The God of Au by Ann Leckie

I am a massive fan of Leckie's Imperial Radch Trilogy, the first of which, Ancillary Justice, won literally all the awards. The second, Ancillary Sword, is even better and I am looking forward to the third even though it comes out about three days after my thesis is due in. 'The God of Au' is very different from the space opera setting of the Imperial Radch. Set mostly on the island of Au, this is a story about gods and promises and patience. It's the story that made me want to read Leckie's novels in the first place. I promise you this isn't the last on the list because it's less good than the others. It really isn't.

So there we go. Ten(ish) story recs, most of them free, and a few bonus novels to boot. Go, get thee to a book store (and also the internet, which I guess you're already on if–never mind.)

Have stories. Go read.

Edit: Since I wrote this post I found out that Yoon Ha Lee is in fact a trans man and not a woman. I'm electing to keep the entry up there because a) his stories are bloody amazing and I love them and b) there are also not enough SFF stories by trans folk that get showcased.

But so I am fulfilling my promise of having 10 SF stories by women here is one further recommendation:

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This story won the Hugo for Best Novelette in 2014 and can see why. It's good. Very good. The story centres around an ageing astronaut longing for one last adventure. It's poignant and bitter sweet and made me cry my eyes out. You will not regret reading this, I promise.