Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Saturday, 23 June 2001

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, today was a very productive day.

I got around 400 words first thing in the early morning. After that I went for a run. This run was slightly less pathetic than my last. With a little luck, I'm due for an actual entirely non-pathetic run.

Class was great. Further down I've typed up my notes from both yesterday and today.

In addition to Jim's talk on surviving Clarion, we reviewed two stories by classmates, one by James Patrick Kelly, and one by Staunchy T. Monkey. I've put my critique of Staunchy's story on the web. (Yes, I did get permission first.)

After class I went to the gym and lifted. I think that was only my third workout at the gym and my run this morning was about my fourth run. My cold has been pretty much all better for some time, but my cough has still not entirely gone away. Still, I feel fine and am getting back into the exercise thing.

I neglected to get my class notes from yesterday typed up. So, today's journal will mostly be a huge info dump of stuff Jim said in class yesterday and today.

(By the way: I hope it's clear that all these bits where I write up my class notes are not intended to document what the instructors have said. Errors can creep in at several points. I may have misunderstood in the first place. I may have gotten it at the time but made a confusing note that I can't figure out when I get back to my computer. In any case, I'm often augmenting a lot of this with my own examples and my own take on it. On the other hand, I'm not necessarily putting down exactly what I think either. So about all you can take away from any of these classroom note dumps is that it was what I thought about what I thought the teacher was trying to say.)

Thursday's class was on "The life-cycle of a story."

  1. Idea collection Jim also talked about "idea nesting," the notion that, if you put a bunch of ideas together in a drawer, they will get together and produce new ideas for you.
  2. Character collection (might have been "character generation") Jim mentioned two things to help guide the choice of characters. One is to ask "Who hurts?" (The central struggle of the story should be tied into the science fictional idea.) The other is to make the character a citizen of the world of the story. You can't have him being surprised at the things that might surprise us, because they're normal for him.
  3. Writing Jim said we all know this part. He did add an unnumbered step between this one and the next for "cool-down." We should either put the story aside for as long as we reasonably can, or else workshop the story.
  4. Rewrite
  5. Submission He suggested that we should produce a "wish list" of possible publications for each story, running from the market that we'd most like to see it in on down to the lowest tier markets that we want to be seen in. When a story comes back with a rejection we should just put it back in the mail to the next publisher down on the list. We shouldn't rewrite (or even reread) the story, unless we get a specific offer to buy the story if we rewrite it.
  6. Sale Party!
  7. Publication Do some PR: Go to conventions. Be a reviewer.
  8. Review This section was on dealing with reviews of of our work, which will not always be positive. He also suggested, somewhere around here, that once we're members of SFWA, we recommend stories for the Nebula ballot--and tell the author that we have done so. He also suggested that we recommend some of his stories for Nebulas.
  9. Post-publication depression This was mostly just a warning that this phase occurs. It can take someone by surprise.
  10. Reprint I had asked him to cover this, so he spent some time on it. He talked about various kinds of reprints including "best of the year" anthologies and theme anthologies. (He warned that there's really no way to get your story into these--the editors find you. The best you can do is some of the PR stuff he suggests (conventions, reviews) so that the editors will be aware enough of you and your work to consider you.) He talked about a single-author anthology, which you can often get published as part of a novel deal. He warned that such an anthology can be hard on your career, because it won't sell as well as a novel and will make your sales figures look worse. He also talked about just putting a story up on your web page.
  11. After you (estate) He talked about designating a literary executor in your will, so that there will be someone who is interested in your work making decisions about what happens to it after you're dead.

Today's class was on relieving Post-Clarion Stress Syndrome.

He said that Clarion was very possibly the most exciting time of our lives. When something this wonderful and this intense is over, there is an inevitable let-down. Other important things in our lives, things like jobs and families, have been put aside for six weeks. The people who care about those things are going to figure that we've had our fun and that now it is time for us to get back to the stuff that they care about.

The result is that the world is a giant energy sponge that will suck up all the special energy that we bring home from Clarion in no time, unless we do something to protect it.

These are his suggestions:

  1. Save all rewrites until after Clarion. It's an easy way to encapsulate some of that energy for home use. Also, as point 1-B, he suggested that we rewrite stories in order of salability, starting with the most saleable.
  2. Write a new story for each story we rewrite. That's to help build some home momentum, so that we don't find around Christmas that we've rewritten every story, but we haven't done anything with a new idea since the middle of July.
  3. Send stories out. He said that none of this was worth much of anything if we don't submit our work. You can't sell a story in your drawer.
  4. Get into a workshop or make a critique pact.
  5. Create a specific time and place at home for writing.
  6. Get S.O. involved. Even if your wife or partner isn't the sort who can suggest story structure improvements or help you bring out the subtext, nearly anybody can suggest cuts to a story. Give them a red pen and say, "This story is three pages too long. Please go through and take out enough lines that it is three pages shorter."
  7. Find some way to get involved in the SF life. Maybe conventions, although there are dangers there. (People see that your nametag marks you as a pro and ask, "Are you anybody?" Hard on the ego.) Other possibilities: read and review, subscribe to Locus or SF Chronicle (despite the fact that seeing people whose career arc is better than yours will drive you crazy). Right now all of us can become associate members of SFWA. If nothing else, participating in one or another of the on-line discussion groups can capture a tiny bit of the magic of living in a community of other writers.
  8. Prepare for our friends' successes. However much we may cheer for the successes of other people here, it is impossible not to feel some jealousy when people that you don't see as better writers nevertheless have more success--something that is bound to happen to some extent.
  9. Take the long view. He talked about the 100,000 words of crap that most people have to write. (Sounds better than the million I've heard talked about.) He also warned that what he calls "local dexterity"--the ability to write bits of good, clear prose with compelling images and clever ideas--can be enough to sell the occasional story that isn't otherwise good enough. That means that some of us are quite likely to get some things published before we get through writing crap.
  10. Let it go. If we have to, just go on with life. He said that the very best writer from one of his Clarion classes--the one person that the whole class would agree was the most talented--never sold anything. He just went on with his life. Jim said, if that's what you have to do, do it, and don't feel bad about it.

Most of us went out to eat at Rio Bravo for Mexican. A dozen or so gathered in Jim's room later in the evening. We played a game. One person went out. The rest of the people secretly agreed on a person who would be the subject of the game. The person who was out came back and then asked questions of the form, "If this person were a blank, what would this person be?" The question was directed to a specific person, but others in the group could agree or disagree and offer alternate possibilities.

The format of the question was interpreted pretty liberally, so they allowed my question, "If this person could have any tattoo (other than any tattoo he or she might already have), what would that tattoo be?"


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