Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What I Would Do Differently

I was thinking about what I would do differently if I were starting today.

I would do a lot of the same things:

1.) I would concentrate on short fiction to get my feet wet and learn my craft. Heck, I'd do that MORE than I did before. There are so many more opportunities for short fiction these days.

2.) I would still write ten stories before I tried to do anything else.

3.) I would still take the top three stories of that ten and send them to magazines, and as I wrote more, I would try to keep stories on the desks of my favorite editors.

I would do some things differently:

1.) I would take all the things I didn't send to magazines and publish them on my blog, or find some other online amateur venue for them -- guest posting, blogfests, contests, forums, online aggregators, even Twitter poetry. This is the equivalent of street busking for a musician: you get out there and you perform and you learn what gets people's interest, and you learn to ignore the hecklers, and who your audience is.

2.) As I said above, I'd do significantly more with short works. I would treat it like a job, and challenge myself to write a story a day as O. Henry did -- or at least a couple a week. I'd make myself write a microfiction story or five haiku on my lunch break. This is something I used to do once in a while when learning, but there wasn't much use for the output before. Now there are all of those amateur venues online. You need material for that. Write it.

I would call that an apprenticeship, or an internship. You don't get paid for it, but you gain tons of experience which allows you to beat the competition in a real job.

3.) I would set a goal based on the items above -- publish X number of stories in real magazines, write 300 shorts or poems, achieve a certain number of blog subscribers; something measurable -- and when I had achieved that, I would then look over my body of work and start self-publishing it. I would not only be confident of my skills, I would have 300 frickin' pieces of work to start with. I could explode out of the blocks like a thunderbolt.

That's what I would do if I were a young student who hadn't written much of anything yet, but wanted a road map to publication. Or at least I'd start with that plan in hand. Everybody is different, and most of us will eventually find our own path, no matter how and where we start. The thing about a map is that it gives you confidence. It's a safety net.

It's too late for me to do that full-throttle now. I have too many other irons in the fire -- too many novels, too many things in progress. But I'm definitely doing it in bits and pieces, because that's not just how you build skills and knowledge, it's also how you build an audience.

See you in the funny papers.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Excellent post, Camille. If I could do one thing differently, it would be write more during those years when I was working fulltime. I sure didn't gain anything by watching television in the evenings.

Stina said...

I've written non fiction articles, which were published in local magazines, but my heart wasn't into them. I'm not a short story kind of gal. So novel are the thing for me.

Of course, you way make much more sense. :)

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks Patricia: yes, there are things about how we handled life we'd like to change, too. I was thinking more of strategy -- the stuff I did intentionally, and what I would recommend to a young writer today.

Stina: Nobody believes they're a short story kind of person. Short fiction is hard, and for the past couple decades it was not rewarding.

But in the future? Those writers who take the trouble to master a wider tool set will beat those who don't. And those who write short stuff will have a tremendous advantage over everyone else.

I think I'll write a post tomorrow or friday about how to find your bliss in short fiction -- so many people have only been exposed to boring literary work, or a narrow range of genre fiction which is published in major magazines -- but there is much much more out there.

ModWitch said...

I think the challenge for me in writing short fiction is that I don't read it. I've got 35 years of novel reading under my belt, and except for some fantasy fanfic, almost no short story consumption. I feel like to do that length justice, I'd need to read a lot more of it, first. Which isn't a bad idea, but it feels like a "someday" thing... I may post ten years from now regretting that :).

The Daring Novelist said...

It's different when you've already got momentum going. I mean, you may have just started, but you're neck deep in the water already. It's the people who are just wading around and testing out the waters who could benefit from going whole hog.

You nailed it on why short fiction is a problem for most people: most people haven't even been exposed to short fiction they like. (Except odds are they have: Jokes and TV are both short form storytelling.)

And I'll betcha you haven't found too many novellas out there in the wild... and yet you managed your novel nibbles!

I will do more posts about the pros and cons (and joys and sorrows) of doing short fiction. But I'll probably start next week. I realize that already have stuff for this week.

ModWitch said...

Neck deep, indeed! But still interested in doing things to really help develop my craft, and I circle around to short stories in that context.

One thing I'd love, if you're looking for post requests, is a list of "classic shorts" - a crib sheet for those of us who have avoided them all our lives :).

And yeah, the novellas did okay - but still. It goes against my instincts to write stuff I don't read. Maybe I need to get over that!

The Daring Novelist said...

I was thinking of doing that "crib sheet" with authors, in a more vague way, maybe giving examples of my own favorites and maybe some discussion of where you might look for favorites of your own.

One of the problems is that modern short story choices are more limited, and the real classics are many of them not in public domain, and not in print -- so it's a hunt to find them.

But given that I think that a new age of short fiction (and novellas and other lengths) is coming, maybe I'll devote a post a week to the subject, like I do covers and illustration on Mondays. Probably Tuesdays.

ModWitch said...

Anything like that would be good :).

a said...

Hi, Camille. Haven't kept up online over the last week, so I'm catching up now.

Since the start of the year, I've been following a lot of blogs and websites about writing, particularly as it relates to the changes in the publishing industry and the effects of new methods (electronic/internet) of distribution on the model.

I used to read your blog primarily as an example of an experienced and intelligent writer wading unafraid into the tidal wave.

But over time, I find I gravitate to yours. Know why? You're a natural teacher. Some others writing about the new world of publishing and the new business of writing come off as dogmatic, or as unreplicable successes not quite able to empathize with lesser mortals. Not you. :D

Keep up the good work!

The Daring Novelist said...

Why, thank you, Azarimba!

The truth is, teaching is my day job. Not formal lecturing (although I've done that too) but on the spot question answering. And... I teach computing to artists, which may not seem significant now, but twenty years ago, that was like teaching oil about water.

Also I'm an INTP personality type, which means I'm an intuitive thinker who prefers to explore all sides.