babarnett: (me steampunk)
This is going to relate to writing eventually, but first I'm going to put on my singer hat.

A few months ago, AsYouKnowBob and I went to see the baritone Thomas Hampson in recital, and afterward there was a Q&A session with him.  Lots of cool stuff was said, but one thing in particular stood out to me.  I'm paraphrasing, but in answering a question about getting nervous when performing, Hampson said that if you go out there because you have something to share, you'll be all right, but if you go out there seeking approval like a golden retriever, you're going to get nervous every time.

Of course, it's not quite as black and white as that statement may sound out its original context.  You can be performing purely out of artistic altruism and still get nervous.  I think it's more the level of nervousness that's the factor here, and how much that nervousness affects your performance. 

For the longest time, I could never figure out why I would get horribly nervous for some performances yet feel perfectly at ease for others.  But after hearing Hampson's golden retriever comparison, the light bulb went off.  I usually got most nervous when I felt like I had something to prove.  But when I was just having fun or singing something because I thought it was great piece of music and/or appropriate to the occasion, there might be a little bit of nervousness, but mostly those were the times I was fine and gave my best performances.

So now when I feel myself getting nervous before performing or auditioning, I recite my new mantra: "I am not a golden retriever."  And it's helped.

I think the whole golden retriever comparison can be applied to writing as well.  Are you writing because you want "great story!" approval from those who read it or because you have a story you want to share? 

With me (and I imagine many others), it's a bit of a mix.  I would of course like approval, but usually I'm writing because I have a story in my head that I think is cool and I therefore want to share it.  Or I'm writing just to have fun and in the process have discovered a cool or fun story.  However . . .

There's that damned Internal Editor.  Not only does she regularly try to make my right brain trip over the left brain out of her hatred for crappy first drafts, but she also likes to drag me out of the story by throwing sticks and encouraging me to go fetch them.  "You know what your crit group is going to say about this bit right here.  And you know what your Odyssey classmates would have said about that earlier thing.  Oh, and this right here?  Do you really think that's what magazines want?  Especially those shiny pro ones you claim you want to break into . . ."

And it goes on like that.  Now, as a writer who wants to sell her stuff, I do have to consider marketability and target audiences at some point, just as a singer will have to consider where and for whom they're going to perform a song since different audiences prefer different stuff.  The first draft, however, is not the time for all that stuff, as much as my Internal Editor would like it to be.

In a previous blog entry, I compared the first draft to when I'm performing a song, and I think that still holds true here.  I can worry about approval when I'm in the editing phase, or as a singer when I'm practicing.  But I think I need to invoke my new performance mantra during first drafts as well.  I've been playing far too many games of fetch lately. 

So, Internal Editor?  Here's the deal:  I am not a golden retriever.  I am a writer, and I have something I want to share, so let me get it down.  Maybe I'll chase a few sticks later, but not until I know why I'm chasing them.
babarnett: (dr. horrible ahhhh)
The good news: After months of my writing process being a painful slog, I've finally recaptured that feeling where I hate not having more time to write, where I'm pissed when my train reaches its stop in the morning because the words are coming and I want to keep writing.

The bad news: I hate not having more time to write.

I'm hoping I can finish draft 1.5 of my current short story this weekend.  I call it draft 1.5 because I got stuck partway through the crappy first draft and went back to the beginning to start editing and see if I could figure out where I went wrong.  And that brings us to the planning vs. pantsing issue.

I used an outline for writing the first draft of my novel (though one writer's idea of an outline doesn't necessarily match another's), but for short stories, the write-the-first-draft-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach works better for me.  When I was at Odyssey, I tried outlining a short story first to see if it worked any better.  It didn't.  In fact, I ended up with lots of unnecessary scenes and a story that was almost twice as long as it needed to be.

I recently realized that, for me, my short story writing isn't all that dissimilar from how I learned to approach singing.  During my voice lessons, we'd pick songs apart to the smallest detail.  Notes, rhythms, phrasing, dynamics, tempo, breathing, interpretation--there's a hell of a lot that goes into just one song.  But my college voice teacher always reminded me that, when it came time for performance, you couldn't think about all those things on the same analytical level you did during practice; you just had to sing and hope it all clicked.

So that's sort of how I've come to view writing short stories now, except the process is reversed.  The revision and critiquing stage is when the thing gets picked apart.  The first draft is when I just write and hope that all of my previous practice clicks.

And as with performing a song, if I make a mistake in the first draft, the best thing is to just keep going.  But every so often in performance, I've seen even professional singers get off on such a wrong foot that they have to stop, apologize to the audience, and start the song over.  That's what happened with this current story.  Luckily for me, writers generally don't have to start over in front of an audience.

Partway through this current WIP, I became stuck and felt like I was flailing blindly.  It was not a pleasant feeling, and the more I tried to plow forward, the worse it got.  So I started over.  The first thing I realized was that what I had written, even when slogging, wasn't as terrible as I thought.  Better yet, I figured out why I was stuck.  Yesterday I reached the point in the story where I had given up and started over, but this time, things clicked and I know how to move forward with the rest.  This time, I'll get through the whole song without apologizing and starting over.

While thinking about this process, I also realized that planning doesn't necessarily keep you (or at least me) from having to start over.  I ran into the same problem with the first draft of my novel a few years back.  Even though I had an outline, I got stuck around chapter 2 or 3.  I kept trying to move forward, but it was rather like bashing my head against a wall, and that is not fun.  So I went back to the beginning, started revising, and voila!  I figured out what wasn't working and was able to plow straight through the rest of the novel.

So, the lesson learned for my writerly self: plan or no plan, sometimes you're better off apologizing to the audience and starting over.  If the final product's good enough, no one will care that you screwed up the first time.
babarnett: (kermit needs coffee)
It's been a weird week.  And I start my new job on Monday, so next week will likely be even weirder.

Reading
Finished Bitterwood earlier this week. For my continued reading adventures, I'm taking a short break from fiction with The Dramatist's Toolkit: The Craft of the Working Playwright by Jeffrey Sweet.  I've been toying with the idea of writing a play for a while now, but despite lots of involvement with the theatrical world, I feel totally ill-prepared to write one. I was hoping to find a playwriting course I could take this summer, but no such luck.  Most of what I found was for teens.  The only local one for adults was an online course, but I'd really prefer something in person. So in lieu of a class, I thought I'd tackle this book and see if it helps jump start my inner-playwright.

Exercise
I've been saddled with an annoying cough since last week, so I've been taking it easy on the exercise front.  A little bit of yoga, but not much else.  And today's exercise will be helping my aunt move stuff.

Music
Coughed my way through choir rehearsal Wednesday night.  Singing has been aggravating the cough in general, which frustrates me to no end.  It doesn't hamper the piano playing, though, so I've at least been keeping up with that without a problem.

Writing
I've been productivity-challenged in the writing department this week. A little bit of slogging through My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel, but that's it.  I'm hoping to achieve something resembling real progress this afternoon and tomorrow.
babarnett: (muppets)
Reading
Through chapters 15-18 in Bitterwood.  Also finished the audio book of The Road, which didn't end as bleakly as I thought it would.  I give it a thumbs up overall.

Exercise
It's looking like I'm going to slack today, but I'll make up for it tomorrow.  Otherwise, I've been keeping to the routine.

Music
Keeping on top of my piano lessons and practicing.  Monday was the last regular rehearsal of the season for the chorus I sing with.  We have a dress rehearsal tonight and a concert Sunday, and then it's only church choir and some solo stuff on my plate through June.  I'm kind of dreading tonight's rehearsal.  We've done the concert once already and have had two regular rehearsals since then to brush up on the music, but I have the feeling that we're still going to go through everything in its entirety and then some instead of just doing what's necessary to adjust to a different space and acoustics.  I wish we had spent more time on Carmina Burana (particularly the diction--I tend to pick that stuff up pretty easily, but I'm hearing a lot of mush around me), but the other pieces on the program (especially our chamber choir pieces) have been beaten to death, and then backed over with a truck for good measure.  Rehearsing is important, but there comes a point of diminishing returns.

Writing
I've been hit or miss with the writing this week.  Some days I've been super productive girl.  Other days, like today, a little tinkering is about all I seem capable of accomplishing. On the plus side, I finished rewriting chapter 4 of My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel.  On the downside, that's only because I'm splitting what was originally one long chapter into two smaller ones.  Either way, I'm about 11,400 into the rewrite.
babarnett: (ash boomstick)
Reading
Got through chapters 11 and 12 in Bitterwood this week.  I've also been listening to more of The Road in the car, and that--well, "enjoying" doesn't seem like the right word for this kind of book.  But I'm hooked.

Exercise
Except for yesterday, I kept on top of the routine.  But I think slacking yesterday was probably a good thing.  My left leg was sore and stiff from overdoing it earlier in the week, and taking a day off seems to have helped.

Music
Slightly crazy week.  On top of church choir and piano lessons, the chorus I'm in has our first of two Carmina Burana concerts tonight.  So in addition to the regular Monday night rehearsal, we had the dress rehearsal last night.  There's a large contingent of clueless people in this group who have serious problems with that whole filing on and off the risers thing, so coordinating that always takes ten times longer than it should and makes me want to smack my head against hard surfaces.

Submission Land
More rejections, more stories back out the door. I have two stories I'd like to try at Sword & Sorceress, and I thought the markets they're currently at would have bounced them back by now, but amazingly, no.  Knowing my luck, they'll both reject the stories the day after the Sword & Sorceress submission window closes.

Writing
I was tinkering with novel revisions last weekend, but the zombie story kept calling to me, so I finally answered and began my next round of revisions on that. I'm rather excited as I think it's going to be a much tighter story now, and I think some of the changes I've made are helping me better develop what's going on with the protagonist.  I also realized that I had an entire scene that could go away, so the story's already about 1,000 words shorter.
babarnett: (angel wesley crazy fu)
This week has been strong with the bat-shit crazy side of the Force, making that whole productivity thing a challenge. Some of the things keeping me busy were good things (Easter with the in-laws, seeing a production of Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo, a reception where my dad got a firefighter-of-the-year award from the local VFW).  But other things...well, I think my brain exploded a few times.

Now onto what I actually managed to accomplish amid the crazy:

Reading: I'm partway through chapter 10 in Bitterwood.  As for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I gave up. I reached my library renewal limit on it and was just going to copy the remaining discs onto my computer last night, but then I realized that I still had 12 discs left. It's an entertaining book, but it's not that entertaining. So I took that long-winded puppy back to the library today and checked out the audio version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  Only six discs total.  Ah, blessed brevity.

Exercise: Fell off the wagon Tuesday and Wednesday thanks to the crazy, but stuck to it the rest of the week.

Music:
The usual rehearsal schedule, but fitting in practice time on the piano proved tough. I was all stressed out at my Wednesday lesson as a result, which didn't help.

Writing Business: Bored with the rejections-a-plenty/several-months-long-dry-spell-when-it-comes-to-sales combo now. I'm feeling particularly disheartened with one story. It's a flash story I wrote a while back, and while not brilliant, I think it's a good little piece. When I first wrote it, a fellow writerly type thought very highly of it and said, "If Strange Horizons doesn't take this, I don't know what they'll take."  Well, they didn't take it, and neither have the 27 other markets I've sent it to. I've never had a story get shot down that many times, and it's depressing, especially since it came close at a few places, which gives me confidence that the story doesn't suck. Unfortunately, I'm almost out of decent markets for it.

Writing:
I spent much of last weekend figuring out what I needed to move, add, axe, and rewrite in chapter 4 of My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel, which was fun and exciting and I couldn't wait to start writing.  Then, Sunday night, I sat down to write, and nothing. I spent an insane amount of time rewriting the opening sentence. I didn't get back to the chapter again until Wednesday, when I finally managed to push past that block. But because I had so little time for writing this week, I'm only about 500 words into the chapter. Blah.

On that note, it's onto the weekend for me.  I'm going to get in some more work on the novel tonight.  Tomorrow AsYouKnowBob and I will be driving down to Washington DC--the chorus we're in is singing at the National Gallery, and afterward we'll be making a Maryland pit stop to have dinner with some of my friends from college. Sunday will be singing at church in the morning, writing group in the afternoon. And if I'm not too exhausted, I might squeeze in some more writing before Monday rears its ugly head.
babarnett: (puppet angel)
The slug put up a hell of a fight this week--which I now realize is sort of funny since that means the slug is working very hard at trying to get me to do nothing. But except for the exercise department, I actually achieved a fair amount of productivity this week:

Reading: I finished Prime Codex on Monday. The last story was "Radical Acceptance" by David W. Goldman, which made me smile. Space otters make me happy. There were a few stories in Prime Codex that didn't work for me, on the whole, it's a good collection that I'd recommend.

For my next book, I started James Maxey's Bitterwood (got through the prologue and chapter 1 this past week).  And in the audio book department, I'm up to chapter 18 in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I also thought I'd mention that I also read short stories in various places online, but I'm so scattershot about those that I decided I won't keep track of them on here unless one blows away me so much that I must share its awesomeness with all the world.

Exercise: I haven't done yoga or pilates in what feels like forever, and I only got on the elliptical strider two days this week. Beyond that, it was just pseudo-exercise in the form of Wii Sports and the 15-minute walk to and from the concert I was at for work last night.

Music: I had to miss chorus rehearsal Monday night to attend a grant award reception for work, but otherwise I was good about keeping up with practicing this week. I didn't get any in yesterday beccause of the concert I was working, but I'm making up for it today.

Writing Business: Two more stories came home, disappointed that their brilliance had not been recognized. One was a simultaneous sub, so he'll just continue waiting at the place that hasn't rejected him yet. The other one is waiting for the next market it wants to visit to re-open in April. And I think I may have to shoot out some queries on one or two stories to see if they're coming for dinner or staying over at their friend's house for a bit longer.

Writing: A little over 1,600 words on the zombie story this week, and I'm still not frickin' done. Close, though--I'm about halfway through the penultimate scene. Hopefully I'll be able to trim this one significantly during revisions, because right now it's at 8,200 words and counting.

I've got some more practicing to get in today since I'm doing a solo at church tomorrow morning. And I have to figure out what I feel like doing tomorrow afternoon to determine what I do after practicing today. I could go to my writer's group tomorrow, which means I have a 9,400 word story to critique. Or I could go the Mozart Requiem Sing-In the chorus I'm in is holding tomorrow, which means I don't have to crit that story and can get some more writing done instead. Decisions, decisions...
babarnett: (ash boomstick)
Slowly but surely, the productivity groove is being re-established. I feel like I have a much better grip on the new job now, and today I got my first grant proposal for them out the door, so yay. Another week or two, and life may start feeling normal again.

I had a fun weekend that went by way too quickly: wine tastings Saturday afternoon, a fun dinner with [livejournal.com profile] shvetufae and our significant other-types Saturday evening, and an afternoon of wackiness with my writing group in Philly on Sunday. And on either side of all that, there was productivity.  So on that note, here's the productivity report since Friday:

Reading: I've read and enjoyed the first three stories in Prime Codex: "To the East, a Bright Star" by James Maxey, "Ticktock Girl" by Cat Rambo, and "The Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes" by Ken Scholes.

Exercise: Got in 20 minutes on the elliptical strider on Friday, but had to take yesterday and today off due to injury. Coming home from my writing group meeting on Sunday, I slipped in the train station and banged my left knee on the floor. There's a big honking bruise there now, but otherwise it's ok--luckily, I hit just below the kneecap.  I think I can safely resume exercising tomorrow.

Music: Lots of piano playing and singing. We were short altos for the second week in a row in my church choir, so I got to be a switch hitter, which has led to everyone dubbing me a sopralto.

Writing-Related Stuff: I had to crit two stories for Sunday's writing group meeting, and I was quite relieved to be free of critique dread for the first time in a long time.  Woo hoo! In the submissions department, two stories have come home.  One went right back out the door, but the other one is torn about whose slush pile it wants to visit next.  I'll give it a few days, but any longer than that and it's gonna have to start paying rent if it wants to stay on my hard drive.

Writing: A little over 500 words (maybe more) on the zombie story.  Not phenomenal progress, but I think I'm finally getting a better sense of what this story wants to be, which might help me get through the rest of the first draft faster now that I won't be groping my way around in the dark anymore.
babarnett: (puppet angel)
My brain and priorities were all over the place today, so I won't pretend to have tried to stick to the slug-fighting schedule. But I wasn't entirely unproductive.  Actually, I got everything done except the exercise and the writing, and I spent a hefty chunk of time going over a grant proposal I had volunteered to help with for the chorus I sing with. So I guess that counts for something.

On a sucktastic note, Realms of Fantasy closing is a major bummer.

On a pleasant note, I saw that I was among the "Other nice work came from..." folks mentioned in Rich Horton's yearly summary of Hub.

On a random note, AsYouKnowBob told me that I was singing in my sleep last night--the night after reading the chapter on music and dreams in Musicophilia.

On another random note, I need to see if I have anything in Ye Olde Costume Trunk with which I can steampunk myself up a bit.
babarnett: (puppet angel)
This little experiment in posting my progress to keep myself on track has been going pretty well.  My brain really wanted to slack off earlier today, especially when I looked out the window and saw snow, but as soon as I threatened it with public shame on the internet, it stopped whining and got to work.

Reading: Two more chapters of Musicophilia. The first one dealt with stereophonic hearing and wasn't as interesting as the rest of the book has been, but the chapter after it about musical savants was a lot more engaging.

Exercising: 30 minutes of yoga

Music Stuff: Practiced some piano, then had to go audition my song for this Solo Artists Showcase thing.  I didn't think there would be any issues with my song choice, and there wasn't, so I'm glad to have that out of the way.  And I was entertained by the director's comment to someone about it afterwards: "If she could sing it in spite of my playing, then she must really know it."

Writing: Some more work on chapter 2.  My progress is still dreadfully slow, but it seems to be picking up a little more steam each day.  Another week or so, and maybe I'll have worked up to a non-embarrassing writing pace.
babarnett: (puppet angel)
...and fired it directly at my head while I slept.  I woke up to a hell of a migraine, which pretty much wiped out my morning and left me drained the rest of the day. Amazingly, though, I still managed to slog through the daily schedule.  Must have been those capsules of Advil Migraine I fired down the Death Star's exhaust port.

Reading: Today's chapter of Musicophilia was about people with perfect pitch

Exercising: 20 minutes on the elliptical strider

Music Stuff: Didn't do much, but I at least went through the song I have to audition Thursday night for this Solo Artist Showcase thing the chorus I'm in is doing in February.  I'm feeling rather grumbly about the policy change this year that requires everyone to audition, unlike last year when you didn't have to audition if you had sung in it the year before.

Writing Business: A story came home, hanging its head in shame, so I sent it off to play at another magazine.  The kids there will probably make fun of it and send it home crying, but I've assured the story that it will never make any friends if it doesn't at least try.

Writing: I really had to force myself into the writing tonight, but once I started, it actually wasn't too terrible.  Got a few hundred words done on the chapter 2 rewrite, which isn't much, but it's at least more than I did yesterday.
babarnett: (shaun of the dead)
My goal for 2009: avoid 2008's slackery and slug-like tendencies, which were no doubt aided by my unemployed bum status.

To help achieve this, I decided to establish a schedule, which I have been sorely lacking until now. A flexible schedule, granted, as occasional things like doctor appointments or theater tickets usually require shifting the routine around. My weekends tend to be all over the place, so I'm not even going to try to impose any order on them. But for weekdays, I have my "things that need to be done before I can call it a day" list: read, take care of any writing business (submissions, queries, etc.), write, run any necessary errands, exercise, and practice singing and/or piano (unless it's a rehearsal night). Once I've checked off everything on the list, any time remaining before bed is mine to do with as I please.

In the past, I've found it way too easy to violate my attempts at maintaining routines like this, and I think it's been an issue of accountability. When I working at any of my past jobs, for example, I had an employer to answer to and was therefore quite diligent about doing what needed to be done when it needed to be done.  Now, not so much.  So I'm going to experiment with posting progress updates here to see if helps keep my ass productive, the theory being that if I tell you all I'm going to do it, then I'd better damn well do it.

Today (or technically yesterday at this point) was the schedule's official start day.  Despite trouble with the getting-out-of-bed portion of my day, I am happy to report that I completed the "things that need to be done before I can call it a day" list:

Reading: Finally got around to finishing issue 7 of Doorways

Writing Business: Will be complete as of my posting of the following plug: if so moved, you can throw some vote love my way in the Preditors & Editors Readers' Poll.  "To Someone Who Needs Prayer" (Hub, issue 61) is in the Horror Short Story category, and "Lucky Clover" (Flash Fiction Online, March 2008) is in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Story category.

Errands: After a productive weekend full of cleaning and re-organizing, I dropped off some stuff at Goodwill

Writing: I rewrote my "poorly researched" (she says sarcastically) zombie bunny flash story, "Mr. Fluffy."  The original was 400 words. The rewrite is now complete at 1,000 words.

Exercise: 30 minutes on the elliptical strider

Music Stuff: Spent about 20-30 minutes on some vocal technique and a song I'm thinking about doing for the annual Solo Artists Showcase held by a chorus I sing with

All of that, and I still had enough time to goof off and watch a movie with AsYouKnowBob.  Now I just need to do it all again tomorrow, rinse, repeat.
babarnett: (muppets)
2008 is being nice to my flash fiction so far.  I found out today that a silly little story of mine called "Soul Delivery" is going to be an Editor's Pick in the Spring 2008 issue of Flashquake, which will go online March 1.  I will be sure to shamelessly plug it some more when the time comes.

On the productivity front, I polished up my lemur-on-a-dirigible story yesterday and got it shipped off to Shimmer's Clockwork Jungle issue.  It was fun tackling steampunk for the first time, and I think the story came out with a different feel than my usual stuff, which was part of the fun.  That, and lemurs are cool, as are dirigibles.  If the story doesn't have anything else going for it, it at least has lemurs on a dirigible.

And in the non-writing world, the chorus I sing with had its annual Solo Artists Showcase concert today.  I sang a solo (a Gabriel Faure piece called "Mai") and a duet with As You Know Bob ("No One Is Alone" from Into the Woods).  I had to sing first on the program, which is always nerve-racking, but things went well overall, so yay.
babarnett: (yoda)
My short story "The Poet" (The Sword Review, issue 27) got some positive comments on Tangent Online.  My brain was being very uncooperative on the writing front yesterday (in a display of ridiculousness, I spent nearly an hour on one damn sentence), so the review was nice to see at the end of the day.

And despite totally butchering the sight-reading portion of my chorus audition the other night, they took me onboard.  The hubby and I were even invited to join their smaller chamber choir if we so choose.  But the chamber choir means an extra hour of rehearsal each week.  I need to decide how valuable that extra hour on Monday is.
babarnett: (ash boomstick)
Labor Day weekend was pretty darn productive.  On Friday I sent out the story I was babbling about in my last entry.  Saturday I polished and submitted 3 flash pieces, and then I submitted a previously published story to a market that takes reprints.  The reprint was rejected within hours, so let us speak of it no more. :)

I started revising another story yesterday, finished with it today, and amazingly, the process was surprisingly painless.  In fact, it was--dare I say it?--enjoyable.  That sucker gets one last proofread, and then it's out the door to start looking for work.  Now why can't every story be that easy?

In the non-writing part of my life, the old vocal pipes haven't been getting as much use as they used to, so I'm auditioning for a local chorus group tonight.

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