The Problem with Words, Visual Impairment and Bipolar Medication

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I’ve just finished a massive project and despite going through it, I’m mortified to find it still riddled with errors. Some of this is down to my inner editor (my brain is adept at replacing blurry images with best guesses) and the rest is simply due to how close I am to the text.

Previously this would never be a problem, when I was working for magazines there were editors to proof-read, plus my vision was much better. Now I’ve hit my thirties, it’s deteriorated at a rapid rate, even if I can still see ‘more’ than most of my friends. I’m still blind and have noticed it’s becoming increasingly difficult.

My vision is breaking down, my eyes hurt and I’m getting more eyestrain-related migraines than I used to. I know I could simply cut down on my time on a computer but … well, no, that’s never going to happen. It’s particularly hard when you only have a half-working eye to begin with.

Worse, my medication has wrecked my memory, meaning my previously pristine grammar is now tarnished. I can’t remember the basics and often get the simplest things, like it’s and its, mixed up. My brain is flagging it up and an error and I no longer know which is right.

Now I’m not so sure and it’s embarrassing.

I started using Grammarly a couple of months ago, mainly for little things like blog posts and Facebook. Now I’m running documents through. Yesterday I realised I’ve spent the last week mixing up ‘alliteration’ with ‘iteration’ and I hung my head in shame. Words and meanings, that’s my thing, the only thing I can do well. I used to be able to spell anything …

Unfortunately my bipolar medication doesn’t come with useful notes on specific side effects like ‘may find understanding of grammar and spelling is reduced’. It’s not a great mix, especially when I make more efforts than most to go through my text and nix any errors. There will always be a couple that escape the net but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

All I can do is find my way around it, such as feeling chunks into online checkers and seeing what gets spat out.

*sighs*

 

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How to Become a Short Story Writer

Writing a Short Story2

Someone I know wanted to know how one becomes a short story writer (aka someone who submits stories to real markets/bears their soul and waits for it to be ripped to shreds). I think I’ve covered it all in this handy flowchart, if not let me know and I’ll update it.

So how do you become a short story writer? Or, rather, a published one?

I’ve only sold four stories, all to anthologies, so I’m in no way an expert. I’m just passing on what I’ve learned so far.

  • Write a short story

This is the hard one. You actually need an idea that you can encapsulate in around 5ooo words (technically the SFWA upper cap is 75oo but many magazines say up to 6k, while others will let you submit up to 10k. It depends on the market). The subject depends on your own preferences (mine is speculative fiction, fantasy and SF) and Submissions Grinder is an important way to find the right market, as is reading the publication you’re submitting too (many of whom make their content available online for free).

  • Let it rest

Think of your story like a cooked joint of meat, you want to let it settle so that the meat is nice and juicy. In this case it’s so that you can re-read the story and catch mistakes/problems in the narrative. Cat Rambo recommends at least a week (I try for three to four) before revisiting a finished story.

  • Edit

Revisit the story; edit it, rewrite it, fix it. Then let it rest again, or send it out to be beta-read/critiqued.

  • Critique it

If you’ve got access to beta-readers or a crit group, use them. Yes it’s supposed to feel like someone is scooping your heart out with a spoon but don’t worry, all will be the better for it. Just hang on in there. If your crit group are harsh it’s because the story needs it. If they’re actually mean, leave.

  • Submit the story

Submission Grinder is a good way to find markets, as is reading them. You email, they respond acknowledging reciept and then you wait. And wait. And wait. Some markets your submit just because they have a fast rejection times, others take a while. Be patient.

  • Rejected

Rinse and repeat. Then do it again. Break out the wine and chocolate.

  • Acceptance.

Rare and fabled; break out the wine and chocolate.

  • Get a contract

Sign it, celebrate. This makes it real.

  • Rewrite requests

Tinker, accept all changes. Wine and chocolate. Contract.

  • Publication

Go you.

  • Write a short story

Haven’t we been here before?

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: On Trying to Be Productive

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Last year I discovered this piece on being accountable to the Muse. It’s great advice and totally worth following … unless you have bipolar.

My problem is that I tend to hyper-focus on specific stories or novels for a period of time. In the past this has been tied directly to my manic periods (which usually last around two weeks). This can also be awesome when it comes to producing short stories but sucks for novels, as I usually burn out half way through.

I was going to plan my year out, block off time for a couple of specific projects (mostly novels). Except that doesn’t really work for me, aside from putting more pressure on my otherwise short attention span and stress levels. Now keeping my stress levels to a minimum is my most important focus: stress triggers my mania, Quetiapine be damned. I’ve recently up my dose to 600 mg and feel back on something of an even keel (I’ve learned I get six months before I need to up my dose and, as far as I’m aware, the maximum for Quetiapine is 750mg).

© Angelia Trinidad/Passion Planner
© Angelia Trinidad/Passion Planner

One thing I have found invaluable is my Passion Planner (it’s a Limited Edition Twilight Compact, making it A5 sized and the perfect size). Except rather than using it to plan out what I’m going to do, I instead use it to mark what I’ve done. With lots and lots of stickers. I find recording what I do is particularly cathartic, be it bus journeys, rejections, submissions or meeting friends. I even stuck a photo of me with my new nephew in there to remind me of how cute he is.

I mark out my day, who I met, what I did, using the main page layout. I note submissions/rejections in the Space of Infinite Possibility (blanked out to preserve a couple of details I can’t make public at this time). I try to have one or two things I need add into the To-Do Lists (personal in this case is my life and on-spec story projects, work is used for Kickstarter-related projects, sold stories and notes). I try to have a focus each week, in the above case it’s getting the final edits done for A Star Filled Sea finished and sorting out the cover changes with Scarlett. I also spent an entire week changing website hosts, wiping my WordPress installation due to a bug in Jetpack and reinstalling my lovely new blog.

Le Sigh.

I’ve also found myself getting addicted to stickers; I like making my Passion Planner truly mine and have quite a selection of Japanese washi paper stickers/Sailor Moon ones and random planets I bought from Paperchase. I like the personalisation aspect as the more I like something, the more I’m going to use it. The washi ones (made by a Japanese company called Mindwave) are almost like watercolours and look beautiful, I’ve also found somewhere that’s not Etsy to get them stupidly cheap which helps. I treat these friparies as a way to spend a little money but boost my mental state significantly.

I find the time used meditative, as well as reminding me of how productive I actually am (which is helped by turning Facebook off), especially from a writing/life perspective. I get out most days and that also helps as, if I’m writing, I find my local Starbucks to be an ideal place do it. I get warmth and coffee, power and WiFi, people to pet my hound and I don’t suffer the almost claustrophobic anxiety I get while at home.

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The one thing I am trying to do, as it helps my productivity no end, is go to the gym and Zumba twice a week. The gym allows me to warm up/do a mission of Zombies, Run! and Zumba, which forces me to stop thinking about everything and focus on not dying of a heart attack mid-session. I’ve done a class long enough that I know the song and movements off by heart which really allows me to push that extra mile and sweat. Plus there’s the social aspect of catching up with friends and actually getting out, even if it’s bloody freezing to walk to and from in Winter.

But there are some days, like today, when I just can’t write creatively. So I blog, I Netflix and YouTube and I try not to beat myself up about having a bad/non-productive day. Sometimes a down day makes for more productivity and following day.

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FitBit Charge HR Exercise Data

Screenshot 2016-02-04 22.09.59I went to Zumba last night and this is the data my FitBit Charge HR recorded from the experience. What it doesn’t show is the fifteen minutes preceeding it when I went on a treadmill to do a mission of Zombies, Run! This is how I’ve started warming up and I’ve seen a really drastic difference in how much I can do in Zumba.

I’ve found my Quetiapine doesn’t help my weight (neither does zombie snacking after I take my sleeping medication) so last year I rejoined the gym just around the corner and signed up for my friend Jeanette’s Zumba classes. I got chatting to one of the personal trainers in the gym earlier in the week and we started discussing the FitBit (which I bought earlier in the year and totally love) and tracking your day. I use mine, for example, to make sure I get exercise and enough sleep (too little is bad for my bipolar).

So he asks me what my heart rate gets up to during Zumba.

Me: “Erm 105 maybe.”

Him: “You need to be somewhere in 130-40.”

Me: *snorts with laughter* “Oh wait, you’re serious.”

The thing is, since doing my little warm ups I’ve found I’m actually able to get close. As you can see above (OMVGs, the data you get access to is amazing), I hit 136 at the peak of the really intense songs. I actually started sweating (eww)! But this is, apparently, a good thing. I certainly feel better for really pushing myself, my left knee not so much. The best part, though, is that my brain is turning off and I get an hour to focus on something else other than plots and how much money I owe. Actually though, I tend to find more plot bunnehs that way and solve more kinks in my writing which is an added bonus.

Endorphins are supposed to be good for you and I leave the classes feeling focused (and knackered) which means I want to get a bit of work done or send a story out afterwards. Now if I can just stop eating cheese-covered garlic bread for my supper …

One thing at once eh?

EDIT: 139 get!

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Exploring Second Person, Autism and Empathy

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Fushimi Inari Taisha, Japan
伏見稲荷大社、日本

Lately, I find myself writing more and more in second person. What’s that you ask?

Well perspectives are split into three ‘persons’:

  • First: I (I walked down the street.)
  • Second: You (You walk down the street.)
  • Third: they, he, she (Peter/Fran walked down the street.)

If I had to guestimate, third person is probably the most popular, followed by first with second, well, second is seldom ever touched. In fact it’s not usually even mentioned in creative writing classes. Second person is the bastard child of narrative because where as I has someone narrating the tale and you allows for the telling of the story through a named character’s eyes, second person puts you right into the action.

I liken it to cinema seating:

  • He/she/they is right up the back, in the plush chairs, watching the full screen glory.
  • I is somewhere in the middle an the narrator your companion sitting in the chair next to you.
  • You is right in the front row in front of a massive 500″ screen so close to the action you can smell the blood and shit.

Stories are about transportation, not panic-inducing immersion so second remains under-used but it’s fast becoming my favourite form. I’d never actually come across it in creative form until I read a story by my friend Shannon called “You First Meet the Devil at a Church Fete” (She won the James White Award for that one as well). I’ve seen it used occassionally since but most authors don’t even seem aware it exists. That’s a good thing for me.

Recently I’ve written several stories in second person, present tense: “Washed Up Upon the Shore” and “One Quiet Night”. Each is about projecting someone’s skin onto the reader and I’ve been wondering why this particular form of writing appeals so much.

If I’m honest I’m pretty sure it’s to do with the fact I’m autistic. I understand empathy and I understand that people experience a range of emotions, most of the time I’m so terrified of making people unhappy. When it comes to reading and, in some respects writing, I just don’t quite mesh (in the case of most books I’m painfully aware the adventures are fake, it’s hard for me to get invested). Books aren’t the same as human lives but second person allows me to not have to worry about the protagonist, second person is putting on a new set of clothes which you take off at story’s end.

A lot of people think autism is like psychopathy, that it’s about not comprehending/caring about emotions. In reality it’s actually closer to an overdose on empathy, caring too much about something/one but at the same time not being able to comprehend the reasons why. Characters, not even the really well written ones, to me they’re not people, not real (with auto-/biographies being the exception) so it’s hard to care. This sounds callous but it’s exploring this idea which is helping me to become a better writer.

A few years ago I went to Fushimi Inari Taisha, the famous fox shine just outside Kyoto. This is the one from all the Japanese movies with a corridor of torii gates, each with a name and date carved into the distinctive crimson of the arches (names are on the left, dates—presumably of erection—on the right). The corridors, the gates are so close together there’s no light, no air, between them. They remind me of process of reading, at least for me, which involves layering yourself on characters. This works especially well in second person where you literally become the protagonist.

I was talking with some friends and explaining that I never plan novels—at least not the Ashteraiverse, those stories are told to me—but short stories are different: I need to understand crisis and motivations, reaction and purpose. First person is easy, your protagonist recounts their tale but third, that’s so much harder for me. Second person provides the easiest way for me to take the pressure off and write about my reader, letting them overlay their reading experience with their own personalities.

And I’ll write more, I think, than just my first two forays so wish me luck.

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On Mary Robinette Kowal’s Short Story Idea Generation Class

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So it’s Monday, I’ve spent the weekend rushing to get the last edits done on A Star Filled Sea and emailed off to my editor, somewhat delayed by my keyboard upping and dying on me again. Monday afternoon swings around and I’m actually thinking about a nap, then the image above pops up in my newsfeed.

Mary Robinette Kowal, one of my favourite authors and my even more favourite audiobook narrators, needed people to guinea pig a new class.

That night.

Hello there!

Doing one of Mary’s classes has been on my author bingo scorecard for a while but the classes either sell out too quickly or are out of my price range. This one was a sliding scale and a chance to a) learn and b) help her test out if the class worked. Oh and it’s not like I was doing anything else.

As I keep saying, I’m not a great short form writer and I was especially eager to see the class was about how you generate ideas for stories and then turn them from a budding idea into a proper planned outline. I’ve done short story classes before but they’ve always been general and haven’t ever really touched the nitty gritty of how a story is created.

So, short version, sold.

I admit I didn’t expect to get a ticket. They were gone within half and hour (I was 7 out of 8). The class was conducted over G+ and I learned a couple of new things, such as using Google Drive and how to put my name and gender pronouns (something Mary regards as justifiably important and it was refreshing to be asked, rather than assume everyone is cis; plus I got to have ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ as my tagline, appropriate as D insisted on coming to watch the class).

The class was based off of Orson Scott Card’s MICE quotient, something which rang bells (I have a first edition copy of his Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy on my bookshelf). That’s basically a way to classify stories as milieu (place stories), idea, character or event. You can also mix and match or add in a sub-plot thread but the important part is deciding what kind of story you’re going to write.

Half my problem is I’m a pantser when it comes to short stories, I never, ever plan them. They just spill out of my brain and onto the paper, which is half the problem. I have an idea, race through the text and then flounder or rush the ending. I think pre-planning a story from initial idea through to individual scenes might be especially beneficial as it will actually allow me to have a structure my stories usually lack.

Though initially advertised as a one day course, it actually ended up and needed to be two. We spent about five hours in class with homework and it was time well spent (even if it forced me to choose: writing or Zumba ? Guess which won?) I love how Mary uses her back ground in puppetry to explain things as the theatrical analogies worked especially well (I have a little theatre experience, which was enough to follow and much of it is common sense stuff).

I did have problems comprehending a couple of things, mainly due to my Asperger’s. I’m not great at thinking out of the box of my own brain or seeing things from certain angles. That said, Mary did make a point to come back to things and try different ways to explain as they came to her which made the second day’s class tremendously worthwhile.

I especially liked how she taught us to nest stories and the process of breaking a vague idea into scenes, then looking for the gaps and methodically filling them to create a story which would hold water, so tight were it’s seams.

Again, classes like this are an awesome networking opportunity and it was nice to see every other member seemed to have one or more cats (I believe this to be a requirement of the ‘So you want to be an author?’ contract). Mary herself is lovely and ever so patient; both of which are excellent qualities in a good teacher (especially if there’s an open Q and A at the end).

I had an idea I’ve been mulling over for a couple of days, inspired by an off-hand quote. That story, I think, needs to sit for a bit while the idea matures. However I also have this Lovecraftian story that I’m going to submit to my crit group, Draft Zero, next week and so my plan is to take what Mary taught me and rework what I have of “Washed Up Upon the Shore” and try to write it using MICE.

The one thing the class taught me is that it’s not just the effort you put into a story, it’s the process. Though sometimes tedious, Mary’s method can be applied to any form of writing, and it will serve you well if you want to construct that isn’t bloated by extra characters or scene and is tightly composed.

This is the first time I feel like I’ve done a class where the secrets of short story writing have actually been revealed in detail. Hell it’s not a new system and MICE is used by lots of writers, it just never occurred to me this was how everyone else does it, or should. Two days well spent, if you ask me, and I know this is going to set me in good stead for my future stories.

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