Sold another story to Clarkesword; submitted my first-ever novel query; finished my eighth year of writing

As I think I mentioned last year, December 20th, 2003 was the day when I completed (and submitted) my first short story. As such, today marks the end of my eighth year of writing.

Last year, I surpassed every writing-related benchmark of my life, except for two (most words in one day and most words in one month). Today’s blog post was going to be about how I’ve surpassed last year in every benchmark except the one which is perhaps the most important: quality of sales. As of yesterday, I hadn’t yet made a sale that exceeded last June’s sale to Clarkesworld in goodness.

I mean, Nature and Daily Science Fiction are great markets, but (rightly or wrongly) they don’t receive any critical attention. My Clarkesworld story got more reviews and notice than anything else I’d ever published in my life.

Furthermore, I hadn’t yet sold a story that I’d written this year. With the exception of one Nature story, all of this year’s sales were written last summer. I’d started to worry that maybe my stories were getting worse.

The anxiety was getting pretty heavy, and it made me realize that no sale is ever really going to satisfy me. Even if I did sell stories to all the big magazines, I’d immediately start worrying about how none of them had been chosen for Year’s Best anthologies or been nominated for awards. Even if I do sell my novel, its sales will inevitably disappoint me. Even if I do get awards, I’ll worry about the years when I don’t get them. A writer is always going to find something to worry about.

It was a lot to think about, and it made me start to do some pretty heavy thinking about how I was going to build some psychological defenses against this kind of disappointment

But then I got an acceptance from Clarkesworld yesterday. My story “What Everyone Remembers” will appear in the January 2012 issue. And this story is recent. I wrote it in July of this year. I’ve had four near-misses with Clarkesworld this year (stories held for 20+ days and then rejected) as well as ten or so less encouraging rejections, so it’s good to hit with them again.

The only bad part about this is that now I have to wait six months before I can submit again to this really good magazine that’s demonstrated that it really likes my stories.

In other news, I also sent out my first novel query today. The novel is completely and totally done. Nothing on hell or earth is going to make me revise it further. The query might still need some polishing (ugh, and the synopsis still needs to be written). But otherwise, this is the end of my journey with this novel. I’m happy to have finished and submitted a novel, even if I am dreading the dozens of rejections that will inevitably arrive.

Finally, this year in writing has been really good. I’m attaching a table below that shows my yearly progress (with the caveat that my word-count includes words spent on revising, so it self-consistent but not consistent with other peoples’ yearly totals, i.e. my 2011 total of 500,000 really does represent more than three times more effort for me as 2009’s total of 150,000, but it does not necessarily represent twice as much effort as your total of, say, 250,000).

Total

2011*

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

Total Words

1,202,950

497,750

279,600

146,000

44,000

44,400

61,250

62,750

67,200

Rejections

750

177

252

321

Stories Sold (Pro Sales)

19 (8)

7 (5)

3 (2)

0

1 (1)

1

4

1

2

Stories Revised**

41

14

Stories Completed

149

37

27

17

10

2

19

14

23

Queries Sent

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Novels Submitted

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Novels Written

2.5

1

0.75

0.5

0

0

0

0.25

0

Days Spent Writing

922

294

251

136

60

48

51

52

30

Avg. Words on Above Days

1,262

1,693

1,114

1,074

733

925

1,201

1,207

918

% of Days Writing

34.48%

83.29%

68.77%

37.26%

16.39%

13.15%

13.97%

14.25%

23.08%

Words per Day

412

1,410

766

400

120

122

168

172

184

Goal Weeks (Weeks w/ >5000 words)

103/382=0.27

44

40

10

1

2

1

2

3

*Statistics are through 12/19/2012; I hope to hit 500,000 before the year is done.

**Prior to 2010, I didn’t track when I finished revising a story and submitted it for the first time.

Additionally, the best writing day of my life was June 7th of this year (the day I finished the first draft of my novel), with 11,450 words. My best writing week was the week beginning on May 30th, when I wrote 53,050 words (the first 5/7ths of my novel).

I made seven short story sales this year: two each to Daily SF and Nature, and one each to Clarkesworld, Brain Harvest, and Polluto. Of these, four have been published.

I also completed my first novel revision this year (which I will talk more about tomorrow).

In case it’s not obvious, my new productivity this year is largely a result of me moving to California and having to put less time into my job (I work long-distance now). I think that last year I pretty much hit the limit of what I could do with a full-time office job (I was writing about 2 hours a day). Now, I still have many 2-hour writing days, but I also have 4, 5, and 6 hour days (which I never had before).

I think the best things to come out of this year were two writing techniques that I’ve already discussed: one-week novel writing and iterative short story writing. One week novel writing is great because it only takes a week…and then you have a novel.

But iterative short story writing is what has really revolutionized my writing. Because I rewrite each story 3-5 times now, I’ve stopped writing a number of different kinds of bad stories. The most notable of these is the story that sort of slinks along for 3,000 words and then quickly wraps up in a way that’s both abrupt and predictable. Now, I take the time to figure out what my story is actually about. I don’t settle for the first ending (or beginning) that occurs to me.

This has resulted in a new way of thinking about writing difficulties. Now, when I am having trouble with a story, I don’t spend time trying to think it through (which was often a waste of time, since stories don’t come from the thinking parts of the brain). Instead, I just write my way through it. My cognitive input in stories is limited to discrimination: it’s just me saying, over and over again, “This doesn’t work,” until I finally write something that does work.

I don’t think that the resulting stories are a quantum leap better than the ones that I was writing before (although these stories are never as awful as the worst of what I wrote before). However, I do think that I had reached a plateau with my old technique. My new technique will eventually result in stories that are much better than anything the old technique could’ve produced.

My concern for most of this year was structure. In the upcoming year, I think I want to focus more on tone and language. My language feels too thin and flat to me. When I love some other author’s story, I usually love it from the very first sentence, because that sentence distills down everything that is good about the story. I don’t think that people get that feeling very often from my own stories. I want each of my stories to construct its own dreamscape and to describe that dreamscape using its own rhetoric.

15 thoughts on “Sold another story to Clarkesword; submitted my first-ever novel query; finished my eighth year of writing

  1. Becca

    Congrats on the Clarkesworld sale, and on an awesome year of writing! (I WANT TO HEAR EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS WITH YOUR NOVEL. I am super invested in its success!)

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Even though we just talked, I am replying to your comment because it is my policy to reply to ALL THE COMMENTS! Thanks for your congratulations, and if the novel ever sells, you will _definitely_ be muchly thanked in the acknowledgements. After all, you were present at its very inception.

  2. Daniel Steinbock

    This is awesome, Rahul. I’m inspired by your discipline as a writer and grateful that you expose your process so much along the way. It helps other writers, like me, who are more clandestine in their efforts.

    Regarding your last paragraph… Who are some writers (or first lines!) that especially inspire you with their distinctive voice? I think you’re right that the mark of truly great writers can be seen at the level of a single line — they’re not only great storytellers, they’re great wordsmiths.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Hmm, I should have known someone would ask me this. The short answer is that I generally decide whether or not to read a book by using its first line, so pretty much every great work captivates me in its first line. It’s easier to list the authors whose first lines _don’t_ grip me (for instance, it always takes me a few pages to get into a work by Chekhov or Zola [though, of course, these are authors who’ve been translated]).

      Hmm, I really enjoyed the opening sections of Hemingway’s _The Sun Also Rises_; Italo Calvino’s _If on a winter’s night a traveller…_; and V.S. Naipaul’s _A Bend In The River_ (and _A House For Mr. Biswas_). These are all works that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read (for this or that preconceived reason), which ended up winning me over in their first few pages. In all cases, it was the distinctive quality of the narration that impressed me.

  3. Frank Bishop

    Congrats on your sale.

    Also, I’m going to steal your plot and benchmark systems. I’ve played with the idea, hearing about other writers word tracking, but so far have only recorded words from stories completed.

    Hay, glad to hear you got a novel knocked out of the way. Feels good to slay the beast.

    Do you regard 2011 as a success in terms of your career’s growth and your goals?

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Hey, cool. What do you mean by my “plot and benchmark systems”?

      I do feel that 2011 was a huge artistic success. I finished a novel that looks, feels, and sounds like a novel, and I wrote some great short stories and I learned quite a bit. In terms of sales, it was clearly my best year ever, but I also got 170-some rejections. I had kind of hoped that I was reaching the place in my writing career where I’d stop getting rejections. I didn’t have the kind of breakout year that I was hoping for. But, who knows, maybe next year is my year.

      1. Frank Bishop

        I mean plot as in your table plot (sorry) and your benchmark system in how your arrange your writing stats. I have been writing and only collecting finished works stats. I haven’t really been counting my words averaged out because I trim my stories down and toss the excess, never factoring it in.

        Actually the main problem is that I never gave it more than a few moments attention, I’m seeing some flaws just from the facts I never logically worked out what to be tracked and tossed.

        1. R. H. Kanakia

          Yes, I find that some people prefer outcome-based goals (goals for number of stories completed / finished draft words / etc) and some people prefer process-based goals (number of words written, number of days on which I write, etc.) For instance, when he was a journeyman, Jay Lake aimed to finish one story per week. Other people might aim to finish and submit a novel by the end of the year. That was an outcome-based goal.

          Whenever I’ve tried outcome-based goals, I’ve failed to meet them, so I’ve become more of a process-based goals guy, of which my main one (for the last three years) has been to write 5,000 words a week. Recently, my goal has also become to do some writing (even if it’s just 50 words) on every single day, with no exceptions. However, I also track outcomes too. The major one I’ve added this year has been tracking the number of revisions I complete. As you can see, this has led to a huge increase in my number of revisions (from 14 last year to 41 this year).

          I think the important thing is to set achievable goals. I failed for years because I kept trying to write 1,000 words a day, every day, and ended up writing a thousand words on like every fifth day. Once I lowered my expectations (just a little bit, to like 500 words a day), I started doing much better.

  4. Debs

    Hi Rahul,

    Thanks for the fascinating post. I had a good writing year last year, but I have the fear that I’ve reached a plateau (or yikes–got worse). So I’ve been reading your posts about iterative short story writing with interest.

    I’m keen to improve quality but couldn’t think about any way of doing it except: write more. Your way sounds a bit scary to me. I fear for production. But it also sounds exciting.

    Was your recent Clarkesworld sale a result of this process?

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      I’m glad you’re thinking about iterative story writing. For me it was a revelation, since it was basically just doing what I currently do (but again and again). It was alot more comprehensible to me than simply editing the story. However, I also think that every writer has their own magic process and that maybe everyone needs to find their own.

      No, my Clarkesworld story was not a product of iteration (or even much revision). It was pretty much just inspiration. I’d been reading alot of Proust (a man who was really obsessed with his own ‘maman’) and while I was sort of doodling around, I wrote down the first sentence. From the word ‘maman’ I knew that this was a child, from the word ‘burrow’ I knew that it was a roach; and from the mention of ‘fires’ I knew that this was an apocalyptic scenario.

      I also knew that I needed to add a third character, which I promptly did. Then, for the rest of the story, I just threw the characters together in as many combinations as I could think of (roach+Frederick; roach+mom; mom+Frederick; now all three together; etc). After I finished the story, I didn’t revise it much.

      However, I just recently sold a story to Apex (like, I sold it a few hours ago) that went through six iterative drafts and mutated drastically in the process. I think of this short story sale as something of a vindication of the method.

      I’ve also worried about plateauing, so I’m trying to shake things up a little in the new year. My most major initiative is that I’ve signed up to read slush for Strange Horizons to see the other stuff that I’ve been facing in the slush pile. It’s kind of scary. I worry that I might harm myself by subjecting myself to so much mediocre writing (as in, I might become overly critical of my own writing and be unable to produce), but I also worry that maintaining the status quo (where I write good, but not exceptional, stories) is not healthy either.

  5. Debs

    Ah, flow. I love those stories written like that. So enjoyable, and they seem to sell well. Although I’ve heard established writers argue that it doesn’t make any difference to quality of work, I’m not so sure. Still, they’re rather rare beasts, for me at least.

    I’m looking forward to reading it. I don’t have to wait long, eh?

    Here’s to shaking things up in 2012.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yeah, I think flow stories probably do sell a little better. I think I get into some kind of flow state for many of my stories, but few of them are as easy as this one was. Anyways, I am really glad you popped on over here. Good luck in 2012!

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