On Fountain Pens

Wow wow wow, it looks like I’m back again. In the time I’ve been away, I’ve written 3 short stories, read 4 books, started 2 new manuscripts (I can’t ever just work on one project at a time), finished my first month of my last semester (!!!), started a new internship, and become obsessed with fountain pens. We’re only going to talk about that last point in this post.

If you weren’t already aware, I write a lot. Like a lot, a lot. I type most of my work but I always start out by handwriting scenes/character details/random junky things in the multiple journals that I always carry with me. During my handwriting binges, it isn’t uncommon for my wrist to cramp up. I was looking into solutions for this and I read somewhere that fountain pens put less stress on your hand. So I did some more research, and I bought my first pen.

WOW. It was like I transcended to a new level of writing nirvana.

I started with the Noodler’s Nib Creaper Flex, which is a very fussy, fiddly pen. I like it a lot because I can customize the ink flow and the line is fine enough that it doesn’t bother me. My handwriting is small and cramped, so this suits my style perfectly. My only problem with it is that if I don’t have it adjusted jussssttttt right, the ink sometimes drips, which ruins whatever I’m writing on. It’s been a lot better since I figured out how to adjust it to my liking.

I wasn’t going to buy any more pens just yet, but then Goulet Pens (phenomenal company, 10/10 recommend) was running a BOGO sale on Jinhao 159 pens. Yes, I ended up buying 2. Everything is fine. I have no restraint.

My Jinhaos are a lot heavier and thicker than the Noodler’s. Both are good, cheap starter pens. The Jinhao nib is medium, though, so the line isn’t nearly as fine. I ended up getting an extra fine Goulet nib for one of the Jinhao’s,┬ásince I liked the weight of the pen itself but not the thickness of the line. The combination is perfect for my writing style. I also bought a bunch of sample inks, so all 3 of my pens have different colors in them.

And that’s the story of how I joined the dark side. Has anyone else switched to fountain pens? What kind of pens do you recommend? I’m still very new to them, so I’d love to hear your recommendations!

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On Stubbornness

Side note before I begin – doesn’t “stubbornness” look like it just has too many letters? I use Grammarly so I know it’s spelled correctly right there, but it looks strange to me. Oh well.

Anyways. I swear I don’t have voices in my head or anything like that, but when I’m writing, I tend to listen to what the characters have to say. There’s usually a better story if I work that way. Sometimes I ignore them, because I am The Writer and I think I know better, and then it turns out that I don’t.

This happened to me fairly recently. My latest project ended in a fairly melancholic but understandable way. I have this thing where I absolutely refuse to break the rules I’ve set up in a novel, so I thought that this was the only way to end the story. It went through about five or six beta readers and all of them liked the ending. I also sent it to one of my good friends, who happens to be my best/favorite critic, but she was busy and didn’t get around to reading it until recently.

She texted me as soon as she finished and said that she was “immensely frustrated” with the ending. Beta readers are great, but I know that this particular friend would not sugarcoat her opinion if she didn’t think something was working.

Meanwhile, throughout all of this, my characters had been moving around shiftily in the back of my head, poking my brain. They didn’t really like the ending either, but what could I do? I was The Writer. That was The Ending.

My friend’s critique kept gnawing at me. I knew she was right. Like I said, I don’t break my own rules to get characters out of situations, but there’s also that quote that as a writer, you make a contract with the reader. I read through the draft again and tried to figure out what that contract was, and so many things jumped out at me. I had somehow foreshadowed an ending that didn’t happen. I knew it. The characters knew it. My friend knew it. But I was too stubborn to admit that I had messed up, that things shouldn’t have ended the way I wanted them to.

So this week, I went back and did a rewrite after not touching the book for a while. I changed the ending. And it looks like I’m writing a sequel.

I guess the moral of this is all is fair in love and words. And listen to your characters. They might have something important to say.

On Submitting Short Fiction

I think I’ve talked about this before (maybe not?) but I’m an assistant editor for a literary journal. Over the last few months, I’ve read roughly 200 stories. This is my first gig editing/selecting short fiction, so I’m happy to share some things I’ve learned with you!

  1. Don’t get discouraged if you get rejected.

I cannot stress this enough. Our submissions opened on March 1 and I am on a staff with nine other fiction editors, where we each get assigned anywhere from 12 to 25 stories a week. Sometimes we’re doubled up, sometimes we’re not. Basically, because of the volume of submissions, if I don’t like a piece by the end of the first two pages, I’m probably going to pass on it. A lot of stories are passed on. To be honest, I’m really only supposed to approve five to ten stories out of each hundred to move forward, so we have to be incredibly selective. Sometimes, it’s nothing against the writing itself, but the piece might not fit our mission statement. For instance, if I read something told from the perspective of a younger kid or something that’s obviously religious, I’m going to pass. It just doesn’t fit with what we publish. I can’t say this enough, but go back and see what the journal has published before to see if your work fits. This is actually important.

2. Please, for the love of God, follow the submissions guidelines.

We specify that the submissions should be blind. I cannot tell you how many submissions have names on them. My editor is chill and doesn’t check or tell us to downvote those who have identifying information, but it always makes me roll my eyes a bit. If a journal specifies that submissions should be laid out a certain way, there’s probably a reason. Please please please read the guidelines before submitting. And please do not submit something in Courier font with 2-inch margins (why does anything need 2-inch margins??).

3. Grammar is so important.

There have been stories that I connected with but I ultimately passed on because they just weren’t well-edited. Take the time to make sure you’re presenting the best possible story that you can. You’re making yourself vulnerable by giving me this little piece of your soul – don’t you want it to be as close to flawless as possible? I’m actually insane, so seeing a lot of typos in a piece instantly makes me dislike it. Sometimes if it’s well-reviewed by other editors, I’ll read all the way through, but I generally don’t advance those pieces myself. Take the time to have a friend look over your work for you before submitting.

4. Submit to multiple places.

This probably sounds like it goes against my mission statement point, but editing has taught me how ridiculously difficult it is to publish a short story. Not going to lie, it’s a confidence boost after getting so many rejections myself. You don’t suck – there are just a lot of writers out there. Submit often. Have a working portfolio on rotation so that as soon as you get a rejection, you can edit if needed and fire another one out. I strongly recommend subscribing to the CRWROPPS-B list (Google it) to find out about submissions opportunities year-round.

5. Have confidence.

If you don’t believe in your writing, readers won’t, either. Honestly, this is the most important lesson I’ve learned both through writing and editing. Believe. In. Yourself. Make it happen. Set some goals and go out and crush them. Publish all the things. You can do it.

 

 

On Beta Readers

This time around, I am adding a step into the editing process that I probably should’ve considered last time. When I finish a book and edit it, I usually only pass it around to a few close friends for opinions. I don’t want to take chances on this manuscript, and I want opinions from people who aren’t afraid to hurt my feelings. I’m a member of a few different writing forums and I’ve noticed people seeking out beta readers in the past. I decided to give it a try. I beta read a story for someone, just to get my feet wet, and so far I’ve primarily done swaps since then.

Beta readers are AMAZING.

I’m usually blind to the flaws in my story (unless they’re structural because I’m actually pretty good at completely restructuring a manuscript). Even if I give it some time to air it out, I’m too close to the prose to genuinely find a lot of nit-picky errors. My beta readers asked questions that I haven’t even considered, and beta reading for other people has been genuinely enjoyable. It’s a great eye-opener to see how many incredible writers there are out there.

I would suggest emailing back and forth a couple of times, especially if you’re trying to build a partnership with the other writer. It might also be helpful to exchange a couple of chapters first to ensure that you’re interested in the material and will be able to finish the manuscript in a timely manner.

If you’re thinking about getting more involved in the writing community, I would recommend joining a forum like AbsoluteWrite. NaNoWriMo is also a great option, and the forums there are fun to look through if you’re bored or seeking inspiration.

On New Projects

Once you’ve been working on something for as long as I have (8 years, anyone?) it gets to the point that it feels like the only thing you’ll ever be able to write. I’ve started a few other projects over the years and abandoned them, always coming back to that one thing. It got to the point where I was pretty sure that that was the only story I had in me, which is a shitty conundrum for someone who wants to be a writer.

My sister is graduating in April. For a gift, I wanted to write something for her. Not something that’s non-fiction or tells everything that is to tell about our relationship or anything, just something that echoes how much she means to me but also tells a cool story (spoiler alert: it’s about mermaids). It didn’t start out as a novel but it took on a mind of its own.

I’ve been working on it for about a month and I have a rough draft completed that I’m editing. It has been such a refreshing experience to just sit down and write without any previous drafts or notions of how the plot should go. With my other book, I got myself into this spot where I wasn’t even sure if I liked writing anymore because I was so tired of the technical, business side of things. Now, it’s just like words are flowing and things are happening and it’s getting me back to the root of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. It’s definitely been a learning experience.

For one, it’s restored my confidence in myself. I’m not a one-trick-pony, believe it or not. I do have the ability to come up with a new story and watch it blossom across a page. So if there are any other writers out there who are completely and utterly demoralized and stuck: try something new. It doesn’t have to be a novel. Write a short story or a poem. Experiment with voice. But write something, just to remind yourself that there’s more than this.

On Querying

So. I did the thing. I wrote the book. I edited the book. The book has taken roughly a million hours of my life away. But it’s okay.

I value honesty and I try to be as honest as possible here. Here goes nothing: querying sucks. Boy oh boy, does it suck. I am one of the least patient people in this universe and it’s just this huge waiting game.

For everyone that doesn’t know, querying is the part that comes after you write the book and tear it to shreds. You write a letter that represents your book as elegantly and eloquently as possible and then you send it out to a bunch of agents (after carefully researching every aspect of their lives and what they look for in a book) and then you wait. And wait.

And wait.

Sometimes, they get back to you requesting partial or full manuscripts. Sometimes they reject you. And sometimes there is no response at all. While I understand the need for this, it’s still a bit disheartening. But I digress.

So this is the phase that we’re in now. There’s been some great commentary so far, which is good, and I may or may not read portions of the book every night so I’m sending out the best product possible. Is anyone else in the querying stage? Let me know so we can commiserate together!

On Editing

As usual, I’m procrastinating what I should be doing (hint: it’s part of the title). I just wanted to take some time and talk about my editing process and how it works. When I first started writing, editing terrified me. To be honest, it still kind of does. Once I figured out my process, it became a lot easier to tear my work apart and build it back up. Editing is daunting. Here is some advice to get you started.

  1. Read through in a format where you can’t actively change things. I prefer to print off my document to do this (don’t worry, I recycle) and go over it with a red pen. I don’t physically change anything in the actual text during this step. I comment and circle and correct as much as possible, but the removal from the computer helps me to focus more on the big picture and less on nit-picky tiny things. Those come after I’m done rearranging the plot. I personally like red pen because it’s easier to see against the paper and I feel like I’m accomplishing something.
  2. Keep a copy of every version of the draft/document. This makes changing things easier if you get easily attached, like I do. For example, in the draft that I’m editing now, I reconstructed the entire plot of the beginning. I still have a copy of the original just in case there’s something that I need to change back that isn’t working or if I want to see how far the draft has come since its first iteration.
  3. Open up to your friends. I’m not telling you to push drafts at people but if you have one friend who is a dedicated reader, it can be invaluable. I had a hard time opening up to people about my writing. First, I thought I was a horrible writer, and second, I thought they wouldn’t be interested. My friends have found some very bad grammatical or structural errors and found plot holes that I never thought of. Having a second pair of eyes is insanely helpful when you’re too close to the project.
  4. Kill your darlings. This is my biggest piece of advice – and the hardest to do. If something is not working, cut it. Don’t look back. That is when having a clean, original document comes in handy. Those characters that don’t matter can live on in your memory or whatever, but if they’re not adding to the story, they don’t deserve to be there. Do some exercises in reshaping plots while cutting characters or scenes out. Ask yourself what the scene adds to the plot. If you don’t have an answer or if the purpose can be achieved in some other way, the scene should be cut.
  5. Remember that you are the editor of your own story (until you have a real editor, of course). If you desperately think that something belongs in the story, it probably does. Read things out loud. See how they feel. See how the story feels without them, and revert back if you need to.

That is a not-at-all comprehensive list of how I edit. I hope this helps! Good luck!