Guest post: “Getting More Out of Your Writing” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

Getting More Out of Your Writing

by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

 

Writing is both a craft and an art. There are aspects that cannot be taught; you either have it or you don’t. But plenty of the skills that go into making a good writer can be learned. The general rule of thumb: Writing more leads to writing better.

But what’s the best way to get more writing done? I’ve never been a fan of writing exercises for their own sake. They always strike me as too artificial. Writing is about telling stories. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice your craft. But make your practice work for you. You may even get paid for it.

Here are a few ways I’ve turned what could have been a writing exercise into something more:

 

1) Flash Fiction

Do you need to work on dialogue? Do you want to practice your action scenes? Unsure whether first person or third person POV is right for your story? Flash fiction can be the perfect way to improve your writing through experimentation.

I define flash fiction as any story under 1000 words, though there are markets under 500 words, or even 100-word stories.

There are many advantages to working in such a small scale. In flash fiction, every word counts. Practicing flash fiction can teach you to choose the right word in the right situation. Flash fiction is also great for experimentation. I’ve written flash that are only dialogue or that just paint an impressionistic portrait of a single character. In a rough spot on your novel? Write the worst day your main character ever had, and do it in 500 words.

Flash is all about instant gratification. I’ve written five or more drafts of a 100-word story and still finished in a single day. In the midst of a long project, it can be nice to remember that you can finish a story.

 

2) Short Stories

Longer fiction (say, 2,000 to 7,000 words) has many of the advantages of writing flash fiction while providing additional opportunities in practicing your craft. If flash fiction allows you to experiment and to focus on individual narrative elements, short stories are the place to work on structural features of stories such as pacing and combining scenes into successful sequences.

In the 1930s and 40s, writer in the US often got their start writing for the pulp fiction magazines. Today, print-on-demand anthologies and e-anthologies can serve the same function. You can’t get rich writing for them, but you may be able to buy that Rabbit Valley book you have your eye on.

 

3) Blogs, Forums, and Social Media

One of the goals of the Furry Writers’ Guild is to foster professionalism among furry writers. Professionalism is a broad concept, but one of the things it means is this: You should write at a level that people pay you for what you write.

Money and art are not enemies. The days of noble patronage of the arts are long gone. Even if you are never able to support yourself by your writing, being paid for your writing frees you that little bit more to create more. People show what they think is important by what they will pay for. Take your writing seriously enough to expect to be paid for it.

That said, there are times when it’s perfectly fine to write and not be paid. Or at any rate, not in money. In addition to trying to sell your stories, look for opportunities where your writing can create what might be called social capital.

The age in which we live puts the writer in control of their own destiny in a way like never before. Readers want to connect not just with your stories, but with you and your personal story. Blogs, forums, Twitter and other forms of social media enable you as a writer to connect with people around the world.

But it’s not about shoving your work down their throats. It’s all about building friendships. Take the time to write something people can connect with. Write professionally (e.g. without texting abbreviations), because people will judge you based on how you present yourself online. Put yourself out there, even for free, but do it strategically.

Today’s internet is like a bizarre cocktail party taken to several orders of magnitude. Don’t whore yourself out to anyone who comes along. Find a community where you think you can add to the conversation and focus there. Give more than you take, and at worst you may make some friends. At best, you may find a community of people interested in your work.

And yes, this blog is an effort in practicing what I preach.

 

Links I Find Helpful

I want to conclude by giving a few links I’ve personally found helpful in trying to act on the thoughts I’ve outlined here. My own interest is in speculative fiction (fantasy, horror, science fiction), so there is a definite bias in that direction. Not that these are not strictly furry markets, but in my experience, most people in speculative fiction are very open-minded, so long as the story is told well.

 

Flash Fiction

http://www.microbookends.com/ MicroBookends is a weekly micro fiction contest based on a photo prompt. A very cool community surrounds this group.

http://thecultofme.blogspot.com/ This blog sponsors a monthly flash fiction contest with a significant giftcard prize.

http://specklit.com/ One of the highest paying sites for 100 word stories.

http://www.drabblecast.org/ Home for many weird and wonderful things, including drabbles and great short stories.

 

Short Stories

http://www.ralan.com/ In my humble opinion, your best one-stop site for finding markets to sell speculative fiction.

http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/ When Duotrope became a pay site, The Submissions Grinder became the best free search engine for calls for submission.

http://horrortree.com/ The best on-stop site for horror calls. The calendar view is extremely helpful.

http://thewritersarena.com/ Full disclosure — I’m regularly a judge at this weekly one-on-one writing contest. But if you’re up to the challenge of writing a story under 4000 words in one week on an assigned topic, the Arena can be a lot of fun.

 

Blogs, Et Cetera

https://furrywritersguild.com/

http://www.anthroaquatic.com/forum/index.php

https://twitter.com/FurWritersGuild

You probably know all these links already, but the Furry Writers’ Guild is a perfect example of social media done right. Writers helping other writers not because they’re getting paid but because they want to fill the world with more good stories. Learn from what the guild members do well!

 

Advertisements

Member Spotlight: Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

1. Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?

renards coverFor my furry writing, I’m in the process of revising a novel set in the same fantasy world as my short story “Irula’s Apprentice,” but a couple of generations later. In this world, I envision what a society of intelligent lions might look like if one takes existing lion behavior as a given. It’s also been interesting to see how a leonine society might take on different dimensions depending on the setting.

The novel is in a lot rougher shape than I’d like it to be, but I’ll be looking for a publisher when I get it in a shape that I like.

With my non-furry work, I recently had a piece of flash fiction accepted for publication that combines aspects of the Cthulhu mythos with the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. A science fiction story will soon be released by the Wily Writers podcast.

2. What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between?

Most of my stories have a fairly long period of rumination, where I’m working out story issues in my head. I tend to do a lot of research, which I may or may not use in my writing. I try to write a first draft as quickly as I can; sometimes I have a broad outline, sometimes I know what I want to do in the next couple of sections. And sometimes I just write to see where the characters and concept will take me. I try to revise as best as I can, and then try to get beta readers involved before I make a submission-ready draft — although deadlines don’t always allow me to exercise the full process.

3. What’s your favorite kind of story to write?

Most of my stories tend to be speculative fiction of one sort or another, with horror and dark fantasy predominating lately. Often my stories focus on individuals thrust into extreme situations and how their choices wind up making or breaking them. World creation is important, and I hope I do it reasonably well, but in the end I want the characters to be most important.

4. Which character from your work do you most identify with, and why?

I would probably say Raalfarinoor from my lion novel. While I don’t think he’s a Mary Sue/Gary Shrew, there are a lot of ways he represents an idealized version of myself. His courage, his integrity, his humor and his curiosity are all something I strive for.

Continue reading