Zombie hours. We all have them. You know, that stretch of time when you feel about as vibrant and intelligent and insightful as a stick figure of a sleepwalking corpse. You dream of napping under your desk. You eat chocolate chips by the handful. Your five-minute Twitter break turns into a forty-five minute Twitter break.
For me, the zombie hours most often strike midmorning if I'm sleep-deprived or in early afternoon on a normal day. Sometimes I can turn the zombie hours into good hours by granting myself a 10-minute nap, taking a brisk walk, or brewing some tea. I recommend trying these solutions first.
Okay, you tried that, and you are still struggling to remember how to spell your own name and biting your tongue to stay awake. Do you just give up? Are you done being productive today?
My trick at this point is to go to my zombie task list. This is the set of jobs on any number of current projects (creative, academic, personal or otherwise) that require very little creativity or intellect but nevertheless need to be done at some time. Instead of feeling crappy about the fact that I am not producing as much as I'd like on the day's "real" task, I give one of my future selves a gift of time by taking care of some boring task now so that I won't have to waste productive time on it later. Some of the items on my zombie task list:
(1) Format bibliography for Silva paper
(2) Look up articles on glossaries in YA fiction
(3) Find swim lesson options for Liam
(4) Organize file cabinet
(5) Follow up on articles that have been submitted for over 3 months
(6) Check for emails that I haven't answered
Sometimes by embracing your limited capacities during the zombie hours, you can still get a task done. Often, sometime toward the end of the zombie job, I realize that I'm feeling a little more alert, and I can go back to "real" work. Other times, I'm still little better than an animated corpse, and so I keep working my way down the zombie task list.
So there. Put your zombie hours to work.
Everybody wants to write a winning story, but how do you do it? Some answers here, although not really from me. I have written stories--quite a few, in fact--and they won me some small money while I was in college. But I don't know anything about writing stories as a grown-up because I got the hell out of story-land just as soon as I figured out I could write novels. (It takes me almost as much start-up energy to write a story as it does to write a novel; my ideas come slowly, only with much cooking and many false starts. Sure, the execution is *sometimes* less involved for a story than a novel, but I'd rather suffer for something that gets to have its own cover.)
But I know people whose backs are bowed with the weight of all their story ideas. In fact, apparently there is such a thing as TMIS or Too Many Ideas Syndrome (posts at Writer's Digest, and Write World for those of you who, like me, wondered why many ideas would be a problem); sufferers report lack of focus and fear of attack from characters waiting to be brought onto the page.
Anyway, for you weirdos with so many ideas that writing stories is a must just to relieve some of the pressure, David Farland's daily newsletter has a post on what he looks for when judging a story (in this case, for the Writers of the Future contest). In this particular post, he talks about originality, and the story he uses as an instance of originality is by Quarter 2 Writers of the Future winner Alisa Alering, a writer I know well and whose work I love. The post offers great insights that can help you see your story in the context of what everybody else is (or might be) doing. Here's what Farland says about originality (and Alisa's story):
...in that quarter of Writers of the Future where I got several good ghost stories, one of them stood out to me. Alisa Alering’s take, “Everything You Have Seen” is a ghost story in an unusual setting—Korea—during the Korean War. In it, a young girl meets a ghost, a young American boy who can communicate by holding his hands up and creating visions, windows into his own world, that the girl can peer into.
So we have a ghost story in a bit of an unusual setting. It features two interesting characters, one of whom has a unique power that I haven’t seen before. Beyond that, Alisa writes beautifully and evocatively, with subtle twists of phrases that “recreate” the language, heighten it. So she scored higher on the originality scale, than did some of the other authors who had written ghost stories that quarter. I sent hers on to the other judges, and she won first place for her quarter.
Check out the rest of the post for the various locations of originality in a story, and if you have ideas to spare, feel free to send them my way.
You have to stick with your work till it sells. That’s my answer to the question, "How long will it take me to get published?" And it's pretty much the same whether we're talking about placing a story, landing an agent, or selling a novel.
Take a look at some data. Accomplished writer Vylar Kaftan has tracked the number of times she submitted her storiesbefore they finally were published in a pro or semi-pro market. Her max number of submissions for a single story was 19--it was finally placed with the 19th market. The thing is, as she's noted, this was a story that received 6 Nebula recommendations: "there was nothing wrong with it. It just had to find the right home. Here endeth the lesson." Another great takeaway from Vylar's post follows:
If I scan the list looking for my “best” stories, using any of several measures, I can’t see a pattern. Possible measures include: the ones I liked best, the ones readers emailed me the most about, the ones my crit groups loved, the ones editors wrote personal rejections for. I really don’t think there’s any conclusions to be drawn there except that submission history and the story’s quality are only somewhat correlated at best.
I pretty much agree. Once you've done the very best writing that you can, getting the work published is a matter of persistence, patience, and a bit of saavy about where or to whom you send your work.
Maybe you think you've done everything you can, but then you get feedback or grow as a writer, and you can take your story or novel a bit farther. (For some writer resources, check out this page.) Vylar has another great post that discusses the few reasons that she "trunks" a story as well as when she revises a story she's circulating. Here's my favorite part:
If I find myself stressing about whether my stories are good enough, and shouldn’t I revise them more so they sell, and maybe if I revise them they will sell… you know what? 100% of the time, that indicates I should be writing new stories. Because you can’t really assess whether your older work is any good unless you’re writing new stuff. You’ll be too biased and want the older stuff to work so you don’t have to write anything new. If you only have one story circulating, there’s no way you’re going to make smart decisions about what to do with it. By generating new material, you give yourself the freedom to be honest about your older work.
All of this points to what Vylar calls The Rule: "Write new stories, polish them, and then circulate them until they sell. That’s how you get stories published." Same goes, like I said, for getting longer work published. Maybe your agent manages the submissions, but you still need to keep writing new stuff to have any perspective.