Monthly Archives: June 2017

Writing short vs long

One thing I’ve really noticed about my writing process this year is the difference between writing short and writing long. When I write a short story, it seems as if it’s a struggle to wrest 500-1000 words out of my brain and onto the page. I end up making a lot of erasures, eliminate pieces, and often can’t see my way through to the end of the story in one sitting.

On the other hand, when I’m working on a novel, I can easily go through 1000-2000 words a day. Right now my current goal is to get 2000 words down on one novel, 1000 words on a second one. If I have several hours to work, it’s doable. When I’m working on a novel, it’s usually in 700-1000 word scene chunks and it just seems to unfold much more easily.

In part this is because my natural writing length is that of a novelist. Many of my short stories start out reading like the first chapter of a novel and need a LOT of pruning to eliminate that aspect of the story. I like complex plots with lots of twists and turns, but…you can’t do a lot of that in a short story (note the phrasing there; short story complexity often is not plot-driven but theme and character-driven).

Additionally, the novel can sprawl while every word in a short story has a purpose–sometimes even multiple purposes.

This year I’ve written four short pieces and am working on a novel. Of those shorts, one is a 6k word self-published short (Inconvenient Truths) tied into my Netwalk Sequence world and coming out on July 4th. Truths was intended to be a submission for one of the many new anthologies out there reacting to Donald Trump’s election. It didn’t fit (well, I thought it did, but I’m not the editors) and, since it was a Netwalk Sequence story, I decided that it could go out on its own.

(We won’t talk about why I’m finding it extremely difficult to write political fiction without placing it in the Netwalk Sequence world and evoking Sarah Stephens. Let’s just say that it’s my head thing and leave it. I could write several–many–political stories, but that would be violating the trust of people I know. The perils of being an ex-activist….)

Needless to say, I hadn’t really planned for Truths to happen, though it illustrates a crucial turning point in the Netwalk universe.

Another story, Exile’s Honor, is a Goddess’s Honor novelette that was somewhat planned for, and lays a foundation for elements within the current Goddess’s Honor novel, Challenges of Honor. I tend to use short stories as means to explore the series I’m writing, and Exile looked at an important development in Goddess’s Honor.

But then there are the other stories. Both are somewhat solicited, in that they’re aimed at anthologies that I was invited to participate in. One’s somewhat goofy and not at all political; the other has political elements but doesn’t move into territory that makes me want to revert to the Netwalk Sequence. Still, I agonized over both of them, and the goofy story requires more attention from me before I send it out. 500 words a day was the best I could do on either story.

Ironically, when it comes to publishing, short stories fill most of my traditional credits. Part of that reality is market-driven. Even in today’s tight publishing market, there are still more options to sell short stories to a legitimate publisher than there are novels. That’s just the way things work. The shorts may not earn me a lot of money, but they do earn something, which is what the novels (except for Pledges of Honor) don’t exactly do. On the other hand, given the amount of time it takes to produce a short story (especially on spec, where it can take anywhere from 2 months to 10 years to sell), I’m better off working on the longer works. For whatever reason, I find that the older short stories in my portfolio are the ones who sell.

So it is a puzzlement at times. Short stories earn me visibility and a shot at higher recognition. But they require a lot of energy, attention, sweat, and blood for me to make them work. Really, I need to write them, then shove them in a closet to marinate and mature before I send them out. I can’t count on them to be easily saleable, especially when writing a spec story instead of a solicited story.

Novels, on the other hand, are a lovely unfolding of a story, a pleasant ramble through the tale (even when I’m trudging through the midpoint of the novel). I can get them written, put them aside for a few weeks, then spend another month in revisions which creates a clean usable draft for editing purposes. It takes me about six months to turn out a decent 90,000-100,000 word novel from rough draft to final independent publication. But given the realities of today’s novel market, I’m better off marketing them directly to the reader (which requires production, cover work, editing work, and a lot more effort) rather than to publishers.

That said, one reason I’m working on two stories at once right now is that I am crafting one novel to send out to small and mid-level publishers. It’s a high-concept idea that has a nice little tagline and quick elevator pitch, and it might just be quirky enough to fit the demands of today’s market–or not, depending on what Marketing thinks. There’s only one way to find out, though, and that’s to send it out. I’m not planning to hit the Big Five with this one because I don’t feel like wasting my time waiting for it to take two to five years to work its way through the slush pile. But I would like to find a decent mid-to-small press where I could market some of the quirky standalone ideas I have.

The series stories? Not ready to market those elsewhere yet, especially since I want the freedom to be able to sell related short stories and the like. But the quirky standalone books? Oh yeah, if I could find a market for those…that would be a different tale.

So we shall see where this takes me.

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Lots of stuff going on….

As usual, June is flying by. Between MisCon and 4th of July, it always seems like I’m flying around getting things wrapped up for the end of the school year and then jumping into summer stuff. It’s no different now that I’m working online instead of in a classroom. OTOH, I’m less tired from working online, so that’s a win.

The late spring meant we’ve been dragging on getting the garden running and getting in the wood. But at last, we got the garden finished off in early June and it is happily growing at our friend S’s place in Clatskanie. This past week in Enterprise, we did get two loads of wood hauled, plus horse show stuff…

But there’s so much to blog about and I keep putting it off because, well, who wants to spam the linkage? I’m thinking now that I need to write some things but just not publish them. The alternative is not blogging at all…and I am discovering that I really don’t like that option, either.

So yeah. Time to start writing blog posts and timing them. I will post one soon talking about the two short pieces I have available on preorder right now. I also want to post about politics, because I’m contemplating a few things. I also want to write and post something about a few things I’ve been considering about writing process that has solidified to some extent by now. And then I also want to blog about the horse.

Meanwhile, I’m putting this one up. Hopefully we’ll see a flurry of posting soon.

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Musing on horse training–“bitting up”

Over the past week I’ve had a few moments of horse training awareness where I gained a new perspective on my past experiences and the training tools in my toolbox. One of those is a semi-controversial technique known as “bitting up.” Years ago, “bitting up” was often used to introduce the young horse to a bit. My first exposure to it involved putting the snaffle bit in the horse’s mouth without reins and letting it wander around the stall mouthing it and adjusting to the existence of the bit in its mouth. The three horses who got their first bits at my hands started that way. I also used this technique to introduce my first Quarter Horse, Sparkle, to her curb bit.

Then I started out with G, and learned a bit more about how to use bitting up in part as a means to introduce the horse to carrying the bit and develop a headset. In this mode, still using a snaffle, you tied the reins to the saddle, leaving enough play in the reins so that the horse’s nose was two or three inches in front of the vertical. Then you turned the horse in a pen and let it wander around, playing with the bit and getting comfortable with picking up contact without the interference of a rider. At this point, the horse was learning about giving to the pressure of a bit on its own. The key was that a.) the horse was unrestrained except for that bit contact and b.) the horse was under supervision. This didn’t go on for very long, perhaps 5-10 minutes max. Then, depending on where the horse was in training, you climbed on and did a short ride.

As the horse’s training advanced, then you tightened the reins slightly, still allowing for the nose to be ahead of the vertical. At this point, the horse was worked on a lunge line or in a round pen, working on balance and contact. The key was that the horse learned on its own about yielding to bit pressure without the vagaries of human hands. The idea was that the horse taught itself about bit pressure.

Hold that thought. It becomes important later on here.

One of the things that G said about this type of bitting up was that it not only helped the horse learn on its own, but that it created a habit of discipline. We did this sort of work not only with green horses but horses going through retraining. Horses who lacked respect for the bit. Horses whose mouths were desensitized by heavy-handed riders.

The technique, of course, is one that gets misused. One of the worst versions of it was revealed a few years ago when a trainer in Southern California used it with a curb bit, and tied the reins so tight that the horse threw herself and broke her neck. Unsupervised, to boot. A curb bit is a leverage device, operating not just on the bars of the horse’s mouth (a toothless gum section between incisors and molars) but on the jaw, possibly the roof of the mouth (depending on how high the curved section of the bit is), and on the horse’s poll (a very sensitive area behind the ears). Too much pressure in these places can cause a horse to rear and flip…which is apparently what happened in that case.

But there are other versions of misuse. Using it with the nose cranked to the chest. Doing it for hours on end. Doing it with a thin twisted wire bit. Probably many other variations I don’t really want to think about.

Over the years, I discovered that this tool had other uses. When young Mocha was sparky, I’d bit her up and put her on a lunge line or the round pen. A short period–5-10 minutes, max–and she would switch over from being Ms I Know Everything to Ms Okay I’ll Listen. I started pulling this tool out in the springtime even as she matured and became more steady.

This past week it all came together. She’s out in Big Pasture now, hilly on the end of a long ridge flat, running with the herd. The first day I rode her, she was total Miss Butthead. Nickering at the herd, her attention on the herd, wanting to run and not pay attention to the rider on her back, even with the curb bit in her mouth and some schooling.

(an example of the herd and Big Pasture)

Well, that wasn’t gonna work. So the next time, I brought out the snaffle and the lunge line, and bitted her up. Then we reviewed the concept of listening to the human instead of wondering what the herd was doing, including screaming for them. And whoa. Especially whoa, because she hadn’t been particularly listening to that.

5 minutes later, we had brains reinstalled.

A revisit on the next ride also ensured that Brains Were Installed. Both times we had a pleasant ride, including a stretch of gallop along a flat section of jeep track. Little mare started dancing as we swung around to the starting place, took off as fast as she could once I kissed to her and leaned forward, and–best of all–she eased off and stopped when asked. And our canters away from that stretch of flat, safe place for hard gallop were controlled and quiet. Oh, a couple of times she asked to run, and I said no. But the key was–she listened.

When I go back and look at previous year’s entries (I was looking for a picture that isn’t on this computer), I see many notes about having to do just that at G’s place, at around this time of year. So it’s a normal thing, just a phase of late spring or early summer.

And damn, I’m sure glad I’ve got this tool in my bag of training tricks.


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