I’m A Bad Workshopper

I made it to Chapter 7 in Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings.

When I first started reading the book back in the fall of 2014, I only got to chapter 2. I was doing the short story thing and decided that novels lingered and that I didn’t want to finish reading it. Now that I’m trying the novel thing again, I didn’t start the book over. I just kept reading right where my Kindle said I’d left off. I was surprised at how much of the novel I remembered. What I learned from this experience was that, for me, it’s okay to stop and start again. I’ll just try not to wait two years before going back to it again. 

I’m liking the book. The setting is what I expected, but different enough to keep me sight seeing. The apocalyptic storm thing is interesting. The characters are good. The names are annoying. All of that being said, there are some places that I’d scratch out if it was given to me to read for a workshop.

Here’s the thing about me and workshops; people who let me workshop their stories don’t like me after I give back their story. I’m used to workshopping short stories. Short stories don’t linger. No wasted space. 

I write and work a certain way when it comes to my own short stories. I scratch stuff out. I scratch out word by word everything that I don’t like or that I’ve decided doesn’t work. If something is not working for me, I scratch it out. If I catch the words telling me something I could have gathered without those words, I scratch them out. If it’s lingering too much, I scratch it out. If I just want to see what a wonderful paragraph would be like with some stuff scratched out of it, I scratch it out.

If I like something, I don’t scratch it out. I do the same thing when I’m workshopping someone else’s story.

I’ve tried workshopping stories without scratching things out. When I do that, my feedback is just kind of shitty. Well, a lot shitty. I feel that when someone gives me one of their stories to workshop, they are trusting me to treat their stories with the same scrutiny that I give mine. I guess people don’t like that.

Since Brandon Sanderson’s book is already published, since I believe that he has probably developed a pretty decent thick skin when it comes to his writing, since I’ve never been and probably never will be in the same room as him, and since I’m just a student still learning anyway, I’ll go ahead and say that what I would have scratched out of The Way of Kings was all of the moments that ask questions in the third person or mimic the thinking of a character. There aren’t too many, but they broke the narrative for me even though it’s written in the third person correctly and doesn’t break tense. I don’t know if those moments foreshadow some moments later in the story. They may help add some tension, also. But either way, I had issues wrapping my brain around those question/hypothetical/outcome-posing moments and it stopped the narrative of the story for a bit. If it pulls me out, I scratch it out. 

I should say that I want to work on my workshopping techniques. It’s almost easier to be able to say that part of my instinct to scratch those bits of Sanderson’s words out are an old me. Afterall, I’m a different person now than I was last semester. That’s also true for the semester before that, and the year before that. But I’m not going to. To be completely honest, I hate workshopping anyway. I’ll settle for just trying to figure out as I go along why those parts of the story work for the book by the time I get to the end. After all, it’s published and my stories aren’t. 

I’ll continue reading Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. A short term goal would be to be finished with the book before classes start back in August, but I don’t want to set that deadline because I’ll get stressed out about it and stop reading it, a pattern I’ve begun to recognize about myself with reading and maybe even writing. I’m also writing my own novel as an exercise while I read, just because. I’ve gotten to page 10 in my own fantasy novel. I don’t know how many words it is because I’m writing it on paper, which is also a change for me. I’d like to write a bit faster, but I’m worried I’ll overdo it and get stressed out if I try to make hitting a page count everyday a big deal.

Gotta go. Lethal Weapon is on. 

I Got Addicted To The Office Supplies Section

I had an interview for a temporary nightshift shelf-stocking position at Target. I took the bus. I arrived two hours early because I was afraid of being late. Most of the buses in Louisville don’t run as frequently as they need to for people who cannot drive.

First, I went to the Starbucks in the front of the store and got a Blonde Roast Grande. I put vanilla in it and cream and way too much sugar. I sat down and watched people get coffee. I watched people in red polos do things that I’d remembered doing when I worked at Wal-Mart. Then I got bored and wanted to walk around. I went to the office and school supplies sections. I looked at notebooks for an hour. Notebooks with calico cats on the covers. Red covers. Green covers. Rainbows. Clouds. Perfect bound notebooks with clouds. Spirals. Spirals and skulls. Sewed spines with skulls. A Ford truck. A classy black notebook with a fake leather cover that was twenty dollars. Then I went and told customer service that I was there for my interview.

After my interview, I went home and started Googling and Youtubing popular notebooks. Somehow, a video by Boho Berry ended up being played and I found out all about Bullet Journaling, an analog GTD system designed by a designer named Ryder Carroll. I won’t waste space explaining any more about it here. Other bloggers, Youtubers, and even Ryder Carroll himself have done a much better job of that than I probably ever could.

I have always been a digital-first kind of guy. I hate paper. I hated doing my rough drafts of short stories on paper. I hated keeping a stupid writer’s notebook. It just wasn’t effective for my workflow or how I get things accomplished. However, I tried drafting some blog posts and a few other things on some paper a few times, and I didn’t hate it. I figured I might as well give this pen and paper thing a really good try. I started my own Bullet Journal in some scrap paper from a three-ring binder for a week. Even though I’m a single guy and I don’t have a lot going on this summer besides work, it’s useful in getting me at least thinking about what I want to try to do today. I looked at more examples of Bullet Journals and GTD-inspired Notebooks. I got jealous of all the pretty ones and decided that I wanted my own. Against my better financial judgement, I went back to Target recently and I bought a soft cover Moleskine notebook, 5 x 8.25.

This is still very much an experiment. I probably won’t keep up with it. I’m just going to see. I have a month before classes start back. I don’t want a system that’s too complicated to use once everything gets going again. In the short time that I’ve been doing the Moleskine carrying, daily/weekly writing, Bullet journaling, note taking thing, I’m finding it super useful in getting content generated and getting results throughout the day with various tasks.

I do a simple Index in the beginning to log what ends up getting written on what pages. I keep an ongoing list of daily tasks and notes not organized very well other than by day. I move the tasks I don’t do that day over to the next day. I write a page or two of fiction a day on the next available blank page. I index that with a title that seems like a good title at the time. I organize the unorganized daily lists into larger, more organized collections and pages later if I feel the need. I index those.

If I keep up with it, I can easily see this system working for everything: daily planning at home, college planning, notes, my writing, and doodling. My idea is that, as a writer, I can look back later and see the daily context of what was going on in my life when I started writing certain pieces, which pieces I stuck with until they were half decent, which stories I abandoned, and maybe one day I’ll even be able to figure out why I finished some and didn’t finish others. I also can’t wait to have bookshelves of full classy notebooks.

I’m doing my novel writing along with my reading of The Way of Kings in the journal as well, in clumps of three or four pages at a time, about the length of time it takes me to get bored with ideas while I’m writing a first draft of something.

It would be nice to have a nice looking, decently bound notebook to look back on from my last year of college. Maybe I’ll try to take my class and lecture notes in them this fall and next spring. No, keep it simple. Just this fall. No, just do this for the summer. Don’t get ahead of myself.

I also might be addicted to the office-supply section.



I’m Going To Write A Bad Fantasy

When I transferred to the University of Louisville to finish my BA in 2014, I was in the process of writing my first novel, a science fiction book that I never finished as a novel, but instead turned into a short story that semester after writing some other stuff for a creative writing class. That short story had managed to get a few half decent rejections from some more than half-decent literary journals. It is still unpublished. It’s on its 50th submission or so. I won’t be submitting it anymore after it gets rejected from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which should be any day now. I have moved on to other things. More “literary” things. More MFA wannabe quality things.  As I realized that short stories could have just as much weight as a novel to some readers, including me, I fell in love with writing short stories. Along the way, I tried to read a few novels, like Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archives series, starting with the first one, The Way of Kings. I also tried to read more “literary” novels like The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, and Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark. I even tried the bestsellers like Alone by Lisa Gardner, the Game of Thrones series, The Hunger Games series, and the Divergent series, but by that point I was unable to really get too far into them because novels just naturally linger to me. I started reading many more novels, and I always put them down after three or four chapters and started another one. I just chalked it up to being a short story person. I read the crap out of some short story collections, sometimes a couple of times. I like them.

I got a few more half decent rejections over the next year and a half for one of the other nine “literary” short stories I wrote. It was a story about a character who identified as male, then transitioned to a female because by the end of the story, she identified as female. The other eight have mostly been met with form rejections. Two of the newer stories got rejections that were just an itty-bit higher tiered than form rejections. But, see the paragraph below.

So, after rejection after rejection, I got bored. I have one year left at UofL, my fifth year as an undergraduate. I guess it takes four years of college to realize that a rejection is still a rejection.

I’m only in year two, year three at the most, of that traditional ten year learning-to-write-fiction process, so I’ve still got seven years to go before I can say I’ve practiced enough to be awesome at this stuff. During my last year as an undergrad, I’d like to study the novel form in a way that helps me to enjoy them as an art form, not as a barely bearable, grade-achieving, scholarly exercise.

I started writing a novel after the Spring 2016 semester ended. Again it’s more a “literary” style fiction. It’s about a third grade boy who gets held back in school, and a lot of legal shenanigans. I got to 30,000 words in it and lost my groove. I know I should just keep going in it and finish it, but because I’ve not finished writing or reading too many novels, I’m finding it difficult to start writing the second half of the book. I’m seeing all the places in the story that I could cut and turn it into a longer novelette. This story is not a novelette. This story is a novel. I know I’m just too used to starting and stopping novels, both the ones I read and the ones I write, and it’s making it hard to finish writing it.

I want to enjoy novels. I want to like reading novels and I want to finish my own novels. I think this has to start with finishing a reading or two of some novels. No, let’s keep it even more simple than that. One novel.

Because I’m poor for another month or so, I had two options. I could go to the library and get a book, or I could look for a book that I have lying around my apartment that I want to finish. Well, there’s always The Goldfinch. I’ve been reading a page every few weeks, because it won a Pulitzer and I’ll read Pulitzers because it’s an easy-to-find list of peer-reviewed good writing. But, I need a change. I’m worried I’ll read it and see all the places where I would cut things out because I’m a short story writer and that will hinder the book for me.

But, there’s this other book that’s been on my iPad for over two years, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It’s in a different genre than what I’ve been used to reading over the last few years and people say it’s a good series if you like epic fantasy. Plus it’s already on my iPad so I won’t have to spend anymore money.

Because I need a break from writing “literary” styled stories, I need to stop writing my current novel and start another one, just for practice. Not for serious. Normally I don’t write while I’m reading, but I want to take advantage of this weird thing (for me) that I’m doing to explore some other types of writing, so I’m going to start writing a fantasy story while I’m reading Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. My story will be about outsourcing and magic-wielding ninjas, just cause.

So guess I’m writing a book about ninjas now. #fiction #roughdraft #imeanreallyrough

A photo posted by Eric Howard (@ericshayhoward) on

I will let you all know how it goes.

This Goes In The Blog Section

I bought a notebook that’s a three-ring-binder notebook hybrid and I made labels for the little tabs and I organized it. I made a section for classes, for work, for notes, and for my blog. I really only needed a section for notes and my writing, but I had extra tabs. When I saw today that I had made a section for my blog in the notebook, I remembered that you all probably thought I was dead because I hadn’t posted anything in a long time. You’re all also still highly misinformed about my work and school lives.

I quit UPS because it sucked. I have one more year at UofL and then I get to try to get into an MFA program. I’m just going to focus on school and stop lifting boxes. I need recommendation letters. I know two professors who are familiar with my writing who might maybe agree to write me one. One of the two professors who I know would probably say yes isn’t teaching any classes this semester. I know because I Fall-2016-Class-Schedule-Stalked him. However, I know he’s still in Louisville because I Twitter stalked him.

The problem at hand is that one of these two professors went to one of the programs I want to try to get into and the other one went to another one that I want to get into. I don’t want to start a war. Another problem is that I will be applying to three or four MFA programs. Another problem is that the recommenders all have to submit the letters of recommendation themselves to the programs individually. Another problem is that I need three recommendation letters for every single MFA program I’m applying for. I have no idea who to ask to write my third one. Well, I have one idea, but my imagination of the narrative of how that conversation would go is pretty limited. Another problem is that I’ve gotten so many rejection letters from literary journals over the past two years that the likelihood of being one of the six people that any of these MFA programs picks is stressing me the fuck out.

Surprisingly, I’m not all that stressed out about my course overload of 19 credit hours next semester, even though I probably should be. I’m retaking a class to get my GPA back up. I also have to finish my foreign language classes without any major problems. If all of this goes the way it’s supposed to, I’ll be done after Spring 2017 and then, regardless of getting into one of the many MFA programs I’m looking into, I’ll at least have my BA in English.

Oh. Also, I got hired at Target. I showed up for an interview for a temporary positon, just to have something to finish getting me through the summer until classes start back at the end of August. They saw my experience at Wal-Mart for three years and wanted me on the sales floor. I think it might be a permanent position. I’m not sure what to do about that, either. I still have my Cultural Center job on campus, and now I’m also at the library in the mailroom.

Also, because I haven’t posted a blog in a while, and because of my upcoming class scheudle, and because of my indecisiveness about my jobs, I should probably say something about the schedule of my blog posts. What I’m going to say about my blog schedule is that I’m not going to say things about my blog schedule anymore.

I’m still on page 200 something of The Goldfinch.