Xyk the Fiction-Writing Dilettante

It’s been a bit quiet here. The thing is, I have a ton of work to do: definitely one and ideally three papers need to be submitted by the end of the month, and I am (or should be) working on two proposals, which both must be in by the end of October.

I have been massively procrastinating… by writing fiction. I have written several microfiction pieces (up to 100 words or thereabout) and several flash-fiction pieces (up to 1000 words). It’s been very enjoyable! I have a new pen name and an associated website, and will keep my fiction writing decoupled from the blog. You as a reader might think it’s a shame, or not. This is a nonfiction academic blog, with an established theme, voice, and audience; I shouldn’t inflict my fiction (which may not be very good anyway) on the audience that is here for something else. Plus, my fiction serves a different, more personal purpose than blogging. Not that you’d think I would need to vent more than I do, given my many rants here, but it turns out that I do need a more artful outlet in order to get all of my multifaceted craziness out.

Here are some insights from my fiction escapade, in no particular order.

  1. I appear to be actually capable of writing fiction; I was not sure I had it in me (read: I was positive I did not have it in me), but now I think I do. Confidence, you are a fickle mistress.
  2. The flash-fiction format is definitely a good one for me right now, as I am very comfortable with the ~1000 essay length owing to the years of blogging. (This is my 8th year of blogging, btw; I started in early 2010 — time flies!) Given my lack of patience and free time, I think flash fiction works well.
  3. It’s really fun to let the process of writing take over. This is completely new to me: characters actually getting minds and lives of their own and guiding you, the writer, as opposed to the other way around. Being at the mercy of your own characters is surreal but enjoyable; perhaps “trippy” is the right term.
  4. In contrast to what I am used to seeing in technical writing — em dash separated from the text with a space on both sides, like here — which I think holds true in close to 100% of the technical journals I publish in, literary folks like to keep their em dashes glued to the text on both sides–like so. It hurts my heart, but life is cruel like that; it throws unreasonable rules of punctuation your way when you least expect it and crushes you. By the way, if you ever wondered how to format a story for publication, here is a template that many markets recommend.
  5. Market? What’s a market? I am glad you asked. What we scientists would call a publication venue or a journal is referred to as a publishing market. So you say you published in a professional market if they pay the professional rate (I think it’s 6 cents per word), or that you submitted to a nonpaying market, etc. It felt weird during the first few days of researching markets to call them markets, but I am now used to it (sort of).
  6. Learning about the publishing markets has been very similar to — yet weird and different from — learning about the publishing practices of a scholarly field that is very different from mine (e.g., a field outside the natural sciences). There are genre-specific and genre-flexible markets, and you really need to read prior work in a market to figure out what they want. Each market has a niche, but the information about the niche is often vague. It is a bit like faculty search ads — they know what they want, sort of, but want to leave their options open just in case they get something they didn’t even know they wanted but now must have. Here’s a nice post on how to classify your short story by genre. I write stuff that falls under general/mainstream fiction, but I have also pieces with humor and science-fiction elements. Many literary-fiction markets seem to assume that you have an MFA in creative writing or similar as a minimum for consideration. Science-fiction markets look for good writing, but really emphasize originality of plot. There are few markets for humor, which is a real shame.
  7. Disclaimer: I am a writer dilettante, so I likely don’t know anything about anything. Having said that, IMHO, some of what is coveted as good literary writing seems to be an exercise in taking oneself far too seriously. Related issues (e.g., something trivial is buried under a barrage of adjectives and the result is termed evocative) bother me in contemporary novels and short pieces alike. As if the writer cannot help but insert themselves in the story, over and over again, lest we forget for a second what an erudite wordsmith they are and, God forbid, focus on the characters instead. Alas, I am a curmudgeon with a proclivity for barren prose, my fiction thus ill-fated.
  8. The best (free) way to look at different markets is The (Submission) Grinder, where you can search for potential markets based on the type of work. You can see how fast they are to respond, what type of work they solicit, etc. The paid version is Duotrope  and it does have some neat features that The Grinder does not and that may make Duotrope worth $5/mo (e.g., where else the people who submitted to a certain market also submitted and where else they already published; this is an excellent resource for mentally mapping the market landscape). OTOH, I love The Grinder’s graphs; you can really see how many days you likely have until you hear from the journal the market and you can get a lot of insight about the relevant timescales in the review process. Fun fact: from tracking many of the same journal stats in The Grinder and in Duotrope, it appears that the literary folks favor Duotrope, while the sci-fi folks favor The Grinder.
  9. I am not a professional writer, so what I care about is that my work gets out there, in a reputable market, and FAST. So, a market’s fast response is my number one criterion. The second one is whether I can get a personal response, even if rejected, because I want to improve. There are markets that are both fast and personable, and I would always target those over those that take six months to give me a form rejection but are higher on the prestige scale; I suppose I have the luxury of doing that because I am not a professional writer. I do bite my nails enough waiting to hear about grants and papers, and I want my fiction out and actually read by other humans sooner rather than later later. You could say, “Why don’t you just put it online yourself, on a blog?” Because I would like the stories to be accessible to the people interested in similar material; I would like the stories to be recognized by people with experience in an editorial capacity, as I want to know if they are really any good (good being somewhat relative, but not completely arbitrary) or if I have serious issues to fix. For instance, Academaze could have been self-published, but it’s much better now that Annorlunda Books published it. Having a dispassionate editor who recognizes the worth of the work and wants to help you make it better and more visible is priceless! (Thank you again, Melanie!)
  10. Up to here, this post is ~1200 words, so this is a bit longer than the 1000-word cutoff for flash fiction, but as I said, this length is quite comfortable for me. And you can say a lot in 1000 words.

Wish me luck!

How is everyone’s semester going?

5 comments

  1. The em-dash should not have spaces around it—even in scientific prose. The spaces are a remnant of the old typescript days when typographers were instructed to put in an em-dash by typing space-hyphen-hyphen-space. They have never belonged in properly typeset material. (There are some typographers who favor a thin space on either side of an em-dash for looser setting, but never a full word space.)

  2. I think it’s really cool that you’re writing fiction! I miss your regular updates on this blog, though. *sad face*

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