I’m going to be on the International Committee Q&A Panel at the virtual Nebula Conference on Friday 20 May at 10 AM Pacific, along with a splendid array of SFWA members from outside the USA. Come along and ask us anything!
My short story for Abyss&Apex, “The Memory Spider“, has got a recommendation from Karen Burhnam at Locus Magazine! Check out the story and the recommendation at the links.
One question which leaps to mind on the subject of Lunchtime Writing is: can I (or should I) take breaks? Maybe take a day or two off and make it up later.
Well, sometimes you have to. There will always be days when you have literally no time, not even a spare half-hour, for writing. Or other days when you really should, for other reasons. I remember one of Isaac Asimov’s editorial columns from his magazine, where he boasted that he worked literally every day of the year, and then added (also as a bit of a boast) that this had led to his wife getting angry at him for excusing himself from a holiday visit with guests to go write. Let’s just say there’s more than one reason Asimov doesn’t have a reputation for the greatest social awareness.
But I’ll also say that part of the power of Lunchtime Writing comes from the fact that it’s a daily practice. It’s like learning a language or studying for an exam or exercising or playing a musical instrument: in some ways, doing it regularly is better for your brain than the amount of time you spend doing it.
You can also, of course, shorten the amount of time you spend on it. If you want to make sure you get in some writing every day, you could set yourself a target of 100 words, or even just 1 word, on busy days.
But if even that’s impossible… well, my advice is to keep breaks to a minimum.
The schedule for Eastercon 2022, Reclamation, is now live! Come say hi (and/or come critique a classic story with me!).
The new Cossmass Infinities is now out, including my novelette Mnemotechnic! A data heist story where the computers are human (less cyberpunk and more brainpunk), spanning London, Singapore and Dallas! Click here to find out more.
This post is about what happens when I’m sitting down to write, but not writing.
Whether or not you include editing time as part of your Lunchtime Writing activities is entirely a personal choice. Some people might want to bang out as many words as possible, and schedule editing separately. Some might write the words on the weekday and do editing on the weekend. It’s up to you.
I like to include editing as part of Lunchtime Writing. To my mind, editing is also writing, and there are days when I want to be generating new words, and other days when I’m really not in that headspace.
The problem is, of course, that editing doesn’t break down as neatly as word count. Mindful that, as I said, writing 500 words usually takes me about half an hour, I tend to organise Lunchtime Editing sessions that way: half an hour to forty-five minutes of editing work. Sometimes, though, it seems more natural to do it by sections: two full chapters of a novel, for instance, or 3,000 words of a story. You could also mix it up: 250 words plus 15 minutes of revisions, perhaps.
The danger of not including editing in your Lunchtime routine, also, is that you might put it off too much. Many writers hate editing, and it can be easy, when you’re working to a Lunchtime Writing routine, to say “I’ll do it at the weekend,” and then somehow never find the time. So including it as part of Lunchtime Writing makes it more certain that you’ll get on to it.
If you’re experimenting with Lunchtime Writing, I’d advise you to give including editing as part of your lunchtime a try. If you find you’d rather keep it separate, then fair enough. But editing’s another thing you need to find time for doing regularly, whether it’s at lunchtime or in a separate session.
So, Management Lessons From Game of Thrones, based on (but expanding on!) my blogpost series Leadership Lessons From Game of Thrones, is coming out in July and you can preorder it right now!
This is the management theory book you never knew you wanted– order it now!
I wrote my first story age 4, typing it out on my parents’ Osborne before I could even hold a pen. This was followed up when I was 7 or 8 by my first “novel”, Cyclesta, an epic tale of a dynasty of fish, and by age 11 I had started my sequel to The Lord of the Rings.
I always knew that I was going to be a writer. I knew this even when I reached the end of my university years and realised I wasn’t that good. I put aside fiction and poetry, concentrating on graduate school, research papers, and building my academic career instead.
By the time I woke up one morning in 2014 and thought, “I’m going to start writing fiction again,” I hadn’t written more than a few paragraphs of fiction in more than a decade. I’d gone from a student with an endless supply of time to a married parent of a toddler about to embark on a tenured academic position in a new country. I challenged myself to write 500 words a day – exactly – (I am motivated by arbitrary and obscure constraints) and if I missed my 500 words one day, they rolled over to the next day. Within these constraints, I gave myself perfect freedom: I would write whatever I wanted to write, without any concern about whether I should write it, or whether it was good, or whether I was allowed.
I very quickly realised that 500 words is a lot of words. Too many words. I woke up in the morning and was daunted rather than inspired. Within a day or two, I reduced my challenge to 400 words a day, and that was the first important lesson that I learned: where 500 is impossible, 400 is doable. I went on to write 400 words a day for the next two and a half months, and continued to write sporadically on that project over the next two years until I had 80,000 words. Two years later, I extracted a short story’s worth of material from that 80k, and it resulted in my first fiction acceptance as an adult (“The Sum of Our Memories” was published in Hannah Kate, editor, Nothing, Hic Dragones, https://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/product/nothing/).
If the first lesson I learned was immediate and obvious, the second lesson I learned from this practice I only realised I’d learned in retrospect, and that is that: writing breeds writing. The more I wrote, the easier it was. Small, achievable goals meant I had the impetus to write every day; actually writing the words meant I wanted to write every day.
A few years into my new job, I joined a group of other academics and writers in formalising the 400 words a day challenge; each month, we bet the others in the group $20 that we could write at least 400 words a day 5 days out of every 7. It was during this that I learned my third lesson about writing: All words are real words, all writing is good writing. Many other people in the challenge only counted “real” writing, e.g., word intended for publication. I, on the other hand, counted everything – blog posts, referee reports, comments on student papers, things I would not otherwise have written had I not needed to reach my 400 word goal. Because writing breeds writing, all writing is good writing. To separate out my words into those that “counted” vs. those that didn’t would only have served to say “some of the things you are writing are valueless”, when manifestly they were not, because they primed the pump. [The words for these post are going into my daily word count tracker!]
Which brings me to the title I chose in this post: Writing in the gaps. Leisure time – time to think, uninterrupted time, time when I am not exhausted – is hard to come by, when you have a partner and a child (even if she is no longer a toddler!) and a demanding job, even before you add a global pandemic into the mix. Often, I have only a few minutes here and there, a moment when a few sentences spring into my head and I dump them down on paper. It is in the gaps between all the other calls on my time that I am able to write, but even if it is just a few sentence here, a random Twitter poem there, all writing is good writing, and writing in the gaps means I am doing what matters most: Putting words on paper and building something out of them.
All words count.
All writing matters.
Writing breeds writing.
Write what you want, without judgement.
These are the lessons I’ve learned over the last decade or so, which give me the freedom and permission I need to write in the gaps.
Dr. Sara L. Uckelman is an associate professor of logic at Durham University. Writing in the gaps has resulted in a steady stream of published short stories, flash fic pieces, and poems over the last 5 years, including a story co-written with her (then 8yo) daughter, which resulted in the establishment of Ellipsis Imprints, a small press based in the northeast of England, which publishes SFF, poetry, anthologies, popular nonfiction, and books written for and by children.
For more about what she writes and publishes, see https://sluckelman.webspace.durham.ac.uk/fiction/ and https://www.ellipsis.cx/~liana/ellipsisimprints/. You can find her reviews of short science fiction and fantasy stories at https://sffreviews.com/.
Last time, I talked about how Lunchtime Writing is a good way to find time in your busy day to write. A regular routine of writing a small amount of words keeps you working steadily at your manuscript, allowing you to write over 100k words in a year.
But there’s another benefit to Lunchtime Writing which I call the Scheherazade Effect.
If you remember your Thousand and One Nights, you’ll remember that Scheherazade the storyteller weaponised the cliffhanger, stopping her stories at an exciting point so that the sultan wouldn’t execute her, because he wanted to find out what happened next.
Forcing yourself to stop after a small number of words has a similar effect on the brain. You go through the rest of your day thinking about what’s going to happen. Maybe running through dialogue options, or trying out different things your characters could do in response to the situation you’ve left them in.
By the time the next lunchtime rolls around, and you’re sitting down to write again, you’ve thought it all through, and the next 500 words just flow.
So, it’s not just about writing a small number of words so as to fit your schedule: it’s also about stopping writing, so that your brain goes on working on the manuscript in between. Making those 500 words count, and reducing editing time.
Which is what we’ll talk about next time….
The BSFA Award Shortlist has been announced, and my FitzJames and Moyo story, “Things Can Only Get Better”, about a surgical bot repurposed as a taxi who cracks a gambling ring, is on it! This is their second time on the shortlist, after 2020’s “Jolene”, and what can I say but it’ll be an honour to lose to such amazing people.
You can read my story at the link to Abyss and Apex above, and vote at bsfa.co.uk.
Best Book for Younger Readers
The Raven Heir by Stephanie Burgis, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
A Snake Falls to Earth, by Darcie Little Badger, Levine Querido
Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao, Rock the Boat
Redemptor, by Jordan Ifueko, Hot Key Books
The Empty Orchestra, by Elizabeth Priest, Luna Press Publishing
Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep by Philip Reeve, David Fickling Books
A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine, Tor
Blackthorn Winter by Liz Williams, NewCon Press
Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts, Gollancz
Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley, Solaris
Green Man’s Challenge by Juliet E. McKenna, Wizard’s Tower Press
Best Shorter Fiction
‘Fireheart Tiger’ by Aliette de Bodard, Tor.com
‘Light Chaser’ by Peter F. Hamilton, Gareth L. Powell, Tor.com
‘O2 Arena’ by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Galaxy Edge Magazine
‘Things Can Only Get Better’ by Fiona Moore, Abyss & Apex
Cyberpunk Culture and Psychology: Seeing Through the Mirrorshades, by Anna McFarlane, Routledge
Diverse Futures: Science Fiction and Authors of Color, by Joy Sanchez-Taylor, Ohio State Press
The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture, by Mark Bould, Verso Books
Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Francesca T. Barbini, Luna Publishing
Octothorpe Podcast, by John Coxon, Alison Scott, and Liz Batty, Octothorpe
Science Fiction and the Pathways out of the COVID Crisis, by Val Nolan, The Polyphony
Cover of Eugen Bacon’s Danged Black Thing, by Peter Lo / Kara Walker, Transit Lounge Publishing
Cover of Eugen Bacon’s Saving Shadows, by Elena Betti, NewCon Press
Cover of Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s Son of the Storm, by Dan dos Santos / Lauren Panepinto, Orbit
Cover of Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (ed.)’s The Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction, by Maria Spada
Glasgow Green Woman by Iain Clark, Glasgow2024