Story Creation Phases

Below is a heavily flawed, slapdash list of phases in the life of a Stace Johnson short story.

Most of my short stories don’t even make it past Phase VIII, to be honest. I have three pieces stalled at that spot right now. Other stories make it all the way through Phase XII or XIII, only to never be submitted anywhere. Very few actually make it to publication.

I wanted to get this written down so I can manage my own enthusiasm, productivity, and expectations. Maybe I can even eliminate some of the less beneficial phases by shining this spotlight on them and consciously avoiding them. By mapping out and naming the phases, I hope to be able to identify them as I’m writing, which could help me prepare for, get through, or avoid the times when my enthusiasm is low.

Obviously, this is partially about self-discipline, especially when enthusiasm is low. Hopefully pushing that aspect into the spotlight will help me address it, too.

Writers, what are your story stages, if you have them? How do you make your way through the doldrums when you find yourself caught in them?


Phase I: Brand new story idea! Enthusiasm: high.

Phase II: Obsessive thinking about the setting, characters, and events of the story. Enthusiasm: Still high.

Phase III: Lots of typing, bringing the idea to life for the first time. Words flow pretty easily after the inertia is defeated. Enthusiasm: high, confident, determined.

Phase IV: Brick wall. The words stop flowing, the ideas suddenly seem stupid. Obsession over how to make the stupid ideas seem less stupid, and no productive output. Enthusiasm: no longer high; pretty much nonexistent.

Phase V: Write a poem! Play guitar! Write a song! Do something creative, even if it’s not part of the project. Enthusiasm: rising, but fragile and misdirected.

Phase VI: Possible solution to make the stupid ideas less stupid, obsessive thinking about how to work the solution into the existing text. Possibly some revisionist typing. Enthusiasm: varies as to how good/clever/believable the proposed solution is.

Phase VII: Harsh self judgment about the original (now stupid) idea, self doubt about talent, ability, and aptitude. Enthusiasm: dashed.

Phase VIII: Time away from the project, perhaps devoted to other creative projects. Enthusiasm: meh.

Phase IX: World-solving solution to the stupid ideas appears, casting the story in a more rosy light. Words start dribbling out. Enthusiasm: commensurate with the dribbling.

Phase X: Cruising. With the stupid ideas resolved, words flow again, and the story doesn’t look so bad. Enthusiasm: rising again.

Phase XI: Obsessive writing, close to the end, trying to get it all down in pixels before the enthusiasm dies again or the ideas turn stupid again. Enthusiasm: grim determination.

Phase XII: Completion! A shiny new manuscript has been brought into the world, but it needs to be revised. Leave the story alone for a couple of weeks, then re-read and revise. (Note: This is a dangerous time, because the process could unexpectedly jump back to any prior phase.) Enthusiasm: high, close to the end!

Phase XIII: Peer review. Submit the manuscript to a writing group for feedback and revise it accordingly, making use of the good suggestions and discarding the rest. Enthusiasm: high or low, depending on the feedback from the writing group.

Phase XIV: Submit to writing markets or self-publish. Repeat as often as necessary to get the piece published. Enthusiasm: very high, but dulled with each rejection.


 

On the Shoulders of Giants

I have many things to be thankful for this year. My life is going well in many regards, and this fall has been fantastic, mostly because of one big piece of news. On November 24th, the book containing my first fiction sale came out: Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence. This completes the hat trick of selling fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, so I can finally cross that item off my bucket list.

I could not have picked a better market for my first story sale. EBSoI is a tribute anthology to one of my mentors, Edward W. Bryant, Jr., whom I’ve mentioned on this site dozens of times. My story, “Chesterfield Gray” (which I’ve also mentioned on here numerous times), is in fine company, because stories by Connie Willis, Steve Rasnic Tem, Kevin J. Anderson, Mario Acevedo, Bruce Holland Rogers, and Ed Bryant himself appear in the volume, as well as work by more than a dozen other writers and friends. I’m honored to have my work share the same pages as these giants of the industry. Thank you to Chuck Anderson and Jim LeMay, Editors of the anthology, for inviting me to submit my work and ultimately including me.

But those aren’t the only giants upon whose shoulders my story stands. In addition to passing through two of Ed’s writing groups, “Chesterfield Gray” was also critiqued in Melanie Tem’s writing group and by my first mentor, Leonard “Red” Bird. It’s thrilling to me that all three of the people whom I have considered mentors weighed in on the story at one time or another, and that it was ultimately deemed of high enough quality to be included in the anthology.

So, Melanie, Red, and Ed: This one’s for all of you.

MileHiCon Schedule and Publication Announcement (Updated)

MileHiCon is just around the corner again. This year marks the 49th occurrence of this magnificent convention, and the first year where Ed Bryant’s presence will be more of a memory than a staple. A number of events are planned to remember MileHiCon’s favorite toastmaster, and I will be involved with several of them.

Of those events, the one I’m most looking forward to is a selection of readings from the upcoming Ed Bryant anthology tribute, Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence, due out in November. My story “Chesterfield Gray”, which I’ve referenced in this blog multiple times, is in that anthology, and I’ll be reading a selection from it. My story is in esteemed company; several pro-level and best-selling authors are also in the book, including Connie Willis, Kevin J. Anderson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Mario Acevedo, Lucy Taylor, Gary Jonas, … the list goes on. In the end, I think this will be a fantastic tribute to our mutual friend Ed. Thanks to Chuck Anderson and Jim Lemay at Mad Cow Press for all their hard work in putting this tribute together.

My MileHiCon 49 appearance schedule is below. As usual, MileHiCon is being held at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center location. The dates are October 27-29, 2017.

Friday, October 27, 2017
I won’t be on any panels on Friday this year, but I will be attending the con, so catch me if you want to say hi!

Saturday, October 28, 2017
1pm — Roundtable: How Can Creativity Transfer? (Bristlecone) — A discussion about how creativity can bridge or transfer between mediums and genres. I’ll be moderating this one, with panel participants Boom Baumgartner, R. Alan Brooks, Kirsten Imani Kasai, et. al.

6pm — Iron Hack (Mesa Verde B) — UPDATED — I learned what this panel is about, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. From the description: “Our fearless contestants–given four ingredients by the Audience: a person/occupation, a thing, a place, and a time period–will then write a piece of Flash fiction. Results will be read and winner chosen by audience acclaim.” I’ll be moderating this panel, too, with panel participants Chris Barili, Nathan Beauchamp, Greg Hyde, and Author Guest of Honor Jane Lindskold. (Gulp! I’m going up against Jane Lindskold in a flash fiction contest?!)

9pm — SF Poetry Slam (Avistrum Academy, 12th Floor) — It sounds like this year’s poetry panel is more of a competition than a reading, as it has been in past years. We can either prepare a poem beginning with the line “In a hundred years” or compete in an improv “slam” format. Tim Anderson will be leading this panel, and I’ll be participating with Jane Bigelow, Rob S. Rice, and others.

11pm — Group Reading & Discussion: The Ed Bryant Anthology (Avistrum Academy, 12th Floor) — Traditionally, Ed Bryant used to hold a late night reading at MileHiCon. This year, in honor of that tradition, Mad Cow Press will be presenting readings from several of the authors in the forthcoming anthology Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence. I will be reading from my story in the volume, “Chesterfield Gray”.

Sunday, October 29, 2017
1pm — Southwest Regional Authors (Wind River A) — What impact or flavor does the Southwest give to fiction written here, or by authors who live here? I’m honored to be on this panel with Paolo Bacigalupi, Robin D. Owens, and Aaron Michael Ritchey, moderated by Dana Bell.

3pm — Ed Bryant Remembered (Mesa Verde B) — A panel for all to talk about memories of Ed, similar to the remembrance that was held for him earlier this year at the Mercury Cafe. This is an opportunity for those who couldn’t attend the remembrance to tell their stories and listen to others’ stories about how Ed affected their lives. A memory book will be launched here, curated by Deena Larsen, and other projects involving Ed’s work will be covered, like Jean-Philippe Gervais’ massive three volume compendium of Ed’s collected works. I’ll be coordinating the speaking at this event, and a number of people are expected to attend, including Cynthia Felice, Greg Hyde, Ronnie Seagren, John Stith, and many more.

MALCon 2017 Panel Schedule

Myths & Legends Con 2017 hits the Ramada in Northglenn, CO on Friday,  August 4th, and wraps up on Sunday, August, 6th. Here is my official MALCon panel schedule. The room names are in parentheses.

Friday, August 4, 2017
5:00 PM: Unsung Villainesses and Heriones of Fandom (Serenity)
Bryan Fields, Tonya L. De Marco, Stace Johnson
Starting with Professor McGonagall, who are some of the great unsung heroines and villainesses of fandom?.

10:00 PM: Building and Cultivating Your Creative Community (Helms Deep)
Melanie Unruh, Sarin Tatroe (Sariochan Arts), Veronica Calisto, Stace Johnson
How do you find people with shared creative energies to build community that inspires and helps you grow as an artist, author, musician, crafter, etc? Learn how others have found and built safe, creative communities with a spirit of helping one another thrive.

—- —- —-

Saturday, August 5, 2017
2:00 PM: Wish You Were There: Worldbuilding (The Shire)
Amalie Howard, Sean Patrick Fannon, Veronica Calisto, Stace Johnson
There are two kinds of worldbuilding: the kind that describes the story’s world, and the kind that makes you wish you were there. Authors discuss the difference, and offer tips and techniques to help you bring your own fictional worlds to life.

4:00 PM: Serenity vs. Firefly: The Audience Quiz Bowl Game (Helms Deep)
Ana MacDonel, Pam Walker, Stace Johnson
Do you know more about Serenity and Firefly than your friends? Now is your chance to find out how much you know in this family-friendly and fun game where deep knowledge is pitted against recall speed.

6:00 PM: Verse in the ‘Verse: Poetry and the Firefly Universe (Kings Landing)
Stace Johnson, Bryan Fields
Readings of fan poetry, impromptu Firefly poetry, and any poetry based on Firefly topics. Bring your material to share or provide prompts to the panelists.

7:00 PM: Relationship, Sexual, and Gender Diversity in Fandoms (Helms Deep)
Catherine Winters, Layman Kingsford, Veronica Calisto, Stace Johnson
Sometimes representation of diverse relationships styles, sexualities, and genders is overt in fandoms, and other times they are fan created. What are some examples of non-cis/heterosexual/monoamorous relationships we see and are these characters authentic and fairly represented?

9:00 PM: Epic Rap Battles of Literature! (Helms Deep)
Jason Henry Evans, Thomas A. Fowler, Stace Johnson
Two teams go head to head in a rap battle where the topics are Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, Lord of the Rings, and more. Fight!

—- —- —-

Sunday, August 6, 2017
10:00 AM: Polyamory and Non-monogamy in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Terre d’Ange)
Jacqueline Koyanagi, Vivian Caethe, Stace Johnson
Panelists will review SFF genre fiction throughout the decades with non-monogamous and polyamorous themes and how they have influenced current lifestyle trends.

11:00 AM: Lord of the Rings: Myth or Mythopoetic (Helms Deep)
Aaron Michael Ritchey, Andrew Hallam, Stace Johnson
Tolkien’s works are often referred to as modern myth, but are actually mythopoetic. Our panelists explain the difference and how Tolkien fits into each.

Perspectives

(This poem was inspired by a post on Drew Myron’s website.)

Perspectives

I am from a southwest past
from mountains and trailer parks,
from cactus and chiles and columbines
from sagebrush and snow and shame and guilt

I am from a frightening present
from Trump and chaos
from Putin and Assad and Kim Jong Il
from walls and racism and leaks and fear

I am from a bygone future
from Bradbury and Heinlein
from BASIC and DOS and Lotus 1-2-3
from Kirk and Solo and Reynolds and Sheridan

I am from a simpler time
from Skinny Minnie and Lyledy Dyledy
from Judy and Bruce and Tuffweetie
from Ralph Edwards and Dick Van Dyke and NBC and CBS

— Stace Johnson, 2017