The Stretch Ahead

On the final day of 2020, I posted about my writing accomplishments in that year. Thought about posting my goals for 2021 the following day, but decided to take a few days off. Got up at 7 today, wrote for five hours, so I’m back on my game.

Found out last week that it’s actually pretty easy to create a table in WordPress, once you locate the command button:

Stories DraftedStories RevisedStories SubmittedTotal SubmissionsBlog Posts
Minimum96625156
Goal129950182
Stretch15121275208

Total Submissions is an activity I didn’t track in 2020. This represents journal submissions for all stories, even the ones I completed in previous years. In 2019 I made 23 submissions, which increased slightly to 28 last year. I have nine stories still seeking a home, with several more to come; averaging five submissions for each story shouldn’t be burdensome.

Blogging isn’t essential to my fiction writing, but it’s an important communication tool. Posting three to four times a week should keep me in touch with the world.

I also want to return to my novels, something I barely considered last year. It’s time for a third draft of Gray Metal Faces, plus an initial draft of a completely new project for this year’s National Novel Writing Month event in November. Don’t know what I’m going to write yet, but I plan on having fun with whatever I decide to write.

I’m also eliminating one of my benchmarks from the past: writing income. When I began this adventure two and a half years ago, I set my ambition towards making a living as a writer. Since then, I’ve concluded that’s actually backwards thinking. Living a writer’s life was my actual goal; trying to make that life pay the bills was becoming an obstacle. Once more I shall express gratitude for the resources available to me, not only financial but also in support from family and friends. Instead of trying to make it on my own, I’m going to rely on help.

I’ve got 361 more days to complete the tasks I’ve set for myself. Let’s revisit this post in late June, and see whether the Minimum benchmarks in the above chart have been reached and how far I’ve come in the latest revision of my fencing novel. That mid-year progress analysis will show how much work remains in the second half of what should be a very productive year.

Stretched Out

At the beginning of March, I announced a set of goals for my short fiction in 2020. On the last day of the year, it’s time to revisit and evaluate.

After finally figuring out how to create a table in the new WordPress interface (which sucks, absolutely sucks), here’s the goals I set for my short stories in the past year:

DraftedRevisedSubmitted
Minimum633
Goal966
Stretch1299
ACTUAL1299

In other words, I had a productive year.

I had other writing goals as well that didn’t make it into that March post. I wrote yesterday about my year-long series of weekly journal reviews; reaching that goal was as significant as my short story accomplishments. I also wanted to post three times a week on this blog, and as today’s will be the 159th post of 2020, that makes for another goal reached.

I’d also set a monetary goal of $25K, income I hoped to accumulate through technical writing, tutoring, and whatever I earned through published stories. Actual income earned was around $18K, well under my target. I’ll have more to say about income goals when I set my goals for 2021 in a future post.

I’ve developed significant momentum in my writing career over the past year, and as I close out this post it’s important to identify why this happened. Being home more because of COVID-19 certainly contributed, but not nearly as much as my early-morning commitment. It’s entirely possible I haven’t blogged on this yet, but in early May I accepted an invitation from a fellow writer to write for an hour at 6 AM. I don’t enjoy early mornings, but frustration over my lack of progress inspired me to try something new. I can’t do it every day like my colleague does — three days of rising at 5 is all I can comfortably handle — but the results speak for themselves. My early mornings will continue into 2021.

***

My friends, these past 365 days have been a challenge. I’m grateful for having the resources to weather the ongoing storm of this pandemic, and appreciate how I’ve been able to stretch for and reach my most significant writing goals. A year from today, I hope all of us will be able to look back on a year of recovery.

Not So Bad, No Matter How Weird

Just submitted my first short story of 2020. Lot more work to do to reach my goals for the year, but getting the initial story completed feels inspirational. This story was a draft I’d developed three years ago, and decided to revise at the end of February. The literary journal I targeted for this story’s initial submission had a deadline of midnight tonight, and I made it with eighteen minutes to spare. A complete revision in a month; not so bad.

It feels weird pursuing literary ambitions during a time of international crisis, but then again, writing professionally has never felt quite felt “normal.”

Minimums, Mid-Ranges, and Stretches

About a year ago, I announced a goal for my fiction — revise seven stories I’d drafted over the years, and submit them to literary journals by the end of 2019. I didn’t reach that goal, but I did make more progress than I ever had with my fiction. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been so ambitious.

Now that my work schedule has finally moderated, I’m ready to bring my creative writing forward to the main burners. And since having a goal last year worked out pretty well, I’m giving it another shot in 2020.

Going with a couple refinements this year. The first is to create separate goals for each of the three primary stages in my development process:

  • Drafting: the quickest and most spontaneous stage. Get an idea in my head, sketch a rough outline, then write the story that’s within me. Don’t bother over theme, genre, or execution; if a character name changes half-way through, don’t go back and update; if the dialogue doesn’t seem quite right, move on and correct it later. The purpose in this stage is to create something that’s complete, no matter how rough it is.
  • Revising: the slowest and most deliberate stage. Take the lumpy ball of clay that’s the draft, and make it presentable. Use all the techniques learned from years of reading, classes, and writer’s workshops. If the theme or genre hasn’t come yet, it best show up now. Get the character names right, and iron out the wrinkled dialogue. When it’s revised, share it in a writer’s workshop, and see what responses it generates. The purpose of this stage is create something that’s polished.
  • Submitting: Use the responses from the writer’s workshop to make final changes. Proofread and format the document. Proofread again. Identify target publications, pay the reading fees, and send the tale on its way. Read the rejections then immediately delete them, knowing that it only takes one yes to make all the no’s seem insignificant. The purpose of this stage is to get something published.

The second refinement is creating goal levels, a minimum that should be reached no matter what else I get into this year, a mid-range that will require some dedication, and a stretch that would be difficult but not impossible to achieve.

Now that the exposition is out of the way, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2020. I coulda sworn you used to be able to create tables in WordPress, but I don’t see tools for it now and I’m too lazy to figure it out. This is gonna look sloppy, but it’s the content that matters, right?

Drafting — 6 stories minimum, 9 mid-range, 12 stretch

Revising — 3 stories minimum, 6 mid-range, 9 stretch

Submitting — 3 stories minimum, 6 mid-range, 9 stretch

In a little more than nine months from now, while I’m enjoying another blissful period of bare feet, it’ll be interesting to look back on this post, and see how

Back Burner Simmering

In the not so distant past, I was enjoying an extended period of shoe-less living. But from the moment I came back to my shod world, I’ve been busy. As in, paid work. A lot of paid work.

It’s been good for paying the bills, but not so good for my fiction writing. I ended December with three stories that I felt were nearly ready to submit, and set a goal of submitting each of them in the first quarter of this year. That plan was made before knowing I’d be juggling my part-time tutoring work with two technical writing projects, requiring close to 50 hours of work each week through mid-March. I’m dedicated to quality in my fiction writing, and I knew my work schedule wouldn’t allow me the time to devote the attention those three stories needed. So they’re on the back burner now, out of the way but not forgotten, keeping warm until I clear the front of the stove and finish them properly.

Freelancing, the career I started nearly two years ago, is going to be like this. There will be long stretches of little to no work, such as the last half of 2019. I can write a lot of fiction during those times. And sometimes the projects will come in a deluge, and there won’t be time for much creative work. But there’s still flash fiction, my writer’s group meetings, and the occasional story workshop. It’s not a predictable career, but I’ve seen what it’s like to know that tomorrow will be just like today, and I don’t care to visit that world again.

I’m anxious to get back to those stories. Yet I’m also fully confident they’ll be finished at some point before I head back to the land of bountiful sunshine and little need for footwear.

Sockless No More

After 24 glorious days of bare feet and sandals, I’m ready to return to the Frozen North, the land of my birth and where I will always feel most comfortable.

I’m glad to have gotten back into the blogging groove over the past week. Eight days in a row… been a while since I’ve maintained such a routine, and it feels good to regain that discipline.

But for now, it’s time to head to the airport and settle in for a long flight back.

Sockless So Far

Eight days into 2020, and I’m finally making my first post of the year.

I have the good fortune to be able to spend a long holiday break each year in a warm, pleasant land. For some reason, it hasn’t occurred to me until yesterday how much I enjoy not wearing socks for an extended period of time. Not that I have any objection to covering my feet in soft fabric before putting on shoes; I actually think socks are pretty cool. But how wonderful it feels to walk around barefoot for several weeks, knowing that when I do need to step out, all I need to do is slip on a pair of Crocs…Yet there’s more to life than lounging around barefoot. I’ve been doing a good deal of reading while on vacation, and my plan is to report on what I’ve discovered in this blog. I also need to resume flash fictioning (or is that flashing fiction?) as well as share what I discover on other blogs. I may not want to put on socks for another week (like I said, I’m pretty fortunate), but it’s way past time to re-engage my creativity.

This is the first of what I hope will be at least 150 blog posts this year; it’s good to have goals. And by the time I get there, I should feel the soft warm breeze over my bare feet once more.

Reaching to Succeed

Blogging is like exercising. If you do it consistently and keep to a schedule of workouts, it becomes routine. But when you break your routine and don’t post to your blog for over a week, getting back is as difficult as dragging your butt back to the gym.

But here I am again, with plans to be less of a stranger going forward.

Since completing NaNoWriMo last month, I’ve been focused on my short fiction, with an ambitious goal of completing and submitting three more stories. That didn’t happen; one awaits a final proofread, I need some time away from the second before its next revision, and the third needs even more time. If I pressed myself, I could still complete the first two by the end of this year… but quality, not quantity, is my primary concern. Which means I’m shutting done the machine of fiction until I return from vacation.

Time now to think about the goal I set for myself early this year for my short stories. After identifying seven stories I’d drafted which I felt had potential, I made the following announcement:

My goal for this year is to revise all seven, and by year’s end begin submitting them to literary journals, genre magazines, fiction contests, online collections — any place that will get my name out there, or at least send a rejection to add to my collection. Party at my place when I reach 100!

Soon after this post, I identified an eighth story draft strong enough to warrant revision. As 2019 winds down, here’s what I’ve accomplished:

  • All eight stories were revised and submitted to either a fiction workshop or writer’s group, and have been further revised after the “peer review” process. Advancing each story to this stage is a signficant accomplishment.
  • Five stories have been completed and submitted
  • Two stories were published in an anthology edited and published by one of my writer’s groups
  • The three stories submitted but not published have garnered 19 rejections so far. Maybe I’ll throw that party sometime this coming summer.
  • I’ll begin submitting the final three in the first quarter of the coming year
  • While I didn’t hit the mark I set for myself, I knew at that time that going from zero completed stories to eight in one year would be a reach. And I now realize how setting the bar so high inspired me to achieve more than I would have had I not been so ambitious.
  • I’ll need to be similarly eager when I set my goals for 2020. But that’s a post for another day, hopefully one not too far into the future.

    Victory

    I’m declaring victory for NaNoWriMo 2019.

    This afternoon I crossed the 50K word barrier, and reached the conclusion to the novel I began drafting at the start of the month. It’s in very rough shape, but it’s complete. I now have something to work with, not just a vague idea that existed only in my ambition. It might be a 157-page mess, but it’s exactly what I was hoping to create this month.

    The chart to the right shows my progress (black line) against the daily average required to reach 50K words in 30 days (blue line). I started very strong, then life got in the way around November 9. Another week and a half of steady progress was followed by another three-day lull, and then a final push over the past week to cross the finish line.

    I pushed myself to finish a few days early to take advantage of the long Thanksgiving holiday break here in the United States, and enjoy an extended period of relaxation. No writing these next four days… this is going to feel really good after making NaNoWriMo a success this year.

    NaNoWriMo 2019 Update

    I’ve written every day in November for NaNoWriMo, and right now I’m at a little over thirty thousand words. That’ actually ahead of the pace needed to reach the goal of 50k words by the end of the month, but since I really want to take the Thanksgiving holiday weekend off, the mission I’ve set for myself is to bang out 2k words each of the next ten days. That means four, sometimes five hours of writing, which is a lot to fit into my schedule. Can I push through for ten more days? It’ll be interesting to find out.