2013: Looking Forward

I tend to do goals rather than resolutions, because goals usually last beyond February. So, here are my goals for 2013

In short, it’s about the same as last year: publish two novels, write two new novels, and keep up the blog. I also have some stretch goals that I’ll discuss further down.

Publishing: Just like last year, I hope to self-publish two books. They will be Ships of My Fathers, and Hell Bent. Both of these are in the edit queue, and I already have beta reader feedback on Ships of My Fathers. As a stretch goal, I’d also like to publish a third novel, probably Debts of My Fathers.

Writing: Again like last year, I hope to draft two new novels. They will likely be the next two books in the two different series, and those are tentatively titled Oaths of My Fathers and Stone Killer. As a stretch goal, I’d like to draft a third novel, either another one in those series or possibly a mystery. I’ve also been playing around with a non-fiction book I’m writing with a partner.

Blogging: I’m pretty much keeping the same format and schedule, but as I’ve said before, I’d like to add some short fiction.

In addition to those main goals, here are a few more things I’m thinking about this year.

Better multitasking: No, I’m not talking about writing while checking email or blogging while watching television. For creative work, I really do need to focus on one task at a time. So, what I really mean by multitasking is to switch from one project to another when one gets blocked.

Last year I worked on publishing through early May, then edited one book in May, then wrote a new book from June through November, and December kind of disintegrated into illness and holiday distractions. Through the year, there were several weeks, even months, when I was either blocked or waiting for someone else, but I was focusing on one project at a time. This year, I want to move away from that and just keep things moving. I have enough irons in the fire that I’ll never be short of tasks.

More marketing/promotion: And by more, I mean to say that there might actually be some this year. Last year I made an intentional choice not to do much of any promotion. Sure there are some links to Beneath the Sky on my blog page, but after its launch, I’ve never done more than occasionally mention it in passing. I haven’t done any blog tours. I haven’t gone out and blasted on Twitter or Facebook. I don’t even have business cards with my writing info printed on them.

I avoided all of that because I felt my efforts would be better spent in getting more books into print, and I still believe that. I figure that any marketing efforts will yield a better ROI when I have more than one thing to sell them. But if this year goes according to plan, I’ll have three or more books for sale, so it’s time for me to at least think about the marketing side.

No, I’m not about to start spamming social media or running all over the blogosphere whoring my stuff out. Not even close. But I will, for example, get some business cards printed up, and I might sound the trumpets a little louder when I do my next novel release. Who knows, I might even look into a blog tour or posting more original content on some of the new Google+ communities.

Friendship: This one is pretty foggy, but I wish I had a few friends who were writers. Certainly, I know several writers, but that’s more of a fan-to-writer relationship. I also know a couple of writers well enough to call them at least acquaintances, but they’re sufficiently further along that we’re not really contemporaries. They’re more likely to tell me I’m doing it wrong simply because I’m doing it differently than they did fifteen years ago.

I suppose I’m looking to befriend other writers who are in my cohort, i.e. those who are about as far along in their writing careers as I am. Maybe they’ve already got a few books out, or maybe they are only now about to publish. I’m not looking for a formal writers group. I’m just looking for someone to commiserate with about that problem in chapter 12.

Health: My health this past year has been crap. Some of this is kid-inflicted while the most of it is simply not taking good enough care of my body. This might sound more like a resolution, but I am tracking it elsewhere in a proper goal-like fashion.

So that’s about it for 2013. Do you have any special goals?

2012 in Review

2012TextYep, it’s that calendar-driven excuse to look back and take stock of what we’re doing. Lots of stuff happened in the world, but I’m not here to talk about that. It’s my blog, after all, so I’m going to focus on me!

 

I started the year with three goals:

  • Self-publish two novels
  • Write two new novels
  • Blog consistently

How did I do? Eh… decently. I didn’t get everything done, but I got further than I’ve ever gotten before.

On the publishing side, I put out my first book, Beneath the Sky. I had originally given myself three months to do it. Alas, it took four, but at least one month of that was me thrashing about trying to figure out the process. I never did get the second one out. Originally, that second one was going to be my first fantasy novel, Hell Bent, but I think I’ve decided to launch my Father Chessman series first (Ships of my Fathers, etc). While I did get that one out to beta readers this year, it hasn’t progressed beyond that.

On the writing side, I wrote another draft, but only one draft. My original goal had been to crank it out in June and July, but it ran into troubles, and I didn’t finish it off until mid-November. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t get that next novel published, and it’s also why the second one didn’t get written. Still, this was the fifth novel-length work I’ve done, so I’m no longer intimidated by the sheer scale of writing a book.

As for the blog, I haven’t been perfectly consistent, but I did pretty well. My original schedule was for three posts a week, which would come to 156 entries in total. I did around 135, so that’s about 85%. Probably the thing that hurt me the most was not getting them written in advance. When that happened, there usually wasn’t a posting that day. Still, I’ve gotten pretty good at getting them done in advance and scheduled to drop in the morning automatically. What, you didn’t really think I was up blogging at six or seven in the morning, did you?

There were two other interesting milestones that I passed this year. The first one is about my sheer word count. I’ve heard an old adage that every writer has a certain number of words of crap that they have to write before they get to the good stuff, usually something on the order of 500,000 to a million words. It’s really just another way of saying that writing fiction well requires a lot of practice, so we have to be patient and do the work, but putting a number on it at least makes us feel like there’s a finish line.

Well, this year I crossed the 500,000 words milestone. I had to count all my short fiction from way back as well as the 70,000 words from that novel I abandoned years ago. (Note: this only counts words of fiction, not emails, letters, or blog entries.) My total is now around 560,000.

Maybe that means I’m finally writing the good stuff now – which, ahem, does little to recommend my already published novel Beneath the Sky – or maybe it means I’m still only halfway there. With the ease of word processors, perhaps that number does need to be pushed all the way to a million. But wherever that mythical finish line is, 560,000 words of fiction is a lot. That’s like 1800 pages in book form.

WordOverWarcraftThe second milestone was an odd one, and it came with little warning. After years of writing, MS Word rose to the top of my start menu, finally displacing World of Warcraft as my most frequently launched program. We always talk about making time for writing by cutting back on other things like TV, games, and various social commitments, but it’s rare that we get an external validation that we’ve succeeded at that effort.

So strangely, that has meant more to me than publishing that first book, and it has stuck with me. Every time I go to that start menu, I see a reminder that now I am a writer.

How about the rest of you? Did 2012 bring anything special to your lives?

5 Ways to Keep Grinding out NaNoWriMo

Well, November 1st came and went, and I did not start on NaNoWriMo this year. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I had several reasons not to do NaNoWriMo, and the one that really killed it was the over-full writing schedule. Specifically, November arrived without me finishing the draft to Debts of My Fathers. Add to that the edits and polishing needs for two more novels, and jumping ship to do NaNoWriMo this year just seemed to be a bad choice for my long-term goals. However, I am still hoping to squeeze out one more draft this year, so my December might turn into Personal Novel Writing Month (PeNoWriMo).

But with four NaNoWriMo wins under my belt from previous years, I figure I’ve got a few useful things to say about getting to that 50,000 word finish line. I’ve done it with time off. I’ve done it on death-march projects. I’ve even done it with a pretty serious chest cold. In short, it can be done.

But how? More specifically, how do you keep going when you hit the wall of plot confusion, self-doubt, and fatigue around 18,000 words? Maybe it comes early, or maybe late, but somewhere in NaNoWriMo, you’re bound to hit some kind of wall. Here are some ways to keep grinding out 1,666 words each day when even 100 seems impossible.

1. Build momentum while padding it out. If you have a hard time starting at the beginning of the writing session, just pad out the text with description or trivial dialog. Yes, that part will need to be cut, but that will happen months later during the edits. Put it in now, get your fingers moving, and once the words start flowing, segue into the morgue scene where Dr. Pickles finds the missing bullet.

 

2. Park downhill. This is another technique for easing your way into the next writing session, but it requires you to plan ahead. When you’re running out of your allotted writing time (or you’ve beaten back the daily word count to nothing), don’t wrap things up. Instead, leave things right there in the middle of the action with just a couple of notes to remind you what happens next. That way, when you come back the next day, you don’t have to stare at the blank page wondering what comes next. Instead, you can pick back up with the grenade still sailing through the air past our intrepid hero.

3. Knock something over. If you’re pantsing it (or if you suddenly realize your careful outline isn’t working), you can get stuck, unsure of what happens next. This is pretty common around the 20-30,000 word mark. You’ve established the setting, put the characters in motion, established the conflict, and now you’re left wondering what to do between now and that distant climax. This is the perfect time for something unexpected. The car breaks down. Your hero gets arrested. The dinner guest is carrying the pox. Shit hits the fan! You’ll crank out 10-15,000 words recovering from this, and very likely it will set up something important for the end.

4. Burn your thesaurus. Well, not literally burn it, but try to stay away from it. The point here is to not get bogged down in the wordcraft. Yes, there are writers who turn out beautifully poetic first drafts… in eight years. They do not do it in thirty days. More than once, I’ve just thrown down some crap and followed it up with a note to my later self, “That doesn’t work as well as it needs to. Fix it.”

5. Resist the urge to edit. You’re twenty thousand words in and you realize your hero needs a sidekick. Do not go back and edit what you have to add the sidekick. Just drop in a little note to your later self that you are adding the sidekick and that it will need some exposition and interaction earlier on. Then start writing as if the sidekick has been there the whole time. The same goes for evil nemeses, long-lost brothers, and dead mentors. Even if you did an outline, the act of writing that first draft reveals what the story really is. You can deal with that extra leg later on.

If that doesn’t keep the words flowing, you might need chemical intervention or a neural interface. For other thoughts on NaNoWriMo, see my column last year: Nah Know Rhyme Oh!

2012: The Open Road Before Me

Yep, it’s goal setting time! I don’t generally do resolutions as they tend towards wishy-washy half-promises that evaporate by February. I prefer goals, since they’re less about making abstract changes and more about achieving concrete objectives. So, I thought I would share my writing goals for 2012.

The short of it is this: My goal is to publish two books this year, write two more, and keep up with the bloggy stuff.

Now let’s try that a bit slower.

Publishing:

I have decided, for now at least, that I’m going to pursue the self/indie-publishing route rather than traditional publishing. I’ll say a lot more about that in a later post, probably next week, but for 2012 and probably 2013, that’s the course I’m taking.

My first novel, Beneath the Sky, is pretty much ready. (I would argue that it’s not really my first novel, but that, again, is a whole’nuther post.) It still needs my copy edit pass, and then I’m seriously considering hiring a copy editor I know to give it a professional combing. You know, catch all the their-there-they’re stuff.

However, even then, it will be ready as a manuscript, not as a book. I need to do the formatting for Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc., as well as for print books. Yes, I intend to go with both e-book and physical book versions. That’s not as much work as you might think since it’s really only three formats: Kindle, e-Pub (which Smashwords will translate and push for you), and whatever format CreateSpace wants.

I will also need to do the cover. In a previous life, I was a half-decent artist and a pretty good graphic designer. However, I haven’t painted anything in over a year, and even that was a year of not painting much. As much as I’ve focused on my writing lately, my painting has been quite stalled. (Ironically, it was my frustration with a book cover commission that did a lot to sap my passion for painting.) So, I’m a little undecided on this. I could whip out my artistic toolbox and see if I can muster something up, or I could go to one of my artist friends and ask them to paint something for me. I can provide sketches. I just don’t know if my current skill set can make those sketches look good.

As a side note, if you’re interested, here are a few of my pieces from that former life:  Night StormAging ImmortalThe Offering (a little racy), and Priestess of Tides (more than a little racy).

So, while I think I understand the basic process, I’ve never done it before and don’t realistically know how long it’s going to take me. However, as a ballpark, I’m going to aim for three months, so hopefully I’ll have something to show for my efforts in April.

As for the second book, Hell Bent, I have more work to do on the manuscript itself. It’s not yet ready for the beta readers, but that task is coming up soon, well before Beneath the Sky is likely to see paper or Kindle. Then, once I have some reader feedback, I’ll be fixing all the holes and lame characters that they find, and then… well, it will need to simmer a bit. But then hopefully it will just need another copy edit pass (possibly a professional one), and then formatting, cover, etc. In short, it will need all the things I discovered Beneath the Sky needed but didn’t know in January. My goal is to get this one out in the latter part of the year, maybe as early as July, but to be safe I’m giving myself until October.

Writing:

So, I’ve written two drafts in the last fourteen months, and that span included a stretch of about nine months when I wasn’t writing any fiction at all. I hope to avoid another nasty stretch like that and crank out two new drafts in 2012. As I’m trying to alternate between SF and fantasy, the first one this year will be fantasy. In fact, it is likely to be a sequel to Hell Bent, since that was written intentionally as the first book in a series. Of course, before I set finger to key on that one, I’ll need to have gotten good enough feedback from the beta readers of Hell Bent to feel confident that a sequel is in order. I hope to write that one sometime in the spring to early summer, probably after I get Beneath the Sky out the door.

Then, somewhere in there, I need to do a first pass edit on my just-completed-last-week draft of Ships of my Fathers. There are two reasons for this. First, I want to keep the pipeline full so that I can do a similar 2+2 goal next year, and second, because I want to get the beta reader feedback to see if Ships of my Fathers is worth a sequel. Why? Well…

The second draft I’m planning to write in 2012 is a sequel to Ships of my Fathers. Much like Hell Bent, it was written intentionally to be the first of a series. However, while I can see Hell Bent leading to any number of books, Ships of my Fathers is much more likely to be limited to a 4-6 book run. Hell Bent can easily be “the continuing adventures of…” whereas Ships of my Fathers is headed to a very specific destination. Once it gets there, it’s either “live happily ever after” or “let me toil eternally in anguish for my mistakes”, and no one wants to read that. Or at the very least, I don’t want to write it.

This might be leading me to a soft fur-lined trap of bouncing back and forth between these two series for 5+ years, but that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. On the other hand, if I can pull off 2+2 for a year or two, maybe I can up the ante to 3+3 and splice in some extra variety. But for now, I’m shooting for 2+2 to keep the pipeline flowing for the next year.

Blogging:

I’m reasonably happy with what I’ve been doing with the blog so far, and I’m likely to keep the same kind of schedule, namely an essay on Monday, a writing/publishing article on Wednesday, and a book review on Friday. Other things will pop in randomly, but that’s the basic idea. However, I do plan on two relatively minor changes.

First, the Monday essay is going to see a few multi-part essays. When I started brainstorming ideas to write on, I ran into several that I really wanted to expound on but would require far too much text for a single blog entry. Well, too much for an entry I expected anyone to actually read. So, I held off on them until now. After all, I didn’t want to start the blog with “A Study of the Interstellar Migration of Butterflies, parts 1 through 22”.

Second, as I get more into the publishing game, the Wednesday column is going to turn a bit more personal as I share the gory details of the process, especially this first time through. Later, I’ll probably shift more to talking about the actual writing stuff. That may very well bore readers to tears, but I’m afraid it’s inevitable: if you give a writer a blog, sooner or later he starts blathering about voice, pacing, and the superiority of the Oxford comma.

Note: my original concept for this blog was to do it as a podcast, likely a weekly one, where the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday entries were simply different sections of the podcast, probably coming in at the 20-40 minute range. However, some hiccups with recording and sound editing kept the blog on hold for over a year before I finally set the podcast idea aside, at least temporarily. I don’t expect to pick it up again this year, but you never know. However, even if I did add it as a podcast, I would almost certainly keep the text portions as they are.

So that’s it for 2012. Hopefully, I’ll be greeting 2013 with success. At the very least, I’ll be greeting it with a big raspberry for all those Mayan calendar doofuses… doofusses… doofi… hell, why doesn’t the dictionary ever conjugate the one word you really need?

2011: Words in the Rearview Mirror

2011 was one of my best years as a writer. It was also one of my worst years as a writer. It was also, apparently, the year I tried to riff on Charles Dickens for some cheap end-of-year poignancy. But seriously, the year was a mix of the extremes.

The year started fairly strong as I finished off a rather grueling 100-Days-or-Bust challenge to write something every day for 100 days in a row. I had started it with a NaNoWriMo the previous November and just kept going. What made it particularly grueling was that I got stuck on the novel in late December and just couldn’t grind past it then. (More on that later.) So, instead, I did a metric shit-ton of journaling, blogging, and meta-writing that never saw the light of day. Still, I got through the 100 days and swore that I would never do it again. I mean, seriously, sometimes you just need to take the day off.

In February, I read “Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer” by Bruce Holland Rogers, probably the best writing book I’ve ever read, and it doesn’t really even talk that much about writing.  It’s less about how to write, and more about how to be a writer. It’s very touchy-feely stuff, and kind of hard to describe, but it really changed the way I thought about writing, both in terms of my long-term dreams and in setting some short-term goals.

He also wrote pretty well about the distinction between dreams and goals. It’s a topic I’ve seen a lot of writers blogging about lately, and they’ve all done it better than I could, but the short version is this: dreams are things you want but are outside of your control, while goals are things you want that are completely within your control. I don’t think I was having a lot of confusion over this distinction, but seeing it that way at least helped me to set some dreams aside and start focusing on some goals.

So, the goals I set were this:
1) Finish the draft for Hell Bent.
2) Finish the edits to Beneath the Sky and get it to an agent.
3) See about starting another draft.

All fine and dandy, I was ready to go. It was only February, so by all means, I should be wrapping stuff by June or July, right? Except that as June was wrapping up, I realized I hadn’t done anything yet. I hadn’t written another word on Hell Bent. I hadn’t finished the edits to Beneath the Sky. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do for that next draft, except that it should probably be SF.

But no problem! The year was only halfway done. It was still salvageable. I’d get right on it. But about the only writing I did over the summer was an occasional journal entry angsting over the fact that I wasn’t getting anywhere on my writing. Wow, how many years have I lost to that activity?

Then in September, something changed in my head, and looking back I point to two quite separate sources. First, reading other writer blogs (notably Kristine Kathryn Rusch) finally woke me up to the tectonic shifts happening in publishing right now. It made me seriously reconsider my plans to pursue agented traditional publishing. Second, I was talking to a friend who was frustrated that his filmmaking career was stalled. We kibitzed about desires and goals and our frustrations with not getting anywhere. We didn’t come away with any grand plans, but I do know that I walked away thinking, “Man, I don’t want to be having this same conversation in two years.”
So in mid-September, I figured, hey, I’ve still got three and a half months left, let’s go. In a sense, I kind of decided to double-down with a slightly stepped up set of goals, which were:

1) Finish Hell Bent, do a first-pass edit, and get it into the hands of my alpha readers.
2) Finish the edits to Beneath the Sky, do a copy edit pass on it, and figure out what I’m going to do with it.
3) Write the draft to a brand new novel, which I still hadn’t decided what it should be.
4) Finally start that blog I’d been planning for two years.

I knew it was a lot, especially for as late as September 15th. I told myself that I wanted to set myself an outrageous goal and just sprint for it. Well, I did, and while I didn’t complete everything, I did a pretty good job at it. Taking them one at a time:

1) Hell Bent: I finished the draft. The biggest step on that was changing my original idea for the climax. I had been blocked on it because I knew the original idea was unsatisfying. By September, I realized that I had set up a Lois Lane in a Superman kind of world, and I had Lois Lane waiting to be rescued by Superman. That’s fine if Superman is your protagonist, but in my case, it was Lois. So, once I figured out how Lois was going to get out of it on her own (and save Superman in the process), it was a quick dash to the finish. After a short break, I tore through the initial red-line edit pass, but then I stalled on actually doing the rewrites. Hence, it never got as far as the alpha readers. Still, I’m pretty happy with how far I got it.

2) I finished the edits to Beneath the Sky, though I still haven’t done the copy edit pass on it. However, I have decided at last what I’m going to do with it, but that’s a topic for a whole’nuther post next year.

3) I cranked out a completely new draft, which I finished just yesterday. It’s tentatively titled “Ships of my Fathers” and is set in the same universe as Beneath the Sky, though it is not a sequel.

4) Well, if you’re reading this, then I think we can safely say that I started that blog I’d been planning. Originally it was going to be a podcast, and it might someday still become one, but for now I’m reasonably happy pontificating in text-mode.

So, it was not a complete success, but it was far from a complete failure. Looking back at the goals I set in February, I feel pretty damn good about what I got done, and the success has me feeling good about my goals for 2012. For those, tune in next week.