Keeping Score: April 16, 2021

I got my second shot!

Wasn’t quite as easy as getting my first. Yesterday was the first day of general vaccine eligibility in California, so even though I got there around 30 minutes early, I spent most of that time waiting in a socially-distanced line. But the folks there were all still friendly and efficient, and I made it through and out without incident.

I could feel a difference in this shot; felt like more material getting pushed into my shoulder. And about ten minutes after I started feeling light-headed. Had to put my head between my knees and breathe till it passed.

It did pass, though, and I went back to work that day. My left arm (where I got the shot) was — and continues to be — basically useless, too sore to raise up higher than mid-line. Other than that, I had the same wave of fatigue hit me as last time, shortly after I wrapped up work yesterday. Which is why I missed my daily word count for the first time in two months 😬

I might be able to make it up today; we’ll see. I feel mostly fine, though I’ve got some of the symptoms of my asthma being triggered: stuffy nose, lungs can’t quite get a full deep breath (it doesn’t hurt exactly, but it definitely feels like something I shouldn’t do too often). I don’t think I have a fever, which is good.

Will probably still spend most of the day in bed, just in case. Better to take it easy, I think. That doesn’t stop my from having my laptop in bed with me, though (as you can see). Hopefully I can get some writing done in-between doses of tea and naps.

I hope that wherever you are, the vaccine rollout continues, and if you haven’t yet been able to get it, that you soon will be. We need to kick this virus, so we can spend more of our time and energy building a better world than the one we lost in the pandemic.

Keeping Score: January 15, 2021

What a week, eh?

Trump’s been impeached for a second time (finally). The insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol are being rounded up (thank goodness). And tech platforms are waking up to their complicity in the planning of the attack, and as a result, dropping right wing extremists so fast it reveals how much they were dragging their feet about it before.

Not that my family back home believes any of that, of course. I mean that quite literally: they don’t think Trump has been impeached, they think “antifa” (insert eyeroll here) caused the riot, they think the First Amendment requires their favorite BBS to let them post anything they want.

It’s…amazing, to me, to see the people that wrap themselves in the flag and “Blue Lives Matter” defend folks that invaded the Capitol with the intent of halting a Constitutional process (and perhaps grabbing a hostage or two) and beat the cops that tried to stop them.

What happened to the party of law and order? The party of civics, of wear-your-tie-to-school and don’t-you-know-how-the-government-works, hippie? Was it always a smokescreen?

So…yeah, I’ve been a little distracted. Writing-wise.

But I’m still hitting my 250-words-a-day target! Not always when I’m supposed to (in the morning), and not always in a single session (10 minutes at lunch, 20 minutes after work, 15 minutes before bed…), but I am getting them done, every day.

Not much more than the minimum, I’m afraid. Which is why the novel’s only at 22,894 words. But it’s progress, all the same.

Taking weekends off is still helping. Relives the pressure for a bit. Lets me do some of the research I need to do to properly write the section I’m on, which can soak up a lot of time (can you believe it’s hard to find an English-language book on 17th-century Central Asian history and culture?). Also gives me a chance to reflect on where things stand so far, and where I’d like to novel to go next.

What about you? How is your writing going, two weeks into the new year?

Writing Goals for 2021

Feels a little silly to be setting any goals for 2021, to be honest. If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that plans can become meaningless fairly quickly.

But I live in hope, and so I want to enter the year, like I always try to, with some goals in mind for my writing.

Goals from 2020: How did I do?

First, a look back at how I did on 2020’s writing goals:

Write four short stories

Hahaha, nope. Not even close.

The story I started just after setting that goal? The one I’d been chewing on for a while, and wanted to just get started on? That’s the novel I’m currently writing.

It didn’t take long for me to look at the outline I’d produced for the “short story” and realize it was really a novel. And since, at the time, I was already working on one novel, I shelved it. Came back to it only this November, for NaNoWriMo, and I’ve been chugging along ever since.

I did start a new short story, that will actually be short, but hit delays because I tried to follow the advice of Story Genius, which ran me right into a wall of writer’s block. Had to hit pause that one, too, so I could start working on the current novel.

I did get one story edited, and by edited I mean “wrote an entirely new back half of the story, doubling its word count.” Said story is now so long it’s too long for many of the markets I’d like to sell it to. So maybe I can get credit for that one?

Finish the current novel

This one I did do, sort of.

“Current novel” here meant Prison Fall, the book I was working on most of this year (before the new novel). The official goal was to have it done, completely, ready to go to agents, etc. And it is done, in the sense that I’ve done multiple drafts now, one of which involved basically rewriting most of it, and I’ve done multiple editing passes since then to clean up the prose and eliminate inconsistencies.

The feedback I’ve gotten from beta readers, though, has revealed some things I want to fix before sending it out. So it’s not all done, in that sense. But close enough.

Post more to the blog

This one’s also a mixed bag. I started out well, conducting interviews with local writers and posting them here on the blog. I think I got three months in before the pandemic crashed down on me, wiping out the mental headroom I had to work on those.

Ditto my book and movie reviews. I had a good run of keeping up with them, but eventually ran out of steam, over the summer this time. Began to interfere with my enjoyment of the books, where I felt I had to keep notes on every little thing as I went through. Not to mention my motivation for writing them up fell away. So I stopped.

So this one’s a partial success.

Goals for 2021

Oof, here we go. Is it okay if I just call a do-over on 2020, and copy those goals? No? Fine, whatever.

Finish first draft of The Last Dragon

Slow and steady. I want to keep working on the novel I started back in NaNoWriMo, and finish its first draft before the end of the year. It’ll be an ugly draft. It’ll have mistakes and inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies everywhere. But I can’t fix it if it doesn’t exist, so I want to finish it out.

Finish edits to Prison Fall

One last pass to do the touch-ups from my beta readers.

Finish The Harvest

This is the short story I was working on in October. I like the story, and I want to finish it. By finished, I mean, drafted, edited, beta read, the whole shebang.

For once, I’d like to do the full cycle of drafts on a short story before sending it anywhere. In the past, I’ve gone through a few drafts, then started sending it out, sometimes before beta readers get to it. As a result, the story I submit to later markets is always stronger (and very different) from previous ones.

I’d like to have submit the strongest version from the start, this time. If that means it doesn’t get submitted anywhere this year, I’ll have to live with that.

Post three times a week

Yes, fine, I’m copying this one over from last year. It’s still a good goal.

Stretch Goal: Submit Prison Fall to agents

If I don’t finish the edits till the end of the year, this’ll have to wait till 2022. But it’d be nice to have this actually out the door, accumulating rejection slips, before the year’s out.

Wrap-Up

So there they are: my 2021 goals.

I’m setting the bar lower this time around, because I think the pandemic is not going away in the US anytime soon. Even with the vaccine, we’re seeing folks — medical front-line workers, even! — refuse to take it, all while hospitals are full and mask-wearing is maybe at 50%. It’s going to be a long hard road to herd immunity.

What about you? What writing goals are you setting for the new year?

Keeping Score: April 10, 2020

Current writing streak: 29 days.

Another week of forcing myself into the chair, every morning, for at least 30 minutes. Am I writing new words all 30 minutes? No. But I’m working all the same: planning, outlining, brainstorming, and finally putting fingers to keyboard.

When I feel the usual terror setting in, I tell myself: Write one sentence. Just one. One sentence is a victory. One sentence is enough.

It turns out that once I have one sentence down, I can usually write another. And another. And before I know it, I’ve written a few hundred words.

Sometimes. Sometimes it really is just one sentence. And I have to treat that like the achievement it is; because that sentence didn’t exist before, and now it does. It might be terrible, it might be great, but I can edit it later. It exists to be edited later, only because I’ve written it.

So while forcing myself into the chair, I’ve finished a few projects:

  • Finished editing the short story I worked on last week
  • Sent that story out to beta readers for feedback
  • Submitted two more short stories to markets, one for the very first time

Next up: Back to the novel. I really, really, really want to finish the current draft; I feel like I’ve been working on it forever. It’d feel so good to have it done to the point where I could send it to beta readers, or at least have enough raw draft material down that I can whip it into shape via another editing pass.

Writers Coffeehouse, January 2020

First Coffeehouse for the new year! And the last one in Mysterious Galaxy’s current space. They’re moving towards the end of this month, to a rental with (I hear) even more meeting room space.

My notes are below. Thanks again to Jonathan Maberry and Henry Herz for hosting!

Marketing Yourself

  • put your credentials — certified electrician, lawyer, martial arts expert — out there for people to find when doing research or organizing panels at cons; you’d be surprised at what other writers want to know about

Upcoming Events

  • comicfest in march, smaller comic con
  • wondercon in april

Getting Better at Writing Comics

  • read lots of comics, pay attention to the storytelling, read comic scripts (find online, including on maberry’s website
  • booths are comic-con are staffed almost entirely by editors and editorial assistants; talk to them, trade business cards, but don’t bring a script, they don’t want it

Pitching

  • when pitching, and wanting to tell the target audience, don’t say “adults from 35-45”, say “fans of stephen king’s salem’s lot”

State of the Weird West Genre

  • with short stories, you’ve got a shot. novels, you’re almost definitely going small press, and you’re probably going to struggle to earn out

Coming Soon: Writing Workshops

  • once mysterious galaxy moves, will be doing workshops at the new location: fight and action scenes, children’s books, comic books

Character Description Tips

  • old action movie trick: give a bad-ass character something to hold in their hands, like a cup of coffee, so they don’t look dangerous (until they punch someone in the face), the contrast works
  • can get more mileage out of describing what a character wears rather than their specific physical appearance (because the clothes show character, but the hair color, eye color, etc, does not)

Setting Writing Goals for the Year

  • likes 90 days, 6 months, the year, but also 5 and 10 year plans
  • Maberry sets daily writing goal based on a week’s worth of actual writing; finds the average and halves it, then uses that as the daily goal, everything past that is bonus; pays himself for every day he hits his goal, can only use that money for fun
  • allows himself business days off when knows in advance (ex: knee surgery, spending all day in business meetings in LA)
  • build your schedule for mental health and comfort, not pushing yourself to the limit all the time
  • good to have a few projects at once, because writer’s burnout is real; can feel like writer’s block but happens if you’ve been working on the same novel/project for too long (for example, when you don’t bang out a novel in 3-5 months, but years)
  • after daily goals, have project goals, and make them realistic too; maberry’s first novel took him 3.5 years to write and revise
  • first draft and the revision process should not be part of the same plan, because they’re different sides of being a writer; the first draft just needs to get the story out, and be mildly entertaining and coherent, it really only needs to done
  • stephen king’s carrie was a terrible first draft, that he almost threw out, but his wife saved it and made him revise it (6 times) until it was ready to go out
  • the person who revises the book needs to be unemotional about the book; because we can see so much that needs fixing that we come to hate the book or lose faith in the book
  • trick: when writing a book in a year, break up the project into 11 parts (not 12!) and set the goal of having that first draft done by december 1st (so you can spend december partying)
  • careful with the rolling draft (write some and then revise some), because the storytelling mind and the editing mind are not friends! they can barely talk to each other. going back and forth for the same project is hard
  • writing down the bones: good book on writing craft
  • revising requires more writing craft chops than writing; should do some research first, learn how to revise from others then go about revising
  • revision strategy: unique character identities, making sure each character sounds different, moves and acts differently
  • one pass character identity, one pass character voice, one pass character arcs, one pass making sure protagonist is interesting, one pass for story chronology, pass on figurative and descriptive language (reads poetry now before writing any prose, to help his linguistic imagination), one pass on the logic of the story (which can mean checking or redoing his research), optional pass on POV consistency, very last pass is how much he can cut out of it
  • short story goals: write four new stories, revise them, send them out by the end of the year (that’s one drafted and done every three months)
  • if revising a novel this year, decide in advance when you’re going to submit it; don’t plan on sending it from mid-november to early january, because no one is going to read it, they’re all on vacation or at office parties or with family
  • other goals: 3 years from now? want to be published! your novel (maybe not the one you’re working on now) sold to a publishing house
  • 10 year goal: put things on there that are beyond your ken and your skill, then start looking for and doing the things that could get you there

Social Media Tips

  • for social media, two guidelines: don’t be a negative jerk, and post consistently (even if it’s just once a day)
  • the three platforms to be on: facebook, instagram, twitter; set it up so you can cross-post from one to the other
  • will save up links and quotes and youtube videos in a list and post them when he has nothing to say for that day
  • interactive posts: what are you working on? what do you think of this new show? i need a playlist for this book, here are the elements of the plot, what would you suggest?

Keeping Score: June 7, 2019

980 words written so far this week. If I can steal an extra hour or so for writing this weekend, I’m on track to hit 1,500 words, which I’ve decided to keep as my weekly goal, for the novel at least.

Why? Two things: First, I’ve been sick for…it feels like a month now. And I’m still not well. Without going into details, I’ve developed this wonderful case of burning, stinging pain everytime I move my head. But I’ve got to keep making progress on this book, or I’ll never finish it. Sick or not.

Second, this piece by Chuck Wendig made me re-think my approach to my writing goal. I recommend reading the whole thing, but for me it boiled down to this passage:

It is a kindness to yourself. Don’t expect to run a mile out of the gate. Don’t demand you write the next bestseller. See the increments. Break it up. Find safe, sane, kind limits for yourself — and then you will find it increasingly easy to exceed them. To embrace a little and relish the success instead of always trying to conquer the whole damn lot — and falling short every damn time.

In other words, it’s ok to set your goal at the bare minimum. When you meet it, you feel good because you made progress. When you exceed it, you feel great.

Given everything else that’s going on, I definitely don’t want to make my writing into a chore. I don’t want to set my word count goal so high that I’m going to feel like a failure every day.

But I do want to make progress. So here’s the deal I’m making with myself: 300 words of progress on the novel, every week-day, adding up to 1,500 words a week total. If I go past that, great! But if I just hit it, that’s ok too.

And once I’ve hit my goal for the day, or the week, I’m free to work on other things: outline a new novel, edit a short story, etc. My thinking is this will make me feel less trapped in the current book, like I can’t work on anything else until it’s done.

We’ll see if that turns out to be the case. Wish me luck.

Keeping Score: Feb 22, 2018

I’m on a boat!

I don’t have internet access while at sea, so I’m posting this on Thursday, while we’re in port at La Paz, Mexico.

I’ve still managed to hit my weekly writing goal, though, thanks to my (rapidly becoming trusty) iPad 🙂

Total words: 1,276

No idea what album I’m going to buy as my reward. Last week I ended up grabbing another blast from the past, Orchestral Movement in the Dark’s Dazzle Ships.

I hear the Black Panther soundtrack’s really good…I might pick up that (once we get home).

Keeping Score: Feb 16, 2018

Second week of using my new writing score system. Managed to turn out 1,489 words for the new book, so I exceeded my goal (again)!

I rewarded myself last week by buying Bauhaus’ Burning From the Inside. I’d heard of Bauhaus for decades, but never bought one of their albums before, and this article from the AV Club got “She’s in Parties” playing an infinite loop in my brain. So I took the plunge (and the album’s great, btw).

This week I’m thinking of buying something more recent. Not sure what yet, though.

I’m writing over 300 words most days, so I’m thinking of upping my goal, to 6 pages a week, or 1,500 words. I’m about to do a lot of travel over the next few weeks, though — one week on a cruise for vacation, ten days in Northern California for work — so I think it’d be best to wait until after that’s over. 1,250 words a week is going to be hard enough to hit when I’m on the road.

 

Back to Basics

Realized a few weeks back that I wasn’t making the progress on the short stories that I wanted to. And I wasn’t making any progress on editing the second novel.

And NaNoWriMo is coming.

At first, I made the usual excuses to myself — I’ve lost my morning hour to write, I can catch up on the weekends — but I knew the real reason: fear.

Fear that I wasn’t going fast enough. Fear that I wasn’t writing stories that were good enough. Fear that without an hour to write in, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done.

So I’ve gone back to an old habit: write every day. I have a reminder in my phone, a little task that I can only check off when I’ve done some writing that day.

How much doesn’t matter. 100 words, 250 words, 400 words, don’t care. So long as I write something.

And it’s working. I finished the first draft of one short story early this week, and I’ll have a draft of a second story finished this weekend. When those two are done, I can start planning the NaNoWriMo novel.

So I keep telling myself: Step by step, day by day. One word at a time.

 

Wrapping Up a Month of New Writing Habits

Wife made it back from Arkansas on Tuesday (huzzah!), so my hermit-writing time is coming to a close.

Overall, I think having the weekly goals really helped me. While I didn’t hit them all (mumble mumble agent-search), I hit enough of them to build up a writing rhythm, and got a lot done.

All told, I’ve:

  • written two new short stories, and have started a third
  • circulated three previously-written stories
  • completed final-pass editing of all but the last quarter of my first novel
  • reviewed nine submissions by litreactor peeps

I’d like to keep up some of my new habits. I think the litreactor reviews help me to see similar problems in my own fiction, and practice fixing them. I also think the chapter-a-day editing is the only way I can get detailed editing passes done.

I like writing a new short story every week, but at some point I’m going to need to work on editing them all into shape, so I can submit them. So I’ll keep that one for perhaps the next week or two, then settle into editing what I’ve got.