With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude)
I planned on writing a three-part series of posts for this retrospective, actually got 2,000 words into it, at which point I realized it felt bloated and pretentious. So, I did what I do with my stories, I took a hard look at what was written and decided to cut the chaff and get right to the damn point. Here we go
I: the raw numbers
Three years ago I began keeping track of my daily writing (1000 words a day was the goal). It helped to have a quick, visual reminder of whether I was slacking or keeping pace. I totaled 235,910 words that year (including first drafts, first revisions, and written critiques of other writers’ work). Last year: 316,675 total words. I planned to build on this, and the first four months of the year were great, as I averaged 30,000 words a month with only five days of no writing progress.
Then, I hit the wall.
But I continued writing, reaching 238,370 total words for the year. Not what I aspired to, but still on pace with my first year of tracking. Most of my “lost” writing days are clusters of one or two days, with a handful of three-day stretches, and only one four-day fallow period. More importantly, or equally as important, I did send off more submissions this year—61 versus 53 in 2014. Last year I had 53. This year I sent off 61 submissions, and despite hitting that wall in May, still sent off submissions every month of the year. With a handful of new stories to throw into the “submission rotation” in 2016, I should be able to build on this going forward.
II: the stories
This year I had one story published, “Ouroboros,” a science fiction tale part Neil Gaiman’s “Babycakes” and part Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Available in the anthology, Broken Worlds, from A Murder of Storytellers, you can purchase it here or get the chapbook, which also includes a short comic story written by me, at the Warrior27 store.
I was also recognized for one of my stories this year. My short crime story, “Silence,” which was published in last year’s issue of Needle Magazine was recognized as one of the 50 best North American crime stories for 2014 in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015. That was huge for me, and has given me more confidence in my writing. Maybe I am doing something right.
III: what I’ve learned
It’s been amazing to realize how much I did not know when I began writing seriously five years ago. But elaborating on the lessons is a bit of a challenge, since each is so distinct to the story at hand, at that time. But I am conscious of thinking about story differently than I used to. My initial stories were like maps, moving from point A to point B to point C until I reached the end. Now, I find myself not only thinking more about how to incorporate theme and metaphor into my narratives, but I am also unafraid of moving scenes around to evoke some feeling or reaction in the reader. These are things I never considered just a few years back, or even last year. Certainly, some of these insights have come from reading interviews with writers I appreciate, but, for the most part, they have come from sitting down and doing the writing. It may be cliché to invoke the traditional author’s advice of “the only way to become a writer is to write,” but it is one hundred percent true.
IV: looking ahead
The latter part of this year has been used to revise a lot of first drafts I’ve had sitting on my hard drive. Come January, I plan on giving them all a strong polish and throwing them into the submission rotation, in order to try and capitalize on my “Best Mystery Stories” honorable mention. I’ve also found myself working on my third novel (the first doesn’t work and needs to be adapted to a more visual medium, while the second will be revised later in 2016 for submission to publishers soon after), an idea that sprang from my subconscious and demanded to be written. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I’m enjoying the process thus far.
I will also continue to track my writing in 2016, but I’m eschewing the word-total for merely noting whether I wrote or not. I know I can hit my daily goal, but I’m dubious if that is the best way for me to proceed, at this point. This is born of two things. First, I found that many of my scenes would come in at 1,000 words, or multiples thereof, when I used that as a daily word goal. Second, Joe Hill shared that he does not work toward a daily word goal, but instead works to complete a scene each day—if that scene is forty words long, then he is done after those forty words are typed, but if it is 5,000 words long, he is not done until those 5K are down. Considering I still work full-time and have a family I enjoy spending time with, this seems the best way to go for me. We’ll see how it works out.
2015 has been a good year. Writing continues apace, to the point where it is not just a habit but something I truly look forward to. If I keep at this, maybe I’ll make something of it. If not, I’ve also reached the point where I am fine with that too. I have to write, there’s no way around that. So, I’ll keep at it and see where it takes me.
Here’s to 2016!