February 2014 Retrospective

Month two, and it was enough of a success that I have trouble feeling down about the goals I did not meet.

General stats for the month: 52 thousand words edited, 4 thousand fresh words written, and around a thousand words in other forms of writing.  The good?  That’s a lot of editing.  That represents me submitting two additional pieces, bringing me to four for the year, which is more than I submitted last year in total.  A majority of those edits were for the two submissions, proving to myself that I can submit and edit quickly to reach deadlines.  These are new things to me.

The bad of course, is that I didn’t get a lot of actual fresh writing done.  However, that paltry 4 thousand words represents two complete stories and a third that was outlined and started (before it hit a wall).

Other statistics: This represents over sixty hours of work according to my logs.  That both under and over represents the time, since not all time I log is productive (sometimes my words-per-hour get down below 400, which generally means I’m messing around), but the total also does not represent time spent reading, re-reading, thinking, planning, or any other work that takes place when not in front of a computer.  The primary example of this would be my red-line edits, which I do the old fashioned way, with a red pen.

And now for some charts, or one chart rather:

Image

I felt like I was far more consistent this month, but I can see now that isn’t supported by the data.  There was a distinct lull within one week into the month.  After two weeks, I managed to get back on my feet again, posting several days and far exceeding my goals.  I think that simply raised my averages to the point that I felt better.  The submissions though are driving my work, concentrating my efforts into the beginning and end of the month.

So, what’s in the works for March?

I’ve got four submissions I want to get out the door.  FOUR.  And if I fall into the same habit represented by the above graph, then I’m going to fail.  I need to get things edited, polished, and submitted ahead of these last minute deadlines, not just this month, but in general.  But, we learn by challenging ourselves, not just in terms of what we can do, but in better ways to do it.  Hopefully, I’ll get the fires stoked earlier, and get two of my four ready to go before mid-month.  (and, I’m actually already on course for that.)

And a final note, I caught up my short fall from January, and I am now over my 50k a month (writing and editing) goal, as well as doubling my goal of submitting monthly. That is progress, at the very least in terms of my motivation, commitment, and output.

January 2014 Retrospective

I really wanted to riff off of the “State of the Union Address”, and call this the “State of the Art Address” but I decided to not go for the easy pun, and instead go for the secondary pun denial here.

So, what is this?

This is is a self assessment, looking back at this previous month, and comparing my performance against my goals.

What goals you say?

This year I have committed myself to writing more, writing better, submitting more, finishing more stories, and generally making writing a part of my life on a daily or near-daily basis. In specific, I plan to complete six months of NaNoWriMo paced writing and editing. Every odd numbered month, I plan to write or edit 50,000 words minimum, giving me 300,000 words by the end of the year. Minimum. Ideally, my ‘off’ months will be spent outlining, continuing to edit and create, just with a little less pressure.

So, January’s odd numbered. So how’d I do. Let’s look at some pictures.

chart_1 (1)

chart_2

So firstly, the overall goal… out of 50,000 words I wanted to write, I got to 49,027. I could beat myself up for missing that goal. I could be pissed off that I didn’t put in a thousand extra words through the month… and I should have. It would have been easy, but it was also a crappy month. Literally one hour of extra work through the month, and I’d have made it.

So what are some takeaways from these charts?

  • Tent Poll Days: The goal, is to write consistently. The goal, is to push the word count incrementally, nearly every day in small doses so that I don’t burn out, and don’t make it the ‘exception’ that I’m writing. The chart says I failed that. I have a number of days over 4,000, which in itself is good, but they only serve to keep the average from tanking entirely. It is something I’ll have to work on.
  • Saved by Editing: It looks like I edited far more than I wrote. But, that picture doesn’t tell the full story. Out of that huge portion of editing, is a single 10,000+ word story which I rewrote entirely, and then edited twice. That was due out for submission on Feb 1 (a goal I made) and I had to really push hard to get that done. If I hadn’t been pushing that, and trying for that other goal, I wouldn’t have come close to 50k this month. Now, overall, you might look at this and say, “But Fric, you’re not writing new things, you’re just editing.” More on that later. Right now, this is a win.
  • 10,000 Words of New fiction: That doesn’t seem like a lot. But that includes four complete short stories and fragments and outlines of three more. All in all, that ain’t bad, especially considering that two of those four are very clean first drafts that I’m already grooming for publication.
  • I Ended Strong: It took a couple days for me to be able to settle into writing at the beginning of the month, and took a bit more for me to keep writing. However, at the end, I finished strong. Strong enough that February first I hammered out another 10,000 words of editing (finishing off the monster of a story for a submission deadline) and finished editing another one on the 2nd. Writing is often about momentum, and I feel like February is going to be a strong month.

So, outside of the numbers, I feel pretty good. I’ve submitted stories on December 31st, January 15th, and February 1st, and I’m on course to keep submitting at least one story a month. I also am rather happy that I’m getting a lot of editing done. It might seem strange to value editing as much as writing, but the fact is that I have a growing body of work that needs to be edited. I wrote over thirty stories last year (a number I hope to blow away this year) and many of them need a little more TLC before they can get out the door. Also, editing is something I had been starting to hate and dread. I had grown a real fear of editing, and the process of improving an existing piece of work. So, in a lot of ways, I need to encourage myself to edit as much as I can. That which causes pain and fear is often the thing you need to face. As much as my writing is improving, it improves faster with editing and the analysis that the editing process entails. By looking at my mistakes, and learning how to fix them, I’m also hopefully discovering how to not make them again.

Also, maybe I’ll blog some. If only, posts like these to keep myself honest to my goals.

Episode 9: Stoke the Fires

After my nano experience last month, I’ve settled down to editing the fourteen short stories I wrote. Editing is hard for me, it’s not something I’ve entirely grown to love, and it requires a rather massive shift of mind for me to accomplish. On the other hand, I seem to have made that mind shift, and I am editing well.

Unexpectedly, with this mindshift has come a huge infusion of ideas. The creative flow is no longer going toward word count and writing, and since editing only itches it rather than scratches it, I am left with a mind full of ideas. I woke up yesterday, brain overflowing with ideas for a new novel series, and I have been wondering what exactly to do with this.

Part of me, wants to write. Or to world build. Part of me, brings up the old phrase “Strike while the iron is hot.”

Now… Let’s think about that metaphor for a moment. You’re a blacksmith. You are working in your historically correct blacksmith’s shop. And you’ve got hot iron on your anvil, ready to work.

How did that metal get there? How did it get hot? Did it heat itself? Did the blacksmith have no control over when and how it got hot? Is the blacksmith at the whim of some deity of magically heating metal, and must seize the chance he has in those brief moments where he can?

Or is he a fucking blacksmith?

Is there a forge over there, with a fire to reheat the metal? Is there a bunch of other metal lying around? Didn’t he choose this moment to heat the metal?

So what is this creative muse crap about needing to act when you have to?

A while back the wonderful Mary Robinette Kowal posted a brain storming session she had from one of her books. I responded with “It’s important to for me to see that scenes like this are made, not born immediately fully formed onto the page (like my muse tells me they should).” Her response: “Your muse is lying to you. Make her work for her living.”

If writing is a hobby, you can afford to nip at the muse’s heels. You can wait for the iron to magically heat itself. But if you want to make it happen, you have to make it happen.

I’m learning. I’m learning the tricks to making my mind work, the states of mind where I’m good at being creative, or brain storming, or editing, or writing, or problem solving, or any combination of those. But if I sit back, and wait for the muse to strike, then I get a short story done every month or so. When I don’t, I write fourteen in 20 days.

Which one of those is going to actually make me a writer?

July 2013 Camp Nano: Final

Well… I decided to throw in the towel. Not quite the end of July, but I’m wrapping this up.

In total this month, I have written 62 Thousand words, across 14 short stories.

Just pretend this says 'Winner'Just pretend this says ‘Winner’

I’ll have a full postmortem in a bit, because there’s some really good things I learned this month. Pushing myself really showed me some places where I can grow and where I have grown. Simply comparing this to last November, I not only landed 10k higher, but also got there far faster and without losing sleep or stressing about it. Some of that is just outlining in advance, and some is being a stronger writer, but a large portion is creating patterns and environments where I can succeed. Many days, especially earlier in the month when I was really doing well, I would hit the 2000 word mark with just a half hour in the morning, a half hour at lunch, and a half hour when I got home from work. That’s a commitment I can make to myself every day, and I think it is down that path that my writing maturity is waiting.

July 2013 Camp Nano: Day Five

Oh this seems silly, to be spending words here on my blog when I should be writing, but it’s important. And this is interesting, to me at least. I’m learning, and that is far more important than word count.

First off, an update. In five days I have written over 15000 words, and complete five short stories. I can’t tell if this is working so well because I’m doing short stories, or if it’s because of the other changes to my writing routine that I’ve implemented. So real fast, this is what’s working for me.

I’m writing in the morning. Under the “Lies I tell myself” category, I’ve always said I am not a morning person. “I work better at night”, “I work better without pressure”, and “The occasional drink helps move the words” are also being thrown in the personal falsehood drawer.

I’m waking up early, writing before work, writing at lunch, and then writing as I can in the evenings, and in that first 30 minutes I’m writing in the day I can routinely get 500 to 700 words written. I keep getting those writing speeds out for each 30 minutes over and over again until the evening. There, I start slowing down, getting to the point where the well is dry, and I’m getting only 100 words or so out in a sitting.

Two possible causes for this, is that in the evenings I get tired, but also I start sitting at the computer for longer, not taking breaks. But still, I’m easily hitting two thousand words a day, and hitting nearly 4k some days, and not altering my schedule greatly from what I normally do. Normally, I try writing in the evenings after work, and stay up late trying to eek out a couple hundred words. So far on Nano, I’ve only stayed up working one night (it was a bad day) and otherwise I’ve hit my goals early in the day, and been productive as I’ve felt like it in the evenings.

This is a pace I can keep up. This is the lifestyle that I’ve been looking for to make a difference in my writing, and make it so I’m not struggling to get through a short story a month. At this pace, I can get through a novel a month.

Now, another part of why this is working so well, is outlining. As stated in my previous post, I outlined all of these stories. The secondary part to that is taking a moment to plan ahead the scene before I start writing. Where does it start, where is it moving to, and every time I hit a block, I think. I take a break and go for a walk, I think about the story structure, and I plan my way forward.

In the end, I am kicking ass, and kicking my own ass, and it is going perfectly.

July 2013 Camp Nano: Planning

No, the blog is not dead. It’s been… busy.

But, with July comes Nano, and with Nano comes updates to the blog. Otherwise how would I keep myself honest?

Campnanowrimo.org
The plan this time around is short stories. Not in the rules? Well, it’s an anthology. Deal with it. And besides, having already won once, the rules don’t apply to me… as much.

So what I’ve done, is drafted outlines for 19 short stories. Yes. 19. Why? Because I’m trying for a faster pace than just the 1600ish words I need a day, and because I just happened to get that many outlines together. The plan is to work them as I feel like it. When I hit a road block, start flailing for ideas or how to organize a scene, I’m going to just switch. I don’t know if that will make things disjointed, if all my characters will start sounding the same, or if I’m going to just end up confused and brain dead, but I thrive off of inconsistency and multitasking. May as well see what a fast pace and multiple projects feel like.

Of course, the campnano sites are down right now, but I’m going to hit the ground running tomorrow. Another change, is that I am going to not only schedule writing, but schedule it in the morning. I’m not a morning person, often waking up with fantastic headaches, but I’m going to do it. Wake up, walk the dog, make a pot of tea, and write until I have to work. No more racing to get word count done by midnight.

I just need to not think about how much editing I’m signing my future-self up for. He’s going to be pissed.

Episode 8: The Concept of Perfection

When I started my writing group, I was cautious.  I read a story, submitted a critique  before trying my own.  That my story was torn to shreds (the core concept and some description remains) didn’t really phase me.  I knew they were right.  My second story, same thing.  I accept criticism when the story will benefit from it.

When I started my first writing class, I felt good going into it.  So what if I was the least experience writer?  I’m smart, motivated, and open minded about my work.  Two writing exercises later, I knew exactly where I was, both in terms of the class, and in terms of the craft.  I was heart broken, with my skill and just how far I had to go.  It was hard to continue.

Writing — learning — is like that.  If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing yourself.  If all you get is feedback you discard and compliments you expected, then you’re in a place that’s worse than failure.  You’re not trying.  Not trying to grow, not trying to learn, and not trying to be a better writer.

Being a writer, requires only one thing.  Writing.  Putting pen on paper, or making your keyboard make that clackity noise.  Boom.  You’re a writer.  But anybody can do that.  Many people want to do that.  And many people do.  Are you one of those people who claims the title of writer, but writes once a month?  Writes one story?  Writes but never shares?  Never edits?

Failure is part of learning.  This is a very hard concept to learn.  This was an exceptionally hard concept for me to learn.  But being willing to fail is the only way to create art, and it’s the only way to learn.  And also, failure is not failure.  The word failure has a degree of finality to it.

A painter fails ever time he puts brush to canvas and does not create a masterpiece.  Said painter may do this thousands of times, and may never feel like that particular brush stroke was right or completes the work, even if what they have produced would be perfect in another person’s eyes.  We, the creator, are too much a part of what we create sometimes, to know that it is done, to know that it is perfect, or to know that it is “good enough”.

Pick up any work of art, literature, entertainment, or any form of creativity.  Pick it up, consume it, and acknowledge its perfection, and know that the artist that created it probably hated it.  They probably gave up, let it go, hit a deadline, or just knew it was as good as they could do.  No one ever looks at what they’ve done, and says “There is nothing that can be made better.”  There is always a caveat   If this isn’t part of human nature, it is at least a part of the shared soul of art.

When you — when I — write, we do so knowing that we will fail.  We will not be Faulkner, Huxley, Rothfus or Heller.  We will probably not even be Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer.  We will probably not even be that guy we all know, who writes things we detest.  A moderately bright 6th grader may out write us.  But, we learn.  We fail, and we learn.  And the more we fail, the more we learn, as long as we are willing to.

So, submit.  Give it to your writing group.  Submit to forums.  To contests.  To anthologies, and open calls and agents.  And accept those failures, and be glad for them.  Because they make you better.