On Small Failures and Getting Back Up Again: A Sept + Oct Writing Round-Up

WELL. After almost two years of yammering about my writing goals, I actually forgot to write up my progress against my goals for the year until it was a few days into October. Things have been understandably crazy: my kid started part-time daycare in September; we’ve survived a few rounds of requisite “grunge” and “spikey death” that comes with exposure to bipedal germ factories and fall weather; and I’ve been querying agents with The Botanizer.

Not posting last month’s round-up is a great example of the many, many little things that have gone, are going, and will go wrong in my life. The accumulation of these little failures eats away at me. Add forgetting something like this–that I actually enjoy–to the trickle of rejections for my novel and for my short fiction, to the uphill battle of my immune system, to the ridiculous lack of sleep I’m getting thanks to my FOMO kid, and I start feeling really lost. No wonder my word count has been so low, two months running. I can’t just pass it off to “drafting is hard after revising for so long!” I’ve been in a gross, confusing, frustrating place with myself for two months running. And it’s hard to admit that all of those things piles up and affects my work, but really it does.

But here’s the thing I see as I look back. I kept at it. I sat my butt in the chair and I tried. No, I didn’t draft an entire novel in two months. No I never got to the end of Part 1 much less the rest of it. But I am working. And I like what I’m working on. And I’ve kept my short fiction on submission and I’ve kept at the querying. This is what it takes to be a writer and a mom and a wife and a sane person of my own making.

There’s a lot to celebrate after two months in a mire of life’s making. I can’t say I’m really out of it yet, but I’m going to take my wins anyway.

While I’m not doing #NaNoWriMo–I started this new novel back in September so that technically DQs me–I am definitely going to take part in the cheering and will take heart in all of the encouragement and excitement flowing as part of it. I have numbers in mind, goals I’d like to hit, but what I’ll really be glad of is getting to December and knowing I did my best with the hand I got dealt.

For anyone interested here’s where I stand on my goals for the year.

  • Words Written: YTD: 143,419 | 2017 Goal: 200,000+
  • Works Complete: YTD: 8 | 2017 Goal: 10
  • Short Fiction Submissions to Paying Markets: YTD: 72 | Lifetime: 94
    • I’ll probably hit my 100th submission this year; my 100th rejection will probably come through in the new year.
    • Note that this does not count querying stats, which I’ll only share after that process has wrapped, whatever the result.
  • Books Read: YTD: 24 | 2017 Goal: 30
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October Writing Round-Up

I don’t know if you like reading these posts, but it turns out that I like writing them, so you’re going to keep getting them. So what have I been up to in the last month?

  • Tenth rejection! *and the crowd goes wild* Yes, I submitted stories often enough in the last month that I got FIVE more rejections. Crazy stuff. Also, of the five rejections, three were personal. And of the personals, one (at least) is getting framed because it was so nice.
  • Six submissions, three still active! That includes one new story in the mix. And I’m working on finding reprint opportunities for “Taking Care of Business.” This means that I’m already one over my ultimate submission goal for the year!
  • One new short story. I missed the deadline for the Codex Halloween contest but then managed to write something after the Viable Paradise reunion. This means I have 3 works finished this year of the 5 that I’d like. Shooting for at least one more short that has been keeping me thinking and thinking, plus the novel (duh)
  • NOVEL PROGRESS (that’s why you’re here, right?) has been amazing. No, I’m not done. Still plugging away far slower than I’d like when it comes to words/day. BUT. I made some really great revisions that have really  made the Dreaded Middle pick up the pace. And my research reading has helped me along significantly. Can’t say enough about how important it is to be well read going into books like this one.
  • NaNoWriMo is probably off the table for me. I am being very strict with myself that I cannot start another sizeable project without finishing the novel.
  • I got two wonderful nods from my peers. Two short stories (both on submission currently) placed in friendly contests, one run by BSpec and one by Viable Paradise alums. I am honored and encouraged by the responses.
  • Viable Paradise’s reunion, Paradise Regained, was exactly that. I needed that weekend so much and will probably be forever thanking the staff for all the extra work they did to host us.
  • Stuff I Read This Month
    • “Writing Begins with Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice Is Wrong” by Daniel Jose Older. This has been keeping me sane this month. I hope it can do the same for you.
    • About Writing by Samuel R. Delany. Still working through this one and I’ll probably start re-reading it when I hit the last page. He bills it as a book for writers who already know what they’re doing, and I don’t feel pandered to. Nor do I feel like I’m being taught literary lessons at the expense of my love for genre. Nor am I learning lessons from genre at the expense of my love for literature. To Delany, talented writing is always that, no matter what you’re writing about. Huge thanks to the Writing the Other instructors for putting this on my radar.
    • Walking the Clouds edited by Grace L. Dillon. I haven’t finished this, but everything I’ve read has been eye opening and great food for thought. I think of all of the books I’ve used for research, this has helped me the most (more on this when I share some experiences about the writing process). I’d hazard a very broad generalization to say that anyone writing SFF should read this anthology, because I think it can only help widen your perspective and because you can never go wrong when you’re reading good work.
  • Upcoming Goals
    • Nov ?? Finish novel revisions (I’m okay now with this taking the time it needs)
    • Nov 30 Finish NaNoWriMo OR a novella (MAYBE. But only after novel revisions!)
    • Dec 31 Have novel out for critique NO LATER THAN THIS (hopefully much earlier)
    • Dec 31 Keep at least 3/4 stories on submission at all times
    • Dec 31 Finish 5 pieces (any length) in 2016 (3 down, 2 to go!)

September Writing Round-up

It’s been quite a month! I’m not even sure where it went, but I can say that I got some good work done.

  • Fifth rejection! If rejected short stories tell you anything good about a writer, they are, at the very least, proof that the writer is submitting. Can’t publish if you don’t submit; can’t submit without facing rejection. So I got my fifth-ever rejection from a short story market today. Time to throw a rejection party!
  • Three submissions. No, not three new stories, but three opportunities taken. I got my SFish piece out the door, put “Taking Care of Business” out for a potential reprint opportunity, and sent the third story to a new market. I might be able to log 10 submissions this year, depending on the turn-around on the existing submissions and how many more shorts are in my immediate future. It’s not exactly a square in Career Bingo, but it’s close.
  • One new short story in progress. A Halloween-y story for a friendly contest on Codex. Trying out second-world fantasy in short form. The big question: can I get it done by next weekend and keep it under the required 5k? We’ll see.
  • NOVEL PROGRESS. Okay, seriously. It’s been slow, but there. I pushed through a few chapters, struggled, pushed through, struggled. And then I needed to get the SFish piece out the door and had some freelance stuff come up. You know, life. So here’s the goal: I will finish the novel revision by Oct 31. There, I said it. Expect a Halloween update from me with good news on that front.
  • I also had the exciting opportunity to put my name in as a potential panelist to two local SFF conventions, Arisia and Boskone. I filled out my participant surveys for both and will hear back about whether they think I’m a good fit for this year’s panel selection or not. I’m thrilled to give this a go. In addition, I suggested a workshop for GrubStreet’s Muse and the Marketplace conference in May. So next year there might be a great deal of public speaking to do. And if you know me, you know this is a good thing.
  • Some Stuff I Read this Month (last month I did a “Stuff I Read on the Internet” section, but this month was more about fiction online and offline, so…)
    • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. My review on Goodreads says it all: SO. RUSTING. GOOD.
    • Saga, Vol. 1. Everyone said I needed to read this and everyone was right. Can’t wait to get my hands on the next one!
    • “A Ladies’ Guide to Collecting Mermaid Love Songs” (Daily Science Fiction) by Aimee Picci, one of my very talented Viable Paradise XVIII classmates.
    • There was more but these things floated to the surface for me when drafting this
  • Upcoming Goals
    • Oct 8 Finish/submit story for Codex Halloween contest
    • Oct 12-14 Attend Paradise Regained (VP reunion!)
    • Oct 31 Finish novel revisions
    • Nov 30 Finish NaNoWriMo OR a novella
    • Dec 31 Submit 10 times in 2016
    • Dec 31 Finish 5 pieces (any length) in 2016

August Writing Round-Up

In the first of what I hope will be a series, here’s a look at my writing life in the last month and resources I’ve found particularly helpful.

  • Short story sold! Is there anyone on the internet who doesn’t know that I sold my first short story this month? Check out Sword & Steam Short Stories‘ full TOC and marvel at what looks to be a really cool anthology. Add it to your Goodreads shelf and then pre-order a copy!
  • Two new shorts written:
    • one a [redacted]-punk story I submitted to both my writing group’s contest (anonymous, hence the redaction) and to a magazine.
    • one near-future sci-fi that got written in all of three hours; it caught me off guard I’m excited about it
  • Novel progress! Yes I promise I’m still working on it. I’m making some really solid headway on this revision and am enthused.
  •  Grant application sent. I applied for a Sustainable Arts Foundation grant, which go to artists who are also parents. Long shot? Yes. But what about writing isn’t  long shot? If you’re a parent and an artist, apply. Deadline is tomorrow!
  • I was honored to be a Sentient Squid Scholarship recipient which afforded me the opportunity to take two excellent Writing the Other classes:
    • The Writing the Other Weekend Intensive: A weekend-long online course–taught live by Nisi Shawl and K Tempest Bradford–focusing on writing in an educated and sensitive manner about people who don’t look or live like you. We looked at specific categories through which people are othered (e.g., race, gender/sexuality, and class) and also craft issues (e.g., dialogue and worldbuilding) that can create problematic fiction if done wrong or really brilliant fiction if done right. I particularly loved the exercises, which have already made me think about my work differently (see “Novel progress!” and one of the short stories mentioned above).
    • Writing Native American Characters Master Class: This two-hour class was packed with information, but it topic is deep enough to fill two days or two years or two lifetimes. The estimable Debbie Reese gave us a 101-level overview of issues in Native American communities–especially as they are often presented in fiction. Even thought I’ve been dutifully researching issues that would have been at the forefront of my Abenaki and Métis characters’ lives, Debbie’s lecture gave me more questions to ask. I have books to read, listening to do, and some hard thinking about everything from half-mentioned details to important plot points.
    • General thoughts: Based on my experiences, I highly recommend the Writing the Other classes. The instructors are great. The alumni group is great. And the information you get is invaluable. We’re all always learning, and this is a safe and carefully crafted space in which to further the skill of writing others without othering.
  • Stuff I Read on the Internet

Story Sale: “Taking Care of Business”

Yes, you read that right. I sold a story.SwordsAndSteam_Cover

“Taking Care of Business” (née “Twice Nightly”) will appear in the forthcoming steampunk anthology Swords & Steam Short Stories (Sept 2016), part of Flame Tree Publishing’s Gothic Fantasy series. I wrote it during Viable Paradise XVIII (2014) and did not honestly think I had it in me until it was on the page. It will be my first professional fiction publication.

Many of you have read or heard about this particular short story, and your support has been elemental in getting me to rewrite, revise, and resubmit this. For that I thank you. Particular thanks goes to Peter Archer, whose Facebook comment birthed this curiosity in my head and who has been a great friend on this road.

For those who don’t know anything about this story, well, I won’t spoil the fun. I’ll just say that an American favorite winds up in the wrong time, in the wrong London neighborhood, with the wrong crowd. It’s gritty and dark and fun. And if you need a taste of it, just listen to the Jekyll & Hyde Original Broadway Cast Recording. I know I did!

Expect more here as the gears get moving! (All puns intended.)

The Not-Writing Life

I haven’t written anything but blogs since early February. As someone who recently left a 9-to-5 job intending to focus on my writing career, this is a really tough admission.

Plenty of blogs and workshop teachers and well intentioned fellow writers with their lives in order will tell you that there’s no good excuse. You’re writer when you write. You’re a writer when you’re incapable of not writing.

Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes we writers aren’t writing because we’re avoiding the grueling, lonely work. Sometimes we are procrastinating. Sometimes we’re mismanaging our time.

But I am the primary caregiver of an active, happy, almost-walking, still-nursing 8-month-old. To say that my time is not my own is cruel. Of course it isn’t. Saying it doesn’t make it easier for me to digest; it just makes it feel insurmountable.

And since February, I’ve been struggling with the idea that this is how life will be forever. My edges and corners will fade and soften and my dimensions will flatten and I’ll become nothing but a mom. I’ll embody the paper-doll image kids have of their parents and teachers: that the role they fill in kids’ lives is the only thing they are. If I don’t write, if all I have time for is mom-stuff, how am I any thing more than a mom?

The panic has been crippling.

But here’s my truth. I am a writer. I am not writing now because I have priorities that have to come first. If you’ve had any writing mentors worth their salt, they’ve stressed self-care. Sure, you’re a writer, but you need to shower and eat right and exercise and see people. You have to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. When that stuff is right, your writing is stronger.

Right now, I also need to mother. And right now that means nursing her on demand, chasing her around the house, changing her diapers, keeping good food on the table for the whole family, getting outside regularly, and making sure I continue beating back the horror of a mess that I have allowed to grow in my house.

So, no, I don’t have an hour to write every day. No, I don’t get to write when she naps. No, extra help really isn’t going to remarkably change how much I’m able to do right now.

The really important thing is that I’m getting to be okay with that and I’m focusing on what I CAN do.

I can’t reasonably finish my current WIP in 15-minute spurts or while an endless stream of Sesame Street episodes plays or while I’m doing dishes/laundry/diaper duty. But I can read: I’ve been tanking up on great stories and craft to make sure I am not writing in a vacuum. And I can blog (and as a few friends have reminded me, that is writing, even if it’s not my book).

I can’t stay up extra late or wake up extra early and get words in. Right now there are other things I’d need to accomplish with those waking hours. But if I choose sleep, I’ll be healthy and centered when the time comes.

And I can’t just give up and say I’m not a writer. I’m no less compelled to put word on a page. I’m no less devoted to the stories in my head. I am just not writing right now.

I’m far from the only one with this experience. Life can and does take precedent sometimes. I have friends who have had to take care of loved ones, whose day jobs must come first, whose own health must be addressed. Life doesn’t make them less writerly. It might force them to press pause, to produce more slowly, to change their habits, but it does not take from them their passion.

Listen, if an athlete took a season off due to injury, illness, or to be someone’s caretaker, they wouldn’t be less of an athlete. They’d need to get back into shape before their return, sure, but we wouldn’t say they were no longer a football/baseball/basketball/etc. player if they just took some time off. And we wouldn’t be shocked to hear that they were exercising as best as they could, playing pick-up games casually, or attending games as a spectator.

I am a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a hiker, a knitter, a gardener, a terrible housekeeper, and a writer. If you disagree, you’ll just have to be shocked when I finish my book. And I’ll be very pleased to prove you wrong.

Now if you’ll excuse me, ELF needs a nap.

#endrant

Why I Won’t NaNo…But Maybe You Should

Happy November! Happy NaNoWriMo!

And to anticipate your next question: no, I’m not participating this year.

Don’t get me wrong though:

  • I will be writing
  • I will be setting goals and pushing myself to hit them
  • A novel will be involved

NaNo just isn’t for me this year. I said this last year and even tried to get “Revise Your Novel Month” to catch on (maybe it was the ReviYoNoMo hashtag haha). And I yet here I am: not much deeper into the revision than I was last November.

I have to give myself a break on that front: last November, despite my best efforts, I was fighting writer fatigue after Viable Paradise XVIII, trying to do too much at work, and struggling to find a way “in” to this new draft. I thought that being strict, revising under a time limit and with word counts, and making my process transparent would all force me through the struggling and I’d finish the month tired but victorious.

That might work when you’re drafting a novel, but it didn’t work for my revision.

What I’ve been finding is that all the thinking I’ve been doing around writing is really important at this stage. Those moments in the car when, between verses of the lullaby du jour, I put two pieces of my magic system together and discover a new way to plot myself out of a corner. Those moments when my research between writing sessions turns up something amazing (and often true) for my timeline. Even writing these posts. And then, when I sit down to revise/rewrite, I do so with such enormous intention and clear vision that words flow freely.

But the only thing that would count for NaNoWriMo would be the word count.

Last year, when I was failing myself at ReviYoNoMo, I realized there was actually a good reason revisions aren’t “legal” in the NaNo world. The process is so vastly different for me. The metrics can’t cross so easily. Going fast is actually inadvisable.

I do think, though, that NaNo would be just the thing for a lot of people. In 2012, I finished on November 30, and realized that I’d proven something really important to myself. It’d been years since I’d written, much less written frequently and with any sort of discipline. NaNo helped me do that. NaNo forced me to find the times in between that are now my sacred writing spaces. I used NaNo to show Mike how serious I was getting about my writing. And NaNo turned off my internal editor and freed up my mind to just go for it. All of these things made it possible to start my current novel in fall 2013, and all of these things made it possible to finish it the next summer.

If you’re looking to prove your mettle on a brand-spanking new manuscript, need the accountability, and love a challenge, do NaNo. It’ll be worth it.

If you need your internal editor to be a sober participant in your revising process, leave NaNo alone this year. Take the best parts of the NaNo process–the right parts for you–and root for the writers.

Good luck this month, whichever you choose!