Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 Writing Goals

As promised, my tl;dr 2015 writing goals:
  • 10 tokens
  • 2 pro
  • 4 subs

My longer read 2015 goals: Write productively by focusing on length and using past experience to set realistic goals. Write broader by putting more effort into other genres I write. Write smarter by implementing what I learned from that Kameron Hurley article.

Write Productively

The novelette has always been my sweet spot even though the market doesn't care for it very much, and vice versa for shorts. I'm focusing on length because I've noticed I have a habit of just writing until a story ends--shorts turn out to be novelettes and novelettes end up having only enough story for shorts, ideas that were too big and plots that cover too much grow unwieldy and difficult. All because I didn't plan and commit to what I wanted a story to be in terms of length and scope. This is counterproductive and results in disappointment and discouragement. At this stage in my journey, I've reached the happy middle on the scale of pantser to plotter.

Write Broader

Writing more poetry last year was a spontaneous why-not sort of thing. I didn't think I was very skilled at it, not the non-rhyming, non-meter, 'serious' kind anyways. But then I started subbing pieces and getting positive feedback. I have been exclusively researching and working to publish sci-fi prose fiction. It's the genre my ideas most readily spring from. I speak the language, so to speak. But that's not all I read or write. Just as I took my poetry more seriously to encouraging results, I'm going to give the other genres a chance to flourish.

Write Smarter

"It's the difference between knowing what I'm doing and doing what I know." That means understanding how I'm able to do it, and it isn't magic. It's replicable, which is the exact opposite of what I have always tried to do. Nothing new must resemble that previous story or else I was being lazy, unimaginative, and cheating. That has led to variety in my bibliography, yes, but also a lot of incomplete works, inconsistency, and long periods of unproductiveness. Here's the link again for why it is okay to be a little formulaic. By plugging new story ideas into existing formulas, by doing what I have already done and not always trying something new from scratch, I know in finer, more tangible detail the contours of similar stories, why having my protagonist make a poor choice is essential here, how allowing others to help her there will be critical later, what skipping this and elaborating on that will do to the feel and structure of the plot. By knowing those peaks and troughs, pitfalls, and yes, cheats, I can work more efficiently and with the most effective techniques to help the story shine.

So those are my aspirations for writing in 2015. Overall, I aspire to be very strategic in playing to my strengths as much as to the market. We'll see how it goes!

What are your aspirations? Comment or link below.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 In Review

So, last year I posted my writing goals for 2014. How did I do? What will I do differently this year? Lets get to it!

I had four areas I wanted to push myself on: submissions, revisions, pro-level pieces, and token pieces just to keep in the habit of writing. Here's how close I came to reaching my goals:

  • Subs - 80%
  • Revisions - 10%
  • Pro - 25%
  • Token - 112%
  • New Pieces Overall - 83%

Not bad. I did a lot more token writing and that was mostly poetry, some of which turned out to be good enough to sub. I've revised that goal upwards this year.

Speaking of subs, I only counted new submissions, as opposed to resubmitting the same piece different places, so I did a lot more subbing than the number reflects. Still, I came up a hair short, so I'm revising that goal down. I realize that I am very picky about what I sub, so even if I wrote more, I may not feel confident sending everything out.

The pro number seems okay, until you realize I only set out to write 4 such pieces. These pieces have always taken me a long time to write. I had hoped to push myself to go faster, but the stories fought me all the way. Needless to say, I'm revising the goal down for this year.

Revisions. When I made this category, I thought I would be dusting off old pieces, spit-shining and firing them off. Yeah, no. I focused my time and energy on new pieces. This goal is going away entirely. Rather, my goal is to write more saleable pieces which, naturally, will have been revised and polished as needed.

Overall, I'd say I did okay and ended the year on an encoraging note, which I'll get into in my 2015 goals post.

How'd you do?

photo credit: Gina Fairchild

Saturday, January 3, 2015

It's Okay to be Formulaic

Merry New Year!

I want you to read this article by Kameron Hurley. I want you to read it especially if you are at a point in your journey where your ideas, focus, and creative skills have gained more precision but it feels like you're starting each new piece with a hammer and chisel and you don't know why. If you are more confident about what you can do as a writer, but you are not as consistent and productive as you would like to be from one piece to the next, I want you to read this article.

Spoilers: you're not necessarily doing it wrong. You just need more practice doing it right.

I know you know that. I knew I knew that, until I read the article:
I’ve started a lot more books and stories than I’ve finished, and this is a problem. Why? Surely, when a concept or story isn’t working, you should stop while you’re ahead, right?

"Right!" I say. Not exactly, she says:
The thing folks don’t realize is that learning how to write a piece of work requires you to actively practice how to write the whole thing. Writing five hundred great beginnings will not make you a great novelist.

I knew I knew that. "Tell me something I don't know." She did. A bunch of things. Mainly, I did not know it was okay to be a little formulaic.

It is okay to be a little formulaic.

There is a lot of pressure in literature to be original and fresh, and in the speculative fiction genre that can get to be as arduous as reinventing that wheel. Especially for a short fiction writer in today's market. Even just looking through your own body of work you can feel like you need to do something drastically different each and every time to stay relevant. If you're constantly thinking about what you could be doing differently, you're not really thinking about, much less nailing down, what you did right the last time.

Hurley calls it understanding the form. I understand it as having a formula. Go ahead and read the article. You'll see what I mean, when she talks about her work in corporate writing, how many novels she had to write before her first sold, and how many she wrote after the first that were very similar to the first, until she had that formula down pat and and was ready to move on to a new one.

It is okay to be a little formulaic.

When you have a formula that works,  it is not always necessary to change it up drastically or abandon it straight away, even when you aren't doing anything wrong, and especially before you've had a chance to understand what you did well, how, and why. Got a new idea for a story? Go back and see if you're trying to accomplish something you've done before, see if the circumstances and events map, and if they do, use all your previous hard work to your advantage. You can plug in new values for every factor and variable--characters, world, goal, conflict--and execute it again, over and over, until your results are as reliable and consistent as your creativty demands.

I'm not just talking in broad strokes of beginning-middle-end, goal-conflict-disaster, a fantasy story, a novella, a Heinleinian story. I'm talking fine grain stuff you won't see by emulating someone else's formula. I'm talking about your own recipe for success. I'm talking about knowing why you made the creative decisions you did, what you cut or kept and how that worked or didn't, story elements you'd like to replicate and others you'd like to avoid. What happens when you pull it all together with just the right details in just the right way. It's not magic. It's a formula, and it is okay use it more than once. That is how you practice doing it right.

If you only do it twice, I can attest the process becomes familiar, becomes easier, becomes more efficient and effective. The very last piece I wrote in 2014 was to test Hurley's article. Having a formula to work from was the difference between knowing what I was doing and doing what I knew. I wrote faster and smarter and with more confidence that I would not only finish in a timely manner but I would end up with the story I wanted.

That is how you practice doing it right, over and over, until it seems like you can produce a certain kind of story effortlessly. It really is okay to be formulaic. From what I've seen, the majority of the stories on the market are just that, and to great success, including many by our favorite authors. I knew I knew that. Hurley's article crystallized it.