Thursday, January 30, 2020

Carnival Days and Days in DSF

My fourth appearance in Daily Science Fiction came yesterday, with "Carnival Days and Days." As the note at the bottom states, I wrote the story while sitting in the airport, waiting to come back home to Colorado about a year ago. It's a story of air travel, delays, and clowns.

And an off-kilter sense of abject horror--as most stories about carnivals are.

So read, enjoy, and let someone know what you thought of it.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Trade in Betrayals--done!

Late Thursday night I wrote the final words of the first draft of A Trade in Betrayals, the third (and likely final) book in the Arcist Chronicles. It feels like the book is...really good. The beats work and build well. The connections within the novel and to the earlier books are the right balance of surprising and fitting. It feels like a powerful and fitting conclusion to the story.

It may not still feel that way later, when it comes time to revise and polish it, but for now I'm not just satisfied but excited for this book and the chance people will have to read it.

I always take a few months off a project like this after finishing the first draft. That gives my mind the space it needs to come back to it fresh. So I'll be working on other things now, maybe some short stories, maybe some poetry, definitely some submissions/queries being sent out.

But I'll take a moment to look back first at how the writing went. Since it was a novel that started as a NaNoWriMo project, I'll look mostly at word count and how the writing went day by day. But before November arrived, I had done some planning. Book 2, The Roots of Betrayal, was sent to my publisher in September. That book left a lot of things open that I knew I would have to address. Most of those I didn't know how exactly I would address, only that the resolution would come in the third book. (Book 2 has its own resolution, for what it's worth--and satisfying, I think--but to get that resolution I had to leave other things unresolved.)

So I really didn't know much about how the novel would go at that point. I spent the rest of September and all of October letting various ideas bounce around in my head, jotting down some ideas. So by the end of October I had a rough and fluid outline for the story--who it would focus on and what they would be doing at different points of the novel.

Then in November I dived right in and didn't allow myself to second guess things. If I wasn't sure what would happen next, I would walk the dog and wonder what would make this discrete part of the novel exciting, trusting that the rough outline I had would keep it all flowing in a way that works.

For the first 25 days of November, I wrote almost exactly 2,000 words per day. After that we were traveling to visit my in-laws, and I only got about another 2,000 words over the rest of the month. Both of the previous books in the series had been in the 120k-130k word range, so I was hoping to get a little farther in November, but still it was enough to "win" NaNo, and I was pleased with the progress.

My goal in December was to write 1,000 words per day. Early in the month I struggled to get that much, not so much because of anything in the writing, but because of busyness with non writing stuff. That said, there's always a point in any novel I've written (and almost any short story even) about that far in when it becomes harder to keep plugging away, when you start to question the story, the approach, the writing itself. So the slowdown was probably partly due to that as well. But later I caught up and ended the month at almost exactly 1,000 words/day.

The goal then was 1,000 words a day for January as well, which I guessed would get my within a few thousand of the end to either finish in February or maybe find a way to get to in January. But the first day of the month I hit 1,500 words, and then the second day as well. And I decided to aim for that as long as I could. That worked out well. There were two days when busyness limited me to just over 1k, and two days when everything was flowing so well that I got almost 3k, with the rest of the days right around 1,500 until the book was complete.

When will you get to read this masterpiece? I don't know and don't want to even hazard a guess. I hope to come back to it in a few months for the first of several revisions. Then hopefully I can have it polished and sent to my publisher sometime around next fall or early winter. Beyond that, I have no guess and little control. But I'm excited already for when this book comes out for everyone to read!

Friday, January 03, 2020

Goal setting—a fiction writer's how to

I didn't used to like creating specific goals. It always felt artificial and a recipe for disappointment. Because, sure, I could set a goal to write XYZ, but when I fell short I thought the fact of falling short would overwhelm any sense of accomplishment for the goals I did meet or other things I accomplished.

It was reading Jeff VanderMeer's Booklife ten years ago that convinced me to give goal-setting a try and gave a framework for how to categorize my goals. I've adapted that framework, so here's how I've been creating my goals for the past ten years.

One of the struggles I came against was that certain goals some extent out of my control. Early on, one goal I had every year, even before formalizing the process, was to get a short story accepted by a SFWA-qualifying market. And after I'd sold my first, to sell more so that I qualified to join. More recently, it's been to have a work short-listed for an award, for example. Well, I can control some of that--by reading the stories those markets publish, by improving my own craft, by continuing to submit even in the face of rejections. But some of it is outside my control, and I didn't want to judge whether I'd met a goal or not by things I couldn't control.

So I created a category that I called "Uncontrollable" and put those goals in there, knowing that they were more aspirations than actual goals. Then the rest of my goals I split between "Private": what creative things I would accomplish; and "Public": what things I would do on social media, etc. to interact with other writers and readers and help people be aware of my writing.

Those were (and still are) the columns of my table of goals. Then the rows are broken down into a 5-year goal and a 1-year goal and then below that the monthly and weekly tasks that could help me achieve those goals. In recent years I've filled the space below that with a month-by-month breakdown of the year, which was especially important, for example, when I was serializing the Spire City seasons.

It all sounds incredibly...anal. Which is not my personality at all, so it's always been a stretch to get myself to categorize things this way. But I think it's largely because it forces me to do something less familiar and natural that I've gotten so much benefit from setting goals this way.

So, for example, this is what my 2010 goal sheet—the first year I did this—looked like (this was before Musa had accepted the Spire City serial, and at the time I was contemplating releasing recordings of the episodes on Podiobooks):

And at the end of that year, I wrote down some notes of how the goal setting had gone:

As for the 5-year goals, the private ones I more than exceeded (I think I wrote at least three more novels in those five years, not including a MG novel draft). The public goals, well that's so general it's hard to quantify. I've ping-ponged between high and low engagement in a variety of online places. And the uncontrollable ones—I met and far exceeded the 1-year goal within a couple of years, but even now haven't met the specific goals I put down as the 5-year plan...

That process has been largely the same ever since. It isn't exactly the framework in Booklife, but it's one that worked well for me. I keep a second document that's a task list. In that I jot down at the beginning of the month what I hope to accomplish that month. Then each week I add what I should aim for that week so that I can meet those monthly goals.

I've never made it through an entire year of using that task list fully--there's usually at least a month here or there where I neglect the document because I'm caught up in other things or don't bother to update it there. It would probably help to put the document on Google docs--it's always been on my desktop, which is where I go to do a lot of my organizational type work, and submitting, etc. but a lot of my writing for the past decade has been done on tablets or a Chromebook while watching kids (or now the puppy) in another room. But even so, it's definitely been a part of my most successful times of the year.

What about you? What have you done to help you meet your writing goals?