My Writing Resolutions for 2014

2014

Lose weight. Quit smoking. Exercise more. Stop drinking. It’s that time again, when people use the new year as a chance to wipe the slate clean and hit the reset button. Stop their bad habits and start over fresh January 1st with a new beginning. They share many of the same resolutions; some manage to keep theirs for good, while others may last a few months. Some will only last a week or two before saying ‘screw it’ and falling back to their old ways.

As the year comes to a close I’ve been reflecting on my writing—what I’ve accomplished, what I still want to accomplish, and how I can go about getting there. Hence, my writing resolutions for the coming year. I’m curious if any of you other writers out there share some of these same resolutions the way ‘normal’ people share theirs.

I will devote time to writing every day.

As writers, the phrase “Write every day” is engrained in us like the literary Pledge of Allegiance. Lately, though, I think that piece of advice is part baloney. I’m not necessarily saying someone should actively choose not to write, but I don’t believe forcing yourself to put words on paper (or on a screen) is always the most beneficial thing you can do.

Instead, what I’ve begun doing is setting aside time to write every day. If I use that time to write, that’s awesome. But sometimes, there’s just nothing in the tank. Chalk it up to a long day at work, too little sleep, or simply a bad mood/depression, sometimes writers don’t want to write. That’s different than you’re garden variety procrastination; I’m talking about just plain not having the desire to write anything. I think that as long as it isn’t happening regularly, it’s okay to not write once in a while.

What I do believe in is putting the time aside to write. If you don’t feel like writing one day, don’t, but do something at least related to writing. Maybe read a book. Read some blogs, or work on your own blog. Write somebody an email. Even if you don’t write a single word, it’s still time devoted to writing and thinking about writing. Sometimes that can be just as productive (if not more) than forcing yourself to crap out a couple hundred words of something you don’t like.*

*this is merely one random guy’s opinion, feel free to disagree. Many do.

I will learn to use Scrivener and Evernote to their full potential.

As a novice writer and blogger (which, arguably, I still am), last year I read a lot of articles and blog posts about what tools writers use to capture their thoughts and ideas, and what they use to actually get them written down. I dutifully got Scrivener and, more recently, Evernote, and now I just need to learn how to make the most of them.

I’ve jotted down a few notes on my phone when I was out and about on Evernote, but I still don’t really know what else there is to do with it. Same goes for Scrivener: I’ve used it and am using it currently, but only in its most basic capacity. I need to take the time to watch the tutorials and fumble around in my clumsy old man fashion until I can really see what that program can do. At this point it seems like it will be something I mainly use in the editing stage as I do a lot of my principal writing away from home. I initially used Google Drive to write while away, but due to some inexplicable problems with it at work I’ve begun using Zoho. It gets the job done, but I do like Drive better.

I will read more.

I read seven books this year; not exactly what you’d call a staggering amount. But now, as the rough drafts pile up and editing becomes a bigger and bigger part of my day, the time to read has seemed to shrink to a sliver. I started a book two or three weeks ago and I’m still just 30 pages in. There is so much I want to read—old books I either haven’t read or want to re-read, fellow bloggers’ books, new authors making their debut—and the list goes on.

What I need to do is crack open a book every time I find myself wanting to play a new game, or if a TV show is on that I’m not totally invested in. Because I know what happens: once I get far enough into a book, I’m in for the long haul. Once I’m invested in the story I become determined to finish the thing so I can see how it all turns out.  My goal is at least 12 books in 2014—still not setting the world on fire, but a small improvement from this year.

I will study the craft.

This year I read Stephen King’s wonderful On Writing (which I didn’t count as one of the seven), as well as the essays by Chuck PalahniukCraig Clevenger and everyone else at Lit Reactor. Together, those helped me make a giant leap in the quality of my writing. There’s nothing quite like reading something that details poor writing, only to find examples of said poor writing throughout your work.

But that’s not enough.

I still haven’t picked up what is considered by many to be the gold standard, the holy grail of writers everywhere, Strunk and White‘s The Elements of Style, and I haven’t gone back through every aspiring writer’s hero Chuck Wendig’s website for his tips on writing. Reading what I did this past year helped, but I’m not done learning. A writer is never done learning, we all know that. I’m going to study up and make my writing goddamn bulletproof.

I will be published.

God, it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If only it were. I had seven short stories that I submitted to publishers this year, and as of this writing have amassed 11 rejections. That doesn’t shake me all that bad, honestly. Rejection is part of the game. No, what bothers me is my lack of diligence.

What happens is I’ll submit a story, receive the rejection, then do nothing for awhile. I don’t just automatically move on to the next publisher and submit again, like I should. Some stories have only been submitted once, while one story has been submitted and rejected four times. This year I’m going to be more businesslike in handling my submissions, and by god I’m going to be published.

That sounds so dramatic. What happens if I’m sitting here in late December of 2014 and still haven’t been published? Honestly, I don’t think that’s very likely but if that were to happen I’d have no one but myself to blame for not being persistent and sending out submissions regularly. A couple of the early stories I wrote may lack some of the polish of more recent ones, but I truly believe my work now is good enough to be printed somewhere, and somewhere out there is a publisher who thinks so, too.

So, there you have it. My writing resolutions for 2014. Hopefully I keep them all, or at least make a valiant effort. I look forward to reading all your blogs in the coming year, so keep ’em coming. Now, tell me, do you have any resolutions for your writing? Any of yours on my list above?

Thanks to everyone who follows and reads the blog. This has turned out to be more fun and fulfilling than I ever could have imagined. Putting out a new blog post is always the highlight of my week. Here’s wishing you all a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year.

On Constructive Criticism, Beta Readers, and Being An Accidental Fraud

Constructive Criticism

Last week I found a great new (to me) website called Lit Reactor. You may have already heard of it, but if you haven’t, it’s a tremendous resource for writers looking to better their craft (and aren’t we all?). The site is a spinoff of sorts from The Cult, official website of author Chuck Palahniuk, and features pretty much everything a writer could possibly imagine. From essays on the craft of writing to articles on how to write a query letter and get an agent, all the advice given here is from people in the field – published authors (many of which you’ve probably heard of), agents, publishers, etc.

Along with reading Mr. Palahniuk’s essays on writing, which already have my head spinning with good advice, the best thing about the site in my opinion is the writers workshop. Here, members of the site can submit their work for their fellow writers to critique and review. After reading a few of the stories other people had submitted and the (extremely detailed) critiques people wrote back, I was ready to submit one of my own and see what people thought. So that’s what I did.

Hoo boy.

By the next morning, two people had offered up reviews/critiques suggesting what may need to be fixed. I wasn’t surprised that they were offering ways to fix my story. I expected it. What I didn’t expect was that they would offer so many ways to fix it. One person even included a line by line review, where words and sentences were underlined and suggestions made as to what to change or take out altogether. I guess I just thought the story was more polished than it really is. Reading the multitude  of things wrong with my story that morning, I got a little dejected. Until, that is, I got to work.

Beta Readers

I have two people who serve as my beta readers. They don’t realize that’s what they are, but they are. I sent them each of my novellas and they would tell me what they did or didn’t like about them. The thing is, since I know them pretty well they won’t give me any honest feedback about anything they don’t like. For the most part. So if they both give me the same piece feedback, I’m tempted to think there’s something to that.

My second beta reader emailed me Friday to let me know he finished novella #2. He said he really liked it for the most part, which cheered me up some after the critiquing beatdown I’d gotten earlier, but he thought the ending was very abrupt and there should have been more resolution. I liked the abrupt ending, but having two different people tell me it ended too soon made me think. Since the story had been left open, I had thoughts not of a sequel per se, but more of a spinoff. Now I’m thinking about combining the two into one story, which would turn novella #2 into novel #1.

Here’s the thing: the protagonist is basically written off at the end of the first half, and the second half would follow the antagonist with a new protagonist. Is that crazy? I can tie in the first protagonist easily enough (they are actually ex-husband and wife), but it isn’t something I’ve seen done before, which is both scary and exciting. I hope to start the rough draft for the second half in the next day or two.

Being an Accidental Fraud

I’m turning red just at the thought of typing this, but when it comes to anything writing related I will share anything with you guys, even if it is a bit awkward, uncomfortable, and embarrassing.

Fellow writer and blogger Darius Jones sent out a quick blog post Friday announcing he had a short story being published on the Fiction Vortex website. This is the first work of his accepted for publication, and that’s a big deal, worthy of celebrating. I wanted to do my part to help spread the word and get people to read his story, so I decided to reblog his post.

I forgot/didn’t realize one tiny detail.

Via the Publicize feature on WordPress, my blog posts are also sent out on Facebook and Twitter. Even posts that I reblog. Do you see where this is headed?

I was at work when I reblogged Darius’s good news, and when I got home later I saw the post had shown up on Facebook, and one of my relatives ‘liked’ it. Surely they don’t think it was me who got published…do they? Nah… I went back about my business and tried to unwind after a long week. Read a little, played some games on the iPad, that sort of thing. A couple hours later I went back on Facebook and now had 8 ‘likes.’

Oh God, everyone thinks I got published.

I put a comment on the post trying to explain what had happened, and that I appreciated everyone’s showing of well wishes, blah blah blah. There, that should take care of it.

Then, another hour later, the death blow.

A text from my Dad: So how does it feel to be a published author?

Jesus.

So, in short, don’t worry everybody. I’m still in search of that first publication. But to right this wrong, please check out Darius’s blog, and click here to read his short story!

Now, for anyone willing to comment, a couple of questions:

Have you read/written a story that shifted the POV from one protagonist to another as the story progressed? How did you like it?

Before writing this post I took a quick look around Chuck Palahniuk’s website, and realized he’s on a book tour and will be stopping in my town! I’ve never actually been to an author event before, what’s it like? Do the authors read excerpts, or just sit there and sign books as a line files by? What authors have you met/seen in person, and how was it?