2018 reading and writing progress report!

I didn’t want to write a mid-year progress report in June because I knew I was wildly off my game this year, but I’ve come to accept the shift in what I consider productive work, so why not touch base while there’s still a quarter of the year left?

READING

Ayyyiii I still have a chance at reading my 52 books for the year. I’m currently sitting at 34 with two books in progress. (A physical book to settle in with at night and an ebook to read on my phone while patting the baby to sleep.) I’ve got nearly 16 weeks left to read 18 books! I can do it!!

And the stuff I’ve been reading this year is SO GOOD. New authors I’ve tried and loved: Cassandra Khaw, JY Yang, Kelly Robson, Aliette de Bodard, Rebecca Roanhorse, Justina Ireland, April Daniels, R.F. Kuang. Authors I already read and continue to love: Catherynne M. Valente, Mark Lawrence, Naomi Novik, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Jackson Bennett.

I’ve been lagging in books because I’ve been reading more short fiction. It’s really easy to lose a half hour here and there reading chunky fantasy shorts, and I don’t have an exorbitant amount of reading time to begin with. But it’s a form I love to read and a form I am trying to get better at writing, so I think I’m striking a good balance.

WRITING

Here is where my productivity spreadsheet has gone off the rails. My biggest resolution at the beginning of the year was to learn some patience. I took it to heart, GALLING though it may be. And that means I have spent way more days editing than writing new material.

I also added short story AND novel submissions to my workload, and it takes an enormous amount of time to research markets/agents, craft a submission package, and then format those submissions.

My word count for the year is riding low at about 46,000 words. So far, I have spent 218 days working, only 132 of which increased my word count. And, most GALLING OF ALL: only 43 of those days were writing NEW short stories, and exactly ZERO were spent writing a new book. ;_;

So what the hell is all that daily activity? Thorough overhaul and edit of my 2016 book; thorough edit of my 2017 book (I’m hitting the halfway mark today); editing and submitting short stories I finished late 2017; writing and editing a submission package for my 2016 book; beginning a submission package for my 2017 book; researching agents for both; sending out submissions for 2016 book.

So I knowww I’ve been busy. I knowww it is all necessary work, and that a long-term career means juggling shorts and novels, writing and editing, research and submission.

But owww, it stings that I won’t have a 2018 book, especially because it is all my fault for letting so many rough drafts pile up. The next book I want to write has been waiting in the wings since 2015, because I knew it needed a lot of extra care and research to do the concept justice. So instead of rushing through it in three months for the sake of a spreadsheet that matters to exactly one person in the world (me!!), I’m going to follow my own advice:

Patience, Sam.

LIFE

Bonus life update, because this is the other reason my free time has been spread so thin, and it’s important to remind myself that life is always a factor, and that is okay:

I have a toddler. I also have a baby. She just stopped breastfeeding and she just started walking, so my daily life next year will look absolutely nothing like my daily life did this year. That’s okay.

We’re trying to move. I have spent the last two months packing, doing minor household maintenance that fell to the wayside during baby year, and constantly cleaning my home for showings. That’s okay.

The holidays are coming, and I ALWAYS overestimate what I will accomplish between October and December, and I ALWAYS fail to meet those marks. So this year, I’m trying to be more realistic about what I can do. I usually go overboard for Thanksgiving (like, weeks of preparation and themed decoration and costuming) but this year I don’t even know where I’ll be living, and my kids are getting old enough to want to do Halloween right before that, and there are 30ish family members to start planning Christmas for, and–

BREATHE, SAM, BREATHE! THAT IS OKAY.

That’s my 2018 so far. I’ll see you on the flip side.

the art of expecting failure

So, you have career goals? Assume you’ll never reach them, and you will always be pleasantly surprised!

Now wait, wait, hear me out! Much like my terrible advice about the benefits of sleep deprivation, there is a kernel of reason deep down in the weeds. You just have to dig a little. The lesson in sleep deprivation was “don’t overthink the rough draft.” The lesson in assumed failure is “don’t obsess over the outcome.”

Let me elaborate.

[Sidenote: I talk about sleep deprivation so much, I actually got spam asking if I’d like to provide free advertising for janky sleep products sooo, always have your contact information online folks, totally worth it!!]

My childhood was mostly ideology-free, but a handful of superstitions have followed me to adulthood. The greatest of all: malocchio. The evil eye. Spite. When you tempt fate (say, by speaking aloud, “I think this is the book that will get me an agent!”), somebody (don’t ask me who; somebody) is going to hear you. And just like that, you are not going to get what you want. You were too prideful. You made assumptions. You bragged, and that made somebody else jealous. The universe is going to humble you now. Bye-bye, agent.

If you accidentally admit out loud that you think you’re going to do well at something (pass that test, have a complication-free pregnancy, sell to that magazine), you better throw the horns real quick to negate any evil energy coming your way. I don’t mean throw them up, like you’re at a heavy metal concert. I mean throw them down, in a blocking motion.

And if you’re real serious, you get yourself a chili pepper necklace. I don’t make the rules.

horns

Charms: cornetto and mano cornuta. Credit: flickr/crwr (flic.kr/p/56pBXK) (cropped)

“But, Sam!” I hear you cry. “But, Sam, if you always assume you’re going to fail, how do you accomplish anything?”

That’s the trick. You do the thing anyway! And you put your absolute best effort in, because you know the universe is stacking the odds against you. And if you fail, well, such is life. But if you succeed–oh man, the success is even sweeter! You beat insurmountable odds to get there! You tricked your way past the weird Italian cow-related manifestation of bad luck!

Here is how this plays out in a writing career: you only make goals out of the parts you control.

Acceptable goals:

  • finish the rough draft
  • edit the work until it is the best you can possibly make it
  • research the appropriate markets/agents/publishing path
  • submit the work

That’s it. The goal isn’t actually acceptance at the magazine, or an agent, or a contract. Secretly, it is, but you can’t control who says yes. You can only control whether you try, and how well you follow the guidelines.

So, you wrote it: success! You sent it out: success! Now assume it’s never going to get anywhere, because as soon as you think you’re a shoe-in, the universe will strike you down. Start planning the next step as though the next step is inevitable. (“Okay, after the story gets rejected there, I’m going to send it here,” or, “Okay, this book won’t be picked up, so while that’s on submission I’ll edit the query package for my next one.”)

It’s a weird headspace to occupy, I’m not gonna lie. I have to simultaneously be passionate about what I’m working on, genuinely love it and put my whole heart into the effort, do my absolute best to target my submissions and write a great query letter, AND ALSO protect my emotions by managing my expectations. I have to get that “no” in my email, shrug, and say, “Oh well, maybe the next one! But probably not [throw horns for good measure]. But maaaaaybe.”

Embracing this has made the submission process so low-stress. I’ve got half a dozen stories and one book on submission, and when a rejection rolls in I just send the work back out. And hey, once in a while I open that email prepared to log another “nope” in my spreadsheet, and I am delighted to find it’s an acceptance or a full request! So I happily send that along, and I go back to working on the next thing.

Like all writing advice, your mileage may vary. If this sounds horrible to you, ignore me. Do whatever you need to do to stay motivated, because publication is just as much a game of persistence as it is a game of skill.

But if you’ve got work in your hands, and a list of places to send it, and you suddenly find yourself stricken with stage fright (which I did, for two whole months), try this:

Take a deep breath. Say out loud, “It’s not a big deal. When this comes back, I’ll try the next one.” And cross your fingers behind your back where the universe won’t see it.

Then send it out.

short story rabbit hole

CONFESSION:

I finished polishing my book, assembling the query package, and critiquing the first few pages… in April.

And then I got a bad case of nerves.

And I got it into my head that I’d send out a couple short story submissions, just to ease back into the cycles of submission and rejection and resubmission again, before delving into the deeper waters of an agent search.

And then I thought, “I’ve got two pro story sales under my belt, if I get a third one I can join SFWA and wouldn’t that be a suave addendum to the bio [not to mention access to a great support network]?”

And now it’s been two months! And I keep writing “one more short story” because, well, I’ve got an idea and why let it go fallow when it’ll just take a week to knock out and edit…

Sam. Sam. Stop!

Ayiyi.

I’m going to finish editing the rough drafts glaring balefully at me from my “in progress” folder. I’m going to send them out. And then everything else gets to remain in the notebook for a while because I am starting to get reaaal silly about all this.

If you hear me talking about starting anything else (I mean it! anything!) before querying, I kindly request a slap on the wrist.

Sam out.

FINAL is FINAL (unless it isn’t)

You gggUUUUUuuuyyysss! I finished the quote-unquote “final” draft of my cowboy vs mermaid high fantasy novel! A month ahead of schedule! It’s amazing what you can do when you start staying up an hour later at night.

I use quotes because it’s only truly the final draft if nobody picks it up. If I garner agent interest I’m sure there’ll be tweaks (if not revisions) before sub, and if I get as far as a publishing house there’ll be several rounds of work ahead.

BUT I DIGRESS. The important bit is that I’m one finished query package away from wading into the query trenches. The query itself is basically done. The synopses are in draft form. My documents are formatted and ready. LET’S DO DIS.

If you don’t care about the nitty-gritty of the query process, never fear! I am about to go radio silent on this matter until I have news. So it could be months or a year+ before I bring this up again.

In the meantime! I will be…

  • Sending out short stories
  • Sprucing up the website
  • Starting a newsletter (get ready, guinea pigs!)
  • Outlining the next book
  • …and then writing the next book

So there will be a good amount of work occupying my time/thoughts while I wait for the responses to roll in.

Wish me luck!

(Meanwhile: lap cats think they are getting their lap back. Alas, they are not.)

IMAG1726

the benefits of sleep deprivation

Now, hear me out! This may be the sleep deprivation talking, but I’m going to share the very limited, but potentially very valuable benefits of sleep deprivation.

I came across this great Twitter thread by Delilah Dawson:

And it struck a chord. Boy, did it! I started writing as a hobby when I was 10, so I had a pile of childish (but incrementally better) manuscripts in my trunk by the time I hit 30. However, my singularity moment (the book that finally leveled up to the point I’m eager to query it) was written in a delirious haze around my first kid’s first birthday. He STILL wasn’t sleeping, so I’d gone a solid year pacing the hallway every night, losing my mind with exhaustion and barely writing anything.

I was so sick of not writing that I decided: eff it! Let’s do this! And I set aside whatever scraps of time I could–at 4 a.m. or during naptime or after bedtime–and wrote in a feverish, stream-of-conscious delirium. I wrote about cowboys and ghosts and mermaids and saber-tooth cats and whatever else popped into my head.

The resulting rough draft was definitely, well, ROUGH. But it was also definitely a draft. Soon after I finished it, I started sleeping (sort of) through the night again, and I had the brainpower to edit that mess into something more coherent. And then edit it again. And again.

Something happened to me in that hazy period. I didn’t have enough free time to do anything but stick to my outline–I wrote wrote wrote forward and didn’t look back! And I didn’t have the brainpower to question myself on the sentence level–my doubts turned off, because there simply wasn’t room for them.

And it resulted in something weird, and fun, and full of voice. (She says hopefully.)

Do I recommend purposefully losing sleep to achieve a dream state of coffee-supplemented productivity? HELL NO, IT’S LITERAL TORTURE! But I do recommend treating a rough draft like something that will never see the light of day. Write forward, write for fun, write without worrying about who will ever read it.

And then oh my goodness, edit the shit out of it. D:

It might not be the book you ever share, but it might just be the book that helps your style shake loose.

patience, sam

Let’s pretend it’s January 1st, and I’m still hashing out goals for the year without explicitly calling them New Year’s Resolutions.

With me so far?

Good, because my aspirations for 2018 (baby milestones and reading goals and word counts and submissions) are all well and good, but my degree of success really hinges on one single, overarching, invisible goal underpinning the rest:

Patience, Sam. You’ve got to learn some patience.

(Also, overarching and underpinning? Yes. That’s how important it is.)

untitled

This means taking a deep breath during sleep regressions and potty training setbacks. It means reading more slowly and mindfully and really absorbing content, even if it means I don’t hit a certain arbitrary number of texts.

It means slowing down to spend more time in the planning and revising periods of each book.

This is incredibly difficult for me! Once I get my teeth into something I FULLY COMMIT and I go LUDICROUSLY OVERBOARD and I just chug chug chug ahead without pausing for breath.

But manuscripts need to breathe. The longer they are, the more air they need. Every year I knock out a book, and then I do a round of structural edits to smooth out the bits I rewrote halfway, and then I bound off to the next project. This makes my word count spreadsheet pretty respectable, but as a result I have a pile of manuscripts I consider good but not yet great.

My biggest weakness stems from my primary strength. I love love love writing characters, and my plots revolve around the core character arcs I plan from the get-go. That’s great! It’s my favorite aspect of the books I read, so it’s the aspect I spend the most time writing!

But I write fantasy novels, and in order for a fantasy novel to stand out it needs vibrant worldbuilding to prop up those character arcs. In my eagerness to reach the emotional climax of a book, I have a tendency to start writing before I finish worldbuilding. I end up with a strong story in a plain setting, and that just won’t fly.

So, what does this mean for 2018? It means I’m starting draft five (ugh, FIVE!!) on my weird western 2016 novel, and it’s about to get a lot weirder. The bones of it are good. They just need a bit more flesh. It means I have to stop obsessing over my daily word count and acknowledge that days spent thinking can be just as productive as days spent typing. (So hell yeah they are getting a line on the spreadsheet.)

By waiting three or four more months to start querying (an eternity in impatient Sam time, but hopefully only a blip in my actual lifetime!), I’ll be sending out my best work instead of my best potential work.

And while that’s out in the world, I’ll start planning the next one.

hello 2018

Well, well, well. It’s the year two thousand eighteen, and everything surrounding my life is chaos, but everything IN my life is beginning to take shape. I’m fretting for my country and I’ll probably gnaw my arms off come November, but as far as personal goals go I’m feeling pretty good!

I don’t want to make compleeeetely  outlandish New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to challenge myself. I’m feeling UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC right now, because, you guys… MY BABY SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME! Okay, I had to pat her down once, but I didn’t pick her up, and that practically feels like sleep.

This slight amount of extra energy has me bouncing off the walls. I did yard work! I made banana bread! I promptly had a caffeine crash because I attempted too much, too fast! Work hard, play hard, collapse hard! That’s the samtastic way!

So bear all of this in mind as I lay out my goals for the year.

LIFE

My boy will be turning 3 and my girl will be turning 1, so fill in all the appropriate milestones and setbacks you’d expect me to be engaging with this year. Scurry off to my Twitter account for the self-deprecating jokes that mask my tears!

Goal: Survive.

Mr. Sam and I also have a very vague goal of tentatively beginning to maybe look for a Settle Down House in 2019, which means 2018 needs to be the year of Fixing All the Dumb Little Things That Were Wrong When *We* Bought This Place. Goodbye, savings account.

READING

Nothing fancy here. I want to hit my usual book-a-week , but I’m not going to go wild trying to outstrip that because of the other pulls on my free time. I do want to read more strategically though, because those 52 selections seem to whiz by and leave me wailing at my TBR pile. Goal: Read more SFF new releases and finish the series I started over the last couple of years for goodness’ sake.

Additional goal: Read more short fiction! This year I really committed to reading SFF magazines and I did not regret it. So! Much! Good! Stuff!

WRITING

This is where I go overboard, fail to meet my goals, and rend my garments/gnash my teeth/shake people by the shoulders yelling, “I could have done so much more!”

So let’s be reasonable, Sam.

Goal: Finish editing my 2017 book. It should have been done by now but OH WELL, instead it ought to be done by the end of January, which isn’t the worst.

Goal: Write my 2018 book. Not too crazy, I do tend to finish a book each year. And if I stick with the one I was planning to do next, it should fall more in the 80K range than the 100K range because it’s a more literary kind of fantasy.

Goal: Put at least two more short stories on submission. I won’t make publication the goal, because that isn’t in my control and in that direction lurks self-recrimination. So I’ll make submission the goal, with publication being the obvious desire.

Goal: Put my 2016 book on submission! Ahhh! This is what I was supposed to do in 2017, but ah, life. The extra year gave me excellent time to research, reflect, and refine my approach. Again, I’ll make submission itself the goal and if all else fails I can be proud of the effort, then take everything I learned and apply it to the next book.

Or, you know, it could happen??

So there you have it. I have other intentions as well (join a writing group! spring cleaning! family activities! holiday plans!) but these are my core 2018 wishes and wants.

Wish me luck!

Nay!

Wish me persistence!