February Wrap-up

Short month, went quickly.

I started, deleted, started again, and didn’t finish a novel this month. But I’ve solved how to finish it and now need to start over one final time. This annoying process underlined how important having the right point of view in a book really is (the POV issues were what was stalling me out in the middle, thankfully I figured that out before giving up forever).

Words written this month: approximately 72,000
Words discarded/deleted this month: about 34,000 (this number will GO AWAY next month. Seriously going to stop doing that. Seriously)
Ebook earnings: 22.75 (just slightly less than last month, yay!)

For March, I’ve got two novels to go up as e-pub. I need to get on the POD/Createspace thing and learn how to do that and get print copies out. I’m also going to start the sequel to a book while working on the SF novel (now that POV issues are solved). I’m behind on the Write one/Sub one challenge, so I’m going to try to get seven or eight stories done this month as well to catch up. And I’d like to finish one of the romance novellas. I’m debating on waiting until all eight are done to start putting them up, but we’ll see. I might wait until I have three or four, then start putting them up every couple weeks.

Meanwhile, today I’m going to be approving copy edits and generally taking it easy. Just got back from an amazing week of workshops and really need a little brain break before I start writing for the week.

Happy New Year

Here on the West Coast of the US, it’s about 2 hours til the new year. I accomplished a lot this year, though I fell short of some of my goals. But overall, I’m happy.

My New Year’s Eve present was four more rejections. I think my 2010 total is now about 158. Oh well, champagne is made for drowning rejections, right? (I don’t normally drink much, so it’s easy to drown me).

I managed to slip over the 400k words mark with a lot of work in the last few days, coming it at 406,127 words for the year. Not 450,000 but over 90% there, so I’m not going to be sorry about it.

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope that 2011 is a great year for all of us!

Lorning and Practice

(Yes, ‘learning’ is misspelled in my subject.  On purpose. It’s a joke. No, it would take too long to explain. Deal)

I tend to talk very openly about my writing goals and word counts and issues that crop up and the like.  This has led to comments, both on this blog and privately, that are along the lines of “maybe you should slow down (ie, write less) and learn more”.

Sounds like a reasonable plan, right? Except, it isn’t.  This statement and statements along the same lines have  logical fallacies in them.  They imply that a) writing slow= writing better and b) learning somehow happens outside of the actual writing work.  Neither of these things are true.

Let me demonstrate my point using videogames (because I can!).

Starcraft 2 is arguably the best real-time strategy (RTS) game out there.  A few months ago I discovered SC2 replay and tutorial videos on you-tube and have been watching them since.  I also own the game and have played a bit, but writing work has gotten in the way of that and I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like for videogames (and what time I’ve had, I’ve spent playing Borderlands with my husband).

But I’ve watched hundreds of hours of strategy videos and games.  I basically use SC2 videos as my mental break time during the day or late at night when I can’t sleep and don’t feel like working or reading.  I can discuss build orders and micro/macro strategies and unit choices with the best of them and probably, if no one saw me play, sound pretty much like a hard-core SC2 player.  My knowledge of the strategies and ideas behind them is huge.

I suck at SC2.  I’m really, really bad at it.  I haven’t played my ladder games (the multi-player ranking is called ladder) yet, but I imagine I’d be bottom of the heap.  I can barely beat the AI on easy.  Why is this? I mean, I’ve studied hard core, right? I know how hot-keys work and which units counter which units and what my timings should be on scouting and getting which building when.  My brain is stuffed with SC2 tactics and ideas and strategies.  But I can’t play the game to save my life.

Because I haven’t practiced.  I haven’t PLAYED the game nearly enough to get the practical skills to implement my knowledge.

See where I’m going with this?  Writing is the same.  I can read every book on writing ever written.  I can attend every conference, join every critique workshop, read and talk about writing and other people’s stories until my tongue and eyes bleed, but that won’t make me a good writer.

Only writing will.  All the side things, all the reverse-outlining best-selling novels, all the reading long-time pro’s work and blogs, all the industry knowledge and the business knowledge and the craft books in the world won’t mean jack or shit unless I’m writing my own words.

If I’d spent 200 hours playing SC2 instead of watching these videos, I bet I’d be at least Gold rank on ladder by now.  If I’d spent 100 hours watching videos and 100 hours playing, I might be Gold rank also.

It’s about doing both.  I’m learning and reading about writing and studying good books, but I’m also writing.  Writing is the first and most important thing to do.  All the rest is gravy and, like gravy, if you don’t have anything to apply the skills to, it ends up being a plate full of soupy worthlessness (okay, bad imagery, but you get the point).  Without practice, knowledge means nothing.

So yeah, I’m working hard to get my word counts up, to be more consistent in setting aside three or four or six hours a day to write.  Because the fifty or so writing books on my shelf won’t do me any good if I’m not putting the practice in, if I’m not doing the work.  I need to be writing more, in other words, not less.

So if you find yourself frustrated, if you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere skill-wise, don’t slow down.  Speed up. Do more words.  Stab those voices of doubt that are telling you that you don’t know enough, you haven’t studied enough, your words aren’t good enough, and just put your ass in the chair and write more words.  Because the easy AI might kick your ass while you’re trying to figure out how the hell you tech up to hive, but eventually you’ll have your revenge with an early 7 roach cheese push.   Because you practiced it. Over and over and over.  Until you could do it right, until you found what worked for you.

Practice. Write more.  Want a career in something? Put in the hours to get good at it.  Put in the hours for study also, but don’t neglect the practicing.  Practicing is more important.   Talking and reading about writing will never equal what you can learn by just doing it.  We’re all different, we all have different strengths and weaknesses and habits.  But if you don’t practice, you’ll never learn what those are.  No book, no other writer, no seminar or class or critique can ever tell you how you work and what your exact path in this career will be.

Only writing will do that.  Only writing can do that.

Do eet!

Failure, Rejection, Depression, and Sundry

This post will likely be rambling and a little ranty.  (And apparently sappy at the end)  You have been warned.

As of Saturday to be on target for my goals this month I needed 21,000 words done.  As of Saturday, I had just shy of 9,000.  Writing for the last few months has been very difficult for me, like pulling teeth to get any words out at all (which is why that last novel took four months when it should have taken two at most).  I’ve engaged a friend in a challenge (with whole dinners on the line!) for monthly word count goals in the hopes that I can shove past whatever is blocking me.  Last week, not so much with the shoving, obviously.

Alas, what’s blocking me is… me.  Or more specifically my brain chemicals.  Lots of quote “creative types” deal with depression and other issues, and I’m no exception unfortunately.  I struggle with life-long insomnia issues among other things (which is how I read so damn much, it’s easy to find time to read when you only sleep 2-5 hours a day).  Sometimes the writing process just stutters and stops.  I think this is one reason I’ve always been a “binge” writer.  When I’m running well I have to do as much as I can as fast as I can because I don’t know when suddenly the images will stop forming up right in my head and the mental white noise will start to take over.

The other thing blocking me is my old friend self-doubt.  Writing is easy.  Writing for a living, not so easy.  Especially in the stage I’m in, where I’m starting to break out a bit and hopefully learning my to cross my Ps and dot my Is.  Sales are wonderful motivators, but fear of success can be just as deadly as fear of failure.  Things are tight right now in my home life because of the sacrifices we’ve made so I can pursue my dream and my goals and now, a year and a half into the ten year plan, the reality of the situation has definitely sunk in.  We’re fine, we’re making it work, but as always I can’t help but put pressure on myself to write, do more, learn more, be more. Thinking long-term is good, but it doesn’t necessarily help the short-term panic attacks.

I almost broke my number of rejections in one week record this week, which of course doesn’t help either.  I don’t even know what my rejection total is up to, though if I had to guess I’d say over 200 easily.  In less than two years.  What that number should (and does, when I’m thinking rationally) say to me is that hey, I’m producing and sending out lots of work.  But sometimes I stare at yet another “this was well-written but no thanks” or “this was fun, but ultimately we decided not to publish it” etc and think “so they don’t like fun, well-written work.  What the hell should I be writing?”.  It’s a war inside between the rational/business brain telling me that it isn’t personal (because it really, really isn’t) and that I just need to take a deep breath and put the story back in the mail, and the irrational side of my brain “zomg u suckzorz and r gettin wurse.  stUpid RITUR.”

What does this all really mean? Basically…nothing.  So I’m 12,000 words behind where I needed to be.  Over the next few weeks I can easily find another 12-15 hours somewhere in there to catch myself up.  It’s adding an hour a day to a couple weeks of work.  Rationally not a big deal.  What does the rejection mean? Again, not much (beyond the fact that hey, apparently I write fun, well-written stories and stuff).  But the depression, the sleeplessness, the slog, it all combines to make my life not peachy at the moment.  I’ll catch up though (so stop planning your sushi outing, Amanda…) because I hate to lose a bet for one, and because any job has bad days, and any job I have is one that gets affected by my depression/insomnia issues, and in the end, I get to sit on my ass and make shit up and people have paid me (and will pay me in the future damnit!) to do this.  Which is still awesome, any way you look at it.

So for anyone who is struggling this month (and let’s face it, November ain’t a great month.  I didn’t like it before my brother died during it and I sure don’t care for it afterward either), you’re okay.  Everything will work out.  If you are doing NaNoWriMo and you fail one day, or one week, no need to stress.  It’s cool.  Think about it this way: if you fall short by 10 or 20 or even 30k words, you’ve still written 40 or 30 or 20k words more than you would have if you hadn’t even tried at all.  And for all the writers in my shoes, us neo-pros who see more no than yes still, it’ll get better.  We’re just getting started.  Sure, we take a few on the chin during the opening round, but really, we’re just lulling our opponents into a false sense of superiority.  The next story we write? It’s going to KO some editor, somewhere, sometime.  As long as we don’t throw in the towel, as long as we keep sitting on our asses and making shit up and sticking it in the mail.  Because that’s what counts and that’s the only score worth keeping.

It never ends.

Overdrive! Progress Meter!

Hey, I solved a problem with my novel (the first one in the doom writing drive of doom).  But that problem that I solved? It means more words (which is good, the novel was going to be too short to market).

So here we go. I’ll update this post instead of spamming my blog with meters.  So check back to see how screwed I am *grin*

Goal is 155,000 words by September 10th.

Progress:

74459 / 155000

Getting Over Lazy

I’ve been writing a fair amount in the last month, but when I looked at the results in terms of finishing projects, it doesn’t look so good.  I’ve finished two things in the last month. Two.  Not exactly on target with where I want to be by the end of the year.  It’s time to quit being lazy and work on the second of Heinlein’s Rules: finish what you write.

It’s easy for me to finish short stories generally.  Once I’m writing one, I tend to just get it done (usually within one or two sittings).  Novels are tougher to finish, though the endings so far of them are a lot easier than the beginnings and middles.  I’ve been tinkering between two novels lately, getting some done on each but not really making huge progress with either.  Part of this is fear.  Once I’m done, I have to send it out.  I’ve worked out a way to overcome that fear by putting together the package for each novel before I finish, so at least that part of the work will be done so I can just focus on getting the book done.

The other part of this is just sheer laziness.  I like to work in bursts, when stuff “comes” to me because I’m lazy and making my brain focus and compose is annoying if I’m not in the mood.  Yep, just lazy.  I know it is laziness because if I have deadlines (real or imagined), I have no problem dumping the “must be in the mood” and getting the work done.  I think I can combat my current lazy with some good old habit-forming.  I like to take days off writing, but for the next while, I’m not going to.  I think I need to build up a nice streak, get in the habit of not letting myself take days off (usually I justify days off because I know I *can* write 10k words in a day to catch up if I have to).  So starting today, I’m going to get in at least 3,900 words of fiction a day at least 6 days a week, with the seventh day goal being 1,250 words.  At that pace I should be able to finish everything I want to finish by the end of the year.  It really doesn’t help that I keep adding things I’d like to finish to my project list.

When I started out this year, I was thinking I’d write four novels and get to 30 or so short stories out to markets.  Then I kept having novel ideas, so it turned into five novels.  Then because of a conversation at one of the workshops, I decided I was going to aim for 80 short stories on top of that.  I’ve since revised that down to 40 or so shorts, not because I don’t think I could write 80, but because at 27 I’m already a little sick of the admin work of keeping track of them so I don’t accidentally sim-sub or something that I think 40-50 will be the max I want to track at a time (and it’ll be a level that, god forbid, if I start selling some, I can replace them).  And on top of that, the novel ideas just keep pouring in.  I’ve shunted four over to next year already.  I’m aiming at seven this year (two of which are shorter, one 50k, one 65-75k).  Frankly, I’d love to slow down, but my brain won’t let me.  See why I can’t afford to continue being fearful and lazy?  I don’t have time!  At the least I’ll be getting a lot of practice in and hopefully improving.

Current projects and current word count:

MG novel- ~12k

Suspense/Crime novel- ~8k

Sci/fi novel- ~7k

Sekrit Experiment project- ~1k

Paranormal Mystery, Horror Western, Irish Historical, and Regency Romance- no words yet

Also have one novella that stands at ~1300 words and another that had nearly 5k on it (which I haven’t touched in a year since I really need to redraft the whole beginning, grr).

So… plenty to finish.  I should get on that.

On Dreams and Goals

I have a friend who decided that she wasn’t happy with her life.  She has a MFA in Art, has been at her job for 9 years, has pets and friends and family where she is.  But she wanted a change.  Her dream, ever since becoming a huge fan of the TV show “Deadliest Catch”, is to work on fishing/crabbing boats.  That is her big dream, and I know plenty of people were skeptical that she could achieve it.  She has no experience with fishing or boats, she’s strong, but really short and hasn’t ever done truly heavy labor.

Did she care that many of the people around her thought it was a crazy dream? No.  She started reading about it, checking job sites, absorbing anything she could about how to get started.

Last weekend I drove her out to an interview with a crab boat captain.   Before she’d even flown back home, she had the job.  In a month or so, she’ll be on a boat, living her dream.

What does this have to do with writing? Plenty.  Dreams are important.  I know I tend to bog myself down in the nitty-gritty of the actual process.  But it isn’t just for the process that I’m writing.  I have a dream, too.  (That phrase is like “who you gonna call”, tainted by fame forever, hehe).  I don’t really talk about my bigger goals very specifically because frankly, I get a lot of criticism for them, both from fellow writers and from my friends and family.  The last time a friend asked what I hoped to do with my writing and I told answered, that friend then scoffed and said something like “yeah, I’d like to win the lottery too.”  That sort of talk is discouraging.  But I try not to let it get to me.  As I said, dreams are important because they provide something to work toward.

What’s my big dream? To consistently make 6 figures a year writing fiction.  I’d love to have a career that is a blend of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and JA Konrath.  (If you don’t know who JA Konrath is, go here and read his blog.  If you don’t know who the other two are, get out from under that rock already!)

How am I going to go about reaching that dream?  That is where goals come in.   My friend couldn’t just decide to go work on a fishing boat and then bam! it happened.  She had smaller goals that got her there (ie post on job boards, network with people, read up on the industry etc…).  My goals are all things I can control.

So here is my game plan.  By Jan 2011 I will have 6 novels and 80 short stories out on submission.  (I’m at 1 novel and 24 short stories thus far).  That is just to get my butt in gear and because I’m practicing writing a bunch of different stuff.  Starting next year I intend to write four novels and at least 30 short stories a year which is about 550,000 words.  Half a million words seems like a lot.  Ok, maybe it is a lot.  But I broke that down into even smaller goals.  (I did this before in December, but I’ve revised what I’m doing, so now I get to toss different numbers out).

To get to 550,000 words in a year, I intend to spend at least 30 weeks a year writing 5 days a week (or really, knowing me, the equivalent time to that, probably spread out a little differently).    That’s roughly 18,300 words per week, which for a five day work week means 3,660 words a day.  Three to four hours of writing a day.  Not that scary when it is broken down like that, and it means I have time to take care of all the other stuff that crops up (like mailing stories back out: the more I have out, the more rejections that come back.  Who knew?!).

I write because it is what I do.  Getting paid for what I would do anyway? Awesome.  And that is why I have a dream, a dream that is possible, a dream that will allow me to keep doing what I do already.  And every time someone shakes their head at my dream, I’m going to remember my friend and think about her on the boat pulling crab pots.  And then I’ll smile.

Lists and Motivation

Spent all afternoon not writing because I was scrubbing my hard drive of a nasty virus.  Very frustrating.  Fortunately, I seem to have obliterated it.  Whew.  Nothing is scary like thinking about trying to type five novels on a netbook screen. Seriously.

Spent another chunk of today brainstorming titles (I like to have a working title for any project, it helps gel it in my head) and looking around at what is out there already.  I also secured three website domains for my pen names after making sure the names weren’t anything famous already.  Don’t have a YA pen name yet, but not actually sure I can write YA type stuff, so screw it.  I’ll cross the bridge when I get there.

I did some maths.  Cause I like maths.  I find doing simple math like finance spreadsheets and word count goals relaxing.  (I also find watching friends shoot zombies relaxing, I’m weird.)  In order to complete things on a schedule I feel comfortable with, I need to be writing about 105ppw (pages per week).  That’s an average of six hours of typing each weekday, five if I’m really on a role.  Over 5k words a day.  Possible.  I think I might add a weekend day to this though, just a couple of hours.  And I’m allowing in this page goal 25-30ppw for a short story, because if all I work on is novels I will go crazy from lack of completion.  Especially working on five novels.  I’m not structuring it beyond this.  Whichever novel is dominating my thoughts when I sit down to write will get the pages for that day.

My goal is to have all the novels done by September, along with at least 17 short stories.  I say 17 and not 25 because I’m giving myself room to take days and weeks off if needed.  105ppw puts me at completion of novels by about 17 and a half weeks in.  So I’m leaving wiggle room.  It would be stupid not to. Life happens.

But I’m poor.  Poor is a great motivator to write and submit things.  My dad always used to say he liked it when his kids were broke, because it meant we’d be practically begging to do farm work for cash.  And every time I’m tempted to throw my hands in the air and not write cause I don’t feel like it, well, I’ll keep in mind that this sure as hell beats 70 hour weeks and having to deal with stupid people or drunk people or dead people or things on fire.  Just in case that wasn’t enough motivation, Final Fantasy XIII comes out tomorrow.  And I’m not allowing myself to have it until these five novels are all done and in the mail.  I’ve been waiting for that game for years now. YEARS.  Sooner I get this stuff done, sooner I get to disappear for two months into video game heaven.  Yesh. Will…be…Mine! (I’m 4 years old inside, seriously).

Oh, I promised lists!

What’s out:

20 short stories.

1 novel (to five editors and an agent).

To be done list:

The City is Still Hungry, 90-100k words

Hunting Delilah, 90-100k words

To Honor and Obey, 60-80k words

The Weapons Master, 60-75k words

Menagerie, 30-50k words

Write 17 new short stories and get them out to markets.

Continue to keep existing stories out to markets.

~350,000 words stand between me and Final Fantasy XIII.  I will be … victorious.