P.37: My Submissions, a Year in Review

Time for my yearly retrospective.

This past year, I sent out 33 submissions, 7 of which were new stories, with another extensive rewrite. I have another 3 finished drafts that aren’t quite ready, and about 3-4 stories at various different stages of I’m Working On That.

And that’s in addition to the 50,000+ words I wrote for my NaNo space opera mosaic novel, and some work on my first novel.

Assuming all my current submissions from 2016 are declined, I made it 33% of the way toward some of the best writing advice I’ve read during the whole year: aiming for 100 rejections. Honestly, I’ll take that.

I didn’t sell any stories, but I got 2 rewrite offers,  2 honorable mentions for Writers of the Future, 7 personal rejections and published one of my shorts (which I think came out fantastic) with my writer’s group. I’m getting close to that first elusive story winning the Submission Hunger Games.

All that said, I’ve been feeling like this was a bit of a step back from last year — and in many ways, the numbers bear that out. I wrote 12 more stories last year, and sent out 17 more submissions. That was a very productive year. Even more disappointing to me, personally, is the fact that I almost never missed deadlines on submissions I targeted last year, and this year I missed 3…. in December alone.

That said, the quality of my stories have definitely improved: both in my new stories and in improving some of my stories from last year.

In 2015, I had 3 personal rejections in 50 submissions and no honorable mentions at Writers of the Future. In 2016, I more than doubled my personal rejections and have two HMs in my past 3 tries at WotF (and feel really good about my current submission).

I’m big on the school of glass half full. I didn’t write (or edit) as much as I’d have liked in 2016, but I still wrote quite a bit. Writing is tough and life gets in the way, but I’m getting better — and, most importantly of all, not giving up.

P.24: Defend Your Writing Time!

It’s 11/20/15, and I’m a little over 45,000 words into NaNoWriMo. I’m feeling pretty good, but it hasn’t always been easy. These past couple days, things have gotten in the way of my writing — making the last 10,000 words harder than the first 35,000.

I don’t think I’m alone in life getting in the way, but one thing I’ve learned I need to do that perhaps some others haven’t: defend my writing time.

A lot of us look at writing as a fun hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that — but even if writing is just a fun hobby, writers still need to write.

When people look at you funny for writing, or interrupt you, or wonder why you’re even doing it… tell them they can have their football game, a poker night or The Walking Dead, but you’re going to have your writing time.

If you’re in a real time crunch or find your commitment lagging, block off your writing time, schedule it in your calendar — and make sure everyone knows it. Make sure you know it, and don’t let things get in the way.

Of course, emergencies happen and you may not always succeed in blocking distractions, but if you’re never finding time to write, it’s on you to change that.

So, when it’s your time to write — even if all you can do is block off 30 minutes 4-5 days a week — don’t pick up the phone on the first call. Don’t write in the room people are going to talk to you in. In fact, get the heck out of dodge, if that’s what it takes, and go write at a local cafe or library.

If you have kids, particularly young ones, write for a half hour after they’re in bed, or have your spouse step it up if you have one.

Let people see the fruits of your labor when it’s ready. Maybe they’ll love what you wrote. Maybe it won’t be their cup of tea, but at least they’ll see your commitment — and respect it, and perhaps try to help you find more time to write.

I know finding time can be difficult, but you can do it, even if it’s just a little.

Carve that time out. Schedule it. Create goals. Start a project or two. Plan things out. Make sure others respect that time. Make sure you respect that time — and write.

P.23: My NaNoWriMo Progress Report, plus Keeping Up the Pace!

Book cover with title blocked out

I feel really good about my NaNo book so far — I’m at 21,223 words! Woot!

I even made a mock cover, since NaNo’s site suggested it, for kicks and giggles. I’m certainly not a graphic artist, just computer-literate enough to play around with PicMonkey, but I thought it was fun and serves as a nice little piece of inspiration for me to keep going.

It’s a first draft, so I know it’s rough, but I’m very happy with where the story’s going, and where I am today.

One thing that makes it easier to know how I’m doing is the fact that NaNo graphs our Word Counts. Here’s mine:

NaNo graph

Aside from Day 1, where I wrote a gazillion words out of excitement, I’ve been very consistent, if I do say so myself.

While NaNo’s 50,000 words in 30 days is a somewhat arbitrary number, I don’t think it’s arbitrary to suggest writers need to keep a consistent pace on a first draft.

Graphs like this should be especially valuable for people new to writing fiction, or who have never completed a first draft before.

If you’re working on a first draft, you should absolutely keep track of your daily word count. That way, you can learn what patterns you can reasonably sustain, and catch if you’re slowing down as soon as possible — so you can ask yourself why.

It may be a signal that you need to kick it up a notch, so you don’t risk fizzling out.

As I said in Post #22, fizzling out on your writing kills books. It’s very hard to finish a full draft if you put it down for weeks or months.

Trust me on that — I speak from experience.

So, even if new things are going on in your life, keeping yourself busy — don’t stop writing, just find a new pace instead. Even 30 minutes a day can easily get you 300 words, which adds up to a 100,000 word epic first draft in less than a year.

You can do it, just keep writing.

P.22: Put Away your Inner Editor on the First Draft

Someone in my NaNo region asked if they should really avoid making edits during their first draft, even if the writing isn’t any good.

I thought I gave him a good answer, so here’s what I wrote:

Locking the door on your inner editor on your first draft is really hard to do, but for me at least, it makes a huge difference.

Editing takes up a lot of time — more than writing, IMO, since it involves so much more reading, investigating, critical thinking and trial and error. Plus, for most of us, it’s not like we can edit a passage once and get it to the point we like — it takes many, many edits to get something to the point where we’re happy with it.

I think that can be dispiriting to do before you’re done with a complete draft. When you have a full story, you have that full story to spur you on. If you don’t have that full story, you can read over the same passages over and over again — that may need a lot of fixing to get good — and wonder if it’s even worth doing. If you have your full story done, and like it, then you know the answer is a resounding yes.

The only thing I’ll go back and change or edit on the first draft is if it’s related to the story — like if I realize I forgot to include a plot point earlier that’s important to my plot later. I make those edits because there’s a real chance that I could forget to do it in future drafts (or worse, think I did when I didn’t) and end up creating a plot hole.

But fixing grammar, typos, making language prettier and all that jazz can be done at any time — so I do it when my story’s done.

I forgot to mention two other reasons why it’s not worth making serious edits in a first draft.

  1. You’ll end up having to edit the same areas over and over again in the beginning, when fewer edits could have produced the same results. It’s wasting extra time.
  2. You may end up spending considerably time making edits to a part of a story you realize you’ll have to cut or drastically change, once you’re done with the first draft.

Like it or not, no one can really assess what’s worth spending time editing on when writing a book until there’s a finished draft, and trying to do so before then will not only waste time but could become a depressing vortex of doom you’re spiraling down in that leads to you fizzling out on the entire book.

While there are certainly some who can edit while they go along with the first draft of their book and get it all done in a good amount of time, there’s no real reason to do it. This is one of those things where the vast majority of people are better off trying to get a full story on paper before they do any reassessing.

P.17: Manuscript Trust Issues and NaNoWriMo

One of the things I’ve come up against, as a writer who wants to be a part of the writing community, is sharing manuscripts — electronically.

I don’t like doing it. I even feel weird doing it. I’ve only been willing to do it with my writing group and a select group of friends so far… but strangers on the internet?

NaNoWriMo is going to be a new frontier in this internal debate that’s taking place in my brain. As part of NaNoWriMo, a lot of people like to share ideas and review each others’ work. I love sharing work and being part of communities — I just don’t like the electronic aspect of it, especially when it comes to complete strangers.

One side of my brain is saying they’re my peeps, fellow aspiring authors, and that I need to trust them and share… and the other half of my brain is saying, “they’re strangers on the internet!”

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think I’m the next JK Rowling or Steven King, but when you spend a lot of time writing something, it becomes your baby.

And we all get overprotective of our babies, at least at first.

We all hear all kinds of different plagiarism horror stories throughout our life, and I’ve always taken these issues very seriously. But those are all anecdotes, and not grounded in don’t-share-your-manuscript-electronically studies.

I’d love to figure out how to reconcile these competing thoughts in my brain — my love for community, but fear of electronic sharing. My first thought is to do some writing in local libraries that host NaNoWriMo events, meeting people personally — and take it from there.

So, what do people think? Am I right to not want to share electronic copies, or do I have to stop being a helicopter parent over my manuscripts — and let those babies fly away, so more people can read them?

P.16: Getting Ready for my first #NaNoWriMo

I think I’m going to try to take on NaNoWriMo this year — the National Novel Writing Month.

It’s a challenge for writers to write a 50,000+ word first draft of a novel over the course of November.

50,000 words is about 150 pages in 30 days, which amounts to about 5 pages a day, which is about what I’ll generally write in an evening.

Have I written at that pace for 30+ days before? Yes, definitely.  I wrote my first novel over 2-3 month-long spurts over the course of a year or so, and that was 115,000 words.

That said, part of NaNoWriMo is having a complete first draft — not just 50,000 words. Most novels are considerably longer than that, especially those aimed at adult audiences or young adult. If I write Adult or YA Sci Fi/Fantasy, that’s closer to 300 pages in 30 days, or 10 pages a day — YA a little less, adult a little more.

I’m not sure I like my chances of sustaining 10 pages a day over 30 days, so I’m leaning toward writing something for a younger audience.

NaNoWriMo will create another big challenge, though — getting ready for it.

  • I have 4 submission deadlines I’ve written drafts for, that I need to finish up and send out between the end of October and the end of the year. Some of these will be more work than others, but most will require at least a few evenings.
  • I have another story with I’ve started a draft for that isn’t finished yet. That one’s not due until the end of the year, but I don’t want to go into December exhausted from NaNoWriMo without a finished first draft.
  • Then, after all that’s done, I’ll have to invest serious and quick effort into getting ready for NaNoWriMo, creating my characters and at least some kind of outline for the plot. Writing 50,000+ words is one thing, but writing it without having at least some basic understanding of my characters and plots is another, and potentially a big waste of time.

So, there’s a lot to do and a lot to think about, but I’m excited about the challenge. If I can get a firm idea down, I think I can get it done without real life getting in the way.

If you’re taking on NaNoWriMo, feel free to say hello and add me as a buddy.