Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking Back, Looking Forward

For most folks, December is a month for reflection on the old year and planning for the new, and I am no exception. 2017 started out a little slowly for me, writing wise, and ended on something of a bang. I’d like to keep that momentum going in 2018; more, I’d like to build on it and really produce some spectacular reads for y’all in 2018.

To that end, a few days ago I began planning (as much as I plan) a systems-based approach to writing in the new year, a process I’ve been trying to get back to since realizing my switch to a schedule-based approach in 2015 wasn’t working.

And since I’m still adjusting to the switch back, I’m cutting myself some slack by setting most of my 2018 writing goals for just the first three months. I’ll re-evaluate at that point, see what is and isn’t working, and readjust if necessary.

2017’s Publications

First though, let’s recap what happened in 2017. Writing wise, I published two titles during the first half of the year and five titles during the last half, specifically (and in order):

  • Greenwood Cove, Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 1 (Celia Roman)
  • The Deep Wood, Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 2
  • Death Omen, a Sunshine Walkingstick short story
  • Cemetery Hill, Sunshine Walkingstick, Book 3
  • A Mutual Feeling (C.D. Watson)
  • Intersections (C.D. Watson)
  • Dreaming of a Dark Christmas (Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, Celia Roman, C.D. Watson)

Additionally, in the latter half of the year I completed two short stories for my upcoming Romancing the Weird collection, “Brian” and “Time after Time.” Some of you got these as a bonus for pre-ordering A Mutual Feeling or Intersections, something I may try again with future short stories.

Not bad for a year that started off so slowly.

2018’s Overarching Goals

Now, just because I’m going back to the old systems-based approach to writing doesn’t mean I’m completely without explicit goals I’d like to hit. The first is one early readers of my Lucy Varna books grew accustomed to right off the bat: a title published every other month on average, whether it’s a full-length novel, a novella, or a short story collection.

To stay on the realistic end of that goal, I’m officially setting it for a very reasonable four to six titles published during 2018. The first one, the next novel in the Daughters of the People Series (Lucy Varna), is already available for pre-order.

That’s overarching goal number one. Overarching goal number two is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time: write (or finish) one complete short story every week.

Sounds like a lot, yes? I promise you, this is more accomplishable (totally a word) than not, if I can stick to my writing habit (not schedule).

To be completely fair, I’m giving myself a two-week break at some point during 2018, probably either the last two weeks of the year or a week around Thanksgiving and another around Christmas. Let’s face it: those weeks are hard for everybody. Between family events and basketball, they’re doubly busy for me, so two weeks off, which leaves fifty weeks (fifty stories!) for me to play with.

Now, to fulfill that goal, I first need to define “short story,” which I choose to mean anything up to forty to fifty thousand words in length (technically, a work of fiction that long is a short novel). Since I’m limiting the time I work on short stories each week and since I sometimes miscalculate story lengths (as I did with A Mutual Feeling), I’m going to be reasonable and shoot for forty short stories. To be even more reasonable, I’m trying this out for three months (January, February, and March) and will re-evaluate then.

So my first two 2018 goals are this:

  1. Publish 4-6 titles.
  2. Write 40 or more short(er) stories (depending on how the first three months of 2018 shake out).

Two goals, lots of stories. That’s my kind of New Year!

Writing Habits

Back in the day when I was writing like a pro (ironically enough, before I considered myself a professional writer), I had unwittingly instituted a strong writing habit that went something like this: Wake up, slap myself into the day, have supper and spend a little time with my family, get back home by 8-8:30 p.m., start writing by 9 p.m., write at least two scenes a night, finish sometime around 4 a.m. (sometimes later), and go to bed. That was, no kidding, a typical writing day. I did that five or more days every week for nearly two years, and it worked.

I’m in the process of re-instituting a similar writing habit now, although on a somewhat different time schedule. The process- or systems-driven goals remain the same as when I started writing: two or more scenes per night, at least five days per week.

To put a number to those goals, I’ve defined a scene as being about two thousand words in length. That’s not always accurate, but for the sake of giving myself a target to aim for, it’s close enough.

Again, to be reasonable, I’m aiming for two to four thousand words per writing night toward whatever novel I’m currently working on completing.

But I have that other goal, the short story goal, so I’m setting aside one thousand words per day, five days per week, toward that goal in addition to the words set aside for novels.

Bear in mind that these are minimum word count targets, but to be reasonable my daily word count goals for 2018 are:

  1. Write two or more scenes per day on a novel, five days per week, or at least 2000 words per writing day.
  2. Write one thousand words, five days per week, on a short story.

That’s 3000 words per day, five days per week, or 15,000 words per week. I could multiply that out and give you the exact goal numbers by month and by year (and thus fill in the gaps between overarching goals and word count goals), but I’d much rather focus on one day at a time, by the week.

Word to the wise: Don’t try to stuff the entire elephant into your mouth all at once; eat it in small, manageable bites. That’s what all of these teeniny goals are for, to break my overarching goals down into reasonably small, perfectly accomplishable chunks.

As I said earlier, I’m “trying on” my old writing habits (and the subsequent goals) for the first three months of the year, and because I need some accountability, I’m also planning on updating my progress here during my regular Book and Author News posts.

What Does That Mean for Readers?

Which stories will I be working on? No telling, but I can say that I’ve got both Sweet Surrender (The Pruxnae, Book 5) and Redemption (Daughters of the People, Book 6.5) mostly developed, and the first scenes written for both. It’s very likely I’ll be working on at least one of those manuscripts in the first quarter of 2018.

I’ve also started developing a Christmas novella set in NetVerse (The Pruxnae’s story world), so it’s possible I’ll be working on that as well. Other possibilities include The Master Vampire (The Vampyr, Book 4, V.R. Cumming), which is fairly well developed and has an already substantial bit of the first draft done, plus the final two Daughters of the People novels, an accompanying Daughters of the People short story collection, and some new, never-before-discussed projects waiting on the back burner.

But here’s the thing: I’m making no promises.

Promises of that sort are for schedule-driven writers, but I’m not a schedule-driven writer; I’m a systems-driven writer (Habits R Us). It’s possible that I could wake up one day with a brilliant plot twist for the final Vampyr Series novel and end up shifting my focus to it from, for example, Sweet Surrender while the idea is fresh in my head. This is what worked for me during my first two years as a writer. Trust the process, people, and have some faith. You’re going to get some great stories in 2018. That’s one promise I am very willing to make.

As far as the short stories go, some of those will probably be aimed at paying markets (read: short form fiction magazines) and some will be tagged for a self-published short story collection, like Dreaming of a Dark Christmas. I’m planning on listing the titles of finished short stories in my regular Book and Author News posts, so keep an eye out there if you’re interested.

Other Business Related Goals

I have two other goals I’m aiming to achieve this year, business wise. The first is to go back to blogging on a semi-regular basis, something I did quite a bit of during my first couple of years as a writer. I even had a set time for writing blog posts, between waking up and eating supper (or, more likely, while making supper). I haven’t set a firm habit-driven goal for this yet, but I hope to soon.

The other business related goal has to do with the Speculative Fiction magazine my son and I are working on, Alternate Realms Magazine. I’d like to move toward getting at least one new item out each week other than our monthly new releases list. So far, those overarching goals include publishing a new article, one to two reviews, and one to two interviews each month. Again, I haven’t set aside the exact time for that within my writing habit (that systems-driven approach), but I will. It could be that some of my blogging time is eaten up by ARM, and I’m totally fine with that.

I have one other secret goal I’m working on that may or not reach fruition in 2018, as it requires skills I haven’t fully developed yet. I’ll let y’all know what’s up with that when I get a little closer to figuring out how or if I can accomplish this one.

Personal Goals

And, of course, the personal stuff, mostly related to health. As a writer, I spend a lot of time sitting and typing. (Go figure.) My 2018 goal is to build on my steady, upward spiral of focusing on things that have a positive impact on my health.

For example, sometime in 2015 I decided to try the Paleo diet, something I’d been studying for a couple of years prior to that. It really worked for me, so I gradually converted to the Primal lifestyle. Not a strict one, no, but close enough to eventually feel and look better than I had in years.

Last February, I backslid thanks to an incredibly hectic schedule, caused in part by an extended playoff season for my sister’s basketball team. (She’s a coach. I have to support her, right?) I’ve since gained *mumble, mumble* pounds, which led directly to a whole size increase in my jeans, this after working so hard to go down four full dress sizes.

Nope, I was not happy about that, so it’s back at it for the New Year. Ok, I’ve already started getting back on the Primal wagon through diet and exercise. After the New Year, I hope to incorporate weight training at some point, and will hopefully be able to get out and walk or hike, weather permitting.

Yeah, our weather here is supposed to suck (Thank you, La Nina!), but it is what it is. If I can’t get out and hike, then I can substitute the ever fun chore known as toting firewood. Hey, whatever works.

I’m not aiming for pounds lost or pants sizes decreased. Rather, I’m aiming for a healthier lifestyle. That’s always worked better for me than short-term, rigid diet and exercise programs.

Part of that includes decreasing the amount of time I spend online, especially on social media sites. Frankly, Facebook stresses me out. I love catching up with family and friends, but doing so also means seeing the inevitable political rants. No, thanks. I’ve already nearly completely cut Twitter out of my life; Facebook is probably going to go the same way, or will at least be relegated to the bare minimum. I know readers are always looking for ways to connect, but believe me, following my blog and/or subscribing to one of my newsletters is a far better way to interact with me.

Another personal goal? Read more. This year, I read more than sixty individual titles ranging from short stories, magazines, and novels to non-fiction for research or to build my writerly skills.

In 2018, I’d like to read at least that many titles again. I’ve set aside specific parts of my day for reading, namely while exercising and before bed (this is an established habit), but I also sneak in reading time during long car rides (when someone else is driving, natch) and breaks during basketball games. My son and I will also occasionally either listen to an audiobook while we’re on the road, or one of us will read a physical book while the other drives. The family that reads together and all that.

Finally, I have some work to do around the house I’m living in, the one my great-grandfather built, three things in particular. First, the porch is in desperate need of painting. We hired someone to do it last year, but due to scheduling conflicts related to those hurricanes that blew through, our hiree wasn’t able to complete the job. This project’s earmarked for spring, as soon as the temperatures warm up enough at night for the paint to stick.

Second, I need to finish cleaning out the three extra bedrooms and the upstairs walk-in closet. Most of what needs going through is clothes, but some of it is personal, like pictures and correspondence. We’ve discovered some gems so far, including Aunt Dixie’s wedding dress and a picture of my grandfather when he was a wee lad, the earliest picture we have of him. I have high hopes of uncovering even more treasures as we go through the remaining items.

Third, once the bedrooms are cleaned out, I’ll be rearranging furniture. The downstairs bedroom is earmarked for a living area slash TV and game room. I’ll be moving furniture from the current parlor to the new living room so that I can use the parlor as my office, while the current living room (where the fireplace is located) will become the parlor slash reading room. Having a dedicated writing spot will go a long way toward helping me re-establish my writing habit, so that’s something of a priority. Again, weather permitting. It’s hard to cart bags of old clothes off to the thrift store when your car is buried under a foot of snow.

Wow! That’s a Lot of Goals!

Nearly 3000 words worth to this point in the post, not that I’m counting. (Ha!)

The whole point of this is to a) reinforce my habit-driven process within my own mind, and b) to provide some accountability by posting my goals publicly. Encouraging words are very much appreciated, but please be kind. Remember that I’m the one in charge of the fate of some of your favorite characters.

Mwahahahaha!

*ahem*

Anyway, life always gets in the way, and I anticipate nothing less during 2018. Basketball and other family related events are going to happen and, most likely, will eat up more time than I anticipated. And that’s fine. Family comes first, but work runs a close second and I really need to focus on it, for my own sake if not for my readers’.

The other most likely interference will be work related. Once I finish a manuscript, regardless of length, I set it aside for a day to a couple of weeks and let it simmer while I work on something else. When I’m ready, I pull it back out again, read and revise it (if necessary, and it almost always is), then incorporate any changes into the master file. This can take anywhere from a couple of hours for a shorter story to a week or more for a novel, and during that time, I like to work solely on that story. It’s really difficult, after all, to finalize one story when you’ve got others floating around in your head.

So, I may be taking time here and there away from writing during which time I’ll still be working on getting stories out to you. Trust the process. I may not meet all my writerly goals exactly when I should, but I promise, I will be writing my way toward a really great 2018.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2018 bring you much peace, success, and happiness.

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