Perseverance

Letting Go


"When I let go of what I am, I become what I may be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need"
- attributed to Lao Tzu


 

At the beginning of the year I set lofty goals. One thousand words a day. One blog post a week. One story submission per month. Quite poetic in its symmetry of a quantity of one task over each time span.
 

At the time I believed I could accomplish the goals. It would be hard and require strict discipline and focus and time management and the lack of any other factors that might possibly cause the slightest distraction. These were unrealistic goals.
 


"Know thyself."
- ancient Greek aphorism



 

The problem with committing to something unrealistic is it can be difficult to disengage, particularly if others are involved. If I commit to help a friend move a piano I will surely live up to that promise, no matter how much my back may regret it later.
 

When my commitments are internal, that is when I am the only one affected by the doing or not doing, it is still hard for me to renege. The completion of that task is linked to my image of myself, my self esteem, my character. If I don't complete the task I am a failure.
 

The end result of this cycle is obvious. Frustration. Low self-esteem. Sadness. Depression. Procrastination. Repeat.
 

When the commitment involves others, a promised favor, a work assignment, a relationship, letting go can be very difficult and painful. If the promise is only to myself, no matter how public I have made it, the only person who will be affected is me.
 

A Writer Resolves

Here are my four resolutions for 2013:
 

1K Every Day

I will write one thousand words each day. New words. Fiction. Every day.
 

1 Blog Post Every Week

Okay, I skipped last week, but I had the flu. Over the next few weeks I will be reporting on results of self-publishing last year.
 

1 Story Submission Every Month

Should be easy to accomplish, and might even lead to some new publication credits.
 

1 New Novel By the End of the Year

Which means finishing, editing, editing, editing, the current work in progress.
 

Why make these resolutions?
 

Some years ago I set goals, committed time to them, and reported the results. While tracking those efforts in detail on a spreadsheet was not worth the time, committing to the goals made me, no surprise, a very productive writer. It is time once again to get back on track.
 

Best wishes to your own new year, whatever your goals may be.
 

Do It Again In 2010

When I started blogging almost 4 years ago, I was very organized. I set benchmarks by fiscal quarter and tallied results. Staying organized is still critical for me lest I start slacking off (it happens). But spreadsheets and SMART goals do not guarantee success as a writer.
 

Another year my goals and resolutions were all about conventions. Meeting other writers is important. Talking with editors and agents and keeping up with trends in the business is necessary. It does not guarantee success as a writer.
 

Last year I focused on one task. I finished a book I was sure was great. However, no agent I've contacted has been interested in representing the project. Hard work and a desire to succeed is not enough.
 

I've written every day for a month. I've written in 15-minute sprints and 5-hour slogs. I've written alone and with others, given feedback and been critiqued, had some acceptances and plenty of rejections, had lucky breaks and near misses, been happy as a clam and bitter as day-old coffee, written flash and short and long formats, made great friends and been to wonderful places, all of which has made me a better writer.
 

It has not brought what I or (let's be honest) most writers would consider professional success.
 

Writing fiction is a tough, hard profession and it's in a time of unprecedented uncertainty in most every aspect of the business. One can be organized and committed, networking and connected, and writing and writing and writing. And still fail.
 

So why do it? I could fulfill my creative side in other ways. I certainly earn a lot more money at other professions. I did once quit writing.
 

In the late 1990's I was convinced I didn't have the motivation, patience, or talent to be a writer. I had a career and a family and a life path to middle class that was straight as a railroad track. That could be enough. I quit writing for years.
 

Until one day I scribbled down an idea. The idea became a scene. A plot developed and I thought "Oh crap, who the hell am I kidding. I'm a writer." It was a welcome derailment.
 

I write because I can't not and yes, I confess, I want others to read what I've imagined and be entertained by it. Even so, it is difficult to keep at it when the obstacles to success seem so great.
 

For Christmas I received Born Standing Up, an autobiography by Steve Martin. It covers his path to and career in stand-up comedy, a two decades long journey from selling programs in Disneyland to that jumped-the-shark King Tut song. There's a line in the book that seems appropriate to me right now:
 

Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.

 

2010 is the year of the tiger in the Chinese calendar. This also seems relevant.
 

Year of the Tiger
Photo by Kevin Law

 

In 2010 I will be organized and disciplined, I will meet up with writers and editors and agents, I will write and submit and query, and in the event that a rare stroke of luck appears in order to present an opportunity, I will be ready. I am a writer and I will not quit.
 

NaNoWriMo Ends

Another NaNoWriMo has been completed. Congratulations go to Rick O. for completing more than 50,000 words in the month of November. Nice work, Sir!
 

Many thanks to writing pals Jack, Tim, and Peggy. Special honors go to Peggy who topped 35,000 words for not only her first attempt at NaNoWriMo but her first attempt at writing a book length piece of fiction. Congrats!
 

That is what I love about this crazy event. It inspires people to write, to tackle an objective they've always wanted to do but never got around to trying.
 

My own attempt did not get to 50k, though I did get north of 35k. I still like the idea for the book as well as the characters who have developed in interesting ways over the past 30 days. Just remains to keep plugging away.
 

Many thanks to everyone who stopped by here to offer encouragement. It helped more than you could know.
 

Clear The Decks

Congrats to my good friend Rick O.! His review of a poetry reading was published by the Bakersfield Express. The review can be read here.
 

Congrats to L.A. Mitchell who was kicking butt and taking names during her two week fast draft writing marathon. I envy and covet her daily word counts.
 

Starting next Sunday, I will have a chance to match her speed as I dive in headfirst once again into National Novel Writing Month. Contrary to earlier plans, I will have an outline for this next novel. Too many scenes have suggested themselves to just wing it.
 

I've also got some writing buddies to cheer on, both real space and virtual. It is going to be a busy month; I hope to surface for air and coffee once in a while.

Payment Due

Still here? I wouldn't be surprised if you wandered away as I obviously did. I owe a visit to many of your own blogs.
 

Been a little busy here, for reasons many of you had a hand in. Many, many thanks to Camille, Derek,Gustavo, Marcus, Martin, Matt, Nathan, and Rick O. for all your comments, insights, and critiques over the last couple months of my book, my synopsis, and my query letter. You all rock.
 

At the transition from "I want to be a writer" to "I am a writer", I felt I was taking on a certain obligation. It would no longer be good enough to talk about it. Writers write, and submit, and interact with their peers. Sometimes they even get published. They definitely give back.
 

I've done the above but sometimes feel like I've taken more than I've given. I certainly owe those listed above. If nothing else, I feel I have to at least follow through.
 

This week I sent out my first agent query.

 

I had planned to finish this post in a different fashion. But I have to share this instead. I received my first agent rejection 17 hours and 41 minutes later. And you know, it's true. It hurts less when you rip the band-aid off quickly.
 

Next step: send out another agent query. Because that's what writers do.

 

Back To School

I volunteer once a month in my daughter's 2nd grade classroom. My responsibilities tend to be cutting, stapling, and collating, though once I got to use a hot glue gun. That was cool.
 

The teacher got wind of me being a writer and she asked if I'd talk with the class about my writing process. The kids do a lot of writing, stories and essays, but are rather reluctant editors. I feel their pain. The teacher asked if I could focus a bit on that and maybe bring in some edited pages.
 

I was humbled to be asked to do that. And a little nervous. Kids ask the darndest questions, you know.
 

During my talk, I discovered they do many of the methods I mentioned: checking spelling (of course), reading out loud, and even cutting up a story and rearranging the pieces. Impressive.
 

I received some good tips. Like not making a title of a story until you're done, that way you know what the story is about. I usually get the title fixed in my brain at the beginning (after all, I need to save the document file as something). Good advice.
 

And then the questions. They were mostly softballs. For example: What is my favorite story that I wrote? But then came the tough question, the kind I knew would come up.
 

"Are you a professional?"
 

D'oh! Wow. Imagine the things going through my head, the subjective nature of the meaning professional writer, or even just writer! But I couldn't waffle. They'd see through that. I had to be honest.
 

I said that writing was a tough job. That most writers don't make a lot of money doing it and, like me, have another job to earn money. Writing takes a lot of patience and practice but if you love doing it, then it's worth all the work.
 

So it all went well. The teacher was pleased. My daughter was proud of me, and happy I didn't say anything to embarrass her.

Folly of Youth

I've been caught in a lie. In the Fiction section of this site, I make claims about my first published work. Recently, someone reminded me these claims are false.
 

Senior year in High School, some mumble-mumble years ago, a very good friend ascended to editor of the school newspaper. He urged me to write something, anything! Three quarters of the paper was devoted to sports coverage. He wanted to shake things up. I obliged.
 

I went digging in the archives and found the clippings, faded to a nice beige. My work was derivative (in one story I even state 'This is based on the work of Kurt Vonnegut') and attempts to shock the reader without being particularly shocking. There's thinly veiled animosity toward authority (e.g. the Principal and Vice Principals). And it is clear the editor was giving a pass to his friend by not editing. I was also surprised.
 

The stories have a wry tone. There is a subtle dry humor. The themes are shot through with the absurd.
 

I recognize this writer from so long ago. It's strange. I like that aspects of my style, I might even say writing voice, haven't changed much. But it does make me wonder ...
 

I'm not going to over analyze it. And I'm going to reprint one article I wrote, mostly to thank that person of reminding me when I really first got published. It's below the break (it's rather long) and the subject is appropriate to the season. Hope you enjoy reading it.

We Have Second Draft

My novel Garbageland has graduated from shitty first draft to crappy second draft.
 

Along the way one character was excised, two others were morphed together, and paragraphs, scenes, and chapters were slashed. Total word count dropped about 10k; I expect to add words back in the next round. And all that only took nine months.
 

One problem was the method. I read in another writer's blog how they printed out the first draft, made corrections on paper, and then re-typed the whole thing for the second draft. I decided to do the same.
 

There was some benefit. It certainly slowed me down, making me think more about the words I didn't touch. I've found it works well on short stories. Novel length works: not so much. I'd get bogged down frequently, looking at how few pages I'd gotten through in a day.
 

I must have a stubborn streak because I didn't give up on that method until September. Returning to live editing, for lack of a better term, the pages flew by. Perhaps that will require more changes in the third draft, but at least that draft will go quickly.
 

Work on the third draft starts Wednesday, or as soon as I've recovered from election night.

Writing By The Numbers

I've been working on a short story for about 18 months. It's been submitted and rejected several times. I put it aside, worked on it, put it aside again, worked on it. I've been procrastinating on sending it out for a few reasons.
 

First, I want to get it right. I really like the story and obviously want to see it published. Second, I get a blind spot with stories I like. It isn't just the 'darlings', sections that are oh, so clever but don't move the story. I become blind to what the reader sees because the movie in my head for the story is so complete.
 

At that point I seek out critiques. I've done that already. I think the story is ready to go, but still I hesitate. So I wondered if there were some other means to evaluate the text.
 

For novels, I use software called yWriter. It has a tool that counts words, total and unique, and number of times each word is used. If I plugged my story in, would I see anything useful? Then again, I've got a blind spot. What I need to do is compare numbers on my story to another, say by a pro writer. So I found a great story by another author and typed it in.
 

Let's start with the big numbers.
 

  Pro Story My Story
Total Words 5,862 6,153
Unique Words 1,447 1,794
% of Total 25% 29%

 

Unique words are those that appear once, never repeated. Scrolling through the lists I see these are good words, descriptive words, interesting words. In the two stories, my unique words are a slightly higher percentage than the pro story. I like this statistic.
 

Lesson #1: Use interesting words.
 

Besides the unique words, the rest have been used at least twice in the stories. The usual suspects have been used hundreds of times in both: the, and, of, to. I notice that my story uses "was" 59 times while the slightly shorter pro story has 89 instances. So much for active voice.
 

Lesson #2: Know how to break the rules.
 

Going down the list, it's hard to make much comparison. The words, cut out of their context, seem so ordinary. They are the lunch-pail words, working hard at their job without expectation of big rewards. I'm not seeing any pattern or useful information.
 

How about the bottom, the words that are used twice to ten times? Maybe I'll see something there. Maybe I'm overusing a lot of filler words. Below shows the number of words used for each number of times. For example, if the word "what" and "should" are both used five times then the total is two for five uses. I know, this is getting abstract, bear with me.
 

# of uses Pro Story My Story
Ten Times 10 7
Nine Times 7 12
Eight Times 15 9
Seven Times 20 14
Six Times 21 38
Five Times 36 39
Four Times 54 72
Three Times 91 124
Two Times 217 258

 

My numbers are slightly higher, but only by thousandths as a percentage of the whole. What does this mean?
 

Lesson #3: Writing is about words, not numbers.
 

Perhaps this was a futile exercise. I thought as an experiment it was interesting. I think the final lesson for me is:
 

Send the damn story out already!

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