For the last several weeks, I’ve been dreading writing this post.
I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet these last four years, faithfully the last three, about my writing progress. More than just a word count tracker, I also keep track of blog posts, free-writing, editing, critiquing, what projects I work on, even things like time of day and my mood. I added a new column this year to track how much slush I was reading every month. I do this because without it, I can’t see anything. No data. Nothing to encourage, nothing to reprimand. Discovering that tracking my activities spawned more of those same activities was my first Writing Hack and one I don’t forsee stopping anytime soon.
Which is why I knew I was not looking forward to reviewing this year’s efforts.
At the beginning of December, I took a hard look at the numbers. Last year I wrote over 200,000 words, and that included a novella and two whole novels, one a first draft, one a complete rip-the-stuffing-out-and-start-the-bear-over-again draft (it’s third). I felt like I had passed a major productivity milestone, and that I would meet it again this year.
So the temptation, a few weeks back, to flog myself for my paltry 85,000 words, was high indeed. I decided that I would do whatever it took to hit 100,000 words by the end of December because it’s a big round number that will make me feel good despite its inherint meaninglessness. Those words included two short stories, new material written for one of last year’s novels that were written whole-cloth, the last 30K of the second novel, and 25K on something brand new that my brain demanded I start as a safe escape from editing a novel I was afraid to give myself over to entirely.
And beat it I did, December 30th, while set up in the library for a proper marathon session. Better, the words didn’t suck. Best of all, it reminded me that I could even do it in the first place.
Here’s a second number: 200,000 words. That’s roughtly the count of the pages of my own work that I went over and edited — all the tweaking, rebuilding, polishing, gnashing of teeth that went into making THE STAR DOOR passable for beta readers. (To me, these aren’t fresh words written. Bits were added, others taken away, and in places it was all finickey work. I counted multiple passes on the same material, too.)
And it wasn’t just editing that kept me from new material. I slushed 382 stories from May through October — some read straight through and mulled over, others discarded quickly based on obvious flaws — and that took up a lot more time than I expected it would. The marching orders were to send through only stories that I absolutely loved. Did I learn a lot? Yes and no. I learned just how many ways that stories can break and what makes them work for me. Learning that, though, meant I anguished quite a bit over perfectly fine stories that I didn’t love wondering if the editors would. Inversely, seeing a story I loved get rejected, was nearly as crushing as if it had been my own submission. I started questioning my own taste, my own gut, and that shook my confidence. I left the post after the move. My turnaround times for critiques lengthened and the job I landed once arriving has longer hours, plus a communal commute. Termites all, chewing into the limited wood of my day.
And, of course, the move itself. What an event, equal parts adventure and nightmare, over a month with none of my belongings and rocking both jetlag and cultural dissonance. It took time to recover; in truth, I’m still recovering, but I can see the progress now and it gives me strength.
Plans, I haz them. Not just squishy hopes and maybes but specific, actionable tasks.
I’m really looking forward to 2014. Hope you are as well.
PS: Books of last year post is forthcoming! Because BOOKS.