Friday, January 7, 2011

And So It Begins ... Writing Through the New Year

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Yeah, it is a New Year. And the first week of the New Year has come to an end. This is, according to some self-declared and publicly acknowledged experts, when as many as sixty one percent of us have already capitulated on some of our New Year's resolutions. But I am bucking the odds. Where's the science fiction in this thread? As yet another aspiring science fiction writer, I took myself to task to try to not be in that majority this year.

Last year's annual ritual of writing resolution self-disappointment looked something like this:
  • A - Will write at least N pages a Day
  • B - If failing with A, write at least N pages a Week
  • C - Will submit at least one completed work a month
  • D - If failing with C, will submit at least one completed work a quarter
  • E - Will attend at least one writing, publishing, industry-related event (seminar, lecture, public presentation) a quarter
  • F - Will complete rewrites of both of those completed and unpublished novels
  • G - Will complete rewrites of at least five stories from that mothballed pile of twenty-plus unpublished short stories

As I looked back on the previous year, I realized that I had only completed two of the above list of seven fabulous writing goals. But it was not lack of effort. Yes, I got one story published. And yes, I did rewrite six stories, submit another seven or more, and I finally did complete the rewrite of one of my two novels. So where did I come up short? And how would I use this to chart the course for a more productive, more successful 2011?

To put it simply, I changed the rules as I went along. Was that failure? As I looked back, I was not sure. I decided that this year instead of measuring my failures, I would change the metrics. Rather than counting how many of this I wrote, how many of that I rewrote, how many submissions, seminars, edits, etc., etc., I decided to simply test for "activity". A car analogy: I decided to stop looking at the odometer and started looking at the speedometer.

Here are some simplified indicators I figured to be more useful than a detailed, guilt-inducing, blockage-creating checklist:

  • Have I spent some hours writing this week?
  • Have I spent some time this week networking with other writers, publishers, or readers?
  • Have I spent some hours this month researching the market, background information for a story or novel, or exploring business-of-writing issues?
  • Have I spent some hours this month on establishing and developing long term writing success foundations?
A YES to the above questions means I am Moving. A NO means I am Not Moving. But, and this is the important part, what it really means is that I am Not Moving This week. It doesn't mean I have quit or that I have failed. It probably means I did something else I was supposed to do, be it other career obligations, family time, legal business, health matters, or simply living.

This approach may be oversimplified, maybe even too simple to actually work. But I think not. So far, in this first week of the new year, I have managed to do a few things that say I Am Moving in 2011: critiqued 150+ pages of work from fellow writers in working critique groups; rewrote one 6K word story from the "fix me someday" old short story collection; applied for admission to a local university MFA in Creative Writing program; submitted one short story to an SFWA approved markets; wrote this article. None of these are by themselves any particularly great accomplishment. But they indicate forward movement. And that is the fundamental "trick" to remember: forward movement is progress. It is lack of surrender. It is the opposite of failure. And for this year of 2011, I am calling lack of surrender by another term: success. If a week goes by and I determine I am Not Moving This Week, I can change that the following week, by simply doing something I know propels me forward.

My modest goal categorization techniques and tricks may not work for you, in your writing or your living. That's OK, too. Regardless of your goals for the New Year and the rest of your life, I challenge you to face them head on, to own them, to drag, shove, push, kick and cajole them into reality with all the subtly, outrage, charm, and willful determination you can muster. But don't use them to measure your success or lack thereof. Just use them to take your own pulse, because if you are trying, you are alive.

- D. E. Helbling

Orson Scott Card Recovering from Mild New Years Day Stroke

An article on Locus, referring to yet another article on Orson Scott Card's official website, says Orson suffered a mild stroke on New Year's Day. While he is apparently expecting a full recovery, it has impacted his travel plans. He will be focusing on writing at home for the few months, where he will be "retraining his brain so that the fingers of his left hand strike the keys he's aiming for."

Our best wishes to Orson for a speedy recovery.

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