Bolding Going Forward, ‘Cause I Can’t Find Reverse

Well, I missed the window for New Year’s posts, and then some, didn’t I?

There’s been a lot going on, on all sorts of fronts for me. There’s a lot up in the air, and a lot of change coming. This is a scattered sort of update, not a proper year-in-review or year-ahead post, not only because it’s already February, but because I’m in a scattered sort of place right now.

So, Um, Happy New Year?

2016 was rough on a lot of people, not excluding me. That being said, there was also a lot of good for me in the year. There were big ups and big downs. I’m not optimistic that 2017 will be a whole lot better, overall, for the world – but I do think I can make it an even better year for myself, by working to build on the good, by learning from the bad, by trying to improve myself, and moving forward.

What Does Better Even Mean?

It sounds good, to talk about a better year, and about improving myself, but those are twisty, shifty and very subjective words. What do I actually mean?

I said this privately, back around my last birthday in late 2016, and I’ll say it less privately now: I need to be braver. It’s time to stand up, for myself, for the people I’m responsible to, for the kind of world and future I want for everyone.

So, if I were to pick one word to be my guiding star this year? Courage.

It’s not natural for me to be brave. I like to think that I’m not a coward, but even I have to admit that I’m pretty seriously conflict-averse. I question myself a lot, which is a strength when I’m wrong, but potentially problematic when I’m right, or when I let self-doubt keep me from acting in my own defence, or that of the people I love.

That has to stop. I hope that I’ll always be self-analytical, ready to listen, and willing to consider that I might be wrong and admit when I am. But I also need to be ready to stand up for what’s right. It’s time to be ready to do that, and to actually do it. It’s time to be brave.

Okay, But What Are You Actually Going To DO This Year?

Yeah, if courage is the direction I always want to be steering towards, that’s good. But what about the practical stuff? What about actually getting things done?

My New Special Friend pointed me at this response to a post on Reddit. It’s a few years old, now, but ideas like this don’t really have a best-before date. If courage is my guiding star, then this is my battle cry, my daily call to action: No More Zero Days!

nmzd

Image by Reddit User modified_duck, inspired by the comment by ryans01 on the post by maxstolfe

In practice, that means that I work to make every day a non-zero day in some way – keeping in mind that non-zero means going above the baseline, making progress. The fields I’ve identified as being targets for non-zero-ness are:

  • My health (exercising and eating better)
  • Caring for my loved ones, and my home
  • My writing

So far I’m… well, it’s a start? I don’t think I’ve had a three-for-three non-zero day yet, but there have been a lot fewer completely zero days.

While We’re On That Subject, What Did You Actually Do LAST Year?

Ugh, my metrics tracking went absolutely to shit last year. I… submitted some stories? And some of them got closer to a yes than I’ve ever gotten before, even though I still ended up getting a “no”. And I made inching progress on rewriting my second novel. I queried some more agents on the first novel, which was a good thing to do even though they all said “No” too.  And I wrote some blog posts, including some really good interviews with wonderful writers.

But since about September, my productivity on all those fronts has pretty much fallen off a cliff, and I’ve been focused on dealing with other stuff. Dealing with said stuff has been stressful, and I’ve been managing my stress poorly – lots of eating my feelings, regrettably.

It’s a challenge, but I’m trying to do better. No more Zero Days.

What’s Next For The Blog?

I expect posting to continue to be light until the spring, when a lot of the big changes coming will actually happen. (Sorry, I’m not trying to be coy; some things are genuinely uncertain, and some I’m not ready to talk about yet.)

Even before then, I’m going to try to provide more regular updates, and line up some more interviews. I also think that I need to acknowledge that some of my older short stories are not going to sell. Heck, that might be for the best – some of them have been kicking around for long enough that they aren’t reflective of my current level of skill. Rather than simply trunking them, I was thinking about running a couple of those older stories here. I’d welcome any thoughts on that!

This is going to be a big year, for me, no matter what else happens. I’m going to need to be brave, and I’m going to need to strive to have no more zero days. A lot is going to change – and so I’m grateful for you, continuing to follow along. Thanks for sticking with me.

Now: Onward.

 

Breaking In: Interview with Claire Humphrey

Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview Claire Humphrey.

As she notes on her website, Claire Humphrey’s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Crossed Genres, Fantasy Magazine, and Podcastle. Her short story “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot” appeared in the Lambda Award-nominated collection Beyond Binary, and her short story “The Witch Of Tarup” was published in the critically acclaimed anthology Long Hidden. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary. Spells of Blood and Kin is her first novel.

Where we love, we ruin…

Some families hand down wealth through generations; some hand down wisdom. Some families, whether they want to or not, hand down the secret burdens they carry and the dangerous debts they owe.

Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother leaves her a big, empty house, and a legacy of magic: folk magic, old magic, brought with Baba when she fled the Gulag. In the wake of her passing, the Russian community of Toronto will depend on Lissa now, to give them their remedies and be their koldun’ia. But Lissa hasn’t had time to learn everything Baba wanted to teach her―let alone the things Baba kept hidden.

Maksim Volkov’s birth family is long dead, anything they bestowed on him long turned to dust. What Maksim carries now is a legacy of violence, and he does not have to die to pass it on. When Maksim feels his protective spell fail, he returns to the witch he rescued from the Gulag, only to find his spell has died along with the one who cast it. Without the spell, it is only a matter of time before Maksim’s violent nature slips its leash and he infects someone else―if he hasn’t done so already.

Nick Kaisaris is just a normal dude who likes to party. He doesn’t worry about family drama. He doesn’t have any secrets. All he wants is for things to stay like they are right now, tonight: Nick and his best buddy Jonathan, out on the town. Only Nick is on a collision course with Maksim Volkov, and what he takes away from this night is going to crack open Nick’s nature until all of his worst self comes to light.

Lissa’s legacy of magic might hold the key to Maksim’s salvation, if she can unravel it in time. But it’s a legacy that comes at a price. And Maksim might not want to be saved…

Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy, is published by Thomas Dunne books, and is available June 14, 2016 wherever books are sold, from your preferred print or ebook vendor. You can find a complete list of Claire’s works, and how to find them, here.

Full disclosure: Claire and I are in the same writer’s group, and I had the pleasure and privilege of reading Spells of Blood and Kin while it was being revised. So no, I am not objective at all, here, and I’m okay with that, because this is a great book and a remarkable debut, and I encourage you to read it.

spells v2

Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy,  by Claire Humphrey

 [SGM] Welcome to the blog, Claire! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[CH] Thanks for having me!  I probably felt like I broke in around my third short story sale (which was “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot“, to Strange Horizons in 2011).  I certainly hadn’t broken in with readers yet–but I felt like I now had enough evidence to prove to myself that this wasn’t a fluke, that my successes were repeatable, and that I was going to be in this for the long haul.

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

I’ve always been writing.  I sold some literary short fiction during university, and for many years I worked on a long (very, very long) fantasy novel.  But for much of that time my plan was just “write stuff, send it out”.  In 2008 I went to the Viable Paradise workshop, where I came to learn that my strategy could use some refining.  After that, my story production kicked up, I started submitting more carefully, I made a more serious plan for how to complete the novel that would become Spells of Blood and Kin, and another for how to query agents when it was time.  I’d call that workshop the watershed between “writing” and “being a writer”.

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

Nothing.  Even though I haven’t always taken the most direct or effective path, I like where I am, in all regards, and I don’t believe it would look the same if I’d taken another road.

claire humphrey headshot 2

Claire Humphrey, Author (photo by Bevin Reith)

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

I expected to feel a strong sense of achievement when I sold my first book, and I sure did–and still do.  That’s been delightful.  I also expected that it would be just the beginning–and that’s been true too.  The number of things a writer has to do following that first sale is huge.  It’s a strain to try to do all those things on top of a regular life and a fulfilling day-career.  All that is pretty much how I pictured it, and I’m loving it.

The thing I don’t know yet is how it will feel to have a larger audience–if I’ll get to have that feeling any time soon, or at all.  “Breaking in” as a pro writer is one thing; “breaking in” with readers is another, and a thing that many writers never quite get to experience even after going pro.  I’m guessing I’ll have more fans as a novelist than I do as a short fiction writer, but the odds are still against my ever being a household name or an award-winner.  I don’t know how many books I’ll publish in my career or how well they will all sell.  I think there’s a process of breaking in with every new piece of work, and only time will tell how that plays out.  I’m looking forward to finding out.

What are you working on now?

A novel in the same world as Spells of Blood and Kin, this time focused on Gus Hillyard.  Gus is a character I love to write.  She knows really well how to survive, but she has no idea how to thrive.  In this book she faces some of the same problems Maksim faces in Spells but Gus is a different person, with different resources and needs, and her solution is going to be quite different as well.

How can people keep up with you online?

I post pretty infrequently to my blog; I spend a lot more time on Twitter, though it’s not all about literature there (expect frequent digressions on pickling, social issues, beer, and penguins, both bird and hockey varieties).

Thanks so much for having me, and for your whole Breaking In series!

Thanks again to Claire for taking the time out of the busy (and nerve-wracking) preparations of a debut novelist — and once again, I encourage all of you to check out Spells of Blood and Kin.

Coming up next on the blog: A Breaking In interview with another debut novelist, Curtis C. Chen, author of Waypoint Kangaroo!

Pretty Good Year: 2015 in review

The Year in Writing

It’s probably pretty obvious by this point that I subtitle this blog with the phrase, “steady movement is more important than speed, much of the time” for a reason. (No one has ever mentioned recognizing that quote, by the by. Do you? Let me know, and you’ll get an imaginary internet cookie!)

My writing process, given the amount of time I have available to devote to it, can rarely be a sprint, or even something as time-intensive as a marathon. Incremental progress is the name of my game; steady movement.

And there was steady movement this year, and it led to real progress. All in, I got quite a few more words down this year than in 2014. I completed the first draft of my second novel, NOBODY’S WATCHING, a near-future, cyberpunk-inflected thriller for YA readers. That included 16,500 or so new words added to the draft between January and May. I’ve also begun the process of revising it, which is a lot harder to quantify, given that words are being added, subtracted and replaced. The process is well underway, and although I’d kind of hoped to be finished before the New Year, I quite like where the rewrite is taking me.

Also begun this year, but not completed, were a polish of my first novel (in preparation for the querying process that I describe below) and two pitches for prospective new comics series that I hope to submit to a publisher in the not-too-distant future.

The Year in Submitting: Short Stories

I fell off the horse in submitting my short fiction this year; seven submissions to various markets (I think; I also fell off the horse at zealously tracking my metrics this year). That lead to seven rejections. No stories out on submission, and no responses pending.

The biggest development on that front was that, as Canada’s federal election drew nigh, I realized that my short story Final Issue had a best-before date measured in days, and decided to publish it here. It remains the most-read post on this blog this year, not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but I’m certainly pleased.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’m going to get back on this particular horse. Short fiction has proven to be a tough nut for me to crack; no sales over several years of (admittedly intermittent) efforts on my part. The stories I’ve submitted, I’ve been proud of, but I’m starting to think that my style isn’t especially well-suited to the kind of markets I want to sell to. Or, you know, I might not be good enough.

Either way, investing the time and energy in writing more short fiction is pretty far down the priority list. I mean, never say never? But I’m not sure I want to keep throwing that particular spaghetti at those particular walls.

I might end up posting more of my trunk stories here, as a result. If you think that would be of interest, please let me know.

The Year in Submitting: Agent Queries

As I noted in my November recap, I finally finished fixing up my query letter and submitted queries for my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE, to nine agents. To date, I’ve received two rejections, with seven responses pending.

The process, so far, has taken a lot longer than it took me to get rejections across the board from my last round of queries. In that case, the majority of responses arrived within ten days. On the other hand, the entire publishing industry essentially shuts down for the holidays, so I don’t know how much of December I should even count.

In other words, I’m committing submittomancy like a fiend. More news as it happens on that front.

The Year in Blogging

This is the year that I really started making an effort to have this blog be, you know, a thing. You can tell from my posting history: A total of sixteen posts (this one makes seventeen), but aside from last year’s year-in-review post, they were all between September and December.

A significant number of them were Breaking In interviews. I’m very proud of those interviews, and I want to thank all my interviewees: Your generous and informative responses to my questions were deeply appreciated. You provided wonderful interviews, full of really useful insights for aspiring writers and those who are just on the verge of “breaking in”.

2016: Better, Stronger, Faster.

Looking back, I’m kind of surprised; I got more done than I thought I did this year. You know what? I’m proud of what I accomplished.

That’s tempered by the fact that I didn’t get done everything that I wanted to – even factoring out the things that are outside my control. But then, when do I? When does anyone?

2015 was a year of steady progress, but also of change, on all sorts of fronts. I haven’t really touched on the more personal changes this year; suffice it to say, they were substantial, and on balance, positive, and I suspect that 2016 will bring more changes, and even better ones.

I plan to make my writing part of that. If this isn’t the year I break through to the next level – whatever that next level ends up being – at least it won’t be because I won’t be trying.

Thanks for being part of my journey this year. I look forward to sharing with all of you what happens next. I wish you, and all of us, a 2016 full of more and better.

Happy New Year.

And yes, the title was, of course, a reference to this.

Wait, November’s OVER?!

Yeah, November was a blur — and I wasn’t even NaNo-ing this year!

I Lurch Onward with Breathtaking Intermittency

So, how did I fare with my National Personal Novel Rewriting Month, NaPerNoReWriMo?

Not badly at all. I’m not as far along with my rewrite of my novel, Nobody’s Watching as I’d hoped to be, now that December’s here, but there’s no doubt that I made, and am making, real progress. It is, in my usual manner, slower and more halting than I would prefer, but it’s happening. I seem to have gotten myself unstuck.

But oy, the resistance. Like many aspiring writers, I have a tendency towards resistance that manifests mostly as distractibility. I’m not sure why it’s so strong, given that this is something that I really, really want. Time to write, that’s what I go on about wanting at every opportunity – if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already been subjected to that refrain more than a few times, right?

And then, when I get time? Resistance. Because surely something on Twitter requires my attention!

I don’t really get this part of myself, but not fully understanding why I do something doesn’t mean that I can’t try to do something about it. So I am.

I’ve been pushing myself harder to write in the time I have available.

I’ve been reminding myself that 250 words written may not seem like much, compared to the hundreds or thousand words I’d prefer to have the time/energy to hammer out. But it’s 250 words I didn’t have before, and that’s progress.

I’ve been trying to get more and better sleep, so that I’m awake when I’m awake and can bring my best game to everything I do, including my writing.

And I invested in Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love – a pleasantly brief and delightfully practical book of writing advice that does exactly what it says on the cover. Now, Rachel Aaron was a no-day-job, full-time writer when she developed the techniques she describes, so I, with my hour-of-writing-time-a-day-at-best, am not going to be pulling any 10,000-word writing days any time soon. But happily, the advice scales: When I follow it, I find that I’m noticeably more productive and better able to maximize my writing time. Recommended.

2k to 10 k cover - Rachel Aaron - Stephen Geigen-Miller blog

2K to 10K, by Rachel Aaron. This book is seriously the real deal, you guys.

I’m not sure exactly how all these tactics are fitting together, but I’m feeling better prepared for December. Which is good, because I’d like to finish this draft and get it out to my waiting beta readers before the end of the year.

The Return of the Querying

(That title is a reference that only Greg Beettam will get. What can I say? Sometimes I enjoy a few innings of inside baseball.)

Twitter isn’t the only thing that occupied my time when I was supposed to be rewriting — I can sometimes be surprisingly productive when distracted. For instance, in November, I decided to bite the bullet and send out another round of agent queries for my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE (it was previously entitled ALL THAT GLITTERS).

As I’ve mentioned, my first round of queries met with no great success. Since then, I’ve devoted quite a bit of time to reviewing and polishing my query letter, with support from my writers group and other smart folks (shout outs to Nicole Winters, Claire Humphrey, Melanie Fishbane, Rachel Hartman and Dorianne Emmerton!) And it’s finally in what I hope is better shape.

I’m still being selective, and sent queries to nine agents who I think might be a good fit for my book now, and for the kind of books I want to write in the future. That’s a comparable number to the first batch.

We’re in the early stages yet; agents get a huge volume of queries, and it can take weeks or months for them to get to any given one – with US Thanksgiving in there, too. But yeah, it would not be unfair to suggest that I may be practicing the Forbidden Art of Submittomancy.

I’m not going to get any further into specifics here, but I’ll do a post-mortem on the final outcome, and I’ll definitely share the news if this process ends in my signing with an agent.

That was November. All in all, I feel pretty good about it. And how are you?

Coming up next on the blog: The last Breaking In interviews of 2015, and a year-in-review post.

Scattershot September

My time in blogging seems to be marked more by hiatuses than by, you know, periods of actual, regular blog posts, doesn’t it?

My ongoing struggle to manage my time, and balance my responsibilities – family, work, my health, my writing, my writing about those other things – continues.

And obviously, my efforts last year to get a bit more consistent in posting here, via new topics, weren’t entirely successful – I’m still proud of the Breaking In interviews, but I didn’t keep up with them, and remember when I was going to blog weekly about reading James Joyce? Ha!

And yet. There’s something about this format that really appeals to me. I love Twitter, but I’m kind of terrible at it. By the time I can get a thought down to 140 characters, the tweet has often gone stale – or, more usefully, I’ve thought better of it. Facebook is such a walled garden; I like using it to keep up with friends, but it’s not good for getting ideas out there.

I like releasing my thoughts into the wild, and I’m not good with brevity. That should make me a freakin’ natural at blogging.

So, I’m going to start small – with this post, no big plans for series of posts about this or that topic. I’ll go a bit scattershot, throw a bunch of little updates into the air, and see what lands.

I finished the first draft of my new novel earlier this year. Then, over the summer, I finished the process of reviewing it, and going over notes – my own, and the ones from my writers group. Now I’ve started rewriting it. The middle, especially, needs a lot of work, to the extent that I’m starting there, and plan to follow the ripples I cast across the beginning and the end. I have no idea how long this will take, and given that I always underestimate timelines for this sort of project, I’m reluctant to even guess. I’ll share what I know, when I know it.

With some very welcome assistance from my aforementioned writers group, I also dusted off the query letter for my first novel. It’s almost ready to go, and sending it out to some potential agents will be a good way to keep that project from idling while I’m working on the rewrite for the new one. My first batch of queries – about a year and a half ago now – were not at all successful. I suspect that was at least partly due to weaknesses in the query letter, so I’m hopeful this revised version will get more traction, and some less disheartening results.

And I’m gearing up to do something that I haven’t done in forever – play D&D! I’ve got some of the books for the new 5th edition, I’ve got some great players lined up, and they’ve got awesome characters. So it looks like I’m going to be DM-ing a new campaign with the new rules. Typically for me, my attempt to run a plot-light, just-for-fun series of adventures has fallen apart even before it began. Quite without my intending it, this campaign already has a Plot, and maybe even Themes. But still: Dungeons will be crawled! Doors will be kicked in! Monsters will be slain and treasure looted!

(If you can’t tell, I’m really looking forward to this.)

In addition to all the political fun going on in the US, Canada is in the midst of a federal election campaign – we go to the polls October 19th. I doubt that I’ll get into my thoughts on that directly here, but it’s still taking up a certain degree of mental and emotional real estate. My politics are a bit more on display on Twitter, if you’re interested.

But ah, wise readers that you are, you’ve probably already noticed the “directly” I deployed as a qualifier up there.

You see, I have this short story, and it deals in part with some political issues that Canada is facing, indirectly. Unsubtly, but indirectly. Because of that, I rather strongly suspect that this story has a best-before date that can now be measured in weeks, and will be quite expired after election day. It’s a story that I’m proud of, but that has never managed to find a market.

So instead? I’m going to run it here. Ah, I knew I’d figure out what my next post should be by writing this one.

Coming up next on the blog: A foray into fiction, with my short story ‘Final Issue’!

The year that was, the year that is

I’d been seriously considering taking a pass on a ‘The Year in Review’ post — or a resolutions one. I thought perhaps I should do something else, something less inward-looking, as my first post here in what’s been way too long. Because, as anyone who’s been paying attention (which means, you know, me) can attest, I fell off the blogging horse at the end of the summer, and I’ve been delinquent in posting since.

And that was for all the usual reasons: Lack of energy and mental focus, lack of time to write, which meant not only not having the time to blog, but not doing any other writing that might have been worth blogging about either.

But that’s a self-perpetuating cycle, unless I do something to change it. Besides, as much as I know there are good reasons to disdain the practice, I actually like New Year’s resolutions. I like the extra motivation they provide to think about goals, to introspect and consider reasons that I haven’t met those goals in the past, and how I might better plan to achieve them in the future.

And one thing I want to do this year — one of many — is get back to my blogging. I am someone who does better at hitting my milestones when I have some sort of external markers of accountability, and an audience is one of my favourite ways to hold myself to account.

So, although it may be a seasonal cliche, it’s a seasonal cliche that works for me. A look back, followed by a look forward, seems timely and appropriate.

2014 – The year that was in writing

I spend a lot of time last year frustrated at the trouble I was having making time to write — or using that time effectively when I managed to make any. It wasn’t one of my more productive years, especially considering that the lead-up to the year included me successfully completed NaNoWriMo in November, 2013. I wrote just over 50,000 words that month. I didn’t come close to equalling that in the entire year of 2014, when I eked out:

About 5,000 words added to the novel-in-progress

2,900 words of my only new short story of the year

18 blog posts (five on my erstwhile blog, thirteen here), which I’m not going to bother totalling the collective word count of

And rather a lot of editing — of my previous novel, cleaning up the work-in-progress for submission to my writers’ group, and of some of my short fiction

So no, not a stellar year. I need to do better if I hope to finish this novel, and revise it, and get it out into the world — not to mention all the other novels I want to write!

2014 – The year that was in submitting

It was a better year for the skin-thickening process of continuing to get my work out there, though.

I had 6 short stories complete and ready for submission to various publications at various points over the year, and I made a total of 21 short fiction submissions in all. That looks like a fairly low average number of submissions per story, but it’s deceptive. The turnaround time for those publications varies tremendously. Just one market had just one of my stories in the queue for much of the year, for instance, while others got back to me within days. So some stories were submitted five or six times, some only two or three.

I received 20 short fiction rejections in 2014. Three of those were for submissions from the previous calendar year. Because I made a big push to get submissions out in December, 2014, I have 4 stories with a response still pending.

I had no sales.

However, my efforts compare favourably with what I think were 14 submissions in the previous year (my record-keeping was a bit spotty in 2013).

But this means that I do need to get my other two finished stories back out to market!

I also, back at the top of the year, queried 8 agents with my first novel. That was a small number of queries, but the speed and uniformity of the rejections I received led me to hold off on continuing that process pending further revisions to the novel, and more importantly, a major overhaul to my query letter. I’m planning on revisiting that this year, after I finally finish the first draft of the novel-in-progress.

My combined efforts did, however, lead to the day, hilarious in retrospect but kind of a kick in the teeth at the time, where between agent queries and short story submissions, I received a record 5 rejections in a single day.

Now that’s a record I hope not to beat — not in 2014, and not ever!

2015 – The year that is and my New Year’s Revolutions

In 2014, I had to recognize — contrary to my usual boundless capacity for self-delusion — that my lack of progress was less a problem of time than a problem of time management. And that was true not only of my writing, but also of other areas of my life that have been languishing, like exercising more and eating better.

In other words, I was thinking and acting like I needed to somehow make more time (news flash — that wasn’t going to happen), when what I really need to do is make better use of the time I already have available.

When it comes to exercising and getting healthier, that means working out in the windows between the end of work and my children’s bath-and-bedtime routines — or giving up on social media noodling after they’re in bed and working out instead. And, when the weather’s warmer again, it’ll mean walking home from work as often as I can. It means menu planning and preparing healthy lunches in advance, especially on the weekends. Automating the processes, essentially, so that I don’t have the need or opportunity to make less healthy choices on the spur of the moment because I’m short of time or energy.

And as for writing — which, as interesting as my health is to me, is probably the reason more of you are reading this?

Again, it’s simply a question of taking the possibility of making bad — or, let’s be fair, less productive — decisions out of the equation. I need to, inasmuch as possible, use the time I have available when I have more than a few minutes to myself and I’m reasonably awake.

That means my lunch hour, most weekdays.

I really found myself pushing back when I came to that conclusion. Part of me wanted to hold out for longer windows to write, told myself that the 45 or 50 minutes I’d be able to write wouldn’t be enough to make real headway — which is entirely untrue; I proved during NaNoWriMo 2013 that I write quite effectively in smaller increments.

Besides, those hypothetical longer windows of unbroken writing time? Don’t exist. Not if I want to do my job, take care of my family, exercise and get enough sleep to maintain my health. I need to, as I said, maximize my productive use of existing time, and that’s my lunch hour at the office. Not that I might not be able to squeeze some more time in once in a while. But squeezing some time in once in a while is how I successfully added only 5,000 words to my novel over the course of thirteen months. So you know, not the most awesome solution.

Setting aside weekdays when I’ll be at home with the family for one reason or another, and days when I’m at work but other commitments will take priority on my lunch hour, I can probably use that time to create 18 or 19 writing opportunities a month.

That’s… a lot of time, in the aggregate. And it just means being zealous about taking my laptop to work, and using it to write for 45 or 50 minutes a day. I’ve tried not writing, and it hasn’t been good for my writing. I think I’ll try writing again, instead, see if that gets me anywhere.

As far as putting all this into practice? I’ve broken my goals for 2015 down into some more concrete resolutions, on a piece of paper with notes scribbled all over it — and a lot of exclamation marks. I’m not going to describe its contents here, because the parts that I haven’t already articulated above are either obvious, or private.

But I have seen a lot of people summarizing their aspirations or goals for the year ahead in a single word — a theme word for the year, to act as a focus, or a guide. That wasn’t something I’d thought of doing for myself, what with my tendency to run off at the keyboard. But then I read Rachel Hartman’s post on her one word for the year. And I starting mulling. And as I thought, and as I wrote the words you’ve been reading, I realized that there is, in fact a single word that sums up and exemplifies all of them, all my New Year’s resolutions and revolutions.

My theme, my word for 2015: Organize.

COMING UP NEXT: I have some Breaking In interviews that I didn’t run before the wheels came off the blog. If the subjects are still amenable, I’ll get those into the pipeline. I’ve also been reading Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, and I have some thoughts about it that I’d like to share. After that, it’ll probably be time for an update on my writing, and for me to get back to Ulysses if I really want to finish the darn thing by next Bloomsday.

Fall Forward (Back Down in the Word Mines)

Since about the middle of August, it’s been really sinking in that that Labour Day is imminent, and with it, the fall.

I was feeling that really keenly around the 15th. It was unseasonably cool and really felt like autumn, the Ex — which, if you’re from Toronto, is the real sign of the end of summer approaching — was opening, and the Hugo Awards were coming up that weekend.

Okay, the last isn’t a typical sign of the change of the season, but it was relevant to me. All together, it served as a reminder of how much I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine — to the kids going back to school, to their sleep cycles getting back into balance, to being able to exercise and write as close to every day as I can manage.

With all that running through my head, I went to Twitter, and I made a vow:

The Ex opens this weekend, and that, as every Torontonian knows, heralds the End of Summer. It’s time to buckle down and finish this novel.

Realistically, with the amount of story left to tell, I won’t be done by the end of summer. But I can plan my work, set a deadline.

Thursday, September 18. That’s the goal I’m setting for myself. That’s the deadline for Draft Zero of the Work In Progress

I know that Thursday, September 18 looks like a bit of an odd choice, but I went with it for very specific reasons. I have a family commitment on September 19 and over the rest of that weekend, and I’d like my novel to be done before then.

Anyway, Twitter vow. I don’t believe that I’d be held to it in a court of law, but it’s real enough to me. Of course, it’s not like making that vow made my children any more prone to sleeping through the night; since I swore my mighty oath, I #amNOTwriting, much. I certainly haven’t managed to add a single word to the novel.

I’m… not okay with that, exactly. I would have loved to have had lots of free time to write and write and write, but I’m not surprised or upset that it didn’t happen. And I managed to make some progress — finally — on my next Ulysses blog post, which, yes, I keep promising and which continues to not materialize. It will, eventually.

More on-point, my friend and Xeno’s Arrow co-creator Greg Beettam and I were able to make the time to get our heads together regarding a creative endeavour that’s been in the works for some time — but which we’re not quite ready to announce, yet, so more on that anon.

So where does that leave me?

With some words to write. I’m looking ahead, to Tuesday, September 2 — the day after Labour Day. Back-to-School Day. That’s when I expect to be able to get back on track. I hope, and more importantly, I plan, to make the most of that time and really go to town on finishing the novel. Anything words I manage to eke out before then will mean that my word count goal between September 2 and 18 is even more achievable.

It’s not quite a NaNoWriMo-level commitment, and Idiosyncratic Personal Novel-Finishing Seventeen-Day Period really, really doesn’t have the same ring to it anyway.

(IdioPerNoFiSeDaPer? No. Just… just no.)

It’ll be a challenge, but deadlines generally are. I’m ready to get down to it. I’ll keep you posted on my progress down in the word mines. Watch this space, Twitter, or both for updates.

Labour Day is imminent. It’s time to fall forward.

COMING UP NEXT: Breaking In interviews with Aurora-award-winning writer Suzanne Church and New York Times-bestselling graphic novelist Jim Ottaviani. And yes, Ulysses. Eventually.

Summertime, and the living is…?

It’s been a hectic summer, so far. Not productive, but definitely busy.

As those of you who are here via my previous blog (or just know me in real life) know, I have a family: My wonderful partner, Sarah, and our two children, both of whom are severely autistic. They’re both beautiful, smart, loving and need kind of a lot of looking after.

The bad news is, due to a bunch of factors involving expense and a limited number of affordable options, they aren’t in any kind of summer programs this year. The good news is, I have a pretty great job, so Sarah is able to be at home full-time. The other bad news is, taking care of two autistic kids all day is enough to wear anyone out, even her. The other good news is, when I’m not at work, I’ve been stepping up as best I can to support her and take care of the kids. Which has been wonderful. I love spending time with my family. But when you add the other other bad news – that the kids’ sleep schedules have been thrown off by the summer, so everyone’s sleep has been disrupted – all in, it’s a recipe for me not having a whole lot of discretionary time or energy right now.

Ha, and I thought I was going to have more time to write over the summer.

But what am I going to do? Not take care of my family? Come home from a day at the office and tell my frazzled, stressed, exhausted partner, “Rough day, huh? Well, I’m off to Starbucks. I have a novel to write. Priorities, you know!”

Yeah, no. I’m not going to do that.

To be clear: It’s not that I don’t get to have any fun. With the support of Sarah, and her very helpful family and friends, I got away for four entire days to attend DetCon 1 in Detroit, and had an awesome time. Four days may not sound like a lot to you, but it’s the longest amount of time away I’ve taken in a decade, and you better believe I appreciated it.

And I get the time I need to rest and recharge. It’s just that time to rest and recharge usually has to replace time to write.

Obviously, blogging has slowed down, like the rest of my writing. I still owe you my next post on Ulysses – because you were all waiting with bated breath for that one, right? I hope to get to it, and my post on being retweeted by Neil Gaiman, very soon. And I have a new blog feature that I’m planning, which should be fun, informative, and pretty easy for me to manage, too.

And my novel? I’ll keep working on it. Slower than I might have wished, maybe, but incremental progress is still progress.

This isn’t the end of the world. I’ve had times like this before, when other responsibilities have to come first, and the writing has to wait. They always end. This one will end. The summer will end. Heck, Labour Day is just around the corner, and with it, the kids going back to school, and we’ll back to our September to June routine. That will mean more rest, more time, more energy for my other projects.

Until then? Summertime means taking my son to the pool, and my daughter to the park, and doing a few more dishes than we’d have to otherwise.

Busy? Yes. Hectic? Yes. Tiring? Yes.

Full of time spent with my happy children and loving family? Yes.

Worth slowing down progress on a novel for?

Yes. Yes indeed. Happy summer.

COMING UP NEXT: At last, the long-promised post on my adventures in retweeting!

No way out but through, indeed

I haven’t made significant headway on my current novel-in-progress since I pushed out my 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, last November. “No significant headway” isn’t quite the same as “no headway at all” — I’ve written about a thousand more words, and polished the whole thing a bit in installments as sections went to my writers group — but there’s no arguing that the damn thing has been languishing, somewhere between a half and two-thirds finished, and I want and need to get it done.

NaNoWriMo has two “off-season” writing events, both called Camp NaNoWriMo. One’s in May, and one is this month of July. They’re a bit more low-key and self-directed. Rather than aiming for a hard target of 50,000 words, participants are encouraged to set and meet a goal they choose themselves, with a floor of 10,000 words. I signed up for the May Camp NaNoWriMo, with a goal of 25,000 words, which is the rough neighbourhood of what I expect it will take me to finish the novel. But the stars were, shall we say, not right. I hit my target wordcount for the first couple of days, then got caught up in work and family and just feeling exhausted all the time, lost momentum and that was that.

So this month, I decided to make another Big Push to finish my novel.

I’m not doing it by signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo. I don’t really want to make this into a big, join-an-online-community-rah-rah thing. I don’t, contrary to my usual impulses, want to gamify it. I just want to write.

 

There’s another writing challenge — as far as I can tell, entirely unrelated to NaNoWriMo — taking place on Twitter right now, called the #JulyWritingChallenge. My friend Heather Jackson is participating and moving one of her own projects forward, with a target of 500 words a day (I can’t quite tell if that’s a general goal for the challenge, or just the one Heather has set for herself — either way, it’s awesome and she can count me as part of her cheering section!)

I’m not doing the #JulyWritingChallenge either.

I’m just coming off the Canada Day holiday weekend. I spent it at home with my family, which was great, but didn’t leave me much time or space to write. My kids are out of school for the summer, and so our whole daily schedule has switched up. I’ll be taking time off this summer, but except for my trip to DetCon (which itself will not exactly be full of quiet and introspection) it’s mostly to be at home with the kids and give my wonderful partner, their mother Sarah, much-deserved breaks from being on solo parent duty all day long.

What I’m saying is that I need to be realistic, this month, about how I commit my time. And signing up for a challenge, while good for accountability, will also add a layer of stress and time-management-pressure that I just don’t think is going to help.

This is what I’m going to do instead: I am going to try to write. Every day. Whether that’s on my lunch break at work, or after the kids going to bed, or in one of the hours for myself I carve out in between. I’m just going to try to write.

If I manage an average of 870 or so words every day, I’ll even manage to hit that 25,000-word target. That might be too ambitious, but it’s something to shoot for. It’s not a question of how quickly I write, mind you — for me, the writing itself is not the challenging part. It’s making the time to write in the first place.

So I’m going to focus on making time. On writing when I can. On writing in short, sharp bursts when I only have 15 minutes. On writing more, for longer, when I have the time to spare. I’m just going to try. To write. Every day.

And the worst possible outcome is that I’ll be closer to the finish line than I am now. I believe that’s what they call a can’t-lose proposition.

I’ll post an update on my progress soon. Until then, as best and as often as I can, I #amwriting.

Coming up next: Posts on Chapter 2 of Ulysses and my 15 seconds of Twitter fame, both of which I promised before, and both of which were casualties of the same time management snarl that’s been impeding my non-blog writing too. I’ll, um, try to make them worth the wait?

Wordcount? You Want to Know About my Wordcount?

…Ha ha ha sob.

Yesterday, I brought my laptop to work to write over my lunch hour. I found a quiet space. And I went over to the web app for one of my favourite writing/productivity tools, Write or Die.

I like Write or Die so much that I actually bought an earlier version, so I wouldn’t HAVE to use it on the web. Unfortunately, that program is installed on the dead laptop, and Version 1 is no longer available, so it was the web version just use my word processor. And I figured that I needed the extra prod to get my words in. I was shooting for 1,000 new words for the novel, after all, and for that, I like the added incentive to get out of my own way that Write Or Die provides.

So, I got started, and you know what? It was working for me. I got down to it and pushed those words out. Whether they were any good or not is a whole other matter, but writing them sure felt good.

And then I hit the wrong key. Because I was typing pretty quickly.

And I had forgotten why I ended up purchasing my own copy of Write Or Die.

It’s because the web app is a web app. Open in a browser window. And it’s so damned easy to accidentally close that window, or hit a link in the tool bar.

And lose everything you’ve been writing. Irretrievably. Like that (just imagine me snapping my fingers, here).

I don’t know exactly how many. I’d been going for 30 or 40 minutes, so… more than 600 words and probably less than 750? That’s not so upsetting. What really bothers me is that I liked that scene. I liked it the way I wrote it. I hope I can get it right when I have to write it all over again.

Anyway, that’s today’s word count update. More than 600 and probably less than 750 words. Which in this case, totals zero.

Sigh. Well, it’s nobody’s fault but my own, and there’s nothing to be done but write those words again, and more, the next chance I get. Back to the word mines!