2011: Words in the Rearview Mirror

2011 was one of my best years as a writer. It was also one of my worst years as a writer. It was also, apparently, the year I tried to riff on Charles Dickens for some cheap end-of-year poignancy. But seriously, the year was a mix of the extremes.

The year started fairly strong as I finished off a rather grueling 100-Days-or-Bust challenge to write something every day for 100 days in a row. I had started it with a NaNoWriMo the previous November and just kept going. What made it particularly grueling was that I got stuck on the novel in late December and just couldn’t grind past it then. (More on that later.) So, instead, I did a metric shit-ton of journaling, blogging, and meta-writing that never saw the light of day. Still, I got through the 100 days and swore that I would never do it again. I mean, seriously, sometimes you just need to take the day off.

In February, I read “Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer” by Bruce Holland Rogers, probably the best writing book I’ve ever read, and it doesn’t really even talk that much about writing.  It’s less about how to write, and more about how to be a writer. It’s very touchy-feely stuff, and kind of hard to describe, but it really changed the way I thought about writing, both in terms of my long-term dreams and in setting some short-term goals.

He also wrote pretty well about the distinction between dreams and goals. It’s a topic I’ve seen a lot of writers blogging about lately, and they’ve all done it better than I could, but the short version is this: dreams are things you want but are outside of your control, while goals are things you want that are completely within your control. I don’t think I was having a lot of confusion over this distinction, but seeing it that way at least helped me to set some dreams aside and start focusing on some goals.

So, the goals I set were this:
1) Finish the draft for Hell Bent.
2) Finish the edits to Beneath the Sky and get it to an agent.
3) See about starting another draft.

All fine and dandy, I was ready to go. It was only February, so by all means, I should be wrapping stuff by June or July, right? Except that as June was wrapping up, I realized I hadn’t done anything yet. I hadn’t written another word on Hell Bent. I hadn’t finished the edits to Beneath the Sky. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do for that next draft, except that it should probably be SF.

But no problem! The year was only halfway done. It was still salvageable. I’d get right on it. But about the only writing I did over the summer was an occasional journal entry angsting over the fact that I wasn’t getting anywhere on my writing. Wow, how many years have I lost to that activity?

Then in September, something changed in my head, and looking back I point to two quite separate sources. First, reading other writer blogs (notably Kristine Kathryn Rusch) finally woke me up to the tectonic shifts happening in publishing right now. It made me seriously reconsider my plans to pursue agented traditional publishing. Second, I was talking to a friend who was frustrated that his filmmaking career was stalled. We kibitzed about desires and goals and our frustrations with not getting anywhere. We didn’t come away with any grand plans, but I do know that I walked away thinking, “Man, I don’t want to be having this same conversation in two years.”
So in mid-September, I figured, hey, I’ve still got three and a half months left, let’s go. In a sense, I kind of decided to double-down with a slightly stepped up set of goals, which were:

1) Finish Hell Bent, do a first-pass edit, and get it into the hands of my alpha readers.
2) Finish the edits to Beneath the Sky, do a copy edit pass on it, and figure out what I’m going to do with it.
3) Write the draft to a brand new novel, which I still hadn’t decided what it should be.
4) Finally start that blog I’d been planning for two years.

I knew it was a lot, especially for as late as September 15th. I told myself that I wanted to set myself an outrageous goal and just sprint for it. Well, I did, and while I didn’t complete everything, I did a pretty good job at it. Taking them one at a time:

1) Hell Bent: I finished the draft. The biggest step on that was changing my original idea for the climax. I had been blocked on it because I knew the original idea was unsatisfying. By September, I realized that I had set up a Lois Lane in a Superman kind of world, and I had Lois Lane waiting to be rescued by Superman. That’s fine if Superman is your protagonist, but in my case, it was Lois. So, once I figured out how Lois was going to get out of it on her own (and save Superman in the process), it was a quick dash to the finish. After a short break, I tore through the initial red-line edit pass, but then I stalled on actually doing the rewrites. Hence, it never got as far as the alpha readers. Still, I’m pretty happy with how far I got it.

2) I finished the edits to Beneath the Sky, though I still haven’t done the copy edit pass on it. However, I have decided at last what I’m going to do with it, but that’s a topic for a whole’nuther post next year.

3) I cranked out a completely new draft, which I finished just yesterday. It’s tentatively titled “Ships of my Fathers” and is set in the same universe as Beneath the Sky, though it is not a sequel.

4) Well, if you’re reading this, then I think we can safely say that I started that blog I’d been planning. Originally it was going to be a podcast, and it might someday still become one, but for now I’m reasonably happy pontificating in text-mode.

So, it was not a complete success, but it was far from a complete failure. Looking back at the goals I set in February, I feel pretty damn good about what I got done, and the success has me feeling good about my goals for 2012. For those, tune in next week.

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