As many human beings do this time of year, I’m full of reflection upon the past year and thinking about the upcoming year. Instead of breaking down into two posts full of sentimental thought and pretentious sage advice, I thought I’d combine my reflections upon 2015 and resolutions for 2016 into one post.
It’s been difficult to gather my thoughts to think about what I’ve learned this year yet when I sit down and truly think I realize I have. Every small kernel of knowledge has the potential to lead to some bigger improvement.
The bulk of my growth in 2015 grew out of writing and revising a novel. For me there hasn’t been an easy part of writing a novel. Getting the rough draft done felt like it was going to be the easiest part but until I got to the end, it felt like it may very well would be the hardest. Writing a book takes a lot more energy than a lot of people realize. It’s a marathon and there were many points throughout where I felt like I didn’t have any more to give. At times I gave myself a break and stepped away for a day or two while other times I soldiered through.
But it wasn’t until I started actually revising it that I realized the rough draft was the easy part. It’s not so much having a problem cutting scenes or dropping plot points, it’s the frustrating realization that all those hours spent writing the rough draft was for naught. It also amazed how much I had yet to write to shore up the plot. I knew this would be a lot of hard work but even I underestimated the scope of it.
I appreciated the time and effort authors put into their work but honestly until I started going through the process myself, I don’t think I truly understood. Now I have even more respect. At this point in my career I can’t even fathom how authors can juggle multiple novels at various stages of development all at the same time. Of course having a contract and a deadline to meet helps tremendously.
There have been several smaller but no less impactful lessons learned last year. I’ve learned to pay more attention to what makes up a chapter. I know that may sound odd but it’s one of those things I never really thought about until 2015. It’s been helpful that many of the pieces submitted to my critique group are chapters from novels in progress. Reading those showed me what should be in a chapter as well as length. Determining chapter length is one of those things that I haven’t actually seen much about but I get the impression it’s one of those things you just get a feel for.
In 2015 I strived to get better at where to begin a story as well as to determine the ending before I physically start writing. I’ve always struggled with beginnings and endings and while that is still an area of concern for me, I think I’m getting better at it. Again, through my critique group and plain reading, I’m getting better at understanding what makes for a good beginning and ending.
Endings are still tricky for me. Personally I don’t mind something more open-ended but most people and most advice out there don’t like that. I think it’s why I wind up killing people off. It’s the only way I can think of at this point to end a story. Something I need to work on since I know that’s certainly not the only way to end a story.
One of the things I learned in 2015 is that I don’t think I’m capable of writing a short story under 3,000 words. At first I thought this would hamper my ability to get published. The reality of my style, I guess, is that I am wordy. Always have been. What I need to work on is making sure that my natural wordiness isn’t disguising deficiencies in storytelling ability.
That’s been helpful is discovering the website Submission Grinder which has an enormous list of publishing opportunities. As I combed through it I discovered there are plenty of place which accept short stories over 3,000 words. This led me to feel free to write a story to whatever length felt appropriate but then through revision figure out how to maintain its integrity while keeping it within a prescribed word count.
2015 also saw me keep track of my word count. I’m kind of odd since I’m a slow writer yet I have a tendency to write a decent amount of words in a day. Still nothing compared to some of my writer friends who put my average to shame. As of the end December 31st, I wrote over 300,000 words. Since this was the first time I’ve tracked my output, I have no idea if this is a good number or not. Still, I’m proud of that number. I know it’s probably a lot lower than what many writers do but I’m okay with that.
Or goals as I’d rather call them. Besides the standard goal of read and write more and continue to develop myself as a writer through workshops and conferences, below are the more specific goals for 2016.
More diversity in my reading. I’ve always been one of those readers who really doesn’t look at the author’s photo on the inside jacket of the book. What differences does it make what the author looks like? It’s the story I’m interested in, not the gender or color of the author. That being said, I know that I definitely fall into the category of reader whose bookshelves, both virtual and literal, are filled with predominately white authors. The issue of diversity in publishing is a complicated and nuanced topic which is why in this new year I will actively seek out books by authors from a more diverse background than my own.
Another goal is for me to up my total word count. I hesitate to put an actual number since it will be arbitrary anyway. Plus life will throw me curveballs but I do hope to increase my production for the year.
Which leads me to resolve to write more short stories. First off, I met my last year’s goal of selling 4 stories, 2 of which should be coming out this year. Since I don’t write a lot of short stories to begin with, this means I need to write more of them if I want to sell more. I still consider myself more of a novel writer and that will continue to be the focus however, short stories are a great way of finishing something in a short amount of time.
Speaking of novels, my last major goal this year is to revise my historical fiction novel at least one more time. However, I will take my time with this revision. I’m thinking six months to really be firm in with what the plot is and what events I want to focus on.
Well, there it is. My reflections and resolutions. I hope that everyone’s 2016 is better than 2015. Happy New Year!