Halfway There; or, What I’ve Learned from 182 Little Stories

In January I set myself the task of writing 365 100-word short stories. Today marks six months down — or, 182 days down. The halfway mark! Three cheers!

Part of me has decided that I’m really, really dumb for attempting this.

Part of me has decided that I’ve done well for doing this.

Mostly, I’m learning quite a few things. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Get ’em done early and often. I decided pretty early that I was not going to write one story a day — life gets in the way too often so consistency would become an issue. But I would write stories ahead of time to leave some editing/designing breathing room. The best way to do this is with a backlog, because catching up is a bitch. So, if you’re thinking about doing this…plan ahead.
  • 365 stories is exactly that. 365 separate stories. Writing these things is not like saying “I’ll just write 36,500 words.” (Which I totally believed at the beginning of this project — so I told myself Easy Peasy. Ha! Silly me.) It’s much more creatively draining than I was anticipating. Each little piece is its own thing and requires its own inspiration moment. I’ve learned that, even if something is short, it is self-contained and belongs to itself — that’s something to respect as far as time and energy goes.
  • Writing prompts are your friends. Subject matter can get repetitive…even with writing prompts…but having a different brain asking you different questions is a good thing. On days when you’re tired, when you have no juice left, when you are just staring at a blank page, it’s nice to have ideas coming from somewhere.  
  • It really is okay to suck. My only goal with writing these was to see if I could write these. I told myself at the beginning: “It’s okay for them to suck. You just have to write them.” But, like most writers, I didn’t want to suck. I wanted each one to be a tiny gem of awesomeness. However, typos snuck in. Subject matter became dry. Some of them are preachy. There are magical stories which are good…but there are some stinkers in there. And I HATE that but I must charge ahead. Damn the consequences.
  • If you’re stuck: put a box around it. Sometimes, as writers, we get in our own way. We sit and try to force magic to happen. A good way to get around that is to set clear boundaries for what you’re working on. I already have a word count. If I add in a prompt, then I’m adding another boundary. I also really like to add a time limit. Seven minutes gets me around 175-200 words of a story that I can cut down. The prompt takes the pressure off my brain cells, the word count gives me a goal, and the time limit helps me not worry about sucking. 
  • Create some accountability. By posting these stories on this blog and on my Facebook page, I’ve told my friends and family that I’m working to accomplish something. It keeps me honest. 
If you’ve been following these stories, thank you so much. I hope that your projects are going well. 
Happy writing!!!

How Joining a Theatre is Helping Me Hit My Reading Goal

Good news! Recently I joined one of the best theatre ensembles in Colorado Springs: The Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) — so I’ll be doing a lot more theatre throughout the year. It’s super-exciting to join such a professional group of people and lots of things went through my head when I joined up: auditions! lighting! set construction! an inordinate amount of paint and make-up! fundraising! (And, yes, fundraising actually did cross my mind.)

What didn’t actually cross my mind — and it’s very strange because duh — was the amount of reading involved.

In five days, SET will meet to discuss the plays pitched for the next season. There will be debating, discussion, and voting. But in order to do all of that…first I must read.

And read a lot.

There are about twenty-ish plays to read.

I must say, to be required to read as my first real theatre task…it doesn’t get much better.

There are a couple original plays being pitched — so they’re not published yet and not on Goodreads. However, with my reading challenge being 85 books this year…I’m super glad that most of these plays count towards my total. Nothing like checking off several different goals with one swipe, eh?

Challenges 2014: EPIC Edition

Because I’m a little insane, I’ve decided to give myself some challenges this year. (I don’t like to call them “resolutions” because then I won’t do them. I rebel against that kinda shit.)

So, instead, I’ve decided that I will do a writing challenge, an acting challenge, a blogging challenge, a reading challenge, and a physical challenge.

The Writing Challenge
I challenge myself to write two (2) full fledged novels this year. This means that I will have two completed first drafts by December 31, 2014. The first one is to be finished by March 31. The second is to be finished by October 31.

The Acting Challenge
I will act in three (3) different plays this year. This one might not be that difficult, since I’m already cast in two plays already. However, with theatre, since it’s such a subjective kinda gig, it’s hard to know when a director will be like “YES” or “no.”

The thing that is within my control, however, is auditions. I’m going to any and all local auditions I can get to until I land that third part.

The Blogging Challenge
I’m gonna write a blog a day for 2014. It might not be good. It might be boring as hell for you. It might degenerate to kitten pictures. But there will be a post-a-day.

The Reading Challenge
I will finish reading the complete works of Stephen King, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. This means that any books by these authors that I have not already read previously, I will read. That’s something like 30 from King, 20 from Shakespeare, and two from Austen. (See Goodreads sidebar for progress!)

The Physical Challenge
Confession. I have been unhappy in my body for a little while now. So I’m going to start putting it back into shape. I’m 101 pounds overweight. This year, I’m going to lose 60 pounds. There might be a lot of blog-crying on this one, so just a heads up…health related posts are sure to pop up!

So, 2014 should be delightfully busy, busy, busy!

Missing Your Goal Doesn’t Mean You Didn’t Accomplish Anything

2013 has five weeks left in it. Back in January I set myself a Goodreads goal to read 100 books this year. By October, I’d fallen so far behind the pace that there was no way for me to hit my goal. I was something like 30 books behind and it would take me the rest of the year just to catch up, let alone hit the goal. So I dropped the goal to 90, which cut my catch-up in half, and I proceeded to read as many books as I possibly could.

I’m not gonna hit 90 books.

Last night I looked at my numbers. This year I’ve read 64 books. According to the Goodreads counter, I’m fifteen books behind. So I have to read at least three books a week for the rest of the year to even catch the books I’m behind.

Last night I felt like a failure. I’d missed what I’d set out to do. In frustration, I looked at my stats — the section in Goodreads where you can see how many books you’ve read and how many pages you’ve read and compare that to other years. I stared at the 64 books. I stared at 20,000+ pages. And felt like a failure.

Then Shane, who was reading over my shoulder said something like, “That’s over a book a week.” He said something like, “I’ve never read that many in a year.”

So I looked at my stats again.

Prior to this year, the most books I’d read in a single year was 56.

Prior to this year, the most pages I’d read in a single year was 15,745.

Both of these records I’ve blown away this year. And I realized that I was being too hard on myself. Did I hit my goal? No. Which stings. I said I would do something, and then I didn’t do it. It’s like breaking a promise to myself.

But I have done more this year than I have ever done before. How could I not be proud of that? How could I beat myself up for that?

The answer is I shouldn’t, and I’m going to stop right now. In the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, I’m not going to look at what I don’t have and be thankful for what I do. And what I have are 64 new books under my belt, five weeks to read more of what I want to read, and an opportunity to set a new, badass record for myself.  

Cleaning the Closet: A Tuesday Post of Accountability and My One New Year’s Resolution

It’s Tuesday and time to share what we’ve all been up to!

I know I missed last week, but the blog page was starting to look like nothing but accountability posts and that gets boring after a while.

and I didn’t do anything worth reporting…

However, on Sunday night I got a hankering to organize the writing room. Honestly it wasn’t that messed up, it’s probably the cleanest room in the house at any given time, but I felt the room was being utilized well enough. Ya know that feeling?

All was going fine….

And then I hit the Closet.

The Closet houses Stuff Jenny Sends To Die. There are three novels, multiple short stories, two poetry books, a play, and whatever else I might have written that needs to disappear. But I felt a certain level of guilt at allowing these things that I’d worked so hard on to just rot away in the dark – with no kind of organization. The pages were just stacked and scrambled.

So I found two plastic tubbies – the kind that hold files – and set about organizing.

I had a few moments of “Huh, that’s not too bad.” And other moments that were less hopeful. But overall I was stunned at the amount of pages, the quantity of work, the endlessness of it. It’s about ten years worth of work and it was all staring me in the face.

Apparently I wrote my ‘first’ novel – a fantasy book that would have D&D fans either grinning in recognition or groaning in frustration – seven or eight times. But I never made it past Chapter Three in any given draft. Still…that’s a lot of pages. And there are quite a few ‘novels’ that were started after that one: two serial killer novels, a novel about a writer (because we all do that at some point, right?), another fantasy novel, and something that I’m not quite sure where I was going.

Then there’re the poetry books. The second one is the good one – and it’s also about serial killers but it still needs work and I’m not willing to put in the time at the moment. But the first is so full of teen/young adult angst that if the pages had pores there’d be zits and broken-heart shards clogging every one.

Also in the closet are my under-the-bed novels. These are actually not too bad. The first one is impressive because not only did I pass Chapter Three…I continued for another thousand pages or so. That notebook is BIG. It takes up 1/4 of the file tubby. The second and third novels are good, for what they are. But these books are Trying Too Hard. So, under the bed/in the closet tubby they go.

This is just the stuff in the closet. This doesn’t count the work currently piled in my computer, in my desk drawers, the stacks on my desk, and the work lining my bookshelves. It doesn’t count the blog. It doesn’t count school papers. Just the closet.

Looking at all of this, you’d think I’d be pretty proud. Among the scattered pieces were things I’d written for school, critiques, and notes-to-self.

Honestly, for a little while all I felt was disappointed.

“Look at all that work!” my head screamed at me. “Look at all that you’ve done! Why haven’t you accomplished more!!??” And so on.

There were some frustrated tears, I won’t lie.

Tucked away in the stacks were rejection letters. These letters are ten years old – which is when I started taking writing seriously. Without really thinking or knowing what I was doing, I’d sent my early short stories out to every magazine that I’d heard of. My early writing ‘career’ was what I considered successful. I won a small contest. I had the very first flash fiction piece I’d ever sent out picked up by the first publication I ever sent it to. I finished a thousand page novel. I was badass. But the rejection letters told me that this was HARD. This would be DIFFICULT. Being young and rather fragile, I stopped sending things out as regularly. I didn’t give up, but I was more hesitant.

Sunday, I re-read those rejections.

Every single one of them was a personalized rejection letter. There were little notes – ‘this one not for us, but send more.’ There were mini-critiques telling me to focus on characterization or a plot point. And the piece-de-resistance? A full length letter from Weird Tales telling me that they were overstocked, so they were being super-selective, and my story fell short on A, B, and C plot points. An editor – from a well respected magazine – took the time to write a full-on letter to me. He mentioned my hometown. He asked me about Colorado.

And all my twenty-something self saw was the rejection. I actually thought it was a form rejection at the time.

The good news is that I didn’t quit. I went to school. Learned more stuff. Applied more techniques. I got better.

But I haven’t regained that “I own this!” attitude that I had at first. Looking through all of my work, reading those rejection letters, it occurred to me that there is no reason I can’t get that attitude back.

The pages I have written are my skin – toughened by practice and experience. The letters are the evidence that what I have to say is effective. There’s no reason to step back.

I will finish my work, I will submit my work. I will work more. I will finish more. I will submit more. And this time I won’t hesitate. That’s my resolution.

I’m going to work. And I won’t stop. 

  

Marathons, Sheep, and Conclusions: A Tuesday Post of Accountability!

Welcome to Tuesday! And every Tuesday you will be subjected to regaled by the writing progress I have made over the last week. But! I insist that I not be the only one exposing myself sounding off. Let your comments reflect what kind of suffering butt-kicking you have done too!

Stuff I’ve done this week:

1. And still NaNoWriMo. This past Saturday I participated in a marathon with Shane and Deb via the Pikes Peak Writers. It was strangely quiet in the big room. Partly because I forgot my headphones and partly because the big ol’ room was empty except for me, my buds, and two other folks who were pushing through.

However, I’m over 35K words now.

Sure, some of those words include ‘sheep’ – a flock of which I did not see coming – but it’s a fun ride, nonetheless.

2. Conclusions come to:

Take December off. MUST have a break. Plus I’ve got to read a whole bunch of books if I’m gonna hit my 80 book goal.

Then, in January (yep, I’m coming to some New Years Resolutions/Goals), finish the Line as quickly as possible. After that, start revising short stories – thus beginning 2012 as *drumroll* THE YEAR OF VAST REVISIONS!!!

Yep, next year I’m dedicating to revision mode. I have so many projects in various states of completion that next year will be dedicated to finishing. Polishing. Making pretty.

Next resolution: make a concerted effort to not talk about selling. Always in the back of my mind is the idea of selling the story. Getting it out there – and while that is still a priority – the writing and revision are to be made The Priority. So often the talk on the blogosphere revolves around selling and the publishing world and how hard everything is, or what options there are. 

I’m telling myself to get over it. Work on the work. If you do what you’re supposed to do (tell an interesting story and write it well), I really believe the other stuff will fall in line.

Has NaNo brought things into greater clarity for you? Whadja do this week?

Writing Schedules!

We all do it, and now we can count Virginia Woolf among the ranks of “Writers Who Obsessively Plan About When To Get Stuff Done!”

Take for example: “But my mind is full of The Hours [Mrs. Dalloway]. I am now saying that I will write at it for 4 months, June, July, August and September, and then it will be done, and I shall put it away for three months, during which I shall finish my essays; and then that will be–October, November, December–January; and I shall revise it January February March April, and in April my essays will come out, and in May my novel. Such is my programme.” (V.W. A Writer’s Diary)

There’s actually a bunch of stuff to digest about the above the excerpt (like Waiting Before Revision–note that the great V.W. plans on waiting at least three months before getting back to The Hours, which is really Mrs. Dalloway). But what I’d like to look at is her schedule.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m setting my writing goals, it looks very much like V.W.’s list. “I’ll work X over here, and then I’ll work on Y before I revise. Then Z will need some attention. And here’s the time-block that I’ll give to it.”

My method has become more advanced after getting to know myself. For example, I acknowledge that I sometimes don’t have the time that I think I do. So I have a desk calendar and all my goals are now kept in pencil.

Example: the block of time allotted for today includes: outlining my upcoming Top Secret Project (check), getting to 4,000 words on my current short story (check). So today is great. However, yesterday I missed my “blog entry” allotted time and so I’m writing today instead of yesterday (most of my blogs are done a little ahead of time). All I did was take my handy-dandy pencil, erase the goal from yesterday and put it at the top of queue for today. So I’m not too far behind. Blog entry? Check.

Come on, guys, ‘fess up. What’re your schedules like?