Every year, I look back at last years goals and try to assess what worked and what did not work for me. 2018 was an interesting year, bringing a considerable amount of stress and anxiety — and I’ve noticed a number of others have experienced the same, if not more in that regard.
Just looking at my goals from the previous year, I can see that I’ve accomplished a couple of things: my blogging year was pretty consistent and I did manage to launch and successfully fund a kickstarter, among other things. But some of the major projects I was hoping to complete (finish the novel, run a half marathon) did not reach completion.
During the second half of the year, I’ve especially been felt a sense of stagnation. I stopped running, attending few writing events, and in general felt that there was little progress on my personal projects.
But this feeling of stagnation is a bit of self deception, because if I consider things as a whole, then it’s actually been phenomenal year for me in terms of writing and travel — a year I could and should be proud of. So, instead of worrying about what didn’t work for me in the past year, here are some of the good things that have gone down in 2018.
It’s been a rough year — and I know I’m not alone in expressing that sentiment. Putting aside the politics and news stream (which has been a constant barrage of stress and frustration), if I were to sum up 2017 in a single word, it would probably be: overwhelmed. As it turns out, this has also been my usual response these days to the question, “How are you doing?”
The year also presented a great family sorrow, as my grandmother, Florence Schlegel, passed away at the end of November. She had an amazing history — worked as a coat check Girl in NY, serving the likes of Howard Hughes and other celebrities; worked at Lockheed Martin constructing aircraft during WWII; lived on a homestead in Alaska and shot three black bears; served her community in Anchorage in a number of ways; and she was always witty and funny, and all around awesome. We miss her so much.
For all the stress and sadness that the year has yielded, though, it’s also offered up some wonderful experiences — adventures in travel and the writing life, some amazing books, and delightful moments with friends and family.
Below is some of my 2017 journey. If you’re inclined to share, then I would love to hear how your year treated you, as well.
I feel like I’ve done more writing than I’ve done in any previous year, although I don’t really have a way to prove that (and I’m not certain it’s true when I think about the multude of 30 challenges I did in 2016). I haven’t really been keeping track of word counts or other forms of tracking, partly because my work has been across so many diverse projects (poetry, script writing, fiction, etc.).
A part of why I might feel this way is that I’ve been trying to consistently focus on my writing in two ways — first, by getting to work early and using the extra time to write, and second, by using my lunch time to write. These little chunks have been helpful in not only getting words on the page, but also accomplishing the business side of writing, like getting work out on submission.
During the year, I sent out 47 submission packets (with anywhere from one to five poems or short stories — nine more than previous year I received 42 individual rejections and had a total of ten poems and one short story published. Not bad. Nowhere near the 100 rejections I was aiming for, but still not bad.
This does not include the collaborative poetry, submissions, and publications that have occured over the past year. I am so grateful to Laura Madeline Wiseman for being my partner in this work, and an inspiration in general. Together, we have had eight poems published in 2017, and have received an acceptance for our chapbook, Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, to be published by Finishing Line Press.
For a couple of years, I have been doing weekly updates noting writing progress, books read, goals for the week, and other tidbits. The idea of these posts was to hold myself accountable for the progress (if any) that I was making, as well as keeping the blog itself active. I started off 2017 continuing these posts, but stopped doing them about halfway through the year when they began to feel more burdensome than helpful. Rather than spending time crafting an obligatory weekly post, I tried to focus on posts with more content to them, like my revisit of The Dark Tower book series.
In total, I shared 45 blog posts, about half the amount of posts from the previous year. I’m okay with the lower number, since it’s more important for me for focus on finishing my existing poetry and fiction projects than sharing things on the blog. However, I would like to share more (hopfully) thoughtful posts in the coming year.
Normally I share my top reads in a longer, separate post — but I’m starting to run out of spoons to make it through the end of the year, so here’s a truncated version.
My reading stats are they lowest they’ve been in probably a decade. In years past, I’ve averaged about 90-100 books per year, this year I’ve managed 45 (as of this posting), which kind of pains me. The reason for this significant drop in my reading rate is because of how I refocused my time at work (taking up my lunch to write instead of read) and the introduction of Netflix into my home life (and the subsequence TV binge-watching that that implies). That said, I’ve managed to read a number of books that have delighted me this year, which I present below.
Top Ten Fiction Books (with series books counted as one)
The Obelisk Gate & The Stone Sky (Broken Earth Book #3) by N. K. Jemisin
It’s been an interesting year for running. On the one hand, all totalled up, I ran 73.63 miles over the course of year — which sounds like quite a bit. But most of those miles were in the first half of the year with March being the highest month at 17.58 miles. All of this is reflective of how my motivation regarding running shifted throughout the year (with an impact on my body health).
One of the highlights of my running practice this year was attending the She is Beautiful Run in March (despite being incredibly hungover at the time). My sisters came along and we took part in the joys of this event. I’m looking forward to finding more events like this next year.
The day job certainly kept me busy in travel and sent me on some great adventures, including some good times in Nashville, Tennessee and most notably a two week trip to Dubai and Singapore, during which I fit in a short hopover to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I loved the cultural experiences of that trip, although the heat and humidity was so intense that I was soon happy to head home to more moderate weather.
And just for funsies, my sister and I put together a two week trip to South America, squeezing in a few days in Peru (including Machu Picchu), Chile, and Argentina. Since our time was so short, we only saw a fraction of these countries, each of which I would like to take far more time to explore.
Well, that’s my year in a snap shot. How was your 2017?
“I feel strongly that we’re only hurting ourselves as writers by being so secretive about money. There’s no other job in the world where you get your master’s degree in that field and you’re like, Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million! We don’t have any standards in that way, and we probably never will. There will always be such a wide range of what writers are paid, but at least we could give each other information.” Cherryl Strayed in conversation with Manjula Martin, published in Scratch
Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin (founder of now-closed Scratch Magazine), presents a mix of interviews and essays on the act of trying (sometimes succeeding) to make money as a writer. These perspectives come from writers of varying backgrounds, from novelists and poets to news and creative nonfiction writers, to filmmakers. A number of writers I’m fond of are included in this book — such as Austin Kleon, Malinda Lo, Roxane Gay, and Daniel José Older — as well as many writers whose work is new to me.
Readers of Scratch will not find a step-by-step guide on how to “make it” as a writer. This collection of essays never reaches a consensus, except perhaps to say that the pathways to making a living as a writer are multitudinous and have not all been discovered yet. Lacking any one clear answer, the reader instead of directives, the reader is given personal journeys (sometimes deeply so). It’s not a matter of “this is how you should do it,” but rather “this is how I am doing it”.
Just about all the 2016 in review posts I’ve read so far have begun the same way: 2016 sucked, but there were some good things, too. I feel everyone on that sentiment.
If I look back — past the overwhelming days, past the stress — there have been some great moments, a few of which, I’m happy to share here.
The Publishing Game
I sent out a total of 32 submissions in 2016 — including poetry, fiction, and chapbooks — with a total of six acceptances, one finalist placement for a chapbook, 20 rejections, and five still under consideration.
My first collection of poetry, a chapbook titled Pantheon, was accepted for publication this year by ELJ Publications and is scheduled to come out in August 2017. I couldn’t be more excited. The cover art is currently being developed and I’m sure there will be other developments as we get closer to the publication date.
Several of my solo and collaborative poems cowritten with Laura Madeline Wiseman have appeared in or are forthcoming in several anthologies, including: The World Retold(The Writers’ Guild of Iowa State University, March 2016); Red Sky, an anthology on the global epidemic of violence against women (Sable Books, September 2016); Write Like You’re Alive 2016 (Zoetic Press, September 2016); and Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! (Apex, forthcoming in 2017).
Slink Chunk Press published “The Shadows Flight,” a flash fiction piece. It’s the first piece of fiction that I’ve ever published and I’m grateful to the editors for sharing it with the world.
What I Wrote in 2016
I left the novel on the sideline last year, focussing instead on smaller work like poems and short stories — trying to get drafts completed and edited and sent out into the world. Although I felt a bit lacking in productivity toward the end of 2016, I have to admit that it’s been a fairly productive year. I’m pretty sure I came close to doubling the number of submissions I sent out, which means an increased amount of words were written to enable that.
The bulk of my writing was completed while participating in three writing challenges — for ELJ Write Now, I wrote 30 poems in the 30 days of April as a series of Our Lady poems praising pop culture characters, which became the basis for the soon-to-be-published Pantheon; Zoetic Press’ Write Like Your Alive challenge in the month of July drove me to complete another 23 poem drafts (of varying quality); and finally, The POEMING 2016 in October was a found poetry challenge in which poets were each assigned one novel by Stephen King and were required to create one found or erasure poem per day for all 31 days. I usually sign myself up for a month-long challenge at some point every year for the past few years and rarely complete them. So, I surprised myself by signing up for not just one challenge, but three and completing each one.
I also participated in a Short Film Scriptwriting Challenge through MMtB. Although my script was not one of the ones selected to be produced that night, it was an great experience that provided me with some contacts of people working on indy films in the Bay Area and reminded me how much I want to work on films.
More writing and editing and writing and editing happened throughout 2016, I’m sure, although I can’t remember it at the moment. Nevertheless, I feel confident about the work I’ve done and am feeling good as I move in to 2017, ready to accomplish even more. Maybe even move back toward working on the novel again.
I’ll put together another post on my writing goals for the year in a later post.
Travel in 2016
Most of my travel has been within the U.S. on a variety of work trips. Nashville was a delight — I loved the music and the history and food (oh, my goodness the food). I also ended up in parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Alabama for a day or two at a time.
Closer to home was a weekend in Yosemite National Park. It was frigidly cold and so, so beautiful, worth every shiver and layer of shirt, sweater, sweater, coat, scarf, gloves, and hat that I had to put on.
I also made it out of Dusseldorf, Germany for a week (also for work). It’s a trip I’ve made several times before, made delightful by the fact that my brother joined me. We walked through the Christmas Market, tasted spiced wine, and rode the ferris wheel. So much fun.
Running in 2016
I’ve been continually trying to progress in my running — although like most of my goals, it sort of dropped off toward the last few months of 2016. I haven’t accomplished my goal of running a Half Marathon yet, but I did run the She is Beautiful 10K again, which is always a delight. Nevertheless, I have made progress — because despite skipping running for weeks at a time sometime, I can come back and get back into the groove fairly quickly. Apparently, I’ve been consistent enough for my muscles to remember, so that I don’t feel as though I’m starting from scratch each time I restart.
How was 2016 for you? I’d love to hear about some of your good things.
Last week, the Brainery Science Fiction Fairy finished up with an analysis of the final set of portfolios (including my own). The class was a wonderful and empowering experience. Jilly Dreadful is an amazing teacher and the class was filled with great writers — Katy Stenta and Kirsten Squires. (A few other writers started out with us, but for personal reasons were unable to complete the workshop.) It was cool to see their work develop over the course of twelve weeks and I can’t wait to see where all their writing goes from here.
The weekly mash up of a fairy tale with some element of science was a fascinating exercise, which pushed the boundaries of what fairy tales can be. Although each week we worked with the same fairy tales and science, the stories that came from each writer were vastly different, some barely containing any resemblance to the original tale.
I’ve learned a lot about the craft of writing and myself as a writer from this workshop. Here are just a few of the bits and pieces that stick out most for me.
Things I learned about craft…
The Magic in the Gutter
One of the ideas Jilly presented was the idea of the Magic in the Gutter, a concept I believe she found in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. In comics, the gutter is the blank space between panels of art, the space between one image and the other. In that blank space, the reader uses their imagination to fill in the details themselves. This concept can also be applied to fiction writing, as she noted in response to a story I had written, which had a more fragmentary style. In order to have something to submit, I had focused in on specific detailed scenes without connecting them and I was concerned that without these connections, the reader might get lost in the story.
The concept of the Magic in the Gutter, however, trusts that the reader will fill in the details between the scenes for themselves. In many cases, its possible to get away with just leaving the gap and letting the reader make the connection — unless knowing the exact details of what happened in between is important to the story, in which case, it should probably be a scene itself.
Learning this was incredibly freeing to me, as I’ve often obsessed about trying to make my stories linear, following every step from beginning to end in order to achieve clarity. The Magic in the Gutter reveals how that clarity can still be present, even with well placed gaps in the action.
Draw from Your Passion
Sometimes, as in the case of one of my fellow workshop writers, a story has a clear core passion, a message or point of view about the world, that comes out through the story. Figuring out what that core is, what is a driving you to write the story — whether is a central relationship or a frustration regarding how society today is hyper-vigilant over parents — can help clarify the goals of the story and drive conflict.
It was one of the many moments in workshop, where I found myself immediately wanting to apply this new knowledge to other things I’ve been writing. What is the core of this story? What is the underlying passion for me that is driving me to write it? How can I draw that out in the characters and the conflict?
Things I learned about myself as a writer…
Apparently I CAN Finish a Short Story
You might not think this that big of a revelations, but it was huge for me. I’ve been a poet for a long time and am fairly comfortable with poetry as a form, but have piled up stacks of story drafts that were never completed or never edited to the point in which I felt they were good enough to submit for publication (although, I’ve “finished” and posted a number of flash fiction drafts on my blog over the years).
One of my goals in joining the Brainery Workshop was to break free of that cycle and to write and edit some stories that I could then send out for publication. I finished two stories — “How Bluebeard Ends” and “Missed Connections – Nov. 11 – Redhead at the House of Needles” — both of which have been submitted for publication. Two other stories were fully drafted and need some editing in order to get them ready for sending out. The rest of the fives stories that were drafted during workshop are not anywhere near ready, but I can see the trajectories of the plots and how to finish them and I know I can put the work in to get them done.
It feels pretty damn good.
My Super Power is Voice
A few weeks into the workshop, Jilly addressed all of the writers and shared what she felt our writing super power is with each of us. According to Jilly my power was voice, the ability to personify a character or tone in the story.
It was an interesting revelation. During the process of writing a new story draft each week, I found that if I was able to narrow in on the right voice or tone for the story, then it would flow more easily for me. But if I couldn’t figure out the tone, then the story was often more of a struggle.
Knowing this, I wonder if my struggles in continuing with my novel at the beginning of the year might have been partially been influenced by the fact that I never really felt as though I had a handle on the characters. The novel is written from two separate first person POVs and yet they sound the same to me. Maybe finding their individual voices is what I need to do in order to get back into finishing the novel.
I thrive on deadlines. Self imposed deadlines don’t always work. Far more effective are the deadlines imposed as part of a group or class, in which I ramp up my own sense of obligation to contribute. This is part of the reason why the Brainery workshop worked so well for me. And now that I know that I can write and finish short stories, I’m toying with the idea of participating in one of the novel writing workshops as a way to get back to being engaged with an even longer work. I’m a little intimidated by the idea, though, as I can foresee the level of work involved in participating. If not in the spring, then maybe in the summer or fall.