Sunday, August 1, 2010

End of July 2010; August 2010 Goals

I was pretty well on track for my July goals until about halfway through the month, when I got word that I had won the Autumn House Press Fiction Prize and that my first book, a short story collection called Peter Never Came, will be published by Autumn House next April. For the first few days after I found out, I entertained notions that I could work under editorial deadline to get the book ready and keep working on my new novel at the same time, but it turns out that goal was a bit unrealistic. So I made the executive decision to put the new novel aside for now (which was really kind of painful since I’ve been on quite a roll with it, and I know it will be hard to get back into it after a break, but ah well).

The book contract also puts a damper on my usual 10 submissions a month goal, since all of the stories that I’ve been submitting were part of this collection. About half of those stories have already been published, but the other half were the ones I’ve been sending around. I no longer have anything to submit, and that’s kind of scary (although, as Damien keeps reminding me, kind of exciting, too, as blank slates invariably are).

So, while my main goal—the one that I have no choice but to keep—for August is to keep working with my editor to get my book ready for publication (and do all the other odd jobs involved with publishing a book, like getting my bio and author’s photo together, tracking down blurbs, etc.), I’m also hoping to scrape a bit of time together to work on some new stories. I have a pretty long list of ideas I’ve been waiting to work on, but for the past several months it seemed like every time I sat down to write, I ended up revising. Revision is important, don’t get me wrong, but I think it will be good for me to simply have to write some new stuff.

For August:

  1. Continue revising/polishing my book to have it ready by the September 15th editorial deadline
  2. Try to work on some new stories

Thursday, July 1, 2010

End of June 2010; July 2010 Goals

I fell slightly short of my 15,000-words-on-the-new-novel goal for last month, but only because I became sort of consumed by yet another thorough revision of the novel that was my graduate thesis for the first two or three weeks of the month. I got back to work on the new novel only after I was able to consider the older one finished (once again). However, I have decided that I absolutely MUST set the old novel aside so that I can actually get this current draft of the new one finished. I know I’ve said that before, but this time I really, really, honestly mean it. I CANNOT continue to rework old pieces forever, or else I will never get anything new completed.

All that said, I did still get a fair amount done on the new novel, and I fully expect to be able to meet my overall goal of having this new draft finished by the end of the summer. I’m going to shoot for around 1,000 words a day for this month, which should put me at around 60,000 words by the end of the month, with 30,000 more (give or take) to go. I’d like to have a really solid working draft done by the beginning of the next school year so that I can just focus on revision when I start to get really busy with teaching again.

As far as agent hunting goes, I think I’m going to give it a rest for now. I’ve read some articles lately that reminded me how difficult it is to find an agent through querying alone. While there are some agents who take the slush pile seriously, most agent interviews I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a few over the years) suggest that agents only very rarely offer representation to writers that come to them through the slush pile. The best way to get an agent is to network your little pants off and get referred by someone the agent already does business with, but short of that, you can meet agents at conferences (if you can afford to go) or wait for agents to find you (and yes, agents really do read lit journals looking for fresh blood, so a perfectly good plan of action is to just get published in as many journals as you can and hope that somebody who can help you will read it and like what he or she sees).

My current plan of attack is to try to get more of my work online, so instead of hunting for an agent, I’m going to try to submit to some online journals this month and see if I can build up more of a web presence for myself.

My goals for July:

  1. 30,000 words or more on current novel
  2. 10 submissions

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

End of May; June 2010 Goals

May was a good month for me as a writer. I’m definitely getting my stride back as far as productivity goes, and I also feel like I’ve made some big steps in my overall career as a writer recently. For one thing, I found out a few weeks ago that I was nominated for a Pushcart this year. I’m extremely excited about the nomination, even though I didn’t win (I actually didn’t find out about the nomination until after the winners had already been selected, so I got to enjoy just being nominated without dealing with any disappointment over not winning). In addition, I was named a semi-finalist in a book publication contest for a short story collection that I entered. Like with the Pushcart nomination, it’s extremely encouraging regardless of the fact that I didn’t win overall. Hundreds of manuscripts were entered into the contest, and the judges named mine as one of the top ten!

These small victories are extremely motivating. They make me feel like I am on the right track as a writer, but the fact that I didn’t actually win either a Pushcart or the grand prize (a book deal) in the contest lets me know that I’m not quite there yet. I need to keep working at it. However, I really do believe that if I keep pushing ahead, a published book probably lies in my future (and maybe the not too distant future, either).

I’m working on the second draft of a novel right now, and I intend to have this draft finished by the end of the summer. Considering that it usually takes only a month or two to bang out a complete draft of a novel, this seems like more than enough time to finish this current draft. I’m switching back to a word count goal, which I think is the most effective goal when working on a new draft of a lengthy project. For June I’m only going to ask myself to write an average of 500 words a day on the novel. If I work on stories on the side, that’s great, but I want to get this novel finished, so I’m only going to count the work I do on the novel for the word count. I’ll probably bump the goal up to 1,000 words starting in July, but I’ve got a lot of grading ahead of me for the next two weeks, so I figured I better go easy on myself this month.

June Goals:

  1. 15,000 words or more on current novel
  2. Submit to 10 journals
  3. Query 5 agents

Saturday, May 1, 2010

End of April; May 2010 Goals

I met all of my goals for the month of April, although in all fairness, my goals were pretty easy to reach. I finished my children’s book, and I feel very good about this current draft, which I realize is always how we feel when we finish a new draft of something we’ve spent a lot of time on. I’ve also been working on the second draft of a new novel and some new stories, too.

I’ve decided that I’ve been using revision as something of a crutch lately. I think revision is extremely important, and I believe that many new writers don’t take revision seriously enough, but I do think there’s a point where you have to accept that a piece is finished and move onto something new. For some reason I came down with a mean case of writer’s block, and I was using revision as a way to avoid facing the blank page. So I made up my mind to put this to an end: I began forcing myself to work on something new every time I sat down to write.

It has been largely effective, although I am considering taking more serious actions in the near future, just to make sure I’ve officially beaten that block into submission. I’m toying with ideas for a strict writing regiment, a sort of writerly boot camp, if you will. Once I decide exactly what I’m going to do I’ll post it to my Process Blog, to keep myself honest, if for no other reason. In the meantime, it’s business as usual at my place. I’m very, very, very busy with my classes right now, so my goals for the month of May will remain . . . well, let’s say realistic.

May Goals:

  1. Continue working on new novel
  2. Submit to 10 journals
  3. Query 5 agents

Thursday, April 1, 2010

End of March; April 2010 Goals

Well I ended up getting a fair amount of writing done in March but the majority of the work I did wasn’t on my children’s book. I ended up doing about the ten thousandth revision of the novel that was my MFA thesis. I changed the ending, added a whole new chapter, and even did some serious restructuring of the chapters, and I also read through and did sentence level revisions of the entire novel. So even though I didn’t finish the current draft of my children’s book (although I’m very close and do expect to finish it in the next week or so), I do feel pretty good about the work I got done last month.

I had a sort of a tragedy occur last week and it definitely slowed down my writing for a few days, but I’m back on track now and expect to get some good work done before the new quarter starts getting crazy (I should have about two fairly easy weeks before my grading starts piling up and I have less and less time to write).

My goals for April:

  1. Finish children’s book
  2. Submit to 10 journals
  3. Query 5 agents

Monday, March 1, 2010

End of February 2010; March 2010 Goals

I fell short on almost all of my goals for the month of February, but oddly, I don’t feel that upset about it. I’ve sort of realized that this past several months have been hard because, really, I’m in a transitional period in my life: the transition from being an MFA student, who is allowed – hell, even expected – to care more about her creative writing than, say, her teaching, to being a person with an MFA, who teaches adjunct for a pittance, who has to wallow at the bottom for a few years before she might actually be able to land a decent full time job, and who has to be the best goddamned teacher she can in the hopes of one day procuring said decent full time job.

But I can’t let the transition period get the better of me. See, this is what I’d heard so much about when I was in grad school – recent grads who just stopped writing altogether after they finished – and I always swore that it would never be me. Switching my goals (for the meantime) from time based to project based has helped a little, but I think I also need to make a go at the fabled get-up-early-and-write-before-work idea.

Right now on the days that I actually have to go to campus, I get up half an hour early so I can sip my coffee and read and let myself slowly enter into the day. I don’t really want to give that up because I think it sets a good tone for my day, but I could certainly add another half hour so that I can read for half an hour, then write for half an hour, then get ready for work. It may be difficult to adjust to at first, but I really would rather spend that time writing than sleeping. I love sleep, make no mistake, but I love writing more.

So part of my goal for the month of March is just to see if I can always get up a half hour earlier on the days that I teach so I can get some writing done before I go in. Now I don’t really think that half an hour of writing time will be the most productive writing time – I do my best work when I have a stretch of two or three hours to really have at it – but I think that writing for a little bit in the morning will encourage me to write later in the day, too, and it will encourage me to write on the days when I don’t have to go in, when I can shift my schedule around and write for a few hours straight without interruption. I also think, just on a psychological level, it will set a good tone for my day, remind me what life is all about, let me feel like I’m still able to do the things that matter to me even though teaching takes up so much of my time.

In addition, I think that I need to stop spreading myself thin between different projects. I’ve been working on a new novel, revisions of a children’s book, and revisions of short stories for a short story collection (though that last one I haven’t been as interested in of late). Usually I like having several projects to choose from, but lately I’ve found that when I sit down to write, I sit and ponder which of the many options I should work on and end up feeling detached from all of them. I’ve heard it argued that writer’s block is just a fancy way of saying you have too many ideas and can’t decide which one to work on, and I think, at least in my case, that it’s definitely true. Since I’m almost done with the current draft of my children’s book, and since I’ve actually been working on this book for about ten years now and feel that this current draft may actually be, if not the final draft, at least damn close, I’m going to first try to get this draft finished. Then, and only then, I’ll return to the second draft of my current novel.

March goals:

  1. Finish children’s book
  2. Submit to 10 journals
  3. Query 5 agents

Monday, February 1, 2010

End of January 2010; February 2010 Goals

Well it’s been a very productive month for me as a writer, and I say that in spite of the fact that I fell short of my writing goal for this month. I did, however, manage to squeeze out ten submissions and five queries, although I have to admit I did every single one of those on the afternoon of January the 31st. But I figure a goal met is a goal met, whether I had put it off to the last minute or not.

As I said, I didn’t meet my time goal, and I actually didn’t finish a complete draft of my children’s book either. I consider it a productive month anyway, though, because I feel pretty confident that I pinpointed why I’ve been having so much trouble meeting my goals for the past few months and, more importantly, I figured out how to solve the problem. The problem isn’t that I can’t possibly find an hour out of every day in which to write; the problem is that the time goal had grown sort of stale for me. It just wasn’t successfully motivating me anymore.

So I’m switching goal formats starting this month. Instead of time, I’m going to make my goals in terms of projects. I’m going to continue logging the time I spend writing, but that’s just because I like to keep track of these things.

Now I didn’t finish the current draft of my children’s book last month, but I did come very close. So for the month of February, I would like to finish that draft off, and I would also like to get come solid work done on my current novel, which I’ve become increasingly excited about this past couple weeks. I don’t know why, but at the moment short stories just have not been engaging me, so for now I’m going to just accept that and let myself just work on the book length projects.

My goals for February:

  1. Finish the current draft of my children’s book
  2. Reach 50 pages in the current draft of my new novel (an addition of 31 pages)
  3. Submit to 10 journals
  4. Query 5 agents