It’s time for Part 1 of my Year-End Review, it’s the Writer’s Edition!
As I’m hoping to do this again for 2015, and there are SO MANY aspects of the creative life, I’ve decided to create some categories for myself and break down the good and the bad and go from there.
This is a UBER-LONG post (almost 2500 words) so be ready for a good sit-down.
The four categories are:
- Equipment and Expenditures
- Community Outreach and Speaking
- Writing Output
These aren’t listed in order of priority but they are the order in which I began jotting things down. I’ve lumped things together that perhaps deserve their own category so feedback is appreciated. For me, this is an experiment in transparency, accountability (and hopefully) being able to measure long-term growth.
Equipment and Expenditures
The big expense this year was a pair of hardwood bookcases I picked up at a mansion estate sale in early Winter 2014 (January? February?). I think I spent around $75 for the pair of them and they’re hardwood, 8′ tall bookcases.
I’ve always wanted bookcases and with my office being small enough for only two, this forced me to purge my collection of a lot of excess (donated to charity or given to friends at a ‘book party’) so I had room for the essential collection, room for growth, and some empty space for ‘displays’.
Now, I’ve got a shelf for my writing books, for research, for ARCs I’ve received/reviewed, for reference, for collections of beloved fiction titles, plays, fairy tales and folklore, spiritual books, etc. Overall, I’m quite happy with this purchase and think they’ll be around for many years’ enjoyment to come.
A couple of years ago I made the switch to a third-party email subscriber service so I could send out automated blog post lists and the occasional newsletter. This transition required a physical mailing address so I made the decision to get a PO Box, which I have the option to renew every 6 months.
Over the past year, I haven’t really used the PO Box address very much. It’s been absolutely necessary for the mailings, and useful when I get ARCs from editors and publishers, but, I haven’t used it as much as I thought I would.
“[K]nowing what my website is capable of and being unable to function at that level of excellence is like a perpetual itch I can’t quite scratch – livable, but irksome.”
Is it worth the investment to keep renewing every 6 months? One factor for me is that it’s on ALL of my business cards so if close the box, my cards will need a new printing. Also, there’s the hassle of moving to a new third-party email provider that doesn’t require a physical address. I don’t have a ready answer and I’m not sure if using a dummy address would violate the TOS for the provider I currently have. I don’t currently have an answer for this.
Money (or lack thereof) is a continued issue as I have made no incoming from writing. Ever. With the lack of an active income from writing, I’ve made cuts that I’m dissatisfied with, but were necessary with the decline in the economy and frankly, lack of spendable income.
Hence, while I’ve kept the custom domain, I’ve switched from self-hosting (EXPENSIVE) to WordPress-hosting (CHEAPER) and lost all the fun perks with add-on plug-ins, features, and a wide range of free, available website designs solely available for self-hosted websites. Am I holding the website back from growth by doing this? God, I hope not. But, knowing what my website is capable of and being unable to function at that level of excellence is like a perpetual itch I can’t quite scratch – livable, but irksome.
Community Outreach and Speaking
This past August I attended and helped man a table at the St. Louis Writers Guild’s (SLWG) annual outdoor conference, Writers in the Park. There were concurrent events going on so I had the unique (to me) opportunity of being able to present two different speakers, which was a big step outside of my comfort zone, and a heck of a lot of fun!
In the fall, I was invited to consult with some librarians who were putting together programming for our library system’s first year of supporting National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November.
“All of the great things that happened this year as far as community outreach and speaking opportunities […] I didn’t initiate it, they just fell into my lap, […] I give all the credit to God.”
A few years ago, I’d tried approaching our Programming Dept. about initiating a level of support for writers in the Greater St. Louis area by offering a place to “write-in” and related activities but the timing wasn’t right. So, when I got to talk about my participation in 2012 with NaNoWriMo (and my win!) and the ways that libraries can be involved, that took me by complete surprise.
I suggested a partnership with our library system and SLWG, who graciously donated guild memberships as part of a contest to reward writers who worked on their novel in the library. I also put the library in contact with STL’s municipal liaison for NaNoWriMo and they hosted their “Evening of Scribing Recklessly” at our Headquarters.
Between the outdoor summer conference, and the National Novel Writing event planning, I was invited to do a brief presentation at our local critique group at the library on Scrivener, some of my favorite writing software.
In December, just before Christmas, I was invited to attend one of the SLWG’s board meetings and I was voted in as a board member. With the holiday season, I didn’t get around to announcing this on the website (surprise!) but it was mentioned on Facebook.
All of the great things that happened this year as far as community outreach and speaking opportunities were completely unplanned. I can’t even take credit for anything as I didn’t initiate it, they just fell into my lap, but collectively, it made it an amazing year and I give all the credit to God.
And now, for the bad…
My participation and attendance in critique groups was down this year. A cycle group I was a part of in the spring fell apart, and I didn’t workshop anything this year at the other group. One of my weaknesses is impromptu writing and I inwardly cringe at “writing exercises”. I don’t think this was to blame for my attendance (50% of the time maybe?) but it could have been a contributing factor.
I’m also disappointed in myself for failing to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. October through mid-December was a crazy writing time for me and I set myself up for success by requesting days off work for writing, then failing to initiate anything (more on that under Writing Output).
“If I ever try explaining technology in a presentation again, I’m borrowing someone’s laptop first!”
I learned some valuable lessons with the presentation on Scrivener that I’ll carry with me for future opportunities. Scrivener is really a hands-on software and to show it off in a presentation successfully, you really need to bring a laptop with the program loaded on it so you can play around with it “Live”.
Without access to a laptop, I resorted to a PPT-style presentation with screen captures and it doesn’t have the same impact. It was also more difficult for me to answer questions without being able to experiment with the software (and its help system) then and there. Hands-down, if I ever try explaining technology in a presentation again, I’m borrowing someone’s laptop first!
This is the shortest section of the whole review (lol). If you’ve been following my blog then you’ll know that my review for Timothy Schaffert’s The Swan Gondola was picked up as an Editor’s Choice selection earlier this year.
I also found a blurb from my review of Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club featured on Amazon.com and on the author’s website. Very exciting find — both were fantastic books!
“Lesson learned: Never wait. When you see an opportunity, run like a horse, all neck, straining to be the first at the finish line.”
Overall, there was low engagement with the website by visitors, low stats, e-signups, etc. I’ve been blogging for a few years and I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet. This may be one of the most difficult things for me to admit, but there you have it. I’m not being modest either, the way people say, “oh I only have 5,000 hits a day,” or “Yeah, I get new subscribers all the time (fingers crossed behind my back, knock on wood)”. I mean, there’s no real growth at all.
But I love writing and blogging is an extension of that so the journey continues.
The second disappointment (and I really wasn’t sure where to categorize this) is an opportunity came around this year where I could have applied for an opening as a review editor … and I didn’t jump at it when I had the chance. Oh, I’m sure there were dozens of people who applied, but, you’re not in the running if you don’t apply at all. By the time I got around to realizing my error, and emailing them to find out whether it was still open, I learned that they’d just filled the position. Lesson learned: Never wait. When you see an opportunity, run like a horse, all neck, straining to be the first at the finish line.
And finally, the category you’re likely to be most interested…Writing Output.
“[Ha]ving written 50,000 words in a month […] now I wanted to try and double that in a single calendar year.”
In January 2014, I had a rough idea of some of the goals that I wanted to meet in terms of actual content written. I suspected that I would have a dozen or more reviews written during the year, and an article or two published, and perhaps would attempt a few writing challenges (like NaNoWriMo) to bolster my writing in the latter part of the year.
The “big” goal that I wanted for myself, the one that seemed impossible to reach, was having written a total of 100,000 words of original, first-draft content in 2014. As of 2012, having written 50,000 words in a month was such a HUGE accomplishment for me and I wanted to try and double that in a single calendar year.
Jamie Raintree offers a spreadsheet for writers that allows them to track multiple projects at a given time and I started using her 2014 spreadsheet to keep track. If you’re interested, she’s already released the 2015 writing spreadsheet which you can get here.
So I wrote.
- I wrote a couple of articles for The Scribe, SLWG’s literary publication.
- I wrote on average, four reviews/issue for HNS, giving me a total of sixteen reviews this year.
- I wrote my first “evergreen article” for this blog, a conversation about what I learned from the Walter Mitty movie starring Ben Stiller.
- I logged over 59,000 words of brainstorming, outlining, drafting, etc. on 750words.com (an online word processor I use).
- I attempted the 30-day writing challenge THREE times on 750words.com and FAILED all three times.
- I attempted to write 100 blog posts in 2014. I hit 94/100 (some of the posts will be appearing next year).
- In the fall, I wrote a few pieces of fictional “arcana” that were published on an online RPG that I haunt on and off.
Here’s where I made my big mistake:
I thought that the way that I would be successful was by writing a large body of work, like a 100,000 word sci-fi/fantasy epic and when that didn’t materialize, I felt like an utter failure. I mean, last year I was profiled for a friend’s blog and I talked up this epic project I was working on and … nothing? Really? But I said, the heck with it, let’s tally it all up anyway… and then I did a double-take. Then I checked my math again. I even tweaked it down so I was positive that I wasn’t double-counting words somewhere.
In doing all those little projects throughout the year, I forgot the old adage, you know the one about a bucket being filled a drop at a time. By allowing myself to just “be” and be the writer the way I know how to be, not the way that I think I’m expected to be, then I can’t help but be successful since I’m doing what I’m passionate about.
But, there’s a lot that needs work. I had to turn down some review requests this year due to lack of planning/organizing. I missed out on some opportunities by gambling on a venture that didn’t pay off. I failed to write a review for a GoodReads book I received.
I failed at that competition three times and I was absolutely crushed because I was only competing against myself and I couldn’t do it.
My writing habit is inconsistent at best and despite the successes that I have and the challenges that are met, I am dogged by a persistent negativity and a refusal to believe in myself … perhaps because the other half of that coin is acknowledging where I am not good enough. To get back to the horse analogy, I’d rather embrace indifference over mediocrity, refusing to recognize the importance of the race (and therefore, have to participate) than run in the knowledge that I cannot ‘place’.
This faulty psychology is self-sabotaging and must be addressed in the next year if I’m going to continue to push the barriers and progress as a writer. So, I’m facing the end of 2014 with some big questions to answer:
- How do I take my writing to the next level?
- Can I overcome all the negative self-talk, and establish the discipline and confidence in myself that’s going to be required to get to that next level?
- This past year, I’ve turned inward and reclusive. I’m living in the “in-between” (as Jeff Goins calls it). How do I get to the next level without my office becoming a hermitage?
There’s no turning back, only moving forward. –>
And now we’ve reached the end of Part 1 of my Year-End Review. I’d love to hear your thoughts and any feedback you might have for me. Check back this Friday for my 2014 Year-End Review (Reader’s Edition) and Happy New Year everybody!