The next chapter: December 2016 update and year in review

My goodness, here we are in 2017 (!) and now it’s time for me to take stock of my year. Did I accomplish what I hoped to at the beginning of the year?

We’ll get back to that in a few.

First, I have to sum up (‘cause there is too much—I live by PB references) December 2016.

I knew when I decided to tackle Wavedancer, the third book in my epic fantasy series, for NaNoWriMo 2016 that I wouldn’t even come close to finishing the draft (it is EPIC fantasy, after all) in November. I was, however, foolish enough to think, initially, at least, that I’d write another 50k words in December and finish the draft by the end of the year.

I should have known better.

This is the fourth year I’ve done NaNo, and my third win. Each year, I enter December in a fog, still half-living in the world of my novel. I work a day job. There’s no way I could keep up the NaNo pace for another whole month.

Accordingly, I adjusted my expectations to 500 words a day and, though there were two days I didn’t write at all and a few assorted low-count days in the mix, there were also five days in which I wrote over a thousand words, so it all came out in the wash.

decemberprogress

To be more specific, of the 15,500 word goal for the month, I wrote 18,859 words, exceeding my goal by 3,359 words 🙂

Blogging 5,610 words brought my writing total for the month to 21,600 words.

Not 50k, but not bad at all 🙂

Back to my year-end review.

2016 was the first year that Jamie Raintree incorporated separate columns and totals for revision in her Writing Tracker, now called the Writing & Revision Tracker.

Though I’ve looked back at 2015’s and 2014’s trackers, the totals were skewed because in 2014, I didn’t track my revisions, and in 2015, I was tracking my revisions at one counted word for every two words revised. So there’s no real point in trying to compare.

What I set out to do at the beginning of 2016 was to go through all of my written novels to date and start to revise.

I’m happy to say that I accomplished this goal, but things didn’t go quite as I’d hoped. They never do. Quite.

For most of the novels, it was more of a getting reacquainted with the stories and the characters. I didn’t do a lot of revising, but now that I have the lay of the land, so to speak, the next passes will all be more in-depth.

I already mentioned that, having revised my goals post-NaNo, I did write two thirds of Wavedancer. To be specific, I wrote 71,157 words between November and December, and I will continue in that vein until the draft is done in my estimation.

I continued to query Initiate of Stone, but finally got it through my thick skull that it’s not the best project to use when trying to get a deal. So I’m changing gears and going to prepare another project for querying this year. We’ll see how it goes.

How did all this shape up as far as numbers went?

yearend

Of my 138,100 word writing goal, between all projects, I wrote 169,288 words, or 123%. Considering all the revision I was doing, that’s a lovely total.

With respect to revision, I managed 359,114 words of my 375,000 goal, or about 96%.

Some things happened in the year that I didn’t plan on, however.

Though it didn’t happen until July, I wrote a new piece of short fiction. I hadn’t expected that with my focus on the novels. It was a good surprise 🙂

January through March, I participated in the first offering of the Story Genius course created by Jennie Nash and the story genius herself, Lisa Cron. It was something unexpected, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. I had to try to make space for the course in my overall plan for the year and ended up making some poor decisions that didn’t serve me well.

While my experience in the course wasn’t, overall, a positive one, I still love the Story Genius method (and book—go get it!) and I would recommend it highly to anyone who can devote 100% of their time to the work. You will reap the benefits.

I just learned, in the most ego-wrenching way possible, that I cannot learn on someone else’s schedule. Especially while I’m working full time. I also made the decision to use Apprentice of Wind, the second in my epic fantasy series, as the project for my work in the course. Story Genius, in the form I took it, was not intended for novels that are already drafted, or for books other than the first in a series. I understand that strategies and approaches for projects of this type have been developed since.

These issues were entirely of my own creation and should not cast any doubt on the excellence of the course, of Lisa or Jennie, or of their dedicated team of editors.

I signed up for K.M. Weiland’s Character Arcs course through the Digital Freedom Academy. It’s entirely self-paced and Kate has loaded her usual extras into the course materials. Her Creating Character Arcs book also came out in the fall, and I definitely recommend both. I am a fangirl, though.

In August, I signed up for another Nelson Literary Agency course on the first five pages. NLA courses are excellence sources of feedback from professional agents who know what makes a successful submission.

At the end of September, I enrolled in a Mary Robinette Kowal Short Fiction Intensive. Blew my mind.

Finally, as far as courses go, I signed up for a course by Kristen Lamb on writing query letters and synopses.

I also tried my hand at #PitchWars for the first time with Reality Bomb, and while I didn’t make the extremely competitive cut, I did have a positive experience thanks to the team who considered my proposal, Michael Mammay and Dan Koboldt. It’s quite an eye-opener, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to test the waters with one of their novels.

It was a lot of fun and another pleasant surprise.

As far as conferences and conventions, I attended Ad Astra, The Canadian Writers’ Summit, and my very first WorldCon last year.

I was also pleased to participate as a panellist at Wordstock Sudbury 2016.

And I had two stories published in the Sudbury Writers’ Guild anthology, Sudbury Ink, which launched in November.

Complicating all that, Phil had some significant health issues to deal with at the beginning of the year (now resolved), and, from August through to November, he renovated our living room after work and on the weekends.

We’re still waiting for the last pieces of furniture to be delivered, and he’ll be working on building wall-to-wall bookshelves, as the weather allows (he’s working in the unheated garage) throughout the winter. Pictures will be forthcoming in a future post.

Looking at all of that written out, I accomplished a helluva lot last year.

I think I’m going to have to ease back a bit in 2017, work smarter instead of harder.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

What are my plans for 2017?

Well, you know I’m not one for resolutions. I have goals that I work steadily toward and amend as required.

First, I’ve nabbed my copy of Jamie Raintree’s 2017 Writing & Revision tracker. I’m setting up the projects in series this year, and will identify different novels in my Ascension series with different colours so I’ll be able to distinguish them and extract the numbers I need to feed my production geek.

I’ll continue to finish drafting Wavedancer, as I mentioned (way) above. At my current rate, I should be finished by the end of February.

Once drafting is done, I’m going to return to revising. I should be able to get through all of the novels in the course of the year. Again, as I mentioned above, I intend these revisions to be more in depth and to address some of the structural issues, as I see them, in the stories.

I’m going to be working with a coach to get Reality Bomb reworked. It’s something else I’m trying in my quest to improve my craft. My hope is that I’ll be able to query RB later this year.

With the short fiction surprise last year, I’ve actually had another idea I want to work on, and some other ideas for revising a couple of my other stories to improve them. Accordingly, I’ve made some room for these projects in my plan.

For NaNoWriMo, I’m going to tackle the fourth novel in the epic fantasy series, tentatively titled Playing with Fire.

I may also have a new, semi-regular writing gig to tell you about. I don’t want to let the cat out of the proverbial bag yet, but if it materializes, you can be sure I’ll let you know all the tasty deets I can 🙂

I’ve already signed up for the Story Masters Workshop in May. Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, and Christopher Vogler are coming to Toronto. This is a squee-worthy score, in my books. It was another opportunity I couldn’t let pass.

When I heard that the No Excuses cruise was going to be in Europe this year and timed to immediately precede WorldCon in Helsinki, I was seriously considering signing up. Unfortunately some non-writerly priorities make both the cruise and WorldCon impractical. Mellie haz a sad.

In fact, I may not attend any conferences or conventions at all this year. We’ll see how things shape up.

The reason for this dialling back is that Phil, who’s in his 50’s now, wants to proceed with renovations to the kitchen and bathroom this year. Though he will continue to do as much of the work himself as he can, these two projects will require a significant financial investment. And we haven’t paid off the living room renovation yet.

We also want to get another puppy. This will depend on whether my employer sorts out their payroll issues and I can apply for another self-funded leave. I will need the time to train our new dependent, furry quadruped. Again, deets will be forthcoming as I can share them.

On that front, if the payroll issues at work are sorted, I’ll finally see my acting pay from mid-February to the end of September last year, less about a thousand dollars outstanding from my last self-funded leave.

We’ve heard that union negotiations have resulted in an offer, the terms of which look reasonable. If we vote to ratify the new contract, it will mean about two and a half years of retro pay and a signing bonus, again, dependent on when the payroll issues can be sorted.

Our car loan should be paid off in late spring, as well, and so, between it all, we’ll have a little extra money to use to pay down our debts.

Phil got a promotion and raise last year from his employer, so we figure this will be the year to finish the renovations.

As you can see, this is going to be a different kind of year, but I’m hopeful that everything will work out.

Besides, come the end of February, it will be the Chinese Year of the Rooster (I’m a rooster!) and I think the powers that be might finally be aligning in my favour 😉

Here’s to a fabulous and productive 2017 for everyone.

Love and light and loads of good words to you all!

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: February 2016 update

February is always a struggle for me, even in this year, when we didn’t have snow until after Christmas. By the time February rolls around, the dimness of winter has resulted in some degree of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I’m tired of being cold. I’m tired of slogging through the snow. I’m just tired.

Just a note here: We’ve had more snow in January and February that we had by this time last year, and last year, the snow started in the last week of October. That’s global warming for you.

Add to that Phil’s health issues (which are steadily showing improvement, so we’re good on that score), my illness, and my subsequent discovery that I’m anaemic, and we have a perfect storm of personal stress.

I suspect that I’ve been anaemic for some time. Persistent exhaustion and difficulty sleeping (among numerous other symptoms) have supported this hypothesis. Heck, in the days when I used to donate blood, I remember being turned away on several occasions because of low iron.

Then there’s work. The problems there are mostly political in nature and not anything I have either control or influence over. It’s frustrating and disappointing more than anything else, but that’s contributed to my desire to leap-month over February and get on with things.

Creatively, I’ve still managed to exceed my revision goal, but was unable to meet my writing goal in February. I’m not going to go into the reasons for that because it doesn’t have an impact on you, gentle readers, nor would there be any nugget of wisdom to be pulled from those events.

My challenge in February was in trying to continue my coursework in Story Genius while proceeding with my writing and revision goals, which were set prior to the course, and (for me) take precedence. I also committed to another, shorter course from Jamie Raintree, and though I enjoyed it, I think I simply took on far too much. Far. Too. Much.

I had a rough week during which I felt stupid because I couldn’t effectively implement the Story Genius lesson. It blocked me. I couldn’t even revise for a number of days because I could see my failures too clearly in front of me. I could see all the ways in which my existing work sucked ass (sorry, but that was the exact thought in my head at the time).

There are several reasons for this:

  1. I’m a keener and I have been learning my entire life. I’m a perfectionist. I’m used to doing well. I’m so much harder on myself than anyone else can be. My confidence is easily shaken. Usually, I can write through the malaise, but this time, I balked.
  2. I chose to work on a finished draft rather than a new story idea. Worse, I chose the second book in a series. I set myself up for failure because the focus of the course is to develop an idea from, “oh, this is cool,” to a realized story map given the specifics of the Story Genius methodology. It would have been much easier if I had chosen to do this. I was stubborn and thought I could both revise Apprentice of Wind and use it as the basis for my work in the course. Silly rabbit.
  3. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, but I had neither budgeted for the expense of the course, nor, because of my day job, could I budget sufficient time to do a good job.
  4. Illness played a role, both mine and Phil’s. My personal circumstances have made me less able to cope with what would otherwise be a minor disappointment.

Ultimately, I’ve stepped back. I have the lessons, transcripts, examples, etc., and I’m going to take the time to do the learning, and incorporate it into my creative process. In my own time. Benefits will be reaped, just not tomorrow.

There’s one week left and I’m not going to ignore it or dog it. I’m going to do the best I’m currently capable of and be content that, with practice, the true learning will occur.

My difficulties have been completely of my own making and I could have prevented them from happening by waiting for the next time the course was offered, or the time after that. If I’m able to prepare properly, I can meet (and sometimes exceed) my own, admittedly high, expectations.

Learning nugget for y’all: If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin.

Mel’s version: If you’re keen on something that’s popped up unexpectedly, sit back and really assess the situation. What will happen if you don’t do it this very minute? Are there future opportunities you could take advantage of? Do you really have the resources (time, money, focus) you need to invest? If not, is there a way you can shift things around to make those resources appear? Look at the long game. What part in your career does this opportunity have? Will things look any different in five years (or ten, or twenty) if you don’t “do all the things” now?

Above all, be kind to yourself.

Having said that, Story Genius is a mind blowing course and I value the opportunity to learn from Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash, both incredible experts in writing and editing. My assigned editor is also a fabulous guy and he’s been very supportive. It’s well worth the investment in time and money.

I’ll reiterate what I wrote above: my problems are of my own making and should not in any way reflect on Jennie and Lisa’s amazeballs course.

So. What did I get done in February?

I have finished the first run-through of Apprentice of Wind. There is at least one more structural edit I have to do, in which I will make use of the Story Genius method, but I’m going to let the work relax for a bit before I dive back in. In fact, I’ve seen some further areas for improvement in Initiate of Stone, as well. I might start at the beginning and work straight through both novels on the next round. It will keep me in the Ascension series headspace and voice, too, something I feel is lacking in AoW.

In the meantime, I’ve moved on to Figments. Reading through it, it’s a lot better than I remember, which has been comforting. I’m going to apply Story Genius to that, too. Before I get to the actual revision, so I’m not mucking up one process (planning) with the other (revision).

I think that repeated practice will be the key to successful implementation. Eventually, it will become second nature. Then, I will actually be able to say that I’m a story genius 😉

I resumed querying, and I submitted more short stories.

I also received more rejections. Some of them were positive (this story isn’t suitable, but please send something else), but it still results in no further publications.

This hits home in tax season, during which one becomes acutely aware of how little income one has made from one’s creative efforts.

It doesn’t help, either, that nominations for various awards have opened. Even though I really don’t have a chance in hell of getting on a ballot, it would be nice to be able to put my name beside the title of a story I wrote (and was paid for), and then stand back and say, like a proud five year old, “I made this.” 😀

FebruaryProgress

Here’s how the numbers break down.

I achieved 108% of my revision goal with 40,708 words revised.

I achieved 90% of my writing goal with 5027 words, all written on this blog.

I sent out five queries and one package for a publisher’s open call.

I submitted short stories to one anthology call, and one magazine.

And that was my month in review.

This month, as I mentioned, I’m moving on to revising Figments, and will be submitting more queries and short stories.

And I’m going to give myself a break. I’m making progress. It’s enough. So am I. I just have to remind myself what would happen if publishing was taken out of the equation.

That’s right. I’d still be writing.

If you don’t love what you’re doing, why the hell are you doing it?

Have a good week, everyone.

Hugs all around.

You’re awesomesauce, each and every one of you.

The Next Chapter

The next chapter: January 2016 update

First, a note about the non-writing parts of my life

Well, the new year has gotten off to a bit of a shaky start, not with respect to my writing and revision goals, but with respect to other stuff.

In the last week of December, Phil got sick enough he had to go see a doctor. He hadn’t been in a very long time and in the process of diagnosing the illness he went to see the doctor for in the first place, the doctor diagnosed him with two other, fairly serious, illnesses. Three for the price of one. Yay?

I won’t go into the details, because it’s not my story to tell, but he’s on several medications, we’ve had to change our diet (not significantly, but still), and we’ll have to commit to several more lifestyle changes in the coming months. It’s going to be a good thing, ultimately, but I’m a creature of habit. Change is stressful.

Phil’s been told not to tackle everything at once, and so we’re dealing with things one issue, and one day, at a time.

I’ve gotten a cold for the first time in about three years. Since I don’t get them often, I tend to get doozies. I’m also in the process of seeing whether I’m anaemic or not, and my gall bladder is acting up.

I guess this is my reaction to the stress of everything else.

Which includes learning that I’ve been screened out of the consultant process at work. We’ve had a general information session, because many of the over three hundred people who applied were screened out, but I’m still getting an informal discussion of the specific reasons I was screened out. That happens Tuesday.

I’ve really been trying not to get upset. Work is work and I’ve tried to prioritize my creative work over the day job, but having been successful in the last three processes and had four acting assignments in as many years, I can’t help but feel that I’ve been kicked in the teeth. They still have testing and interviews to go, and if the eventual pool ends up being as small at I suspect it will be, there will be another process in the future. I have to question the point of putting myself through the wringer again, though.

My current acting assignment ends next Friday and at that point, so far as I know, I’m heading back to the training and advice & guidance team, but everyone keeps saying that I’m not going back and even managers aren’t including me in the training plan and no one is telling me anything. I’m kind of suffering from mushroom syndrome.

I’m trying to be Zen, but I’m not very good at that, in all honesty. I am a lot more laid back than some people, but I internalize a lot. Hence, the illen.

Now, onto the Writerly Goodness 🙂

I took some time over the holidays to plan out my writing year. Using Jamie Raintree’s amazing new Writing and Revision Tracker, I set writing and revision goals for the year, and for each month.

As I mentioned in my last Next chapter update, 2016 will be the year of revision. As I return to the querying process with Initiate of Stone, I realize I want to have some of my other five finished novels revised and edited and ready to go so that I can keep working toward my dream of a traditional deal.

What I did was to add up the current word totals of all my drafts and divided them up according to what I figure will be my productive months. I also estimated what my blogging totals would be per month and add in my NaNo 2016 writing goals.

What that worked out to was 37,550 words of revision each month (except November and December), between five and seven thousand words of blogging each month (except November), and 50k words drafted in November and December (NaNo this year will be book three of the Ascension series I figure it will take me two months to complete the draft).

So this is what January looked like.

JanuaryProgress

And I even took a few days off (!)

The month started with a couple of days devoted to reading through my draft of Apprentice of Wind, and then I set to. I’ll probably have the first run through done within the next couple of weeks, and then I’m probably going to go through it at least one more time.

So at 9,274 words, I wrote 141% of my writing goal and at 69,774 words, I almost doubled my revision goal (186%).

I also revised and sent out two short stories, and heard that another short story is still under consideration from a submission last year. So that’s awesome.

I also sent out IoS packages to open submission periods for a couple of publishers. As of the end of last year, the three Canadian small publishers I’d pitched last fall had either declined or failed to respond.

We’ll see where all of that gets me.

Other excitement

I’ve attended a few events this past month. The first was Last Stop at the Sudbury Theatre Centre, in which a couple of writer friends had their plays in progress workshopped in front of a live audience (us). It was awesome.

Then, I attended a Skype workshop with Barbara Kyle through the Sudbury Writers’ Guild on adding magic and verve to your first thirty pages. Barbara is an excellent presenter and so knowledgeable about her craft. It’s a pleasure to learn from her.

Finally, I attended a lecture by singer/songwriter Steven Page at Laurentian University on ending the stigma around mental illness. He sang a couple of songs from his new album and discussed his struggles with mental illness.

I’m also currently enrolled in two online courses.

First, I couldn’t resist signing up for Story Genius with Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash. It’s based on Lisa’s new book (of the same name) and is eight weeks long. I’m working on my week four submission this weekend. It’s hard (like, it hurts my poor, tender head hard), especially negotiating the day job and health issues Phil and I are facing right now, but I can see how it’s going to improve my ability to write a novel that will hook readers and keep them reading.

Second, I signed up for Jamie Raintree’s Design a writing career you love workshop. I’m trying to keep one foot in the business side of things. Jamie’s an excellent instructor and I always enjoy her courses.

I’ve booked my hotel for both Ad Astra in April and WorldCon in August and am still waiting for the registration information for The Canadian Writers’ Summit to emerge.

So, I guess it’s no wonder I’m under the weather at the moment.

By and large, though, I love my life. The creative part of it anyway 😉

Next week, the CanCon 2015 reportage continues.

Hope your creative endeavours are moving full steam ahead and that you’re all well on your ways to meeting your goals. Feel free to share your trials and triumphs in the comments below.

The Next Chapter