Post-Mortem: Gutting Your New Year’s Resolutions

If this was your list, maybe skip this post.

Here we are, three months into the new year. Is it still new? Or is it a slightly used year now? Previously loved? Whatever, 2015 is now one-quarter over, and you know what that means?

It’s time to check in on those New Year’s Resolutions you made.

Now, before you look guiltily at your running shoes and then dive head-first into a bag or Doritos, I am not here to make you feel bad. I’m quite sure most of you have other people for that.*

All I want you to do is think back. Did you make a resolution? How did it go for you? If you stuck with it, why? And if you didn’t, why not?

Don’t turn away from this stuff, especially if you didn’t follow through on your resolution. Yeah, it might suck to look at what you consider to be a failure, but look anyway. Get down there, rip it open, and sniff the entrails of the failed attempt, because they are fucking full of information.

This is where you learn stuff. About yourself, what motivates you, what doesn’t, what can keep you going when you don’t want to,  and what makes you give up in hopeless frustration.

So do your post-mortem. Did you resolve to write 1,000 words every day and give up halfway through January? Then maybe that’s not the right goal for you. How about 500? Or writing every weekend? Or maybe not writing at all, and spending that time on something you actually enjoy. Or perhaps you need a different type of motivation: writing a flash fiction story and posting on Twitter every day.

Or, if you persevered, why? What kept you going? Because, after three months, I know damn well that there were days you wanted to give up. So what did you use to keep yourself on the path when the going got rougher than off-roading on a bike made of cheese graters?

For my resolutions—finish The Book by July, finish a sketch every day—I’ve been making good progress. I had to take three weeks off from writing due to Serious Health Issue at the end of January/beginning of February, but I got back on the horse and kept going. And I still kept up the sketching during that time. I used things like my sticker motivation calendar and public accountability in the form of posting the daily sketches to Facebook to keep me on track. As of now, I have 89 sketches (missed a day in the hospital) and 70,000 new words on the novel manuscript. Go, me.

Make notes. Examine where you succeeded, and where you failed. And be better prepared for next year, when we’ll do this all over again.

So, that’s me. How about you? Did you make resolutions? Did you stick to them? Did you learn anything from not sticking to them?

*If you don’t, then there is a surcharge for Making You Feel Bad, which comes in Regular, Mocking, and Disappointed Mother Who Only Wants The Best For You flavours.

New Year, New Manuscript: Kicking Ass in 2015

Does anyone know what happened last night?

*Emerges from a cocoon of chocolate boxes and gift wrap*

*Flails around for coffee*

*Finds coffee*

*Drinks all the coffee there is now and ever will be*

Right. That’s sorted.

So, back after the holiday break. Whether or not you celebrated anything at all, I hope you had a nice one. If you did not, then I hope it was because you were bereft without my presence and not anything serious. I got a mohawk while we were apart. Small children love it, and one of my favourite things this holiday season was when little boys and girls would tell me how much they liked it while their parents looked on in horror. I hope at least one of those children locked themselves in the bathroom with a set of clippers this Christmas and had a go at making their own mohawk. If not, maybe next year, Santa.

Now that the gifts, food, and bullshit family drama is being packed away for another year, its time to get back to business. You might be taking the year off, and that’s fine, but after a couple of weeks I’m ready to get back in the saddle. Those of you who are joining me, mount up. The rest of you, catch up to us later.

The thing about this time of year is that everyone and their dog and their dog’s dog is making resolutions. Which are so often broken that otherwise sensible people who want to change something are leery about the idea because, if they fail, it puts them in the same category as everyone whose gym membership is gathering dust by January 20th.

Which is bullshit. Not doing something because everyone is doing it is just as stupid as doing something because everyone is doing it. Either way, you’re letting someone else make your decisions.

Personally, I like resolutions. They might be a cliche, but I’m not above a cliche. It also feels like a good time of year to do things like this. The days have turned, ever so slightly, back toward light. And whatever darkness we carried into the ground-down stump of the year has been burned away on bonfires and fireworks, leaving just us, clean and ready to start again.

So. Resolution. I am going to finish this book before the end of the year.

Now that I’ve said it, I have to make it true, or else I’ll be a liar.

Coming back after a break, though, can be a rough road to ride. Easy to fall off. Easy to get discouraged. My best trick for coming back after a significant break—whether it was precipitated by holidays, illness, or just life getting in the goddamn way again—is to set the bar low. Make hitting that goal easier, but, and this is important, make damn sure you hit that goal every day. Then, when it gets too easy—like, you don’t even have to try—increase the goal.

What an easy goal looks like will be up to you. For me, it’s 500 words: the bare minimum I feel I can get done every day. For you, it might be 100. Or 67. Or 3,000. If you go past that number, great. Reward yourself somehow. Not with something that detracts from the original goal, though. For example, no extra days off if you go over. That’s like rewarding yourself for eating healthy by mainlining pixie sticks and caramel sauce: it is damaging to your overall goal. Instead, if you go over your writing goal, have a cookie. Watch a movie. Smash old cathode ray tubes. I have some posts about rewards that I’m working on for future days, so more on that later.

So, your turn: who’s making word-herding a part of their 2015 plan?

Monday Challenge: EXCITEMENT!!!1!!!

I’M SO EXCITED I PUT A HOLE IN MY FACE. (Photo from Wikipedia)

Good morning, word monkeys*.  So glad you could join me here on the first Monday of the new year. Are you ready? Are you pumped?

There’s something about the new year. It still feels fresh. The darkness has started to recede from the days, and, while I know it’s a long way off, I can begin to think that there might be a spring somewhere down the road.

But in the meantime, I’ve got this face-slapping cold waking me up and I have to drink my coffee fast before it freezes solid. Invigorating. Which is how January should be, because, god damn it, we’ve got shit to do.

*Cracks open a fresh can of words* It’s time to get started.

Last week I wrote about scouting ahead and thinking of what new projects you wanted to work on in 2014. What did you come up with? What excites you about this year? If you missed last week because of Holiday Hangover or if you didn’t come up with anything, do so now. There must be at least one fucking thing you want to do this year. Write about robots. Write a novel. Figure out how to create a romance scene that is not so sweet that it makes you want to stab your frontal lobe with pixie sticks. Something.

Are you excited yet? You should be. Because we can talk about hard work and craft and discipline from now until Ragnarok, and it won’t do a damn thing if you don’t have an idea that excites you. You need a reason to bash your head against that wall. You need something to light the fire that you will then use to power the unholy steam engine of your brain and your guts and your fingers.

So, today’s Monday Challenge, you little syntax goblins: find what you’re excited about and then write about why you’re excited. At least part of it. It can be a character you like, or a scene that sounds neat, or a line of dialogue that punches like a spiked knuckleduster. It can be the idea itself, how it makes you feel. Find your excitement. Hunt it down and drag it out and shake its hand/paw/tentacle/grasping mechanism. You’re going to be spending some time together this year. And it’s going to be awesome.

*Every time I try to type ‘monkeys’, my fingers change it to ‘monkies’. Which sounds like an affectionate diminutive for Jesuits or something.

The Bullshit-Free Guide To Achieving Your Writing Resolutions

THEY’RE COMING.

It is a new year, and while I accept that this date has no significance beyond the social, I know that, out there, writers are busy making their new year’s resolutions.

But what to resolve? To write a novel? To publish a novel? A short story? To write every day? There are so many possible incarnations of this desire to do better that it’s hard to figure out which one you need.

Which is where I come in.

These are not resolutions; they are directions. A path you can choose. A state of mind that will help you mow down all the writing resolutions you made while blitzed on champagne and Red Bull. And you should make these words work for you not just in January, but every day, all year long.

So, get your mirror, look yourself in the bloodshot eye, and repeat after me:

1. I Will Write. No more excuses. Put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper, motherfuckers. Arrange words in an order that pleases you and hopefully some other people. Repeat.

2. I Will Finish My Shit. An unfinished project is like a hangnail on your brain. Finish it. Only then can you work on making it pretty.

3. I Will Not Give In To The Soggy Demons Of Despair. I imagine them like wads of other people’s used tissue: gross, useless, and if you touch them, you might pick up something that will take fucking months to shake off. And oddly prevalent during the darker months of the year.
Disgusting though they are, when enough of the Soggy Despair Demons get together, they can cause trouble. You don’t want them in your house. Best solution is to set them on fire with work.* Seriously, if I get taken out, it will be by the Flaming Hellbeast of Spectacular Failure, not the Soggy Formless Tissue-Things of Never Tried At All.

4. I Will Stuff The Haters In A Sack And Then Beat The Sack With A Big Spiky Stick. Metaphorically, people, metaphorically. Don’t try to pin the blame for your assault charges on me.
Common candidates for inclusion in the sack are, of course, enemies, naysayers, the people who tell you to stop wasting your time writing, and the aforementioned Soggy Despair Demons.** But while you are stuffing people into your mental Sack of Hitting, don’t forget to make room for the following: ‘friends’ who think you’re being silly, media outlets that report fiction is dead, and yourself on those bad days when you feel like giving it all up.
All of you: get in the fucking sack.***

5. I Will Fail. Repeatedly. Because failure means I’m still trying, still working, still changing.
After failing? I will try again. And, in the words of Samuel Beckett, fail better.
*They’re pretty damp, so they smoulder a bit, but with enough fiery work, you can reduce those fuckers to ash.
**Not included are people who give you genuine, helpful criticism, even if you don’t want to hear it. Toughen up, princess.
***Thank you, Dara O’Brien.

Monday Challenge: Scouting The Path

Crows feeding

“What do you know? They taste like chicken. And Doritos.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the last blog post of the year. Tears me up a little, that does. Well, not literally, because I’m not a big crier*, but if I was, I would be. And if I hadn’t done really nice eye makeup that day. But if I was a crier, and if I hadn’t done something like this Smaug the Dragon-inspired makeup look**, then there definitely might be a slight chance of mistiness. Maybe.

It’s been a fun year. But it’s time to look down the road.

So that’s what this Monday Challenge is for, word wombats: thinking ahead. You’ve got a new year coming up. A whole year in which to write.*** That’s three hundred and sixty five fucking days during which you can be creating pocket universes and spinning beauty and terror out of the void.

What are you going to do with that year?

Monday Challenge: come up with something you want to create this year and then write that the fuck down. On a notepad, on a whiteboard, on your forearm or forehead. I don’t care where you write it, just write it. And then put it somewhere you can see it every day. Not to nag, but to remind. Because it’s a lot easier to forget about our goals when they’re not staring us in the face every fucking second like carrion birds wondering what your insides taste like.****

Plans of attack come later, along with everything else. For today, just think of what you want.

What is 2014 going to be the year of?

*Except, as established, during the first nine minutes of Up.
**The word ‘fierce’ was invented for this.
***And do other stuff, I suppose. If you have to. God.
****The pair of crows I keep seeing lately have this look.

Cyborgs, Soldiers, And Gunslingers: A Year In The Word Mines

amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...

This is what it’s going to look like when I go back to the gym tomorrow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year, I always find myself doing a little thinking. Maybe it’s the scrolling down of the Gregorian calendar. Maybe it’s because I’m stranded on the couch like a beached whale until that last holiday meal digests.* Whatever the reason, this is the time of year for taking stock.

Those of you who are long-term readers probably remember my goal for this year: thirteen rejection letters. Well, that goal was accomplished, just barely. There was also an acceptance in there, so bonus.

Writing-wise, this was a fucking busy year**. I started rewriting a novel, cranked out a half a dozen new short stories, laid down the foundations for another novel, and posted three days a week here. Blogging alone, that works out to….*does quick math*…around 80,000 new words. Plus maybe another 25,000 words of short stories. And another 50,000 from the Sandbox and World-Building files. I have no idea how much is new on the novel because that’s the nature of rewrites: too much cutting and backfilling and general re-jiggering. But, however you slice it, this was a productive year.

Now the question becomes: what next?

Honestly? I’m not sure. This year—the year of the short story—was fun. Gave me a chance to try some new ideas and new places, at least one of which is on its way to developing into a full-blown world. But, at the same time, my energy felt scattered. I was jumping from project to project, one step ahead of the deadlines, and every story was different. Cyborg magic. Military horror. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Alternate world fantasy. Storybook horror. I ran the fucking genre mash-up gauntlet this year, and came up with some really interesting stuff. But, because I was focusing on all those, my novel rewrite isn’t even close to bloody finished and I didn’t start the other novel that I was planning on writing.

So, here’s the question for 2014: focus on the novels exclusively, or try to do both again***?

I’m going to mull this over while eating my way through the rest of the Christmas candy between now and New Year’s. In the meantime, keep me in the loop, word monkeys: how do you feel about your writing year in review, and what are your plans for 2014?

*Fasting sounds like a better and better idea this time of year.

**You know, for me. For some of you this output might be slack; for others it might seem unattainable. Your mileage may vary.

***Better this time, obviously.

The Art of Showing Up

El Maestro boxing ring 3

Your opponent is here. Where are you? (Photo credit: Serge De Gracia)

January is almost over. The first month of a new year. How do you feel about 2013 so far?

This is the time when a lot of resolutions start to fall off. In the busyness, people forget about all those plans they had. All the changes they were going to make. The stuff they were going to do.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Husband and I were talking about this the other day. Husband is of an analytical bent, so he likes to distill things into their smallest, simplest form. What is the action that, once taken, creates the changes that you’re looking for?

Nine times out of ten, it’s one simple act: showing up.

And that’s the part that’s the hardest. There’s a lot of talk about first steps, but actually getting to the first step is something that gets passed over. Want to get in shape? You need to show up to the gym. Lose weight? Show up to the kitchen and start figuring out how to change your eating habits. Write a novel? It’s up to you to show up to the damn computer and say, “I’m here. I’m ready. And I’m going to do this.”

Nothing will happen unless you show up. Nothing. The world does not owe you anything, and it will not go out its way to drop all the things you want into your lap because you think you really deserve it. And it certainly won’t make anything come to you. You’ve got to get out there and find it. Hell, you can’t even win the fucking lottery without buying a goddamn ticket.

There are a lot of steps that come after that one, but none of them can happen without that. You need to show up. And, yeah, once you’re there, lots of things can happen. Some days you’ll blow through what you need to do, and some days it will hit you so hard you’ll go down like Liston.* All you’ll see is floor before the darkness comes.

And, in the face of that possibility, it’s easy to give up, to get distracted, to get bored, to say things like “I’m not built for this” or “I’m just too naturally lazy.” Those are lies and stories that we tell ourselves. They protect us from rejection and failure.

They also make it really goddamned hard to do anything.

That is the coward’s way out. So next time you find yourself reaching for “I can’t”, or “I’m not interested in this idea any more”, or “this is too hard for someone like me”, I want you to take a deep breath. Hold it in until your lungs hurt. That’s all the breath you could have been using making excuses. Isn’t there something else you could be doing with it? Something more fucking useful?

You want to do something, then get out there and do it. Stop wasting your time and just show up already.

We’re waiting.

*Or, as a metaphor for non-sports people, like Kong falling from the top of the Empire State Building.

(Sidebar: I have now reached 100 WordPress blog subscribers, according to the stats page. Hello to you all, and thanks for listening. *hat tip* Much obliged.)

Your Kick Ass 2013 Writing Plan

FUCK

Fuck you, haters. We will do this. (Photo credit: Jone Samsa)

Now that it’s the fourth of January, I will assume that everyone’s hangover has finally worn off* and that you’re ready to grab this year by the frigid snowballs. You’re fired up and ready to kick this year’s ass all around the block while it’s still got than new year smell.

Well, I’m with you. In spite of the bone-numbing cold, January is a hopeful time. We want to change, and we’re willing to try. Good for us. But we need a plan, or we won’t get far. If your resolutions included anything about writing, here’s a plan for you.**

1. Solidify that motherfucker. It’s no good saying, “I want to write more” or “I want to explore more styles”. It’s too fucking vague, and therefore easy to ignore. So get out a pen and paper and make a list. How much more? Do you have a goal you’re shooting for? Maybe finish a novel this year? Or do you want to write something everyday, even if it’s just the word ‘fuck’ a hundred times in different fonts? This is why I attached a number to my rejections. It makes it real.

2. Research and plan, lest you be devoured by the nibbly rabbits of indecision. You wouldn’t set out to become an elephant wrangler in 2013 without knowing where the elephants are, would you? You wouldn’t decide to run a marathon without figuring out how long it is. Writing is no different. Do your research. How long will it take to write that novel working at a speed you’re comfortable with? How many places are looking for the material you have to submit? What are the hallmarks of the space-opera style, and who are some of its greatest writers? Once you know a little more—not everything, just a little—you can make a plan of attack. You’ll need one, because a plan is what you can fall back on when the motivation fails. And it will. I fucking guarantee it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end. It just means you need to keep going, and a plan will keep you on the right path.

3. But sooner or later, you’ve just got to fucking do it. It’s easy to let the research and planning part overtake everything else. You don’t want to start until you feel ready, but the more you research the less ready you feel. Before you know it, it’s March and you’ve made no progress. So you give up. Welcome to most New Year’s resolutions, which die in an elephant’s graveyard of discouragement.
Not this time. Set a date and stick to it. Maybe the first two weeks of the new year can be devoted to research and planning, but after that, you get moving, whether you’re ready or not. Pull the trigger and see where the bullet lands instead of trying to calculate it beforehand. Learn as you go. If you fuck up, the lessons will just stick more. Don’t lose the momentum that comes from the new year. Use it to push yourself out the door before you’re entirely comfortable and go.

4. Log some wins. This is a mental trick I learned last year. We are what we repeatedly do, and we’re most likely to repeat things that make us feel like we’re winning.
Personal example: I usually get between 2000 and 3000 words a day when working. But do you know what’s on my checklist every morning? ‘Write 500 words.’ That’s it. I write that, which takes me around half a hour on average, and I can check that off. It’s considered done. Most times, I go on to write several assloads more than that, but the little goal—the very achievable goal—allows me to do it every day and build up some steam, even on the shittiest of days. I feel pumped. I feel like I won. And you know what I want to do when I feel like that? Write more.
So make a small goal, one that you know you can achieve, and make it consistent. Before you know it, the new thing will be a habit, and habits are hard to break.

5. Enjoy the process. It’s not all about the finish line. It’s not even mostly about the finish line. New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be about change, and change is a process. So enjoy the little moments along the way. Enjoy that first finish chapter, or that first page of a short story. Enjoy learning new things about the secrets of elephant trainers. Enjoy the feeling of fingers on keys and your brain on fire. The finish line can wait; enjoy the scenery while you pass.
So get out there and start, people. Knock it out of the park and don’t look back. I’m pulling for you.

*Or you killed yourself to escape from it. Seriously, four day hangovers: not fun.
**Actually, this could be adapted to most anything. But let’s stick with writing on the blog and pretend we’re staying on topic.

Back In Black: Year of the Rejection Letter

Black Coffee for Breakfast in White Porcelain Cup

We got an espresso machine for Xmas. This may help. Or I might never sleep again. (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Aaaaand we’re back. Did you miss me? I missed you. It was a lovely holiday here in Bare Knuckle Writer-Land, with many parties and visits. We all survived the Apocalypse of 2012, and started looking forward to the next Apocalypse. My money’s on the next one being dragged out of some ancient Asian text. Dragon of Unhappiness, anyone?

But it wasn’t all chocolates and scotch over the holidays. I always take this time to look back on what was really good about the last year, and what really fucking sucked. And figure out what I can do to improve the sucky parts. I believe these are known in the common tongue as New Year’s Resolutions. Cliche, I know, but there is something compelling about turning over your life in the dead stub of the year and looking at its inner workings. And then seeing what else you can make of it.

As a rule, I usually make three resolutions: one personal, one physical, and one professional. I tend to post them somewhere where they can be read by other people as a half-assed attempt at accountability. And, honestly, I can’t think of a better place to post the professional one than right here. With all those eyes on me, I’m way less likely to flake the fuck out in March. So here it is.

In 2013, I want to get rejected more.

Weird? Yeah. Let me explain: I want to get published more. But by its very nature, that means getting more rejections, because the more your work is out there, the more chances it has of being shot down. But if it’s never out there, it will never be published. So, this year, I resolve to get more rejections. Best part is, if I get an acceptance, it doesn’t count toward the total, so I have to submit more stuff.

This year, I resolve to amass thirteen rejections. Baker’s dozen. Novels, mostly, but I have some short stories I can send out as well. And if I don’t have enough material, well, I’ll just have to write more, won’t I? Until I can pin up those rejections. I will collect those fuckers, and learn from them, and use them to my advantage. Until I can drive them before me and hear the lamentation of their envelopes.

But this isn’t just about me. Why not make your own writing resolution? Resolve to finish a novel, or try a screenplay, or dabble in erotica. Dust off that half-finished manuscript and work on it. Start something entirely new. Submit your first short story to a market. Try something just for the hell of it and see if you make it through the other side. Own the scars and add more.

Me, I’m going to be over here for the rest of the day making a list of markets to submit stories and novels to. Put some speed metal on the stereo, make a cup of coffee, and plan my attack. I will return in December with the hides of thirteen rejections nailed to my shield.

2013: it’s going to be bad ass.