Category Archives: Successes

Choosing Your Battles

2014 has brought me an odd mixture of success beyond expectation and abject failure.

fossilMy goals for 2014 were to duplicate my short story sales for 2013 (six stories, five under my real name) and to complete a novel.

Over the past year, I’ve sold eight speculative fiction short stories under my own name, and an additional two stories and a novella in another genre under a pseudonym.

And I haven’t come anywhere close to completing a novel, though I have two partial attempts and several outlines.

In 2015, my goal is to choose my battles.

I’ve already set parameters for my short story submissions.  As a rule, I submit only to paying markets.  (I do allow for exceptions—for example, if proceeds from sales go to support a charity I feel passionate about, I’m willing to write a story in lieu of a donation to the cause).  But overall, at this point in my career, I feel my writing is strong enough that I should be earning money in exchange for my work, not just a free copy of the finished product.

This statement is not to denigrate anyone who is writing as a hobby.  I spent many years writing fan fiction and giving it away for free.  For myself though, last year, I decided that if I’m good enough to be paid and I want to earn some of my living this way, I needed to to focus my efforts on markets that represent income opportunities.

I’m excited to have my first SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America)-qualifying story coming out in the second half of 2015.  It’s a short story called “Folk Hero” that will be appearing in Apex Magazine.

KITSLIn 2015, I want to refine my parameters further.  I want to limit my short story writing and focus it on pro markets.

This plan is going to be challenging for me.  Pro markets are highly competitive.  I may not make six sales in 2015.  However, I am at a point in my career where quality is more important than quantity.

I want to take a large portion of the time I spent on short stories this year, and spend it on completing a novel.  I’d also like to do another novella under my pseudonym.

Long term, I believe novels represent the best income opportunities.  I don’t regret spending the past two years focusing on short stories.  The short stories have given me the opportunity to practice writing story arcs, strengthen my beginnings and endings, and explore different genres.  They have forced me to learn to be concise:  to introduce characters, establish their world, and immerse the reader in their conflict, with a minimum of wordiness or filler.   And they have provided me with validation.  I can do this.  I can sell my writing.  I have seen my work in print.

Validation, though, has a dark side.  It would be relatively easy, I think, for me to set and meet a goal to replicate my 2014 success in 2015.  It would make me feel good.  Short term, it would make me feel better than dedicating my year to a novel.   Long term, though, I see my career focusing on novels.  It’s time for me to play the long game and focus on long-term rewards.

I have my validation.  In 2015, it’s time to move on and take another step towards making that vision a reality.

In January I wrote about the importance of maintaining one’s health.  In December, I think I’ve done well in that regard.  I suffered hand and wrist injury in the summer, recovered in the fall, and now use a brace to prevent future injuries.  I’ve struck a balance between a part time job, a sustaining family life, and accomplishing my writing goals.  Health-wise, I’m in a good place to achieve my goals in 2015.

Sit Down and Shut Up

I admit it. I’m a slacker. I have no discipline in my life. It practically takes an act of Congress to get me to do my dishes. I’d rather sit around and spend my days swimming through a sea of imagination. Whether reading books, watching movies, or daydreaming, I’m not big on the real world, and as I live alone, I don’t have anyone around to tell me I can’t. But, that doesn’t help me get the stories in my head out. It doesn’t help me get to the next level.

Oh, I could just wait for inspiration, or that terrible urgent need that comes along that makes me write because, if I don’t, my head will explode. That happens, but not often enough to produce any complete story with any speed. I have friends who do that. Who complain that they can’t finish anything because they had “writers block” or they’re living with world-builder’s disease.

My particular demons aren’t original. I get knocked down often by periodic depression. I get  mired in the difficulties of trying to construct a plot from the myriad wonderful moments I’ve concocted in my head and often like a complete failure. I forget how much I love writing. But I’ve learned the best thing for it is to keep plodding along. Even when I’m not feeling it. Even when I’d rather be reading that new book I bought. Even when I know the scene I’m writing is complete crap and will probably get cut in the next revision. It doesn’t matter. Every crappy line is one step closer to the good stuff. Every cliche is one sentence out of the sludge that keeps me down.

I’ve said it before on this site, and I will probably say it again and again. The only way to truly defeat the nagging doubts, the distracting delays, the fear that the story will never be ready, or whatever the current issue that keeps the story locked away where no one can read it, is to plant my butt in the chair and keep writing.

So, whenever I get a little lost or down or frustrated, I remind myself that no one is making me write. If I’m having trouble, it’s my own damn fault. I might feel as if writing, when I’m especially inspired, is a need rather than a want, but like the doubts that eventually creep in, that’s really just in my head. Thus, it’s up to me to get over whatever is holding me back. It’s a heady and terrifying thing to think about. It’s also easy to forget.

But even when I do forget, eventually, my inner critic slaps me in face and shouts at me to sit down, shut up, and write. This ridiculous story isn’t going to write itself.



Opening Your Imagination

Generating ideas is easy, but generating the kinds of ideas that move YOU can be more of a challenge. Most of us have had at least one person tell us an idea and suggest we write it, but that never works because it’s their vision, not yours.  So how do you find that idea that’s worth hours and hours of time and effort? Relax, look for it, and don’t let crazy and stupid be a deterrent.

First, relax. Soon after I started writing for publication, I had a panic moment. “What if I’m one of those writers who only has one good idea in them?”  Now, even then this was utterly ridiculous, because I’d had quite a few ideas come to me and had even started short stories on a couple of them, but I hadn’t thought of any new ideas for a while, which is exactly where I’m at now. I’ve come to realize that when I’m focused on my current story, my imagination tends to stay close to the projects at hand and I don’t usually generate a lot of new ideas. That’s just the way I work, but I had to quit freaking out so I could figure that out. Relax, if the idea was in you for one story, there are more to come.

Second, look for it. Worried that my imagination-well might run dry, I started looking for ideas. When driving, I paid more attention to my surroundings. On the radio, in the news, even the magazines I picked up in the dentist’s office, I looked for ideas. Reading books, I tried to think of off-the-wall variations on its premise, or some concept in the book, and what kinds of stories would come. Even in talking to friends and family, I would look for thematic elements from our conversations that would lend focus to a story.

Which leads to our third point: don’t let crazy and stupid be a deterrent. I did come up with stories, utterly ridiculous ones. But if I relaxed, played around with them, and let them develop into other ideas or themes, I found myself coming up with some unique and interesting concepts. Did I suddenly start selling to top magazines and agents? No. But I wrote more stories that intrigued me, with characters that had depth, and my writing ability improved. I didn’t have to worry about ideas because when I needed them, they would come.  Ideas would pop into my head while driving, in my sleep, and the most embarrassing, in the middle of conversations. “Um, yes, I was listening. What was that again?”

So, how about you? What kinds of activities get your imagination and your best ideas flowing?