Sunday, December 19, 2021

This Year in Writing, Part 2: Getting to Work

Last week, I wrote about my rejections. This week will be a little more cheerful. First, because good things happened this year – stories sold, goals achieved, lessons learned – but also because I'm sitting down to write this with a couple lines from Dani Shapiro's “Still Writing” rattling around in my head:
“I try to remember that to sit down and write is a gift. That if I do not seize this day, it will be lost. I think of writers I admire who are no longer living. I'm aware that the simple fact of being here creates a kind of responsibility, even a moral one, to get to work.”
All of this – the good, the bad, and the ugly – was a gift. With that in mind, here's what I learned.

2021: Goals and Lessons Learned

I thought I'd start by sharing my goals for 2021, including what I managed and where I fell short, and writing a little bit about what I learned from it all. Here's how this year shook out:

Goal: Write and post a weekly blog entry
Achieved

Some of the most fun I had writing this year came from my weekly blog posts. This blog has served as a good way to share life updates, think out loud about books, and chew on different ideas.

On the other hand, that approach means this blog is kind of a hodgepodge, and there are probably more posts about Kierkegaard than anyone actually has an appetite for. Ah, well!

Goal: Write for 500 hours this year
Achieved

I hesitated to share the actual numbers here. I thought maybe I should be more vague, just say something like “I successfully wrote on a regular schedule this year.” 500 hours just doesn't sound like that much, especially not in the age of Outliers when we all know it takes 10,000 hours (at least) of disciplined practice to approach expertise.

But then I decided, fuck it. If it takes me another 19 years at this pace, then that's what it takes. The point is I showed up every week, did what I set out to do, and I'm not going to feel bad about it now while I'm tallying things up. 

Goal: Write 100 short stories
Nope!

Man, I don't know. Sometimes you just need to pick a ridiculous mountain to climb and hope you learn something in the attempt. I only ended up writing 18 stories this year, just four of which I revised to the point of being submission-ready, and only one of which was actually accepted.

I did learn how to write better first drafts, though, and how to plot a story while leaving room for surprise. I don't think it's a total coincidence that the four I chose to revise were all written in a cluster toward the end of the year. Something was starting to click, and either I was doing better work or I fully surrendered to my own self-delusions. Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Goal: Query a novel while writing a new one
Kind of achieved

I spent most of 2021 querying a novel I finished last year, and wrestling with the first draft of something new that I honestly don't know what to do with. I had this idea that I could create a kind of production line – query a finished novel, revise one that was already drafted, and start writing something totally new. But the reality hasn't been quite that smooth.

That new novel isn't just rough, I'm not even sure what shape it should be. And if there's anything I've learned from querying this year, it's that fuzzy genre lines don't do you any favors in the querying process.

Now I'm working on something much more firmly in the crime and mystery genre, which is also where I've had the best luck placing short stories. Maybe this will pay off and maybe it won't, but it's where I'm putting my focus.

Goal: Earn 100 rejections
Achieved

I wrote about this last week, so I won't dwell on it too much again, but it is a milestone. And while I might be a little banged up from the process, I can now definitely say I know what it's like, and that I know what it takes to get there.

Publications + Acceptances

This seems like the right note to end on for a year-in-review that began with a post about rejection. I was lucky this year to have a couple pieces published and a couple more accepted for 2022, including:

In Another Country
I don't write a lot of nonfiction, but this piece was commissioned by my local PBS station during the release of “Hemingway,” the documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. I took the chance to write about a Hemingway story that I've always found haunting, and about my dad's struggle with frontotemporal degeneration.

An Indiana Grand
I've experimented the last couple of years with writing crime fiction under the name Craig Francis Coates, including this story. It's part of a series about rideshare driver Jon Cassidy and was picked up by Tough, where it got to rub shoulders with work by writers like Nick Mamatas and S. A. Cosby – very cool company to be in.

Oversold
The second Jon Cassidy story I sold this year, this time to The Dark City mystery magazine. Aside from In Another Country, this was the only story I both wrote and published in 2021.

Mr. Sentimentality (Forthcoming)
The third Jon Cassidy story to be accepted this year, and the fourth one that I've published. Unlike the others, this one's less of a genre piece and more focused on Jon and his dad. It'll be released by BULL some time next year.

The Questionnaires (Forthcoming)
I spent my undergrad temping before spending several more years working in retail, which is probably why I gravitate to writing about people who work shitty jobs. This story, about a survey administrator hustling to make money for his son's birthday, will appear next year in Litro.


And with that, we put a bow on this year. I'll be back next week with our regularly scheduled programming, including the much anticipated posts Christmas Cookies That Look Like a Certain Danish Existentialist and It's the Day After New Year's, So I'm Going to Lazily Share Quotes from Better Writers Than Me.

Clearing Things Up

We're in the process of moving. It's going to take us a while, but as a part of all that I've spent the last few weekends trying...