Getting serious: inaugural quarterly report

Back in December, I claimed that I was going to get serious about writing fiction, which meant producing more than two short stories year, which has been my average over the past five years or so (actually, it’s probably more like 1.6 stories a year). My stated goal was 4,000 words of fiction (revisions and worldbuilding not included) and 8 story ideas every month. Here’s my inaugural quarterly report:

January: 4,044 words; 11 ideas
February: 4,330 words; 9 ideas
March: 7,216 words; 10 ideas

Not too shabby. I’ve also learned some things about myself as a writer and my own writing process. Now, I’m not exactly a rookie: prior to all this I had completed 15 stories plus some humor pieces, a few of which have been published, and plotted out or have partial first drafts on another five or six stories. But it’s always happened in fits and starts. I haven’t been intentional about it. And the major thing that I’ve learned in the past three months is that being intentional about it is everything. I’ve also learned some other things:

Writing Frequency

You’ll hear people say you have to write every day. My friend Joe says you should have one writing session every two days. Neither of those frequencies works for me right now. I’ve managed to average twice a week and that works for me. I’ve also had two stretches (once in February when I got sick; and once in March when I got busy) where I went more than a week. I find that if I go more than three days without a solid 30 minutes to write, I do start to get antsy.

That’s good. But I also am finding that as long as I’m within reach of my goal, I can turn my attention to other things if I need to and not feel guilty or angry. This is important: I do have a lot of other commitments in my life. And it’s is why I established such a modest words-per-month goal, and why, even though I blew way past my goal in March, I’m leaving it at 4,000 words. This will be especially important since I’m going to be doing a lot more rewriting, copyediting and formatting in the months ahead. Then again, I’ve also revised two stories for publication and done some semi-substantial worldbuilding during these past three months (along with continuing to keep up with my blogging*) so I’m fairly confident that I can produce new fiction and still fit all that other stuff in.

Rough Rough Drafts

Being able to come to grips with the notion of rough rough drafts was crucial for me. It runs counter to my instincts (I’m an editor and critic, after all). And it’s something I still have to fight with at points. But unlike in years past where I would hit a rough patch and so drop the story for weeks or months or years, I now dig deep and fight through it. My mantra has become: I can fix that in post. Post = postproduction. it’s a film term, and I like it better than thinking “this is just a rough draft; don’t worry about it.” Because I am going to worry about it. But I can postpone that worry because I have the confidence that I can fix it in post. Once I have a completed first draft to work with, I’m in my comfort zone — it’s getting to that point that has been the problem in the past.

Prewriting

Prewriting saves time. Whether it’s a very short, rough outline, or just taking a minute or two near the end of a writing session to jot out some notes of what comes next — or capturing those if they occur to me during the course of writing and having the confidence to just put it in notes rather than trying to write it all out — prewriting makes all the difference in me being able to dive back into the story the next time I can carve out 30-90 minutes for a writing session and being able to kick out a steady stream of words.

In addition, I’d say that the idea generation goal has been a rousing success. Some of the ideas are barely anything, and some are lame. But already, I’ve mashed two different ideas together for a short short story that I completed the first draft of last month. And I think that the overall quality/usability of my ideas is getting better as the weeks go on. Having a storehouse of ideas also impacts my prewriting in that I’m a) keen on getting drafts done so I can move on to the next cool idea and b) when I do finish a first draft, I’m not then giving myself a break to think up new ideas — there’s no excuse to get writing because there are plenty of ideas to start playing around with.

Writing Environment

I have generally not needed a specific writing environment. That has begun to change as I’ve done more consistent writing. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. At the moment, when it comes time to write I need my laptop at the kitchen table with my headphones in and iTunes playing music. The music helps me focus. The table is at a nice height for the keyboard. The chair is comfortable, but not too comfortable. I’m not going to argue with the results, but I do worry a bit about becoming too accustomed to one particular writing environment.

Summing Up

This all seems to be working. Of course, the starting is always the easy part. This next quarter is going to be the real test since I’m going to need to keep my goals while at the same time revising and submitting some of the work I’ve produced this quarter. But the bottom line is this: I have written 15,590 words of new fiction, which I’m pretty sure makes 2012 already the most productive fiction writing year of my life. Onward!

* In fact, between my two blogs, I wrote 27 posts. This has got to have been the most non-work/school writing I’ve ever done in my life.

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