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January 2020 – New Year, New Goal

Happy 2020!

We’re in a new year and that means it’s time to talk about new goals for the year. Last year my plans got derailed. I had these big goals to write more stories, write my novel, and grow my blog. I did write a couple of stories, write some of my novel, and gained a few more followers, but still I fell short. Throw in recovering from surgery, getting laid off, money worries, and starting a new job, and well, the goals just didn’t happen. I fell behind. Then, I beat myself for falling behind.

So for 2020 I’m scaling back the goals. I only have one.

Write and sell my book.

That’s it. One single focus. I may do other things (rewrite some stories or maybe another chapbook next winter), but the primary focus will be on the book. I’ve ignored it far too long and this is the year that I really devote time to it. Writing a novel is a brick by brick building process. It won’t get written in a week, or a month. But it will get written this year.

It’s not an exciting goal on paper, but the last time I finished anything that was over 5,000 words long was 2003. I’m a bit daunted by this goal, but I also know that I can do this. I’ve done it before and I KNOW I an do it again. I just have to stick to my mantra — Put words on the page everyday.

Also, if you missed the news, I had a new story published last month by Scarlet Leaf Review. You can read it here.

Thank you for reading and Happy New Year!

 

 

All Work, No Play

The new day job has been a time suck. I went from staying home all day long with occasional errands, to twelve hour long days ( two of those hours are commuting to and from the office). In some ways it’s nice to be busy again, but, wow, I’m tired at the end of the day. The job itself is great. I’m getting better at it and feeling more confident in the work. Hopefully, in a few months I will be able to work from home a few days a week.

Honestly, I don’t know how some of these super commuters do it. People who have longer commutes than me, or travel all the time. I know someone who lives in LA, but works in AZ! My hats off to you all.

But… the writing hasn’t stopped! If anything I’ve started writing on my lunch break, like I used to do years ago. Now that I have limited time and energy, I find myself scribbling a few pages everyday. So like my affirmation card says, “I’m putting words on the page everyday.” The novel may be slow, but it is progress. I never was one for sprinting. I prefer the long endurance races.

I still have some writing goals to meet, but for now (and probably the rest of October) it’s going to be on writing this novel (and getting my 100K words written goal) done. Currently, no word count because I have a crap ton of handwritten pages, but it’s hefty. Plus, I’m not too worried about word count right now. I”m just going for it and writing everything down. I’ll edit¬† and shape it later. Right now, I just want words on the page, a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This past weekend I attended a great writing workshop. As many have said before, you should never stop learning. This particular workshop was taught by Donald Maass on “The Emotional Craft of Writing.” It was a good size group and I got a lot out of it. If you have the opportunity to go — do it. It’s always good to learn new things in your craft, or remind yourself of the lessons you already know. I realize now, after twenty-years out of undergrad, that I’m never going to be done learning. There is always another part of me where I can grow.

Also, you don’t need to pay for a workshop. Trust me, I know what it is like to be strapped for cash. Reading books, watching youtube videos on craft (by people who you think are successful), and talking with other writers are great ways to grow too. Just never think you know it all. I think that is detrimental thinking.

So, I’m pushing forward, working hard (both the writing and new day job), and trying not to burn out. It has been a crazy, crazy, year so far. I’m a little scared about what these last three months are going to bring, but I am hopeful. Things seem to be settling down. I want a quiet fall and holidays filled with love, laughter, and lots of writing.

 

New Season, New Beginning

It’s not quite officially fall yet, but I’m starting to feel it in the air. Kids are going back to school. The lazy, hot days of summer are fading into busy, crisp days of autumn. The days of relaxing are gone and replaced by days of activity.

In other words, I got a new job.

I’m excited for the new experience. In a way this is new territory for me. I’m entering the world of government contracting (I had to get security clearance.) and I’m now working for a large company. I haven’t done that since 2000. My very first job out of undergrad was with a large company. Since then, I have only worked for small businesses. I also have a commute again. Back into the fray of traffic. I hope this is a good match. I think I made a good choice accepting this offer. No job is perfect, but I think this place is a good fit and I’ll be there for a while.

As for writing, my novel is still chugging along. I had hoped to have most of it done by September 1, but that didn’t happen. Truth is — It’s been a while since I’ve written anything over 5K. Once I passed that mark, I lost steam. My friend Jennifer Ryan suggested that I set a timer for 30 minutes and just work for that amount of time everyday. So far, that has worked, but the progress is slow. I get bored, insecure, or just plain lazy and don’t want to work. It’s strange, but when my time was limited, I was able to focus and get stuff done. Having lazy days where I don’t have much to do took the wind out of my sails.

I have an affirmation card on my bedroom wall that says, “Put words on the page everyday.” It’s a reminder to myself that I don’t need to have the perfect words, I just need to write¬†something. I need to move forward. Maybe by October 1 I’ll have a very rough draft of the book. For now, I’m just putting words on the page. One foot in front of the other. I’ll get there… eventually.

Also there are some other great literary things that are happening and I’ll talk about those later, as I get further into the fall. I may have been lazy at times, but I still got some stuff done. I’m still submitting and going to literary events.

So it is a new season for me. A new start and, in a way, a new adventure into the next phase of my life. This summer was challenging and difficult at times. Change never really feels good as you’re going through it, but after the dust has settled and I started to move on, I have a better attitude. In some ways, my life needed an upheaval. A reminder that nothing is certain and the the winds of change will blow your way one day. After my surgery, I started practicing more gratitude and never have I been more grateful for getting all my medical issues taken care of before I lost my job. I really lucked out there. I’m also grateful for all the family and friends that supported me through this time. They made the time much more bearable.

Here I go. Onward.

How Important is Your Time?

I’ve come across a few articles in the last few weeks about managing your time better. Most talk about how we waste time on unimportant tasks and not enough on what we care about. For example, I watched Avengers Endgame again last night instead of, say, writing more of my novel. I had a busy day doing all the adulting things we need to do and when I got home, I just couldn’t muster the energy to focus and write. It happens. I let it go and this morning I was back at it searching for markets to submit to and writing more.

But it also go me thinking about how much time I waste submitting to literary journals. Most doing respond quickly and a story can sit for months, if not years, with no response. Yes I’ve done the simultaneous submission route, but still I feel like my time is being wasted.

To be honest – I’m tired of the treadmill.

Round and round my stories go. Sometimes they find a great place, but most have been sitting waiting for (more than likely) a rejection. I don’t blame the journals. They have hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions to comb through and little time and man power to do it. That’s is the nature of the business. There is a lot of competition. I know this and accepted it.

Maybe this is a repercussion from my layoff, but I’ve been taking a hard look at my career (both of them) and asking myself, “What do I want?” Is this part of the dream to keep submitting, or do I want to move forward in a different way? Like limiting the number of submissions and then, self-publishing them myself. Or should I let go of stories and lean harder into my novel? I love short story writing, but sometimes I think I use it as an excuse not to take on an ambitious work. I shy away from something longer, because I have other stories that I can finish and submit right away.

Something has to change. I’m unhappy with my progress as a writer and I want to shake things up. Focusing on my novel, would consume more of my time, but I would have something BIG at the end. Over a decade ago, I wrote a novel and it never went anywhere. I’m glad it didn’t get published, because I’m a better writer today. Through the practice of craft and classes I’ve taken, I’ve grown into a better writer than my twenty-something self could ever imagine. I think it is time to go all in.

As for my short stories, I like the idea of a limited submissions. Maybe 5-10. If nothing happens, I’m going to self-publishing them and call it a day. All I really want is for people to read and enjoy my stuff. Having journals and magazines publish me is always a treat, but I am not going to chase this need to be a worthy writer. That’s for others, who want it more than me.

I’m going to spend my time in better ways.

My Moment with Toni Morrison

Yesterday came the news the legendary author, Toni Morrison, passed away. With so many tributes pouring in, from people who knew her far better than me, I won’t rehash what she did for literature, or America. If you want to know her impact, pay attention to those who speak and write memorials about her.

I didn’t know her at all, but I did meet her once a few years ago. It was at the National Book Festival in DC. I remember standing in line for a couple of hours to get her to sign one of my books. A couple of teenagers stood behind me. They couldn’t have been more than sixteen. Their teacher assigned Beloved as a reading book and both of them decided to spend their Saturday at the books festival.

Morrison did speak, but it was right before the signing, so if you wanted to have a chance of signed book, you had to skip the talk. (I think it was put up on-line later.) It was a hot, sunny day and my feet ached after the first hour. The line grew and grew. I was right in the middle. Maybe I would make it, maybe not.

Finally the line started to move foreword. She was signing one book, that was all. (Not unusual. it keeps the line moving quickly and ensures that most people get something signed.) As I got closer, my feet stopped hurting and my excitement started to build.

Sure enough, when I stepped up for my turn, her assistant said, “Okay, this is the last one.”

I said softly, “Lucky me.” She looked up at me and winked. (Side note: The two kids behind me did get their books signed. She couldn’t turn down teenagers who were holding her book.)

So that was my brief moment. Forgettable to her, but memorable to me. As a young writer, having that brief moment with your heroes is fun. A story you tell when people ask how you got your book signed. She was a legend and I’m glad a got a brief moment with her.

RIP Ms. Morrison.

 

Chapter 5 and Beyond

I’ve moved on to chapter 5 of the novel. I wish I could say that this book is flowing easily, but I think I’m a bit rusty when it comes to longer pieces. It has been so long since I’ve passed the 10K mark with a story that it feels like foreign soil to me. The last time I wrote this much on one story, I was in my twenties.

But I like the story I’m writing. I’m still interested. My main character is a complex guy and I’m enjoying spending time with him. So more words get written on the page and I am not ready to stop.

Sometimes I think getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to my writing career.

Yes I’m still applying for jobs and going to interviews, but I also have the fill the other hours of the day. Writing my fiction has been a good way to occupy my time and thoughts. I can always keep busy with a writing project. Also, it’s supposed to be around 100 degrees this weekend! It’s like the universe is forcing me to stay home, in the AC, and write. It’s too hot to go anywhere.

Seriously though, all writers know how hard it is to get time to write. In between jobs, families, and sleep, long chunks of writing time can be a luxury. So this is an opportunity that I’m not going to waste. Soon enough, I’ll be back in the grind. For now, I’m going to write my brains out and enjoy it.