Saturday, December 26, 2015

Angst on Toast (AKA 2015 in Review)

At the beginning of 2015 I set myself a single writing goal: Write a Better Book.

The year started off pretty well. I was working on the Southern Gothic/Horror project and cranked out a solid novella in a couple of months. It was weird and a little different from what I'd written before. And it felt... better. I read the prologue and the opening chapter at one of the local conventions and got a very enthusiastic response. It felt strong. It had touched on better narrative skills than some of my other projects.

But I wasn't sure about trying to sell a novella. A Horror novella, no less. I thought perhaps I could take the total story arc (which was conceived as three novellas) and turn them into a novel. So I started working on the second one in April.

Thus began the Great Flailing of 2015. I wrote the first chapter, then set it aside because something wasn't working. I picked up the opening of an unfinished high fantasy/steampunk/mythology redux and hammered out another novella. But it didn't feel right either.

I wrote an outline that heightened the conflict and stakes, but also meant expanding the novella into a novel. That stalled so I set it aside.

I had written the first dozen pages or so of an Original Graphic Novel (OGN) script in May. I picked it back up and wrote the rest in about two weeks. It was good. It was strong. I was excited because I was back on track.

I tackled the Southern Gothic project again. And stalled. Maybe it needed to percolate a little more.

I started working on another older project - the Epic Not Fantasy. Wrote an outline. It seemed a little long for a novella, but that was okay - this one I could handle being a little longer. Revised the opening, making adjustments for new plotlines. Picked up a new thread in the story and added 20k I hadn't even planned on. Still okay because it made it a better book.

I was busy, but still making progress. I loved my characters. I loved their flaws. I loved the things they were trying to do. And then I got to the middle of September and something in my brain screamed "OMG! This year is almost over and you haven't sold ANYTHING!"

It's an uncomfortable thing talking about the slow road to "overnight success". Because we really want to think that if we take the right steps and achieve certain milestones that it's just a matter of time before you can run around the interwebs yelling "SUCCESS! I've done The Thing!" But then the months tick past and you get a nice rejections that talk about how intricate your world-building is or your delicate way with words or the emotion in the romantic subplot but it's still "just not right for us at this time."

And you've done all the right things. You've written the best book you could. You struggled through the query trenches and landed an amazeballs agent (whom you love for loving your books and wanting them to be better just like you want them to be better). You've written other novels and short stories so that you have new projects to go out on submission if the first one doesn't strike the right nerve with the editors.

All the right things and still the months go by and that feeling you've always had, that maybe you aren't as good as you thought, that maybe you're really one of the tone deaf contestants on American Idol singing your heart out and being told there's just no hope that this thing you love will ever be a career.

I wallowed for a bit. Not deliberately. That's just how it is when the depression kicks in. I would try to write and I couldn't muster the energy to do more than open my documents and stare at the words I'd written weeks before. And the end of the year got even closer and the panic got bigger.

I talked to Agent Amazeballs and we agreed that maybe the Southern Gothic novella needed to remain a novella series instead of trying to remold it into a novel. And I should take the lead on subbing it. So it went out.

This was a decision that cut both ways. Putting it out there made me feel active again instead of stalled. But it also brought the total number of projects out on submission up to four. Not including a few short stories I still had in circulation.

I took another week or two to try and get my practical goals straightened out. I found that even though I wasn't ready to write the next Southern Gothic novella, I did (finally) know what I wanted to do with it. I also figured out how to rework the high fantasy/steampunk/mythology redux novella so that it would be longer, stronger, but not a full on novel.

I started writing on the Epic Not Fantasy again after almost six weeks of not touching it. I was scared it wouldn't work, but it all came back. Like I'd just set down the pen (metaphorical pen) for a few minutes and then come back to it. And this time I told myself that even though I wanted to finish it by the end of the year, I would just work on it until it was done. Even if that wasn't by the end of December.

November was NaNoWriMo. I didn't win. I wrote about 20k words. I brainstormed my simple plot for the Epic Not Fantasy into something spectacular. And epic. It's a really wonderful book.

It's not done yet. And thus we return to the point of this review of my year as a writer.

Sometimes things don't go like you plan. One thing I kept struggling with was the feeling that I hadn't accomplished anything this year. It wasn't true, but I was letting the things that weren't working like I'd planned obscure the things I had done.

I'd lost sight of the fact that sometimes success is not giving up. Sometimes progress means not taking a step back, even if you can't take a step forward that day. Or the next.

The end of the year is only days away and I have worked on my singular goal of writing a better book. I haven't met all my individual project goals, but I haven't given up.

And that's success.