Post-Mortem: Gutting Your New Year’s Resolutions

If this was your list, maybe skip this post.

Here we are, three months into the new year. Is it still new? Or is it a slightly used year now? Previously loved? Whatever, 2015 is now one-quarter over, and you know what that means?

It’s time to check in on those New Year’s Resolutions you made.

Now, before you look guiltily at your running shoes and then dive head-first into a bag or Doritos, I am not here to make you feel bad. I’m quite sure most of you have other people for that.*

All I want you to do is think back. Did you make a resolution? How did it go for you? If you stuck with it, why? And if you didn’t, why not?

Don’t turn away from this stuff, especially if you didn’t follow through on your resolution. Yeah, it might suck to look at what you consider to be a failure, but look anyway. Get down there, rip it open, and sniff the entrails of the failed attempt, because they are fucking full of information.

This is where you learn stuff. About yourself, what motivates you, what doesn’t, what can keep you going when you don’t want to,  and what makes you give up in hopeless frustration.

So do your post-mortem. Did you resolve to write 1,000 words every day and give up halfway through January? Then maybe that’s not the right goal for you. How about 500? Or writing every weekend? Or maybe not writing at all, and spending that time on something you actually enjoy. Or perhaps you need a different type of motivation: writing a flash fiction story and posting on Twitter every day.

Or, if you persevered, why? What kept you going? Because, after three months, I know damn well that there were days you wanted to give up. So what did you use to keep yourself on the path when the going got rougher than off-roading on a bike made of cheese graters?

For my resolutions—finish The Book by July, finish a sketch every day—I’ve been making good progress. I had to take three weeks off from writing due to Serious Health Issue at the end of January/beginning of February, but I got back on the horse and kept going. And I still kept up the sketching during that time. I used things like my sticker motivation calendar and public accountability in the form of posting the daily sketches to Facebook to keep me on track. As of now, I have 89 sketches (missed a day in the hospital) and 70,000 new words on the novel manuscript. Go, me.

Make notes. Examine where you succeeded, and where you failed. And be better prepared for next year, when we’ll do this all over again.

So, that’s me. How about you? Did you make resolutions? Did you stick to them? Did you learn anything from not sticking to them?

*If you don’t, then there is a surcharge for Making You Feel Bad, which comes in Regular, Mocking, and Disappointed Mother Who Only Wants The Best For You flavours.

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New Year, New Manuscript: Kicking Ass in 2015

Does anyone know what happened last night?

*Emerges from a cocoon of chocolate boxes and gift wrap*

*Flails around for coffee*

*Finds coffee*

*Drinks all the coffee there is now and ever will be*

Right. That’s sorted.

So, back after the holiday break. Whether or not you celebrated anything at all, I hope you had a nice one. If you did not, then I hope it was because you were bereft without my presence and not anything serious. I got a mohawk while we were apart. Small children love it, and one of my favourite things this holiday season was when little boys and girls would tell me how much they liked it while their parents looked on in horror. I hope at least one of those children locked themselves in the bathroom with a set of clippers this Christmas and had a go at making their own mohawk. If not, maybe next year, Santa.

Now that the gifts, food, and bullshit family drama is being packed away for another year, its time to get back to business. You might be taking the year off, and that’s fine, but after a couple of weeks I’m ready to get back in the saddle. Those of you who are joining me, mount up. The rest of you, catch up to us later.

The thing about this time of year is that everyone and their dog and their dog’s dog is making resolutions. Which are so often broken that otherwise sensible people who want to change something are leery about the idea because, if they fail, it puts them in the same category as everyone whose gym membership is gathering dust by January 20th.

Which is bullshit. Not doing something because everyone is doing it is just as stupid as doing something because everyone is doing it. Either way, you’re letting someone else make your decisions.

Personally, I like resolutions. They might be a cliche, but I’m not above a cliche. It also feels like a good time of year to do things like this. The days have turned, ever so slightly, back toward light. And whatever darkness we carried into the ground-down stump of the year has been burned away on bonfires and fireworks, leaving just us, clean and ready to start again.

So. Resolution. I am going to finish this book before the end of the year.

Now that I’ve said it, I have to make it true, or else I’ll be a liar.

Coming back after a break, though, can be a rough road to ride. Easy to fall off. Easy to get discouraged. My best trick for coming back after a significant break—whether it was precipitated by holidays, illness, or just life getting in the goddamn way again—is to set the bar low. Make hitting that goal easier, but, and this is important, make damn sure you hit that goal every day. Then, when it gets too easy—like, you don’t even have to try—increase the goal.

What an easy goal looks like will be up to you. For me, it’s 500 words: the bare minimum I feel I can get done every day. For you, it might be 100. Or 67. Or 3,000. If you go past that number, great. Reward yourself somehow. Not with something that detracts from the original goal, though. For example, no extra days off if you go over. That’s like rewarding yourself for eating healthy by mainlining pixie sticks and caramel sauce: it is damaging to your overall goal. Instead, if you go over your writing goal, have a cookie. Watch a movie. Smash old cathode ray tubes. I have some posts about rewards that I’m working on for future days, so more on that later.

So, your turn: who’s making word-herding a part of their 2015 plan?

Monday Challenge: EXCITEMENT!!!1!!!

I’M SO EXCITED I PUT A HOLE IN MY FACE. (Photo from Wikipedia)

Good morning, word monkeys*.  So glad you could join me here on the first Monday of the new year. Are you ready? Are you pumped?

There’s something about the new year. It still feels fresh. The darkness has started to recede from the days, and, while I know it’s a long way off, I can begin to think that there might be a spring somewhere down the road.

But in the meantime, I’ve got this face-slapping cold waking me up and I have to drink my coffee fast before it freezes solid. Invigorating. Which is how January should be, because, god damn it, we’ve got shit to do.

*Cracks open a fresh can of words* It’s time to get started.

Last week I wrote about scouting ahead and thinking of what new projects you wanted to work on in 2014. What did you come up with? What excites you about this year? If you missed last week because of Holiday Hangover or if you didn’t come up with anything, do so now. There must be at least one fucking thing you want to do this year. Write about robots. Write a novel. Figure out how to create a romance scene that is not so sweet that it makes you want to stab your frontal lobe with pixie sticks. Something.

Are you excited yet? You should be. Because we can talk about hard work and craft and discipline from now until Ragnarok, and it won’t do a damn thing if you don’t have an idea that excites you. You need a reason to bash your head against that wall. You need something to light the fire that you will then use to power the unholy steam engine of your brain and your guts and your fingers.

So, today’s Monday Challenge, you little syntax goblins: find what you’re excited about and then write about why you’re excited. At least part of it. It can be a character you like, or a scene that sounds neat, or a line of dialogue that punches like a spiked knuckleduster. It can be the idea itself, how it makes you feel. Find your excitement. Hunt it down and drag it out and shake its hand/paw/tentacle/grasping mechanism. You’re going to be spending some time together this year. And it’s going to be awesome.

*Every time I try to type ‘monkeys’, my fingers change it to ‘monkies’. Which sounds like an affectionate diminutive for Jesuits or something.

The Bullshit-Free Guide To Achieving Your Writing Resolutions

THEY’RE COMING.

It is a new year, and while I accept that this date has no significance beyond the social, I know that, out there, writers are busy making their new year’s resolutions.

But what to resolve? To write a novel? To publish a novel? A short story? To write every day? There are so many possible incarnations of this desire to do better that it’s hard to figure out which one you need.

Which is where I come in.

These are not resolutions; they are directions. A path you can choose. A state of mind that will help you mow down all the writing resolutions you made while blitzed on champagne and Red Bull. And you should make these words work for you not just in January, but every day, all year long.

So, get your mirror, look yourself in the bloodshot eye, and repeat after me:

1. I Will Write. No more excuses. Put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper, motherfuckers. Arrange words in an order that pleases you and hopefully some other people. Repeat.

2. I Will Finish My Shit. An unfinished project is like a hangnail on your brain. Finish it. Only then can you work on making it pretty.

3. I Will Not Give In To The Soggy Demons Of Despair. I imagine them like wads of other people’s used tissue: gross, useless, and if you touch them, you might pick up something that will take fucking months to shake off. And oddly prevalent during the darker months of the year.
Disgusting though they are, when enough of the Soggy Despair Demons get together, they can cause trouble. You don’t want them in your house. Best solution is to set them on fire with work.* Seriously, if I get taken out, it will be by the Flaming Hellbeast of Spectacular Failure, not the Soggy Formless Tissue-Things of Never Tried At All.

4. I Will Stuff The Haters In A Sack And Then Beat The Sack With A Big Spiky Stick. Metaphorically, people, metaphorically. Don’t try to pin the blame for your assault charges on me.
Common candidates for inclusion in the sack are, of course, enemies, naysayers, the people who tell you to stop wasting your time writing, and the aforementioned Soggy Despair Demons.** But while you are stuffing people into your mental Sack of Hitting, don’t forget to make room for the following: ‘friends’ who think you’re being silly, media outlets that report fiction is dead, and yourself on those bad days when you feel like giving it all up.
All of you: get in the fucking sack.***

5. I Will Fail. Repeatedly. Because failure means I’m still trying, still working, still changing.
After failing? I will try again. And, in the words of Samuel Beckett, fail better.
*They’re pretty damp, so they smoulder a bit, but with enough fiery work, you can reduce those fuckers to ash.
**Not included are people who give you genuine, helpful criticism, even if you don’t want to hear it. Toughen up, princess.
***Thank you, Dara O’Brien.

Monday Challenge: Scouting The Path

Crows feeding

“What do you know? They taste like chicken. And Doritos.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the last blog post of the year. Tears me up a little, that does. Well, not literally, because I’m not a big crier*, but if I was, I would be. And if I hadn’t done really nice eye makeup that day. But if I was a crier, and if I hadn’t done something like this Smaug the Dragon-inspired makeup look**, then there definitely might be a slight chance of mistiness. Maybe.

It’s been a fun year. But it’s time to look down the road.

So that’s what this Monday Challenge is for, word wombats: thinking ahead. You’ve got a new year coming up. A whole year in which to write.*** That’s three hundred and sixty five fucking days during which you can be creating pocket universes and spinning beauty and terror out of the void.

What are you going to do with that year?

Monday Challenge: come up with something you want to create this year and then write that the fuck down. On a notepad, on a whiteboard, on your forearm or forehead. I don’t care where you write it, just write it. And then put it somewhere you can see it every day. Not to nag, but to remind. Because it’s a lot easier to forget about our goals when they’re not staring us in the face every fucking second like carrion birds wondering what your insides taste like.****

Plans of attack come later, along with everything else. For today, just think of what you want.

What is 2014 going to be the year of?

*Except, as established, during the first nine minutes of Up.
**The word ‘fierce’ was invented for this.
***And do other stuff, I suppose. If you have to. God.
****The pair of crows I keep seeing lately have this look.

Cyborgs, Soldiers, And Gunslingers: A Year In The Word Mines

amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...

This is what it’s going to look like when I go back to the gym tomorrow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year, I always find myself doing a little thinking. Maybe it’s the scrolling down of the Gregorian calendar. Maybe it’s because I’m stranded on the couch like a beached whale until that last holiday meal digests.* Whatever the reason, this is the time of year for taking stock.

Those of you who are long-term readers probably remember my goal for this year: thirteen rejection letters. Well, that goal was accomplished, just barely. There was also an acceptance in there, so bonus.

Writing-wise, this was a fucking busy year**. I started rewriting a novel, cranked out a half a dozen new short stories, laid down the foundations for another novel, and posted three days a week here. Blogging alone, that works out to….*does quick math*…around 80,000 new words. Plus maybe another 25,000 words of short stories. And another 50,000 from the Sandbox and World-Building files. I have no idea how much is new on the novel because that’s the nature of rewrites: too much cutting and backfilling and general re-jiggering. But, however you slice it, this was a productive year.

Now the question becomes: what next?

Honestly? I’m not sure. This year—the year of the short story—was fun. Gave me a chance to try some new ideas and new places, at least one of which is on its way to developing into a full-blown world. But, at the same time, my energy felt scattered. I was jumping from project to project, one step ahead of the deadlines, and every story was different. Cyborg magic. Military horror. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Alternate world fantasy. Storybook horror. I ran the fucking genre mash-up gauntlet this year, and came up with some really interesting stuff. But, because I was focusing on all those, my novel rewrite isn’t even close to bloody finished and I didn’t start the other novel that I was planning on writing.

So, here’s the question for 2014: focus on the novels exclusively, or try to do both again***?

I’m going to mull this over while eating my way through the rest of the Christmas candy between now and New Year’s. In the meantime, keep me in the loop, word monkeys: how do you feel about your writing year in review, and what are your plans for 2014?

*Fasting sounds like a better and better idea this time of year.

**You know, for me. For some of you this output might be slack; for others it might seem unattainable. Your mileage may vary.

***Better this time, obviously.