My writing year in review

As a grade-A pain-in-the-ass pessimist who uses far too many hyphens, I’m not great at celebrating accomplishments big or small.

I’m seeing all these writers on Twitter sharing lists of what they accomplished in 2018 and I’m thinking who gives a shit?

And, while I generally shun bandwagons—and anything else that tends to draw other humans—taking a moment to consider all that I’ve done and haven’t done over the last year, or any old time, is something the wife says I need to work on.

And I’m nothing if not Mr. Fucking Flexible.

Though I hadn’t really thought about it, 2018 has been quite a year for me professionally.

I began this past year by making a few resolutions—something I don’t normally do.


Words, words, words

One of the promises I made to myself was to increase my reading. And I did. I subscribed to ten or so literary magazines, bought about fifty books, borrowed a few more, read a couple digital novels, and as many articles on writing, publishing, and marketing as I could stomach.

Also on my list was to study the greats.

After some browsing, I found Professor Hungerford’s Yale Literature Course on YouTube and decided to watch them all and read the books that went with each video.

And I did.

Well, almost.

I read all but three of the books in her course … and I plan to get to those in the great eventually.


Good news

2018 was the year my newspaper Boyne City Gazette—which I co-founded in 2009—was listed as a finalist for Newspaper of the Year by the Michigan Press Association.

We took 2nd Place. Boo to that shit.

But, I suppose second is better than a stiff boot to the giblets. So, cheers!


Submissions, submissions submissions.

This was my second year of seriously submitting short stories, poetry, novels, and essays to literary magazines and agents.

With 34 total submissions as of 12/26/18, I more than doubled my efforts of 2017.

So far, I’ve received 18 rejections and zero acceptances. That means I still have 16 pieces in various stages of being read, about to be read, and/or clogging the pulsating slush pile of some poor editor’s already cramped office.


Small victories

I cried over my writing more times than I should probably admit to. I got mad a couple times, when I thought the rejection was simply not fair considering how hard I’d worked on the story. But, most of the times I didn’t make the cut, I just felt sad.

Don’t take it personally, they say. It just wasn’t right for our purposes, they say. Good luck in your future endeavors, they say.

The truth is, if my writing was so great, they wouldn’t have rejected it. And nothing makes me sadder than admitting hard truths about my own shortcomings. But, on to better things.

Though a fairly thankless season for this 43-and-three-quarters-years-old scribbler, there were two conspicuous bright spots.

  1. I was named a finalist for the 2018 Iowa Review Prize for Creative Nonfiction judged by Mr. Kiese Laymon. I did not win. That was heartbreaking. However, some reader or readers liked my essay enough to push me to the final round. And that, let me tell you, was an ego boost I dined out on for a good six months.
  2. I received my first personalized rejection letter from a literary magazine. Sure, they said the usual boilerplate about it not being a good fit for them. But, they also said they liked my writing, and my voice, and said I could party with them any time. They also said they’d like to read more of my work. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the phrase about a heart soaring, and never saw it as anything but a tired old idiom. But that’s exactly the sensation I had in my chest when I read their words.


Paperback Writer

Not so much a resolution nor even promise was my goal to write a book a year from here on out. I decided that back in 2016, when i was finishing a historical adventure novel I’d been working on for a few years.

In 2017, I wrote and completed a political thriller.

In 2018, I wrote my dear sweet supernatural thriller.

A lot of people ask and opine on the matter so I’ll give my two cents as well.

Yes, the writing has gotten easier the more books I’ve written … in a way. I am no longer afflicted with the paralyzing belief that I will run out of ideas or creativity. But, it’s still just as much work and I still, during the entire process, carry the panic-inducing specter that I will die or have a massive brain-killing stroke before I am able to finish the book.

To be fair, I only queried three or four agents in 2018, and maybe one or two in 2017.

So, I have to really kick that part of the craft in the ass if I should expect any responses.


My goals for 2019

In the coming year I have decided I will accomplish the following:

Write and submit at least 50 new short stories to literary magazines

Query 25 agents with a mix of my three finished novels

Finally write my “Tropic of Cancer” my “Hollywood” my “Naked Lunch” … my brash, offensive, thoughtful, disgusting, triumphant, nauseating, titillating book of all books!


One last thing

What I really want is to live in a Nora Ephron movie, pounding out stories for The Sun and Ploughshares on an old Royal typewriter with the window open so I can hear Manhattan from my second-floor brick apartment that’s just under Meg Ryan’s place—who is my BFF and future love interest—and telling the New Yorker to kiss my ass, I’m looking forward to another year on the outskirts of Lansing, Michigan, writing super-secret words which may only ever be read by overworked, underpaid magazine editors and interns unlucky enough to be on slush pile duty.

Some good tips here on making realistic writing goals for 2019: