New Year, new writer, new rules.
OK, so maybe that’s stretching it.
I’m still the same writer and so are you, unless you got bitten by a werewolf or you had that surgery John Travolta got in that one movie where he and Nicholas Cage played star-crossed lovers … or something.
But, that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the arbitrary by setting some new goals and guidelines for 2019.
Write what you want – The old adage is “Write what you know” but if we all wrote what we knew, there would be no War of the Worlds, no Hunger Games, no Shipping News, and certainly no Salem’s Lot. If you’re going to do the impossible, ridiculous, vain work of rubbing pencil on paper in coherent blocks of text, then you’d better damn well write what you like. And that’s exactly what I plan to do in 2019.
Fail better – I’m conscientious about my work but I’m no perfectionist. I think I have a pretty good handle on when something I’ve written is in good shape. But I do share that same fear of not being good enough that seems to be present in the mind of the so-called perfectionist. The fear of not being good enough doesn’t always stop me from writing but it has stopped me, quite often, from submitting my work to agents, magazines, etc.
In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that, if you run carefully enough, hitting each steppingstone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway.”
Be fearless – And that brings me to the next issue I’m going to work on in 2019—stop being afraid all the time. Julia Child said to be fearless. Though that’s a long way off from what I believe I could ever hope to accomplish, I would like to be less afraid.
If being brave is being scared shitless but forging ahead regardless, then I need to work on being braver.
- I need to write the wacky humor pieces and stop pulling them down from my website because I’m worried people will think they’re stupid.
- I need to share my opinions on matters and stop worrying that people won’t like what I have to say.
- I need to write about the bizarre, possibly controversial, and potentially humdrum ideas in my head without worrying I’ll bore or offend people.
- I need to stop being shy about my novels—which I hope are literary but secretly assume people won’t take seriously because I don’t have an MFA, I do come from white trash, and I’ve always been known as the loudmouth jester.
Make a plan – Ironically, even though I’ve managed to put out a weekly newspaper on time for 488 weeks running—even more if you count the editorship I held previously—dates and deadlines for my personal writing career scare the shit out of me.
I mean, I have an ironclad routine for my day job. But what ends up happening in my personal writing time is much less organized.
I write a short story when the urge hits me, and journal a bit here and there. Blogging happens when I have time and something I think needs saying. And, I decided three years ago that I would write one novel per year for the foreseeable future.
So far, I’ve stuck to that plan and have produced three completed novels. (I don’t count my first book as it was a practice novel.) However, my structure for writing the books is not so structured. Work gets done on them four days per week—as my newspaper job allows no more time than that. I write the first draft always in longhand (in pencil) one chapter at a time, and type those pages when I feel like it.
But, I never set a start and stop time on the novel, and I worry this is not conducive to my future success.
Stephen King says it should take no more than three months—a season, as he puts it—to write a book.
My average novel-writing time is about six months from first draft to a solid and clean manuscript which still needs several rounds of beta reads, revisions, proofreading and editing.
I’m OK with that but I need to be better about setting parameters on my writing projects.
Stick with the plan – Now that I’ve decided I need to make a plan, I need to figure out what that plan will be. Thing is, I can list goals and detail how I plan to get there all day long. But I’m afraid that in a short time I’ll either forget about them or ignore them outright.
But why? It’s not like I’ve never accomplished something I set out to do. I quit smoking back in 1998. I never dreamed I’d be able to stick with it. I wrote four whole books; three of which I am proud.
And, I said last year I would really push past my fear of rejection and submit short stories, poems, essays, and book proposals … and I did. I sent nearly 40 submissions altogether—34 of those to literary magazines and the rest to agents.
Ray Bradbury said if you write one short story per week for a year, there’s no way they’ll all be bad. So, that’s going to be one of my goals in 2019. I will write a short story every week.
I’m just going to have to have the faith—gah, I hate that word—that I care enough about my writing career to stick to my goals.
So far I’m off to a good start:
- I heavily revised a short story and submitted it to a literary magazine prize
- I’ve begun a short story that needs to be submitted by Jan. 10
- I wrote a query letter and literary synopsis on my newest novel that I hope to be sending to a literary agency this week
- And, I’ve been blogging regularly