2015 Lessons Learned

It seems to becoming a pattern on this blog that whatever I say I’m going to write about in the previous entry, I invariably don’t. So, not wishing to break with the established pattern, I’m not going to write about my 2016 goals as previously promised.

Instead, as the post title suggests, I’m going to catalog the lessons I learned from 2015. As I sat down to brainstorm what my 2016 targets should be, I naturally started thinking about previous years targets and how they’ve built upon the lessons I’ve learned from previous years. It was then a natural exercise to think over the lessons learned in 2015 (rather than just the accomplishments) and record them.

Lessons learned:

  1. I can write novels—plural. Corollary: I’m a novelist.
  2. Don’t work on two novels at once.
  3. Changed opinion on tracking word counts as a measure of progress (I like it now).
  4. Don’t rush the publishing process.

Lesson 1. I wrote a bit last time about how I had never written a full-length novel before 2015. So proving to myself that I could in fact not only write one novel, but almost three in a year, was a confidence booster. One things that I figured out in the middle of writing my first novel in 2015, was that I’m a novelist. Novels are my natural length. I have a very distinct memory of a writing session where I had this thought: this is so much easier than I was prepared for. It’s easier for me to write novels than short stories, novelettes, or novellas (takes longer, but easier). In retrospect, this should have been obvious. My entire reading life (except for Sherlock Holmes) has been reading novels. I’ve been training my subconscious for this since I was eleven. Pacing, character development, plot, all so much easier when I have room in a novel to breathe.

Lesson 2. When I set my targets in 2015, I made a schedule. I like schedules—a lot. I should not, however, be a slave to them. The first novel of the year ran long and I ran over my schedule. So instead of buckling down and finishing that project, I started the second novel and tried to timeshare. This did not go well. Not only were my attentions divided, but what progress I was making was lost in the feeling that I wasn’t making any progress on either project. Which led to undue stress. I should’ve just finished the first project up before starting the second. I lesson I intend to never forget.

Lesson 3. Back in 2013 I wrote about how I do not like tracking word counts as a measure of a progress. I think that opinion at that point of time was informed by writing mostly short stories and not having a great method for tracking word counts. 2015 was the first year I used the awesome spreadsheet titled 2015 Tool for Writers by Christie Yant (as of this post 2016 wasn’t available yet). It was also the first year I wrote a novel. When the target length of a manuscript is 80k words spread writing over several months, tracking word counts let’s you know your progress, let’s you feel like you’re making progress, and let’s you keep an eye on fast the novel is writing and project forward to a potential completion date. I’m now a fan.

Lesson 4: I originally planned on publishing the first novel in the Underwater Restorations Universe in December of 2015, having only just finished it in September. Two months is not enough time. All things didn’t come into focus and it was causing way more stress than it was worth. I started writing as a stress reliever, so the fact that it was causing me that much stress was a red flag. When that realization hit, I delayed publication for almost 10 months until October 2016. Which seems like a lengthy delay, but the extra time lets me get everything lined up properly with a minimum level of stress. So, I’m pretty happy about the delay actually.

Those are the lessons learned in 2015. With that in mind I refine my 2016 targets and share those next time (maybe).

2015 Recap

So I intentionally waited until after Dec. 31, 2015 to write the 2015 wrap up blog post. It was coming down to the wire and I wanted to give every extra moment to writing to try and hit my 2015 targets. My 2015 goals are detailed here, but to recap, 2015 was declared to be the year of the series for me.

The 2015 targets were to write only in series, and to write 3 novels. I’m really excited to say that I am came very close to hitting both targets. I had one workshop in April that made it impossible to not write in a series, but other than that, the first objective was met.

As for 3 novels–I just have to go into some details because of how awesome nearly hitting this target was. Before 2015 the most words I had written in a year was a ~100k, and all of that spread over short stories, novelettes and novellas. The longest piece I had written came out to about ~33k. A novel by definition is 60k+. I knew the novels I wanted to write and thought they would come out to be about 80k, 60k, and 80k again, for about 220k on the year, more than twice my previous yearly word count. It felt a little crazy to set those targets, and set the goal of writing not your first full-length novel in a year, but three.

I can proudly write: I wrote 2.95 novels. Pretty dang close. I should need only another week or two to finish up that third novel. The first novel came in at 109k and took me two months longer than I anticipated (mostly because the beefed up word count). I went right into writing novel number two and thought I could finish (and publish it) before the end of the year. I finished it in September and there was a push to try and publish one of those novels by December. But ultimately I decided to wait on that rather than rush it. Then NaNoWrimo hit.

Thanks to NaNoWrimo, I started novel number three a few days before Nov. 1, and of last night, I have over 60k in the manuscript (and two-thirds already edited). I think another 2-4k should wrap it up. Since I wasn’t sure this third novel was even going to happen, I’m super pleased to almost be done with it. Feels like a bonus.

2015 stats: 250,626 words written, 4 short stories completed, 2 novels completed, 1 novel 95% done, self-published 3 titles, 1 short story published in a short fiction market. Not too shabby.

2015 was a fantastic year for other reasons that I’m recording here for posterity:
1. Second child born! I was prepared for a nose-dive in productivity, but she’s such a sweetheart it never happened.
2. In-laws moved to town (see 1.). They are an amazing help, that make a lot things possible that wouldn’t otherwise be.
3. I lost 30 lbs. I feel a lot healthier and a large part of my wardrobe is opened back up to me (cheaper than buying new clothes). This wasn’t a goal at the start of the year, but kinda snuck in halfway through the year.
4. I won an award at the day job. I’ve never won anything before, so I’m still pretty stoked about this.
5. I got to spend an amazing two week vacation in England. It’s already influenced my writing. I love traveling for this reason.

2015 was my best year yet for all these reasons. I’m excited to see what happens in 2016. Next blog post, I’ll write about my 2016 targets (once I flush them out in more detail).

 

 

NaNoWrimo 2015 Done

Well, it’s now December. Which means Christmas music is unavoidable on the radio, non-stop advertisements are assaulting us, and NaNoWrimo is over. There are a lot of exhausted writers out there, and many, many manuscripts in need of some editing.

Including mine.

I set a new personal best of 40k words for the month. It was looking a little dicey toward the end of the month with Thanksgiving and all, but fortunately I went over the nice round number of 40k. I actually liked the energy of the month and the non-guilt associated with trying to write a lot (everybody’s doing it!) that I’m going to aim to do this twice a year. Once in May and then again in November–I am extraordinary lucky to have a supportive wife and in-laws that help immensely to make this possible.

I’m two-thirds of the way through the second book in the Underwater Restorations series and plan to wrap it up this month. This would mean I wrote a full novel in two months, which would be awesome. Day job is a bit crazy for the next week, but I still think once that settles down I can finish this book up. While the day job is crazy, I’m going through and editing what I’ve already written and I’m struck by two things. One, I forget a lot of words like “a” and “the” and screw up homonyms a lot. But two, damn this a fun story. Isa and Puo crack me up.

I’m going to get back to reading. Next week will be the last blog post of 2015 and I’ll do a wrap-up of the year before rolling out next year’s targets. I’m already excited to write the wrap-up post, I was thinking about it the other day and in a lot of ways 2015 was an amazing year for me. More on that next time!

Nanowrimo Continues!

I wrote last time about how I’m (kinda, sorta) participating in nanowrimo this month for the first time. I got off to a great start and set a new personal best week the first week with 13.7k words. But I didn’t expect to keep up that pace, as that week was a bit of anomaly as my parents came for a visit and sucked up my kids for lots of Grandma/Grandpa time that left me with extra time to write.

The following two weeks were more normal weeks for me and as of this post I’ve written 31k in November. My previous best month was 34k, so it seems likely another personal best is likely to fall in the next few days. Of course, we’re now transitioning to the holiday portion of November, so I expect my word counts to drop as I get out of my regular routines and family actually wishes to spend some time with me. But I’m pretty sure I can top 34k.

My new target for the month is between 35-37k. A high-bar target would be 40k. I really would like to get to the transition to the third act in my current novel before December. December is shaping up to be a demanding month that will eat into my word count, so the more words I can fit in this month, the better shape I’ll be in December with the potential of finishing this novel–which would be fantastic.

We’ll see how it goes. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving everyone! *Dives back into writing*

My First NaNoWrimo

Well, last time I wrote that I’d roll out one of those unused covers, and as you can plainly see, there’s no cover posted. That’s because between now and the time of the last blog post something unexpected happened: NaNoWrimo!

I wrote a bit last time about delaying publication of the first Underwater Restorations novel, and while at first disappointing, opened up some interesting opportunities. One of those opportunities was a sudden gap in my writing schedule that I was trying to decide how to fill. I have since decided to write the second book in the Underwater Restorations series, and then noticed NaNoWrimo was coming up and decided to harness the collective writerly energy to try and get a jump on the novel.

I’ve been writing for about five years, but have never before participated in NaNoWrimo. It’s never appealed to me to try and force out 50k words in 30 days, not to mention November is a terrible month for it with Thanksgiving and family and what not. And technically, I’m not doing it this year since I’m not trying to get out 50k.

I had tweeted that my low, middle, and high bar targets were 10k, 15k, and 20k. And in the first six days I wrote ~12k. A new personal best ( non-workshop) week for me, and the week isn’t over. So it looks like middle bar target will fall soon and the high bar target looks achievable. When I pass the high bar target, I’ll reassess then on what the targets should be.

I’m not going to project forward at this point and say, oh look, 12k in one week that puts me on target for 50k. This isn’t my first novel. The openings and endings always write fast for me. The middles are always freaking slogs (and I just transitioned to the middle on this novel)—particularly when pantsing a novel, which all Underwater Restorations stories are. The only way to get through slogs is discipline in sitting down and working, which sounds a lot like NaNoWrimo, but it isn’t.

NaNoWrimo is about hitting 50k words, good words, bad words, doesn’t matter. It’s about quantity in the pursuit of crushing the critical voice and letting your subconscious freely write (something I’m fortunate enough not to usually suffer from). The discipline of slugging through the middle (at least for me) is dragging my butt to the keyboard and forcing myself to write prose, or edit previous chapters to better understand the story, or structuring what I’ve already written to gain insight. Some of those sessions in the middle may have negative word counts as I back up and prune things out! My personality is such that if I set a 50k word goal, I will stress out about staying on track—which kinda sucks the intended fun out of the thing.

But I can harness all the extra energy of other writers forcing themselves to the keyboards to get to 50k. So, I’m doing my first NaNoWrimo—kinda.

Writing in two series

I had identified some time ago that readers like to read novels and read novels in series (duh). This should have been painfully obviously upon a second’s reflection, but I had been too busy trying to write ALL the things that it had never popped into my mind as I was happily writing away into strange new worlds and meeting new characters. Once I got serious about this writing thing and started to make some money, I wisely evaluated my business and plan and found it wanting. So, as I have written before, I shifted to only writing novels in series.

Now of course, I couldn’t have simply written one series. No, that would’ve made too much sense. Instead I started writing in two series. Present-day-Jeffrey grumbles and shakes his fist at overly-ambitious-past Jeffrey. I have since written two full length novels, the first one in each series and have yet to release either (bah-hum-bug). I had hoped the first  novel in the Underwater Restorations series would be released this winter, but alas, no. I couldn’t get ALL the stuff lined up in time and it was causing me far more stress than it was worth. It’s both a blessing and curse to be you’re own boss. I’m now thinking the first novel in the Underwater Restorations series will be released in the fall of 2016–so it goes.

The extended timeline, while at first disappointing, offers some interesting opportunities as well–if I were only writing in one series. Which I’m not (*gives past-Jeffrey a dirty look*). I haven’t decided entirely yet what I’m going to do. I’m currently polishing the first novel in the steampunk universe, and I’m leaning toward putting that series on the back-burner while I try and write more in the Underwater Restorations series for a winter and spring release on the heels of the fall release. But … but, I love the steampunk universe. I really dig the character relationships and conflicts. The steampunk books are just huge, epic things that take much longer to write than the fun, fast Underwater Restorations stories. About the only thing I have decided is that we need a thirty-six hour day.

Next time I’ll roll out one of those unused covers I have laying around, and will be hopefully closer to a decision about where to write next.

A Favorite Writing Memory

I have had the good fortune to have a writing career blessed with some very good memories. I’m going to differentiate here between the act of writing versus the business of publishing. The act of writing is creating the manuscript, a quiet, solo endeavor. The business of publishing is trying to then turn that manuscript into something profitable and is a very different kind of challenge which can be stressful at times. But for this post when I refer to “writing” I mean the former creative process.

I discovered when writing that first ill-fated novella that writing is therapeutic for me, calming, stress-reducing. If I start to go too long (on the order of days) without participating in the creative process I start to get a little wound up. Which is why when I go on vacation my laptop comes with me and I look forward to writing in a new setting. And if I can’t bring the laptop (or don’t want to carry the extra weight) I bring my paper notebook with me and hand-write. This is how, before my latest trip, I had happened upon my favorite writing memory: hand-writing on a manuscript of The Bear that Painted the Stars in a cigar-bar in the heart of Athens, Greece. But it’s now my second favorite writing memory.

I focused on short fiction in the first few years of writing, writing something like thirty plus short stories, novelettes and novellas. But as I wrote before, people aren’t interested in reading individual pieces of short fiction off of Amazon. People want novels; they want novels in series. So that’s what altered my writing plan to deliver (a business decision by the way). The plan called for writing novels in two series. The first series is an epic (tentatively five-book arc) steampunk series that I want to finish in near entirety before starting to release. The second series are stand-alone episodic novels (similar series structure to the Dresden Files) in the Underwater Restorations universe. So while I finished the first novel in the steampunk series this past spring, it wont be released until 2017 likely (sigh). However, since the Underwater Restorations novels are episodic and meant to be stand-alone, I plan on releasing them as soon as they’re done (about one a year for the foreseeable future).

This is where my now favorite writing memory comes in. My wife had a conference in Bath, England and we decided to make a vacation of it the week beforehand. But during the conference in Bath, I was left to my own devices. So naturally (after sight-seeing) I found a pub and promptly started writing. I was working on the first Underwater Restorations novel at the time and I finally got to write those two words writers have a bittersweet relationship with, “The End.”

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Of course, it isn’t really the end for Isa and her crew. Really, it’s just the beginning. Which is why it’s such a great memory. I’m really (really!) excited to share their first full-length novel adventure. But now that writing is finished, queue all that pesky publishing business stuff. The release date is tentatively set for December 2015 as I try to scramble around and line everything up. Hopefully, my next post will have a more definitive date and details. No matter what though, it was a fantastic memory, one I can’t wait to share the product of with you all.

A Well Deserved Break

Up until recently I hadn’t missed a scheduled blog post in two years, and now I’ve gone and missed two. But whereas, the first missed blog post referenced in the linked post was accidental, these past two were intentional (but perhaps I should have mentioned something before going dark—I’m in my thirties and still navigating proper social behavior). I missed the last two blog posts for the laudable purpose of travel (both personal and work).

First, I was on vacation to England for two weeks (omg!) and while I was over there I realized I hadn’t taken a day off of writing (doing something writing related, e.g. writing, editing, researching, blog posts, social media, etc.) in two plus years. Every. Day. So I took a proper vacation and didn’t work on anything unless I wanted to. I had such a wonderful time. It was such a blessing to be able to unplug from all work, and just relax with my spouse. Curiously enough, I found unplugging and traveling around London and seeing all the amazing sites and eating delicious food and drinking large frothy beers in old Victorian pubs recharged my creative juices quite a bit. Here are a couple favorite memories:

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The first is the outside of the Natural History Museum, which was a ton of fun to wander around in. The second is the Rosetta stone at the British Museum, which was full of stuff. We spent a whole day in there and still didn’t see everything. The third is me standing on the Prime Meridian at the National Observatory in Greenwich–which was just awesome. As a scientist that does a lot with latitude and longitudinal tracks, it was really neat to see where everything is tied to and learn about the quest to figure out longitude at sea. The last pic is of a cool Victorian pub near where we stayed (I love that kind of stuff!). After a busy week in London, we then went out to Thornbury, west of London and spent a relaxing weekend in a castle:

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When we first got to our room, we couldn’t find the bathroom! My wife almost had to go ask, turns out we had to twist the metal cross to open a secret passage–so, so awesome. The castle has been around since ~1500 and there are grounds to wander around in. It was a perfect weekend getaway.

But my travel didn’t end there. As soon as I got back, forty-eight hours later I had to turn around and fly up to the northeast for two weeks (ugh!) for work. But it wasn’t all bad. I ate a lot of lobster and had some nice scenic views for dinner (including some wildlife):

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And since I work at a pretty great place, and the flights back to Austin were so horrible for the weekend I was stuck in New England, work covered flying me to Charlotte to hang out with my parents and my sister and her family. It was a very peaceful weekend. I got to wake up each morning, grab a hot cup of coffee and sit here and write every morning with this view:

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So I had a nice well deserved break. But I’m back at it again and very excited about the notebook full of ideas I came back with. Next time, I’ll share what my favorite writing memory is to date which happened on my travels in England (I know I said I didn’t work on vacation and I still stand by that–I’ll explain next time).

Unused Cover 1

Last time I wrote about how I’m shifting away from releasing a new story every other month and focusing on writing novels. One by-product of this decision is I have a number of covers I’ve designed, but don’t get to use. So for the first one, I thought I’d share the cover I would have used for Venus Snow (currently published in Plasma Frequency’s Anti-Apocalypse Issue).

Venus Snow Cover 300 dpi High

Nothing fancy on this one except fading the  yellow to white on “Snow.” Still I like it. It’s a hard sci-fi story and it was hard to find something that conveyed the brutal nature of Venus. Most pictures of Venus were of either the planet far away or some variation on the goddess Venus.

If you want a teaser, I also have the back cover copy for this one:

Nothing survives Venus’s hellish climate for long, not even dreams. When an unexpected radiation storm wipes away years of planning, Captain Andrea Lewis must temper her hopes as she takes shelter. Every passing hour Venus’s brutal climate subsumes the equipment necessary to answer the question that drives her: What is Venus Snow?

Theories abound. Facts are scarce. And now the clock is ticking.