Happy New Year, folks! I hope your 2014 was a good one – but let’s look forward to an even better year in 2015!
Last January, I made a blog post about my goals for 2014, and how I planned to achieve them. So, how did I fare? Well, the short answer is: not so great.
The upshot of last January’s post was that I hoped to average 500 words per day. This is just on fiction projects, no cheating by counting blog posts and such. A writer does a lot of things, but primarily we are producing a product. That’s what matters in the end. So, how much product did I generate? Good thing I tracked it all in a spreadsheet!
My ultimate year-end word count was a paltry 48,000 words – yes, it actually came out to exactly 48,000 words somehow. To put that into perspective, my novel Frostwalker is a little over 80,000 words. A respectable length for an average novel, but not a long one. With my stated goal being an average of 500 words per day, I finished the year by clocking in an average of 131 words per day. That’s far below target, but I was actually surprised to see it that high.
As for 2015, I think I’ll keep the same target in mind. It’s a good measurement to see how this coming year compares to the previous one. Also, I hope to be a little more active here on my blog. I’d like to do a post at least once a month. We’ll see how that goes, but the stories have to come first.
However, as I said in last year’s post, I prefer to look back on the previous year and think about what I did right. What did I accomplish? What did I learn? How did I grow as a writer?
As far as accomplishments, there were a couple. First, I managed to make more progress on A Man With A Gun. There are a few people who have previewed the parts that I have done and so far the response has been positive. The story is still coming along slowly, but that’s okay, as long as it’s still coming. I’d hate to get this far in and scrap it.
Aside from AMWAG, I’ve also worked on a side project that has been going pretty well. I’ve alluded to this project a few times and, while I can’t discuss it in detail, I’m happy with how it’s coming. If/when this project is released, it won’t be under my name, so for now it’s on the down-low. Further, another story idea has sprouted and may eventually become a full-fledged project of its own. Having multiple projects going isn’t something I generally prefer to do, but for a writer it’s a good way to keep things rolling. When you hit a brick wall with one project, you can switch off for a while and let your subconscious chew on the other for a bit.
Perhaps more important than what I’ve actually produced is what I’ve learned. Part of the challenge that we authors face as we try to transition to writing professionally rather than a hobby is working out our “system”. We have to figure out the way our muse likes to speak to us and fine tune our methods to make the most of it.
Last year, I mentioned that I believe I may be a morning writer. That still seems to be the case, so I’m trying to focus on making it easier to write as soon as I wake up. Granted, for myself, the “morning” is actually the afternoon for normal folks, due to my work schedules and personal rhythms. But, the point is that I work best shortly after waking up – especially if I can prevent myself from getting pulled off course by visiting Facebook first, or other silly distractions.
This past year has also brought lessons on what prevents me from writing. One major thing I learned was that my muse is a very sensitive and fickle beast. In order to be productive, I need to be able to focus, shut away the rest of the world, and let myself be fully immersed in the project. The biggest killer for me was stress.
Personally, I’ve not been the sort of guy who gets stressed out for a long time. Back in the 6th grade (oddly enough, around the same time I was discovering my enjoyment of reading and writing fiction) I reached a point in my life where I was being stretched to the breaking point. Stress was filling every hour of every day with misery and worry. I would make lists (long ones) of things that I worried about. School work, girls, and about a million other little things.
Finally, I decided to say “fuck it” and let it all go. Literally, my conscious recognition of this was that phrase, and it probably saved my life. It was a “paradigm shift” in the most accurate sense of the phrase. Suddenly, all that stress was lifted from my shoulders and I felt free for the first time in a long time.
This new philosophy wasn’t without its downsides, though. My grades began to drop off, and continued to suffer throughout my school years. Other things that many people worry about got “de-prioritized”, and that carried into my adult life in a lot of ways. However, I still believe that this change made life much better overall. I was able to focus on what mattered (the things that made me happy) and put the rest aside.
Unfortunately, being an adult (and a parent) means that there are simply some things that you can’t just push aside. Toward the middle of the year, we began to run into financial trouble. Nothing drastic at first, but stress began creeping in. Finally, near the end of summer, things reached a crisis point.
Something I’ve known about myself for some time is that, for me, stress often manifests itself as a sort of low-grade depression. Not something on a clinical level. Not “Capital D Depression”. Just a general malaise. No energy, no interest in doing those things that keep life interesting. A tendency to just want to curl up into a ball and sleep the world away. About the only thing I can rouse myself to do when I’m in such a rut is reading and playing video games. Both are a great way to hide out from the world. A way to escape those worries that you can’t do anything about for a little while.
When our situation became dire, my creativity completely dried up. At the lowest point, I didn’t even think about writing anymore – it was only another source of misery. With the spreadsheet I mentioned before, I created a chart showing my word counts for each day of the year. I can clearly see the trend as days where I wrote became more and more rare until the last half of the year is a desert of zero word count days. Things are improving a bit now, but it was a very lean time for us.
So, the lesson learned here is that stress is something I’ve got to manage. I’ve got to get out ahead of those things that are going to come back to bite me in the ass later on. Again, I’m not the sort to really stress out over much. I still maintain that “fuck it” philosophy where I can. But financial matters are one of the chinks in my armor. Perhaps an awareness that stress kills writing, and financial trouble generates most of my stress, will be something to help me stay motivated to better manage our finances and be a little more frugal, a little more diligent in business affairs, and a little happier in the long run.
Maybe I need something like the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, but for financial woes? I must not stress out. Stress is the word count killer. Stress is the little-death that brings on depression. I will control my stress. I will set it aside when I sit down to write and focus on my project. And when I’m done writing for the day, I will put it into perspective and remember that money isn’t the most important thing in life. Where the stress has gone there will be nothing…only my manuscript will remain.
HA! Sounds easier said than done. But what the hell? I’ve got a whole year ahead of me to figure it out!
Here’s to a better, more productive year for all of us!