Dec
31

Regardless of what the rest of the world is thinking about as 2009 slips into 2010, writer goals never seem to change. Your neighbor wants to lose weight, your cousin is determined to get out of debt, your friend will get married if it kills her. But writers? While there are many variations, most of our resolutions come down to one thing: selling. Selling a short story, selling a novel, selling an essay, an article, a memoir, a poem. I have had selling a novel on my New Year’s list for decades, even before I had written anything (hey, someone could just hear about my wonderfulness and back a truck of cash up to my house, right? Any day now.) But I’ve learned a lot in the last 14 months, some of which I’ve managed to put into use. Some I’m still working on.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned (Thanks, Kris and Dean!) is the difference between what I want and what I can control. I still want to sell a novel. But that’s not my goal, because I can’t entirely control that. What I can control is 1) how much I write, 2) the quality of that writing, and 3) how much and how often I submit for publication. The actual selling? That’s up to the folks with the checks. In the final analysis, only editors control whether or not I sell a piece.

1)      How much I write: 16 months ago, I swore I couldn’t write more than 500 words a day because I hadn’t. I even had doubts I could do that, considering how long it had been since I had. But a two-week workshop blew that belief out of the water. At the beginning of 2009 I wrote a novel – Beach Bitches. I wrote at least 1,000 words a day every day until it was done (around three months). So now I know I can do that. And it wasn’t even hard. It usually took only around an hour each day (night, in my case). I never missed a day, no matter how complicated or dramatic life got. No matter if I was sick or my son was home or my husband was out of town or I had a tight deadline with the paying work. Sometimes I didn’t start my 1,000 words until midnight or 1 a.m. Most days I had no idea what I was going to write, where my story was going to go. As soon as I decided there would be no acceptable excuses for not doing my 1,000 words, the writing came easily.

2)      The quality of my writing: I’ve learned that I can’t judge the quality of my own work. Sometimes, what I think sucks sells. Sometimes, what I think is wonderful doesn’t. But I still work on the quality – not on the level of rewriting and rewriting and rewriting one story, but on the level of constantly trying to learn more as a writer. I read more carefully, I research and take workshops about things I know give me trouble, and I practice those elements. For example, I knew plot was a weak point for me, so I wrote a mystery novel. Now I will try to sell that practice.

3)      How much and how often I submit: This is my weakness. I know no one can buy my work if they don’t see it. I know I can’t judge my own work, but I still find myself hesitant to send out certain stories. I have a great, well-organized submission routine. But I don’t do it. I’m not sure why yet, but I suspect it’s a fear of success sort of thing combined with the fear that once I commit something to the mail I’ve lost any hope of bridging that awful space between the story in my mind and the story on the page.

So, in light of these three realities, these are my goals for 2010. They are modest, I know.

  1. Fix all the holes in Beach Bitches. Things like making that one secondary character a girl all the way through (right now, she’s a boy in the first half of the book), giving characters names that don’t all rhyme or start with the same letter, taking out one of the two nearly identical characters, and having the clues come from the characters rather than out of the blue or through newspapers or police.
  2. Practice information flow by writing a book with a complicated flow. I started this book, but it fell apart down under the weight of my inability. So now I will start over in a new way with what I’ve learned from that version. This “practice” means writing at least 1,000 words per day. Then I have an oldish draft of a book whose scenes I like very much like but which never gelled into a book. With what I’ve learned in the last year, I’m ready to take a new run at it –primarily just cutting about 2/3 or it. Both these books will be finished and submitted by this time next year. I will also continue to learn about the industry and stay abreast of its changes, challenges and opportunities.
  3. How much and how often I submit: I will focus on the why of my not submitting and then submit anyway. I’m thinking three stories (or proposals) a week is good for now, as I run the learning curve of compiling a list of where to submit. Once the finding of markets becomes less complicated and the submission of three stories becomes a habit, my psyche is out of the game. At that point, I can increase the amount I submit each week. I’d like to be up to 10 a week by the end of 2010.

And since I absolutely need someone to report to in order to keep myself from cheating, I will continue to use the gracious support of the infamous Des. We make goals every week and she checks in to see if we met our goals or not. If we do, we cheer. If we don’t we discuss what happened and then reboot for the next week.

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9 Responses
  1. This may strike you as a strange comparison but I feel like I’ve walked into a 12 step meeting and the leader has handed me the book of Alcoholics Anonymous and told me to substitute “Art” for “Literature”. Such similar struggles and disappointments.

    In many ways I feel most comfortable in your space because so much of what I read, although a storyline is present I find a lack of insight. For me they’re is a difference.

    here
    “the fear that once I commit something to the mail I’ve lost any hope of bridging that awful space between the story in my mind and the story on the page”

    here
    ” I started this book, but it fell apart down under the weight of my inability. “

    • Cindie says:

      I’m really intrigued by the comparison to 12 step programs but I think I’m just missing the point (though I know I am powerless over my art). Would you mind expanding a bit?

    • Maybe it’s a stretch but in the plethora of 12 step programs, most work from the original text referred to as the big /blue/book of AA. You probably know this already but maybe not. Substituting nicotine for alcohol or as in this case “Art” for “Literature”. Process wise, it’s the idea of similarity between fields when it comes to self promotion, fighting for an idea, processing criticism and not getting lost in the process. Spiritually it’s about coming to grips with disappointment and accepting what you can change and what you can’t etc.

      I did a small series of blog posts (in near real time) on the process of a Fire Station public art project I finished last October. It shows part of my process

      when you get a chance

      Don’t Jump

      Channeling Sekhmet

      Grand Unveiling

      • Cindie says:

        I definitely agree there are near endless similarities among the experiences of creative professionals! One of my favorite “writing” books is by Twyla Tharp. No, it’s not about writing. It’s about dance, but her advice about dance really connected with me even though I can’t dance a lick.

        I like your blog series here. Especially Don’t Jump. Oh, I’ve definitely been there! Have you seen this? It makes me laugh. A lot. http://www.27bslash6.com/p2p2.html

  2. Melissa says:

    I love this, as usual. Even your title (Beach Bitches) makes me look twice. Like you, I have to do major revamps, but I’m inspired by you. Three–>ten submissions a week. Great! I should probably set up a goal friend like you.

  3. Des says:

    Great timely post! Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Wolf says:

    Indeed!

    A really important point you brought up is how we we make the goals of things we can’t control. And really a lot of people do. I find that goals need to be set more like steps than goals. Like Step 1: Work out Step 2: Eat right. Step 3: Continue this.

    The term goal to me feels so dreamy that I doubt I’ll ever accomplish anything goal I give myself that is practical enough to become a task.

    So for this year I have given myself a goal that goes with the ideology of goals: My goal for 2010 is abundance. I am going to have a year in which I will strive not to let anything be meager. I am going to do everything I can for myself with as much verve as I can. I’m going to enjoy every last minute of it.

  5. Mikalee says:

    Personally, I’d read your book just for the character that changes gender half-way through. Sounds intriguing… 😉

    I admire your commitment, Cindie. Seems I need to take a big ol’ swig of the Kool-Aid and get committed myself. Thanks for the inspiration!

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Cindie Geddes

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