Listening to Music While Writing

Hey, everybody. How’s it going?

A post today on a writing tweak I’ve started back up this year. As you know, I try to analyze my writing a little and figure out new tweaks that help me become more productive. At the beginning of this year, I said I would try writing with music again.  Well, I am and it’s going well.

 Headphones

Here’s the setup: I just go to the café, get my coffee. Sit down, plug in my laptop and put  on my headphones. Sometimes, I just cruise through my favorite tracks on YouTube, but usually I just dig into the tunes on my PC and press play.

The music does two things, blocks out noise and sets a mood. First, it blocks out the most distracting thing of all: ambient conversation. For a writer, there’s nothing worse than when two people  sit down next to you and start a quite conversation in a language you understand. My ear just latches onto the conversation and can’t let it go. You can forget the dialogue, the details, the prose running through your head! It’s all going to get garbled with bits of dialogue from the REAL humans sitting right next to you. I know it’s  completely NOT these people’s fault, it’s just a natural response. I can’t help it.

Music also sets a mood. So, if I’m writing something dark or brooding, I’ll queue up some Renaissance music (Tallis) or some slow, mellow Hip Hop (2 Chainz). If I’m writing something adventurous or fun, then something Pop (Grouplove, maybe) will do the trick.

So, why do this? Well, I would only do it if it:

  • a) Enhanced productivity (word count).
  • b) Improved quality (better prose).

I feel it does both. Of course, a) is easier to measure. And it does seem that my word counts are higher this year. Music somehow gives me focus or, more correctly, puts me in the (psychological) Zone and keeps me there better than writing without the headphones. And as far as b) goes, I do sense that the prose is better, improved. But that is very hard to judge. I have come to that conclusion simply because I have sneaked back to peak at my writing and I feel it’s solid. At any rate, at the end of this year, I’ll have a perspective on word count.

That’s about it. Something basic I wanted to report. Another tiny thing I do that I’ve noticed enhances productivity and prose. Something you can consider next time you sit down to write.

Until next time. Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

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The Craft: Theseus in the Labyrinth

The young king staggered back and stood alone in the darkness. The great beast’s chest heaved one last time and stopped forever. He wiped the bloody sword blade on the hem of his tunic and grabbed a torch from the wall. And in that moment, gazing down at his vanquished enemy, he realized that the real Minotaur, the real man killer of Crete, was not the beast itself, but the labyrinth. The beast that he must slay was not the dead creature on the ground, but the tons of mute rock and wall surrounding him.

Minotaur

The young king walked to the edge of the room, grabbed the rope he had laid on the stone floor, pulled it until it was taut and began to gather it up in his hand…


And cue: today’s hackneyed metaphor…I think writers, like Theseus, have to tread carefully in the labyrinths of their own works. Unless you take the requisite precautions, you run the danger of getting lost and tripped up by your own plot. And perishing deep in a labyrinth of your own making.

Unless you’re one of those lucky few (the “Pantsers”) who can sit down and write a whole work by just “seeing” where it starts, where it ends and some vague scene in the middle, you’re best plotting out your work. (I leave it to you to determine if you’re one of the Elect Pantsers). How do I know this? I’ve learned by bitter experience. I have forged ahead into the heart of labyrinth many times, slayed the beast and then thought…Wait! How the hell do I get out of here!!!??? But it was too late! I had written myself into a corner where only a lame contrivance or a Deus Ex Machina could get me out. And you don’t want to do that!

So…To avoid this situation I always bring a rope (metaphor continuing now!) with me on my writing expeditions. Something I can tug on, in case I get lost deep in the labyrinth. It’s what I call my outline (actually I call it my CSP + K outline). Now, my outline (like the U.S. constitution) is a living document. It’s not written in stone. I can modify at any time, given new developments in the story. And, VERY IMPORTANT POINT: I don’t have to follow what is says at all costs. If a character decides to do something different than I intended (as long as it’s in character), I let them do it! If a relationship between characters matures or develops in unexpected ways as I write—I let them do it. If a scene falls flat, I let it fall flat and think about axing it later. BUT BUT BUT…I always take a few minutes AFTER I’m done writing the scene to see how it affects the outline and where I intend the piece to go. And what I’ve discovered is that these “living changes” tend to have little or no effect on where the piece is headed.

So, along I go through the labyrinth I’m constructing with my outline to guide me…And around each turn and down each corridor I’m picking up the rope, seeing where it came from, and more importantly, where it’s headed. I can’t see too far ahead in the darkness though, so I drop the rope and walk a few more paces on. I pick up the rope again, look up and down the corridor. Yep. Everything looks good. I drop the rope. Walk on again. Pick it up again. No, this is a little off, there’s a turn coming up, so I need to tweak this…and this… and this. OK…Done. I drop the rope and move on…

Got it? The outline lets me see ahead a little and back a little. I use it as guide to where I want to drive the story. It’s not a strict guide—I have to let the characters live and breathe—they drive the action. But the outline lets me make sure the story doesn’t go completely off the rails.

One final note: an outline, paradoxically, is more necessary for a short story than a long piece. I know that sounds crazy! And I do use outlines for both. BUT, a short story is so dense, so quick. You have to know where you’re headed in the first 100 words. You have to bake the plot, character and setting into those first 100. There’s no time to waste! So you need to know where you’re going right out of the gate. I notice that now, when I write a short story, I move quickly from scribbled-down idea to outline to a first draft.  So, if you’re trying to write short stories—don’t skip the outline!

At least, that’s what has worked for me. I’m not saying it will work for you, but still something to consider as you get ready to write or pre-write your next piece.

Good luck and until next time.

Keep reading, keep writing!

,Darius


Apparently, in one variation of the labyrinth myth, Theseus does not even have his sword. He only has his rope/twine. He strangles the beast (though whether he uses the rope/twine to do so is unclear). A very interesting variation of the story!

A Good Writing Day

I’ll make this one simple and quick. I just want to recount a good writing day I had recently because they can be hard to come by and I want to hold onto it, in case I need it later.

It’s easy to recount because I can break it down in three, easy pieces…

img

Not Checking My Email
One of the big rules I have for my Writing Day is ‘Not Checking the Email in the Morning.’ Why is that? It’s simple: I don’t want to have a possible literary rejection hanging over my head.

Now, I know it’s good to be tough and let the rejections flow by, water off a duck’s back and all that. And I’m getting better at it, I swear! And it’s true that the first rejection (of a career or a piece) hurts the most. But after the second, third or fourth it doesn’t hurt nearly as bad.

But still, they can sting. And having the Mojo of a rejection hanging over your head is not the frame of mind I want to be in when I sit down to write for the day. So, checking the email can wait until after writing is done.

So, my Writing Day began by not doing something: I didn’t check my email. So, the things you don’t do can also be important. 

Writing It Out
So, when I got to the café, I got my (English Breakfast) tea, warmed up by brain with some light reading, and settled down to write, like normal.

Only thing is, I ran into trouble right away. Like a frickin’ ambush. It was a chapter I had written last week and I wasn’t satisfied with it. At all. So, I went back, started the chapter from scratch (without deleting the old stuff!). I wrote and wrote and it came out staler than the old stuff…

So…I went back to the old chapter, reworked it, expanded on it a bit and tacked on a new ending. And that was the solution. Not great, but a better solution. Then, I had a little break and got ready for the next chapter.

It was going to be a big, meaty important chapter, so I knew I had to bring my A-game. I got another tea and started grooving to my tunes (headphones on, Word up on the screen). And I…ah…just dove in.

And it just came, it just poured out and kept going and then, when I got to a good break, I just went to the bathroom and—Bam!—Sat right down again and banged out the rest of the chapter. The whole time grooving to some Post Malone which captured that Gothic, grim and glorious mood of the chapter just perfectly…And then…

It was over. And I thought, “Man! That was it! Just what I wanted to say….That was a good…a  great…Writing Day.”

And I saved it all and powered down my PC.

The Best Rejection Letter Ever
And then I was going to leave the café, but first I decided to check my email. Just to see. And sure enough, there was an email waiting in my Inbox. And it was a letter from an editor, about something I had written. And it turns out, it was Rejection letter.

But then, I read the whole thing. And then I read it again and again. Here’s (in part) what it said:

…This is one of the most delightfully written, interesting pieces I’ve read this year. Your writing shines and your research is fascinating. Alas, I’m going to have to send it back to you…It reads now as brilliant historical fiction, ​​but it’s just not for this publication at this time. 

I sincerely hope I will see more of your fiction in the future. Do keep us in mind for your work.

All the best,

XXXXX

That almost knocked me off my chair. And it made my day. And then I thought to myself, “Well, all in all…This is one of the best Writing Days you’ve ever had. If not the best.”

And it was and it is. It comes after having another story serially rejected and not having much interest in this current story I’m shopping around. So, I really needed this shot in the arm. And then inviting to send more stuff in the future was just the cherry on top. The letter gave me faith in this piece and faith that I’m on the right track with my other pieces.

(So, note to the Very-Busy Editors out there: If you do see something that you really like, but doesn’t quite make the cut, sometimes a personal note can be a big boost for us writers! Thank you! And thank you for taking the time review our stuff!) 

Because sometimes that’s all a writer needs to keep going and keep writing another day.

Here’s hoping even better Writing Days lie ahead…For everyone.

Until next time,

Darius 

The Craft: What I Learned about Writing from “Mike Tyson’s Punchout!”

Here’s a funny little realization I had on the connection between a classic Nintendo game  and my writing.

In the olden times, when we weren’t fighting off the dinosaurs or gathering brush to feed the fires in our caves, every spare moment we had not fighting off said-dinosaurs or gathering said-kindling, was spent hunched around the fire, or better yet the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. (Most caves, oddly, had electricity!). And one of the most popular games on the NES was “Mike Tyson’s Punchout!

Baldbull

Now, my younger self had pretty good reflexes. But still, it was hard, (hard!) to beat the tougher and tougher opponents you faced in the game. Sure, Glass Joe was easy. Then you work your way up to Don Flamenco, King Hippo and finally—the main event—Mike Tyson himself. Tyson seemed IMPOSSIBLE to beat at first. But luckily, you had your coach, the trusty Doc Louis, who between rounds would give you valuable boxing advice. And his most golden advice of all?

“Stick and move. Stick and move.”

In the context of game play this meant “sticking” or punching your opponent quickly once or twice and then “moving” to the side to dodge the counterattack. And it worked. You could almost count it out: “Strike One. Strike Two. Dodge. Strike One. Two. Dodge. Strike One. Two. Dodge.” And using that strategy you could even take down Iron Mike.

So what in the hell does this have to do with writing?

Good question. Well, after a recent writing session I got to thinking…Cause that’s what writers do to cool down from a writing session (sure!). I thought and thought and I realized that, at its best, that’s exactly what I want my writing to do.

“Stick and move. Stick and move.”

In this metaphor, the writer is the human-player/boxer and the reader is the opposing (computer) boxer. And what I’m trying to do is “stick” the reader with…let’s say…some detail for the setting (Bam!). And then some swift character development (Bam!). Then, I “move.” I move along the plot, an action occurs and the narrative goes forward. Then, back on the attack. I “stick” the reader with a little insight into a character’s motivation (maybe they slip up and utter something they didn’t mean to). Bam! Then, I stick again (maybe the other character asks them if they’re serious or only joking). And then it’s time to move the plot forward again (Maybe a rider appears on the horizon, but neither of them know who it is).

  “Stick and move. Stick and move.”

So, I’m constantly “sticking” the reader with little nibbles of setting, character development/backstory or world building. And then “moving” on by propelling the plot forward.

It might sound funny and it kind of is. But let me tell you there’s more than one writing session I’ve ended recently softly mumbling to myself:

    “Stick and move. Stick and move.”

…while the people around me in the café turn up the volume on their headphones, look away into space, or gather their children closer.

“Honey, stay away from the strange Writing Man.”

Anyway, all for now. See you next time!

,Darius

Here’s to Crappy First Drafts

Funny thing happened this past week. My buddy, D—, finished the first draft of his novella.

Now, what’s funny about this is that it’s been awhile since D— wrote something, well, anything really. So, I was happy to hear a while back that he was writing again. I’d like to think that I helped to fire him up, motivate him and get him writing again.

Back in the day (I won’t specify which one), D— and I used to hang out a lot, talk about writing…And then write stuff and share it with one another. Well, it’s been some time since then. And we both took a break from writing fiction for awhile.

fitzgerald-and-hemingway

Then, I started writing stuff again. Finished some stuff. Put it on Amazon Kindle. I wrote more stuff, started this blog and started sending stuff to magazines. All the while I kept  D—in the loop.

We talked about my projects, what I was doing and at some point D— started talking about writing again. And then he carved out some time and started producing words. And then he started hitting massive daily word counts—up to 5,000, which is more than I think I’ve ever done.

And now he’s got a first draft of a novella. Bam! And he’s started editing it. I’m really proud of him and it makes me really happy to know he’s writing again. And I like to think my writing motivated him to take up his pen again.

I do know that his continuing to write has fired me up. Last week, on my “designated writing day” I thought, “Man, I really gotta nail it today.” And I produced over 2,000 words which is a good, strong writing day for me. It makes me smile to know D—is out there, writing somewhere.

I know like all writers, he’s concerned that it’s a “shitty first draft.” But all first drafts are varying degrees of shit. Every great novel you’ve ever read started out as shitty first draft…And then became a better second draft, and a still better third, until they’re finally out there in the world…That masterpiece that reads, sounds and looks deceptively easy to craft.

So, there it is. The story of D— and me and writing. I hope, wherever you are in the writing process, this little story fires YOU up. Keeps you working on a project you’re having trouble with. Gets you to soldier on through your first draft or editing your fourth draft or even proofing the thing or sending out queries to editors. Just remember—everything ever written started out as a shitty first draft. So, keep that chin up and keep going!

,Darius

A Crazy Week—In Real Life

Hey Guys,

I was intending to write a good, substantive post this week, but life has conspired to intervene. Work is crazy, life is hectic…But writing is good, that part…is pretty darn good.

Crazy

So, anyway, everything is pretty unsettled. So instead of writing a proper post when—frankly—I don’t feel like it, I’m going to make this an ultra-short post.

One short note: I am working on revising a short story at an editor’s request, so that is a bit of good news. But of course, that also eats into blog time. Anyway, more on that next time and more on other writing insights.

Alright, gotta run. See you next time,

Darius

The Writer in the Next Cubicle

I don’t know who you are, or where you’re from, but I know why you come here. Or at least, I think I know why you come here…

Cube Life

You’re probably another writer out there somewhere, maybe stuck in some situation you don’t want to be stuck in. Maybe you work in a bookstore and you’re dreaming of actually having something you write make it onto the shelves someday. Maybe you’re writing for a small website or a PR firm—but you wish you could put your skills to better use. Maybe you’re a teacher or a nurse and you’re thinking about writing on those precious days off. Maybe you’re between jobs and you’re hanging out at a diner journaling and thinking of starting to write some stories. Maybe it’s something else. I get it. So, today’s post, just maybe, will give you a little hope and a pocketful of courage to start writing more seriously—or to keep going. I certainly hope so.

So, here’s the thing you may not know about me: like many of you, I have a day job. That’s right. A regular 40-hours-a-week (up to 50-hours-a-week) gig that pays the bills. I work in an office with a bunch of other people who are generally quiet nice. I wake up, commute in, fire up the PC and get to work, grab lunch, work some more and then head home. And I do it five days a week, Monday through Friday, just like any other working Schlub.

But I also have a little extra thing going. I write fiction on the weekends. And I’ve had some moderate success. I have had a few stories published here and there. And I keep writing, faithfully, every weekend. Creating more words and more stories. I can’t imagine giving it up now.

So, I wrote this post just because I want you to know I’m out there somewhere. That’s all. I’m out there. I might be in an office half way around the world from you. I might be in a nearby town or down the block from where you work. Or I might even be that guy just over the cubicle wall. That kind of quiet, but funny co-worker. (I hope!) But I write and it keeps me going and happy and undaunted no matter what the working world—or life—throws at me. And if I can do it, maybe you can too.

And not only that—you can do it right now, today, wherever you are or whatever situation you find yourself in. You, too, can write fiction. You don’t have to go to some school, or enroll in some workshop, or live in Brooklyn, or have the right connections, or writer buddies, or move to Bali. You don’t even have to quit your day job, if you don’t want to. If you have a little paper and a pen (or a computer and some electricity) you can go home and write tonight. (Or at least this weekend, like I do.) And as long as you have a good idea, put in the work, and aren’t too worried about the outcome—you can pound out a first draft. And then a second and a third and…someday finish your story.

I’m not saying it will be good, or that it will be published, or make money—but sitting down and staring at the blank page is the first step in writing any story. Getting it on the page, capturing it from the ether—minute after minute, hour after hour. It’s not easy, it never was. But don’t let those imaginary barriers surrounding you—often times ones you have created yourself—make you put off something indefinitely which you could be doing right now. Today. 

Resolve to write, sit down and do it. As easy and hard as that is, it’s the only solution.

Best of Luck to You,

Darius


Before I go, I also wanted to add a little something about the passing of Ursula K. Le Guin. But I think there are others elsewhere who have done a far more admirable job than I could have. I’m listing them below, but before I go let me just offer this quote from her to get you even more fired up on writing:

“…we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.”

Wow. I love that. Rest in peace, Ursula.

Here are some really great pieces about her:

1. A remembrance by Jo Walton from Tor.com.

2. A speech of hers from 2014.

3. Writing tips from her via the inimitable Chuck Wendig.

Another Writing Tweak: The Refresher

Like most fiction writers these days, I also have a day job. You know, the one you where you go to a central location for 40+ hours a week? But when I’m able to break for lunch or get in early before the boss, my thoughts turn to my trusty side hustle: writing fiction. Well, there’s one little tweak (besides listening to music) I adopted last year for my fiction-writing sessions. I’m going to call it “The Refresher.”

LEAD Processor

Since I have a day job, I usually have about a week between my writing sessions (which I do every Sunday). With life intervening in the mean time, I’m liable to forget important plot details, nuances of setting or who said what when. Sometimes, I even forget where the story was at ENTIRELY. ENTIRELY! Which is not surprising when you have lots of other things on your mind. I regularly found myself having to dive back into a piece, remind myself where the plot was at and then move forward. It was like having to warm back up and then dive into the writing from scratch. It was a cold start every time.

So, I knew I had to remedy this situation. Lately, I’ve taken to opening and re-reading the last chapter (or section or paragraph) of my work to see where I’m at on SATURDAY night (or day). That way, I know where I left off when I sit down to write on SUNDAY…On those Saturday nights, I start ruminating on where I’m headed next and what needs to happen next and, more importantly, what has to happen to close off the next chapter or section. Then, I put away the manuscript and forget about it. I let it sink back into the subconscious without fretting about the characters or where they are at or where they will happen. I meet even have a glass of wine or watch a movie. I trust my subconscious to assist with any smoothing out of plot or character that needs to happen the next day.

That way, when I grab that nice, hot cup of Joe the next afternoon and sit down to write, I have a good idea of where the action is and again, most importantly, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. It’s what I call “The Refresher.”

It’s just another little tweak, another little tool, I have added to my writing belt recently. And, so far, it’s passing the only true test of all new writing tools: it’s keep me writing and keeping my word count heading in the right direction (up).

I hope you other Day-Job Writers out there find this little tip useful. If you have any tips or tools you use to become more productive, I’d love to hear about them in the Comments section!

Until next time.

Keep reading, Keep writing,

Darius

Where My Writing Is Headed in 2018

Well, here we are. The great summing-up is done, and now, for the plan-ahead.

new-year-2018-eve-greeting

To review: Last time, we looked back at my writing in 2017. And despite not submitting works as much as I wanted to, overall, I was pretty satisfied with where my writing is at. Why? Because I’ve remained productive this year. I’ve kept putting words on paper. In fact, I cranked out about 36,300 words of prose. That’s about 7 short stories worth (if you use 5,000 words as the yardstick for a short story). So, I’m pretty proud about that…But that’s so 2017. What about the coming year?


Well, the following are some things I would like to achieve in my writing in 2018. Ranked in their order of importance:

1. Write more in 2018 (as measured by word counts).
As I said, I wrote about 36,000 words in 2017. I will have roughly the same amount of time to write in 2018. But I want to be aspirational about things…So…How about this goal: Write 40,000 words of fiction in 2018.

2. Work harder to get stories accepted.
If I was disappointed in one aspect of my fiction writing in 2017, it was something which had nothing to do with writing fiction: submitting stories. But as this is a key part of being a writer, I need to do a bit better here.

But as I thought about it, I was struggling with how to quantify this. After all, I have little control over whether editors accept my story. But I do control how often I send out my stories. So, adapting an idea from Aeryn Rudel (who has a great blog all you aspiring SFF writers should read), I will submit a story once every two weeks. I will continue to do so until a story is accepted or it reaches 20 rejections.

I would set a goal of once per week, but I know I’m going to be quite busy this year anyway. And once every two weeks would be a vast improvement.

I already have three pieces that are done, proofed and ready for submission. So, it’s just requires grabbing them and sending them along to the right markets. Finding those right markets is where all the work will reside. 

3. Stretch goal: Get my play in production.
One of those pieces is a complete play. It will be one of those pieces I will be sending out every couple of weeks. Now, I know that a play is harder to shop around than a story. And that its submission package is usually more involved (requires a synopsis, only samples of a manuscript, a Bio, etc.) than a story. So, I’m naming this my stretch (extra tough) goal. In other words, I will submit my play to theatres accepting manuscripts throughout the year.

4. Keep blogging.
Lastly, I will  keep blogging. At the same time, I don’t want to make this overly onerous. I want to be able to share a thought, an insight on writing, or some progress I’ve made. But I don’t want the blog to distract from, or worse yet, eat up time that should be devoted to fiction writing. I definitely want to keep my steely determination in the Distraction Wars and not let the Internet or smart phones or idle conversations with strangers keep me from my main mission: writing fiction. And so,

I will post at least 100 words to my blog every two weeks.


That’s it! My goals—my writing resolutions—if you will, for 2018. Simple, easy to understand and easy to measure.

Will I be able to meet my own goals? Or will time management or distraction be my undoing? Will I have self-discipline or will I cave in and go for a walk or listen to a Podcast instead of doing what I really want to do—write?

At this point, it’s too early to tell. You will just have to come along with me on this little journey and see where we net out on Dec. 31, 2018.

Wish me luck! And hope to see you there!

Happy New Year!

,Darius

A Look Back at My Year in Writing—2017

Wow. Another year is here and almost gone. I can’t believe it. I think, overall, it was a good year for my writing…But you always wish you could do more, write more, get a few more words down, get a few more stories accepted. old_school_reporter

So, how to sum up a year of writing fiction? It’s harder than you think. Here’s how I would like to divide this up: into the Hard Stuff and Soft Stuff. The Hard Stuff is easily quantifiable: stories accepted/rejected, word counts, that sort of thing. The Soft Stuff is more qualitative, it’s about style and technique, not stuff  you can easily quantify. Ready? Here we go!

One Story Accepted
Way back on January 1, I had a story published on Between Worlds Magazine. It’s called “So You Found Me.” It was the first flash fiction piece of   mine that was ever published and I was very happy with the way it came out. Check it out if you get a minute.

As for my others stories, will they were sent out, but they haven’t been accepted—yet. These are three other stories, two of which I think have really good chances of getting published. But before I move on, in the interest of normalizing literary rejection, let’s look at the stats for my stories in 2017 so far. Let’s break this down in all its stark brutality:

Number of times stories sent to magazines: 16

Stories rejected: 15

Answers pending: 1

Acceptance percentage: 0%

Ouch! I’m not letting that get me down though. Why? Partially because you have to soldier on through rejection. That’s what writers do. But also because these statistics don’t tell the whole truth.

First, it’s a woefully low statistical sample, which can be misleading. Let’s say many of these magazine have acceptance rates of around 5%. Some are higher, some lower. Now, think about that. It means given they all had a 5% acceptance rate, for every story they accept, they’re rejecting 20 (If my math is right. Is it? I’m horrible at math!). So you have about a 1/20 chance of getting your story accepted. Assuming this hypothetical magazine accepts all worthy stories equally, you would have to send a story 20 times before getting accepted. As it is, I didn’t even match that 20 number, sending my stories out just 16 times. In fact, many established writers I have talked to will send a story out between 20-25 times before trunking (abandoning and archiving) it. So, it’s partially my own fault, because I didn’t send out my stories enough.

Also, my submission spree doesn’t take into account what kind of rejections I received. Some of these were not blanket “form” rejections. They were rejections saying that my story got close to getting accepted in a couple of instances. In another instance a literary magazine rejected one of the stories, but asked for me to send future stories their way. (The first time that has happened with a literary magazine). So, what at first looks pretty abysmal, wasn’t that bad and in fact, gives me hope that these stories will finally find a home.

Word Counts—Keeping It Up
Best of all, I kept the word counts up. This was not an easy year to do this. It has been filled with distractions. But I have been able to remain focused. I have some reasons for this, which I will get into below—but I want to list one here. I think I have been able to keep my schedule and writing ritual consistent. I have minimized distractions from blogging and submitting work and sat down and focused on producing words. That is very important.

I will not get into specific words counts in this post, but bring that up in the next post.

Blog Writing
Blogging can seem like a chore—and it often is! But I kept it up this year: I blogged once every two weeks. Even if it was to say: “I’ll see you guys next time.”

I also changed the name of the blog from “A Writer Begins” to “Inside the Writer’s Mind” on its fifth (!) anniversary. And good news: that posting consistency is paying off. Blog readership is way up this year. The number of visitors is more than double last year and almost triple last year’s total. So, that’s sweet! Thanks for checking in, everyone.

And now for the Soft Stuff…

Writing the Story That Burns in Your Belly
I have written about this one a lot here. Story selection. How do you know which story to write? Which piece of all those in your pre-writing pile to pick out and actually get down on paper? It’s tough, but I think I’m figuring it out.

As I wrote, it’s that story that is “burning in your belly.” The one with the characters/scenes you can’t stop thinking about or embellishing with little details. That’s what you want to write. I’ve known this for some time now, but I haven’t always practiced it. That ended this year in March. When I said “Screw it!,” sat down and started writing the story(ies) that were on the top of my pre-writing pile. I finally started practicing what I preach and I think it’s helping me crank my word counts higher.

Writing with Music
Another thing that is helping the word counts, I think, is the decision to bring back my music. I go to cafes to write usually and they have their own music which is fine. And they usually also have somewhat loud patrons, which can be distracting. So, I went back to something I used to do a long, long time ago: writing with my music on.

When I go write on the weekends now, I bring headphones and plug in to listen to my music. It blocks out any conversations (most importantly), but it also lets me change my mental mood a bit as I pick a faster or slower or happier or darker music depending on the scene I’m putting down on the page. And again—if word count is any indication—this has helped my writing.

I love little tweaks like this that can up your writing game. 

Go to a Con?
This is one thing I said I would do last year that I didn’t do. Oh well. I would like to get to a good writing Con in 2018, but we will have to see. There are so many things to do and it’s always hard to fit this one in.

Overall
Overall, I will call 2017 a great year for stick-to-it-ness in my fiction writing. Did I get any stories accepted? Yeah, just one short piece. But I kept writing and that’s the most important thing. The standard by which all other successes have to be judged because it’s the one thing I can control and that comes down to me. If a story gets accepted or rejected, if people come to the blog or not—I have no control over. So, I’m glad the tweaks I made seem to have worked and the word counts are heading in the right direction. Now, I just have to hone in on editing and submitting more in 2018.

But that’s a post for next time.