Writing Resolutions for 2014: Do Less

I didn’t want to do something totally cliché, but here I am doing it. Earlier, I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be great if I did one of those “Writing Resolutions for Next Year” posts? At first, I thought it would be lame and verge on click-baiting my loyal blog readers. But then, I started to think of all those things I DO want to do differently in my writing life next year and I thought, “Yeah! That Toretto_Beerwould make an awesome post!”

So here I am.

The main theme for this post came from a (sigh) PowerPoint presentation at work. The idea that struck me was from a book called “From Good to Great” by Jim Collins, a “management guru.” The point of the quote was that what makes companies—and by extension, people—great is their ability to tune out the noise and focus on what’s important. One exercise Jim recommends is the creation of a “stop doing list” for the new year. 

The start of the New Year is a perfect time to start a stop doing list and to make this the cornerstone of your New Year resolutions, be it for your company, your family or yourself.

The idea is to list those things you will stop doing so that you can bring the greatest focus to the remaining items. So, in that spirit, here is a list of things I’m going to stop doing, pare down and simplify in 2014.

1. Refocus on the manuscript

At the end of the day, I’m the manuscript guy. That’s where I live and die. But there are so many distractions out there that are writing-related that have nothing to do with the manuscript.

As a self-publishing author I have to edit, coordinate the book cover and proofing, buy ads, promote the work, blog, Tweet, etc. And that stuff  is all a good and necessary part of the game. I see that. But I feel as if I’ve gotten off balance. I feel I need to get back to focusing on the manuscript because that, more than anything else, is what is going to build a fan base and bring back readers time and time again. If you aren’t presenting a quality manuscript, it doesn’t matter how many people you drive to it via your blog, self-made ads, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They simply won’t stay.

2. Scale back on social media

So, what’s a writer to do?

First, I’m discontinuing my Facebook account entirely. I’ve found this medium clunky from the start and I feel like it hasn’t really helped me connect with readers or other writers for that matter. It’s partially the way I use it—very sparsely and with just major announcements. But the fact is I’ve got very little feedback or interest in my Facebook page, so, it’s time to cut it.

Also, I will continue my Goodreads account, but I won’t be actively posting to it. Goodreads is a great way to connect with qualified viewers—readers and people who are passionate about books (unlike Facebook). But I  simply don’t have the time to engage with it. If I didn’t have a day job, it might be a different story.

I will stay on Twitter because it asks little of my time and has been a surprisingly great way to connect with other writers and fans.

3. Reduce postings on my blog

Sadly, I will have to cut back a bit here as well. I’ve decided to change my blog updates from once a week in 2013 to once every 2 weeks in 2014. I wish I could blog every week, but when it comes down to it, every minute spent blogging is a minute I could have spent on a manuscript. It comes at a very high cost.

I don’t see the need to end the blog entirely. It’s brought more people to my work than any other single tool. Plus, it’s fun and I learn a lot by blogging about the craft of writing.

For those who are interested, I’m planning to post every other Friday in 2014 starting on Jan. 10.  

4. Focus exclusively on Kindle for self-publishing

I’ve put my works on both Nook and Kindle. But Nook has produced very little payback in terms of sales and looks more and more like a dying platform. So, that’s it for Nook. I’m planning to make my works available exclusively via Kindle.

This will allow me to self-promote, i.e., give away my books about once every month. Kindle has also proven itself a viable platform. I’ve been able to give away thousands of my titles and I’ve had hundreds of sales. Those figures for Nook, by the way, are in single digits. In fact, Nook doesn’t even let you giveaway books.

PS This one is not written in stone and I’m willing to change it if someone out there is willing to show me why I’m wrong. 

5. Go short or go long

I love novellas. Adore them. But after publishing one of them and having another in the works, I have come to doubt their…marketability.

I know it may be sacrilege to say that marketability matters. That as a writer, an artiste, I should only write for the satisfaction of creating something new. And I do get satisfaction and peace from writing. But every writer wants more. They want recognition, popularity, plaudits. And I’m no different.

I’ve finally come to accept that a quicker, easier way to get these plaudits is to write pieces that people (especially editors) want to buy. Through an accident of publishing history this means short stories and novels.

So, in 2014, I plan to polish off my latest novella…And then…Devote myself to writing short stories (less than 7,500 words) and novels (over 50,000 words). It’s simply a question of marketability.

This won’t be easy because I have a devilish time keeping my fiction terse and short. Getting under that 7.5K mark will be a big challenge.

6. Focus on getting (speculative) fiction shorts published

Nowadays, anyone can self-publish. Which is great and horrible at the same time.

It’s great because if you have an idea you can get it published. The editors aren’t the sole gatekeepers any more. No more John Kennedy Tooles getting their masterpiece rejected by clueless, huge publishing houses and then having no alternative path to publishing. 

It’s horrible because it’s harder to rise above the crowd. With everyone self-publishing you need something that shows that your writing is a cut above. You need a viable third party to say, “Hey, this  is good stuff” whether it’s a magazine, a publishing house or an award-bestowing organization. That give you that rare and most precious of things—credibility. In a way, writers needs publishers and reviewers more than ever. 

7. Keep a record of my writing expenditures

O.K. So this is one thing I’m adding. Fine.

My plan is to simply hold onto the receipts related to my writing projects. This ranges from post office receipts for sending off manuscripts to fees paid to proofreaders and graphic designers. The good thing is that I can include these on my tax returns and get a smaller hit from the tax man.

8. Go to a Con.

I have to go to a Con next year.  I don’t care which Con it is as long as it’s in the U.S. and has an element dedicated to writing fiction like writing workshops. I’m thinking of something like RavenCon or the Big Daddy, DragonCon.

I’ve heard so much good feedback about going to Cons, that I’ve decided it’s time for me to jump in. I will report back here as I zero in on a Con to attend.

Most importantly, attending a Con would let me connect with fellow speculative fiction writers that are looking to breakthrough. And as I learned from the Fast and Furious franchise, “family” is the most important thing.

The most important thing.

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for Cons in the U.S., please share them!

9. Bring more focus to my reading

My reading diet tends to the old or ancient, literally. I really need to read what people are writing today. And I need to focus on the fiction that I want to write: speculative fiction that is short and top shelf.

To that end, I’m going to scour the recent award winners of the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, World Fantasy and Edgar awards looking for the most interesting short works. Those are the ones I’m going to read. And every time I do, I’ll be reading them close, picking up all those little tricks that made them so great.

If you have any reading suggestions, please send them my way in the comment section or on my Contact page.

Damn, this became a long post.

Thankfully, all of my resolutions, save two, require me to do less. In the end, all these changes, all these resolutions have one goal: giving me more time to focus on writing manuscripts. And to me, that’s what this writing thing should be all about.


A Year in Writing: A Look Back at 2013

And I’m back. Thanks for your patience. It allowed me to finish the first draft of a novella I’ve been working on. Chekhov_Gun

So…it’s been a crazy year. Crazy busy and good. I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made in fiction writing this year. I want to share what I think were my biggest achievements this year in this post. Then, next week I want to put down my plans for 2014.

In true blog fashion, I want to do a countdown of my biggest writing achievements for this year. I’m putting just five down and they’re in reversed  order with the biggest achievement, #1, coming last.

5. Finding my social media niche.

Staying committed to this blog and figuring out where it fits into my writing schedule was a bit of a trick. I’m glad I’ve stuck with it and I’ve learned quite a bit in writing posts by simply sharing my thoughts about the craft of writing. Hopefully, next year, I will have time to write more of those deeper dive posts like Past Masters, Rare B Sides and The Craft of Writing. Those are the posts I like best and, based on your reactions, I think you guys did too.

I would love to devout more time to the blog, but with work, fiction writing and, oh yeah, that thing called “life” it can be tough. It makes me proud that despite all these distractions, I kept the blog going. I think the blog has found its little niche for those interested in writing and, honestly, that’s more important to me than raw hits and viewer numbers.

4. Finishing off my first “comic” piece, a novella.

Last week I finally finished off a comedy horror novella. It was a bear. Not so much writing it as finding the time to get it done. Life just always seemed to find a way to shift priorities this year and put itself first. But I didn’t give up on the piece and I got it done.

In the end, it came off a bit more serious than I would have liked. All this, despite its purely comic premise. I blame Gogol for this. Gogol has been my greatest inspiration as a comic writer. And damn him, all his comedy always has a serious thread running through it. I think my novella has the same issue. A drama dipped in a coating of comic sauce.

As the piece goes through subsequent drafts, I will share the title and more details with you guys. I also will be dialing up the comedy. It’s still really rough, but I’m looking forward to polishing the piece next year.

3. Publishing my historical novella.

This year, I also published my first historical novella, “The Man Who Ran from God.” Based on sales, it hasn’t done as well as The Library of Lost Books. So, I have to say I was a little disappointed in its reception. But hey, that’s part of being a writer, isn’t it? You write your heart out every time. Sometimes, it strikes a chord with the public, sometimes it leaves them cold. My job as a writer is to forge ahead.

Still, getting a novella done is big. And doing it in a new genre so that you learn the little nuances of that niche, was an important learning experience. That’s why it’s number 3.

2. Writing a ripping good short story.

I am really proud of my short story, “The Ghul of Yazd.” I felt I really did well getting this story down (here’s a raw recap of the day I wrote the story). Also, it had strong characters, good pacing and was full of showing, not telling. I think it was a big step forward for me as a storyteller. I can’t wait to share it with all of you, but first I have to find a publisher. You can track the process of the Ghul here where I’ve created a submission tracker for the piece. 

It’s a big achievement and one I’m proud of, no matter how/when/if it gets picked up by a mag.

1. Getting a story published in a magazine.

Hands down, my biggest achievement in 2013 was  seeing my story, “The Hatchlings” published in Fiction Vortex.

Getting accepted, getting paid, signing a contract and seeing the story live on a website was a huge boost. It’s given me the encouragement to keep writing every weekend and keep moving ahead. Of all the things that happened in my ‘writing life’ this year, this was the most important moment. I’ll never forget it.

Alright, that’s it for 2013. Next week, a look ahead to what I’d like to do in 2014.

A Giveaway and Musings on Pym

[SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers and plot elements from Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.”]

First, my historical novella, “The Man Who Ran from God” is free today in the Kindle store. So, download it while you can. It’s a good way for you guys to check out my writing style. OK, enough self-promotion.

In other news,  I finally finished reading The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I started reading it way back in October as part of my reading list. Throw in the fact that I moved, went to a wedding in California and that I’m a slow reader and you can see why I finished it just now.

My first impression and one that’s stayed with me is that it was a bit of disappointment. It was Poe’s only novel and I was expecting big things. But I found it long-winded, full of digressions and, frankly, boring.

Pym is a story of a stowaway that turns into a mutiny story that turns into an adventure/exploration saga of the South Seas. It’s set in the date of its publication, 1838.

A good examples of the writing sins that can be found in Pym are collected in Chapter 20 of the work. First, there’s a long digression on sea cucumbers. Yes, sea cucumbers. And yet, it’s hard to see why or how sea cucumbers are important to the plot or have any symbolic value. Poe, using a device that is effective in his shorts, where he includes important technical details to heighten realism, decides to include several paragraphs on the creature:

A description of the nature of this important article of commerce, and the method of preparing it, may prove of some interest to my readers, and I can find no more suitable place than this for introducing an account of it. The following comprehensive notice of the substance is taken from a modern history of a voyage to the South Seas…

Poe goes on for four paragraphs to describe the creature when one would have been more than enough. Why did he spend so much ink on a creature that is only ancillary to the story? I don’t know.

There is also an interesting instance of telling, not showing in this chapter. Now, 19th century literature does have instances of telling, not showing. I’m guessing we have the ‘showing’ mantra/cult/religion thanks to modern short story writers, starting with Chekhov. Anyway, Poe is describing the apparent good behavior of the “savages’’ they encounter as the ship travels further south.

A very short while sufficed to prove that this apparent kindness of disposition was only the result of a deeply laid plan for our destruction, and that the islanders for whom we entertained such inordinate feelings of esteem, were among the most barbarous, subtle, and bloodthirsty wretches that ever contaminated the face of the globe.

That little snippet was so disappointing to me that I wrote “Poe Tells! No!!!” in the margin next to it in pencil.

There are lots of other instances of bad novel writing in this piece: long digressions, suddenly-introduced characters, dairy entries interspersed with traditional narrative, sudden appearances of things or objects which have no later relevance. For me, it validates my long-held belief in the three types of fiction writers:

  • Poets.
  • Short story writers.
  • Novelists.

Poe was a gifted poet and short story writer. Reading Pym left me with the feeling that Poe was really struggling with the long form. It was as if he knew short story writing too well. He knew how to keep a short story terse, rich and taut. But when it came time to write a novel, he got a bit lost. There’s not that structure or character development you’d find in say, Dostoyevsky or Steinbeck. [It’s also interesting to note that poets can often be great short story writers, but usually make lousy novelists. Pushkin, Poe and Borges come to mind. And also, novelists rarely excel at poetry.]

But maybe it’s just as well. Pym didn’t do so well and Poe quickly turned back to his forte: short stories, poems, literary criticism. And in his last ten years he churned out some of his best stuff, including one of my favorites, Eureka.  

As I’m turning my hand to short stories now, I’m finding the short form very, very challenging. As the saying goes: “Writing short is harder than writing long.” It’s nice to know that even the greatest writers, like Poe, struggled when they tried to tackle a new form. As I delve into shorts, I’m going to remind myself to cut down on the self-criticism and realize learning a new form takes time. It makes me wonder what might have happened if Poe had done the same.

PS. There is one great part in Pym. The end. Seriously. And I’m not just saying that because it was over. The end is the most famous part and the narrator doesn’t explain who/what the “shrouded figure” they encounter is. It’s a great moment, a great example of “showing” and not telling and one that stays with the reader long after the story is over. It’s illustrated above.

‘A Writer Begins’ Passes 1,000 Views

Great news. This blog just passed 1,000 views.

Thanks to everybody for viewing, reading and commenting. It’s been a great journey so far and I’ve already learned a lot just by writing a post each week. More importantly, you guys have helped motivate me and kept me focused on my dream of writing fiction. 

Stay tuned, there’s lots more to come.