The (Belated) State of Writing 2016

It’s become a bit of a yearly tradition to do a post looking back on the state of writing in the prior year. Inspired by a similar post by Brandon Sanderson, it’s a good exercise for me to see just what I’ve accomplished. And boy, this year, it has been a hard challenge. Some drafts of this felt artificial, others rambled for thousands of words. Hopefully this is a bit of a happy medium between the two. As late as it is, I want to get this retrospective out there. Next week, I’ll lay out the goals I’ve set for myself for 2017.

2016 Retrospective

The Beginning

To start with, I kicked the year off with YOU. Specifically, thanks to my dear wife (link to blog) I made this blog. I hopped onto Twitter. I dove into all of it, and I’m a little shocked I’ve only been on them for a year. I rambled about that last week, but again, thanks so much internet.

Writing wise I kicked off 2016 by spending the first three months of finishing up a draft of Nigel, my historical fantasy (wizards want to assassinate Lincoln). The first draft of that was written back in 2012, and doing the 2nd draft took about six months to complete. It was a slog, but I was able to get it off to the best alpha readers in the world.

Early 2016 I also spent time working on my craft. I read every craft book I could get my hands on (something like 25 total). To play with the skills mentioned, I spent some time doing more free-writing a small 25k novella for fun. A nice small project. I also needed a break before draft 3 of Nigel, and I wanted something light to work on in the lead up to an actuary exam.

Exams: Oh, right

I work in an insurance company, and I’m taking actuary exams. These exams are intensive. I took an exam in May, and I spent hundreds of hours studying for it. Honestly I did no writing from the end of March until July, once I recovered from the exam, to start writing again.

I did pass that exam.

Fist Pump.jpg
BOOM Calculus Muthafucka

This is a balancing act I’m continuing to juggle. Part of me wants to be competitive and dive all in to the exams, but while that’s my instinct that’s simply not sustainable. I can’t go about having my writing derailed for months as I prepare / recover from the exams. I can also say those exams are a big reason why my blog went quiet and why my own personal reading was way down for the year, just barely hitting 50 books.

The thing of it is –these exams aren’t going away. If writing works out for me it will not be over-night, and so I plan on being in this day job for awhile. Learning how to balance this studying with my life is an on going challenge, but the reality is also that they will color my writing for the foreseeable future. I’m learning how to juggle them, but it will be a process.

After Exams: Oops I accidentally

Once July hit I dove back into writing. I didn’t immediately want to revise Nigel, so I started working on that little novella I wrote. And from mid July to mid August I bashed out work on this novella. Except there was one little problem.

It wasn’t so little. It swelled , from 25k words to 40k to ultimately 65k words. Let’s be clear: you aren’t going to have a chihuahua killer with this, but it’s definitely no longer a novella. And I also discovered (as I ranted here) that when you properly free-write, the first draft actually ends up becoming MUCH smoother. I finished the first draft in mid August and it was exciting.

 

Fall: Decision Time

fall-autumn-red-season

As summer turned to fall, I turned my attention back to Nigel, the historical fantasy. Except that there was a huge problem: this book was awful.

I don’t mean Shitty First Drafts awful, though there was some of that. I mean there was some serious structural problems with that book. I wrote the damn thing and even I was bored rereading it. To my alpha-readers: I salute you. It was a slog for me, and I honestly don’t know how they did it.

To fix the book properly, I would have to go back and make structural decisions that should have been completed in or before the first draft. That would mean essentially doing the first draft again, and the result would still not be much closer to being done. And that’s the goal – I want to get a novel to the point where I can get it out there and in good conscious submit it.

This caused a pretty big think for a couple of weeks. On the one hand, I don’t want to lightly abandon a project – working through those structural problems is a learning experience. On the other hand, this project had become something of a terrible treadmill that felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Ultimately, I decided to shelve the project. I wrote the first draft four years ago, and it shows. And while I love the characters, my goal is to get a novel out there. Spending the hundred-odd hours it would take to revise is just not a good use of my time. And while I do love the characters and hope to revisit it sometime, I wanted to work on the project that had me excited.

NaNoReviseMo

turkey-profile-picture-bird-53460
Sup.

            With the beginning of the holiday season I started working on draft 2 of Iron Stars. And that has been a blast. I’m about 60% of the way through draft 2. I also spent the month of November writing alongside my wife who decided to just up and be a badass and win NaNoWriMo this year.

(Seriously, it was dreamy. I came home and we sat down about 7pm every night and wrote together for two hours or so).

I continued working and revising until…

Winter was coming – with another exam

December hit and I had another actuary exam. Like before, it derailed my writing (but for far less time). And this particular exam, no, no I didn’t pass. Still, December ended with me surrounded by friends, family, looking forward to a new year.

reading-and-fire
Pictured: Basically all of late December.

So How Did I Do?

When I did this post last, I laid out many goals. Some of these goals changed throughout the year (like my decision to shelve Nigel). However, here is a quick over-view of how I felt I did on the applicable goals. It’s divided up by project.

Novels

nature-grass-green-book.jpg
I write all my novels on the lawn.

Nigel

This is my historical fantasy where wizards want to kill Lincoln before he is inaugurated.

The goals:

  • Finish draft 2.
  • Get some beta-readers for a complete beta-read.

Results:

I did in fact finish draft two, which was exciting. I even posted about it here. I am pleased with getting that draft completed, and I did get some wonderful beta readers who took a look at the project. My friend Rachel in particular deserves a special hat-tip for reading the entire manuscript and giving me good, honest feedback.

While I did shelve this project, I am pleased with the work I put in on it. It was a real test to get through that second draft.

Esper Guard

This is the first attempt at planning out a fantasy trilogy. Here’s the goals I laid out for last year.

The Goals

  • Complete pre-writing for book 1. This includes characters, an outline.
  • Do some preliminary sketches of the rest of the series
  • Complete a first draft
  • Get a better damn title than “Esper Guard.”

Results:

I have completed some free-writing. I have one of the character arcs sketched out very nicely. However, this is a project I essentially didn’t touch – the casualty of the exam process. I haven’t even come up with a better title than “Esper Guard”, though I’m trying to move away from that title. I certainly don’t have a first draft.

Overall, I’m not pleased with what little I managed to accomplish on this novel, but I accept it as part of the process of learning how to juggle exams and writing.

Short Stories

Fancy Pen Writing.jpeg
Pictured: Totally not how I write my short stories

The Goals:

  • Continue shopping Theodore Baldwin around. Explore other submission options.
  • Rewrite Terrible Clouds
  • Write one short-story every 3 months, and get it to at least a second draft. That means, by the end of the year, I will have 4 more short stories to shop around.

Results:

I did continue shopping Theodore Baldwin around. I racked up a steady stream of rejections, which is still exciting. This is a story, however, that doesn’t fit in most markets. It’s a little longer than most of the markets want, and it’s also historical fantasy story about a guy who, much to his surprise, just never died.

I didn’t get many short stories written, nor was I able to rewrite Terrible Clouds, and that was because a realization: I don’t know shit about short stories. I wasn’t sure HOW to rewrite Terrible Clouds, and when I sat down to bang out a short story I went “I have no idea” or I would write 3k words that would be a half-decent scene in a novel somewhere.

To be blunt, I’m definitely not happy about my progress here. This is a huge weakness, but I’ve also acknowledged that short stories are a part of the craft distinct from writing novels, and it’s an area of craft I am weak in. You’ll see more about this next week.

And while I didn’t get much done on short stories, I did get a new short story written: L1926, a short story about the proof of the Twin Prime Conjecture as told by a twin prime. That was fun. I look forward to reading more short fiction in 2017.

Novellas

space
Giant Robots IN SPAAAACE

Iron Stars

This is a sf novel about a group of accidental kidnappers, the impromptu family, and how they cope after a heist goes wrong. There is family, there is fun, and there are GIANT ROBOTS.

Goals:

  • Complete the first draft
  • Revise the first draft
  • Sketch out an outline for novella 2 and 3

Results:

This is an area I am extremely pleased with my project, what with realizing it is actually a novel. I’m about 70% of the way through the second draft and my hope is to get that second draft completed in early February so I can send it off to some beta readers.

While I didn’t get a lot of free-writing done specifically for book 2 and 3, I know the broad strokes the novels are going to pursue and I look forward to running them down.

Conclusions

Whew, I know, it’s been 1800 words already. I’m almost done though, I swear. (Incidentally, this is the exact reason why I’m splitting up the 2016 retrospective and goals for 2017). From the perspective of my writing, I finished two novel drafts, shipped out some short stories, and drafted some more. According to my handy-dandy writing spreadsheet I can tell you I wrote 229 hours among about 146 days (which, considering I was knocked off my writing for about three months by exams, is something I’ll take).

I don’t have precise metrics for things before 2016, but I can safely say this is the most I have written in my entire life. Did I accomplish every little check-box on my goals? Absolutely not. Did I write as much as I would have hoped? Honestly, no.

But 2016 was my first full year diving in writing making it a priority and properly tracking my metrics. I moved the needle up to writing more, so that even if I didn’t reach exactly what I hoped I still got a helluva lot of work done.

I look forward to doing more in 2017.

Cheers.

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