Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Processing Year End

WARNING: Long Blog Post Ahead

Wannabe writer/stay-at-home mom is not a situation I was born into. It's not even what I've been doing for the entirety of the "adult" portion of my life. Before my kids were born, I did my time in the business world. I worked retail jobs and admin jobs and customer service jobs. I never really liked any of those jobs, of course, because deep down I’m just not a day job kind of person.

(Don’t look at me like that. Some people do actually like having a normal day job. Or so I’ve heard.)

One of the things you hear about a lot in business is a wonderful little gem of a process called Year-End. “Finance has to run their year-end reporting on Tuesday so the servers will be wheezy and pretty much dead all day.” “Book a conference room and get all the sales guys in here so we can go over their year-end reviews.” “The branch manager will be stuck on a conference call all afternoon; I heard the DM wants to talk about year-end.”

For those of you who have never heard this term before, it works like this: at the end of every fiscal year (which doesn’t always coincide with the calendar year, by the way), a bunch of reports get run and analysis gets done and everyone has to sit down and talk for hours about how the year went. You’ve got to answer for how your spending matched up against your budget, look at inventory losses, and make sales plans for the following year. Depending on the size and complexity of the business, this can take days or weeks or even months. It’s a giant pain in the neck and pretty much everyone hates it, but it’s one of those necessary evils of the business world.

Lucky for me, the kids don’t demand much in the way of fiscal reporting and sales projections, so I don’t actually have to deal with this anymore. But I do still like coming to the end of a year and looking back at my progress, so I’ve decided to do a little year-end reporting with regard to my wannabe writing career. And because I'm blogging my findings, you all get to sit in on the process.

Please, try to contain your enthusiasm.

And yes, I know it’s not the end of the year yet, but it’s the end of my year. My writing year, by virtue of the fact that I started this little adventure in October of 2012, runs from October to September. Because I love NaNoWriMo so much, it’ll probably continue to do so unless a publishing contract comes along and forces me to change things.

So, where do I stand? First, we must look back. Journey with me back in time.

My goals at the beginning of October 2012 were very simple. I wanted to ease back into a writing career. Build things up slowly so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed and quit before I even got started.

1. Write a workable rough draft of Familiar by September 30, 2013.
2. Build a small social media platform through Twitter and Google+ (I don’t do Facebook), building to a habit of posting something every day.
3. Build a writing blog, working up to posting at least three times a week.
4. Work a decent chunk of writing time into my daily routine.

Those were my four goals and I think they were pretty reasonable. Fast forwarding to the end of the year, let's take a look at how I did with them.

Goal #1: Write a workable rough draft of Familiar by September 30, 2013.
What’s the Status? Unmet. :-( Even by giving up my plotting time for Guardian and extending my deadline to October 31, I’m still not going to get this done. I’ve got approximately 80,000 words down at this point and I’d guess I’m still about 30,000 words from The End.
What Went Wrong? I tried a loose form of plotting this time around with Familiar and while that did help keep me on track, I don’t think it helped enough. I spent a lot of time flailing around trying to figure out where I was going when I ran into problems. Also, I have a lot of scenes that look nice but don’t really do much of anything. The partial draft I’ve ended up with is a very bloated one and I can already tell revising it is going to be a nightmare.
What Went Right? There is a strong story and good characters here. One of my primary worries when I decided to come back to this story was that I would discover the idea wasn’t as good as I’d initially thought and there wasn’t enough to it to sustain a novel. There is enough (possibly enough for a couple of novels, actually) and even though I’m not going to meet my deadline roughing it out, I am currently planning to finish the project.
What Have I Learned From This? Given the small amount of writing time I actually have, I can’t afford to waste a lot of time writing a bunch of crap that’s just going to get trashed come revisions time. I need to suck it up and find a more detailed plotting method that works for me, so I can spend the bulk of my time on words that will actually be useful down the line.
What Are My Next Steps? I’m going to take November off from this project to work on Guardian during NaNoWriMo. Assuming I don’t completely burn myself out with that, I’ll come back to it in December to finish out the rough draft before putting it to bed for a while.

Goal #2: Build a small social media platform through Twitter and Google+ (I don’t do Facebook), building to a habit of posting something every day.
What’s the Status? Met! :-)
What Went Wrong? I’ve been less successful at using Google+ than I have Twitter. I can’t use one application to manage my account on both platforms, and the applications I use for Twitter are much more user-friendly than Google+, which means I often forget to post on Google+ or even check my Google+ stream.
What Went Right? I feel like the Twitter account is working out really well for me. I’m by no means a power-user or anything, but I have several followers who actually read what I post and interact with me. (A significantly larger percentage of my followers seem to be bots or people who just added me to boost their own numbers, but I’m okay with that. To each their own.) I’ve also found a couple of hashtags on Twitter that have helped me boost my productivity during my writing hours. The #1k1hr sprinting has been particularly useful and I’m getting 3-5 of them in every week now. I’ve more than doubled my weekly output since adding those sprints to my routine.
What Have I Learned From This? At this point I think the social media platform is more a background aspect of my career. It’s something I enjoy and I’m sure it’ll come in handy as a marketing tool one day when I’m actually published, but for the moment it’s not something I need to devote any more time to than I already do.
What Are My Next Steps? Continue with the Twitter account up and devote some time to figuring out Google+. Continue with the #1k1hr sprints, working up to 5-8 per week.

Goal #3: Build a writing blog, working up to posting at least three times a week.
What’s the Status? Unmet. :-(
What Went Wrong? The blog got off to a very rocky start, with posts coming few and far between. As of the end of September I was still only posting once per week. With October’s addition of weekly flash fiction posts, I’m up to two posts a week, but I still haven’t cobbled together time for a more regular blogging schedule.
What Went Right? The blog is at least still there and getting updated at least a couple of times a week. I’m starting to add some regular “features”, which I hope will help me stick to a schedule and possibly generate some interest.
What Have I Learned From This? It’s very tempting to spend a lot of time on this project, at the expense of my writing time. It’s also tempting to push it to the complete other end of the spectrum and make it too low a priority to actually get any of my attention. Designating specific time for blogging has helped level my posting frequency out without letting it overwhelm my calendar.
What Are My Next Steps? Continue to build time for this into my schedule and work up to 4 posts per week by the end of next year.

Goal #4: Work a decent chunk of writing time into my daily routine.
What’s the Status? Met! :-)
What Went Wrong? It took a long time to figure this one out, in part because the goal itself isn’t very specific. Just what is a “decent chunk” of writing time anyway? I spent a lot of time experimenting with different times of day and different lengths of time, trying to find the right balance of productivity and sleep-deprivation.
What Went Right? I have settled into a routine now that gives me about an hour and a half of time to write every morning, which I manage to stick to 5-6 days a week.
What Have I Learned From This? I learned several things during all my trial and error this year, which makes it very worthwhile, in my opinion. First, I prefer writing at night, but I’m just too tired to be disciplined by the end of the day. Much as it pains me to get up before the sun, needs must. Second, I cannot write every day. I end up giving one of my writing sessions over to these fabulous blog posts and I always end up with at least one day a week where I just cannot drag myself out of bed at ouch-it-hurts o'clock. Six days of getting up ridiculously early to write is all my sanity can take. Third, I need about a half an hour of random staring at the screen before the caffeine filters through enough of my brain to actually put words on the page in any kind of logical sequence. Which means in order to get my hour and half of writing time, I actually need a two hour window. And fourth, with an hour of dedicated concentration, I can bang out at least 1000 reasonably good words, which is much better than the 250-500 words an hour I get when I'm trying to write while doing other things, like watch my kids or have a conversation with my husband.
What Are My Next Steps? Continue to work regular writing time into my schedule, working up to adding another hour of dedicated time per day.

As you can see, I had a pretty productive year in terms of logistics and figuring things out, though I only hit 50% in terms of actually meeting my goals. I think this is a part of the process a lot of people write off, but I felt it was important if I was going to make a serious go of this.

What does all this mean for my plans for my writerly 2014?

Goals for 2014:
1. Finish the zero draft of Familiar by January 31, 2014.
2. Write a zero draft of Guardian by September 30, 2014.
3. Write, revise, and submit a short story (TBD) by September 30, 2014.
4. Work the blog up to 4 regular posts per week.
5. Create more regularly scheduled writing time, working up to 15 hours per week.

I've gotten a little more focused on output rather than logistics this time. 2013 was all about testing things out and finding a way to make my process work for me. I'm hoping that having spent this year getting a feel for what works in my schedule and what doesn't means I'll be able to have more predictable results going forward.

The Idea Salesman is (cautiously) excited about the third goal on the list, specifically the part where it says submit. Personally, I'm kind of terrified of that one, but it's there and I'm going to post this before I chicken out and take it off the list.

What about you? How are your goals going this year? Have you set any goals for next year yet? Anything on the list got you particularly excited? Or particularly anxious?

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