2014: Mid(ish) Year Review

Well… that middle-of-the-year point has come and passed, and that means it’s time for me to take a look back at the first half of 2014, and measure myself up to what I’d hoped to accomplish for the year.  Public accountability and all that.  So I’ll go through my 2014 goals one-by-one and say a word or two on them.  Feel free to, you know, move along until I post something of actual interest to you, but hey, I wouldn’t mind you sticking around and commenting at the end to help keep all of us honest!

 

2014 Goals

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: This was a goal well-met, which wasn’t surprising, but was a welcome milestone.  I can’t be sure of the exact number of words I read through July 1st, because I hadn’t recorded an updated on the progress of the novel I was reading at the time for several weeks, but I believe it was somewhere in the neighborhood 600,000 words to 630,000 words.  Not too shabby.  If I set the goal of reading 400,000 words in the second half of the year, I’ll surpass 1,000,000 words of fiction read in 2014 easily.  So, that’s what I’m going with.  One Million: here we come.

(Click on down to read the rest of the goals…)

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2014: Goals, Plans, Dreams

On one hand, I’m not sure there’s much purpose, at this point, in setting “goals” for the year.  I frankly have no idea what to expect in terms of time, sleeping of the baby, and energy levels in the year to come.  How can I set goals if I don’t even know what I’m going to have to work with?  However, I think there’s value in looking forward to the year and trying to assess what can be accomplished and what I want to accomplish.  So I’m going to follow the model I’ve set for myself the past couple years and look at my year ahead, and how that fits into my longer-term goals and dreams.  The one caveat: this year, I’m going to focus here primarily on the first half of the year, after which time passes I’ll assess where I am again and plan going forward from there.

Thinking About Long-term Goals

My thinking about my long-term goals hasn’t changed much over the past year.  Here’s what I had to say about my long-term goals last year:

I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams… it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”.  By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write… but that I aspire for my writing to be published.  …Now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux.

On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model.  I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and  how those problems negatively impact authors.  So, for me, it seems I could go either way.  There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road.

But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.

I then went on to dig into some of the “whys” behind my preference for “traditional” publishing to “digital self-publishing”, but I won’t rehash those here.  The reasons remain, largely, the same, though perhaps the size of my dreams has moderated somewhat in the year past.  (I’m basically in my mid-thirties, now.  Older and wiser.  Getting “rich” off of writing no longer seems even remotely achievable, even as a stretch-dream.)  But the overarching long-term goal I stated before, and the reasons for pursuing it that I give, remain the guiding star by which I’m plotting my medium-term journeys.

2014 Goals

In the last two years, I’ve given my goals as it relates across 4 categories: how much I plan to read during the year, how frequently I intend to write, completion of manuscripts and submission of manuscripts.  This year I’d like to add some new categories, while I’ll be dialing back somewhat on several of the prior four.

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: In 2013, I was able to put over a million words worth of fiction reading under my belt.  I’d like to think I could do that again.  But I’m not quite ready to publicly lay down a goal that ambitious for this year, and given the total state of flux that V.R. has left our life in, I can’t even say whether it’s realistic or feasible to do it again.  Instead, I’ll focus on the first half of the year.  I want to try to do at least 400,000 words of fiction by July 1st, 2014.  Depending on how I do on that goal, I’ll adjust my 2014 expectations accordingly at that time.

2) Find a consistent writing schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: In the past two years I’ve set ambitious goals for myself in terms of the frequency of my writing – at least, they were ambitious to me.  In both years I failed utterly to achieve those goals.  Right now, I simply don’t have a clear idea of whether or not I even can keep a consistent writing schedule.  So my goal for the first half of 2014 is to try and find one.  This is at least partially contingent on V.R. finding his own consistent sleeping schedule.  While 2013 was marked by a complete lack of consistency on his part with regard to sleep, 2014 is so far shaping up to look like it might be different.  I’m not sure what happened on January 1st, but things have been normalizing quite a bit since then in V.R.’s sleep department, though we’re by no means out of the woods.

If I can make it to the mid-year point on this goal successfully, then I’ll be in a better position to gauge how much writing I can achieve, and how frequently I can write in the second half of the year.  If not, it’ll be a continued search for a predictable and consistent schedule.

3) Contingent on the success of Goal #2, focus on completing a final draft of one short story: This goal is entirely contingent.  If I can succeed in finding some sort of consistent writing schedule in 2014, then my first effort will be to complete a final draft of a short story, namely the same short I’d been working on previously (i.e. Story of V).  Since last I put words down on Story of V, the world of that story has blossomed in my head, and it now constitutes an out-of-chronological-order “chapter” in a longer epic fantasy series of short stories.  In my head, these stories are each independent stories with their own characters (with a few recurring characters) and their own beginnings, middles, and ends.  But a thread runs through them that ties them together into a larger, hopefully coherent narrative.  That’s the idea, anyway.  But first… if I can, I want to finish this story.

4) Contingent on the success of Goal #3, submit completed story to a professional market or content: More contingency goals. If I can find time to write, and if I can thereafter finish a draft of this story, then and only then will I have something to submit.  Basically: I’ll cross this bridge when and if I come to it.

5) Develop a plan to revitalize the blog: The first of my new goal categories concerns this very blog.  Simply put, the site is dated and clunky. For a long time I’ve been wanting to update the blog to make it better and cleaner and update the visual appeal.  The blog also lagged a lot in 2013 for posts and content. A lot of this was due to lack of time for blogging, this is largely true. But some of it was for lack of something to blog about.  I believe that I need to take a broader view on what sorts of things are of value to discuss on this blog, and what I want to talk about.

This goal isn’t to complete the revitalization.  It’s to set up a plan to do so.  That plan will need to balance competing desires for maximum blog-beautifulosity and interestingification with minimum time input.

6) Find a consistent blogging schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: Similar to Goal #2 in almost all respects except instead of relating to fiction, it relates to blogging.  I’ve long wanted a consistent posting schedule; maybe in 2014 I can figure out what a realistic schedule might be.

7) Personal Life Renewal: You know something else that dropped off a lot in 2013? My personal life. As in the whole Husband and Father thing.  I was so overtaken by being father I had to be (for little V.R.’s sake) that I hadn’t taken time to focus on being the father I want to be (for both V.R. and B.T.) Not to mention, you know, romancing Dear Wife. Of this I’ll say no more, except that I want to be very clear that these three people are my highest priority, and I want to acknowledge that here in my blog.

There.  That should be enough to keep me very busy for the next six months.  How do you plan to spend all that time?

2013: Goals, Plans, Dreams

I’m more than a few weeks late, at this point, in getting to talking about my goals and plans for the new year.  I’ve already lost five out of the fifty-two weeks this year.  But that still leaves forty-seven weeks, which is still plenty of time to plan ahead for.

I wanted to follow along in the same vein as my goals post from last year.  Give a list of specific, actionable and measureable goals by which I can check myself throughout the year.  (I defined “SMART” goals in my post last year.)

But before I get to those, I wanted to take a moment to muse about my long-term goals and dreams.  What is it, exactly, that I want to achieve?

Thinking About Long-term Goals

I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams.  I talked about them in last year’s goal post, for instance.  And it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”.  By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write (however slow I am at writing, I am writing), but that I aspire for my writing to be published.  Of course, now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux. 

Of course, when I say I want to be “published” part of what I mean is that I want to be read – that is to say, that I think others will like what I write, and that it’s worth their time to read it.  (A pretty audacious thing to say, I know.)  And, once upon a time, the most sure-fire way to get your words in front of people who might be interested in reading them was to go the “traditional” publishing route: get your book picked up by a big-name publisher, or your story printed in a big-name magazine.  Sure, you could self-publish your book, but save for a few exceptions, that way lay madness (and, too frequently, financial ruin, especially if you went the way of the Vanity Press).  Without the distribution muscle of an established publisher, it was nearly impossible to get your work into bookstores.

We all know now that the world has changed.  Thanks to technological disintermediation, we have a viable alternative to the old traditional way of doing things with Digital Self-Publishing.  Today we have concrete examples of authors who’ve made it big bucking the old system and taking their books directly (and digitally) to the people: illustrious success stories like those of Amanda Hocking and E. L. James and Hugh Howey and so on.  It’s a new golden age, a publishing bonanza!  But then, when you dig right down into it, you find that the bloom is already off the rose, and amazing success (or even modest, work-a-day living success) is harder to achieve than many initially thought.

On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model.  I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and  how those problems negatively impact authors.  So, for me, it seems I could go either way.  There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road. 

But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.  (This probably comes as no surprise to regular readers… although I have been fairly critical of both roads to publication, I think on balance I’ve been slightly more critical of the Digital Self-publishing reovolution.)  However, inspired by a recent post from Jo Eberhardt’s Happy Logophile, I find myself asking… why?

Why?

I’ve spent some time thinking, and it’s a question that I’ve found harder to answer than it should be.  The answer – the honest answer – seems, at first, to be a shallow response.

A first pass: As a child, I never dreamed of getting my book digitally published; I dreamed of having real, physical copies of my books available on bookstore shelves.  Riposte: So what? Times, and the world, have changed.   If you want a career as a writer, you’ve got to go where the money is.  Counterclaim: But there’s still too much money on the table in the Physicl Print world… why would I voluntarily give up as many as half of my potential sales.  Besides, going-it-alone is essentially a crapshoot: there’s no sure-fire way of rising above selling a small handful of e-books to achieving real success, and there’s no objective or consistently-reliable way of discerning or differentiating high-quality self-published e-books from uninspired pablum.  And besides again: I can’t afford the editing and cover-artwork and design and whatnot I’d need to make the thing at least marginally presentable, and I’m insufficiently skilled (and insufficiently endowed with the free time needed to gain the skills) to do it myself.

When you dig down into it, then, my reasoning is at least a little better than merely shallow.  As a practical matter, I’m focused on traditional publishing because that’s what my current resources best allow.  That’s not an insignificant matter.  I have all the (non-free) time in the world to wait on editorial response and the machinery of publishing to do its thing.  But I don’t have the free time needed to make self-publishing work. 

But the real reason is more than mere practicality, I think.  I want to be successful.  Given my resources, I can’t be successful at self-publishing.  But more than that, I suspect that even if I had the right resources, I still wouldn’t be as successful at self-publishing as I believe I would be in the traditional publishing world.  The fact is… I really want to get rich off of my writing.  And all things considered I still feel I have a better shot at getting rich in the traditional path.

I’m sounding shallow again.  But the reality is… it’s not about the money.  It’s about what the money buys.  As a husband and father, financial success in publishing gains me security for my family and a true legacy to pass on to my children.  And, as an author, it buys me artistic freedom to pursue the projects I want to work on without worrying about whether the next thing I do will be a home-run or just a modest base-hit (or, for that matter, a ball or even a strike, if I’m going to keep using this whole baseball metaphor thing that I’m really ill-equipped to use).

But why would I worry about being successful at writing if I’m decently capable of being successful at a more regular career – like what I’m doing in my day job?

Don’t get me wrong: I like my day job a lot.  But when it comes down to it… I never wanted to be an analytical genuis growing up.  I never really wanted to be a corporate executive.  And I surely didn’t want to be a mid-level manager.  I’m practical, and my idea of a practical and achievable career goal has changed over time.  But in my heart-of-hearts, deep down, the practical is a cage.  There’s only one thread that has been constant throughout my life.  Writing.  If you ask me not what I am or what I do for a living, but who I am, there is only one answer, and it is an answer that has not changed since my earliest childhood: I am a writer. 

As to why, then?  It all comes back around to this.  I am a writer.  And I want to be who I was born to be and do what I was born to do.  And I want to be able to do that and still be a good provider for my family and for the future.

2013 Goals

That’s the long and short of why, so now I’d like to get back to the more traditional version of a goal-setting post: the actual, concrete, measureable goals I’ve set for myself for the (not so) new (anymore) year.  I’ll start with the easy one.

1) Read at least 750,000 words worth of fiction in 2013:  I wanted to set a goal that was a stretch for me – compared to last year – but which was also firmly achievable.  My goal last year was to read 550,000 words of fiction, but I blew that goal away, reading over 950,000 words of novels and fiction.  Since last year was the first time I’ve ever tracked the volume of my reading, I don’t have a track record: I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little for me.  So I set my goal much higher than my 2012 goal, but lower than what I actually achieved.  That way, I know 750,000 is achievable, but it’s still a higher expectation.  I’m looking forward to

2) Write at least 1,750 words of new fiction per week* in 2013:  This one is a little more challenging.  In 2012 I’d set a goal of 2,000 words per week.  I didn’t even come close.  My average per week, when I wrote, was around 1,400 words… if you take my average for every week in 2012, the picture is even bleaker: only 940 words per week.  That’s because I only wrote anything at all on about two out of every three weeks.  I want to do better than that in 2013… but I also want to be realistic.  I’m not going to do 2,000 words per week in 2013.  Not gonna’ happen.  That’s just being honest.  2012 was a busy year with a lot of stuff going on.  2013 will be much the same: different things going on (the old “Home Project” that ate up significant chunks of 2012 is mostly complete now) but still just as busy with new, time-annihilating things (I’m sure you’ll hear more about V.R. in the coming months ahead). 

So, why 1,750?  I approached it from two directions.  I wanted to write more per week than I did in 2012.  More specifically… I wanted to write an average of, or close to, two chapters in “The Book of M” per month (except for months when I’ll be working on short stories and other writing projects).  So far, with 7 chapters in the bag, the chapters are averaging around 3,700 words.  At 1,750 words per week, I would be writing approximately 2 chapters’ worth per month.  Now, those words I’ve planned are project-agnostic: they may be from “Book of M” or from some short stories, or even from some SF&F-related non-fiction if such writing opportunities come avaialble.

You’ll note the asterisk up there in the statement of my goal.  That represents a caveat. Last year, I’d intended to write a certain number of words per week, but I had enough foresight to see that some weeks things would come up.  So I gave myself an escape clause, allowing me to write nothing in seven of the fifty-two weeks.  In reality I spent 18 weeks writing nothing.  I want to do better this year, but stay realistic.  So I’m giving myself 14** weeks off, this year.

My summary assessment: this will be a difficult stretch goal for me to achieve in 2013.  But I think it’s possible.

3) Complete first drafts for at least 2 short stories having less than 8,000 words apiece: This is a duplicate goal from last year.  I didn’t achieve it.  I got 2/3rds to 3/4ths of one short story written last year.  I’m going to try to finish it and write one more.

4) Submit at least 1 completed and revised work to a professional market: Because I’m never going to get anything published if I don’t submit anything to a publisher.  So this year, I want to try to do that.  Unlikely I’ll have anythign accepted for publication this year.  But I really ought to try if I really want to make a career out of  this.

So… those are my goals for the year.  They’re measureable and consistent with my overall goals and dreams for the future. 

Well, then.  Tell me about you.  Did you set some goals for yourself in 2013, related to writing, or reading, or anything else in your life?  Tell me about it in the comments, or link back to a blog post if you’ve already blogged it.  And good luck in 2013!  Good luck to us all!

 

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**After some contemplation about the things I expect to take place through 2013, I had to change my expected “0-word weeks” caveat from 12 weeks to 14 weeks.  I think that will be, frankly, more realistic.

I’m Guest Posting It

Today, I’ve got a guest post up on Ollin Morales’ blog {Courage 2 Create}.  It’s called “The Trick to Keeping the Big Picture In Mind While Working Out the Details“. But it’s not about the “big picture” and the “details” of your novel.  It’s about the big picture of your writing life and your non-writing life.

In the post, I introduce something that I do that keeps me going that I call “taking the long view”.  If you struggle with managing the vagaries of your daily life to find time to write, you might find some inspiration, or at least consolation, in this post.  You should check it out.

A part of the post ended up on the cutting room floor due to length constraints.  In the post, I give five “steps”.  But what got left behind was a short example version of how a hypothetical writer might implement those steps.  So I thought I’d share the example here with you.  You’ll want to read the linked guest post first to get the full context. Continue reading

2012: Goals, Plans, Dreams

It is customary, as the old year slips into the new, to make resolutions regarding the accomplishments one hopes to achieve in the coming year.  Since January 1st, I’ve been thinking over my own goals and resolutions for 2012.  The month is nearly half-over, now, so this may not seem timely.  But a good plan for the year shouldn’t be taken so lightly.

 2012 promised to bring many changes and opportunities for me and my family.  Many of these are private matters, of course, and suffice to say Dear Wife and I have a few important changes and goals in mind for the year to come.  But there are some big changes that are pretty clear.  2012, for instance, will be the first full year in which I will not have any MBA classes, owing to my graduation from the program last May. 

This being the blog of an aspiring author, though, most of what I want to talk about, with regards to my goals, plans, and dreams for 2012, concern my writing.

One thing I want to clear up: 2012 is not the year that Stephen A. Watkins gets published.  First, as a technical matter, that year was 2011, anyway.  But I don’t anticipate repeating that success in 2012.  It could happen, but I’m not planning on it.  And how could I?  It’s not exactly in my control.  Which gets to the point of how I want to think about my writing goals and plans for 2012.  I want SMART goals. Continue reading