We’re a day into the New Year, as of this post at least. As I write this, it is in the waning few days of 2022, sitting in my den with a sleeping dog next to me. As said previously in my spur-of-the-moment last post of 2022, I decided to think hard on the things I want to change starting in 2023. Although self improvement is supposed to be an ongoing thing (and something that need not wait for some future date to begin), I decided to use the momentum of New Year’s Resolutions to help propel me forward. Sure, I had been a cynic of these things in the past, but age has imparted some wisdom to me. Some…
As with many, there are certainly a litany of things in life worth improving. Some of it is truly superficial, while others have deeper yearnings behind them. I want to go more for the deeper changes — the things that aren’t simply things we see.
So let’s get into it.
Write and Publish Faster
This goal isn’t super specific, because at this moment, I am not wholly certain as to the specificity it needs to be. Publish once a month? Once a quarter? How fast should I write? What I do know is that it needs to be faster than it is currently — and that means if I get up to a frequency of publishing once a year, that will achieve that goal.
I want to build up a flywheel here. In a manner of speaking, this means starting small and then building on that repeatedly until I reach a certain point. The real goal: publish at least once a month. But jumping into 2023 with that goal will hurtle me into failure, risking the inevitable abandonment of said goal. Maybe it is something I work towards for the end of the year. Maybe I go from one in six months, or four, or three and then get the next one out sooner, then the next one a little sooner until I’ve worked up the habit where each month a new piece of fiction is released.
Of course, I can cheat. I could do 12 short stories and call it, each 500 to 5000 words. That is not my goal though. These works should be novella length or more (17,500+ words). The longer the work, the harder it will be. That is very much understood. These works will be an assortment. Some might tread to full-size fantasy epics of more than 250,000 words, but they might be simple tales closer to that 17,500 mark. It is through variation that I have the best shot.
All this stems from my recent explorations into “Why I am Failing as a Writer” — those responses I made to writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s own series “How Writers Fail”. One of the chief lessons I learned in that is to blaze forward. Write fast; write frequently. Edit sparingly. Don’t be so damned precious about it all. Most of what I write will disappear into obscurity. But someone will enjoy it.
Conventional wisdom says to write liberally and the edit deeply. In fact, I can even remember how many writing advice columns I’ve read say to write, then trash it all and rewrite — then edit deeply — then send it to someone else to edit. I have my own experiences showing how that butchers a story. We’ve almost been conditioned to expect greatness in every piece we write. Each piece has to be best-seller-worthy. No it doesn’t. All that does is slow a writer down. I want to produce more damn it! A LOT more!
Now for short stories:
Free Fiction Friday looms over my head. I love the concept of publishing a short piece of fiction every week for free on this site. The problem comes in how to produce it. Like with the above, building up to a frequency, I will work to do the same with short stories. As it stands now, Free Fiction Friday doesn’t happen every week. It goes in fits and starts, with a frequency closer to once every two months. The goal is to build that flywheel and turn production of short stories into a better than once-a-week writing habit.
Now length matters here to a degree. Short stories can range from only a few words (see the whole concept of 6-word stories) up to roughly 7,500 words. Beyond that, one hits novelette territory. (I might write a few of them, too. How I handle them is up for debate.) Longer length short stories can take up a lot of time; shorter lengths of 2,000 words or fewer take less time. And all this should be done in conjunction with book writing mentioned above.
So the goals: Build up the skills needed — get that flywheel turning — to be able to publish one novella or novel per month and one short story a week by the close of 2023.
Essays and Blog Posts:
This is always ongoing, but never consistent. Along with my writing fiction for that goal of speedy, frequent publication, I have to include the posts I try to make every Monday on this site. These will continue. The only goal here is that I work to not miss a week and get better at scheduling them and planning them out. In a small part, maybe I do have a goal here. I wish to start using the Monday essay/blog post to build on my outlining and researching skills. In building these for short pieces, I can then transfer that over to fiction where I can then further enhance those skills.
Next is topics. I hope to move away from focusing on writing as a topic. I want to move into a myriad of different things that fit some of my other interests. What those are and how I’ll deal with them will remain to be seen.
I write a lot of poetry. Especially for what one would initially think a 40-something year old man to do. We often (“we” being in the broader societal sense) think that poetry is for angsty teenage boys and girls. Then it seems only acceptable that women continue writing it into adulthood, even as some of the most famous poets of the past are men. It’s a weird stereotype, but whatever.
One thing that I tried many times to do is to write a poem a day. Sometimes I go on small streaks, writing at that pace for a week or a bit longer. My goal is to be at that pace by the end of the year. Not only will that allow for the weekly posts of poetry on this site to continue unabated, it will also mean that I could publish a book of poetry each year, which in a way could count towards that once-a-month publishing goal.
On the writing overall:
At first glance looking at all this, the feeling of having bit off more than can be chewed comes in. All this is a lot. A LOT. A published book a month? A short story a week? A poem a day? It is a lot. It means not only the time and energy each day to hit some word count but all the work in getting those books all formatted, the cover designs, and all those other things that go into publication, too. All this while working a full-time job and all the necessities of being a husband and a father? Not to mention all the responsibilities of home ownership? It is a lot.
But it is possible.
As stated above, a lot of it will have to do with abandoning the idea that everything I produce has to be gold. For instance, Beethoven and Mozart each created over 500 pieces of music apiece. How many do we recognize? Then there is Picasso, who reportedly produced over 10,000 paintings and 100,000 prints and engravings in his career. This comparison isn’t to say that I am on their level of skill or mastery, but that if I do want to get there, it can’t hurt to just blaze forward!
Kristine Kathryn Rusch belabors this point in many of her posts: Produce like fucking mad. Restrict second guessing and editing to the minimal — such as making sure the story is linear, the plot makes sense, and that the grammar is reasonable. And I know she’s correct. Like I said above, I have experience in this, where I effectively get stuck in the editing phase of a draft because it isn’t perfect enough. Over time, the edits, that chasing perfection in the story, ends up destroying the story. Don’t think it possible? It is. And besides, the “editing” that publishing houses provide and insist on is so that the story, style, content, etc all conform to the rules of said publishing house — it isn’t “perfect” so much as perfectly fitting their business model. Being indie, why should I worry about that?
That’s not to say that I should throw random words up on a screen and call it a day. No, there needs to be some sense to it. As I write more, practice more, publish more, these skills will develop and my stories should improve over time. Will they be perfect? Maybe to someone — and that is what’s important there.
Art of Other Kinds
One of the other things I like to do is draw. And paint — particularly watercolor. While being reasonably talented in drawing, I haven’t done much to build the skills in either area. Unlike writing though, these two desires don’t prod at me when not doing them. At least not in the same way.
I still have a drive to do them, though. And they each serve as another creative outlet that I can use. I want to do more with them, if for nothing other than to satisfy my own needs for it.
About every six months I break out my pencils or brushes and sketch or paint. I’d like to move that up to once a week for 2023, spending maybe 15 minutes a week for each to gain me a little practice for both activities. Just enough to get some regular use and practice. And 15 minutes for each — 30 minutes in total — each week is perfectly reasonable. Far more time is lost to plenty of other mindless things.
Focus on Health
Of course, how can one have a New Years Resolution and not have “health” somewhere in there? In truth, this one has been underway for much of 2022. I’ve added supplements to my diet, tried to be more stringent with intermittent fasting (something that works well for me), and even periodically performed workout routines. For 2023, I simply wish to again… build on that trend to continue this.
It includes not only what I mentioned above, but getting outdoors more. More sun exposure (check out the dminder app to track sun exposure, it works really well), getting away from artificial light where possible, switching to walking barefoot or with barefoot/zero-drop shoes (got my first pair a few weeks ago and they work really well), more stretching and flexibility exercises, and other habits that stack on each other.
There are not any goals like “losing weight” or “getting in shape”. It is all about shifting the approach of how I interact with modern life to make me healthier overall. The others might end up being byproducts, but they aren’t end goals. All-in-all, I want to get to a point where I feel relatively good, even with the aches and pains of growing older.
Let Go of Things
As vague as that statement is, I actually have a few specific ideas behind it. A few habits of mine get in the way of things I wish to do, be it writing or health related. It might not be so much that the activity gets in the way (although, it still might), but rather that these things simply serve to derail my attention or add to my stress level in some way.
I have too many podcasts I try to listen to, for instance. Some I am subscribed to and catch every show. Others I comb for episodes where the guest or topic is something I am deeply interested in. All in all, I frequently fall far behind in my listening and end up using valuable time for writing or something else in favor of catching up. Why am I doing that?
On one hand, yes, I enjoy many of these shows. Some of them I’ve caught every episode for years. But on the other hand, they have become more of a hindrance, less entertainment, than they used to be.
There are four of them I cannot, under any circumstances, unsubscribe. Those four? Hardcore History, The Dangerous History Podcast, History Impossible, and LeVar Burton Reads. Of those three, only two of them have anything close to a “regular” release pattern — and one of the two remaining only fails that distinction as it releases in seasons versus continuous episodes throughout the year.
The rest I listen to? I believe they all need to be reevaluated as to which I want to keep and which I need to push to a listen-as-I-have-time-if-I-have-time frequency. The problem is that I need to figure out a way to be OK with that. I have to let go of whatever anxiety I get when thinking that I am going to miss an episode.
So the goal of 2023? Learn to let go of some of the podcasts I currently listen to. If not abandoning them completely, I should at least unsubscribe to them and let them fall into a routine to where I only periodically check to see if there are episodes I don’t wish to miss. In doing so, I can create some space in the amount of “free time” I have, allowing me the ability to focus my mind on other things.
Other things I spend too much time on? Consider that I play these puzzles every day. I haven’t missed a day in years. How much time and energy have I devoted to them? The daily puzzles aren’t too bad, but recently they came out with weekly puzzles on top of it. More time. More distraction. Can I let go of the need to complete these? Can I let go of the weekly puzzles and then maybe the dailies?
Then there is social media and other internet distractions. As I’ve said before, these are nothing more than tools — if that is one wants to make them. When they become tools of distraction, tools that are uncontrolled, then it is a problem. Deleting the apps won’t help, rather I need to build up the ability to let go of that compulsion to look at them all the time. The second discomfort in any form comes in, the hand starts to reach forward, seeking out the phone. I want to build those skills to post-and-ghost, letting go of the need for those hours of doom-scrolling and mindless surfing. To let go of their use as a distraction.
Something that you likely noticed is that many of these goals (writing in particular) have that “by the end of 2023” timing on them. That is on purpose. While many thrust into 2023 with wild goals and resolutions, only to run smack into that thing called life, I decided that I need a different approach. Sure, I’d like to be able to step into 2023 and be writing a book a month, a short story a week, and a poem a day — then on top of all that get all those other things I want to do in. Even with a ton of effort, it won’t happen. That is wholly different from not possible or can’t happen. Doing that is entirely within the realm of possible — just not now. Not at the onset of 2023. By the end? Given enough effort? Entirely possible.
We often charge into resolutions or goals without that introspection. Mirrors are metaphorically tossed to the side with the ideas that we’ll suddenly be capable of this massive transformation without dealing with any of the building blocks needed for real success. We throw the house up in rapid fashion without realizing we skipped the foundation, wondering then why it falls. Sure, some people can manage this, but the bulk of us find out soon enough that the work needed is too much, or that the changes require something else that we failed to account, thus leading us into abandoning our goals.
That’s where the concept of the flywheel comes in. It works off a slow building of momentum, eventually turning all those small movements into greater and greater ones. More effort is required in the beginning to get that little bit of motion, but as that momentum is built, then less effort is needed to get to faster and faster paces. When I speak of building skills, I also speak of this.
In a way, I guess one can say that my goals aren’t so much the faster publishing — the faster paced writing, or the are or fitness. No, my goals are to build skill sets that enable those end results. I know I don’t have those skills now. Or if I have them, they aren’t practiced or refined. Some of it is in the acts themselves; some of it is in the habits around them. When I have time to write, for instance, am I always making the correct choices? That is part of the skills needed.
Already, I begun some of the work needed to do that. Relearning to hand-write stories in a notebook is one skill I’ve worked on. The short story published for Free Fiction Friday on the 30th of December was one such story, written completely by hand rather than typed out.
Why write by hand? Because sometimes pulling out a notebook and writing is far easier and more efficient than even popping open the Scrivener app on my phone. Other benefits include less temptation for distraction. Can’t open social media or a website in a notebook. Phone’s right there, yes, but I found it much easier to ignore it when the notebook is there than when the computer is open.
It’s skills like that that I need to build on if I am to get anywhere close to what is needed. And because I am looking to build on skills, if I am not quite up to the once-a-month book publishing, the short story a week, or those other things, if I can measure a stark difference between the beginning and end of 2023, then I know I am on the right path.
All in all, there is going to be a lot that I need to work on for this new year. There are many skills I wish to pick up over time. Starting small, I hope to build that momentum, pushing that flywheel to a point where it almost feels effortless to move forward. It will take time — and hard work. But isn’t that what life is?
Good luck in your own pursuits and goals. I hope that everyone has a happy, productive, successful 2023.
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