Category: goals (Page 1 of 2)

Hopes for 2021

The last photo I took in 2020. I think it’s a good preview for 2021.

2020 is over. Finally.

2021 is here. A bright new year full of possibilities and (maybe) wonder.

I don’t think there’s a particularly good reason to make new year goals, and in fact I tend to revisit my goals every three months (planning pyramid FTW!), but there are some things I hope to accomplish this year. Putting them out into the world, at the very least, will hold me somewhat accountable.

Creative Life

I have several goals in this arena, barring another pandemic or something silly like having a child:

  • Dedicate words toward more stories and less blogs: I usually always set word count goals and I always miss them. Last year was 5,000 words per week, with the understanding that I can write 1,000 words per hour before work if I know what I’m trying to do. But… work didn’t end up being that predictable and this website and blog took up a lot of my creative time. So, having learned that lesson I’m doing two things: 1) going down to once per week blog posts instead of twice per week and 2) setting a goal of 4,000 words per week. In addition, I’m more closely tracking my word counts day-to-day and week-to-week to actually see how I’m progressing. So far… not so great. But we’ll get to that.
  • Publish one or two things: My novella is nearly ready to publish, now that it’s gone through a professional editor. She gave me a lot of confidence that I’m not the terrible writer I secretly suspect I am, while also pointing me in directions I hadn’t considered. Once those edits are done, I’m going to get a professional cover made and release it into the world. I would also like to collect the vignettes on this site and package them with longer original stories by the end of the year.
  • Revise my novel: This story has vexed me in so many ways, but I think I may have figured out the story-related thing that’s been bugging me. Turns out, it’s something a beta reader pointed out nearly two years ago that has stuck with me. I’ve resolved to do something about it. I don’t know if this novel is traditionally publishable since I don’t even know how to pitch it (which is more a fault with me than the novel), so we’ll see how my self-publishing experiments go.
  • Write a new novel: It’s outlined and much of the research is done, which is where I need to be to really hit my word count goals. Can’t say much more than that.
  • Miscellaneous: Let’s call these stretch goals. I want to finish a screenplay I started at the end of last year, and possibly enter some contests. I also want to start a newsletter to coincide with the release of the novella. We’ll see on that one. Finally, I’d like to be more engaged with the writing community. I could use the support and learning opportunities. This one is difficult. I’m not an socially outgoing person, and I don’t like social media. But I have some ideas.

A bit ambitious, I think, considering what my professional and personal life will look like. Speaking of…

Professional

My professional life is one that I don’t really make obvious goals for it. Most of what happens is outside of my control and requires flexibility. I want to survive, mostly, and maybe continue to put myself in leadership positions.

I think that’s the big one. I don’t really care about certifications or anything like that because they’re largely meaningless to my day-to-day work. Sure, there are learning opportunities in getting them, but mostly I find the ROI to be pretty low vis-a-vis time and effort. Being a good teammate and leader, though, is important to me. 2020 was tough because I was running up against issues with my first hire and had to do some tightrope walking to balance my employees needs with that of the company.

This year will be more of that, since I’m growing my team and we’ll all have more responsibility as the company continues to grow. In short, I want to be the type of manager I always wished I’d had when I was starting my career.

Personal

Nothing I do this year (or the next 18+ years, really) will be as important as Elijah. Nurturing him is my priority above all else. Sure, I have some goals, but I think it’s important to set them with the expectation that Elijah will come before any of them, so they may not get done. That goes for my creative and professional goals, as well. Little dude is gonna take over my life, and I’m perfectly ok with that.

All that said, I have set some personal goals for the year that are separate from my creative goals:

  • Money money money: I’ve never been a money-oriented person. It is the root of all evil, after all, so why would I want anything to do with that? As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve had a realization: my family needs money to live. Weird, I know. Caught me by surprise, too. Over the past few years I’ve gotten much better with money, but there’s always room for improvement. Like actually filling out expense reports so I’m not leaving money on the table. Setting up long-term investments. Paying down debts. That sort of thing.
  • Get in some sort of shape that’s not an amorphous blob: When I was playing hockey I didn’t worry as much about my health. Three to four times per week I was doing strenuous activity, which was enough to make me feel pretty good and keep my weight down. COVID has demolished all that. So I need to be disciplined and work out on my own.
  • Prioritize my mental health: I tend to think I’m stronger than I really am, so I allow myself to take on a lot until I reach a breaking point. I don’t want to do that, anymore, because it’s not good for me and it’s really not good for my family. Permission to take breaks, to step away from work when I’m overwhelmed, and generally giving myself permission to enjoy the life I’ve built without the guilt of my own ambitions.

***

That’s probably a lot, but I also try to aim high in the hopes that even missing will be progress toward my long-term goals. 2020 was unpredictable and weird for lots of reasons and 2021 promises to be even more of that, so I’m gonna keep that in mind. Hopefully, though, by this time next year the goals will be a little bit bigger because of the progress I’ll have made on these ones.

Reflections on 2020

This is the first photo I took in 2020. The rest of the year did not live up to this moment.

Wow. Thank God 2020 is over, yeah? Nowhere to go but up, and things will never be that bad again…

… is the joke everyone is making.

I recognize that in the long arcs of our lives, dates and years are arbitrary and only useful as an organizational tool. There is no reason to make goals just because it’s a new year, just as there’s no reason not to make goals at any other point in the year.

That said, mentally there is something nice about feeling like we get a fresh start because the calendar switched over. In that sense, I wanted to do an epic(?) two-part blog post to reflect on the things that happened to me this year, personally and professionally, and then talk about my hopes for 2021. 2020 was a strange year, obviously, in nearly every part of my life. There were lots of stressors, but I have to admit that, given the circumstances, things went pretty well in my creative, professional, and personal lives.

Creative Life

I came into the year with big plans–BIG PLANS I TELL YA–and failed to meet most of them. There are plenty of reasons for that which I’ll go into when discussing my professional and personal life, but it wasn’t devoid of progress.

First, this website. I started it back in December of 2019, with the idea that it would help me to be more disciplined, build an audience, and help me to develop my “brand.” I was fairly disciplined this year, updating the blog twice per week every week except for a *ahem* nearly three-month period where I only managed two blog posts total and purposefully didn’t update during a two-week vacation I had planned. Still, that’s 77 blog posts last year, which is a personal record. I was also disciplined about the vignettes, posting one per month except for that three-month period where I was MIA.

There isn’t much to report on the audience or “brand” front. My page view and engagement numbers are low enough to not even be worth mentioning and I don’t even know what a “brand” is in my case. I initially had ideas about how to build an audience, but was unable to follow through because of time constraints. I wouldn’t exactly say I bit off more than I could chew, but my experience this year has shown me that I need to better prioritize my time and consider other avenues toward finding my people.

I did a lot of writing this year without actually completing any major projects. Still, I wrote nearly 20 vignettes and short stories, started a new screenplay, outlined my next novel, and continued work on the novella. On that front, I decided to hire a professional editor in preparation for self-publishing the novella. I’ll probably write more about that experience later, but it was definitely worthwhile. I had my confidence boosted while also learning a lot about my writing and having things about the story pointed out to me that I hadn’t considered. I’m excited to finish the revisions and show it to everyone.

So, in all it was a good stepping stone year. I didn’t make any big moves, but I put a lot of the pieces in place to make those moves later on.

Professional

This was a strange year for me, professionally. First, it was very busy. Remember when I disappeared off the face of the planet for three months? It was because of my day job and it’s probably something that will happen to me around that time every year. I should have realized that and planned for it.

I took on a lot more responsibility this year. I’ve been with my company for six and a half years at this point, and for much of that my boss has expected me to shift into a management position. I’ve always been resistant to that because it feels like if I agree to middle-management I’m dead. Life is over. That’s what I am. But that’s not (wholly) true.

In fact, over the past few years my responsibilities have grown to the point that I was an unofficial manager, anyway. I’ve been the defacto lead of our little team for a while now, and have had a direct report since 2018. In short, I was already doing the thing I had resisted doing–only I didn’t have the title or the pay to go with it.

At the end of 2019, when our end-of-year raises were released, I brought this up to my boss. I came with data on my responsibilities and how they compared to the market, my experience, and what I expected my pay to be. He ran that up the chain and the word I got back was, “We didn’t realize you were already doing so much. Here’s your promotion.” It went into effect in January and over the course of the year I’ve continued to solidify my grip on our department (i.e., grow into the role). When raises came around again this year, I was given a substantial bump (relatively–COVID prevented anyone in the company that I’m aware of from getting a huge raise) and further responsibilities.

Long story short, I’m now middle-management. Yay?

Personal

My personal goals this year, whatever they were in January, were shot to shit within a few months. And then their corpses were stomped on and dragged through the dirty streets, spit on by every passerby, until their desecrated bodies were unceremoniously thrown into a ditch and buried.

But then a funny thing happened. They were reborn into things I didn’t even know I wanted.

For one, there is Elijah. My wife and I had tried to get pregnant in 2019, with no luck, and decided to hit pause until she finishes her internship later in 2021. Life had other plans, though, and she’ll have Elijah smack in the middle of the internship, instead.

Elijah led to us buying our first house. And then that house decided to make me regret it immediately with a flooded basement and myriad other problems that houses tend to have. Searching for and buying a house during a pandemic was certainly an interesting experience. Wouldn’t recommend it, though.

Other than those two things, my personal life was quiet. Aside from a careful visit from some friends over the summer, we haven’t seen any friends or family in person since March, and I’ve only played hockey once since the initial wave. With my wife being pregnant, we decided to minimize risks. So, it’s been a lonely year in that regard. Luckily, as a writer, I’m good with loneliness. It also helps that my wife is my best friend.

***

As I said before, 2020 was a weird year for more reasons than the pandemic (although the pandemic made it more weird). I’ll outline some of my goals for 2021 next week. That’s right, blog posts are going down to once per week this year. I’ll explain why next time. So stay tuned.

It’s a low bar, but I hope everyone’s 2021 is way fucking better than their 2020.

Organizing a Short Story Collection

These are short story collections.

Last year I made a plan. In 2020 I was going to build a website (check!), consistently update that website (mostly check!), and I was going to self-publish a novella and a short story collection (… not check…).

So obviously, 2020 being what it is, things have changed. When I made this plan there was no Covid on the horizon, I wasn’t thinking about buying a house, and I didn’t expect to become a father. Yet, somehow, all of those things happened. And you know what? I kinda like the unplanned stuff more (except Covid–that can suck a big fat donkey dick).

Anyway, all of those things are a delay, not a cancellation. The novella is written (but needs some editing, and a rewrite of at least one section), and I have enough stories to put together a collection. The plan was always to pull down the vignettes and collect them with unpublished stories. I’m going to do that, but as I sat to think about what that could look like I realized that short story collections are more complicated than just taking a bunch of stories and throwing them together.

First, if I’m going to self-publish something, even if it’s only priced for $0.99, I want the reader to get value out of it. A book made up of 12 vignettes would top out at 15,000 words, if that. I don’t think I’d buy that book, especially when the vignettes were already free online at some point. This wouldn’t be as simple as just collecting and self-publishing what is already on this site.

The idea was never to only do that, but I did want to ensure that I had enough stories of varying lengths to make a purchase worthwhile. I went through everything I’ve written, including what I knew I wanted to include, some works I wasn’t sure about, and ideas that aren’t written but I’m excited about. I put them all into a spreadsheet (youse know how much I love spreadsheets) and wrote down the exact page count for each, as well as whether the writing was a vignette, short story, or poem.

Seeing all the stories laid out quelled my fear that I wouldn’t have enough writing that I was proud enough to publish. I saw there was a decent mixture of lengths that, together, added up to something worth $0.99. The next step, then, was figuring out how to organize them.

I didn’t quickly find many articles online for organizing short story collections. That said, much of my thinking from here on out is influenced by this blog post from BOOKFOX, so instead of cribbing from it I’ll just point you there.

Specifically, I found guideline #3 to be helpful: “Build your own structure, and then order stories according to that logic.” The post describes five different types of structures for a collection–hourglass, möbius strip, mosaic, musical improvisation, and instant replay. The hourglass structure most appeals to me for this particular collection.

Having decided on a tentative structure (it may change as I work toward publication), I had to figure out how to fit the stories I chose into this concept. My stories tend to wander between genres, but touch on common themes or play with similar styles. I went back to my spreadsheet and added “Genre” and “Subgenre” columns. Sticking to only a few genres so as not to overcomplicate the exercise, I put the writings into loose groupings.

Then, on the advice to start with your strongest story to draw the reader in, I arranged the order from that story down. From there, I tweaked the order in which stories appeared to have a better flow from genre to genre, and from idea to idea. Now, the collections starts with a series of horror stories, eases into existential dread, turns into experimentalism, dovetails into romance and sci-fi (I tend to use sci-fi to explore romantic notions–who knew?), and ends on a dramatic note.

This collection has required far more thought than I expected, but it’s also challenged me to think deeply about what I’m including and why, and illuminated common themes in my work.

I hope to have the collection on Amazon by December or January.

No Excuses (Or Never Give Up, Never Surrender!)

The moment I decided to start writing query letters I also decided something else: The only chance I’ll ever have at a career as a screenwriter, and the only way to be sure that I’m a hopeless cause (if there is a way to be sure), it to give it everything. I was scared of querying managers, agents, and producers because I didn’t want them to ruin my confidence.

With contests, or BL3.0 there is a wall between you and the reviewer(s). It’s easy to take a script down if it gets a bad review on BL3.0, or say that the reader did a poor job and ignore it. It’s even easier to write off contests. The competition was just too good this year. Contests are a scam anyway. My script isn’t marketable enough to win contests or my script is too mainstream to win this contest. I’m sure there are an infinite amount of excuses lean on, but I can’t personally rationalize such a rejection from a manager, agent, or producer. Especially since, in my interactions with a manager, if they do read your stuff and it is even vaguely interesting you will receive a thoughtful response. Maybe I got lucky my first time out. But I would like to think that’s how most “insiders” or “gatekeepers” operate.

Even though I was scared of querying because of the seeming finality to it the process has actually given me some confidence moving forward. I wouldn’t call it a homerun, not by a long shot, but it was a good start. I made a connection, proved that there is some semblance of talent beneath this insecurity, and learned a few valuable lessons that should help me in the future.

As I constructed my contact list I also realized that, much like dating, there are plenty of fish in the sea. If I don’t get any bites this go around the flaw is with the idea and/or execution and I need to do better next time. The door isn’t closed. Managers, agents, and producers surely talk to one another, but unless they read something horrifically bad (as in – offensively bad) I doubt they would gossip and blacklist some unknown writer that lives in Alexandria, Virginia by way of Buffalo, New York.

I’ve written a bit about knowing when to quit and worrying that I’ll be chasing this dream past the horizon, through the sunset, and into the vacuum of space where it’ll kill me, but there is solace in knowing I’m on my way to doing everything I can to make it a reality. It began with contests. Then it was professional reviews. Now it’s query letters. Next is the move to LA. Once there, if things don’t break, then maybe I’ll know for sure that this life isn’t built for me even if I feel like I was built for it.

Burn Out

I tried to write today. I really did. Yesterday, too. But something’s off. Yesterday I only got in 210 words before distractions and business interfered. Today there have been no distractions (unless you count the U.S. Men’s Hockey Team getting beaten by Canada – which, like, fuck man? I had high hopes this year) yet I’ve still only been able to write just over 300 words. My goal each day I sit down to write is 1,000. Never less. Often more.

I think there are a few things working against me. For one, until yesterday it had been nine whole days since I’ve written. That may not seem like a lot, but trust me it is. So now I’ve got to shake off some of that ring rust. Discipline myself, again. I think another problem is my backlog of projects. While on a good day it only takes me an hour to write 1,000 words or more I can’t help but think about revising The Inhabitors in time for the Nicholl early entry. Or working on a second draft of Peripheral so I can send it out for feedback. Or really attacking Manifest Destiny to try and break the story.

Mostly, I think I’m just stuck. I’ve resumed work on a story I initially started in 2012 and set aside because I wasn’t sure where to go with it. I know the endgame, but how to get there is a mystery to me. I picked it up again yesterday in an attempt at getting back into the swing of things with something that was already started. I was surprised at how much I liked it. But I’m not much further on in the journey than I was back then. Still know the ending. Still don’t know how to get there.

Which makes me think that perhaps more preparation is necessary for me. Which takes time. Which is something I’ve struggled with managing because it flies directly in the face of the goals I’ve set this year. Please don’t misinterpret that – the goals aren’t the problem. The man behind the goals is. I just need to get better at setting aside time to plan and write and edit. If I spend an hour per day on each – that leaves 21 hours for me to sleep, eat, watch TV, do work that actually makes me money, read, spend time with friends and family, so on and so forth. Time isn’t really the issue. How I have managed my time is.

Part of that time mismanagement is simple endurance. I’ve already written a lot so far this year (almost 37,000 words in 51 days plus an average of over 2.75 blog entries per week among other things). I’m not exactly short on ideas, but ideas have never been a problem for me. Solid execution is the problem, as I’m sure it is for most writers. It’s all part of the experiment. Maybe tomorrow, or next month, or when reviewing my year I’ll realize that, boy, getting words on paper isn’t a problem for me but getting good words down without thorough preparation really is. I should focus more on development and allow the execution to come from that. No way to really know without trying a few different methods to see what works.

And when I do figure it out… You guys better watch out. There’ll be a new King of the Written Word in town. /sarcasm

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