Elijah was born on Tuesday, January 19th, at 8:20pm. The past week and a half have been a ride, man.
First, I have lots of thoughts about how fathers are viewed in our society. While in the hospital I noticed a lot of careful language around the role of fathers in the delivery room and at home that made me wonder how often nurses see situations where the father is absent or shitty. I think it’s a mixture of implicit bias on the nursing staffs’ part, and a self-fulfilling prophecy that lots of men aren’t well-prepared to be fathers and don’t have the same incentive that a woman does (you know, on account of not having to grow another person for nine months) to get prepared. I don’t know. I’ll need to write about that another time.
Coming home was exciting and terrifying. We no longer had the support of a full nursing staff, no one to take Elijah when we needed rest, and no easy answers if something felt wrong. The first night was hell. Newborns don’t have any concept of night and day (or of anything else), and it is common for a newborn to be nocturnal. In all the excitement of getting home and settled in we did not prepare for that. Over the past week I’ve probably averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per day, with that number going up bit by bit as each day has passed. But that first night isn’t something you can prepare for. Not only are you sleep-deprived and dealing with all the fun effects of that (for me, exhaustion also comes with nausea and irritability), but you’re learning your baby’s tendencies on the fly. Elijah spent a lot of that first night crying hysterically and we had no idea why.
This hasn’t changed. My wife and I joke that between the hours of 12am and 6am Elijah turns into a gremlin. He’s most alert during these hours, and also most prone to crying fits when he isn’t getting what he immediately needs. It’s honestly terrifying seeing him scrunch up his face, open his mouth, and thrash his head side to side when he’s hungry or wants attention and isn’t getting it quickly enough. I’ve had to remind myself that he’s fully automatic right now–his manual overrides don’t come built in–and that his instincts are guiding his emotions. And those instincts are to feed, shit, and sleep, sometimes all at once.
But we have learned his tendencies and made adjustments as the week has gone on that have made handling him easier. We learned that he needs to be fed more often than the recommended 2-3 hours (he’s 2 hours or less, usually–by 3 hours he loses his mind). With my sister’s help we’ve settled into a routine where we can get some sleep and even do things like write this blog.
Now, I’m prepared to stay up with him at his worst hours and weather those storms. On Tuesday, his one-week birthday, I even managed to stay with him alone from 1am-5am while my wife slept with nary a tantrum thrown. I can read him now and that’s pretty cool.
I’m told it gets easier after two weeks or so, but we’ll see. I think it’ll be just as hard, but in different ways. I am hoping for more sleep soon, though.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Sunday night I couldn’t sleep. The day before I had read my novella out loud, making edits in preparation for next steps, and as I did that I kept returning to the same thought: This would really work as a screenplay.
The idea for the novella, sort of a Haruki Murakami-type story about two people exploring the weird crevices of their city, was originally meant as a noir screenplay. I first wrote it as a short story a few years ago, and then (having sort of given up on screenwriting), expanded it to a novella last year. I’ve revisited it from time-to-time since, always with an eye toward self-publishing, and it has always occurred to me that it might make a fun little indie film, but that’s not realistic. Movies are too big, too complex, too collaborative, and too expensive to just do. I spent nearly ten years learning that between Buffalo and DC.
Still, the simplicity of the dialogue-driven story. The rotating locations. The potential for actors to sink their teeth into these characters…
Sunday night I found myself fantasizing about self-funding the film, going home to Buffalo, gathering up the old crew, and shooting it. I lay in bed working out logistics, trying to figure out what sort of budget I’d need, thinking of locations, picturing the set-ups. It was bad. Really bad.
So, where I’m at is trying to adapt my own work. I’ve done this before, with my novel (which started as a screenplay), but I think it’s a bit easier to expand on ideas than the opposite.
This doesn’t change any of my short term plans surrounding the short story collection, or even self-publishing the novella. If, and it’s a big if, I were to seriously consider self-funding this film, it’d take a couple of years to get off the ground. It’s a lot of risk with very little chance of return. I’d really just be squandering away my family’s savings for a passion project that I’ve not demonstrated the talent to bring to fruition.
But there is something to be said about that giddy feeling of excitement I get when I think about it. I wish I felt that sort of passion about sitting in an office 8-10 hours per day.
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.
Craig Gusmann is a writer currently stationed in PA with his wife and two cats. Sent from the future in a clear homage to The Terminator, he wanted to get a head start on perfecting his use of words. Feel free to let him know how he’s doing.