2020: how my writing went

I’m not even sure how to begin this overview of the past year. I have never been so busy as I was this year, work-wise, writing-wise – much of it self-inflicted. And I am grateful for that, because it was bad enough as it was and would only have been worse, I am sure, without that busy-ness.

When I started to look back at what I had done writing-wise this year, it was disorienting to consider where I started, but I am so fortunate to have accomplished so much in the midst of everything.

A year ago, in December 2019, I made a decision to focus on finishing the novel I had been working on for just over three years. The answer to “what needed to be done” was a few months of focused editing. And I decided that, if I was going to do that, then I needed to take it seriously. I rented a space to work in, rescheduled by day job hours, and decide to treat the novel as a part-time job until it was done. My plan was to get it done by the end of March.

(I acknowledge how incredibly privileged I was to be in a position to do this. I don’t have much money, but I don’t have a lot of expenses, either. My day job had very flexible part-time hours. I also had time. My kids are in university and were both away at school. And, most relevantly, I knew someone with cheap space available.)

January’s goal was to re-write the first half of the novel with new/more subplots, fewer characters and points of view, and more concrete worldbuilding. I got through about 2/3. Then, in February, I finished that draft, re-read the whole thing (identifying what else needed to be done), and almost finished a final editing pass. To my surprise, I finished the novel in early March.

So far, I have submitted it to two separate publishers who consider unsolicited manuscripts and had two rejections. I am considering what to do next. (That’s another blog post!)

The rest of March I spent working on shorter pieces. A short story that will be published in an upcoming (early 2021) anthology came back from the editor for some work (there were more edits on this in September and December). And I also returned to a novella I began in fall 2019. I have since put this aside, but want to return to it. (I have so many things that fall into this category, though. That’s another upcoming post.)

April is a Camp Nanowrimo month and I wrote a 100 000 word first draft of a new novel. (I have never written 100k in a month before and was pretty pleased although it was largely a function of having the time to do it and my strategy of keeping stupidly busy so as to have less time to think about things.) Obviously, that was the entirely of my April writing output!

In May, it was Story A Day and I did indeed write a story every day. I also worked on some longer stories that are stuck. And I submitted 3 short pieces (all rejected rather quickly). Aside: I appreciate Story A Day May happening right after Camp Nanowrimo. It’s always good to have time away from a novel, especially after a first draft, despite the enthusiasm to keep going that is often there, and Story A Day is a perfect month long break.

In June, I reviewed the stories I wrote for Story A Day and chose more to submit (all rejected!) and did more work on the longer stories I am still in process of overthinking. I submitted a story for the Story A Day StoryFest (you can read it here). I also returned to the April novel draft (at the time called One Step Forward), doing some work using the Story Grid method (which I had not previously used)).

July is also a Camp Nanowrimo month and I returned to April’s first draft, which ended up involving more restructuring than editing. I also submitted three more short pieces (rejected).

In August, I wrote a story for a themed anthology submission call (that was accepted! but won’t be published until early 2022), edited three chapters from One Step Forward, and submitted another two previously rejected stories. This was a satisfying amount of work, because my day job work increased substantially from the end of July (through to the end of the year).

I began another, longer story for an end of September submission call, but as it developed, it did not fit the theme well. As I worked on it, it became obvious that the longer story (around 15k at its longest) was thematically rather similar to the current novel, which – ugh. (The story has evolved, I am working on it now, and plan to submit it elsewhere in January. There is another, later post about my inability to write to positive themes.) For Story A Day September, I hoped to write a story most days and I did (12 short stand alone stories and 13 segments of this longer story).

For Nanowrimo, I returned to the current novel. After giving it a lot of thought, in October, I re-outlined it almost from scratch. In November, I wrote (an almost entirely new) draft, now with a new title and profoundly different than drafts 1 and 2 (although a number of the characters are the same and it is still primarily set in Toronto). I’m happy with the draft I ended up with it and am looking forward to working on it further.

In December, taking a break from the novel, I wrote and submitted two stories for anthologies and continued with the longer-story from September/October, although it is now a much more manageable ~5000 words and I hope to submit it to a magazine in January.

In summarizing all of this, I have come to the conclusion that I need to be more focused on my short story writing in the way that I have come to be with novels. When I take a break from novel writing to work on short stories, I tend to be all over the place – more reactive than intentional. I’m working on a clearer plans with actually articulated goals for this year. I’ll post about those soon.

This next, now-deconstructed novel

My July Camp Nanowrimo did not go exactly as I planned and, while my work on the second draft of my current novel-in-progress has gone well this past month, it did so in unexpected ways. My plan for July was to tackle the first draft I wrote during April’s Camp Nanowrimo (which ended up being just over 100k words).

I re-read the draft and then looked at it, scene by scene and identified some rather large structural issues (the worst was that it began with a day that was almost 25 000 words, 1/4 of the book — there is a place for that sort of thing, I suppose, but the rest of book was not nearly that slow). I also had some reservations about the plot in general, mostly that it seemed weak (characters lacking good reasons for acting as they do, events happening too fortuitously, etc). The inciting incident, in particular, didn’t make a lot of sense (it was way too subtle).

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