Post #16 – How Much Do I Write?

4/12/18

Given my limited amount of writing time, I’m obsessed with productivity. I’m not alone. Most writers I’ve read, who talked about the craft of writing, discuss either how they track their output or their productivity goals.

Mike Resnick in The Science Fiction Professional states each night (remember he writes between 10p and 2a) he writes one chapter in a novel or one entire short story.

Stephen King in On Writing starts at 9a and keeps writing until he reaches 2000 words. Sometimes he is done by lunch; sometimes it takes him until dinner or longer.

Leah Cutter, author of The Healthy Professional Writer, says she tries to write 1000 words hour. She claims to be able to write 2000 words in an hour when the words are flowing.

M.L. Humphrey (Excel for Writers and Excel for Self-Publishers) advocates tracking productivity for each writing session using Excel, noting the time spent and word count. For me, comparing year-to-year writing metrics or shorter periods is a fun exercise. Humphrey believes it is a useful tool for the professional writer because it allows the writer to calculate potential writing income. In other words, if the writer knows s/he can write this many words in this amount of time and sell it for this amount, then their income will be this.

Aeryn Rudel, a fellow short story author and blogger, lately has tracked his weekly word count towards a novel in progress, as well as the number of his short story submissions, acceptances, and rejections both weekly and monthly.

I’ve only tracked two time periods of my productivity, last year’s and last quarter’s.  Last year, starting in June, I wrote 42-43,000 words with a goal of 50,000 words. I have the same goal this year. I have no official short term goals, though I wouldn’t be upset if I hit 12,500 words each quarter just to stay on track.

If the story is flowing, I usually get about 800 words an hour. I often hit 1000 words in one sitting when I have a little longer.  Problem is I’m not writing something new every sitting.  Most sittings are devoted to editing and submitting. I’ve complained about that before in Post #15, but it must be done. The alternative of only finishing rough drafts and never submitting is not attractive to me.

Since seeing Aeryn track his submissions, I included that tally in my 1Q18 update and plan to continue to do so in future updates. I can’t reach my ultimate goal of three short stories published in SFWA-qualifying markets if I don’t submit. And you can see how quickly I’ve had to accept rejection.

Let me know in the comments how much you write and how you track productivity.

Post #13 – Am I Procrastinating?

3/22/18

I realized I titled several recent and forthcoming posts as questions.  But unlike an author writing a character, my audience does not have any insight into my thinking to answer.  Also, unlike many of those posts, I’m not sure I know the answer to this one.

Long time readers (those of you who’ve been with me for all of 2-3 months) may recall that I have an idea for a sci-fi novel.  I’ve jotted down notes about this novel — characters, major plots points, settings — but haven’t written anything yet.  In the interim, I’ve written 12 short stories and children’s picture book manuscripts, all of which are out for submission.  I also have three more short stories in various draft form.  Long time readers also will know my first writing goal is qualifying as an Active Member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  There are a couple ways to qualify.  I selected publishing three short stories in a SFWA-qualifying market, but another way to qualify is by selling a novel to a SWFA-qualifying publisher.

Am I pursuing SFWA membership through short story sales, and writing those stories, as a way to procrastinate from writing my novel?  Good question.  I’m glad you asked.  I don’t think so because I’m not certain I know how to write a novel, though that may be procrastination-inducing self doubt right there.  I’ve long believed I needed to start with short stories to learn how to write.  Don’t forget, before last year, I’d never done this before.  I don’t have an MFA, and I never took creative writing at any level.  Overall, I think I’ve succeeded.  I believe my writing has come a long way in less than a year.  I attribute that not only to the amount of writing I’ve done in that time but also to the books about writing I’ve read in that time.  I couldn’t imagine having focused on my novel, written half of it, and then realizing I needed to go back a fix so many rookie writing mistakes.  Actually, I can, and it involves crying.  But that’s essentially what I’ve had to do with several short stories.  However, revising a 1000-6000 word short story is way less depressing than fixing a 100,000 word novel.  So I plan to keep plugging away at short stories (and children’s books, which are more for my kids) until I feel comfortable tacking the novel.  I’ll get there, but I believe I still have plenty to learn.

BUT (I bet you thought this blog post was over) am I procrastinating finishing one of my short stories?  In Post #10 – Inspiration, I mentioned reading two different calls for submissions and being inspired to write new stories for each.  Well that’s happened two more times since then.  I’ve written one of those subsequent stories already and am in the process of finishing the other.  The submission deadline for that last story is one week away.  Not my best idea—to decide to meet this deadline.  The idea for the story is awesome—and funny.

Before and while writing these other stories, I’ve worked on a sequel to an early story.  I’ve had the idea for this story since last year, even before I’d finished writing the story to which it’s a sequel.  At some point this year, I opened the file containing the first couple of lines I wrote back when sometime and realized since then I’d jotted down numerous notes.  It’s eerily similar to how the file with my novel’s notes looks.  That realization motivated me to finally tackle the sequel, and I made great progress.  In fact, I’m maybe a scene or two from completion; I estimate another 1000 words at most.  I could knock that out in one or two sittings.  So why haven’t I?

Another fine question.  Thank you again for asking.  This is the part I don’t know.  Ostensibly, it was to write these other stories matching calls for submissions with approaching deadlines.  This sequel has no deadline.  Maybe, I’m afraid I don’t know where the story is going.  That was true for a long time before I got past those first couple of lines.  Since then, though, I’ve pretty much had the story mapped out.  Indeed, the missing one or two scenes are in the middle of story, and I intend them to plug a couple of information holes.  I already know what info to plug in, so it can’t be that.

I think it’s a combination of two things.  First, it’s true these newer stories have approaching deadlines, but I think it’s more that they are shiny and new.  Usually, a story loses that shiny, newness once I complete the first draft.  Somehow, I think my sequel story lost that shiny, newness even before then.  Part of that I attribute to reason two.

When it was time to go back to writing the sequel after each interruption, I couldn’t just pick up where I left off.  I’d need to reread the entire story and get back in that mindset.  Unlike a story I’ve completed multiple drafts of, meaning I’ve edited it who knows how many times, I don’t know my sequel story well enough to jump into the middle and start writing.  I need to re-immerse myself in that world.  I need to get back into my characters’ heads.  All of that takes time, probably more time than I have to devote in a single sitting.  Anything more than a single sitting, I risk being distracted by life—or another call for submissions.

I do have a cross country flight coming up, where I’ll have a chunk of time on the airplane to devote to knocking the rest of the sequel out.  That is if I’m not working on my shiny, new story with the deadline one week away.

Post #7 – Submission Dilemma

2/9/18

I have a submission dilemma.  Electric Ethenaeum has a call for submissions with a deadline of February 15.  The anthology’s theme is For Future Generations and is about generation starships establishing new colonies.  I have a story that’s perfect.  It falls squarely within the theme and within the required length.  And it’s a story dear to me because it’s the first one I ever began.  (It ended up being the second I ever finished.)

My dilemma is Electric Ethenaeum does not pay a professional rate, which the SFWA defines as $.06/word.  If selected, I’d get 50GBP.  Factoring in currency exchange rates and my story’s word count, this would be the equivalent of $.01/word.  This makes Electric Ethenaeum a semi-professional market.

My original plan was to submit my story to Analog Science Fiction and Fact.  (I am in the final throws of editing the story.)  It falls more in the hard science fiction sub-genre, which Analog specializes in.  If rejected there, I have plenty of other professional market options.  But what if I don’t submit my story to Electric Ethenaeum, and it’s rejected by all the professional markets?  Did I squander a legitimate chance to be published, even by a semi-professional market?  Should I submit my story to Electric Ethenaeum and assume they will reject it, so I then could submit it elsewhere?  If I assume Electric Ethenaeum will reject my story, what does that say about its prospects with the professional markets?  If my goal is to have three stories published by SFWA-qualifying markets, should I even contemplate submitting to a semi-professional market?

Update: I submitted my story to Analog. Fingers crossed!

Post #3 – Rejection

1/13/18

Let’s talk about rejection.  As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve already been rejected as an author numerous times.  In fact, with the rejection I received today, everything I’ve submitted has been rejected at least once.  One short story has been rejected eight times!

How should I take that?  It depends on who you ask.  One author I’ve read (and I will talk about who I’ve been reading in a later post) stated if a story is rejected five or six times, it means the story is not good enough for publication; and the writer should move on to other stories and possibly other careers.  Another author advocated a writer keep submitting the story to different markets no matter the number of rejections.  This author’s take was that there is a lot of luck involved in finding the right editor at the right time who will accept a new writer’s work. Though I read this advice elsewhere, it actually is #5 of Heinlein’s Five Rules.

I adopted the latter approach.  Currently, there are around 35 SFWA-qualifying markets for short stories (generally not including anthologies). However, not all of these accept the same type of story or the same length of story, and not all are continuously open to unsolicited submissions.  In other words, the actual number of markets available for submission of a particular short story are much fewer at any one time.  And those markets likely are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions.  To paraphrase the reverse of the popular Hunger Games quote, the odds are forever not in my favor.

That is especially true when you understand that new writers don’t sell copies of an issue or subscriptions to that publication overall.  Established writers, those whose names appear on the cover, do.  New writers are lucky if there are a handful of slots in a year’s worth of publications reserved for their work.

The rejections haven’t been all bad.  One of my stories was selected in the initial round of a writing contest, though it did not place in the final round.  Another story received what I call a positive rejection.  That is still a form rejection, but instead of just saying we won’t publish your story, it says we liked your story but we won’t publish it.  And we encourage you to submit more stories for consideration.  The rejection received today was from the same market and was my first personalized rejection.  This rejection was the same as the position rejection, but it included an individual critique of the story from the editor.  With the volume of submissions these days, my understanding is individualized feedback from an editor is almost unheard of.  Needless to say, I plan to revise my story in response to that feedback before submitting it to another market.  (The editor did not ask for revisions and re-submission.  Maybe that will happen when I submit my next story to this market.)  If you’re interested in the topic of tiered form rejections, there is an interesting post here.

Where does this leave me?  To paraphrase another movie (and its predecessor play), always be writing and always be submitting.

Post #2 – 2017 Achievements; 2018 Goals

1/12/18

So did I achieve either of my goals set in 2017?  No.  Am I okay with that?  Yes!

For starters, I did not anticipate achieving my goal of selling three short stories to SFWA-qualifying markets in 2017.  That’s why it’s a long term goal.

When I set my short term goal of writing 50,000 words by the end of the year, I wasn’t sure how realistic that was.  Then the words started flowing.  I ended up with about 42,600 words for the year.  Considering that several of my short stories are in the 6,000-7,000 word range, I look at it as being about one short story away from my goal.  I’ll take it.

Those 42,600 words break down as follows:

  • 5 completed short stories
  • 3 completed children’s picture book manuscripts
  • 4 incomplete short stories (drafted but not edited)
  • 1 poem
  • 1 silly series of stories featuring my daughters and their cousins

I submitted all five completed short stories and all three picture book manuscripts for publication.  Six of those have been rejected at least once and a couple several times, but I keep submitting.  I’ve read that one thing a new writer needs to learn is how to deal with rejection.  I’ve already taken care of that.  I plan to keep submitting until I run out of markets.  It could be a while.

My new short term goal is writing 50,000 words again in 2018.  I realize I should double it to have a real challenge, but hear me out.  Last year I had a backlog of story ideas because I had never written any down.  I worked through much of that backlog in 2017.  I still need to finish revising the four short stories listed above for which I have completed drafts.  I plan to do so but not count their words towards this year’s goal.

To help me along with this year’s word count goal, I keep of list of story ideas, which currently includes three short stories and eleven picture books.  If I estimate 6,000 words for each short story and 600 words for each picture book (both estimates are high), that only gets me to 24,600 words.  My experience in 2017 was that new story ideas would come to me as I wrote the stories for existing ideas, and I hope the same occurs again this year.  Even so, I would need to double the number of ideas in my current backlog.  That’s why I’m sticking with 50,000.  Hopefully, I prove myself wrong.

So what’s next?  Not included on the above list is my one idea for a novel.  Yes, I have an idea for a novel.  I am setting the writing of that novel as another long term goal.  I think the idea is a good one, but I also think it will take me a long time to put it on the page.  I want to do it right.  I want to outline the multiple plots and develop the major characters before I sit down and start writing chapters.  It’s good to have goals.