April 28th, 2022 7:01 PM
April has come to pass.
Another month in the books, and I’m feeling quite ambivalent about everything. I’ve been seriously writing and marketing myself (as least as much as my paltry budget allows) for just over a year, and it’s been both rewarding and defeating. There is so much ahead of me, I know, and that’s what keeps me moving forward.
In the spirit of being candid, and for the sake of other authors who might be feeling similarly, I’ll be perhaps a bit more transparent than many authors often are: that voice that keeps telling me to give up has been niggling at me an awful lot. “It would be entirely possible to give up now,” it says. “Well,” I contest, “I’ve got a handful of readers who want to see future novels, and that’s something to cherish.” I’m so grateful for the people who’ve read Illness and loved it enough that they’re eagerly waiting for a sequel. It makes my heart soar to know that the characters I tried my hardest to bring to life on the page have resonated with people enough that they’re intrigued, wondering, “What’s going to happen to Aselle? To Estival? To Sabell?”
But sometimes—and I won’t lie—all the work I put into my writing often yields so little reward by comparison, and this can be daunting. That’s not to say I’ve gone without being rewarded for my hard work, but instead to say that I feel I’ve put in a lot of work for comparatively little results. It’s probably an entitlement issue I have, more than anything else. If not that, it may just be that my methods aren’t yielding the desired results because, well, they’re the wrong methods. Sometimes I feel as though I’m stretching myself so thin for mere pennies. I guess, some months, that’s exactly what I am doing.
But maybe the fatigue and doubt aren’t coming from a lack of results. Rationally, I know better than to expect major results so early. I’ve heard the sayings meant to combat this very human desire for immediate results, the sayings that all boil down to the following idea: don’t measure your days by the results you get that day but by the potential for future results you’ve created.
Perhaps it’s because I can only come to my writing-related work at the end of otherwise busy and taxing days. As a parent of four kids, a husband, a homeowner, and an accountant, I have so much to do before I can even sit down to write. I’m often already spent by the time I crawl to my keyboard to try to pen something serviceable. And it’s not the writing that’s daunting. I write for myself, for fun, to tell stories that my kids, at least, will one day hopefully read. No, it’s not the writing that makes me pause and wonder why I’m pushing so hard, and it’s not the nature of the rewards I am getting, because every thoughtful review, every comment on a blog, every positive metric on my website means a ton to me, genuinely. It’s everything else. It’s all the fruitless networking I do; it’s the unnoticed, quiet website maintenance; it’s trying to be (somewhat) consistent with blog updates when there aren’t that many people engaging with the blog (and I owe a special, special piece of gratitude to those of you who are engaging; thank you endlessly).
The thing I often wonder the most is, “What if I put in all this work and still end up with nothing material to show for it?”
But that’s an exaggeration, a fallacy, and it hearkens back to that significant discussion about what it means to be successful in writing. On one hand, I’ve done more than I ever thought I would, and I know that many argue that success simply means doing better than you did yesterday. I subscribe to this notion; I agree that we must defend our hearts and minds against their natural propensities to constantly compare ourselves with others and to demand results today. Sure, I see the new self-published novels that hit the market and excel right away, but I must remember that the only thing I can control is the quality of work I put out. I must focus on that which is in my control.
So, I believe that if I keep pushing myself, if I keep generating quality content and consistent branding, if I keep penning stories that resonate with people, I can find the level of success in this field that I’m looking for, whatever that may be. I’ve mused about that before, but it’s really all about the writing—the stories—in the end. It’s helpful for all authors to remind themselves that success happens with one reader at a time, and it takes a lot of time. If they’ve resonated with one person, they can probably do it again. I know that many people have enjoyed my work, and I’m happy for that, because it reminds me that many more people might enjoy it. It’s only a matter of finding those people, of bringing my work into their lives in a meaningful way.
Now that I’m done giving myself a pep talk (and hopefully there was some value in there for other writers—or even readers—who might be struggling with framing their own journeys toward personal goals), maybe we can jump into the standard updates, yeah?
Here’s how I’m looking at the year: I’ve got three projects announced, and three thirds of the year in which to work. For those who read January’s blog post, I hope it was apparent that I wasn’t promising anything. If that wasn’t apparent, then I’m surely going to look somewhat like I’m not true to my word, which is absolutely the last thing I want. If I go back and read the post in which I announced The Traveling Academy of Astra, I think I mentioned all the ways that my daily life would take precedence over my writing, and that I would try my best to sneak in writing and achieve my wild goals but couldn’t promise as much. Basically, I meant, “I’m going to try to do this insane thing and write three books this year alone, but I’m sort of doubtful I’ll be able to swing it, so I’m not making any promises.”
What were those numbers I mentioned before? 91 chapters. 410,000 words. I’m trying to write 91 chapters of varying lengths, and all of those will be comprised of 410,000 words. Now, I don’t want to be the next George R. R. Martin…. Well, okay, I’ll happily be the next George R. R. Martin, but I’d like to not be notorious for vaguely promising progress (“Yes, I’m working on it. Yes, I plan to finish it. No, I don’t have any idea when I’ll finish it.”). I’d like to be as transparent as I can, to be able to show my dearest readers exactly where I’m at with my progress, sort of like Brandon Sanderson, except not nearly as consistent and prolific (sure, if this were my day job like it is for him, I think I’d manage his level of output, but, alas, I’m only able to write after all the other stuff in life gets done).
Thankfully, to aid me in measuring my progress, I have that helpful tracking file. So, here we are in April, at the very end of the first third of the year. By this time, I should be wrapping up The Traveling Academy of Astra. May 1st, I should be starting The Shroud of Sleep. September 1st, I should begin work on The Sairad From the Sand. In this first treacherous third of the year, life did happen, and it happened a lot. January through April was brutal for me. Those closest to me know that my day job took a staggering toll on me. There were days I worked insane hours, and I walked away from my work on those days (well… nights and mornings, actually) so drained of mental energy that I wouldn’t go on to write for a few days afterward. However, things are looking up now, and I’ll explain below. First, let’s look at what I have managed to write since January’s announcement.
I’ve written around 60,000 words for The Traveling Academy of Astra, and that’s out of a planned 75,000. As such, I’m just over 80% finished. To me, that’s pretty good for four months. I also wrote about 23,500 words for The Vanishing Mists of Astra, which is what I’m tentatively calling the final entry in the Astra novels. Yes, I wrote the series’ entire ending before I even finished the first novel. I did this because it helped me immensely to work out all the intricacies showing up in the first novel, and it helped me to manage all the subtle instances of foreshadowing. So, in total, in four months, I did, in fact, write around a novel’s length of words. 83,500 in total. Pretty good. But still, I do not have The Traveling Academy of Astra in the hands of beta readers, and that’s where I want to get it as soon as possible.
However, a huge caveat here—and here’s what I meant when I said that things were looking up—is the staggering revelation that I wrote nearly 50,000 of those 83,500 words within the last month. What changed? Why was my output for January through March a meager 33,500 words? Why, in April alone, did I manage to nearly double that number? Did I suddenly start writing more because the deadline was approaching? No, actually. What changed was that I got a promotion at work, and I’m no longer working terrible, unforgiving, life-sapping hours. While I now have more responsibility at work, the scope of my contract and the streamlined processes of the job have been enabling me to leave my desk each day at a reasonable hour, and that means I’ve been able to get in healthy amounts of writing again. Thankfully, that means that, in my current state/environment, I think it’s fair to say I can bust out around 50,000 words a month. I know, I know, there are some jerks out there who proclaim they can do that much in a day (and, scarily enough, I believe some of them), but I’m not that prolific. I’m just not. And I’m definitely not stating that I will, in fact, write that much every month. I’m merely stating that in this new working environment, it is humanly possible, as I have shown this past month, for me to get a strong number of words written down. As one further argument to my case, the numbers above don’t even include this month’s blog posts, which are a bit lengthy compared to other months’ posts.
What matters to me is getting my stories told and told well, so that I might touch a lot of readers’ lives. What matters most in the endeavor is that I don’t stagnate; I want to make progress. I think I certainly have. At my current rate, it’s fair to say that I may well be able to finish the rough draft and first edit of The Traveling Academy of Astra in May, get it into the hands of a few capable beta readers by June, and start more work on The Shroud of Sleep just around half a month late to the party.
This month, I’ve also written an analysis of Pratchett’s The Color of Magic. These reflections help me by charging me to think critically about the books I’m reading, to ask myself what their authors did—within their books and sometimes without—to make the book work—or not work. I hope these reflections help you, too.
Here are a few other big announcements. I’m planning on entering The Illness of the Isle in Mark Lawrence’s (he’s the famous author of Prince of Thorns and fourteen other novels and an all-around super awesome guy) annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO). This is the eighth year for this marvelous contest. I’m looking forward to seeing how my novel stacks up against competition, but that’s if I can even manage to get into the contest. I heard it was jam-packed very, very quickly last year. I’ll be there the second the contest opens, and I’ll be ready to submit my novel, so hopefully I can manage to get in. I know many other authors will be entering, too. Good luck to every single one of them!
Next, I’d like to formally reveal the paperback cover for The Traveling Academy of Astra. After a ton of work on its design, I can finally say I’m happy with it. I still envision, as you all know, a day in which my self-published novels might get re-issued with new, breathtaking covers done by some of the insanely talented artists out there, but, for now, at my level and budget, my own designs are all I can offer and reliably access, so I think the key is to work with what I have and make it the best I can. Simple and clean, as I’ve said before. To that end, I’m proud to reveal this cover, and I’m even more excited to see it in print!
Finally, this month I issued A Writer’s Compendium. This is going to be a living blog post of sorts, wherein I’ll keep compiling tips and knowledge about the craft of writing. I’ll constantly refer others back to this resource, as I know there are many, many beginners out there who are eager to make sense of those vague maxims that are continuously circulated throughout well-meaning writing groups. If you’ve ever heard someone proclaim, “Show, don’t tell,” or, “Stay away from adverbs,” or “Don’t use passive voice,” then you’ve also likely heard a lot of misinformation and a variety of differing, confusing opinions. My aim is to dispel a lot of that. This resource also functions as something of a general grammar refresher, since many style guides omit that, and it’s helpful to first know the basics if you’re going to start playing around with them and trying to develop your own style.
This is crucial: toward the end of that blog post I just mentioned, under a heading called “Projects,” there’s a link to download the very same project tracker that I use (oh, what the heck? I’ll include the link right here, too). If you’ve ever wanted to try to break down the novel- or book-writing process into manageable chunks but didn’t know how, this tool will help you. All you need is Microsoft Excel, which you probably have! There are instructions for the tracker’s use within the tracker itself, but feel free, as always, to reach out to me if you need any assistance using it. My goal in providing these resources—the tracker and the “compendium” alike—is to empower other people who might doubt themselves. In my view, every person has a story to tell, and I believe that anybody can tell their story if they’re given the help they need.
As always, thanks so much for reading this blog.