Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Year in Words

2018 was the first year since I launched my author life in earnest in which I did not publish a novel. I think that's why, here at year's end, I feel like I'm waiting for something. That could also be because I'm also literally waiting for something though. :-) (See November for what we're waiting for).

Here's a look back at 2018 in Samantha's Writing Life: the author events, the words written and revised, the works released, and the books read and reviewed. Given that it was also a year in which my daughter graduated high school, my husband changed jobs, my other daughter started middle school, two people I cared about died, and I took on a new course in my already jam-packed teaching day…I feel pretty good about these stats.

Events: Illogicon, Taught "Write Your Novel, Part I" for Central Carolina Community College.
Wrote: 35,410 words
Revised: 34,099 words
Read and Reviewed: 2 books

January feels so long ago now that it's a dim memory. I do know though, that I had picked back up in earnest on my WIP: Thursday's Children, a young adult near-future dystopian. That New Year's rush of enthusiasm and commitment kept me going at a good pace for a while.

This book has taken me longer to write than I expected (I'm still working on it in December, which means it's been about 18 months). I'd been spoiled by how much quicker it can be to continue with an established world in a series rather than creating a whole new one, but I'm still happy to be creating something new. Staying on one project too long can be stultifying.

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of War and Peace, Mysticon
Wrote:  27,266 words
Revised:  24,733 words
Read and Reviewed:  3 books

Mid-way through February I lost momentum on the novel. I still wrote every day, but I was cheating on my novel with short stories and blog posts and things that I could complete with a slightly scattered focus.

Conventions are great fun, and a great way to get the word out there about your work, but they do also take a fair bit of time: prepping for your panels and events, social media promotion, and the three days of the convention itself are a pull from whatever else you might have used that time for.

This could also have something to do with the fact that I was the cookie mom for my daughter's Girl Scout troop and February is the height of cookie season…

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Wrote:  28,475 words
Revised:  17,834 words
Read and Reviewed:  5 books

I read a lot in March. It was a "filling the well" sort of month. My momentum on the novel was low. Really, I only tinkered with it, revising a few thousand words and only adding 274 new ones across the entire month.

My publisher was imploding and I was worried about what this meant for my Menopausal Superhero series. I was dreading the confrontation that was coming about breach of contract and rights. I got the flu and part of me wonders if I got it in part because of the emotional stress weakening my reserves.

My support groups were so important in March! They kept me moving forward because I had commitments to uphold: promised chapters, stories, critiques, reviews, or blog posts. When you hit a rough patch, it's good to have friends and colleagues to keep you going.

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of Catch-22, Ravencon
Wrote:  25,791words
Revised:  20,856 words
Read and Reviewed:  8 books

Another month where I started strong on the novel, but fizzled on momentum halfway through the month.  The month included a convention (see above: TIME) and there was a lot of personal life to balance with my writing life: one of my daughters and I both have April birthdays.

When I look back on what I got done in April, I see that my structures served me well. I had planning meetings, networking events, and critique sessions booked in advance and there's nothing like "But I promised" to get me working even when I don't feel like it. I'm very much a "keep your commitments" girl (Thanks, Mom and Dad), so I still wrote every day. It's obvious I was still hiding from the work though when you look at how many books I read.

Ravencon was a highlight. It's a well organized convention and I've enjoyed both my sojourns there as an author guest. This year, Chuck Wendig was there as a the author guest of honor. I managed to introduce myself without making a total ass of myself and we even had a nice conversation about parenting. His munchkin is still quite little, whereas I was preparing to send one to college, so we talked about how weird that is.

Releases: Pen and Cape Society's The Good Fight 4: The Homefront
Events: First Monday Classics discussion of  True Grit,  Free Comic Book Day at Atomic Empire
Wrote:  29,955 words
Revised: 11,139  words
Read and Reviewed:  7 books

May is always hard on schoolteachers. Testing begins and all the work of the past year is called into account. Everyone is exhausted and a little mean, especially the other adults. (see my thoughts on why May should be optional)

Add to that a daughter taking four AP classes and two Honors classes who is about to graduate high school and is managing college and scholarship paperwork alongside a part time job and you have an idea of the tenor of our home life in May. My poor husband! (He's still here in December, so he must really love us).

The new release helped. "Coming Out as Leonel" is one of my favorite Menopausal Superhero shorts that I have written and I was happy to have a chance to get it out to a new audience. (You can get it for free by signing up for my newsletter, BTW). Leonel is a crowd favorite character. Seeing your work in print is always validating and motivating, too.

I made NO HEADWAY on the novel at all in May. 300 words revised one afternoon. I guess so I could still tell myself I was working on it?

I did, however, write a new short story that had been on my backburner for a good long while, and was really pleased with how it came out. "Late Bloomer" is one of my Shadow Hill stories (a series I work on between larger projects, weird stories that all take place in the same suburban neighborhood, suspiciously like the one I live in). The story is out on submission right now, so we'll see if it finds a good home.

I also did a fair amount of journal writing, which is useful to me when I'm going through rougher times. Getting it on paper (on into a document) seems to let me set it aside and focus where I want to.

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of A Wrinkle in TimeConCarolinas
Wrote:  24,485 words
Revised:  29,360 words
Read and Reviewed:  4 books

So, I survived and made it to summer break. The girl graduated. The other girl became a middle schooler.

I enjoyed that side step into short stories in May, so I stayed there all of June as well, revising old stories and writing new ones. By the end of the month, I had written 7,128 new words of fiction in short stories and revised another 29,360. That feeling of finishing things is addictive, I think. It's definitely one of the appeals of writing shorter things.

Working with a friend, I built a database of what was available for submission with the intention of getting my work back out there in submission. After all, no one will publish stories that just sit on my hard drive. You've got to submit work to see it published!

That meant that I still stayed stuck on the novel though. I didn't check in on it at all during June. Not even a token afternoon of editing like I'd done in May.

ConCarolinas was contentious in 2018, and I waffled until the last minute about whether or not to keep my commitment to go after some controversy surrounding one of the scheduled guests and his behavior towards other panelists and con go-ers. He ended up not attending, and I ended up having a great con, both in terms of sales and networking, and the controversy remained low-key, at least in my presence.

I was on several panels with Seanan McGuire, the author guest of honor, an experience which only deepened my admiration of her work. I gifted her the last print copy of Going Through the Change I had with me when she expressed interest, and I'm hopeful that she might even read it someday :-)

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of The Good Earth, Con-Gregate, my yearly Writers Retreat
Wrote:  34,832 words
Revised:  15,303 words
Read and Reviewed:  2 books

Thank goodness for writer's retreats! My critique group has, for the past few years, scheduled a few days away from home in July for writing. We rent a house together, share meal planning and prep, and write and talk about writing, enjoying the respite from our other responsibilities.

This year, we went to Pelican House at the Trinity Center in Morehead City, NC, a place where I have taken writing retreats solo before. I love it because the meals are prepared for me and there's a lot of lovely setting to explore when you need to clear your head.

This is where I found my footing in my novel again. I'd been reading Gabiela Pereira's DIY MFA, which is a great collection and analysis of a variety of advice surrounding writing process and productivity. There's a technique she suggests called scene cards. I've never been an outliner, but I thought it couldn't hurt and might help, so I gave it a go. I wrote about it more detail in this blog post. But the TL;DR is: it worked! I started moving forward in the story again.

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of The Grifters
Wrote:  21,201 words
Revised:  16,286 words
Read and Reviewed:  2 books

So, 21,201 might not look that impressive when I just said that I found my footing in the novel again, but 3,225 new words and 16,186 revised words on a project that had all but stalled felt wonderful! I worked on it steadily, too. A little each day, with real progress on over half the days of the month. Thursday's Children was back on the road to becoming a completed novel.

August also came with a bit of an ego bump, just when I needed it. A magazine found me and sought me out for an author interview. That "out of the blue" stuff is the best! I definitely appreciate it when friends and colleagues notice and promote my work, but part of me thinks they only do it because they like me, as a person. So, it's personal rather than professional recognition. When it's a stranger, it's easier to believe that they honestly admire the work.

Events: Ravencon 13.5
Wrote:  26,512 words
Revised:  13,355 words
Read and Reviewed: 6 books

Spring 2018 had been rough in terms of time management and I decided that going forward, I would do fewer spring events and show a little respect for the demands of my day job and family as well as my own physical and emotional limits. So, I was thrilled when Ravencon added a .5 event, a smaller convention in September. I signed up right away and had a wonderful time! 

Since some of the bigger name authors who travel the same convention circuit I do weren't there, I got to feel like a bigger fish in the pond than is typical. The whole convention had an intimate feel that was right for my comfort levels as an introvert faking comfort with public events.

September was also good for forward momentum on Thursday's Children, with another 2,378 in new words added and 13,355 in revisions. Revisions in my case often means serious expansion of a skeletal scene or structural re-arrangement, so those 13K words are not to be sneezed at as window dressing or surface edits. They are real progress.

Releases: "The Girl in the Pool" a daylight ghost story in Off the Beaten Path 3; "Ashes" a southern gothic demon lover tale in Beyond the Pane
Events: First Monday Classics discussion of Les Misérables, Conapalooza, Real Life Ghost Stories
Wrote:  36,444 words
Revised:  0 words
Read and Reviewed:  3 books

I didn't work on my novel in October.

The difference was that it was intentional.

A friend of mine does a flash fiction challenge each October called Nightmare Fuel. She provides visual prompts and the participants write flash fiction to go with each. I've participated for a couple of years now and I find that the story-a-day format is a great refresher, a sort of vacation from the work of writing to remember that it's fun by playing with work that I'm not applying as much pressure on. (You can view the stories I wrote for the challenge here).

More than once, these play-pieces I've begun for Nightmare Fuel have grown into something I saw published, which goes to show that leaving yourself space to play can be good for your work.

I also wrote 31 blog posts here at Balancing Act in October, each celebrating an aspect of Halloween. Once in a while, it's nice to just let my inner fan girl squee about the things she loves, you know.

Conapalooza was fun, if light on sales. They're new, in an area of the country where there aren't that many conventions and geek-centric events, so I think they'll continue to see growth in upcoming years. A highlight was hearing my sister do her first public reading of her work. Yep, writing is contagious y'all. Watch out, or you might catch it, too!

The big news was that the tension with my publisher resolved. I asked for and received my rights back without struggle or animosity. I'm so relieved!

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of To the Lighthouse, Local Authors Book Fair
Wrote:  27,828 words
Revised:  28,723 words
Read and Reviewed: 2 books

I jumped back into Thursday's Children with both feet on November first and made steady progress all month, adding 7,162 new words and revising 20,723.

I also made a big push on submitting all those short stories I worked on earlier in the year, which including a bit of revision time on those as well. All in all, I made 17 submissions in the month of November. For comparison, I submitted 0-1 pieces all the other months in 2018.

The Local Authors Book Fair held by my local Friends of the Public Library was a great success. I sold a fair number of books, made some new writer friends, and had a great day.

I signed with a new publisher! The Menopausal Superhero series will soon be re-released and carried by Falstaff Books, of Charlotte, NC. I'm so pleased to have signed with Falstaff. Everything I know of them is positive, and I expect to be treated fairly and expand my readership under their auspices. I'll share publication dates and information as soon as I have it!

Knowing that my books are in a stable home has me excited about the series again and I expect to get back to that long-stalled fourth book in the series in 2019.

December: (numbers as of December 21)
Releases: Tracing the Trails: A Constant Reader's Reflections on the Work of Stephen King
Events: First Monday Classics discussion of Little House in the Big Woods
Wrote:  23,172 words
Revised:  8,756 words
Read and Reviewed:  4 books

December has continued the positive trends started in November, with steady progress on the novel and continuing to get my work out there on submission. A few rejections came back and I just immediately turned those puppies around and sent them seeking a home somewhere else. 

A writing partner, Nicole Givens Kurtz, and I have sent out proposals for our nonfiction teaching book On Teaching Speculative Fiction and I'm feeling hopeful that we'll find a good home for our work. 

A nonfiction essay I wrote about Stephen King's collection of short stories, Nightmares and Dreamscapes (especially Dolan's Cadillac) was published in Tracing the Trails a labor of love from a long-time writing friend and my nemesis on the Magic Spreadsheet, Chad A. Clark

I feel as though I'm ending 2018 on a positive and productive note that will carry me into 2019 full of hope and energy. So despite the rollercoaster feeling of the year, I'm glad I got on the ride!


  1. Dearest Samantha, I cannot tell you how much this entire posting made me feel. It is so inspirational and a wonderful picture of a truly dedicated writer and an intimate insight into how writing and life mesh and intertwine. thank you so much! with affection Maude Maureen

    1. Thanks so much :-) Building a successful writing life has its ups and downs, just like any other endeavor. I know it helps me to hear about how it works for others--the good and the bad.

  2. Wow, you wrote an average of 25k to 35k words a month. And you still managed to teach classes, blog, read and review books, finding a new publisher, etc. Care to share any time management tips?

    1. I've gotten really good at laser focus in short bursts. Give me ten minutes, and I can get a couple of hundred words.