September 2020 Retro

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After about three months of being completely thrown off my game and disorganized due to packing, moving, and…unfortunate life events…I am finally back! Let’s see what that looks like:

Best (tracked) month yet!

Monthly Totals

Total words written: 19,210
Days missed: 1 (not including scheduled breaks)
Average WPD (words per day): ~835.2

Last Month’s Goals

  • Writing space setup
  • ClickUp
  • Research for novel

How’d I do on these goals? Well…not as good as I expected. I did not finish setting up my writing space, and I think that might just have to wait for when I am free to work on it without worrying about my day job getting in the way. I will probably need to move all of my stuff out of the office when I go to paint the rest of the room anyhow, so I should wait until I can do that.

Clickup now organizes all my writing work and for some parts of my home life. My spouse introduced me to the program, but we were slow to get him “onboarded” for the house. Now that he is, he’s working on getting that organized more than I am.

Research…well…I did say that was going to be a stretch goal. I planned on doing all my research and then work on my characters, setting, and plot after, but I also needed to work on those enough to write the prep articles as well (that was kind of a “duh” moment, honestly). But this translates into not being behind at all! I’m done with the books I had originally meant to study and have already gotten a big chunk of planning for the novel underway. I think I’m on schedule as far as NaNo goes, so I’m not too worried. 

What Went Well

file cabinets
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com
  • First and foremost, I am BACK ON TRACK for writing down my word counts for the day! Due to all the chaos of the past few months, I completely dropped the ball on it, but I’m writing them down every day now to keep track of my progress.  
  • I also used ClickUp to sort out my goals for the year (adjusted due to circumstances), and ended up being really inspired to get back to work. This did kind of lead to a bit of burnout, which I’ll talk more about in the next section. 
  • At the beginning of the month, I did some proofreading/editing on a friend’s short story and it opened my eyes to how I need to start editing my own work. I think this really pushed me because I edited his and then immediately went into editing my own. The difference was quite stark. I will be writing about this once NaNoWriMo is over, so keep an eye out for it in December!
  • A couple more submissions have been sent out to lit mags (already added to the site), and I am obsessively checking to see their status every day.
  • I have gotten back on track with journaling as well…sorta. I have kind of been slacking the past week because of life stress getting in the way, but it is something that I am slowly building the habit back up to do regularly.
  • Every post for the rest of the year is now decided. I should be able to just sit and write it out. November will be mostly NaNo updates, but before and after will be writing or retro related. 
  • FINALLY, I have started watching YouTube videos about writing and how to do it better. There is a course that is basically “writing basics” at BYU that is blowing my mind, and then some author channels that are mostly small lists of tips per video. I don’t have much of a formal education as far as creative writing goes minus what everyone did in highschool, so I feel like I am learning so much more this way.

I told you, burst of motivation. It’s been crazy.

Lessons Learned

Haelga (left) and Frederick (and Spleen, the succulent) chillin.
  • TAKE BREAKS. I think I said this last month or the month before, but I get a little carried away sometimes. There is a calendar on my desk, however, that I write my daily word counts on, and I’ve started marking what days I’m going to take a break through the month, so hopefully this will get me to do it. I also occasionally have a lazy weekend because right now is crazy, so I need it.
  • Another thing I have done is set a timer to go off twice a day to remind me to get up and stretch or exercise. I put it off the past week and a half and I am now paying for it. I was barely able to get into bed last night and get out of it this morning due to back pain. I would say I finally learned my lesson, but honestly this is the second time this has happened. We’ll see. One day I’ll figure it out (I hope).
  • Reading recharges my brain! I picked up Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey (again, finally) and I found that reading something really interesting, engaging, and fun is a great way for my brain to rest and recharge after nearly burning myself out all over again. 

Goals or Action Items for Next Month

  • October is all about prepping for NaNoWriMo, honestly. I think that will be my biggest priority, other than making sure to get the rest of the Prepapalooza articles out for you fine peeps.
  • NaNo prep means figuring out a basic plot, the main characters (including antagonist(s)), and the logic of the world (which goes into worldbuilding – I’ll talk more on that later). 
  • I also have a couple of extra books that I’ve found for research that I want to take a peek at. I’m hoping to have everything I need by the end of October to at least get a basic, terrible first draft by the end of November.

Those are all the goals I’m really going to worry about for next month. There’s a lot going on at my day job that is stressing me the hell out (on top of, y’know, the world ending), so I need to not push myself too hard right now. There will definitely be time for that later. 


If you have goals you’re keeping to this month or completed last month, I’d love to hear about them – but I also want to hear about how you’re taking care of yourself through these crazy times. Have you been taking breaks? Journaling? Exercising? Binge-playing video games? 

My Goal Setting Story

pen calendar to do checklist
This planner is a TAD out of date…
Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

A few months ago when I began writing posts for this blog, I had a goal: write enough posts that I could have 20 weeks worth of posts at the ready. This would allow me to schedule them, then get to writing fiction. With fiction, I would write one flash fiction story draft in a week, write a new flash fiction story in the next week, edit the first one in the third week, and then finish up editing the second one the week after that. I would be able to do this for 20 weeks – that’s approximately 5 months, or 10 stories. I would take a little bit of time to write up cover letters and find places to submit the stories I wrote each month, and then get back to writing while I waited to hear back. Adorable.

I outlined, and wrote, and re-wrote, and edited. I honed the process over time so that I could write faster and better starting with the first draft. Eventually I outlined 20 posts, but only actually finished about 8 of them. Close enough, I thought. I could just start scheduling them and go from there. 

Then I had the idea that I could alternate between writing fiction and writing posts, since I had 8 weeks of posts under my belt. Including retrospectives, that was 10 weeks. So I tried that.

Truth is, when I have the pressure to do well on my mind (and little recent practice under my belt), it takes a lot longer than a week to write flash fiction. “Flash” also tends to morph into “short.” When I didn’t have the pressure there, I could write a first draft of flash in a day, so I thought I was giving myself ample time to deal with not only the writing but writer’s block as well. Apparently not.

Anyhow, I shifted from flash to posts to working on worldbuilding for a novel I want to write during NaNoWriMo this year, and sometimes I would switch between them in matters of minutes. I kept track of my word counts, so I knew I was writing something, but it didn’t feel like it. I was making little to no progress, and it only got worse once I realized my older pieces I wanted to spruce up for publishing needed major rework. Was this due to my newfound perfectionism or because they were written in a day? 

Mmm…probably both. 

But I kept pushing, kept switching, kept flailing and failing, until I found myself headed for burnout. I didn’t really know what to work on or when. I set up a schedule which helped for a little while, outlining that I’d work on fiction in the morning, blog posts at lunch (during the work week, since I have to have a “real” job for now), and then school work or whatever was most pressing after. It felt better, having some order. But I quickly devolved into chaos again.

I can’t even remember what spurred my decision to start writing out my goals, but whatever it was, I’m thankful for it. I’m still working out the kinks, and I’ve discovered that I really need to have stuff like goals and task lists very visible all the time, but here’s what I’ve started with, if you want to follow along at home:

By the end of the year, I want to:

  • Finish the first draft of The Dragon (mostly during NaNoWriMo, naturally)
  • Submit my stories to LitMags ~30 times (I’ve given up on the rejection goals for this year, since that requires them actually getting back to me by December 31st)
  • Finish reading 12 more books
  • Manage to post on my blog every Saturday until the end of the year

So I guess it’s just time to start working, right? WRONG. Your plan is bad and you should feel bad. And you probably will if you try to make that work – I know I did. Hence this article!

Breaking it Down

Knowing these specific goals, I can now break them down into smaller ones. For finishing The Dragon (I am slowly starting to hate this name, but it’s simple enough to work with it for now), I will need to make sure I finish character development, worldbuilding, and plot/story planning before November – or at least as much as I can before then. I will naturally find holes that can’t be filled until I write scenes, and in the spirit of NaNo that’s a no no. Then during November, it’s fifty thousand words I’ll need to write in thirty days. 

For submissions, if I submit one story five times each month, then I can reach this goal. That means that I’ll need to finish writing/editing/polishing at least one story a month and submit it to 5 different places. This is going to definitely be a stretch considering my current burnout problem and also NaNoWriMo kind of conflicting with this goal, but that’s okay. I won’t die if I fall short, but it gives me something to reach for.

To read 12 more books is simple: read 2 of them every month until the end of the year.

Finally, posting every Saturday is just as simple as the last goal: don’t miss a Saturday! That’s making sure I finish polishing up about 4 posts a month.

But I’m not done yet!

Breaking it down even more

For The Dragon, breaking it down further is a little more difficult, mostly because characters, setting, and plot are so interconnected. Basically I’m just going to start with character development and plot first and go from there. I’m trying out Lisa Cron’s Story Genius method for this book, just to see how it goes. Don’t worry, I’ll write about that in the future.

For submissions, I’ve already got several short stories started and lined up for this year. I’ll need to rework and rewrite them, which I hope to do in the first two weeks of each month. Then I’ll let it rest for a few days while I try to find places to submit, then head back into editing and rewriting for the rest of the third week. The fourth week I’ll let it rest for a day or two, then polish it up and write the cover letter for the story of the month. 

Every twoish weeks, I’ll be reading one book, and each week I will finish up and polish a post. 

Also every week, I will be going even further and trying to set up every day so that I will make sure I do a little bit of what needs to be accomplished each week. Once I have everything checked off my list for the day, I can relax. 

This list doesn’t include the things I’m doing for work or class or just being alive in a society of laws in general, but I have included those into my plans. In fact, because there are so many things I need to get done, I have also made sure to prioritize my goals so that if I need to remove some things, I know what to axe first.

To use my writing goals as an example, I will be lowering the number of submissions first. I still want to have experience for finishing and submitting pieces, so I won’t be nixing that goal entirely. Next will be lowering the number of books to read. Then I might end up having to just finish the prep work for The Dragon and complete the first draft early next year. I’m really hoping I don’t need to take anything off of the table completely, but if I do, it will probably end up being The Dragon. That’s mainly because of the amount of sustained effort required to see that kind of project all the way through combined with the fact that next year I should have a lot more free time to work on it, so I can catch up quickly. Everything else has a cumulative effect on my skills, so they need to stay.

This is actually the beginning of making SMART goals. I might end up setting these up in the future, but I am taking it one step at a time for now.

Update:
Since I am still going to be working a full-time job in November, I am most likely going to end up nixing The Dragon until next year unless I can get enough posts written and all the prep work done before then.


What about you: do you have a goal-setting system of your own you’d like to share?

June Retrospective

I am so tired, folx. Between anxiety attacks, I’m working full-time, doing a night class, and trying to make this whole writing thing my side gig. I haven’t come close to the rejections goal I set earlier this year, which is mostly due to having set that goal before having enough pieces to actually send out or a list of publishers ready to actually send to. Silly mistakes. But that’s what you’re here for, isn’t it? I can live with that.

I whine, but there are so many people out there who have it far worse than I do. This doesn’t make my exhaustion any less valid or, well, exhausting, but it does put things into perspective. Perspective is a good thing to keep a hold on, especially when you’re trying to do something far out of your comfort zone.

It’s been a crazy month for me personally, but also all over the world. So much so that I have forced myself to stop reading the news as much. I still keep track of the outside world through Twitter, but mostly I focus on not burning out while trying to produce work. Let’s see how that’s panned out:

Monthly Totals

Total words written: 9,523
Days missed: 5 (not including planned days off)
Average WPD (words per planned working day, missed or not): 433

Okay, not super well this month. Burn out is definitely something I’m struggling with recently. 

What Went Well

CHICKENS
One day, this will be a picture of my OWN chickens!
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com
  • I set goals for myself! I’ll talk more about this next post, but I figured out what I actually want to accomplish and broke it up into increasingly smaller goals until I can set tasks every day that are relevant to them. This also allows me to:
  • Schedule breaks. I keep burning myself out at work, in class, and with writing, and it’s mostly making my love of the craft suffer. After figuring out that I can still achieve (most) of the goals I set while taking days off, I’ve been able to schedule days where I do nothing but chill – and by days, I mean one full day combined with days where I write but don’t work or work but don’t write. I’m still working on figuring that out, but it’s a start.
  • I’m in the process of trying to buy a house, which takes up so much time and mental energy. It’s a lot of “I hope this doesn’t crash down around me” combined with “that’s going to cost how much?” and a lot of “we can have chickens??” I’m excited, so it’s going in this category, but damn it’s exhausting.
  • Because of the budgeting we’re doing for buying a house, on top of the fact that mortgage will be cheaper than our rent, it looks like I’ll be able to attempt to take a year off from “traditional” work much sooner than anticipated. This, of course, is really showing my privilege, so please know that I am ridiculously thankful for it, and will be paying it forward once everything is settled.
  • After setting up a schedule and a plan, I’ve finally been able to finish a few drafts of something. It’s just flash fiction, but it feels nice. Now I just need to figure out who the hell to send it to. Which is exactly how I don’t recommend you do this whole writing thing. Find a place first, kids. Then you can make sure it fits their requirements as you go.

Lessons Learned

  • See the last point above. This isn’t mandatory, especially if you are writing for personal expression or don’t care about being paid/published, but it’s helpful.
  • I’ve been a little cocky, I think. This year that’s coming up will not necessarily be the year that I actually start making money as a writer. It might end up being when I find out I have a long way to go to write what others want to read. We’ll find out, I suppose. Either way I’m excited to start improving, and my expectations have now been sufficiently lowered. 
  • Speaking of cocky, I’m going to be taking some time to rethink this blog. I’ll still be writing as transparently as I can about my experiences, but I think there are a lot of ways I can improve the content. More to come!
  • I’ve decided that I’m not much of a “morning pages” type of person. I am definitely able to write a lot of words that way, but it’s all unusable freewriting. This helps when I have writer’s block, but only takes up time I could actually be working on something otherwise. With the precious little time I have to work, I need to reserve as much as I can, which precludes morning pages. I’ll probably get back into it once I have the time to.

How I’ve achieved, failed, or abandoned last month’s goals

  • I planned to take planned breaks and stick to a schedule last month, and I’ve started working on this. It’s going to take some time to get into the habit, and I need practice to figure out exactly when and how to take the breaks, but I’m getting there.
  • Whether or not I’ve been exercising and eating well is debatable. I’ve taken lengthy morning walks twice a week with my partner, but it’s not the same intensity I used to exercise. One of the first things I’m buying when we move will be gym equipment, so maybe that’ll resolve itself.
  • As I mentioned above, Morning Pages are just not my thing. I tried them, but until I have more time to write, it’s not something I can indulge in.
  • An Errant Crow hasn’t been touched since I wrote last month’s retro! Instead, I worked on something I thought would be a quick edit (the flash fiction story I mentioned above), but I am second-guessing everything I write now. I have faith I’ll shake myself of the problem, but it’s something important enough to mention.

Goals or Action Items for Next Month

  • Join a writing group! I mentioned this already but I need to find a group of writers that I can workshop stories with and who’s writing I can critique as well.
  • Keep working on figuring out when I should schedule breaks to maximize my productivity while minimizing my encroaching burnout. I sound like one of those “rise-and-grind” bros, but honestly I’m just trying to make more time for doing what I love without completely frying my brain as I do it. It’s the mandatory stuff that’s making it difficult.
  • Get settled in my new home. It’s not really a writing goal directly, but will allow me to get my WRITING WALL set up. I literally just made up this term while typing the first draft of this post, but basically amounts to the random shit I will be putting on my walls for organization and motivation. I’ll be sure to take pictures and write about it, don’t worry. 

Your turn! What goals did you set last month? Were you able to achieve them? Why or why not?

April/May Retrospective

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

As this is the first retrospective, allow me to explain what the heck that is.

In the software development world, a retrospective is what’s called a “ceremony.” The dev team looks back at the last “sprint” (typically about 2 weeks of work) and writes down what went well, what didn’t go well, and if there is anything they can do differently for the next sprint. This places great importance on improvement.

With that, I bring you my first monthly retrospective! This one combines April and May, since I started mid-month and didn’t launch anything until recently.

Monthly Totals

Totals for May
Why yes, that 52 IS representative of how many days I’d been quarantined by the 3rd of May…

April:

Total Words Written: 18,840
Total Writing Days (since April 12): 16
Days Missed: 3
Average WPD (words per day): ~1,178

May:

Total words written: 19,209
Days missed: 11
Average WPD (words per day): ~620

What Went Well:

  • I actually managed to launch a thing! I honestly never expected to grow a pair big enough to put anything online. 
  • Lots of work happened in April, and my consistency with writing overall has been pretty cool to see. Again, I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself, with work wearing me down and the ‘rona keeping me stressed.
  • At the beginning, I didn’t have a great sense of what needed to go into an outline. I’d have some that were four pages long and others that were four lines long. This obviously produced inconsistent results. With practice, however, I got better at crafting an outline to get an article of good length without too much effort when it came time to write.
  • Improving my editing skills is a similar story. I actually sucked at editing in general until I needed to do it with all the posts I’ve prepped. This is what people mean when they say that you should finish your stories, by the way. You can’t improve until you actually do the thing you need to improve upon. 
  • I’ve narrowed down what my voice should be for this blog. It took time, and lots of editing in the beginning, but it is consistent and natural now.
  • After doing some more reading about writing, I’ve figured out what my recently rejected story “The Errant Crow” needs to be better.

What Didn’t Go Well:

  • Physical/mental/emotional neglect. I didn’t take breaks as often as I should. I stalled my health by not exercising. I didn’t take any planned days off. This all accumulated until I burned out for a bit and pulled muscles, pinched nerves, and had panic attacks. This might be more related to anxiety over the ‘rona, but burning myself out definitely didn’t help. 
  • At the beginning I tried to write without outlines, and this lead to a lot of unusable crap on the page. Which isn’t bad when you’re still trying to figure things out in a story, but isn’t sustainable when you need to write a bunch of posts within a short amount of time.
  • I kept trying to write just whenever. A lot of mornings were spent shuffling about until I had to log on for work, costing me writing time. At lunch, I typically needed to, y’know, eat, and after work I wanted to hang out with my spouse – or rather, he was done with work and it was impossible to concentrate with him loose. So the morning was the only guaranteed time I had to get some work done.
  • I had originally started with the plan of alternating what I was going to write every day. Monday would be a post writing day, Tuesday a short story day, Wednesday I would work on my novel, repeat for Thursday through Saturday and then Sunday would be whatever I needed to work on most. What it turned into was me writing a lot of outlines, then some posts, then a tiny bit of a short story, then burning out and not writing anything for a few days, and then realizing I’m not on track to meet my self-imposed deadlines and panic-writing posts for awhile, then feeling guilty about not writing any fiction, then burning out again…whew! That’s exhausting just to type out, let alone live.
  • Having not sorted this last point out until very recently, means that I didn’t actually write anything toward any of my novels (as you can see in the picture above).

Goals or Action Items for Next Month

  • Take planned breaks.
  • Stick to a schedule that makes sense and is doable, while also allowing for flexibility.
  • Exercise regularly – at least stand up and stretch every so often.
  • Eat well and (gasp) don’t drink too much coffee.
  • Continue to revise and change “The Errant Crow” until ready for submission.
  • Start working on my novels again, alternating with the short stories, if at all possible.

The schedule that I’ve settled on (for now) is writing posts in “seasons.” Basically I’ll write a bunch of articles during a set time while taking a break on my fiction. After I’ve got enough to last for a few months (assuming new developments or feedback don’t require rewrites or extra articles), I can go back. This is excluding the retros, obviously. I can’t write those in advance.

This takes away the stress I feel not doing one or the other, since I’m not expecting to do both at the same time (which is madness, really). 

I’ve also written up a loosely-structured schedule for both weekdays and weekends and have posted it up on the cork board in my office. We’ll see how well I actually stick to it, as I’ve taken up some side projects. If I don’t, it gives me another method that doesn’t work, and I can try something new next month.


What about you folx: how has your month gone well, not gone well, and what can you do in June to improve?