2017 Wrap-up: The end of the beginning

Usually, I devote a little blog space at the end of the year to quantifying the work I’ve done and making grand plans for the year ahead. But this is 2017, and a series of color-coded graphs can’t quite capture everything that happened.

I didn’t do much formal tracking of my word count this year. If I had, you’d see long lulls punctuated by spikes of feverish activity. You might be able to pick out periods where I got deep in the weeds of stories that didn’t pan out. You’d see the same scenes getting picked at over and over. I didn’t write with my usual joyful abandon in 2017. A lot of the words I ground out were hard won.

Keeping up with Astra Nullius was, in some ways, the easiest piece of longform writing I’ve ever done. The short story format allowed me to toss out work I wasn’t enjoying and play with interesting ideas that weren’t robust enough to be entire novels. This year, I made a point of setting aside the idea that I was writing something intended for traditional publication and just let myself write what I wanted to write.

In other ways, this was the hardest writing project I’ve ever embarked on. For the first few months of stories, hitting publish or even just sending a draft to my beta reader was enough to leave me shaky and anxious for days. When I started publishing Astra Nullius, I hadn’t let anyone read my fiction in five and a half years.

I wrote the first story for Astra Nullius in October 2016. Hillary Clinton was cruising toward what looked like an easy victory, and while I had plenty to worry about in my personal life, I was optimistic about where my country was headed. The fantasy world I was creating was a fun sandbox to play around in: the messy end of a Star Trek-esque utopia, viewed through the eyes of libertine heroes who want to bring back the good old days but spend most of their time just scraping by.

2017 was a weird period for us all. Talking about my personal life has never come easy to me, and it’s been especially hard this year. It was a weird, frightening, overwhelming time in my life, and I ended up slamming face-first into a lot of major life events in very quick succession.

I think it’s pretty obvious how all that played out in my fiction. I’d originally planned Astra Nullius as a loving send-up of pulp scifi, a goofy homage to a genre I’ve always turned to for comfort. What I actually wrote was stranger and sadder, a story about how victory sometimes looks like making it through another day.

I’m excited about everything I have planned for the crew in 2018. It’s been fun establishing the world they live in, but now it’s time to raise the stakes. I’m also changing the publication schedule and working some new ways to read the series that won’t require readers to slog through eye-straining walls of text. Stay tuned for more updates in the next few weeks.

New Year’s Resolutions

Normally, I finish up each year by posting charts of my word count. 2016 threw a wrench in those plans–although I did write a whole lot, it wasn’t in a format that’s easy to track. I revised a novel that still needs many more revisions, rounded out my first full year as a full-time web content manager, and did some piecemeal work on side projects that may or may not be novels someday. I also spent a few months not writing fiction at all, because writing is a hobby that takes a whole lot of mental energy, and I didn’t have much brainpower to spare after the curse of 2016 slammed into my personal life at full force.

So instead of looking back, I’m looking ahead. These are my resolutions for 2017. I’m keeping them intentionally vague, because this year also promises to be full of possibly unpleasant surprises, and I want to celebrate some victories even if they’re small.

1. Advance in this career I stumbled into back in 2015.

I’d had a hunch for a while that marketing might be a good fit for me, but “marketing” is an amorphous term that covers dozens of actual occupations and hundreds of possible skill sets. Towards the end of 2015, I was finally ready to move on from my admin job, and I ended up in an entry-level digital marketing gig with a small company. I learned a ton on the job–everything from understanding Google Analytics to laying out print books.

Now, after more than a full year in digital marketing, I’m confident that this is a field I’m going to be in for a while. If you told me two years ago that I’d be this excited about work, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I’m still not sure exactly what I want to specialize in, but now at least I know what I still have to learn. That’s why I switched the hosting of this blog off wordpress.com (and beefed up my domain name registry so badly): although you can’t see it from the outside, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes, and I can get my grubby mitts all over the tools I need to learn more about.

2. Take care of my body and my brain.

I did some smart stuff in 2016. I put a lot of miles in on my treadmill desk; I took up fencing; I managed some extremely stressful situations with more aplomb than even I expected. But there’s still room for improvement. In 2017, I’m going to try to be more proactive about my health. That means making mental health care a regular thing instead of the final option in a crisis, doing exercises not just because they’re fun and stress-relieving but because I need to take care of every part of my body, and being more thoughtful about what I put into my body.

There’s nothing quantifiable here, no number of pounds I plan to lose or inches I plan to trim off my waist. That’s fine. 2017 is not going to be the year I turn into a bikini babe, and I’m ok with that.

3. Put my fiction in front of other people.

First drafts are fun to write, but my relentless focus on word count produced a whole lot of trunk novels. In 2017, instead of producing another first draft of a novel, I’m going to be releasing some bite-sized fiction. And I mean actually releasing it: those words are going to be right here, on this blog, in front of your eyeballs.

This is, I think, going to be the hardest resolution to stick with. It’s also the most important one. After years of guarding my hoard of trunk novels, it’s time to start thinking of myself as a writer who can produce work that’s readable now, not somebody who will maybe finally write something worth reading in 10 years’ time.

I’m starting with a genre that has been a great source of comfort for me: pulpy science fiction. I’m not going to psych myself out by telling myself that I can’t put my name on anything less than great literature here. These aren’t the greatest stories ever written, but they’re the greatest stories I can write right now, and that’s enough for me.

Word count 2015

It’s time for my annual attempt to count up every single word of fiction I wrote over the course of 365 days. This was a hard year to quantify, because I did a lot of revising/polishing/burning to the ground and rebuilding from the ashes of projects I put aside in 2014, and I didn’t keep a completely accurate tally of how many new words I added to old manuscripts. I also had more side projects, which I picked up and put down whenever I felt like it.

This year was also a rough one for me personally, and I had to come to terms with the fact that there were times when I was tired and stressed and pushing myself to write more fiction would lead to burnout. I also got a new job (awesome!) with a huge writing component (super awesome!) but didn’t include those words in my count.

Total Word Count, 2015

word count total 2015

Not bad, considering! I wasn’t quite as productive on paper as I was in 2014, but I moved several manuscripts closer to an actually readable state.

Words per week, 2015

words per week 2015

Ok, here’s the part where I should have kept better track of what I was doing. I worked on five distinct projects in 2015, but only recorded weekly word counts for one set of revisions and one new novel. Some of the weeks when my word count appears to fall to zero are weeks when I actually didn’t do any writing, but others were weeks when I was working on something I didn’t track.

Total Word Count by Project, 2015

total word count by project 2015

Again, I only tracked the revisions and the novel. They both have roughly the pattern I like to see progress-wise (a nice rising slope without too many plateaus).

So, what’s next for 2016? A whole lot more words on the page, but more importantly, at least one draft in finished form. I’d like to begin serializing the novel here some time in.

Previous years’ word counts: 2013, 2014

Word count 2014

Remember how I said I finished a novel this year? Just kidding, I actually finished two novels. And now I’m going to make you stare at word count charts, because I’m an obsessive weirdo when it comes to counting up all them words.

My total word count for this year, not counting this blog, was 135,900 words. That is, in layman’s terms, way too many words.

total word count

Yes, I know this color coding doesn’t match the other charts. No, I’m not going to fix it. This is my navel gazing session, thank you very much.

The glowing lines on this chart are my work this year. Novel #1 is the story I set out to write, and novel #2 is the accidental novel I started, and finished, just to see if I could.

rising word count

And here’s the words per week chart. I’m getting better about writing consistently, but you can still see that my enthusiasm for a project only lasts 3-4 months. Next year, I’m going to try taking real breaks between projects, so I can recharge and hopefully avoid burnout.

words per week

Both of these novels will sit on my hard drive until January 1st, and then I’ll begin the process of cleaning them up. Novel #1 needs a complete rewrite, and novel #2 requires serious pruning. Novel #1 may be marketable some day in the very distant future. I’m going to spend 2015 doing a complete rewrite and then sending it out to beta readers. Novel #2 is such a strange duck that I doubt I’ll ever find a publisher willing to take a chance on it. I’ll make it as good as it can possibly get, because goodness knows I need the practice, but if it ever sees the light of day it’ll probably be free to read on this blog.

Victory Lap

Well, I just finished another text-based product of novel length.* It’s still rough, but it’s the closest thing I’ve ever produced to a coherent piece of fiction on this scale: the story is more plot than hole, the characters are iffy but not completely undeveloped, and the structure is close to coherent. No major characters pop into or out of existence halfway through. That’s something!

I learned a tremendous amount since last year about working on a project of this magnitude. Check out my weekly word count for 2014:

Words per week

It’s still not soaring as high as 2012, but I’m still writing more consistently than I was in 2013. 2014 has been a better and less stressful year for me personally, which certainly didn’t hurt my output, but I also learned how to outline a complete story before I’m in the middle of it and floundering. You can see the effect on my total word count:

Total word count

I started the year with almost 10,000 words in my outline, and those rough descriptions of upcoming scenes were hugely helpful when I got stuck. I used a lazy version of the snowflake method, which was handy because the story I was telling was not exactly in chronological order.

Now it’s time to put this manuscript out of sight while I try to put it out of mind for a few months at minimum. I could do this crazy thing called “relaxing,” but I’m probably going to jump straight into another project.


* Yes, I know that “novel length” is up for debate as a unit of measurement.

How I spent 2013

2013 marks my second year of completing a novel-length textual product.* I didn’t technically finish a novel, in the sense that I do not have a manuscript that is ready to be released into the world, but I did complete the structure on which a more polished story will one day hang, and I passed the word count that is generally considered to be novel-length.**

* I technically spewed out more words when I was freelancing in 2011 and the beginning of 2012, but that wasn’t fiction and wasn’t on my own projects so I’m not considering it part of my work count.

** I’m going off the NaNoWriMo rules, which count 50,000 words as the threshold for a novel. Other counts differ; for a final draft, I’m shooting for somewhere between 80-100,000 words.

Because I’m fascinated by how different people handle the writing process, I tracked my word count for the past two years and made some graphs showing my progress.

Words per week

Words per week

I kind of stumbled into my 2012 project; you can see the spike in April where I wrote the first bit, then the long stretch of time when I left it alone before realizing that hey, there might be something there after all. Once I realized that I wanted to finish the story, I quickly got into the habit of writing at least 2000 words per week (mostly by writing on my lunch breaks).

In 2013, I started off knowing that I wanted to do a similar project, but my word count was lower per week and I finished later in the year. 2013 was a much rougher year for me personally. Some of the dips down to 0 were weeks when an illness/emergency/move/whatever meant that all my energy went into something other than writing. Those multi-week stretches at 0 are times when I didn’t have a working computer (my old desktop ate power supplies for breakfast).

The way I wrote in 2012 was definitely more fun, and I’ll try to get back in the habit of writing every day in 2014.

Word count over time

Word count rising

Here’s a cheerier chart. You can see how long I spent not paying attention to writing in 2012, and the sudden burst of effort towards the end of the year when my self-imposed deadline was looming. Starting earlier in 2013 paid off; despite my lower weekly word counts, I was still ahead of my 2012 progress until mid-October. I’ll be doing the same in 2014, with the benefit of an outline so I can write even faster.

Total word count

total words two years

The story I wrote in 2012 was the only fiction project I was seriously tinkering with that year. In 2013, I wrote a smidge over 12,000 words on a just-for-fun side project, plus 4,000 words on the outline for the story I’ll be working on in 2014 (I didn’t track these projects in my weekly word count chart; that was just the novel-length textual product). So, despite the low weekly word counts and 10,000 words less in the tally at year’s end, I did surpass my word count from 2012. I also started this blog, but I’m only counting fiction in these totals.

Although it’s not apparent in the charts, my 2013 project is much, much closer to resembling an actual novel. It doesn’t have any scenes left unfinished, its plot is more or less functional, and I won’t have to completely hack it to bits in the editing process. The 2012 project was so rough that revising it will be less like polishing and more like selecting passages to recycle in a better story.

What now?

Now I lock my little proto-novels away in a drawer, where they can stew in their own juices for a while before I’m ready to start editing. Since I’ve proved to myself that I can write something 1) long enough to be considered a novel and 2) semi-coherent, I’m taking on a more ambitious project in 2014, with the goal of ending the year with something much closer to a final draft.