Writing Resolutions

It’s the most wonderful time…burp…hic!

Melly…Memmy…Happy Christmas, readers. It’s that time of year again. The kids are full of sugar, the turkey is a charred mess in the bin, and the local pizza parlour is cooking dinner.

“What are you going to do with all this spare time?” I hear you ask. I hope it was you; I may have had too much Christmas Juice.

Anyway…I’m going to write, of course. Thank you for asking.

If anybody has ever felt the need, or the urge, to write, then what better time to start than in the new year.

Most of us make our resolutions around this time – some of them even last as long as the 2nd January – and setting a writing goal should be at the forefront of every writer’s mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re an old hat or a willing amateur, we all benefit from targets.

“What kind of targets?” you cry.

It doesn’t matter but I’ll give you a few tips on creating ones you are likely to stick at.

1. Make them realistic

If you aim to write a nineteen-tome epic fantasy by January 30th, you may have set the bar a little high. Make your goals achievable but don’t make them too easy, otherwise what’s the point?

2. Allow yourself to fail

Not all goals are achievable no matter how hard you work. Life has a way of interfering with the writing process (I call it research). Do your best and allow yourself to fail. But, after that, get back on that horse and keep going.

3. Form a habit

The more your write, the easier it gets. Forming a habit will make it seem less of a chore on the days you don’t really feel like writing.

4. Don’t give up

I refer you back to the horse statement in point 2. Writing can be tough and it can be thankless at times, but it can also be exhilarating and indescribable. If you really want to write, make it happen, even if it’s only a few words a day.

5. Make it public

If you’re like me, you’ll hate all the media attention (pffft…) but be sure to announce your goals, even if this is only to your friends and family. Why would you do this? It makes you accountable and you’ll be amazed at how many people will give you their support and encouragement.

Okay. That’s all from me. There’s still a little more liquid at the bottom of these three bottles and so I will take my leave.

Happy holidays from all of us here at Sarcastic Muse.


What are your writing goals for 2015? Share them in the comments below.

Why You Should Track Your Written Words

As 2014 draws to a close, most of us are a) wondering where the heck the time went, b) perusing holiday recipes we don’t have time to prepare but want to eat, or c) reflecting on what we accomplished over the last twelve months.

Progress in writing is subjective, of course, and depends on the stage you’re in. If you are already publishing, it’s tempting to just count titles. If you have yet to think about sending your work out, you might find it hard to believe you’ve accomplished much at all.

I have a suggestion. I can hear the echoes of the other muses through the headquarters: “of course she does. She always has a suggestion.” Well, that’s partly true. Chalk it up to experience. But here’s the suggestion.

Track your words.

my tracking

Sounds simple, right? But what do you track? My answer is to track everything. Record how many words you write in blog posts. Record your word counts on each fiction project. Estimate your handwritten word count by page and record your journal input. Log your pre-write and outline efforts. If you write as part of your job, you can record that, too, if you like. Keep track of words edited in a separate column.

At the end of 2013, I sat here wondering what I’d accomplished besides novel drafts. I found a blog post (for the life of me I can’t remember who/where or I’d link it) from another writer who talked about tracking overall words written and decided to give it a try for the year. As a result, I’ve found that my naturally competitive spirit gives me a push to have something to record every day, and I also have amassed twelve months of data on how much I write, when I write it, and what I wrote the words for.

I’m suggesting it’s not a bad idea. If you set a reasonable goal or set of goals, or just track your words out of curiosity, you’ll have a new way to reflect on what you’ve accomplished by the end of 2015. If you are at all competitive or like to fill in numbers, you’ll also find that it gives you the push to get daily writing done.

I’ve made my own word tracker for 2015. I  used My Big Damn Writing Tracker for 2014, modifying it for myself with a few simple formulas to add the various columns. I keep editing separate from word generation. Take a look at different options and design your own or use one “out of the box.”

The biggest difference for me between December of 2013 and today is what I’ve learned. I have hard numbers, which is great, and can track by project or type. But I’ve also learned there’s an ebb and flow between journal and fiction, between editing and and story development (seems new ideas arrive by the boatload while editing), and other interesting tidbits. I suck at statistical analysis, but even I can figure out a few trends. Of course, the big rush is looking at my yearly word count total!

Svenja Gosen does a yearly tracker and offers it for free. Here’s the 2014 tracker. Watch here for 2015, due out this month.

Jenny Trout developed the one I initially started using. I’ve since modified it quite a bit and hope to share it soon.

If you run across a tracker out there on the web, please link to it in the comments. We all have different tastes, needs, and skill levels.

I’ll have my 2015 tracker ready in the next few days and put  a link up on our new Resources page (that will debut before the 31st). I’ve added an image above as well.


 

Do you track what you write? If yes, how. If no, would you give it a shot?

Quality versus Quantity

Your Quality of Standard checklist (c) manos

Your Quality of Standard checklist (c) manos

Quality vs. Quantity – the battle that is almost as old as time.  And one that is a struggle to determine a winner.   My non-writing career is in Quality Assurance (QA) and I’m also an INTJ personality type (click here to find your personality type).  So it is a given I’d favor quality over quantity.  My writing output is pure evidence of that.  I labor over every piece of work.  After almost 2 decades of writing, I just have one small publication.  Everything else that I have written, never seems to be good enough.  It isn’t quality in my eyes.

Then one day, a concerned friend staged an intervention by saying the “Quality versus Quantity” battle was a load of BS.

That got me thinking…

Laboring over the same stories year after year does not enable one to grow.  As a writer, I should finish, publish, and allow my reader to determine whether a written piece will fly or fall.  If it flies, then I know what will work for the next piece.  If it falls, then I know what I need to do differently.  This whole writing thing — it’s a learning experience.  We are all not going to master it until we have been writing for decades.  Even then we may never master it.

The lightbulb moment…

With a pure quality mentality, I am going to write the perfect piece.  However, I will waste all of my energy on ONE piece of work.  It’s a gamble.  Readers may or may not like it.  If that one piece falls, then essentially I would be a failure.

If I focus on quantity, then I bang out material left and right, throwing it out to the masses who may eagerly await the next publication.  That is key in building an audience and a following.  However, publishing pieces too quickly causes a decline in quality.  Over the time of mass publication, the quality of the work will range between average to dismal.

This whole writing thing should not be about “quality versus quantity”, but “quantity that balances quality”.  Working in the realm of QA, that is a hard thing to manage.  So often teams are wanting a product to go to market, however the QA side won’t grant approval because the product doesn’t meet standards.  Arguments ensue and usually QA has to let things slide.  We see this in every industry.  How many defective products have you owned in your life?  That is because there was a disregard for quality and the manufacture just wanted to produce, produce, produce.  Though, without production there is no money and without money companies go out of business.

So if that is the case, should we not run our “authorship” (spin on entrepreneurship) in this manner with producing a higher quantity?  Yes and no.  If you only plan to only write one story, then quality should be a higher focus and you can spend all the time in the world working towards the perfect publication.  However, as I know most of you reading this want an “authorship” to be your career, the only way to make money at this game is to produce.

But you can’t just constantly deliver without assessing the quality of your product.  You may have the perfect marketing platform which pulls in a high audience because of the volume of books that you can quickly produce.  Though overtime, people wise up.  They are money conscious.  Readers don’t want to spend their money on something that lacks quality.  There needs to be a standard to your writing.  If you are looking to increase your quantity of writing for a larger production scale, then you must list out criteria that your work must meet before you deem it acceptable for publication.  Think of this list of standards as your quality control (QC) check before delivering  to the masses.

The road to a solution…

I am still in this phase of finding the balance of quality versus quantity.  It has not been an easy process and I will probably be fighting for this balance through the rest of my life – I am an INTJ after all.  Though for my sanity and to keep my writing in check, I did create myself a list of standards that I must abide by for my writing.  This list helps me to check off all the “quality boxes” that I need to meet, but it also frees me from seeking perfection in the piece.  Once all the boxes are checked on my “QC Checklist”, I consider the piece to be done and will send it off to beta readers, editors, and proofreaders.

Sorry, I won’t be sharing my “QC Checklist” yet.  It is a rather insane 11.5 pages.  Admittedly it needs to be whittled down.  However, the content of my list is not is what is important.  What is important is that I no longer allow quality to hang me up from publication.  The list of standards will control what is acceptable or not acceptable for publication.  Should anything fail on the list, then it is within reason to revise what failed the quality check.  

So the “Quality versus Quantity battle is really irrelevant and should not cross your mind.  As a writer, what you should think about is “Quantity that balances Quality”.  That stability the key to successful and prolific publication.

If you would like to hear more about “Quality versus Quantity”, check out this video by author Walter Mosley.

I will be taking off next week from The Sarcastic Muse for the holiday season.  I want to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday.  I will see you all on December 31st… hmm, maybe with a post on writing resolutions for 2015.

Things To Know If You Want To Publish in Literary Magazines

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ll start this off by saying: I am not a master of getting published in literary magazines. Rather it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m an expert in getting rejected by them. But there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that may be of use to you—whether you’re a literary writer or a genre writer or somewhere in between. Reading the fine print, familiarizing yourself with your chosen venue of publication, drafting cover and query letters—all of these things will bring you one step closer to seeing your name in print.

And besides, there are a ton of opportunities out there for writers—you just need to know where to look.

Cover Letters

Most literary journals require a cover letter. I’ve noticed that some of the speculative fiction magazines are more lenient about this, but as a habit, I send them one, too. Cover letters are not as daunting as they sound. In general, magazines want something simple—a few sentences that state who you are, any previous notable publications (don’t list every single one—they don’t care), the title of your piece. That’s about it.

The Review Review gives a good overview of how to write a cover letter: Your Perfect Cover Letter

Take the time to address the editor by name

Having a cover letter template to use as a basis is fine. But I have a suggestion: take the time to individualize each letter. Try not to just address it to “Fiction Editor” or “To whom it may concern” unless specified by the magazine. In general, when you specifically name the editor, it shows that you have at least read through the guidelines and the magazine’s site.

Follow submission instructions

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many stories get rejected simply because the author didn’t follow the magazine’s submission guidelines. There is a submission standard, and many magazines do follow this, but always, always check to see if they require something more (or less). Some magazines have a strictly anonymous reading procedure, for instance, which means your name shouldn’t be anywhere on the story.

Here is the typical standard formatting as written by William Shunn. If there aren’t any specific guidelines for the magazine, follow these: Proper Manuscript Formatting

Familiarize yourself with the magazine

The easiest way to familiarize yourself with a magazine is to read what they publish. Naturally most writers can’t afford subscription fees for every magazine on the market, but many magazines release a story or two from back issues for public consumption. Look for these on their websites and do take the time to decide whether your story will fit the magazine’s mission.

Prepare yourself for the rejection

You will get rejected. A lot. It’s inevitable. But eventually you may just get that acceptance letter, so keep trying. DO NOT GIVE UP!

Don’t expect to pay your bills

You probably already know this, but literary magazines don’t tend to pay. You may get a little compensation; you may get a free copy of the journal with your publication in it. But that’s about it. Mostly your reward will be seeing your name in print.

Resources

If you’re new to the literary journal game, then here are a couple of resources to get you started:

Poets & Writers is a great resource for new and established authors alike. They have a listing of literary magazines HERE and offer a plethora of information–from schools that offer programs in creative writing to small presses to literary agents.

Be a Better Writer: One of the things I love about this site is that the author takes the time to list upcoming writing contests (including deadlines and how much they pay the winners). I highly recommend checking it out.

The Review Review: This site hosts a great database of calls for submission and writing contests. Additionally, they offer reviews of magazines, which is invaluable information for getting familiar with the literary publication world.


Do you have any other advice to offer writers trying to publish in journals?