It is June 1 tomorrow. This means that in one month the year will be halfway over. That makes this is a good time to reflect back on the year so far (I will avoid politics in this particular post, because 2020 is on fire, and I only have so much emotional energy right now.) This reflection will focus on my writing and personal goals.
I usually make a few New Year’s resolutions on January 1. My main evergreen resolution is always to exercise more so sometimes I think New Year’s resolutions are pointless exercises in futility because I hardly ever increase my exercise for a sustained period of time. Exercise has become more difficult in a time of quarantine, because usually I use the gym to motivate me and I have canceled my membership because I won’t feel comfortable working out there for the rest of the year.
I have, however, been doing yoga, and I need to pick up on my bodyweight and dumbbell routines; it is my goal to be able to do 10 full pushups. I can do 3 and I have been working on knee pushups off and on. I would like to get back into running. I used to need a treadmill to motivate me to run, but I felt as if I was a slave to the clock and I couldn’t run without a screen staring at me. I’d like to break out of that and be able to run outdoors. My goal is to be able to run a 5k on sidewalks or trails without stopping. That was always my goal, but now that I am liberated from the treadmill, it is time to feel the rush of air on my face and pound the cement, or the trail. I have a love/hate relationship with running. I don’t particularly like to do it and it is high impact on your knees, but I look forward to the adrenaline rush when I beat my goals. It’s stress relief.
The only personal resolution that I made that I have actually stuck with is that I gave up eating beef and pork and I still have not touched beef or pork. I am cutting back on meat for health, ethical and environmental reasons. I don’t want to convert anyone to my way of thinking; you can have your bacon and enjoy it, and I won’t care. But I find that for me, I am not able to make peace with the concept that pigs and cattle know when they are about to die. Factory farming is bad for the environment and bad for animals. Previously, my compromise was eating organic, grass-fed beef and pork, because at least they lived happy lives before they were killed. But now I can’t enjoy bacon without picturing a screaming pig in my mind. So I have chosen to abstain from it. It’s easier than I thought, and it makes me eat more vegetables. It’s a healthier diet in the long run. And I still eat chicken, turkey and fish, so it’s not really a big hardship.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to scare you off with that horrific vegan imagery, so moving on to my writing goals.
I had committed to writing a short story every week and submitting them all. My goal is to get published in lit mags this year, and I was also following Ray Bradbury’s advice to improve your writing. I stopped writing for two months in quarantine because I felt overcome by my depression and anxiety. But I’ve been back at the short stories. I find it a really gratifying exercise. I also now see it as stress relief. It’s a way to express my emotions that need an outlet. It’s healthier for me than pouring my emotions into baking sourdough bread and cookies.
The thing is, I haven’t written fiction in years. I wrote journalism professionally for seven years and did copywriting for a year and a half. But I graduated with my BA in creative writing in 2004. I hadn’t touched fiction since then, because writing after work felt like more work, when writing is your day job. Journalism, however, is not the same as fiction; it is a mindset shift. So I thought short stories would be a good way to get back in the game and work on my chops. And I can see my writing improving with every short story I complete.
So far I have submitted seven stories this year. Two are pending response. I have received three rejections and one acceptance.
I have mostly written flash fiction pieces. These are stories that are 1,000 words and under. I try to think of them like long poems. It is certainly difficult to fit a plot into 1,000 words, but it is a good practice in plot development. Every word has to count. You can’t do anything that doesn’t drive the story. Space comes at a premium. I have also noticed that publishers are really interested in flash fiction. Lots of lit mags actively encourage them. I find writing flash fiction pieces also boosts my confidence. It makes me think I could pen a longer story and still finish it.
I did that last weekend, actually. I had four days off for the holiday weekend, taking an extra day as a vacation day. I spent three days procrastinating on writing, but I was still thinking about it, subconsciously. I got a lot of housework and gardening done. Then on Tuesday morning I sat down to write. I spent all day on 4,000 words and editing it. I submitted it to Typehouse Magazine, but I don’t expect to hear back from that lit mag till the end of July. I fully expect a rejection, but I’m hoping maybe since they are based in Portland, and I am an Oregonian, they will place a higher weight on a local’s writing, but I have no reason to speculate that.
I wrote another flash fiction piece this morning and submitted it to Jersey Devil Press. I also do not expect an acceptance from that market. I read the bios of all the authors in the current issue and they all had MFA’s. I do not have an MFA. I do have a BA in creative writing. I I don’t think the possession of an MFA will make you more likely to get accepted, but it does mean that the standard of quality is higher for that market.
But I was charmed by this part of their submission guidelines and advice for submitting. This is an item on their list of fictional tropes that should be stopped forever. “Vampires. I think Twilight is stupid. I’m sorry, but I haven’t been even moderately interested in vampires since ‘Angel’ got cancelled.” Yes, yes, and yes. So on board with that sentiment.
I have been reading a book called This Is The Year You Write Your Novel. I’ve been trying to read more books with writing advice on my Kindle to get into the creative writing mindset and train my brain. (Before you bring it up, I refuse to read Stephen King. He is as over-hyped as vampires.) This book advises to write every day, to set aside at least an hour to work on your writing, even if all you’re doing is staring at a page.
This writing advice is most commonly shunned by writers, who say it’s unrealistic, it’s not practical, and it can even be damaging. This may be so, but I would like to try it. I do not plan on writing a novel this year, although I plan on spending the next six months researching my historical fiction novel idea from WWII. I plan on focusing on my short stories.
The book talks about writing as a subconscious process. You are always thinking about your story, no matter what you’re doing. The act of sitting down every day to write makes it a practice, a habit, that taps into this subconscious spirit and makes your idea brain come alive, swim to the surface.
I also realized I needed to up my numbers with my short story submissions. It is like when I changed careers from newspaper journalism to university PR in the thick of the 2008 recession. It’s a numbers game. I submitted 150 applications to finally land the job. If I write one short story per week, that’s only 52 short stories and 52 submissions. Most won’t even be good stories. But if I work on my shorts every day, I could have more than 52 submissions.
At first, I floundered with my ideas. I’ve long had trouble coming up with original ideas. For some writers this part of the process comes easily to them and they are faced with the enviable problem of too many ideas and not enough time. But for me ideas have been a struggle. I’m great at characterization and description. Plot? Not so much. But I find the more I write, the easier it becomes, because writing really is a subconscious journey. I’m thinking about ideas when I am taking a shower, or going for a run, or I see something happen in the street. When I sit down to write about it every day, those ideas flow to the surface more consistently.
I never thought I had time to write every day, so I would save my writing for the weekends. But the truth was, I just had anxiety about writing and procrastinated on it. Maybe it’s true that I have more time than a writer who is a parent. I don’t have kids. But I work 8-5 Monday to Friday. Pre-quarantine, I commuted, meaning I lost 6:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. of my day to driving and working the day job. But I still had all evening and all morning to write. If I went to bed at 10 p.m., I still had four hours to write, excluding dinner and exercising and relaxing. Or I could wake up at 4 or 5 a.m., and I would still have two hours to write.
But I realized that if I had time for social media, I have time to write. Social media is deceptively alluring. You may think it only takes a couple of minutes to fire off a tweet or a Facebook post. But then you will spend an hour checking your notifications to see if anyone responded. If it goes viral, you will respond to comments. If it gets ignored, you will still scroll down the vast wasteland of the feed, and reply mindlessly to other people’s posts. I can easily spend 2-5 hours a day on social media, endlessly scrolling. I would rather spend that time writing, and actively tapping into my subconscious brain.
So that’s my renewed commitment at this mid-way point of the year. Writing every day, writing more short stories, and spending the next six months on WWII research. I am one submission away from an acceptance, after all. Can’t quit just because of fear.