2020 has been a year that many of us would like to forget. So many bad things have happened throughout the year on the global stage and for many people, it was a struggle to see the positive, even though we were hunting for it. But when I look back at 2020, I don't see the total doom and gloom that others might see. I see opportunity to change things for the better, and I worked hard to snag those opportunities.
Sure, COVID-19 has a lot to answer for, but we saw SpaceX Falcon 9 send a manned Dragon into space! And I'm still in awe over those spacesuits. They were definitely something right out of science fiction.
The internet world became more connected on a global level. Because of it, for the first time, I was able to attend some amazing international conferences—including one on cybersecurity—from the comfort of my home office chair.
On the personal front, I lost my mother this year, due to a rare side effect from a common drug. But I've been forced to slow down—thank you, lockdowns—and I've been able to reflect on life around me. And there is mom's voice in the deep reaches of my mind telling me to reach for my dreams. "Turn Can't into Watch Me!"
2020 might have been a shit year globally, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I'm on my true path.
If you will indulge me for a bit, I'll share with you how the crazy has led to clarity.
Looking back at my achievements for the past 5 years
I started doing the annual reflection posts back in 2015 (many of which have now been deleted from my website for the sake of preserving space). In that first year, I wrote about how I had starting the query process with the first book in my high fantasy series. I wasn't ready for that stage back then, but I took a leap of faith, believing in myself. That high fantasy series was shelved back in 2017, put into the metaphorical drawer while I write crime thrillers. 2020, and that high fantasy series has become… a tinker project. I pull it out occasionally and tinker, because I can.
In 2015, I also launched my editorial business, Black Wolf Editorial Services. Five years later, and I'm finally making headway. It's now the end of 2020, and my editorial calendar is booked all the way through to Easter 2021.
In my December 2016 post, there was mention of Brexit, and how Trump is still just a TV show host of some bizarre show about making money. I don't think much has changed on that front in the last four years, except now the whole world is laughing at the idiocy going on.
On the personal front, my focus was on the quakes and the revisions of my high fantasy opus. And I had announced that I was working on Hidden Traps, my book about building an online platform safely—though it didn't have a name back then.
I reviewed my progress multiple times in 2017, mainly because that was the year I published Hidden Traps. But looking back at my goals for 2018… I had no clue what SMART goals were, and I was still focused on things that were 100% out of my control.
You can't make people read or buy your book. Yeah, that was a lesson I still hadn't learned.
Reading back over my 2018 reflection post, I can see the transition in my mindset starting. I had refocused my efforts on my writing and editing, moving away from activities that weren't servicing my ultimate goals. But that was also the year that I started The Writer in You project.
The Writer in You project is about helping writers to build a road map for their careers based on their ultimate dreams. And it's about helping writers build sustainable writing routines that work for their personalities.
The project has gone through a few iterations since 2018, but the whole purpose was to ensure that I stayed focus on what matters to me for my own writing/editing career—bringing my fellow writers along with me on the journey.
Review of 2020's goals, and where I went wrong.
In 2019, I recognized that so much of the publishing industry was out of my control. But even in focusing my goals on the elements that I had influence over, I still allowed certain things to happen that derailed my progress—and not everything was connected to COVID-19.
The goal of drafting another novel… Oops!
My big goal for 2020 was to complete another manuscript to a reasonably edited state within the span of 1 year, putting the deadline for it at October 31st. (I had started the novel during November 2019.) I did have a definition as to what I meant by reasonably edited, and it was attainable as long as I stayed focused. It was a SMART goal. But—and there's a 'BIG' but—I did something with that manuscript I shouldn't have done.
My big mistake was to share too much of that manuscript while I was still drafting it, getting feedback from other writers BEFORE I had a full first draft.
I have always struggled to find critique partners, so when I found a group of crime writers who had just started a critique group, I decided that I needed to give it a good go. Yeah… Let's just say that writing styles and personalities didn't click.
One of the writers did nothing but gush over my writing, never giving me any criticism and anything to work with. And the other writer… He really didn't get my characters.
"This woman is so rude and abrasive. Real women would never say the sorts of things that she says."
*blink blink* A man telling a woman that a woman would never be blunt or snarky. Huh… Interesting. Especially considering how in real life this woman is always saying (and writing) things that are full of snark, complete with the quick wit and odd nicknames for people. And in real life, if I think you're being an asshole, I'll tell you.
Hmm… Me thinks that one man has never had a conversation with a forthright woman like myself.
Yeah… Looking back at it now, that partnership was doomed from the start. But I was determined to make it work. He had pointed out an obvious plot hole that I had totally overlooked, and it had ripple effects on my entire manuscript. As the comments started to attack my pop culture references and the way my main character actually interacts with others (something that has been established for some time and something that my beta readers from Pen Name adore—even my editor loves that quirk about Veronica (my main character)), I knew I had to sever ties.
But by the time I severed the ties, the damage was already done. The story had deviated too far away from the original premise and was no longer my story. I had been through that feeling of losing control of a story before, and it took me two full years just to reclaim that story. Never again!
So… My experience with the latest critique group was a lesson learnt: NEVER share my writing with others while drafting the story. I will finish that story one day, but I need to just take a break from that concept, so I can refocus it properly when I go back to it.
Workshops derailed in the extreme
As part of my 2020 goals, I had said that I wanted to run workshops both in my local community and online. Well, COVID-19 totally derailed my plans on this front. But at the same time, COVID-19 forced me to look at what my real motivation was to running workshops.
As a consequence, I dove back into The Writer in You project. While I needed to understand exactly what I wanted to achieve, I knew I could help others focus their efforts on what they wanted to achieve. And I knew that I could encourage others to develop sustainable writing habits that actually work, because my philosophy is to use our personality quirks to our advantage.
The project has taken on a life of its own. For the past few months, I've been developing exercises and discussion materials… and I've found myself really looking inside my own writing career with fuel to weather the crazy that is 2020.
I will get to my epiphanies about myself shortly, but know that I have a full plan in place to turn The Writer in You into an online course before the end of 2021. Progress on that will be posted on Black Wolf Editorial Services.
Self-reflection epiphanies… and the uncertainty
Publishing has gone topsy-turvy
There is no doubt that 2020 has been a year that has had its ups and downs. And the publishing industry in particular has transformed in ways that we still don't know the outcomes of.
My focus on helping writers to forge their own paths has meant that I really needed to understand my own.
And I'm terrified.
I'm not sure if I explain my fear properly, and I don't really want to try to either. Just know that the uncertainty of the industry as a whole (and the fate of bookstores) has left me wondering if my ultimate dream will ever be possible.
BTW, my ultimate dream for my writing career is to be able to walk into any bookstore in the western world and see my books (plural) on the shelves. I know that the only way for that to happen for me is if I'm traditionally published. It's why I want that path. But with bookstores dying… and with traditional publishers merging… and with Amazon taking a huge share of the market… and the advances disappearing so agents are getting less likely to take on a debut writer… and… and… and…
Yeah, the last few months have been filled with questions about whether the dream has died without me even noticing.
So, I've taken a lesson out of my parenting repertoire to help me through this uncertainty. Do things and take steps that leave as many options open as possible.
When my children were trying to decide on what optional courses they wanted to do in their last few years of high school, I had them sit down and look at the prerequisites for ALL of the courses at university that interested them, then work backwards from there.
My son was interested in engineering and commerce. He worked out exactly what courses he needed to take in his senior year of high school, and looked at the prerequisites of those courses, working backwards to what he needed to take in his sophomore year. My son is now in his second year at university, studying mechanical engineering.
My daughter has done the same, choosing the courses that will leave as many options open as possible. She starts her junior year in high school next February.
But if I'm getting my children to do this options-open planning, then I need to do this.
No matter if I give up on the traditional dream in the end or not, there is one constant that exists between both traditional and self-publication roads: I need to write more manuscripts. So, that's what I'm going to do.
While I'm querying the two finished manuscripts that I have—and listening to the lovely tones of rejections accompanied with crickets—I'm going to keep writing. I have a lot of ideas. Time to get them on paper.
Now if only I can perfect the writing routines… Which, of course, leads me into my next epiphany about myself.
Routines filled with too much
I have always been willing to share my knowledge with others—freely share my knowledge. And when someone asks for help, I struggle to say "no." I volunteer for so many things, and I give so much of myself to others. And my writing buddies are constantly telling me that I'm doing too much.
My epiphany: My writing buddies are right! I say this hanging my head in shame, because I had to work through my own exercises in The Writer in You to see it.
One of my exercises is to look at the daily and weekly routines (without changing anything) and see if there is a disconnect with one's personality and nature. When I did this myself, I saw tonnes of time allocated to my writing and editing, but I was never getting anything done. The reason was because I was constantly doing things for others, neglecting the things that I needed to do for my personal projects or the paid editing work.
It is going to take me the better part of 2021 to reforge my writing/editing routines. Part of that will be the retraining of others who I interact with on a regular basis. I let certain things happen, and behavioral responses were learned. Now to unlearn them.
*le sigh again*
It's quite ironic that I've spent a significant amount of time during 2020 working on The Writer in You project. Obviously, it was what I needed to do to take control over the crud year that was 2020, so 2021 can be filled with steps forward.
It's not all self-reflection
While I did spend a significant amount of 2020 learning from my mistakes, this past year has also seen validation.
Last year, I wrote a short story using a second-person narrative as an experiment. On a whim, I decided to submit that story to L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contest. I got Honorable Mention.
What it means is that David Farland, the chief judge of the Writers of the Future contest, saw something in my writing that kept him reading from start to finish. My story won't be published in their contest anthology, but to know that there was something within my writing voice that held attention…
I'm fairly confident as to the reasons why that story didn't place, but I won't be reworking it to "fix" the issue. It was an experiment in the writing voice, and in my opinion, it was a successful experiment.
Eventually, that second-person story will be made public, even if I have to post it on my own blog. But it will be a matter of timing, tying it to the release of a full-length novel.
The goals for 2021… making them SMART
Okay… I'm putting it out there, so my writing buddies and faithful readers can help hold me accountable to my goals for 2021.
Goal 1: Online Courses
Specifics: Release The Writer in You as a course online (likely through a platform like Udemy)
Measurables: The course has multiple modules and related course handouts. I can measure the progress based on how many of those modules are completed. (At the time of writing this post, the course was half drafted.) I have divided the project into benchmark goals, all with their own deadlines.
Attainable: If I focus and stop letting the distractions happen, it is definitely attainable.
Relevant: This is connected to my dream of helping other writers obtain their own dreams, so I would say it's relevant.
Timely: The deadline I have set for launch of the course is June 30th, 2021. Just over six months. It will be a challenge, but the challenge is in focusing on the task at hand and not letting the distractions happen. I can do this.
Added goal offshoot: I want to have a second course launched by September 30th, 2021. I have made the decision as to what exactly the course will focus on, but I'm not making that announcement public just yet. My closest writing buddies know, so they can help hold me accountable, but I'm not quite ready to tell my readers what that course will be. Not yet.
Goal 2: Write the first draft of a novel by Dec 31st, 2021
Specifics: The idea that is coming strongly to my head is another crime novel. I'm not going to tell the public what the idea is, but my writing buddies know. And I have a working title that we use when discussing it.
Measurables: For me, the first draft of a novel should clock in around 110,000 words. That is too long for a traditional crime thriller, but I know I overwrite, putting in too much back story and other unnecessary exposition. First rounds of edits tend to deal with that, but you can't edit a blank page.
Attainable: Same issues as above. I need to focus and not let the distractions happen.
Relevant: Did I not mention that I needed to write more manuscripts?
Timely: I've given myself a year to do this. If I focus, and not share too much of my writing too soon, I can do this.
Connected goal: While writing the first draft, I will continue my query process for the two completed manuscripts that I have right now. But writing a new manuscript, not connected to the two I'm querying, will provide the perfect distraction from the crickets and the hurry-up-and-wait process.
Goal 3: Learn more about marketing for my business
Specifics: Well, I really don't know how to make this specific, because I don't know what I don't know. I suppose that's the first step: Work out where my knowledge is seriously lacking and start working out how I'm going to learn what I need to learn.
Measurables: Yeah… Um…
Okay, this one is NOT going to be a SMART goal… At least not yet. But I can set aside a few hours every week to read on the subject matter.
Goal 4: Stop spreading myself too thin
Specifics: Restructure and reforge my routines, so I actually get my work done on a daily and weekly basis. Write ToDo lists and actually stick to them. And stop letting the distractions happen. I want to get to a point where I'm working five to six hours a day (weekdays) productively. (Weekends, I'll be happy with only two hours of writing each day.)
Measurables: I can measure my progress by way of my ToDo lists. If I'm not crossing things off, but rather shifting them to another day, then something went wrong and I need to reassess.
Attainable: If I don't find a way to attain this, it will lead to other issues in the future. So… Let's not go there.
Relevant: Yep, considering I'm being constantly told that I'm doing too much, this is definitely relevant.
Timely: This will probably be a lifetime struggle, but I want to gain at least some sort of control over this by Easter next year, putting in strategies that work for me that I can maintain.
Ironically, this is part of The Writer in You project. It's me actually working through the exercises that will be part of course, proving that building a sustainable writing routine is possible—if one stops fighting against their nature and embraces it.
I'm going to need so much accountability for 2021. Does anyone want to volunteer to be the weekly check-in point and growl at me when I let the distractions happen?
2021… It might be chaos globally, but in my little world, I'm taking control!