Journal

This Document Will Self-Destruct in 365 Days…

It’s been quite a year of highs and lows, looking back on 2012, so much so that as I began to look at it in retrospect for this post, I found myself almost completely paralyzed by the idea of summing it all up in detail. So, taking a page out of James Scott Bell’s Revision & Self-Editing, I’ve decided to write myself as objective a performance review as I can. It’s a bit weird writing about yourself in the third person, but I do think it captured something that I otherwise might not have been honest enough to say. Perhaps Bradbury was onto something when he says that subconscious inner self knows a lot more about what is and what isn’t than our conscious self is willing to admit. :0)

***

Performance Review, Form #233-B

Date: 01.01.2013.14:02

Subject: M. Slater

Reviewing Officer: [redacted]

2012 REVIEW:

Let me begin by saying that the Subject has made some great strides in a variety of categories over the past year. While these lifestyle improvements may not seem all that important to her compared to the limited progress of her fiction pursuits, they have had something of a drastic impact on her well-being and mental status.

Not the least of these improvements is a change in her day-to-day work environment. Previously laboring in a field that did not compliment her personal strengths and heavily taxed upon weaker skill-sets, the Subject was listless, often frustrated, and in a perpetually pessimistic state of mind. The extent of this pessimism can be found in her private dossier, but needless to say it impacted almost every quarter of her private life, not the least of which was her fiction. I’m glad to report that in 2012, the Subject took some bold initiative and actively put herself in a better work environment which far better employs her strengths and downplays most of her weaknesses, while also giving her daily social interaction. This has greatly improved her mental state, and has had a positive impact on other ventures as well.

Another positive improvement was the Subject’s attendance of a painting class at The Maine College of Art, where she strengthened her grasp of acrylics and discovered a secondary form of artistic expression which has become a source of relaxation and counter-balance to the literary work on which she often fixates. It took some bravery on the Subject’s part to break out of her homebody routine and peer out into the world, but I’m pleased to report that all went well and at some point in the future, she might engage in more outside sources of personal development.

The Subject has also made great strides in her own intellectual growth. In the past year, she has re-engaged with reading more fiction and non-fiction on a regular basis and in doing so has opened herself up to subjects in Philosophy, Women’s Studies, and World History which previously she had held interest in, but with which she had not actively pursued further knowledge. She has read numerous classics over the past year, which have greatly enhanced her own verbal skills, as well as introduced her to some of the subjects mentioned above. In short: she has not been idle.

On the writing front, the Subject is still pessimistic, though we are working together for improvement. The primary source of disappointment is in the total lack of fiction sales, which she has come to associate with what it means to have a successful year. She has garnered a few positive and encouraging rejections, but rejections—at the end of the day—are still rejections. She forgets that in order to sell fiction, one must submit fiction, and 2012 saw very few submissions of older work, much less new work recently completed.

Her overall submissions have also been reduced due to our working to her shifting focus towards novel-length manuscripts, which have taken far more of her focus this year than any year previous. She has written over 70k new words towards the finale of her practice novel, and once she finishes an orienting re-read of past chapters, should make excellent progress towards its completion within the next few months. Our goal remains to keep her on track with that progress, so that once completed, she can turn her attention wholly on original works and move beyond some of the traps that have stalled her over the past decade.

The beginning of the year saw a great number of brand-new stories, over a dozen rough drafts, but unfortunately, these drafts have remained drafts and have not been improved upon enough to submit out to markets. Editing is one of the Subject’s weaknesses at this stage, and in the coming year, I would like to see a stronger effort to improve this skill, as it is a major hindrance to her progress at this stage.

However, the Subject has done a fantastic job keeping up on her daily word-count. Our initial goal was for her to produce 500 new words every day, including weekends, and of that she has hit most of those days, and has surpassed 1000 words regularly. We have created a reward system for hitting 2k words in a single session which should alleviate some stress found during travel or times of low flexibility by giving her “Get Out of Writing Free” cards which can be used to cover one day’s worth of words in a tight spot.

Her secondary—and more emotional—hang-up when considering the progress (or lack thereof) in her pursuit of the literary arts was an event which correlated rather closely with the shifting of her employment, and perhaps even sparked that shift. This event was the rejection from a well-respected writing workshop, the rejection from which seriously impacted her self-esteem. This was likely because she presented the one (now aged) story which she still, to-date, clings to as her best work of fiction, and the rejection of it clearly made her feel as if she had no grasp on how to judge her own work.

That said, from my position, the rejection from this workshop may have been the best thing for her. Immediately following the rejection, she seemed to realize that the betterment of her fiction was not going to come from some outside source, but from herself, and that if she truly wished to improve—as I believe she truly does—it would rest in her own hands and in her own determination to do so. This has led to a great improvement of effort in reading, both fiction for style and non-fiction for technique. She has become more engaged with her work, and more serious about learning who she is as a writer than she ever was before. In some ways—though the old method of measuring success still lingers—she has moved beyond wanting simply sales and bylines, but wanting more than anything to see her technique and style improve, whether the fiction produced sells or not. (Due to the general lack of editing, the latter is most certainly guaranteed for this past year.) But I do believe she recognizes the areas in which she needs improvement, and this—if nothing else—is the greatest thing she has taken away from 2012. She is the only one responsible for the quality of her fiction, and no class or workshop or advice from successful authors is going to make any difference if the buck doesn’t stop with her. To write-! That is the goal, and I believe wholeheartedly that it is something she is now more firmly set upon than ever before. The sand that once made up the foundations of her aspiration has been shifted to steady stonework, and the improvement is notable.

GOALS FOR 2013:

+ Continue 500 words a day goal with reward system for 2k+

+ Continue progress on practice novel, and preferably finish by March 31, 2013.

+ Begin draft of original novel, with goal to hit 60k by August 31, 2013, and finish the draft by December 31, 2013.

+ Practice editing, perhaps through the use of Ray Bradbury’s Story-Draft in One Week schedule to deliberately practice the editing process.

+ Continue to read prodigiously, particularly in Philosophy and Classics, with some focus on poetry for technique; aim for 60 books for the year.

+ Begin submitting again, with a goal of having a constant 2 works out to publishers at all times by June 31,2013, preferably moving to 3 out at all times by December 31, 2013.  

 ***

So there it is! The 2013 Goal List. It’s very much like the one I posted in September—it , in fact, ate the list from September, though if you notice, the initial September goals are still on track to be finished by September 2013—but I’ve added a few other things that I think would be really good pushes, too.

The next year will be what it will be, with all its delights and discouragements as always, but I can’t say I’m not looking forward to the challenge. I really am—a whole lot! :0)

5 thoughts on “This Document Will Self-Destruct in 365 Days…”

  1. Although every writer is different, a bit of advice that works for me, maybe you’ve already read or thought of: On self editing, I find it a bit easier to edit my stories if I forget what I wrote. I try to not think about what comes next in the story the first reading through. I analyze it in the same manner I analyze any other author’s works. The second pass through I edit.

    All that being said, I wish you luck in the coming year!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Jason! I’m always looking for new ways to approach those initial edits, and I think being able to get that objective distance is definitely key. Now I just need to work at being able to get that distance! :)

  2. I’m going to try this. I’ve made a few practice paragraphs and I even put on my old lab coat while I was doing it to, you know, get into character. I agree with Mr. Rutledge’s advice regarding distance. I often find I cannot effectively wrap my head around a story I’ve written until enough time has passed that I am- to one degree or another- a different person. Can’t step into the same river twice; that sort of thing. I assume you are referring to Clarion. I still hold my submission story to Clarion (’07) as my best work, though I learned long ago that my judgement on my own work is never unbiased (you told me that).

    1. You should try it! It’s…an interesting experience. Sometimes it’s just so hard to be honest with oneself without sugar-coating or making (even very justifiable) excuses.

      Part of the difficulty, I think, in judging one’s own work (which I think I’ve discussed with you before) is what I’m going to hence forth call the “Fanny Price Dilemma” (after the character in OF HUMAN BONDAGE). She, of course was a painter, not a writer, but I’ve marked every passage with her and Phillip discussing art, because she–although Phillip and their painting instructors are convinced she’s got no skill for painting at all, and is so hopeless despite her unwavering passion to improve (which after three years of painting has gotten no better)–Fanny herself is convinced that she must just persist. After all, the artist myth goes (which even to this day is perpetuated with Stephen King’s coming-of-success story) often the most talented are told they have no skill/knack/gift for that art for which they will ultimately become famous, and that it’s only the artist’s belief in the quality of his/her own work that will push them past the critics and into success. I’ve seen this at writing conventions too by the drove–hundreds of folks (myself included) hoping to someday make “a go” of it with writing. But we hear the age-old words of editors and agents (and submissions editors too), that only a very, very small percentage of submitted work is ever bought by a given market, and only a handful if those authors become successful enough to make a living of it (which to at least some degree seems to be the measuring factor if success in any artistic field, unless deliberately spurned for purely artistic prestige). Over and over, beginning writers are cautioned, “You’ve got a better chance of making it in Hollywood than you do of being a successful author.” The massive pool of competition is certainly part if it (though this is as true of Hollywood as the publishing industry–in Hollywood they even have the phrase “killed by encouragement” which is used to describe the culture of “just keep at it, your break will come” philosophy which to some degree, one MUST have to survive in any artistic career pursuit, but may also leads others to commit their lives to efforts that may–in the case of Fanny Price and numerous others,undoubtedly–never develop into anything at all, leaving them frustrated and miserable. The fact that one has to believe in oneself to keep plugging away at their artistic pursuit long enough to actually GET that break, which all successful* authors will eventually get, is where it becomes a cyclical conundrum.

      Well, that was more depressing than I intended, but I can’t say there isn’t something about Maugham’s character study of Fanny that I find as morbidly fascinating as a car wreck on the side of the road. All that aside, I have no intention of ever stopping my artistic pursuits, success or no. I’ve got too much of an addiction to it. XD And I think you’re right about distance–my current concern is just that my fictional gestation period for stories seems to be about 6-18 months before I even want to look at them again, which makes editing a very slow process. I’ve actually got a tub of fiction–or tub o’ fiction–where I have stored almost every short story I’ve ever written, and where they sit until I’m ready to look at them again. The gut sensation of being ready I liken to waiting for a planted seed to sprout, and sometimes those stories take a long time to sprout. Which is one of the reasons I’ve been toying with the idea of doing the Ray Bradbury week, to make myself edit while the iron’s still white hot. That has worked in the past (for two published stories, no less), so it may be something I need to try. Maybe not waiting at all is my secret method that will break me out of this minor editing funk. Don’t know! But if it’s between waiting 6-18 months, it can’t hurt to try, right? :0)

      Phew! I’m wordy on Saturday mornings, and I haven’t even had coffee yet! Anyway, there’s a piece of my brain as it’s thinking at the moment.

      *Success itself, of course, is a mailable and moving finish line, and my own work to define what I myself would consider successful has changed a lot over the past years. Making a living, for example, is lower on the list than it was in my college days when the thought of doing any kind of financial pursuit, *other* than writing, drab and uninteresting; now, peer respect in the field is much higher on the list, though self-improvement and general skill of craft is even higher. That said, selling another short story someday would be lovely! Hence the requirement to get back out there this next year. One’s life is always a work in progress, isn’t it? :)

      1. Hey! That wasn’t bad for hen-pecking it out on my smartphone, now was it? I only had to go back and change a few quirky auto-correct typos (like changing “genes” to “hence” as originally intended, and lengthening the em-dashes).

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