The Epic 2024 Goals Post

It’s that time again, where I begin making wild Coyote-like plans to capture the illusive “writing career success” Roadrunner in the coming new year. My definition of success has changed a lot in the past few years (*cough*decade*cough*), and I think I’m in a much healthier place mentally regarding how to measure, define, and appreciate what “success” looks like for me. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about what I want my day-to-day routines to look like, how I want to spend my time, what kind of things I want to write, and reviewed some of the weak spots in my process (namely, how hung-up I get on the editing process to the absolute detriment of A) getting things finished, and B) moving on to new work).

I recently revisited Tobias Bucknell’s post, “Pigeons,” on his blog, and it still feels deeply appropriate and important, especially at this time of year when “goals” and “aspirations” and “milestones” all get mixed up together in ways that seem interchangeable, when in actuality they’re not. Here’s a quick quote of the two spots I felt were the most important, but it’s a wonderful essay, so you should read the whole thing here.

Milestones are things you’d like to have happen to you. Selling a story. Selling a novel. Getting nominated for an award. Winning an award.

Goals are things you can actually achieve. Finishing writing a story. Writing a certain number of words. Writing a certain kind of story.

Too many people, when they create lists of goals they’d like to achieve in their year, choose to list milestones over which they have little control.

Early on in my career I hit upon a method of focusing and rewarding only the activities that I could control. I knew I wanted to sell a story, but that it was a random pellet. So I focused on writing and submitting stories. No one could stop me from that. I celebrated every 100 rejections (with champagne and nice food and a little mini-celebration) I got as proof that I was laying down the right actions toward hopefully getting a story sold.

What is important is the writing. Getting better at the writing. Writing as much as I can comfortably write. (edited to add: and reward myself for that. Reward myself for doing those things which I can control).

–Tobias Bucknell, “Pigeons.”

After I read this post a number of years ago, (and after reading Atomic Habits by James Clear) I started doing the same thing: looking at my process as the focal point (writing, submitting, reading), rather than obsessing about the end-point (i.e. a story sale). For a couple of years, I tracked how many drafts I wrote and how many words and how many submissions I made, and how many books I read. Then, last year, I read The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Morgan and Michael Lennington, and thought I’d try that. I liked the idea of breaking the year into four quarters and tracking more specific goals that way.

Turns out, I didn’t really enjoy that method. For one thing, my quarters all end up VERY different, and it felt too compartmentalized to afford the flexibility I needed. One quarters I was really on the ball and tackled my goals (after having set probably too many of them). In the next one, everything fell apart and sucked the energy out of the following quarter. While I think the 12 Week Year mentality works really well in a business setting designed for quarterly performance reviews, it doesn’t work quite as well for me–at least at this chaotic time in my life. (Note about chaos: Thing 1 now has Strep, and Thing 2 has a whole new cold–WTF?!) I can’t always predict which quarters will end up being easier/simpler/busier, because I’m not in full control of that schedule half the time. Kids get sick. Sudden crisis happen. Unexpected trips come up.

The year-long planning gives me room to breathe and not start panicking if by March, I haven’t nailed my Quarter 1 goals. I do still think in quarter chunks, to some degree, more because of the school year’s fluctuations (Fall/Winter/Spring, then Summer Break), but while school hours SEEM more predictable and calm, I’ve found that often it’s just hectic and wild in a different way. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for when Thing 2 starts full-time school, but it’ll probably just be complicated in a new way, then, too. Flexibility, my friends, flexibility is king!

So I’m returning to the OG planning method: the granular, process-centric tracking. I enjoyed that. I produced well using that. I liked having my own stats at-hand to compare to the previous year and my benchmark Best Year. So now I just need to stick with it.

Which brings us to the fun part of a goals post! (*snort*goals…post…goal post…*teehee* I know I’m lame.)

So what exactly are you looking at here? Well, well, well! I thought you’d never ask!

  1. Practice Writing – Daily Pages / 3 Pages — This habit is to support getting better at writing. I’ve got Writing Down the Bones (and the prompt deck! Cute!) as well as The 3 A.M. Epiphany (and The 4 A.M. Epiphany) full of writing prompts and practical exercises, in addition to exercises from Writing Fiction and Writing in the Dark, all of which I need to FREAKING DO because I know they’ll only make me develop as a writer. Sometimes these may be more your standard “daily pages” from The Artist’s Way (another really interesting book, btw), in which I whine about how haaaaard everything is and how fruuuuuuuustrated I am, but I’m hoping more often to lean towards Natalie Goldberg’s effervescent brain-mining on those days (I’ve whine enough as it is, thank you very much).
  2. Read 1 Short Story a Day — This habit also supports getting better at writing. The year I was really dilligent about reading a short story a day, I felt like my own ability to write short stories grew by leaps and bounds. I could feel the structure of a story even before writing it, and that helped SO MUCH. Especially when I aimed at 5k stories or less, because it shaped the parameters in my head so that almost everything I wrote for that year was in that beautiful 3-6k range (Mmmm…I can smell the salability). Also I was just reading a ton of great short stories both from anthologies and top-notch markets, so it was a win-win all around. I also think I produced much BETTER stories during that year, just being so aware of what my competition was and how solid my work needed to be (I can get sloppy sometimes when I’m writing for myself, but my work benefits when I’m trying to impress people–Vanity, thy name is Me.)
  3. New Submissions — This one doesn’t look like much, but it’s the biggest tour-de-force habit I’m trying to establish this next year. In previous years, I’ve set goals for number of stories written, or number of drafts produced, but I’m ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE at getting things from rough draft to submitted. So this year, I’m only counting stories that are DONE, and DONE means submitted. Three may seem like a small number, but for me, taking a story from rough to finished is a big challenge, and I’m still accepting that my editing process needs to change. More trusting my gut, more fixing as I go, generally fewer drafts. I don’t tend to get stuck revising when I edit as I go–in fact, “shitty first drafts” and the “you can fix it later” mentality really hangs me up in the revision stage. I get too overwhelmed by the sheer crapload of work I need to do or the thinking I didn’t do the first time through, that I burn out on the story and set it aside (and therefore…don’t end up fixing it). I’m learning to accept this about my process, that I need to get stories out of me in a form I like at the end of it in order to polish it in order to submit it and get it gone. Still, it feels illegal to not conform to the “shitty first drafts” ideology. (Like, “Writing is rewriting!!!” I know! I know! But everyone’s process is different, and that might mean mine is different. It’s just scary treading new ground on that front.)
  4. Checklist Books — I really liked not setting a reading goal last year. I’m still in the process of tallying how many I read, but I’ve got a whole bookshelf of books read that tells me I did pretty good anyway. One thing I’m trying in 2024 is having “checklist” books. These are books I want to read for one reason or another (some I’ve got on my shelf, some I’ll borrow from the library): authors I want to try, books I think I could learn a lot from, non-fiction I’ve been meaning to read for ages but just don’t get around to but also don’t want to give up on. Some books I just need a tiny nudge on. BUT-! I didn’t want that to equal a “to-read” in 2024 list. So I picked a couple handfuls of books and I figure I’ll check them off as I go. I’m free to read whatever I like (I’m a poly-reader, meaning I read a lot of different things at the same time), but when I’m looking for my next read, maybe I pick up one of these specifically. We’ll see how it works!
  5. Other Stats — These aren’t goals, actually, they’re just my running stats (and they’re sad. So, so sad). This is where I keep track of how many submissions I’ve done, how many personal rejections I’ve received, and how many sales I’ve made (which reminds me, actually, the 2023 number of sales should be 3, not 2, because I sold “Showerlier”!). Anyway–I’ll also handwrite how many rejections I’ve gotten overall (which I’m not posting, because I’m horribly embarrassed–not of how many I’ve gotten, but of how few, because it means I haven’t been submitting nearly as much as I ought to have. See #3 above.)
  6. Total Word Count — This isn’t really a goal, per se, but it’s something to aim for, and given my typical year output, not terribly unlikely for me to hit. NOTE, though, these are just draft words, not published or submitted words. I just like to keep track.
  7. Make and Release 3 ‘Zines — This one I added late because I forgot I wanted to do this! I’ve actually got a couple ideas I really, really, really want to do, and I think it’ll be a fun visual-centric creativity to pursue this coming year.

So there you have it! 2024 laid out in shiny plans and goals. Is this all feasible? GOOD QUESTION. Life is looking to be pretty busy this year, with a number of trips and conventions, etc., so I have no doubt it’ll be a challenge. One goal I didn’t put on here (but which is central to my brain at the moment, so it felt silly to put it) is submitting my first novel to agents. That’s my ultimate goal (and thus, explanation for #3 being relatively low, too), but it felt too big to list as a habit/smaller goal. It’s my white whale. It’s my behemoth.

I’m excited for 2024 and for what I hope I can get done. I’m looking forward to establishing healthy habits and rewarding myself for accomplishing those little things I can control.

Do you have any process habits you find especially helpful? Let me know!

Oh! and in other news: I’ve started a newsletter! Oddscope will only go out once a month (if that) when I have news of upcoming publications, zine releases, or events I’m attending. You can sign up here (or anytime on the About Me page)!


Holiday Wrap-Up, A Story Sale, & Quantities of Media

What am I working on this week? We had a wonderful holiday this past week. My sister and her family came to visit, so it was a house full of boys running and leaping and screaming and laughing. Dinner on Thursday went off without a hitch, thanks to my annual mise-en-place list that breaks down everything by time/action, and kept things nice and low-key. (To find out how to do this, just check out Dan Charnas’ book Work Clean.)

Ah! And I forgot to mention when it happened a few weeks ago, but I sold my beloved short story “The Showerlier” to Redivider out here in Boston! This story has really struggled to find its home. It’s been held a number of times at great markets, and had a lot of complimentary personal rejections, but it was always landed on the the almost, but not quite side of the editor’s desk. So I’m thrilled that Redivider picked it up, because they seem to love it as much as I do! And it just goes to show that placing a story is a matter of finding the RIGHT fit, with the RIGHT people. It’ll be out in their Spring 2024 issue!

Anyway, back to this week. I got into the office briefly yesterday, and banged out 1200 words, and today tweaked it up to 1400 added for the week. I’m hitting the midpoint area soon, and need to start getting things moving! AH! I’m hoping the book will top out around 60-70k in the end, but I’m stressing out that I won’t be able to hit that by December 31. I’d really like to get it wrapped by then so I can ship it out to my beta readers and get moving on editing and submitting it in 2024.

What’s inspiring me this week? This week, I picked up a couple new Switch games on sale, so I’m working my way into Spiritfarer and Cozy Grove for those feel-good, relaxing games (which I desperately needed with all the running and screaming in the house this past week). We also got a chance to watch some horror movies with my brother-in-law while the kiddos slept, first The Ritual which was viciously fun and horrifying, and Krampus (it’s a yearly tradition for us at this point, and it’s mild but fun with some Labyrinth vibes) to kick off the holiday season. We also rewatched Top Gun: Maverick (which I still think has a lot more depth and plot than the first one–sorry! Mav having to actually come to grips with aging out of his field and figuring out what to do with his life after the Navy? Fascinating. And it’s got freaking JENNIFER CONNELLY, so you know I’m 100% sold and once more harking back to the Labyrinth. (And I love that occasionally they play David Bowie in the background of her bar…)) and also Parasite, which is such a great watch, so enjoyed revisiting it.

Oh! Andy and I just started watching Monarch: Legacy of Monsters on AppleTV, which is scratching our Godzilla itch until Godzilla: Minus One comes out. We’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I’m curious to see how it develops and if it can maintain its momentum.

Reading-wise, I’m chipping away at Elderhood by Louise Aronson (non-fiction), which is fascinating, heartbreaking, and encouraging all at once. It’d make a great companion to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which is also a wonderful and empowering book. I’m also nearly done with Proof by Dick Francis, which has been a lovely palate cleanser for nighttime reading. And while the boys go to sleep, but Thing 2 still needs to hold my hand, I’ve been reading Woman in White by Kristen Dearborn, which I’m very much enjoying. I’ve just dipped my toe into A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Sanders, but I haven’t gotten beyond the introduction yet–not for lack of interest! It just seems like the kind of book I need to read in bigger chunks and with enough quiet to focus on, which I just do not have right now. I may put this one aside and try reading it next year, when Thing 2 starts 4-day preschool and I have a little more wiggle room.

In audiobooks, I finally finished Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold, which was awesome, as usual. I adore the reader of her books–they’re all the same guy–and I am just so charmed by the cast and how they pop up in different books. I rarely go straight to the next one in the series, though, so now I’m picking up Slewfoot by Brom, which Andy listened to a few months ago and enjoyed. It’s…stressful. But really good. So I’ll keep chipping away at that one. Eventually, I’ll have to do a 2023 Books Round-Up post, if only to tally for myself what I’ve read this year. I deliberately didn’t set a “reading goal” on Goodreads this year, finding my inability to hit specific numbers exhausting and frustrating, and often counter-intuitive to the reason I read (primarily for relaxation). Stressing about numbers of books read also means I shy away from BIG and slower-paced books, which I actually love, so there’s another reason not to count how many books I read. Arbitrary numbers, ammiright?

What’s challenging me this week? Just getting back into the swing of things post-holiday and remembering all our usual routines. Catching up on mountains of laundry (why do we have so many clothes?!). Getting assigned rooms back to “zero”. Coping with the realities of building projects taking SO MUCH LONGER than expected (even while expecting delays–sigh). At least Thing 2 slept so soundly last night, I got to stay in my own bed ALL NIGHT LONG! (**sooooo luxurious**)


Forward Motion, Brain Bitlets, and WHY IS IT SO DARK AT 5PM?!

What I’m working on this week: Folding laundry. OH! You meant writing-wise? Yes, well, I’m working on that, too! So far, the kiddos have been moderately healthy, so I’m back to the office on my designated days (*sobs with relief*), and I’m done with the initial re-read of the first 27k and am once again plunging forward in the book. We’ll see how this goes, but right now, I’m semi-optimistic. We’ve passed 30k as of today, which feels like a good place for things to start getting weird. (I’m not doing NANO this year–with the sickness kicking off the month, and with my time being as unpredictable as it is, I decided not to stress myself out.)

I’m also trying to get these mini zines printed up, so that’s on the list, too, AND I woke up to a rejection today, so the ONE STORY I have out on submission goes back into the ether searching for a place to land. Seesh. Rejections don’t bother me nearly as much as they used to, but I don’t love having only one out on submission. It puts way too much pressure on one story. Ah well. Hopefully once the novel wraps up I’ll be able to get some more short stuff out there, which will make me marginally less crazy.

What’s inspiring me this week: This week, I’ve been shaking up my reading. I’m just about through Scarcity Brain by Michael Easter, and just finished Organized Living by Shira Gill, and I’ve got Elderhood by Louise Aronson up next. I’m also chugging through All Hallows by Christopher Golden and just dove into Proof by Dick Francis as a palate cleanser after finishing up The Employees by Olga Ravn, which was good and strange. I should have thoughts about this soon-ish.

OH! And just for the hell of it, Andy and I watched Eraserhead yesterday evening and…wow, yeah, that’s a movie I’ll never be able to unsee. Not that I’m sure I WANT to unsee it–it’s…good, weird, unsettling, disturbing, bizarre–a mind-f*ck to be clear. We went in with no expectations other than knowing it was going to be surreal as hell, and it was, and I’m not sure our expectations changed over the course of the film, other than the fact that the soundscape was super impactful and is still cropping up in the weirdest ways during the ordinary day. Unsettling. Not for the faint of heart. It’s probably grosser than it is scary in the traditional sense, but it’s deeply, deeply unnerving. It will make you uncomfortable. It’ll also make you laugh, which will also make you uncomfortable. With yourself. Ooooph. Still, I can see why it has resonance and is still considered a cult classic.

What’s challenging me this week: A headache, at the moment. A deep, abiding desire to do NOTHING AT ALL, how dark it gets at 5pm, needing to get more exercise (like, any exercise), how cold it’s getting, leaky windows…


Getting Back on the Horse, Scarcity, & Mt. Laundry

What I’m working on: Finally (finally) getting back into the swing of things this week. Both boys are back to full(ish) health, as am I, and that means we’re getting back to the office and our regularly scheduled program! HOORAY! So this week, we’re clambering back onto the horse.

I’ve been going back over what I wrote up to the twenty-thousand word wall, taking notes on things to add in, develop more, and generally making sure there’s no weird continuity issues (there were a few). It turns out, from reading, that I may need to lengthen out the first few chapters in the timeline so they’re not back-to-back-to-back days, which gives it a rather breathless feel, AND I realized there’s a spot where I really ought to put in a whole chapter or two to cover the week between two events, because important stuff is happening that week. I printed out a calendar spread in order to map out the days/nights and that’s helped a lot. It’s not something I like to do early on in the drafting, because honestly my brain can’t hold that much detail without leaking and/or just overwhelming me with too much data. But at this phase, when I really want to feel the continuity and how it’s fitting together, it’s been a nice aid.

So Wednesday, I’ll be charging into those mid-segement chapters and hopefully bringing in some of the threads I need to plant back in there, too. THEN, hopefully, we’ll be moving forward again.

I’m not doing NANO this year because it’s already been enough of a challenge to do 1500/workday (so, 3x/week), and I know that when I’m home with the kiddos, that kind of writing just doesn’t happen. So instead of stressing myself out about it, I’m just not doing it this year. Next year, though, maybe? I’ll have to think about it.

What’s inspiring me: I’ve been pretty down and out this past week, being sick. But I did watch Robots and Downsizing, which were interesting in their own ways. I enjoyed Downsizing quite a lot, though I can see why it maybe isn’t the biggest blockbuster. But it had some interesting thoughts that I appreciated and lingered with me. I’ve also been reading Scarcity Brain by Michael Easter, talking about scarcity loops and how our modern lives and their abundant resources makes us crave even more. It’s been interesting and illuminating, though I’m not sure it’s lacking in blindspots. Still, things to think about.

I just finished Open Throat by Henry Hoke, which was delightful. It’s short, sweet, and has a lot of charming moments from the POV of a gay mountain lion in the Hollywood Hills. It’s also written in a fragmented style, which I really enjoyed and may have to play around with one of these days.

My latest zine haul…

Oh! I’ve also been crazy obsessed with zines lately. In fact, while I was off-and-on sick with the boys all home, I made one! I’m going to make about 20 copies or so and just have them on hand to sell for a couple bucks or give away at cons. We’ll see! But I am loving the DIY component and the making wee booklets component–that speaks to the inner kindergartener in me SO HARD. Also, if you’re looking for a fun zine, I highly recommend Suspicious Fish by Sarah Hingley of 2Bmcr on Etsy. ADORBS, also hilarious. The whole family has giggled through it at this point.

What’s challenging me: Just the limitations of time, as usual, and the backlog of all the stuff I didn’t get done last week or the week before. Laundry’s backed up, rooms have cluttered themselves up again, food plans need to be made and executed–it’s just…a lot to catch up on, and nowhere near enough time. And the 3yo has cabin fever after being sick for so long, so he’s swinging between lovey-cuddle-monster and manic-crazy-boy. It’s a lot, but we’ll get through it.


Tiny Life Upgrades

Every so often, Andy and I invest (often not very much) in what we call tiny life upgrades. These are small items, small changes, small adjustments that make an outsized difference in our day to day life. Our very first tiny life upgrade was a French Press during residency. Just making a smooth cup of fancy-feeling coffee on the weekends did an immense amount for our sense of relaxation, marking the weekend even when things were incredibly stressful. Another was replacing our old, broken trash can in the kitchen. SO MUCH BETTER. Then a wooden drying rack for dishes. AH! It was like a whole new kitchen. 

In this house, we’ve done a few tiny life upgrades, too. (Please ignore the clutter—we’re two households piled on each other, and we’re working on it! XD)

Mail baskets for each family, so the mail doesn’t just pile up on the counters and tables and/or get lost. 
A charging station for our phones, devices, and other assorted mechanical gadgets—it’s great to just drop off a phone here and know where to find it later, and there are always cables! 
The trashcan was a bit more of an investment this time, as Simply Human isn’t the cheapest brand, but OMG has this not been the absolute BEST purchase we’ve ever made. It has its own garbage bags that FIT PERFECTLY, a double-lid so the liner isn’t constantly getting shifted, self-closing (especially useful with dogs and kids about), the mechanism is sturdy and works flawlessly, and it has a storage spot for the bags INSIDE so when you take a full bag out, you’ve got a fresh one right on hand! OH-EM-GEEEEE, I love this silly garbage can. Beds, toilets, and garbage cans—the things you use daily that ought to work really well and make a huge difference in how pleasant life is. 
Paper storage containers! These are pretty new, because I was getting sick of having papers just floating around all over the place, AND binders just haven’t been working for me (at least not with the small-ish volume of papers I collect—I could probably get smaller binders, but I don’t liiiiiike them). This makes it so easy to just stack things neatly and get on with my day. 
MAGNETIC SOAP HOLDER. MAGNETIC SOAP HOLDER. MAGNETIC SOAP HOLDER. I’ve got one here by the bathroom sink, and one in the shower for my bar shampoo, and it’s fantastic for making a bar of soap last for ages. The wet soap does drip a bit, but I’m in the habit of wiping off the counter after use anyway (I had to do that with our liquid dispenser anyway, so why not?), so it isn’t an issue. At least the bar doesn’t sit in its own soggy filth and turn goopy! I love it. Also, it feels like a little bit of magic. 
Finally organizing our regular-use game cabinet! This only took me maybe half an hour, but it had gotten so out of hand with cards and pieces just everywhere. I used a Vans shoebox to make the loose-piece games a home, and cut off the diagonal lid to organize the card games. Makes picking out a game to play so much more fun!

So those are a few of our tiny life upgrades. I was just thinking about them today, and thought I’d share, if only because they’ve brought us a rather silly amount of happiness for such small things. Hope your Wednesday is going well! 


Fresh Notebook, ‘Zines, & New Kaiju Fans

It’s always funny to me how when I start a new notebook or planner, it’s like all the polish I’ve cultivated in the previous notebook goes completely to crap. My handwriting becomes super sloppy. I can’t figure out which pen to use (and the paper doesn’t respond the same way to the ink, so what looked good in the last notebook, like, totally doesn’t in the new one). Systems that were once functional and intuitive are thrown into chaos, and with it the way I think about my weeks and months ahead.

My brain and my notebook systems are intricately linked. Removing a method of visualizing the future immediately causes something of a panic that I’ll lose dates and times I need to remember. While some problems are solved (Yay! No more making spreads!), some new ones are created: Where do I put my to-do lists? Where do I figure out meal planning? What about habit tracking? What about journaling my days?

Anyway, all that to say, I’ve picked up a new notebook planner and I’m still settling in. Why step back from the bullet journaling, you ask? In part, the move was motivated by the fact that my bullet journal had morphed into this outward-facing thing where I’d think about how it’d look on Instagram before whether it’d be useful or helpful to me. Appearance became paramount. I also found that the way I was using it had changed as I’ve embraced some other task-oriented apps, so writing out to-do lists wasn’t as prominent.

It’s also in part motivated by LAZINESS. I used to think of being lazy as one of my major character flaws, but now middle-aged (GULP) I’m starting to realize it may be one of my more inventive strengths. I like streamlining things, removing obstacles to getting basic tasks done, keeping things functional and simple. I don’t want to think that hard about what I put in my planner. I just want to use it to keep myself informed. I want to journal in it a bit. I want to utilize it, not design it. Function before form, you know what I mean? I was finding that the aesthetics were beginning to make it too difficult to come to the notebook in the first place, and then I’d get behind, and then I wouldn’t want to get back to it, because #behind. It was becoming a problem, and appointments and other important details were beginning to slip through the cracks.

So I picked up this planner from MochiThings, and I’m in the new adjustment phase of making it look neat and tidy. We’re…not there yet. But I’m getting back into post-it notes, which I enjoy immensely. And this has also opened up my previous bujo for using it more as an idea catch-all notebook, which I’m also enjoying.

In addition to changing out to a new notebook, I’ve also been dealing with A PLAGUE HOUSE. Thing 2 got RSV (he was okay, but had a majorly junky/grungy cough), and then just as that was resolving, it seems to have either shifted into a separate bacterial infection or he caught something else, because he’s had a moderate fever and a hacking, dry cough (we’re still working on remembering to cover out mouths…20% of the time… 80% we’re aiming straight at people’s faces…). Then Thing 1 got a low fever (otherwise, just a bit sniffly), and I’ve had something low-grade all this past week and weekend, which is just now 95% gone.

All this to say, there hasn’t been much writing going on at Chez Slater these past two weeks. I’ve been relieving the creative energy build-up by falling into a J. Thaddeus Toad-like mania: ‘zine-mania!


I’ve been toying with the idea of using the zine format to put together some pretty little books of short stories, and I started playing in earnest this weekend with an adaptation of “Tower’s End”. This is the rough (rough) mock-up I was trying this weekend, with a note that the colors are horribly off because my printer is insisting it’s almost out of ink, even though I CAN TELL IT’S NOT, but there’s more ink on order.

I need to make it a double-mini-book, actually, to fit the whole story, but I’m just so charmed by it! I even illustrated it IN WORD because I’m a masochist. Also, I find it hilarious for a writer is illustrating her own work in a word processor, because of course I am. Also, it’s delightfully reminiscent of using Microsoft Paint in Ye Olde Dayes to make medieval city maps. I like the limiting element of having only basic shapes and basic colors to play with, which brings out a different type of creativity in me. I’m enjoying it immensely.

I figure I’ll print a small run of them (20 or so) and hand them out sporadically at cons when someone asks what I’ve written, or if someone wants a copy of a full story after a reading, or using it as a business-card alternative, because it’s so stinking cute! And if they want to pass it on to someone else, so much the better! I may also start an Etsy shop where folks could buy individual story zines if so motivated, but that’s a few steps ahead of where I’m at currently.

I’m also baking bread, which is giving me serious #pandemic vibes, but I’m trying a bread machine potato bread and white-bean white bread bake-off, so we’ll see how it goes. Oh! And we’ve started the 2023 season of Alone, which is a family favorite in the house–and this lot of contestants seem incredibly skilled, so we’ll see how it goes!

We also watched Godzilla vs. Kong this weekend with the boys! (Mild spoilers ahead.) I tell you, this was such a bizarre stretch for me, because I was such a coward as a kid, I NEVER watched PG-13 movies before I was almost 13. But Thing 2 (3.5yo) saw a clip of Godzilla and became absolutely ENAMORED. He begged us to watch it, and as I recalled, it wasn’t too scary or gory, so we hemmed and hawed and finally said OK. We’ll try it. We gave them a safe word (“potato” in case you’re wondering) and told them if it got to scary for either of them at any point, just say “potato” and the movie will go off without any questions asked and we’ll watch something else. Turns out, they loved it! The talking between adults was the hardest part, because they got suuuuuuper bored, but the battle scenes were punctuated by Thing 1’s laughing howls of delight and Thing 2’s shouts of “YEAH! YEAH!” It’s funny, I think when Andy and I saw it, we were mostly struck by how terrible the plot is and how bad the dialogue is, but watching it with the boys, it struck me that: OH. This isn’t an adult movie. It’s a kid movie. With kickass graphics.

I mean, the scene when Mecha Godzilla is kneeing Godzilla in the gut over and over? Yeah, my boys were shriek-laughing in delight. When Godzilla and Kong team up against him? My 9yo almost burst into joyous tears: “They’re gonna be friends now, Mom! They’re gonna be friends!” Even when that weird dragon monster in the middle-world gets its head ripped off and green guts go flying, all I heard was the boys going, “AW COOL! GROSS!” *eye-roll* So, yeah. That happened. And so far, no nightmares, so that’s good.

Keep healthy, folks. Hang in there!


20k Slump, Horror Stories, & Things Going to Heck

What I’m working on: Friday has finally rolled around, and at least this week–despite interruptions, I got pretty close to my weekly word count goal. We’re in the thick of the 20k slump here at Chez Slater, that dubious moment in a novel project when everything creeps to a halt and you start wondering, “Yeah, but where was I going with this?!” Thankfully, I think I just broke through it today with 2,200 new words, so we’re getting there. I’m planning to do a backtrack here next week to try to get the momentum back up to speed (and pick up any loose threads that may have been dropped along the way), and from there on, I’m hoping we get back to a steady flow of new words. I’m happy with where the book is at the moment, at least, so that’s serving as something of a buoy to my spirits.

What’s inspiring me this week: This week has been all about horror fiction. I’ve signed up for Brian Keene Presents: Christopher Golden’s House of Last Resort Weekend, which I’m quite excited about attending, but it’s also got me thinking about all the likely attending authors I know whose books I haven’t yet read. SO I’M READING HORROR. Lots of horror. Right now, I’m about a quarter of the way into Christopher Golden’s All Hallows, and I’ve got a slew of others lined up and ready to go next. It’s a bit tricky, because I honestly can’t read them before bed without freaking myself out, so that means daylight hours reading, which is…challenging? To come by? Yeah, not the easiest thing with a 3yo underfoot who can’t bear the idea of quiet for more than two and a half seconds at a time. So I’m squeaking in reading while waiting for appointments, or waiting for pickup times, or even while putting Thing 2 to bed at night. I’m making progress anyway.

I also started reading Scarcity Brain by Michale Easter, about our constant craving for MORE, which so far is focused a lot on gambling and how advertising uses our natural instincts against us, but I’m looking forward to how he digs deeper into these ideas. I finished his book The Comfort Crisis last week, which was very interesting and on which I have THOUGHTS, which I may or may not hash out here eventually. We shall see.

And of course, I’m plowing through Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds and Other Stories, which is lovely. There are probably other things I’m reading, too (like Organized Living by Shira Gill, if you’re into extremely tidy eye-candy and a re-tread of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg), but they’re more sporadic pick-up-when-I-feel-like-it reads.

The family has been plowing through the first season of Fargo (TV), which has been delightfully fun and evil and hair-tearing, but in a good way. We’re hoping to wrap it up tonight, and I’m hoping for some righteous vindication in blood.

What’s challenging this week: Shifting schedules, protecting writing time at all costs, coping with the myriad Halloween-related school events and other things. Our local Lego League has started up, so that’s been a nice little reading time, too. I’ve got half a mind to try something for a new anthology call I just heard about, but I worry about my creative capacity to juggle multiple ideas/stories right now. We’ll see if something manifests. If I get bit with a really great idea and can’t NOT write it, then so be it, but we’ll see, we’ll see…

Have a great weekend!


Mushing Around, The Real Writing Life, & Spooky Reading

What I’m working on this week: Oh, I have hit that 20k wall haaaard this past week. It didn’t help that Monday ended up being a kiddo-sick-day, so no office time. Thankfully, whatever Thing 2 had appears to have been primarily a side-effect of his Flu shot, so he’s back to his normal self and happy as a clam. Even so, I managed to knock out 700 words on Monday, only to realize…nyeeeeah, no. That’s not the right direction. Cut it out. Today, in the office, banged out 1950 words, only to….nyeeeeah, not that way…Well, maybe that way, but also, not that way. Mushed some things around. Reread. Rethought. Hmmm… So I’m still on the fence about today’s words. Some of them feel right, even if there’s something off about it, but I’m not quite sure what yet. Need to think on it some more, but without getting hung up here and not moving forward, so YAY 20k! (Actually, technically, 25k, but who’s counting? Oh, I am. Me. I’m counting.)

What’s inspiring me this week: Finished Jeff Strand’s writing book The Writing Life, which was very funny, humorous, painfully illuminating, and a fun read. Definitely recommend it, though not if you’re still in that shiny “I’m going to be the next Stephen King/Tamsyn Muir!” phase. Hahahaha, nope. Probably not. But it was encouraging, too. I also highly recommend On Writing and Failure by Stephen Marche, which is also encouraging while painfully honest about what “the writing life” and “success” really look like for 99% of authors.

I’ve been working my way through Daphne Du Maurier’s collection, The Birds and other Stories, which has been a great lot of fun. “The Birds” story (which, yes, the Hitchcock film is loosely based on) was surprisingly good (and I don’t dislike the movie!). I’m in the thick of “The Apple Tree” which right now may be one of my favorite short stories I’ve read this year. This is totally the eerie aesthetic I love to write in. I wish I were better at it!

I’ve also just started my pre-convention preparatory reading list (mostly horror), and picked up a number of books I should have already read at this point in my career. (To be fair, most of my fiction reading time is spent at night before bed, so I haven’t been reading much horror because, well, I like not having nightmares. I learned THAT lesson after a late-night reading of the squirrel scene in Grady Hendrix’s How to Sell a Haunted House). So I’m trying to squeeze All Hallows by Christopher Golden in around the edges of my daytime. I’d rather have longer stretches to really dig into it, but I got about 40 pages yesterday during Thing 2’s swim class, so not terrible. I’m also going to start reading again while Thing 2 clings to me at bedtime, so I won’t A) fall asleep, and B) will get more fiction reading done.

What’s challenging me this week: Upended schedules, the chaos of construction (oh please, oh please let it finish up on schedule!), dog training, stomach upset–you name it, we’ve probably got it this week. But the office space remains, and my time there somewhat remains, and so long as I can get my 1500 done each day I’m there (or a little more when the brain allows), I’ll keep on keeping on. At least I’m not making Halloween costumes this year! (Okay, I do kind of miss it, but I’ll survive. The book needs the creative focus now anyway.)


Hitting Goals, Comfort Crisis, and Writing Bones

What did I get done this week? Managed to hit my word count goal of 1,500 words on M/W/F (and even got over that on Monday!), and am feeling pretty chuffed about the progress. The story is really starting to pull together, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Today, I could hardly wait to get back to the keyboard and get started. I’m through Chapter 5 now, and diving into Chapter 6 next week, but I’m pleased with how the plot is unfolding. It’s going quicker than I’d planned, but the faster pace feels appropriate, given I’m aiming for this to be a nice, tight, little novel. And that fits with the other short novels I’ve read recently. So we’ll see how that goes. But I’m pleased with it so far, and that’s a great feeling.

What am I reading this week? This week, I’ve been knee-deep in J.M. Coetze’s Disgrace, which is–WOW–a heavy read. I wasn’t anticipating it being so hard. Not in style or speed, but just content. It’s a rough, rough, heart-grinding book. Which I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by, given that Waiting for the Barbarians is a hard, deep-think book, too, but this one’s rough. Not quite as rough as Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, but not all that far off. (That’s also an amazing book, but be warned–it won’t make you feel happy, but it will make you feel.) I’ve also been chipping my way through Michael Easter’s The Comfort Crisis, about how the modern amenities of our world make us more stressed and anxious, and how getting uncomfortable can be a useful tool for resetting our distress tolerance. It’s interesting, and I’m enjoying it, but it’s very…male-centric, I feel. There are a few female scientists he talks to about various elements of sound/hunger/comfort, etc., but most of it is focused on walkabouts and hunting trips and men embracing the wild/testing their mettle. That’s not in any way to say that it’s not a good and worthwhile read, but it’s made me wonder if perhaps the need for physically demanding challenges is something people created as a rite of passage to mirror the physically demanding challenge of childbirth. Talk about a rite of passage. It’s got all the elements of a misogi (physically demanding to the point of near failure, requiring determination and dedication to learn your physical limits), yet it’s something only those with wombs go through, and only those who choose to have children. I wonder if the urge for physically demanding challenges is stronger among women (and the non-binary with such organs) who choose not to have children. Then again, I think of people like Freya Hoffmeister (who you can learn more about in the book Fearless which is EPIC and AMAZING and you should definitely read it), who also had a child and still felt driven to pursue epic challenges of physical endurance, and maybe that’s just proof I’m oversimplifying. But I do think it’s interesting that so many cultures have male rites of passage that require physical endurance, but not as many have them for females. Perhaps females simply have too many rites of passage already, via their own biology. We’re constantly changing, constantly evolving, to the point where we’re rarely the same woman from decade to decade. But those are just my ramblings. The Comfort Crisis is interesting, though, and it’s giving me lots of thoughts. I’ll have to dig into them more with time. It’s also really made me want to check out a local sensory deprivation chamber, though!

What’s up for the weekend? Not too much! My folks are visiting my grandmother this weekend, so we have the house to ourselves (which is delightful when you’re used to all being on top of each other). I’ve got a manicure scheduled (I’ve had a gift certificate for almost a year that I haven’t used, so needed to get on that!), and we’re going to try to see the new Paw Patrol movie at some point. The boys are VERY excited.

I’ll probably also be tapping into Writing Down the Bones again, as I’ve been longing to get into a more regular creative practice, and still haven’t pinned down the whole “commonplace”/”creative diary” thing. While I love, love, love the idea of a notebook where I capture all the things that inspire me, I’m still not quite sure how to make that easily sustainable for me. I’ve already got my bullet journal for logging/planning my weeks, but mixing in commonplace stuff just gets confusing. I’ve got my hash book, where I think out loud and do three-pages-esque writing and planning, but I don’t want to feel like that has to be “nicely” put together or anything, because what I love about it is its haphazardness. But it may not be good for “collecting” things, either. I like jotting notes on index cards, but I lose them, and don’t have a great system for organizing them (if I even want to organize them…). I enjoy my little pocket composition notebooks for jotting down passing thoughts, but then feel like I need to PUT those somewhere, translate them over to something… Still not sure how that works yet… Will continue thinking on it.

Have a great weekend and get some rest!


Friday Silence, Mise-En-Place, & Art Journaling

As you may have noticed, there’s no Flash Friday this week. In truth, there probably won’t be a Flash Friday for a little while. I’m finding as I get back into regularly working on the novel, that my creative brain is pretty much locked on to that story and plot, and I’m finding it incredibly difficult to squeeze in any alternate story writing. Since Friday Flash was always meant to be a fun, playful thing and it’s started to feel like a burden, I’ve decided to pause it for now and resume it whenever my brain decides to play around like this again.

I’m a little sad about it, because I’ve honestly enjoyed it so much, and it’s taught me so much about generating ideas and forming very short fiction. I’ve still got a lot to learn about it, too. However, I need to follow my gut for now, so novel-focus it is! I’m hoping at some point in the not so distant future to put together some illustrated PDFs of a few of the Friday Flash stories, or maybe make some cute, printable ‘zines that incorporates them, so we’ll see! If there’s any particular story you’d like to see physically manifested in this way, shoot me a DM or a comment here or send me an email!

What I’m working on this week: I completely missed my Monday update this week. It’s been just CRAAAAA-ZY. I’m finally feeling a little more confident with the new schedule/routine, but I’m still getting comfortable with it. However, this week has been really productive, writing-wise. I did some calculating last week, and determined that I could probably finish the novel (budgeting for about a third overwriting) by December 31st if I wrote 1,500 words per day. This isn’t impossible for me–I’m a pretty fast writer usually. And this week, I’ve hit that every day (and even 1k over on Wednesday for some inexplicable reason!). That means I’ve added 4,500 words to the novel this week alone, and that feels SO GOOD. The words are beginning to flow again, and the story is shaping itself bit by bit, and I’m thrilled to see where it goes. I’ve just jumped into Chapter 4, and am plunging ahead on that.

What’s inspiring me this week: In the midst of chaos and new routines, I’ve been reenergized by going back to the methodologies described in the book Work Clean by Dan Charnas. There is something about the mise-en-place mentality that I find incredibly soothing and seems to fit the way I function extremely well. This week, I’ve been making my list of Missions and Actions, and in addition to that, I’ve been experimenting with bringing certain rooms in my home to “zero” every night. “Zero” in Work Clean is like the polished starting point for your workspace: everything in its place. Which requires first that everything HAVE a place, and second, that you take the time to put it all back where it belongs at the end of the day.

In that spirit, I’ve picked my bedroom, the upstairs bathroom, and the living room to “get to zero” this week. I went through each room, taking out anything that didn’t belong there, clearing surfaces, sorting and finding homes for everything that did belong there, and then documenting in the form of a checklist (and a photo!) what “zero” should look like. I used my trusty laminating sheets to make dry erase marker friendly checklists. One of the reasons I did this was related to another tenant of the Work Clean methodology, which is to put other people to work on the things they can help you with. In this case, that means Thing 1 and Thing 2. Since I got the rooms initially to “zero” and made a clear list of what’s required for that room to be done (and created a fun checklist they get to go through, AND gave them permission to “yell” at me and their dad if we’ve left things out that need to be put away), I’ve harnessed their own desire to control their spaces. So far, they LOVE it (and yes, it’s only been a few days, so I’ll let you know how it goes in several weeks!). Thing 1 is in charge of the bathroom (which also will hopefully make him a bit more cognizant of not peeing all over the toilet/floor *side-eye*), and Thing 2 is in charge (with an adult helper) of the living room. Thing 2 is OBSESSED with the checklist. For that matter, so is Thing 1 (and scolding people for leaving things out). And it’s helping me to clean up after myself better, too, so they don’t get the opportunity to scold me. XD

So we’ll see how that goes, but at least for the past week, we’ve had some LOVELY spaces that actually get tidied nicely at the end of the day without a lot of whining, AND I don’t have to do it all myself, which is huge.

Oh! I’m also getting obsessed with the late Paulus Berenshon’s journaling practice/binding his own creative books to just play in and keep. Oh man, those paste paper covers! You can watch a clip of it here:

I’d love to get into a free-form journaling process like this, but I honestly don’t know how to start. (I’ve also been reading Austin Kleon’s blog about his journaling process, found here and here.)

What’s challenging me this week: Just the usual getting things done in the time they’re meant to be done. Writing-wise, the last few days have gone surprisingly smoothly, and I seem to have developed a method for figuring out what I need to do each day I’m in the office, even if I’m not sure what to write to begin with (free writing!).

Hope you have a lovely weekend!