2014 in review

On 1 January I made a post about my writing in 2013 and my hopes for 2014. I like looking back on the past year at its end, so here we go again.

My writing goals for 2014 were (slightly abridged):

  1. Get a story published!
  2. Get more poems published.
  3. Work on a poetry collection.
  4. Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day.
  5. Rework Dim Vanities and decide what to do with it (whether to continue editing it smaller-scale, or do a total reboot, or just stick it in the trunk).
  6. Improve my plotting skills.
  7. Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.

So, how did I do?

1) I exceeded my goal of getting one story published – I now have three stories out and two forthcoming. I am really proud and happy about this.

2) I got more poems published – nine of them. And to some highly awesome magazines, too. Yay!

3) I haven’t got the poetry collection into a submittable shape yet, but it exists! and it’s looking pretty good. Finishing it up and submitting to potential publishers is one of my goals for (early) 2015.

4) I haven’t managed to write fiction or poetry every day (except during Nanowrimo), but I have increased my writing output, I think. But this is something to work on – writing something creative every day even if it’s just an exercise.

5) Haven’t had the energy to start reworking Dim Vanities or do anything too much with it. However, a couple of weeks ago I got a flash of feeling that made me decide something: DV needs a radical rewrite. It might still not be publishable even after that rewrite, but I’ve got to give this novel one more chance. I still love so many aspects of it – I just need to rewrite the plot and give the characters higher stakes and more emotion. This is, therefore, a project for 2015. (Camp Nanowrimo, perhaps?)

6) I haven’t worked systematically on improving my plotting skills. I’ve been writing more stories, which I think helps, but plotting is definitely still something that I need to work on.

7) I have been trying to finish more things that I start! And I’ve managed to edit at least some first drafts of stories into a submittable point (and sold a couple of them, too – “Chrysopoeia” and “The Ruin”).

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As for more concrete evidence of my writing in 2014, here’s a list of my publications this year:

POETRY (9 poems)
02/14 “Ninety-Eight” and “City of Stones” in Issue #33 of Chantarelle’s Notebook.
02/14 “Helsinki Love Song” in Wild Violet Magazine.
05/14 “The Alchemist’s Lover” in the “Alchemies” issue of CSHS.
06/14 “Looking-Glass Lover” in Issue #28 of Niteblade, “Looking-Glass Lover” (after my poem).
06/14 “Shrug Charm” in the Spring 2014 issue of Goblin Fruit.
11/14 “Kuura (extract from a Finnish-English dictionary)” in Issue 11 of Stone Telling.
11/14 “Sorrow-stone” in the “Summer Is Dead” issue of Goblin Fruit.
12/14 “Raw Honey” in Strange Horizons. Listen to me reading the poem in the SH December Poetry Podcast.

PROSE (3 stories)
07/14 “Wind Chimes” in 365 tomorrows. Flash fiction.
10/14 “Chrysopoeia” in Issue 9 (Fall 2014) of Quantum Fairy Tales. Short story.
12/14 “Munankuorikehto” (‘Egg-Shell Cradle’) in issue 3/2014 of Spin, the quarterly magazine of the Turku Science Fiction Society (TSFS). The magazine can be ordered from the TSFS webpage. Flash fiction. (in Finnish)

Oh, and rejections? There were many. It’s especially heartening to see some poem or story published that has previously been rejected (many times, even). I don’t really post about my rejections, but of course they happen. A lot. Way more than acceptances. I’ve learned how to deal with them pretty well – I usually don’t take them too personally any more, although getting a rejection is always a disappointment of course.

In addition to this published stuff, I also wrote oodles of poem drafts (I really can’t be bothered to count, there’s so many), several writing exercises with potential for more, one Nanowrimo novel (crapola zero draft, but with definite potential), and some short stories. Oh, and I edited two 10k+ novelettes. NOT BAD.

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Now, what about the coming year? Here are some writing goals for 2015 (many of them, as you can see, carrying over from last year):

  • Get more stories published.
  • Get more poems published.
  • Revise the ms and submit poetry collection for publication.
  • Start gathering poems together for a speculative poetry collection.
  • Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day, even if it’s just a short poem or writing exercise.
  • Continue to write more in Finnish. It’s been so great to tap into that part of my writing brain this year, so I want to continue experimenting in my other native language too.
  • Rewrite Dim Vanities entirely. Do this with the help of a proper outline.
  • Improve my plotting skills.
  • Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.
  • Submit more stuff, both prose and poetry! Try to submit something at least once a month.

In general, I’m really pleased with how much I’ve written this year and how I’ve improved as a writer. So far it’s been easy for my PhD work to coexist with my writing life – I really hope that state of affairs will continue! And I think it will, if I just make good use of my time.

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In conclusion: Dear readers, I wish all of you joy and fun writing times in this coming year!

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Nanowrimo win!

Winner-2014-Square-ButtonHuzzah – I just validated my Nanowrimo 2014 win. \o/ Time for a glass of wine!

I clocked in at 50,262 words. I managed to actually get some sort of story arc in there, too. :D The final words were nothing amazing (few words in this zero draft were particularly amazing!), but I managed to get some nice emotional closure for a character.

This has been one of the toughest Nanos I’ve done so far – I’ve been super busy this November, and there’s been a lot of late-night writing. Many’s the time that sheer stubbornness was the only thing keeping me writing. But I did it! It’s nice to know that I can still do 50K of fiction in a month. :)

My project for next month is to edit a poetry collection that’s been on the shelf for a few months. So, something completely different from zero-draft word vomit! Sleep is also high on my list of priorities…

Nanowrimo, Day 19

Awww yisss I’m all caught up with Nanowrimo after an intense 3000-word session just now. And there’s an actual plot now! *gasp* I’ve been grappling with being behind + lack of plot during the past week, both due to being too busy to plan ahead. I was already resigned that this Nanowrimo zero draft would be pure drivel useful only for exploring some of the characters and the world. But now I have part of a plot that may end up being in the actual edited version, too. Yay!

Word count: 32,107/50,000
Beverages enjoyed: A big mug of rooibos tea.
Feeling: So happy about actually having a plot for the rest of the novel! I came up with a Xena-esque adventure plot thing that will make the rest of Nanowrimo go smoothly, I hope. At least there will be a daring prison escape, if nothing else.

On the downside: my back is hating me. Slight muscle ache from yesterday’s dance class + too much sitting and writing today = pain. On the to-do list before bed: some physiotherapy exercises…

Nanowrimo, Day 9

Word count: 14,709/50,000
Beverages enjoyed: Delicious Tanzanian black tea, from a proper teacup with a saucer and everything.
Feeling: Drained. SO DRAINED. But also rather deliriously happy.

During the past week, I’ve been struggling with word count and having energy to write. I’ve just been so busy with work that I haven’t had energy/time to write till around midnight, and I haven’t had too many moments where the words would have flowed easily. But today! I had to write a scene where I killed off a character I like, and even though it was horrible and emotional, I just spent the past couple of hours writing like mad. It feels amazing to have written in such a delirium, for the first time this Nano. I hope this will give me the impetus for more writing moments like that!

It’s been ages since I killed off a character in a story. Didn’t remember it could be this intense.

Nanowrimo 2014 is go!

November is here, and Nanowrimo with it! Huzzah!

This year, I was going to have an Outline. A proper outline, with the main plotlines all neat and organised, and the major incidents all plotted out. Aww, self, so optimistic.

Well, suffice it to say that as a) I am more of a pantser than a plotter at the best of times, and b) my October was so full of academic busytimes (fun busytimes! good busytimes! but omg so busy!) – I didn’t have much time or energy to plan in great detail. Yes, I’ve had a lot of stuff about this forest world and had general ideas percolating for a while now. I’ve got some history thought out, and sort of a general plot idea, and some characters. But no detailed outline.

Now it’s Nano time, and I’ve decided, OK, screw it, I’m going the tried and true “just start writing and figure out the plot as you go” route. It’s going well so far! I had a horrible time trying to get started today, but once I got some crap written, I suddenly came up with an idea as to how FMC#1 gets to start on her journey. And now I’ve got Chapter 2 sort of planned, too. Also, I have an idea for an ending! So I think it’ll be all right. I’m hoping to have lots of fun, anyway.

Oh yeah, even though I failed at plot-prepping, I did make a map a while back, though! Check it out (still attached to my drawing board with beautiful masking tape)!

nano map 2014

Mmm, watercolours. I should actually shove the image into Gimp and see about actually indicating places on the map… I don’t want to spoil the pretty picture in real life. :)

In conclusion:
Word count: 1681
Beverages enjoyed: A glass of red wine
Feeling: Better than I was when I started today! Oh Nanowrimo, I’d missed you so.

Now for some more novelling. I want to get Chapter 1 done today.

My writing in 2013 – and my hopes for 2014

In a moment I’m going to get down to some actual writing – there has to be proper writing on the first day of a new year! But first, a round-up of 2013 and some writing goals/wishes for 2014.

I thought I’d do a list of the writing I’ve done this year. It’s difficult to quantify this stuff, really, because a lot of things are in some stage of unfinishedness, but here’s an estimate:

Written:

  • 69 poem drafts (not all of them edited or reworked, and some never will be; many have been submitted, and a few of them have got published too!)
  • 5 flash fiction pieces (4 finished, 1 still in draft phase)
  • 3 stories of <5,000 words (should send a couple of them out; one still needs editing)
  • two novelettes (still need final edits before can be sent out)
  • one failed attempt at reworking my novel Dim Vanities
  • several writing exercises with potential to become more

Published:

Rejected:

  • 32 poems
  • 1 flash fiction piece
  • 1 short story
  • –> As you can see, I didn’t submit too many stories in 2013!

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So, that’s the numbers. Now for some more words:

What pleased me writing-wise:

  • The writers’ group I’m in – Helsinki Writers’ Group, for people in this area who write in English – has been really great. It’s been amazing to actually share my stuff live with other writers, and to get to talk about writing with people who get it. It’s brilliant to have a group where constructive criticism actually works. I’ve been able to radically improve so many of my pieces from feedback I’ve got from the group. And of course it’s heartening to have people laugh out loud at the funny bits. :) We’ve got a really good, supportive atmosphere, I think. Looking forward to our first meeting of the year this Friday.
  • I wrote a surprising amount considering I was quite stressed out for much of the year and had too much on my plate. Extreme yay!
  • I got some poems published that are very special to me. The fact that ‘Orthography: A Personal History’ is out there makes me especially happy.

What I was disappointed in:

  • As I have mentioned previously, I was disappointed in failing to get a proper edit started for Dim Vanities despite the reasons for my failure being completely understandable.

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Now for the 2014 part of this post: the forward-looking, hopeful part. :D

What are my writing goals for 2014?
My major non-writing goal this year is to apply for a PhD position in my field of English historical linguistics and manuscript studies. However, my freer schedules this spring will hopefully result in more creative writing time too, despite my intended focus on academia. And even if (when!) busyness ensues, writing will always be high on the priority list. Hence, goals – which I may or may not achieve, but it’s better to have some nonetheless, methinks!

Some goals writing-wise (aim high!):

  • Get a story published! I’d like to get more than just my poetry out there, since, you know, I am not exclusively a poet. Achieving this goal – in addition to luck and writing well – means getting more stories (especially shorter ones) edited, finished and actually submitted.
  • Get more poems published.
  • Work on a poetry collection. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, and I’ve already got a lot of ideas and some preliminary work done.
  • Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day.
  • Rework Dim Vanities and decide what to do with it (whether to continue editing it smaller-scale, or do a total reboot, or just stick it in the trunk).
  • Improve my plotting skills.
  • Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.

I could probably think of tons more goals if I really got to it – there’s always room for improvement and there are plenty of things in my writing that I want to work on. But these are the major goals. I will also work on not stressing out if I don’t manage to fulfil them. With Ye Olde Perfeccionisme, that’s going to be the greatest challenge of all!

Nanowrimo: Failure

What a discouraging title!

But it’s true.

I set out with the goal of starting the second draft of Dim Vanities. Then, as November started shitting on me, I thought I’d at least get the 33 chapters read through and commented on.

Well. That totally didn’t happen. I’ll admit it: there were more days in November when I didn’t work on DV than when I actually went through any chapters.

I have read through and commented on chapters 1-14. Not even halfway through.

I stopped visiting the Nanowrimo site because I got sad that I wasn’t working on a new novel and getting words done. (Let’s face it, “word count: 0” just looks bad.) But on the other hand, I was profoundly glad that I’d decided not to do Nano properly. Because hey, if I couldn’t even get my novel read through and preliminary comments written, I was definitely not in the right place to write 50,000 words.

Sure, if I’d just pushed myself, I could have done more. But this time, I had a more stressful November than ever before. I’ve slept too little, worked too much, cried too much, worried about the future too much. So I think it’s good that I didn’t push myself with writing. There’s a time and place for prioritising writing, and this time it wasn’t November. (I did get a few poems written, though, but that’s different.) If I’d pushed myself, I might have collapsed. And quite frankly, there’s no time for a collapse before my Christmas holiday.

Sometimes you just can’t get stuff done. This is a very difficult thing for me to admit, because my perfectionist tendencies still often equate “didn’t get stuff done” with “bad person”, even though I’ve been trying to work through this and eradicate such thoughts.

Lesson learned? It’s possible for me to fail and yet not be devastated by it. Next year, perhaps, I can do Nanowrimo “properly” again and start afresh, not weighed down by the expectations of five years’ winning in a row.

I will continue editing DV: slowly, with other projects in between. I’m feeling insecure about this novel, too, so I think I need to be careful with it. At some point I might need to smash the whole thing and rewrite it entirely, but I’m not ready for that yet. So, for now, I’ll just keep plodding on.

Poetry sale: Wild Violet Magazine

I’m happy to announce that my poem ‘Helsinki Love Song’ has been accepted for publication in Wild Violet. I’ll post a link when the poem is published!

It was great to get some good poetry news, because I’ve been bogged down with work and an insidious stress that chooses, at inopportune moments, to make everything feel overwhelming. In other words, haven’t really had the mental energy for writing – although I did write a couple of new poems on Saturday.

But my editing work with Dim Vanities has progressed very little: thus the total lack of Nanowrimo posts. I feel bad about that, but I’m trying to put things into perspective. If you try to do five billion things at once and most of them just have to be done, the things that don’t have an immediate deadline will inevitably get put on hold.

Nanowrimo: This feels different

It’s really weird not to be writing a feverish 50K this November. But I still think it’s a good decision to forgo a new zero draft this year – there’s so much work to do with Dim Vanities. Also, I’ve had a bit of a cold and am insanely tired, so yeah. Being merciful to myself and setting lower goals is a good thing. From previous years, I know I can do Nanowrimo ‘properly’ even when stressed out; so I don’t have anything to prove to myself in that sense.

So, what have I been doing, then? Well, during the weekend I worked on my story goals, organised my notes, and made a couple of spreadsheets to track my editing progress and my chapter outlines. I also started out simply going through the first draft, making comments and highlighting terrible words/sentences. I’ve done 8 chapters out of 31. The going is slow – editing is way slower than actual writing. But I’m trudging along, at least, despite my lingering cold and aching neck.

I’ve read a lot of advice on how to edit a novel, but I think it’s one of those things you learn best by just doing it. I have no idea if Dim Vanities will ever be good enough to even consider sending out somewhere, but in the meantime, this is an excellent exercise. I’m experimenting, finding out techniques that work for me.

Who knows, this might even become a coherent, not-totally-plot-holey novel when I’m done.

Nanowrimo: Preparing for the editing process

Firstly, let’s reveal the working title of the novel I’ll be editing this Nanowrimo: Dim Vanities. The name is from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘Tamerlane’:

Dim, vanities of dreams by night —
And dimmer nothings which were real —
(Shadows — and a more shadowy light!)

Dim Vanities is the name I randomly came up with while Nano-prepping in 2008, and it’s stuck. The title will most probably change eventually once I think of a better one. Yes, there are shadows in my novel, but it’s still not the most relevant or awesome title.

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Anyway! Back to business (i.e. more babbling)!

The stats:
DIM VANITIES
word count: ~134,000
chapters: 31

Yesterday I read a 15-page chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Dim Vanities that I’d written last year when I was editing the messy zero draft into a somewhat coherent first draft. The plot still needs some tightening to make it more coherent – there’s some weird magicky stuff that I worry is too vague. Will have to work on that. But mostly, the synopsis seemed decent. I tinkered a lot with the plot last year, so I hope there won’t be a need for too many major changes now.

I’ll really have to work on making the characters alive and their relationships believable, though.

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I’ve been preparing for this editing process by reading a lot of posts on editing, and doing a lot of thinking with regard to what my strategy will be.

I just read this entertaining post on editing a novel by Chuck Wendig. Some sound advice there! Such as:

Writing is editing. Editing is writing.

Writing is rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting.

So damn true. Good thing I actually like editing… Although I have to say that tackling a whole novel is overwhelming. But hey, this is how we learn: by digging into it and getting shit done.

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Lastly: good luck to everyone doing Nanowrimo the traditional 50K way! *waves pom-poms*