A Letter to My Future Self

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This morning I wrote a letter to myself, sealed it in an envelope, and taped it to the December page of my 2014 calendar. On January 1, 2015, I plan to open it. I won’t tell you what it said just yet (maybe I will next New Year’s Day), but in it I made some suggestions and promises to myself. I hope to find that this year next time some hopes and dreams will have come to pass, some goals may be met, and some growth may have occurred.

As for writing goals, this year I have just one–to write, revise, and edit my novel so that, come 2015, I’m ready to query agents. I’ll do other writing-related things, like publish my ebook, The Intentional Writer, and my collection of 2013’s short stories (now planned for June to avoid rights conflicts). I’ll put the individual short stories up on Smashwords for you non-Kindle users. I’ll continue to write in this space.

But the main thing is the novel. I’m quite thrilled about it. The first couple days of writing have gone well and netted me close to 5,000 words and a lower back ache that is subsiding a little today.

Here’s where I’ve been writing:

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The big map is of Detroit and the markers are to delineate borders at various times in the city’s history and highlight spots affected by riots. The books include a number I’ve already read, some relevant ones I got for Christmas, and the sixteen new ones I just picked up from a couple used bookstores. Because, after all, the more you research the more you realize you need to know. I’m hoping I can get them all read as I work on writing the book.

My husband says it looks like I’m planning to go back in time and murder someone.

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But actually, I imagine the body count will be far greater than just one…

Mission Accomplished!

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I don’t know about you, but I have rarely, if ever, kept a New Year’s Resolution for an entire year. I can hardly keep myself eating right for three meals in a day. So when I vowed last January to write one short story each month of the year, I was really hoping I’d have the tenacity to succeed, but I figured that somewhere in there, there would at least be a month when I was late and had to make a bunch of lame excuses about how life just got too busy to write.

But lo and behold, last night I finished the 12th and final short story of 2013!

Life did get busy. Crazy busy. For the last three months, every Saturday on the calendar was full. We had to adjust our schedules to fit with a boy who is now in elementary school. We navigated a summer filled with trips and hanging out with friends and canning homemade jam. I spent many evenings with my nose in thick books to prepare for writing a novel. And of course there’s work, eating, basic hygiene, and the like. But writing only happens if you make it happen. And this year, I made it happen.

This is the cover for the last story of the year…

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I will be making it available on Christmas Eve (last minute gift idea?) and it will be FREE on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!

And here are the covers of all twelve short stories for 2013…

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It’s been a fun and challenging year, but I think 2014 will be even better. I’m hoping to release a nonfiction ebook called The Intentional Writer: Finding the Time, Space, and Inspiration You Need to Write in January. It’s designed to give beginning and struggling writers encouragement, motivation, and practical strategies to make regular creative writing a part of their lives. If you like my blog posts that relate to writing, you’ll love the book.

And, of course, what I’m most excited about is getting down in words the novel that has been growing in my head and my heart over the past year.

What do you have brewing in your mind for next year?

Research, Reality, and Reaching Out to Other Writers

Have you ever been “done” with research only to find that you are just getting started? Over the past few months I’ve read several books (two of them around the 500 page mark) and watched about 30 hours of documentaries on various historical aspects of the time periods my WIP covers (or will cover if I ever get done researching). I felt I was done.

Then I went out to dinner with my friend Valerie.

While waiting to be seated at a restaurant, we wandered over to Schuler Books & Music and perused the used book section, where I found (with her pernicious help) two more l-o-n-g books to read as background research. Mind you, I was not looking for these books. They were looking for me. Nothing from these books will actually end up in my novel, as the time periods they describe are not covered in my story, but the background knowledge they promise to provide is really essential for understanding some socioeconomic and cultural realities in a particular place and time that will be covered in the book.

All this to say, I’m not ready to write as gung-ho as I would have to be in order to do NaNoWriMo. Beyond that, I have not been able to finish November’s short story this week as I had hoped, so I will have that to do next month as well. Releasing myself from NaNoWriMo madness also allows me to work on that nonfiction book about intentional writing I mentioned. So I’ll still be writing, I’ll just be switching the order that I work on two of my projects.

In addition to that, I will be a contributing editor to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association‘s newsletter and I’ve been asked to prepare a feature article for their first issue. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to reach out to other writers beyond those of you who read this blog through my involvement with WFWA and through the writing book (which I hope to release in January now).

So the plan for the rest of 2013 will be to finish up my last two short stories, finish my nonfiction book for writers, start writing and editing for WFWA, and really finish my research. And that is plenty for just two months. In January, once the writing book is released, I’ll work on formatting my collection of short stories for a print edition for all you non-techies. And then, once those other items are off my plate, I will have the time and mental energy to devote every free moment of writing time to my novel.

So that’s how my year is wrapping up. What about you? What do you want to finish before 2014 rolls around? Tomorrow begins a new month. Thirty days to work toward the finish line of whatever goal you have right now. What are you going to do with the time you have?

Giddiness, Goals, and Giveaways

Hi friends. I don’t typically focus on stats and numbers in this space (yawn) but I noticed this week that A Beautiful Fiction reached 900 followers. This made me understandably perky. And then I thought, What if I could reach 1000 by the end of the year? Wouldn’t that be cool? And I answered myself, Yes, Erin, that would indeed be cool.

So beyond my goals to write and publish a short story each month (which is going just swimmingly, I can assure you) and to secure literary representation for my first novel (which may or may not happen in the coming month, but it’s a possibility), I’ve added a third goal for the year: to reach 1000 followers on the blog. Hey, it could happen. And if it does, I’m prepared to go a little nuts.

So, if by 11:59 PM on December 31, 2013 I’ve gotten to 1000 followers, all twelve short stories I will have written this year will be available as a free download on January 2, 2014 (my 34th birthday) as a thank you to all of you.

How can you help make this great giveaway happen?

1.) One easy way is to click the Follow button on the righthand side of the screen if you are not already an official follower of this blog. You’ll get new posts emailed to you automatically–and nothing else. No spam. No ads. Just blog posts. That’s it. When I blog you’ll know about it and you’ll be among the first to know about future giveaways and promos!

2.) When you read a blog post that speaks to you, please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter or email it to someone you think would enjoy and benefit from what I write about here.

I may occasionally remind everyone of this opportunity (for newcomers who don’t go back to read this post) but I promise not to be obnoxious about it.

If the blog reaches 1000 followers earlier than the last night of the year, the giveaway will happen earlier as well. So if you’ve been enjoying this space as much as I have, please share it with your friends–and then get 12 short stories totally free on your Kindle.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program…

The Freedom of a Plan

A to ZDuring the past week my husband and I have been scheming. We’ve developed a plan to pay off our remaining debt (funny how having a child can completely derail your life for awhile) and get our house ready to sell sometime next year. With our son starting kindergarten this fall in a school system that is beyond inadequate, it’s time to consider one of the many nice communities around Lansing (all with highly rated school systems and lower crime rates) for our next house. We want something bigger with a larger yard further away from busy streets now that we have a little guy who is keen on spreading his wings a bit. And we have the plan in place to help us make it happen.

Here’s why a plan is essential to an undertaking like this. If you have a long term goal that’s big, you are far more likely to be successful if you break it down into smaller goals. A plan helps keep you on track, marking completion of the little goals and constantly reminding you of the ultimate goal. And it shows you how far you are toward accomplishing it.

The plan can seem restrictive. When you’re paying down debt, for instance, you need to be strict with yourself to keep from veering off course. Yes, it would be super fun to go out to eat twice a week, but we have our future house to think of. Yes, it would be great to go on vacation this summer, but we have our son’s education and safety to think of. Yes, I would like to make goat cheese and gourmet olives part of my daily caloric intake, but I have a goal that is bigger than goat cheese.

And when you don’t have a plan in place that shows you exactly how and when you will accomplish your goal, it’s really easy to wander off track. Just for a while, we tell ourselves, but then one day runs into another and another and another and we can find that we are still as far from accomplishing that goal as when we started.

The same is true (I am finding) in writing. I have a lot of novels started, but only one finished. I have a lot of ideas, but I can’t bring them all to fruition at once. So I need both an end goal (write a novel) and a real, concrete plan to get there. I currently have my next novel planned out with Scrivener, and I have set dates by which each scene should be written (two per week) and an average word count goal for each scene. Following this schedule, I will have the first draft written by mid-September, I will write the proposal in October, and I will revise the draft in November. By the end of the year, I will be thinking about shopping it.

The mere thought of a schedule may make some of you cringe. But for me, for now, it is what is going to help me reach a goal.

Where’s the freedom in that, you may ask? It takes a lot of pressure and negativity off of me because I know if I simply follow it, I will reach the goal. I don’t have to continually rethink and re-strategize. It frees me to say no to other things so that I can focus on writing. It allows me to be happy with just 1700 words in a writing session because that is all that is required of me at a time. I can write 10,000 in a day, but I really only have to write 1700 twice a week. Freedom to pace myself.

In five months I’ll have my next novel drafted. In a year we’ll put our house on the market. We have our plans in motion and all we have to do is stick to them.

Have you planned how you will reach your writing or other creative goals?

When Youthful Illusions Fade, You Can Really Get to Work

You. Are. Awesome.Creative people, when you were young did you imagine yourself being “discovered” at some point? Be honest. When you were a child singing slightly off-key in your room, wasn’t there some part of you that was sure that somehow in your dinky Midwestern town, as you were one day following your mother back out to the car with a cart full of groceries, singing quietly to yourself, that a random Nashville bigwig would overhear your angelic voice and sign you on the spot?

No? That was just me then?

Surely when the pencil drawing you made in seventh grade art class was selected to go on some foam board display in the hallway you imagined that during the next parent/teacher conferences a famous art critic would wander past the cafeteria and stumble upon your flawless execution of a winged horse, track you down in a mad rush of inquiry, and whisk you away to some fine art institution in New York where you would blossom into the absolute toast of the cutting edge art scene.

Am I getting closer?

How about this. Despite the keen awareness in college that you were perhaps not quite as remarkable as you were lead to believe in your small hometown, that you were surrounded by many talented people and could even enjoy being part of this community of young visionaries, there was still a place in your psyche that was reserved for illusions of grandeur, that believed that your creative writing teacher would read your complex and sophisticated short story about losing your best friend and immediately pass it on (with gracious apologies to you for not asking first) to her friend at The New Yorker and you would assume your natural and rightful position as the brightest young literary star to come from your town in…ever.

Admit it. That was you. Some small part of you, anyway.

If it was not you, it was certainly me at various times of my young life. Even in my twenties I felt sure (well, perhaps not quite as sure as I had been in my teens) that the promise that teachers and parents saw in me would simply materialize into worldly success on a grand scale with little effort on my part (and that it would be nothing less than I deserved).

Considering this, you may think turning thirty a few years ago would have sent me into a shame spiral at having not accomplished artistic feats that would last through the ages and get me interviewed on NPR. Actually it felt really, really good. Rather than be despondent that I would never be considered a young prodigy admired the world over for my natural talent and easy charisma, I felt a lightening of spirit as the pressure to live up to the expectations I had placed upon myself was lifted from my shoulders. It was not until the silly desire for admiration was gone that I began to write anything worth reading.

Why do I write today? To exercise my gifts, to enjoy the process of creation, and to share in the exchange of ideas that is one of the many things that distinguishes us from the rest of creation. I love to read and I think when you love to partake in an activity you naturally want to contribute. My experiment of writing and publishing a short story each month of this year is part of a determined effort to contribute.

Why do you write?