The End of 2020 is Nigh: A Writing Year Roundup

At this point, everyone knows that 2020 was a year for the record books. But I think most of us are unsure what to feel about it. Should we be sad, angry, or motivated for something better in 2021? My personal feelings aside, 2020 was a decent year for my writing work. I shifted from part-time writer back to full-time writer. I finished two new novel drafts and many short stories, and I finally took a poetry class to stretch my wings.

Poetry Composition Book

But…with coffee shops closed or with limited capacity, and the risk of Coronavirus everywhere, I didn’t go out and work. With restrictions for school and childcare I had to do more parenting duty. There was limited social interaction since last March. All of this added up to my writing year not being everything I’d hoped it would be. While I spent a lot of time at home and at my desk, my mind was often elsewhere and my energy was low.

2020 Had More Drive-Thru Coffees than Coffee Shops

But…

I won NaNoWriMo easily, as there was nowhere else to go. I have a lot of new subject matter to consider. My science fiction now feels much less far fetched. And I did finish those drafts.

Currently, of my 261,000 words in a year writing goal (which will end September 1, 2021), I’m at 141,390. That means I’m already over halfway to my goal, and about three months ahead of schedule. I haven’t even drafted anything in new in weeks as I’ve switched my focus at the moment to rewriting.

Starting next week (January 4th, 2021), I’m planning to getting back to drafting around 500 words a day, while my primary focus remains on rewriting. Finishing two manuscript drafts in 2020 means that 2021 will predominately be a year of rewriting. A year of taking the old and making it better (I think this is fair to say that I hope this for every aspect of life, not just writing).

In 2021 I plan to self-publish at least the first two books of the new young adult fantasy series I have been working on for sometime. I’m hoping to get around to the third book, but with other major projects on the go I’m not sure that’s going to be doable. So the third book of that series may have to wait until 2022.

With the coronavirus vaccine rolling out now, my writing life is sure to change again in 2021. My writing life always was going to change, as I planned for a year or two of full-time writing and then heading back to a regular day job for a while. I like to work this way, bouncing between a life where writer-me is out and about in the world gaining experiences, and a life where writer-me is tucked away in the basement, isolated and writing about the experiences I’ve gained.

Enjoying the End of 2020 and Wishing for Good Times in 2021

All in all, 2020 wasn’t a bad year for writing, but I will be glad when the clock turns tonight and we can put 2020 behind us. Here comes 2021, brimming with potential and a lot more time.

Do you have any writing plans for the new year?
Happy quiet celebrations!

JEH

NaNo 2020: How’s Your NaNo Doing #2.

I’m very happy to say that I’ve ‘won’ NaNoWriMo. I finished my 50,000 words the other day, which has pushed me well ahead of schedule in my goal to write 261,000 words in a year (I’m already half way there and I only started at the beginning of September). I’m not done the novel I was working on yet, I still have another 40K or so to go, but getting to 50K is a huge achievement, because once you’re this far into a novel, it has momentum, it wants to keep going, and it doesn’t want to stop.

I am, however, going to slow down my drafting now. I’ve realized over the past couple days that I’m tired from pushing myself so hard and that I’m missing things like writing on paper, rewriting short stories, and working on a diverse range of projects, including a bit of terrible poetry.

Now that I’ve completed NaNo 2020, I’m revising my writing goal back down to 1,000 – 2,000 new words a day and shifting a lot of my writing time over to rewriting. If I miss a couple days of drafting, I’m not going to be upset because I know where my project is now and I’m not worried about losing the plot. I’m also going back to taking weekends off and focusing on reading at that time, because I believe reading is a big part of writing. Also, I have Brandon Sanderson’s Rhythm of War to enjoy this month and I’m super excited for the 4th volume of The Stormlight Archive.

As I shift back to rewriting, I find that I’m actually really looking forward to it. Usually I dread rewriting. I love the rush of writing something new, going places I’ve never been before, meeting characters I’ve never met, but apparently it is tiring for me to do it for too long. And if I don’t ever rewriting the things I’ve drafted, then those things are never ready to be shared with the world, and that is a big point for rewriting!

So, that’s where I’m at. And, of course, I always celebrate when I make a goal, whether big or small. This time my celebration was a bit different because of Covid, because it’s November and it’s NaNo, and I’m still working on finishing my novel so I’m staying in. But, there’s still drive-thru, and sometimes a nice latté is all I need to feel the sweet satisfaction of scratching something off my to-do list.

To Do:

Complete NaNoWriMo 2020

How is your NaNoWriMo Doing?

JEH

NaNoWriMo 2020 Update: How is your NaNo doing?

It’s almost halfway through NaNoWriMo 2020. If you decided to join me and many other writers this year and stay home and spend all of November writing a novel (maybe your first, maybe one of many), than hopefully you’re a good chunk of the way in by now.

My NaNo is going great, though I was hoping to get in more marathon days. Take a look at my progress over the past week and bit below:

You can see that I was sidetracked on the third day of NaNo and spent a lot of time writing something that I wasn’t planning on writing but that was calling to me. I didn’t mean to do switch tracks, but I’m terrible at ignoring calls to new work. The good thing it was a short side project and it’s all drafted now, so I’m back on focusing on my main project, BGG, which I hope to have fully drafted by the end of the month, though it will be closer to 90,000 words than the 50,000 word goal that is a regular NaNo (hence my larger than average daily word counts. So, in other words, I still have a long way to go, but things are heading in the write direction!

Now, time for a snack and to get back at it.

JEH

NaNoWriMo 2020: Why We Should All Do It This Year

Happy Day One of NaNoWriMo everyone! If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any amount of time, then you know that I’m an annual NaNo-er. My first NaNo was in 2006 – 14 years ago, and I’m doing it again this year with even more enthusiasm than I’ve had in some other years. This is a great year for NaNo, not just for me, but for everyone. I doubt I really have to spell it out, but I will anyway. Doing NaNo this year is a great way to pass the time while staying home, while trying to decrease the virus load and help end this pandemic sooner rather than later. With the news yesterday that England is heading into another national lockdown, it is a bit disheartening, unless, of course, you’re planning to write a novel this month, because then yes, this is exactly what you need to keep your butt in your chair and writing away madly!

In my fourteen years of NaNo, I’ve written many books. Some of them successufully (and others that turned out to be still uncompleted flops). After finishing my NaNo novels, I’ve gone one to publish many of them, and you can do this too, but you also don’t have to. You can write just for yourself. And let me say that while publishing and sharing my hard work with others is great, the best part is actually living in another world for a full month.

With a load of coffee by my side and left over halloween chocolate, I consider myself ready. I love writing fantasy, which makes my escape all the more distanced. When I was writing Tales of a Red-headed Sea-Witch, the first book my Black Depths series, I loved nothing more than settling into the log house in the woods that my character, Nessa, calls home. For a few hours a day, I became a sea-witch. I casted magic spells, made friends, and fought off monsters. I think we could all use a little bit of that control right now.

If you’ve been toying with the idea of doing NaNoWriMo, let me break it down for you. NaNoWriMo is a promise to yourself to write. You can write about whatever you want, you can make your sentences as short or as long as you want, you can chat with other fellow writers on the forum if you want. The only thing you have to do is write something—and really, if all you write is a title, that’s fine. NaNo isn’t graded. But if you do decide to write a novel this November, what you’ll really be doing is spending a month of your life daydreaming about the kind of world you’d rather be living in right now. Which can be just as powerful as taking a vacation. And heck, if it’s a vacation you really want, why not writing a novel about the vacation you would be on if it wasn’t for Covid-19.

So, come join me and many other writers doing NaNoWriMo this year. It’ll be a blast.

Next time: more on my new series, The Gemology Saga, and the cover for the first novel. And also, how am I doing at NaNo.

Go forth, fearless writers, and write!

JEH

How to Write 261,000 Words in a Year: Update #1

In my last update, I stated my new goal this year is to write 1,000 words every weekday. If I do that, I will have written 261,000 words in one year, or the equivalent of 3 books of just under 90,000 words each. For me, drafting 1,000 words a day is pretty straightforward. I make myself sit down in my cosy armchair and I make my fingers move, without caring whether or not the words are any good. I’ll worry about that part later, during the rewriting process, once I actually have something to work with.

I started a chart at the beginning of September—my favourite time of year to start new goals—so that I can track how much I’m writing and what project I’m working on. Even with taking weekends off, which may or may not be the best thing (but I think I’ll make that a separate post), I’ve been able to meet my goal so far. So where am I at? Take a look at the chart below to see my progress for the past week.

Currently, I’m a bit over 5,000 words above my goal. I’m excited about this, as it means my goal is at the right level. Some days, I can barely manage to squeeze in the 1,000 words, and others it’s easy to double that, and occasionally, as you can see on Wednesday, I have so much other stuff going on that I draft no new words at all (though I try really, really hard to get at least a half hour of straight typing time in every day).

You can see the names of my projects on the right, too. Factor of Safety is the name of my current work in progress, a literary fiction novel that I hope to be able to share with the world one day. Weekend is not a project, just an acknowledgement atet it’s okay that I didn’t write any words that day. You’ll see on occasion other titles cropping up in this column, as I’m always working on more than one project, though at the moment all my other project work is focused on rewriting aspects (an no, I don’t count rewritten words in my word counts, my rewriting I do on an hours per day basis and I don’t currently track that, though maybe I should?).

Are you doing any writing? Is it going well? I hope so!

JEH

My Writing Life: Updates and New Writing Plans

It has been a long time, a long, long time, since I’ve had real time for the blog. For the past year and a bit, I was working a crazy, busy, but fun day job. I took the job with one main goal: to save enough money to comfortably fund a few full time years of writing time, and I’m happy to announce that I’m finally there, I’ve arrived. I am once more a full-time writer.

It is a challenging thing, to be a fiction writer that makes money. I see it over and over again and if you search, “how to make money as a fiction writer” online, the returns will be full of a general response that sums up to, “you can’t.” I don’t believe that is true, however, it is very difficult when compared to a day job that pays a regular salary with benefits. So for the past year my focus was on buying my own time, and for anyone that wants to writer, I would recommend this path. Not only is it great to be where I am now: sitting in my office writing this blog, it was a rewarding year full of experiences, regular paycheques, and expensive coffee.

However, it was challenging to find time to write, and I didn’t manage to finalize the projects I’ve been working on for over a year now. I hope, however, to have something new out soon, but I have so many different projects sitting around, and one main project that is the focus of all my commitments, that I can’t promise anything. But the fantastic thing about funding my own writing journey for the next couple of years is that I’m free to work on projects as they capture my interest. It’s all just about slow and steady progress, reaching my daily goals, and thinking fresh thoughts.

That said, I have been fleshing out my minimum goals. As a writer, no matter if it’s full-time, part-time, or on the side, it’s always been important for me to have goals. A few years back, my goal was to write 365,000 words in a year (approximately four books). It sounded impossible, but when you break it down into 1,000 words a day, it sounded achievable, and it was, I did it!

So, with it being September and my favorite time to make goals, I decided that I would set a minimum goal of 1,000 words every weekday. In a year, this will come to about 261,000 words! With still taking my weekends off! Again, I believe this is a highly achievable goal, and will still give me plenty of time for the business side of things and rewriting, which will take up a large part of my day since I have some great projects that I want to make better.

I’m also hoping (fingers-crossed), that this will leave me with a bit of time each week to check in on this blog, mostly because checking in here keeps me honest, makes me compare my progress to my goals, and is a reminded to myself of what I’m setting out to do.

Do you have any new goals for the next 12 months? If you do, feel free to share them below, and best of luck on your goals.

See you next week!
JEH

Writing Routines in Strange Times

A few weeks back I posted about writing during COVID-19. How does one write during quarantine? It should be easy, right? At first, it was difficult, but I’m happy to say that I’m getting into a bit more of a routine.

As I’ve adjusted to using my dedicated creative space for both my day job and my creative pursuits, things have become a little bit smoother. I find the mornings to be a boon—now that I no longer have to commute and do the school run. This adds up to extra time in the morning when I can write (or in the case of this morning—read), and morning writing for me is fantastic because my creative juices are so much fresher!

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For years I’ve heard of writers who wake up early and get their work done before the day really kicks up. But not being a morning person, I just couldn’t do this. I tried once or twice but always ended up back in my same routine of hitting the snooze button five times. Now that all I have to do is get dressed and sneak downstairs for both hot coffee and notebooks, it’s easy. Maybe it also helps that that are no late nights out…

But yet I still felt I needed a bit of an extra boost, so this month I also signed on to do Camp NaNo. I don’t usually do Camp NaNo, though I’m a regular participant of regular NaNoWriMo. What I like about Camp NaNo is my ability to set my own goal, and this year I set it at 15,000 words since I’m also sticking to my plan from my last writing post of writing by hand.

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Writing by hand is so much slower but much more rewarding. It’s a nice break and it a good hand-mind connection. So far I’m only one day behind (and I’m hoping to catch up today). I’ve written 2,500 words since April 1st, which is nothing to sneeze at, in my opinion.

I’ve also found more time for blogging—something I haven’t had in a long time!

I’m going to post regular updates through April about my Camp NaNo progress, and I’ll also be putting out a few more writing prompts and book reviews (I’m rather behind on those too!). I look forward to connecting with you all again, and I hope you’re finding your own routines in these strange times! Below is a song from The Moody Blues, which was one of my dad’s favorite’s bands. Enjoy!

Writing During COVID-19

I’m sure you’ve heard about COVID-19, unless you were on a 12-Day silent retreat like Jared Leto, you can’t miss it. It is everywhere, and it is all the time, and it is time-consuming. Where I live, we’ve recently been asked to all work and stay at home. Try not to leave, use social distancing, oh, and kids have no school so watch them too.

It sounds like a writer’s dream, but I’m struggling. My writing has been on major pause for at least a full week now. There is so much information coming at me, so many changes day after day, but I think the biggest change is the complete alteration of my routine.

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Currently, I’m a writer with a day job, but for the past seven months or so I’ve found pleasure in taking a morning coffee break from my day job at a cute little café across the street. A half-hour might not be a lot of time, but it was enough to get a page or two of writing done. And at a page a day, that’s a novel a year. I felt like I was making good progress. Now, I haven’t even been writing that one page a day.

So this afternoon I had to sit down and have a talk with myself. I needed to plan, to work out what I will work on during this lockdown so that I use this time at home to the best of my ability.

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Part of what I find hard about writing when stuck at home is that I’m a people watcher. I love watching people, observing them (not in a creepy way), but in order to see what makes us human, what makes us tick. I like to try to understand people and the choices we make. And I can’t do that anymore.

Sure, there’s social media. I’ve been on Twitter more than I have in a long time, but that is a black hole that’s easy to not come back from, and some of the news I read on there sets me so off-kilter that writing is even more difficult afterward. Social media just isn’t where I need my head to be at these days. So my first decision was easy: less social media, less news (I was checking at least once an hour), and more time with PAPER that won’t tempt me to check for the latest update or fake news headline. This is why paper is great, another reason why I will always love paper books, and writing in paper journals because when you’re focused on them, you aren’t sidetracked by a blinking light or a ping or low-power warning.

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My second decision was more difficult. I need a project that will consume my attention, that I am so tempted to be with that it is easy to write. I have many projects. I’m always working on more than one thing. And while I want to finish absolutely everything I start (I’m that kind of person I guess), some things take a lot more effort to get through than others. So, for a while, I’m going to switch focus. I’m going to continuing finishing my first edit of BY SAPPHIRE LIGHT, my young-adult fantasy steampunk novel that I love, but I’m going to press pause on the second edit because editing is WORK. In order to keep myself happy and writing while this whole COVID-19 thing is going on, I’m going to let myself go back to drafting, and I’m going to draft by hand a fantasy novel that I started a few years back and haven’t spent much time on, mostly because I promised myself I would write the entire thing by hand, and I haven’t had that kind of time. But now I do, so this project is perfect these times.

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And lastly, I’m going to continue journalling because journalling makes me feel good, it helps lighten my anxieties and sorts out my thoughts and my plans and my head in general.

So starting today, that’s my plan. Did you make a writing plan for COVID-19 and lockdown/voluntary isolation? What are you doing to keep working?

JEH

 

A Writer’s Plans in 2020

So far the start of the year has been incredibly busy! That’s a good thing, since I’m gearing up for a big year in 2020. The blog has been pretty quiet lately, and it will likely continue to be so until summer. Why? Because for the first half of 2020 I will continue to be a writer with a day job. This means that like 2019, I won’t get as much done as I dream of, but I still have plans. And what happens in the second half of 2020? Well, my savings goal will have been reached and I will once again be transitioning to full-time writing. I am so excited for this that the impatience is quickly growing.

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On the docket for 2020 are a number of things, first and foremost to continue working on my current work in progress, By Sapphire Light. This is a young adult steampunk fantasy that I just love working on! I finished the first draft in December, and have recently begun the first rewrite, which is moving along nicely! In early January, I also worked on a few other small projects that I plan to continue with for the rest of 2020.

My main goal this year is to get the entire trilogy for By Sapphire Light drafted. This means two more books to draft, and the first one to finalize. I would love to have this done by July 1st, before I transition to full-time writing, since I have many other projects that will be vying for my attention at that time.

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The good thing is I have a writing retreat booked in late February, which will carve out sometime in the first half of the year for writing. I’m continuing with my Wednesday writing night, and have been pretty good at chipping away on my project on evenings and weekends. I’m hopefully that I can get one more mini-retreat in before June as well.

When I did my writing goal planning for 2020, I actually only planned for the first six months, since I’m not exactly sure how things are going to line-up for July. I’m trying to let things flow, and see what comes more naturally now while I’m balancing work life-home life-and writing life. Here’s to a great year in 2020 for everyone!

JEH

How to Be a Writer with a Day Job: A year’s roundup.

At the start of the year I was planning to write a post a month about how to be a writer with a day job, in other words, how to find time for writing when you’re working 40 (or more!) hours a week! I managed to get out two posts! Which may tell you a lot about where my priorities lay when I’m a writer with a day job.

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It was much easier to fit in blogging when I was a full-time writer. But being a full-time writer isn’t always the most economical decision (though it is the most heart-lightening one). I switched my day job in June of 2019, and that day job currently takes up a lot more of my time than my old job did, but all for a greater purpose. I changed jobs (well aware that I would lose writing time) to make more money, to save more, to then get back to being a full-time writer sooner (once my cushion is adequately plumped).

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And taking that job has also taught me a lot more about being a writer with a day job. Here are some tips I picked up over the past six months:

  1. Make social media your last priority. Yes, that’s right. If you want to get writing done, or even worse, the dreaded rewriting, don’t go on social media. This may result in your on-line presence lagging, but hey, I didn’t get into writing fiction so I could write for social media 24/7. That said, I’m still trying to make time for some blogging, but I do this by trying time to pre-post once a week—or month! But even that doesn’t always happen.
  2. Keep your goals tight. When you have a day job, you don’t have as much time, which means you can’t pursue as many projects. While I love to have multiple things on the go: short stories, novels, novellas, fantasy, general fiction, I can’t work on them all when I’m already spending 40 hours a week at my day job desk. So pick one and work on it until it’s finished. Then pick something else.
  3. Find a community. I still get the majority of my writing done at my Wednesday night meet-ups. My like-minded community of writers knows we have to set aside time to get work done, so that’s what we do. But beyond writing together, we also have regular goals meetings to hold each other accountable to the goals we set at the beginning of the year.
  4. When you burn out, take a break. Having a day job might mean that you burn out sooner, more often, and harder. Make sure to give yourself a break, a night off, a night out, a morning to sleep in. You can always pick up the pen tomorrow. Just make sure you do.
  5. Drink a lot of coffee. I’m pretty sure that one explains itself.

Hopefully at least one of those tips resonates with you. It’s been a long haul this year being a writer with a day job, but I made it, and next year is going to be even better yet!

JEH