My 2014. Not A Bad Year, But I Sure Am Glad It’s Over!

As we close the doors on 2014, I can’t help but look back at the last year and think that, despite all the challenges and some pretty tough low points, overall, it wasn’t a bad year at all. The previous two years were both years of endings for me; my divorce was finalized in October 2012 and Melanie lost her job that same year, forcing us to look at other options location-wise, and we ended up moving from New Hampshire to Ohio, back to where I grew up, closer to where my family was, which at the time I thought was a good thing.

In 2013, I ended my relationship with MedQuist/M*Modal, with whom I had worked off and on since 2006. It wasn’t a terrible job; in fact, I was nominated as one of two employees of the year in 2012, no small thing, considering at the time they had something like 3000 employees in North America alone. But I got a better offer for more stable income, so I followed it. The housing situation here in Ohio fell through, a direct result of a familial conflict. This also caused my relationships with many of my family members to fail spectacularly. I ended up having to cut ties with most of my relatives, a hard thing at first, until I realized that most of those relationships were unhealthy and were based on pride, selfishness, and strong bullying and abusive patterns that Melanie and I as well as my daughters were far better off not having in our lives. I’m trying very hard to raise my daughters with a sense of self-worth, something that’s next to impossible to cultivate under such negative influences.

This last year, 2014, I made a strong commitment to my writing for the first time. I had had a couple of short stories published in 2008 and 2009, but hadn’t really committed to the writing itself (also, it’s hard to focus on something as trivial as writing when your marriage is falling apart—so I put it aside for a while). But in late 2013 when my Word Weavers friend (and the first person to publish one of my stories), Jennifer L. Miller, made it known that she was considering publishing a Ladies and Gentlemen of Fantasy anthology to complement her annual Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror antho, I jumped right on it. I was more than rusty—the gears barely turned. Of course, I had barely written any fiction at all since my update of the Hansel and Gretel story that was published in 2009. But I had an idea that I had been tossing around for some time and thought this would be a good time both to flesh it out as well as get back on the writing wagon.

That story was a challenge. It took a couple of months to write a 10,000+ word story, but it felt good to be doing so. And in the middle of that one, Jenna said that each author could have twice the space since she didn’t get as many contributors as she was looking for. I think I actually broke out into a sweat; here I was spending most of my free time already working on one story and now I had to come up with a second? I didn’t even have an idea. Except there was that one dragon story I had started about 5 years before but never finished. I could dust that one off and see what happened. I’d had a couple of ideas about plot points in the meantime. And I still had several months before the deadline.

So I said, sure, I can give you 20,000 words instead of 10,000. And as soon as I finished the first story, The Goblin Lantern, I immediately went back and looked at what I had written on the other. I had a decent beginning of a few hundred words that was definitely workable, but needed some revision. The rest of it pretty much wrote itself.

I quickly gathered a small group of beta readers amongst my friends, to whom I sent both stories and was surprised at how positive the responses were. One of my friends, who is an avid reader and someone I consider one of the smartest people I know, actually said that The Goblin Lantern was one of the best stories she had ever read and couldn’t wait to share it with her kids. Um. Wow.

Taking the suggestions of both Melanie as well as my beta readers into consideration, I made some edits and sent both stories off to Jenna. Somewhat nervously, I might add. It had been a while since I had put any of my work out there for the world to see and I was less than confident in my abilities as a writer, despite Melanie’s constant support and encouragement or the positive feedback I had gotten from my beta readers.

Jenna loved both stories. A couple of things that stand out to me from those email conversations are comments like: “I’d mention editing issues if I hadn’t been so mesmerized by the damn thing that I couldn’t even be bothered to get up and get a drink.” And the sentence that I read over and over: “I can’t try to encourage you to continue [to write] enough. Do it, John. DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!”

So I did. And over the course of the year, I ended up writing 7 short stories (counting the Goblin Lantern, which was started in 2013, but finished and edited in 2014), 6 flash fiction stories for a contest, and the better part of a novel for National Novel Writing Month (I did hit the 50,000 word goal, but that wasn’t the end of the story—I’m still working on it and I’m up to nearly 60,000 words). In total, my year’s work adds up to nearly 120,000 words.

I really impress myself sometimes.

Two of those stories were published in the Ladies and Gentlemen of Fantasy anthology and another has been accepted and will be published soon in a horror antho (more word on that when I have the details). Two stories were declined and I have one out for submission right now which I’m waiting to hear back on. One is in the editing process and will go out before the end of January, along with a story that I’ll be resubmitting to another publisher once I have a chance to go over it again. On top of that, I’m getting ready to start a short story for a heroes and villains anthology with a submission deadline of January 15th. So obviously, my pace isn’t looking to slow down much going into 2015.

We also put a ton of work into the house this year, redoing all the flower beds, putting in a pallet garden, painting the shed, rebuilding the back patio and front walks, adding a pergola to the back patio, and putting in an above-ground pool (which was WAY harder than it should have been). Let’s just say that next year, I’m looking forward to actually being able to enjoy the results of all that hard work, although I think we’re in a pretty good place where the house and yard will basically only need to be maintained and we won’t have to kill ourselves over them this year.

Finally, on top of everything else, I decided that 3-1/2 years of Melanie putting up with me was probably a pretty good indicator that she wasn’t going to kick my sorry ass to the curb anytime soon. So we started talking about taking the next step. And then on Christmas Day, she officially became my fiancée. And, honestly, it’s not as scary as it once was. Not because of her, but because, you know, baggage. Things didn’t exactly end well between my ex-wife and myself, so I had more than a few hangups about the whole marriage thing and was pretty sure for a while that I didn’t want that anymore. I’m not sure what changed, but something did, and I think I’m ready to give it another go.

The ring!
The ring!

So that was basically my 2014. Next year, I think it’s going to be a year of maintenance; maintain the house and yard, maintain my writing pace, maintain my current healthy relationships while hopefully still building other new and healthy ones. I also plan to finish my novel in the next month or so. And my goal is to get no fewer than 4 short stories published this year, which I definitely think is doable.

I hope everyone reading this has had a wonderful 2014 and that you have an even better and more prosperous 2015.

Happy New Year!

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Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Well, NaNoWriMo is coming to a close for 2014. This was my first year actually officially participating, and as an amateur trying to get his name and work out there, especially as someone who has never written a complete novel before, I had a lot of hesitations going into it: Would I actually be able to write every single day when it wasn’t my habit? Would I be able to hit the 1667 daily word goal every day on average? What if I got busy and didn’t have time to write? What if I got stuck and couldn’t figure out where to take the story next? What if I fell behind and couldn’t get caught up?

Do you see all those “would I’s” and “what if’s”? These are the same things that have prevented me from really devoting myself to my writing in the past. I’m a perfectionist by nature, so if I don’t think I can do a thing right the first time, then I won’t even attempt it. If I don’t have everything in place before beginning, then I’ll never start. Which is starkly at odds with my seat-of-my-pants approach to writing. Any wonder why I’ve never finished a piece longer than about 12,000 words?

But in the end, I did write every single day. I made the time, no matter how busy I was. I lost a lot of sleep over the last month, but it was worth it. I didn’t blog as much as I had originally intended, but hitting those 1667 words every day was my priority, and sometimes I was up writing until well past midnight or 1 a.m., despite having to work the next day most days.

On average, I did hit my daily word goal; some days it was harder, but some days I blew it away. I was never more than a few hundred words behind, nothing that couldn’t be caught up by devoting a little extra time over the next writing session or two. In fact, the last several days of the challenge, I was a full day ahead of where I needed to be, and that felt good. I did get stuck a few times, but I wrote something, anything, and eventually I found that by listening to my characters and trusting them (and myself), I was able to push past it every time.

I hit 50,000 words sometime around 1:00 a.m. on November 30th after about a 3 hour writing session. I was determined to hit it that night. I closed out the chapter I was working on with a total of about 50,500 words. Today, I didn’t add any new content to that, although Melanie went through the last week and a half’s worth of work and suggested some edits. After everything is said and done, I’m sitting at nearly 51,000 words. And I’m ecstatic.

GOOOAAALLL!!!
GOOOAAALLL!!!

I worked my tail off this last month and made it a point to write every single day for the 30 days straight (and yes, I count going through edits as writing). I wrote even when I didn’t feel like it, even when I didn’t know what was coming next in the story, even when things in my life felt out of control, even when I had to help take care of my mother because of complications with her cancer, even when I hadn’t slept, even when I was depressed, even when I had other obligations, even when I had other demands on my time, even though it meant sacrificing other things that I love doing and giving up time with Melanie.

It’s the longest story I’ve written to date (and it’s not even finished yet) and it’s the most I’ve ever written at one time, at least as much as I’ve written in the last year combined, and I know for a fact it’s more than I’d written in the previous 5 years.

I don’t say it to brag. I say it because for me, it’s a huge personal accomplishment. NaNoWriMo has forced me to face some of my fears and anxieties about writing and helped me break through some of the barriers that have been holding me back for years. I never allowed myself the time to question what I was doing or why. I dove in and just did it. I let the characters tell me their stories and I trusted them and the process both. And, like I said, it’s not even finished yet. I estimate that by the time it’s all said and done, it’ll be somewhere around 75,000 to 80,000 words total (although there’s a definite possibility I might be underestimating). But in the meantime, I’m ecstatic that I was able to accomplish something that I never really believed I’d be able to do. And for the first time, I actually feel confident that I’ll be able to see a project like this through to the end, even though I foresee it being multiple volumes. And best of all, I have the first 51,000 words of what I think is a great start to a story that I’ll be proud to pass on to my children and hopefully others as well.