Business Musings: The First (?) 2017 Process Blog
Note: If you want to see January 5th’s blog early, please head here. The blog concerns the All Romance debacle.
I am having a very strange day, and it has inspired me to write a process blog. What’s a process blog? It’s essentially a think-aloud blog, as I figure things out for myself.
I am writing this blog on Wednesday, December 28, the day after Carrie Fisher died. (The day, it turns out, that Debbie Reynolds died. Good heavens.) I’ve been asked to comment on Fisher’s death by a handful of outlets, mostly by email, and I have. Plus I bombarded my Twitter feed with my opinions and sadnesses and general anger at the entire long sad year.
The number of celebrities we’ve lost is staggering, and I don’t mean people who are famous for being famous. I mean people who are famous for actually doing something, like John Glenn. Or Carrie Fisher who, in addition to playing Princess Leia (and General Organa), was a mental health advocate, script doctor, and a heck of a novelist.
We haven’t just lost famous people. Many of us have lost friends and family. I can’t count the number of people I personally know who died this year. Or rather, I refuse to count that, because the number will probably depress me further.
Yeah, I used the word depress. Several external events have brought me down toward year’s end, and I am quite aware of that. This, while the career is going well, and I’m getting a handle on some personal things, and the business(es) are growing. I had planned—note the word “planned”—to spend this last week of the year getting geared up for 2017.
The gearing didn’t happen Monday, nor did it happen Tuesday, although Tuesday, I started a different version of this blog. Because of the way today was setting up, I made some realizations, which only got compounded as the day progressed.
Yesterday, a Spanish-language TV station contacted me to talk—they said—about Carrie Fisher’s death. On camera, via Skype. Yeah, me, the woman who described herself thusly last week:
The radio people (on TV) look like someone just released them from a three-day camping trip that no one wanted to go on. Their eyes are wild, their hands go every which way, and their clothes aren’t ready for prime time.
Welcome to Kris trying to do a video about Kris.
Yeah, that woman went on TV this morning when she’s normally asleep, taking part in an interview, with translations—about Princess Leia, not Carrie Fisher (which I was ready for). It’s okay: I was in a parade of Star Wars book writers (the person who spoke before me was Troy Denning—Yay, Beloit College alums! [me, I’m a one-year alum]), and I’m sure I got lost in the noise.
Not that it matters. Because the interview itself answered my question: I’d been contacted because I wrote a Star Wars book back in the day.
Fast forward 1.5 hours and I’m doing a radio interview on my entire career, which always freaks me out a bit, ending with a ten-minute focus on Women of Futures Past, the book I edited about women in science fiction. Great interview, lots of fun—and I am so comfortable with radio. I don’t look like a dorkezoid—well, I do but no one sees me. They just hear me, which I’m much more comfortable with.
Tonight, after this blog goes live, I’ll be talking to Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn for her podcast. If you don’t listen to the Creative Penn, you really should. I’m constantly learning stuff, and I’m frankly in awe of Joanna’s energy and ability to get so much done.
We’ll be mostly talking about this blog and the changes in the publishing side.
In between the noon interview and the midnight interview, I did some personal business, proofed a romance short story for the new romance magazine (edited by Denise Little) called Heart’s Kiss, writing this blog, planning (hoping) to write another, going to at least one business meeting, and somehow squeezing in lunch and dinner and 11,000 steps. The meeting is on planning 2017 for the business(es). And I’m not ready for that meeting because I missed most of yesterday and Monday.
And because, I realized, I’m too scattered. In a variety of ways.
In October, I wrote a blog post called “Define Yourself.” In it, I discussed figuring out what your business is. You need to define your business in order to make it work for you.
I called myself a writer hyphenate (to use a 1990s term). Writer-editor, writer-publisher, writer-promoter, but I stressed, writer first.
And that remains the same. Only I didn’t take that particular post far enough.
I know who I am as a business person. I know what the priorities are in my various businesses.
But I was staring down the barrel of 2017, trying to figure out my writing projects. And I realized on Tuesday that the reason I couldn’t just dive in on Monday was because I hadn’t…oh, crap…defined myself.
I had defined myself in general. That’s easy. I’m a writer first, and to me, that means all the writerly things I do and have done from the old Star Wars book to new fiction I’m writing (from the romance short to the Diving universe to the historical mystery I just finished for the next Lawrence Block antho) to this blog and all the nonfiction.
But I somehow did not handle the specifics of being a writer very well in 2016.
Somewhere in 2016, I started trudging along, going with the deadlines because I had lost track of what I wanted to do with the writing.
Every year, I usually have a plan mapped out. I had one for 2016: it got nuked in early February because of some personal stuff. I never rebuilt.
Which leads me to 2017, a year I had given very little thought to. I find myself wanting to finish what I started in 2016, but not as part of a plan. Just because I’m a completest. There wasn’t any more desire to finish than that.
The problem with being in this mental space—this trudging-along space—is that I drown in all the possible projects. I have hundreds of projects I want to do right now, and no time to do them. I actually wrote an email today to an editor I’m working with, telling her what I want for 2017 is 25-hour-long days. After I sent the email, I realized I wasn’t kidding.
That feeling that I need 25-hour-long days comes from being disorganized and reactive. I’m not choosing my projects: I’m letting other people choose them for me. And when I didn’t have any advice from others, I poke away at projects leftover from last year.
Not at all ideal. In fact, bad for my writing process. Bad for me.
I need to outline 2017, generally speaking. I need to define it.
In 2014, I knew most of my focus would be on finishing the Anniversary Day Saga of the Retrieval Artist universe. The saga went slower than I wanted (everything I do is slower than I want), but I got it done. The saga went live in 2015, and as that year dawned, I realized I did not want to write much sf because—well, I had just finished 6 sf novels. So I wrote other things, including a huge Kris Nelscott novel called A Gym of Her Own. That novel isn’t out yet—WMG plans to do major publicity—but you can read a prequel to it in the current Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
You could probably call 2015 the year of the woman because I also edited Women of Futures Past that year as well.
I took a short story break, started some other projects and decided to work on Diving. As usual, that project took more time than expected and is still not done, even though I published one book in it (The Falls) and another will hit print in Asimov’s in May/June before WMG publishes it.
I lost the thread of the Diving story somewhere in the summer, and never did return to it.
And now, as I stare down 2017, I realize I need to figure out what I want. As I wrote this, I scanned the dates of Gym and realized I had dropped other plans with some books related to that as well. So I opened my 2016 file, the one I wrote at the beginning of the year, and realized the only thing I had achieved that I planned to do in 2016 was revising the contracts book. And I missed my internal deadline on that, because I had wanted it for May, and I finished it for October.
I hadn’t really defined 2016 either. This trudging-along thing started longer ago than I thought.
Hmmm. Time to rectify it.
What I will be doing in the next two days is figuring out what I want to write in 2017. Not what other people want. Not what I need to write. What will make me and my muse happy.
As I said, I am a completest. So to make me and my muse happy, I do need to finish the Diving story that I’m telling myself (in The Falls and the upcoming Runabout, which is a standalone beginning of something). I need to finish another novel/project that I’m working on. And then I need to choose between some really big projects that I’ve wanted to do for a while.
The key is figuring out what I have the energy for. Lots of research? Very dark serious stuff? Something funny or whimsical? I’m not sure.
I haven’t looked out far enough to figure any of that out, and I need to.
In defining 2017, I will be defining what kind of writing life I will be living for the next twelve months. Of course, it won’t entirely work that way. It’ll probably dissolve into something else in August or so (that’s the pattern), but it’ll give me a good start.
Combine what I determine for my writing with my editing year, and I have a tone for the year. I’m editing two different Fiction River projects, one a Grayson, the other a Fiction River special, and overseeing some of the other Fiction Rivers. We’ll be doing a Kickstarter or two on some reprint anthologies I’ve wanted to do for quite a while now.
My editing year is looking eclectic and fun.
I’ll weave in some leisure reading (already lined up), some research (which is tumbling off my desk), and subtract a lot of news reading. Keeping up with current affairs took a lot of time last year. I will spend about half of that in 2017, simply because I can’t afford to be as obsessive (time wise) as I was in 2016.
So, my process: figuring out what will make me and the muse happy. More hours of writing, more hours of reading, more hours of editing. I am getting the sense I want 2017 to be a contemplative year. As I write this, I have no trips planned (not that travel is easy for me any more) and very few scheduled disruptions (like visitors or big birthday celebrations). A quiet year might just be possible.
I don’t always like quiet years. But I’ve had so many active years of late, that a quiet year sounds just plain lovely.
I think I’ll write the occasional process blog in 2017, partly to keep myself on track. As it stands now, I plan to increase my output—not by writing faster or setting higher word count goals, but by applying more butt-to-chair time. I spent the last month finding the time leaks in my schedule, figuring out where, exactly I can gain more writing time without losing other valuable parts of my life (family hours, relaxation, exercise).
By cutting back on some of my obsessive newsgathering (old reporter habit) and changing a time-wasting part of my daily routine, I found two extra writing hours per day. Will it equal two extra writing hours per day in practice? Probably more like 1.5 hours, given the way my life works. But that’s a hefty, hefty increase in time spent writing, enough to make a large difference in my output in 2017.
Note that I’m not promising to finish more projects or do some crazy number of words per week. What I’m actually doing is giving myself more opportunity to write. I have learned that’s the most effective way to keep pressure off myself and still write more.
Writing more doesn’t mean more words. It means getting to the stories I’m dying to tell, and stories I don’t realize that I’m dying to tell. And that has me excited about the coming year.
With all of that, you’ve seen a general overview of my process. I figure out what I wanted to do, what I did, what I hope to do, and most importantly, how I hope to achieve that in 2017.
How does all of this analysis fit with the kind of day I’ve had? Because these three interviews brought home how eclectic my writing career is. In some ways, I am running a dozen different parallel careers, all of which I value. I can’t nurture a dozen careers in one year. Something has to take a focus. But with some patience and an understanding that I can define a year with the idea of doing something very different the following year, I manage to keep that drowning feeling at bay.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a year where I’ve completed all of my goals. I’m not sure I want to have that year, anyway. An acquaintance of mine died in 2016 after declaring to his wife that he had achieved all of his goals for that year (and maybe for his life). The next morning, he was gone, having slipped away in his sleep.
I’m a little terrified of the idea of making that statement (always have been). So I think I’m going to overcommit—at least on my personal don’t-tell-a-soul goals. I hope to overcommit at the beginning of every year until I’m at least 100—maybe 110.
That’s a lot more writing ahead, more than I want to think about.
Right now, I want to focus on getting 2017 planned. And then I want to focus on figuring out how to implement those plans.
And that’s a good enough start for me. In fact, that’s a better start than I would have expected, this late in the longest Wednesday on record, December 28, 2016. I still have a few hours to go before my final interview of the night.
So on to uploading this blog, and finishing those 11,000 steps. I’m only halfway there, so I have some walking to do.
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“Business Musings: The First (?) 2017 Process Blog,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by © Can Stock Photo / Oakozhan