2017 Year in Review

This has been a crazy year for me, not that you would have known it by reading the blog. I’ve only posted here 9 times this year. I’m not promising that’ll improve in 2018, but I hope so. In this post, I’d like to look at my year, and talk through it. There’s a tl;dr summary at the end.

My first impulse on looking back on the year from an author’s perspective is that this year failed to meet my expectations. But upon reflection, that’s only because I set goals in February I thought were realistic, but weren’t. Let’s look at what I’ve managed to get done, what I want to get done next year, and then I’ll talk about this year.

  • For the year, I’ve written close to 70,000 words. For an author making their living from their words, that’s abject failure. Even for someone publishing steadily but with a day job, that’s not enough output to be sustainable. But it’s almost a two-fold increase over what I wrote in 2016, which itself was double 2015. (Prolific, I am not).  I am mightily heartened by the upward trend in word-count. My goal for 2018 is to break 100,000 words.
  • I completed 1 new short story and 1 new flash piece, and I rewrote 1 flash piece from the ground up. Compared to 2016, where I had eight new stories and one new flash, this is a terrible drop in performance. Of course, 2016 is when I attended Odyssey, and those stories were almost all done there, or as application requirements. My 2016 output was anomalously high. I’m not going to get too down on myself for these 2017 numbers, even though they are far below what I had hoped. I am just going to set a reasonable goal for next year. Given my other goals, I am hoping for at least 2 new short stories, completing a rewrite on one I’ve been dithering with for a year and a half, and 3 new flash pieces I started seeds of this year. I want to say that those are conservative goals, but KNOW THYSELF – for me they are aspirational.
  • If you’re doing the math as you read along, you’ll wonder how 1 short and 1.5 flash combine to be 70k words. And you’d be right to scratch your head. The rest of my output for 2017 has been the first draft of my novel. I’m just shy of 60,000 words in. I know, for some people, that’s just November. But for me, it’s more than I’ve written any single year so far. My 2018 goal is to finish the first draft. Ideally, I want the final version to be between 90-110k words. Given how wordy my first drafts are, I’ll likely hit 140-150k for the first draft, before I hack and whittle away at it all. This is going to be my white whale for 2018.
  • I submitted two stories a total of three times. This is what separates the hobbyists from actual working authors. Submissions. 3 submissions in a year is hobbyist level. I need to increase this drastically. However, you have to have ready stories in order to submit. I have first drafts of amost a dozen shorts, but none of those are in any condition to publish.  A few of those stories I really adore, and I want to share them with the world.  I don’t want to coddle and massage them forever. But I know they are not ready to fly. This isn’t me being down on my writing. This is me looking at the drafts I have had critiqued, seeing the issues I have with them and the issues others have with them, and recognizing that the stories need varying levels of editing before an editor will be likely to purchase them. I haven’t done the work they require, and that is keeping me from selling them. My 2018 goal here is to do the work on at least 1 of those stories specifically, and make at least 10 submissions overall.
  • I saw my first (and to date, only) professional publication. True, Super Action Excite Team Go! sold in 2016, but it was unleashed upon the world in 2017. I make no publication goals for 2018. Publication and sales depend on external forces, such as editors buying what I wrote. I can’t control that.
  • I participated in my first con as a panelist. LunaCon, in Tarrytown NY. I did 9 panels. It was scary and intimidating, and I had MAJOR imposter syndrome. But I got to sit next to Ben Bova on one panel, and chat with him in a small group on another. That man is a god damned treasure, and he flipped my switch from nervous to at ease with a few well-timed, kind words during my first panel, and the rest of the weekend was easy and relaxed as a result. I also performed my 2nd live reading while at LunaCon, and that was wonderful too. (Many thanks to BSFW for making that happen!)
  • The blog has been sparse and empty. I’ve tried blogging personally before – livejournal and all that – and I’ve never managed to maintain a steady rate of posting. This is a different animal. As a professional mouthpiece, I don’t want this blog to be silent, and yet I also don’t want to flood people’s inboxes and feeds with pointless drivel. I’ve been using it almost exclusively for professional updates. But when there’s no professional news to impart, that leaves silence. As a result, I am planning to start a monthly series. I alluded to this in a previous post without details. Details are still forthcoming as I decide on the format. I am dithering between 2 options – a analytic look at the biology in sci-fi and fantasy movies and TV, like REEL PHYSICS but for biology, or a monthly peek at the biggest news and breakthroughs in biology and medicine and how those relate to concepts in fiction, past present and future.   There’s nothing saying I can’t do both, but experience tells me I’ll wind up doing neither. But I think there’s an audience for both, and I’d like to speak to them.

So what happened in terms of productivity? I know my output isn’t up to snuff for a professional, but it’s leaps and bounds above my normal output. Why am I down on myself? First, it’s a question of expectations. In February, I set myself what should be a reasonable goal: Write 400 words a day, every day, on my novel. If I kept pace with that goal, then by Christmas last week I would have had over 130,000 words on the novel – very possibly a completed first draft.

Of those ~330 days I expected myself to write, I actually wrote on only 72 of them. 25 of those days, I didn’t even make my 400 words.   That’s 2 1/2 months out of 11. And that’s why my first draft is sitting at around 57,000, instead of 130. That’s why I’m disappointed with my progress. I’ve kept a daily log of writing progress (because if there’s 2 things I love, it’s spreadsheets and to punish myself). As you can see below, there’s the nice diagonal line that indicates how many word I’d have if I stuck to my plan, and the scraggly intermittent staircase of how many words I got around to:

NovelProgress.png

The next question is, why? 400 words a day is an easy goal. Why did I miss it? Short answer: life.

Longer answer: About 1 week after I made that goal, the wife and I finally pulled the trigger on our long-gestating decision to change school districts for the kidlets. And we realized a) how quickly we would need to get our house on the market, and b) how much work we needed to do to get it in salable condition. The next 2 months were a nonstop 80’s fix-it montage of repairs, renovations, repainting, and removing shit. Then, we took a good hard look at our finances and housing prices in the new school district, and realized that my stay-at-home dad/author lifestyle was fine in the house we were in, but wouldn’t cut the mustard in the new district. So I had to get a day job.

When I left science, part and parcel of that decision was a conversation between Di and I about how long we would let me try before pulling the plug. We decided on a three-year time limit. If I didn’t show any real promise of a future as a successful author, I would need to rejoin the workforce of the gainfully employed. (Not that that would mean the end of my writing, just that I would need to have a steady job as well.) Well, between 2 sales, attending Odyssey, the contacts I made, and the personal rejection letters I was getting from publishers, things were looking good on the “making legitimate progress” front. But finances are finances, and in the end our desire for the best possible education for the kidlets was more important to us than my ability to stay in pajamas all day and write from my basement office. It was a no-brainer.

So, looking back at that chart, the initial flat line of progress corresponds to the period of emptying and renovating the old house, finding and buying the new house, moving and unpacking. Also of getting situated in the new day job. Then, the first real incline of progress is the summer months, when I’d gotten into a groove both at work and at home. There’s another flat area around late August through mid-September, where we went of a family vacation for eclipse viewing and had a few bumps in the road getting kidlets adjusted to new schools, new people, and the vagaries of middle school. Then through the Fall I had a nice little time of writing, until the Holidays once again derailed me, and some family illnesses (all minor, if time consuming). When I put it in that context, then I am much more sanguine about where I stand.

But I still plan to do better.

tl;dr version

2017 Accomplishments:

  • ~70k words: 1 short story, 1 new flash, 1 fixed flash, 1 partial novel
  • First pro-publication
  • First time as a con-panelist
  • Infrequent blogger
  • 3 submissions

2018 Aspirations:

  • 100k words
  • 2 new shorts
  • 3 new flash
  • 10 submissions
  • At least one completed stalled revision
  • Complete novel first draft
  • Start a regular blog series

That’s a lot to do.  I’d best get started.

Here I Go…

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About Matthew Shean

Matthew Shean is the author of several forthcoming novels and myriad short stories. He received his Ph.D. from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York, NY, and spent 20 years as a research scientist throughout the northeastern United States. He now lives in Long Island (against his will), with his loving family and disdainful cats.
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