Monday, January 11, 2016

Everything New is Old Again. Wait—What?

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Okay, I believe last week I mentioned something about writing a “Happy New Year” piece, discussing 2015, 2016, new resolutions, people wearing party hats and proving they could count backward, all that stuff, but I bailed on it in the eleventh hour and wrote something completely different. There’s a reason for this.
I don’t have any new resolutions.
I have to-do lists. Lots of them. I started making them way back when I realized I was forgetful. I’d write down this sweet little list of things I needed to get done that day, or that week . . . and then forget where I put it. I’d be cleaning my room a week or so later and find that lost list on the corner of my desk—right on top of the lost list from the week before that. Item #1 on both lists was find good place to keep to-do list.
So now, though I still make pen-and-paper lists (that corner of my desk is really getting buried!) I also have a big whiteboard on the wall with a nice, updatable, hard-to-lose list. I have two lists on my computer so I can access them from my chromebook, tablet, or phone: a general to-do list and one titled To-Do: Writing Only. Would you believe that none of these three lists have any of the same stuff on them?
And mounted on the wall above my desk is a poster board with a fourth list, a writing t0-do list for the year. It’s a record of a half-dozen or so writing goals that I’d love to accomplish in 2016, and right there, at the top, in big black letters, it says:
TO-DO: 2015
Waitaminute! 2015? That can’t be right! And it’s not. Not really. Because if you could actually see this list of mine, you’d notice right off the bat that the five in 2015 is set higher than the rest of the numbers, directly above a thick black X drawn through the number four. It’s a list I wrote back during the opening strains of 2014, and there ain’t a thing crossed off. It kills me to admit it, but I’ve had that same list for two whole years and I haven’t made a dent in it.
Most of it is long projects. I’m known (if I’m known at all) for short stories. I’ve had people say to me  “You need to write longer stuff. You need to write a novel.” What these people really mean is that I need to publish a novel. I’ve written a novel. Hell, I’ve written two. And a half. And started another. But are they in any kind of shape to send to a publisher?
Oh, hell no.
My first finished novel is currently in two forms: a comb bound hard copy, so I can occasionally drop it onto my desk from a height of 12—18 inches and listen to the thunk (I find it soothing—thunk, thunk, thunk), and an electronic copy that’s been taken apart and spread out, like a mechanic who’s disassembled an engine, so I can try to see what’s wrong with it. My second rough novel is in better shape than the first, and has been calling to me in my sleep to work on it, as has a novella I also have down on paper. Both of them are pointing to that first disassembled novel with matching looks of fear in their eyes and saying We don’t want to end up like that poor bastard!
Well, they won’t. I look at that unchanging list from 2014, my new to-do list from two years ago, and I get extremely bummed out . . . until I actually look back on 2015.
In 2015 I started working with The Storyside, a small group of people like me, dedicated to writing the best stuff we can. I co-edited a fiction collection The Storyside put out in October, Insanity Tales II: the Sense of Fear, and it’s damned good. The five of us are running a blog over there that’s pretty impressive. I started writing a monthly review column over at Cinema Knife Fight called Monster Movie Madness, where I . . . yeah, well, that one’s pretty self-explanatory. I joined forces with my editing partner from The Storyside to form S&L Editing, and we recently had our first client—who was so happy with the editing we did on his novel he’s already talking about giving us another one. While I was doing all this I managed to get six short stories published, write and have published a 40-page novelette (yes, that’s it up in the sidebar), and write the second half of a 90,000 word story collection that’s due out at the end of February, Echoes of Darkness from Books and Boos Press.
When I look back on all that, do you know what I call 2015?
Practice at being a working writer. Practice at being a working editor—which tends to make you a better writer. I just spent the past couple of weeks going over edits for that collection with my publisher, Books and Boos, and you know what? For the first time I haven’t convinced myself that what I’m putting out there in the public eye is terrible, or that I’m awful at this and that I should just stop wasting my time. I’m my own worst critic—lots of writers are—and I almost never think my work is good enough, or polished enough, or . . . enough enough. I usually manage to persuade myself that people who compliment my writing are just being nice. But for the first time I’m looking at a novel-sized mass of work—it’s thirteen different stories, but they’re all mine—and there’s this little wonder-filled voice in the back of my brain saying Holy shit, this is . . . this is good!
So that’s where things stand: I don't have any resolutions, and my new to-do list is really two years old—but this year I’m looking at it in a different way. I’m a little more experienced, a little more confident, a little more son of a bitch, I think I can do this! I think I’m finally ready to start knocking things off this list—not everything, but I have to start somewhere. I won’t bore you with the whole list, item by item, I will share the last thing on it, right at the bottom of the page. It’s the one thing I know I’ll never finish, even though it’s the one item I’ve been working on since before there even was a list:
Get better and better at writing. If I’m gonna be a word junkie,
and I am, then I want to be the best damn word junkie I can be.
Well, that’s it. Happy New Year. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take this Sharpie and climb up on my rickety, swively office chair and draw a big X and a small 6.
And then I have a lot of work to do.

Talk to you later!

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