Ending 2020

2020 was a year. I went into it with several creative goals, and this blog post will serve as a reflection on what happened during that grueling, exhausting year and how these goals changed.

2020 Goal Recap

At the end of 2019, I said that in 2020, I would:

  • Write at a rate of 700 words per day, unless I write a poem, with an end goal range of 219,800-256,200 words for the entire year.
  • Recommit to setting aside evenings to write without distractions.
  • Draft the story about Deisis.
  • Outline and write half of House of the Naiades.
  • Publish Acts of Speech on June 17.

Managing Expectations

Even before the pandemic started, these goals were derailed. At the beginning of February 2020, I fell ill with the flu, was sick for two weeks, and was barely able to get out of bed for about a week of that — there were some moments when I wondered if I was truly going to be OK. Being sick for so long, and having to deal with the life things that had piled up plus the long tail of fatigue that persisted for a few weeks after, tanked my writing habit. Just when I was starting to get back into a regular schedule, the COVID-19 pandemic closed the entire state, and everything became extremely chaotic overnight.

There was this moment that March, before the mask order started, when my girlfriend and I were heading back to my apartment along one of the mostly-deserted roads leading back into the city. To the left of us was marshland and undeveloped space that led out to the Long Island Sound or some bodies of water connected to it; to the right, the sprawl of businesses. It was a gray day, foggy, and we suddenly saw an Asian grocery store that we had never seen before connected to a takeout place. It was a single-story building made completely of wood paneling, the kind that one sees in rural areas in Upstate NY or Massachusetts and that always seem to be dissolving back into the damp air. There was one car in front of it. We decided to stop there for toilet paper. It felt like something out of a video game — those scripted moments before the action starts. We went in and there was a woman about our age piling instant noodle packets and drinks into a small basket, the owner of the SUV parked outside. The crinkle of the plastic packaging as the packets fell in and the whine of the stores’s refrigerators were the only sounds. The produce selection was minimal, and half of the illuminating lights had gone out. I grabbed some sriracha and four rolls of industrial toilet paper. The other woman paid, left, and came back because she realized she wanted to order something. We went back to the car and sat there for a few minutes, taking in the tension and the strange, out-of-body feeling of everything.

Over the next few months, it was hard to focus. I get anxious easily, my body in need of movement because my mind is a caged bird that needs to stretch its wings. The bad flu had left me keenly aware of my mortality and of all of the commitments that I want to complete before I die — the Seven Papers, a variety of hieropoeia, and so on. I was angry about my difficulty focusing and all of the times I spent pacing, trying to gather my thoughts together like bats scattering in the night, but I persisted. I kept leaving Twitter and going back when I became too lonely and in need of people, and I was angry with myself about that because Twitter is toxic and only superficially like being around other people.

So that was my 2020 mentality. Goal-wise, I did not hit my 700 words per day. I wrote …

  • 88,235 of the book about Deisis, which is now complete minus the in-world corpus material I need to decide how to incorporate before I write it
  • 33 poems — most for Acts of Speech to round out the work, some independent, and five for my speculative theogonies project
  • 4,074 words of a novella I’m writing about myths
  • 7,178 words of a short novella I’m writing about alien nymphs
  • 37,111 words of the book of the Seven Papers I started on after the first book about Deisis was completed

Out of the prose words, that comes out to 136,598, or 373 words/day. It was only about half of my goal, but before I did the calculations, I was pessimistic about how well I had actually performed.

You can see that I published this year in review post on 18 January 2021, and the reason is that I was dreading going over the facts and figures. I am happy about the increase in poetic work — and, I must admit, I have no idea how many words I wrote on my religious blog in 2020, but I blogged a lot.

I decided to sunset working on House of the Naiades for now, but may return to it in a few years.

Finally, Acts of Speech was published on 29 October 2020, several months after I intended to do it. It just wasn’t done, and I had to figure out a lot about self-publishing. The print copy wasn’t ready for a few weeks after the e-copy due to COVID-19 delays in printing.

What about 2021?

Well, I still have lofty goals. Last year taught me a lot about bandwidth and capacity — and also my significant issues resisting Twitter when I feel as alone as the speaker in the Old English poem “The Wanderer”. What I’m bringing from those experiences is a stronger commitment to my family’s group text, connecting with my mom for full moon rituals, participating in a very thought-provoking Zoom thing, and doing video chats with friends and family.

My biggest goal is to get better at prioritizing single-tasking. In years when I have been very good at this, my word count (and overall creative productivity) has been high, and many of my other goals — getting back into meal planning, Zooming my social life, and making my mornings less harried by doing the dishes in the evening — are meant to support that. I want to carve out Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6:30 – 10:00 PM as solid time chunks for creative work, with the rest of my weekday evenings remaining more open.

My word count goal for 2021 is 200,000 words, or 25,000 words per month, in the first nine months of 2021. I want to write 2 poems per week for my speculative poetry book, several religious poems for all of the Gods that are useful in household ritual, and a miscellany of secular poems that I can submit to lit mag and anthology markets. My stretch goal is an additional 25,000 words or so to complete the two short novellas that I’m excited about. Once September rolls around, I will reorganize my schedule to account for how hectic the fall semester is, and I can use the time blocks I’m setting aside to prep two (previously) completed novellas for publication in 2022. If the vaccine distribution is mostly complete by then, I will also be making changes to my schedule to account for increased travel to see family.

In time, nothing is certain, but I hope that these flexible principles will help me get back on track after an exhausting year.

Ending 2019

Number of poems written: ~35, most for Acts of Speech.

This can only ever be approximate because I often write verses that are not properly poems or poems in the margins of documents or planner pages without transferring them anywhere else.

Fiction words written: 119,000

  • Ossia: 117,000 words
  • The Seven Papers, Book 3: 2,000 words

I am so excited to revise Ossia. It’s going to be some beautiful hieropoeia, but for now, the dough must rest.

Project progress

  • Lexember 2019: Finished editing and revising the extant Tveshi lexicon and began adding new words again.
  • KALLISTI: 85 posts, likely 115,000 words once one removes all of the XML chatter from the file export.
  • The Seven Papers: Not much progress because I prioritized finishing Ossia, which may now actually be part of The Seven Papers proper.
  • I re-edited The Forest of Strong Branches and A Matter of Oracles, two novellas.

Time

The Good

  • 106 hours spent in Scrivener
  • 100 hours spent in WordPress
  • 21 hours spent in Typora
  • 18 hours spent in TextMate

The Horrifying

  • 400 hours on social media, 338 of them on Twitter — the majority before the end of July, as I went on hiatus in August

Discussion

I only set actionable goals. It’s readily apparent that, if I can write 119,000 words in Scrivener by spending about a hundred hours there, I can shift a lot of time from social media into writing. After going on hiatus — when the autumn semester started — a lot of my time was spent writing a paper on the 2019 Nobel prizewinners, not creative writing, so I can salvage that time to devote to my writing projects.

Managing my time via RescueTime — and looking at the feedback it gives me — provides a stark, concrete view of something we already know: People spend too much time on social media, and none of us have to be there. I’m closing out the year by reading Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts by Jaron Lanier, and while I disagree with how he’s presenting about 1-3% of his arguments, social media has a chilling effect on important human creativity because it distracts us with hyper-segmentation (my word for “tribalism” because one should not use the word tribalism to describe this — go with hypersegs and hypersegging if you really want something short and sweet) and horrific levels of divisiveness.

Everything, even the good things, eventually becomes miasmic there because the algorithms are designed to push our buttons and to hyperseg us so they can keep our eyeballs on device. Very occasionally, good interactions happen — I love the polytheist and conlang communities, and I love it when people post interesting cultural threads, but those moments of brightness are so overshadowed. I highly recommend reading this book alongside Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and a focused listen to the episodes of Your Undivided Attention and The Happiness Lab.

I only want to spend my time doing things that are healing and important, like writing hieropoeia that blends polytheistic thought and theology with far-future science fiction to tell beautiful and edifying stories, or like writing blog posts on KALLISTI that help people feel less intimidated about difficult things like learning a new style of religious worship or reading philosophy, or writing poetry. When I consume media, I want it to be beautiful things that I can get excited about sharing with other people — things that bring cohesion and a sense of stability that buffers the mind against the horrors humanity has made of the twenty-first century.

Lanier writes:

[Algorithm-driven, hypersegging social media (BUMMER) companies want] you to think that without BUMMER there would be no devices, no Internet, no support groups to help you through hard times, but that is a lie. It is a lie you celebrate and reinforce when you use BUMMER, just as someone who attends a corrupt church is supporting its corruption.

Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, p. 139/185.

And Cal Newport has written:

The techno-philosopher Jaron Lanier convincingly argues that the primacy of anger and outrage online is, in some sense, an unavoidable feature of the medium: In an open marketplace for attention, darker emotions attract more eyeballs than positive and constructive thoughts. For heavy Internet users, repeated interaction with this darkness can become a source of draining negativity — a steep price that many don’t even realize they’re paying to support their compulsive connectivity.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism, p. 8-9/300

The best thing to do is to not use it and to find other places. This is challenging because many of the communities I am in are physically decentralized, but the crux is that one just cannot be online in this way — at least not for very long — if one wants to do mentally exhausting and rewarding creative work. While I won’t delete my account, I’m not going to be there that often, and I am actively looking for alternatives to that awful place.

I’m also closing out the year by reading a Platonic commentary on Plato’s Cratylus. It’s a much happier experience than reading social media backlash polemics.

Writing Goals for 2020

  • Write at a rate of 700 words per day, unless I write a poem — one poem will count for one day of writing. At maximum, since 2020 is a leap year, this will mean 256,200 prose-words. If I write 52 poems, it will be 219,800 prose-words. This is a sustainable, actionable goal, and I can hit it in about 200 Scrivener hours.
    • I will set aside time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays to write. Mondays and Fridays are difficult because I usually do household things on those days, and I will get back into batch cooking on Monday nights and batch cleaning on Friday nights. The max of my goal range is only about 5,000 words/week.
  • Draft the story of Deisis. Deisis is the primary character in Books 3 and 7 of The Seven Papers, and I’ve just about brainstormed how to make these books happen from start to finish.
  • Outline and write half of House of the Naiades. This book is not related to The Seven Papers, but is a modern fantasy ode to growing up in Neopaganism. It’s kind of like Zanoni meets American Gods and From the Dust Returned set to the song “Hotel California.”
  • Publish Acts of Speech on June 17. This is the book of poetry I’ve been working on, and that is my birthday. I have dreaded my birthday since I was quite young (not due to getting older), but maybe if I turn it into a publishing day, those feelings will change or at least become less about my birthday.

I don’t have many publishing goals in 2020. While I will continue to submit poems for publication, I’ve decided that submitting short stories and novellas to the markets is not a productive use of my time. The only story I have gotten published was connected to Earth, and it was published after only a few rejections; I’m just not that interested in writing stories connected to Earth, so I have to make a choice between things I enjoy and things the markets take. House of the Naiades is an exception to this, and it could realistically be attractive to traditional markets.

In 2019, I posted The Waterfall Commune to this blog, which is a good example of the type of fiction I’m interested in writing. In 2020, I may revise and post a few other stories set on Ameisa to Pangrammatikê. In 2020 or 2021, I may self-publish my two novellas. Acts of Speech is a good test run because a poetry chapbook is less complicated and far less expensive to put out there.

So, that’s where I’m at right now. Happy New Year!

2018 in Review

It’s the end of Lexember, the constructed language month that is somewhat between NaNoWriMo and Inktober in its intensity level.

Autumn was busy for me. Academia is always more intense in the fall semester than in the spring — everything is so compressed between mid-August and late December. At work, I was running an event committee. I also wrote two academic articles, one of which has appeared in the publication already.

This autumn, I also took time off to go to my youngest sister’s wedding and visited my mom for a few days. I attended a library conference in Montréal and ate gluten-free croissants. It’s probably no wonder that I felt so tired.

Writing-wise, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much this year. 2018 felt like several years experienced in layers all on top of each other. There have been so many discrete chunks and cycles of time within this year that it feels long and endless even after the fact.

Major things

I sold a sort story to Misfit Stories this summer, and it will be published in the February 2019 issue. I am very excited because I have not sold a short story before.

It’s not an overtly queer story, but it does have some #ownvoices elements in that the main character is from a similar religious background to me, raised in Western Neopaganism. It’s about two women who land on a new planet and have to figure out what happened to the rest of the landing crew.

I decided a few years ago that all of the main characters in my contemporary and near-future work would be from that background because I don’t see us accurately represented in stories.*

I also had a poem published in Illumen and another one published in Kaleidotrope.

Other things that happened

Thing One

I moved into a new apartment, and I have a better writing/reading area.

Thing Two

I wrote a novella about library science in a far-future setting. I guess if I wanted to get jargon-y about it, it’s a New Adult piece about a librarian apprentice adjusting to her first professional job while investigating an act of information vandalism that could harm the delicate postwar politics in her country.

It’s the least dour story I have ever written.

Thing Three

I wrote a lot of #OssiaPodcast and then took a pause from it because I realized that I needed to do a bit more worldbuilding for it to write an effective draft.

That’s one of the reasons Lexember is focusing on the language Eamaru. As many who know what I write may have heard, almost all of my stories are set in a timeline that spans 35,000 years on a set of planets even if the stories are otherwise very disconnected.

I have not world-built the Canyon regions of 20,000 years before the events of the podcast monologue of Epiphany, and I need to develop a bit more of the geopolitics and how the regime there collapsed beyond the fact that a supervolcanic eruption was the main environmental culprit. I also need to figure out which cultural elements survived into the present day and which will be unique to Eamau culture.

Thing Four

I’m plugging away at my epic that draws themes from the stories of Iphigenia in a far-future setting, and I’m near the end of a part of it that I know will have to be significantly overhauled (Book 5, which has a target of 120K for length; I’m currently a few K over) — but at least it’s good to have all of this down on paper.

I can’t create the story I want until I have a draft of all 1.3 million words or so, and I anticipate that only 20-30% of the words will be the same as the words in the final version. Also, the continuity edits will be a monster.

Word Count

I saved this for last because word count is not an accurate reflection of how much time and effort I spend writing. I can say that after I subscribed to RescueTime premium, it became much easier to pull out the amount of time I was spending on creative writing and librarian article work.

After my account integration, I spent 124 hours in Scrivener writing, 11 hours in Overleaf working on conlangs and worldbuilding, 12 hours in Microsoft Word proofreading/typesetting/&c, and about 2 hours of time in Typora and MWeb reviewing character notes and the like. Total = ~149 hours

Before my account integration, my informal tallies of “Design and Composition”-category time — which includes Scrivener, Word, and the like, only I can’t break out the stats — was somewhere in the ballpark of 205 hours.

The total, of course, is ~354 hours of creative time. This doesn’t include any of the time I spent reading through my writing offline or in my ereading app to proofread novellas or stories, and it also does not account for the fact that I do most early poetry drafts in longhand.

I wrote 321,000 words this year. This was divided among the various novella, short story, podcast, and novel projects I have.


* Tangent: I hate the new Sabrina, but I grew up Neopagan in the Midwest during the Satanic Panic, so the feelings I have about its centering of Christianity and the potential damage its portrayals can do to Wicca, Neopaganisms, and witchcraft are not trivial. I agree with many of the opinions expressed in this article — I am also very anxious about a new Satanic Panic, probably because of what happened to me during the first one when I was still a child. The writers in Sabrina even named their student reading club “WICCA,” which will eventually distort Google search results for anyone trying to look up non-fandom-related content online. My experiences as a religious minority in Missouri as a kid have contributed to so much of my adult outlook in good and bad ways. In a good way, they taught me to value religious freedom and pluralism and to stand up for my core values. In a bad way, growing up in a religious minority and worshipping many gods worsened the bullying I experienced as a kid, and I am not over what happened to me psychologically. I think that the best way to improve rep and shift the dial towards the positive is to deliberately focus on writing characters from a background similar — but not necessarily identical — to mine.