Around the middle of this past week I hit a big round number: just over 50,000 words of new fiction written since January 1. I consider it a good year if I manage to write 100,000 words overall, so getting halfway there before the end of May felt pretty good.
This prompted me to look back at a few other things through the numerical lens. I posted a couple of months ago about selling a story which should be published this summer, and work on that story definitely made up some of the 50K I’ve logged this year. I produced another short piece this year which didn’t require a sale per se, because it was something I volunteered to write for a special memorial tribute volume which should also be out this summer (and which I will post about in more detail when it is released). So far, those two stories are the only ones I know for sure will see print in 2021.
That wouldn’t really be my worst year ever, in terms of additions to my publishing history. I only published two new stories total in 2019, as well, the same number I notched back in 2014. Obviously most years I manage more, with a good calendar seeing eight to ten releases, but to be fair, some of those higher-end years are padded a bit by including reprints and/or stories published through non-paying venues where acceptance is almost a guarantee.
I mention that caveat because I’m hopeful that I will have my first solo collection of short fiction published before the end of this year. Does that count as having eighteen stories published all at once, or no, since most of them are reprints? Three of them are never-before-seen, at least. I know there’s no official judge or scorekeeper I need to contend with, but I get preoccupied over questions like this all the same.
In any case, other than the two stories I’ve placed for 2021, where did the rest of my words go? Some went into a couple of different novels I’m working on, some into various as-yet unfinished short stories, and the rest into three different short stories which are now more or less complete. One thing which I really need to bear down on is revising those three stories (plus another one which I wrote last year). I’ve been in a commendable groove of churning out first drafts over the past several months, going back to about mid-September of 2020. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about owning the label of ‘writer’ it’s that, yes, you need to write as much as you can, as close to every single day as possible. You need to give multiple ideas a chance, and it’s all right to set one project aside to work on another if that’s where your thoughts want to flow. Maybe the new idea will sputter out and you’ll go back to the old one; maybe you’ll complete the new idea fast and then go back to the old one; maybe you’ll never finish either and move on to a third thing instead, but the important thing is to keep the tap open. The worst first draft is better than the best piece that’s all up in your head unwritten, and every other platitude along those lines.
But! If there’s two things I’ve learned, the second one is that you do need to do the follow-up work on all those better-than-nothing drafts eventually. Getting the whole entire first draft down on paper (virtual or otherwise) is an accomplishment but it won’t magically turn into something publishable on its own. Reading it, workshopping it, revising it, polishing it, all of those things require effort, too, and time which sadly eats away at the clock when you’re also trying to find time to crank out more first drafts. Then, once you’ve reworked it into something that can show its face to the world with minimal shame, you have to do more work, researching markets and writing cover letters and sending submissions.
So I’m writing this post mostly to myself, as an encouragement and a reminder. It’s great that I’ve been drafting stories consistently through 2021 so far and I need to keep that up. But I also need to split my attention between getting to 100,000 new words written and also spiffing up the output. I will report on my progress on both of those fronts by year’s end!