Life Happens

They say consistency is key. That you need to set a schedule and keep to it if you’re ever going to reach your goals.

But.

Remember how I’m always talking about being kind to yourself? Understanding and respecting your own limits? Plus. Beating yourself up for failing to meet every goal perfectly is a great way to destroy your emotional health.

I almost posted something about picking point of view characters and carried on like a normal week. But? It’s not.

Since Friday, my dad got his first book deal, had a birthday, and failed a stress test. His outpatient procedure on Tuesday turned into a “you’re staying here and having a triple bypass on Thursday morning.” Other than the obvious, he’s in great shape, good spirits, and has a 99% chance of a perfect outcome.

This clearly was not on the schedule for this week.

On the other hand, my twin sister’s second daughter is due Friday and, along with her husband, I’m her support person. I’ve been quarantining since two weeks before the due date.

So. That’s where I’m at. I’m acknowledging my coping limits and probably gonna go hide my head in a book — in between watching my phone for notifications.

When life happens, sometimes, all you can do is acknowledge it and ride it out.


Have you had life interrupt your plans? Feel free to share your experiences for better or worse.

If You’re Not Making Progress, Change Direction

There was an inauguration yesterday. The United States of America swore in a new president.

But. This is a writing blog, so let’s talk about writing.

I may have complained some about how my space fantasy story that I started during NaNoWriMo went off the rails and I wasn’t sure where it was going. I might have been getting words in, but I have been struggling to advance the plot.

This weekend, I took a drive, thought about my story, and realized the problem.

When a story is fighting you, the problem just might be that you’re going the wrong direction. Sometimes, you’re writing the wrong story.

Types of Stories

We’re all familiar with the different types of stories, even if we don’t have the lists memorized. While different people split them up differently, let’s go with this subset of six categories of stories.

  1. “Human versus human” – Someone is standing in your way, blocking you from achieving your goals.
  2. “Human versus nature” – A survival tale.
  3. “Human versus machine” – Technology, at whatever level, might be your undoing.
  4. “Human versus fate” – Can you fight the gods and/or destiny?
  5. “Human versus society” – Where you’re fighting ‘the man’, the system, the government, the corporation…
  6. “Human versus self” – When you really are your own worst enemy

What Was Wrong In Morgan’s Story

For me, I typically write “human versus society”, where the problem is social expectations, or a corrupt government, that sort of thing. That’s my – for lack of a better term – comfort zone.

Which is a bit silly, because in my personal life, I’m the sort that is comfortable being a cog in the wheel. I can rationalize a lot, and I typically go along with authority unless I have a clear reason to fight back. Which doesn’t happen often.

With my space fantasy, I was trying to base the story structure on classic fairy tales… while still having the enemy be a nebulous corporation — or at least a debt to them.

But fairytales thrive on conflict. Well, all stories do. But fairytales thrive specifically on interpersonal conflict.

I was driving down that tree-lined highway in the mountains, thinking about my story and how to get it from where it was to the ending I needed, when the solution dawned on me.

I need an enemy, one close at hand, with motivations and reasons all their own. And I knew exactly who it was, who I’d been trying to reform since the very beginning. That was my mistake.

Not all antagonists can be swayed to the side of the main character. Some are just in it for themselves.

I’ve attended panels on writing villains before, but I’ve never written one. Let’s see how this turns out.


Have you ever been writing the wrong story?

Have you ever read a story that you thought was going to be one type, but ended up being another? Did you like the shift?

Morgan’s 2021 Resolutions

Now that we’re firmly into January, it’s time to determine what my goals for the year are.

Last year was intended to be a year of querying/submitting, revision, and networking.

Thusly, I listed my goals:

  1. Revising
  2. Querying and submitting
  3. Blogging/Vlogging
  4. Reading
  5. Writing
  6. Beta-reading
  7. Conventions

As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?

This year? This year my focus is on writing, revisions, and querying/submitting.

As always, I like to set SMART goals –

  • Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
  • Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
  • Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
  • Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
  • Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2021, but some items may have specific dates associated.

So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.

Morgan, a long-haired brunette, is laying on a carpet, legs in slippers kicked up behind her, writing in a notebook.

Behind her is a table and a bookshelf.

1. Writing

Finish my NaNoWriMo space fantasy! Preferably by April. At least the rough draft.

I’m not sure if I want to do OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. I skipped it last year. But, I really like participating in NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.

2. Revising

I managed last year’s goals to finish my revisions before Balticon! And then was query-shy in the wake of the 2020 querying climate. And I managed to at least edit my middle grade fantasy.

Remembering, of course, that rewriting IS writing, this makes revision half of my writing goals. But? The final goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.

So much to polish!

This year’s goals? Revise three of the short stories I drafted during my NaNo-Of-Shorts back in 2019.


3. Querying & Submitting

I’ve talked a lot about the differences between querying and submitting, but basically — one is to get an agent to sell your book, and one is to publishers to buy your stories. Typically, writers submit their own short stories, but publishers usually want agents to submit full length manuscripts.

Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.

Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.

This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to actively submit at least 6 short stories to at least 3 markets each markets. Plus? At least the first round of the submissions needs to be by March (for the stories that are already prepped). And query my YA fantasy 3 times a month, unless revising.


4. Blogging/Vlogging/Podcast

You are my supporters, my community, my friends. You cheer me on and watch me learn and grow. As always, blogging helps keep me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.

Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. Since we all know how much I hate ending a streak, I’m going to keep at it. You’ll be seeing my a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.

I’ve also started a podcast and weekly live-stream. I plan on taking a week or so off between seasons, and no more than one live-stream off a quarter (unless double-booked with a convention).

Morgan taking a selfie while sitting near the front of a room full of chairs. (She's at a writing panel at a convention)

5. Conventions | Writer Groups

My goals here are: to panel at 3+ conventions, attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Staff Balticon and maybe another virtual con..

Ravencon pushed out my panelists dates from last year to this, I’m staff and panelist for Balticon again (May), and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in Washington DC. My panels were well received last year, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be accepted back. (All of my panels were topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, where my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).

Plus, I’m running social media for Balticon’s parent group. So… there’s another time suck!

What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?

First, it’s a greater reach for my blog/vlog/podcast that’s supposed to lead to a larger audience when I do get published. It’s a great way to network and meet more writers and readers who like the same stuff I do. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.

But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun? Or part of your social media addiction?

Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.

And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!

Quote on a grey board on a brown shelf with books behind it.
“And to think, some of life’s best stories haven’t even begun”

6. Reading

Thanks to this year being what it was, I managed to read 46 books, with 35 of them being physical and nearly all of the physical books being from the pile that moved into the house with me.

So? I’m upping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – to 36 books! Three a month is less than I’ve achieved the last couple years. Plus, half of them should be physical and already on my to-read bookcase.

7. Beta Readers

This year, again, I’m going to try not to beta-read more than 3 full manuscripts for others.

I will need the short stories I’m preparing for publication beta read. As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.

I’m still a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales.


In Summary

This year, I’m starting off with my focus on drafting, not my usual revision, but plan to do a lot of querying and submitting. The middle of my year will be rather convention heavy, but by October/November, I should be back in the writer’s seat. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging and podcasting throughout the year.

Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.

We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2021 foresight.


What does your plan look like for 2021

Did you build in flexibility?

And, how SMART are your goals?


See my previous years resolutions and reflections:
2017 Resolutions | 2017 Retrospective
2018 Resolutions | 2018 Retrospective
2019 Resolutions | 2019 Retrospective

2020 Resolutions | 2020 Retrospective

Morgan’s 2020 Retrospective

Despite “unprecedented times”, 2020 kept me busy. Between my dayjob, my own projects, and helping with conventions, I was, as always, completely overbooked.

Yet again, I may not have ended my year with a signed agent, but I didn’t just sit around. Okay, I literally sat around, but there’s a lot one can do in front of one’s computer these days!

I attended 3-5 writing conventions, wrote 1 short story, finally finished a very long revision, and edited my fourth novel.

Between Balticon, WorldCon, Imaginarium, and couple of Authortube Virtual Retreats, I attended 25 panels, 1 shows, 2 readings, and was ON 11 panels. Not counting all the training sessions and tech orientations I ran for the staff, participants, attendees, and my own local NaNoWriMo group. Outside of cons, I attended 3 different writing groups, participated the #authortube community, and attended my local open mic nights for writers.

This year, I did a lot more interacting in real-time virtual spaces. I love comparing numbers, so let’s look at them.

My Writing Goals Last Year

I made sure to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) goals.

2020 Goals

  1. Revising – Finish the mentor-led YA rewrite. Edit my middle-grade fantasy. Prep some shorts and poetry for submission.
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (70%): Got the YA and MG done and wrote/posted a short on my blog, but didn’t edit anything else new.
  2. Querying & Submitting – Prep 5 short stories for submission, and submit to at least 10 markets — half before July.
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (90%): Submitted 9 stories, 4 before July! But, only had 4 pieces prepped.
  3. Blogging and Vlogging – Don’t lose my posting streak. Maybe add a weekly Authortube check-in.
    • WIN: Kept up with the blog/vlog, and started a podcast. I tried a few zoom checkins, and ended up with a weekly livestream write-in that’s relatively popular. And did Vlogmas!
  4. Reading – Read 26 books (at least 2 a month) with at least 10 of them physical and ALREADY on my bookshelf
    • WIN: Like WHOA win. I read 45 books (4 more than last year) and a mind-boggling 35 of them were physical, with only 2 of those not from my to-read bookcase.
  5. Writing – OctPoWriMo and NaNoWriMo
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (50%): I skipped OctPoWriMo this year. But I did a lot more prep and ‘won’ NaNoWriMo. And drafted a short for Christmas.
  6. Beta Readers – Reach out for my middle-grade novel, don’t commit to more than 3 fulls yourself.
    • WIN: Got feedback from my alpha and 3 beta-readers on the MG. Only beta’d 3 shorts (including chapter 1 of a graphic novel). Working on one longer beta right now.
  7. Conventions/Writing Groups – Hit 6 open mic nights, 4 monthly writer meetings, try a critique group, and attend 3 NaNoWriMo events. Plus, be a panelist at 2 conventions and staff Balticon.
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (110%/70%): 5/6 open mic nights, 3/4 monthly writer meetings (but I hit 4 meetings for a different group!), tried a critique group, 2/3 NaNo events (but with it all being virtual, maybe I get full credit?), and I definitely paneled 5/2 conventions and staffed 4/1 cons.
  8. And give myself a pass if I don’t get anything accomplished in December.
    • What was that whole Vlogmas thing, Morgan? And read 4 more books? And wrote a short story?
    • EXTRA CREDIT!!

Things outside this list I achieved, though?

  • Started a podcast
  • Staffed 3?4? conventions and became a Zoom and Discord trainer/operator.
  • Vlogmas
  • Started a weekly livestream
  • Hit 10k views in one year here on the blog.

Blogging!

Top Lifetime Post

My sleeper hit, 10 Questions To Ask Your Beta Readers, from 2016 is still tops with 2,850 lifetime hits (and is published here). After a year as my number two hit, it has returned to prominence.

My Query Corner — where I rewrite queries with authors preparing to enter the query trenches, and my Author Spotlight — to help promote friends’ works — are sticking around, even if they’re not my most popular posts. I’m not hustling for entries, but will share them when I have content for them. (If you’d like to participate, please contact me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

My Top 10 Blog Posts of 2020!

  1. How One Writer Uses Trello To Track Her Creative Process
  2. They Want What? The Difference Between Blurbs, Queries, and Synopses!
  3. Querying and Agents: Now I’m Confused
  4. Everything You Need To Know About Convention Panels
  5. How to Self-Edit That Lousy First Draft
  6. What’s In A Name? Characters in Fiction
  7. Top 11 Ways NOT To Respond When Getting Feedback
  8. What Cons Are Looking For In Panelists
  9. Choices To Make With Beta-Readers
  10. Black Lives Matter

My Top 5 YouTube Videos! in 2020

Unlike last year, most of this year’s top 5 are actually from this year! Not sure why Youtube likes to push my Mythology post, but I’m not sad.

  1. Querying & Agents: Now I’m Confused
  2. Better Beta-Reading – A Virtual AuthorTube Retreat Panel
  3. Morgan’s Lazy Sunday Afternoon Write-in (Dec 27th edition)
  4. How To Create A New Mythology (old – a perpetual favorite)
  5. Novel, Novella, or Short Story?

My Top 3 Posts of 2019

  1. Morgan’s Complete Guide For Attending A Convention
  2. So You’ve Decided to Write A Novel – 7 Tips To Get Started
  3. Making the Asexual Textual

My Top 3 Posts of 2018

My Top 3 Posts of 2017


My Top 3 Posts of 2016


My Top 3 Posts of 2015


Social Media Stats

While this isn’t really writing related, I know I like to see how other people do it, and I like stats and tracking progress, so, probably more for me than you, here are my numbers for 2020. I tried to be both engaged and engaging, while still invested in upping my content creation in all mediums. As always, some weeks were better than others. Honestly? Some MONTHS were better than others.

Followers

First off, I really dove into the #AuthorTube community on Youtube. Most of the other stuff was automated though, so far less engagement on my part.

Between all my social media accounts, I added 3,068 followers, about in line with 2018, and about half of 2019! This year? My Facebook Author Page grew the most, followed by twitter. Percentage-wise, though, my Youtube channel did the best — and has the most interaction — I no longer feel like I’m shouting into the void there.

Content

This year I maintained my streak of blogging once a week, and almost hit twice a week, plus I kept up with the vlogging and started turning the vlog into a podcast. (My Goodreads stats are books added to my library, the last 3 years are the books I’ve read.) (My FB page wouldn’t give my year stats and stopped letting me scroll in mid-2016, so, those stats are incomplete, but I can compare to the last 3 years.)

As targeted the past two years, I maintained my average of posting on Instagram twice a week. And started posting at twice a week to Pinterest – mostly automated from my blog and youtube channels. Tumblr content is just Instagram and blog reshares, and LinkedIn is just blog reshares.

Account Break Down

  • WordPress – I started this blog in April of 2015.
    • This was my best year yet on the blog! For the first time ever, I hit 10,000 views in under a year! I grew at a steady pace.
    • Some of it was consistent content and regular Author Spotlights. But? When I look at my source referrals, this was the year that Google search results were my number one, rather than links from my own social media. While my search results referrals have been steadily growing, the bump 100% corresponds to a link from prowritingaid.com referencing my perennial favorite “10 Questions to Ask Your Beta Readers”. So, yeah, the importance of bigger sites referencing you actually do matter a lot for SEO (search engine optimization).
Activity on the blog
Blog referrals
  •  Twitter MorganHzlwood – I joined in March of 2016.
    • I could be more engaged. But, I think I’m comfortable with my level of engagement. I’ll ramp it up if needed. I’m still just posting and responding to my notifications. It’s a good way to avoid the drama that twitter can be prone to.
  • Youtube – MorganHazelwood I joined in April of 2017
    • I definitely stepped it up this year and my stats show. I got 7,677 views, added 154 followers (for 352 total), and hit 689.7 watch hours. (Yay! They started giving annual stats!)
  •  Tumblr MorganHazelwood – I joined in June of 2016
    • I basically stopped using except for resharing my blog and pinterest.
  •  Instagram MorganHazelwood – I joined in 2015.
    • I continue to attempt to be more intentional in my posts. Making 1 text post for every 2 image posts. (or reversed in OctPoWriMo). And making sure to vary the types of images.
  •   Pinterest MorganHazelwoo – I joined in 2015.
    • I’m sharing my video post weekly, and my blog post but not much else. I should join some group boards? Or something like that. I did make that inspiration-board for my space fantasy NaNoWriMo project, though.
  •  Facebook PagesMorganHazelwoodPage – I joined in 2015.
    • “Writing About Writing” continues to reshare my alt-text added reshared memes — bringing me MASSIVE readership for those posts. Otherwise, though FB still often shows my posts to fewer than 10% of my followers. It’s annoying, but I’m not paying. I’ll just keep reposting on my personal page as well.
  •  Facebook MorganSHazelwood – I joined in 2013.
    • I think most of my growth was from the conventions I worked this summer and facebook suggestions.
  •  Google+Morgan S Hazelwood – I joined in 2013
    • Dead.
  •  GoodReads Morgan Hazelwood – I joined in January 2016
    • I read 46 books this year, beating my target of 2 books a month significantly! Again!
    • I rated all of them, but only reviewed 1. I try to review indie books more, because they don’t have a following.
  • Reddit – Morgan Hazelwood  – I joined in January of 2017.
    • I got 5 karma all year.
    • I had 1 post, and commented on a 6 discussions. If I want to be active here, I need to be more active
  • Discord – morganHazelwood#1975 –
    • I’m on like 5 convention discords, 4 active writing discords, my voice acting group’s discord… Not really tracked here for any good social media use, but it is somewhere I spend in chat rooms. And writing sprints.

In Conclusion

I didn’t do as much as I’d hoped.

Some of that was external. I don’t think anyone expected 2020 to look like it did. When other people are helping with your revisions, you can be limited to their pace and availability. I was wary of the conditions into which I was considering querying.

Some of the issues were the consequences of decisions.

  • I’m still running 3 Facebook PitchWars support groups and administering another SFF writer’s group. Plus, stepping up as part of the #authorTube community. Helping out with Concellation AMAs. That takes time, energy, and spoons.
  • I helped run two conventions and helped staff another 3. I paneled at 3 virtual cons and 2 authortube events.
  • I decided to do my best to keep up with at least 5 different types of social media.
  • I really like 9 hours of sleep a night, even if 7 is more standard.
  • I still have scheduled social time with friends on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Add in my blog post writing and uploading Wednesday nights and con meetings…

I’ve been prioritizing keeping up with my self-imposed schedule over actually writing. I’m still a bit burnt out, but I have goals. Last year’s intentional breaks turned into working conventions — except December. This year, I’m going to take intentional breaks. At least two weeks off of everything TWICE but the blog/vlog/podcast (not including December).

However…

I DID get some writing done, finished revisions on 2 books, grew my vlog, created a podcast, helped make virtual 3 conventions happen in a year unlike no other, staffed 3 others, was on 12 panels outside of my own vlog, and read an average of 3.8 books a month.

I may have fallen short, but… as I quote Les Brown every year: “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”


How well did you do on your goals?

Did quarantine side-track you or free up your time?

What Does a Form Rejection Mean When Querying A Novel?

I’ve queried before.

I’ve queried this story before.

Thirty-six rejections in, this story has been decently queried, but has not blanketed the literary agent world. (Especially since I find myself revising the entire piece every ten rejections or so.)

One of those revisions was based on a revise-and-resubmit, one of those times was based on finding a writing mentor who could help me bring my writing to the next level.

After I finished my latest round of revisions, I queried five agents back in July. The most recent rejection arrived just last week — two months after I’d closed out the agent as “no reply means no thank you.” But, closure is kind.

Why haven’t I queried more? Well, I told myself I was finishing the revisions on my middle-grade story for Pitch Wars. I was prepping for my NaNoWriMo story. And I wanted to see how my new query and first pages worked.

All I’ve gotten is a stack of form rejection letters.

How to handle rejection

  1. Indulge in self-pity — Not forever. Not even for a week (unless you really need it). But? For a night or two? Wallow in it. Let yourself grieve over the hope that has been shattered and eat chocolate or junk food. Complain (privately) to a few trusted friends.
  2. Distraction — Got other projects to work on? Books or shows to binge? Maybe you’re also moving, or helping school your children. There’s always stress-cleaning your house from top to bottom and re-alphabetizing your bookcase (forgetting this sorted-by-color trend). Distraction can help a lot.
  3. Track it — If you can, see every rejection as a step closer to publication. Maybe you’re going for 100 rejections. Maybe you’ve decided if you hit a certain number without getting an agent, you’re going to self-publish. So, update your querytracker.net account, or your spreadsheet, or wherever you’re tracking who you’re querying and from which agency (because some agencies only allow one query for all their agents combined). Some people paper walls with printed out rejection letters, or add a bead to a necklace, or in some way commemorate every rejection on their path.
  4. Assess — What is the problem? Do you have a writer friend you can trust to tell you? Can you glean anything from the rejection? Some tell you something… others, are just polite form rejections.

What can one gleam from form rejections?

A form rejection tells you… nothing. Although, there are a few different things one can think.

  1. The query is badly written and not pulling people in. But… I felt my query letter was solid, if not amazing. Although, it is easier to write someone else’s query, I feel confident in my query writing skills.
  2. The query is well-written, but the story is trite and no one is interested. Maybe. I’m my own target audience, but sometimes, from a higher level, a lot of fantasy quests can feel repetitive.
  3. The first ten pages let the story down, and that’s why no one wants more. It feels weird to say this, but… the last time I read through my story, my first third of my book even impressed ME, and I’m the one who wrote it. Although, the one revise-and-resubmit did suggest more backstory before the inciting incident, and maybe I am starting too quickly, before you care about the characters?
  4. Maybe 2020 was a horrid time to be querying, especially young adult fantasy. Agents were too wary and not picking up much of anything. I mean, it can always be the market, right. My book is on the cusp of YA and adult, should I do a few edits so I can query it in the wider adult fantasy market? Should I just wait a little for people to recover from 2020 and then send out, as people feel more eager for new stories?
  5. Those five agents weren’t right for the story, but the right agent (and publisher) are out there waiting. Possibly! This is what I keep telling myself. Maybe I’ll start querying again in mid-January, waiting a week or so after the agents re-open to not get lost in the flood, probably a Tuesday morning, after the coffee’s kicked in, before the lunch hunger starts to distract them…

Querying is scary. There’s very little solid feedback — thanks to both outlier writers-of-yore-and-today who argued and harassed agents, as well as the massive number of querying writers these days, as technology makes the process more accessible than ever. One has to have faith in one’s writing abilities, confidence that the story can stand on its own, and the perseverance to see it through.

Best of luck to all of you in the query trenches. If you’re self-publishing, I salute your bravery! And? Wish me luck in 2021!