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

Novel, Novella or Short Story?

Welcome to Part 11 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup. This is my final post from my notes.

The panel description was as follows: What is the right length for your story idea? How does outlining, submitting, revising, and other aspects of the writing craft change with story length? How do you go about rewriting a story for a drastically different word count? Panelists will discuss various techniques they have used and the pros and cons of each.

The panelists were: Don Sakers (as moderator), Monica Louzon, Karen Osborne, Sarah Pinsker, and Margaret Riley.

The size of a story is often dictated by the scope of the idea that spawned it. While some experienced writers can tell from the shape of the concept how long their story will be, it’s often a case of trial and error and years.

Why Write Short Stories?

Writing short stories is the art of writing less. It lets you have fun and explore new ideas. Novels are a commitment, you have to be sure you’re in it for the long haul.

Typically, your short story is going to follow one major thread or concept, within a short period of time, and with minimal characters. Short stories are very zoomed in.

In short stories, you don’t put in huge bits of backstory, although, as always, you can write it for yourself and cut it.

If you keep getting your short stories rejected — it may be time to follow panelist Monica Louzon’s lead and do some research. Look at the anthologies in your genre that are currently selling, then read until you find something that resonates. Then, reread and study those stories — examine where they start, where they end, and their pacing. Or contemplate how you would change things.

Why Write Novellas?

Novellas can zoom out a little, cover more story, more ground. You can concentrate on 1-2 relationships in a novella.

Novellas can cover two or three plot threads, an additional character or two, and a longer time period than the typical short story. But, their scope isn’t quite enough for a full novel. This doesn’t make them lesser in any way. Readers can tell if you’ve padded out your novel for word count, and cutting a true novella down to a short story robs it of much of its plot and heart.

While some people use novellas to write serials, you have to be sure you won’t want to edit earlier episodes to set up later episodes better. It depends on your level of planning and how you deal with plot holes.

If you do write serials — you’ll need spreadsheets and records for every character.

If you find yourself writing too much about a minor character, they might should be the main character. Try switching them.

Why Write Novels?

Novels are more forgiving for description with far more room for character growth and world-building. Novels can carry complex plots, concepts, and time periods that could barely be touched in a novella or short story.

Although, many writers do try to pace their chapters like a series of connected short stories — this works for many writing styles.

Which Do I Have?

If you’re not sure which you have, you can try outlining your story and plot and see how far you get. Under 10 scenes? You’re looking at a short story. Under 20 scenes? Probably a novella. More than 30? We’re looking at novel territory, if these scenes are more than a paragraph or two.

If you’re against planning though? The only way to find out is to write it.


What do you prefer to write?

Is that the story length you prefer to read?

Have you ever been wrong about a story length and had to fix it?

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Choosing Your Perspective

Welcome to Part 10 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

The panel description was as follows: What options does a writer have in choosing the point of view for their narrative? What kinds of stories are best suited by first-, third-, and even second-person narration? What are some ways that you can combine them, and when should you?

The panelists were: Ada Palmer (as moderator), Meriah Crawford, Jo Walton, and L. Marie Wood.

All stories have a voice and a point-of-view — or POV.

Voice

Voice sets the tone and the attitude, often alluding to a certain social class, a time period, and location.

While describing a room or a fight scene, some writers are lyrical and highly descriptive, while others are short and terse. In this bit of the narration, that’s neither character thoughts, nor dialogue, the level of voice can vary tremendously. Some are neutral, but descriptive, some are judgemental, and some are mocking. Descriptors and creative analogies can go a long way toward creating completely different tones.

Point of View

For the point-of-view, you can have first person — “I ate the cookies”, second-person — “you ate the cookies”, or third person — “She ate the cookies.”

The point-of-view character is who the story’s narrative is following. Plenty of writers switch between characters. It is up to the writer to decide how far into the character’s thoughts they wish to delve.

First Person

First person point of view is intimate, but that doesn’t require the writer to delve into the characters minds, they can choose to simply share the character’s actions and sensory inputs. It’s often used in YA, memoirs, literary fiction, and romances.

Second Person

Second person point-of-view is often seen as gimmicky. If the ‘you’ in the story reacts in a way unnatural to you, it can easily throw ‘you’, as the reader, out of the story. Now, news stories and discussions of trauma are often told this way, and it often feels natural to many people when writing reflective pieces.

Plus, of course, you’ll find second person used in those choose your own adventure stories and games.

In a mix of first and second person point of view are stories told to a specific person, “oh, daughter, when I was your age” or “dear reader, you may think… .” The panelists decided we’d call these “addressee second person.”

Third Person

Third person point-of-view has a huge amount of variety and thus is often the default POV. You can be as intimate and as zoomed in as first person, or you can have an omnipotent narrator, who knows all — past, present, and future. If you play video games, it’s the difference from a view right behind the character you’re controlling/following the plot of, and looking at the full map as everything plays out.

Warnings

Cultural norms change. Twist reveals of “he was secretly gay” or “the main character was a woman” aren’t so surprising or novel.

Head-hopping or switching POV characters mid-chapter is challenging to do smoothly.

Ways To Use Points of View In Your Story

As with switching between point-of-view characters, some writers switch between points-of-view entirely, such as using first person with a main character and third person with a secondary character. Often used in thrillers, to hide the identity of the killer. Switching between POVs can also make a section stand out, so if you want to switch tones, that can help. To either make it more intimate, or to back up a little, so the reader can rest and absorb before the plot picks back up again.

While the story is carrying us along, there’s always the choice to create an unreliable narrator in any voice. There’s a huge difference, though, between a character who doesn’t know the truth, and one who is lying to the audience. If you want an unreliable narrator, it’s best to have a good reason.

On the flip side, you can always have the narration, or use a secondary point-of-view character give the readers information that the main point-of-view character doesn’t know.

Some good examples of this are: Haircut by Ring Lardner Jr., Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, or The Strange Case Of Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Now, there are other points-of-view writers have used, typically as an exploration of a concept — first person plural — “We are going to the store”.

Plus, there’s always the use of epistolary text — traditionally, a story told through letters, now used with articles, chat logs, and faux-book excerpts. This faux-documentation is also a great way to add world building and introduce new information, without needing to introduce a new point of view character.

There are a variety of ways one can combine both voice and point-of-view to create a story that resonates.


What is your favorite point-of-view?

Do you like to write something different than what you prefer to read?

Any tips I missed?


Thank you for reading. I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

There is No Finish Line: Momentum for Writers

Welcome to Part 8 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

Experienced writers who have been on the roller coaster for a while know the big secret: you never really “make it.” Just because you’ve sold one book doesn’t mean you’ll sell the next one, and just because you didn’t sell the last one doesn’t mean the next one won’t hit big. Our panel offers tips and strategies for maintaining the will to keep creating.

The titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54 consisted of panelists Joshua Bilmes (as moderator), D.H. Aire, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Edelman, and L. Marie Wood


Of all the panels I hit at Virtual Balticon, this is literally the one I’ve been wrestling with the most. Especially this month, but honestly, everytime I get rejected. I want to look at my work and see what I can do better.

When we talk about momentum for writers, we’re talking about when things are going well, versus productivity grinding to a halt. We’re talking the long term, not the day-to-day grind.

7 Struggles Of Getting Work or Finishing Work

  1. If there’s a deadline, that can be a way to know you’re done
  2. Sometimes you can think you’re done, but your editor sends it back to you
  3. Work often comes in feast or famine — either more than you can handle or crickets
  4. Never give up, never surrender. As long as it’s something you find worth the effort.
    • It took Scott Edelman 44 years to get a piece accepted by Asimov’s, but he kept trying (and getting many of those works published elsewhere).
    • Or, in Joshua Bilmes’s words, “if I saw you trying to get a car unstuck from the ice like that, I’d tell you get get a tow truck.” If you’re stuck on something, maybe it’s time to try something new or get some help.
  5. Decide how much you want to prioritize your writing
    • L. Marie Wood put off starting a family because her career was getting momentum
  6. Rule 1 – never give up your day job. Selling a short story for $25 isn’t gonna pay the bills, (even if you can always resell it when the rights revert.) You need benefits. (At least in the States)
  7. Don’t be a shark in the writing world — online or at conventions. Don’t see people as connections you can use to advance your career — people will always find out if you’re using them. Network — but to make friends. And be willing to help them as much as you ask for help from them.

8 Ways To Keep Your Momentum Up

  1. Allow the first draft to suck
    • Instead of noodling over the first 3 chapters for the rest of your life, accept that the majority of the words are going to be the word “the” anyway.
  2. Have a variety of projects in a variety of stages
    • If writing one story isn’t going well, try a different one — new characters, new settings, new worlds might help
    • If fiction writer brain needs a break, maybe editor brain is good. You can do line edits if you want simple tasks, or revising and re-conceptualizing the whole piece if brainstorming is more where you’re at.
  3. Feed your creativity
    • Read books (in and out of your genre)
    • Watch shows
    • Take a walk and drink in the world around you
  4. If you can’t write what you love, see if you have other stories in you
    • L. Marie Wood writes psychological horror, but it was too close to home when she had kids. Que writer’s block for 9 years. So, she wrote other things – mysteries and gardening and other articles.
  5. When life hits you, it’s okay to pivot
    • For DH Aire, in one year his lease suddenly ended and his father was dying, so he couldn’t write book 5. Instead, he started a novella, so he didn’t have to use as much brain. It ended up at 75k words…
  6. When deadlines won’t move, try to create an outline and get the words out the best you can. Then pray you have time to edit.
  7. Give yourself permission to not be god-like. Stop telling yourself “I’m supposed to write something meaningful. Change the world. Better than anything I’ve ever written before.”  — let it go. It’s a career. You’ll learn from that story how to write a better story. But you need to move on.
    • As Scott Edelman says, he couldn’t have written his favorite story without having written the twenty before it.
  8. The pandemic has been HARD. Be kind to yourself.
    • Joshua Bilmes couldn’t get edits done during March, so he did other stuff. When writing your own work, publishers will often extend a due date, if needed. Just don’t ask this if you don’t have to.

Making It Past Those Make-Or-Break Points

Writing is a tough field. Sharing your dreams and sweat and soul with strangers and hoping for a connection. But, we all have those make-or-break points — often dozens of times — where we have to decide if we’re gonna keep going, or if we’re gonna invest our time on something with maybe a more guaranteed return-on-investment.

For Scott Edelman – He’s still got a dayjob. After writing comics in the 70s, he wanted to write his own stuff and was tired of collaborating. He’ll quit jobs that get in the way of his writing.

For Keith – As a former editor, he saw what worked, what didn’t, and what was overdone. And it gave him connections. But knowing people, while helpful just for pitching, doesn’t mean you can get away with writing things that don’t suck. It can help you know the market and know opportunities coming.

For D.H. Aire, back in ’08/’09, he was unemployed and his marriage was ending. He wondered if he was writing stories good enough to get published. So, he entered one in a little writing.com contest. He won first place and got in an ezine. Then? One of his serialized stories from writing.com got picked up by a small press. Next, he got asked to contribute to an anthology. From writing.com, to the anthology, to the conventions he hits, he’s created his own creative network that encourages him, challenges him, and lets him know where new opportunities arise.

For L. Marie Wood – The convention world is her tribe, but she’s only been back for 2-3 years. During her 9 year drought, she wasn’t here. But? When people would compliment her local paper articles or her students would ask and she could answer everything… Not keeping it to herself helped. Hearing others say that she still had it gave her the confidence to go back to her writing. “You haven’t lost it all, it’s just sleeping”


Writing is one of those things that you can always come back to. Which is part of the attraction and part of the struggle. Only you can decide if the benefits outway the costs.

Making Painful Edits

Welcome to Part 7 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup.

It’s hard to cut out scenes or characters that you love, but your story may be better off without them. How do you learn to recognize when something has to go, and how do you reconnect any threads that run through the parts you’re removing?

These are my notes from the titular panel at Virtual Balticon 54. The panelists were: E.C. Ambrose (as moderator), Kim Hargan, Julayne Hughes, Nick Martell, and the writer guest of honor, Wen Spencer.

Editing can be painful. But it doesn’t just hurt the novice, even experienced, award-winning authors can suffer the pain.

Ways of Handling Painful Edits

Nick Martell once cut 100,000 words. Then, he basically rewrote the manuscript. He hated it at the time, but made it better. He doesn’t regret it for a minute.

Julayne Hughes – In her first short story published in an online magazine, there was a beautiful, long description… gorgeous writing and it felt like “just a punch in the stomach” to her when she deleted it. But it sold.

As an editor, she has told authors to cut chapters. She will justify the cut and the authors typically agree with her.

Wen Spencer usually walks around, stomps and screams when she needs to make painful edits.

One example: while on contract, Wen wrote 50k about a slave on a ship. Then, realized the character needed free will. So, turned her into a freelance translator. Then, realized she needed to go over there. So 2 boats, with the character working for the other boat. THEN. Threw that away and started with going off somewhere else. So, rewriting the opening is part of her process.

E.C. Ambrose prefers painful edit notes via email, not live or via phone. (A thought I 100% concur with.)

How to figure out what needs to change in your story

While the big picture can be easy to plan, the details are often where everything goes off the rails.

  • If you’ve gotten a rejection letter with a clear complaint? Start there.
  • If you outline, (and you can outline after your drafts are done), do you want it to be good or bad for the character? Usually, you want to escalate the conflict. You can also try checking your chapter pacing against beat sheets (see: Jami Gold’s great selection)
  • Does the story track? It has to be logical that the character does what they do. Although, there is a difference between what’s happening and what the character knows.
  • Ask your beta readers — one reader might be off the track, but if multiple beta readers are saying the same thing — you’ve got a problem.

Tips for those painful edits

  1. Let it set.
  2. Outline what you ACTUALLY wrote, not what you intended to write and see how that affects the pacing and character development. See if plot lines or side characters are dropped. Etc.
  3. Change the font
  4. Read it out loud (or use an app: naturalReader.com or apple accessibility features)
  5. Check your time-table/travel — don’t hesitate to map it out and use spreadsheets
  6. When making a change, start at the beginning of the scene and work your way through
  7. When cutting a scene, reread the previous chapter and the remaining sequel to make sure it still flows.
    • Note: Just because you cut a scene or setting, doesn’t mean you have to eradicate all mentions of it. Wen once HAD a magic school but left references in as a “we wish we could, it was back in the day”, that way the ruins, etc were still cultural touchstones.
  8. Make sure all your characters are needed and three-dimensional. A lot of times, especially if multiple characters are fulfilling the same role, you can consolidate those characters into one. The more reoccurring characters, the harder it is on the reader. And one shot characters don’t need names.
  9. Sometimes, you’ve gotta take the full draft, use it as a reference, but re-write and reorganize the whole thing from scratch.

No matter if you’re the one deciding to completely revamp your novel, or the suggestion is coming from a beta-reader or editor, it’s hard to set aside the pages and chapters that you spent so long on.

I do tend to overwrite, and from experience, I know that I like the finished product a lot better when I’ve streamlined my story by cutting about a fifth.

A final thought. One of the most nebulous complaints we try to fix as authors is: ‘I just didn’t connect’. While you don’t actually need to have a likable main character, you do need a relatable character. That, plus a clear setting can go a long way toward helping immerse the reader.


Have you struggled with knowing how to fix your writing? How did you figure out what was needed? And how did you fix it? Did it work?

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back again next Thursday with more writing tips and writerly musings.