2010: A Writing Year To Remember


Like A.J., I begin 2010 feeling optimistic about my writing and about the publishing market in general.  Yes, I know that things have been doom and gloom in the writing business for some time now.  But the economy is on the upswing, publishers that have been tightening their belts for the past year and a half will soon find themselves hungry for new books to publish, and Kindles, Nooks, and electronic readers of all other sorts are going to sell in greater and greater numbers and they’re going to need content.  That’s my opinion, anyway, based on pretty much nothing except my own thoughts and hopes.  And so I believe that this is a great time for aspiring writers to start looking at how they can advance their careers.

With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to offer a few suggestions of things you can resolve to do in this new year to reach your publishing goals.  Not all of these are for everyone, but wherever you might be in your writing development, there should be something in this list that you’ll find helpful.

1.  Let’s start with the obvious.  That novel that you’ve been kicking around for the past few years, working and reworking, but never quite finishing?  This is the year you finish it.  Set a firm deadline — a realistic one; as A.J. says, unrealistic goals will derail the best of intentions — and make yourself meet it.  Yes, it’s true that you can harm a book or story by rushing it.  But you can do just as much damage by overworking it.  At some point you need to complete the project and either try to sell it or move on to something new.  This is the year.

2.  Start a new book.  As I say, sometimes you can overwork a novel, and so even if you don’t think you can finish that old project this year, it might be time to try writing something different, to focus your creative efforts elsewhere for a while.  Who knows?  You might fall in love with a whole new cast of characters.

3.  Write a short story.  Or two.  Or more.  You can approach this one a number of ways.  As I’ve written here at MW before, writing short fiction is a great way to reinforce your worldbuilding or character development.  It allows you to play with voice and to get to know your world or characters better.  But this doesn’t mean that whatever short pieces you write have to be connected to your novel.  Sometimes the creative distance I mentioned above can come from taking a short break and working on a story.  The important thing, in my opinion, is to try writing to a different length.  Selling a short story can be a great way to break into the business.  That first professional sale can often convince an agent or editor to take a chance on you even if you don’t yet have a published novel.  And even if you don’t sell the story, writing a short piece can teach you things about the craft of writing that you can’t learn from writing novels.

4.  Along those lines, if you’ve never submitted work before, this is the year to do it.  Maybe you can send a cover letter to an agent, with three chapters ready to go out when he calls to say he’s interested in representing you.  Or maybe it’s time to send something to that publishing house you’ve always dreamed of writing for.  Or maybe you have a short story that’s ready to go out to a magazine or journal.  Whatever it is, it’s time to put the fear aside and give it a try.  I can’t guarantee that you’ll be successful.  But I can guarantee that as long as your work stays in a drawer, it’ll never be published.

5.  Okay, maybe you’re reading this and thinking that none of this stuff applies to you.  You don’t have a novel to finish, you’re not interested in writing a short story, and you’re certainly not ready to submit anything to anyone.  That doesn’t mean you can’t make this a year of advancement.  It might be time for you to find or even start a crit group.  Working with other writers who are at your career level, or even a bit ahead or behind where you are, can be enormously helpful.  You can help each other with writing issues, and also support each other as you start to think about where to take your work next.

6.  Or maybe you should consider attending a writers’ workshop.  This can cost a bit of money, but if you’re serious about writing it can be a worthwhile investment.  Even a workshop that lasts only a weekend can offer lots, including a critique of your work by a professional writer, editor, or agent, opportunities to attend instructional sessions taught by professionals, and, perhaps most important, chances to meet and chat with these same professionals in a relaxed setting.

7.  Another way to meet agents, editors, and writers is to attend professional conventions — Romance Writers of America, World Fantasy Convention, World Science Fiction Convention, Romance Times Booklovers Convention, Mystery Writers of America.  As we’ve said before on this site, attending these conventions costs some money, but offers you the chance to meet the people who might prove instrumental in getting your work published.

8.  Here’s an idea that might not lead to a sale, but just might give you that boost of confidence that you need to get started again.   Go find something that you wrote years ago.  Maybe it’s something you put away, vowing never to look at it again; or maybe you had every intention of going back to it but got sidetracked.  Pull it out and read it.  You might find that the distance from it has given you a fresh perspective and you’re ready to tackle it again.  You might find that it’s way better than you remembered and is much closer to being ready than you thought.  Or you might find that it’s laughably bad, that you’re so much better than you were then that you can hardly believe it.  In any case, you’re bound to get a lift from reading it.

9.  Share something you’ve written with a friend or loved one who’s never read your work before.  Sometimes the first step toward submitting a work to a publisher is trusting yourself enough to show it to someone you know.

10.  Set a new weekly or daily writing goal for yourself.  If you’ve been writing 500 words a day, try to get yourself to 750.   7,000 words a week?  Shoot for 9,000.  Or if you’re not concerned about word counts, but you are bothered by some of your writing habits — like those words you use again and again when you know you should be reaching for a new way of saying things, do writing exercises to rid yourself of the habits.  I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years and I begin every day knowing that I can be better at my craft than I was the day before.  That challenge alone is enough to keep me going day after day.  I believe that if I keep pushing myself to improve, the business side of things will take care of itself.

Whatever you do — be it something from this list, or something that you come up with on your own, commit yourself to it and make it happen.  Make 2010 a writing year to remember.   And we here at MW will do our best to stay with you every step of the way.

David B. Coe

19 comments to 2010: A Writing Year To Remember

  • Thanks David. You always have great posts. I like number one – start with the obvious. That is good advice on a number of levels.

  • Hey, how’d you get my 2010 to-do list?

    Finish novel in progress.
    Start the next one.
    Apply for a particular writing workshop.
    Revise and resubmit a story that was rejected last year (2009 was the year of first professional submission, and also first professional rejection).
    Polish and submit a couple other stories that have been lingering.
    Figure out how to get a regular writing session worked into my regular busy schedule.
    Go back to working with Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft, a fabulous writer’s workbook.

    The one about scheduling is the only one I’m really struggling with. The rest of them are clear-cut, the time management part… well. Full-time job, and small business owner, and wanna-be writer. It’s got to be possible. Right??

  • Great Post, David. I especially like your advice about the dangers of over-working a book. Lately I’ve been anxiously polishing and repolishing a piece my agent is ready to take out, trying to second guess any criticism that might come from editors. It’s made me nuts, not least because I know that what works for one editor won’t for another and vice versa, so no amount of polishing will make for universal acceptance. It’s been hard for me to step away from it and say that, pending editorial response, it’s done. Thanks for reminding me that I can actually harm the book by continually tinkering with it! (And please keep your fingers crossed…)

  • David, a timely post indeed. I need to hit on some of the points you listed above. In the last few years I’ve submitted only a few short stories once or twice each. I’m still a rejection virgin. Time to send stuff out.

    In the last month have I finished my first novel and today is the day I’ve set for submitting my query package to agents. I’ve re-written my query letter six or seven times and synopsis only a few less, so I hopefully haven’t crossed the over-working line. I have a nagging feeling things aren’t quite right. One last edit and I’ll send them out. If feedback from agents is negative after say 10 or 15, then tinker again.

    Thanks for sharing wisdom here on MW. Much appreciated. Cheers,

    Here’s to a prosperous 2010 for all.

  • Thanks David. This is a wonderful post. In fact, most of the points you’ve mentioned are on my own writing goal’s list for the new year. Especially the “don’t overwork your novel” point. I think I may be doing that. Argh. I’ve got the query read to go. I just need to submit it.

    Happy New Year,

  • Thanks, April. Yeah, the obvious stuff is often obvious for a reason, right?

    Phiala, that’s great! Seems great minds think alike…. Best of luck in meeting your goals. And as for the time management thing, yes, there’s got to be a way, though I don’t envy you the task of figuring it out.

    A.J., I’ve had a similar issue with a book of mine. I worked it to death, and eventually every word became too precious, each turn of phrase too studied. I wound up taking the whole thing apart and starting over, saving those passages that still worked and getting rid of the rest. It’s rougher now, less finely polished. And I think it’s better because of that. Good luck selling this one. I hope you and your agent find the perfect home for it.

    Best of luck with the queries, Dave! Good for you for taking the plunge. Hope you get great responses. And thanks for the kind words about MW. Hope it continues to be a helpful site for you.

  • Jennifer, your post went up after I began my previous reply. Glad you liked the post. I hope you have great success with the novel. Put those finishing touches to it and then start the query process! Time to take a chance, right? Happy New Year to you, too. Hope it’s a successful one for you.

  • David, I love this. The first of the year can be a cultural charm for writers. It helps us to hop over boundaries that kept us penned in. It helps us break shackles keeping us in the dark of our own fear. Great post!

  • Thanks, Faith. I agree with you about the beginning of a new year — not only for writing. I’m hoping to try some new things with my camera this year — I’ve resolved to try them. And I’m hoping to be a better parent, too….

  • bren

    Yesterday I was reading a friends blog about 2010 another decade gone. How we are growing older but do not growing up. Watching are favorite cartoons and being proud to be geeks. So at 3 o my god it’s early this morn I woke up with this. So here it is my thank god for writers. Long ago and far far away. In a realm beyon our now earthly bonds. Dragons flew and fairies laughed. Elves watched quietly as trolls stolled past talking to toads. Mountains shook as giants danced and wookiee talked to ewokes. Every princess married her prince and every frog was kissed. Peace lay upon the land and then……the man grew up. Now some may I have forgotten the dark side. But no the Dark one is aways standing in the corner an evil evil man. Some writers will ask what has he done that makes him so evil other will what made him that way. Thus I say there is no dark only diffrent shades of light.

  • Thanks for this, Bren. The years do seem to be slipping by quickly. It seems just yesterday that we were worrying about Y2K. My daughters can’t possibly be 14 and 10. Impossible! But I refuse to grow up or believe that I’m old. Age is just a number; being old is a state of mind, and so is being young. I choose the latter.

  • Mikaela

    I plan to submit something this year. After all, I have a computer full with first drafts ( 10). But, I know it is foolish to submit first drafts, so I predict a lot of editing this year :). But first, I’ll finish Angel among demons. Which just morphed from a 35 000 words novella, to something longer. The problem is that I suddenly lack a big chunk of outline. Oh well.

  • I keep calling 2010 the year I get published. With how long it could take to actually have a book published, what it really means is picked up or accepted, but still…

    I’ve got a lot in the works; a novel nearly completed, two others being worked on, a series idea I want to run with, a number of scripts in the works or waiting to be picked up. A lot on my plate, but I’m ready for it…provided I can keep warm.

  • Dawn

    I got a great little planner that is supposed to help me stay organized, and unless it has a personal assistant that comes along with it to do the housework, take care of the kids, cook, and do my normal full time job, I’m not sure how it’s going to work, but here’s to doing things differently this year and taking a whole different approach. I guess in order to get something you’ve never had; you have to do something you’ve never done.

    Anyway, it does have a nice little quote in it by Charles Buxton, “You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.”

    And like Phiala I’m thinking this is a lot of my problem – the time issues.

    This is a great post Dave. Thanks – it definitely hits the nail on the head. Happy New Year everyone!

  • Mikaela, ten first drafts??!! Wow! Yeah, you definitely need to submit some stuff. Polish and send, polish and send, polish and send . . . repeat as needed…. Best of luck with all of them!

    Daniel, getting that sale is pretty much synonymous with “getting published”. And, in fact, SFWA will accept you as a member based on a contract, even if the book isn’t out yet. So this is definitely the year! Good luck with all your projects.

    Dawn, I like that quote, and I like even more your statement above it: “In order to get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” Hope that the planner helps you work out the scheduling issues, and that this is a big year for you.



  • Robin

    2010 will be a good year. I’m attending my first writer’s conference in April (Yeah!) and finally have the deadline I’ve been lacking for so long. I signed up for the “boot camp” class and have decided I should probably have at least 50,000 words to present! I’ve developed an elaborate Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my daily progress–and tell me how much I have to write each day and each week to meet my goal on time. (I’d be happy to share it, if anyone is interested, by the way. I love, love, LOVE spreadsheets.)

    My ultimate goal is to write a novel this year. I’ve been plotting in my head and with notes for about two years. It’s time to BIC and write the sucker! The day-job excuse is getting old, old, old. (Especially if I ever want to trade the day-job in for a writer’s career!)

  • That’s great, Robin! Good for you. I hope the workshop proves a valuable experience and that you meet your goal. I’ve never been one for spreadsheets, but I do have my own ways of keeping track of my word and page count progress. Very satisfying. However you follow your progress, I wish you the best of luck in finishing the novel this year.

  • Great post! One of my goals is to hammer out the first draft of my current WIP. I had originally started on it in late 2008. Its quite the project as it involves the complete deconstruction of the story I had first come up with (and written portions of) way back in junior high school, and the rebuild of what it has grown and transformed into.

    I actually took the end of 2008 and first half of 2009 where I put the WIP aside and wrote a needed back story (which turned out at about 110,000 words) to flesh out the biggest changes I had made. Now I’m back to the WIP with a goal to have the first draft completed by the end of May.

    I want to try and make it to ConCarolinas this year. I haven’t been to any conventions in a long time (and then it was only ComicCon in NYC) and I’ve been thinking it’s time I started. I have plans on visiting North Carolina this year anyway so timing it with ConCarolinas seems logical.

    My main goal for 2010 is to finish this WIP. To take the first draft after returning from the convention and rework it till I think its ready to be shopped around.

    2011 my main focus will be trying to land an Agent (and continuous writing as well). 2010 is for continuing to write and hone my craft, to try and take it to that next level to take that next step towards publication.

  • Hope that all goes well, CE. Having done a recent tear-down and rebuild, I know how challenging that can be. But when it works, it feels great. And we’ll look forward to seeing you at ConCarolinas