I mentioned in my end of year roundup that while 2020 has been a terrible year in general, it’s been surprisingly good for my writing. One benefit of being at home all day, every day is that I have had more time to write. Truthfully, I’ve spent much of that time watching football (soccer) and playing video games, but I have done a good bit of writing, too. At various points I’ve felt unproductive, but I think that’s a reflection of working in small, productive chunks followed by long, fallow weeks of football and video games.
Looking back, I have completed:
10 flash fiction pieces
4 short stories
1 novel (in-progress)
All told, that’s about 100k words of fiction, not counting rewrites and edits. Even within that 100k words, not all of them were keepers. I’ve trunked (retired with no intention of submitting or publishing) a few of the short stories and the novella already. They are story-shaped pieces of prose, but they either don’t have much to say or need to be tackled with a new story rather than edits. Some of the others may end up in the trunk if they don’t sell, but there are a handful that I think are legitimately good, and three have already sold.
Selling, dear reader, does not come easy. You don’t spend long in this business without learning to deal with rejection. I’ve gone back and looked at my statistics for the year, and while I’ve had a record number of sales, I’ve also had a record number of rejections. According to the Submission Grinder, I have submitted a story 145 times this year. Of those, 104 were form rejections, 17 were personal rejections, five were sales, and the rest are either pending or were closed with no response. That may seem like a huge number of stories, but the reality is that many stories were rejected multiple times, and I have been submitting stories from prior years as well as 2020.
Five for 145 is a 3.5% success rate. It’s not great! Selling three of 15 finished stories this year is a 20% success rate, which looks better, but that still means 80% of the stories I’ve written are misses rather than hits. The 100k words written is probably my lowest since I got back into writing seriously in 2011.
And yet, I’m actually thrilled with how the year has gone.
It feels as if I’ve turned a corner in the last eighteen months. Not just the sales, though the external validation certainly feels nice, but the way I look at my own work. In the past I would write a story, feel good about it, and send it out. Sometimes the story was decent, but many times it was flawed in a way that I couldn’t personally see. Sometimes my writing group could help me see the flaws, but I couldn’t fix them in a satisfactory way. Turning the corner has meant seeing the flaws sooner. It’s meant crafting stories in a way that the flaws other people find are more-easily resolved because the story itself has stronger characters, setting, conflict. It’s also meant looking at a story, seeing what I can use later, and throwing out the other 90%. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does work. Writing is sometimes adding little pieces of clay to a skeleton until the sculpture is built, but other times it’s starting with a roughly-shaped block of marble and carving off the parts that don’t belong until the sculpture emerges.
2021 will mark 10 years of serious writing for me. If I’ve learned nothing else in that time, it’s that downs follow the ups, and ups follow the downs. I may not sell a single story next year. I might sell ten. I might sell ten and a novel. (Dream alert!) Obviously, I’d rather sell than not, but if it’s another year of growth and learning without any sales, that’s okay, too.
My goals for the year aren’t measured in sales, they’re measured in finished stories. I want to complete at least ten short stories, finish my current novel that’s in progress, and get another novel started. Those all feel achievable and they are within my control without being subject to the whims of editors or agents. If I can write a few more stories that I’m proud of, I’ll be a happy writer.