2020 in Review

2020 in Review

2020 switching to 2021
Image by sarajulhaq786 from Pixabay

Not many people have warm fuzzy emotions related to 2020. Odds are, you’re one of the majority counting down the seconds until we punt this year out the door. (And cringing in anticipating of what 2021 will decide to bring) I won’t blame you; we got hit with a whopper of a year this cycle around the sun. And it’s easy to focus on the negative – particularly for pessimists (such as myself). That said, pockets of light DID make their appearance this year. After all, I got married this year.

That wasn’t the only positive, though. This was the year I stepped into my forever dream of writing. And while I braced myself for failure when I walked through that door, I succeeded beyond my expectations. That isn’t to say I’m not one of the people shoving 2020 out the door (with a shotgun, if necessary), but I can’t hate it 100% – more in the realm of 95%.

Which is why I’ve decided to do a neat little year-in-review round-up of my writing. Not to brag, but to demonstrate how far I came from the start of this little freelance writing career. Also, it gives me a starting point going into 2021. (If you can’t continue to do better, what’s the point?) Honestly, it shocked me when I started looking at the numbers:

Freelance

  • Clients: 17
  • Articles Written: 194
    • Byline: 130
    • Ghostwritten: 60
  • Edited: 3

Reading

  • Books Read: 57
    • At least – I didn’t start tracking and writing reviews on Goodreads until the spring, so there’s a good chance I mis-remembered my timeline from the beginning of the year

Speculative Fiction

  • Short Stories Written: 8
  • Submissions: 34
  • Rejections: 27
    • Rejections with Personal Letters: 6
  • Publications: 0

I won’t deny 2020 WASN’T the year I expected. From the beginning, it threw me for a loop. And I experienced plenty of downturns and needed to make adjustments I didn’t anticipate. I could sit in the corner and refuse to acknowledge it’s presence in the calendar. Or I could look at everything I accomplished DESPITE what was going on.

And while I’m the furthest thing from an optimist, I’m going to stick to the latter. I amazed myself this year. And I have every intention of doing better in 2021 – no matter what it decides to throw in my direction.

Tonks vs. Christmas

Tonks vs. Christmas

Tonks and the Christmas Tree - 2020 version

Have you ever dealt with the frustration of trying to keep a pet out of your holiday decorations? Even if it’s not a particular battle of yours, odds are you’ve seen the memes circulating at this time of year. People get creative with their solutions, and it makes for entertaining viewing. Of course, if you’re the person coping with the destructive pet, it gets less comical.

Because it’s shocking the amount of damage a 6-pound cat can do!

That’s right, despite the fact I wrote an article this year on keeping cats out of Christmas trees, Tonks defies every attempt we make. She is a mini machine of absolute destruction, hell-bent on taking out the tree. And it’s not even the ornaments she’s after. Oh, no, this tiny demon of feline grace and prowess infiltrates the tree and bends branches out of shape before a single ornament comes out of its box. One moment, she’s on her cat perch. The next, you hear the telltale sound of a body slithering between plastic. Look over, and there’s a face peeping out at you from half-way up the tree. (Admittedly, she’s never made it to top, but that’s probably because we hear her before she gets that far)

2018 Christmas tree post-Tonks

In 2018, when she was only eight-months-old (and not fully grown), she destroyed our first Christmas tree. This is the result of her climbing. Branches mangled beyond repair. Holes gaping from her wedging her body through spaces we never imagined she’d fit. We’d set the tree up early, as a test to see how she’d react. No ornaments (we weren’t completely foolish), no ribbons – just the tree itself. The poor thing never stood a chance. We DID eventually decorate the tree, but it didn’t look as pretty as usual. Turns out the branches weren’t designed to hold a six-pound kitten’s explorations. And, of course, she continued her wanton destruction despite the additional obstacles of ribbon and ornaments. We found ourselves picking up and replacing at least three or four ornaments every morning. Not to mention repositioning the tree skirt that the little bugger insisted on burrowing under. (That stopped once there were gifts under the tree, though) And don’t get me started on her interest in the snowflakes on the wood stove, the garland on the shelves, or the stockings on the stone work around the stove.

When it came time to replace the poor abused Christmas tree, we got strange looks from salespeople. Apparently, “Do you think these branches can support an eight-pound cat?” wasn’t a question they routinely heard. Nor were they used to people pushing down on the demo trees, debating sturdiness. (We entertained other shoppers, though) It took us weeks to track down our current tree, which passed our testing in the store. Of course, our best guesses were nothing compared to the actual demon herself.

Would this new tree survive? Or would it suffer the same fate as the original?

(And, seriously, why has the artificial tree industry not come up with a cat rating?)

Amazingly enough, the new acquisition came through with flying colors. I wish I could say Tonks lost her interest with climbing the Christmas tree, but I’d be lying. She just hasn’t destroyed this new one (yet). And the morning ornament round-up continued last year unabated. Of course, we’re always smart enough to put the unbreakable ornaments at the bottom so they’ll survive the fall.

Tonks cuddled in the fluffy tree skirt

This year, we adopted a new tactic. Maybe, if we found a suitably soft tree skirt, we could divert Tonks’s obsession with the tree. As you can see, our plan worked – a little too well. We almost couldn’t get the skirt UNDER the tree. After letting it sit on the chair unattended, she claimed it as her own. It took a lot of coaxing to get the fluffy skirt away from her and out to the den. And she HAS been a little less interested in the tree this year (though she has a current obsession with one of the ornaments that has a jingle bell attached – an “alarm” to tell us she’s climbing into the branches). Unfortunately, as soon as we started adding the gifts under the tree, she lost most of her snuggle room on the tree skirt – and she’s let us know her displeasure by scratching at the presents and trying to move them out of the way. (Sometimes you can get a little TOO smart for your own good)

Tonks is the first cat I’ve owned who’s developed an obsession with climbing the branches. No one else cares (though Firefly “chews” on the branches – something he’s done both before and after he had all of his teeth pulled). Then again, our tiny demon does a lot of things no other cat does, so it’s not entirely a surprise. However, she’s given me a new appreciation for those annual battles. So the next time you see one of those cat Christmas tree memes, understand that the struggle is REAL.

The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot

Blending all cultures, faiths, sexualities, and races is an author's duty
Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

Those of us that dabble in speculative fiction – more so than standard fiction – have a special duty we need to uphold. And now, more than ever. Gone are the days when you could populate your stories with a single race, religion, or creed and find a welcoming audience. Particularly if you enter the realm of science fiction. It’s not believable. (Unless you handle it well – and VERY few authors have ever pulled it off. Hint: they all involved alien creatures that challenged a human observer’s thought processes). If you pick up a piece written in the past decade, or even the past three years, you’ll notice a shift in the cast of characters.

Some of it done well, and some of it done so poorly, your teeth hurt.

True, some authors write from their background. Which is fantastic! You SHOULD read outside of your experience. It broadens your knowledge base, introduces new concepts, and opens your eyes to cultures you’ve never experienced before. It’s the next best thing to working your way into a friendship with someone of that upbringing. (I know, I know – we’re a bunch of introverts) When you come across those books, the writing is genuine and FEELS impactful. The characters come across as more than a stack of cardboard assigned attributes.

Other writers attempt to do the same, with ZERO knowledge or experience, and it shows. They use language that’s inappropriate, details from Wikipedia, and leave you with hunched shoulders, ground-down teeth, and a desire to beat them to death with their own book. The only thing you learn is the person should have stayed a million miles AWAY from their chosen topic – for the good of literacy.

We’re in the twenty-first century. You NEED to include characters in your work that are diverse. That means different races, different religions, different cultures, different sexual orientations. But when you do it, it needs to feel AUTHENTIC. Never describe a character using words you wouldn’t use if they were your friend (unless it comes from the mouth of an antagonist – and you damn-well better justify it). Don’t have a friend that fits that particular character? GO FIND ONE! Talk to the friends you have, explore their circle. Odds are, someone knows someone who can put you in touch with someone. Talk with them and ask questions. Take notes. Figure out how they like to be described, referred to, and WHY things are done or said certain ways. Become an informed writer – and STAY AWAY from Google and Wikipedia.

Don’t make your writers cringe!

Let me give you a nice little example. I’ve read two books recently that included characters of African-American descent. One was written by an Asian-American woman, and the other was written by two white women. The first book used ordinary words to describe the character – pleasant descriptors that explained the character without hitting you over the head. The second book assigned EVERY character as “black” or “white.” My head hurt, and I winced. (And, as you’ve noted from my photo, I’m as white as they come) It was like getting smacked in the face with a 2×4. I’d NEVER describe my friends that way! As a writer, I have an entire toolbox of words available to me! Why choose the most base words?!

The same happens when writers tackle different sexual identities or preferences. If it’s outside of your wheelhouse – TALK TO SOMEONE! Don’t go based on inference or generality! Do your homework! People ARE willing to talk to you and answer questions (in my experience). They want to see an end to baseless rumor and poorly-written scenes, the same as the rest of us with higher intelligence. Plus, education never killed anyone.

If the best you have is stereotype, EXCLUDE it!

We have a duty to do better than what’s been published in the past. We CAN do better. The world’s changing around us all the time. We can continue to shape and change our writing to reflect those improvements. Look at the names of authors on the shelves. More and more people are breaking through, introducing us to cultures we’ve probably never been exposed to. It’s an amazing opportunity. And if you want to find yourself included among those ranks, you need to open your mind and STOP sticking to the same old pathways. Populate your work with MORE. Explore, learn, and do BETTER.

Let’s kick the stereotypes to the curb where they belong.

Perchance to Dream

Perchance to Dream

Cat sleeping upside down
Photo by Ilana Beer from Burst

Full disclosure: I’m not the best person to hold this discussion. In other words, this is going to be one of those “Do as I say and not as I do” lectures. It doesn’t make the topic any less relevant, though. Particularly as, the older we get, the more we tend to abuse this important aspect of our health: Sleep. You know, uninterrupted rest lasting around 8 hours a night? (Yeah, sounds like a mythical creature to me, too)

As kids, we fought against enforced nap times. We had too much we wanted to do. Now, we’d often KILL for 10 minutes of down time in our day to doze off. Usually because we didn’t sleep properly the night before. That “busy” appellation becomes our excuse to avoid sleep when we need it most. Suddenly, we’re pulling all-nighters for the stupidest reasons. (Okay, there’s never a GOOD reason for an all-nighter…unless you’re Santa Claus)

And your health crashes.

I’ve heard (and used) every excuse in the book to avoid getting a proper night’s rest. After all, writers are creative people. We come up with all kinds of inventive reasons to sit at a computer into the wee hours of the morning. As if that lightning strike of inspiration won’t remain once your brain’s rested and operating at full strength. I know it, you know it, EVERYONE knows it: jotting down a few notes for the morning will allow you to pick things up where you leave off. There’s NO justification to straining your body past the breaking point for nights on end. All you get for the trouble is a caffeine addiction and poor health.

As someone who suffers from insomnia (medical-grade, no less), I implore you: stop the madness. That whole message of “Get 6-8 hours of sleep a night” isn’t a joke or random idea; it’s a medical recommendation. I rarely manage more than 4 hours of sleep – once you add all of the time together. And you know what? It’s not enough. That deficit is why I struggle with other health problems. It’s why I spend my days exhausted and fighting to stay alert and functional throughout the day.

And it SUCKS!

I’ve had to face the truth of taking naps (much as I hate admitting it). And there are times when I have to write out those notes and put my writing aside. When you know every word coming from your fingertips is crap, it’s not worth continuing to sit there. It’s a crushing admission – especially when you know lack of sleep is the reason. And if it’s beyond YOUR control? Admitting you need to see a sleep professional is downright humbling. (I have TWO of the damn doctors – talk about feeling two inches tall!)

The world won’t end if you stop and go to sleep at a REASONABLE hour so you’re body has time to rest, recuperate, and recover. Your world MIGHT end if you don’t. Sleep allows us to reset. It also gives you time to dream – maybe come up with new writing ideas or even ways to work through a problem area you’re struggling with. (Bonus benefit!) The world’s morphed into this hurly-burly whirlwind that functions at 100 miles a minute on a caffeine infusion. It isn’t healthy – for anyone. Take the time to REST. You don’t want to burn yourself out in a couple of years. If evolution intended us to never sleep, we’d have…okay, I don’t know what we’d have, but we don’t currently have the adaptation. Which means you need to SLEEP!

I promise, you won’t die from getting those crucial hours in every night. NOT getting sleep, however, that CAN kill you.

Gallery

Once Upon a Winter’s Night

Much-needed credits go to the following:

Outside Opinion

Outside Opinion

Okay, so 2020 wasn’t the best example to use for this post. I’m trying to be more optimistic for 2021 (yeah, I know – it’s a big departure for me). Or I’ll save time and point out that writers are no longer trapped by the need to print everything out and submit things by mail like we did back in the stone age. Therefore, the adage, “where there’s a will, there’s a way” applies, and this post will still work.

Moving on.

If you’ve never attended a writers workshop – whether a standalone or as part of a con – you’re missing out. These little affairs are gold mines for writers. And that applies to writers of any type. If you look, you’ll find a workshop for ANYTHING. And COVID-19 or not, most of those workshops persevered this year, through Zoom or other mediums.

Most writing workshops follow the same format:

  1. You submit a manuscript you want critiqued.
  2. Everyone in the workshop reads the piece and writes up their critique.
  3. You spend the workshop going through everyone’s work, one at a time.
  4. When it’s your turn, you take copious notes (while keeping your trap shut).

Easy, right?

I’ve attended a couple of speculative fiction workshops, and the information I received each time improved my writing. I also found myself with new ideas. Not from the other people’s writing, but fleshed out of notes they were giving to each other. For instance, I’ve killed every prologue I’ve ever written. It’s where I first learned to massacre my adverbs. And the first workshop I attended started me down the path to writing more science fiction – simply because the overwhelming amount of fantasy presented made me realize there was an opening.

You’re in an environment with people who want to help improve your writing. Some have publication credits, others don’t. Some have attended other workshops, some are there for the first time. Everyone has a different background. At my last workshop, I was able to correct a medical fact for someone – something they had no knowledge of but that was commonplace for me. Little things like that matter, and everyone’s grateful for the insight.

Are writing workshops perfect?

Of course not. Humans are humans, after all. You’ll encounter people who are focused on themselves. I had several people who’s feedback consisted of, “I don’t read this genre.”

Gee, thanks.

I mean, I wasn’t a fan of everything I read, either, but I did my due diligence and provided concise feedback on everyone’s work. I felt it was owed as a responsibility.

I also had one guy who went on a long tangent that made no sense and had nothing to do with my novel excerpt. (Pretty sure he just wanted to hear himself talk)

It’s hit-or-miss. However, there were plenty of people who DID care and provided me with information I could use. And that was the majority. I also got to read some amazing writing. Writing I want to see in print. And I told those people as much. Getting to connect with writers is another perk of such workshops. You never know where networking might lead.

Putting your work in someone else’s hands is always nerve-wracking. You don’t know what they’re going to say. (Think about it – how much do your hands shake when you submit something?) But if you have an opportunity to make it BETTER, isn’t that worth it?

In my book, it is.

So whether it ends up being virtual again this year or not, I’ll be hitting Dragon Con’s Writers Workshop in 2021 – my second visit. And this year, I’ll have more confidence under my belt than I did before. Because I know that, even if my piece gets ripped apart, it’ll emerge better at the other end.

Take a look at the workshops for your chosen writing genre. Swallow that knot of fear. And pick out a piece to submit. You won’t regret it.