Set It Off: My Writing Goals for 2017

It’s that time of year again, never late but right on time! Let me queue up some reading music for you all.

This is my third year doing this type of post, a retrospective navel gaze on my writing output for the year followed by some goal setting. As always, credit where it’s due: this post was entirely inspired by Mr. Thaddeus Howze, “The Answer Man.” Check out his other work over at Hub City Blues.

For those of you who are new to this blog or this type of post, here are the rules:

I’ll begin with a review of what I wanted to accomplish in 2016, and then we’ll examine whether or not I achieved what I set out to do (SPOILER ALERT: I usually don’t). After that, I’ll lay out exactly what I intend to accomplish in regard to my writing output in 2017. I find that doing this helps me stay accountable, and be realistic about what I can and can’t do. It also helps me to celebrate my achievements, which is necessary for any writer, because this shit is hard and we need to pat ourselves on the back every so often.

Here are links to the previous two posts, for those curious: Set It Off 2015, Set It Off 2016

This post is always evolving. In my first one, I considered how my branding and social media presence could impact my writing output. By 2016, I reconsidered that consideration. I’ve also talked about my desires to contribute to the larger community of black SFF writers, because of how important community is to us. Especially black writers. I didn’t talk so much about community last year, other than to set some goals about contributing critiques in Fizzgig, the secret writing group I mentioned in both of those posts. Phenderson Djèlí Clark wrote a bit about Fizzgig–he also wrote a retrospective/goal setting post over on his blog. I will be talking about community this year, for the record.

You ready? I’m ready. Let’s go.

2016 in Review

Here were my goals from last year:

2016 Part 1:

  • Complete 2 pieces of original short fiction for publication to upcoming anthologies.
  • Finish incomplete pieces of short fiction, and edits on completed short fiction.
  • Submit edited short fiction to pro and semi-pro markets.
  • Submit short fiction to Fizzgig for suggested critiques.
  • Last year, I made a pledge to write more short fiction. I wanted to write as much short fiction in 2015 as I had in 2014, with the ultimate goal to complete a piece of short fiction every 30 days. Life was like, “nah fam. Wyd?” Even though I normally don’t take a long time to complete a first draft, I have to actually sit down and write the damn thing, which is where I failed last year. Instead, I’ll focus on quality over quantity. I want to write two face-meltingly good pieces of short fiction in the first half of 2016.
  • My chosen markets to crack in 2016 are Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. Sword and Soul Forever!
  • Continue to build my voice as a cultural critic through frequent blogging and more submission of nonfiction pieces to online culture/review magazines and literary journals.

2016 Part 2:

I need to have a workable first draft of a novel completed in 2016. Point blank. I have a couple of ideas that I’ve been floating, and I’m going to get to work on them. I hope to have a fantasy novel completed in one year. Cross your fingers for me.

So how did I do? Well, I did aiiiiight, as the kids say.

2016 was somewhat of a reflection of 2017: I kicked a bit of ass with my nonfiction output, but enjoyed less success with my fiction.

There are a couple of reasons for this. My job went from part time to full time at the beginning of 2016, with all the attendant extra responsibilities. I was called to serve on several committees this year as well, which drained my time. About halfway through the year, I picked up a second job. And there were some developments in the final quarter of 2016, including gaining a spot as a columnist in my local newspaper, that had an impact on my fiction output.

My year in fiction began with a sale: My short story “Skin Matters” was reprinted in the January issue of Expanded Horizons magazine. I also completed three solid pieces of short fiction this year. One of them will appear in an upcoming issue of Fireside Magazine. Another was submitted to a few markets, including People of Colo(u)r Destroy FantasyBeneath Ceaseless Skies, and Apex Magazine. It has racked up a few rejections, and I’m thinking I’ll need to rework it some. The third story–my first workable novelette–wasn’t quite ready to see the light of day, and is going through several draft stages. I’ve also had to somehow write a worldbuilding prequel for that novelette so that one of the elements of the story could make more sense in my head.

Stories from my backlog went out to several anthologies and markets, and were roundly rejected. One of these pieces is still out in the ether–the piece itself focuses on police brutality and the black condition of being simultaneously superhuman and subhuman in the eyes of nonblacks. It is a very personal piece and trying to sell it has been a trial. I’ve retouched it as much as I am able, though, and it has evolved a lot over the past three years. In fact, this is one of the lessons I learned in 2017: sometimes, it can take you a long time to hone a story to a state where you can sell it. You have to learn to be patient and trust yourself and your work. You also have to know when elements of a story aren’t working for it. It takes killing your ego and really dedicating yourself to what your story needs, and that ain’t easy.

In November of 2016, I completed a draft of a novella and submitted it to Tor. It was rejected. I tried to work through the pain of that rejection a bit in a post called “The Dumps.” Since finishing the novella, I haven’t really looked at it again. It’s still just a bit too painful. I’ve sent it out to a couple of friends to take a look at in the hopes that I can get some advice on where to go from here.

I began working on a novel-length project, but work on it stalled after I picked up a second job and the columnist spot. I have tons of notes and research, though, so I’m really hoping to jump on that later in the new year. I’ve also started keeping better track of the works in progress on my immediate radar, as well as being more strategic about my resubmissions. If I have a story that’s going to be a hard sell, I’m researching more deeply to see what markets or anthologies are around with a theme that even slightly matches my story. The Facebook group OPEN CALL: SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY & PULP MARKETS, the Submission Grinder, and my good ol’ submission tracker spreadsheet have all been helpful for me in searching out anthologies and new paying markets. If you need help with making a submission tracker spreadsheet, ping me and I’ll email you a template.

Nonfiction and Criticism

2016 was bananas for my nonfiction output. Like I said, I ended up picking up a spot as a columnist for my local left-leaning independent newspaper (peep game here). I also produced a few essays on the state of SFF publishing and the culture in general.

Some of the biggest: “Speculative Antiblackness,” part of Fireside Fiction‘s #BlackSpecFic Special Report. “Intergalactic Collard Greens,” which was featured in Lightspeed’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy special issue. And my 2015 Book Riot essay “Black Speculative Fiction is Protest Work” was reprinted in Book Smugglers’ Spec Fic 2015 collection.

Editorial

By far, the biggest story of 2016 is the launch of Fiyah Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, a groundbreaking project from a collective of diverse black SFF writers called the  Niggerati Space Station. Fiyah has been a crazy surreal experience made possible from the efforts of Justina Ireland, Elle Lewis, Phenderson Clark, Davaun Sanders, Brent Lambert, and Kaleb Russell (aka the Fiyah team…see what I did there?)

Phenderson’s written a bunch about Fiyah’s development over at his blog and I won’t add too much to it except to say that Fiyah exists because the larger SFF short fiction machine seemed to absolutely refuse to take Black writers and their art seriously, despite their claims to want to do so. Black folks will write their own futures from here on, so everyone who opposes best beware.

fiyah-rebirth-cover

Issue One: REBIRTH is available now, and is positively aflame with brave, necessary short fiction.

I’ve also been tapped by Nin Harris, editor of Truancy Magazine, to co-edit a special issue of Truancy alongside word warrior and good sister-friend Khaalidah Muhammad-ali. The reading period for that opens very, very soon, and I’m hype to work with Khaalidah to curate yet another space for black art to flourish. Khaalidah herself is true to this–she’s the new Co-Editor of PodCastle audio fiction magazine, where I served as a first reader–and she’s wholly dedicated to using her space and power to put on for Black writers. Other black SFF mags to support: Omenana, Black Girl Magic Lit Mag, and GigaNotoSaurus (not a black lit mag thematically but the editor is a black woman and I think that’s awesome.)

Black editors, we get the job done.

Onward!

Honestly, this year wasn’t that awful for me in terms of my fiction. I wrote and finished as many stories as I planned. My submission numbers with regard to new fiction were lower than I’d like, but I submitted stories from my backlog pretty much everywhere consistently throughout the year.

I have some pretty awesome short pieces planned for the first half of 2017 as well. Additionally, I’m going to dedicate more time to working on this novel idea that just won’t get out of my head. So for 2017, I’m going to do exactly what I did in 2016…just more of it: more writing, more submissions, more resubmitting rejected stories.

In 2017, I’m also going to take a deep, long look at my essay and nonfiction work. Right now I feel like my nonfiction and essays are of a type: loud and brash, like a clatter of cymbals or automatic gunfire. Not nearly as introspective as I would like them to be. In 2017, I want to write more thoughtful, quieter essays. Many of the books on that list are philosophy, sociology, criticism, and essay collections. Writers, even SFF writers, should read widely and expose themselves to a multifaceted array of perspectives and ideas. All of this is in service to the work.

My editorial responsibilities are new and exciting. I’m still pretty new to all of it, so another goal of mine is to become a better, more thoughtful editor in the upcoming year. I’ll likely be reaching out to experienced folks for advice and I might even invest in some professional development so that I don’t end up being a trash ass editor.

One thing that I do want to improve is my reading. To that end, I created a list of 50+ books that I want to have read by the end of the year. I’m going to read them, one book at a time, until the end of the year. Books will be chosen at random using random.org. I’ll update Twitter and Goodreads with my reading totals and book selection. In fact, I tweeted a photo of my first 2017 read on yesterday:

I’m also going to commit to more community building. This includes cultivating the communities that already exist and involving myself in more community work that directly benefits Black SFF writers. I plan to volunteer in some sort of way, maybe serve on a jury or two. I will also create connections with more Black writers in general, probably through attending a few more conferences that I have in the past. I always get so stunlocked by how much cons are. My wife and I attended Dragon*Con last year, where I met a couple of my Black SFF heroes: Milton and L.M. Davis, as well as Alex and Melissa Hoeflich of Pseudopod and Nightmare Magazine, respectively. The experience was totally worth it but spending a ton of money still sets my poverty-sense a-tingle. Can’t help it.

To repeat myself again:

one surefire way to become a better writer is to write more. And ultimately, that’s the goal of all of this.

I want to hear from y’all too. How are you approaching reading, writing, and publishing in 2017? Are you making any changes to an existing plan? Hit up the comments with your plans, and if you’ve blogged about it, drop me a link. I care, if don’t nobody else care.

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4 thoughts on “Set It Off: My Writing Goals for 2017

  1. I am just trying to read more traditional novels. First, I have to finish Five Love Languages. I also want to start writing again. I used to write reviews. I have not written fiction since I was in high school, and it was mad juvenile. It’s a new day, though.

  2. Hello! I am trying to see if there is any interest in a POC SFF subscription box, would you be willing to take a survey?

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