Storyville: Setting Short-Term Goals for Your Writing Career

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As we get close to the end of the year, wrapping up 2021 and getting ready for 2022, I wanted to talk to you about your short-term goals. Every time you get to the end of a year, why not re-evaluate what you did, and look for ways to set some goals for the upcoming year? I’m writing this about 2022, but it could be at the end of ANY year, leading into the next one. Here are some ideas on what you can think about as you look at ways to improve as a writer.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Think about what you did in the last year, as far as social media. What platforms are you on? Did you enjoy your time there? If not, maybe drop some. If you want to improve and expand, what does that goal look like?

My Twitter account has the most followers, but it still remains right about 21,000. I’m fine with that. I engage with people, give away books, and promote my classes and writing there.

Facebook is where I spend most of my time, and the various accounts/groups I’m in (personal and writer’s profile as well as Storyville) are all humming along nicely. Shaw has done a great job with the Facebook account for Storyville, posting up constantly, and I think that has really brought more people into the fold.

I’m on Goodreads, and mostly what I’m looking at over there has to do with my new collection, Spontaneous Human Combustion coming out on 2/22/22. We did a giveaway, and got over 3,000 people to add it to their “to-read” shelves.

The biggest change for me this year was on Instagram. One reason is that you can now post images directly from your computer. I spend more time on my Mac than I do on my phone, and that really helped grandpa here to add images and screenshots, as well as other content I couldn’t figure out on my phone. I’ve really been able to engage with bookstagrammers over there, and that’s meant bringing new people into the fold, outside my usual sphere of influence.

This is all good stuff. But don’t feel you have to spend 24 hours a day online.

SHORT STORIES

I think one of the best short-term goals for you as a writer, no matter what your level of development or success, is writing short stories. This is one way you can really grow. Now, while I’ve only published a few stories a year during the last couple of years, the work I put out was some of my best work to date, much of it going into my new collection.

  • “Hiraeth” (2017) was in an anthology that won the Bram Stoker Award, Behold! Oddities Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder (Crystal Lake Publishing)—the anchor story.
  • My co-written story, “Golden Sun” (2018) worked its way into The Best Horror of the Year, my first time getting in, after being published in Chiral Mad 4 (Written Backwards).
  • My novelette “Ring of Fire” got a lot of attention in 2019, making the preliminary Bram Stoker ballot, in The Seven Deadliest Sins anthology (Cutting Block Press). First time working with them.
  • 2020 only had one original story, “In His House” which was in The Nightside Codex (Silent Motorist Media).
  • I connected with new editors and publishers in 2021, such as with the Liminal Spaces anthology (Cemetery Gates Media) which included my story, “Rotten to the Core.” I’d worked with Kevin Lucia at Cemetery Dance before, and so this was an easy partnership.

So in the last five years I’ve published 35 stories, with 17 being original. That’s how you stay in front of people, and stay relevant. So look at your short stories and ask yourself if you’re doing enough.

First, are you writing any new work? Set a goal—one a month, six a year, ANYTHING. And then find a way to create new work. Second, edit and finish those stories. If you took any of my advanced classes (you know who you are) you should have anywhere from 4-8 new stories in hand. How many are done? And finally, how many have you actually sent out to get published? Write, edit, and submit. Set a goal for 2021 and see what you can do.

NOVELS

We’re not going to talk about novels. Why? Because brother, that’s not a short-term goal. I hate to break it to you, but even if you write that book in 2021, it’ll probably take you at least another year to find an agent or press. And then probably another year to edit it with them, and then they need time to market it. So, I do want you to think about this, for sure, but if you’re ready to take this step, give yourself three years minimum from start to finish. Transubstantiate took three years from start to finish. Disintegration took six years. Breaker was a part of a two-book deal, and so only took about a year total. Incarnate, the current WIP, was two years of failing to write, and then I got it done this year, and it’s sitting with my agent. I hope we can sell it in less than a year. But that means 2023 at the earliest for publication.  Keep this all in mind.

CLASSES

If your writing process isn’t working—change it. If you hate the genres or stories you’re telling—change them.

If you are still taking classes, still learning, still growing, then find a way to keep educating yourself. If you are still hungry for knowledge, I encourage you to take at least one new class in 2022. Maybe it’s a one-day class, maybe two weeks, maybe a month, maybe 16 weeks. Look at your skills and ask yourself if you still need general education, or want to focus on a niche, like a certain genre (horror) or format (flash). I got my Bachelor’s in 1990, where I took several creative writing classes. Then I took classes at The Cult and Lit Reactor with Craig Clevenger (twice), Chuck Palahniuk, Monica Drake, Max Barry, Jack Ketchum, and Stephen Graham Jones. Then, I got my MFA. So do what you need to do. Obviously there are a ton of awesome offerings here at LR, at really good prices. I offer advanced classes as well. Gotham is a great resource. And then you have places like Clarion and Odyssey. Not to mention local options, at universities, or writing studios. Do what you need to do in order to grow and evolve as an author.

READING

Stephen King says in order to be a writer you must do two things—you must read, and you must write. So how’s that going for you? At a bare minimum you should be reading a few novels a year in the genres you write (and love), and a few short story collections, as well as the “best of the year” for that genre. So, for example, if you write horror, you should read a few horror novels (My Heart is a Chainsaw comes to mind) and a few collections, and The Best Horror of the Year. I wish I was reading more, but mostly I’m reading for my classes, so that means three of those anthologies, plus I pick up some magazines (such as the latest Black Static), some collections, as well as a few novels. But I know I need to read more. Set a goal and then track it on Goodreads and make it happen. 12 books a year is a nice short-term goal.

FILMS AND TELEVISION SHOWS

Open up your mind and refill your creative well by seeking out great cinema. I think that A24 Films alone has helped me to be a more original, compelling, and emotional writer. Look at the genres you write in, and then watch those films. I’d give yourself a similar short-term goal with films—find a cool distributor/producer/director and then watch at least one new film (and/or television show) per month. I’ve really been inspired lately by films like Dune, The Green Knight, and Saint Maud, as well as shows like Midnight Mass and Squid Game.

BLOCKS

Ask yourself what is blocking you. Time? Money? People? Energy? Mental health? Physical health? Address as many as you can.

  1. Carve out 30-60 minutes on a daily basis (up early or up late) or book a big day once a month, put your ass in the seat, and write as if it is a real job, and then ask people to respect what you are doing.
  2. Sell those stories for pro rates.
  3. Aside from that, what else can you do? Write a column? Review books? There are many ways to write, and write about this industry. Be creative. Get paid.
  4. Make sure you are supported by your significant others, family, and friends. If not, get new ones. Just kidding. Mostly. Tell them what this means to you, and then back it up with your actions.
  5. Get more sleep. Jesus, do we all need to do this. Go to bed a little earlier. Turn off the television set. Put down the phone. Turn off the computer. Get at least eight hours a night. You’ll be surprised how much it helps.
  6. See a therapist if you need to, my friend. I mean, who doesn't right now, right? Or find other ways to deal. Take a walk. Have some sex. Have a few drinks. Hang with friends. Order Thai food. Watch those films and shows. Read that book. You are okay, this is hard for all of us, I believe in you, but you have to believe in yourself first. Take a deep breath and push forward. You got this.
  7. Do something physical. Take a daily walk with your spouse, kid, or dog. Start playing an old sport again—golf, tennis, biking, running, yoga, hiking, etc. You’ll feel a lot better. No, I’m not saying you’re fat. I’m saying put your ass in the seat and write like a maniac, and then get your ass outside and move it around a bit. We need to do both, right? It’s a balance. All of this is a balance. I'm not yelling. Sorry. Maybe a little bit. It’s only because I love you.

OVERALL

Look at who you are and what is working for you. If it’s good, if it’s working, keep doing it. If it’s toxic, let it go—jobs, people, causes. Give of yourself, but not until there is nothing left for you, my friend. Chip away at these things. It takes time. Give yourself time. Start saying no to the things that aren’t contributing to your happiness, growth, and success. If your writing process isn’t working—change it. If you hate the genres or stories you’re telling—change them. Have fun! Write that bizarro erotic slake moth fan fiction. Tell that cozy mystery story about poodles. Let some romance slide into your fiction. Add hope to your dark fiction. Write something that scares the crap out of you. Write something that startles and unsettles your workshop. Go for it. And if you need help, drop me a note, and I’ll help you in any way that I can. The nice thing about short-term goals is that they’re short. You know what the first thing is that I put on any list that I make? “Make a list.” BAM. I check that off in a matter of minutes. Let all of the bullshit go, and lean into what makes you special. Tell the stories that only you can tell. I want to read them. And so does the world.

Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

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Comments

JR Blanes's picture
JR Blanes from Chicago is reading The Deep by Nick Cutter December 30, 2021 - 9:23pm

I love this article. I'm glad to say I'm seeing a therapist and attempting to get a lot of sleep. My wife is very kind in allowing me my writing time. She and her son even set me up my own writing nook where I can go to have the alone time necessary to produce. I just today signed up for my first class with the amazing writer Ania Ahlborn. Thank you Lit Reactor. 

This is all great advice I'm marking on my favorites as inspiration and motivation in 2022! 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 3, 2022 - 8:54am

Awesome! Sounds like you're on the right track, JRB. Where are you in Chicago? I lived Gold Coast, Logan Square, and Wicker Park / Bucktown for 12 years. In the N/NW suburbs now.