December 5, 2019
December is often a terrible time to try to get any writing done.
We're pulled in different directions socially since so many events pop up. Also, for anyone who gave NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a try, December is often the month to dig through what was written in November and see what's salvageable. But December is good for more than that. It's a great time to look over what you've accomplished throughout the year. With the year soon to end, it's a good time to check to see which strings need to be tied up as well.
What's the State of Your Submissions?
With the year coming to an end, this could be an opportunity to review your submissions. How many things did you send out this year? What kind of responses did you receive? And are there any manuscripts that are still in the submissions process? Looking at where you sent materials throughout the year can be revealing. For one, the very act of submitting is proof of your commitment to writing and your courage. So no matter what the response, take a moment to be proud of yourself for getting in the game.
After that moment, ask yourself some questions.
• Are you concentrating too much on a single market?
• And if you are, why are you doing that (especially if it’s a market where your voice may not be a good fit)?
I'll be the first to admit there are markets I keep trying simply because I'm stubborn. Highlights, for example, has published my poetry, my nonfiction, my crafts and even some short pieces for their baby magazine, but I've yet to sell them fiction. (As you might have noticed in the markets this month, Highlights isn’t open to fiction right at the moment. But I’m sure that’s not because of me. Surely, not. ;-)
Now, I know my failure to sell fiction to Highlights is not because I can't craft a good story or even because I haven't read the magazine enough. It's my voice. It's not a good match. But, I am extraordinarily stubborn and I want a Highlights fiction credit, so periodically, when I write something I feel might be close, I send it. I believe I’ll eventually score. But if Highlights were the only market where I sent my fiction, I would be really depressed! So look at where you've sent your materials and look for ways to diversify in 2020 if you've too often put all your eggs in one basket.
A similar problem lies with submitting to only one market because they buy from you regularly. I've sold four different fiction series to ABDO and enjoyed writing every one of them. I enjoy working with the publisher. But I don't want all my books with the same publisher, because I don't want that publisher to be too essential to my career. Sometimes publishers cut back on books. Sometimes they change direction. So I'll make a point in each year to submit to other publishers and do a few other books. This also lets me do some sorts of books I haven't done for ABDO. I've written fiction for literacy programs and nonfiction for early readers. And by tackling new challenges I keep my writing fresh. So during my review of works in December, I also include a look at my submissions diversity.
December is also a good time to look over unfinished works. Throughout the year, I tend to start a lot of stories (mostly because ideas that I really like will pop into my head at the oddest times). Some stories I work at off and on. Some I barely get past the idea stage before forgetting all about them. But before I let an unfinished project tumble completely out of my mind, I use December to round them up and look them over.
With the passage of time, how do I feel about these ideas? Do they still seem viable or can I see a fatal flaw? Or do I find whatever plotter's block stopped me in my tracks is still there? Whatever I'm feeling about them, I'll make a list of all the works in progress and write a note about how many pages I've written and what I feel is the strongest thing about the piece. Who knows? I may someday need to demonstrate that very thing, and I'll have a good example at hand to work with. And I find the simple act of having a plan for all these works-in-progress makes me feel better about them.
Another thing I tend to do throughout the year is collect links or notes on publishers or agents that I intend to look closer at when I get around to it. Well, December is a great time for that. Sometimes when I'm revisiting a publisher's website I noted earlier, or checking up on an agent I thought was interesting, I'll discover disappointing news that makes me mark that opportunity from my notes. But I consider the elimination of a market to be information I need just as much as I need information on new opportunities. I will have limited time in the new year, and I'll need to spend it wisely. That means keeping my market guide fresh and starting the new year with all my "market leads" tracked down and examined.
All these things I do in December help me feel like I'm wrapping up this portion of my writing cycle and getting ready to start fresh in January. I find fresh starts extremely inspiring and invigorating, so the work I do in December (even if it doesn't involve any "real” writing) helps fuel success. It clears away dross. It gives me clarity. And it lets me launch into the new year with the best possible preparation.
So how about you?
Are you getting writing done in December or are you open to some housecleaning to help you start the new year with a clear road ahead?
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor.
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