Saturday, January 8, 2011

Of Resolutions and Metrics

Scott D. Parker

The first week of January always brings with it a ray of sunshine for the new year. The old year is sloughed off like dead skin from a snake, the new year is laid out before us, ready to be lived in and experienced. And, more importantly, to be sculpted into a shape we prefer. Thus, we each take a deep, cool breath, let it out, and start forging ahead into the river of a new year with our various resolutions as the buoys keeping us afloat.

We all have them. Earlier this week, John and Russell wrote about looking ahead to 2011. I’m here to give my own personal spin on the resolution thing. I get dreadfully pedantic when it comes to resolutions. They need to be realistic and measurable. “Eating better” is not a resolution. “Losing ten pounds by June” is. You can measure the latter. The former is too vague and invites failure.

To have any hope of coming to fruition, resolutions need metrics. How might you lose ten pounds by June? Start with something easy--cutting out the soft drink at lunch--and then gradually move towards other metrics--start walking after work each day. Moreover, keep a streak calendar. I’ve come to rely on streak calendars to measure my progress of my resolutions. It’s a simple exercise: for every day you performed one of your metrics for a resolution, make it off with something close to a big, red X. You string a few of those along and, soon, the thrill of keeping the chain unbroken because more fun than you missing out on Dr. Pepper at noon. For y'all with an iPod/iPhone, I suggest the one I use: Streaks.

Yo, Scott, you’re saying. This is a writing blog, dude. What the heck are you doing getting all Dr. Oz on us? Well, I’m making a point, about myself (you, too?) and about writing. As those of y’all who read my column before our little blog here was overrun with a bunch of fun, noiry tales of yuletide mischief, I had a bad writing year in 2010. It sucked. Much like the defense of the Houston Texans, when you’re at the bottom, there really is only one way to go. That may be true, however, but I still want metrics.

We love books. We write them and we read them. I basically failed in both categories last year. Let me back-up. I didn’t fail in my reading because anything I read, I want to read and I don’t apologize for it. I noticed a trend in last year’s reading, two really. One, I didn’t read as many books in 2010 as I did in 2009. Since I basically blog about every book I read, I was able to count twenty-one books I read last year. That may be good for some, but I can state with certainty that, of the three people in my house, it was I that read the fewest books. Me, the "writer."

Of those, nine were “old” books: Tarzan, Cool and Lam, War of the Worlds, etc. Not apologizing because they were dang fine reads. I read an additional five or so graphic novels, leaving around seven (don’t do the math; I’m remembering more books as I write) “New” books--books published last year or in the previous few. Some were mystery (Stephen Cannell’s latest; the newest Richard Castle book, Naked Heat) while others were not (Perdido Street Station, by far my favorite book of the year; Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw, simple the most fun audiobook I listened to last year). If I’m in the business of knowing what’s going on in the present, I simply have to read more modern books in 2011.

Reading resolution for 2011: read more than seven new books. I’ve re-upped with New Mystery and I’ve already got a book in the hopper. Add to that a couple of books by fellow DSDers and I’m already starting January out good.

Writing-wise, well, this is the true Everest for me. If I want to call myself a writer, I simply must produce more fiction. When I’m asked this year the question I dreaded last year (“What are you working on?”), I want to be able to proudly list all the projects I’ve got going on. One metric is short stories. I wrote a paltry two last year, one was published and the other was not. True, that’s a 50% publication rate, but it’s cheating. And I’m not counting the one collaboration I started last year. That’s going on 2010’s books even though I’ll be finishing it in 2011.

Short story resolution for 2011: write more than two stories and submit them.

Then we come to the biggie: the novel. As much as I love my first novel, I’ve not completed a second. I’ve written enough words over multiple projects to have completed a second book, but I still haven’t written “The End” on a finished project. That will end this year, with a simple, measurable, metric.

Novel resolution for 2011: finish my second novel by Bouchercon in September.

Oh, and attend Bouchercon, too. I’ve given lots of thought these past couple of months about writing style and writing schemes. I’m not quite ready to state my scheme; I’ll save that for a future entry. I’m probably going to join a critique group again so I’ll have that weekly pressure test and accountability. And, of course, I’m telling all of y’all.

There you go. It’s out there, my resolutions and metrics. I hope y’all keep me on my toes and feel free to ask me about them if I don’t write about them. These are daunting tasks for me, but shouldn't be if I aim to call myself an author.

What are some resolutions for y'all?

Item of the Week: I seriously love JT Ellison’s Wine of the Week feature at the end of her blog posts over at Murderati. With a nod to her, I’m adapting it here. I’m just going to put a little something that I’ve experienced, eaten, listened to, watched, or whatever since last Saturday.

First up: Iron and Wine’s new album. NPR Music has the audio and video of the band performing their new album, “Kiss Each Other Clean,” in its entirety. Just yesterday, I listened to it three times. Excellent music and the live setting brings out lots of nuances amid the music and the lyrics. Come 25 January, this CD will be in my iPod.


pattinase (abbott) said...

To stay alive. Yes, I am depressed. It's Detroit in January after all.

Chris Rhatigan said...

I agree with Patti. Staying alive is key!

My reading goal is to analyze more short stories than I did this year. Which means reading them several times, then breaking down how the plot functions, followed by anything else the writer does well.

There are three publications that I would like to write short stories for. Not necessarily get accepted at these pubs (since this is out of my control), but create finished products in the style of these pubs. Hopefully this will lead to me submitting more stories.

Scott D. Parker said...

Patti - Honestly, that's a great one, a resolution you can work on everyday. And be thankful of every morning you wake up.

Chris - I do the same thing. When I'm reading a book, I read with a pencil in hand, marking not only good prose passages, but the road map of the book so I can learn from published authors. Good luck!