2019 Year in Review

Last year feels like the year I finally hit my stride as a writer. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, particularly on the publishing/remuneration front, but I managed to bang out quite a few words on a mostly consistent schedule and even got paid for some of it.

A huge part of that consistency stems from having an “accountability partner” in Stephanie Keiko Kong. It’s so easy as a writer to fool yourself about your productivity when you’re really just daydreaming at the keyboard. Tracking my writing hours and reporting the results every week keeps me focused. This has been a massive boost to my productivity. (You can read more about our accountability process, which we call MasterMind, here. ) [1]

Another big contribution came from a focus on “finishing things.” This blog was a big part of that. I have a hard drive full of outlines and notes and partial drafts, none of which amount to anything until they’re completed and shoved out into the world, one way or another. My definition of “finished” is “submitted to someone else”—publication is too high a bar and something that I have little control over— so, a book proposal submitted to an agent or editor counts, as does a screenplay submitted to a contest, or a stage play readied for a read-through by a group of actors.

Finishing things creates its own momentum, and one of my favorite hacks to get back on track when floundering on a longer project is to knock out a blog post to generate some completion mojo and get back to work. Even though this blog consumes a hefty chunk of my weekly writing budget (three of 15 hours when I’m keeping up), it pays dividends in keeping me motivated and productive. [2]

Finished things in 2019 include:

  • a second draft of a new, full-length play (with Stephanie Keiko Kong) [3]
  • a web series for a local filmmaker
  • a second web series for another local filmmaker [4]
  • a sketch for a new comedy troupe [5]
  • the final draft of the non-fiction book
  • an interactive fiction adaptation of a one-act play
  • a screen adaptation of a short play (Avenger, itself adapted from a short story by Chekhov)
  • the first draft of an interactive fiction game for Affinity Forge
  • an article for a recreational mathematics magazine
  • four short stories
  • 26 blog posts, including the 10-part Writing the Fight series

Finishing things is great, but of course the real goal is get published and paid, which brings me to an interesting disconnect—the overlap between my paid projects and published projects for 2019 is zero. The published projects (including self-published) include the math article (“Counting All The Numbers Between Zero and One”), my entry for SpringThing (“Dashiell Hamlett”) and this blog. The paid projects were the first web series, the non-fiction book and the game for Affinity Forge (all due to come out in 2020, but who knows?)

I had some misfires in 2019 too, things I started but didn’t finish (“failures,” if you want to be dramatic but mostly shifting priorities). I learned some lessons there, but I’ll save those for a later post.

2019 verdict: best year yet [6]
2019 writer earnings: about $15,750

Next time: How To Keep A Writer in Suspense


1. This is the sort of thing I was aiming at when I created the Magic Spreadsheet (which I’ll get around to discussing here at some point). Our “MasterMind” process works better for me at this point for a number of reasons, mostly because tracking hours is more useful than word count, reporting weekly is less onerous than daily, and personalized feedback is more encouraging than shooting numbers into the void. (Some folks in the Magic Spreadsheet Facebook group are really great about cheering each other on and celebrating major milestones, but it’s too infrequent and unpredictable for my purposes …)

2. The other great thing about keeping a blog is that allows you to attack some larger projects piecemeal, 750 words at at time. I haven’t really taken advantage of that yet (a bit with the fight series), but I plan to in 2020.

3. Not produced, but we had a table read and submitted it to a play contest.

4. The “other” local filmmaker is me. Not that I really think or refer to myself that way, though I have written and directed four short films for local festivals. I really enjoy the web series format and had a blast writing the first one. The filmmaker is still sitting on it, nearly a year later, despite the fact that it’s designed to be shot on a laptop for basically no budget—the kind of thing you could knock out in a weekend.

So I wrote one for myself, with a particular actor in mind. It’s a bit more ambitious (twelve two-minute episodes versus five 60-second episodes, multiple characters, weightier subject matter) and … it hasn’t happened (yet). I’ll save the rest of that story for next week.

5. Please make this happen in 2020! Yes, I’m talking to you, faithful reader of this blog.

6. “Best” is one of those words that should always be qualified by a metric. This was my best earning year by far as a writer (and that’s an important stat, for the obvious reasons, but also as a measure of professionalism), but more important to me is consistency and quality of output. I’ve crunched the numbers (that’s worth breaking out into a separate post), but the significant thing is that I have numbers. I know how many hours I wrote and which weeks were most productive. In the past I could only look back at the year with a vague sense that I should have written more. Spoiler: my numbers aren’t great, they fall short of even my modest goals, but they’re not terrible either.

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