10 July 2021

Have a Neat Summer

I don't know how it's done these days, but when I was a kid, we had that ritual where before school let out in June, the yearbooks got passed around so we could write to each other, no matter what we really thought, best wishes. Often, and also no matter the real truth, we added some level of excitement to see them come Labor Day. Or you played it casual. "Have a neat summer" is what Winnie famously wrote Kevin in The Wonder Years

"See you in the fall," like this wasn't Catholic school and we all didn't live a mile from each other, like we wouldn't see each other at youth group stuff or birthday parties or whatnot. This was Louisville, perhaps America's largest small town. Every family knew every other family in the neighborhood and also every family from all the old neighborhoods. Everyone knew how neat the summers got.

Well, a June ritual must've rubbed off. In January, I write the year's goals and priorities, and I post them where I can't avoid them. Mid-year is the pause and rethink. Is my butt in the chair? How's my process and production? Did I produce anything worthwhile? What's my best next projects? These questions have more weight mid-year than in heady January. By June, I've either done things or haven't. Energizing adjustments get made. The goal might've been too optimistic, or maybe it's not important now. Maybe the problem is me chasing shiny objects again instead of staying on track.

This isn't entirely OCD. It's not overthink, either. Like many of us, my writing time is limited. I can't afford bad process leading to avoidable duds. And no way can I be left to my whimsical devices.

A June re-think has special power in 2021. We're coming off an 18-month grinder. We're de-scrambling, or I am. And if I'm more honest than certain yearbook messages, I'll admit to a productivity drop even before the pandemic. Okay, some of that was an intentional focus on rewrites, and that focus paid off in acceptances. Great. Also, unsustainable. I can't edit what I don't draft. My 2020 goals sought to address this--and did to a minor extent--but 2020 had its own plan.

This year's Goal One: Keep it simple. Then make it simpler. Me in that chair and being intentional about it. Forget markets and pushing out submissions. Just write, kid. And have fun, damn it. When it's fun, it shows in the work (hot tip: editing may be required). As of June 30, I've tied 2018's 5 stories (3 romps, 2 serious). Raw drafts, as is my usual, but some with potential. As to weighted production, the cumulative mid-year word count tops most of my annual marks. With a neat enough summer, I'll outpace 2017's production, which became my most successful acceptance vintage (editing was required).

The mid-year check? Progress!

I mentioned not worrying about markets. This has yearbook note gloss to it. I've baked a certain submission rhythm into my goals and process. Often I'm crafting a story with specific tastes in mind. I'll know, for example, if a given piece might work for AHMM or is written to that very spec. Maintaining this was 2021 Goal Two. I'm a tad behind, but that was an audible to write that new stuff. I called it, so I might as well own it. Did I also chase a few shiny objects? Yes. Yes, I did. But not many, because I keep walking past those posted goals.

Score Goal Two as needing focus.

My last 2021 goal worth mentioning is the Gotta Dos. TCB, to quote a renowned Memphis jumpsuit collector. I'm a chapter officer for both SinC and SEMWA, and I factor in those happy obligations. And this summer, I'm doing short story workshops for the Clarksville Writers Conference and for Killer Nashville. The kind with actual people there. I owe them the same rigor that I bring when my butt is in my own seat. Helpfully, one session is on--wait for it--intentionality.

So. June/July. I'll have a cold drink, a long walk, and a hard stare at my posted goals and progress. Done neatly, the writing gets needed course corrections and an energy boost. I'll have that fun if it kills me, damn it, and I'll chalk up stories to share come fall. 

Or before then, even. I mean, we're here all summer. 


  1. Congrats on the progress, Bob! I post my goals and progress in a few places I check regularly and I even put a list of stuff I need to finish on my own blog a few months ago. As for yearbooks, I was on the yearbook staff in H.S. but didn't hang out with too many people so there aren't many more signatures other than faculty! (No yearbook in college, alas!) So to all of us writers who want to keep on keeping on, I quote an old friend of mine: "Keep on plugging away!"

    1. Writing is just like everything else in life, isn't it? So much of it is showing up.

  2. I have 3 post it notes on my computer:

    WRITING: Story, blog post, letters
    COMMITMENTS: Prison (AVP, Lifers Group), Al-Anon, Doctors

    Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.


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