Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jack Badelaire's 2014 Short Story Challenge

2013 was the year I became a writer. I don't say this as a boast or to beat my own drum, but rather because I decided this year that writing four novels wasn't just a flash in the pan for me, something to get out of my system, reflect on with the taste of sour grapes in my mouth, and move on. I know now that I'm in this for the long haul.

I also know that in 2014, I need to step up my game. I need to either be writing, editing, or in some other way working on one project or another every single day. It doesn't matter if I work for ten minutes or a full, eight-hour day - I've got to do it. Right now, I'm in a plane and I'm taking off from the runway, and I've got to push those throttles against the stops. Either I gain enough airspeed and altitude to clear the trees at the end of the runway, or I'm going to stall out and crash. This is a vulnerable time for me, and I know the only way to make it through is to write and close, write and close, write and close. I have to remember - coffee is for closers.

A year ago I posted this article on how I need to always be closing in 2013. I didn't think my goals were unreasonable, but I failed to achieve some of them. Why? Because in April, a fluke of chance right as Operation Bedlam went live meant I made quite a bit of money over the spring and summer, and that money made me lazy. Instead of writing Operation Cannibal in two months, it took me five. Instead of getting Spiders and Flies out of my desk drawer in 2013, I'm going to have to get it published in January. I did write another short story, but it wasn't the one I wanted. I let a small taste of success go to my head, and my hands got soft. I've got to build up my calluses again, and I need a challenge to keep driving me forward.

So in 2014, I'm throwing down the gauntlet - not just for myself, but for all of you, too. Here's how it's going to work:
  1. Go and look at your bookshelves. Find a book or two that you've read, in a genre you like, and re-read them. Right now. You're going to write a short story in the spirit of those books.
  2. Put a dollar bill in a coffee can. This can is your Cover Can. Put another dollar in that can every day.
  3. Write at least 300 words a day, every day, for six weeks. That's 12,600 words. If you fall a little short or run a little over, that's fine. The goal is to write a short story between 10,000 and 15,000 words. But seriously, at least three hundred, you big sissy.
  4. Once the story is finished, over the next four weeks you're going to get (at least) four people to read that short story and provide feedback. Two of them need to be anal retentive grammar Nazis who'll slap you senseless for every little typo and screw up. Two of them need to be the sort of folks who read mostly for pleasure and like the kind of fiction you're writing - they represent the people who'd pay money for your story.
  5. Once those four weeks are up, spend the next two weeks editing the story, factoring in all the grammar and spelling edits, any suggestions that seem to make sense to you, and ignoring some that your gut tells you don't work. Remember, at the end of it all, it's your story.
  6. After these twelve weeks, your story is done. Stop mucking with it and tweaking and fiddling. At this point, there's as much a chance of you breaking something that isn't broken as there is of you finding something that could use some improvement. Perfection is the enemy of Good Enough.
  7. Return to Step 1 and begin this process over again.
  8. When you're not working on the next short story, take the 84 dollars you've got in your Cover Can and find a cover artist. DeviantArt is one option, but there are a million others. You can get a good, professional, embarrassment-free cover for 80-100 dollars. Go forth and do so now.
  9. Read up on how to format your short story for the Kindle, and make it happen. I've gotten to the point where I can format a Word document for the kindle in about 10 minutes, minus proof-checking. As long as you keep things simple, you can too.
  10. If you aren't signed up for KDP already, make an account, then create a new title, fill in all the relevant details, upload your new cover and that Kindle-ready file, then hit Publish.
  11. Do this four times before January 1st, 2015.
I already have the ideas for my four short stories. Two of them are Secret Projects that I'm not yet at liberty to discuss. A third is a fantasy short story, and the fourth is another Resistance short for the Commando series. These are going to be in addition to all the other things I want to accomplish in 2014, but if I'm going to clear the treeline at the end of the runway and make a successful takeoff, this is how it's going to happen.

Anyone care to join me?


Stan R. Mitchell said...

That's a great formula for success, Jack.

And spot on about all your writing suggestions (both time and eventually letting it go, etc.).

I wish you a ton of success in 2014. You deserve it, and I'm really glad our paths crossed.

Brian Drake said...

Jack, I'm game and taking similar steps myself.

May I make a cover artist suggestion?

I've started using GoOnWrite.Com and the artists there are top-notch and, depending on the monthly deal, you can get as many as three covers for $100. They are wonderful chaps to work with and you can visit my blog to see two examples of their work. Seriously, GoOnWrite has enabled me to produce more because of their inexpensive, sharp, and professional covers.

As you said, no excuses.

Charles Gramlich said...

Closing is generally my problem and you are exactly right in what it takes.

Dan said...

I had a similar plan. I think some short stories are the way to go currently for me building a backdrop and fleshing out some characters and settingn up full length novels. Best of luck in 2014

Mark Allen said...

Some damn solid advice right there, Jack. And as you know, I would argue that you don't even need to spend $80-100 on good cover art; using a designer on Fiverr.com, I got the cover for "The Assassin's Prayer" done for only $15, and I have received tons of comments about how good it looks. As you (and Drake) said, there are simply no excuses for poor covers these days.

Best o' luck in 2014. Let me know when you want to do a Travis Kain / William Lynch crossover.

Dan_Luft said...

300 per day? I guess I should be able to do that. I have a similar, though smaller scale story from last year. I had a great 2012 and things were getting published, most everything was getting published. Then, in 2013 almost everything was turned down -- even by the same publishers.

I got a little discouraged and I got a lot busy with my personal and professional life.

But there are too many opportunities showing themselves. An old work fiend just did an amazing cover for another writer. I didn't even know he could draw in several different styles. Then, on Christmas Eve, I ran into another old friend. She has left her job and is now a freelance editor. There are just too many problems that are easily solved.

300 per day. think I can find the time to build that. For the rest, I apparently have some connections.

Jack Badelaire said...

Thanks for all the kind words, folks! Brian and Mark, you're spot on about the cover prices. Mark's cover for The Assassin's Prayer is proof that you can get a solid cover for very little money. My Cover Can price range was more because a dollar a day simply works out nicely, math-wise. :)

As for anyone who wants to give this challenge a go, I do believe it is all about setting lots of small goals, and closing, closing, closing.

Unknown said...

Cool writing goals and ideas, man.

Tomas Rofkahr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tomas Rofkahr said...

Great stuff, Jack. I'm in on this whole plan of yours. I just have to come up with that crack review crew of anal grammar nazis and constructive feedback providers. Tough to find these days.

Congrats on 2013 - I hope 2014 is even better for you!

(had to delete my last comment - didn't realize my profile was pointing to a ton of old info.)