Black and white photo of an open notebook with the year '2020' and word 'grit' written on the first page. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

2020 in Preview

Art + Craft, Personal, Photography, Writing

The year—the decade—isn’t even two weeks old and it’s already testing my optimism. I keep sitting down to write this post, and I just stare at the blinking cursor, trying to figure out what to say about my goals for the new year, trying to figure out how to say that I’m still hopeful. That despite everything, my goals for this year are more ambitious than they have been for the last few.

But maybe that makes sense. Everything’s terrible, so why not take some risks? This isn’t a year for ‘find a hobby’ or ‘build a sustainable writing routine.’ That was about building a foundation. This is a year to make some real, concrete changes. 

I’m not going to go into all of them here. Some are obvious and don’t need further explanation (finally get that photo thing off the ground, finish Violet Lane, keep querying), some are too personal, some just aren’t within the (current) scope of this blog. Some I’ll talk about later, but I just want to keep them to myself for now. 

But there are a few things I do want to publicly commit to:

Focus on improving my craft.

I said back in September that I felt l like I’ve hit a plateau when it comes to my skill, both as a writer and a photographer. That feeling hasn’t gone away.

Like I said then: it’s normal. And, really, I wouldn’t want to be satisfied creatively—I think an artist’s vision should always exceed their skill, at least a bit. It’s not that I think I’m a bad writer or photographer, I’m just not where I’d like to be, and it’s time to level up.

I’m not 100% sure about my game plan, here.

I know I want to work on building my technical skills, whether that means studying the writing books I’ve collected over the years, or working on specific photo projects, or taking classes, or something I haven’t thought of yet. 

I want to do more work—I want to take more photos and spend more time writing. I’ve done well, building a sustainable practice, but it’s time to expand on that. I need to be careful not to push too hard—burnout is always a real risk for me—but the pace I usually work at now doesn’t allow for much growth. 

And I want to build my creative confidence. I don’t (just) mean when it comes to sharing my work—I’m getting better at that, even though it’s still difficult. I want to be braver in the work that I create; I want to stop holding myself back from taking the photographs I want to take, or writing the stories I want to write. This is a process, and I don’t expect it to be a quick one, but it’s something I need to do.

So, yeah: not exactly a clear plan, but at least my goals are clear. I’ve got time to figure out how to get there.

Reevaluate my relationship with social media.

I’ve been wrestling with this for a while, and I’ve come to some conclusions:

  1. Instagram and Twitter are terrible distractions that make it harder to focus on the work I want to be doing.
  2. Facebook and Twitter are actively harming society and chipping away at democracy, and the people in charge embrace it because it’s lining their pockets. (Instagram itself isn’t as terrible on that front, but the ad revenue still goes to Facebook.)
  3. I’m sick of Facebook’s constant presence. I’m not even on Facebook, and I can’t get away from it. It’s creepy
  4. I miss blogs. I miss the old internet, back when it felt fun and creative and serendipitous. Back when it was still weird.
  5. Instagram is one of the things that has stalled my progress as a photographer. Yes, it’s helped in some ways, but it rewards sameness rather than creativity, and it’s hard not to play to that.

Any one of those is reason to jump ship—taken together, I’ve reached a point where it’s hard to justify my presence. At the same time, there’s part of me that feels like I need to be on those networks, for personal or professional reasons. I feel genuinely guilty when I don’t post to Instagram or Twitter for a few days, and I hate it.

So this year, I’m going to figure out a solution. I’m probably going to step back from the services that bother me most, or abandon them completely. I’ve already taken some steps in that direction, curating my feeds a bit, and I’ve already left Pinterest (they finally made it too difficult to avoid the cluttered home feed).

I’m definitely going to breathe some real life into this blog, rather than relying on those other services. (I might go back to the self-hosted version of WordPress, to get back a little control with that, but my account is paid up until the fall, so I’ve got time to think about it.) 


Mostly, though, my goals for 2020—writing and photographic and personal—are summed up in the watchword I’ve chosen: grit.

Very few of the things I want to do this year are going to be easy. And it’s going to be a difficult year, just in general. (I didn’t know how difficult when I started thinking about my plans, but… well.) I’m going to to be tempted to give up, or slack off, or set my sights lower.

“Grit” is what’s going to keep me going.

Looking back at 2019.

Art + Craft, Personal

2019 was… well, it was exhausting and awful and the world is on fire—literally and metaphorically—and I’m glad it’s over, even though I’m not wildly optimistic that things are going to get better any time soon. (American voters: prove me wrong! Also, register to vote, and make sure you’re still registered every month or so between now and November. Please.) 

But personally… it was the best year I’ve had since… I can’t remember when. I took some good photos—not as many as I would have hoped—and wrote some stuff I’m proud of. I (finally!) finished The Black Sun, and mustered up the courage to start querying agents. I saw some real progress on my fitness goals (which I don’t talk about a lot here, but it was a good year). I started figuring out how to actually do stuff with my time, rather than trying a bunch of productivity hacks that never quite gelled. 

Sketchbook #46

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

I ended last month’s creative review by wondering if it might be time for a reset. I knew I had to figure out some stuff with how I manage my time, and I had to figure out what I was going to do about Violet Lane. From a technical standpoint, I was happy with the photos I’d been taking, but from a creative standpoint, I was getting bored.

I must have forgotten about all that as soon as I wrote it, because when I sat down to write today’s review, I was sure that this funk I’m in has only been a couple of weeks. Not a couple of months.

Ugh.

I’ll start with the good news, because there is good news. I’ve figured out what I’m doing with Violet Lane. 

Sketchbook #42

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

The end of April kind of snuck up on me, but here it is: time to check in with how I’m doing with my overall creative goals, and figure out what those goals are going forward.

My big goal, of course, was to finish up the third draft of The Black Sun. I’m technically still working on that, but I’m counting it as ‘done.’ The work is done; all that’s left is the final polish—tidying up a few typos and making sure the big edits didn’t introduce continuity errors, that sort of thing. I’ve done the read-through, and… I’m happy with it. I should be finished the polish in the next couple of days.

I’ve also been brainstorming the next projects. I’ve got a good basic plot and world for the next novel, and should be ready to start character work and outlining sometime in the next month. I’ve also got a vague plan for another thing, but… it’s very vague (as in, I still need to figure out the characters and plot). I’m not sure how quickly I’ll be able to get to that, but I’m mostly treating it as a side project right now, so there’s no rush.

The brainstorming for that side project also helped me clarify some of my plans for the second draft of Violet Lane. I haven’t started work on that, but that’s my big writing goal for May: to come up with a clear plan of attack for that draft, and to complete the outline.

(And I’m finally getting a handle on Scrivener. I still don’t like the file sizes, or the proprietary format, but I’m absolutely in love with the organizational features, and I’m slowly figuring out how to make the application work the way I want and need it to. I like it enough that I broke down and invested in the iOS version… and at $30 Canadian, it is an investment, so I’d better make good use of it.)

Overall, I’m happy with my writing progress this month. Normally, I’d take a break after reaching major milestones in two different projects, but… I don’t really want to. I want to keep this momentum going.

Sketchbook #41

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

It’s the end of March! And, since it’s also the end of the first quarter of 2019, this feels like a particularly significant creative check-in. I’m trying to focus on 90-day goals this year, or at least breaking down my bigger goals into smaller milestones, and… well, the end of March is my first big deadline of the year.

Wall hanging to display enamel pins, by Reghan Skerry.

Sketchbook #40

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

In a lot of ways, February is when my real work starts—even in a good year, it takes me a few weeks to find my routines and start moving forward again with my writing, or photography, or… whatever.

This year, February has been a very good month.

My goals going in were to move forward with the photo-a-day project I started at the end of January, to find my rhythms in Violet Lane and The Black Sun again, and to start making time for the creative hobbies I want to explore over the course of the year. (I was also hoping to make up my mind about Scrivener, and to start moving forward on my big scary photography goal again.)

Sketchbook #39

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

When it comes to creativity, January and December are never great months for me. I spend December—what little isn’t taken up by holiday prep and recovery—in full planning mode, which is good, but it does turn into an excuse not to do the actual work. And January… despite my enthusiasm going in, it always takes me a bit of time to find my rhythms again. Add to that the one-two hit of the new year and my birthday, and I’m suddenly questioning everything.

That’s actually why I’m working on this post right now, when I’d already blocked out this time for writing fiction. I need to step back and take an objective look at some of this stuff, and talking it out here always seems to help me clarify my thoughts. (If you’re not here for my creative-process rambling, consider that your warning. I won’t feel bad if you skip this post.)

Looking ahead to 2019.

Art + Craft, Personal, Writing

I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to escape from 2018, but… here we are! 2019! Only a week in and already so weird but… so far, things are marginally better than last year, so I’ll take it.

I’m not going to dwell on 2018. On a purely personal level, it wasn’t terrible. I didn’t reach most of the big goals I’d set out for myself, because I genuinely dropped the ball, or because I underestimated the amount of work involved, or because it’s really hard to focus on certain creative projects when the world is on fire. But, overall, I’m really proud of what I did accomplish. I’m happy with the stories I worked on, and the photos I took, and the general progress I made. I wish there’d been more, but… it was good.

And those big goals I didn’t reach last year? I’m moving them to this year. And, no, I’m not going to tell you what they are just yet. (Though if you’ve been reading the newsletter, you know about at least two of them.) I’ll announce them—and any other big projects I come up with—when they’re ready, or when they’re about to start. I’m really excited about all of them, and I can’t wait to share them with you. (The first major announcement will come in about two weeks.)

Big goals aside, for the first time in… I don’t know how long… I’m making something that could actually be considered ‘resolutions,’ though I’m reluctant to use that word for some reason.

Sketchbook #22

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

I knew going in that April wasn’t going to be a very productive month. There were a million little disruptions to my schedule (this is actually the first full, uninterrupted week I’ve had this month), but I’d planned for them, and I’ve (mostly) been able to work around them.

The story outlines are progressing nicely; I still really love having two different projects on the go. It slows both of them down, of course, but it’s fantastic being able to switch from one to the other when inspiration starts to flag. (And inspiration always starts to flag at some point. It’s inevitable.) For now, I’ve pretty much abandoned the daily freewriting that I was trying—I still haven’t found a way to make it work.

And I’m still looking for another writing project, something low-pressure to work on in my downtime, and that doesn’t require months of world building and outlining. It’s… surprisingly difficult. I’ve got a few ideas, but nothing that’s quite clicked for me yet.

But, yeah: it’s been a pretty good month, despite everything.

Anyway. Photography!

I’m actually really happy with how that’s going this month. The 365 project is still my main focus (though that’s going to start to change, now that the weather is improving) and I don’t think I’ve used a real camera for any of this month’s photos, but I am genuinely proud of some of the photos I’ve taken this month.

In some ways, I kind of like the limitations imposed by using my phone for so many of the pictures. On good days, I start off with an image in my head that I want to create, but I’m still kind of lazy about the whole thing. I could pull out the DSLR and tripod and choose the perfect lens and wait for the perfect lighting. And I’d be pretty much guaranteed to get the shot I’m imagining.

But most of the time, I can’t be bothered. This is supposed to be a quick-and-easy project, and most of the time, I just want to grab my phone and take the picture. Which actually makes me work harder to get the photo I want, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all and I have to come up with an entirely new plan, or I end up with a happy accident that’s so much better than the photo I’d planned.

That’s the good stuff.

I’m struggling with drawing lately. Or… not struggling, exactly. I’m just not feeling it lately. Part of the problem is that I don’t feel like I’ve got a goal to work towards, or at least not one that I can define. ‘Get better at drawing’ (or even ‘get better at drawing people’) is ok, but… it’s kind of vague. I don’t have a specific project to work on, or a reason to want to improve.

At the same time, I’ve been thinking about how I spend my time. Lately, it feels like I’m being “productive”—I’m checking everything off my to-do list—but I’m not actually doing the things I want to be doing. Some of it is kind of obvious (I’m really hating the entire concept of grocery shopping right now), but some of it is just a matter of focussing on the wrong things. And drawing might fall into that category. I’m not sure if all this practice is because I want to draw, or because I kind of want to be someone who can draw. (If that makes sense? I don’t know if it does.)

I need to think about it some more.

And the sewing project that’s been on my list since last fall, and that I’ve been working on since sometime near the beginning of this year… hasn’t gone well. It seemed like it was going well. I was all ready to finish up the assembly. And then it just… didn’t work.

It’s entirely my fault. It’s weirdly complicated for what amounts to a tote bag, and I’ve been improvising the whole thing. In the end, the pieces just didn’t come together the way I’d been picturing.

I’m not sure if I can salvage it, or if I can even make the project work at all the way I’d been planning. I do know that I can make a simpler version of the bag, but… meh. I’ve set the whole thing aside for a while, but I’ll probably come back to it eventually.

So… yeah.

The things that went well in April went really well, and the things that didn’t go well… I’d rather just forget about entirely.

The good thing is, May isn’t nearly the scheduling disaster that April was. I’ve got time. I fully expect to start writing the next draft of the NaNoWriMo novel, and I feel like it’ll move fairly quickly once I start. (I probably just jinxed it, didn’t I?) I’ll be able to really dig into the outline and research for the next story. I’m ready to start work on the painting that’s been kinda-sorta in the works for a couple of years, and I’ve been thinking about a couple others. I’m finally starting to feel inspired photographically, and excuses to get out and take pictures.

And I’ve got some time to think, and to play with my daily schedule a bit. There are things I want to do, with both writing and photography, and I need to figure out how to make them happen.

Sketchbook #19

Art + Craft, Photography, Productivity, Writing

I generally plan to post these creative roundups on the last Monday of each month.

You might’ve noticed that this isn’t the last Monday of the month. Or that I didn’t actually do a post like this at the end of December.

I’ll be honest: I was busy in December, and blogging wasn’t my highest priority in January. The political situation in the States is still taking up most of my attention, and everything that’s left has been devoted to finishing the novel draft that I started in November and starting the two photo projects I’ve decided to tackle this year.

On the bright side: I finished the NaNoWriMo draft! It took a little longer than I expected—the last major set piece, in particular, was tricky to write—but it’s done. The final count is around 90,000 words, 40K of which I’ve written since November ended.

I promised a proper postmortem once the draft was done, and that will be coming soon. I need to take a couple of days to decompress, and then I’ll be ready to think about it.

I’ve also been thinking about what comes next. I am going to revise this particular story (that alone is a small miracle: I actually think the story is worth revising!), but I need to step away for a week or two to get a bit of distance. But I learned over the holidays that two weeks away from writing is just too long; it took almost a week to get my pre-Christmas momentum back. And since it’ll be a few weeks before I’m ready to start the actual revisions on the NaNo story (I think the next draft is going to need a whole new outline), I need something to work on in the meantime.

I’ve been playing with some other story ideas, trying to decide which one to work on next. Two of them in particular feel promising, but they’re both a bit vague right now. I’ll give myself a day or two to not think about writing at all, then see if I can turn one or the other or both into something like a story.

It’s been a good writing month.

It’s been a good photography month, too.

I already mentioned that I’ve started a 365 project for 2017. I already covered my reasoning in the introductory post, so I won’t bother going into too much detail here, except to say that I’m still really happy with how it’s going. It’s only been a month, but I’m still really happy with how it’s going. Are all—or even most—of the pictures brilliant? Yeah, no. But there have only been one or two so far that I’d call completely terrible, and considering how uninspired I’ve felt some days, that’s a pretty good record.

That particular project aside, I’m trying to be a little more intentional with my photography this year. I didn’t take many photos in January (this is always a slow time of year for me), but I’m trying to think about the photos I do take, and make an effort to improve my craft. I’ve been printing some of my work—not just the good pictures, but the ones that I can learn from—and I’m (slowly) learning to keep a sketchbook.

It’s an interesting process, and I’m having fun with it.

Speaking of sketchbooks… it’s taken some time, but I’m starting to get back into drawing again. I set it aside in November so I’d have more time to write, and December got busy, so it hasn’t been a priority for a while. But I’ve been picking it up again, and I’m starting to see a little bit of improvement. (It sort of feels like setting aside my story for a couple of weeks: I need to find some distance in order to see my progress.)

So, yeah: I didn’t really have a solid plan going into January beyond finishing the NaNoWriMo draft, but it’s been a good month. Just a little unfocussed.

My big goal for February is to prioritize my creative work.

And that means eliminating—or at least minimizing—some of the distractions that have been getting in my way. The first thing I’m going to do is to cut out (almost) all news and social media before I’ve reached my creative targets for the day. I’ll probably still check the headlines (just to make sure that the world hasn’t, in fact, ended overnight) and I can check the social media that inspires me rather than drains me, but that’s it. Everything else can and will wait until after my writing and photography and art is done for the day.

It hasn’t been easy (it really hasn’t been easy), but I can already tell it’s going to benefit my work.

So, that’s where I stand going into February. I’m… pretty happy with everything, actually. It’s a weird feeling right now.