2020 Writings

Year Overview

2020 was my second year writing and telling stories. Unlike the previous year, I did not have an overarching year-long goal. Instead, I gave the year a theme: Revision. Whereas the previous year was about learning the basics of each stage of the writing process and immersing myself in the storytelling craft, for 2020 I wanted to focus more on refining a piece of writing. I wanted to delve deep into each stage of revision, from macro-level edits of a second draft where you are cutting entire scenes, consolidating characters, modifying subplots, rearranging the order information is present, and redoing an ending, all the way to micro-level line-edits where you are chipping away at every sentence and every word choice to make the prose sing like a siren.

I stuck to this theme of Revision for most of the year, revising half a dozen short stories, some of which went onto final draft whereas a few others floundered in later drafts and ended up getting trunked. There were a few moments in the year I deviated from my theme—kind of needing a break from doing nothing but revision—where I drafted new stories, some of which I intend to pursue in 2021.

Year Retrospective

The following is a retrospective of my writing and storytelling experience in 2020.

2020, a Year not soon Forgotten

2020 was a challenging year, to say the least—a global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in over a hundred years, rampant wild fires, nearly too many hurricanes to count, protests for equality across the spectrum of human existence and experience, and a US presidential election that brought out both the best and worst in the people of the United States, my home country. And that’s in addition to the usual prejudice, poverty, famine, wars, and diseases we were already dealing with and struggling to overcome.

Many creatives found it difficult to be creative in 2020, their attention too engaged on the chaos happening around the world and their optimism crushed by a metric fuck-ton—a standard weight and measure—of pessimism. How does one be creative in such a world? How do artists overcome the cynicism and pessimism that a world in such a turbulent state breeds? Every artist had to figure this out for themselves this year. Some succeeded. Others failed.

So, how did I fare? Well . . .

As a naturally introverted person, I handle being alone and cooped up in my apartment very well as it is my normal state of living—though this year was an extreme I will be happy not to revisit in the future; even us introverts have our limits. We all need a level of human contact. We all need to feel like we are part of a community and we need to be able to physically interact with that community. It’s in our biology, our culture, our souls. It is, luckily, an inescapable aspect of human existence.

I place a high level of value and importance on optimism and hope, of always looking on the bright side, seeing that silver lining, and keeping things in perspective relative to how things are going on a global level. These values served me well this year, allowing me to remain focused and giving me the ability to compartmentalize my energy enough to remain productive and move forward with my study of storytelling and writing. This positive outlook allowed me to navigate the chaotic swirl of bonkers emanating from every pore of the world and make 2020, on a personal level, a success.

My Writings

Throughout 2020, I wrote and revised a half dozen short stories, penned the first draft of my first novella, put together from scratch a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) adventure set in the Mass Effect universe, and began Game Mastering (GMing) a five player D&D group for the pre-built adventure, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. In October, I participated in an event known as Promptober, wherein I drafted a new short story each day using a writing prompt; I ended up with 31 unique stories at the end of that month, effectively doubling the total number of stories I had ever written.

I read multiple writing craft books, including rereading David Michael Kaplan’s Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction, three books on grammar and crafting polished prose (The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White; The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose by Helen Sword; The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need by Susan Thurman), and learned a great deal about the role conflict plays in stories and how to add various flavors of conflict to a story thanks to Janice Hardy’s Understanding Conflict: (And What it Really Means).

I also began—somewhat inconsistently—keeping a vocabulary journal. While reading, I would note words that stood out to me, either because they were emotional, highly descriptive, or new. Then I would add them to my vocab journal by copying down their definition and practice sentences before crafting a practice sentence of my own wherein I tried to evoke two or more story elements (character, plot, setting, conflict) in that single sentence. For each practice sentence, my goal was to allude to a larger story taking place before and after that sentence, a story not yet written but no less real.

Finally, given how many concurrent writing endeavours I was juggling and how I was allowing parts of my non-writing life to slip by unnoticed, I began using a planner to keep track of everything happening in a week. Doing so really helped me not get lost and not drop the ball on anything. It also made sure I remembered that there are other things in my life just as important—if not more so—than my writing, like keeping in touch and chatting with family and friends every once-and-a-while.

Critique Circle

Back in fall 2019, I started using the wonderful website, Critique Circle. This website allows you to submit your writing for critique by other authors. However, to submit a story for critique you must first earn credits by critiquing the stories of other writers. Submitting stories for critique on Critique Circle became an integral part of my writing process in 2019, and even more so in 2020. Getting feedback for my writing helped me see my stories from different perspectives and focus on improving areas I wouldn’t have thought to otherwise. Giving critiques of other people’s writing helped me train my internal editor without my writer brain getting in the way, and because of that I have become more adept at analyzing my own writing for areas needing improvement.

Dozens of other writers have dedicated their free time to critique my writing. Thanks to them and their honest—sometimes brutally so—feedback, I have become both a better writer of prose and an improved storyteller.

When 2020 began, I set out with a goal of conducting a critique on Critique Circle at least once a week. I did not meet that goal, but I did not short-change it either. By the end of the year, I had conducted 34 critiques, coming out to 2.83 critiques per month. When compared to other author’s on Critique Circle, that number is quaint. However, I am happy with the results and I now have a baseline to shoot for each year and hopefully exceed.

Promptober

As mentioned above, I took part in an event known as Promptober. I created this event; however, it was heavily inspired by Inktober. Promptober is a writing event where for the entirety of October you write a new short story each day using a writing prompt.

I paused in my theme of revision to participate in Promptober because of two failures I experienced in September. Two short stories, Cemetery of the Forgotten and Precious Cargo, were tales with issues I was unable to solve. These failures pushed me to a low point in my writing, and I struggled to climb out of that abyss. I eventually realized I was trying to hard to make every story I wrote perfect and worthy of publication. An impossible and highly problematic goal for any writer, let alone one who was not even two years into their own writing adventure.

Promptober was my chance to break the habit of trying to always write something that is good or publishable, but instead to simply write stories for the sake of writing stories. Because writing a story is fun!

Promptober ended up being an experience that stretched me creatively and showed me I was a more capable writer than I realized. I wrote 31 unique stories—flash fiction and short stories—in 31 days totaling 41,680 words. It was a wonderful experience, and it succeeded in its purpose. I fully intended to participate in Promptober again in 2021.

If you are curious to learn more about how Promptober 2020 turned out for me, give my Promptober 2020 Retrospective a read.

Summary of Work Done

Short Stories and Flash Fictions37 stories totaling approx. 58,600 words
Novellas1 first draft novella totaling 26,165 words
Rejections4 rejections across three different stories.
RPG Adventures Game Mastered2

Story Breakdowns

D&D Art Vignette #1: Apples

A fantasy short story I wrote after being inspired by a wonderful illustration in a D&D adventure book. I started this story in December 2019 and finished the first draft in January 2020. Through early 2020, I revised the story, taking it through eight drafts and two rounds of critiques on Critique Circle. I finished the story in April, the final draft coming out to 1,925 words. I published the story here on the Cybernook: D&D Art Vignette: Apples.

Pop-Pop-Pop

Pop-Pop-Pop was a literary short story I originally wrote in Fall 2019. I judged it to be the best story I wrote in 2019. However, because of the goal I had that year to write a new story each month, after six weeks of work on the story, I needed to move on even though it felt like the story had not yet been revised to its fullest potential.

I revisited Pop-Pop-Pop in early 2020 and revised it throughout the early months of the year. After a heavily revised ending, eight drafts, and three rounds on Critique Circle, I finished the story in March coming in at 1,270 words. Two months later, after a delay brought on by nerves and fear, I began the long process of submitting the story for publication. As of December 2020, the story has been rejected by two publications and it is waiting on a response from a third.

Cemetery of the Forgotten

This fantasy tale was one I wrote back in late Fall of 2019, and I decided to revise it in 2020, taking it through a few new drafts. During the course of writing those new drafts, a major flaw in the story became apparent: the antagonist’s motivation and reason for existing in the setting didn’t make sense. After multiple weeks of struggling and failing to find a solution, I lost all motivation and energy to continue this story, despite being six drafts in, going through three rounds of critique, and having become very attached to the protagonist and her brother. I decided to trunk the story in September and move onto other tales. The story sits at 4,199 words.

The depression of failing to make this story work in combination with the issues in Precious Cargo lead to my participation in Promptober.

Precious Cargo

Precious Cargo was a science fiction short story of 3,848 words I wrote in Spring 2019. It went through a few rounds of critique, and the story improved because of it. I was rather proud of it.

I thought the story was in a good shape, good enough to be submitted to science fiction publications. Five publications handily rejected the story. After those rejections, which occurred over the course of eight months, I went back and reviewed the story. Turns out there was a flaw in its opening and a few world-building issues. However, after fourteen drafts, I struggled to find ways to fix the story’s problems given that so much of the story was set in stone by this point and difficult to change. In September, I ultimately decided to call the story finished, flaws and all, and I published it to the Cybernook here: Precious Cargo.

My failure to fix the issues in this story in combination with failing to solve the major issues in Cemetery of the Forgotten lead to my participation in Promptober.

Sister’s Sunrise: A “The Dragon Prince” Fan Story

Another piece of FanFiction, this time set in the phenomenal and whimsical Netflix animated fantasy series, The Dragon Prince. I drafted Sister’s Sunrise early in 2020 after the idea for it bubbled to the surface while taking a shower. I then put the story aside and focused on other stories until getting back to it in late summer. The story clocked in at nine drafts with one round of critiques by Beta Readers from FanFiction.net, and ended up at 2,207 words. I published the story on FanFiction.net, Archive of Our Own, and the Cybernook (found here). It’s one of my favorite stories I worked on in 2020.

A Monster in my Bedroom

I first drafted this urban fantasy horror short story in July 2020 and revised it through Fall and Winter. January 2021 will see the story go through a few more minor drafts. So far, the story is thirteen drafts in, had three Critique Circle submissions, and sits at 3,508 words. This story is probably one of the best stories I’ve written to date, and it has become one of my favorites. I intend to spend 2021 trying to find a home for this tale.

Science Fiction Novella

This novella was an unexpected development in 2020. I came up with the idea for the story in late May. As the weeks progressed into May, I couldn’t stop thinking about the concept. I kept writing down notes, working out character, plot, and setting details. Finally, I decided to put a pause on my revision work and spend some time outlining this new sci-fi story. Three weeks later I had the most detailed outlined I’d ever written, and I really, really wanted to draft the story.

. . . so I did.

For two-and-a-half weeks in June I wrote the first draft, coming in at 26,165 atrocious words forming hideous sentences—ah, first drafts. I’ve been letting the story sit ever since, expecting to return to it in the second half of 2021 or early 2022.

RPG Adventure — Mass Effect: Paara Station

Paara Station was a Dungeons & Dragons adventure I put together set in the popular video game franchise, Mass Effect. Using the fan-created Mass Effect 5e ruleset, the story saw a fireteam of Player Characters (PCs) investigating a distress signal coming from a science research station built into an asteroid—I know, not very original, but many of us play D&D for the tropey, campy fun!

I spent three months in the spring fleshing out the adventure’s details from an outline I wrote back in 2019. I began GMing the adventure in June. The game lasted six weeks before it imploded like a dying star. Unfortunately, the pacing of combat didn’t work for a player and another PC lost interest in the story. Both players dropped out, and they were soon followed by a third player that had to drop out because life unexpectedly got in the way—as life is often want to do.

Having the game fall apart as it did was a bummer, and I was very disappointed in myself. My failures as a GM led to this outcome, and I spent a great deal of time beating myself up over it. I ended up taking a few months away from D&D to do some self-reflection on my relationship with the role-playing game and my ability to GM.

RPG Adventure — Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden

After a three-month hiatus from D&D following the failure of the Mass Effect: Paara Station adventure, I started getting the itch to play again. However, of the friends available to play, I was the only one with the time and willingness to be GM. During that hiatus, Wizards of the Coast released a new pre-built adventure, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. After reading up on the adventure—a dark fantasy set in a frozen tundra—a strong desire to run this adventure filled me. So, I once more stepped into the breach, hoping I’d learned from my prior failures and could move forward. With the help of my best friend, Jason, we put together a mostly new D&D group, and I proceeded to prepare for the adventure in November.

After a whirlwind few weeks gathering together and helping flesh out backstories for the five players and incorporating those backstories into the pre-built adventure , I began GMing the new game.

As of this writing, according to a recent check-in with all my players, the adventure is going well and the players are enjoying themselves.

2021: A Year Full of Hope

We desperately hope so, anyway.

My top priority for the year—as it will probably take over a year to complete—is the Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden adventure. I want to make the adventure as fun and immersive for my players as I can. Going into January, I am continuing to refine the incorporation of PC backstories into the pre-build adventure, and I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.

My next priority is finishing A Monster in My Bedroom and then finding a home for it. I still need to do some research to figure out what publications would be appropriate for it, but this is a task I intend to do in early January.

When it comes to new work, I’m already analyzing and outlining a fantasy short story I wrote for Promptober, and I would like to write a new draft of the story in January. In the first week of 2021, I brain dumped three different story ideas into a Google Doc, and surprisingly enough, all three seem to have enough matter to form a full story, a first draft story anyway. So, one of my goals for first quarter 2021 is to draft at least two of these stories—ideally all three.

Beyond what is mentioned above, I don’t as yet have much of a plan or theme regarding my writing as far as year-long goals go. There are a few more Promptober stories I would like to revisit to see if they could be revised to more fully realized states. In the latter half of the year, I would like to revisit the science fiction novella I wrote in 2020 and start the revision process for that story. Drafting brand-new stories more often is also something I want to get into the habit of doing. Ideally, I would like to draft one or two stories every quarter.

During Promptober, I fell out of the habit of adding new words to my vocab journal, so I am going to pick that back up by adding one to three words to the journal every Sunday morning. I am also going to start keeping track of books I read throughout the year, something I haven’t done before. I am interested in seeing how much—or really, how little—I read in a year.

I also want to spend more time daydreaming about stories. Daydreaming about stories is something I’ve always done. FanFiction was my bread and butter as a kid. Ironically, the more I’ve become involved in finally transferring these daydreamed stories out of my head and onto the page, the less daydreaming I do. I wonder if it’s because making stories isn’t so much a dream anymore, but a reality? Writing begets writing; stories beget stories. Perhaps I’m not writing enough, not creating as many new stories as I should be?

Regardless of the cause, I want to daydream more in 2021 and see if it improves my writing process at all. I’m still working out the details for how I am going to do this.

Thank you all for reading! ^_^

Ken Barnett,
January 6th, 2021

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