2021 - “That Was the Year that Was”
by Mike Turner
Please welcome Mike to the Writers Journey Blog feature this week and HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone!
What a difference a year makes!
My initial “Journey’s” guest blog post in September 2020, “It All Started With a Pen Name” (https://www.authorelainemarie.com/post/it-all-started-with-a-pen-name-the-writing-story-of-mike-turner?fbclid=IwAR0ghGbYtuq75qstofzHGQYmgnfLwXVBz-44BRplCwoMV5FFvWXOUPnVRn8 ) laid out a few things I’d learned about myself as a writer to that point: that it’s part of who I am. That how my words sound is as important to me, as what they say. And perhaps most importantly, that I want my writing to really say something.
So as 2021 loomed, I took a long look at what I wanted to accomplish as a songwriter and poet – and what I was going to do to accomplish them.
In my prior professional career as a law enforcement executive, I did a lot of strategic and operational planning, with mission statements, goals, and objectives to give direction to efforts, and measurable outcomes to evaluate how effectively we were achieving our mission. It seemed natural to apply these tools to my writing endeavors.
I started with the “big question:” what am I truly trying to accomplish with my writing? Do I want fame? Fortune? Critical acclaim? Well, yeah, sure! But none of those things seem to me to be at the core of what drives me to write - and, for me, none really seem worthy of being lifetime pursuits.
I looked at the world around me, in both the macro - “world” - and micro - “around me” - senses, and found that what I really want is to contribute to making the world a better place. Inspire hope, and action. Help to alleviate pain, suffering, despair. Bring people together. Find peace.
With that in mind, I crafted a high level “mission statement” for what I’m trying to achieve as a writer: “To inspire hope, understanding and community through songs and poetry.”
From there I established four goals to shoot for: (1) Write and produce songs, poems and stories that illuminate common aspects of the human condition; (2) Achieve wide distribution of my songs and poems; (3) Grow and support a reading/listening audience who are affected by my writing; and (4) Achieve professional and peer recognition as a writer.
Another important lesson from my law enforcement career: strategic plans are just words on a piece of paper unless you implement them. You can’t just talk, you have to act to achieve your goals and objectives.
So, what would I have to do to attain the goals I’d set for myself? Well, first and foremost, I’d have to write! And I’d have to submit my works for publication (as poems, to literary journals and anthologies; as songs, both to record labels for recording by performing artists, as well as self-produced and released music tracks); and engage with professionals and peers in the writing and music communities. These activities became the core of the objectives I set for myself for the coming year.
From there, I established specific outcomes and targets for these objectives, to keep my activities on track during the year. For example, to keep my writing going, I set a goal of writing 25 new poems/songs during the year - a somewhat arbitrary number, but roughly two per month, which seemed realistic. To increase reader-/listenership, I set a goal of submitting 35 works to publishers, and seeing 25 poems/stories published and two songs recorded by labels/artists (recognizing that these last two metrics are out of my control - but also recognizing that if I’m not getting published/recorded, I’m not getting my writing out to readers/listeners to be affected by it, thus accomplishing my mission; and need to look at changing things to make publishing/recording happen). I set a target of identifying and submitting pieces to 12 outlets which had not previously published my work.
I kept track of activity against these metrics on a monthly basis, with more formal reviews and assessments at quarterly, semi-annual and year-end intervals. This allowed me to adjust my activities as needed to make progress towards the targeted numbers.
Now, with the close of 2021 - how have I performed against these metrics? Am I achieving my goals? And am I fulfilling my “mission”?
I’m pleased with the raw numbers. In calendar year 2021 I wrote 44 new poems and one short story (not a form I routinely work in, but opportunity gave occasion for me to spread my wings a bit). I submitted 77 poems, and the short story, for publication, with 70 pieces published. I added 23 new outlets. Nine of my published works were in book anthologies (including, I’m pleased to say, four poems that were included in the anthology, “Journeys,” published under the auspices of this blog). An additional two pieces have been accepted for anthologies planned to be published in 2022 - I’ve learned not to count them until they’re actually in print!
On the music front, I wrote 23 new songs, with 10 of them being recorded and released to Internet streaming services (Spotify, iTunes, YouTube Music, etc.) - eight by other artists, and two where I’m the recording artist. One of my original folk songs was featured in a local play and festival; and I was invited to write two blues songs for use in just-released mystery novel.
In terms of professional/peer recognition, I was featured in several blogs, podcasts and magazines throughout the year (including being invited to submit this piece - thanks again, Elaine!), and obtained some nice local press coverage.
Raw numbers, of course, don’t tell the whole story. The biggest event of the year, to say nothing of my entire writing career, was being solicited by a traditional publisher, Steven Lester Carr at Sweetycat Press, to publish my debut poetry collection, “Visions and Memories,” which was released on July 1st (see link below). A close runner-up was being named “Poet of the Week” by the University of South Alabama Libraries Art Galleries, with a week-long virtual exhibit of selected poems and a live social media interview to discuss my writing.
I was also profiled in “Who’s Who of Emerging Writers 2021” (published by Sweetycat Press); participated as one of three writers in an “Authors’ Night” reading/signing event in my hometown library; and was nominated as Author of the Month by Spillwords Press.
Overall, I exceeded the metrics I’d set for myself for the year.
How did I do all this? What actions did I take to implement my plans and achieve the outcomes I posted during the year? The answer to that question might fill another blog! As far as actually writing, I followed the same process I’ve always used: writing when the muse strikes, later editing and revising with a view to improving things like rhyme, meter, timing. I maintained relationships with outlets that have previously run my poems, always trying to have something in front of them for their consideration. I actively followed other writers’ success in getting placements, not just to support their work and grow my writer network, but to identify new journals and outlets to submit to; and took advantage of submission calls I found on social media that seemed to be good fits for either pieces I had in my catalog or could write specifically to their criteria.
Musically, the work I was doing with the record label I helped found in 2020, Music For World Peace Records, was a great outlet for collaborating on lyrics with other writers from around the world and getting “cuts” of songs I wrote - my musical collaborators in 2021 included artists in the U.S., the Philippines, the Netherlands, Australia and South Africa. Beyond my own writing, I got to help a number of writers and artists get their music out into the world, which not only broadened my musician network gave me a greater appreciation for how we’re all in this together.
The tougher evaluation is whether or not I’m meeting my mission of inspiring hope, understanding and community with my writing. I think only time will tell. But I take as good signs that people, both the public at large and fellow writers, are reading and listening to my work; that I’m being asked to produce and submit more, new works, with an increasing number of curated sites carrying them; and that there’s a growing awareness that I’m out here, writing away.
And there’s an additional, more personal factor: am I growing as a writer? Am I developing and polishing my craft, stretching beyond the comfortable, finding new dimensions and capabilities in my work? I’m grateful that folks have prodded me in the past year to cross some boundaries: to move beyond song and poetry to short stories and flash fiction; to explore new genres of music; to step out from behind the writing desk and into the recording studio as a vocalist. All things that I think add to my ability to achieve what I’m trying to do with my writing.
What will come in 2022? It’s hard to predict. I’ve refined my mission, goals, objectives and targeted outcomes for the coming year - in fact, putting together this post has helped me to see some things I’d like to focus on, particularly in honing my craft. This past November I stepped down from business involvement in Music For World Peace Records, to focus more on writing and producing music that goes beyond the label’s anti-war/pro-peace focus (I intend to still write on those topics for the record label, but I have other themes I want to explore musically as well). I want to grow my recording/producing skills to get more of my songs out in the world in the coming year.
As this blog’s name implies, this is a “journey” - and for me it’s clearly one that’s still under way. At times I feel that I’m out on the periphery of what I’m trying to do, slowly circling a target, an outcome, that I still can’t quite make out, much less figure out how to zero in on for a landing. I think that in many ways that’s true for all of us who write. And as is true of so many journeys, there’s not one single destination - it’s a series of stops along the way, each being both an accomplishment as well as more experience to propel us on to the next achievement.
I recently summed up where I’m at, in a flash-fiction piece I posted in one of the very supportive writers groups I’m part of on Facebook (Grant Hudson’s “Inner Circle Writers Group,” to give an unsolicited plug). I think it’s a good way to conclude this essay:
“Paused on the plateau, I look back on the trail - reflecting on the beauty of that so far attained; gazing ahead toward the awaiting journey. The summit is obscured by clouds, yet promises greater achievement, wider vistas. With renewed sense of purpose, lightened heart and vigor, I turn to continue the ascent…”
My thanks to all of you for coming along with me so far on the journey - as readers, listeners, guides, mentors, peers, supporters, critics, friends. I’m incredibly grateful to the journals, magazines, websites, bloggers, presses, music producers, musicians and vocalists who’ve published/performed my writing and given them wider distribution.
I invite you all to join me as I continue to the next way station, just as I look forward to following you on your journeys. Tune in at my website, YouTube channel and social media (links below) to see what comes next.
And - stand by for 2022!
“Journeys” Journeys: The Writers Journey Blog: Padgett-Carnegie, Elaine Marie, Ahmed, Mehreen, Wiggins, Justin, Baggott, Susan Sams, Watts, Virginia, Balcom, Gabriella, Turner, Mike, Bates, Jim, Jesmer, Kerri: 9798478655198: Amazon.com: Books
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Turner/e/B098BK9SHZ?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000
Bio: Mike Turner retired to the US Gulf Coast after a 27-year career as a Federal law enforcement executive. An adult education course in beginner’s ukulele opened the world of music to Mike, and he took up a second career as a songwriter and poet. To he date has written more than 150 original songs; his songs have received airplay in the US, UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia and on the US Armed Forces Broadcast Network. Mike co-founded Music For World Peace Records, an independent record label specializing in songs that promote world peace and love, and oppose war and violence. Turning to poetry, Mike has had over 180 poems published in numerous print and on-line literary journals and book anthologies; his debut poetry collection, “Visions and Memories,” is available in select bookstores and on Amazon. He was named Male Gospel Entertainer of the Year by the Alabama Music Association in 2016 and by the North America Country Music Associations International in 2017; was featured on the “15 Minutes of Fame Stage” at the Monroeville Literary Festival in 2020: and was named “Poet of the Week” by the University of South Alabama Libraries in April 2021.