I seriously considered not posting this, but I’m trying hard to keep this true and authentic, and the reality is that truth and authenticity include failure. Or roadblocks. And this year was both.
For the first time since I started tracking my writing in 2007, a year has passed in which I did not complete a single work (other than some bits of poetry). The closest analog is 2009, wherein I wrote two short oneshots and polished off a story begun in 2008. 2011 and 2012 were both similar in that, in both years, I finished off a novel and wrote a single oneshot. And I cannot say that I did no writing this year. I worked through the bulk of a novel begun in 2018, although I did not finish it until the trip to Chicago (and my writing year ends with Halloween, so…). I also started 5-6 stories ranging in length from oneshots to very, very long novels. I just wasn’t able to complete them.
But 2019 has been a difficult year no matter how you look at it. In January and February, we began the serious consideration of moving and selling the house, followed by an emotional situation which lingered for months. Then there was the actual buying, selling, moving, and unpacking process. Then I changed jobs. Then the family situation that emerged in August and stole most of my remaining resources. And all this plus the usual crush of TCWC concerts and gigs, CONvergence Operations, and, you know, working every day at my job.
And, amidst all of this, the constant push-pull, up-and-down, hope-and-disappointment of querying my novel.
It’s this last that I think has been the hardest to ignore the most consistently. Sure, while actually moving or negotiating prices I had the focus of a collie on catnip, but most days outside of emotional upheavals, I was pretty balanced. But thinking about writing always came with this crackle of dashed hope inside my skin. How could I focus on producing a new story when, any minute, somebody might decide to pick up the other one?
There is also a lack of closure in the query process. So many agents don’t respond at all to a query letter, even just an automated “thanks but no” message. And I truly understand that — I would be using form letters, too, if I had to suffer the deluge of emails agents and publishers must receive every hour of every day. But there never came a time when I felt I could properly say, “Okay, it’s done now” with the querying, so it was always hanging out there like an open door and chilling me with its draft.
I still haven’t taken the time to mourn the failure, because I’m not sure it is one. The goal I set for myself was to query 50 agents and then give up. I queried 54. But the novel has undertaken such a drastic rewriting (some other writing I got done this year, yay!), it’s a different story in many ways. Or, it’s a tighter, better story, anyway. So there’s a part of me that wants to find another batch of agents and query them, too, with my new-and-improved novel. But there’s also a part of me that wants to let it go. Just accept that this one isn’t making the cut, put my head down, cry about it a while, and then have the process be over so I can start it again.
And I am starting again. I’ve already started, in fact. I’m 12,000 words into the next novel.
The trip to Chicago, while exhausting with all of the driving and being away, gave me time to do nothing but focus on writing. I did 13,000 words in 2 concentrated days of literally nothing but writing. It didn’t feel effortless the way writing was back in 2014 or 2016. It didn’t pour out of me at a speed greater than I can type. But what was lacking in ease I was able to make up with determination. Sitting in that hotel room, I was able to shake myself of distractions, push away the doubt, and just make the words come out. It was a brute force attack, but it worked.
So maybe this is how writing needs to feel right now. Maybe it isn’t easy this year, or for the next few. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. It means I have to be uncomfortable doing it. It means I have to feel frustrated, or have to work harder, or have to dig deeper. But I can do those things, and I can still write. I can’t wait for it to feel effortless if I want to produce, but I don’t want to wait anymore. I’ve talked before about my friend Eric who wrote about hunting down the muse and pinning its head to the wall. Writing, for me, cannot currently be an act of simple translation of idea and inspiration to typing, with little needed from me in the middle. Now it is a battle, a slough, an endurance trial.
And if that’s what it takes to get back to writing a novel in 2 months, then that’s what I’ll do.
Because I am a writer. Even when it is difficult. Even when it is impossible. Even when I have a bad year, or the worst year ever. I am a writer. I may fail and fail over and over again, but I will always try once more. I will fight to find a way to make it work. I will do yoga standing on my head or try every prompt in the world or switch to writing long-hand or whatever it takes until I figure out the path needed to get the stories in my soul out of my brain and into the world.
Because the only person in the world who can keep me from crafting my stories is me, and I’m not about to let myself get defeated by my own self. That’s ridiculous.
Same with publishing. The current novel may not find an agent now or ever. I may decide not to keep pushing this one and focus on the next instead. I may have to try five novels, or ten, or twenty, before I find the one that someone wants to publish. But that’s what it takes and that’s what I’m here to do.
(Or, mayyyyybe I consider self-publishing. But that seems like a really quick way to make traditional publishing harder in the future, and I’m not there yet. Talk to me after 20 novels fail to find an agent and then maybe.)
There’s a quote by Sun Tzu that I have rewritten a little. My version is: “Imagine what I could do if I did all that I could.”
When it comes to me and writing, the only limits that stop me are the ones I give myself or the ones I let bind me up. I can and have written 100,000 words in 2 months. I can and have written 70,000 words in a single month. I can and have written complex novels and oneshots that interlock with each other over the course of almost 400,000 words.
2019 broke me down, but I am not broken. 2019 saw failure, but I have not failed.
Failure only happens when you give up.
And, really? Fuck that.
Maybe if a day comes that I run out of stories to tell, maybe then I’ll let failure take root. Until then, I’ve got a new novel to write, and the one after that, and the one after that.
The stories aren’t finished and neither am I.
To borrow a line from one of my greatest inspirations, Peter S Beagle and The Last Unicorn:
“Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.”
Turn the page. It’s a new chapter.
2019 saw defeat.
Long live 2020, my new year of victory.