I was looking back at my posts and noticed that I’ve passed the six-month mark for posting one post on the first of each month. Neat! It serves as evidence for my personal hypothesis that small, easily achievable goals help to build discipline and confidence. I tell myself that I will publish at least one paragraph here on the first of each month, and since starting a little over half of a year ago, I’ve managed to stick to that goal.
A couple weeks ago I got my first acceptance letter from a SFWA market for a short story I wrote. Whereas all my other stories making their ways through the submission grinder have accrued a handful of rejections each, this one was only rejected once. Interesting! You just never know which ones will shine and which ones will fade into the background. What I really am enjoying about writing short stories is that they are self-contained units of expression and, even if they don’t get picked up, I can still be proud of myself that I finished them and ultimately package them up into an anthology.
When I first started writing, I thought I would have to make huge space operas with dozens of characters and multiple competing plot lines. I did that with Burrow, and wrote about 75% of the sequel before I realized something about myself: my brain moves so quickly from topic to topic that it’s hard for me to want to stick with the same story for more than a few months. With children, a house full of plants, a dynamic life, and a full-time job, it’s hard to keep coming back to the same story over and over again for months on end when my brain wants to ebb and flow through different emotions and expressions. Short stories have given me that vessel. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Sometimes I like to do the thing I’m not supposed to do and go reading through the critical reviews on my books. One aspect of Amazon reviews in particular that I enjoy is how they put your most positive and most critical reviews side-by-side right at the top of the review section. I like doing this because it forces me to reconcile with the fact that there will always be people who don’t like the way I write or what I write about. In the end, the only thing that matters is that I enjoy doing what I do, otherwise I don’t truly love doing it. Otherwise, what’s the point in writing when I could be doing something else that makes me feel fulfilled?
I’ll often think back to a project I was working on called Coping with Creativity, in which I largely do the same thing that I’m doing here. Maybe this place is the next iteration of that energy. Maybe this is Chapter 2 of a Volume of my Life entitled, “The Outward Expression of Non-Perceivable Inner Vibrations.” I’m not really sure. What I do know is that I’ve managed to stick to posting here once per month so far, and in doing so, I’ve been able to consistently add new words to stories yet to be published. That’s really exciting for me, because it’s taken a lot of big changes in my mental and emotional life to get to where I am right now at the moment I am typing this.
I have my head down and my nose to the grindstone (does anyone still say that, anymore?), and I can feel this momentum building and sustaining, but I’m so afraid that if I stop to recognize it for just a moment that I will have missed an opportunity to solidify it even more. Maybe growing up is learning how to admit to yourself that you’ll never be able to do everything you want to do, so it’s important to spend time doing something you want to do.
This whole month has been one of change. I suppose every month can be said to be that. When I started this month’s post (the first section) I was frustrated with where two novel projects of mine had gone–specifically, nowhere–and was finding comfort back in the clear limits of my short stories. The truth of the matter is that I am not done writing novels, it’s just that, for now, I have an enormous amount of short story ideas I need to get out before I can get back into the rigorous plotting and design of a good novel.
When I finished Evolved, I was really proud of myself for getting to a state where I can say the book is “done.” The story isn’t done, though, which was by design; the Special Projects and Intelligence Division Emergency Response (SPIDER) Unit was built around this idea of “monster-of-the-week”-style storytelling, with overarching “season” plots with weaving narrative arcs inspired by Doctor Who and all the other stories I grew up with. The second book is ready for a Big Rewrite (the second stage of a book after Loosely Put Together Draft™), but I needed a break from the confines of action-oriented writing to explore some more cerebral literary expressions of the stories in my head.
What I’m really excited about is how these new muscles will make writing my longer works different. Writing–and, I can’t emphasize this enough, finishing short stories 2k – 20k in length) has fundamentally changed my approach to writing. Whereas before I was constantly feeling like I was falling behind and unable to catch up to some arbitrary and self-imposed measure of “doneness,” feeling that closure that comes from completing a good story well told over and over again helps to emphasize that this is not about the destination. This is about the journey. I forget that sometimes.
I love that all writing advice can be distilled to two words: writers write. Everything I have ever read about how to write a story, how to create a compelling plot, how to construct a good story and then tell it well, and how to be a “writer” has all boiled down to just writing words. It’s ridiculous how simple the formula is, but that’s the truth of the matter. Of course you need to feed your imagination, and you do that by consuming and analyzing other art, but the primary directive remains the same:
If you want to be a writer, you have to write one word, then another, and then another, and so on and so forth until you are done being a writer.
This year I sold my first short story to a SFWA market, and have completed half of a dozen other stories. Not bad for having only really taken this seriously for half a year. I’m excited to see what 2022 brings.
And hey, you should be, too.