2016: a year in… well, it was a year

Moonrise during my trip to Poland this past October
Moonrise during my trip to Poland this past October

This is the time around about when people are making their year-end posts, wrapping up what they’ve done and written and sold and published, and honestly I’ve been swinging back and forth between not making one of those posts at all and simply putting it off until I end up not making one of those posts at all because oh no it’s suddenly mid-March so it’ll look kinda weird if I do.

Here I am, though.

Why have I been so reluctant? The truth is that this has been a professionally difficult year, for reasons that either don’t bear going into or which I don’t even fully understand, and the upshot of that is that I’ve been writing little in the way of original stuff and selling even less. Which… “emotionally uncomfortable” is a very light way of putting it. Not least because I went from six short stories and one novel published in 2015 to two short stories and one novel published in 2016 (and the novel was certainly not written in 2016, so it’s tough to count that). And one of the short stories was a reprint (“A Heap of Broken Images” in the May issue of Clarkesworld, which in fairness is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written).

The other short story was “Are You Sure What Side You’re On” in the September issue of Lamplight, which is a thing about lesbian vampire/serial killers and which was honestly a lot of fun to toss together and which isn’t quite as trashy as it sounds and I do know that it sounds very trashy.

It wasn’t always like this. Believe me, I didn’t start out this way.

Should go without saying, right? Sure. No one starts out this way, or that’s how the story goes, and some of the stories are close to accurate. Things like me are not born; we’re made, conceived in a subtle orgy of blood and death.

That part is true. Sort of. The blood and death part, anyway. The orgy part, too. And the subtlety.

Because no one can see it, the rising tide of red-black inside you. It’s a private transformation, and as it happens you’re fixed with the absolute certainty that this is only the way you’ve always been. You are in the midst of a becoming more fundamental and more essential than puberty could ever be. You’re sinking into yourself at the same time as you emerge, slicing open your chrysalis and crawling out to dry your iridescent wings in the sun.

You are delicate and beautiful, but only you know it, and only you understand. Outside your skin, you look like all the rest of them. You pass. You blend. None of them know what you are.

You reveal yourself to a chosen few. They don’t realize how much you’ve favored them, how wholly they’ve been blessed.

They’re too busy pleading for their lives to notice.

And then there was my debut short fiction collection. Which is honestly really cool.

I’m guessing a lot of people would look at that and think “hey, that’s a sweet year, professionally” and on paper they wouldn’t be wrong. The problem is on the production end. It’s simply been really hard to write the kind of stuff I can sell, and as a result I’ve been haunted by feelings of failure. I used to churn stuff out like a machine – write-submit-write-submit-write-submit, usually while working on a novel at the same time. After I finished my most recent one, Sword and Star (book 3 in the Root Code trilogy), I realized that I had been writing novels pretty much non-stop for over half a decade.

All of which combined into a perfect storm of burnout and WHY AM I NOT WHERE I WANT TO BE PROFESSIONALLY, which I think is primarily why it’s been enormously hard to do much of anything.

The problem is that this is a business where you’re passively encouraged to feel like a failure for not keeping the write-submit-write-submit machine running.

So one of the things I want to do here isn’t so much to run down the list of my accomplishments of 2016 as it is to acknowledge that I kind of feel like shit about 2016. Further, that I don’t want to feel like shit about 2016. That’s not why I started doing this. I didn’t start writing professionally in order to be a machine, and I didn’t start doing it in order to beat myself up when I can’t maintain a steadily rapid pace.

This is one of the reasons why it’s been both troubling and wonderful to fall back in love with fanfiction: I’m not writing it to be paid, and I’m not writing it with any intention of selling it. I’m writing it to write it. I’m writing it because it gives me supreme pleasure to do so. And also ego-strokes on AO3, yeah, but mostly because I just love writing the dang stuff.

Which means I’m where I was at the end of 2015, looking at my newly discovered relationship with a form of fiction I thought I had mostly abandoned fifteen years ago and a form of fiction that I genuinely want to make a career of (I’ve been a bit unsure about that lately, to be honest), and trying to figure out where I need to go from here.

I’m still not sure. I’m still working it out. I’m still wrestling with a lot of shame issues, a lot of feelings of inadequacy, and a lot of anxiety and fear. What I do know is that in 2017, I want to work on being kinder to myself when I don’t feel like I can write a certain thing, or when writing that thing is too scary to manage. Or simply when it’s really hard. I want to remember that while sales and awards and peer recognition are great, I started doing this because I love writing, and the second I lose sight of that is the second I need to recalibrate. Love is not the same thing as fun, but this work shouldn’t make me miserable. It shouldn’t drive feelings of failure. Or it’s realistic to expect that it will some of the time, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. It shouldn’t kill the love.

In 2017, I want to focus on the fact that the most important thing is to be writing at all. The most important thing is to keep creating. It doesn’t even matter what I’m creating, as long as it gives me and others joy. Money is great also, and so are awards, but yes.

The thing about fanfiction is that because it has no monetary value and because it still holds a degree of stigma in the professional writing community (that’s getting better but I think it’s still there), it’s easy to regard time and effort spent on it as time and effort wasted, when that time and effort could have been put toward something publishable. But if we’re evaluating the worth of writing by a different and more expansive rubric, things change. I’ve had people tell me repeatedly that my fanfiction – which usually deals pretty heavily in mental health and trauma and recovery – hasn’t just been something enjoyable but that it’s helped to keep them going through rough times, that it’s helped them carry themselves through health and mental crises, periods of profound pain and distress and uncertainty. That it’s helped them see aspects of their world differently. It’s taught them things about themselves.

It’s certainly helped me that way.

My own lying brain tells me that’s not worth as much as a publication credit or a royalty check or an award nomination. And maybe to some people it wouldn’t be. But the last thing I want to do in 2017 is be clearer and more honest and more aggressive about what I regard as worthy and worthwhile. What I believe worth even is. I want to defend that, even if only to myself.

There are a lot of things in my professional writing life that I don’t control. But I do control that much.

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