Tag Archives: year in review

The Good, the Bad, and the Meh, I Guess That Went Okay

Has anyone told you lately that this is hard job? Here, allow me:

THIS IS A VERY HARD JOB.

Sure, on one hand, we’re doing what we love. Writing stories, letting our imaginations run with interesting, and sometimes crazy, ideas. We write late, wake up early, and do it all over again because we love it. Not only that, we gotta write. It’s just what we do.

And then there’s the other hand. We polish our stories, make them the best we can for human consumption, and submit them for editor and agent approval. Ninety to ninety-nine times out of a hundred? Those precious stories are rejected. Our craft is rejected. And we are expected to smile, say thank you, and do it again and again and again. Because we are insane, yes, and because what else are we gonna do? We gotta write. It’s just what we do.

At the end of 2017, I find myself here, with these two hands. Thankful and grateful I’m still here after five years, working hard, grinding away at a career even if it feels like it’s moving at a snail’s pace. And on the other hand, I’m asking myself: “Am I crazy?” Because I have to be honest, reader. Sometimes I feel like what I’m doing is crazy. Working for days and sometimes weeks on a short story. Asking friends and family to spend their hours beta reading it. Submitting it, receiving a rejection. Submit again, receive another rejection. And occasionally, an acceptance. If I’m lucky, $100 for all those combined hours, and a publishing credit I pray to the gods will somehow entice an agent to take a chance on me.

I had a very frank talk with my husband about these battling feelings on our date night at our favorite hole-in-the-wall Indian food restaurant. It’s usually the one night a week I put on real pants (if you work from home, you feel me so hard right now), even put on a little make-up. But instead, I looked down-right sloppy. No make up, hair hardly brushed. I couldn’t even pretend to put on a mask. I was just tired. (I should give myself a little credit…I did put on pants.)

I explained everything that I was feeling to my husband – feeling beaten down and pretty exhausted. And true to form, he was nothing but supportive. “Take a week off. Take a month off. Hell, take a year off,” he suggested. “Don’t write for publication. Just write for you.”

“Would it help if you focused on novels instead of short stories?”

I nodded. They were all great suggestions. I dug into my matter paneer and he his bengan bharta (tandoor baked eggplant with peas and herbs). I temporarily forgot about our conversation as we both burned our mouths on way-too-spicy food, drank pitchers of water to cool the burn without avail, and laughed.

The next morning, I woke up feeling better. I got to work on research for my novel. I wrote a draft for this very post you’re reading now.

To be honest, I don’t know why. The only thing I know for sure is that no matter what, I’m going to write. No matter what I’m feeling, no matter how many rejections pile up. No matter how many acceptances grace my inbox. I don’t know why.

I gotta write. It’s just what I do.

Kristin’s 2016 Year in Review

Although the urge is strong to write a piece a la David Foster Wallace and title it, “2016: Consider the Dumpster Fire,” I’ll resist.

But also I can’t resist and here’s a picture of a dumpster fire.

It's small, it's compact, it's perfect.
It’s small, it’s compact, it’s perfect.

Oh c’mon, Kristin, it wasn’t so bad. (Pause to picture me straining to find really good things about 2016.) If I’m doing my math right, which is rare, all of the good things were canceled out with two bad things. I’m not saying this to garner any pity. Quite the opposite. I’d be happy if you joined me in watching it all burn in the dumpster fire above. Ah, bonding over warm flames. 2017 is looking better already!

In 2016, I finished editing a book I completely rewrote, hoping the huge improvements could snag an agent. Instead, the manuscript was declined by seven agents. I decided perhaps it’s time to table that book for now and move on to other things. I wrote two short stories, one of which has been declined four times so far.

via GIPHY

You know, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but sometimes this writing thing is hard. And I have never felt that more deeply than this year. And I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to take a good 15 minutes to feel sorry for myself, then get right back on that horse, nose to the grindstone, ass in seat.

Part of me thinks that’s a fine approach. But the other part of me thinks that’s just more of the same.

If you’ve started on the same crazy choice of careers, you know the one thing there is no shortage of: writing advice. Everyone from your aunt Carol to Stephen King has something to tell you about how to do this thing. The right way, the wrong way. Write, write, write! Write when you have something to say. Write your first three books then throw them away. Don’t let any time go to waste, be deliberate. All of it’s well intentioned. All of it has at least some merit.

But the second part to the advice that they don’t tell you is: now reflect on who you are, and if that advice can be applied to how you are.

I wish I had a greater epiphany this year, but perhaps this is just one of those sleeper-epiphanies that I’ll be thankful for when I’m 80. I learned I have only a few truly great ideas, and I have hundreds of good ideas. And I just want to write the truly great ones.

That means advice I followed before does not apply. Like: write, write, write! Get those million words in! Any writing work counts!

Instead, it means: slow down. Fully develop the story. Allow myself to think on the idea for however long I need to. Don’t write a good book. Only write the great ones. No matter how long that may take.

That’s not everyone’s road. But that’s what 2016 taught me personally. I don’t want to get merely paid for doing what I love. I want to be damn proud of every word in every book. I want it to mean something. I want it to be more than entertainment.

But first, I just gotta get out of this dumpster fire.

See you all in 2017! It might be better! What did this dumpst… I mean 2016 teach you?

 

 

What Kind of Year Has It Been?

So what kind of year has it been? A year of transitions—although that may not be saying much since it increasingly seems that all years are transitioning to and from one thing or another. The idea I once held in my imagination of a stable life and career seems more far-fetched every day.

The reality is that I didn’t make much overall progress on my fiction in 2016, although the business of my writing life is a different story. After a four-year absence, I dove back into the convention pond (I attended two, When Words Collide in Calgary, Alberta and World Fantasy in Columbus, Ohio) and emerged with some excellent prospects. I had a very good year in my writing-adjacent day jobs, as a newspaper owner/editor and freelance book editor. I broke ground on a novel which I expect to be my most challenging and ambitious project to date; it’s the sort of project that keeps you up at night for the sheer excitement of plotting it out.

And yet I didn’t actually do very much writing, an ugly truth which I must stare down. In the face of this, it can be small consolation that I’ve greatly strengthened the infrastructure of my life. I must do better in 2017. It’s as simple as that.

Let me talk about those convention appearance, which I came back from energized to produce more and better work. Every time I attend a convention, it solidifies my certainty that there’s a market for my writing. That’s the value of conventions, but they are really hard.

Well, maybe they’re not hard for everyone. For me they’re nigh impossible. Gone are the halcyon days when I went to my first conventions and filled my days with programming. It didn’t take long to realize that the panels are mostly doesn’t come at all naturally to me. You need the ability to walk up to strangers, or near-strangers, and find something to talk about instantly—without seeming needy and pushy. This is quite a tightrope.

Because that’s what you’re there for. You’re generally not there to listen to a panel of novelists talk about the importance of map-making in fantasy literature, nor are you there to listen to well-established professionals wax eloquent about their decades-long careers and the generally pretty unrelatable logistics of publishing fifteen-volume epics. Those are definitely perks, but eventually you’ll realize that those panels are more or less all the same, and they don’t get you from A to B. You could get a similar result from an afternoon browsing YouTube clips.

I spent the first evening of World Fantasy returning periodically to my hotel room to steal precious alone time, breaks from the stress of wandering through the convention halls looking desperately for people to talk to, like a feral animal.

At one point, a friend of mine said to me that most of the people there were just like me and they were wildly faking their smiles and easy-going manners. He pointed out that a majority of writers are probably introverted shut-ins, which explains why they would be attracted to a field where so much of the work happens when you’re, well, very much alone.

But anyway, you don’t spend hundreds (thousands) of dollars on convention fees and airfare and hotel rooms and pub food only if you’re going to actually dive into that pond. So when the second day dawned, I pulled on some swimwear and got wet. The water was excruciatingly cold at first, and only slightly warmer by the end when I finally crawled onto shore like a beached whale, but damn it I came away with a couple of manuscript critiques and some short story anthology opportunities. (One of those opportunities came when an editor inadvertently dumped his entire beer all over me, a soggy mess which ultimately paid off handsomely by weekend’s end.)

It’s not comfortable, and it’s not my favorite part of the job, but I’ve already booked a couple of conventions for 2017 and hopefully it won’t take me so long to acclimate this time.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, a completed trilogy. In addition to writing science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.

Living the Dream. Oh, Crap

pletschportrait2016 was a game-changing year for my writing career. An editor who’d bought two of my previous short stories asked if I’d be interested in writing a novel or series of novels in a shared universe. I started the year as a published short story writer who wanted to write a novel, and I’m ending the year as a novelist under contract to deliver the first novel on January 1, 2017.

I’m also under a non-disclosure agreement, so I’m not free to give details, which is a big challenge when I can’t talk about what I’m thinking about all day!

Because my focus has been on novels, I’ve written fewer short stories this year. My first novel isn’t coming out until some time in 2018, and the meat of my payment will be from royalties, meaning it’s over a year until I actually see money for the majority of the work I’ve done. The good news on the money front is that I’m getting royalties from novelettes published this year and previous years, and I received some nice cheques from short story markets that pay pro rates. Overall, though, I still need my part-time job, and I’m very fortunate to not be the only income-earner in my household.

I’ve also had some interesting insights about living the dream.

I’m no longer as free to write whatever takes my fancy. I can’t spend so much time crafting a random idea into a short story and then look for a home for it, because I’m obligated to turn in a novel-length manuscript on a certain topic by a certain date.

Writers under contract still have to do laundry. I thought the entertainment industry would be more glamorous.

There’s a certain gratification that I don’t have to wonder about whether what I’m writing is ever going to find a publisher. I’ve got a folder of unsold short stories that represent several cumulative months of work for, as of yet, zero financial return. Of course, I also have a folder of sold short stories, but sometimes I’m surprised that stories I think are really strong are still in the zero folder, and I also have a “I got HOW MUCH for THAT?!” story on hand. With the novel, I have a signed contract saying that what I write is definitely going to be published (on the assumption that it meets the publisher’s standards). On the other hand, it’s in my best interests to deliver the best manuscript I can, not just something “good enough to publish.” This book is going to be a lot of readers’ first exposure to my work, and if I want them to buy Book 2, I will make Book 1 as good as I can possibly make it.

I had a big shock one day when I felt sore and tired and just wanted to rot my brain watching cartoons all day, but my common sense told me, “Hey, you have a novel deadline. You know you can’t do good work last-minute (since high school I’ve envied people who can). You better go write a thousand words BEFORE you put that DVD in.”

And my lizard brain snarled, “I hate having a book contract.”

WTF?! my consciousness said. You’ve wanted this for twenty years, and now that you have it, you hate it?

No, I don’t really hate it. I might have hated doing the responsible thing rather than the thing which would provide me with instant gratification, but I don’t regret my choice, because having a book contract is worth it.

On the other hand, for those aspiring writers out there: Do you know the feeling of knowing you have a project, an essay, a big term paper, a graduate thesis due? It’s going to feel like that for the rest of my life. Or at least as long as I have books under contract.

It’s strangely familiar. And it’s worth it.