Reflections and Going Forward
I’ve now been writing full-time for over a year, technically. I say technically because this time last year, I’d just started graduate school, and it was eating my life while I sat confused and miserable wondering how something that had seemed like such a good idea at the time could go so wrong. In the end, I determined the program I was in wasn’t a good fit for me. I gave it a year, and thought about pushing through the final year. However, I wanted to know if I could actually get a decent amount of writing done without grad school, since my production while in it was pretty poor (about as bad as when I was working 70 hours a week, really).
So I quit. This summer was full of moving, vacations, family obligations, and Worldcon. Even so, in the last four months I’ve managed to write two short stories, get all 10 short stories currently on submission polished as best I’m able, and finish a novel. It’s not been the smoothest going, nor the easiest thing ever. There are days when the rejections stream in (today there were two more…) and everything I do feels like it’ll never amount to anything at all. I even start scanning the job listings wondering if anyone will hire someone who has been out of work a year and has two pretty useless degrees (unless you need some Anglo Saxon translated?).
Then something happens to remind me, to nudge me back onto the path. Some days it’s schadenfreude, I’ll be honest. I read a forum post, or a workshop story post, or I’m talking to someone, or occasionally see something in a magazine and think “god, that’s stupid/terrible/sad, I’m totally not that clueless/bad/pathetic.” Some days it’s seeing how far I’ve come, the days when I read over a line or a paragraph and think “hey, that kinda works, what I did there. I think I understand foreshadowing now!” Some days it’s other people like my first readers who read my stuff and tell me they like this or that, or that they can really see improvement. And some days, the best days, it’s the writing itself, when it grabs me by the brains and I race along the story with every piece falling into place like a master level Go game on fast forward.
And looking ahead, I think I can keep going. I’ve got a novel done, and three people have already finished reading it for me, with two more due to finish in the next week or two. They’re compiling lots of information and commentary for me to sift through so I can make it the best it can be. And reading about the market right now, I’m sort of happy I decided to work on this novel, which is a fantasy with pretty strong romantic elements, instead of trying to finish Casimir Hypogean. Debut science fiction seems like it’s a tough sell right now, so breaking in with a fantasy novel might be easier. Of course, there’s no way to know if Chwedl will even sell. But I’m glad I’m making this the first effort the world might see and saving the more complex stuff for later.
Novel project 2 will have to start in a couple months, as soon as Chwedl’s query is out the door to agents. I’m not sure what to do. Part of me really wants to finish Casimir Hypogean to polished draft and then do roughs of the other two novels in the series just so I have them done enough that if by some chance the first sells, I won’t be coming back years later and tackling that world cold. However, while I think the novels have great potential, I think in some ways the steampunk mysteries I want to write might be an easier pitch. Local alternate history, alchemy, airships, murder, clockwork cats, and quirky characters? I mean, how can I lose? The Casimir story is in my head right now, however. It’s been coalescing for a few years now, ever since I wrote that terrible rough draft. I’m not sure how the third book ends, but I know how the second one goes, and how the third begins. I figure by the time I get there, it’ll be clear how it has to go. The steampunk book will take a lot of research, the Casimir books almost none (and what research there is I can keep doing as I go).
So I have some thinking to do. Meanwhile, I’ve been researching and doing rough quasi-outlines/notes for stories for my crazy short story month plans. It’s definitely time to start thinking about the workshop applications too. I want to apply early this year to all of them, get it out of the way. In some ways, I’m stressing about it more this year than I was last. Last year I really wanted to go, but it was mostly because I wanted to work with the people at CW. This year, I want to go for me. I think that either the Clarions or Odyssey could help push my writing to the next level. I’m clearly on the threshold, if my “nice” rejection stack means anything. I want to get past the personal rejections and make a sale, to write the kinds of stories that editors can’t put down. I think the workshops could help with this, could help me find out what I need to learn or practice to get closer to where I want to be as a writer.
I’ll likely be posting very boring somewhat daily updates during November about my short story mission. Stay tuned for the crazy!