aka I am a wreck of a human being and you should not attempt to be my friend, ever
This is an attempt to do one of those year-end summaries that people have been doing, in the middle of January, because I am a fuckup with little to no time management skills and have just spent the last two weeks writing 13,000 words worth of fiction for submission to various things, which is basically the only way I ever get writing done anymore, with the threat of shame from breaking deadlines looming over my worthless head. But more on that later.
2015, in many ways, has been a watershed year for me, both good and bad (more bad than good, in my estimation). The major change was that I secured an Arts Council scholarship to fund my MA/MFA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. So I started grad school.
That entailed me selling or giving away 90% of my material possessions — all my books, art supplies, almost all my clothes and every last one of my musical instruments — packing what little I had left into two and a half suitcases, and flying halfway across the globe to the United Kingdom. My crowning achievement in 2015 was that I purged the numbers of my belongings enough that I managed to include my PS3 and its 23-inch TV monitor in the 35kg baggage allowance my airline gave me. At this point I outweigh the sum total of all the things I own.
Being in the UK has been its own trial. Norwich is small and vaguely provincial, food and transport are hideously expensive, and I have no friends here. I’m a deeply introverted and solitary person. I don’t make friends easily. When I have neither the time nor disposable income to socialise, I don’t make friends at all. Yes, the weather is amazing and the campus I live on is beautiful, but I can literally go weeks without any form of meaningful human contact whatsoever.(Ask me how my entire Christmas break has been. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve spoken to another human for longer than five minutes. One of those times was a dental appointment.)
“Great, J!” you say. “The fewer friends you have, the more you can focus on writing!”
Which is a great sentiment. Except that I also haven’t been writing.
2014 was a pretty great year for me. Beginning March that year I sold an average of one story a month to a pro-paying venue. I had a couple of pretty good stories come out, that people responded very well to. People put me on their year-end lists. I managed to eke onto the Campbell longlist based on the strength of those two stories. I was a “writer to watch”. For the first time in my life I felt like my writing career might actually be heading somewhere.
Spoiler alert!! It’s downhill!!!
The majority of stories that I sold in 2014 came out in 2015. And those stories, when published, were met with a resounding chorus of fuck-all. What I did not know at that time, it that this is how the reception to the majority of stories published will go. A bunch of people will retweet or like the links you post, a couple more will say “this story was nice”… and that’s it. That’s it.
What I had run into, was the inevitable mathematics of publishing. It’s hard enough to get a story accepted by a good market. Hard. Hideously hard. But the struggle doesn’t end there. Once a story is out, it has to compete for attention with the literal hundreds which come out every month. And most stories just won’t gather that sort of traction. They just won’t. It’s the mathematics of it.
I got pretty lucky with my first two short stories. I did weird things with voice and structure which made them stand out. The stories I write tend to be a lot more run-of-the-mill than that. I’m not a genius. I’m not. I can’t churn out thought-provoking, genre-bending work with the regularity of an waxing moon. My initial momentum was not sustainable.
So I got discouraged. I got intimidated by the successes of others. I got– I got “oh god I’ve peaked in my career and I’m never going to write another good story and I’ll let down everyone who thought that I was a new writer with great potential”.
And let me tell you, all these things hit you harder when you’re outside of the US/Western SFF community. You can’t attend cons or readings or kaffeklatches because you live on another continent entirely. You’re in a different time zone. Your day-to-day lives don’t have the uniting factor of shared culture or politics. It’s difficult to make inroads or meaningful connections just through social media alone.
The only thing you have, are your stories. Which are drowning in a tide of other stories, struggling to be noticed. Publish or die, but even after publishing, die anyway.
Faced with these impossibilities I chickened out. It wasn’t even a conscious decision to stop writing. I didn’t think “oh shit, it’s too hard, I’m just not going to bother trying”. I just… found other things to do. I read more slush. I spent hours playing the piano. I started playing video games for the first time in my 32 years of life.
I haven’t written a new story for the slushpiles since March 2015. Writing for solicited pieces (or school deadlines, for that matter) has been like siphoning marrow from bone. I haven’t sent anything out to the markets since… I have no idea, actually. I’ve stopped keeping track. I have a revise/resubmit request from an amazing market I’m dying to break… from July. It’s now January. I haven’t revised the story.
So that’s where I’ve been, writing-wise, for pretty much most of 2015. I have one new story slated to come out in 2016, which is in Lightspeed’s January issue. That’s it, that’s the last of them. Even if I get around to writing and subbing new stories again, it’ll take months before I sell anything again–that’s just the reality of things. The mathematics of publishing. Given the lag time between selling a story and actually having it out, we’re looking at me literally not having any other stories out in 2016.
(Unless, of course, I manage to sell another story to Clarkesworld, which has the quickest sale-to-publication pipeline I’ve ever seen. But what are the odds of that happening? Like, seriously.)
This post isn’t even a “woe-is-me-please-come-tell-me-how-much-you-love-my-writing” ploy. I know at least some of you like the stories I write. I wouldn’t have sold them otherwise. This is a “state of the J” post, just in case anyone wonders why I stop having stories out in 2016. Sometimes I feel like I’ve let down all the people who were rooting for me to succeed in 2015. Sorry, guys.
It was good to get this off my chest, at any rate. I’ve been feeling this way for the greater part of 2015, but I didn’t have the courage to say any of it out loud, because as writers we’re not supposed to display our insecurities and weaknesses, else we exude the aroma of sour grapes and bitter never-was.
I say fuck that. Now you know.