I didn’t write as much as I would have liked to in 2022. 2021 and the early part of this year were scary, financially, so I leaned into getting work to compensate. Lots of work. All the work.
So, actually, if I’m being accurate, I wrote a ton in 2022. As my upcoming book’s publication date got pushed once, then again, completely outside of my control, taking with it the money I was hoping to live on, I panicked. I took on ghostwriting jobs. Their topics ranged from memoirs of gorgeous stories I can’t wait to see out in the world (even if no one will know I had a hand in getting them there), financial planning guides that made me even more anxious about the state of my own financial affairs (read on my brother’s blog, 401Que?, how the immigrant experience can make financial planning a bit of a black box), plus a how-to by a social media sensation.
And I took corporate work. So. Much. Corporate. Work. I wrote about tax laws and marketing software, makeup palettes, and mortgages for the self-employed. But, mostly, I stressed about writing. I got heart palpitations at thinking I wasn’t doing enough, and juggled deadlines that made me scared and made me feel like no matter how much I did, it wasn’t enough. I checked my bank account incessantly to keep the wolf at bay, that old, grizzled beast that’s been chasing me since I was little and our lights got cut off for non-payment and we had to eat lentils because there was no money for more. The pandemic had made him strong again. He fed on the uncertainty like it was a bloody carcass, and he got big and muscular. So I wrote for pay. I wrote as fast as I could. It was exhausting.
I didn’t work on my books. Not much. Definitely not as much as I would have liked.
Oh, I thought about them. A lot. I woke up in the middle of the night floating in a plot twist, and walked in the woods dreaming up the unique landscape of a fantasy land. I imagined book maps and stories set in 24-hour periods. But pen to paper (err… fingers to keyboard)? Not so much.
The part of me that wants to be fair to me (it’s a small part) does want to interject here to say I did manage to finish a novel that will be out this coming May (read about it by clicking here). It was a somewhat grueling process. Not all births are easy. And I’ve gone through copy edits on that novel. Advance review copies are in the works. So, by many people’s standards (and my own of, say, ten years ago), I’ve done plenty of writing.
But how much truth have I told? It may seem an odd question, since fiction is inherently “made up,” and, as such, closer to lies than truth in most people’s minds. But, sometimes, fiction gets way closer to the truth than anything else. That sounds like writer mumbo-jumbo to me even as I write it, and still it’s true. Fiction examines. Fiction dreams. Fiction cares. A fiction writer bleeds, and types the blood and unravels its DNA. Oh, that’s dramatic, my inner editor says, but my inner poet says, screw you, we’re leaving that in. It feels like bleeding, sometimes, a weakening, a draining, a giving of more than you should. Singing, others. Flying, when you’re lucky.
It feels like loneliness when you don’t write.
I have fallen into a trap that many writers fall into, and that has been of chasing approval for my words. I have wanted — and gotten — the big publishing gets. The splashy advance. The big article in the industry publications. The lengthy list of press mentions. It has proven disconcertingly not enough. Because, as any therapist could have told me, they’re external goals, contingent on other people bestowing them. They’re about sitting around waiting to be “chosen,” and aching when I’m not. Because, believe me here, for every time you see me on social media posting about how publishing has “chosen” me with a starred review or a trip to a great conference, there are a thousand ways I haven’t been chosen while others have. Countless ways I have felt small and unappreciated. Endless ways in which it feels like my words fall into the abyss and I have failed to say anything true and meaningful.
You see, I’ve mixed up the writing with the publishing. I’ve chased publishing — I will keep chasing it, let’s be honest — but what I need to focus on is this, here. The blank page. The story that whispers to me from behind trees when I take my walk in the woods. The pouring out of all I’ve got, even when it feels like too much.
I started this piece in the hopes of offering advice. But I don’t want to, here, in the end. I just want you to see me, and know me, and read my words, and think, “There was truth there.” I want to tell you that I intend to write more fiction in 2023, and worry less about how it will find its way into the world. I want you to know that if you falter, it’s okay, we all do. There’s truth in that, and humanity, and saying so makes me feel a little stronger.
May your 2023 be filled with the things that matter to you.