Ten Years Writing: In Sum

As of a month or so ago, I’ve been writing seriously for ten years, so I’m taking a moment to reflect with two posts looking back on those years. My purpose with these pieces is to escape my myopic focus on the present, and appreciate how far I’ve come. So my first post was a “cartographic description” of the past decade, trying to capture all that progress in a (relatively) short space. Today’s post will be even more contained, as I try to quantify all the progress I’ve made by adding it all up, looking at it all in sum.

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Most of my fiction writing from the past ten years. Lots of this is multiple drafts, but also a few manuscripts that I don’t have in Tallahassee are missing, so the photo gives an accurate impression overall, I’d say. This was posed, by the way—I don’t just keep a precarious stack of writing in my room at all times.

So let’s look at everything superimposed on everything. Let’s look at the totals that I’ve kept meticulous records of (another sign of progress is that I’ve gotten less obsessive about constantly updating these things, and now only do it when I get around to it.)

In total, in the past ten years, I’ve written 6.5 novel-length works, none of them fully edited, one of them in the process of revision right now.

I’ve written twenty theatrical works: two full-length plays, eleven one acts, and seven short plays.

I’ve written thirty-nine short prose works: two (or four) novellas, eleven (or nine) novelettes, and twenty-six short stories. (The line between novella and novelette changes depending on who you ask.)

In all, I’ve written around 1,138,940 words of fiction. I’ve also written 144,820 words of blog posts (not counting the translations, or this post), which includes two short collections of essays. And I’ve written 64,790 words of unfinished fiction—that is, works that I didn’t even finish the first draft of, and which I do not think I will ever finish. (For this reason I counted the 0.5 of a novel in the former group, because I still intend to finish it.)

In all, I’ve received 193 rejections—mostly for short fiction, sometimes for plays. I’ve received four acceptances, one from Kzine, one from Playworks, two from fanzines (which I don’t really submit to anymore.) I also have one weird response that I don’t know how to categorize right now. We’ll see what comes of it.

I’m not exactly sure how many productions of my plays there have been. Two? I think? Plus a script-in-hand production and a student-directed one? IDK. A number that could fit on one hand in any case, all for the same play, The Trial of Adbot 579.

I’ve made $281.41 from my writing, about $210 from Adbot, and all in the past four years.

It’s interesting that the more I look at these numbers, the more I get used to them, and the more they don’t seem that impressive. My brain is somehow normalizing them, and now expects me to do better in the next decade. I mean, I probably will “do better”—write more, make more money, get more rejections—but maybe the lesson here is that these numbers are useful to glance at, but not to stare at. Unsure.

Hopefully these numbers give a good idea of the work-to-success ratio in the early years of being a writer (slightly skewed by the fact that they were also my early years of being a human.) And hopefully they provide some transparency, showing the enormous submerged section of the iceberg, rather than the tip that is so easy to focus on. I know that personally, it’s easy for me to see a writer (particularly if they’re around my age) who’s successful, and then get in my head wondering what I’m doing wrong, why I’m not as successful as them. In those situations, I find it useful to remind myself that everyone has taken a different path in writing, giving them certain skills, advantages, and areas of weakness. Weirdly, telling myself that someone else has worked harder for something than me actually makes me feel more secure about my own capabilities, and more empowered to achieve success.

And, if these numbers themselves don’t provide enough of an image of the iceberg, you can always read my first “Ten Years Writing” post, which is nothing if not a proverbial humongous, unwieldy mass of submerged ice.

Ten Years Writing: A Cartographic Description

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Map for We’ll Tell Happy Stories (2016).

I’ve been writing for ten years now, and writing about that has proven to be quite the challenge. I’ve taken several cracks at writing this post, but I think this is the way to go—this, and another much much shorter post I’ll put up next week.

The reason this is so difficult is that it’s hard to describe what ten years of writing looks like in a post. It’s difficult to reduce it into something snappy, sharp, clear, because it isn’t. But that’s exactly why I want to write this post. In the day-to-day or week-to-week of writing, it’s easy to lose track of progress. It’s easy for me to believe that I’m not getting anywhere, that I’m not getting closer to any of my goals, that the story I’m outlining right now is actually worse than the story I wrote a month ago. Because as I move forward, my goals do too. For years I was eagerly awaiting the day when I would’ve written 1,000,000 words of fiction. I obsessively kept track of the word count of everything I wrote, updating the figures to reflect the latest revisions as I made them. But by the time 1,000,000 words neared, I’d become more focused on being able to write lots of distinct short works, rather than just lots of words in general.

Likewise, my idea of when I started writing is kind of nebulous. I’ve really been writing all my life, but when asked I usually say that I started at eleven. I say that because at eleven (actually a few months before I turned eleven) I started writing the first novel that I actually completed, and eleven is the age when I started writing regularly, usually about once or twice a week. I’ve stuck with this idea, because at a certain point I just had to stick with something, and recognize that if I let myself constantly redefine when I began my  r e a l   w r i t i ng,  I’d eventually be saying, “Now 2018, that’s when I reeeeally started writing.”

Zooming out helps me appreciate the progress that’s been made. Looking at all the fruits of my ten years of labor together, and looking at how many phases I’ve gone through, how many times I felt like I was plateauing and unable to improve my writing, when every single time I managed to get better, it helps break me out of the rut of the present. It can also be useful, in the rarer moments when I need humbling, to remember all the times I thought I pretty much understood writing, and how there was always much more to learn.

I also enjoy reading other writers describe their careers. Although everyone is different, it does provide the closest thing to a map that you can get for a writing career, which is a career without one specific Way to Do It.

So here we go. A cartographic description of the landscape of my first ten years as a writer. It’s worth noting: my first ten years coincide with my teenage years, so your mileage may vary if you’ve started writing later in life (that’s to say, you will probably do better than me, because you’ll be starting out better read than eleven-year-old me. Writing is a sport for all ages!) Also worth noting that I haven’t had to work a job in all this time, except a few part-time summer jobs, though I have been in middle and high school and college, which takes up a fair chunk of time. So factor that into your reckoning, map-readers.Read More »

No Longer Than

In a few days I’m going to self publish the short story “De.mocra.cy,” and writing the afterword for it brought me back to an interesting revelation I had after editing it. I hate limitations in writing, and will do everything to work around, nullify, or flat out ignore them.

This may seem oppositional to the idea that limits are good for writing, though it isn’t entirely. The limitations which I hate are artificial ones—ones which exist beyond the world of the story. In this post I hope to clarify that distinction, explain what drove me to this realization, and tangentially promote that upcoming short story. Although maybe this will actually make the story seem less appealing, who knows.

Before I talk about my experience with that piece though, I’ll go all the way back to my experience in the fourth and fifth grade. Because at that time, I already knew that I hated limits. I wasn’t much of a writer then—at least, I didn’t write regularly, though I did enjoy it a lot. I was always happy to have creative writing assignments in school, because I loved imagining strange worlds and interesting characters. What I didn’t love was that these assignments had to be a maximum of five pages double-spaced (I think—it may have actually been shorter.) That’s about a thousand words, which is about two thirds the length of this post. And while that’s a fine amount of work for most nine- to ten-year-olds, for me it was awful. I always found myself pushing up against the max length, and ending the stories abruptly. That length is just not congruent with the way my imagination works. Over the past six years I’ve written twenty-six short stories, and only one of them was under that length.

But that’s not so bad. A few bizarre, goofy short stories truncated—it’s no big loss, and it was no big frustration to me. What was worse was the max length for plays in high school.Read More »

Everybody Submits (Except Whiners)

I recently overheard a conversation between two writers (but were they really?) about how much submitting sucked, how much bias there was toward known authors, how brutal rejection was. I wanted to run to the opposite corner of the room and hide from the abundant stupidity of that conversation. I might’ve interjected, but they were too far away from me. So let me break this down.

I don’t know how much bias there really is toward known authors. I have very little experience on the other end of submissions, and I’ve heard editors claim they don’t even know who a submission is from when they get it, and therefore have no bias. And yet, I can’t imagine Asimov’s publishing a novella by someone completely unheard of, without the writing being positively godly. I don’t know if things are any better or worse in the literary community—my knowledge is confined to speculative fiction markets. No matter what though, unknown people do get published, especially in magazines. Names sell issues, of course, but magazines are different from books. They’re subscription based, and they have multiple authors per issue. So it’s not like a book where a reader is deciding whether or not to buy a copy, they’re probably already subscribed. And for the people who aren’t subscribed, they can pick up an issue with a cover story by Aliette de Bodard that also has a short story by Unknown McNeverpublished.

Is it harder for unknowns? Who gives a shit. I’d be more stressed by being a known, and wondering if the market was accepting subpar stories just because I had a recognizable name.

Whatever. Not that important. Second part now.

“Rejection, it’s brutal.” Those were the exact words. I don’t understand this. I love submitting. And, while I’d rather be accepted than rejected, I enjoy getting rejected too. It means I can submit again.

I think what I like about submitting, and receiving rejections, is that it gives me a feeling of legitimacy. I don’t have much in common with professional writers—not in payment, not in success, not in quality of writing—but something I do have in common with them is that we all submit stories, and we all get rejections. At least, those professional writers who write short fiction do. And that connection to professionals is a cool feeling. With each query letter I write, with each story I put into standard manuscript format, with each new list of markets to submit to that I make, I feel like I’m doing professional work. And I also get a little spike of serotonin thinking, Maybe this’ll be the magazine that accepts this story. Maybe this’ll be my first published piece of short fiction.

And it’s the same with getting a rejection. It gives me a sense of camaraderie, like I’m tapping into this universal vein of disappointment and perseverance and writerliness. I’m not insane, some rejections are painful—like form rejections from a market that normally gives feedback, or rejection after a story has been held for further consideration—but mostly they’re just a small, manageable sting. What was worse was getting no rejections. For a while I was working on a 150K-word novel, and had no short fiction to submit, and I missed submitting so much.

So what’s wrong with these chuckleheads complaining about submissions and rejections? I imagine that they don’t realize that professional writers have achieved success because of long hard work. These clowns probably believe that writers are just like them. That professional writers are people with luck, or people with good connections, or people with god-given talents, or anything other than just plain, old, skilled workers. And because they believe that professional writers are so like them, they ironically don’t feel any connection when they submit, and instead suppose their actual writing to be the connection between them and professional writers. This is valid in some ways, but every writer’s process is different, so I’ve always felt that this writing is more of a personal thing. I suppose it’s less personal if you ape the process of a famous writer, which is what many writing books suggest, and can be a trap for aspiring writers. So by supposing themselves and professionals to be equal, these goofballs debase the writers, and devalue that tenuous but very special connection made in submitting.

The worse for them. I love submitting, and I’ll do it relentlessly just like every writer worth a damn has ever done. And they whinge about submitting, and they’ll do it infrequently—and the poor slush readers will have a few less submissions to read. The better for the workers.