I have been in pain this year. I don’t like to admit that. Acknowledging it makes it more real. I prefer to put jokes on top, or write about someone else entirely. Fiction is easier for me, until it isn’t. And right now it isn’t, because I’m hiding too much.
There is place in my lower back where the disk pushes on a nerve. A lot of people experience this, but not many people experience a pain so excruciating that it causes them to black out. This has happened to me. And when I am pushing myself up from the floor to crawl out of the bathroom, I have not found it helpful to focus on what most people experience. Nor is it helpful to wonder why I am unable to cope with my pain, or why it is happening to me at a relatively young and healthy period of my life.
I write stories because I love them, and it’s the only magic I know. Writing a fully functioning dream into another person’s brain is absolutely magic, but the magic is dim right now.
I wrote a novella in April but I am afraid to edit it. I don’t know where I’d send it, and I don’t have an agent.
I wrote several tiny stories for Curious Fiction, and I am collecting them into handbound magazines for an artist’s market in August, but I feel so weird asking for money for my art.
I have collected too many rejection letters on the stories I thought worthy, and I am worried that the only markets who were interested in my words have closed.
I am telling you all of this, because no one should be alone in these fears. And I know you’ve felt them, too.
Sometimes the words stop. And I need to look at why. I had a steroid shot in my lower back this week so I could exercise without sending my back into muscles spasms. I wanted to use some of my recovery time to write a backlog of small stories for Curious Fiction, but I spent most of it exercising and making little books. I also made a spell book for a new game of dungeons and dragons. Part of me wants to call this time wasted, but it made me happy. And I know that any captured bit of happiness right now is not a waste of time.
I am building myself up, because I don’t know if the steroid will work. I don’t know if my bad days are behind me, or if I’m only putting off some larger bodily failure. I have considered getting a more discrete cane, because on the bad days I had to use a walking stick that is almost as tall as I am to navigate my house.
(Only marginally more discrete- I have seen canes with crystal doorknob handles and if I have to carry one, I’d like to look like an extra-planer botanist witch.)
I think I am struggling to reconcile the idea that who I am does not change when I am unable to create. I love making things. I usually ask my friends what they are making- any expression of art is exciting, because it comes from a place near the core of ones being. But I know that the core can burn out. It’s understandable to be exhausted. It’s enough to find the people you love and sit down with them and be.
I wrote something silly yesterday about wanting a collection of low conflict gentle stories to hold my hand and give me a hug. And then I wanted it enough to start writing.
There is, I’ve been told, no market for low conflict and meandering stories. But I’m a market. And I need to meander through some magic to regain some of my bearings.
I’ve lost a lot of bearings lately, and my heart hurts. I have a hard time actually processing my hurts, so I’ve decided to let myself wander into fantasy and explore a world where nothing is at stake.
I’m calling it A Very Long Denouement. I love a good denouement. That place in the story where the characters unwind and find some peace before the closing line. I want to capture that feeling in a series of vignettes that may intersect, and they may not. We’ll see where it goes.
So this is a new path. I hope you’ll join me in it.
I attended NorWesCon42 this year, and while there were a number of amazing panels, insights, readings and friendships, what I want to talk about is education. Specifically, an education in writing. I have not had a formal education as a writer, and often at my lowest, I feel like I have had none. That is a lie. My education is pieced together from a thousand places, and disseminated this way, it is easy to overlook it.
I attended a really helpful panel this year on where writers come from with authors Craig Laurance Gidney, Kat Richardson, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Yilin Wang. All of them had different backgrounds in their writerly education, and the most important thing they stressed was that there is no correct path to a career as an author.
And because it has taken me so long to accept that I am not alone, that I have built an informal education for myself out of conventions and books and time in the chair writing unpublishable nonsense, I want to pass this key on to you, whoever you may be.
However you got here, whatever method you used to learn your craft, and wherever you are on the path right now YOU ARE VALID.
Fanfiction is valid. Writing books are valid. Workshops are valid whether they last one hour or six weeks. Your friends who read your work and give you feedback, whether or not they are also writers; they are valid resources (and golden and beautiful souls and you should hug them next time you see them.) Writing awful things and tearing them up and making them into new things is valid and necessary. You are learning. You will never stop learning.
If you have been waiting for someone to give you a certificate that says Now You May Write Because We Have Decided You Are Educated Enough To Do So, stop waiting. There’s no certificate as important as the next finished story. Because writing in itself is an education in writing.
(and so is reading)
I’ve read some really great things lately, so I’m going to share three of them.
Holly Heisey’s article on medium sparked the thought behind this blog post, and my time at NorWesCon only fed the fire. Speaking Up (When You’re Not Perfect And Never Will Be)
I got to hear Carolyn M. Yoachim read the first part of her story The Archronology of Love at the convention, and I just managed to read the rest today. It was beautiful and the construction was so clever and I need other people to read it so I’m not the only one holding all these feelings.
And while I did not get to hear Chimedum Ohaegbu read her story Toothsome Things at Norwescon, Erik did, and he told me as soon as he saw me that I was going to love it. I did. It’s frightening and quick, and it mashes up all the stories you know into something so much bigger. He knows my tastes so well.
I like planning a story. Drawing maps, designing costumes, sketching character profiles. At my most extra, I will make touchstone objects for a story; a character’s favorite sweater, a pair of goggles with wire mesh lenses, a tee shirt stamped with a swarm of bats. At this stage, before everything coalesces, it is easy to play with a story’s design. The beats aren’t cemented in place, the thing is nebulous and sparkling. It’s easy to love a dream.
The writing is harder. First drafts are especially difficult, because I am forced to confront all the spaces the dream washes out. How does character get from knowing their antagonist to hating them? How does their sidekick go from annoyed acquaintance to best friend? Outlines will provide some structure, but there are places in the story that I won’t know about until we get there.
There are places in the story where I will have to hang a curtain between this world and the one I am writing, and ask that you not look behind that curtain. There are some things I can’t import into the story’s world. Many more things that I wish to exclude. As much as I am writing a world, one woman can’t be an entire universe.
I can only masquerade as one.
When I begin to pin down my story in a first draft, it loses its depths. It looks as thin as that curtain, and I worry it will tear at its first reading. My big nebulous shining thing, with all its maps and props, looks very little like the thing I wrote.
But notes and props and maps are very boring without a story to go along with them. And I can’t edit what isn’t written.
Because the trick to story telling isn’t in the props. Depth comes later, when I have a first draft, and I can tease its structure into three dimensions. I need to finish the work, and then its time to share.
I’ve listened to some really great stories lately. Keyan Bowes wrote a beautiful love story about research funding and the intelligence of octopuses. You can listen to Octonet on Escape Pod.
And I am Fire, I am Tears by Wendy Nikel is on Podcastle. It’s got cursed sisters and dragons and untrustworthy husbands. It felt like a lost fairy tale, a favorite one, that had just been rediscovered.