The calendar resets and here we are again at January and its blank canvas, its clean horizon. The world breathes a collective sigh of relief as 2016 becomes memory. It was as fast as passing a landmark on the high way: blink and you miss it. We’re in new territory now.
This side of the calendar, my December was less than what you could call “perfect.” My writing life had fallen to nil. I made and sent out only a small handful of cards. One of the gifts I ordered online broke in transit. We had strange weather: Arctic cold followed by unseasonably warm days, only a modest amount of snow that disappeared within twenty-four hours, an ice storm that ruined plans to see Rogue One in a fancy theatre, and a wet and soggy Christmas, complete with fog and thunder. My amaryllis did not bloom. Work days felt long, and I reread the Harry Potter books ravenously (good) and then finished them (sad). Carrie Fisher, whose image had graced my wall of inspirations as a teenager, had a heart attack and died soon after Christmas. I caught a cold and spent New Year’s Eve sniffling and coughing and drinking tea – a great way to cap off the old, crusty, crummy year.
Crummy in some ways, I’m not raging over wasted time. This was a fallow season for me, a rest period, a time to think. Baking, card making and gift wrapping were great therapeutic creative outlets. This year I labored gleefully over spritz cookies, molasses cookies, and even made a few puddings – which I’d resolved not to do this year. I rediscovered a penchant for molasses of all things, blackstrap molasses. I tackled the problem of properly decorating spritz cookies (colored sugar goes everywhere but on the cookies) by putting the colored sugar in a little spice jar and tipped it out of one of the holes. I even figured out how to time the batches in my too-hot gas oven and burned none of them. Triumphs all around with Christmas music softly playing and other parts of my soul getting exercise and sunlight.
I have solid ideas for a Sequel to my Novel, too.
I know how to start 2017 on better footing, by being honest with myself about what doesn’t work and what does work for me on terms of creative process or even creative thinking. This isn’t even a matter of Success versus Failure, but a mindset uncluttered and distracted, wiped clean.
I know the basics: write, finish thing, get beta-readers – check. Edit – check. Query agents – check. Keep querying agents – check. The list forms a long term plan. Anything else is just extra – paid editors, workshops and conferences, sending witty tweets to potential agents, even reading articles. When it comes to the process, advice can only go so far. Do I scour my Twitter feed for writerly advice because I need advice or because I’m worried that I’m missing a step? Should I be learning all there is about the publishing business even though I’m not at that stage and the idea gives me a stomach ache? Is my simple plan for conquering the world getting my novel published is in fact doomed to fail? Conclusion: there is only one way to know: get going and make changes on the way.
Anything else is clutter, a distraction or a hindrance. Above all, what I want is to write and write better. Chief distraction is the notion that writers must be social-media mavens. I returned to Twitter a year and a half ago and have not cleared 30 followers. While tweeting pithy remarks is fun and a release, at the end of the day, it doesn’t add to the word count or to the completion of a chapter. It is a little 140 character dance (mixed metaphor, yes) for attention. And it hasn’t worked for me so far. Put it down to my season in life, my energy level, my personality, or how my introverted brain conjures up witty thoughts, and it comes down to the same thing: it is not worth the whole of my attention. I cannot write with the world looking over my shoulder, and I should get work done while the world is paying attention to flashier people.
During this interval between novel completion and now, I decided that I’d finally tackle the challenge of writing short stories and build up material to publish and (theoretically) gain traction in the publishing world. After all, I have so many ideas: funky sci-fi concepts and profiles of historical figures. After all, novels have always been my comfort zone – I should step outside Why not?
I got one written and ran away from it. Another is halfway done. What’s the problem, Jillian? Some of it was deflated-bubble syndrome (getting excited about it, talking about it to everyone who would listen and the protective bubble around that fragile idea bursts). Some of it was the simple truth that ideas don’t always last, and I can’t make them last. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they become novels. There is nothing wrong with novels. I’ve been trying to write them since I was a twelve-year-old. It is my strength and my passion, not my comfort zone/prison. The short stories will come – I know I can write them – but I can’t just conjure them out of thin air.
I have to keep learning what works: forcing myself to write something I don’t want to write is an exercise in futility. Why on Earth would I do that to myself? To be like Neil Gaiman or Ursula Le Guin? Oh… I’m neither of these excellent people. I’m me. And I can’t be someone I’m not.
I write novels because I love to write novels. The long-haul journey of creating characters and knowing them on an intimate level is a commitment and an exercise in patience, persistence and pure doggedness. I’m better for it, I know I am.
So how does this affect my outlook for 2017?
Joy and moxie, my friend, joy and moxie.
I know what works for me, and I know what doesn’t. The only real “should” in 2017 is writing, anything else is optional and tangential.
I’m starting that darned Sequel because I owe it to my characters. And I want to. And it wants to be written.
I hope to start querying agents in six months. I am not wasting time in not doing it now; it’s in the hands of my betas and out of mine.
Write and read. Period.
Write when I don’t bloody want to.
Write for the characters, not for anyone else.
Take Twitter “advice” with a grain or two of salt.
There’s more, of course. 2017 is a work in progress, after all. There will be pitfalls, and I’ll fall back into old habits, and there will be internal battles over the meaning of Success and Failure. But all there is to be done is to pick myself up and get going again.
When Carrie Fisher died the internet remembered her with photos and quotes. This was a woman who was honest about her struggles, deadpan in her humor and unwilling to back down. Actor, writer, human being, she’s left a void in this world. Below is a quote that struck me as fitting.
Stay afraid, but – do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.
Is it too maudlin to say she is – in some strange, subliminal way – speaking to me, to all of us who struggle?