Friday, December 30, 2016

End of Year Writing Report

This has been a momentous year in my writing life, all of it fueled by plenty of coffee and quiet and supervised by these two. That's Cricket up on top and Tina down below, hanging out in the cat tree that sits next to the window near my editing chair. My computer is a few steps away, so the cats have taken up residence in this small part of the house, in order to keep an eye on me while I write. It's their job, you see. It's what cats do.

They've done a pretty good job keeping me on task. Our biggest accomplishment this year was completion of my MA in Writing degree from Johns Hopkins University. I've been working on this for almost exactly three years now, taking classes in fiction, poetry and "reading like a writer," which is quite different from reading for pleasure.

As part of the requirements for the degree, I wrote a thesis, which is a collection of pieces that I produced during the program--three short stories, an excerpt from a novel and several poems.The degree will technically be awarded in May, 2017, but I've finished all the requirements and happily participated in a festive celebration with other graduates where we read short selections from our work.

Here I am reading an excerpt from my science fiction novel-in-progress, "The Kiss Catastrophe." Hopefully you will be hearing more about that in the coming months, since I hope to complete it in 2017. I participated in NaNoWriMo last month and used that project to write a draft of the second half of the book. It's a mess at the moment, but there's a story in there somewhere! Lots of editing to do on this.

The other major thing I did this year was make a concerted effort to finish some short stories and start sending them out. I had a number of stories at various stages of completion when the year started and managed to bring 11 of them to a stage where I felt they were ready to send out. I submitted these 11 a total of 52 times in 2016, which was my goal at the beginning of the year--to submit once per week. I also created a packet of three poems (from my thesis) and wrote one book review, both of which I submitted a few times.

As a result of all this submission activity, 4 of my stories were accepted for publication. 3 have already appeared (here, here and here) and 1 is in press, due to appear in Gargoyle in 2017. My little flash fiction piece (a 101-word short story) was listed as a Featured Story in July, 2016, which pleased me, since this was a piece I started almost ten years ago.

I felt like I was sending out a lot of pieces this year, and I was, but this is apparently what's necessary to get things published these days. My acceptance rate was 7.3%, so not as low as it felt like when the rejections started rolling in. And there were a lot of those--35 pieces have been rejected so far, and I withdrew 2, but 14 are still pending, so who knows what the final statistics will show. My goal is to double my submission rate next year: 100 submissions in 2017! A friend of mine thinks of this process as "collecting rejection letters," so maybe that's the right attitude to take.

It's easy to get discouraged by what feels like failure, and there's a lot of it in this business. It seems to me that the secret to not letting the whole process get you down is to send your work right back out as soon as it's returned to you with a note along the lines of, "this isn't right for us, etc." Never let it sit on your desk when it can sit on someone else's desk!

I'll wait until next year (which is two days away) to write a more complete post with my writing goals for 2017. I've been thinking about it a lot, and I have a lot of plans--so stay tuned. And happy new year!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

NaNo Success!

I made a big push the last few days to finish my 50,000 word novel installment and am proud to say I made it over the finish line last night! You can see from the following plot how I had a few slow spots this month--the one right after the election is probably self-explanatory since I, like many people, was in shock and non-verbal for a few days. Writing has been a great healing aid during this period, though, and I highly recommend it for getting centered on one's own life again. Give it a try!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How to Move From Fear to Action

I woke up this morning and for a few blessed moments, almost an entire minute, did not remember how the world had changed. It was nice today--the sun was up, it looked to be a beautiful day, crisp and fresh--and as I looked out our second-story window and caught a glimpse of the Washington Monument a couple miles away...reality came rushing back.

I marvel at how different things feel today. Yesterday, Wednesday morning, I woke up after getting to bed at midnight, still not knowing how the election had turned out, but fearing the worst. It took no more than two minutes to switch on the television and find out that, indeed, Trump had won, but by then I was consumed by fear.

The fear held, for awhile. I couldn't imagine going outside into the streets of my town, Arlington, Virginia. I envisioned armed men (those visions were always of men, angry white men, actually) roaming the streets, emboldened by the success of their candidate, waving guns and feeling justified in carrying out any number of the threats they and their candidate have heaped upon us in the past two years. I was truly afraid, and could feel the physical symptoms of it in my body. It felt like the natural outcome of the unable-to-breath sense of anxiety I'd had for weeks.

Hillary Clinton finally gave her concession speech at almost noon and when she teared up, apologizing to the women, like me, who had supported her, saying she was sorry she could not be our champion, I finally cried. It was over, and I was really disappointed, but the fear started to loosen its hold.

So, there was sadness, and it came soon after the fear had started to lift. It didn't take long, though, for sadness to give way to anger. I saw reports that Clinton had actually won the popular vote. I was outraged, although not surprised. Then, I saw reports that more than 50% of white women had voted for Trump. More anger, but not surprised--I have known too many women who really don't want to see a strong woman in power. I'm not sure why they feel this way, but I have no patience for women who think you have to "like" someone to support them and their work.

I listened, with increasing disgust, to pundit after pundit saying they just didn't see this coming, that all the polls were wrong, and how did this happen anyway? They just weren't listening to the right people, it seemed to me. Anger turned to resolve, and this was hours before thousands of young people poured into the streets around the country to protest. They're young and have not lived through as many setbacks as I have. This may be the first time they've believed in something and had it taken away by the system--but it's not the first time for me. And I know we can overcome this. We've overcome worse.

A lot of what I was writing in my head about this has already been said. Read Michael Moore's "Morning After To-Do List," in which he calls for taking over the Democratic Party and "returning it to the people," abolishing the electoral college (long overdue, in my this article about the roots of the electoral college in slavery), but mostly calling for people to stop saying they're "stunned" or "shocked," when what they really mean is they weren't paying attention or listening to the right voices.

Take some time to grieve or be stunned, if that's what you need, but there's work to be done. Let's move beyond the understandable fear of the unknown, and beyond the sadness at having our dreams dashed, and get busy. This is still a democracy, not a dictatorship, and we must be vigilant for any signs that we are moving in that direction. Keep speaking up and speaking out. I've got your back.

Sunday, October 30, 2016