I don’t usually do New Year Resolutions. But fellow writing colleagues Troy Wiggins & Khaalidah inspired me to create one of these lists. So even though January’s almost done, here goes.
Can’t remember when I decided to call myself “a writer.” I used to tell people “I’m an aspiring writer,” until a friend of mine said “just say you’re a writer stupid.” My friends have biting wit but they get the point across. So, yeah. I’m a writer. Sure I write other stuff, namely a tedious dissertation (don’t ask when I’ll be done–it’s rude) and academic work…but when I say “I’m a writer” I’m usually talking about my speculative fiction stuff. It’s the reason I have this handy pen-name after all. Nope, my parents didn’t name me Phenderson. That woulda been cruel.
Still, I say the “I’m a writer” bit with a bit of guilt. Because I never feel like I’m living up to the title. I don’t get nearly as much writing done as I’d like. I don’t attend writing workshops. I last took a creative writing class in undergrad. And when life gets a bit hectic, I’m liable to just let my writing slip to the side. I took a writing hiatus once for about four years. So maybe I should amend my previous statement. Am I a writer? Yeah, but often just part-time.
2014 had its highs and lows when it came to my writing and all around involvement in speculative fiction. I wrote and completed perhaps a total of three new short stories and made no attempts at novels or the like. I let anthology deadlines pass me by, and submitted to maybe 4 paying markets. I got about two rejections, which is a sad number. And that’s not because they were rejections (par the course), but because they were so few–showing just how little I was creating and submitting.
In my defense, 2014 was a busy year of its own ups and downs. This was the year I lost a loving Mom, gained a loving wife and knocked out four dissertation chapters. Add in the regular work week, grading, commuting, syllabusing (yep, making that a word) and what have you, and my plate was full. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have great ideas (which I jot down- thank the Iphone gods for Notes). It means I just never got to do much with them.
There were some bright spots on the writing side. My story “Ghost Marriage” which I wrote in 2013 was published in a 2014 anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear. A token flash piece called “A Strange Thing About Portals” was also published at 365 Tomorrows. Further, I got to speak on a panel about diversity in genre fiction, engaged online SFF communities and continued to attend (when my schedule permitted) my local speculative fiction writing workshop. So that kind of stuff kept me in the game. But it’s 2015. And this year I’m looking to put some structure to my writing.
So what are my goals and how am I going to accomplish em?
Write More: Not exactly rocket science but there’s really no getting around it. You want to write more? You gotta just write more. My number one problem is time. Gotta have time to write. But reality is, there’s no ideal moment in my immediate future where whole new pockets of time are going to open up. In fact, what time I have is bound to shrink–immensely. So since I’m unable to manipulate tachyons like Dr. Manhattan, how am I going to “make time?” By being a bit more stingy, and constructive, with it. That means knowing when to get off Twitter and Tumblr. It means using spare moments (in which I might flip on the Xbox or try to read the entire internet) to get in some constructive writing. I plan to start off by demanding at least one hour of speculative fiction per day. If I can fit more in, that’s good. But at least an hour creating something new or editing what I already have will be a vast improvement.
Finish.The.Damn.Story: There are folders, endless folders, on my computer with unfinished stories. Some just have a few pages. Some are halfway done. Some are nearly complete. Stories I began and then abandoned–because they got difficult, because I wanted to get on to the next thing. 2015 is the year to revisit. Some things won’t be salvageable. But those that are, time to get them finished. So before I start anything new, going down that list and selecting at least two stories to conclude.
Novel Writing: Before 2010, I was a novel-writer. In fact, that’s how I started. Short stories? Didn’t know how. I wrote novellas and novels–whole series. To this day, meeting a word count for me isn’t a problem. More like how to cut it down. But after my hopes of getting published fell apart (wrote an entire blog about it) I pulled away from novel writing and decided to stick to short stories. Baby steps. Think I’m ready to return to some of those old novel series now. Think I’m ready to explore whole new ones. In 2015 I doubt I’ll get an entire novel written (not with that dissertation breathing down my neck). But I’m easing my mind back into the concept. And the muse has many ideas….
Read More: When I fall behind on my fiction writing, I also tend to fall behind on my fiction reading. The two usually work together. Whether it’s a lengthy tome, a graphic novel, comics or a short story–reading feeds my muse. It sparks new ideas and the itch to write. So in 2015, going to get more speculative fiction reading done–both books and online SFF spaces. Going to read more Hugo and Locus nominated books. Going to read some indie books. Going to read more diverse fiction by diverse authors. Going to just read. Because why the heck not? I’m a fan like everybody else.
Submit: There was a time back in 2012 when I was submitting to SFF markets often enough to keep a tally–trying to work towards that SFWA goal. I got more rejections than acceptance, but at least I was out there. In 2015 the goal is to get get back into the swing of submitting to paying markets, pro and semi-pro. The aim will be to send out at least one story a month. This makes sense since I have a yearly renewing subscription at Duotrope. Time to stop throwing money away. Bring on the rejections!
Re-submit: I’m terrible at re-submitting. If a story is rejected on the first go around, I tend to assign it to the purgatory of dropbox. I know I should just revisit the story, take into account any possible critiques and/or just submit it elsewhere. A rejection may simply mean a story didn’t grab a particular slush pile reader or it just wasn’t a good fit. I know all this, and still I rarely resubmit a story. Writer Rose Lemberg spoke of how many marginalized writers (women, PoC, queer, etc) often engage in a type of self-rejection, brought on by the neglectful (sometimes hostile) nature of the publishing world. In my case, that self-rejection comes after a single actual rejection, as that nagging voice says, “maybe your voice and your stupid story isn’t worth hearing.” Have to break that habit. So going forward if a story is rejected at one venue (and I think it’s still a well-written piece) I’ll submit to at the least two other markets. If it keeps getting the same criticism or is continually rejected, I’ll revisit. But time to stop engaging in “self-rejection”–where I deem a story unsellable before it’s even had a chance to be seen.
Writing Boldly: I used to write bold speculative fiction. Stories with complex characters that touched on third rail issues from race to sexuality. And not a single f*ck was given. Then I stopped. I started to think perhaps I was too political. Perhaps my stories were too didactic. And as I was often trying to get published in markets where non-PoC were the gatekeepers, I toned it down. 2014 was Ferguson though, which brought brought dystopia to the streets of America. And movements like #HandsUpDontShoot & #BlackLivesMatter. Writer and activist Walidah Imarisha in an interview in the midst of these events called for a more “visionary fiction.” This includes the use of “science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres to envision alternatives to unjust and oppressive systems.” In 2015 I’m answering that call. Back to some bold writing. You been warned.
Get More Involved in Mainstream Genre: As much as I blog and talk about speculative fiction, I sometimes realize I’m often on the outside looking in when it comes to the market. I rarely attend Cons. I have never applied for a speculative fiction writing workshop. When offered a chance to attend (perhaps even speak on a panel) at a major fantasy awards event in 2014, I vacillated and eventually didn’t participate. And it’s not just there. As a PoC, I’m at times amazed that there are “mainstream” speculative fiction spaces that are utterly separate and unknown from the black speculative spaces I usually inhabit. And there’s nothing wrong with the black speculative fiction spaces–they are immeasurably valuable. But it was only by chance that I stumbled onto things in the “mainstream” spec fiction world like #PitMad and #SFFpit. Here, writers pitch novels to prospective agents and publishers–who might actually pick them up! While it’s a great resource, I couldn’t help notice that those pitching were mostly non-PoC. And it’s puzzling because these spaces are open to diversity, and urge more of it. But I don’t know that they’re doing the heavy lifting to make it happen. #DiversityinSFF, like diversity everywhere, takes work. It’s not enough to want it; there has to be foresight to actually go the places marginalized writers are and bring them in. In 2015 I’m going to become more involved in genre altogether, and see what else I might be missing out on. And oh, I’m bringing some folk with me.
Blog More: Doing it. Cuz I gotta get these thoughts off my chest.
So 2015. I’m here. Let’s do this!
Well, that’s a lot you’ve put onto your plate! I’m amazed and humbled. Best of luck with all your goals!
If I may ask, what are you writing your dissertation on?
Thanks much for the confidence! You may ask on my dissertation- i look at the impact/influence of British Emancipation on American abolitionism in the mid 19th century. It’s actually a lot more interesting than I make it sound. 🙂
Let’s do this, bruh.
Encouraging and entertaining…Good luck on your journey!
Here, here! Right there with you, my friend!
And *please* don’t give up on the novel-writing thing. I can’t be the *only* one looking forward to meeting the Daughters of Sekhmet!
you and me both! 🙂 getting back in that.
The more and more i read up on you, the more and more i get intimidated to ask you a few questions. The way i’m looking at this though, i’ve one shot at everything in life. If i don’t ask, i won’t know. You seem busy though, i can totally understand! I’m not as established as yourself, nor am i as intelligent or articulate as yourself. I dream just as hard as you, and i have a creative mind just as swollen as yours. I hope that i get to hear from you soon. You may not be interested in my proposal’s, but as humble and modest as you seem, i know you will give me the time.
Thank you for being an intelligent, strong, witty, and most of all PROUD black man! I hope all the best for you, and i am enjoying everything i’m reading so far. Unfortunately, as you’ve said, i just don’t have the time to read your books. I have no doubt in my mind they are amazing! Your too damn SMART! Keep other black men like myself proud brother!
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