So to kick off the new year, and following in the footsteps of fellow writer Troy Wiggins over at AfroFantasy, looking back on 2015 in my creative life–and what I might hope for in 2016.
As I said last go around, 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.” So, yeah. I’m a writer. Yep, still writing other stuff, namely a tedious dissertation (yes, almost done. no, you shouldn’t ask. it’s still rude) and academic work, including two research fellowships. Was a good year on that front. But when I say “I’m a writer” I’m usually talking about speculative fiction–the reason for this handy pen name, Phenderson.
I still say “I’m a writer” however with a bit of guilt. And perhaps this year more so than others. I set some serious writing goals last go around, and didn’t manage to meet nearly a quarter of them. I didn’t attend any writing workshops or get a chance to take a creative writing course. And when life got hectic, as usual, I mostly let my writing slip to the side. Was I a writer this year? Yeah, but still, too often, just part-time.
That being said, I did get some things accomplished. And I’ve decided rather than spending a lot of time lamenting on what wasn’t, could be thankful for what got did. So, taking a look at my goals for 2015, let’s see what I got done, and what more there is to do.
Write More: Last year, I pledged to just write more. I’d hoped to get at least one hour of speculative fiction writing done per day–either new editing or writing. How’d that work out? Not so well. If I got an hour a week I was doing well. And in reality, sometimes I went weeks without an hour of good writing. My number one problem remains time. And with other writing projects (namely academic) speculative fiction writing once again fell to the wayside. And since I still haven’t convinced Dr. Manhattan to bend tachyons for me, I’m yet unable to “make” new time. That means I’m just going to have to buckle down and find a way to be stingier with what I got. I listened to some writers who have different strategies. Some devote a few hours before bed. Others wake up two hours before their day usually starts and dedicate it to writing. Don’t know if any of those will work in 2016. But somehow, some way, I’m going to have to force time out of those unforgiving minutes. I was told this year that writers shouldn’t beat themselves up for not writing. It shouldn’t be a chore. I agree. But I have to get it done. So, gonna have to make it happen.
Finish.The.Damn.Story: Those folders, endless folders, on my computer with unfinished stories I talked about last time? Still there, mostly. I did however manage to return to some of them. A few I’ve retired to the abyss. Some I re-engaged and re-imagined completely. There’s still more than I can possibly finish anytime soon. But in 2016, I plan on returning to a few, particularly some novels, which brings up that next thing.
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. 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. 2015 I pledged to get back to novel writing? How’d I do? Still baby steps I suppose. I didn’t write any new novels. I didn’t even begin rewriting completed novels or end uncompleted ones. BUT, I did start thinking about them. Meaning, I began jotting down notes on how those novels could change; I started familiarizing myself with their characters and plots. I’ve essentially done what I set out to do on this front–ease myself back into the concept of the novel. I also realize that heavy short story writing and novel writing simultaneously ain’t my thing. To that end, I’m going to pull back from short stories in 2016 and focus more on the novel thing. Looking forward to returning to those worlds, and dreaming up some new ones.
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. I pledged in 2015, to get more speculative fiction reading done–both books and online SFF spaces. On this front, think I did well. I read great short stories from places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Uncanny Magazine. Read great books by some of my favorite popular writers like N.K Jemisin and Daniel Jose Older for starters and got to know some knew writers, including Max Gladstone, Aliette de Bodard and Ken Liu. Also checked out lesser known authors like Milton Davis, Tade Thompson and Malon Louis. Most profound, I actually read and completed Steven Erikson’s ginormous 10-series epic fantasy Malazan: Book of the Fallen. Still trying to get thoughts of K’Chain Che’Malle and Icarium out my head. Also discovered Audible, and now let Neil Gaiman’s soothing voice lull me to sleep.
Submit: Last go around I lamented my lack of new story submissions to paying markets for 2014, which was probably a total of FOUR. 2015 was a mixed bag. Altogether, I submitted perhaps a total of…wait for it…FIVE new stories. One more than last! This was mostly the result of my dismal writing, which made my submission rate of new stories remain almost unchanged. However, last year’s low submission rate did result in one story sold to Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (With a Golden Risha), which helped kick off my 2015. This year, I had one story accepted as well, to Tor.com. It was just one sale, but yet the biggest sale of my speculative fiction writing career. The story is slated for print for Tor online sometime in the near future and I’m both anxious and over the moon about it. So for 2016, going to try and up that submit quotient. But going to remember, it only takes one win to make your entire year.
Re-submit: As I said last time around, I’m terrible at re-submitting. Writer Rose Lemberg has spoken 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.” This year I tried to break that habit, especially after reading a very inspiring series by writer Sunil Patel called Anatomy of a Sale–on the world of submissions, acceptances and rejections. So I resubmitted old works and got–rejections. Quite a few for some. However, I should temper that. Maybe one of those stories was rejected five times. Sounds like a lot? Sunil Patel told of stories he’d submitted 40 times (yeah, I said FORTY!) until he got it sold. One glimmer of hope for me: a British fantasy anthology asked me to submit something for their 2016 project; I chose a story I’d previously submitted (twice) and gotten rejections. It was accepted. Win! So… I’ll be doing the re-submit thing again in 2016, because until you’ve earned at least FORTY rejections, you ain’t really serious.
Writing Boldly: I spoke last year of how 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. Given the modern dystopia taking place in the streets of America in 2014 however, I vowed to return to that, to engage in what writer and activist Walidah Imarisha called “visionary fiction.” This includes the use of “science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres to envision alternatives to unjust and oppressive systems.” I did answer that call somewhat in 2015, rewriting an old tale of mine on slavery, and two new stories: one touching on Jim Crow and another on colonialism. They didn’t get published. In fact, they got rejected. However, I was invited to submit to Artists Against Police Brutality: A Comic Book Anthology edited by Bill Campbell, Jason Rodriguez and John Jennings. My particular submission wasn’t speculative, but instead a historical essay on race and riots in American history. Still, I count it as a win. And not giving up on this in 2016. Cuz the world keeps turning, and I got things to say.
Get More Involved in Mainstream Genre: Last year I spoke on sometimes feeling on the outside looking in when it comes to mainstream genre. I rarely attend Cons. I have never applied for a speculative fiction writing workshop and even turned down opportunities to speak on major fantasy convention panels. In 2015 I promised to become more involved in genre altogether, to see what I might be missing out on. I did so in different ways. In February I gave a lecture on African-Americans in Speculative Fiction sponsored in part by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. It was a great experience. I also got to sit on panels at Readercon, alongside names I only knew from writings or on Twitter–like Max Gladstone and Mikki Kendall. Even briefly met Samuel Delaney! Also made some connections overall in the SFF world, especially through social media. Going into 2016, I feel there’s a great deal more to do–but think 2015 was a great start.
Blog More: Need to. 2015 was actually a drop off in blogging. Hope to pick it up for 2016. May not be the lengthy historical tomes I’ve done previously, but once a month at least would be nice.
So 2016. I see you. Let’s do this!