Wallowing in the Passage of Time
It’s the end of the year. (Well, it’s actually the 19th of December as I write this, but you might be reading it at the end of the year. Or the start of the new one. Or who the heck knows, really, time is made up.)
As is customary in these liminal moments between old and new, I’m indulging in reflection. Looking back on my year – one of the most eventful and important in my writing life so far – and planning for what’s next.
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What made 2022 so important for me, you ask? The TL;DR is:
I finished my first novel
I made writing friends and found community
I wrote another novel
Did I mention that thing about friends and community already?
A Novel Experience
I’ve been writing since I was old enough to wield crayons. I’ve written “novels” before, but they always ended up “complete” at 30,000 ish words. I think maybe, in revisions, I once got to 50 or 60k on a dreadful mystery that will live forever in my proverbial trunk. But, the point is, until last year, I was becoming pretty convinced I couldn’t write long. So, I focused on short stories and then, eventually, audio drama.
My audio drama, The Way We Haunt Now is currently two seasons and a miniseries. The episodes are 30 minutes or less, which usually means the scripts are about 20 pages long. In all, each season is about a novella’s worth of words. So, at the season level, writing this show falls right in my word count sweet spot. But somehow, in the process of telling a serial story, something unlocked in my brain.
In November of 2021, I got to work on an idea I’d been toying with for a couple of years. It started as a 3,000 word short story. Then, I noodled with making it into an audio drama. But, eventually, I decided it should be a novel. Then I spent a year alternating between avoiding the idea and jotting surreptitious world-building notes about it.
When I finally sat down to write it, my 102,000 word first draft poured out in 9 weeks. I got to workshop the first 3k at Futurescapes, where I met my amazing writing group (who are the absolute best beta readers): the Future GOATs. Around that time, I also applied to Viable Paradise (more on that, later). But I was sure I wasn’t going to get in, and my beta feedback was exciting. So, I dove headlong into revisions and started querying in June.
Still, I was mostly sure this newfound ability to write novels was a fluke. So, I tried to write another one. The resulting draft is an 113k hot mess which I’ll be revising next year.
Turns out, I can write novels now. Also, I’m an overwriter. (Send help!)
The Ghosts of Writing Past (2022 Stats)
This year, I:
Finished a novel
Wrote another novel
Revised the first novel (multiple times… I think I’m on round four now?)
Wrote 5 (I think) short stories, and started a handful more
Sent 65 queries, which resulted in:
5 full requests (2 have been rejected, 2 are pending, one turned into a revise & resubmit)
2 partial requests (both rejected)
and 53 rejections
(5 of my queries are still pending initial response)
Placed one piece of flash fiction (forthcoming in Apex’s Strange Libations anthology)
and clocked 13 short story rejections, according to The Grinder
It’s been a year full of rejection, which has been rough. But, it was also a year with one major win:
In July, I found out that I was one of 24 people who’d been admitted to Viable Paradise 2022.
And in October, the week before my birthday, I got to spend a week on Martha’s Vineyard with 23 writers I’m proud to now call friends (hi y’all!!!), plus the amazing workshop staff and instructors.
I showed up worried I’d forgotten how to be around people after several years of pandemic and working from home. I was also worried that I’d messed up by continuing to revise the novel I was workshopping. Viable Paradise doesn’t let you update materials, even though most of a year goes by between application and workshop. (That’s not a critique, just noting the logistics.) I was pretty sure I’d still learn a lot from the critique of my outdated first chapters. At the very least they were probably representative of my writing tics and patterns, which meant they’d be a useful general diagnostic for things to keep doing / stop doing / try doing differently. But what if I’d borked my one shot at Viable Paradise???
It was reassuring to quickly realize that most of us came in worried about similar things. Being feral after years of not really peopling. Being imposters who were maybe admitted by accident.
The important thing was that we were anxious imposters together. The entire group promptly set about convincing each other we weren’t really imposters at all. It was magical. Every single one of my classmates blew me away not only with their writing, but also with their perspectives on creativity and storytelling and the world in general.
Our week was broken into lectures, small critique groups, one-on-ones with instructors, social activities, and a writing prompt that had us all typing frantically for a few late nights.
Side note: the staff were so great about making sure the vegans among us (I wasn’t the only one!) had great food and snacks every single day. (We got vegan s’mores!) And we got to try Amal El Mohtar’s lentil soup (she wasn’t there, but she sent her recipe).
A couple of my classmates have written more in-depth overviews of the week,so I'll skip the blow-by-blow and share the part I think might be helpful for anyone applying to Viable Paradise in shoes like mine:
The Critique Groups
First, I don’t recommend planning to workshop a novel you’ve already finished and revised and revised again and started querying, not because it didn’t work out for me (it was great), but because the workshop might be even more helpful for less fully-formed work.
That said, here’s the rundown:
We broke into small critique groups for the first three days. The critique groups were basically a modified Milford method, where the author gives a brief statement, everyone shares their notes while the author stays silent, then the author has a few minutes for questions and reactions.
Now, here’s the thing: I had some beta feedback I was contemplating whether or not to implement. And, a few weeks before the workshop, I got an R&R (revise and resubmit) from an agent. Her notes echoed the beta feedback and went a little deeper, too.
I’d also workshopped some of the very same chapters at Futurescapes. These early chapters didn’t convey enough of the story for me to get feedback relevant to the revisions I was contemplating.
Or so I thought.
My group––fellow participants and instructors alike––immediately saw to the heart of my story. They read an early version of the first 8k and somehow caught hold of the threads that were relevant to my current draft. Because they are magic and damn good at what they do.
I knew I’d get something out of the critique, regardless of the version of my draft they saw. But what a fucking gift I got, let me tell you. I’m still marveling at it.
They saw draft 1 (or 1.5ish) and gave me notes that are helping me make draft 4 so much better.
2022 was a year full of new milestones, rejection (because I was really putting my work out there), and, most critically, community.
The lows (the interminable liminality of querying, form rejections on fulls, revision angst) wouldn’t be manageable without the support, commiseration, and friendship of my fellow writers and creatives. When I say 2022 was one of the most important years of my writing career, it’s the friends I made along the way more than anything else that made it so.
Thanks for wallowing with me! I promise these won’t all be ridiculously long.
Cheers to a new year,
See Mary Berman’s A week spent writing in Martha’s Vineyard and A. Y. Chao’s Jellyfish, Covers & Cocktails. (Hey, VP2022, if I missed anyone else’s recap, I’m sorry! And also let me know ‘cause I wanna read it!)