As someone who has spent the majority of the last few years living in Minnesota, I don’t believe the novelty of writing outside on rooftops, urban courtyards (decorated with both Victorian fountains and modern graffiti) or gas lit verandas will ever wear off.
I’ve been spoiled not only by the constant flow of tequila, warm weather and some of the most delicious food I’ve experienced in years, but also by the company. I’ve had the incredible fortune of spending the last 5 days shacked up with some of the best writers (and most interestive people) I’ve ever had the pleasure of conversing with. I feel incredibly blessed to share space with Steven Brust and Skyler White, to share mojitos and thoughts about the craft. To hear their processes and ideas and be constantly inspired every day to do more of what I absolutely love to do: create. Write.
I almost didn’t attend ArmadilloCon. Complications with family as well as moving out of my duplex and having major construction done on my Grandparent’s house (for which I’m entirely responsible) on a 3 week deadline were nearly too daunting to even think about making personal plans. I’ve passed up enough opportunities in recent years for similar reasons and couldn’t abide shoving my writing career onto the back burner for the hundredth time.
Just over two years ago I took a leap of faith and set my major projects aside to focus on short stories with narrow deadlines. This for two reasons: I knew that continuing to work on my novels without having the time to outline and be accountable to a rigid deadline would play out as it had for years- the scenes and pages pile up but nothing is ever finished. Secondly, I needed an armature to work from. I needed someone to tell me what to write, how long it should be, and when it was due. Simple as that.
Also, I’d spent the past ten years writing “seriously” but had yet to submit a single word to any publisher whatsoever. My stories went from my imagination to my laptop, to my writing group but never any farther. I needed to submit something to see if I actually had what it took. To find out if I could come up with anything enjoyable, viable, etc.
I discovered Dark Markets and Horrortree and both provided me with what I needed: specific topical guidelines with firm deadlines. The payment honestly never even crossed my mind. Some of them paid a little, some an ambiguous percentage of royalties. At this point, I really didn’t care. I needed to see if I could tell a story and if anyone would buy it. Period.
I made a list of the topics that most interested or challenged me and used every spare second I had to work on finishing them. The ideas came- sometimes as words scribbled on napkins or in the form of voice memos while I did errands, often in random texts to myself while I sat in waiting rooms. Deadlines loomed like shrouded figures at the end of each month. They terrified me. One night I remember writing my last sentence and emailing my sub literally 4 minutes before they closed at midnight (do not recommend).
I was overjoyed when the first 7 things I submitted were accepted for publication. It was a fluke, a strain of good fortune, whatever you choose to call it. But I felt thankful and also incredibly determined to work hard and prioritize this part of my life. The first year I was walking on clouds with roughly one story published either in print or online each month. I could now attend conferences not just as a fan or a newbie or an aspiring writer, but as someone who was actually published (albeit small things).
Then life happened again. My grandmother was diagnosed with bone cancer atop her struggle with Parkinson’s and my grandfather began to decline more rapidly as Alzheimers claimed more of his memory. As their primary caregiver, I made a conscious decision once again to put wants behind needs and do what I honestly believe in my heart is right. My time has not been my own, my life has changed considerably. My writing has suffered; not so much from a lack of time and attention but from a lack of self to breathe life into it. The journey at present is hard. I haven’t submitted anything in nearly a year.
I never intended to write the above sentences. They are close, personal. I like to keep personal things off the internet as much as possible. I’m not a huge fan of social media generally. I started up this blog to archive my writing which is why it hasn’t seen any updates in months. But one of the things I realised recently is that life and art are not interchangeable…
When I attended 4th Street Fantasy Con last month, I was particularly touched by a comment made a particular author I’ve known for years in her capacity as a writer. She was on a panel entitled Self-Care for Creative Types with about five other panelists. She openly discussed her writing as it pertained to a situation where she was providing hospice care for her mother. I nearly burst into tears during the panel (a thing I never ever ever do, if you know anything about me) and spoke to her afterward. She was very honest, candid, open and incredibly helpful. She took on a different dimension for me- not just as someone whose work I admired but as a strong brilliant woman who was balancing herself as a writer and also as a daughter and caretaker for someone she deeply loved.
The idea of trying to harmonize life and art is not a new concept (quite obvious really). But I’m seeing it for the first time in myself. The way my creativity ebbs and flows, the way writing is not something like waiting for the tide to come in… it’s work. A whole lot of hard work. Not just sitting down at your laptop, but making choices and changing your way of thinking.
These lessons are still a bit rough, sitting where I am at a rusty picnic table surrounded by tortilla-snatching birds and Christmas lights and fountains; rather like fossils exposed enough to identify but not to hold bare and extracted in my hand. I’m learning to balance myself- to know when I need to put on a hat and when to let my hair down and my thoughts go…