Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve: 2013

I’m a glass half-empty kind of gal.

It’s easy for me look back at 2013 and lament the things I didn’t do, the goals I didn’t achieve, the lack of productivity in my days. But I won’t. At least, not here and not at this time. So here’s a positive spin on things. . . .

--I had two short stories published this year, which is double my fiction publication record of any previous year.  One of them, Snow’s Daughter in NewMyths.com, was my first paid piece of fiction ever! And the other, Immortal Life, appeared in an awesome science-in-culture webzine I love, LabLit.

--I wrote three new stories after leaving my position this spring. Only three new stories! my critical self mourns, and kicks me for emphasis. What happened to my dreams of productivity? But damnit, they’re good stories. I think that one is the best I’ve ever written. At over 8,000 words, it’s the longest, most ambitious, and most emotionally complex thing I’ve ever tackled. And I think it works. My brilliant First Reader and members of my critique group think so, as well.

--I joined a critique group! Joining Critters is paying off in ways that exceed my expectations. It’s not just about receiving thoughtful, honest criticism from dedicated fellow writers. It’s about meeting and joining that community of dedicated writers—of finding those others who understand what it means to spend hours with imaginary people in your head, or to spend a day agonizing over the rhythm of a single sentence. I have no one to discuss “craft” with in my physical, real-world life. Meeting these others online—even just exchanging an e-mail or two with them—makes me feel less lonely.

And the gains to be had from critiquing others’ work? That’s a post in itself. Having my work critiqued is incredibly valuable, but regularly critiquing others’ stories is at least as valuable. The weekly critique requirement of Critters doesn’t just force me to recognize and articulate why elements in a story do and don’t work. It forces me to think about how a story could be better. It makes me think about the differences between a good story (and I’ve seen many good stories on Critters) and a great story (which is rare even among professionally published works).

--I took an online course in medical writing, got my first 2013 gigs as a freelance medical writer, and have learned a lot about new technical writing genres. Perhaps I’ve been a bit disappointed that the pay hasn’t been as high as I’d like relative to the hours I’ve put in for a project. Perhaps I’ve been a little disappointed that more gigs haven’t flowed in. Small steps and patience, I advise myself. Just before the winter break, I landed a gig with a new client which (if they like my work) promises to turn into a regular, well-paid, and interesting assignment. I’ve learned a lot about the medical writing field, I’m networking with other medical and science writers, and as I gain more experience I should be able to work faster and increase my effective hourly rate. (My clients generally pay on a per-project basis, not per hour. So the faster I complete a project, the more I effectively make per hour). And as I network and gain more experience, more clients and gigs will flow in.

--I got another scientific publication. Middle-listed author for a piece of work that made use of experiments I did in my first postdoctoral lab six years ago. But at least those constructs and GST-pulldowns turned out to be worth something in the end, after all. I guess you never know. 

--I spent a lot more time with my family. And this is the big one.  

   When I left my job, it meant having weekends—every single weekend—to spend with my family again. And not just with my husband and children. This year two new nephews joined my family, and I’ve been able to spend time with them both. This summer we rented a house at the beach, and we were able to host my parents and both of my sisters and their families (which includes the aforementioned new nephews!) for a wonderful gathering. We flew to L.A. to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my husband’s family; we hosted Christmas for my parents and Sister #1 and her family. . . I’ve cuddled babies and a sweet toddler. . . And oh, yes, I’ve cuddled my own children as well--a sweet and quirky 6-year old and her wise and patient 9 year-old sister.

I’ve watched my children grow over this past year. I’ve had more time for them, and for my husband as well. In the end, that was the most important thing of all.


2.5 hours to go here, and onward to 2014. 2013 was rough and crappy in ways that I don’t mention here, but it had its moments, too. Some very good moments. Here's to more good moments in 2014, and a few less of the crappy ones!
Happy New Year's!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Writing is not easy and it might drive me mad

Writing is not getting any easier.

I hoped, of course, that it would. But as another writer once said (I can’t remember who, or the exact quote), every time I sit down to write a story, it’s like learning how to write a story all over again. The lessons from the past don’t carry over--not completely--and it’s a different learning curve each time.

I’ve spent the last few months struggling with an awful, jaw-grinding mess of a story. It’s way longer than I ever meant it to be. The narration swoops in and out of present and past tense. I can’t judge its success. There are part of it that I love. But I don’t know if all hangs together in a coherent whole. There’s a character that hasn’t quite come into focus for me. There is a passage that is still niggling away at my mind, that doesn’t seem quite right.

Be careful what you wish for, they say. I wanted to see what it would be like to spend a solid month or two on nothing but fiction writing. I turned down potential freelance (paid) gigs to do this, and I have found that two months of solid devotion to craft has nearly driven me bonkers.

Perhaps it’s just this one story. But I suspect that I’m not cut out for fulltime fiction writing. I suspect that my brain needs other interests and pursuits to function.  Fiction writing was once my escape from science; I suspect that a return to science reading and writing (starting this month!) might also serve as a necessary escape when the fiction machine stalls out on me.

Anyway, the too-long story, “Between Sea and Shore,” has been put to rest for the week while I work on other things. Tomorrow it goes up for critique on the online writing workshop I’ve joined, Critters! And yes, I am nervous about it. I’ve done a few critiques in this workshop now (which is another post; I find that I actually love critiquing and I feel it’s really helping me as a writer) but this is the first time I’ll have my own work up for critique. And somehow this prospect is far more nerve-wracking than hitting the “Send” button and sending my work out directly for acceptance/rejection to a faceless editor at a literary/genre journal.