Submission stories: a rejection roundup

Submitting stories has been my kryptonite for a long time. For years. At first, this was because I didn’t have any short stories to submit and novels just take so damn long to finally have a piece ready to go. Then I started writing short stories and still didn’t submit anything. They weren’t good enough, or they never seemed right for any market, or I didn’t know any markets, or I knew they could be better somehow so I never even tried. And of course, there’s the ubiquitous fear of rejection.

I’m a queen of procrastination, as my grandmother often told me. And excuses. And getting in my own way.

To be fair, those stories weren’t ready. I really am better off not having more stories available in the world that make me want to blush and hide and claim no relation.

A part of me was waiting for some miraculous, serendipitous discovery. For someone to just hand me a successful writing career and all my wildest dreams. I cringe about it now (I cringed about it then, but still never took a more active role), the gross privilege and learned entitlement and the utter joke that was (is) my naïveté.

On the other hand, the general disgust at my own inaction helped birth some healthy coping mechanisms for the inevitable rejections–those writerly rites of passage. Every time I get one, I celebrate it as tangible proof I did the thing. I took ownership of my dreams and (hopeful) career and made steps toward them in the ways I can control. Turning around to send it out again somewhere else is my favorite way to celebrate.

Most years, I’ve counted myself lucky to send out three or four submissions in a year. If there is a mystical number of rejections required before a writing career can take off, I’ll never reach it at that rate.

Then, 2020. I wrote off the hell year of 2020 early on. Or maybe I just pretended to because I kept going; I had to.

I got myself a cheering group in August (more on that in another post), then somehow sent out nine short story submissions and a novel query before the end of the year.

What.

Two flash pieces ended up on The Word Count Podcast (ep 99 & ep 100–the final episodes!). Of the seven other short story submissions, I had four form rejections and two personalized rejections (for the first time ever!). One of those personalized rejections was even that holy grail invitation to revise and resubmit.

Again, I say: what.

If you notice that my math doesn’t quite work out, that’s because I’m still waiting to hear back on one of those subs.

Oh. And that novel query? Also garnered a rejection with feedback and…an invitation to revise and resubmit.

Rejections–even with a revise/resub invitation–are still a long way from publication, but personal rejections are a major level up from where I’ve been. When I’ve actually submitted stories.

So what’s changed? In the case of one story I’ve been sending out for years now, nothing except my name. (Another case where that’s a whole other post.) But my writing has improved. I look at stories four or five years old and feel sorry for anyone I inflicted them on. Still, it seems that the only real reason is that some indefinable, impersonal wave has turned in my direction to give me hope.

Whether it moves beyond hope to actuality, obviously, remains to be seen.

I generally subscribe to the idea that putting intentions out to the universe helps me realize them (it worked for Octavia Butler), even–perhaps especially–when there are elements I can’t control. Like whether or not a market accepts my story for publication.

Actually submitting stories seems like a pretty good place to start putting those intentions out to the universe, doesn’t it?

*patrons on Patreon got to see this post on Monday. Join me there for more stories, writing shop talk, news and exclusive looks at current projects!

January writing prompt: Death Ship

I’ve been needing and wanting more writing prompts and exercises in my life–something to practice and get words flowing that I don’t have to treat too seriously. So I signed up for Susan Dennard’s Story a Month Challenge (follow the link if you’re curious or want to sign up–it’s not too late!) where she sends out an email on the first of every month with three prompts to choose from.

Now I’m going to do something that generally terrifies me and share the rough (very rough) draft of what I wrote in January, complete with typos and everything. For patrons over on Patreon, I’ve peeled back the curtain on some of my process to share my revision notes: the things I need to change and work in to make it a more satisfying and complete story. We’ll see how the year goes, especially once a newborn joins the mix, but for now I’m planning to share both the story and an analysis every month.

For January, I chose the audio prompt. Feel free to click the link and give it a listen for the full experience as you read:

*****

Death Ship

Dear Stef,

Damn this storm. It’s been going on for days. What seems like forever. Hours become weeks, become years. I don’t know what it’s like anymore to feel dry and truly warm. I miss our fire, tiny though it was. I mis the way we would curl together for warmth, your breath on my neck, your scent in my lungs. I don’t remember what it’s like to have something solid beneath me, even bare earth—what I wouldn’t give now for the scent of earth! For its solidness and its green growing life—instead of this pitching, shuddering, tipping deck.

I’ve smelled rain and salt and damp wood and unwashed bodies and human sick so long I barely notice it now. Perhaps I’ve killed my nose (I might be better off that way—I can hear your jibe now). My hearing is going the same way, I fear. The rain, the incessant, damnable rain, scurries and taps like a living thing. I jump and swat at shadows, thinking them chittering pests, but there’s never anything there. Booms of thunder, a whisper, a sigh I barely hear. The masts creak and hull groans and scream from those farther belowdecks are the sirens finally singing us to doom.

I won’t say we don’t deserve it.

…We must have done something to deserve it. Why else would we be in this hell? But for all that I remember your touch so clearly I swear I can feel you even now—I have goosebumps and have to keep looking to be sure you’re not behind me—I can’t remember what we’ve done to be here.

Gods, Stef.

There are gaps in my memory large enough to sail this ship through. I was so focused on you, on remembering you, I’m only now noticing.

Where are we going? How did I even come to be on this ship? Half the time, we didn’t have coin for food, let alone ship passage. I must be working my way. But I don’t know the names or faces of the crew. I remember everyone, but they’re all blank.

What is going on?

I am well and truly scared now, Stef. Have I been sick? Or am I mad?

I need you. Gods damn, I need you! Are you here? Are you somewhere on this ship? I can’t imagine leaving you. What would take me from you? Gods help me, I can’t remember.

I can’t think with all this creaking and rattling! And the thunder.

Where did I get this pen? Short and thin and white. The ink, thick and slow to dry—it smells too much of metal. With the smoky-sweet tallow candle, it makes me sick. Or maybe that’s the constant pitching.

If I stop writing these words, I’m afraid of what might happen. I can’t remember anything of before I began this letter. I’m scared, Stef. More than I’ve ever been. More than my father’s rages when I was young, more than our first kiss.

How can I remember all that and nothing else?!

And my bed. This bed I lie in is nothing but rags and parchment. Paper. Gods—

Stef, they’re letters.

Letters to you, In my scratchy scrawl. But they all look the same. They’re all…exactly like this one…

I don’t think this is paper, after all. Vellum. Made of skin. Your skin. Because I know your skin better than I know my own hand. I know these rags beneath me.

Stef? I think you’re dead.

I think maybe I am, too.

Gods, no. No! I don’t want to remember! Don’t make m

Dear Stef,

Damn this storm…

*****

I warned you it would be super rough, right? But if you want to see how I’d save this mess, please head on over to Patreon! The analysis is available at even $1 a month. (The payment isn’t taken until the first of the month, so feel free to sign up just to look around–I won’t be offended if you cancel before the end of the month! It’s taken me a while to get my feet under me on the platform, but if you like what you read I’d love for you to stick around for more stories, shop talk, and writing news!)

Or if you like what you see and want the analysis without a monthly commitment, buy me a coffee and I’ll send it your way!

Shop talk: writing ideas beyond your skill set

Someone asked me on Twitter the other day how I got past all the “I can’t write this yet” story ideas. I answered briefly there, but there’s only so much I can cram into a couple tweets and I have more to say.

**Note: the usual caveats apply! This post is all my experience and what I’ve found works for me. No two writers are the same so, essentially, your mileage may vary.**

So I assume you sometimes have (or have had) an idea arrive that feels beyond your current skill set to pull off. I’ve always trusted my gut and set those stories on back burners to simmer, but I don’t know if that was the right move. Self-doubt and impostor syndrome are Lying McLiarfaces that will take advantage of the tiniest opportunities to get in the way.

If every idea feels like it’s beyond you? I’d say you probably have some lying bullies clouding your judgment.

But what can you do when that happens and all the ideas just feel impossible? Or if you want to figure out whether it actually is beyond your current skills or those personal creative bullies? What can you do if the story just demands writing, skills be damned, or it will burn you from the inside out?

First off, SIT WITH IT. I can’t stress this enough. Free write or do timed writings about the idea, focused or just stream of conscious–whatever feels most comfortable or accessible. What is this idea? And how complete is it? Who are the characters? What are their relationships to each other and their individual goals? Where are they? What fascinates you and makes you passionate to write this story?

The deeper you delve into it and flesh it out, the better you’ll be able to understand what elements might be holding you back and keeping you from writing the story now. And it cuts down on a lot of the spaces that self-doubt and impostor syndrome like to exploit.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time for a little further examination. So, what does make this idea so challenging?

  • Atmosphere/message/desired reader reaction? These are all things that happen in revision. So write that draft! I like to make notes to myself as I go of what I’m aiming for where in the manuscript, since that helps free me from some of the more absurd expectations of a rough draft. Also super helpful when you pass off the story to early readers to be able to ask if you’ve hit the mark.
  • Does it feature people and/or cultures rooted in identities different from yours? This can be tricky and fraught with the potential to perpetuate harm to marginalized groups. Know your influences! And interrogate why you need to tell this story. What makes you the best person to tell it? If the story and plot are about the lived experiences of someone with a marginalized identity you don’t share, maybe consider abandoning it because there is just so much potential to cause harm. If you still need to write it, do your damn research. And sign up for any applicable Writing the Other classes.
  • Unfamiliar structure or style? Read it! You can learn what you don’t already know. Research any conventions or hallmarks that define that structure/style and make it distinctive. Someone somewhere on the internet has made a list. Once you’re a little more familiar, write it!
  • Does it require you to plumb deeply personal/uncomfortable/scary/etc experiences that might make you raw and vulnerable? Or open you to criticism/judgment/reprisal from your family or others in your life? WRITE IT ANYWAY. No one has to see it. At least in my experience, writing something that viscerally personal massively levels up writing chops. It can even help with catharsis and healing–just be mindful of triggers and keep checking in with yourself. Have supports in place before you begin to help keep you safe. Sacrificing mental, emotional, or physical health for the sake of your art is in no way worthwhile or romantic. Don’t do it.
  • Not fleshed out enough? This can be an issue of research. Maybe it needs more free writes or other forms of brainstorming. Or maybe it’s just not ready. It’s ok to put it back and let it cook more.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but unless the story just isn’t ready to be written or is likely to cause harm, I say write the damn thing. Know you’re writing a rough draft, set expectations accordingly (aka: low as you can), and trust in the power of revision.

Of course, all of those are much easier said than done.

I recently drafted a short story that had felt beyond my skill level for years. It’s a structure I’m not overly familiar with, told with tricky point of view shifts that I pretty much never do, and I want it heavy on both atmosphere and lyricism. I sat with it until I understood why it needed that structure and those point of view shifts and what each of those elements adds to the story. As for the atmosphere and lyricism, I made notes to myself as I went along. I don’t expect to succeed with those elements in a rough draft and noting my goals for those sections helped me focus on the story and getting words down.

You know what? It felt pretty damn good to have that faith in my revision process. And now that I have words written, I can start the work to make it more like I want it to be.

Currently, none of my stories feels beyond my ability. Some are infinitely more challenging than others (and therefore more interesting, because I’m like that) but not impossible. And yes, that is in part because of where I am in developing my writing and storytelling skills. If I had understood all this earlier, I could have gotten to this point faster. But maybe this can help someone else get here just a little bit faster, instead.

The world always needs more stories and more storytellers.

What the hell, world*?

All this big, depressing bullshit is getting in the way of getting shit done.

Ok, yes, that’s basically been the last year in a nutshell. Most of the time, the pandemic and people insisting on life as normal (aka: might literally kill my family) can get shunted from panic-attack-inducing to we’ll-just-stay-hunker-down-and-keep-on-as-best-we-can. But here in the US we’re overachievers and top a deadly, uncontrolled pandemic with sedition and coup attempts.

I’ve been struggling since the election. Ramping up to the election was bad enough, but at least then it felt like there was some element of agency. We could do something about our wannabe-fascist dictator. We voted. But I didn’t celebrate when the results came in. Since then, I’ve been waiting. Would we have faithless electors? Would courts uphold the baseless and oft-debunked claims of voter fraud?

January 6, I was out of the news loop until after my kid went to bed and the violence in DC was already largely under control. My reaction when I found out? Surprise that it wasn’t more. That it hadn’t been worse. Which I in no way mean to downplay, dismiss, or otherwise minimize the awfulness of those events.

We’ve been told for months that this would happen, if not longer. Believe people when they tell you who they really are.

I was halfway through drafting a novel, but my word count since the election is zero. Blogging meets full avoidance. Words are like pulling teeth when writing is what I desperately need.

Most nights lately, I binge watch Netflix and knit. Knitting is great because it’s relaxing and creative and I can make visible progress while shutting down the anxiety parts of my brain. But it’s not writing.

I try to be kind to myself and aim for writing-adjacent things. I’m transcribing a handwritten novel, taking a couple online writing classes, making to-do lists and a Bingo card of things I want to accomplish writing-wise this year. Still, it’s hard after the rhythm I found last summer and fall to have that ability to focus stripped from me by all the hate and violence and worry that the next coup attempt will be more successful.

At the same time, I need to acknowledge that it is a mark of my many privileges that constant worry of hate and violence is relatively novel in ways that viscerally impact my life. Reminder: Black Lives Matter.

I don’t have answers. Wear your masks, wash your hands, value others. I’ll be blundering through my creative process and working to figure out how I can still make it function. Lack of focus sucks, but I’ve dealt with it before and found ways to write anyway.

And if all I can do is knit, at least I’ll have a kickass basket to show for it.

*By “world” I mean the scope of my world, which keeps getting smaller the longer I’m in lockdown. I might be American, but I actively try to avoid the US=world/default/global standard mentality.

Creative roundup, 2020 version

2020 has felt like the proverbial flaming handbasket. No one needs a tragedy-porn recap of the catastrophic and apocalyptic-level trauma we’re still enduring. I will just say: Black lives matter, the pandemic is not a hoax, and I’m not about to forget how many (white) Americans saw hate/lies/open sedition and dismantling of our democratic republic and said, “Nah, I’m cool with this–keep it coming.”

In the midst of everything, is it any wonder that everyone I know is struggling? Even with my many, many layers of privilege, I’ve struggled too.

But because I intend this to be a year-end creative roundup, I am choosing to take this space and celebrate those accomplishments. And I encourage you to do this for yourself, too. Count the little things–the escapes and surprises. This year has been short on joy and the rest of it will all too easily crowd out the bright spots if you don’t actively seek them out.

At the beginning of the year, I was rehearsing for a ballet production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was finally enjoying quasi-regular writing dates when I’d leave my daughter with her grandparents to go sit and write by myself in a tea shop for an hour or two.

In February, before the encroaching pandemic touched our state, I met with friends and finally learned to knit after a lifetime of confusion, frustration, and outright avoidance. I took my two-and-a-half-year-old to a high school drama festival for the first time, which was a big deal. The day Maine announced its first case, I followed through on plans (promises) to take my kid to a playground and the library. She hasn’t been back to either since, thought they are two of her favorite places.

March and April were times of adjustment. After that first day, that first case, my busy schedule of family and friends and performing came to a screeching halt. Fear and uncertainty evolved into a miasma of anxiety. Once-weekly grocery store trips gave me a pounding stress headache and made me useless for anything else the rest of the day. But in all this sudden at-home time, I found a reprieve from the logistical exhaustion that comes with trying to do anything outside the house as the all-the-time, on-call parent. And into that new space, I read, I knitted, I made an attempt at gardening, I finally found the energy and mental space for quasi-regular crafts and baking experiments with my toddler, and I wrote.

Somehow in this mixed up mess of a year, I’ve managed to read 55 books. Knitting has become my relaxation–something I can do even with constant kid-interruptions and -distractions, that calm and centers me, in which even small progress is visceral. Instant creative gratification.

The garden attempt died. Getting outside with a toddler became an hour of struggle so daily waterings began to fall by the wayside. On top of that, I never made a real plan to get the seedlings in the ground, then rehearsals and performances ate the best planting part of the summer. Because, yes, our local numbers were low enough that outdoor theatre seemed a minimal risk. Had I known at the start that I was pregnant, I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m glad I had the chance to play a fun role and be on stage one last time. (Pandemic aside, I’m not likely to be able to get back on stage in a full production until kid #2 has his second birthday.)

Crafts with small kids are exhausting, but rewarding. And now at three, they allowed my daughter to take so much pride and ownership in Christmas gift-giving this year. I’m weirdly excited about our bag of ripped and discarded wrapping paper, since a Google search netted me some fun craft ideas.

But writing. Writing in 2020.

I took an online playwriting course and drafted a short play. I finished a novel draft. I spent a lot of time assessing and reassessing my process and have made it halfway through another novel draft. In August, I created a writing support community, which has helped push me to getting a record number of story submissions out. (A low bar, but worth celebrating!)

So my 2020 has not been a fallow period creatively. The fact that I have thrived when so many others are struggling for basic survival leaves me with a deep sense of guilt. It has been a process to get here and I’m still trying to articulate how I did in hopes that maybe it can help someone else. But that will be a future post.

And if you are in a less-than-productive time, I hope there’s some comfort in knowing that creativity also needs fallow periods. You may not see any progress or development, but it’s still happening below the surface. Know it will be there when you’re ready to come back to it.

Writing plays (yes, more theatre)

Lately there’s been a theme around here. A theme involving theatre. And apparently it’s not enough to be in a play (now closed) or workshopping Shakespeare scenes via Zoom (potentially upcoming). I’m writing plays, too.

This isn’t exactly a new development. I wrote my first play when I was about ten, then my sixth grade teacher made the terrible, terrible mistake of letting me drag my classmates into performing it for the school. (I’m sure there was video evidence at one point, but I hope it has since been destroyed.) Then a few years ago I wrote another play for my community theatre group’s annual 24 Hour New Play Festival. It could use a polish or three, but I’m still proud of it. I started–but have not finished–another when I was pregnant with my daughter.

So I haven’t done many, but I like writing plays. I like it a lot. Which led me to take an online class back in May. Which resulted in a script for a ten minute play.

I’m not generally a fan of ten minute plays. They trend toward cheesy, trite, and go for the cheap laughs. (I am always in search of the exceptions, however, so please send any recommendations you may have my way!)

But I kind of love my little script. It doesn’t do quite what I want it to yet–that’s for revision–but it let me play with language, poetry and ideas I’ve wanted to work out for a while. I meant to make those ideas blog posts or short stories and just hadn’t been able to get it right. Putting them into this script felt like getting it right. (Now I need to get the script itself right.)

So here’s today’s writing advice for you: if there’s something you want to do, or say, or explore and it just doesn’t seem to be working out, try a different medium. Instead of a short story, try an essay, or Instead of an essay, try a poem. Instead of a poem, try a play. Paint it or dance to it or sing.

Writing plays won’t replace novels or short stories. Not by a long shot. But it’s another tool, another skill, another way of saying what I want to say.

Theatre in the time of COVID

I asked the universe for one pretty giant birthday present. And the universe came through.

I’m in a show and opening night was my birthday. Shakespeare. Taming of the Shrew. My character is one that usually gets cut from the film versions, but ends up being pretty central to most of the machinations in the original. The director offered me the role months ago and I almost turned it down because I was afraid of limiting my summer theatre options (but I took it because damn, I wanted this role). Then the pandemic hit this corner of the globe and any theatre this summer seemed pretty damn unlikely.

If we were anywhere else in this country, this show would not be happening. But we’re in Maine and thankfully we have an intelligent governor and our case rates have been decreasing. (Or at least were when I originally wrote this post. With tourists and companies not bothering to quarantine their migrant workers, cases are now trending up again and I am not impressed.)

Theatre in the time of Covid starts with no one feeling terribly sure they’ve made the right decision by continuing with the play. It means quiet rehearsals because the usual between-things-chatter doesn’t happen much with everyone in masks. It means everyone is more prepared to properly project when we take the show outside for performances. Actors have been relying on physicality to project and communicate the nuances we often leave to facial expressions.

In short, it has given us a better performance.

But it also means that the moment I get home, I’m stuffing my clothes in the laundry and hopping into the shower. It means that we don’t get to hang out and bond after rehearsals or performances the way that always helps cement that feeling of show-family. It means that, while my toddler is so excited I’m in a play and she keeps asking to see it, I have to disappoint her and keep her home. Toddlers don’t really get social distancing. (And taking a moment to acknowledge one more layer of privilege, none of this would have been possible if I were a single parent.)

Theatre in the time of Covid means trusting your cast and crew ten times more than ever before. I mean, there’s always a level of trust necessary, but now we’re trusting each other to practice proper masking and social distancing outside of the theater (or performance space, in our case being outdoors). For someone who’s been in full lockdown since March–only me, my husband, and our toddler, necessary trips only, or the occasional drive to let the toddler run and explore somewhere different without much risk of running into other people–that was a giant, terrifying leap. It still is, to be honest, and tonight is our closing.

And once back in that familiar space, with familiar people, the lines quickly blurred between the old normal and new normal. After opening night, that was one comment I heard: it was a much needed breath of the old normal.

Tomorrow, I’m back to lockdown. While Maine’s numbers have been good, this virus with its serious potential for death or chronic illness is not a risk I’m willing to take with my family’s lives, and I’m thoroughly anticipating a second wave. But damn, I’ve enjoyed this show.

Writing Dad, a decade on

For the last year and a half, I’ve been working on a novel. It’s not a terribly serious novel (a vampire romance with an intentionally ludicrous premise, which had no hope of marketability until the announcement of the newest Twilight book) born of a fun dream and the thought of what it might be like if Dad stuck around as a ghost. This story is the first time I’ve been able to write Dad.

I actually wrote the first three chapters only a year or two after he died, but I wasn’t ready. I had to let it sit. It took me a long time before I could get back to it.

Which is just further confirmation of the fact that I can’t really write a thing until I’ve processed it. Or as a latter stage of processing. If I ever figure out that particular order of operations, I’ll let you know.

Dad would have been 77 this year. We celebrated his birthday with cupcakes (chocolate and whipped cream frosting: the same as the last–maybe only–birthday cake I ever made him) and a candle (shaped as the number two to symbolize his eternal mental age and because that’s what was handy). I try to do something to mark his birthday every year. Usually just by grabbing a milkshake at his favorite takeout, but this is what we decided, between the global pandemic and my kid’s request.

He had a family before me and my sister, and he liked to occasionally say that was what made him able to see or predict accidents when our mom couldn’t. Except he was a pretty crap father the first time around, so I highly doubt he learned any of that with my half-sisters. It probably had more to do with life experience, being 42 when I was born and my mom a month away from 25, plus his ridiculously strong spatial awareness. Of course, Dad never had the self-awareness to acknowledge how bad he was as a husband and father the first time (or the second, or the third). He was reacting to an oppressive, abusive childhood and couldn’t see past his own self-gratification. I didn’t need to hear my sisters’ stories to figure that out, once I started paying attention to what his stories didn’t contain. (My sisters, for one.)

Maybe telling you these faults of his seems strange in this sort of post, but I can’t change who he was and who he was included a whole lot of faults. Honesty in life is a good quality. Honesty in writing? Essential for telling the kinds of stories I want to tell.

I loved my dad. So much of my identity revolved around him, but he certainly wasn’t perfect and I don’t want to romanticize him on the page. That wouldn’t be Dad; it would just be some cardboard cutout of a character. (There’s a writing lesson here how flaws are what makes characters most dynamic and compelling, but this post is for my dad and that is for a better discussion of the characters he inspires.)

I’ve finished a first draft of that first story with Dad. Now I have a new project and again he’s making an appearance. With different emphasis on certain personality traits.

I’ve spent years trying to write Dad because it helps me remember and memorialize him. Because I’m still working through this shit and because he is still so much of my truth that not writing him feels dishonest. Now, ten years on, I think I finally can.

This post was originally published on Patreon. Please join me there for early access to blog posts, updates on my current projects, and access to my fiction!

Burn it down

The world is on fire and I’ve largely missed it. Is there a greater mark of white privilege?

I am not ok for reasons that are personal and not even a drop in the ocean that is the grief and rage of systemic hate and oppression. “I’m not racist!” We who are complicit in upholding these systems, who benefit from the privilege of our shade of skin, would like to shout this from the rooftops and imagine it absolves us.

Spoiler: it doesn’t.

I’ve struggled with writing this. Silence is complicit, but my voice added to a cacophony of white voices can only further decenter this movement.

If that movement derails, these systems continue at status quo when what they really, so desperately need is to be torn down and replaced with a just, equitable system.

White folks, we need to sit down and stfu unless we’re centering the voices, needs, and experiences of those without the privilege of our skin. We need to question our systems (do they serve everyone equitably?). We need to challenge ourselves to root out our assumptions and unconscious biases (whether we like it or not, we’re part of those systems and we’ve been taught not to see). We need to amplify the voices that have been actively, systematically silenced, and we need to engage with other white folks to confront and educate and have those hard conversations.

And we need to do this without burning out. These conversations require a heavy toll in emotion and energy, and we’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Most of the time, I’m reposting or retweeting. I read and recommend books by BIPOC authors. A friend posts a meme about good cops under attack and I comment with context and facts that were missing and how it works to undermine the needed change that is the purpose of the protests. A family member comments on a link I’ve reposted to say she doesn’t like the children’s board books with antiracist and feminist in the title so I ask her what it is about equality that’s so uncomfortable.

I’m still waiting on the answer.

And those attempted conversations wiped me out. I still have to be present for my family. Burnout is no longer the option it used to be; my mental and emotional health have to take priority. So I do what I feel I can.

I do what I can, but it’s not enough and it can never be enough until we’re all doing it. Until we can tell kids about doing all this and they say, “Damn, you’re old,” and move onto something else because they can’t wrap their heads around the frantic clinging to injustice and inequality.

How amazing would that be?

So please do what you can as you can. Know that you will screw up–we’re only human–but learn from it, apologize, and do better the next time.

Swallow my Pride and Buckle up for the Ride

My adult life keeps making me eat my words. I’m not. I can’t. I don’t. I don’t sew; I don’t knit. (Spoiler: I now do both of those.) So, so many I-can’t’s locked up in theatre, in being onstage. So much fear of being asked to do something awkward, embarrassing, uncomfortable when those described everything about me in high school. Coming back to acting ten years later, those had disappeared. Well, mostly. Enough.

The same has been true of writing. I don’t write short stories. I don’t write poems. Except now I do. But that’s old news by now. Here’s the new one: I don’t write non-fiction.

Ok, I know that’s funny. What are blogs, if not non-fiction, right? But I decided that this year I want to learn how to write essays. Not the meaningless gibberish of thesis/supporting arguments/topic sentences bullshit, but real, meaningful, powerful essays.

I may never get to that level of skill, but I started by reading those books on writing that seemingly everyone with an opinion recommends. Books that of course I’ve read by now if I consider myself a “real” writer. Kind of like being a fantasy writer who’s never read Tolkien. (I tried, but life is too short and there are too many amazing stories out there to force my way through something I just can’t care about.)

So now I wish I’d read Zinsser’s On Writing Well back in high school–or at least college. On the other hand, I can now articulate what turned teenage me off so hard from any writing advice books: I do not see myself. I am not represented.

Examples given of “great” writing? 99.9% of the time male authors. Women don’t rate mention, apparently. Default male pronoun when referring to a theoretical writer. If they give any mention of SF/fantasy/popular fiction, it’s either with utter bewilderment or dripping disdain.

Representation is important, folks.

Anyone telling me that my voice doesn’t matter? That my stories, my experiences don’t matter? Yeah, I won’t be inclined to listen to whatever else they have to say. (And I come from a significant amount of privilege as a white woman; this erasure is more insidious and pervasive for folks without my privilege.)

But I swallowed my pride and read the damn books and seethed. And there was good information buried in all that crap. A lot of stuff I already knew, which is why it would have done me more good to read it as a teenager. I learned things, too, and that was the point.

Know what else I don’t do? Writing exercises. Even the books on writing that I love–anything by Natalie Goldberg or Julia Cameron, or Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook–even knowing the exercises are there for a reason, I’ve done barely more than glance at them. So this is the next thing I’m working on.

I’ve done some. I’m slowly (so slowly) working my way through seasons of the Writing Excuses podcast. Or I was before the pandemic hit us. At times it feels tedious and I just want to roll my eyes and move on to something else, but when I set aside my pride and skepticism, magic happens. Feeling myself grow as a writer is a wonderful thing.

My skills have always grown in fits and starts. Sometimes the growth is small, gradual (like how I didn’t know I’d become decent at description until my writing group complimented me), and sometimes it happens in a flash (like becoming a parent–my writing after having a kid was immediately a class above what I’d done before). Working at prompts and exercises grows these skills perceptibly and steadily.

This satisfies my control freak tendencies. In so many ways, I can’t afford an MFA program (but that doesn’t stop me from drooling over Stonecoast every chance I get) and I can’t afford workshops and classes that can be hit or miss for the learning and growth I hope to get out of them. So doing these prompts and exercises on my own, while still imperfect, gives me a way to appreciably improve my skills. I’m a pretty damn good writer, but I want to be better.

I don’t know if I succeeded with the non-fiction–if my essay writing has improved (guess I just need to post more in order to figure that out)–but I’m oddly excited about doing more writing prompts and exercises. At least, when I can get past that initial aversion. (Some of the results from these will end up on my Patreon and/or Ko-fi, if you wanted extra incentive to join me there!)

On further consideration, maybe I should keep using the I’m not/I can’t/I don’t. If only so I can have an idea of what comes next.