Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I know there's a balance, I see it when I swing past

It's funny, because I picked out this entry's title and then peeked at my first 2009 entry to ground myself in where I was a year or so ago before I attempted to write this entry. And lo and behold...
"The key word for 2009, I think, will be "balance." I will continue to hold a good balance between time for family and time for writing and time for just me. In my writing, I will continue to seek that elusive balance between doing the smart things I need to do to pursue a career, and doing what I want to do because I love it."
Overall, I think I mostly succeeded at that goal of balance. Oh, I had my off days (weeks, months...), but looking back, I feel mostly good about the last 12 months. Some highlights:

Zero stories sold. BUT. I started three new short stories (two of which were flash pieces), three novels, and a novella. I finished one of each, got a nibble and subsequent rejection on the novel, and got the short and the novella out into submission-land. The novel has been trunked because it was written specifically for a single market, but I learned a LOT from its writing, so I call it a success nonetheless. And I still have the three stories I finished in 2008 out there, too, although I have one back in my court and a second that probably is even though I never got a formal rejection from its most recent submission. Possibly I should take a few days at the start of 2010 and re-evaluate both of those.

I also pitched and landed a gig teaching a fiction writing elective at the boys' middle school. And then spent a part-time job's worth of hours putting together lesson plans in addition to the 45 minutes a week actually teaching the class. My students all seem to really enjoy the class, we've had some great discussions, and most of them have turned in some reasonably workable bits of writing. Sometime in the next couple of months, I suppose I should give some attention to determining if I'll offer to teach the course next year, as well as whether I might offer some classes outside school hours. I need to do some thinking about the time I'd need to put in vs. the time I'll have available, since Joe starts high school next year (!) and our schedule will be changing to accommodate treks to two different schools each day.

In the non-writing, work-related arena, I have spent the first semester of this school year putting in 24 hours/week with the school's extended care program, primarily working with the kindergarten-age students. It has been a mixture of joy and agony that only children can provoke. I have one more week with them in January, then they go full-day kindergarten and I go to a 2 day per week schedule working with the preschoolers instead. I will miss my kindergarten kids. And I cannot wait to be done working with them every day. Given the previously mentioned schedule change next year and the low rate of pay associated with the job, I think it's fair to say I will not be working there on a regular basis next school year. But honestly? I think I've held my ground far better than I feared I might--I may have mentioned a time or two that I do not thrive in people-intensive situations, and working at the school has most definitely been people-intensive.

This been a growing year for me. (For my boys, too, but I will save that for another entry, I think.)

I can't put numbers to this claim; there's no word count or chart of stories started or completed or timecard of hours worked to support this claim. There were short stories jotted down in first draft form and never looked at again. There were novels half-started and then put away to make way for other projects. There were months of spinning my wheels on figuring out what to do with a novel I thought I had a first draft of but came to realize that I hadn't really even begun. There were weeks I blew on leisure activities that had nothing whatsoever to do with writing. (OK, yes. Gaming. I said it.)

But I honestly, sincerely feel like I have a better grip on what I'm doing than I did 12 months ago. I came across the phrase "exploratory draft" in a fellow writer's forum signature today that shines a crystal clear light on what that first draft of Crowmaker really was. I finished my first play-through of Dragon Age: Origins and had a series of mini-epiphanies about plot structure and character motivation, seen from a fresh angle. I did some experimental, "not-for-real" writing just for me that helped me break through walls and bring a new confidence to my "real" writing. I got a rejection letter that informed me in one fell swoop that my writing style was beautiful, but the story itself just moved too slowly, which chimed a note of recognition somewhere deep inside me and brought to my conscious mind what my subconscious had evidently been trying to tell me for some time--that all my effort on style was great and starting to pay off, but now I need to pay more mind to story structure. And a hundred, thousand other tiny moments of learning that I may have missed if I haven't spent the last couple of years struggling to listen to my instincts.

Looking forward to 2010, then:

I will not fool myself. There will be rough patches. There always are. But there will be periods of energy and productivity, too. There always are. I will continue to try finding my personal work rhythm and developing my writing process. I will continue to look and listen for the tiny moments of learning and attempt to apply them to my writing. I will cross my fingers on the stories currently out in the submission void, I will (possibly) work on getting out there again if/when they come back, and I will charge ahead with the novel that is beginning to feel like the great but challenging love of my life. Last year at this time, I was afraid of Crowmaker; it feels much more doable now, although still frightening. We'll see where it goes in 2010, I suppose.

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