They never tell you that writing can be kind of addicting

Feeling very accomplished today. I had a pitch accepted for an essay. Nowadays I do this thing where I write the essay, and then I send the pitch, and at the end I’m like BTW here’s the essay itself, if you’re interested. So, you know, having the pitch accepted is a lot like having the piece accepted: although you never know, things can also go wrong.

I also made significant progress with a short story I have due for a YA anthology. It’s a very cerebral story, which is perhaps ironic, since the anthology is about sports. Lately I’ve gotten a lot freer with my short story writing, I’ve started to feel like I can do slightly wilder stuff (wild by Naomi standards–this story is in the present tense, which I almost never do). I just feel like short stories aren’t meant to be mini-novels. This isn’t the 40s, we’re not just writing little detective stories because detective novels don’t exist yet. We’re writing something people read instead of novels.

The short story, poem, and essay are also where I’m going these days to put everything that I probably couldn’t get published, either for stylistic or content reasons, in a longer form. Honestly, it’s all about the market. I feel myself grappling with the market more and more these days: not trying to win it over, but simply trying to find some way to make peace with it and sneak somehow into print. In every form, there’s a nexus of desire–there’s a reason that the form exists and is being published–and there are certain structural truths about the form. For instance, nobody reads poetry journals and nobody knows what a poem is, so if you give them something that looks different in some way from the rest of the slush pile, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s good or in any way inspired, you probably have a chance.

I dunno, I wouldn’t want to be pinned down too much on these insights, such as they exist. The point is, what they don’t tell you when you’re starting out is that writing can become addicting. You get high on your own supply! You fall in love with your own thoughts, your own words, with the affirmation that comes from hearing people respond, praise, retweet. I think this is the source of Twitter: this is why Twitter exists. It is the shortest-possible feedback loop between publishing something and getting a response. And you can sit around all day, just tweeting and pulling that lever.

But it’s the same, albeit to a lesser extent, with everything. You can write novel after novel, send them out, even publish them, you can finetune your approach, figure out how to make big swings, learn the market more and more, and become more and more a creature of conventional wisdom.

And the whole process gets you high. It makes you feel good. It’s exciting. It has nothing to do with reading books, thinking about life, or producing literature. This is why failure is so salutary for people. It pulls them up short, makes them realize, what am I doing? Why am I wasting my life this way? It also short-circuits the rewards system, so they can’t just keep putting stuff out there.

Anyway, it is really hard for me to take a conscious step back and read, instead of just writing all the time. I’m like halfway right now through a dozen books: I couldn’t even tell you all their names. Most notably, I’ve been reading a lot of Kant. I finished The Critique of Pure Reason, which felt like an accomplishment, and now I’m reading his much-more-accessible moral writings. The only problem is that because they’re so much more accessible and less abstract, you don’t have to think as much, so whereas I feel like I sort of got what Kant was saying in the previous book, right now I’m a little more at sea. Like if I was tested on this book I’d probably score lower on the test than if I was tested on the last, even though this book’s material is objectively simpler.

I’ve been trying to be the kind of writer who keeps a journal, but it’s hard. It’s very easy for me to just write nonsense in a journal, like total nonsense words. And then writing about real actual things feels silly, since writing the words takes so long that I get bored before I’m done. It’s hard to focus and drill down and only waste ink on things that matter to me in the moment I’m writing them.

I’ve been reading (amongst others), Lydia Davis’s Essays (can’t remember if it’s volume one or two), which has been great. She is so cerebral, and yet unschooled. She talks about being freed by these short fragments of stories that she writes, and she talks about how she revises each line, and how she will revise random lines in her journal, even if they’re not part of a story. It feels very organic, very unaffected, and yet also new. I also got a collection of her stories, and I like it a lot! I’ve been writing a lot of these really short stories myself, because I think they give me a chance to say things you can’t in a longer form (or at least not say and get published in a longer form). The more seemingly trivial a form, the more leeway you get, that’s why comedians are allowed to say more or less whatever they want.

Sent a complete draft of my literary novel to my agent

Hello friends, I’m feeling very accomplished (though a little at ends). I just finished a draft of my literary novel (now tentatively titled The Default World), and sent it to my agent, Christopher! This is close to my fourth year of working on the book and it marks my fourth successive fall of sending a new draft of this book to an agent. Yes, three years ago, I sent a very different version of this book to my last agent, who loved it and wanted to send it out as-is. I was like, great, just let me revise it, and a year later sent him a draft in which I had, amongst other things, turned the cis woman protagonist to a trans woman protagonist. He didn’t like it, and we parted ways. Then last fall, I sent this book out to other agents, after even more revisions, and it got turned down extensively (so my last agent wasn’t wrong about it being unsalable, although it was kind of a blow), including by my current agent!

After getting word that a YA novel proposal was going to acquisitions at Harper I went back out to agents w/ the proposal and w/ the first 100 pages of a rewrite of this book. I had thought a lot about the issues with various iterations of this book, both from the perspective of other people (generally their problem was that it was boring) and from my own perspective (I had arcane issues due to narrative distance and the omniscient voice). So I had embarked on a revision that brought the voice much closer and made it much more personal, which in turn necessitated all kinds of other changes. Anyway, the point is, I knew I could get an agent for my YA stuff, but I’ve always had agents who believed in me for YA but didn’t believe in my work for adults, either because they weren’t familiar with the adult market or because they simply didn’t respect my writing. So in this case I was looking for somebody who would really be on the same page with me.

AND WHO KNOWS!

If I’ve learned four things over the eight and a half years I’ve been an agented writer, it’s that: 1) You can’t force your agent to like your book; 2) You can force them to send it out to editors, but if they do, they likely won’t do a good job pitching it and it probably won’t sell; 3) Just because an agent thinks your book is unsellable, doesn’t mean it actually is (especially after you revise it); and 4) if you really believe in the book, it’s okay to just agree to disagree and part ways.

You know, looking for a new agent is funny. Authors are always told to ask agents, “What would happen if you didn’t like the next book I gave you?” And if you ask them that, agents always say some version of, “We would discuss it and work it out.” But the truth is that it’s more common than not to simply be unable to come to consensus on these matters. I mean think of your favorite author: You don’t like all of their published books; so why would you agent like all of the books you write? The real question is: if your agent doesn’t like your book, what will you do?

So this post is just a long way of saying, I’m anxious! This book is my baby. I have literally a million words in the scrivener folder on this book (current draft is 75,000). I was trying to think of how many complete drafts the book has gone through, and I literally couldn’t count them (it’s at least five). I’ve been trying to write a literary novel for adults for, well, at least ten years!

I have to say, it was weird having the experience of publishing that LARB essay and getting such instant feedback from the internet, in terms of retweets, comments, etc. And then to go from that to writing a novel, where you can’t put it into the world for many years–it’s a bit of a shock!

Now I’m honestly not sure what to do. I have an a story due for an anthology. And some other stuff essays and junk cooking. But mostly feel like, welp, what am I doing now!

It’s amazing what people don’t tell you about writing. Like, maybe I should also be thinking of an idea for another YA novel? I figure that since my next one is coming out in 2023, I probably should sell the fourth one before the third one comes out. But I have no idea if that’s realistic.

WHO KNOWS. IT IS A CONFUSION.

Last year I committed myself to doing whatever writing I could publish without having an agent

Hello everyone. I got my COVID booster a few days ago, and today I got dizzy and fell down several times. Not a pleasant experience. But I assume COVID is an even-less-pleasant experience.

I am also going through edits on another piece that is going to appear in the Chronicle of Higher Education sometime next week, and I wrote a piece too that I sent to the LA Review of Books that maybe / probably will appear next week.

Not sure what to say about the whole essay-writing thing. I’ve always wanted to try to write for periodicals—it’s something they seem to have endless demand for—but was never sure who to pitch or how to develop ideas. I had a bad experience in 2013 when I pitched an article to Salon and worked really hard on it, and it was not at all what they wanted, and they killed it. So I didn’t try again for a long time. In retrospect it was probably good for me not to get caught up in the hot-take production line, but at the time it felt like a major failure, and it seemed like I just would never be able to adapt my voice to what any periodical might want.

The whole thing is really obscure. You can pitch articles in one of two ways: either to some submission email or portal the publication has (in some cases), or by hunting down the relevant editor and emailing them. But when I went with the latter, it never quite worked somehow. I actually tried sending things to the LA Review of Books multiple times, and it turned out that the editors had left or were about to leave. Submissions got swallowed up without reply by their general submissions portal. Finally, with my classical education piece, I sent it to someone on their masthead who was like “I’m not a commissioning editor, but I’ll send it on to Boris (their editor in chief)” who liked it. But even then they were like, “We will get you an edit in September.” I had no idea what that means…did it mean the piece was accepted or not?

This is just how writing for periodicals is I guess! To be honest I have no idea. I have a bunch of friends who do it, and I could’ve asked them, but always felt too shy. I prefer to fail in private. With these things, stuff that’s outside my comfort zone, I wonder if I’m good enough or whatever.

But I’ve been really pleased at the success of the classical education piece! It’s been retweeted and included in all kinds of wrap-ups and substacks. Oh my god, there are a lot of literary substacks. Wow. Come on, guys, haven’t you ever heard of a good old-fashioned WordPress blog? It’s like a substack but people can also find it online. Anyway, I have no substack, but you’re certainly welcome to do an email subscription to this blog—there’s some kind of tool or doohickey for doing that on the left-hand side of the page.

I’ve gotten a few emails—not an outpouring or anything, but a few—praising the piece. One was from an editor at Chronicle of Higher Education. They asked for pitches. I gave them one.

Personally, I hate pitching. I prefer to write out a piece beforehand. I think I’m sensitized by the Salon incident. I just want them to be able to scroll down, read the article, and see right away if it’s good enough. So in this case, after being accepted off a pitch, I was on tenterhooks, worrying the piece itself wouldn’t make the cut.

I dunno. It’s a sideline. Sorry if this is scattered or disjunctled—I’m still recovering from the shot and the fall (the latter happened about half an hour ago). I started writing essays (again) around this time last year, when I was still hunting for an agent. I’d spent a year looking, with little success. I was working on a fantasy novel, and I abandoned it, thinking, “What’s the point? It’s just another thing that I can do nothing with unless I get an agent.” So I made a big list of writing that I could do and pursue even without an agent. I’m trying to remember what was on that list. It was definitely something like the following:

  • Pitch another YA novel to my editor
  • Sci-fi short stories
  • Literary short stories
  • Literary essays
  • Book reviews
  • Poetry
  • Self-publishing
  • etc

Obviously the biggest outcome of that decision to refocus my energies was that I wrote a proposal for my third YA novel, Just Happy To Be Here, which my editor took to acquisitions—which event finally found me an agent. But I also got short stories published in Gulf Coast and West Branch. I had poems appear in Cherry Tree and Vallum. I had book reviews in The Rumpus and The Bind. I self-published my cynical writer’s guide. and now I’m having these essays come out!

I think once I started working on all those sidelines, I felt almost immediately much better, more in control, and more confident about my fate. I literally said to myself, “Okay, even if I never get another novel published, I can keep writing, and that’s what’s important.” It was a very empowering moment for me. I know that none of these forms is nearly as high-impact as having a novel come out from a major publisher, and none of them is as close to my heart as my literary novel (which was the book that was failing to find an agent), but I think what’s important is just that you work, that you have a meaningful outlet for your talents, and that you have some chance of seeing your work reach the world. What’s so corrosive about the agent search is that your life is just on hold until you find an agent—you can write another book, but why bother? In my experience the agent usually doesn’t like the second book. And anyway they won’t send out the second one until the first one sells! So you’re just left sitting there twiddling your thumbs, waiting for someone to read your manuscript.

Breaking through that cycle was really great and empowering, and I continue to bear its fruits.

Reflections on writing an intellectual essay

Hello friendly people! Sorry I haven’t posted in so long. For me the big news is my intellectual-type essay came out at the Los Angeles Review of Books. It’s about how I think the relationship between the elite class and a love of classical literature has been a bit overstated. But more broadly it’s about the meaning and purpose of the classics.

For years I used to be very impressed by all these New York Review of Books style essays. They seemed very learned, as if the author had done reams of research before writing them. Then I started reading collections of criticism, and I realized something. Every author has their go-to reference points that they’re going to return to again and again. Samuel Delany is always going to mention Barthes, for instance. People aren’t doing research to write these essays: they’re just generally well-read people who are able to come up with a bunch of supporting facts and quotes out of their own reading.

With that as a model, I decided to write my own intellectual essay without doing any specific research (I was also worried about accidentally plagiarizing someone). You’ll notice my essay doesn’t have direct quotes–that’s because I didn’t even go back and check my references. One book I cited in there, The Chosen, I read when I was a sophomore in college. Almost sixteen years ago. Haven’t read it since. But I’m pretty sure it says what I said it says.

I also realized that the whole form as a whole is intellectually bankrupt. To prove any assertion when it comes to literature is utterly beyond the abilities, or even the intelligence, of most literary critics. Like, I’ve been reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and the man takes such care to define exactly what he means by each term. He is so careful to draw a distinction between “sensibility” (the means by which we gain impressions of appearances) and “understanding” (the means by which we produce cognitions about those impressions) and “reason” (the means by which we produce…well I’m not going to pretend I understand Kant well enough to explain it to you). Anyway, the point is he is VERY specific.

You can’t be that specific in a literary essay. Thus, it’s very difficult to even say anything in a clear manner. For instance, in my essay, what does it mean to say “a classical education”. Do I mean just the Greek and Latin classics? Which ones? Do I mean a knowledge of Greek and Latin itself? When I say ‘elites’ what do I mean? When I say ‘valued’ or ‘paid attention to’, what do I mean? It’s more or less impossible to be rigorous in any essay that speaks of what a group of people in the past thought or believed.

Given that, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to constructing an iron-clad argument. I just figured I could throw out a lot of disparate reference points, raise a few questions, and call it a day! To my mind, that’s a lot more intellectually honest than pretending to some kind of comprehensiveness that’s not really possible.

I had a lot of fun doing this. It’s probably some of the most fun I’ve ever had in writing. I have LOTS of thoughts about literature and culture, and mostly nobody cares about them. However this one time I did find the time and the venue where I could make some hay, and for that I’m grateful.

Even though it’s an intellectually bankrupt form, it is a bit intimidating for me, a non-academic, with two fake degrees (a BA in Econ and an MFA in creative writing) to opine about high culture, and I am dead certain that I got a lot of my facts wrong, but the nice thing about literature is…it’s not exactly life or death. Nobody is gonna stand up in a house of parliament and cite my paper as a reason for why they should bomb another country. Opining about literature feels quite safe, in a way that most things don’t. Not because people can’t get angry about it (they can and do), but because the harm you can do is relatively limited.

Begin as you mean top go on

Hello blog readers! I’m done with my YA novel, and I’m letting it sit for a few days to see if I need to make any last-minute changes. But, god willing, I will make my 11/1 deadline with no problems.

I’ve also started working on my literary novel again. I had done one rewrite in the spring, then sent it to friends for comments, and now I’m revising based on their comments. I ended up rewriting the whole first act of the book, but then a crazy thing happened: the plot joined up with the plot of the previous draft! Normally if I start a blank page rewrite, I assume I’m gonna have to keep going and rewrite the entire thing. But this time maybe not! Who knows. I mean, the characterizations are now subtly different, and the tone and voice are a little different, so I’ll probably have to rewrite at least half of what I just copy/pasted back in. But that’s okay!

I know some writers don’t like to combine two different drafts. They don’t like how the the tone is a little different in different drafts, but I think of that as being a feature! It’s sort of a layering. In a book you want the protagonist to have that dynamism, and I think it’s hard to encapsulate their different sides in the same scene–so ideally you want some scenes that have some parts of her and other scenes that have other part. That’s an effect you get naturally when you wrote the different scenes years apart.

In other news, I’ve become kind of a collector of proverbs. Maybe this is part of becoming an a parent, but I’m really dredging them up from somewhere. For instance, a friend is looking for an agent the other day, and I told her to "begin as you mean to go on." Meaning you start the relationship in the same way you want it to proceed.

Proverbs are kind of useless because either the other person has already heard them and ignores them, or you instantly need to explain what you mean. But they’re still fun somehow! I mean most of what we say, in conversation and text, is total nonsense, not just meaningless but lacking in mellifluousness as well. Proverbs have the advantage of being well-written, so they add that extra juice to your speech.

Now I’m trying to think of other proverbs I use a lot, and I can’t. Will have to report back

All the extra stuff that goes into writing

Hello friends! Was feeling like procrastinating so I was like, why not do something about that online journal I’ve been writing for the past…thirteen years. Yes, since August of 2008–thirteen years.

Have been feeling lazy and unaccomplished this year, even though by any rational standard I have done a lot! I finished listening to the Bible, I read Chaucer and the Canterbury tales in Middle English, I’ve made considerable progress in studying old english–have now started seriously studying up on the articles and pronouns, and afterwards will bone up on noun declensions before tackling that bugbear: verb conjugation. I thought for a while I could skip all this stuff simply by learning what all the words meant, and I do think focusing on vocabulary initially was a good idea, but I’ve reached a point where I really do need to learn the difference between he, heo, hit, and him.

I’ve also written stories, essays, poems, and complete drafts of two novels (one a revision and the other an all-new first draft). I’m getting ready to turn in my YA novel to my editor, and this novel didn’t even exist a year ago! I came up with the idea, so far as I can remember, sometime last December. My fortunes truly have turned around tremendously in the course of one year.

But the thing about having a child and having full-time childcare is you just feel a little inadequate. So many people have MANY children–they have no or little childcare–they have financial troubles. There are people out in the world doing a lot more than I am, and doing it with less.

So I’ve been feeling a little lost. Wondering if I’m making the best use of my time and my life. Like today, it wasn’t until about 9:45 that I really sat down to work. Then I ended up practicing my Anglo-Saxon–mostly as a way of procrastinating. I’ve been listening to a romance novel: a woman on a podcast recommended Tessa Dare, and I’ve been finding her books quite comforting. So I practiced articles and pronouns and listened to this novel.

And the thing is, I do believe this is writing-related activity. I’m certain of it. Nothing has influenced my writing more this year than reading Chaucer–it’s given me an entirely different sense of rhythm and of sound–and that’s the sort of thing that it’s easy to not do if you start thinking of writing–of the typing of words–as your job. When you’ve already been published, everything in your life, everything in the world, pushes against you, trying to stop you from growing. It’s very hard to keep that focus on, just, getting better and learning new things.

The thing about learning is it’s a little messy. I mean, this is true of writing in general–most of it looks like nothing. But you do a little bit each day, without really know what’s going on or what you’re doing, and, very, very, very slowly, it starts to come together.

Finished a draft of my third YA novel!

Hello friends. You know, I have during my life read a lot of posts on author blogs where they’re like, “I’m on deadline for a book, so you won’t see much of me for the next few weeks.” And I’ve always wondered why: writing a book isn’t that time-consuming—it takes a few hours a day—and writing blog posts isn’t that time-consuming either, it takes about thirty minutes. Moreover, if you’re a writer, when are you not working on something? What does it matter if you’re close to deadline or not—you’re always working.

Welp, as the deadline for my third YA novel, Just Happy To Be Here approached, I just naturally fell off posting here. So now I know! Somehow the blog just became a lower priority. And now that I’ve completed a draft, I find myself writing a post again.

Yes, I’ve completed a draft! Yay!!!! I’m very happy with it. As always happens to me lately, as I write my books I’m like, wow, this is so dangerous and transgressive—nobody else has ever written anything like this before. It’s pretty cool. In this case, I deviated early on from my synopsis in one small but major way—I decided to have my main character be pre-HRT. So, biologically, in some sense (not up on the terminology), she’s unchanged from before she started identifying as a girl. And she’s now in an all-girl’s school. I just thought it was really cool, and it’ll be really empowering for other kids to see that, you know, there’s more to gender than hormones and biology.

There are SO few trans girls in YA that I don’t think there’s actually even been a straightforward coming out story yet. And this won’t be one of those—personally, I like coming-out stories—I think writing a trans girl’s coming out would be super cool—but I more or less skipped over most of that, so I could just write a book about a girl who’s kind of in the early-middle stages. In fact, over the course of the book, she starts realizing that to other trans girls, she’s now, like, a role model.

Anyway, scattered, inchoate thoughts. I like the book. It’s has a lot of themes: mostly it’s about nature of leadership and the workings of power, but, as always, the characters are the core of the story. They surprise you, gaining new depth as you write. Unlike most of my stories—this book has outright villains—but I found myself empathizing with most of them, and I liked the little human touches I added. I also found myself really liking my protagonist—she’s different from the protagonist of my first two books—more diffident—less driven—her ambitions are kind of vague—she just wants to have the girlhood she always imagined herself having—and it was fun to see how that lack of deep, driving ambition played out in the story.

Lots of revision to do, of course. My stories often get a bit bogged down in the second half with twists and turns and set-pieces, and this was no exception. I need to take a hard look at the structure and see what can afford to go. That’s why, instead of tinkering with the book, I’m gonna set it aside, look at it fresh in a few weeks, then do some major cutting / revising before turning it in on November 1st. Then my editor will have notes, etc, but I think it’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be good.

In the meantime, I’ve gotten comments back from friends about my literary book, The Default World, and I’m interested in trying to use this time to revise that a bit, though I’m not sure how realistic that ambition might be. I’ve been feeling super lazy all morning, so it’s possible I won’t really get much done on that front.

In other news, I have two acceptances to announce. I tried my hand at writing one of those long, magisterial intellectual essays that you see in all the “Review of Books” type journals. This one is about the myth of the classical education and how elites were never as well-educated as we make them out to be—the classical education was really more of a middle-class aspiration than an elite actuality. The core points may or may not be true, but I argued them well enough, I think! Excited that this’ll be coming out in the Los Angeles Review of Books on November 15th. And I also had a poem accepted by a literary journal, Cherry Tree. Oh! And my story “Matriphagy” is out in the current issue of Asimov’s. So that’s a bunch of good stuff right there. I’ve been staying busy on the short fiction, essay, poetry front, though my writings, especially my short fiction, have become really strange lately—have been moving away from naturalistic prose and sentence structure and have been using some techniques I’ve glossed from Middle and Old English. Definitely wouldn’t work at novel length and potentially don’t work at short story length either, but we’ll see.

Giving equal weight to personal and to work goals

Okay, I’m a convert now to the idea that the new WordPress block editor is hard to use. I’ve given up on it—the interface literally feels creaky and slow, like there’s a lag or something before my words appear. Not sure what’s going on there. Lately I’ve been writing my posts in markdown in Notes and just copy/pasting them into WordPress.

Life has been good! I’m entering the last act of the YA novel (due to my editor 11/1) and as usually happens, there are a lot of things I want to clean up in the rest of the draft so that the ending can be really sharp and make sense. And then cleaning up that stuff has revealed other deficiencies that I also need to fix, and it’s a whole thing.

Where does the time go! As I write this, it’s already 2 PM! What have I done today?????? I did realize, however, that our days look a lot fuller and more productive if we realize that our work is only one part of our lives, one contributor to our happiness. For instance, I’ve recently made a commitment to throwing out all my old clothes from my male times, which means I need to buy, like, new pants and new t-shirts, new clothes just for throwing on and heading out. And I don’t feel safe going to stores, so I order them online, and then they come, and you have to try them on.

When I make lists of goals, making progress with transitioning is always in the top three, but there’s not really a lot you can do to speed things up—changing how I dress is one of those things, though! At any given time, I find there is one thing that’s really affecting how I think of myself. For a while it was body hair, then my voice, now my dress. I mean it’s a never-ending process, but it’s important is all I’m saying—equally as important to my well-being as other things that I’d technically mark in the ‘productive’ column.

Or having lunch with a friend, as I did today—it took two hours, between driving to his neighborhood and coming back—but every time I make lists of goals, I’m like…having more of a community, having more friends, that’s important. That’s also in my top three.

And, finally, I have this chronic knee pain, and what really helps is the stationary bicycle. And nothing will improve my quality of life more than addressing the knee pain. Addressing my knee pain is always in my top three goals too.

So when you put all those goals up next to the work goals, first of all, I don’t even know if work is in the top three—I think it is, but if so then it’s the fourth thing in the top three—but when you put it next to everything and give it all equal weight, then can I really say that today was less productive, given that I made progress on three of my top four goals, whereas yesterday I only made progress on one (work).

Also, I’m about to make some progress on work. As soon as I’m done writing this entry (which is definitely not in my top three.)

close up photo of a person s hand touching her knee
Knee health is very important.
Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Extremely scattered reflections on the topic of earning and deserving and giving respect

I’ve gotten really into journaling and using pens and planners and diagrams and post-its and guided prompts. It’s a horrific waste of money, but much less so than my usual hobby of buying electronic junk. It also doesn’t really do much for you organizationally, since you spend so much time using the paper—as one anonymous online commenter once noted about Bullet Journaling, “The point isn’t to be organized or to do something, the point is the journal—being organized is itself the hobby.” They noted it as a negative: paradoxically, being organized takes up more time and energy than being disorganized would.

It’s a good point! I think there’s a reason so many highly effective people live in such chaos: it’s a way of delegating—it forces people around them to pick up slack, and it’s a way of prioritizing—anything that NEEDS to get done will get done. It’s like my advice to writers: if you really care about writing, it should literally be the first thing you do in the day. If you leave it to last, it’s too easy for it to slip away.

But you know what? Hobbies are fun. I like hobbies. I’ve never had them before—I only had semi-professional activities, like writing and reading, and total wastes of time, like video games. Now, for some reason, I’ve gotten way into hobbies. Like drawing, journaling, seeing paintings, etc. I think to a certain extent it’s because, with the sale of my third book, I’ve started to feel like, wow, this writing career is something approaching a profession for me! It’s a really weird thought.

Like people online are like, “Writers should get a living wage!” On Twitter someone was like, “A book from a major publisher should always get the equivalent of at least a year’s salary at [some minimal level, I forget what it was]”. And I’m always like…sure, but…there’s always someone else willing to do it cheaper. And the publisher loses money on my books anyway. But with WATN, I’m not 100 percent sure they did lose money. The book seemed to do fine! And they did pay me something approaching that minimum figure the Twitter commenter wrote about, too. So I have no complaints.

No stability, obviously, but I’m growing up.

Now where was I? Oh yes, something, something, something, journaling. Anyway, the prompt in one of my journals was like, “What do you need to thrive?”

When you write on these topics, something always pops up that you’re not expecting. In this case, amongst ten other things, I wrote that I needed “Respect.”

I was like, hmm, that’s odd! I’ve never thought that before.

It’s a very Ancient Greek idea. To any writer or thinker who lived in one of the ancient democracies it would’ve been intuitively obvious, even if Aristotle hadn’t written about it explicitly, that gaining honor is a major part of life. It was the backbone of their entire political and ethical system.

As Nietzsche noted, Christianity killed that ancient ethical system, but I still think it was getting at something. A person wants to be honored. They want to be acknowledged for their attainments.

So as I was thinking, how do I get respect, I started to think…”Do I give other people the respect they deserve?”

And I think in a lot of cases, the answer is no. I think a lot of times, I assume people are stupid or emotional, unless they’ve proven otherwise, and it comes through in some of my communications. And I think that uncertainty, running through how I write and talk, comes back to me as a lack of respect. I don’t talk to people as if I respect them, and so they don’t give me the same respect.

And often they’re right not to! I can be pretty emotional and irrational, especially when people give me their honest opinion. I think it’s easy to want respect if you imagine it means the same thing as praise. But it’s not. Someone can respect you, but not like you or your works or even think they have much value. There’s definitely a way people can be blunt and dismissive and disrespectful, but I don’t think it’s respectful to lie and sugarcoat your opinions. It definitely made me think!

In a similar vein, I’ll say, it’s nice sometimes to switch agents or editors or publishers, because you get a chance to do over all the things you did wrong the first time. I deeply regret all the times I was really emotional in situations when I shouldn’t have been.

When you sell a book, you have to grow up fast. And oftentimes, you don’t have many good role models. You don’t see examples of how real professionals—real old hands—communicate with their teams or handle adversity. I would say that in the sci-fi world there’s actually a little more of this, because it’s less hierarchical. I really value the outlook on life and publishing I got from Michael Swanwick and Joe Haldeman, in particular, at Clarion. As well as the similar lessons I gleaned from reading essays by Asimov or Heinlein or others from the Golden and Silver Ages. Although for a long time I thought I was too precious and artistic for that stuff to apply to me, I’m glad it was germinating inside me.

In a similar vein, I’ve been lucky to know Tess Sharpe—who I met at a literary retreat held by our then-agency back in…2013? 2014? My book later sold to the same editor as her debut did, and we were dropped by that publisher at the same time. Tess is a real pro. She’s actually amazing. I’m so happy she’s so outspoken on Twitter, because she’s teaching a generation of girls how to be flexible in the marketplace without sacrificing their principles.

But yeah….what was I saying, blah blah blah, something about respect…I don’t know. I’ve been SUPER emotional lately due to hormonal changes. Crying, mood swings, etc, but I haven’t let that hurt any of my professional or writer-type relations, which makes me happy, and is, I think, worthy of respect.

I don’t know. I think maybe what I didn’t grasp is that just being a good writer doesn’t make you worth of respect. Nor does simply being a kind or interesting person. You also need wisdom and integrity. It’s those two things that command respect. Like, if you have two writers, and one is a genius but is kind of poop when you meet them in person, and the other is a hack, but they act with dignity, then you’re always going to respect the second person more. You like or dislike the work, but you respect the person.

pile of plastic forks on white table
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Have been feeling really happy and enthusiastic lately

Hello friends, I’ve been really happy lately! I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m generally a sad person, but this level of happiness is something new. If this happiness was a drug, everyone would be addicted to it. In my case, it might very well be a drug: estrogen. Who can say? About a month or two after a person gets sober, there’s usually a period called ‘the pink cloud’, where everything seems wonderful and perfect. It’s some neurochemical reaction to no longer being dependent on something. Maybe there’s something similar when you get on hormones. On the other hand, trans women aren’t generally known for our cheerfulness, so perhaps it fades after a while. I can’t say.

If forced to guess, I’d say, there’s no way this feeling can last. It’s too good. The other day I was watching the baby play in a grassy meadow, and I was like, I can’t think of a single reason to not be happy. Why would I ever not feel this way? I have my work, my wife, and my widdle cute widdle tiny cute little tiny cute baby. And she wasn’t being particularly well-behaved that day either!

I’ve been trying lots of things! I’m taking a poetry class right now, and I’m taking a drawing class in October. Have gotten very into pens and inks and papers and journals and to-do lists. Am eating better. It’s great. No complaints, really.

Recently, I googled "Is happiness real?" I just assumed it was a myth! Like never-ending romantic love (which I am also starting to think might be real!). It’s hard to say. I’m really not counting on it. But it’s nice while it lasts.

You know, it’s really nice to try new things. I think when you’re a kid you develop ideas about yourself, like, I’m not good art art, I’m not visual, I have no rhythmic. And those things are true! But the variations we are talking about are so small. The real difference is between someone who’s really practiced and someone who hasn’t. If you want to perform on a world-class level, maybe you need some natural aptitude, but by the time people have practiced and practiced and practiced, it’s actually hard to say who has more aptitude! Lately I’ve taken up several things I thought I was naturally bad at: foreign languages and drawing. And I am definitely pretty bad, but I don’t know if I’m worse than other people. Like, there were so many things I never tried or stopped doing simply because they came hard. But they don’t need to come hard either! You can progress at your own pace. You can take up something and put it down, read up and let it go, get into it for a while and then stop for a year or three.

It’s definitely something I wished I’d known when I was younger, but I’m only 35. Who knows what I’ll be able to do when I’m 45 or 50?

bokeh photography of red rose
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