New challenges

Well I done it! I turned in my anthology story, a full NINE DAYS before the deadline. I feel extremely accomplished. Who turns something in nine days before the deadline?

Hopefully they like it. I’ve never had the editors of an anthology turn down a story, but I always worry they will. I never feel quite the same level of feeling for a solicited story as I do for one I wrote on spec. The solicited story, because it must stay within the anthology’s theme, always feels a bit more like a thought exercise.

But I’ve also never had something get rejected. And in at least one case (my story for Saundra Mitchell’s Out There anthology of LGBT YA spec fic), the story turned out really well! I’m excited for that book to come out.

Anyway with this story turned in and my novels turned in, I have nothing to do! No projects or commitments whatsoever! Been a long time since this has happened. I think I should probably just sit around watching Seinfeld all day until something comes back to me (I never caught Seinfeld when it first aired, so I am watching it now for the first time).

Lately I’ve been wondering, “So is this it? Do I just keep writing novels until I die?”

I am fine with that. I have plenty of ideas for novels. And it’s pleasant work, at least for the moment. I also generally expect the worst when it comes to writing and publishing (and am rarely proven wrong), so that element of chance keeps things fresh. I’m just excited to publish a book–to have something come out. But at the same time, having now written a lot of books (it’s hard to have an exact count, especially since lately my books have been going through 5-6 complete drafts), I do feel like, well…no, you know it would be too much to say that I understand how to write a book. But I am looking for new challenges.

But by ‘challenge’ I don’t know if I just mean ‘write a different kind of novel’. I’ve been writing these essays lately, which has been a lot of fun, and it’s nice to have the instant (compared to novel-writing) response loop. You write something, and it’s out within a few months, and people actually read it. I target publications, trying to write something that fits their style. I’ve sent a few humor pieces to McSweeney’s lately, and last night I came up with one that I have high hopes for. And I’ve a list of journals I want to be in.

And while I’m generally wary of experimental writing (since I think writing should generally give the reader some kind of pleasure), I’ve been writing some short prose pieces–figuring that at this length, the experiment can be diverting enough, and that shorter pieces are easier to place anyway.

But none of that seems entirely like the challenge I am looking for. Who knows? Who knows. Of course when I think what I’d like to do, I also always want to read more and focus more deeply.

When I write now, I sometimes think, “What do I want my impact to be on the world?” But I don’t know if this is productive–it just seems a very sterile line of reasoning, totally unconnected to the imagination. I think what’s more worthwhile for me to is to notice myself more, and to notice what interests me and what compels me, and to try and pull different pieces of my worldview to the surface and to examine them in different ways.

That’s sort of the thing, I guess–you usually don’t know what your big idea is, or even how to find it. You need a lot of silence and a lot of patience and a lot of willingness to ignore this or that false path, or to abandon a lot of the steps you’ve taken in following those false paths. And it doesn’t always (or even very often) feel particularly productive. But it is exciting, in some ways. There is a sense of exploration. And I know things now that I really wish I’d known when I was starting out. Like, younger brains are so capable of learning, but I had these preconceptions about what I was able to learn or to understand. Whereas nowadays, I’m like…I can spend a year or three learning something, I can put in the time, I can gain some kind of grounding in the topic. I just have a kind of confidence in myself that I never had, even though fifteen years ago, my brain was probably faster and better and more able to do the things I want it to do now.

It’s fun. It’s fun to know things, to realize things, to have thoughts, to feel your own mind moving over the world. Oh! You know one skill I’d really like to have? Maybe here’s something I should work on: I want to be able to describe things. I am a terrible describer. Terrible with physical or sensory details. Not all writers are great with these things, and you don’t need to be an excellent describer to be an excellent author, but still, it’s something that’s good for a person to have. You know, as part of the toolkit. Maybe I should work on that.