The Grand End-Year, End-Decade Round-Up of Grandness

Dear you,

This post is not my usual. I debated whether or not I should do this grand round-up of good things post because I know the slew of grand good things announcements all across the ether can be taxing for those who feel like they don’t have a grand round-up of good things. I was that person at the start of this past decade who felt like she didn’t have many good things and hearing about other people’s good things made me crazy. But in the spirit of things getting better and troubles, even the worst ones, being temporary, I want to take a moment to appreciate the path this decade took for me, because it was winding, full of bullshit and the best shit, the very lowest lows and the very highest highs.

2010 was the worst goddamn year of my life, preceded by 2009 which was the other worst goddamn year of my life. (Cue my mother’s flashbacks to a two-hour long car ride in which I cried the entire time for seemingly no reason at all other than the fact that I couldn’t not cry.)

2009 was economic collapse, college graduation, moving into a house out in the country with my boyfriend, commuting hours to Dallas to a grown-up job that was everything I feared it would be, in that it was a soul-sucking mess where nothing I did mattered and the people there were awful. Cue my own flashbacks of waking up at 5:45 am so I could throw on clothes, get in my car at 6 to get into Dallas before traffic, clock in at 7:30, take a 10-minute lunch so I could clock out at 3:40 and get back home before traffic hit at 5. That job lasted three months. I quit without anything lined up because I worried that if I didn’t quit, I would die on the highway. Cue the next three months of tears, every-single-day tears, what I didn’t know then was panic attack after panic attack. Cue a memory of chopping tomatoes in an afternoon with nothing else lined up to do and the tears coming on again and me wondering what it is about tomatoes and the time of day that has anything to do with anything and yet here I am, upset to the hilt about it.

2019 is a new house, one that I own. 2019 is a new library that I got to open. 2019 is The Porch, the year of my first stage reading, more journal acceptances than I ever expected. 2019 is some of the best friends I’ve ever had. 2019 is anxiety medication. 2019 is so much fulfillment it almost seems to be too much and yet I still want to eat it, gobble it up like there’s no tomorrow.

The decade of the ’10s was the decade of my 20s and holy fuck were they 20s. A rotating door of friends that would get close and then move out to yet another city, job promotions in a career I wasn’t sure about, a masters degree I was so unsure of I dropped out three times before I finally finished the goddamn thing, a marriage that I had been sure about since day one, a husband that has taken me to Holland, Wales, Germany, and New Orleans for the greatest experiences of my life, and now finally has brought me to Nashville where I end this decade feeling like I’m finally home again. This decade was the one where we gained a hateful cat, loved her, lost her, and grieved her, and gained another much less hateful cat (but not nearly as smart and cunning… she has much to learn.) I began this decade grieving a grandparent and I will very well end this decade grieving grandparents again.

And this was a decade of trying to figure out what it means to write. I blogged myself into oblivion, kept a written journal when anxiety wouldn’t let me put words to a computer screen. I vowed I wouldn’t write when I decided to get my library degree and wrote poetry instead because I couldn’t not. I wrote my way through my grandmother’s death because I couldn’t not. I turned that grief into a novel because I couldn’t not. I learned that I write simply because I will always write. The publications and successes are just perks. The real prize is every morning spent with my fingers to the keyboard, every page that is honest, every lesson learned through time spent with the words.

Fuck, the 20s are going to be grand.

And because I am goal-oriented and I like to honor the path, here were my writing goals for 2019, here’s how I did, and here’s what I’ve got on my roster for 2020.

2019 Goals

I had a lot of big goals for 2019, mostly having to do with production. I had spent the majority of 2018 on an R&R for my book and a huge project at the library which left me with a busy year of writing but not a lot of finished work to show for it. So 2019 was all about producing more pieces for submission and getting on with book 2. Best laid plans hardly ever make the cut of reality but this year truly went above and beyond my expectations for writing. Here’s how I did with each goal:

1. Finish a first full draft of book 2, AKA “Wheelchair Cowboy.”

kinda finished this one. I got 60k words out for the beginning and part of the middle, and then a basic outline to the end. It’s absolutely a Draft 0 and I’m counting it… Kinda. My excuse for this one is that I followed a whim to drop everything and re-work book 1, AKA SAY, WOLF. In September, I sent the book to a wonderful editor (K.K. Fox) for a developmental edit after letting it sit for a year not quite in a trunk but just about. With KK’s guidance, I re-structured the book, queried it mid-October, and had three offers of rep by November. I signed with Kerry D’Agostino, sent her a wolf-themed thank you card, and now we’re off to the races on line edits, hoping to go on sub with the manuscript in the new year. So there. Sorry Wheelchair Cowboy—I’m coming back to you in 2020!

2. Finish and submit 5 new pieces.

Great success! My five pieces of 2019 were “The Coma” (story forthcoming from Natural Bridge winter 2020), “Probationary Girlfriend” (story currently on sub and racking up close calls and personalized rejections), “Taming Wild Animals” (essay to be re-worked in 2020), “Kitten” (published and available now on Pidgeonholes!), and “Save St. Mark’s” (essay dear to my heart that I will be subbing hard in 2020.)

3. Receive more than 100 rejections.

Yeah, I blew past this goal a little harder than I wanted to. I won’t tell you how many rejections I received this year… just know that it was well above 100. That’s why I’m going to work on lowering my rejection ratio in 2020 by learning some goddamn patience and waiting longer between “finishing” and submitting.

4. Submit to 3 contests or grants.

Lol at grants. Not sure what I meant with that. But I did submit to five contests this year and my story “Woman Hollering” made it to the top ten round of Colorado Review’s Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction. Ten out of 1,400 stories! That was huge and really gave me a boost when I needed it mid-year. That story has since been accepted for publication and will be forthcoming from Puerto del Sol in August 2020.

5. Submit 3 guest blogs or craft essays on writing.

This was a new one for me that I just wanted to try out. And it was great! I had two pieces accepted (1—“Three Secrets to Create the Writing Life You Want,” published with Cleaver Magazine, and 2—“Knowing When to Fly: Leaving a Critique Group,” published on Jane Friedman’s blog which was a dream come true for me) and I pitched three other ideas that have not yet been picked up. Maybe I’ll try them again for giggles in 2020.

6. Complete a year of Lit Mag League and Draft Chat leadership with The Porch.

I have LOVED working with the Porch. Katie and Susannah are two wonderful people that have done SO MUCH for Nashville’s writing community. I am honored that I get to be a part of it with them. I will be stepping back from LML and Draft Chats this next year to make more room in my life for new opportunities but I’ll still be hot n’ heavy with The Porch in 2020 and loving every minute.

So what’s in store for 2020?

Short, simple, and easy. Production, mindfulness, and going easy on myself as I move into this decade much older, much wiser, and ever ready to rock.

What will your 2020 look like?

Photos: The Writing Attic

Dear you,

This is morning. Every morning, if the sun is not yet up. The room is painted in sunrise pink and when I’m up there working, the windows glow for the neighborhood.

 Mornings in the attic are a ritual. Coffee first, of course, but then straight upstairs to get to work. The kitten comes too, every morning. Her level of helpfulness waxes and wanes; some mornings she’s right there with me, watching me type. Most other mornings she’s playing with everything but the immense lot of toys I bought her.

I love this attic. It is my pride and joy, my own little slice of heaven. To have this space to stretch, toss papers around, be as maniacal as I want, is something that I still marvel at, even a year later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, the kitten has her own desk, where she does all her important work.

I love this attic because it is filled with gifts and creations from my friends and family. The stained glass books are a gift from my mother-in-law. The antlers were a joint effort from my niece and my brother; she shot the deer and he created the mount. The picture of the lady is a gift I gave myself; my grandmother has a figurine of a lady in a similar dress. But this lady’s hair is tied back and proper, her hands are gloved and holding a bouquet. She is prim and small. The lady in the picture above (titled Vivacious) has her hair down. She is smiling and dancing. The picture is part of a calendar created by the local electric company, year 1950. 

The walls upon entering are decorated with an intentional purpose. Artwork from Texas, gifts from new friends, a photograph taken by my best friend from home during her first college photography class (her grown self now an accomplished photographer.)

Ahead are more reminders of how loved I am. There are photographs taken by my father-in-law when he was young paired with photographs taken by my husband when he too was a teenager. Macrame art from a friend named Lisa. A mobile of seashells, sand dollars, and petrified wood created by a friend on a whim and given to me because I happened to be there when he finished it. There is a canvas art print thrifted and created by my mother-in-law for my husband to outfit his first college apartment, something I vividly remember hanging on his wall when I went to this same apartment for the first time. We were sitting on the couch watching Commando. He laid his head near my lap. This was the night of our first kiss.

When I was four years-old, my mother used to dress me in my sleep at four am and take me to my grandparent’s house so she could work her shift at the hospital and still go to nursing school at the same time. My dad drove truck and was long gone by time the four am wake-up call rolled around. My grandfather waited for me in this chair every single morning. We would sit in it together and watch the weather news until my grandmother woke up and made breakfast. When we moved my grandmother into assisted living, she sat in this chair every day with an oxygen tank hooked to the back. After she died, my mom used it as her sewing chair but once I had room for it, she drove it to Nashville so I could use it in the attic, which tells you everything you need to know about our relationship and what kind of mother she is. Now, it’s the chair where I read my drafts.

There are mementos and memories strewn about this room that breathe life into every word I write. Here, my brother’s glass horse forever memorialized in the broken-hearted essay I wrote when we left Texas. Here, a stolen cup from Olive Garden pilfered for me by a boy with a crush on our high school band trip now used to store idea notes. Real good ones like “widowmakers” and “Do the lord’s work” and “artifacts” and “JUST DEAD INSIDE.”

old attic

And here it was before, the week after we were lucky enough to buy it, just a little dead inside but filled to the brim with potential.

Ask: How Many Pieces Do You Produce in a Year?

From Laura:

How many short stories do you write a year?

Dear Laura (and you),

This question is ultimately about production but I also wonder if maybe, just maybe, lying underneath that question is also the one of how much production is enough? Also known more famously as: Am I enough? 

The question of what is enough underlies everything we do, as writers, as humans, and especially as women. If you’re a Type A person like me, then you can just go ahead and double that pressure. 

The short answer to the question is: it depends. And honestly, while I have been writing for years, I haven’t been writing on a “professional” scale (read: hitting the submission trenches) long enough to really have an average number. Last year, I wrote two stories (barely.) That’s because I spent the majority of the year completing requested revisions on a novel that ultimately got rejected. The year before that I wrote three pieces (two that had been started the year prior) because, again, I spent the majority of the year finishing my novel and preparing for query submission. And the year before that when I moved to Nashville, I wrote only two pieces because we were relocating our lives to Nashville. I would say then that my average is looking like two to three pieces a year, except this year I’ve already written six pieces and it’s not even summer yet.

Some years are just more productive than others. Some years you’re not relocating your life. Some years you’re not writing a novel. Some years you’re feeling pretty good. Other years, you’re low in the lowest lows of rejection. Just last November, I was wallowing and complaining to my husband about how I’d had nothing published that year. That was less than six months ago. I’ve had two stories and two essays published since.  I am in the middle of a very good year and I am going to take this year and run with it. I am going to celebrate as much as I can because next year, or even next month, may not be nearly as good as right now. 

The thing about writing is that writing is meant to be read by someone else. At the heart of all acts of writing, no matter how private, is that one day we’ll want someone else to read it so we can say, “See? You see now?” And in order to have other people read our writing, we have to share it. Sharing usually means submitting. And when we start submitting, that’s when things start to get wonky and we forget what it was we liked about writing in the first place. It starts to become more about numbers—how many pieces are out on submission, how many rejections have come in, how many acceptances, if any—and less about the whole point of writing: the communication. 

And yet, the answer still isn’t to just sit down and write and be happy you wrote. Writing is hard. Writing is even harder when there’s no one on the other end to read your work. It’s a rare occurrence to go bounding to the computer with such enthusiasm because the words are just spilling out. Just last night, I told a group of fellow writers that one of the stories I’d recently published had been written in two days with just two drafts and that it was one of the pieces I’m most proud of. The moment that story came to life was almost otherworldly, that channeling thing that some artists talk about. It happened to me. It happened. But of course, ever since it happened, now I go to the page every morning with extra trepidation—will the magic happen again? Will it ever come back? So far, no other pieces have tumbled out quite like that one and the blank page has only become more terrifying when I know there’s no other force to fill it up except for me. 

And that’s just it—there’s no one else here but you. You, with your words and all your other obligations. Your day jobs, your children, your bills, your pets, your lawns to mow, toilets to clean, teeth to brush, and on and on and on. The answer isn’t to sit down and be happy you wrote, but to be happy you sat down and wrote with everything else you have going on. You got up early or stayed up late. You turned down appealing outings. You watched a little less TV, listened to a few less podcasts. The dishes stayed dirty. And for that, you have a story, or maybe just the start of a story. Submit, sure. It must be done. Goals are never a bad thing to have. But we shouldn’t cling to anything we can’t control (which, ultimately, is everything.)

Some days you write the story. Some days the story writes you. Whatever. If you do write anything, you now have something you didn’t have before that came solely from your heart. A little piece of yourself made immortal. Words that will last long after you do no matter where they are. That is what makes it enough. 

 

If you would like to submit a question for a “Dear You” post, please email me at lisa.k.bubert(at)gmail.com. 

 

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Playing The Long Game

Dear You,

There’s a little known phenomenon that happens after finishing a draft of a novel. (I’d like to say it’s just me but I have confirmed it with several others so maybe it’s just us.) When you finish and have to put the work away for a time, a strange kind of sadness settles in.

For some, it’s the loss of the daily time spent with characters or a story that has become embedded in you. It’s like watching a good friend leave and not knowing when you’ll see them again. For me, it has more to do with the disruption to my routine and the sudden lack of what feels like forward momentum.

Every day when I sit at my computer and add another thousand words or answer a question that had me stuck, I can see clearly how I’m working toward something larger. I can rest in the remainder of my day and sleep better at night knowing that I have done good work toward a goal that makes me happy. But finish the work and I usually have one day of pure celebration before the darkness sets in. I go to my computer, antsy and unsure of how to proceed.

If I’m lucky, there’s a kernel of an idea for something I’ve wanted to work on. This time, I finished a long draft two days before the election so my mind was a little preoccupied the weeks following. The writing group that got me out of my funk in Texas sadly did not choose to relocate with me to Tennessee and I’m still trying to gather a new handful of writing friends here. Couple all this with the cruel fact that the sun sets in this town at 4:30 in the goddamn afternoon and we haven’t even reached winter solstice yet and you better believe I’m struggling to put words to page.

What’s that, you say? Take a break? Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the healthy thing to do. I promise that I’m currently on one now (with the exception of this blog post and the fact that I have a half draft of a story that I really need to finish but, I guess, maybe, for sanity’s sake I can let it go until January.)

But see, the problem lies around that forward momentum I mentioned earlier.

I have never been a patient person. I run high on impulse and low on willpower. I have been described by many different people at many different stages of my life as passionate about the various causes and interests that cross my radar, passion I am thankful for as it has pushed me to do things I thought highly unlikely.

But my affinity for impulse sometimes far outweighs the level of passion I can claim for any one love. If it doesn’t stay interesting, if I don’t feel like I’m always on the brink of discovery, if I’m not winning whatever game I’ve concocted for myself– I lose interest pretty quickly. (Hence, the lack of willpower during hard times.)

And when I’m not writing, when I can’t put a gold star stamp on the day in the form of creation, the day can sometimes feel like a loss. And day after day of feeling like I’m losing sure does make you feel a little funny.

Yes, I know I sound obsessive. Yes, I have seen a therapist about it. I blame my grandmother, who had such a sense of routine (or possible obsessive-compulsive disorder) that she had a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu based on the days of the week that never changed in the twenty years I knew her as a cook. (Seriously, biscuits for breakfast on Tuesday and Eggo waffles on Friday without fail.)

I’m learning to recognize the off days as gold star days too. I took a rest because I needed it = gold star. I chose to sit on the couch all morning and read this fabulous book by a wonderful new author that inspires me = gold star. I checked my Duotrope account to remind myself that, yes, I have in fact written a lot and put a lot out to submission this year = gold star. In fact, I may just take up Annie Neugebauer’s Joy Jar idea as if my life depended on it.

But mostly, I’m trying to focus on the long game. I took a writing break from 2012 to 2015 to focus on finishing my master’s degree, get married, and just generally take better care of myself. During those years, I hung my hat of all this, convinced I just wasn’t meant for writing (even though I kept writing poetry and essays and started a novel).

So the past two years, especially this year, have felt a lot like playing catch up. This definitely contributes to the “I must DO something every day” feeling I’ve been trapped in. But I’ve finally been able to recognize even those years as essential triple gold star years. Many of the poems I wrote are now the ones being plucked for publication. The essays incubated a novel that I’m still working on but that definitely has a lot to say and required (still requires) a ton of personal excavation.

The past month may have felt like it did not hold a lot for me in terms of creation — the two stories I’m working on feel dead in the water, I haven’t line edited any poems, and my novel is out for a beta read that leaves me both terrified and restless — but looking at the year, I can see clearly how much I have to celebrate. The novel draft is finished and I’m still excited to get back in come January and keep working at it. I threw may hat back into the submission ring this year and have enjoyed a fair amount of success. My husband and I did the scary thing and moved to a new city where I didn’t have a job, friends, or writing connections, and now I have a job, some cool, new friends, and a writing group that is small but mighty.

As the year comes to a close, I am focusing on gratitude, both for the fact that I have been able to write and simply for allowing myself to do so. Stepping back and taking the long view to see the forest for the trees is essential, especially during the more barren weeks. I am working hard to give myself the space and the grace to see what I can’t when I’m nose down into the mud of the work. But right now, the time for work is done. Right now is a time for dancing.

Because all told — this has been a gold star year, and really, a gold star writing life.