Let’s get the obvious out of the way: 2020 was complete and utter bullsh*t! Holy hell! What even was this year? It started with wildfires in Australia, a potential war between the USA and Iran and the untimely, tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his young daughter, Gia.
Then when things seemed to be settling down, an entire pandemic reared it’s ugly head and here we are, months later, still dealing with a deadly virus that’s wrecking havoc on society.
I don’t know who unleashed this malevolent force that’s antagonized us in 2020, but I need that person to quietly vanquish or subdue the chaotic being before midnight tonight so we can have a peaceful and uneventful 2021.
Despite the tragedies of this year, I’ve managed to write and edit a bunch of stories that I’m genuinely proud of. This was a slow submission year for me, but with so many stories on my Google Drive I think 2021 will be the year of constant submissions and hopefully some acceptances. I’m already eyeing several markets and anthologies for next year. In some ways, I believe 2020 was a transitional year for me. My writing improved, my confidence in my skills as a writer/storyteller grew, and overall I had a productive year that will have lasting impacts on my career.
Today is the last day of 2020 and while I’m eager to leave this year behind, I wanted to take a moment and reflect over my accomplishments. I want to put into perspective all the work I’ve done, even if I have no publishing successes. Here’s a quick recap of my writing year:
Unfortunately, I failed to keep an accurate record of the number of short stories I’ve written this year. Some of the stories on my docket were written in previous years and looked at with fresh eyes in 2020. Some stories were completely new adventures that wormed their way onto a new Google Doc.
(Side note: There are so many wonderful word processing applications out there. I was a big Microsoft Word fan. But this year, I really relied on Google Docs and I don’t think I can use another application when drafting. Except Scrivenor.)
Instead of talking about the number of stories I’ve written this year, I want to talk about my favorite story so far. ‘Final Correspondences From A Dying Planet’ was first drafted this year (I believe) and it’s written in a format that I’m unfamiliar with. Most of my stories follow a very linear format, with incident A leading to incident B which leads to C and so on and so forth. But ‘Final Correspondences’ is an epistolary story that draws from different firsthand sources and accounts to tell the story of two women making the most of their last days on their second homeworld. It’s also my first story where I tried to weave some world-building elements into the main narrative. It’s currently out on submission and I’d love to sell it in the near future. (And I’m toying with the idea of continuing the characters’ stories in a longer narrative.)
Right now, I’m drafting three short stories and I hope to further experiment with style and format in 2021. I’m really digging the characters I create and the situations I put them in. I was weary of the short story format and truthfully, I still have much to learn. But the best way to learn is to continue to make mistakes, so my short story drafts will remain messy beasts that must endure several rounds of edits.
At some point in 2020, I decided to take the plunge and explore novella writing. As soon as I made that decision, I was immediately struck with an idea that I’m still drafting.
I won’t spoil the story much. (Mostly because I’m still trying to figure out the major story beats.) But it’s another story that I’m really happy with and I hope to have a polished manuscript ready for submission by the middle of 2021. I’m aiming for an acceptance from a particular small press that I greatly! Though there are other markets I’m interested in submitting to.
And of course, this section wouldn’t be complete without mention of my novel in progress. Like clockwork, every few months I open my novel’s Word document and skim over it. I’m still in awe of this novel, even in it’s incomplete state. I love the characters, the world, the plot. It’s a story I believe in and now I’m ready to pour my heart into it. I would love to return to it in 2021 and have a completed draft sometime next year. It’s looking very likely that it may happen.
This will probably be the shortest section because I didn’t submit a lot this year. According to my Duotrope submission manager, I submitted to magazines 9 times this year. Of those 9 submissions, 7 were rejections and 2 are still pending. (Fingers crossed I start 2021 with an acceptance!)
Rejections are usually terrible. They’re hard to read. But this year, I received one rejection that made me feel good about my writing. I won’t list the specific magazine, but their letter was sweet and complimentary. I teared up reading it and made a note to submit to them again in the near future! Their rejection also came on the heels of one of my worst rejection letters (so far.) So it softened the blow from the other magazine. I know not every magazine can write such heartfelt letters to authors whose stories they have to reject. That fact makes personal rejections all the more special to me.
I have a lot of short stories on the back burner and I want to spend time next year revising them and sending them off. I’m learning that my stories should go through one more round of edits before submission. Hopefully this realization will help me add one more acceptance to my Duotrope statistics.
The further removed I am from my time as a Creative Writing MFA graduate candidate, the more comfortable I am with my writing style and the types of stories I wish to tell. This isn’t to say I regret my decision to attend an MFA program. Without my experiences in a formal workshop setting, I don’t think I would be the writer I am today. The near two years I spent in New Hampshire will forever live in a special place my heart. My friendships from that program will follow me for the rest of my life and I’m genuinely grateful for the insight my peers and friends provided in our workshop and technique classes.
I also had the displeasure (misfortune?) of attending a primarily (read: almost completely) white program, with white instructors, white peers and novels and short stories written by white authors. To be frank, the stories I read in the MFA program weren’t stories that inspired me or pushed me to improve my skills. They were boring and hard to slog through. They weren’t the types of stories I’d normally take the time to read. And trying to mimic their voices and techniques only served to separate me from my own voice.
I believe I’m coming into my own as a person and that’s being reflected in the stories I write. I’m trying to read as diversely as I can, while paying special attention to the genres that I love. I’m willing to take risks with my stories and am no longer afraid of impressing someone in workshop. My stories have value because I say so, not because someone else deems it so. Of course, publications and awards are important. I’d love for my work to be read around the world. But for now, I’m happy with writing self-indulgent stories. Because I’m my first and most important reader and it’s important that I enjoy the story.
I aim to keep this idea in the forefront of my mind as we enter 2021. I’ll use it to guide my goals and intentions for the coming year. I hope to return in the very near future with a list of my writing intentions for 2021.
Until then, stay safe, wear a mask when you go out, don’t congregate in large crowds, happy holidays and a very Happy New Year!