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Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

Adulting My 2020 Budget

I was laid off with no notice, no severance, and no health insurance at the end of January last year, and it’s been a battle to keep our heads above water since then. We had just depleted our savings moving my spouse’s grandmother up here (he’s now her guardian) and paying for a bunch of related ongoing costs. Thanks to a lot of Paypal donations and an active surge in patreon subscribers to make up the loss of income, as well as cashing out some 401(k) accounts (I know, I know. Millenial problems, fam), we were able to make it through most of the year all right until the end, when payments I had expected were just… not forthcoming.

The major reduction in income forced us to take a hard look at our finances, and while we did all right for awhile, those last two months of the year, Christmas and etc. really put us over the edge. So this year I’m taking on day job work and working out a REAL budget that takes into account EVERYTHING we want to do this year, from our Thanksgiving trip to ABQ, to the electrical work outside, the gardening hardscaping, and my website update.

The biggest goal, of course, is to pay off the debt we’ve accumulated these last 2-3 months and restore our savings account so we have a six month contingency. Getting laid off like I did was absolutely horrifying. We had like $50 in savings and $200 in checking at the time. Just a disaster.

A friend recommended the “You Need a Budget” software, and after juggling multiple spreadsheets and my Mint account for months trying to find something that worked that I didn’t have to pay for, I finally signed up for the free trial and – so far so good. Like Mint, it integrates with all of my financial accounts, and also allows me to create “goals” and tells me how much I need to save each month for each goal in order to reach the target amount by a certain date.

It also has a way to set up dates where you expect particular payments to come in, whether regular salaried payments or monthly Patreon money, or even when publishing check are due (which I of course schedule to ‘arrive’ at least 30 days AFTER they are contractually supposed to arrive, because… publishing). The software won’t actually add the money to your budget until it hits the account, but it’s a nice way to see what’s coming up and track what I’m owed. I can even assign those amounts to where in the budget I want to apply them when they arrive.

This is a much easier solution than trying to balance a bunch of spreadsheets, for me. I have the 34 day free trial to see how well it works, and after that it’s $6.99 per month, which, if I continue, I will also need to add to the budget. Ha.

I’ve been tired of feeling like I’m working paycheck to paycheck when in fact when I’m hustling on full-speed with my 77 jobs, we do bring in a decent income, despite the cost of health insurance. What I want to start to do is actually plan for events instead of just being like, “Well, we’ll use our next check for that.” Because INEVITABLY, something comes up in the mean time that eats that book check, and then we’re back to square one and using the entirety of the NEXT book check to pay taxes. It’s an anxiety-inducing cycle, and I’m pretty tired of it here in 2020 when I’m nearly 40 years old.

I don’t consider myself an especially dim person, and being able to manage my money like an adult should not be this difficult. Managing money is something I was never taught. We didn’t even get a regular allowance to handle, let alone a whole class on financial management in high school or even college. Money comes in, money goes out, is how I’ve been living for 40 years, even and especially in my parents’ house.

And it sucks.

So here’s to hoping that this helps me get better organized with my income in 2020, so I never have to have a financial death spiral like the one in 2019 ever again.

Next up? Working on how to organize and break down my current book into manageable scenes that I can tackle using Scrum/Kanban project management tools.

Look at me, adulting!

Heading Into the New Twenties Like…

My writing career began, properly, in early 2011 with the publication of God’s War, a book that I’d finished writing back in 2007 and sold both in 2008 and again in 2009. And while I’d had a few short stories published prior, God’s War was the bloody, exciting, bug-filled debut that introduced most folks in the genre to me and my work. It earned a Nebula Award nom and Clarke Award nom, and won me a Sidney J. Bounds Award for Best New Writer and a Kitschy Award for Best Debut. Lots of folks loved it (and it’s still in print!) yet the launch was darkened by a shitbrick of publishing woes.

It was a weird book for the time. Readers jumping into that series now are much less put-off, but in 2011 this weird genre mashup about a bisexual bounty hunter living on what’s clearly a colonized planet that has bug magic was a bit out there for a mainstream publisher at the time.

Looking back with what I know about branding and marketing, it also should have had a different title, as it’s often been confused with religious fiction.

And so:

It didn’t make me rich.

So instead of doing the “wild debut success” thing, I realized I’d have to do the “slowly building a strong career” thing, which takes a lot longer, and requires a LOT of stamina.

With subsequent books, I have quietly(!?) and steadily built a career over the last decade, one gritty, glorious, pulpy book at a time. I’ve grown a great fan following of dedicated readers whose story donations every month via Patreon keep me in health insurance and life-sustaining drugs, which is something very few pulp writers ever got, based on how many of us die horribly, not-rich, of some wholly treatable chronic condition that we couldn’t afford to manage.

It’s a good, working-class career right now, but not enough to be really sustainable on its own, which is why I’m looking forward to picking up some day job work in 2020 that can help backfill the debt we’ve piled up since I lost my day job in February.

My decade of writing novels has been me writing and hoping for “the big one,” the breakout novel that gets the movie deals and the bestseller status and sells regularly every year to create a baseline sustainable income.

I’ve written and/or published eleven books this decade:

  1. God’s War 
  2. Infidel 
  3. Rapture
  4. Apocalypse Nyx
  5. The Mirror Empire
  6. Empire Ascendant
  7. The Broken Heavens
  8. The Stars are Legion
  9. The Light Brigade
  10. Meet Me in the Future: Stories
  11. Geek Feminist Revolution: Essays

That’s enough books for, like, one person’s WHOLE CAREER – and I did it in the first ten years, all while still holding down a day job and – for the last four years of it – writing about a short story a month for Patreon subscribers. That said, you know, I look at posts like this from Chuck Wendig, who debuted about the same time as me, and he’s written twenty-five books??? So clearly there’s levels of hustle, here.

In 2014, I burned out for the first time after writing three books in a year, and watching as each one of those books performed better than the last. Yet there was no breakout. There was, at best, a working-class income generated by book checks and royalties and patreon pledges.

Every book is a lottery ticket, you know, and you do the best you can, hoping for that spark of luck – right timing, right audience, right cultural callback. I worked tirelessly on writing and promotion, and lifted myself up into the high midlist, which is great! But the bump from low-midlist to high midlist is a lot easier to manage on your own than going from high-midlist to the 1% of publishing. To do that requires a lot more than merely my own tenacity, good business sense, and hard work. It’s going to require a shitbrick of luck.

But I don’t want this survey of the first decade of my career to come off like midlist whining, you know the drill: “HOW AM I NOT RICH!! I HAVE WRITTEN TWELVE BOOKS in TEN YEARS, A SHORT STORY A MONTH FOR FOUR YEARS, AND HELD A DAY JOB NEARLY THE WHOLE DECADE.” Because really those questions could be answered with another question, which is “WHY IS HEALTH INSURANCE AS MUCH AS MY MORTGAGE?”

Instead, I want to talk about some things I’ve corked up the last decade by always pushing toward that breakout book. Don’t get me wrong, we all have to hustle, I get it. But after the first three books, it all became about the hustle, the grind, and it became less about the process of creating exceptional stories that I loved to pieces. Sure, I was writing the books I’d always wanted to read, but I was writing so much so quickly that I remembered very little of it. Books like The Stars are Legion went to print without me ever having time to read the final manuscript all the way through. I was just too exhausted. The book work may as well have been day job work, for all the satisfaction I was getting from the process of creating it.

While the first half of the decade was me burning myself out, the second half was about me scrambling to produce exceptional work at the pace of publishing – a book a year – while medicating my burnout in many glorious and innovative ways. My first several attempts at writing the final book in my fantasy epic were… “not good” as my agent put it (she was right). I lost a lot of time being angry and drunk about both my seeming inability to write effortless bestsellers and the election.

What saved me was, as ever, the work itself, and my agent’s confidence in my abilities. Not publishing. Not “fame” (whatever that is). Not sales numbers. Not advances or royalties or accolades or travel. Just the work.

The experience of writing The Light Brigade and pulling off such a blazingly complex book, structurally, was a huge high, for me. I reread that book start to finish at least four times, and was fiddling with it to make it perfect right up into the proofs. While there were some… issues with the publisher there at the end, I’m still extraordinarily proud of the final result. That pride in my work has to be the prize. Creating something from nothing needs to be enough. It’s all I can control. And I’ve gotten far too wrapped up in other bullshit.

This is not to say I’m not going to care about publishing and numbers and etc here in the new roaring 20’s. It means that, in fact, I will care deeply about what actually matters to me. I want to celebrate what I love and write what I love – in all its pulpy grotesquerie. I’m honestly tired of working toward a “breakout” book. If it happens, great, but not at the expense of me falling out of love with my own work and hating what I’m doing.

Life is too short, and burning toward a breakout has literally been killing me. It will happen or it won’t. Knowing me, I’ll be like GRRM and finally get my hit book when I’m like 65. Better late than never.

In the meantime, I want to create a body of work that I’m proud of, one that I can look back and say, “Yeah, I leveled up with every book. I wrote books that mattered. That meant something not just to me, but to a lot of people.”

I do also, however, want to create a sustainable career, because I’m nearly 40 now, and have a chronic illness, and yanno – not getting any younger and all that. So while I concentrate on creating the work, I also want to ensure that I’m mindful of continuing to grow my career and revenue streams by leveraging that work and understanding its worth.

To that end, I have a few goals in here in the coming year that I’d like to achieve by growing the audience for my wild pulpy books. What I’ve found, as ever, is that the more work you have out there, the more chances you have to create a real living from said work. Every piece is a lottery ticket. Every revenue stream keeps you one step further away from abject poverty.

And every book, every project, gives you the chance to create something fun and good in the world.

So yes, the goal is to grow the Patreon subscription base; to revamp this website in the spring to be more media-friendly (and surface all that video and podcast content I’m creating); to finish a couple of TV series treatments featuring my Worldbreaker and Apocalypse Nyx books and pitch them to my film agents; to pitch a brand-new book series; to get the Geek Feminist project ready to pitch to Amazon in the spring; to add more merch to my Kameron Hurley Workshop; to be a more efficient writer. My other goal is, of course, to continue to demand what I’m worth.

This year a producer interested in optioning one of my books didn’t want to pay me my minimum option number because, as they put it: “I can option bestsellers for $5k.” My response to my agent was, “Then they can go option a bestseller.”

Fuck you, pay me.

But more even than all that, my goal is to embrace what I love, and who I am. I changed my Twitter bio to “Not a Bestseller. Queen Calanthe is my God now. I drink a lot. I like dogs. My books are messy bitches. Witness me.” And let me tell you: That’s the energy I’m bringing with me into the roaring 20’s. Messy imperfection. Heartfelt fandom. Embracing my strengths and faults in equal measure. I mean, I’ll be forty in a few weeks. I’m tired of pretending I have my shit together. Tired of faking it til you make it.

I don’t want to fake it. I want to live exactly what my life is, and embrace it, and love it, because I really do enjoy so many parts of it, and by sitting here and always scrambling after someone else’s career, comparing myself constantly to what I don’t have, I’ve just been miserable and adrift.

I want to love the whole imperfect world again. To rage against it, yes, but also to just unabashedly love what I love, and to fuck the rest.

That’s how I want to spend the next decade. Not burning out again. Not screaming at fate. I want to make my own fate, yeah, and enjoy the journey there, too.

I’m not (yet) a bestseller. I’m not (yet) the world’s greatest writer. But I am Kameron fucking Hurley. And you know what?

Being Kameron Hurley is pretty fucking great.

 

 

GET TO WORK HURLEY: Episode 13. In this episode we discuss how to take notes, long-term career planning, and why it is books seem to get more difficult to write the more of them you write. I’ll also be tackling some listener questions, from where to find more gooey biopunk to what I think of writers’ unions

The GET TO WORK HURLEY podcast is a monthly rant about the hustle of making a living as a writer of All of the Things. You can support this podcast each month as a Patron or make a one-time donation.
  • EPISODE THIRTEEN In this episode we discuss how to take notes, long-term career planning, and why it is books seem to get more difficult to write the more of them you write. I’ll also be tackling some listener questions, from where to find more gooey biopunk to what I think of writers’ unions Listen below or on iTunes (NOTE: itunes takes awhile to show new eps)

The Logic of Time Travel (With Graphs!)

As The Light Brigade takes the world by storm, I’ve heard from readers who want to know more about the “complicated graphs” I mention in the acknowledgments. These are the graphs that Dr. Joshua Bowman created for my agent, Hannah Bowman, and I to run The Light Brigade characters through to ensure there was narrative logical sense in all the time jumps.

Josh was kind enough to put together the graphs and explanations in a shareable form and gave me permission to post them here. All graphs are (C) Dr. Joshua Bowman.

WARNING: Spoilers below! (really. Read the book before you jump into the graphs and outlines!)

My CHRONOLOGICAL Writing Outline

It may seem ridiculous, but it wasn’t until Hannah was like, “Well, we need to know how the events happen chronologically before we can determine how they need to be broken up” that I realized I should… um, have an outline? I hate outlining, but in a novel this complex, and with how quickly I’ve been producing work, it had to be done.

After getting to the 40k mark and getting stuck, I took a step back and created a Linear Timeline of events for the novel. This outline was very spare, and did not include my interrogation breaks. I knew those would need to get parsed in later once I figure out the way all of the events flowed.

But is it Logical? 

Having a linear timeline to reference was great, but now came the tough part: how to jumble it all up and still have it make sense. That’s where the math came in.

As Hannah explains it: “Hurley, I knew that you hated making the science in your books make sense, but in this case, I just knew that readers would only buy into the concept if the continuity was rock solid.”

She GETS me!

According to Josh: “We have a wall in our hallway that is painted with whiteboard paint. One day I walked through while Hannah was drawing a timeline on the wall. She started complaining about how difficult it was to keep track of the jumps back and forth in time. After she had explained more of the premise, I drew two rows of dots, one above the other, and suggested they model the timeline as a bipartite graph, and just consider jumps between the two rows. We started adding arrows to the picture, and within a few minutes the usefulness of the model became clear as the earlier frustrations melted away.”

Here’s how that looks in practice:

Deitz Experiences Dissonance

Once  they had the graphed lines, it was a matter of plotting all of Dietz’s drops:

The Paradox

Assuming you’ve read the book (!), you know that the Dietz who surrenders, defects, and is captured in Saint Petersburg then goes back in time to cause the Blink.

But is that logical? One of the things I’d wanted to do initially was have Dietz take her squad back in time with her. This was the graph that pretty much told us that wouldn’t work with everything else we’d set up. Instead, Dietz would need to leave her squad on Mars during M1 (Mission 1); she couldn’t simply take them all forward to M6 (Mission 6), which was how I’d originally written it. The whole thing fell down when I tried to do that.

So this is what we settled on:

My Writing Outline – Events as Experienced by the READER 

Logic sorted, I now had to WRITE the book. The outline below is the primary one I used while writing.

At every stage of Dietz’s journey I needed to know 1) who was alive/who had just died or been hurt, where the team had last been, and where Dietz had last been. Note that I also tried to track the marks on the bed (we ended up making these longer blocks of time).

Whenever I had a question about chronology, I would go back to the simpler chronological timeline above to fact-check myself (I did this often!).

 

Time Travel is COMPLICATED

I have no idea why I thought it would be great fun to write a time travel novel… Ok, yes, I do know, and yes, once we got to the WRITING part, it WAS fun, but wow, getting there was a fucking team effort, and I would never have finished this one without help from my agent, Hannah Bowman, and Dr. Joshua Bowman. When we talk about how writing books is often a team effort, this is the sort of thing we’re talking about. This doesn’t even include the heavy lifting from the editorial team at Saga Press (so much copyediting required!) and help from my assistant, Denise Beucler, who was plugging in copy changes at lightning speed to help me reach deadline.

Some books are easier to write than others. What was great about this experience was that we did all the heavy lifting very early on in the process. While that part was excruciating, it took a lot of pressure off the actual process of writing. Many of my writing sessions were just delightful, even if I wasn’t writing the book quite as quickly as I’d written in the past. If only I could finish what I’d started in the future…

Wait.

 

Why Do So Many Artists Suck at Business? Because Businesses Like It That Way

A recent conversation on Twitter inspired a tweet storm from me at like 2 am. One author asked other writers what was the one piece of advice they would give to debut novelists. The responses were interesting and mostly upbeat, except when they… weren’t. You could pretty much guess how somebody’s first novel experience went by the type of advice they gave.

Unsurprisingly, some folks really hated the depressing, downer advice from grizzled mid-career writers like me who were like, “HA HA you thought getting your first book published was tough! SHIT KID THE WORK IS JUST GETTING STARTED. IT GETS WORSE.”

I always come back with some iteration of this because when I got into the field, I figured that if I could just get that first book published, everything would actually be easier. I wouldn’t be a nobody anymore! I would have a body of work! People would take me seriously! By the time God’s War was published in 2011, I had been writing seriously since… 1992? And submitting stories since 1995. That was a fucking long apprenticeship. If you’d have told me shit got worse, shit got harder, back then… I don’t know that I’d believe you. But the world moves on, and with experience comes insight.

Back before I’d published any books, but after I’d gone to Clarion, I’d heard about a meet up for mid-career writers that new writers weren’t invited to. I felt that was horseshit. Surely I, as a newer writer, would need to know mid-career things?

But now I get it. Most writers three books, eight books, twenty books in, have far different concerns and priorities and most of all, experience, than writers who haven’t been through the grinder. Newer writers want to talk craft. Pros are talking about their first or third career reboot, shitty sales, and how to get out of noncompete clauses and shitty contract language. There are writers whose first book struck gold and paved their career for decades, but most are building a career, a legacy, bit by bit, surviving dead publishing houses, several agent switches, and B&N ordering fewer and fewer books. You really feel the difference in these two types of experiences when you talk to writers. Those who hit it big right off look at bitter midlisters like they’ve been huffing glue, and bitter midlisters roll their eyes at insta-classic debutantes selling hundreds of thousands or millions of copies whose biggest complaint is not getting nominated for awards.

The long slog of building a career isn’t a reality anyone prepares writers for. And it often means that when a writer doesn’t strike gold, they believe they are a failure, and give up, instead of taking the long, slow road. But the long slow, uneven road is the more likely way that you will succeed. Betting everything (including your sense of self-worth!) on a single book instead of building a career means MORE pressure on yourself. MORE expectations, and MORE depression and anxiety if your first, second, tenth book fails to move more than a few thousand copies. I’ve seen this happen to a billion debut novelists. Outsized expectations meeting reality has destroyed a ton of writers (and I include public reception/criticism in all of that. I know way too many people who expected to be heralded for their genius and break out into the mainstream their first run out, and criticism, the reality of Goodreads, Twitter wars, and call-outs, paired with lackluster sales, torpedoed their careers before they even started).

My first series is still in print. That is not luck. That is me not giving up on that series even when the first publisher cancelled the contract, second publisher stole money and ran off to Finland, and third publisher (redacted NDA here). Fans and I have kept that series going. It’s eight years old and just got reissued and I saw it on shelves. That is a goddamn miracle. And because it was so hard, I appreciate it MORE. But I still have a day job. I probably always will, because health insurance.

I hear all the time people would “kill” to have my career. And I get that! Folks love my books! I love my books! But without Patreon I would have made $17k in 2017 on book payments and royalties. That’s the reality of a writer whose career you envy. Be sure you take that into account and plan accordingly.

So yes, I believe in tempering ones’ expectations. Because I’ve had to engineer a career that’s far different from the “breakout hit one million dollar advance movie money!” writing career nonsense that is still toted as a viable career scheme for new authors.

Writing is a business. Authors are entrepreneurs. It’s not about just writing a good book and cashing checks and waiting for a miracle to happen. It’s a business hustle. It means that yes, you DO have to believe in your work more than anyone else, and fight harder for it. You DO have to actively learn about covers and marketing and making good business decisions and finding the right agent and understand how to read contracts, all while continuing to level up your craft. Because nobody else – not an agent, a publisher, your partner, your fans – care about your work and your career more than you do. If somebody’s just writing for fun and doesn’t want to be a career writer fine! But I sure would have done better that first time out the gate if I’d spent a little more time understanding and acting like a business owner instead of a writer.

The truth is that most industries, including publishing, are happy to sign up the newest, freshest, most industry-ignorant talent they can find. There’s always more of it, every year. I know several authors who have literally never negotiated their contracts, and hoo boy I can tell you their publishers LOVE that! Exploiting talent with starry-eyed promises and effusive praise works every time. “Why do you need more money? Why do you need to read a contract? Aren’t you an ARTIST DOING THIS FOR THE LOVE? DON’T YOU TRUST ME?”

No, and… no.

Anyhoo. Bitter midlister rant over. Just remember that even writers who get that six-figure advance, have to make it last for all three of those books they’ve agreed to write over multiple years, and 15% goes to their agent and 30% goes to taxes. Keep that in mind when you see authors quitting their day jobs… or publishing a book and never getting heard from again.

People think I’m all negative Nancy because I want to, like, kick puppies or something. But I share the realities of my publishing experiences because I want people to be READY for that shit. I want them to be prepared, and to think like a business up front. I want new writers to have career goals and positive, collaborative agent relationships. I want them to go in LESS ignorant of the field and its realities, because knowledge is power.

YMMV, tho.

P.S. I have never gotten a six-figure advance, and yet, weirdly enough! my work absolutely deserves it based on sales alone, let alone concept. I value the fuck out of my work. My whole career has been convincing publishing to value it as much as I do. It’s a long road, for me, and I feel much more confident about navigating it now that I understand the realities of the business that I’m in.

P.P.S. I suppose if all else fails, you can hold out for a MacArthur Grant. Hope springs eternal for me on that one! I just need to be a genius. CHALLENGE ACCEPETED.

Writing Career Goals and What’s Next From Team Hurley

After a relatively quiet 2018 (comparatively), this year is warming up to be a busy one, with THREE book releases and at least one, probably two Big Book deadlines, and ongoing Patreon story deadlines each month as I continue to build a legion of heroes on Patreon.

Here are the big new releases you can look forward to!

  • March 19: THE LIGHT BRIGADE. THREE starred reviews already! My time-traveling Starship Troopers with time travel novel.
  • July 21: MEET ME IN THE FUTURE: STORIES. My “best of” short story collection, featuring all your favorites from the last decade. Cover reveal soon.
  • November 19: THE BROKEN HEAVENS. The FINAL, CONCLUDING volume in the wickedly wonderful Worldbreaker Saga.

My focus, of course, isn’t just on promotion related to book releases but also finishing up NEW work. I have the rest of The Broken Heavens to finish this year, with a hard cut-off of March 1st if we want to get it out in time for the November date.

My next project is a LITTLE up in the air, still, as we are waiting on some contract paperwork for my Genderbent Die Hard in Space novel (I already have a title! But I’ll save that for the official announcement). If that falls through, I will likely be writing my next novel on spec (which means writing a whole novel but not having a contract for it), for either that or my Weird 80’s Murder Mystery novel. I’d like to line up a few more years of contracts, going forward, now that I’m nearly done with my second trilogy obligations.

I also plan to start work on repurposing a lot of my Patreon stories, getting them reprinted for a wider release and putting the older ones up as singles on Amazon. I don’t make much on self-pub titles, but that shit does add up. I’d also like to get back into more long-form blogging. Certainly, my time is better spent creating things than consuming them. The allure of so many social media sites has been that it’s a wonderfully passive way to feel as if one is “doing” something. Alas.

I’ve also put more time into the care and feeding of the Kameron Hurley Workshop, where I have signed books and paintings for sale. I’m always telling writers to diversify income streams, and while the store doesn’t bring in a ton of money (neither does my self-pub) I’m playing the long game here, and again  – it adds up over the long haul.

This focus on work means I’ve ratcheted back my travel plans for the second year in a row. As of right now, I’ll be at ConFusion in Detroit, MI later this month and POSSIBLY London Comic-Con in May (this was planned before the shake-up at the publisher sponsoring it, and I’m waiting to verify that this is still on). Aside from that, I’ll be doing my yearly family trip to ABQ, but that is IT.

Hunkering down and DOING THE WORK is my motto for 2019.

One of the things I was reminded while working on THE LIGHT BRIGADE earlier this year is that I honestly enjoy writing. I know, wild, huh? But in the wider world of publishing, it can be easy to lose sight of the work while getting tangled up in business and promo and sales concerns (oh my!). I cherish the times I’m able to shut out the publishing noise and just focus on the work itself. In the case of THE LIGHT BRIGADE, I think that really paid off.

Mid-career writers spend an awful lot of time complaining about publishing woes and less than we should, probably, about reinventing our careers, leveling up our craft, and writing a breakout novel (if that’s our goal). I found that setting a career goal early on helped me focus on projects and – most importantly – helped me say “no” to projects that didn’t fit with my overall career goal. I want to the absolute master at what I do; I want to change the world, I want to create a career legacy that outlasts me. If your longterm goal is relevance as opposed to quick money, that… can be demoralizing sometimes (you are always second-guessing your choices), but it does mean spending more time investing in a career and less in treating the novel writing like each one is a work for hire or freelancing opportunity. Instead, I view each book as building on the overall body of work; they are all in conversation with one another. I’m creating a body of work, not just singular titles.

That also means folks who come to my novels at any point and are fans of one book tend to really enjoy the others, too. That helps keep my backlist shuttling along (and keeps stuff like my God’s War novels still on the shelves after eight years!). Come for one, stay for the rest, because while they may be different genres and sub-genres, they are likely to all feature badass women (and no women are sexually assaulted!), morally gray choices, war and rebellion, and complicated frenemy situations compounded by incredibly dense and weird worldbuilding of the sentient plants, magic bugs, and parallel timelines variety. Basically, if you dig the shit I’m personally into, you will find that same shit in all my books – one way or another.

In talking with some other writers, I’ve pointed out the importance of career goals and project management, for me. It can be very easy to get overwhelmed out here, trying to just write something sells, or just some other random idea that pops into your head. Being strategic about my projects and career (and having an agent who is actively engaged in and involved in those discussions) has been a really vital part of coming back from overwork a few years back. I realized that my problem was I was churning out book after book expecting the “next” book to be the breakout book… and when it wasn’t – again, and again, and again – I realized I didn’t have anything left to get me to the next book.

It’s like that scene from Gattaca (which I LOVE, coincidentally) where the brothers are always competing to see who can swim the furthest, and the older brother asks the younger brother how he always won, and the younger brother says, “Because I never saved anything for the swim back.” This was my fucking MOTTO for YEARS and… alas, if you never start swimming back it turns out you do eventually drown. Ooops!

What I was starting to realize was that if I burned out all my energy swimming in early books, I wasn’t going to have the energy to keep going once I had, you know, become a technically more proficient swimmer. You need to know when you’re making progress and when you’re just allowing yourself to get strung out and exhausted. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

So 2019 is the year we get back to basics. We write good books. Focus on launching these excellent titles. This year we don’t get distracted by bullshit. This year we become a more technically proficient swimmer, instead of JUST a persistent, bull-headed one.

Go team.

 

Once More Into the Breach: We Ride, We Ride, We Ride

Despite a lot of deliberate work, I’m running behind on writing THE LIGHT BRIGADE. Much of this, I’ve found, has been me second-guessing myself about… well, everything.

Much of this is simply a mental block, I know. My self-esteem took a hit with BROKEN HEAVENS. I don’t want to turn in another partial/very rough draft. I want something really great. Exceptional. The trouble is, you know – no draft is going to be exceptional. That’s why it’s a draft.

I’ve had a great many external voices in my head lately, which has made writing at length a lot harder, too. Short fiction is all right because I only need a day or two of real concentration to get my shit together. Novels are tougher. I’ll have a few days of really great progress, then read everything over and be like, “Yeah, that won’t work.”

I have failed to follow a lot of my own advice recently about cutting off the outside world when you’re trying to do deep work, too. I’ve been spending a lot of time comparing my career to the careers of others. I’ve been muddling around feeling like a failure. My anxiety has been at an all-time high the last month; it hasn’t been this bad since EMPIRE ASCENDANT came out, before I went on drugs. As I’m already taking quite a good dose, which has increased significantly over time, I’ve added in serious exercise again to help combat this. The best thing to do with excess nervous energy is to run it out (or lift it out, as is the case with doing my morning free weights).

Worst of all – I haven’t taken a social media break in A LONG time. Not since before the election. There are a couple reasons for that, the first being that Twitter makes me feel less lonely. I’ve been fairly isolated here recently, spending more time with my dogs than with humans. My spouse has been out of town a lot in recent weeks attending to some family business, and that means, again – just me and the dogs for days and days. Second, Twitter is my primary platform for promoting the work on Patreon, and I know when I cease promoting said patreon, the numbers go down. I’m relying on that income to help with my immigration process, so… yanno, that’s a concern.

But even reducing my presence on social media simply isn’t enough. It’s time to go cold for a few months here so I can stay focused on my own work – and actually hear my own voice, instead of the voice that says what I have to say not only doesn’t matter, but will be chewed up, eaten and destroyed once it’s out.

We talk a lot about developing a tough skin in this business, but I don’t think it works that way. I had a tough skin going into it, and for awhile, sure, it toughened up. But after awhile, you’re getting hit hard enough often enough that your skin isn’t getting calloused and tough; it doesn’t have time for it. Instead, it’s getting cut and flayed and carved down, and with no chance to recover, you end up with these bleeding, raw patches that make it tough to go on.

As I keep tearing down chunks of this book, I realize that I’m acting from that raw, bleeding place. I’m so tired of all the noise online about who’s bad and who’s good, and what’s good and what’s bad that I can’t even hear my own voice anymore. It’s all just noise.

So to reduce the churn and get back a semblance of sanity, I’ll be getting off social media in earnest again, from February 12 until May 1st. I will have some scheduled tweets in that time, links to the patreon, the tip jar, and re-posts of articles and blog posts. But I won’t be actively engaging there until May. This gives me time to finish LIGHT BRIGADE here in the next few weeks on my own terms, listening only to my own voice, and get started back up on THE BROKEN HEAVENS in peace, too.

I’ve been catching up on Ditch Diggers while working out the last couple of days, and taking to heart some things said there about choosing when to engage with audiences, and of course, managing depression and anxiety. Fans and even other professionals have been asking a lot more of creators, asking us to engage in debates and take positions and “be engaged.” The trouble is that for many of us, the act of creation is simply not compatible with being a manic extrovert. For me, these two modes are absolutely at odds with one another. I can’t do both; I can’t live in my own head in order to create something at the same time I’m living in and engaging fully with the world.

It’s a tough time, in this country, to say you’re going to dis-engage for a few months. With all the bad shit happening, the government being slowly dissolved and the creeping authoritarian state slowly taking its place, the last thing you want to do is say you checked out during that. But among all this bullshit, we have to find time to do our work, and that’s been tough for me for awhile now. I need to take control of it again. I want to live in my own head again, because frankly, that’s where all the goddamn stories come from.

A lot of people think I’m prolific, but just like all of you, I compare myself with others, and where I want to be, and I’m simply not there. I need to write a book a year, and I’ve stumbled with that recently. To have the career I want, I have to get back on track, even if the world is burning. Especially if the world is burning.

I’m enjoying a lot of the work I’m doing on LIGHT BRIGADE (I realized it was sort of an anti-Ayn Rand novel at one point, and that delighted me to no end). But I’m also aware of all of its flaws – real and potential – and the blowback it’s going to get in this current climate. Being aware of that and carrying on anyway is a weird balancing act. I’ve known a lot of writers recently who’ve been paralyzed with fear and indecision and uncertainty. I’m tired of being one of them. I got rubbed pretty raw over the last few years. Getting back into the game, having the confidence and bravery to carry on, is a struggle we all face at one time or another.

But what I’ve found is that these are merely excuses. I have been full of excuses for a long time that break down, quite simply, to fear. Fear of… just about everything. Fear of being nothing. Fear of being something. Fear of giving everything, and having nothing to show for it. Fear of letting people down. Fear of letting myself down.

Yet the truth is that there’s really nothing to fear at all anymore, because I’ve already done all of those things. I’ve already let everyone down, let myself down, given everything and gotten little back. I wrote a fairly frank summary of my writing experience to date (several people thought those were just generalizations. No, that was all stuff I’ve experienced). A lot has been great. A lot has sucked. That’s just… the way it is. And I can let the fear win out or I can do what I am here to do.

And I’m here to write.

The rest is just passing time.

So, I’m off once more into the breach.  Because the writing, the deep immersive experience of writing – as opposed to the public butchery that is publishing! – is what I love best in life. And that’s the part I need to be engaging in right now. It’s time to create the world anew again.

Writing Income: What I Made in 2017

In my continuing series related to what I actually make writing fiction every year (see 2016 here, 2014 here2012 here, and I know there are more, but can’t find them).

Book payments, royalties, foreign sales, film 16000
Self pub royalties 167
Short story reprint sales 1750
Patreon 29179
 TOTAL $47,096

 

Here’s what that looks like in a nice pie chart:

 

I tell writers often to “diversify your income streams” and this is why. Some years royalties and book payments and foreign sales are better than others.  There is more income that will show up on my actual taxes, including Amazon affiliates and Paypal donations, but I didn’t include those here (just as I didn’t include day job income) because I want this to be limited exclusively to writing income.

A couple of observations:

Patreon Saves the Day (But Don’t Count On It)

Patreon has been a godsend this last year, as I’ve been producing a short story every month, instead of every other month or so as I did last year. That said, the shitstorm at Patreon at the end of last year when they were going to up their fees by 40% for folks at the $1 tiers saw me bleeding fans from the platform. That experience reminded me again that this income – though provided by a large pool of 750+ fans, is still reliant on a third party system that could implode and fuck everything at any time.

Self-Pub Isn’t a Magic Bullet

As you can see, I don’t make much money in self-pub beyond Patreon. When I state this, many folks who make lots more there just tell me I’m doing it wrong, and hey! Maybe so. But it’s not where I put most of my time. Self-pub sales primarily come from one-off fiction shorts and collections, not novels. I like to include this revenue here, though, to point out that yes, I do self-publish some stuff, and yeah, no, it’s not a cure-all moneymaking scheme.

Don’t Get Too Excited About the “Film” Thing

Oh, I know you saw that “film” inclusion up there with the royalties bucket. As you no doubt realized, looking at the total it’s mashed up into, it’s not life changing at this point, just interest. I’ve had various Hollywood things stirring around for awhile now, but last year was the first year I made a little money on it due to some slightly more advanced interest. And that could easily turn into 1) Absolutely nothing 2) A little more 3) a lot more 4) Movies! Shows! Lottery tickets! This being H-wood, eh, I just sorta roll with it. Some IP is making the rounds, and people are getting interested, and that’s A+.

This is a Living Wage!

The last 2-3 years, especially with the addition of Patreon, I’ve been making what amounts to a living wage as a writer. That’s pretty cool…. granted, I still need health insurance, and even with my current plan, I have a $10k deductible, so subtract $10k from that just to start. Luckily I still have a day job, which is where that (useless) health insurance and all of my expenses and etc. come out of. The writing income, really, tends to get bucketed back into the writing career itself. I spent some obscene amount last year traveling to various conventions (hence paring down this year), as well as swag, patreon rewards, and various other related business supplies (printer ink is $130 a pop. WTF?). My goal, of course, is to pay off my debts, move to Canada for affordable healthcare, and shift to writing full time – supplemented by freelance income – in the next few years. But, you know – I’m not holding my breath.

Feast and Famine

One thing I’ve learned about this business is that it’s feast for famine. I currently have $8 in my account and three credit cards maxed out… in the next week or two, however, I will have my day job paycheck, $2600 from Patreon, and another $5k payout for Legion. When I finish THE LIGHT BRIGADE, I’ll get another $10k here in the next month or so. Clearly I’m bad at managing these lean/flush times, and that’s something I’m working on getting better at. All of those payments will go toward aforementioned credit cards, taxes, and immigration fees, and then… it’s all gone again. Tra-la. The taxes in particular are a killer in the writing profession. Sigh.

In Summary

What does this all mean? Well, it means that Patreon both makes being a full-time writer a viable future if I severely cut down on appearances and other expenses and get all of last year’s convention debt paid off. That said, relying on Patreon for 3/4 of my writing income… is not a good business strategy. Take out Patreon and I’d be making like $18k – which, again, with a $10k deductible is not even a poverty wage.  I am seven years into this profession and what I’m making on traditionally published work year to year is less than a minimum wage job. Soooo…. keep you day job, people.

Once I clear out LIGHT BRIGADE and finish BROKEN HEAVENS I’ll be working on some new projects, for which I have high hopes. LEGION in particular has done very well, all of my work has earned out, and I’m doing well maximizing what I’m paid for short fiction. Every story is a piece of IP, and thinking of it like that does help me manage it.

Anyhow, folks – that’s what one award-winning author who’s been in the game the last seven years is making. Yes, I should me making a shit brick more (every time I do these one of my male colleagues emails me and is like, “You are really underpaid. There are people selling less who make way more.” And I’m like yes… yes, I know. I’m working on it). We are all working toward leveling up and breaking out. I’ll get there. But if you’re struggling, just remember: there’s often a lot of years of slog ahead. You are doing fine if you are slogging.

All we can do is be honest, and flail onward, and keep this shit real.

The Year I Drowned My Emotions

For over a year now, I haven’t wanted to feel anything.

Not joy. Not sorrow. Just… nothing. I wanted to feel nothing.

Certainly, there’s an element of depression, there. My doctor kept upping my meds. They would work for awhile, and then I’d just sink into the Nothing again. I didn’t feel depressed, because I still think of depression as feeling “bad.” Instead I just wasn’t feeling anything at all. I was going through the motions.

Depression is a complex state of being. I know we want to try and pretend it’s easy. Just pop a pill, increase your meds, try new meds, find something that works! But there’s also depression caused by external forces, and that’s the sort of depression that you can paint over with pills, sure, but the root of it is still there, like painting over a crack in your wall.

I was already feeling overwhelmed and deflated in the months leading up to the election. I was struggling with the reality that I’d produced three books in a year but still had to function at a day job, and the relentless treadmill of publishing was still going, without the sort of reward I needed in order to maintain my sanity. I’ve talked before about how writing all those books and then promoting books and having a weird dude-bro day job (at the time) conspired to murder me. What we don’t acknowledge is that when you experience that kind of breakdown followed by grief and disappointment, you can’t just… get back up like nothing happened.

The truth is I was operating at the absolute limit of my capacity before the shit hit the fan. Because I was already tapped out, when the shit hit, I had nothing left, no reserves to help me cope. The grief of the election was the grief for a lost future. I grieved for the country, for the future, for our lost stability. Most of all, I grieved because it made me hate my neighbors. They voted for this. They murdered the future. This is the future they wanted. Knowing that – that your own friends, family, neighbors, voted for this bleak future where health insurance is being killed by degrees and all our money is being funneled to the rich – was debilitating. Sorry, it just fucking was. It was realizing I lived in an entirely different reality than those people. Worse was knowing where this sort of vote led a country, historically. Living with that knowledge for months while people fought about how we should “give it a chance” turned me quickly to drink. I was drinking, three, four, five nights a week. I wasn’t even sorry.

I don’t like feeling things. One of the benefits of fiction is that it allows you to emote without suffering through the physical and emotional consequences of the characters. It’s literally a safe space for allowing me to feel things. I can feel them, then go on and out into the world.

But what I found for the last couple of years is that I didn’t want to feel things even in fiction. Even reading certain books or watching certain TV shows was too much. For months, I couldn’t watch anything dark on TV. I stopped watching Jessica Jones. I started reading all 25 of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet novels, because I knew that in that world, the murders were always solved, the bad guys got found out, and decent people did OK. I needed desperately to live in a world like that.

“Be like Leia Organa! Have hope!” everybody keeps yelling.

And I’m like, sure, yeah, OK, but there’s hope and then there’s deluding yourself. Leia and Holdo didn’t didn’t just fly off into the Nothing and “hope for the best” – they had a plan.

I had no plan but “survive.”

And let me tell you – “survive” as a “plan” gets pretty depressing after awhile.

My attempts to numb myself against reality could only work for so long. Eventually, I knew, something had to give.

When we were presented with our “new” “health insurance” at the day job back in December, I was just… done. I’ve been scrambling to keep a day job forever in order to keep health insurance. But the constant erosion of health insurance regulations by the new regime was destroying all of the plans, even those offered by employers. My deductible was going up another $3,500. It was already $7,000. My meds are $1500 a month, which means that for the first 6 months of the year or so, I was shelling out $1500 out of pocket for the drugs that keep me alive. Now I’d be shelling that out for even longer before health insurance covered anything at all. And that’s on TOP of the $400 per month premium.

This wasn’t insurance.

This was a fucking nightmare.

“Survival” on this timeline, the bare-bones plan, was becoming untenable.

Depression is indeed an imbalance. A broken brain. But that depression is, sometimes, a perfectly sane response to a horrifying situation. The trouble is that being depressed isn’t going to get you out of that situation. Being depressed is just going to cause you to keep sinking deeper and deeper into the mire.

So up went the medication.

And up went the alcohol.

The trouble is, combining those two things at once results in… well, a VERY drunk podcast appearance where I’m barely coherent toward the end. That was a bit of a wakeup call. I can’t drink away the world on these meds. I can’t numb all Feelings.  It was time to stop relying on outside fixes and make some real changes.

I started looking into 100% remote working opportunities. A colleague emailed with a tip about an immigration lawyer. The lawyer confirmed that my spouse and I would not be barred from immigrating to Canada because of our illnesses. In fact, he said, because I was a writer, we’d have an easier time of getting in. We’d thrown out this thought immediately after the election due to the medical issue. But it turns out that unless you require constant or prohibitively expensive care, you don’t trigger their “medical burden” clause. And in Canada, prescriptions were a fraction of the cost, and health care was paid for through taxes. I would never lie awake worrying about health costs again.

That was all I needed to know.

We scraped together the money for the lawyer, and started the paperwork. This process has also forced us to take a full accounting of our finances, which we hadn’t done since our dog Drake died. We poured an exceptional amount of money into his care, and it’s like it’s just been compounding since then. Last year I kept saying, “We can’t afford X,” and my spouse was like, “We need to do X,” and I just… found ways to do it. And now we have the brutal reality of all those bills and debts. For a year, I just… didn’t care about those debts. I rang them up like it was the end of the world, because it felt like it. There was nothing to look forward to but 30 years of shit getting worse.

I have spent a decade trying to tell myself I could live a mile from downtown, here in Ohio, struggling with health insurance. I convinced myself that I had no other options.

Suddenly I had options. Even if the journey to get there seemed impossible.

I figured it was no more impossible than trying to survive here as things are currently.

Totaling up your debts and taking a hard look at all the shit you’ll need to repair and repaint in order to sell or even just rent out your house, and all the shit you’ll need to sell or pack, and the costs of doing that, and of finding a rental, and going through all the paperwork, and… it looks overwhelming. Moving gets harder as you age because you tend to have more shit. The shit you own does, indeed, end up owning you.

But the stress of holding onto health insurance while the cost of care was becoming more and more unaffordable was unbearable. The dystopic regime contributed to that fact, and added heaps more stress on top.

I want a different life.

It was this, I think, this thought, this emotion, that I was trying so hard to drown. I wanted to be content. I wanted to settle. I was just so tired. Tired of writing. Tired of working. Tired of fighting everything. I also found that I was tired of putting myself out into the world. I was tired of being some constructed persona, a pixel-headed emoticon online. I was so emotionally exhausted all the time that I began to jealously guard all the parts and pieces of myself that fueled the emotional core of my writing. I failed to write a book last year because what I came up with was just somebody going through the motions. I wasn’t feeling any of it. I couldn’t bear to. Things just happened to people, and I said how they felt, but I couldn’t feel them. I’d die, I thought, if I felt them. I was angry that I had given so much of myself to my novel writing and was getting so little back. I was frustrated to be in this place where you have to dig into your heart and lay it bare only to have some rando shit on your doorstep for no fucking reason while you’re paying $1500 a month for drugs to keep you alive.

It was a shitty future. I wanted a different one.

There was freedom in acknowledging it wasn’t going to work. There was freedom in realizing that trying to make it work was literally killing me, that year after year, I was just getting more and more resigned to a life that was taking everything I had and not giving anything back.

I drowned all of this in alcohol, and overwork, and bird food, and dogs, and painting, but it was clear from my inability to write anything of substance that cutting myself off from emotions might feel good in the short term, but isn’t great for helping you overcome your problems. It’s like Luke cutting himself off from the Force. Who are you then? You’re just someone going through the motions. Eventually, you either die that way, or you open up.

I spent two miserable weeks over the holidays sick as a dog, then another week trying to recover. For several of those days, I had a terrible fever and hallucinations, and I thought I was going to die. Near-death has a funny way of waking me up. Here it was, I thought, I’m going to die here in Ohio without finishing my goddamn fantasy trilogy. What have I even done with my life?

And as strength returned, and I took these tentative steps toward changing my life, as I saw these flickers of another future, it became a little easier to turn in work again. And not just work that was going through motions – but work that tapped into the emotions I’ve been struggling with, and the experiences from my past that drive me, and pieces of myself I wanted to hide away at the bottom of a deep, dark well.

I wrote about being broken, about perseverance, about failure, about envy and rage and despair and passion. All those things I didn’t want to feel anymore, I could feel them again, safely, on the page.

And the world didn’t explode. I could stand the tide of it.

I wasn’t drowning anymore. I was swimming, swimming. I still couldn’t see the shore. But I could imagine it. I could hope for it, again. I could hope for it without hurting.

And that was enough.

What Comes Next? Everything

When I was a  wide-eyed baby author, I scoffed at what was known in the business as “the bitter midlister.” The bitter midlister was an established author who had written three or more books but who either wasn’t making a living as a writer, or wasn’t making a very good living, or had seen some success but didn’t feel it was on par with what they deserved (usually this last bit)… and they were very, very, very bitter about it.

We have all met or heard from bitter midlisters. These are the people who publicly rant about how the success of their bestselling peers has nothing to do with quality, but with luck, or favoritism, and how the game is rigged against them. They bloviate on forums and social platforms about how they didn’t get the sort of success they were owed. This is often how you can differentiate the bitter midlister from those simply exhausted by the –isms inherent in publishing. Bitter midlisters feel that they are owed success by virtue of their existence, instead of simply that they understand they need to work harder in a system rigged to favor certain types of books and authors.

They feel owed because they did the work, and it didn’t pay off in the way they expected. They are angry at every new success from some newer author, irate at every million-dollar deal that isn’t theirs. They all insist that it’s not at all the quality of their writing or the fabric of their plots (or lack thereof) that has led to this state. It’s always someone else’s fault. It’s always about someone else “taking” something that they felt was theirs. It’s probably no wonder that many bitter midlisters are from the socio-economic and racial groups that have been privileged in their particular country of origin. When your entire system says you are special, and just need to work hard to succeed, and you do, and you don’t, you get pretty mad.

I get it. I mean, I’m white. I heard that narrative too. I also heard that if a woman “worked hard enough” she could be president.

But I digress.

The bitter midlister tends to write the same sort of book over and over – when they continue writing at all. It never enters their minds that perhaps they need to change their approach, to learn new skills, to write up another lottery ticket in the publishing casino.

Now, there’s a truth to some of these complaints. Publishing is not a meritocracy. Writing great work doesn’t guarantee success. Shitty books, or mediocre books, or a book you personally cannot stand, make many authors a very good living. It may not seem fair that someone was able to change the names in their fan fiction novel and become a mega bestseller, but you know what? They wrote something people clearly wanted to read, and most probably had some big publishing marketing dollars behind them.

Life isn’t fair.

Publishing isn’t fair.

The world isn’t fair.

You aren’t owed anything.

As I creep up here on completing my 7th novel for publication, I’ve increasingly started to notice that bitter midlister voice (BMV™) at the back of my head, tapping away at my confidence.

It’s not fair, the BMV™ moans. It’s not fair that people who wrote one book, or two books, or a single series, are more financially successful than me.  It’s not fair that I still have a mortgage payment and a day job and have to take freelancing jobs. It’s not fair that writers who I think are technically less skilled than me are bestsellers. It’s not fair…!

Waaaah waah waaaaah

I sure do sound like Sarah Connelly in Labyrinth, whining about how shitty and not fair it is to be a fucking adult.

But as Sarah learned, unfairness is simply a truth of life. None of us are owed anything, however hard we work, however skilled we become. As adults, all we have control over is the work that we do and how we choose to present that work to the world.  This is what I tell the BMV™ over and over again.

I wish a lot of things had turned out differently – in my life, in the world. I wish that God’s War had swept all the awards in 2011 and had become a bestselling classic like The Windup Girl. I wish The Stars are Legion got optioned for a movie I wrote the script for. I wish we were watching a TV series on Netflix about Nyx right now, and I was doing script consulting. I wish The Geek Feminist Revolution had taken off like Bad Feminist did. And on and on.

When you sit around making wishes like that, it makes you realize how futile they all are. Because there are more things I wish on top of that:

I wish I didn’t live in a society plunging into fascism. I wish I didn’t have a chronic illness. I wish I hadn’t ended up in Ohio for the last decade. I wish I had real health insurance. I wish I could visit Mars.

And on and on.

As I come up on middle age, especially in the current economic and social climate, it’s easy to look back at what came before and only see where I’m not, or only see where I could be.  This is a ridiculous, but very human thing to do.

When I’m feeling particularly down, I remind myself that there are plenty of (financially successful) legends who just started their careers at the age I’m at now. I’m reminded that at 37 and pushing toward forty, I’m just beginning to come into my powers as an author. Most of us really don’t start to warm up until middle age. Writing is a skill like any other, and it takes decades to hone your craft.

I am just getting started.

When we reach the end of the year, or the middle of our lives, it can be tempting to look back and only see all the things we didn’t do, all the success we didn’t have, instead of be grateful of how far we have come and celebrate the success we did achieve.  Worse, when we look at what’s to come, it’s easy to think that all of the adventures and success are behind us instead of ahead of us. It’s easy to think we’ve lost our powers, when in truth, we’re just coming into them.

I have a good many projects on deck, a lot of irons on the fire, and by my own measure at, say, age 24 (before I needed all this goddamn health insurance) I’m doing incredibly well for myself. By aged 24 standards, I could quit my day job and be a writer full time. So shut the fuck up, BMV™.

My greatest realization these last six years as a professional novelist is that no amount of grind is going to get me to where I’m going any faster. Instead, it just takes a big toll on one’s mental and physical health. And in my case, I started to feel… stuck, like I was on this big ugly torture treadmill. That’s no way to live a life where you’re supposedly “doing what you love.” Hell, it’s no way to live any kind of life.

It used to be that when I wrote, I’d be railing against all the outside voices, the supposed gatekeepers, the editors and agents who rejected my work. As I’ve become more skilled, I realize that my greatest enemy isn’t them at all, and never was. My greatest enemy these days is just myself, and the BMV™.

I have a great deal to achieve in this, the second half of my life. The last year of horror had led me to double down on my worst tendencies, to withdraw, to simply endure. But I want the next thirty years of my life to be more than mere endurance. I want to truly thrive. I want to come into my own as a skilled artist, as a novelist. It’s always been my goal to be an exceptionally skilled novelist, the best, and I won’t get there by hiding in my house in Ohio with a pillow over my head and nursing the BMV™.

So today is a new day, and I get up early. I write posts like this one. I crack open the manuscript. I work on my short story outline. I pet my dogs. I count my blessings. I court a new voice, the old voice, the one that got me this far, the one that says:

Just you wait and see what I’ll do next.