Changing Focus

So…these past six months or so I’ve been really struggling with discouragement in regards to my writing.  This is in large part due to the growing suspicion that what I really want to write isn’t something that editors are going to want to buy/license.  The acquiring markets are really specific in what sort of stories and lengths and styles they’re looking for.  Most short fiction markets, for example, want stories within the range of 5k, and the stories must be standalone, must have a certain kind of hook in the beginning, and so on.  Novels, too, have to be in a certain range, with a certain set of criteria to hit, and that criteria may change per editor but tends to be about the same on the whole.

But what interests me are slower-build stories with multiple layers, connected as a part of a series with repeating characters and growth over the whole series, depth, beauty, wonder, sorrow, the battle between hope and fear, as well as action and adventure and humor and bantering and… of an indeterminate and varied length.

One of the things I hate most about where I am in my writing is that I feel very much alone.  I don’t have anyone I can really turn to and hand over my writing and say, Tell me truly, am I deluding myself, is this good enough? Is this bad storytelling, am I not ‘there yet’?  Or am I running into all these roadblocks because what I like and want is so niche and I shouldn’t worry about whether or not it’s “good enough” and just strike out on my own?

On the other hand, I do know I’m not the only one with this question.  Pat Rothfuss recently posted about his 30k short fiction foray into a story about Auri, which sounds like the same conundrum I’m in, minus the fact that his story is part of an already-established series and he has people he can consult for their opinions and an editor already attached.

I also feel akin to Andrea K. Host’s post about writing the Touchstone Trilogy, and am beginning to admire how she withdrew completely from the submission grind and just wrote and didn’t share her work with anyone rather than deal with the stress and what ifs and so on.

Part of my problem is that with my chronic illness, I don’t have a lot of energy to find readers who might like my style of story and writing and gain feedback.  I have a hard enough time maintaining friendships and doing things with and for people as it is.  I don’t have a lot of money or energy to afford or attend classes or workshops.  I also am not able to write much in a given year.  So, writing a story or two per year and setting that out into the world to be rejected over and over has become disheartening when I know I have learned a lot and my storytelling chops have improved since I started this blog and process 3 years ago.  I’ve been doing the best I can.  I hate it when that best isn’t good enough, though, especially when whats a “good story” is so subjective and I’m not sure what to make of the increasingly varied responses I’m getting.

I’ve also made the mistake(?) of telling a few people about the stories I’m excited about, developing and researching–and gotten the polite, closed-off expression full of misgiving that only has added to my self-doubt.

Another struggle I’m facing is that with my chronic illness, I have a really hard time developing characters and worlds, not to mention I have a really hard time slogging through the muck in my brain to put down words on paper.  Creating just takes so much time and energy, I feel like if I want to be able to do this, to work towards a steady career in writing, that every story I work on must count towards something I could use or could be publishable.

However, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s post on abandoning the preciousness of time and art is something to keep in mind.  If I think only in terms of “I should only write publishable material” that’s putting a lot of pressure on myself.  Pressure I really don’t need.  I’m not saying that what I do shouldn’t be important to me personally, but…I do think I’m happier when I’m not thinking about whether or not what I write will be acceptable to others or whether or not this story will break into community-approved markets.

That’s the other thing.  I’m currently working on a self-pubbed project, to be unveiled later this year, and it’s been a real eye-opener about how just how little money I currently have available for the self-pub route.  See again: disability and a lot of recent medical expenses.

So, if my work isn’t going to be acceptable at more traditionally-minded markets and if I don’t have the resources for self-publishing, what do I do?

I guess…the answer is obvious.  Keep writing what I want to write, stop worrying about publication all together for now.  Pull an Andrea K. Host and write in my bubble for a while since the submission grind is starting to get to me.  Work on improving my craft for myself, with whatever resources I have available to me.  Focus on my health and getting better.  Assume to myself I’ll find a part-time job when I recover and reevaluate at that point.

But I want to write, that’s not going to change.  I am bereft and easily depressed when I don’t.  Stories are who I am.

So, if I’m not going to be writing towards publication for a while, what do I do with this blog?  When I first started this blog, it was a great motivator.  It helped me combat my depression when I was first diagnosed and trying to sort myself out, what I could hope for and expect from myself and the new version of my body.  This blog still gives me an open book to work through ideas and thoughts, so I’m not going to close it, but I do think my focus will be changing.  To what, exactly, I don’t know.

If I’m not going to be pursuing publication for a while, do I really need an empty bibliography?  If I’m going to be reevaluating what stories to pursue or keeping them a secret, do I really need my Storybox?

(Yes, you can see that whatever thick skin I had a few years ago, is currently, strangely missing.)

I think I need a sandbox period.  I just need to play and figure things out and have fun.  I need to go into a mental space with no pressure, no rejections filtering into  my inbox, no criticisms from friends or strangers about how I’m doing everything wrong, no looks of misgiving, no judgments about how they don’t like what I’m doing, no confusion about who I should believe or what my stories are worth.

I have a short story that I’m writing/have written for an anthology I’m excited for, but that’s it.  Am going to draw a line in the sand and say, that’s enough. It’s play time!

ETA:  When this post goes live, I’ll have been sitting on this decision for a month.  So far, it’s made me a LOT happier.

I did backtrack to test the decision, though, to see if it was one I really want to do.  I submitted twice more.  One rejection was very nice,  quite cool and made me happy, the other rejection was extremely disheartening…and, to be frank, rejection isn’t really something I want to deal with right now.  Especially since the previous few weeks of sandbox had been fun and freeing.  So my decision stands, I’m going into sandbox fun mode.  No worries, no cares, no pressure.  Just experimenting and exploring and having fun and shaping worlds and having character adventures.  I know this won’t affect anyone but me and my own mental framework, but hey, you’re welcome to join me if you want.  It’s time to start taking everything a little less seriously.

ETA Again! Hah. I just found this blog post by Robin LaFevers on Surviving Nearly There, which pretty much sums up where I am and reaffirms the decisions I’ve made. It’s… rather uncanny.

12 responses to “Changing Focus

  • Joe Vasicek

    There’s no place quite like the sandbox. I wish you luck while you’re there. And if you’re looking for someone to help, either with alpha reading, or with self-publishing, I’d be happy to work out an arrangement. In particular, if you want someone who can do formatting or proofreading for shorter stuff, we could barter services for alpha reading or something like that. I’m working with some new-to-me formatting software, so the practice would definitely help. Just let me know!

  • Andrea K

    You can self-publish for $0.00, truly. Although pretty pictures are nice, a pure text cover is perfectly fine and can look wonderful. Editing is an expense, but the need for it varies from person to person, and can sometimes be covered by betas.

    I heartily endorse writing for the fun of it, writing the stories you want to write, the way you want to write them, and then let them find their audience. 🙂

    Like Joe, happy to do the formatting to help out, or giving your an honest opinion about a story. And it takes barely a minute to convert a clean Word document to an epub (especially if it’s a short story). With Amazon KDP, all you need is the Word document, so even easier.

    • Joe Vasicek

      Well, yes and no. There is software that can automatically convert to epub from a variety of formats, but I wouldn’t trust it, especially if it’s converting from Word. Better to convert and then touch it up in an epub editor of some kind, like Sigil or Calibre. There can be a whole lot of gunk in there if you’re not careful–I don’t even trust Amazon-s converters to clean it all up. Better to make an epub that you know is clean and use that as the master file.

    • Laura

      Thanks for the offer! Wow, I wasn’t expecting you to drop by with kind words and an offer. I can always use more honest opinions about my stories, and if you don’t mind I’ll hold onto your e-mail for when I’m ready to do so. Feedback/editing is something I am/going to be in sore need of but have few resources for….

      Wow, thanks again. And fan moment, I love your stories, by the way. 🙂

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