What a year.
Well, the TL;DR is that:
I saw a new novel come out, HALO: ENVOY, which seems to have been well-received by fans.
My story High Awareness (written with David Brin) appeared in Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere.
My Patreon story Shoggoths in Traffic was reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine and reviewed by Locus Magazine.
My story Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance appeared in Cosmic Powers. This story is getting so many reprint requests, but the two (of many) that I can share with everyone are:
–The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume 12
-The Year’s Best Science Fiction #35
I wrote a bunch more stories for my Patreon, and half a new Fantasy novel. And like every one else, I somehow managed to survive the year. Go us!
Here’s the more in-depth stuff…
I knew a whole year under the new administration here in the US would be challenging and it was. I saw it hit the creativity of many writers hard. And it wasn’t fun seeing so many people I value being harmed by the administration.
When the election happened, I sat down and wrote a journal entry to myself detailing all the concrete steps I was going to take to have what impact I could against it all. I decided that I wanted to retain my health and energy, something I would not sacrifice as this would be a fight that could take years. During the Bush administration I spent a lot of time blogging and in comments sections. For this round, I focused on calling senators, and then faxing when that became too stressful for me. I sent money, lots of it, to wherever I felt I could make a difference, even though this was a lean fiscal year. Whenever I got frustrated I would turn back to concrete ways to move the ball forward. I’m doing some small local volunteering as well.
So even though I feel I was less involved in the shouting matches online, I’ve done a lot of real life stuff compared to the last time around.
I also was horrified by the disaster response to the hurricanes that hit this year. The devastation is like nothing that had been seen before. I did some interviews and a blog post about how to help that was widely passed around and that I feel got money to some direct places where they needed to be. People who knew I was from the affected area reached out to me and I was able to connect some folk to each other. Again, I tried to focus on ways to help and not succumb to feeling personally helpless.
Even if I am just a drop of water, many of us together can make an ocean.
2017 was what I consider one of those years where there are no giant successes that leap out, but where the work you do lays the foundation for success that come later.
One, I decided that I would totally jump all in on Bullet Journalling officially just before the start of the year. I kept doing that and found it helpful for keeping the year going strong and organized. Turns out making lists when things go pear-shaped helps me a lot. I’ve been able to cope with this year much better than I had any right to.
Two, I cleaned up the basement and put my office in there, something I had been wanting to do since it had been flooded.
I also cleaned up a section and built a home gym. I also cleaned up another area for tools and lumber. Getting the basement mostly cleaned and organized felt like a major coup.
Three, I hand built a custom PC, something I had wanted to do since I was a kid. I use it to play Kerbal or Civilization. Mostly it sits and mines Ethereum when I don’t use if for a game.
Four, I kept playing Ultimate Frisbee and getting outside as much as I could and moving more, which I noticed was a great mood booster.
My resting heart rate is down dramatically. Like, scary dramatically. I went from the mid 80s as a resting heart rate to the mid 60s, with my Apple Watch claiming that at sleep I frequently now drop into the very low 50s.
Five, I have been experiencing some really bad RSI as a result of years of writing a ton, but also a lot of mousing was starting to wear on me. I decided to take serious steps to reducing the pain instead of just dealing. I finally ordered a Kinesis Keyboard after years of eyeing them. It’s really gone a long way toward reducing pain. But I also set out to learn a whole new keyboard layout called Colemak to help reduce pain from using the laptop keyboard. I’ll write about that more soon.
Meta career stuff
This is some neepery.
At the start of the year I learned that one of the most lucrative freelance gigs I had ever had was being shut down. But, to be honest, that gig had been eating up all my brain time. I had been putting money aside, so I knew that I could take some risks and spend the rest of the year living off savings.
While I hate losing the savings pile, I did need the time to really reset my writer mind. The words, I could drag them out, but they were getting harder and harder. I’d written two novels under a pseudonym and a HALO novel. I had spent three whole years away from living and breathing ideas that were one hundred percent my own, and I learned from that while doing a fun work for hire project once in a while was great, spending three years working hard at a freelance gig for money and putting all my creative work outside my own control really made me feel boxed in.
So I eased back to focus on writing short fiction. Trying to find more joy. And thinking of Tim Ferris’s challenge to himself about work “What would this look like if if were fun?” I decided that I would not work on things that weren’t looking like fun. That isn’t to say I avoided hard or challenging work, I just wanted to avoid a certain level of drudgery that I was starting to feel like was setting in.
In fact, January 2017 was the first time in 17 years of being published that I struggled with core questions about whether all the work was worth it. I did enjoy the wins, but the negative stuff was piling up throughout 2016 to the point where I wondered if it might not work out better to treat writing as a hobby and double down on freelancing to be a more responsible family guy and earner. I’d gotten a taste of what regular, decent income could look like, and it took a lot of stress out of the constant balancing of irregular income, delayed payments, contracts that take forever to negotiate, that come with writing.
Knowing that I was down, I returned to first principles: why did I want to be doing this? Because I loved books. I spent a chunk of time reading at the start of the year. I ripped through audiobooks, played frisbee, and read books at a rate I hadn’t since I was a kid on summer vacation. By the end of February I had my head coming back together and understood I’d been burned out. And while the freelance money had been great, I was seeing lots of people in that industry getting laid off or experiencing stress as bad as mine. So I found a headspace after some rest that let me reset.
I did a lot of writing down thoughts to myself about my mental state about writing. I’d achieved so many of my goals in terms of a career that I’d wanted since I was 13 by 30 that I did find it hard to figure out what the new ‘thing’ I should focus my aim at should be. I’d been dealing with so much business side stuff that all my new aims were contract, reader-sizes, and money related. All of which are good focuses, but in some ways, out of my control and stormy because the tide of how shiny the world finds you comes and goes.
I often tell people, don’t chain your goals to events you can’t control or you end up whipsawed around, feeling unsuccessful because success is out of your hands. “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” -Marcus Aurelius.
A quote by Henry Miller ended up in my Bullet Journal. “Writing is its own reward.”
What would my daily writing look like if that were true to me? I wondered that at the start of the year. If I focused on writing for fun, and not for outside events, I figured I’d find that contentment again. I needed to follow my own advice and define success very carefully.
In March I decided that I would set out to solve two issues with one project: I created a short story Patreon (I wrote about some things I learned from launching it here) to bring in some steady money while writing stories that were just fun for me. I set a strict time rule for how long each one would take, and focused on joy and experimentation.
That was a confidence builder. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t hoping for the Patreon to get more backers than it did, but being able to write a pre-sold story every month that was just me riffing and cutting loose for fun really got me back into the places I needed.
Another quote from my Bullet Journal: “Anyone who keeps writing is not a failure.” – Ray Bradbury.
Three of the stories from the Patreon have been sold to great markets as reprints. Shoggoths in Traffic, a story I’d wanted to write forever now, ended up on Lightspeed SF.
Shoggoths got reviewed in Locus Magazine, a rare thing for a story created like that.
I started noodling around with some novel ideas in the middle of the year rescued from a fantasy novel proposal from a few years ago that just never left the back of my mind. By June I was building maps in Acorn, a Photoshop-like program, all based off some chapters I’d written up earlier in the year. I test wrote an early chapter and read it at a reading, and it went down well. I began to think that, yes, this was it.
“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you want to say. It’s the on and only thing you have to offer.” Barbara Kingsolver
By September, I started working on outlines and ideas with excitement because after all the reading and time to think I found that I had things to say that consumed me fully, and that even if no one ever read the scenes they were once again forming in my head without my demanding them. I was having trouble sleeping because I would lay awake and scenes would play out in my mind’s eye. My old fried, creative insomnia, was back. I welcomed it.
It was time to start a big book again.
I am little over half way through a draft and there is no contract, no expectations or deadline. I found something I really want to see exist and I am making it.
What happens next I don’t know, but writing this Fantasy novel has just been fun, satisfying, and challenging in the all the right ways, and not the stressful ways. It has added to my daily routine, not dragged at it. I hope people get to read it sometime, and that they enjoy it as much as I did writing it.
So I end the year having written 12 short stories, one with a writer I was a big fan of in high school. I am enjoying the daily slog of writing books again, to a point where I feel much like I did when I got into this with passion and enthusiasm. I have half a book written as well.
I have no idea what 2018 holds, how much longer I’ll be able to keep the focus on writing this much before I will need to up the freelancing to balance income, but I found my back after the biggest slump I’ve had since starting this strange vocation.
There are still many things to navigate, and strong headwinds, but I feel like the compass started working again.
And that wasn’t something I felt at the start of 2017. It was just spinning.