Well, that was a decade.
On social media, I’m surrounded by people making lists, cheering themselves on, projecting enthusiasm and hope for the future. And I know, of course, all those lists are curated: when someone asks you the good things that happened to you, you give them a list of…good things.
But it’s intimidating, you know? Especially in some cases. A lot of people, at least viewed from the outside, seem to have lives that—modulo a few tiny bobbles—only get better. I hope for their sakes that picture is true. While I don’t uniformly wish joy on everyone—I’m a rather vengeful creature, to be completely honest—I do hope most people have had a good ten years, and have another good decade ahead of them.
I can’t be completely open about this decade. There are things I keep to myself, some for professional reasons, some for very, very personal ones. There are things I might talk about someday, when I’ve processed them enough to put them into words. There are things I will take to my grave.
But I did accomplish one thing this decade that I’m proud of. And it’s probably worth writing it down, if only so I can look back later and remember this time in my life wasn’t entirely about disaster.
This decade, I got serious about writing.
In some ways, I’ve always been serious about writing. I’ve written since I was a little girl. My first official manuscript was called Jellyfish the Cat and I have it around here somewhere because my dad, for some reason, thought my daughter would be interested in it. I was probably about 8 when I wrote it and illustrated it on plain white paper, then stapled it together to make it a “real” book. After that I wrote a short story in college (subbed it to one place—Asimov’s, maybe? Can’t remember; got a form R out of it), and a piece of fanfic in the early 90s. Apart from that, everything was vignettes: single scenes, the first three chapters of Something-Or-Other, little character bits.
But in early 2010, I saw the first of the Star Trek reboot films. (No, I didn’t see it in the theater; I was skeptical, given how uneven the films have been.) I loved it. And as with many things I love, I nitpicked the hell out of it. I thought the alt-history aspect was reasonably well done, but I didn’t care for some of the conceits there. (For example, the trap laid on Vulcan pretty much wiped out Kirk’s Academy class, and nobody really remarks on that, and maybe that’s defensible, given what happened to Vulcan itself, but c’mon, not even one line?) And they missed some opportunities with some of the characters, and they absolutely missed opportunities with the aftermath of the story. (Of Into Darkness, we will not speak.)
So I started thinking. And I started worldbuilding. And by November I had ditched Trek for my own universe. I sat down to do my first NaNoWriMo, and for the first time since my wobbly 90s fanfic, I finished a book.
It was okay. I didn’t fall in love. I stalled partway through revisions because I didn’t care enough. So I took the bits of it I liked, and in November of 2011, I started again with something new.
I got through the revisions on that one.
This decade, I wrote six novels. One got trunked. Two got squashed together. One I’m currently polishing; I wanted to be done with it this year, but life does fuck everything up sometimes.
Six books in 10 years, after one picture book and one fanfic in the previous 45? Not a bad decade, production-wise.
I got to work with a professional fiction editor, too, although I don’t know if I can call that an accomplishment, since he did all the work. It was delightful, though. I learned a lot—probably not enough, but the experience did teach me how to put some distance between myself and the book while I revise.
I remember one exchange (via Word comments, which is an interesting way to get to know someone, for sure) that was a big a-ha moment for me: my editor had flagged a line of Jessica’s as kind of mean. I said “You know she doesn’t mean it that way,” and he was patient enough to respond “Yes, Liz, but you don’t have enough on the page for me to know that.” We are all rats in the maze when it comes to our own work, which is why good crit partners are vital.
I found good crit partners this decade, too. I have two that I trust absolutely, and I owe them more than I can say, more than I can repay. They’ve gone through a lot of this roller coaster with me, and here, in public, I’m apologizing to them for that. It’s no fun watching someone spiral, and wow, did I ever.
I still am. I’m working on it.
The lessons of this decade encompass a lot more than learning how to novel. I like to think they’re useful somehow.
I’ve learned I do have good instincts about a lot of things, and that I ignore them to my peril. I’ve learned that chance plays a far greater part in our lives than we like to think—not necessarily the chance of events, but the chance of who has power over what’s happening to you.
I’ve learned that if people are nice to you but rude to your loved ones, they’ll stop being nice to you once they’ve got what they needed from you. (Anyone who’s that changeable is probably being honest with the rudeness, not the niceness.)
I’ve learned that dreams can cripple you. But maybe only if you let them.
And maybe you should keep chasing them anyway.
I like to think I’ve learned that I’m strong, that I can survive a lot. Maybe that’s true. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind if the testing stopped for a while. There are trials ahead that can’t be avoided—my parents are both ill, and not young—but maybe, Fates, you could space stuff out a little, throw me a bone here and there, let me get my sea legs back? Maybe?
I don’t know. I’m sad in 2019. That’s OK. I was sad in 2018, too. Maybe sad is the new normal.
Maybe I’ll write it out, and see.