After going through an imaginary commitment ceremony to noveling 3 years ago (“Through treating paper cuts and inflamed tendons, I do promise myself to thee”), I eventually remembered how much I love short stories. I finished and subbed a few shorts last fall (they were rejected), but then I saw how close I was to completing the third draft of my novel. It was a siren and I’m a sucker for epics. So I paused working on shorts. With draft 3 now complete, I’m back to writing and subbing short stories, and while I wait for emails telling me yea or nay, the thought came to me about just how damn glad I am that acceptances do not make or break my joy. The process of writing is what draws me forward, those little breadcrumbs of an idea that transform into a whole story, all the messy pages of notes, the flow charts and lists and questions to answer. For me, the act of writing is what brings heady contentment.
I was a child who was entirely overwhelmed and panicked about success. My only good validation generally came from doing well in school and sports. Chronic undiagnosed health conditions had other ideas. My extreme absences as a kid slowly impacted those successes and, therefore, limited external validation. And then my mental health imploded after I reported an abuser and had to deal with an investigation my sophomore year of high school.
It took nearly a decade to find some measure of stability, which is right when my physical health imploded, which took another several years to improve in that regard. During those years, I learned to interrogate the limitations of external validation—the dissatisfaction we humans are meant to feel toward ourselves and our lives if we don’t meet society’s preordained markers of success (the job offer, the graduation, the agent, the big fancy win.)
Then came an utterly uncontrollable and personally devastating situation in my adult life. It was from within that mess that I jumped back into fiction writing. I gained so much ridiculous self-liberation in a few short weeks just from twisting my experiences into horror-filled fantasy and sci-fi stories. It let me enact some control over a life that had been layered thick with trauma. Writing fiction became the rope I clung to in violent waters, without care of where it was pulling me, just that it was. Finding a word, and then another and another, to build up a string of dialogue, or the thrill of seeing how a piece of setting can foreshadow, is one of the strangest, most lovely forms of alchemy I’ve ever been a part of.
Yes, I look forward to being published. I look forward to short story sales, querying my novel, writing more shorts, novels, and poems, doing dramatic readings and narrating, adding personal essays and memoirs to my work, teaching writing workshops, and leading silly horror retreats with costumes, but I’m enamored with the writing part. I like the writing because it’s what sustains me—me the person, me the body, me the mind. What comes when the stories are published is the visible part of the career, but the writing, oh the writing, is the biting mouth that drags me into the woods and doesn’t let me go. And I don’t want it to. In fact, I might just bite back.
And my hope for all of you creators is that’s what you can find, too. Stories and art and projects that wrestle you down into murky depths of meaning and questions, ones that drag you bodily into their worlds until you relent and live those worlds into creation.