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On the Writing I Haven’t Been Doing

“And how is your writing coming?” my friend asked after we’d spent half an hour talking about various business things having to do with the publishing industry and Schlock Mercenary. I had to answer “not doing much lately.”

My neighbor came to my door with chocolates. “My mother said that I should give these to that lady who wrote the blog.” I thanked my neighbor, honored to be included in their tradition again.

The message came in on Facebook. “I’ve read your picture books and one short story, have you written any other science fiction?” I answered that I used to, and it used to be available via places A,B,C, but all those places have vanished off the internet. These days my stories mostly live on my hard drive, except for the few I’ve posted to Patreon.

I was reading The Starlit Wood, an anthology of fairy tale retellings. It is one of the few books where I’ve felt like the authors really captured the feel of folklore rather than using the plot of folklore and adding twists or set dressing. There is a place for (and a power in) both types of retelling, but I love it when a story understands that the core of a fairy tale is in what it says to and about the people who tell the story. Fairy tales and folklore are how we tell each other what we’re afraid of, what things are acceptable, what things are punished, and who we are as people. When I closed the book, my brain said “I want to write some stories like that.” and it began thinking through what folklore and traditions I might pull from.

The title of a picture book showed up in my brain while I was on a road trip. Lines and plot sketches soon followed. A second picture book resurfaced in my memory, reminding me it is waiting to be written. A third idea from long ago came back to me and said “maybe I’m a picture book.” That makes three.

Essays sit, partially written on the desktop of my computer. Some are only notes for things I might want to write. Some are barely concepts. I would like to collect a book of essays grouped by thematic topic rather than year of writing. But the project feels daunting and hard to justify.

And then there is the middle grade novel, drafted and awaiting editing. It feels dusty. I can’t see the bright things about it that drew me to write it in the first place. It is possible that if I picked it up, I could blow the dust away and turn it into something compelling. Right now I’m letting it sit because I don’t need another thing pinging around in my brain.

My mind turns over the possibilities for running another picture book Kickstarter. If I got the three books written, I could contract with a couple of artists. Maybe I could get them funded. Hold on to Your Horses was not a huge success out of the gate, but it is a little engine that could. It continues to creep out into the world, finding new children and parents who need it. Strength of Wild Horses goes hand in hand with it. They’ve done well enough that I can consider sinking additional effort and funds into more picture books. Maybe. My desire needs to be strong enough that I’m willing to dig another financial and energy hole which will only be filled gradually. My accountant brain runs numbers, factoring in the fact that if the accountant doesn’t allow the creative some leeway, then we all plunge into depression.

First we have to finish Planet Mercenary. That is the show stopper in most of my imagined possibilities. I have obligations there. Until I ship packages to five thousand backers, I can’t do the final accounting to see whether we even have the funds for me to do more projects. I am both excited about and exhausted by the Planet Mercenary project. Sometimes those feelings come in rotation, other times they co-exist.

Then there is the guilt that I’ve been running a Patreon for a couple of years, and I’m not at all certain I’ve honored that gift of patronage. They are supporting my writing, and I’ve done so little of it. I ponder closing it down.

I end each day with a long list of things I meant to do. I can think back through the hours and know that few of them were wasted. There just weren’t enough of them. Or there wasn’t enough energy to make use of them all. Sometimes my lists are so discouraging to me that I ignore the master list on my phone and instead make a secondary list on paper. Forget my grand plan of productivity, what do I really need to get done on that day. I end the day with items not crossed off on the paper list. Some of this is just the fact of December. This is the month of extra shipping, extra customer support, extra promotional efforts. It is also a month of extra trips to stores and extra financial calculations to figure out if we can afford the gifts which would be most useful or joyful. We eschew most concerts and parties, yet we still find our days filled up.

All of the considerations swirl about in my head, but I have to come back to the realization that three times in the past week I’ve had people spontaneously come to me to inquire after some aspect of my writing. That’s three witnesses telling me writing should get a larger share of my attention. I believe in the power of witness, particularly when there are two, or three, or more of them. The stories themselves are lifting their heads and asking “Is it time for me?” I’d like to clear out, make space, and say yes.

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