So, we’ve come to the end of 2020 and I’ve been reflecting a bit on how my writing went this year. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been a writer for the past 20 years (since I was 15)… and I don’t just mean typing out quick blog posts like I do here, though these have their own kind of value, I hope.
I’ve had several essays and creative nonfiction pieces published years ago, and even earned (read: went into a lot of f*cking debt for) an MFA in creative nonfiction 8 years ago. But in the past 4 years I’ve really been finding my way home to writing fiction (mostly fantasy), which is the genre that sparked it all for me when I was a teenager.
My year in a nutshell
In the end of January, my family lost my Granddad (mom’s dad) to cancer, then a month later his brother (my mom’s uncle) passed. A deep sadness permeated our winter, settling around us like the ice that crusted over the New England landscape.
The pandemic was in full swing by early March, and in mid-March I finished a full draft of my first fantasy novel (I’d been working on it off and on for more than 3 years). I was really proud and trying to remind myself that even though things felt dark, I’m allowed to feel the joy of this accomplishment. I went on a celebratory walk in the woods.
The next day, one of the horses that’s been in the family for 20 years on my parents farm (where I’ve been staying since I got divorced in 2018) died a very sudden and painful death. There was nothing we could do and she passed as we knelt beside her, grief and tears worn on our faces like the raw mud-stained skin of warriors who’ve just been through battle. All thoughts of my novel forgotten, I found myself 8 feet deep, helping to lower a 1,200 lb. pet into the Earth. It was a traumatic day to say the least and I felt my resolve (and barrier to an anxious breakdown) wrapped around my shoulders like a cloak made of rice paper. Perhaps I could hang on… as long as it didn’t rain.
But of course the storm was just starting. The pandemic raged on, and so did my anxiety. I had one IBS flare-up after the next throughout the summer months, some days hardly able to leave my bed. Then, in September, my mom was diagnosed with a rare type of breast cancer. It was one of those moments in which time seemed to stop, and the words I was hearing seemed garbled as if I was under water.
She’s been going through the journey that is chemotherapy these last 3 months, with surgery and radiation on the horizon. She’s approached it all like the warrior woman she is and has gotten through some really difficult days. I’m doing what I can to be here for her, to help with her barn and horses, and clean up after her 4 cats, but mostly just spend more time with her than usual. I won’t even get into all the anxiety and other feelings that seeing her go through this has brought up, not in this post. But I’ll just say I’ve had a few more horrible flare-ups, visits to the doctor and gastroenterologist, and been in therapy again the last few months. Never underestimate the value of a good therapist!
Then in November we said goodbye to another horse. This one I did not personally know well, but one that had been boarding here for a few years. It was her time they said, and much more peaceful being assisted by the vet. But still, it was another loss… another letting-go.
This year has been bad, everyone knows it. I’ve had to put up strict boundaries about how much news I absorb (I can read it but not watch it) especially when certain family members felt the need to recap the news every single time they spoke to me. But on top of the pandemic, racial injustice, political turmoil, and all that my family has been through, I’ve somehow found little glimmers of time to revise my novel… because I am a writer, and if I do not, then I am not.
Sure, there were times this year when I couldn’t bring myself to write for many weeks at a time. And this year, that’s OK. I think I clocked something like 95 hours of writing/revision time. Less than half as much as I’d have liked, but I’m quite happy with it nonetheless considering I also had my day job to contend with. I feel thankful for whatever time I spent writing.
“Creativity takes courage,” as Henri Matisse said. And this year, simply living in the world and facing each day took courage. It’s not going to magically reset once the clock strikes us into 2021 either. We must persevere, find the magic in the everyday, and for writers whether that means writing for an hour each month or an hour a day, it is progress, and progress means possibility.
With so much loss surrounding us lately it’s more important than ever to keep your fire going (I envision we all have this little bonfire in our Being). Tend those flames in whatever way feels good. Collect that kindling. For me that means continuing to write (though I often don’t feel in the mood and sometimes just leave ideas jotted on sticky notes for myself… hey it’s something), but also taking days in which I do nothing but curl up with my heating pad and read for hours. With the dizzy spells I get sometimes that’s all I can do anyway.
In late November and early December I chiseled away at a query letter to send to the first agent on my list and re-polished the first five pages of the novel again, and again (with the kind help of a handful of beta readers). Each of these steps has been scary but they’ve also felt like movement in a hopeful direction. It might be a long while before I land an agent for my work, who knows.
But it’s about the journey, as they say, and life’s too short to not walk your path, the path that holds you up when everything threatens to knock you down. Mine happens to be made of written words, plant essences, and a multitude of other creative projects.
I raise my glass to you, reader. May you continue to walk your path, whatever that may be (safely, of course), at whatever pace feels good, in 2021.