From the time I began getting published—during my second year in the program—I’ve been scoring a minimum of two publications a year. Two a year isn’t great, but I’ve always felt good about the fact that, if nothing else, I’ve never dipped below that number. But this year, I fear, will be the year. We’re heading into May and I don’t have any impending acceptances. I’ve only just recently begun submitting again, after a several month long hiatus, and though I have four stories in circulation right now, it seems unlikely that two of them will get accepted soon enough to get published by the end of 2012.
The likelihood that I’ll probably break my streak this year isn’t really any big surprise. I spent the year after I found out my book was getting published leapfrogging from project to project, actually finishing very few complete drafts. Then, I had the baby—need I say more? I’ve only just in the past couple of months started tentatively writing in earnest again, and even so, I still feel like I haven’t found my groove yet. I definitely haven’t gotten my momentum back up, and I’m having trouble deciding which of the many half-finished stories, novels, and children’s books I have going to work on when I sit down to write.
I’ve entered into the awful cycle I was afraid I might enter into before I had the baby: I have very little time to write, and when I do write it all seems like crap to me. So then I feel down about myself as a writer, which in turn makes it difficult to write, which in turn makes me feel even more down about myself as a writer, and so on and so on. When you’re already feeling lousy about your abilities, every little failure makes you really questions yourself. Every rejection, every unwon contest, every job for which you don’t even land an interview—it all gets inflated and overshadows your successes. The negatives aren’t meaningless—I’m receiving sign after pretty clear sign that I still have a ways to go as a writer—but they’re not necessarily more meaningful than your successes—in other words, my failures prove that I’m not “there” yet, but gauging from my successes, I think I’m headed in the right direction.
So to pull myself out of this self-perpetuating cycle of self-loathing, I’m going to try to take some small steps to remind myself that I have control of my own life, and to remind myself, too, of the power of momentum:
1. I’m going to start exercising again. I’m going to start small—just doing my arms every other day. I know that sounds inconsequential and irrelevant (to a blog about writing), but here’s the thing: exercise and writing are inextricably linked in my mind. My first winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, when I hit rock bottom and made up my mind to get on top of my life, I made two resolutions: to get in shape and to start writing more. By the next winter, I had lost close to thirty pounds and received my first couple of story acceptances. And—until very recently—I’ve kept both resolutions up pretty consistently. For me, now, exercise has become more than a means to stay in shape—it’s the way I keep my life balanced; it’s my way of reminding myself that my life is in my own hands.
I don’t need to lose weight. In fact, it would probably be dangerous for me to do so, since I’m breastfeeding. Though I had worried that having a baby might take a serious toll on my body, I came out of the experience with no stretch marks, and my body snapped back to its previous weight astonishingly fast (a result of A) not having over-gained while I was pregnant, and B) burning an extra thousand or so calories a day due to breastfeeding). I have no real problems with the way I look now, but if I ease myself back into an exercise schedule, I’ll feel better in other ways, ways that go much deeper and matter much more than my physical appearance.
2. I’m going to try to focus on one project at a time for a little while. I have way too many half-written stories, too many begun but not completed book projects. It’s overwhelming. The hard part will be picking what to focus my attention on, but I think I’ll benefit from just working on one thing until it’s done for a bit. I crave that rewarding feeling you get when you finish something. I need it. And as much as I’m a believer in just working on what you want to work on and not forcing things, I really think, right now, I need to freakin’ finish something, for cripe's sake.
My hope is that if I can take these two, small steps, I’ll be able to slowly but surely pick up speed from there, and soon enough (well, it may take a few months, I’m sure) I’ll have my momentum back up.