Around November, Writing Twitter starts talking about the end of the year. It’s NaNoWriMo, so people are often talking about writing anyway. But also, it’s the time of the year when, if you’re a writer in science fiction or fantasy, you should be posting your “What I Published This Year,” or “Awards Eligibility” post.
A lot of writers use this time to celebrate the works they’ve published over the year and encourage others to nominate them for best of lists and prize consideration, like the Pushcart Prize or Hugo Awards. Journal editors on the literary side announce their nominations for the Pushcart around this time. 2019 is also the end of a decade, so now people are also posting encouraging writers to share what they accomplished in the last decade. We’re sharing pics of ourselves in 2009 and 2019 to show the passage of time.
But I know that a lot of creatives struggle with all this.
This year seems particularly hard for me to process. In 2019, I published ten poems and no stories. In 2018, I published eighteen poems, including a chapbook, and five stories. The fact that I published no stories this year is really hard for me to look at. I keep thinking, I should have submitted more. This fact is not helped by the fact that in 2019, I generally wrote less.
There are reasons why my submitting, writing, and general publication numbers varied this last year. Since October 2018, my father passed away, I helped my mom get adjusted after grief, I bought a new house and moved, I had several battles with illness, traveled a lot, adopted two rescue dogs, I had one car flood out due to Houston weather, I bought a new car, and generally my personal life was wild.
So among these personal issues, I was also working on a novel (halfway finished) and a novella (in revision), two longer projects that take a lot more time than shorter stuff. I also wrote a lot more nonfiction (fourteen articles to be exact) and writing-related things, because those things bring in more money. I won the SFPA poetry contest and my chapbook Glimmerglass Girl won the Elgin Award for best speculative chapbook. I worked with about six new editing clients, in addition to my regulars. I spent a lot of time on my side project, Interstellar Flight Press, which published about thirty-eight articles and a novella collection this year.
I should be proud of what I accomplished this year — and this last decade too.
So why does it feel like I’ve done nothing?
Here’s the thing. Imposter syndrome is real. Seeing everyone around you achieve more in the same amount of time you had can be debilitating. It’s easy to think, “Look at what I could have done. There must be something wrong with me.”
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It’s easy to take your small accomplishments, and because they are small, decide that they don’t matter. But they do, my friends.
The reality is, we are all separate people with separate lives. And sometimes, because we’re dealing with different struggles, we move at different speeds. What’s important to me is maybe less important to other writers. How I measure my success and doing the thing I love, writing, is different than how you measure your success. So only I can make myself feel unimportant. The bar is set by me, and no one else. Only I can relate the things I see online to my own experience. Only I can turn my thinking around.
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I keep wondering if there’s a better way to think about creative life.
What if we looked at creating as a way of living, instead of another thing on the to-do list? What if we truly followed our creative dreams because we love them, not because they bring us validation? What if we learned to do both the things we love and also live our life in harmony?
What if our creative projects were equal to the things in our lives that need doing, instead of constantly trying to make one more important than the other?
It kind of sounds like a pipe dream, I know. The other day I was talking to a friend about this. He was explaining to me how he prioritized writing as more important than say, walking his dogs, for a few days, and yeah, he got more words written. But the dogs didn’t get walked. I asked him, what if you treated writing as equally important to tasks that need accomplishing too? We agreed that doing both is really hard.
I’m not saying those that have a lot to celebrate shouldn’t shout it to the stars. You should. I should. We should be proud of what we’ve done. It’s nice to reflect on where we’ve come in the last decade. It’s worthwhile celebrating things you’ve done. But sometimes, I think we just get caught under the crushing weight of our society’s expectations that we should be performing, constantly.
Because, let’s face it. Making it as a creative is really hard. Sometimes you do have to set aside your personal life. Sometimes the two worlds collide and there’s no good way to juggle them.
I mean, maybe the response we all need to the end of the year is just to calm the eff down. So, while I don’t have a lot of explanations as to WHY it’s so hard, I do say that if you are struggling this year, I see you. And here’s what I want to say:
It’s okay if you didn’t accomplish all your goals this decade. It’s okay if sometimes you have to go walk the dog instead of creating. It’s okay if your career changes in ways you didn’t expect it to. It’s okay to NOT have a career out of the creative thing in your life. It’s okay to be a creative and not drive yourself to exhaustion. It’s okay to make goals and it’s okay to break them. It’s okay to do self-care, really do it and not just say you’re going to. It’s okay if you didn’t create this year.
There’s one silver lining to all this.
2020 is coming and it is a whole new, beautiful, shiny year. So what are you going to do with it?
Holly Lyn Walrath is a freelance editor based out of Houston, Texas. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She provides editing services for writers and organizations of all genres, experiences, and backgrounds, but enjoys working with new writers best. Find her on Twitter or visit her website.