A personal reflection on my year in writing
For the last day of 2021, I thought I’d share a longer reflection on my year in writing. This will be more meandering and personal than my previous missives. If you’d prefer a succinct summary of what I published in 2021 and what’s ahead in 2022, you can check out my blog post ‘Awards Eligibility and 2021 Round-Up’.
The main thing I did this year was finish several rounds of novel edits. They take a significant chunk of time and energy. A week or two to read and absorb the editor’s comments. A limbo period where you let things stir in your unconscious and tell yourself it’s important work (resting the dough, maybe?) and that you still have heaps of time between now and the deadline. And then a few intense weeks of actual editing. I like to do this part at a steady run; I find it helps with momentum. This is brain-hurty sort of work. Squeezing new ideas into the text, reshaping old ideas, trying to see minutiae and big-picture all at once.
The editing is capped off by a few days of reading through the text from start to finish for flow and consistency. Send back to editor, breathe big sigh of relief. Wait a couple of months for response.
I think I did two rounds of edits this year? No, wait. I’m wrong! I just checked my emails. I finished a structural edit in March, a second round of structural edits in August, and a final round of copy edits in December. Three! I shall pat myself on the back.
Polishing my debut novel for publication with the awesome team at Affirm Press has been a dream experience, no hyperbole. Since Every Version of You is my first book, the whole process is new to me. I’m learning so much: about the practicalities of just what happens when you work with a publisher, and about the ways that an editor can help you develop and refine your work.
(That’s not to say all the rewrites haven’t been exhausting. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve rewritten this monster. It started off as a very long short story in 2018, and then grew to a novella, and then a full-length novel. Largely because I didn’t know what I was doing for the first, oh, 95% of the journey. And yes, I was working on it on the flight to, and during, my honeymoon. But I think all of that’s a story for another day!)
Even in the year or so with Affirm, EVOY changed and expanded and contracted with each iteration. It started off unsure of itself—trying to prove itself to everyone. Then it became unwieldy and bloated, capturing both too much and not enough. I’d like to think that this final version is clearer and bolder and knows itself better.
Oh, also! I got to see a preview of the cover, featuring the work of Rachel Ang—I was so excited when I heard she’d be the illustrator. I think the way Rachel captures and explores the interactions between bodies, self and technology fits really well with EVOY, and I feel very fortunate to have her art gracing the cover. I look forward to sharing it with you next year.
I feel like my short fiction was slow this year. In between big work and life shifts, I struggled to find the headspace to create. For me, it takes a lot of time to germinate, ponder and write a story—not to mention the whole business of researching where to submit, actually sending stuff off, and then doing it all over again after a rejection.
In terms of published work (you can check out my last news-missive for more detail):
I had a reprint (‘The Dunes of Ranza’) appear in Space & Time Magazine in March—as the title story on the cover, which was a super cool surprise!
I had my first creative non-fiction piece published in the inaugural issue of Zou Mat Je Magazine.
And I had my second ever Clarkesworld publication: He Leaps for the Stars, He Leaps for the Stars.
It’s really hard not to look at other writers who’ve published so many things over the course of the year and feel inadequate, despite my best efforts to refrain from comparison and to delight in other people’s successes (selfhood is subjective and illusory, so why not practice celebrating others’ wins as sincerely as if they were yours?).
One thing I can take encouragement from: although I didn’t write a lot of short fiction this year, three of the pieces I did write were accepted by the first publications I submitted to (Clarkesworld, Fireside, and a poem to Going Down Swinging)! I can feel that my short story blade is sharpening. I am steadily becoming more sure of the kind of stories I like to write, and I’m getting better at it.
Speaking of what I’d like to write, that’s been a whole thing that I’m still figuring out. Now that the first novel is almost at the finish line, I’m feeling a world of writing possibility open up in front of me. Where to from here? A second novel? More short fiction? More literary speculative stuff? More space adventures or writing for games? Creative non-fiction? Further, feeble attempts at too-soppy poetry?
It can be hard to generate creativity, much less feel that you deserve to be considered a creative. Fifteen or so years of training and working in a hierarchical system like medicine, where you’re constantly told by superiors what are acceptable and non-acceptable pathways for progression through life, really doesn’t do wonders for your ability to think outside the box.
(That’s not to mention other background forces that have shaped my soul: the hierarchical, patriarchal systems of both eastern and western cultures; the guilt and fear of religion.)
When I write, it fills me with a profound emotion. I shall call it joy-sadness. Even though that’s not quite right, it’s close. The joy comes from being able to capture something that was once unspoken, once just a flutter of feeling or a blobby idea in my brain-soup. From being able to live in another’s skin, and make you, dear reader, live in their skin too. How unique and intense is this joy, the joy of transforming concept into communication, into communion with you?
The sadness comes from the limitations of writing, and perhaps of life. I will never be able to understand as much about the world or about other people as I yearn to. I will never be able to entrap an idea in a perfect tangle of words. There will always be many things I will never experience and never do justice to. My life and my writing will always be incomplete.
Perhaps this emotion leads me onwards into why I write, as well as what I write. I want to write about other worlds and other minds. I want to write about the otherworldliness lurking in our own minds, and in the minds of our family and neighbours and strangers who pass us by. I want to write about people at the margins of society. How people occupy the fringes and respond to overwhelming systemic forces in a contemplative or subtle or resistive way. I want to write about personhood. I want to write about the hard, bright joy of everyday marvels and about cybernetically enhanced explorers journeying to far-flung alien worlds, thousands of years into the future.
I hope you journey with me.
Happy New Year!