Lovely Surprises

January’s been a bit of a month.

Had to contend with the post-novel blues, having successfully finished the from-scratch, page one rewrite during a fantastic blitz that were my winter holidays. I dived into the yearly Codex board “Weekend Warrior” contest (where you write five flash pieces over the course of the first five weekends of the year). My goal was to keep up my writing streak with the context, as well as adding some “for fun” free-writing to keep the pen and words flowing between contest entries.

But I hit a point in the second half of the month where I realized I hadn’t actually sat down and planned out the year ahead except in the most vague of terms. “Write every day.” “Revise the book.” I had about four things that I identified as goals for the year, but no steps breaking them down, no actions I could schedule and complete. And the Codex contest, instead of being the utter joy it was for me last year, started to feel like I was adding more work to an already towering pile of raw draft short stories in need of revision so I can start subbing them. Never mind the novel’s revision that are coming up next — which is the clear priority. If I close 2019 with that book not revised, not being sent out to agents, I will be mightily pissed at myself.

So I wasn’t in the best of places when, upon waking on a Friday morning and checking my Slack notifications that I found out some great news: I was on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2018. Further proof that I was obliviously deep in Rewrite Landia, I missed entirely that the story had been positively reviewed in the December 2018 issue of Locus. Stephanie, you goose! What are you even doing??

(There was a lot of me asking, “What are you even doing?” this January.)

So there I was, still in bed, face smooshed into a pillow, replying with a “wut” on the Slack. Then I scrolled through the Locus list and found my name on it for my Shimmer story, By The Hand That Casts It.

(Action shot of the writer’s mental state at time of receiving the news.)

So, that happened! I’m super flattered. I love that little story.

But it’s was important reminder: I wrote that story after Taos, when my head was so full of shoulds and musts, when I was afraid that maybe I couldn’t do it at all, this writing thing. That it was too hard for me.

I wrote this story entirely for me, for fun, to play with an idea that had started to gleam. When finished, I was pleased with it in an unquestioning way. And thanks — mighty, vast thanks — to managing editor, E. Catherine Tobler, who liked the story I sent her but wanted more. In the end, I doubled the word count, creating a story I can’t believe is mine.

(Vital aside: have you see the A Hugo for Elise article by Matt Dovey? I direct you there forthwith, because Elise has been the guiding hand for one of the industry’s most compelling editorial visions. To be Shimmery is something so many of us aspired to, and the term will be with us for a very long time, I think. We need more Shimmery things.)

Anyway, the lesson I learned writing that story is the lesson I needed to be reminded of right now — that I must not just do for the sake of doing, for saying a thing was done. What is the purpose behind the thing? Why am I doing it?

Does it please me? Does it challenge me? Does it say something I feel is true? Entwining play with craft, leaving space to breathe and rest, making something I love and feel excited about sharing. That’s the goal. That’s it.

I forget these things, sometimes, when I’m low, or when I’m focused on the pellet dispenser of filling in a spreadsheet instead of the thing I am trying to make. Don’t get me wrong. You have to show up, regularly, commit to the process, but it’s not one or the other. It can’t be. Carrie Vaughn has said, “the habits will save you,” and they will. But don’t let them shackle you, either. Be thoughtful about what you want to do, and then do it.

And find joy in that.

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