Last January, a friend gave me this New Year’s party hat. The timing for this sparkling “gift” couldn’t have been more appropriate: I was ready to send a YA fantasy novel to beta-readers, and 3 weeks into a crowdfunding campaign to help me afford a trip to the Iceland Writers Retreat. Not to mention I had a whole list of goals and plans for 2017, and if things worked out the way I’d hoped, maybe I’d be closer to my dream of being published by year’s end – a pretty good “best year ever.”
Today, that hat still sits in my writing space (a.k.a. my dining room table), and I’m no closer to being published than I was a year ago. But that doesn’t mean 2017 was “not the best year ever.” Rather, it turned out much differently than I thought it would.
Was it challenging? Absolutely. Discouraging? At times, yes. But it was also one of the most exciting, inspiring, and humbling years I’ve had the privilege of living.
For all those reasons, I can’t write this annual reflection post in the same way I’ve written those of past years. Instead of focusing on milestones, blog statistics, and defined plans that could change in a few months, I’d like to share what I learned this past year. How certain events sent my mental health spiraling and shook my faith and self-confidence. How other events and important choices helped me heal and made me look at life – even why I write – from a different perspective. How it all, in the end, reminded me that I’m intelligent, creative, and determined enough to rebound from setbacks.
A Year of Courage, Persistence, and Resilience
As I mentioned earlier, I began 2017 by sending my YA fantasy novel (one I’d been laboring over for 4 years) to beta-readers and starting the first draft of a prequel novella. It was a thrilling, nerve-wracking time, especially since I was
planning hoping the novel was close enough to “DONE” so I’d feel comfortable pitching it to literary agents at a writing conference that summer. Thankfully, the new writing project gave me a means of using the waiting time in a productive way. (And obviously to distract myself from the fact that OMG beta-readers were reading my manuscript. 😮 )
Then, in late February and early March, my writing plans for the year imploded.
Two unrelated events happened at once. First, I received the bulk of my feedback from beta-readers. Most of them liked the story, but they also pointed out glaring issues with the plot and the world-building… and some of those issues left me so stumped that I couldn’t figure out how I’d fix them during the next draft. (It also didn’t help that I was growing increasingly frustrated with the YA epic fantasy novels I’d been reading and was wondering if my manuscript would contribute to, rather than be a solution for, the issues I was seeing with that genre.)
Around the same time, I was dealing with all kinds of stress in my offline life, including uncertainty at my day job. This, along with my wounded confidence in my writing, triggered a months-long period of anxiety that… well, I’ve learned to manage it better, but like all mental health issues, it won’t ever go away completely.
So, by the end of March, I was so disheartened and exhausted that part of me wanted to hide under the blankets and away from the world. But I didn’t, because a truly amazing adventure was just around the corner.
In April I traveled overseas for the first time to attend the fourth annual Iceland Writers Retreat. Between the workshops, cultural immersion, a day-long tour of the Borgarfjörður region, and meeting writers from several other countries… it’s still hard to describe my time there in just a few words. So instead, I wrote three articles about it! You can read more about my IWR experience (and see some of my photos from the trip) at DIY MFA, Writers Helping Writers, and IWR’s official blog.
Attending IWR was also an incredibly brave step for me. Not only did I travel alone, but (thanks to a friend’s suggestion) I also ran a GoFundMe campaign to make the (expensive) trip more affordable. It was a daunting challenge – honestly, who feels comfortable asking for money and promoting it via social media on a daily / weekly / etc. basis? Yet somehow the campaign raised over $2500 USD, about two-thirds of the trip’s overall costs, and… well, I’m still blown away by that outcome. So many friends, relatives, and writing pals were willing to invest in making my dream a reality, and I sincerely hope that one day I can make them proud with the work I create in the future.
Speaking of new work, attending IWR was like hitting the reset button for creativity. I came home rejuvenated and eager to write again. But instead of resuming the novella or starting Draft #4 of the YA fantasy, I opted for a fresh start, a chance to apply what I’d learned to something new. So I began Storm, a YA magical realism novel about an 18-year-old girl struggling with an anxiety disorder during her first year in college. I’m now almost 70,000 words into the first draft, and it’s already the most personal yet most therapeutic fiction piece I’ve ever written. This story has also pushed me out of my comfort zone in more ways than I’d expected, which is something I plan to blog about in more depth once I finish the first draft.
Also, thanks to one particular IWR workshop, I began writing poetry again for the first time in 3 years. By year’s end, I had written several new poems, revised several more older ones, and began reading more of it and blogging more about it. I also submitted separate batches of poems to a poetry contest and an online literary journal. It feels so good to have the poetic tap turned “on” again, and I’m excited to see where it will bring me in the future.
Despite scrapping my plans to pitch the YA fantasy, I still went to the Writer’s Digest Conference in August, and I’m immensely grateful that I did. I reconnected with old writing pals and made new friends. I learned more about the craft of writing and the publishing industry, and got emotional after a string of sessions touched on regaining confidence, wrestling with one’s inner critic, and other “inner demon” issues I’d been having with my craft. And on a fun note, I got to see Anathema, one of my favorite music bands, in concert the night before WDC began. As I said in my WDC 2017 recap post, I was meant to attend that conference, even without the pitch slam.
Outside of my primary projects, I continued writing articles for DIY MFA and Writers Helping Writer in 2017. I focused mainly on my core topics of literary themes (DIY MFA) and general writing tips (WHW), but personal experience often crept in, leading me to blog about regaining confidence in our writing and balancing the creative life with real-life responsibilities.
And the biggest surprise on the creative front? I was invited by Alison Walsh of Wonderland Recipes to write the introduction for her upcoming cookbook, A Literary Tea Party. I was already THRILLED about Alison’s book to begin with, and now I’m honored to be a part of her publishing journey.
This is a long way of saying that, for me, 2017 was a year of courage, persistence, and resilience. I had to learn how to believe in myself and my abilities as a writer again. But before I could do that, I had to absorb some hard lessons, take a leap of faith or two, and find the strength to keep trying despite being so terrified of failure. Does it matter whether it was the “best year ever”? Not really. I might not be where I’d dreamed of being months ago, but I’d like to think I’m where I’m meant to be at this moment.
Some Goals for 2018
Writing-wise, my main goal for 2018 is to finish Draft #1 of Storm (which should happen in the next few months) and, if it’s possible, begin Draft #2 before year’s end. I also plan to continue writing poetry and submitting pieces to literary journals and/or contests that fit my work. And depending on how things go, I might try to draft a short story (or novelette? I don’t know how many words it’ll need) between Drafts #1 and #2 of Storm. All I’ll say about that project for now is that it’s not related to Storm, but rather something I’ve been brainstorming since the Iceland Writers Retreat.
Speaking of literary events, I’m taking a year off from the Iceland Writers Retreat and Writer’s Digest. Believe me, this decision hurt, but as much as I love both events and want to travel more, I need to buy a new car this spring… and I can’t afford to do all three.
That said, I’m not foregoing writing events completely in 2018. Now that I’m writing poetry again, I’m itching to attend the Massachusetts Poetry Festival again. I haven’t been there since 2013, so I’m already looking forward to a mini-vacation in Salem and some long-overdue quality time with my favorite short form of writing.
Apart from that, here are other goals (some creative, others more personal) I’ve made for myself in 2018:
- Promote Alison’s Literary Tea Party, of course 😉
- Resume a more consistent presence on social media (that is, if I can find the motivation…)
- Continue writing for DIY MFA and Writers Helping Writers
- Continue attending weekly yoga classes
- Donate money once a month to a different cause I care about, mainly wildlife / conservation (World Wildlife Fund, Audobon Society) and writing & arts programs (Grub Street, PEN America)
- Visit at least two Massachusetts Audobon wildlife sanctuaries
A Quick Note About the Blog’s Growth and Other Statistics
Even though I decreased my blogging schedule and social media time so I could focus more on writing and self-care, 2017 was still the blog’s most successful year, passing 2016’s total number of page views and visitors. The only reason I can think of for this? You, the readers. You continue to share the links, recommend this site, and visit whenever new articles post. And for that, I am grateful beyond words. (*hugs*)
In case you’re curious, here are the five most viewed new posts at the blog in 2017:
- A Writing Study on Assassins, Flashbacks, and Emotions (A Guest Post & Giveaway by Fantasy Author Maria V. Snyder)
- Sara’s Favorite Reads of 2016, Plus Two Times the Giveaway Fun!
- What Do You Think?: Asking for Feedback on My Novel’s Blurb
- The 2017 Blogoversary, Part 1: Ten Unique Reads I Highly Recommend + Giveaway
These posts, however, are among my favorites of 2017, and the ones I’m most proud of writing:
- Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Synchronicity: My 2017 Writer’s Digest Conference Story
- Finding Gifts and Inspiration: The Blessings of a Writer’s Relationship with Nature
- On Breaking Habits, Managing Energy, and Extended Absences from Social Media
- Poetry & Song: “Elegy” and Adele’s “Hometown Glory”
- Poetry & Song: “Eve of Spring” and Anathema’s “Lightning Song”
Last But Not Least, Another Blogging Schedule Change for 2018
Starting next week, the blog’s posting schedule will change to once a week on Tuesdays (though I might have to skip a week occassionally). Why the decrease in schedule again? It’s just me adapting to real-life responsibilities constricting the amount of time I can spend blogging. And all bloggers, I think, can agree that balancing blogging with our offline lives is hard, especially if you’re juggling creative writing projects as well.
Unfortunately, this means that quote posts like Weekly Writer Wisdom and Thursday Thoughtfulness are going away. I also won’t accept blog awards anymore, though I might still do “award-less” blog tags / hops if they offer something different or interesting. This does mean, however, that I’ll be focusing my blogging time and energy on the types of articles I enjoy writing most – and I’m super excited about that. I hope you will be, too!
Because, in the end, the readership of this blog – yes, that means, YOU – makes this endeavor worthwhile. I know I’ve frequently said something to that effect, but after this past year, I mean it with every ounce of my being. Your comments, friendship, and support gave me a desperately needed boost on confidence when I needed it most. So however you showed your support in 2017 – be it encouragement about writing, donations for the GoFundMe campaign, a comment that made me smile or laugh out loud – please know how much I deeply appreciate it and you.
And, finally, Happy New Year! I hope you had a warm and safe beginning to your 2018, and may you be blessed with love, inspiration, and prosperity in the months to come. ❤
How would you summarize your 2017? What were some of your creative or personal highlights and milestones last year? What lessons did you learn from your successes and/or failures? Finally, what are some of your goals for 2018?