At the end of every year, I like to look back at the books I’ve read and share some of my favorite reads, and while I’m at it, also offer up the top lessons I’ve learned as a writer in 2018. Sort of a literary year in review.
For me, this year was one of regrouping; of getting my feet back under me after a couple of years of struggling–and I’m not alone. Seems to me that the last couple of years have been pretty harsh for a lot of folks. With the shrinking of the polar ice caps comes a polarization of minds and hearts as well. Whether you get your news from traditional media or social media, it’s hard to miss the angst and anger these days. Thank goodness there are plenty of good books to offer a bit of escape and solace.
I read 35 novels this year, but I got a late start. As I do every year, I always try to read authors I haven’t read as well as catch up with my favorites, and try a classic or two.
Favorite new (to me) authors:
RICHARD MORGAN’s Altered Carbon was recommended to me by a good friend and fellow noir genre fan, and I was not disappointed. Takeshi Kovacs is an intriguing character in a harsh and unforgiving future. Although I found a few plot elements unbelievable (surviving in the trunk of a car for hours in a southeast Asia summer), Morgan’s vision of immortality through downloadable memory stacks and progressive human ‘sleeves’ felt more like manifest destiny than science fiction, to me. I liked it so much, I’m reading Broken Angels right now.
I also enjoyed Chuck Wendig’s Under the Empyrian Sky. I thought the world building and ideas around super-GMO corn and the rise of the seed industry to be believable, unique and engaging.
A tie this year, for works by authors whose writing, craft, and genre couldn’t be more different. I’d never read any of Lois McMaster Bujold’s work, but I enjoyed The Sharing Knife (Book I). A little slow for my taste, but I liked the characters enough so that I’ll probably read more in the series. On the other hand, I didn’t like any of the characters in Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, but it didn’t matter– I will be reading him again. Man, can that guy keep me turning the pages. Yes, a detective novel, but a good one, with many twists and turns. I liked the ‘esper’ (as in ESP) world he built, where those with extrasensory perception belong to a layered guild, based on ability, and all the competitive politics to go with it.
As for favorite reads by favorite authors, I gorged on more than a dozen of Robin Hobb’s novels. And as much as I loved the Farseer Trilogy, and the Fitz & The Fool series, I thought all four volumes of the Rain Wilds Chronicles were superb; and each book in the series had a better ending than the last. The series conclusion was absolutely stunning. And that is how you write a series.
My mentor(s) have always stressed getting words written every day, whether you feel like it or not. So at the beginning of the year, I set my writing goals and made them aggressive. I would write more this year than last year, I promised myself. I planned to write three novels this year.
And then I didn’t.
Almost from the beginning, I struggled with getting words written, and those I did write, felt wrong. I thought that maybe it was because my 10 year-old ‘writing computer’ died, and the laptop keyboard didn’t feel the same. Or maybe it was that the story I was working on felt too tame, but I couldn’t seem to give it up and write something else. Anything else.
So I didn’t make my writing goals. Or even submit anything. I’d sit down with the intention to write, but ended up shuffling pages or rereading an outline that didn’t appeal to me. Maybe, I thought, I’d lost my creativity. Maybe I don’t have any more stories in me–ugh, what a thought. Or, maybe the day job is siphoning all my energy away. Creatively speaking, the well felt empty.
I quit trying to force it. I felt like a fraud.
And then (as life and all the other things that go with it do) my dog died. Big loss. Deep sorrow. Months later, and the emotions are still pretty close to the surface. I miss her, but I feel guilty too–at the sheer relief from worry. The worry of coming home every day for the last six months of her life and putting my hand on her side to see if she was still breathing. I don’t miss that. Or getting up several times a night to check on her. I don’t miss that either.
And slowly, in the place where all that worry used to live, the story is starting to whisper to me again. I feel the flicker of inspiration coming back. And it gets stronger with every good book I read. And weird little messages from the universe seem to be pointing me back to the ‘write’ path. I made myself very modest writing goals this year. Goals I’m pretty sure I can make. And I’m giving myself permission (again) to write crap, as long as I get the words on the page. I know from experience that once I start writing, I’ll fall into the story, and the writing will take care of itself.
And thus the lesson. There are times in your life when your focus is forced away from your story. Times when what is outside your control takes over your life. Life happens. Do what you have to do to deal with it. But don’t beat yourself up for not writing. Give yourself a break. The story isn’t going anywhere. There is no time limit on creativity; or success. To me, creativity is like a well: sometimes, the water is harder to reach, but it has no place else to go. Keep reading. Eventually, the well will fill up again.
Here’s wishing you a 2019 full of good stories–be they yours or someone else’s.