Nothing. Nada. Zip. I’m an author who didn’t publish a single new short story or novel this year. Not even a piece of flash fiction. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in the same boat, wondering when anyone will notice that you are, in fact, a fraud.
It’s the proverbial zen question – tree falling in the forest and all that. If you’re an author who didn’t publish anything, are you still an author?
There’s a sense that legitimacy is tied with timeliness; a year is a space of time in which things are measured, including your own creative output. Didn’t publish anything this year, eh? What have you been doing with yourself? Maybe you’re just one of those people who talks about writing, but doesn’t actually do it?
I was at a dinner with several writers a couple of weeks ago, and the most common question I heard was “How is your writing going?”. And I shied awkwardly away, doing the one-two step, “Well, I’ve got a book and short story on submission,” with nothing to show but a trail of emails and elapsed time.
There’s an imagined judgement in that question – imagined on my part – that you need to have something tangible to show people, a book in your hand, a short story online, something you can point to and say, look, I did this, as if the physicality is the proof of your productivity. If creative output cannot be visualised, did it really happen?
The truth is, I’ve had a very busy year for writing. I wrote the best damn short story I’ve ever written. I submitted my novel to publishers. I wrote another whole friggin’ novel in the space of seven months. I presented the Ditmar Awards. I spoke on panels at Continuum and the World Fantasy Convention. I ran a workshop at the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne. I re-published my 2015 novella, Double Exposure. Most importantly, I set up my life in order to write more.
Many of these things are fleeting and intangible. I’m glad I put Double Exposure back out in the world as an ebook, because it feels like if nothing else is out in the world, at least I have one story to point to and go, yes, I did that. But I’ll be brutally honest: I did it more for me than the sales figures. I’ve sold eight ebooks this year. Clearly, I’m in this writing gig to get rich.
But you know what? That’s okay. Because some of those people have read it. Some of them have posted on social media and told their friends how much they enjoyed it. That means the world to me.
This is your annual reminder that your legitimacy as a writer is not tied up in sales figures or how many short stories you published or novels with your name on the spine.
It’s tied up with whether you turned up. Did you put pen to paper? Did you sit down and write a story? Did you spectacularly fail NaNoWriMo? Did you jot down a paragraph, only to tear it out of your book and throw it in the trash? Did you get rejection after rejection and still keep submitting?
Well done you. You have succeeded in your 2019 goal of being a writer.
Here’s to 2020.