Friday, February 6, 2015

Career Crossroads

Instead of working on Emerald City Iron like I was supposed to, I've spent the last month soul-searching. That's a rose-colored way to say "being existentially depressed wondering about the purpose of life and being totally unable to get any work done." I'm sure either sounds glamorous, but I assure you, it's pretty much not. Though now that I'm putting it this way, and looking back, it does seem a bit more dramatic and interesting than it really was. But maybe that's how lived stories are. They aren't really all that fun until you reach the end and know that everything is going to work out. 

For now anyway.

I suppose I imagined I'd coming out the other side all psyched up to finally finish Emerald City Iron a couple of months late. Instead, I've learned that perhaps I will never finish ECI.

TL;DR: I'm taking an extended hiatus from writing novels so I can focus on nonfiction books, short fiction, and nonfiction blog posts.

I'm going to steer my ship away from writing novels for awhile. And in writer-time, awhile means years. 

Instead, I'd like to write another nonfiction book, more nonfiction blog posts (particularly about autism and social justice), and continue to write and publish short stories.

There are lots of pros and cons to this choice. The most painful part has to do with all the novels I had planned. And worse, those poor novels I've already written that are impatiently waiting for edits. And worse, worse, worse, the five or six people who have let me know very plainly that they are sick and tired of waiting for the sequel to Emerald City Dreamer, and if I don't finish it, they're threatening to never read it. Which is fine, because I won't let them. Bwaha. Or something. At any rate, it ensaddens me to let down my loyal readers.

It's also sad that I've got these great moments in ECI and Emerald City Hunter that no one will get to see. (A cow-car chase... How fun is THAT??) This is a major drawback to the decision, but also one of the drawbacks to novelling overall – incredibly delayed gratification – that I'll get to more in a bit. 

Those are the cons. The pros far outweigh them. (Protip: That's how you know it's a good decision.)

I firstly must acknowledge my limitations and work with them, not against them. One of my greatest limitations is extremely high inefficiency when switching tasks. Like, oh, say switching from writing and promoting a 150,000 word nonfiction book about the phycology of Mormonism to editing a 70,000 word novel about trauma recovery and hunting fairies. When it comes to autism and switching gears, that's a the steampunk of all gearshifts. 

In other words, it takes way too much time and angst for me to jump between topics and skillsets like that. Especially on big projects grappling with big topics. It also duplicates my work when it comes to promotion and making contacts in each field. Selling urban fantasy is exactly the same as selling recovery books to ex-religionists... Only I have to do it twice in two different communities with twice the number of emails, tweets, blog posts, and potential travel.

If I didn't have the brain I have, I might be able to navigate that level of executive function. But then I also wouldn't be able to write the things I write. Even Supernerd has her crypto-night. (Inability to resist awkward puns is yet another weakness of mine.)

So it comes down to deciding what is most important. What do I want most to accomplish?

I have lots and lots of things to say. Overall, that's my greatest goal. How can I say them, and how can I say them to the greatest number of interested people?

The answer seems to be nonfiction and short fiction.

The novels market is way too flooded to get noticed. And while I can write a novel draft very quickly (two-time NaNoWriMo champion), and I can edit prose very quickly, editing a complex novel-length narrative seems to take ages. It's the bits of plot and character development and nuance that has to remain just right over 60,000-130,000 words that fouls me up. I can do it; it just takes too long.

Meanwhile, I have all these fiction ideas that want to be released into the wild. I have worlds to build (That's my favorite part.) I have characters and settings and fun to create. And I want to do it over and over again. I can do all that much more quickly through short fiction. The dozen short stories I've published, or come close to publishing, in the last five years have given me a much greater sense of satisfaction than the three novel drafts that no one has read because it takes so damn long to get them out the door. And then once I do, still no one reads them, because there are 3.3 million novels on Amazon.

If I could be more prolific, my novels would rise to the top. But it takes lots of novels. And as I've pointed out, I'm Slowly Slowpants McWriter. I know I can write a good novel, but it takes more than that to be successful as a novelist.. And I don't have what it takes. At least not right now, not at this place in my life.

I'm not going to turn my back on all fiction. I've laid the groundwork to gain fans and friends in the SFF world. I love the SFF community. I'm not going to turn my back on it.

That's what short fiction is for. Most writers have day jobs and write short stories in their spare time. That's more or less what I'm planning to do. I will continue to pursue publication in pro-rate markets. And without the novels to make me constantly feel like I'm working on the wrong thing, I'm hoping to be able to relax and have more fun with it.

For the majority of my time, for the de facto "day job," I'd like to write couple of nonfiction books. I'm pretty excited about the idea of "thought liberating clichès." What is the opposite of mind control? How can people, with intention, open their minds? What does a firm yet flexible foundation look like? It will be based on the cognitive structures I created for myself after leaving Mormonism, so it's the logical follow up to Recovering Agency, but it would appeal to a larger audience: ex-religionists in recovery, freethinkers and atheists, and anyone brought up in this society where people are usually "trained" and not "educated."
Then, in all the spare time that I'm sure I will have, I plan to continue writing blog posts on topics I'm interested in. Here on lunalindsey.com I will continue to blog about autism and all the random things. And I can submit more guest posts about religion and culture on atheism and freethinker blogs, as well as at RecoveringAgency.com.

So far, nonfiction has been more rewarding than the novel. More people tend to read my nonfiction. I receive regular compliments for Recovering Agency and for my blog posts. Not just "great prose!" kind of compliments either. It's feedback like, "You managed to put words to what I was thinking!" and "You improved my life."

Basically, my nonfiction is helping people. I'm changing hearts and minds, I'm giving people new ways to look at the world. And I'm persuasive.

It's very fulfilling.

I'm still slow at writing and editing longer nonfiction. Recovering Agency took 15 months from start to finish. But in many ways it's easier. Everyday I know what I'm supposed to work on. Nonfiction outlines are straightforward. I'm never in doubt about whether this or that change will ruin any plots or be a trope or be cheesy. I don't have to remember all the actions of a whole cast of characters to know whether a scene change will destroy continuity. It's all laid out for me: this chapter is about shame. What do I know about shame? Just answer that question along with references to the research. Done. Next chapter.

Then there's the money. Recovering Agency isn't doing well enough to pay my bills. But it's doing quite well. It's doing well enough that I've made a business account from which I can now pay my work-related expenses, including travel. It's doing well enough that with a couple more like that, I could be financially independent. I am currently being supported by my wonderful life partners, but I don't want to be a burden forever. They still seem happy to pay my way in the world, but there's an emotional cost, for me, to be in this position.

I've also considered speaking. Again, if I'm focused on novels, there are gear-shifting issues.

Last year, I submitted a couple of papers to conventions and didn't get accepted. But this year, I'd like to spend more effort trying to speak at places like Sunstone Symposium and the Exmormon Conference. If I'm writing a book about the cognitive structures of free thought, I'll be much more capable of hopping to writing a proposal for a liberal Mormon academic conference. That task is almost unfathomable if I'm working on a novel about fairies in Seattle.

Moreover, it's difficult to justify all the time and effort speaking to exmormons when I'm supposed to be trying to be a novelist. But if I'm a nonfiction writer? The efforts all go hand in hand towards related goals.

Efficient.

But of course I still love to do sci-fi cons. I'd never give that up. But that's way more easy to justify. I already go to cons for fun. Now I'm just doing it as a panelist. Even more fun! Sure, I won't have any novels to sell, but who cares? I've still got short story readers to reach. Novels would be nice, but not required.

Lastly, I'm playing to the strengths of my brain. Anyone who knows me personally (or even who follows me on Twitter) knows that once I get started on a topic I'm interested in, I can't shut up. Some writers have word count goals. I don't bother with them, because I know nearly every day I can't help but write 500 or 1,000 words. It's just that.. sometimes those 1,000 words are in an email or on Facebook or in a journal entry.

This will allow me to ask myself, as I'm typing that 800 word Facebook reply on some topic I'm passionate about – I can pause and ask, "Wouldn't this be better on the blog?" In the past the answer was always, "Yes, but I'm not supposed to be blogging right now. I'm supposed to be working on the novel." I'm hoping in the future, the answer will be, "Yes. I will finish writing this comment and then spend another two hours turning this nice draft into a real piece with a beginning and end so I can stick it on my blog or submit it as a guest article someplace." If my focus is nonfiction, then it's all in a good day's work.

Overall, nonfiction books is where it's at. A career pivot. Not terrible major in most ways, but pretty huge in a couple of ways. If you're one of the three people excited to read Emerald City Iron, I am deeply, deeply ensaddened.

Input? Thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below!

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