The Amazon Iowan

Blog of Author Heidi Cullinan

What I Learned as a Writer in 2012

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As my family and my daughter’s friend watched the ball drop in the other room, cheering as 2012 ended and 2013 began, I sat in the easy chair in the living room, devouring my third book of the day and thinking, “Thank God. Thank God, thank God, thank God.”

There’s nothing notable about 2012 to make it more onerous, not in a signpost way, but even so I feel like I’m crawling out of it with my legs bloodied and my soul shaken. Some of that is the usual end of the year, post-holiday jesusfuckingchrsist!!! usual, but something about this year was very carnivorous, something shadowy and dark and belonging on a Doctor Who episode. Leave me here without a sonic screwdriver and no Matt Smith and it was never going to be very good. I know a lot of writer friends who felt this way too: same nameless weariness, same sense of scrabbling and desperation and nothing to pin it on.

Well, now it’s a new year. The world didn’t end, the planets have shifted out of some pretty fucking crappy alignments, and even if they move into shittier ones or new doomsdays pop up, I’m ready. I survived 2012. I can do anything.

This is some of what I learned in the past 12 months about how to be a better writer.

  • Mental and physical health are equally vital and are completely, utterly intertwined. Trying to write while either is diminished is a death sentence. 
  • I’ve always been one to try and push through, making my body do what I needed it to do, but not only would it not do this in 2012 but my failure to take care of the physical and mental aspects of my being affected my writing in just about every way it could. From failing to eat properly (though I didn’t know about the damn allergies until part-way through and I still swear I’m flushing some of those) to not exercising to not getting the right sleep to simply not taking breaks and resting–well, let’s just say I’m going to make it a priority to eat, drink, and sleep properly from now on, and when I can’t, I’ll build in time to recover.

  • It’s entirely possible to travel for work to much. From financial strain to physical and mental strain, too much travel is hell. Sadly I appear to be poised to do it again this year, though I still don’t quite get how that happened. I’m a little annoyed, because what I really want to do is take a trip with my family where there is no work at all, where I don’t even check any email. Maybe next year.
  • Sometimes books take a long time. Sometimes they don’t. Whether they do or not is a reflection both of the book itself and the writer’s frame of mind while writing, but trying to suss out the varied degrees and control them is a short chute to madness. That’s all there really is to say about that, but I’ll keep sitting with that one this year, and many years to come, because it’s a hard one to be Zen with.
  • Conflict.  This year I learned that conflict really is vital to a story, like, really fucking important, and that it’s really fucking hard to get right. Another long-term sit-with concept I won’t be putting down anytime soon.
  • I must write with joy or the book will suck.  Even if the book is darker or full of angry backstory, even if–especially if–it’s a story born out of my own rage and sorrow, it must be planted in joy and fed with more of it or it’s going to go tits up in a hurry.
  • I have to shut my goddamn email off and let it pile up often or I won’t get anything done. There are days all I do is answer email and online sites and messages and forum questions, and none of that pays me a dime in royalties.
  • No is a beautiful, powerful word, and I need to use it. Especially when I think, “Oh, that’s just a little thing, I won’t matter,” because I know damn well ten thousand little things that won’t matter become a huge thing that eats up my time.
  • I need to journal regularly to myself, to my characters, and to my muses. That’s a recent one, and it’s sanity-saving. I’m not sure how much of it is real magic and how much of it is psychology, and I really don’t care so long as I keep getting results.
  • When mixing business and friendship, I need to be very very careful. Holy crap, is this true. It’s so hard because especially in LGBT romance we tend to be so connected, but that closeness I’ve learned means we need to take great care of how we deal with each other. It’s impossible not to muddy the waters, and muddying the waters leads to cloudiness and hurt feelings.
  • I need to keep my agent appraised of what I’m doing and actually listen to her because she is right every goddamned time. All my angst this year has come in cases where I went against Saritza’s advice. I won’t regret any of it because it’s served to teach me, and my vow this year is that I rely on our partnership and trust her to do the job I pay her to do. We’ve already had this conversation privately, but I want to state it publicly because I really believe in this one and want to make myself accountable to it.
  • I need to take breaks and make time for my family and myself. I was so bad at that this year. But I ended this year feeling frazzled and empty in so many ways, and I keep looking at my daughter and thinking she’s growing so fast and soon she won’t be here, she’ll be off living her own life. My husband’s work is crazy too, and it’s easy to get in habits of being distant. None of this serves me and it doesn’t serve my writing either.
  • I need to remember this is my job, but it’s also my joy. When I’m rested and healthy and using my support system appropriately, being an author is a job I love, struggles and all. The joy doesn’t come from success or from “doing it right” (Jesus that one’s a bitch) but from being part of the dance. I do love pushing myself and reaching for impossible things, but if I get too fixated on the pushing part and not the enjoying the pushing part, I’m going to get in trouble.

I probably learned more than this, but these twelve points sum up the big ones. 2012 is done. 2013 is here, and as Papi likes to say, “All new mistakes.”

Bring it on.

5 thoughts on “What I Learned as a Writer in 2012

  1. Posts like these make me fall in love with you all over again.

  2. At the risk of blowing my own horn, although that’s not my intention, don’t forget “Ask for help when you need it”. It’s something I perpetually suck at, but is a key skill is just about everyone’s daily life.

  3. Terrific lessons. I think I need to learn a few of those myself!

  4. Very good and insightful post.

    I hope you have a great 2013 and it’s everything you want and need it to be.

  5. Pingback: things I have not yet lost | The World Breaks Everyone

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