Books/Anthologies / Spoonie Challenges / Writing journey

“Just” a Novella

In 2018, I had the most productive writing year of my life. In February, I released a co-authored romance novella, Saving the Date, with Angela S. Stone. In June, I released my first collection of short fiction, Of Echoes Born (half of the twelve tales were new, including a novelette). And then, finally, in December, I released my first YA novel, Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks.

It was amazing, and incredible, and involved going nonstop on some step of the writing process for roughly a year and a half. If I wasn’t writing, I was editing. If I wasn’t editing, I was proofing. If I wasn’t proofing, I was working on promotion. Three times over, often overlapping. Oh, and I managed to attend two conventions somewhere in there, too. Jokingly, in 2018 I often laughed and said, “I’m releasing three titles in one year and I am never doing this again.”

Turns out? It wasn’t a particularly funny joke.

Even pacing myself and being aware of how long I was on a computer at a time, I had a lot more headaches last year than usual given the ongoing pace. In August, we found out our dog, Coach, wasn’t long for the world, and we said our farewells in the beginning of September. Between Coach, three projects, and two conventions, I completely and utterly tapped myself out. I’d had plans of finishing a holiday novella on top of the three titles I’d already scheduled for release (I know, what was wrong with me?) but it fizzled right out. I’d open the file, stare at it, and then close it again.

At first, I thought it was the usual case of post-release downtime. Often, after I finish a piece, I need a few days to recover any desire to be creative again. It didn’t help that this happened in winter, when the endless dark and the shifting weather triggers all the more headaches and migraines. By the time November had rolled around—which meant Exit Plans wasn’t even out yet—I was barely holding on to functional, and then Max dropped into our laps.

Max wasn’t planned to enter our home in 2018, but a series of awful events on the part of the rescue group that was fostering him meant they needed to find him a place to live, stat. And my husband and I offer the ideal sort of home for a rescued husky like Max, most notably that I work from home and we don’t have kids, and there’s lots of opportunities to walk him and play with him and teach him.

He basically hit our house like a fuzzy wrecking ball of overenthusiastic energy. It was… a lot, it was earlier than either of us had planned to consider getting a doggo, and he was by no means well-adjusted or gently passed over to us. None of that was his fault (nor ours, really) but it added to the stressors.

So, long story short, what I thought was a slightly extended down-time post-writing turned into weeks. Then months. Then seasons.

I barely wrote. I had it in my head this was a failure, which of course made it worse. Never mind that I’d just released three titles, all I could do was look at so many authors (especially those in the romance genre, where I spend about half my writing time) and see them say things like, “I only have one title up for release in 2019, I’m so behind!” or “I haven’t released anything in three months, my readers are going to be so mad!”

Or, the flip-side, watching so many author friends post “5,000 words today!” or “Writing sprint, 1,000 words, go!” What was a shared motivational goal for others felt like a town crier announcing my continued failures. It was relentless, and it was entirely made up in my own head. No one else was saying it to me. I was saying it to myself.

Luckily, I have some great writer friends from across various genres. One, Linda Poitevin, arranged some very occasional writing dates at a local coffee shop. We’d go there, get a hot cup of something and a snack, chat for a bit, and then work for an hour or so. It was low-pressure, in a different environment, and at the beginning when I mentioned I was struggling really hard on trying to get my third Triad book to flow, she suggested I work on something I wanted to work on, rather than a thing I felt I had to.

Especially given I had no contract date, this struck me as a great idea and one I should likely have arrived at on my own, but that’s always how it is.

So I went back to the holiday novella I’d intended for 2018, Faux Ho Ho, and found that when I worked on it, I got somewhere. Not far, and it wasn’t flowing like water, but there was progress.

Similarly, I was invited to a Dungeons & Dragons group made up of other writers over the summer. Sometimes, a few of us (or all of us) would gather ahead of time for a session and do some writing as a group, clicking away on our lap-tops or writing in a journal or what-have-you, and other times we’d just chat about the various joys (or not-joys) of writing.

All of them mentioned that same feeling of “not writing enough” at one point or another.

At those sessions, I worked on Faux Ho Ho. And sometimes I worked on it in between walks with Max. Often, I ended up dragging most of what I typed into the “not working” folder. Rarely, I scooped some of it back out from that folder and managed to make it work. I had so many headaches and writing days that amounted to nothing. I tried to be okay with the achingly slow progress, and sometimes succeeded.

First I missed the final deadlines for the publisher who’d picked up Handmade Holidays two years ago, and then I missed the final deadline for my main publisher for any slots for 2019. It looked like 2019 was going to be a total, well, write-off, writing wise.

I crossed the finish line of Faux Ho Ho by asking a brilliant designer, Inkspiral Design, if they’d mock me up a cover. If I’d missed my traditional publishing window, there was no reason not to take a shot at trying to self-publish a novella. It would be a small enough project to handle, I knew enough people who knew what they were doing that I’d have no shortage of options to hire help. I could do this. 2019 was not going to beat me.

I let my publisher know I had a novella ready to go, but totally understood they wouldn’t want it and it was too late, and not to worry about telling me they couldn’t use it. This was honestly the most self-defeating, self-rejecting e-mail I think I’ve ever sent in my life, and their response was equal parts, “Yes we’d like this, let’s see how we can make this work,” and “Dude, are you okay?”

Which is how Faux Ho Ho is, in the end, releasing from Bold Strokes Books next month.

It’s a running joke between Cait Gordon and I now about how I never feel like I qualify as a spoonie—even before I started randomly passing out, which is another gift 2019 saw fit to deliver this year, because why not add chronic low blood pressure to the mix, am-I-right?—but this year? This year I came face-to-face with it in no uncertain terms. There was no pushing past it, no getting around it, no scheduling system. Nothing worked.

I just needed to be okay with not writing. No qualifiers. No “except.” No “just.” Just… none. My writing battery had been completely depleted; my migraines kicked up into high gear; the blood-pressure thing happened; grief happened; and… I stopped.

So, in 2019, from a writing point of view, I accomplished “just” a novella. But honestly, I feel more victorious about Faux Ho Ho than I felt in the entirety of 2018 with those three titles. 2019 didn’t win. I won.

But the biggest win is looking ahead at 2020 and knowing I might write “just” a novella—or nothing at all—and being okay with it. I haven’t pitched a project. I know what I’d like to accomplish next, yes, but until I feel like I can do it, I’m not going to set it into motion.

About Faux Ho Ho

Silas Waite doesn’t want his big-C Conservative Alberta family to know he’s barely making rent. They’d see it as yet another sign that he’s not living up to the Waite family potential and muscle in on his life. When Silas unexpectedly needs a new roommate, he ends up with the gregarious (and gorgeous) personal trainer Constantino “Dino” Papadimitriou.

Silas’s parents try to browbeat him into visiting for Thanksgiving, where they’ll put him on display as an example of how they’re so tolerant for Silas’s brother’s political campaign, but Dino pretends to be his boyfriend to get him out of it, citing a prior commitment. The ruse works—until they receive an invitation to Silas’s sister’s last-minute wedding.

Silas loves his sister, Dino wouldn’t mind a chalet Christmas, and together, they could turn a family obligation into something fun. But after nine months of being roommates, then friends, and now “boyfriends,” Silas finds being with Dino way too easy, and being the son that his parents barely tolerate too hard. Something has to give, but luckily, it’s the season for giving. And maybe what Silas has to give is worth the biggest risk of all.

'Nathan Burgoine

’Nathan Burgoine is a tall queer guy who mostly writes short queer fiction (his collection, Of Echoes Born, was released in 2018), though he also writes award-nominated novels. Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks was a Prix-Aurora-Award finalist, and Light was a Lambda Literary finalist. The first two books of his Triad series (Triad Blood and Triad Soul) are available from Bold Strokes Books. He lives in Ottawa, Canada, with his husband Dan and their rescued husky, Max. You can find ’Nathan online on his websiteTwitter, and Facebook. Editor’s note: Yes, he is totally a Spoonie.

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