Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November Goal: Getting My Feet Wet Again (Stephanie Kuehnert)

Since November is National Novel Writing Month, this is the time of year that most writers plunge into a project and swim like crazy toward the finish line. If you are among them, I’m cheering you on like crazy. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo on a couple of occasions and usually don’t get more than a week in. Writing a fast furious draft doesn’t seem to mesh with the way I work, but it is always a nice time for writing camaraderie and setting goals. This year, my goal for November pales in comparison to those swimming the NaNo race.

My goal is simply to dip my toes back into the pool.

Aside from my pieces for Rookie, I haven’t written in almost six months. Back in May I finished a draft of what I’m publicly calling, The Grief Book. (You can read a little snippet of it on my newly redesigned website if you like.) It went on submission and I threw myself into the task of moving across the country from Chicago to Seattle. There was little time to breathe for most of the summer between the packing and the throwing things away and the driving across the country and the unpacking and then the job search. For the past five years I’d been juggling a part-time bartending job, a teaching gig, and freelance writing with the hopes that my book-writing career would take off and eventually relieve some of that pressure.

It didn’t. My struggle to sell more books led to long periods of writing block, depression, and a total crisis of faith about my creative abilities. I did write through it. I wrote for Rookie, which gave me both the audience I’ve always dreamed of having and a community of supportive writers and artists. I wrote the Grief Book, which is definitely the best thing I’ve ever written. I’m crazy proud of it. ….But so far my crazy pride hasn’t translated to a sale. I know in the scheme of things with publishing, it hasn’t been out on submission for very long and there is still a solid chance someone will buy it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was disappointing.

The nice thing is though, that it is only disappointing. I’m not in total despair over it. I’m not even depressed. Now that I’m in Seattle, the city of my heart, things have balanced out for me and writing is no longer the sole thing determining my happiness. I’m happy just waiting for the bus at 7 am on the way to my new full-time job because I live in a beautiful city and now that I’m not killing myself with a bunch of jobs, I have time to enjoy the place with my husband.

The past few months here have been hectic though. In addition to my full-time job and my work for Rookie, I was teaching two classes, one online and one in person. I didn’t have time to write, not if I wanted the balance I’d moved here to find—the time with my husband, in this city. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about writing. I have. I’ve been pondering new projects as well as revisiting old ones. I have an exciting idea about revamping my “Bartender Book” so that it might sell in the New Adult market, but I’m not totally sure I want to go there yet. I’ve been playing with the idea of a collection of personal essays done with illustrations and designed to look like a zine for a long time. It would combine my Rookie work with new pieces and since Rookie is the thing that got me through my dark patch—that gave me the strength to keep writing and to reach for my dreams and move away to get a fresh start—I think that is the best thing to focus on right now. (I think… We’ll see if the Bartender Book rewrite keeps tugging at me.)

I have a little more time now that I’m done teaching for awhile. A little bit. There are still Rookie assignments to work on at night and other things that fell to the wayside while I was on overdrive the past couple of months. And I’m still not willing to give up the things that keep me balanced and happy. But I know I need to stick my toes back into the water. I know that even though my frustration with my writing plunged me into a very black place for a while, that it is a core part of me, a good thing, a thing I love and I want to find that love again. There is a part of me that is terrified that I’ve had too many disappoints and I can’t write and be happy anymore, but I’m trying to fight through that. Again, I know what kind of writing makes me happy and that’s the kind of work I do for Rookie, so I hope the essays will be a good way to get my feet wet again. On Monday, since I had the day off from work I spent two hours and finished an 1800 word essay (sort of… it was really more of a list). I’d love to do at least that much every Saturday and spend an hour at night Monday through Thursday. It doesn’t sound like much, but on top of a full-time job, it definitely is, so I may have to work up to it.

So that’s what I’m doing this month. Braving the waters, working towards getting to the place where I want to swim regularly again. If anyone has been here before and has advice to share about it, I'd love to hear it!


  1. "Aside from my pieces for Rookie, I haven’t written"
    "I know what kind of writing makes me happy and that’s the kind of work I do for Rookie"

    Do you see? You *have* been writing, and writing what you like.

  2. Good for you, Stephanie! For me, writing is so much about faith. Even in my darkest moments of zero creativity or zero positive feedback or zero publication offers, I hold onto the belief that someday, the words will flow and people will like my stuff and it will all be okay again. And it always is. Keep dipping your toes! :)

  3. I totally understand the angst. For a long time I thought that publishing was the goal and that once I reached it, it would be smooth sailing. Ha. I laugh now at my innocence. The writing process--at least my writing process--has always been a rollercoastery thing. Some days I feel great about what I'm working on and sometimes I hate it and think it's terrible. What I've learned is that I just need to keep writing regardless. If nothing else, I'm a few words ahead of where I was the day before.

  4. *hugs* I'm with Jody. I believe in writing a little every day, if possible, whether or not I'm in a black phase. I know I'll break out of it eventually.

  5. None of my books have ever sold quickly...I've learned to never, never, NEVER lose hope!

  6. Stephanie, I can so relate to this post. Having one of those depressing days today. I think it's wonderful that you are doing what you love now and writing what you love. That's everything.