About five years ago, I had reached most of my lifelong writing goals (publish a novel, publish again, tell the story that I’d been struggling to tell for years and that finally became my second book). My books had been in major stores and reviewed in major publications, and one of them even got starred reviews. I’d done a lot of fun book events and in many ways, had lived the dream.
But I failed to reach the next set of goals, most of which involved outward success around sales numbers and events and awards, and especially publishing a fourth YA novel within two years of my third. I’d been burning out even during the editing of my third book, which had been emotionally and technically difficult to write. The industry was changing, expectations were changing, and I was changing. I took a break from fiction and published a nonfiction book, but when I returned to YA fiction, it wasn’t clicking. A Venn diagram of what I was writing and what editors were asking for would show two circles not even touching.
At first this seemed devastating to me—the slide most debut authors begin to dread about five minutes after they finish celebrating their first book deal. I tried everything I knew to combat it. I tried writing different things. Rewriting. Not writing at all.
Giving up writing, I discovered, was the one thing that didn’t work. I couldn’t go a full day without some story or poem or essay starting to unroll in my head, unbidden. So learned I was, irrevocably, a writer.
But was I still an author?
Interestingly, during this time which I thought of as barren, I was still publishing. I had returned to shorter pieces, which I used to write and publish before I got book deals. Most importantly, I really began to enjoy writing again.
My most recent publications have been essays and flash nonfiction. I love short stories and essays for their brevity, their intensity—and they don’t take a year to write. And yet I haven’t sworn off long-form fiction, because if the phases of my career and the careers I see around me have taught me anything, it’s that creative careers are fluid and unpredictable. When I consider terms like “success” and “failure,” I’m no longer even sure how to define them. They are intermixed, qualified, bittersweet. They take turns; sometimes they arrive simultaneously.