I few days ago, I received the wonderful news that Ancient, Ancient won the 2013 James Tiptree, Jr. award: www.tiptree.org. Part of the prize is all-expenses paid to attend Wiscon, the feminist science fiction conference I went to last year. Last year another Aqueduct author, Andrea Hairston, was the winner of the Tiptree. I’m thrilled to be returning to Wiscon as an award winner. Yes, excitement has ensued!
Secrets to Continuing On
I was talking to a writer today about our progress on our novels and both of us agreed the hard part was over. What is the hard part you ask? All mental. The expectations, romanticization, suppositions, mandates, and standards. The idea that it’s supposed to be easy, the idea that it’s supposed to be hard, the idea that it should be done already, the idea that it should be deep, the idea that it should be relevant, the idea that the writing should make you weep, the idea that it should be done on during a writing trip abroad, the idea that it should be done by now, the idea that you’re too talented for this, the idea that you’re not talented enough for it, the idea that all of your everything has to be reflected in it, the idea that this is your ticket to stardom, the idea that if you had a fellowship/patron/inheritance this would all be a lot easier, the idea that it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The hardest part is getting all that junk out of the way–removing fear, doubt, judgment, and expectation and being grown enough to sit with what is and just *be* the writer you *are* and just write the story you’re writing–no more and no less; and to know that that is enough.
For the millionth time, I find myself telling myself–“Is it good enough?” is not a helpful or nurturing thought in the artmaking process. It halts and withers the creativity. Our job is to journey not to judge. Some 20 odd years after the beginning of my writing career I still need to mutter this to myself with clenched teeth and fight off the fear of writing things that aren’t “important” or “relevant” enough. I hear what you all are you thinking–You’re wondering if I’m serious. If, at this point, I could still be uncertain. If you are not following the same path, if you are veering off to do something different than what you have been doing, every new fork of the road leads to a new wellspring of creativity and a new sinkhole of doubt.
I have been conflicted about my next steps. While being clear that I need to write a novel, I have been bouncing back and forth over whether this should be speculative or not. I have laid the groundwork in the genre of speculative fiction, but I also write essays and erotica, all authentic literary expressions of myself. The secret is that, for most of us, the projects we commit ourselves to have to be true to our current selves.
After wrestling with the best course of action (from a logical perspective), I decided to carry on with the best course of action (from an authenticity perspective). I decided not to let genre define me, to believe that the elbow grease I’ve applied to my short story connection will not be wasted if I write a non-speculative book. My work has always defied narrow categorization and there’s no reason for me to snuggle in to a boxed in definition now. I need to follow what works for me and know that all will work out fine.
I find it amazing that this central contradiction comes up continuously for me: discipline is surrender is discipline. In the case of making this decision, it took discipline for me to commit to wrestling with these questions until I came up with a solution–and the solution: surrender–surrender to that which you are and that which you are moved to do. On a daily basis, it takes discipline to come to the page (or stage or canvas), but once you’re there it takes surrender to let the work through, such that the act of coming to the page (discipline) is actually a surrendering of ordered forms of being in favor of stepping into the flow of creativity. And it takes immense focus and commitment to do so on a regular basis.
Oh it’s like a cartoon, watching yourself avoid doing that which you most want to do for reasons you don’t fully understand and then wrestling your evasion to the ground so that you’re forced to do it any way. As if to hammer into my head the concept of surrender, my novel-in-progress only consents to be written from the bed. This puts a major curveball in my attempts to multitask by writing on the train, and shows that all my flapping about how I can’t write after a day at the office is a lie. All I have to do is get into bed, tell my daughter I’m writing my 1,000 words and go.
Watching all of this unfold is truly entertaining!
Be well. Be love[d].
Kiini Ibura Salaam