The dry river is running again. The Salinas used to run more often, but as we pump more groundwater, as the climate warms, a moderate rain simply soaks into the thirsty soil. Even several moderate rains. Only sustained downpours bring the water to the surface. Last year we had very little rain. I am not sure the river flowed at all.
It rained over and over this December, more than seven inches when we typically average two and a half for the month. Even that is not enough to break the drought, but it is enough to make the Salinas flow in its shallow, sandy channel.
On New Year’s Day I went to the river park to watch the water flow where windblown sand usually awaits. Traditionally, I go to the coast on or around New Years. I like to stand on the shore and look at the ocean, feeling I’m at the end of one thing and the beginning of another as the year opens. I see a distant horizon full of possibilities.
This year, though, I went to see the dry river run.
In past years I have made a New Years post detailing my writing career for the year, listing the pieces I’ve had published. A year ago, I wrote quite a different post, about the pandemic, and how for a while I couldn’t write at all. How, swimming in the sea of grief and heartbreak that was 2020, I couldn’t bear to get rejections. Eventually, though, I went back to the writing itself, finishing a draft of a new story collection by the end of the year. I had high hopes of revising and submitting that book and querying agents again for my novel. But when I made a few submissions, getting the rejections put me in a funk for days. Pre-pandemic, I was pretty good at shrugging off rejections, making over 100 submissions a year. The pandemic changed me.
In 2021, I wrote very little aside from blog posts, short pieces that don't involve probable rejection. I have always considered writing a major purpose in my life. I have set aside time for it, gotten an MFA, etc. But last year, I didn't enjoy it. I dreaded it, especially revision and submission. In 2021, I asked myself: What if I spent that time doing activities I enjoyed—reading books, playing my ukulele, going to the beach, etc.? Maybe enjoying life should be my priority. The pandemic probably fueled my emphasis on enjoyment, since for so long I hadn’t been able to do so many of the activities I relished. I wanted to have fun, and writing had stopped being fun.
Still, I can’t stop thinking like a writer. I spin stories or construct characters in my head. And I think in metaphors.
So I went to look at the water running where during this last, drought-stricken year nothing flowed. Perhaps it’s a metaphor, I think. Perhaps this year the river will run again and the desire to write will rise and the words will flow. Writing will be fun again, sparkling in the light, reflecting the world around in surprising and beautiful ways.
Every year I write a post about how my writing year went, highlighting how many pieces I had published. But this year is different.
I had zero pieces published, for the simple reason that once the pandemic hit, I pretty much stopped submitting work to journals. I made a total of four submissions for the year, when I often make over one hundred. I was already so stressed and depressed, I decided to give myself the gift of a year without rejection.
For the first few months of the pandemic, I found it impossible to write at all. Instead, I kept a pandemic diary, thinking that someday I would set a piece of literature in 2020 and would need to remember the odd details. Here’s an excerpt from April:
Went to the grocery store for the first time yesterday. Terrible, tense feeling, especially from the employees. Almost everyone wore masks (the one woman I saw without one came in with no cart, obviously to pick up something small. Then she stood too near me.)
Aisles set for one-way traffic. I went down the wrong way once, trying to speed through to the other side of the store and avoid a crowded aisle. Of course, then someone turned into the aisle and I had to apologize. Ended up passing a woman dithering over packages of chocolate chips—I think she picked up every kind. Then she had to pass me as I tried to find dried chipotle flakes in the spice rack.
I saw two different people wearing special Cleaning Crew smocks and roaming the aisles with wheeled canisters of disinfectant.
Met a woman in the toilet paper aisle who complained that last time she came, the store only had some expensive, fancy kind. Now that she tried it, she likes it better, but now they didn’t have it.
Aside from the journal and finishing The Hat Project (which I did despite having nowhere to wear hats), I did no writing for months.
One day in my journal I put in this cartoon from the New Yorker that said what I was feeling about writing.
Referring to my writing, I wrote:
“Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless.”
So, I wasn’t in a good place for a few months. I started the discipline of going for a daily walk, posting my photos on Instagram. Getting out helped. I also started feeling better once more places opened up.
Gradually, I was able to write again, and, in fact, I finished the first draft of the story collection I had started the year before. It was freeing to just write without worrying about publication. “Maybe I should just write for myself and quit trying to get published,” I thought.
Of course, there's little point in writing if no one reads your work, so I've started to think about submitting again. Maybe in the new year.
So many other important events happened in 2020. The Black Lives Matter protests made me think again about how to be more inclusive in my writing and my reading, and how to better stand up for others and live what I believe.
The election season brought additional distractions with its intense dose of hostility and craziness, but also brought tears of joy when Kamala Harris stood up as Vice President Elect.
2020 was historic in so many ways, I'm giving myself a pass on not accomplishing everything I'd hoped a year ago. It certainly would be a good setting for a novel, but it's not a novel I feel like writing now. Maybe never.
After a quiet, slightly sad holiday separated from many loved ones, I hope we can get through this latest virus surge. Surly, with a vaccine starting to be available, life will be better in 2021. I hope a year from now I'm writing my usual post about publications and writing successes.
Every year, I write a year in review post about my writing. It's my annual check-in. How's it going? What did I hope to accomplish? What did I accomplish? As usual, I didn't accomplish as much as I hoped, but I still had some good things happen.
First, I started my Hat Project blog. I really underestimated the time it would take to not only take pictures of the hats as I wore them, but write the little essays that go with them. I also underestimated my desire for new hats! When I started, I thought it would take a year, since I knew I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 hats. However, not only have I bought a few more since I started, people have given more to me, with the result that I'm going to be blogging about hats longer than I expected. However, unless I go crazy buying hats or get given a vast collection, I should be finished this year.
It's been a very interesting experience. I set out to write an autobiography in hats, and that has meant revisiting happy, funny, and painful episodes in my life. I've also worn many hats out and about, some I'd always meant to wear (my grandmother's hats, for example) and some that I never imagined wearing in public (hello, green feathered hat!). The blog has sapped some of my time and energy away from my fiction, but I have enjoyed the process (except for constantly looking at pictures of myself). And I really enjoy publishing the little essays myself, without having to submit them to journals. Instant gratification and hats! What could be more fun?
I did have some fiction published this year, including one story that was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and one that had a very long road to publication after the first journal that accepted it folded before publishing it:
I also had an essay that was very close to my heart published and read on the radio, "Tracking Every Spoonful," in The Dirty Spoon. As the essay was very close to my heart, hearing it read on the radio was a wrenching and wonderful experience, and I feel lucky that my work was chosen.
I didn't accomplish everything I set out to do this year. I revised the opening of my novel but have yet to start sending it out again. I made fewer short story and essay submissions than I usually do. However, I did write some stories, including a new project that may end up being a story chapbook or full collection. Time will tell!
Thanks for reading my work this year. I really appreciate your support!
As I wrote in my previous post, I've been down about my writing, so I dreaded writing this annual "year in review" posting. What accomplishments did I have to talk about? It had been a terrible year.
When I started gathering information, I checked my number of submissions for the year. Hardly any, I thought. But, to my surprise, I had logged over a hundred submissions. Huh! Not a record by any means, but still a good number. What about short fiction publications? Maybe one or two? Nope, I had five. Again, not a record, but better than I remembered. And how had I forgotten that prize I won?
Discouragement not only saps us of strength, it robs us of perspective. I didn't accomplish finding an agent for my novel this year. But here's what I did accomplish:
Finishing the novel was huge for me. How had I forgotten? I think I'll have to revise the opening, but that doesn't change the fact that I finished and started sending it out. And in addition to the accomplishments above, I wrote a few stories that have yet to be published.
In my disappointment over not immediately landing an agent, I'd minimized or forgotten my other accomplishments. And who knows what 2019 will bring? Maybe my new year's resolution should be to try to keep things in perspective.
I hope all of you have a great 2019!
As is my custom, I'm taking a few moments to look back at my year of writing. This year my main area of concentration was revising the novel I wrote last year. I also was fortunate enough to have some short pieces published, and to participate in some other writing-related events. I'm thankful for the editors that published me and for all the people in the literary community who read my work and invited me to participate in writing gatherings. I know that most of them are writers themselves, often volunteering their time to give back to the literary community.
I'm also very grateful to everyone who read my stories, essays, and blog this year. I really appreciate your support!
Some of the non-publication highlights of my writing year included:
Online Short Fiction Publications
I was also extremely pleased to have short fiction published online in the following journals:
Print Short Fiction Publications
Two print journals published my stories this year, giving me the special satisfaction of having a journal I could hold in my hands:
In addition, I had an essay published. I write less nonfiction than fiction, so I'm always particularly pleased when an essay gets picked up:
Thanks for reading, and I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2018!
It's time, once again, for my annual writing year in review. 2016 was a good year for my writing in a number of ways. Number one, I finished a first draft of a novel! Now I begin the long process of revising, followed by the long process of submitting it. So, no, you can't get a copy just yet :-). But it is an important milestone for me.
In addition, I had several short stories published in literary journals; in fact, it was a record year for me. I published seven short stories, including stories about a talking cat, a husband reincarnated as an opossum, Sleeping Beauty's insomnia after the prince wakes her, and a goddess knitting Eden. I also published more realistic stories, about lost love, infidelity, and the ongoing effect of an abusive parent. You can read some of this year's stories here:
I also had some essays published, including an appreciation of the movie Holiday, a discussion of literary thrift, and an account of traveling overseas for the first time.
I was even interviewed, by NANO Fiction, "Five Questions with Ann Hillesland." (The issue of NANO Fiction has not arrived yet, so the actual story will be in next year's round up).
All in all, a good year for my writing! Thank you to all the journals that published me, and to all of you who read my work. I appreciate your support!
Every year at this time, I take a look back at my publishing history for the year and look forward to the year ahead. This post gives me the opportunity to thank again the journals and editors who published my work this year.
This year I had five short stories and one essay published. First, the stories:
In addition to the short stories, I had one essay published. The essay was published in the local paper, which gave it a very broad readership. Some of my friends mentioned that they were well into reading the essay before they realized it was by me. The essay, Valuables, was published by the San Jose Mercury News in May. I appreciate the newspaper letting readers like me contribute.
In addition to the stories that were published last year, I also had some work selected for publication that has not appeared yet. So, in advance, I'd like to thank Spark, The Quotable, and The Laurel Review, and I look forward to blogging about those publications when they appear.
Wishing everyone a wonderful 2016.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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