“Challenge myself.”

The title of this post comes from one of the resolutions I made at the beginning of the year. I was about to start writing up my resolutions for 2016, and decided it was a good time to look back at what I put down last January. I found this on the second line:

  • Challenge myself. Try the writing process things that have always scared me.

And did I?

Yes. Absolutely yes. I’m really proud of the ways in which I pushed myself this year:

I rewrote a novel from scratch, starting with a blank page and new characters and new ideas. I’ve mentioned this in past posts but I can’t emphasize enough how much uncertainty there was, how I really didn’t know whether I would be able to do it. I’ve rewritten things from scratch in the past and it is always terrifying, and doesn’t always yield what I want. But it is never time wasted. I’ve always grown from the experience. I’m so glad and proud that I pushed through that rewrite.

I found myself two truly, truly amazing critique partners who I trust and love so much. Back in high school, when I wrote fanfic all the time, I had beta readers who would swap fic chapters and stories with me for feedback. And then I stopped writing fanfic and those relationships fizzled. Even though I had been writing original stuff at the same time, I was too nervous to try to replicate the same connections outside fandom. And I stayed nervous about it for over a decade. Similar relationships formed naturally in grad school — trust was forged during workshops and nights at the bar after class — and I hoped they would last, but most of those faded too. A few of us kept up the exchanges, but we weren’t the best match, aesthetically. So this year I decided to challenge myself to trust someone new. I found an amazing CP through Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Love Connection, and when that made me brave enough, I connected with a second CP through Twitter. Between the emailed status updates and text messages full of support, commiseration, celebration…my writing life is so much better.

Along the lines of that last point, this year I learned to share my unpublished work. I’ve always felt nervous and embarrassed to share my work-in-progress with friends. It’s hard to get past the feeling of vulnerability. After all, you share a story, and what if you can tell just by watching someone’s reaction that they really hate it? What if it zaps away all the inspiration you’ve been living and breathing for the last X months? There are times when a story is such a fragile thing, existing like barely more than a soap bubble in the mind, and the last thing the writer needs is the disturbance of negativity, of even a question. But it can also be healthy to share a work-in-progress. To get out of the echo chamber and hear what resonates for a reader, what’s actually working well. So this year I forced myself to share my novel with quite a few people, to open myself up to the thoughts and reactions from friends. And I am all the more inspired and strengthened for doing so.

What a year it’s been. Here’s to taking on more challenges in 2016.

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