Posted on December 29th, 2012 by annakjarzab
My old roommate, Eesha, and I used to do this thing at the end of every year where we’d tell each other, “Next year, banner year!” Meaning that next year would be better than the one we just finished, that we were going to look back on the upcoming year with fondness in our old age and think, “Now,2011, that was a great year!”
2012 was not a banner year for me. Like most years (all years?), it was kind of a mixed bag. At the end of 2011, my boss went on maternity leave, and two other people in our very small department quit, leaving my work twin, Emilie, and I to carry the entire burden of the work that was previously being done by 4.5 people (we shared an assistant with another department). I had some enormous projects delegated to me at the end of 2011 and ended up working 8 hour days throughout the Christmas holiday, which was, frankly, exhausting. I learned a lot, and accomplished some really cool stuff, and earned, I hope, some respect for making the best out of a tough situation (I also got promoted, which is no small thing). But I never quite got back on track after my boss returned and we got a new person on our team (our intern-turned-temp during the Bad Months, now our indispensable assistant–do internships in college, kids!); my work load didn’t really diminish, and I spend most of the year tossing and turning at night wondering just how I was going to get everything done. I think I did a pretty good job, but as someone who is always striving to do the most and do it the best, I do wonder sometimes.
As far as my personal life, my roommate (and one of my best friends) moved away from New York in May, which meant I had to break our lease and find a new apartment in, like, three weeks. I did it, though! And now I have a nice little studio to call my own, which I returned to last night after a week in California with a surprising amount of relief and happiness. I realized this Christmas that while I love California, love seeing my family, and have the pretty good fortune to have my best friends from high school live in New York (which means that we see each other all the time in NY and in CA), this little apartment in Harlem is my home now. It belongs to me, it’s all mine, it’s got all of my things in it…California is where my parents live. New York, for all its flaws and my reticence about it, is my home. It only took five years, but we got there.
Other than that, I took the best vacation of my adult life in 2012, spending five days on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller with my best friend Cambria, our very good friend Nikki, Cambria’s parents, and Cambria’s parents friends, Karen and Wayne, who are the best hosts EVER. I’ve never been so relaxed and happy on vacation as I was in OK and can’t wait to go back this year. My friends Eric and Jenny, who I introduced back in 2008, got married in San Diego in September and I performed the ceremony! I met and surpassed my 100-book reading goal for 2012, including Outlander and its six sequels, which are LONG but highly recommended. I spent two separate weeks at a vacation house on Fire Island that I rented with my friends. Lots of great stuff.
When I think about where I am, writing-wise, at the end of 2012, I’m not as thrilled as I would like, but there are some good things that came out of this year. First, obviously, I had a book come out–The Opposite of Hallelujah–which has been quiet but did earn me my first starred review, from Booklist, and another really great review from Kirkus. The Opposite of Hallelujah was also one of Booklist‘s Top 10 Religion & Spirituality Books for Youth, which is a lovely and appreciated honor. In terms of actual writing, I finally, after a long, arduous fight throughout 2011, wrestled Tandem, the first book in my Many-Worlds Trilogy, which comes out October 8, 2013, into the shape I wanted it to be. I also wrote a solid first draft of Many-Worlds 2 (the sequel to Tandem), which I very much love and am proud of. Since the Tandem I turned in to my editor was a complete rewrite, this means I wrote two full-length novels this year (and they’re long, 115,000-120,000 words each), which is not bad! I also wrote about 150 pages of an adult novel this year while working on another, messily incomplete YA; this was probably one of my most productive years, if I look at it in terms of words on paper.
But, of course, I don’t look at it that way very often. For me, it’s always about how I feel about my writing, regardless of word count or pages written or novels completed. The question, “Was it a good year or a bad year?” always comes down to whether or not the juice was worth the squeeze*, despite how proud I am to have finished something or made progress on projects. And on that level, I just don’t know yet how I feel about 2012. 2010 was a bad year. 2011 was a so-so year–on one hand, a full 12 months of toil on draft after draft of Tandem, but on the other hand the magnificent triumph of finishing and turning in The Opposite of Hallelujah, which I felt sort of redeemed the epic awfulness of 2010.
I’m hoping it was worth it. I worked very hard in 2012 to balance my vision for Tandem with other people’s feedback and expectations, but at the end of the year I find myself wondering if I’m still on a different planet than everyone else. I’ve never felt more alone in my writing than I did this year (and that includes awful, no good, very bad 2010), than I still do today. This year above all others–and this book (Tandem) in particular–reminded me just what a solitary pursuit this writing business is. No one else can be there inside your head, and, inevitably, no one else will care even a tenth as much as you do about your work. Or maybe that’s just my experience.
I think my 2012 takeaway is that I have to stop caring what other people think, what they say and don’t say, entirely and unequivocally. This doesn’t mean that when people give me feedback I won’t respond or take it into account or do what is asked of me, but I do have to stop thinking, “Well, this person or that person doesn’t seem excited/doesn’t seem to get it/isn’t convinced/doesn’t think it’s worth very much, so therefore they must be right, I must have failed, I’m worthless” (which is the shame spiral I’ve been caught in for the last two and a half years). I have to believe, without faltering in that belief, to the point of ridiculousness if necessary, that what I’m doing is the right thing, that what I’m creating has value, and to behave that way going forward. I can’t dismiss my own faith in myself, or allow myself to be talked out of it or ridiculed into a more modest view of my talent/achievements, because fortune favors the bold, and if I don’t believe in myself, nobody else is going to, either.
There’s an old piece of writing advice: Protect the work. Do that which you need to do to make sure your work (and the part of yourself that is a writer) doesn’t suffer. For some, this might mean having a part-time job instead of trying to build a career outside of writing (really, I should be doing this, but I’m far too practical and vain). For others, it might mean, I don’t know, not reading within the genre you’re writing in so as not to be influenced with other people’s ideas. For me, it’s probably going to mean a couple of things, none of which I feel are necessary to detail here, as they are specific to me and the people in my life and are probably not, at this stage, universally applicable as advice. But “protect the work” is pretty solid, so I offer it to you as a belated holiday gift. If you’ve already heard it, well, I forgot to get a gift receipt so you can’t return it, but it’s one of those things where it doesn’t hurt to have two.
I think I’ve blathered on long enough. 2013: banner year!
*I was really hoping to find the clip where Kelly says this to Matthew, but it wasn’t on YouTube. Anyway, you should watch The Girl Next Door, it’s a really great movie.