2018 has been a big year for *feelings*. I don’t feel alone in that. Just about everyone I know has had an intense year in one way or another. For me there’s been personal loss, creative doubt, incredible milestones, and a whole lot of waiting. I’ve also been panning through my own insecurities and trauma for gold nuggets of emotional truth in my work. And you know what, that gets exhausting. I’m feeling a little wobbly. So if you’re going through any of the above at the moment, or have been this year, I see you. It’s tiring. Be kind to yourself.
I signed my publishing contract at the end of 2017, so it felt like 2018 was going to be THE year. It’s not that it hasn’t been an incredible year for writing stuff, it has, but there has also been a whole lot of email checking and waiting to hear back about stuff. I wish I’d paid more attention when people told me the writing business involved a lot of waiting. My journalism background and personality type mean I’m impatient. I’m used to deadlines that come daily/weekly/monthly. I’m trying to let it be, to focus on the stuff I do control (the writing), and to just get on with it.
To remind myself of all of the things that DID happen this year, I’ve compiled a list of my 2018 highlights:
Meeting the Text team and MWF
My trip to Melbourne was a whirlwind so fierce I wonder from time to time if it really happened. Photographic evidence suggests it did.
I managed to catch up with some lovely #loveOzYA crew, to meet the A+ publishing team at Text, to visit bookshops and have lunch with my superstar agent Danielle, to attend the Ronan Farrow/Tracy Spicer talk at the Athenaeum Theatre, and to wrap things up nicely with the Text party at the end of the night. Phew. I’m tired just thinking of it. It was up there with best days of my year.
Getting notes from sensitivity/authenticity readers
One of the best steps I’ve taken in this process so far was employing sensitivity readers. I also love the term authenticity readers (thanks @cakeandmadness for that one!) Writing in the Margins is a great resource if you are interested in learning more about sensitivity reading, but basically it is a term used to describe a reader from marginalised background providing manuscript feedback on representation. And yes, it does mean paying them. Don’t ask someone to do the work for you and not reimburse them for their labour.
So far, I find I write in first person and can’t imagine a time when I would feel confident in writing from the perspective of a marginalised character whose experience differs wildly from my own. I do feel those stories are best served from an Own Voices perspective. In saying that, I also believe in writing truth, in writing what I see, so that doesn’t mean a world populated purely by straight/white/able-bodied characters. One of my characters in ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’ is a young Aboriginal girl. I’ve asked myself why I think I have the right to write this character, as a white writer and from an obvious point of privilege within the publishing industry. Ultimately, I wanted my YA book to be representative of the Australia I live in.
Employing sensitivity readers isn’t a guarantee that there will be no mistakes, but it’s an extra step towards that. If there’s anything I can do to avoid harmful representation, I obviously want to do it. The notes I received back from my readers were invaluable. My book is better because of their work. It’s a process I’m keen to use where necessary in all subsequent books I might publish. It’s also work I’m keen to do for people who are writing neurodiverse characters. It’s just been a completely fulfilling learning experience and I would recommend it to anyone writing outside of their own experiences.
Completing my structural edit
This was the big one this year. I wrote a whole post about it here. Structural edits are completely terrifying and so satisfying at the same time. If you’re in the midst of one, I tip my hat to you. Good luck and I’ll see you on the other side.
BWF and YA Day
I probably say it once a week, but book people are the best people! It was so nice to get out there in the festival crowd and talk to other book-obsessed people – readers and writers and editors and other people who work behind the scenes. Despite living in Brisbane for most of my life, this year was the first time I’ve actually attended Brisbane Writers Festival. The YA program was incredibly well done. I dream of being included on that lineup one day.
My first school talk
To say I was nervous about getting up and talking in front of two groups of high school students is putting it nicely. I was a bag of jitters. It’s something I really want to do though, so I leaned into the discomfort and I’m glad I did. It was the most rewarding thing I’ve done so far on this publishing journey. First up I was able to talk to a group of neurodiverse students and their parents about my high school experience, how I’ve navigated life and career post-school and the things I wish I’d been told as a teen. The students were engaged and asked brilliant questions, and I could sense the love their parents had for them in that room. Next I joined an English literature class to talk about how to get published. I was so impressed with the students and the work they produced in our writing exercise. It made me slightly envious that my school English experience was nothing like that. Maybe if it had been I would have found my way here a little sooner.
Writing another first draft of book 2
While I was in the midst of writing and editing ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’, I swore the next book would be light and fluffy and wouldn’t involve revisiting any painful memories or researching stories of trauma at all. I’m not sure I’ll ever write that light and fluffy book, or if such a book even exists inside me, but I guess it gave me respite in the moment. It’s safe to say that isn’t the book I’m currently writing. I’m really proud of the way this manuscript is shaping up, of the stories I’m telling and the characters I’ve created, but it is taking a toll. The news stories and research I’m doing can keep me up at night. It’s draining. It feels urgent and right and I am almost at the end of this draft so I think that’s probably why I’m in a weird headspace. It will be good to shake it over the Christmas break.
My writing low points have been feelings I think a lot of writers experience along the way. I’ve felt unsure, inadequate, awkward, confused, misunderstood, and overwhelmed.
There are some exciting things on the horizon in 2019, not least of all my LAUNCH! It is loosely scheduled for September, but we’ll see how that goes.
My favourite reads this year
- Neverland by Margot McGovern
- Growing Up Aboriginal compiled by Anita Heiss
- I Am Out With Lanterns by Emily Gale
- Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee
- Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
- The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
- Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein
- Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven
I’d love to hear about your highs and lows of the year. What books did you love, what fears did you overcome? What are your hopes for 2019?