Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reflections, Accomplishments & Hopes for a New Year

It's that time of year when we take a hard look at what we've done and assess how we want to improve and move forward. This is something I'm doing constantly, but it does seem important to take a moment to write it all down, especially since I feel like I have learned a lot about myself this year, and especially this past month or two.

I started out 2012 miserable and full of self-doubt. It was a long-time coming. These feelings had been building for a couple of years, so I declared 2012, the year of re-evaluation. I had to figure out what made me happy. More specifically, I had to figure out if writing still made me happy or if I was done, ready for a complete change of career and life focus.

I went back and forth, up and down about this. I'd spend a month deeply in love with storytelling and then three months hating every word I wrote or hating myself for writing. I felt like I'd finally gotten on the right track again in September and then had an absolute breakdown, my biggest crisis of faith yet in November, which I documented in this piece for Rookie--possibly the best, most honest, real and in-the-moment piece I've written for Rookie.

In July, I decided to go back to therapy for the first time in roughly nine or ten years. I was deeply depressed and anxious, especially about writing, and I couldn't do the re-evaluation thing on my own. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Not only did I benefit personally, I figured out a lot about my own writing. I put all the writing tips I gleaned from my therapist in this YA Outside the Lines post.

Perhaps the most important of those tips was be grateful for and recognize my accomplishments, big and small. So here's what I've done in 2012

  • Knitted one hat and one scarf for my mother, and one hooded baby blanket for my friend's first child. Started my first knitting project for myself, a skirt.

  • Taught 16 students in a Young Adult Fiction class at Columbia College and read well over 1000 pages of their work.
  • Grew lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, green beans, many varieties of peppers, many types of herbs, quite a few flowers.

  • Made countless vegan meals, tried and even invented several new recipes.
  • Got my eleventh tattoo. (It's Latin for "breathe.")
  • Joined my local library board.
  • Tended bar three nights a week and briefly made a tumblr about my adventures.
  • Visited my favorite place on earth, Seattle.

  • Saw (and met!) Mark Lanegan (whose music inspires my writing big-time), as well Garbage, Social Distortion, and several amazing bands (and legends like Iggy Pop!) at Riot Fest.
  • Hosted a college friend for about half the year and went on adventures with her like to my first Renaissance Faire.

  • Visited with several other friends from out of town, reconnected with my childhood best friend/sister after she moved back, spent as much time as I could with my amazing teenage niece who is my heroine, and made the ultimate birthday package for my BFF to celebrate eighteen years of friendship.
  • Went to my first Comic Con where I met people like the stars of one of my all-time favorite shows, Twin Peaks.

  • Went to my first RT convention, participated in a panel about boundaries in YA and in Teen Day. Met Francine Pascal, author of the Sweet Valley series that ruled my childhood.

  • Watched the last five seasons of Buffy for the first time, all five seasons of Angel for the first time, and most recently, watched all of the first season of Game of Thrones in 3 days.
  • Turned old t-shirts into new shirts, and in one case, a dress.

  • Celebrated my third wedding anniversary in Portland, Oregon. We also visited the gorgeous Oregon coast and met up with one of my best writing buds, Tara Kelly, who took this photo of us.
  • Nursed my elderly cat/best friend of 17 years, Sid, for several months and then said a sad but beautiful farewell to him the weekend after Thanksgiving and wrote him a tribute.
  • Wrote 17 columns for my local newspaper, the Forest Park Review.
  • Wrote 20 essays, some deeply personal, others pure fun, for Rookie as well as countless reviews of books, movies, TV shows, music, hot chocolate, candy, and electronic items that do and should exist.
  • Wrote my first essay for Ms. Fit Magazine, a real world feminist fitness magazine that will debut in January of 2013.
  • Made zines with my niece and her BFF at a Rookie Road Trip event.
  • Took part in an amazing reading to celebrate the release of ROOKIE YEARBOOK ONE.
  • Did a vlog to celebrate the release of the DEAR TEEN ME anthology, which features my letter to my teenage self about an abusive relationship.
  • Researched (both by visiting the library and sneaking into a cemetery after hours) and wrote my first short story in umm... eight years? It's a ghost story--my personal twist on a local urban legend about a hitchhiking phantom flapper--which will come out next October in an anthology called VERY SUPERSTITIOUS published by Month9Books.
  • Went on a writing retreat in Arizona.

  • Wrote about 50,000 words of one YA novel (ie. the Modern Myth YA)
  • Wrote about 60,000 words of another YA novel (ie. the Contemporary YA)
Yeah, looking back, even though I often beat myself up for not doing enough... that's a lot of stuff! Sure, I wish that total of 110,000 words could have been on one novel so I could feel like I finished a big project this year. And of course what I really wish is that "sold a book" could be one of the bullet points, but I worked hard and I have to be proud of what I have accomplished and the difficulties like losing Sid that I got through.

I guess the biggest question is what came of my self/life evaluation in the year of evaluation?

Ultimately, I've decided that while writing doesn't always make me happy and the current state of my career (or more specifically the way I've had to cobble together way too much work that pays way too little to support my writing habit), writing will always be a part of my life. I'm hoping that 2013 will bring adjustments and changes that will make me happier. The biggest one is that my husband and I are hoping...or at this point PLANNING to move to Seattle in summer of 2013. I need a fresh start in a place that I actually like. I grew up in Chicago and came back for school, but then got stuck here. It's not where I feel like I belong. I'm hoping that going where I feel like I do belong will shake things up a bit. It will definitely mean a job change. Bartending has its moments and it did inspire an entire (though as of yet unsold) book, but like all service industry jobs it can be really draining and demeaning. I have discovered a love of teaching this year and especially a love of writing for and connecting with teenage girls via Rookie. I'm hoping to find a job that incorporate both of those things--maybe some sort of after school arts program for young people that I can teach in. I'm not sure what is out there, but I'nm hoping to find something, and it may be a full-time something meaning novel writing will have to fit in other places in my life. I want to have nights to read and spend time with my husband, weekends to go on adventures with him. That will be the priority once we move out west. 

Writing for Rookie is my other big priority. It doesn't pay much, but every piece I craft for them, I put my heart and soul into the same as I have my novels. I'm able to write incredibly personal things and I feel like I'm a part of the type of publication I'd been dreaming of since I was thirteen years old. Rookie readers are my audience, always have been, and I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to share my words and stories with them.

As for my fictional stories, my novels, my career as Stephanie Kuehnert, YA author (or just author in general), I still hope and dream and work my ass off in hopes that 2013 will be the year it relaunches. (13 is my lucky number after all.) I'm taking much needed time off until after the New Year, but then I will get back back the Contemporary YA and I hope to finish it in a month or three. After that, I will return to and reevaluate the Modern Myth YA. Maybe I'll press on with it as it is, maybe I'll re-write it again, or maybe I'll decided it needs a different form--a TV pilot instead of a book, perhaps. 

I'm not setting deadlines or making specific goals. I just want to keep doing what I've been doing--finding the faith and the drive to keep writing and enjoy writing each day that I sit down to do it. To treasure life's sweet moments, to find something to be grateful for every day.

Oh and I think I might sign up for a spinning class....

What about you? What were your accomplishments big and small in 2012 and what are you hoping to do in 2013?


Annika said...

2012 was the year I burned myself out and made myself miserable. All I want in 2013 is to be happier.

Anonymous said...

Another fantastic and introspective post, Stephanie. Looks like you've done a ton of great stuff over the year inspite of the writing process taking its toll. Keep living one fabulous moment to the next. By all means leave Chicago and get a change of scenery. I just moved to the west coast and I am the most productive (and happiest) I've ever been. Much luck and prosperity to you for 2013 and beyond.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Annika, I hear you on that in a very big way. 2012 was one in a series of those years. That's what I want in 2013, too. I hope we both find it!

bmcox, thank you very much. And that is great to hear about your west coast move. Here's hoping the same for me. Much luck and happiness to you as well!

Jody Casella said...

Love this post, Stephanie. It inspires me to take stock of my year too. So easy to forget all the things we accomplish when we're stuck on the things we DIDN'T do or finish.

Paradox said...

You are such an inspiration Stephanie! An amazing person and an amazing writer. I hope 2013 will be a wonderful year for you!

Unknown said...

Sounds like you had a pretty productive year. But it has been trying, this 2012 business. I've got a feeling about this new one. It's going to be good. We adore you, Stephanie.

Unknown said...

I didn't really answer the question last time. So I'll comment again! On a very private, personal level I got really off course last year. But this year I'm going to be self-publishing a novel I wrote as an ebook, as well as launching a vlog channel on youtube this spring, focusing on my life here in lovely Colorado Springs, Colorado. And, of course, world domination will ensue =p