How Long Does Stuff Take?

Art by Kathleen Jennings

And by “stuff” I mean a career as a writer.

To start off, remember this: it’s unlikely that the first thing you write – be it short story or novel or article – will be the first thing you publish. I can only talk about my own journey with any authority, so that’s what appears below. Also keep in mind: while you can study another writer’s career and learn from it, you can’t actually replicate it because (a) you’re not a Replicator, and (b) the conditions and influences that occurred during their journey aren’t going to be the same prevailing winds as for you.

I spent many years scribbling and not sending.

I then spent years scribbling and sending and getting rejections. I used all those rejections (soul-destroying as some were) as fuel, to either learn to write better or – and this one is important – to learn to ignore some opinions. If they weren’t helpful, if they didn’t make me learn about writing in a positive way, then I learned to ignore them. What they did teach me was that there are people in the writing and publishing community who are assholes, for a whole variety of reasons, but they are assholes nonetheless. I learned (a) not to be like them, and (b) to not engage with them – they’ve got their own issues that I can’t do anything about and don’t want to buy into. So, they are not on my radar – time spent worrying about their opinions is time I have wasted that I could have been using to write.

Then I spent a lot of years scribbling and sending and getting acceptances. And all the time in between I have spent improving my craft. Or trying to at least.

A lot of people seem to think I’ve been incredibly productive in a short space of time. I’m pretty productive, yes, but I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now with intent. So, here’s a brief timeline to give an idea of how long the “with intent” part of my career has taken. This is my version of “How long does stuff take?”

2006: I had my first 2 stories accepted (1 by Shimmer and 1 by Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet). I also published 3 other stories. So, a total of 5 stories.

2007: I published 4 stories.

2008: I published 8 stories.

2009: I published 6 stories.

2010: I published 4 new stories (2 co-written with Lisa L. Hannett), 2 collections (one mostly new stories, the other mostly reprints), and 2 reprints.

2011: I published 3 new stories, and 2 reprints.

2012: I published 3 new stories (2 co-written with Lisa L. Hannett), 1 collection (co-written with Lisa L. Hannett), and 3 reprints.

2013: I published 7 new stories and (1 co-written with Lisa L. Hannett), and 7 reprints.

2014: I published 9 new stories, 3 collections (1 co-written with Lisa L. Hannett; 1 entirely new, 1 mostly new stories, 1 all reprints), and 5 reprints.

2015: I published 5 new stories, 1 novella and 11 reprints.

2016: I published 7 new stories, 2 collections (both mostly reprints), 1 novel and 3 reprints.

2017: I published 9 new stories, 1 novel and 9 reprints.

2018: I published 5 new stories, 1 novel, and 10 reprints.

2019: I published 5 new stories and 7 reprints.

2020: I published 5 new stories, 1 collection (mostly reprints) and with any luck another collection (mostly new fiction), and 3 reprints.

2021: I will publish one novel (All the Murmuring Bones), and maybe a collection of short stories (by mid-2021 there will be enough reprints for another collection and I’ll write two or three new shorts to go with that), and there will be 1 reprint story that I know of.

2022: If the world doesn’t end, I will publish 1 novel, Morwood.

So, you can see how many of those collections are mostly reprints – stories pulled together from several years before to sit with other newer ones and freshly written ones. Hopefully they all fit nicely.

In there are also some award nominations and some wins (two of those for works co-written with Lisa L. Hannett).

There are definitely more nominations than wins. Now, if I never win another award, I am perfectly okay with that because what I got from these awards (apart from the joy of some very nice trophies and the buzz of accepting awards whilst wearing no shoes) was attention from publishers and readers overseas. I was able to expand my reading audience, and it led to new publishing contracts and a bunch of translations (into Bulgarian, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Polish, French and Romanian).

  • 2017 Australian Shadows Award for Best Novel
  • 2016 Aurealis Award for Best Collection
  • 2015 Ditmar Award for Best Novella
  • 2014 World Fantasy Award for Best Collections
  • 2014 Aurealis Award for Best Collection
  • 2014 Aurealis Award for Best Horror Short Story
  • 2014 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story
  • 2012 British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story
  • 2010 Aurealis Award for Best Collection
  • 2010 Aurealis Award Best Fantasy Short Story

What you don’t see from these lists (but should be able to extrapolate) is the amount of work done over a very long period of time. Consistent writing and polishing and submitting. Researching markets, attending cons, networking either for myself or others. All. The. Time.

If I didn’t love writing so much, I’d call it grinding until I got my XP up. My point is that this career is cumulative. It doesn’t happen overnight.

You’re basically a duck: moving elegantly on the surface of a pond, while beneath you’re paddling like mad. Many’s the day when I’ve felt like a duck with its ballast incorrectly weighted, my head underwater, my feet in the air, very un-elegant and drowning. But I’ve kept going. I’ve learned from those further up the ladder, and I’ve done my best to help those lower down.

And I have kept moving.

And writing.

Because, in the end, everything adds up.

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