Award Eligibility Post + My Failed Year in Writing

This is my first attempt at that venerable ritual of SF writers: The Awards Eligibility Post. But because I only published one original piece, I’ve padded it with ruminations on how badly my year in writing went. But first, the good stuff!

The short of it: I published one eligible novella and can be nominated for the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

“Dragonfire is Brighter than the 10,000 Stars” appeared in the The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk edited by Sean Wallace and clocks in at 19,500 words.

“Dragonfire” is an alt-history spy story set in an Orwellian dystopia featuring planes, trains, and lots of dead dragons.  In her in-depth review of the Dieselpunk anthology on Marion Deeds writes: “The best story in the book is Mark Robert Philps’s Dragonfire is Brighter Than the Ten Thousand Stars. It has the most imaginative alternate world, and the story itself unfurls like a John le Carre spy novel […] The ending is sad and luminous. Philps gets every note and every detail right here, immersing us in a Cold-War era spy story from a world that never was.”

2015 also marked my second and final year of eligibility for the Campbell Award.

In other publishing news, my story Falling Through Creation was picked up for reprint by Escape Pod. That story was originally published in 2014, however (which, as far as I can tell, started the 2-year Campbell clock) and isn’t eligible for anything.

So in terms of publishing the last year was actually pretty great: I got to see the first novella I’ve ever sold appear in print on the shelves of a major bookstore, and I got to listen to the first podcast based on something I’d written.

All good, right? Not so much.

In terms of actual writing, last year was… less successful. Lots of false starts and wasted time. A disastrous attempt at NaNoWriMo. Not a single finished story. I knuckled down after Christmas and powered through a piece I’d started in 2014, though I didn’t get that wrapped up until the first week of January. So yeah. As a calendar year 2015 sucked.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why. In may ways 2015 wasn’t unique, it was just the most extreme example of a developing trend. It’s been nearly five years since I went to Clarion. I came out that workshop realizing how much I needed to grow as a writer. It helped me to break down habits that I’d spent years forming and rebuild my process. It helped me recognize and define the gap between my ambition and my ability. It helped me make the sales I’ve made since.

In the time since Clarion I think that gap between ambition and ability has shrunk a bit, but the work of closing it is still very much ongoing. I’m starting to suspect it’ll never actually be over. The act of writing itself is almost completely different as well. Before and at at times during Clarion I could happily sit down and pound out 2-3000 words in a sitting. Now it’ll sometimes take me four hours to reach 500 words that will probably be completely re-written at least five times. I used to start writing with the seed of an idea and no sense of what the story was or who it was happening to. Now I can spend weeks beating my head against an outline that never seems to click. It took me nearly two years to get ‘Dragonfire’ to a sellable point. Writing is harder and, honestly, less fun.

Part of me misses the confidence that came with ignorance.

But I think it’s part of the cost of making my writing better. Or at least making it more intentional. And when I find those moments where the writing itself actually is fun, there’s almost nothing better. I’m still searching for a way to locate those moments reliably. Maybe it’s just a numbers game. If 5 percent of the time I spend writing yields 90 percent of the pleasure, maybe I just gotta to sit down each day and roll the dice.

Or in other words: shut up and write more.

So I’ve decided I need to do more of that this year. I’ve even gone so far as to (gasp) set myself some goals. I’ve written up six of them for the year and even tacked them on the cork board above my computer.

  • Write 4 new short stories.
  • Submit 4 new short stories
  • Write a Novel Outline
  • Write at least the first three chapters of a novel
  • Write a treatment for a feature film
  • Write a short film script and submit it to a few short film development contests.

There. Maybe staring at this list everyday will force me to keep hammering away. Maybe posting them online will encourage me to treat them seriously.

This probably should have been two different posts (nothing screams ‘nominate me for an award’ like navel-gazing about writing) but if there’s a common thread to all the rambling above I suppose it’s process. The process of starting to think of myself as a professional by putting my work out there for consideration. The process of starting to act like a professional by admitting to myself  how much more focused time I need to invest if I want to keep producing regular work.

Maybe 2016 won’t yield anything good enough to sell, produce, or get nominated for an award, but I can sure as hell make sure I come out of it with more words on paper. And hopefully that will mean a few more days when everything clicks and the writing feels fun.


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