Finnian Burnett

Storyteller

I’m in a bit of a writing mid-life crisis. Of course, when I say “a bit,” I mean I haven’t published a book since 2018 and I have no idea when the next one is coming out.

It isn’t that I’m not writing. I am. I have three completed novels, a mostly completed novel, and an in-process novel. I’ve written some great short stories and submitted a handful of them. Some have even been published.

I won a short story contest this year. One of my stories appeared in an anthology and I’ll have stories in two more anthologies coming out this year. Really, in 2021, I’ve had eight rejections, four acceptances, and there are five still pending. It’s not a complete wash. In 2020, I submitted twice. One rejection, one acceptance. So though my average was higher last year, my productivity definitely was not.

But compared to the frantic daily push to bust out words, finish a novel, revise it, and send it off to a publisher, I do struggle with feeling as if I’m not doing enough for my writing career. I promised myself when I started my doctoral program that I would give myself a break from both writing and trying to publish. And it’s valid. School is challenging. Going to school while continuing to teach is more so. I know I can’t do everything at once. Yet, time seems to be rushing away and I look at my novels, especially the contemporary ones, as aging out of publishability (trust me, it’s a word now) without being seen.

Part of it is not knowing where I fit. I don’t have a genre. One of my books is a contemporary, one is a romantic comedy, one is a fantasy novel. The half-completed one is a kind of thriller. The one I’ve outlined but not started it more of a queer love story (ish). I’m also working on a novella-in-flash. It’s not a lack of ideas that’s holding me back.

Part of it is a lack of motivation or wherewithal or emotional stamina to deal with searching for an agent or a publisher. It’s so much work. You search out one you think might be a great fit. You agonize over a query letter. You stalk their webpage, address people by name, follow all the submission guidelines. And then you wait. And wait. And most of the time, you don’t even get the courtesy of a form email saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I’ve heard people say they submitted to twenty or thirty publishers before finding one and the thought makes me tired. I’ve submitted to two. In THREE YEARS. I don’t think it’s a fear of rejection. Maybe it’s more of disillusionment?

But that’s not it. Not really. A lot of writers have to go through the same thing. I think I’ve just hit a stage of ennui in my writing. I want to write, but I want to do it when and how I want. I want to bust out flash fiction stories in a burst of inspiration and then write nothing for a week. I want to write a fantasy novel and then a contemporary fiction and then a romance novel all the while writing literary short stories with the occasional speculative fiction thrown in.

I want to just write and have someone else do all of the gritty work that comes after.

I want all of my work to be valued no matter how strange it is. I want to keep writing what I love even if it’s eclectic, smart, and a little hard to figure out. Just like me.

But really, I just want to be okay with the fact that maybe being a career writer isn’t in the stars for me. And maybe being a college instructor who occasionally wins short story contests or publishes in an anthology and maybe, somewhere down the road, publishes another novel is okay for me.

I don’t have the answers. But I know there are other writers like me – folks who don’t have the time or patience to look for a publisher, folks who don’t have the know-how or money to self-publish, folks who look at their novel or novels and wonder if they’ll just hang out on the computer until they die.

And maybe instead of frustrating myself trying to figure out how to fix it, I can work on just accepting things the way they are.

If you’ve had a similar experience or if you’re currently going through a writer’s midlife crisis, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from others about their experiences.

I love these little challenges – 50 word stories, 100 word stories. Here’s a 29 word story I wrote the other day. It had to be about a road trip.

Sprawled in the passenger seat, she laughs. “A road trip? But where would we go?”

My fingers, aching to touch her face, curl around the steering wheel instead.

“Anywhere.”

A 100 word microfiction piece.

The Swarm

You swing toward the airlock, gripping for the rung you know is there. A twitch on your skin could be the drip of sweat under your spacesuit. Your fingers wrap around the bar and you wrench yourself up. Legs fly free as the itch intensifies.

Get out. Brennan’s screams reverberate in your intercom. They’re crawling all over me.

She goes silent as you grasp the last handhold and shove the hatch. It gives and you reach for freedom. A shadow crosses your leg and scurries over the thigh muscle. Your muscles seize as the creatures penetrate your suit. They’re here.

Here’s a micro piece that was rejected from a fifty word story site. I mean, maybe it’s not as good as my story of the week fifty word story, Homecoming, but it’s not bad for fifty words 🙂

Unheard

I didn’t care when she talked about her dreams. I didn’t notice new haircuts or compliment her outfits, not once. I nodded without even putting down my newspaper while she prattled at breakfast. I never heard anything until she said, “I’m done.”

 I’m listening now but she’s no longer speaking.

This is a story I wrote last year during a free-writing workshop. It had to be 250 words exactly. I wrote it from Brutus’ point of view. It was right after he’d been diagnosed with bladder cancer and we were struggling every day to get him to eat enough that I could give him medicine.

Morning Chow for Brutie (2006-2020)

She’s crying. She sits on the floor next to me, trying to entice me to take food from her hand. Her frustration grows as I turn my head and clench my teeth. Why is so she so mad at me? I’m not bad, but my stomach hurts and every bite makes the pain harder to bear. 

You have to eat, she says, and a lot of other words come out of her mouth. Some loud, some watered with the tears that spring from these morning ordeals. I don’t understand them all, but I understand the tears and her sadness hurts worse than the pain in my stomach. It hurts worse than when she raises her voice and yells at me. 

I want to make her happy. She’s happy when I eat. I know this because if I eat, she gives me a shot which makes her clap and cheer. Then I get cheese which makes me happy. She thinks I don’t know there’s a pill wrapped in it, but I know. 

She picks up another kibble. Please, she says. Her voice is so sad, I take the bite and force myself to chew—slowly so as not to give my stomach reason to rebel. 

I don’t understand all her words, but some are repeated enough that I can almost make meaning out of them. Tumor. Medicine. Time. 

I don’t know what time is. I’m not a watch dog. But I know she’s crying again so I slowly take another bite.