Skip to content

Journey

For a while last summer, during the initial burst of productivity engendered by new ADHD meds, I had the private goal of finishing my novel draft by my fifty-third birthday. That marker just passed — and nope, I’m not even close. The best I can say is that I can see the halfway point from here.

I have of course known for many months that I was going to blow past that internal deadline, and I’ve tried to shove aside the shitty feelings that engendered, with incomplete success. I have an internal pressure to write ‘well’ (mostly by my own personal definition, although obviously other people’s opinions will matter at some point), but the pressure to write quickly is all external. I know that traditional publishers like their authors to write a new book every year at least, and the inability to deliver that will make a publisher much less likely to take a risk on the first one. I despaired even more after watching a few indie authors on the SFWA Discord talk about how the minimum number of novels per year one must write in order to gain any kind of audience was four. <cue hollow laughter that devolves into sobs>

And that was before the giant wave of LLM bot-written fiction — which I’m sure is not even close to cresting — really began to hit, vastly increasing the noise-to-signal ratio everywhere. ChatGPT and its ilk are disrupting everything about publishing in the most terrible of ways and I have no idea what the field will look like in a year, or two. All I know is that for at least a decade, every single year has been measurably harder for authors than the last, and that whole progression has just sped up by at least an order of magnitude.

All I’ve wanted is to 1) make something that matters to me and 2) show it to as many other people as possible in hopes that it might matter to them too. And when I think realistically about the odds of the latter — of even getting a shot at the latter — I feel like a single grain of sand on a vast beach, dreaming of castles.


The core conceit of the entire series is Enlightenment: after centuries of isolation, three wildly different cultures rediscover each other, radiating domino effects of change in every direction. Each culture (I’ll call them L, K, and V for now) is specifically engineered to contrast with the others on multiple axes, giving me a broad palette with which to address the kinds of themes that matter to me. (Although I have left room for more than three, should I ever want them — planets are big!)

This first book, Noemi’s book, is a ‘journey’ novel: it starts with culture L before moving on to each of the other two. In January, I finally got the draft up to Noemi’s encounter with K, which in both culture and environment is by far the most alien-to-us of the three. Unfortunately, to date the majority of my research and worldbuilding time has been focused on L, the home culture and location for both Noemi and Estera.

I could not even begin to estimate how many hours I’ve spent on worldbuilding to this point. Thousands upon thousands, probably. It’s the part of the work that I find most engaging and enjoyable — moreso than the actual prose-writing, most of the time. Which is exactly why the condemnatory specter of ‘worldbuilder’s disease’ has hovered over my shoulder for years: the fear that I will be a writer who worldbuilds forever and never actually finishes a book.

Going back to intensive worldbuilding at this point, and coming to a near-complete stop on prose while I did it, felt like failure and shame, so for a while I tried to brazen through with some combination of ‘leaving gaps’ and ‘making up stuff on the fly’. That just made an inconsistent mess of both my setting and characters, until a few weeks ago I finally gave up and put the draft on hold to work further on K-building.

And — despite that failure and shame, and the ongoing stress and anxiety about how my lack of speed will be judged — I started enjoying the work a little. Estuaries! Arthropods! Lenition! Tetrachromacy! Even in the middle of all those other reactive emotions, a little thread of joy and satisfaction shone through.

Right around the time I first really buckled down on this book, I read a blog post by Nicola Griffith, and saved the text to come back to for centering in times of writerly self-doubt. It says, in part:

I have to know my people. What they do and how they think. How they feel and where they’re from. Landscape is central; for me as a writer, people are their places. I have to understand what they notice about the world and how easily they move through it. I need to know, deep down, what metaphors they use to talk to others or to themselves …

I work hard, many hours a day, it’s just that I’m not always increasing word count. Sometimes I’m frantically researching climate, or trees — what species blossoms when, what fruits when, how tall do each grow, how easy is the wood to carve? — or tides or trying to work out travel times which means figuring out what state of repair the Roman roads or Iron Age tracks would be in, which in turn depends on how they were getting there, which of course rests on what time of year is it … and what trees are blossoming in what weather.

That’s the kind of worldbuilding I do, for precisely the same reason (although unlike Nicola I prefer spreadsheets; maps are so much harder). I probably spend more time on it than most people would advise, but fundamentally I believe that doing so has irreplaceable value in the end result.

I also feel certain that I possess the internal drive to actually finish this one novel, at a minimum — I’m far enough down the path now that I no longer fear not finding my way through. If I don’t die or become totally disabled in the next couple of years, it will happen; what I fear is only other people’s opinions of how long it took me.

But as one grain of sand among millions, whether I get an audience on the other end is something that I can barely even affect, much less control. And so I’ve decided it makes no sense to make myself even semi-miserable worrying about it. I need to completely let go of ‘future audience’ as a goal.

So: fuck it. I’m done feeling anxious and unworthy because I’ve taken too long, or my weekly word count isn’t high enough. I will take whatever winding path gets me closest to the best novel I can write, the one I will be proudest of at the end. And I will keep reminding myself that it’s okay to enjoy the journey, because sometimes the journey is all you get.

Published inWriting

4 Comments

  1. Cheryl Cheryl

    Hello Karawynn! I was deeply impacted by a story I read a long time ago, and I believe it was written by you, but I’m not sure. It was about a young girl describing a forest of animals and plants and wonders as she mentally navigated an abusive home. Please forgive me if I’m not describing it correctly, that is all I remember, and I’m hoping you can help me find it. I originally read it through a link at Kim Rollins’ website. Many thanks in advance!

    • Karawynn Karawynn

      Hi Cheryl! Yes, that was my story “Discovering Water”, originally published in Century Magazine, uh, sometime in the mid-1990s. At one point I had reprinted it on my website inside of a Flash app, but of course that is inaccessible now.

      If I had a digital copy of the text, I would just email it to you … but I’m afraid I lost some files in the intervening years and all I have now is my author copies of Century, sitting in a box among stacks of boxes with all the rest of our most-treasured paper books, because we haven’t had any bookshelves since we moved to Mexico (sob!). But bookshelves are at long last literally *the very next item* on our major expenditure list, after which I will be able to unearth all my old author copies and then reconstruct the stories I’ve lost digital access to.

      All of which to say, I should have it back sometime within the next year. Maybe even six months. I don’t know if that helps you or not, but if you send me your email address, I will send you a copy of the text when I’ve got it.

      And I’m glad to know the story impacted you enough that you remember it all these years later. I think that’s probably the kind of feedback that every author wishes for. And that particular story was semi-autobiographical, so has a special place in my heart.

      • Cheryl Cheryl

        Awesome!! I would love that so much, thank you! I can imagine that the reconstruction will take some time, so best wishes for you in that. Can you see my email that I have to supply in this comment submission? If not, I can get it to you through your email or something. Thanks for replying, and much love.

  2. Karawynn Karawynn

    Yes, I can see that email address through the backend. I’ll ping you when I’ve got it sorted (and if you haven’t heard from me by the end of this year, feel free to remind me).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *