About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

A Year In Review

 – by Adam Stump

Looking back over 2019, it was a pretty successful year for me, as a writer. I had eight pieces of fiction published and edited several works, including an anthology that spent a month as the #1 bestselling anthology on Kindle (I wasn’t the sole editor, or even head editor on that project, though). 

However, when 2019 was chugging along, it certainly didn’t seem very productive. Eight published pieces doesn’t even equal one per month, which means that there were far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. To add insult to injury, my family of six spent 18 weeks and 3 days (but who’s counting?) homeless because our previous house was filled with toxic mold and chemicals. In the first two months of 2019, my family lost our health and nearly all of our possessions due to contamination. We literally lived out of a garbage bag suitcase that contained two outfits each.

But we got through it. We received a lot of support and encouragement from a handful of very good, very true friends. We were able to stay in two rooms of a home that belonged to people who started 2019 as acquaintances but ended 2019 as family. We were able to put a down payment on a safe house that was free of mold and other toxins. I was able to remodel said house (some projects still aren’t completed–just ask my wife), and we were able to move in and start replacing some lost possessions (we still don’t have dressers and lamps or bookcases in most rooms, but that’s ok).

Through all of this, I carried my laptop with me and faithfully clicked away at the keyboard, sometimes at 2AM while my family slept. I definitely produced more than a dozen stories during 2019. Some of those are some of my best (in my opinion), but all have a different feel to them than the stories I wrote in 2018 or even the ones I’ve written so far in 2020. They’re raw, gritty, dark, and often pessimistic. They’re not a reflection of who I was in 2019. In fact, I would say that, through everything, I was pretty optimistic and hopeful in 2019. I had to be for my family. However, those stories allowed an outlet for the terror, anger, and frustration that I felt so that my family didn’t have to experience it.

Looking back at that time, I can honestly say that it was not just productive, but therapeutic. I would never want to relive 2019, but I’m glad that I lived it once and that I made it through. In hindsight, it was just as bad as it seemed while living through it, but it produced a phenomenal amount of personal growth.

Perhaps you’re going through a difficult time or a dry spell. Maybe you’ve experienced staggering loss. I would encourage you: don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop living, even if you feel like you’re dying. If you bottle everything up, you probably won’t make it–I know that I wouldn’t have made it. Let it out. Hammer away at the keyboard. It’s cathartic. Not only that, your writing will produce a psychological journal of your life’s journey that, on the other side, will produce a cohesive whole.

In retrospect, 2019 was like living through the testing of purgatory, but the benefit of going through purgatory is that it purifies you for heaven. I’m a stronger person and, I believe, a stronger writer because of 2019. I hope that my readers will feel the same way and be encouraged to keep writing their stories. On the other side, I think that they’ll be glad that they did.

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13 thoughts on “A Year In Review

  1. @GD: I don’t know if I “best understand it”, but I certainly reacted strongly to it! This blog post by Adam J. Stump caused me to reverberate like a struck gong in empathy and rueful recognition. For many writers, daily practice of the “spooky art” (Norman Mailer’s numinous phrase for our craft) can feel like trying to out-scream the over-revving engines of a 747 taking off into the eye of a cat-5 hurricane. (And that’s about the limit of over-wrought mixed metaphor that particular straining sentence can stand without imploding. Moving on . . .)

    @ Mr. Stump: So glad you posted this. It smacks of naked honesty, truth and courage. Your lived nightmare is an inspiration to us all. Truly! Thank god you survived (even prospered creatively–eight sales!) in the midst of this trying upheaval with writing skills and marriage intact. I’ll tell you this straight out: You are a better man than I. When faced with my own serio-comedic series of working-class crises, my daily output of creative writing shrank to a handful of uncertain, thousand-times-revised sentences (as far as short fiction goes).

    And yet . . . and yet . . . in one way my experience mirrors your own. 2019 was a terrible year for me as well. (I could enumerate the grim successive shocks in detail but let’s just mention in passing: stolen car, diagnosis of pre-diabetes, bed-bug infestation, endless stream of dunning notices from creditors and the IRS, library packed up and put in storage pending eviction from my rent-controlled apt. The short list, heh! Problems: everyone’s got ’em.)

    The point is: I was sitting at my writing desk (a thirty-year-old pressboard construction so chipped and pockmarked by the ravages of time and hard use that it looks like someone riddled it with machine gun fire) roughly a year ago in absolute despair. The darkest thoughts and emotions I’ve ever experienced shook me to the core: rage, desolating sorrow, existential terror, numbing regret. Frustration and self-loathing at my inability to earn a living wage. Bitterness so black and acrid that I can only describe it as Biercean. [sic]

    I picked up my pen and began scrawling in the cheap notebooks I buy three-for-dollar: the darkest, weirdest poetry I’ve ever written. I had no thought of commercial markets in mind when I began “scritch-scribblin’ at the midnight hour”–I knew only that I was driven to clench pen in hand like a dagger and hack at the page in fury and despair. (And–at times–yes; I freely confess it–savage grim humor. Go figure. “Happiness, too, is inevitable.” –Camus. “Why so serious?” –The Joker.)

    Clarification of the above comment: Please understand that there was no exact, one-to-one correlation between my mood and the subject matter, forms, and/or tone of the poems I was writing; rather that–having shoved all commercial considerations aside–I was writing for an imagined ideal reader who would appreciate what I was doing. This was immensely freeing: I could follow the muse wheresoever she led me. (Though the process of revision–as ever and always–proved in the cold light of morning following this creative work to be a bare-knuckled boxing of my ears from a shaven-skulled taskmaster whose lip curled in quivering contempt at the dreck I’d committed to the page in the dark of night.)

    Well. Ten accepted poems (amongst countless others rejected) in S. T. Joshi’s Spectral Realms journal later I find myself . . . still here. Planet-side. And now a formally recognized, published weird poet (in howsoever modest and fumbling, first-steps-forward, semi-pro fashion). So, yes–as Mr. Stump and countless other writers before us have discovered (see: Martin Eden, Jack London) one might achieve some modicum of professional success even as one’s life falls apart. (The reader doesn’t know; the reader doesn’t care–they want to be entertained. All they want from you–all they deserve –is your best, regardless of personal circumstances. They’ve all got troubles of their own.)

    Having said this, it must be admitted that the endorphin rush I received with every “poem accepted” translated to: Huzzah! I exist. Validation: The words I wrote mattered to someone other than myself. From the absurdist whirling maelstrom of fraught existence I wrenched vocabulary and syntax; ordered these via punctuation, grammar and enjambment into a semblance of meaning. Aesthetic ecstasy and communication, apparently, occurred. (Or did it? No two people read the same poem, after all. . . .)
    …………………

    To the drive-by readers who may be perusing these words in an idle moment of nothing-better-to-do:

    It sounds like trite and maudlin sentiment, doesn’t it? “Don’t give up. Do something constructive with your life’s struggles. Make art.”

    Finger-in-the-throat gag me, am I right? Cue rolled eyes and nervous, impatient shuffling of feet.

    I know; I know. Since I’m a writer I owe you better phraseology. Like you, I abhor sentiment. Therefore, I will aim for greater articulateness, relevance and heart-felt passion. Let me try again with this hasty rewrite:

    “Don’t give up. Do something constructive with your life’s struggles. Make art.”

    In this, I echo and applaud Mr. Stump’s ringing words–though, in truth, he said it better–first:
    …………………………

    Perhaps you’re going through a difficult time or a dry spell. Maybe you’ve experienced staggering loss. I would encourage you: don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop living, even if you feel like you’re dying. If you bottle everything up, you probably won’t make it–I know that I wouldn’t have made it. Let it out. Hammer away at the keyboard. It’s cathartic. Not only that, your writing will produce a psychological journal of your life’s journey that, on the other side, will produce a cohesive whole.
    …………………………

    Cheers, Mr. Stump! Profound admiration and respect. (Likewise all you unsung, courageous, beautiful, noble, truth-telling writers struggling to write in the eye of the hurricane from divers storm-rocked “nooks and crannies of life”.)

    PS. I have three new weird poems coming out in this month’s issue (#12) of Spectral Realms journal: https://www.hippocampuspress.com/journals/spectral-realms/spectral-realms-no.-12?zenid=uggdov272435lsoln20chge7e4

    I hope to continue writing for many years to come. . . .

    Liked by 6 people

    • Well, the larger point I was trying to make, Sue, was this: Most writers live a hand-to-mouth existence, yet continue to work on their craft well into their twilight years–recognition or no. I salute each and every one of these early dawn keyboard pounders and midnight scritch-scribblers, long may they collectively write, heh! And I deeply appreciate Mr. Stump sharing his hard-won, success-story-amongst-travail with us: I find his experience inspirational and instructive. (Also: I wanted him to know that he is not alone.)

      Liked by 5 people

  2. I did understand your point, Carl.

    My point was that the Roberts quote crystalizes the reluctance I think some feel to turn themselves inside out for all the world to see, regardless of their craft. Maybe it’s simply the difference between those who are more public and those who are more private.

    Mr. Stump seems to share that reluctance. He says the stories he wrote in 2019 are “not a reflection of who I was in 2019. In fact, I would say that, through everything, I was pretty optimistic and hopeful in 2019. I had to be for my family.” Perhaps he hid his “raw, gritty, dark, and often pessimistic” internal truth from them so successfully, he hid it even from himself, and writing it out merely felt like an approach to fiction he hadn’t taken before.

    I’ve been there. I’ve faced that too painful truth honestly within myself knowing that I had to live true strength and optimism because my son needed that from me to get through the raw, gritty, dark. It’s a dichotomy of mutually exclusive, but simultaneously present forces: despair and determined resistance. And in those times, we are both at once. “I laugh because I must not cry.” Abraham Lincoln

    I kept it inside only until I was alone at night and crying was a release. But I didn’t write about it or around it then because that pain and that sadness — that battle to win victory over despair — was all-encompassing in real time. And private. If I wrote about it now, I would create a fiction that expressed those feelings but not those events because I can’t find the ego to write a memoir.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    I recall that line from In Harm’s Way. Patricia O’Neal said to John Wayne (something like): I had to find something to hold onto or go under.

    Writing is that thing to hold onto for me. Until I met my husband in 2004, my life had been a rolling disaster, one crisis to another.

    I started writing back around 1980. I enjoyed it. I felt I wrote well, and my stories developed without me pushing them. I let them go wherever they wanted to go, and most of us here know the result.

    Writing is something to hold onto through good times and bad. It may not be a path to glory but it is something to take great satisfaction from.

    I never had much satisfaction from my art. I never could get a handle on a style. I am super critical of my work and got discouraged easy. My father screwed us up good. We all got the message: your value to me consists of you doing something grand with your life. We also got the message that nothing we did was good enough. How’s that for a Catch-22?

    Thank God I latched onto Sly. He wants his story told and nudges me day and night to get it done. We all need something to keep us going.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. victoracquista says:

    Thank you for sharing your humanity in such a forthright way. I think of life sometimes as a crucible where the ore of our being is refined under fire and pressure. Camus said, “…in the midst of winter I found there was within me an invincible summer.”

    That quote and the embodied meaning has gotten me through some tough times and choppy waters. I can’t say that my writing is any better as a result, but my perspective on what is meaningful is unquestionably affected by the difficult circumstances that have needed to be confronted along the journey. I find your recounting of 2019 to be inspiring. I am mindful of how fortunate I am at this time of my life.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Perry Palin says:

    Adam’s inspirational post and the discussion to follow remind me that I have never been any more than a hobbyist at writing, and that is a good thing. When I was making a living in things other than writing I had financial reverses that affected me and our growing family, but we never lost all of our stuff, and we never lost our home. The children are grown and gone and doing well and I am comfortably retired now, a charmed life.

    For therapy I can go out to the pasture to talk to a horse. If you don’t have a horse, is writing therapeutic? Yes it is, and maybe a little less expensive than horse ownership. I lose myself in my stories and when I do I forget the minor annoyances of bills and local politics and too deep snow and brush growing up in the fencerows. When I come back from a story I am more sane and more centered.

    Liked by 6 people

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