Finnian Burnett


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.

3 thoughts on “Eclectic, Smart, and a Little Hard to Figure Out

  1. carolynmcb says:

    I can completely relate to your conundrum! I have a mystery in its third draft, a post-apocalyptic novel in the 2nd draft, a novella (that I have no idea how to finish) related to the aforementioned mystery and more ideas for stories than I have years! I want to build up a back-catalogue, I want to be a hybrid author…but then when life gets quiet, I’m exhausted. Midlife crisis, indeed. How do we get through this? I know what the common advice is. “Just push through it, get words down and edit later” Can I do that? Not as often as I’d like. Does that work for you? Can an end goal propel us closer to the finish line? Wish I had some advice for you, Finn. Maybe we can stumble toward the finish line together, making sure we push, pull and support each other until we can stumble across the line like we’ve just run the Boston Marathon.

  2. Charlie Cousins says:

    When I write, I am a balloon overfilled with the blood of ideas and my keyboard a bed of nails. God only knows what stories will spatter and congeal in all those incomplete files buried behind hedges of ones and zeroes in the garden of my hope and the graveyard of my dreams. I can’t write that way for long. Just little sprints and then the skin of the balloon deflates to lay next to me, languid in its uselessness and empty as the space after my last period on paper that isn’t paper any more.

    So, I keep going back to who I am–that funny, shallow old man with the beer gut, devoid of dental insurance, and devoted to dreaming dreams the keyboard gets all wrong. I read. I read hither. I read yon. I read you.

    That’s the pump, you see. That’s the pressure that fills the balloon, that inspires and refines and grants me a window into a future that isn’t all about me and my shortcomings. Reading you helps me to shoulder the burden of doubt and, for that, I am forever grateful. But don’t get a big head. Hither and yon are just as important to me. The difference is this: you have been a direct mentor and a teacher–to me! Not to some set of target readers defined by genre. You taught me. And that makes you special.

    Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of special that brings in a paycheck.

    1. Finnian Burnett says:

      Perhaps not a paycheck, but a reward nonetheless. Thank you so much

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