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  • Writer's pictureKristina Atkins

Let’s Look Back

The 2010s were a big decade for me. I had three children, all of them crazy boys. They’re teaching me so much, especially patience. (Or, at least, what I look like when I don’t have enough. Haaaah.) We bought a house. And three cars–the last one was a trade from my beloved Outback to a minivan. Which I’ve actually come to love. I (finally) went to Italy. I owned four dogs, with two passing in that time. I had a brief stint racing cyclocross. I gave up Diet Dr. Pepper for about 3 weeks. I experienced the frustration and pain of low fertility. I tried managing bipolar disorder without meds and learned a lot from that experience. And then I got back on meds and experienced the most immense relief I have ever felt.

And, of course, I did so much in my writing life. This week marks ten years since I started grad school. I have no idea how so much time has passed. My program has been posting about the residency going on right now, and I’ve flown back in time. I loved my MFA. It was a life-changing experience for me, including the first critique I got that made me cry. (A professor said I didn’t have any writing style. They were right.) I made lifelong friends. I wrote a massive paper on childhood in the American south over the years. (What a chore, but something I came to be proud of.) I gave my first reading. But, most importantly, I learned how to critique my own work and teach myself by critiquing others, reading craft books, and analyzing other books.

I wrote 5 novels in the last ten years. I know that’s not a lot by some people’s standards, but I’m not a fast writer. And three of those I revised to subsequent drafts–one only two before shelving, and two others 5+ drafts. I wrote several hundred thousand words. I don’t know the exact number, but if it isn’t a million, it’s damn well close. I queried agents and experienced rejection. I had nibbles that got my hopes up. I received responses that encouraged me for the future. I (finally) started writing epic fantasy. And I (finally) got back to writing short stories. I learned how to submit those stories to magazines and racked up more rejections. I won a first chapter contest (that continues to buoy me today.) I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. The less time I had, the more kids I had, the more disciplined I became at forcing my butt into my chair and writing. Despite morning sickness. Despite depression. Despite crippling self-doubt.

I don’t have any grand conclusions for the last decade. I’m just proud of myself. By the world’s standards, I haven’t accomplished much. I’ve been writing for eleven years and I’m still not published. I don’t even have an agent. But my writing has grown exponentially. That growth isn’t something that you can objectively measure. But when I compare my first book with my current one, the difference is stark. Last year (or maybe the year before), I came across the file of my first draft. How much fun it would be to read it aloud chapter-by-chapter to my friend Christine and laugh at it, so I thought. But … it was so boring. I quit after chapter three. I don’t poopoo on my past self for writing that book. I did the best I could as a beginner. And of course, if I hadn’t had the tenacity to finish that book I wouldn’t be where I am today. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without writing. I wouldn’t have so many incredible friendships in my life. Writing has became a part of my mental self-care, as it gives my brain a break from worrying about my illness. I wouldn’t have a hobby I could escape into every day to help me better deal with the monotony of every day life. (For the record, I love my life but sometimes spending your days wiping butts and doing laundry and telling children not to run into the road gets a liiiiittle old. Fellow parents know what I mean.) I’m a better mom because I’m a writer. A better wife. A better friend. I’m happier when I write every day. I’m calmer. I’m more compassionate and have more empathy.

So, on the outside, the decade wasn’t that big. But it was to me. The last ten years have turned me into the person I am today, and writing is a big part of the reason.

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