Hello there, and a very happy new year to you too.
Ah, no, wait. Did you get too excited? Did you think you might have blinked and missed the whole of 2017? And did that thought fill you with a wild and inexplicable joy? Sorry about that. It’s still only April. You have another nine months to drag yourself through before…well, before you have to do it all again in 2018.
This entry has opened in a much more nihilistic way than I intended. Sorry.
What I was alluding to is my longstanding habit of thinking of my writing year as running from April to March. It’s a relic from when I was fully self-employed many moons ago, and trying to organise everything around tax years. When I plan what’s to come and look back on what’s happened, the start of April is when I do it.
And what an odd year it’s been. I wasn’t able to get much actual writing done at all, and what scribblings I finished weren’t remotely fit to publish. That makes the whole thing sound like a disaster, but it wasn’t quite. As well as those useless finished efforts I started several other bits and pieces which I didn’t complete, but which have definite promise. More on those in a minute.
By complete contrast I’ve had a comparatively successful year of book sales on the self-published front, sparked by a couple of successful promotions last summer. In all I sold 2374 copies in the last twelve months, the majority of which were of The Flesh Market (making it my most ‘successful’ self-published novel by quite some margin), but just about every one of the seven books I have available shifted some over the year. That’s not bad given that the most recent is two years old, and just goes to show that you should never give up on your backlist. Even my oldest novel Cuckoo (two decades old now, for god’s sake) is fresh and shiny to the vast majority of readers who have no idea who I am.
Let’s call it the most successful year in which I published nothing at all. Not a gift horse to be looked in the mouth*, but there’s work to be done this year. If I can’t finish new stories, then I have to ask myself what I’m actually doing here. I’m a big believer in not wasting my time, and it’s not as though you’ll have nothing else to read. If I don’t have the drive to tell you stories any more, then I can probably save myself some stress by just stopping. Not sure what I’d do then, but it would be something, which is better than nothing, which is what’s happening now.
I’m not ready to ask myself that question yet, but it’s on the horizon. I’ll give it a year. Either I can sort myself out in that time, or I’ll call it good and walk away. I’ll stop being a writer and hopefully be somebody who maybe writes something every now and again in an aimless, happy sort of way, just for the hell of it.
But there are twelve months before I settle on which way to go, and I’ll use them to give it my best effort to see if I can get back on track and (crucially) enjoy doing so. The first thing to do is get organised. I’ve been most successful as a writer of finished things, and the most satisfied, when I’ve had a system and structure. In the past couple of years I’ve tried a couple of systems that have instantly collapsed beneath the other bits of my life (irregular shift patterns, family, running, other stuff). I’ve also tried just writing in a disorganised way, waiting for random windows of time that never happened. Or rather, sometimes they happened but I was tired and binge-watching Line of Duty was more compelling. Writing and running are similar for me. If I don’t plan things out, things never happen. If I know I have an hour of writing or running scheduled then I’ll get it done before I stop for the day. If that’s not already set in stone then what I have is ‘free time’ and a range of things to fill it with. The difficult things** tend to slip waaaay down the list.
So a schedule is now a thing again. The next three months have specific projects pencilled across the weeks. The three months after that are looser, and I’ll review how things are going before I start locking them down. First on my list are some of those unfinished projects I mentioned earlier. If things go well then I’ll have them done by the end of June, and that will be an incredible relief in and of itself. They’ve been stuck in my skull for too long, and are giving me a headache. Whether they’re great stories or dreadful ones, I need them out of my head and on the page.
I’ll road test the new routine over the next month or so, find out whether it’s too ambitious or not ambitious enough, and adjust as I go along.
I’ll also be chatting about it as I go along. Every Sunday I’ll have a quick review of my week here – what was achieved, what doesn’t work, and anything else writing related that’s on my mind. Mostly this for me. When you start something new you’re supposed to tell people to keep you honest and focussed (the pressure not to report that you have failed utterly is never a bad thing). Whether you pop in for those ramblings is up to you. They might be interesting, if writing is a thing you’re interested in. They might not. I won’t be going into the specifics of what I’m writing in those blogs – titles, and characters, and plots, and so forth. That’s too much like getting naked in front of strangers. It’s more about how (or if) I’m writing than what I’m writing.
However if you want more (and we’re all going to have to move on from the nudity metaphor of a moment ago, okay?) then at the end of each month I’ll be using my email newsletter to get much more specific. There’s a newsletter signup box in the right hand column on this page. I won’t be sending them more than monthly, except on the rare occasion there’s also a new book available mid-month, so if you want to know what the things I’m working on actually are then join up.
So that’s what’s happened, and what’s happening. I’m going to group these blogs under the banner ‘The Last Ditch’, for obvious reasons. Fingers crossed it’s a good year, or I’m going to have to find something else to be. A potter, maybe. Or a philatelist. Or…I don’t know…an astronaut? Is that hard?
What do hobbies even look like now?
Suggestions are welcome.
*And isn’t that the oddest expression? If somebody did give me a horse I probably wouldn’t think myself terribly blessed in the first place – you can’t just throw one of those in a cupboard and forget about it – and I definitely wouldn’t feel at all compelled to give close examination to the inside of its mouth and throat. You have to wonder how often this situation used to arise with adverse consequences, given that it is now cited as a warning to us all.
**Both writing and running are often difficult things to start, no matter how good you know you’ll feel when you’ve done them.