It’s been an interesting year, but also difficult. The first six months were spent slowly wrapping up life in New Delhi, and it was an optimistic time. We – my wife, daughter and I – were looking forward to coming home to Scotland enormously. While I don’t regret moving to India, it’s an exhausting and frustrating country. After five years we were glad our time there was up.
However, I didn’t count on how frustrating and exhausting settling back into life in the UK was going to be. Getting the house set up, then our daughter into school, felt like a Herculean task over the summer, and then came dayjobbery. I actually like my day job, but there are many plates to spin. I can do that, but after two commutes a day, dayjobbery, getting home and feeding the family, squeezing in a run somewhere… writing became the last thing on my list. As you’ll know from your own life, the last thing is the one that drops off when things get tight.
Things have been very tight.
Even worse, my writing commitments (both self-imposed and external) haven’t dropped off any since earlier in the year when I was writing full time. Stupidly, I even took on new ones. A bunch of writing commitments that you can’t meet becomes an impossible pressure, and I sleepwalked into a depression I’m still shaking off.
So at the end of November I decided to quit. Why keep wrestling with something that’s doing its level best to poison me?
Fortunately (for me, rather than the reading public at large) I remembered what happened last time I went cold turkey.
There are three things that keep me sane – reading, storytelling, and running. Take one of those things away, and my head goes to strange and dangerous places. With writing all but dead in the water, and my reading having dried up too (weirdly, those two things are always linked), I was already trying to stay sane on running alone. That limits the damage, and on run days I was less likely to suffer mood swings and short temper, but it’s only part of the equation.
During December I was a mess. The worst thing about that is the temptation to climb back into a bottle for a bit. I haven’t been at risk of actually doing that – or at least, I don’t think I have – but it’s been preying on my mind as a possibility. The festive season is always isolating for ‘recovering’ alcoholics I think, not least because we can’t do all that lubricated merriment with which everybody else celebrates the season. In my case, with things in my life out of balance and seemingly unfixable, anaesthetising myself seemed like an increasingly viable option.
Not writing just makes a hole that needs filled with something else. Guess what the number one substitute would be?
So I won’t quit. But I need a bigger reset button for 2015.
That’s a bit of a glum opening for this sort of post, especially as 2014 wasn’t bad in lots of other ways. For all the stress surrounding it, coming back to Scotland has also been wonderful. The setup seems to be over, and we even got ourselves a dog. Sadie, our lab pup, is a bundle of absolutely insane energy (she never sleeps! I thought puppies were supposed to sleep!), and while she’s often maddening, she’s also adorable enough to just about get away with it most of the time.
My running year was a bit inconsistent, but not bad in the end. I did my first Parkrun with my mate Lorraine a few weeks back (and my second yesterday) and had a blast doing the half-marathon in Glasgow in October. I’ve really enjoyed getting out in the cooler weather, and hitting the streets and parks has been a lovely way to reconnect with the city. I now run the five miles between home and work at least a couple of times a week, sometimes more, and in December I embarked on the Advent Running challenge (running every day for thirty minutes or more until xmas, with no recovery days). I managed eleven days and forty-seven miles before I had to declare myself done. My muscles coped admirably, but my knees and hips didn’t. When it got to the point where I couldn’t walk comfortably between runs, I hit pause. Loads of AR runners did the month in two or three streaks with rest days in between, but that wasn’t what it was about for me. I just wanted to find out how many consecutive days I’d last, so when I had to cave I had my answer. Next year I might try it again, and see if I can get further.
My writing year was pretty good for the first six months. I released my novel The Flesh Market in February, and while it hasn’t sold as fast as others it’s easily my best reviewed book to date. I also re-launched my novella The Flesh Remembers, which is a much bouncier sort of tall tale that’s been received in exactly the pulpy sort of spirit I’d hoped. I also saw the release of my novel Craven Place as an audiobook, and while I haven’t got my head around how audiobooks really work, it’s still something I’m proud of.
In short stories I started The 52, a massive story project, at the start of the year, and published twelve stories before I hit the summer and got swept away. Some of the stories make me dissatisfied, and others are (I think) among the best I’ve written, and have shown me the sort of writer I might like to be when I grow up. I also saw published my third Iris Wildthyme short story with Obverse Books in the new anthology Iris Wildthyme Of Mars, and somebody even liked it.
A novel, a novella, an audiobook, and thirteen stories. That’s not a bad year, actually. A huge thank you to the publishers, actors, editors, artists, and others who were part of it.
And thank you, too. Some of you have read a few of the stories I’ve told this year. As ever, this fills me with a strange and unsettling concoction of delight and guilt. Twenty years a writer, more or less, and I’m still waiting for the Fraud Police to knock on my door and take me away.
So, that reset button. It’s a fairly easy button to push, because it blows everything up indiscriminately. As soon as I do, everything is dropped. Absolutely everything. As I’ve failed to keep everything in the air, I’m going to let them fall and see what breaks and what survives. I’ve just sent out four emails cancelling things I’d signed up to do – things I was failing at anyway, but which I was hoping I could somehow save. I’ll miss them deeply, will spend the next few weeks beating myself up for letting good people down, and will always wonder what they would have turned out like. Still, it’s sort of an emergency. I wreck them or they’ll wreck me. I’m also wiping my own slate clean. Everything, as of right now, is cancelled.
For the last couple of years I’ve been in the enviable position of being able to do as much as possible. I set a high bar for myself, and while I never quite reached it I still ended up with a lot done. Trying to continue in that vein is what seems to be grinding me into the dirt, so it’s time to rewrite my expectations.
I’m going to do very little, but I’ll try to do it every day. A tiny benchmark, five hundred new words, and that’s it. In all but the most exceptional cases I’ll stop there and wait until the next day to continue. Those five hundred words will go into one project at a time. The first of those projects will be salvaged from the big pile of broken things at my feet. Someday, whole new things might be added.
One thing at a time, five hundred words closer to sanity each day. No publishing deadlines – in fact seeing things published doesn’t figure in this at all. After a year of publishing as a business, I want to get back to just writing for a while. If it goes well, and good words happen, then I’m sure publishing will happen at some point down the line. It usually does. That’s not the goal for now though.
I just want to write, and find some of the old joy in uncovering stories. I hope that’s okay?
I’m forty in a week or so. There’s a shiny new year to play with. It’s the perfect time for a big red reset button, when you think about it.
Ready? I’m going to push it now.