Performance review 2017

Since writers don’t have employers we don’t get handy annual performance reviews to tell us how we’re doing. So I’ve decided to do one for myself.

My primary focus for the last year has been to move toward getting published. So that’s a fail then. I have queried some agents. Not as many agents as I could have so that’s something that I could improve on next year. All the ones that have replied have said no. There’s still one I’m waiting to hear back from but I don’t expect to hear anything now until the new year. I did pitch my finished novel at Bloody Scotland and while I got some useful feedback to improve my query letter it hasn’t led anywhere.

Since my main focus is about being a professional writer rather than simply publishing one book I’ve also been writing. I’ve been re-writing and editing a sequel to my finished novel. I wrote the first draft of a novella and for NaNoWriMo I wrote the first draft of a straight crime novel. That’s pretty good but there’s room for improvement. I think I should aim to write at least one first draft and move at least one novel to the completed stage every year.

My secondary focus was to build the skills I need if I have to self publish. I’ve have been moving in the right direction but not nearly far enough. I’ve taken up calligraphy, which can be used to do cover art, and I’m improving my design skills. If I absolutely have to I could probably create a professional looking front cover.

I also wanted to build up this blog. I think that’s been fairly successful. There are more people reading it regularly, I’ve been posting at least 3 times a week most weeks since the beginning of April. Hopefully if I do publish a book at least one of you will actually be willing to pay to read it.

Since July I’ve been trying to get something, anything, done about my Lipoedema. After 4 Doctor appointments and 2 nurse appointments at my local practice, a trip to the leg ulcer clinic in Dunfermline and another to the Lymphoedema clinic in Kirkcaldy I may be only a couple of weeks away from trying on my first compression garments.

Since September I’ve been dieting because apparently you have to if you want to get your Lipoedema treated even though calorie restriction isn’t a treatment for Lipoedema. I’ve lost 11.5 kg and I’m hoping to get back into weight training. I’m just waiting for my equipment to be delivered.

So I haven’t been entirely useless this year but it still feels a bit unsatisfying. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that this year has felt like someone raised the corpse of 2016, decked it out in leather and spikes, stuck it behind the wheel of a steamroller and then pointed it at democracy.

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What to do, what to do?

I have one halfway valuable talent and it’s writing. It’s not the only thing I can do but my other talents are either valued even less or require even more investment or are just too exhausting for a Spoonie like me.

In theory it’s never been easier to get your writing in front of people. Getting paid for your writing is another matter entirely. I’ve been lucky so far, if by lucky you mean basically cursed, because I’m disabled enough that the government gives me money. That means that I’ve been able to write without needing to get paid immediately. I could look on my writing as an investment that would pay off eventually.

I’m now getting to the point where eventually needs to be soon. But I’m starting to feel like eventually is going to end up being never. With each passing day I have less and less hope that I’ll be able to get published via the traditional route. My only other option is self publishing badly and sending my precious story out to die with all the other half assed self pub books. I don’t have the skills or the money to do it properly.

Every time I think I’ve found a way to turn my skill into income it just evaporates as soon as I get close. Self publishing in’t the cake walk that some people would have you believe. Patreon have just said they don’t want people like me, if you don’t already have a huge following they’re not interested, Kickstarter is for people with plans, I’ve yet to find an even slightly ethical way to make money from any blog that I’d be able to write.

I spent more than half my life desperately wishing that I knew what to aim for. And now I know. And I’ve been working towards it steadily for 12 years and it feels like I’m no closer than I was at the start.

So I don’t know what to do. I’ll keep writing as long as I have a device to write on and I’ll keep blogging as long as I have a device and internet access. Maybe the problem is just that I’m not good enough yet. Maybe I’ll stumble into something interesting enough to say and everything will change. Probably not though.

It might be time to stop editing what I write. I write because I have to. I edit because I want to get paid. If I’m not getting paid now and there’s no hope of getting paid eventually then why am I editing?

Lessons from NaNoWriMo 2017

Every year I write a first draft in November and every year I try to learn something new while doing it. This year’s first draft was a straightish crime novel with the working title Project Cecil. The name doesn’t mean anything I just had to call it something and one thing I’ve learned in previous years is that I suck at titles.

This year’s big lesson is that I can write a novel without relying on fantasy, science fiction, or the supernatural. I’m just not entirely sure I want to. It’s really too early to tell if the story is any good. That wasn’t the point. A first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written. But I am starting to question the logic of writing it.

I wrote a straight crime novel because a friend challenged me to write it. She challenged me because my attempts to get an agent or a publisher are hampered by the kind of stories I normally write. It’s not that they’re bad it’s just that they’re hard to market because they don’t fit easily into any single genre. My friend suggested that if I could write a regular crime novel I would have more chance of getting an agent or publisher interested and once I have something published I might have more luck with my weirder books.

My friend might be right. But I’m starting to think about the long game. My ultimate aim isn’t to get a single book published or even to get paid for a couple of manuscripts. My aim is a career as a writer and to do that I need to concentrate on the books I actually want to write. I like the story I’ve been telling but it’s not representative of most of the stories that I want to tell.

Of course it might still be worth taking this novel to Bloody Scotland next year and pitching it. Even if it doesn’t lead to the career I want it might at least lead to enough money to pay to self publish the other stories well enough to build a career that way.

This doesn’t mean I regret this experiment though. I’ve met some interesting characters while writing this story and I think I’ll probably come back to them at some point and finish telling their stories properly.

Reasons to party

My final post for those in the midst of NaNoWriMo.

Here we are. Just four days left and this one is partially used. All that’s left is to keep writing whether we do it from habit, or stubbornness, or desperation, or hope. What else is there to do?

We look ahead to December and we think of reasons to party. What we don’t do is take our scrappy first drafts and send them off to any agents or publishers. We’re not even going to look at them until January. Christmas holidays at the very earliest.

What are our reasons to party then? If you got your 50,000 words and an official win then you have my permission to party. If you wrote more than you’ve ever written that’s a reason to party. If you wrote every day, or at least every day until your story was finished then it’s party time. If you turned up to an in person meeting and met new people then break out the paper hats. If you supported other people online then pour yourself something nice.

For some of you the work has only just begun. Some will have to keep writing next month to finish the story. Some have discovered that they are slow writers and they need to write a little every day. Some will spend the next 12 months cleaning up what they wrote during November. I myself will be going back to rewriting and editing the story that I was working on in October.

But regardless of where we are on our journeys December is always the right month to pause, to look back on the lessons we’ve learned, to look ahead towards new challenges, and to party.

There’s only going to be one more post on the subject of NaNoWrMo 2017 and that will be about the things that I’ve learned this year. I might keep up the playlist posts though.

Keep on keeping on

For those deep in the depths of NaNoWriMo.

As we face week four my advice to you is just keep going. No matter what your word count or where you are in the story just keep writing. I do have some slightly more nuanced advice but it all boils down to “keep writing”.

If you’re ahead of where you need to be, even if you’ve hit your 50,000 words then keep writing. If you’ve finished your story either go back and add some revision notes (but don’t actually revise anything yet) or start something new while the magic lasts.

If you’re on track then keep going. Yes I know you’re tired but why give up now when it’s actually working? And if you’re on track but you’re increasingly sure that your novel is worthless and you’ll never be able to stand to even look at it keep going anyway. You might be wrong and even if you’re not you will still learn something from finishing it.

If you’re behind but you think you can catch up then stop reading this and write something. You might also want to spend 10 minutes thinking about ways that you can find more time to write.

If you’re behind and you’re sure you can’t catch up I have two things to say to you. Firstly don’t stop writing because you might be wrong and even if you’re not you’ve got nothing to lose by building a habit of writing daily. Secondly it might be time to have a look at why you’re behind and see if you can learn anything for next year.

You could be behind because you are a slow writer. There’s nothing wrong with being a slow writer. Plenty of professionals are slow on the first draft. Slow writers typically end up with a much cleaner first draft and spend less time on editing and rewriting. So don’t assume that this is a problem that you need to fix. But if you are a slow writer then you might want to start thinking about building a daily habit of writing. Slow and infrequent is no way to finish a novel.

You could be behind because you’re too busy or because even when you have time you’re too tired or stressed. If that’s the case then the solution is preparation. Next October you might want to spend time cutting things from your November schedule and planning your novel so that you have a good idea what you’re writing.

You could be behind because you’re having trouble letting go of the perfect novel in your head. You either keep editing as you go or each time you sit down to write you find yourself paralyzed by the empty page and take ages to get started. For this year try timed sprints and remind yourself that this isn’t your novel. This is a first draft. You’re exploring the idea of your novel just now. For next year maybe try to write something that you don’t care about as much just to get used to the process. Once you have a bit of faith in yourself as a writer it’s much easier to tell your inner critic to take a hike.

Good luck with week four and keep writing.

Playlist Track 9 and 10

Track 9 is another song that makes me think about co-dependency but now with a heavy side order of loss and regret. If you’ve never seen the video then I recommend stopping what you’re doing and watching. It’s beautiful and poignant.

 

Track 10 is more about loss and regret and about how sometimes a brief happiness can make seem like a cruel lie when the misery returns.

 

These two songs take me into the state of mind of my little group of amature detectives. They’ve all felt a terrible loss they’re each one striving to be strong for the others. They’re each living with a gaping hole where someone they cared about used to be.

Why not tell me in the comments about the sort of music that helps you when you’re writing? Does it help you to concentrate, or help you visualise a scene, or does it create a mood. And if you don’t like music what do you like? Silence? Ambient noise? Podcasts?

All the Playlist posts.

My personal NaNoWriMo update

The good news is that I’m ahead of where I need to be. The bad news is that my plot isn’t a plot it’s a series of scenes that happen to my characters and which I may, at some point, be able to wrangle into a coherent narrative.

I have finally found this year’s Plot Ninja*. It turned out to be the deeply creepy personal blog written by my killer. So the one thing I can always write about is delusions of an untreated erotomaniac? What does that say about me?

The Fife region that I’m the Municipal Liaison for is doing really well this year. The group are supporting each other both online and in person. Fife is in the global top 50 for average word counts. That can only happen because everyone writing in the region is pushing hard and even when people fall behind they haven’t stopped writing.

Allow me to share my favourite bit of writing so far:

“I wasn’t going to apologise to Archie. He gave night vision goggles to a teenager. Creeping round the house at night is about the least worst thing I could have done with them. He’s just lucky I wasn’t stalking cute boys and girls with them,” said Maggie

Don’t you just love Maggie from that line alone?  No? Maybe it’s just me.

Good luck to all my followers who are writing this month. May your characters be loquacious and co-operative and may your Plot Ninjas be less creepy than mine.

 

*A Plot Ninja is the thing you write about when you’re completely out of ideas but you need to keep writing to keep your momentum up. So named because in one of the early years of NaNoWriMo one of the participants would just have their characters attacked by ninjas whenever they ran out of plot.

Just keep writing

For everyone about to face week three of NaNoWriMo.

How you doing? Are you still writing? If you’re ahead then good work but don’t get cocky. If you’re behind but you’re still writing then well done but don’t stop.

Week one was all about enjoying the fun of creation but accepting that your novel wasn’t as good as you hoped it would be because your imaginary novel is perfect and your real one is not only real but a first draft. Week two is about keeping going even after it’s stopped being fun. Week three is different depending on where you are with your word count.

If you’re roughly on track with your word count then Week three can feel a bit precarious. You’ve kept up the pace so far but you’re beginning to worry that you can’t keep it up till the end of the month. You start to worry that you could lose all the work you’ve done so far with just a couple of bad days.

You can’t lose the hard work you’ve already done as long as you have backed up your work. You have backed it up haven’t you? Go and to it now, just to be sure. If you do fall behind you can claw it back. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve even done it myself. But if you’re starting to worry, if you’re looking ahead to commitments that you can’t get out of then decide today to do an extra 20 minutes. After you’ve hit your total for the day write an extra 20 minutes worth of words. Do that whenever you can and you’ll build up a buffer to carry you through.

If you’re well ahead of track, either because you need to finish early, or your story is longer than 50,000 words, or because you’re writing more than one this year, or things are just going really well for you then take a couple of minutes to congratulate yourself. Pat yourself on the back. Eat some cake. Celebrate with a beer if that’s your thing.

Now get back to work. November isn’t over. There are greater heights to scale. There are lessons to be learned from whatever you’re writing. And, since you’re ahead, you have time to spare to help, advise or commiserate with the people who aren’t doing so well.

Speaking of which.

Hi, how you doing? Still writing? Not giving up even though you’re sure you’ll never hit 50,000? Good work. If you can keep writing till the end of the month then you might not officially win but you won’t’ have failed. To keep writing in the face of all the distractions the world can throw at you is its own kind of victory.

But don’t write the official win off just yet. There is still time to pull it back. Just sit your arse down at the keyboard/notebook and write. Write anything. Start by complaining about the mad woman with the walking stick who keeps threatening you. Because if you don’t write more I will come round to your house, stand behind you, and poke you with the stick of doom until you do*.

 

*I won’t actually do this unless you’ve given me your address and specifically asked me to so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Playlist Track 8

This song is for my group of ‘detectives’. They’re good people but they’re all a bit damaged.

Tragic backstories all round.

But the thing about damaged people is that they can be hard to scare. How do you intimidate someone when you can’t say anything that’s worse than they say to themselves? How do you threaten someone when they’re already in more pain than you will ever know?

And if you’re a killer who has so far gone undetected you can forget about them missing any evidence you’ve left behind. The OCD won’t let them miss things that are out of place. The Autism won’t let them stop looking. The PTSD and the depression mean that they don’t care enough about their own safety to  even think about letting things lie.

For further information

Behold the wall and tremble

Another post for NaNoWriMo. If you’re participating and you’re on track or close to on track then read on. If you’re more than 2000 words behind then stop reading right now, set a timer and write for twenty minutes. You have my permission to make the first sentence something like “I hate her but if I don’t write something she’s going to come after me what that damn stick.”

So here we are, staring down the barrel of week two. There’s something in the distance. It’s getting closer. How strange. It looks like a wall.

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that if you’re still writing at this point, no matter how far behind you are, then you have already overcome two of the greatest barriers that stand before any aspiring writer. The bad news is that number three is right ahead and it’s a doozy.

Most people who want to write a novel ‘some day’ never get as far as writing a single word. You got past that when you actually sat down and wrote something.

Most people who get as far as writing something stop as soon as they realise that what they’ve written sucks. Because of course it sucks. It’s a first draft. That’s what first drafts are for.

The third barrier is the week two wall. Can you keep going now that writing has stopped being fun? Can you keep going even though you’re lost and you hate your novel and you have so many more words to write before it’s done? Can you keep going as the laundry piles up and it’s getting harder to find time to write and your friends and family begin to express surprise that you’re still writing? Can you keep going now that you’re losing hope that your terrible words can ever be anything better?

You can’t avoid the wall if you want to write your 50,000 words. You have to go through it, or over it, or tunnel under it. And you have to do it one word at a time. Don’t worry if you slow down when you hit the wall. You have time to catch up as long as you keep going. So keep going.

Tips to help you beat the wall:

  1. Stop caring about good. Start caring about finished.
  2. It’s ok to skip a difficult scene and come back to it.
  3. It’s also ok to slog through that scene with painful slowness.
  4. Don’t delete anything.
  5. If something is so bad that you can’t stand to look at it then change the text colour to white or use the highlight function to change the background to black.
  6. If you’ve written something wrong and you need to change it don’t delete the old version. Write it again and keep both versions. That way you can choose to go back to the old version if it was better.
  7. If you’re not sure which word to use then use all of them. There will be time to pick the right one later.
  8. If you find you need to sort out some word building or some backstory then do it but keep the words in the draft. Even if you know you’re not going to use any of it in the finished version. It’s fiction. You wrote it in November. It counts.

Good luck. See you on the other side of the wall.