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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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.

The Bloody Scotland Pitch

Yesterday I went to Stirling for the Bloody Scotland Pitch Perfect competition. I didn’t win or get any interest from any of the publishers or agents. The standard of competition was very high and I’m looking forward to reading the other novels that were pitched. I’m sure most of them are going to be published. I also attended the Graduates event where some of the former pitchers who now have published novels talked about the experience and read from their novels.

It was a useful experience. I got to meet other writers, some published already and some not published yet. It was nice to meet other people who’re going through the same stuff and it was encouraging to meet those who are already in the industry. I also got some useful feedback on how to tweak my query so I’ll have a better chance of landing an agent.

However it was also discouraging. I am really starting to feel like I’ve got no chance of getting a traditional publishing deal. I’m just too weird. My stories are too weird. The panel said my story was “really creative” and said that they’d “never heard anything like that before” but that didn’t seem to be entirely a good thing.

I’m also feeling like a mug for following all the writing advice I’ve seen. Because the most common writing advice is “finish your novel”. I keep hearing that no-one will take you seriously without a finished manuscript but there were 8 people pitching and I seemed to be the only one who was pitching a finished manuscript.

So where do I go from here? I’m not ready to give up on Singularity yet. I’m going to tweak the query letter and keep sending it out. I’ve been challenged by a friend to try my hand at writing more mundane crime fiction on the grounds that once I’ve been published people might be more willing to take a risk on the weirder stuff. I’m thinking about it.

I’m also thinking about self-publishing Singularity but I will regard that as admitting defeat because there’s no way I can do it professionally enough. I lack both the money and the skills. It’s going to feel like I’m failing my novel.

The best laid plans

This is a brief FML update.

In theory I should be starting my diet in earnest today but it kind of seems pointless because the scales are broken and I can’t weigh myself. I can’t afford new scales. How do I prove to the doctors that I’ve been sticking to the diet if I can’t tell them how much weight I’ve lost?

I’m too tired to come up with a solution to this problem because I’ve not been sleeping because I’ve been in a state of abject panic about the upcoming Bloody Scotland pitch. I’m panicking in part because I feel like I’ve got no business pitching my weird multi-genre mess at a crime writing event. Somebody is bound to call me on it and what am I going to say? I am now old enough that ‘it wasn’t my idea’ is not a valid excuse for anything.

I’ve also spent two days not phoning the salon for an appointment for a much needed haircut. If I don’t get my undercut trimmed before Sunday I’m going to be delivering a presentation looking like I’ve been attacked by a toddler with a strimmer. I hate making phone calls at the best of times but my anxiety is out of control at the moment.

I think this is all a preemptive reaction to the expected rejection from the pitch. I’ve recently discovered something called rejection-sensitive dysphoria which is common in people with ADHD. Basically it means that it’s not just my imagination. I do have an extreme reaction to rejection and criticism. It’s not because I’m weak or oversensitive. It’s part of the way my brain is wired. Which is a tiny bit of a relief but also means that I’m not going to ever just get over it.

Yay for self knowledge.

Pitching in Public again.

Last year I took part in a pitch event at Xponorth in Inverness. I only sent in the initial submission as an exercise in getting used to rejection. I was surprised to be selected to pitch and and even more surprised at how well it went. I was shocked and stunned to be asked for a full manuscript by a publisher. It didn’t work out but that is the lot of the writer.

Next month I am getting back on the pitching pony again. A friend (Vanessa Robertson) bugged me into applying for Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland. It’s kind of a big thing. It’s been going for years. People have been published as a direct result of it. I got a phone call today (Thursday) saying that I’m pitching.

I just hope that my weird novel doesn’t piss off a panel that’s looking for the next big thing in crime fiction.