My tarot deck keeps telling me that I’m trapped by indecision

It’s not wrong.

I have done very little this week except vacillate on the subject of my writing “career” and I’m no closer to a decision than I was last week. I still have a novel that I was querying that I don’t know what to do with. I still have the novel that I was working on that I don’t know if it’s worth finishing. I still have many potential future novels and no idea where I want to go.

Back in 2016 when I pitched my finished novel at XPOnorth it was greeted with a great deal more enthusiasm than I had been expecting. So much enthusiasm that it led me to believe that it was good and that people liked it and that my pitch, and therefore any query letter I wrote based on it, was persuasive.

That was the last time I got any positive feedback from anyone in the publishing industry. Everything since then has been form rejection. If there’s something wrong with my novel then I’ve already blown it’s chances with the best agents to represent it. I have one beta reader telling me that there are massive problems with the first chapter that need to be fixed or I will never sell it and one telling me that it’s okay apart from a couple of spelling mistakes. I’ve got no idea if there are any agents left who’d be interested in it even if I could fix it.

I decided to concentrate on finishing the novel I was working on and then fix the other one later once I’d worked out what I wanted to do. Only now I find that working on this novel seems pointless. It has the same setting as the other one and though I could tweak it slightly and make it the first book set there I’m starting to wonder if the problem is the setting. Or if the problem is me. What if all my books are too wierd? What if they’re just not sellable?

I started thinking that if they are too weird to sell to an agent or a publisher then that’s not necessarily the end. I could self publish. Only I’d be doing it badly because I still can’t afford an editor, or a development editor, or a designer, or cover art.

Maybe the answer is to write stuff that’s less weird. I did try that for NaNoWriMo 2017. I wrote a first draft with nothing magical or supernatural or sci fi. It was ok. I’m not sure the novel has much potential but I wrote it. Maybe I should concentrate on that. It would be much easier for me to break into the industry via crime. But then I would be stuck writing that sort of novel. I’d have built the wrong career.

So what do I do? I’ve got a finished novel that isn’t really finished. A work in progress that might not be worth finishing. A bunch of weird first drafts that I might never be able to interest anyone in. A not weird first draft that I’m not ready to work on and that might be a move in the wrong direction.

Should I just drop the lot of them in a drawer somewhere and try writing something different? Maybe I could write some generic fantasy? Maybe I should give up on selling, give up on re-writing, and just stick them all on the internet for free.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is a right decision or if they’re all equally wrong. I don’t know what I want to do either.

All I know for sure is that I am spectacularly, incandescently, outrageously angry.


How do I do this again?

I’ve accepted a challenge to try and write a straight* mystery novel. Something with none of the usual weirdness that I like. Something a bit more vanilla. I thought it would be an interesting challenge, like limiting myself to the form of a haiku or a sonnet. I thought it would be fun.

I have a starting point and I have some characters and I have a premise but I don’t know where to go from there. The more I try to find my plot it the more my self-doubt screams at me that I don’t know how to do this.

But I do know how to do this. I know how a plot works. I know how to put one together. A plot is a plot and the supernatural and the fantastic and the weird are just trappings. It’s people and the things they do to each other that drives the plot. That remains the same whether the story takes place in the imagined past, in the alternative present and in all possible futures.

It’s like my self-doubt has latched onto the one thing I’m doing differently this time and is waving it like a fucking flag. Look at this. This is the reason you can’t do this. You should give up. You can’t be a ‘proper’ writer so you should just stop trying.

To my self-doubt I say this, “Shut up, bitch. I am a proper writer. A writer writes. I write. Therefore I am a writer. Sticking the word ‘proper’ in front of it is just a bullshit excuse for gatekeeping. Whatever I do as a writer you’re just going to claim that it doesn’t make me a ‘proper’ writer or a ‘real’ writer. I will write whatever I damn well please.”

Which is all very nice and assertive but I still don’t have a plot.


*Only straight in the sense of not having any of my usual magical or weird science shenanigans. It will definitely still be queer in every other sense.


As I write this* I just hit send on a query. I feel sick. It’s a mistake. You only get one chance to make a first impression and I must have done something wrong. I’ve definitely done something wrong. I always do something wrong. My heart is pounding and my breathing is messed up and I am having a full-on fight or flight response.

All I did was send a fucking email.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of any hope of getting an agent or getting published and just view each query sent as another box I can tick on my way to the inevitable 100% failure. It’s like a rite of passage. All writers go through it. This novel is doomed.

Which is a pity because it’s really good. I would refer you to my beta readers but we all know that I’m far harsher on my own work than they could ever be. It is legitimately far better than I thought it could be at any point in the creative process after the point at which I actually started typing.

Of course compared to the perfect citadel of prose that I visualised before I  started typing it’s a piece of shit but that’s probably unavoidable. The idea of a story is perfect but the idea is also an illusion. Until you pin it down and turn it into an actual thing the idea is nothing. I don’t regret killing my perfect idea.

I’m still regretting hitting send on that query but I’ll get over it. It’s the same thing really. In my head I could assemble the perfect query letter and synopsis and I could imagine them landing in the agent’s inbox announced by choirs of angels. The moment I hit send rejection becomes a possibility.


*I wrote this in the middle of the night. I’ll schedule it to go out at a more reasonable time.

Funny on purpose by accident

There’s a film called Planet Terror (well half a film really because it’s one half of Grindhouse). In it there’s a character called Cherry Darling played by Rose McGowan. She’s a go-go dancer who wants to be a stand up comedian, not because she thinks she’s funny but because guys find her hilarious when she’s being serious.

I’m funny deliberately, or at least I try to be, but sometimes I feel like her (only fat and old and with two crap legs instead of one good one and one machine gun prosthesis).

I try really hard to be funny but I know that there’s a lot of people in the world who are far better at it than I am. Both my younger brothers are funnier than me. I have a few friends whose Facebook posts are properly, laugh until you can’t breathe, funny. I know people who’ve done stand up. But still I try.

I try so hard to be funny because for me humour is a lifeline. A lot of the time I’m laughing to keep from crying. When I write about my life I try to make it funny because otherwise it would be unbearable. If I just whinged about how much my life sucked no-one would read it and writing it down would make me feel worse instead of better.

When I’m writing fiction I try to be funny because the writers whose work I most love – Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Warren Ellis – are all funny, though in very different ways. I want to be funny because that’s the writing that gives me the most joy to read.

But the thing about writing humour is that you can’t tell if it’s actually funny till other people read it. You can’t even tell if people can tell it’s meant to be funny till other people read it. Sometimes you can’t even tell then. It’s not telling a joke to an audience that will either laugh or not laugh. You write something and send it off out into the world and even if people like it you can’t tell if they find it funny unless they take the time to tell you and you can’t tell which bits they found funny.

Sometimes I’m writing humourously about stuff that is not funny. In my fiction, because most of what I write is some species of thriller, I find that I’m often writing about the worst day of someone’s life. Terrible things are happening and I’m writing gallows humour because that’s how I deal with terrible things but is it really funny? When I’m blogging about what it’s like to be in pain all the fucking time that is not funny but I’m kind of trying to make it funny so people will keep reading.

I’ve spent so long trying to be funny that sometimes the funny just kind of happens. Sometimes I’m not sure if I meant it or not. Sometimes it’s just how I talk, or how I write, or how I am. So is funny something I do or something I am? Or neither? When people laugh are they laughing at me or with me? Does it matter?

I shall stop now. I’ve tied myself up in enough knots.

Missing the sweet spot

They do say that every writer, every successful artist of any kind, exists in the sweet spot where monstrous ego and crippling self-doubt overlap.

Which might explain why I am not a successful artist.  I keep missing that sweet spot.  I have my moments of ego but they never last long enough to get anything I’ve created out into the world.  I’ve got the crippling self-doubt thing nailed though.

This evening I’ve been pondering why I find it so easy to slip into thoughts of my own worthlessness.  It’s a comfortable pattern of thought for me.  Like a ratty old jumper that’s full of holes, ugly and a bit smelly but that you just keep slipping on whenever no-one else is looking.  It seems odd that I’d be so comfortable thinking of myself as worthless when I don’t think that way about anyone else.

When I look back at my life I’m not sure how I ended up thinking this way about myself.  Is this hard wired?  Is it a feature of my personality?  Did I teach myself to think this way or was it ingrained in me as I was growing up?

I know I’ve been depressed for a very long time.  I first recognized that there was something wrong when I was 4 or 5 years old.  I knew that I was sad far more than I should be.  I hated my body.  I’m not sure how old I was when I first realized that I hated my whole self but I’m sure it was before puberty.

I know I tried to be better. I know I prayed.  I prayed every night that I would wake up in the morning and be thin, and have straight teeth, and graceful hands, and not have such a potato face, and be whatever it was that people wanted me to be.

I was round about 13 years old when I first gave up on the idea of changing.  I realised that I could never change myself into someone that people liked.  I realised that I would never be good enough.

I had been dieting.  Well I thought it was a diet at the time.  I now realise that it was actually a bout of Anorexia. I had lost a lot of weight but people still treated me like shit.  I thought that must mean that I hadn’t lost enough weight so I kept dieting. I kept dieting after my Mum said I had reached target weight and bought me lots of new clothes.  I kept dieting after my new trousers started falling down and had to be held up with a belt.  I somehow convinced myself that they were falling down because the fat was pushing them down. I only stopped dieting when a middle aged man tried to chat me up at the local fair.  I was so horrified at the unwanted attention that I went straight to the cake stall and spent my pocket money there.

At the time I thought that it was  sign that the weight at which you got unwanted attention from men was above the weight at which people started treating you like an actual human being. I had no way of knowing how much more weight I’d have to loose to be a human being but I thought I’d probably have to put up with the unwanted attention even after I got there.  I’d already tried so hard for so long to become a human being and all I’d done was to stick an even bigger target on my back.  I was already being bullied by my family and my peers but by loosing weight I’d somehow added strange adult men to the list.

I thought about it for a long time.  I really wanted to be treated like an actual human being.  They way people treated me made me miserable.  But making myself acceptable to them seemed to be out of reach, or at least to come with unwanted side effects.  I decided that my only route to happiness was to train myself to stop expecting better treatment.  I thought that the thing that was making me miserable was the gap between how people treated me and how I thought I ought to be treated.  If I could just accept that this was how my life was meant to be then I would be ok.

I tried to lower my expectations.  I don’t recommend it as a tactic.  Life seems to take it as a challenge.  No matter how much you lower your expectations life can always undercut it.

I tried to believe that the names they called me were true.  I tried not to care when people hit me.  I tried to believe that I was so unimportant that the pain didn’t really matter.   I tried so hard not to react when I was shouted at or insulted or punished.  I tried to keep my head down.  I tried not to get angry when my father shouted at me for whatever reason he was shouting at me.  I tried not to care that my clothes were ugly and everyone seemed to hate me.  I thought if I could just believe that I was as worthless as everyone seemed to think then I’d stop caring how much it hurt.

It didn’t work. I think it was probably I bad idea. I think that what I did was to destroy my own defenses.  I think.  But what do I know?  I’m an idiot.  Maybe it did help.  After all the world seems to prefer that people on the loosing side shut up about how badly they’re treated.  Making a noise only brings attention to yourself and when you’re a looser the last thing you want is attention.

The real danger with thinking like that is it becomes a feed-back loop. It’s a hole you fall into and every iteration of “I am worthless and I deserve this” makes it harder to climb out. “I am worthless because everything I do fails” very quickly becomes “I am worthless because I do nothing” and every time you think that it becomes harder to do anything.  From there it’s a very short journey to thinking about how your life would be better without you in it.

And now I must stop because I am boring myself.  If anyone else is still reading I apologise for this self indulgent dross.  I agree that it’s really not good enough and I’m sorry that it’s not very entertaining.  Sometimes I just have to get this stuff out.