At this point it should be clear that I am a terrible blogger. Well, terrible at least in terms of punctuality and productivity. Yes, I am writing a 2017 retrospective in April of 2018. You’d be forgiven for not believing that I’m usually a fiend for a good deadline. But, before I get called a complete charlatan, let me assure you that the points below have been brewing in my head for some time. Right, so, without further ado, my 2017 in writing…
Tick that third novel off the to-do list
Yes, that’s right, third novel is, as they say, dunzo! Well, let me qualify that. When I say dunzo, I mean, eh, the first draft is written. The book, a modern fairytale about a troubled Ireland, planted seeds about ten years ago, but it was resurrected for Nanowrimo 2016.
What was meant to be a 50,000 word novel, soon found legs and throughout 2017 it grew in spurts to become a hefty 130,000 word beast. I finished the first draft in November and if I were to be honest, something solid and with an ending should have appeared as early as the Spring. I just lost my way, which leads nicely onto the next bit.
More time to write doesn’t always equal more writing done
When I was working full time, I always thought “If I only had more time to write, I’d get so much more done.” Then in 2016, after a fair aul time with poor health, I made the decision to leave work and sort myself out. Now, some of my time was spent sorting my health, but much of it was meant to be sorting out my writing career (or lack thereof.) I managed to get Shadows in the Dark finished and published, and I blasted through November’s Nanowrimo, but then 2017 hit and everything started grinding to a halt.
To put things into perspective, novel three saw 50,000 words writing in November 2016. By March 2017 it was around 60,000. Yup. I fell off the rails.
I think my freedom was a novelty at the start. I applied myself and got work done, but then a series of bumps in the road had me off-kilter and approaching a skid I couldn’t correct. When you’re working and writing, or even when writing is your work, you have someone pushing or pulling you back into the middle of that road. I had plans of writing to afford a spartan existence while I wrote more, but, the point came where I had to realise that I’d starve long before my books were written and selling enough. So then the priority shifted to finding a new job, because hey, I wasn’t spending my time writing, right?
My first writers’ convention
So 2017 also saw me attend my first convention as a guest. The lovely people at Octocon invited me to come along as a guest and I’m pretty sure it helped me drag myself over that productivity hump.
Before the convention, guests were asked what they’d like to talk about or if they had any ideas for panels. I’m pretty sure I said I’d do whatever, because I was so very out of my depth, at least in my head. I was assigned to a number of panels on horror, which made sense if you were to look at my habit of writing werewolf novels, but then, I was quite afraid because despite my subject matter, I don’t write horror. My werewolf novels are written from the point of the big bad monster, so, I found the prospect of talking about horror pretty daunting.
I knew the basics, but I was quite sure that any significant horror fan would know more. I felt the horrible nervous tingle of being asked a question and having nothing to say. I was also filled with that horrible imposter syndrome that often inflicts self-published authors. So, as much as I was looking forward to the event, I was also somewhat dreading it.
And then I went and came away with the following takeaways.
- Talk about what you know, even if what you know is your own book.
I spent far too much time resisting the urge to say “well in my experience…” when, even though my point would involve my own work, it still would have had value.
- The amount a person shares their opinion is no indication of the work they’ve done.
I spent my first few panels keeping quiet because I assumed the people doing all the talking knew what they were talking about and had the experience to back it up. But then as you listen, you realise that some people just like talking. They have to be heard. In work and social settings, I usually let the person talk, I have nothing to prove unless what they’re saying impacts on me. As the weekend wore on and I heard the same few people monopolising discussions, I promised myself not to keep silent in future. Funnily enough, the guest of honour, who had nothing to prove, was the person who was most open to a discussion on the panel.
- Moderators, rather than guests, make a panel.
The quality of the panels I watched and took part in were influenced more by the moderator’s ability to facilitate conversation than the guests on the panel. When moderators acted like guests and tried to share their own opinion rather than get the panel talking, it was generally a poorer experience all round.
- I know a lot about horror… just not in books.
When it came to talking about how to scare people in computer games, I felt right at home. Which felt good. And it made me want to write a horror novel because that sounds like a whole lotta fun.
The joy of laptops
Most of my productive writing took place on Pages on an ipad. Usually without a keyboard. Now, that might seem horrible, but somehow, it worked. Or maybe it just fit the situation, which was usually a daily bus commute.
I also have a lovely mechanical keyboard on a desktop PC, which is just a joy to write on, but, something about the situation leaves me feeling odd and puts me straight into a game playing mode. There are times, when I tell myself to cop on, that I can produce thousands of deliciously productive words on the machine, but, too often it’s a fail.
And then my new job gave me a laptop. A slim Dell jobbie. Not too powerful but not too slow. And light enough to sit comfortably on my lap. And oh how lovely it is to sit in a big ol’ armchair and just tap away to grind out words during those “just write” times.
It’s odd. I convinced myself I didn’t need a laptop, I mean, they’re a dying breed afterall, but, there’s just something so delightfully specific about a laptop, as if they are still the spiritual successor of those big ol’ typewriters that suck the words onto the page.
Read your peers to know your peers
I went to an event in 2016, the Rick O’ Shea Book Club Christmas Party to be exact, and although I knew all of the authors in attendance to see, I had nothing to say to them. I realised, to my shame, that I hadn’t read any of their books and, I was fairly certain, they hadn’t read any of mine. Before the party, I found myself with a bit of a dilemma, because authors who were going to attend were asked to comment on a thread. I was tempted to, because hey, two novels down (two novels I’m now proud of,) so why shouldn’t I mention my name. But then I thought “nobody here will have read any of my books or have any idea who I am, and me without a fancy publishing deal to substitute for the secret Irish author handshake.”
So after the party, I made a commitment to start reading my peers (by peers, I just mean Irish authors currently publishing, with no claim to be in their league in terms of quality or success.)
I was pleasantly surprised, which was more down to the genre hopping I embarked on than my assumptions around quality. Now, I’ll admit I did some cherry picking, I didn’t just go straight out and try work my way through the Irish Top 10.
The start was Sarah Maria Griffin’s Spare and Found Parts, a great aul book and just the right distorted Dublin tale to read while I was scribbling my own tale of the black pool. Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark is as good a fantasy series as I’ve found in a long while. That was my fantasy fill, so I made a deliberate effort to step outside my regular reading habits and take in some crime fun. Lisa McInerney’s Blood Miracles was more time well spent and I finally got on the Liz Nugent bandwagon with Unravelling Oliver, a regular aul page turner. Oh and of course Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours and Asking For It were hugely informative and helped me shape some ideas around my own female characters. Eamon Ambrose and his Zero Hour blazed an impressive self-publishing trail for ambitious people to follow.
There were others and I’m not going to list them all here, the key point is that I made the effort to read books written by the people I’m likely to come across and it was time well spent. And when next I go to an event, if I don’t talk to people, it’s because of my shyness rather than my lack of knowledge.
Resentment over not writing is my very best indicator
In the past, whether in relationships or at events, I’ve often had this buzzing in my head that said “I wish I could be writing now.”
It was that excited buzzing of a new story sparking the imagination, I know that buzz well. This was more a sense of “my time could be better spent writing.” It wasn’t the guilt I sometimes get when I feel I should be writing, it was just, this definined “I’m wasting my time.” And honestly, I rarely have that, I rarely suffer boredom, I just observe my situation or escape into my mind. But in 2017, I finally realised that my mind has developed a handy method of saying “actually, your time is more valuable than this.” and as such, it’s a great surefire indicator of when a date isn’t worth pursuing or a job isn’t worth doing.
Hopefully it’ll allow me to get more work done in future.