The hustle

I wasn’t going to mention money in last week’s blog. The bit about losing out on the cash for the cancelled game project? That was a last-minute addition. I put it in because to not do so seemed both dishonest and to ignore my immense good fortune. To some people, losing out on a substantial chunk of earnings would have a massive impact on their lives – indeed, one of my would-have-been colleagues has been hit that way. I personally never had the cash down on my mental balance-sheet because privilege.

My main job, financially, is 20 hours a week as a library assistant, a job I enjoy and which keeps me in the worlds of books and people. That’s my day job; that’s my main earner. I also work as a freelance editor. This work comes and goes and is hard to rely on as an income stream, but I’ve been averaging £4-5k for the last few years: a useful sideline. Those jobs together take up most of my time and (sort of; see below) keep my head above water.

What doesn’t earn me money is creative writing. My novel-writing – the thing I’m really here to talk about – has earned me a grand total of precisely £2k. That’s £1k as an advance for each of my professionally published novels. I’m not sure if I should say that that £2k is over four years (since I was first published in 2018), or over 14 years (since I started writing seriously) or over the course of my whole life. All are true, all are accurate. From that perspective you’re backing a loser here, folks.

New Gods, my self-published novel, still hasn’t earned out the cost of its cover.

I’m not saying this to complain. I am happy with life. I am still producing good stuff here, writing I believe in. But, financially, the hierarchy is clear: day-job, sideline, then writing last of all. It’s clear that, if money was my main motivation, I should try and either get more hours in the library, expand my editorial business, or get another side-hustle – like the writing for computer games biz.

Clearly, money is not my main motivation.

And this is where my good fortune comes in. Because I can afford to make that choice. I can afford to be not heartbroken when a gig falls flat. I can always rely on having a roof over my head. Why? Because I married well.

Now I hope it goes without saying that I married for love. My wife is, in all ways, best. It just so happens that she has a proper job. She earns decently. She pays the bills and I do more moderate things like cover the groceries.

I am a lucky man though, like all lucky people, I sometimes forget this and feel undeserving pride in my own achievements.

A lot of people aren’t as lucky as me, can’t roll off a paying gig with the sort of ‘easy come, easy go’ attitude I can. A lot of people can’t make time to write for themselves because they’re so busy trying to keep their financial heads above water. And that’s a tragedy.

I hope you’re fortunate enough to be able to put your heart and soul into something you really care about. Just be aware that, if you’re a writer, the odds are that you won’t be able to make a living from your words; certainly not at first and maybe not ever. Keep your day-jobs. Cultivate your side-hustles. Write because you love it, because of all those wonderful stories you have to share with the world.

As for me? Another edit has arrived on my desk, and I am both yearning to get my teeth into it and cursing because of imposter syndrome it means that Breathing Fire gets delayed again.

Someday I will learn to say no to work, to prioritise my own writing; maybe when I start to earn from it, when I have deadlines for my own work. I will only be able to do that because I have financial security.

Without leaning even further on friends and family, the dream of being a professional author remains just that: a dream.

State of play

This week I have been mostly editing, and thus not writing. Some weeks are like that. Just got to take it and keep snatching the time where you can. And, of course, it means I don’t have much to say.

It appears as if the game-writing gig is off. Corporate politics – or possibly just determined accountancy – has doomed it. And that’s okay. I didn’t have the chance to blot my copybook, so I escape with my reputation – such as it is – intact. The money would have been nice, but it would have been a bonus, not an essential. I’m back to having just the three jobs instead of four, and I might just get Breathing Fire finished before the year turns.

Truth is that I should get it done a long way before that, but it doesn’t feel that close to resolution at the moment. This is partly because I’m deep in editing; right now I have a deadline breathing down my neck and I’m really burgling the time to write this now. Mainly it’s because I don’t have that clear an idea of where I’m going or how to get there.

I mean, that’s not entirely strictly true. I do know where I’m going. I’m working to climax no. 2, and then the denouement, and then done. I know a few key things that I want to happen along the way. Problem is that I don’t have a physical location tied down, so I have to do a lot of thinking along the way. I know roughly what has to happen – the vanquishment of the antagonists – but not exactly how.

Thinking: the curse of my life. I’d really much rather drift through and let other people make all the important decisions, thank you very much. I don’t know why I do this to myself.

Anyway, the final completion of this virgin draft seems a long way away. The individual writing sessions, when I can actually find the time to do any, are actually coming along quite nicely. Just a few days ago I was having fun winding a little of my own personal history into a character’s mouth. I do that every now and again, just ‘gift’ the character a little memory of something that once happened to the author. It’s a bit like cheating, as really these things should be born of pure imagination – or so I hear – but it’s also convenient, easy, fun, and possibly a cheap form of therapy.

So life is pretty slow, pretty heavy, pretty hot right now – but still I’m pretty sanguine. All it takes is hard work and the necessary intellectual heavy lifting. And then, before you know it, you have a completed novel.

I can barely remember the last time I completed a book of my very own. I spend most of my time in other people’s.

Onwards!

Reflections

Not for the first time I appear to find myself in a holding pattern. Unable to move forwards, what with this and that, and unable to find a good circumnavigation; I am locked into an editing loop and can’t free much time for original writing.

Not that things are going backwards. I am still making – generally – decent progress in the game of life. I have my WIP and I’m trying to eke out odd half-hours to move it onwards. Problem is that, really, you can’t do much in stolen half-hours. By the time you’ve locked in to where you are, who’s in a particular scene and what motives they may have your time’s up. I even forgot a major character’s name last session because it’d been so long since she’d spoken.

At the end of the day, if you’ve written 100 words then you’ve made decent progress. 300 words is a win.

Truth is, of course, that any progress – even if that’s a negative word-count – is good. Anything to either claw your way closer to the finish, or that makes the writing better, is good. Personally I think I find 2-hour sessions to be optimum. Not so short that you spend all the time recapping; not so long as to melt the brain. I do (very) occasionally indulge myself in all-day sessions but I find that the breaks lengthen and the intensity wears off past a certain point.

Which is, of course, absolutely fine. It’s not like I’m working to a deadline here or anything. Would that I were; that’d mean that someone, somewhere, was wanting to read my words.

Speaking of deadlines and of people wanting to read my words, the job writing for computer games seems to have been delayed. There’s a chance it might be cancelled completely. Sorry to tease, but them’s the corporate breaks. I’m not too fussed, to be honest. I’d like to do it, but I’m a bit of a clew of anxiety about the whole thing, and it’s not like I’m sitting on my hands waiting. I have a big ball o’ editing to keep me busy.

And, of course, I have a WIP to finish – in, it seems, 100-word bites. I’m going to finish this because I want to, but I still don’t know what to do with the trilogy. Assuming none of the irons-in-fires (submissions) comes to pass – and I have no reason to think they will, nor that I’ll hear anything but silence – then I have five years’-plus work with nothing to show for it. I have tinkered with the idea of making – or trying to make – Breathing Fire work as a standalone, or retool it to be the first in the trilogy, and then try to sell that.

But that seems like a lot of work. I am, generally, opposed to hard work.

Another option is to self-publish. A third is to simply park this trilogy and work on something else. I’ve no idea what that ‘else’ would be right now.

Anyway. I’ve some good friends, and did I mention all the editing I have to do? That’ll have to see me for now.

Happy writing, everyone.

The home straight

I am on the home straight now. I’ve done Climax 1. I just have Climax 2 and the denouement to go and then – happy days – Breathing Fire will exist. It’ll be in the form of a completed draft and, though there’ll be so many edits to go and the whole beta-reading corrections and many more shenanigans between here and publication, I’ll have a fully-formed story in my metaphorical hands.

This is, of course, something to celebrate. And, indeed, I’m holding hard to that image. But I’m not there yet.

Maybe ‘home straight’ is the wrong image. I’m on the home section of switchbacks; the final labyrinth of a whole series of deadly mazes.

I am the furthest I’ve been from my starting point and so my original outlining was vaguest here. I roughly know what I want to achieve – a hunt, a chase, a final face-off before bittersweet victory – but I’ve got many streets still to navigate. I need to assemble, array and vanquish my forces. I need to block out every step, to storyboard (would that I could) the stages before the final curtain.

So I am nearly finished, in terms of wordcount, of stages left of this bedarned novel. But there is so much more left to do in terms of actual work. I will spend disproportionate amounts of time staring blankly at the manuscript, or at Twitter, or other forms of procrastination. I will, I know, operate in single sentences, or odd paragraphs, without getting anywhere near into a flow.

This is how it works. Or how I work, I should say, for I can only speak for myself. The more the pieces need assembling, the slower the process. And this is no bad thing.

What is a bad thing – from the point of view of finishing Breathing Fire – is that I am still enmeshed in all the other things that need doing as a priority. I have an edit to do. I have a day-job. I have a baby. That whole ‘real life’ thing continues to roll over me.

And then there is the whole new writing job that I’ve signed up to. No longer merely hanging over my head at some vague point in the future, that is about to kick in. I shall have to produce copy – quality words – to a deadline, and I shall have to do it week in, week out, for a year or thereabouts.

That isn’t to say that it’s all stop in my individual creative endeavours, but there has to be a working-in period, a period of stress and anxiety that I can’t look past right now.

Plus I’ll still be working on my editing, plus day-job, plus baby, plus all that ‘real-life’ stuff.

So forgive me if I’m not celebrating just yet. I have so much to do, a whole 3D maze of labyrinths to navigate. As I said before, I’ll be doing well if I can get this 1st draft done this side of Christmas.

I want to get it done, though. I will get it done. Because Breathing Fire is still a thrill to me. It could be the best thing I’ve written – it might not, of course, and of course the whole ‘re-drafting’ thing, but still. I want to get on with that process.

It’s been such a long time since I started, I can’t even remember half the story.

Fun days lie ahead. And that’s only half sarcastic.

On titles

Titles matter. Titles sell books. Titles communicate genre and catch the eye (and brain) of the prospective reader. They are key at-a-glance selling points that, whilst they might not make a book a monster, can certainly aid failure.

According to the internet, a good title should be:

  1. Attention-Grabbing
  2. Memorable & Searchable
  3. Informative
  4. Easy & Not Embarrassing to Say
  5. Short

Yes, I know – we can all think of counter-examples. Still it’s not a bad place to start. I personally, writing in genre-fiction, would emphasise no. 3. A good title should tell you what field – roughly – you’re reading in.

The one title of my own that I’ve never been happy with is Oneiromancer. This has genre-coding in spades – it references Neuromancer, the William Gibson classic, with cod-Greek for ‘dream’ replacing the Greek for ‘nerve/nervous system’. So: Dream-diviner, or Dreamweaver.

So I think my title tells us what genre we’re working in. It has, I think, a dark, direct hue and at this point I’m beginning to talk myself into thinking it’s a good title again. Hell, it’s all of four of the five points above: it’s short, attention-grabbing (maybe) and memorable (possibly). It’s not easy to say, maybe?

That’s the problem with lists such as the above: it doesn’t actually give you any of the answers you need. It’s all personal interpretation. Does the Tom Clancy classic Clear and Present Danger* qualify as short and searchable? How many syllables equates to ‘long’?** Our Kind of Bastard is, I think, a good title – but it’s four whole words, and one of them’s a swear/slur, and it doesn’t necessarily communicate genre/meaning. Also, as the sequel to Oneiromancer, it should vaguely be keeping some sort of thematic feel, should it not?

For me personally, the feel of the title is the most important thing. It’s an indescribable, intangible thing: the feel of the words on the cover should match the feel of the words inside. I can’t put it any better than that.

Going back to Oneiromancer, the real reason it’s called that is simply because I’ve never been able to think of anything better – and now it’s stuck, incontrovertible, in my mind. I’ve played around with other ideas – Somnia is the one I remember – but nothing’s felt quite as true as Oneiromancer. And so I’ve given up trying. It’ll stay as the Big O until some editor or agent or industry professional tells me , once and for all, it’s rubbish and it must be changed.

I do wonder if a bad name might have cost me the chance of getting an editor or agent, though. I know that sometimes professionals do request alterations in titles, but one has to get the right kind of interest first.

Anyway, onwards! I have an edit to do and a WIP to finish.

And we can all agree that Breathing Fire is a decent title, can’t we?

*Feel free to insert your own example. For the record, I think C&PD is a great title. Not that I’ve ever read the book.

**The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is a whole 19 syllables. This Reedsy post is possibly a better resource than the one I linked to earlier.