Reading and not reading

James Coates

‘Woman Reading’ by James Coates

If you ever take a look at my book log you’ll notice that my reading has tailed off considerably over the last year. This almost exactly coincides with the leaving of my last job – and, more pertinently, the lack of a regular bus-rides and lunch breaks.

This is a cause of considerable distress to me. I love reading. It remains the source of unalloyed joy and learning and I am always mindful of Stephen King’s maxim: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

But that’s not the whole story, for I have been doing a bunch of reading that hasn’t appeared on my blog, and that’s the proofreading and copy-editing I’ve been doing professionally. I’m not entirely sure why but I don’t think it’s professional to put this on my blog: there’s thoughts of anonymity and confidentiality in mind but they don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Regardless, there’s another reason for not putting my proofreading work on my blog and that’s because it’s not reading. It’s work.

I learn a lot from my regular reading-for-fun. It’s how I developed my writing skills and how I learnt as much as I have about the world. But it’s above all for pleasure. I read because I love to read, no matter what the subject or the genre.

Spring+illustration+by+Lee+White

‘Spring’ by Lee White

Proofreading and copy-editing is an entirely different experience. It’s not about enjoyment; it is, first and foremost, work, and it requires discipline to get through. That’s not to say that it can’t be a pleasure – my favourite book of the year so far was one I was given to proofread – but really if you get lost in a proofread you’re not doing your job properly. You get swept up in the flow and the mistakes you’re paid to find slip past.

So I have been missing out on a lot of pleasure over the last year. I need to get back in the saddle – and maybe that will involve dropping some of the worthy books, the non-fiction weighties, and concentrate on sheer pleasure. Maybe that’ll give me a road back in.

But why impoverish myself like that? Maybe it’s better to try and carve out some dedicated reading time – half an hour minimum per day? Surely that’s not much to ask?

Or maybe I should just relax and not let it bother me. I’m still reading. I’m still learning. I’m still in love with books. Circumstances will change again, sooner or later.

I just miss those days of getting through three books a week. What a heavenly time that was.

Update

Stigma-Health

Stolen from HourDetroit.com; artist unknown

For the past three years I’ve struggled to get things done. Mechanical acts are fine, but serious creative endeavours have slipped from my grasp to shatter into irretrievable pieces. This is in part because I’ve been ill, something I’ve maybe hinted at through past blog-posts but never actually said out loud.

It’s got to the point where I’ve been advised, in all seriousness, to give up writing for a little while. This is in order to take the pressure off myself, to allow me to recover without torturing myself over what I should be producing.

Instead I will be torturing myself with thoughts of what I should be doing, for endless is the list of tasks I assign myself. Driven might be the word; masochistic is another. But I’m not good at doing nothing.

Whether or not I try for any actual creative writing, there’s still plenty on my plate. I have to prepare a reading and a workshop for Edge-Lit, for one. I have my author questionnaire to finish. I have a novel to edit – unless that counts as creative writing and therefore verboten?

There’s also this blog to maintain. I don’t feel like I’ve been putting out very interesting stuff recently. I’m sorry about that. I’m trying.

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Truth is, my activities firmly walk the line of creative/mechanical so much that there’s not much point even trying to stick to anything. I will write if I feel capable. I will prepare materials if my brain is stuck in that kind of gear.

Perhaps the important thing is to merely acknowledge that I’ve been given advice. I have been ill; I have been struggling. Whether any particular prescription helps or not isn’t, perhaps, as important as it is to stare it in the face and not pretend everything’s as it was before.

Also, maybe I should give myself a little credit. I’ve built an editing career in the midst of deep personal problems. I’ve edited my own work to publishable standards. If I’m feeling unsatisfied or afraid for the future, that’s maybe a symptom of what I’ve been going through.

But I am myself and the truth is that I’m not happy with what I’ve achieved. That’s not all bad as it drives me onwards to – hopefully – greater things.

Just as long as I don’t burn myself to the ground in the process.

UPDATE: I have already started working on my next (old) WIP , which just goes to show.

Unanswerable questions

So, tell us about your novel.

It’s the question that authors hate – the first time, at least. The good thing is that we get asked it so often that we have time to prepare an answer; to evolve a soundbite that we can wheel out and reuse as required. Mine begins with ‘it’s a murder mystery set in near-future Antarctica…’ and often stops there too.

idea-writeup-template

Stolen from markpollard.net

A book description, however, is a different beast. It’s disturbingly close to being a blurb – a written account of your book that the publisher will use for publicity. As such it’s got to be punchy, moody and to the point – but, unlike a synopsis, it has to avoid spoilers and the end must remain resolutely not given away.

Then there’s the author biography. How much character do you want to put into that? Where’s the fine line between

person

dull and factual and cringe-makingly jokey and self-reverential?

Guess what I’m doing at the moment?

 

Yup, it’s another ‘author questionnaire’ for my publisher: the document that they’ll use to try and flog my efforts – to bookstores, to distributors and to the media, should they be interested in interviewing me in whatever form.

And it’s horrible. This is the second time I’ve had to do it and it’s wincingly horrible. Even though I can copy-and-paste some of my answers from the last time I did it, I just have to have a little tinker and in a trice I find myself back inside the prison of my attempts to make myself sound interesting.

Interesting but not an attention-seeking freak: again, it’s a fine line.

It is, in fact, rather like writing this blog.

Today’s fear

Fear - Saeeda Bibi

@ Saeeda Bibi

My career as a writer is just beginning. It’s going well, so far. One novel published and another on the way. But I’m here to confess my biggest fear: that I’m already washed-up and a has-been.

The reason is this: everything I’ve been working on is old. Years old. I have a backlog of writing back from my younger and more vulnerable years: four novels that have required much editing but are good enough to be worth the work.

Now I’m the first to say that editing is part of writing. An essential part, no less, and what I’m doing is as valid as every first draft that proudly gets ‘The End’ inscribed at its end.

But I haven’t written anything new for about three years now. And, for a writer, that feels like a lifetime.

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My greatest fear is that I have nothing left to say; that I’ve lost the discipline and the drive that makes a writer sit in front of a blank page and simply create. Sure, I have ideas – but nothing ready. I’ve been spending so much time buried in old words that I don’t know how to get down the new.

This isn’t imposter syndrome, and it’s my hope that, once I find my way nearer to the end of my back catalogue, that I’ll be able to see a future once again. But right now I feel like I’m already nearing the end.

It doesn’t help that I’m building a career as a freelance editor, so my time is split between editing and editing. Plus I owe friends my opinions (for what it’s worth) on their novels; I can easily see myself working through this block of already-written novels and then settling for a career as an editor.

I don’t want this. I want to be a writer.

I go online and see author after author telling us of their accomplishments; of their new works of wonder and delight, and I have nothing.

I am not a real writer. I’m someone who can edit works until they look like a competent author produced them, but I still need the source material and that I’m fast running out of.

This, at least, is my fear. Whether it turns out to be true or not is yet to be seen.

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Some people, no dog

Last Friday I did my first ever ‘Meet the Author’ event, turning out at Earlham library in Norwich to be interrogated by the great and good. Or, at least, to meet the few people who didn’t have anything better to do on a Friday teatime.

Earlham talk

The only photo of the event I have, thanks to my wife having to wrangle the small one whilst 

The crowd was small – it wasn’t quite one man and his dog but it wasn’t too far off. The crowd was bolstered by my own family (a mixed blessing), but an audience is still an audience. And worthy of my best efforts, which I gave in the form of a brief talk, a reading, and a Q&A.

And I had fun, I think, and (I’m told) went down okay. There were enough questions to make the whole thing feel worthwhile – a good one on the use of 1st person as opposed to third, and another on what about the commute from the library to home (as I described in the talk) had given me the idea for a novel set in Antarctica.

Anyway, all this dashing about across the country means I’ve little to discuss this week. I’m a busy bee right now and writing has suffered; I’m still trying to edit the sequel to the sequel to Night Shift, working on my workshop for Edge-Lit (and imbibing as much grimdark as possible before my panel there) – I’m even trying to contemplate writing something new for the first time in years.

So I’m not idle. Promise. I just don’t have much to say right now.

Hope you’re managing to be more productive!

Nervousness

nervous-system-daniel-kulinski

Nervous System – photograph by Daniel Kulinski

Morning all. Today I am all of a tremble because tonight I’m appearing at Earlham library in Norfolk for a tiny talklet, Q&A and, if anyone’s actually bought a copy, a signing.

What with that and finishing a big copy-edit I haven’t much to say this week. I’m currently doing a beta-read for a friend and I’ll shortly be returning my attention to the pass of the third novel in the Australis series (the sequel to the sequel to Night Shift) that I perpetually seem to be starting and having to put on hold.

And then… what then? No doubt I’ll have more editing to do, with which I can pay (some of) the bills. I also need to get back to Oneiromancer and do a big rewrite; I’m still turning this over and readying myself for the task ahead. I suspect that’s a months-long job, not just the odd half-hour here and there.

And then… then maybe, just maybe I’ll… write something new?

It’s been a long, long time since I first-drafted anything. I have ideas – so many ideas – but they’ve been percolating for so long that I’m not sure they haven’t dissolved into some formless, tasteless soup in the depths of my soup; a viscous brain-goop with fragments of character and plot floating lifeless on the surface like so much pond-scum.

But that’s the fun of writing. I’ll have to take what I can remember, and what notes I made, and reconstitute them into something better, faster, stronger.

That or I… won’t. I’ll be found out as the empty vacuous has-been that secretly I’ve been all along.

But that’s worry’s for the future. For now I have more immediate worrying to do.

Hope to see at least some of you tonight.

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Events forthcoming

Imposter syndrome is vicious and cruel and unfair. It’s also not forever. Fresh off last week’s soul-torment I now find myself in the crisp, clear waters of a restorative weekend away where I did nothing, achieved nothing, but found good news awaiting on my return.

Sadly, good news (especially that which you can’t share) makes for less than interesting copy. So let me fill this column with a couple of forthcoming events that I’d love to see you at.

First of all, I’m doing a ‘meet the author’ session at the library in which I used to work. This’ll take the form of a brief chat, a similarly brief reading, and then (probably) the briefest of all Q&As; all on 31st May at 17:30.

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Earlham library was the best of places for me; I loved that job – not only working with books but helping people of all stripes for the sheer love of helping; I – and all other library assistants the world over – work without any self-interest; nothing is being sold, there is no ulterior motive but to make other people happy. How wonderful is that?

It’s also the place where I started both reading and writing seriously. Before I started there, in 2005, my reading-for-pleasure had been subsumed by studies and my writing had been a series of starts-and-fails. By the time I left (2011) I’d written three novels and was contemplating the story that would eventually turn into Night Shift.

So this signing is deeply personal to me. Expect me to tear up at least once throughout the evening, even if, as I kinda expect, it’ll only be a few friends and me.

Secondly, I’m going to be at Edge-Lit in Derby on July 13th. This is my first convention, if one doesn’t count its younger sibling Sledge-Lit, and the first I’m attending as an author. I’m going to be doing a workshop (‘The Art of Description’), a panel (The Future of Grimdark, with some of the best authors ever) and a reading.

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I’m pretty terrified (imposter!) about all this. So please do come along and tell me it’s all going to be okay, hmm?

They say nothing succeeds like success. That’s bollocks. Really what they mean is nothing makes success like friends. And I really hope to both meet some old and make some new over the course of these events.