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.

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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

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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.

 

Imposter

Imposter

I got my first real taste of imposter syndrome this weekend. I was on a train, staring out the window, when it suddenly occurred to me: I’m going to be mixing with some superstar authors in a few months. I was going to be mixing as one of them; I’m doing a workshop and a reading and a panel with some of the biggest names in genre fiction and how arrogant am I to think I could be part of that?

I have nothing. I have a single book out, and that unknown by anyone outside my small circle. I am no-one. I’m the gatecrasher busting the party.

And there’s some truth in this. I’m getting to Edge-Lit (as an author rather than as a punter) because I’ve asked. I’ve poked my publishers and they’ve managed to get me involved. And I’ve done nothing to deserve it other than be one of those pushy little oiks who don’t know their station.

I’m bloody terrified.

What have I done? I’ve put out a single book that no-one has heard of and on the back of it have clawed my way onto a platform with authors who have written series, won multiple awards, have clout and impact that I can only dream of.

Imposter

I’m afraid they’ll see straight away that I’m a gobby little hack with nothing to contribute; who will overcompensate with either ‘unpopular takes’ or bad puns and will add nothing to the debate. That I’ll come away with nothing but shame, a whipped dog slinking to its kennel as the thunder rolls.

I know the likelihood is that it’ll be a good, maybe even great, experience. Maybe I’ll come out with some friends, some new interconnectivities. Hopefully I’ll learn a whole lot, if it’s only to keep my mouth shut and my head down.

But it’s hard to see the brightness in the midst of a thunderstorm; hard to keep dry when the kennel leaks and your bum always sticks out anyway.

All will be fine. All’s fine now, really, about from a wave of rogue emotions.

But by golly this has hit me much harder than I ever imagined it would.

The inequality of words

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I am on Twitter most days and one of the things I see most frequently is the author’s daily word-count. In it a writer will simply say how many words they’ve written today, or this week, or whatever. And it’s great. It’s lovely to see how people are getting on, to be able to support people if they’re struggling and to be inspired by another’s successes.

These totals vary from a few hundred – Ben Aaronovitch, for example, typically commits 500-700 words a day, though these are, I hear, finished, publisher-ready words – up to a friend’s purple-patch of around 6,000.

What gets me, though, is that these numbers are all treated as equal, as equivalent, when in reality they tell us very little. They are often a stick with which to beat ourselves when the comparison is, so often, completely unfair.

How does someone write 6,000 words a day? By sitting down behind a desk and getting on with it. Great stuff. But if they’re doing that they can’t be earning money. Unless they’re professional writers they must have either a job or a support-network that enables them to take the time out to write such a prodigious number.

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I have a small child, a part-time job and I get occasional freelance editorial work. These all take precedence over my real writing. I also have a spouse who works full-time and pays to send the smolrus to nursery two days a week so I can do my own thing. I’m very lucky – and yet my writing time is still horribly restricted. I could probably average about 5,000 words a week if free to get on with first-drafting.

But even that is a useless, artificial number: where in the first draft? At the beginning, when you’re filled with inspiration? At the end, when you’ve the joy of things coming together and you can see the finish-line? Or in the middle where every word has to be individually dredged up from the deep purgatory of your soul?

Not all words are equal.

If you’re out there with a full-time job, or with similar full-time commitments, it’s not fair on yourself to compete with these people who have the freedom to write at will. Averaging 100 words a day is fine – great, in fact. Anything better than zero is good. Hell, maybe you’re deleting vast swathes of experimental nonsense and your daily total is decisively negative. You’ve still accomplished something. Today you’re closer to the finished novel you envisaged than you were at the same point yesterday.

So by all means go and tell the world if things are going well. Just remember that numbers may be as much a reflection of privilege as of genius.

And make sure you share when things are a struggle too. Because, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the real inspiration. The strength to get down a single word when the world is falling  around your shoulders will always stand with me as much as 15,000 done by someone who never has to leave the comfort of their study.

Fixing the fixes

Maniscript mend

Editing is a cruel beast, especially over the course of a trilogy. I’m currently on book three, dealing with a relationship that no longer exists in book two. This means a certain character no longer has access to a certain other character’s quarters. It’s ludicrous; a wave of Consequence has overswept the novel and tossed all my best laid plans into the ocean, so much flotsam and jetsam, and with it many words I can’t afford to lose.

See, the problem is this: my protagonist has staggered back to his apartment to find Character B waiting for him. This meeting cannot be delayed for totally essential plot-type reasons; but Character B is no longer on the guest list, and has no knowledge of when Protagonist will get home, so…

At this point you’ll be saying ‘but can’t B just send a message – a phone call or some fancy science-fictiony videoconference-hologram-type thingy?’ Well, it’s funny you should say that because that’s what I did.

I did this completely forgetting that, for totally essential plot-type reasons, the messaging system across the entire base has just been taken down.

This is what happens when you have a week off. You (by which I mean me. I’m sure you’re much more organised) forget crucial little details and have to totally rewrite the rewrite you just rewrote.

Fragments

How to write a novel

Writing is, in other words, a bugger.

It’s not too bad for me – this time. It’s only a few hundred words and a bit of head-scratching (a problem solved by the strategic deposition of a differently-systemed radio). But there’s always the fear that you’ve done something stupid and not caught it. Which is why, of course, so much of writing is rewriting. And rewriting again. And then getting beta-readers to check the manuscript, all the way up to the paid professionals – the structural editors, copy-editors, all the way up to the proofreaders.

The aim is always to produce the best possible work you can. And you’re not always the best person to help you do that.

But the initial work is all yours. The better you can do it the greater the likelihood that someone else will pay for the fine-detail-sifting. it’s why I’m going to do another full read-through-and-edit when I’ve completed this one.

All them experts don’t come cheap.

On saying no

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One of the hardest things I’ve had to do recently is turning down work. There is a terrible fear in me; that no once is no forever – that I’ll destroy my reputation by turning round to my putative employer and saying ‘Sorry. Can’t do this.’

The work in question was a piece of emergency proofreading; a short-turnaround job that came with a promised £30 bonus if I were to drop everything – by which I mean cancel family plans – to complete a piece in three days.

I could certainly use the money. It’s been a fallow period for me, earning-wise, over the last month or so and this request was from my one reliable source of income. Not only did I need the cash but I wanted to please: I always want to please, which is perhaps my biggest flaw as a human being.

But a £30 bonus isn’t that much compensation for stress and disruption and a weekend apart from my wife and the tiny monster. So – reluctantly – I turned it down.

And it was fine. I got an understanding response and it turned into a dialogue about my next pieces of work with them. As, intellectually, I knew would happen. Emotionally, though, for a few days, I was a big ball o’ anxious.

Where does this fear come from? It’s nothing but counter-productive. It doesn’t help us do our work, though maybe ensures conscientiousness.

The point, though, is this: it’s okay to say no. It’s much better to say no at the outset then to take on the impossible and fail. And, if you do take on the impossible, tell those who matter that you’ll miss deadlines in good time. These are tricky skills but ones a writer will have to get used to using.

You know all this anyway. You know all this and it makes it absolutely no easier. Well, at the very least, you are not alone. There’s plenty of fools like me around and if I’m surviving, you can too.

UPDATE: Since writing this I’ve been offered another job. And, though it means I have to work like the clappers, I’ve accepted.

Say yes to saying no.

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