Summer holidays seem like a far distant memory already. My day-job has been mad-crazy busy since the moment I returned to work and seems hell-bent on consuming every fragment of brain space I have available. As a result, when I get home in the evenings, and even over the weekends, I’m exhausted.
Writing, for me at least, is not just about stringing together the first words that come into my head. Nor just pumping out scene after scene on the basis they’re what I thought of next. For me, writing is something more like an enormously complex collage or jigsaw puzzle. Sections of text can be written, then carefully positioned, augmented, trimmed and shaped so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. Whether or not I’m any good at that is a matter of debate: most often between my various alter-egos and sometimes between my reviewers. But the bottom line is that: I’m not going to rush my writing.
Anyway, despite my tiredness, I am still chipping away in the background on G’host. I’ve added a few thousand words – mostly character and world introductions – and will keep at it through November whilst I try valiantly to ignore the annual roar of speed-written enthusiasm that NaNoWriMo will no doubt spawn across the on-line writing communities…
So you’ve toiled long and hard to pull together your first manuscript – or second – or whatever. You’ve fought the good fight and, by some miracle, formatted it so it looks at least half-decent on an eReader. You’ve swallowed back your fears, assembled your ego around you, grimaced, and pressed the publish button…
How do you judge success?
It seems to me that this is just as variable a concept as the diverse subject matter of stories themselves…
For me, my views have varied over the last couple of years and I guess I’m now coming to terms with the following phrase: whatever defines success for one of my stories, it will likely take a long time to reveal itself.
I suppose a lucky – very lucky – few will see success immediately. For some reason their books will spark a wildfire of enthusiasm amongst readers and their stories will fly off the shelves; personally I think this is an extremely remote possibility if you don’t have the weight and power of a publishing house’s promotional machinery behind you.
The rest of us will need to be much more patient.
I started writing with a simple ambition: to test myself at a personal level. Pretty much just to see if I could do it… It’s not an easy task, as I’m sure most of you will agree… In the end, I produced a book and faced a new question: what next? This was what led me to publish… no dreams of grandeur, or huge reward, or whatever… Basically, if I’d done nothing, Firebird would have sat rotting on a disk-drive somewhere. It would have had absolutely zero possibility of being enjoyed by anyone else.
Now Firebird has been out there for almost two years. It has been downloaded several thousand times but, generally, I feel pleased if it moves even a tiny handful of copies in a month. Is this the benchmark? Well – given the amount of books on offer, the amount of books I personally get through in an average year and the very limited exposure my books get – maybe the answer is yes? For sure, I feel very honoured and humbled that my story is still occasionally being picked up and read by people.
What publishing also did though, was give me new insights. The simple, brutal, reality of having your writing in general circulation, the often critical nature of feedback, and the occasional positive encouragement have enabled me to step forwards and hone my writing skills. I am, despite the occasional pains, eternally grateful for this.
It has also helped me to move on and produce a second book.
These things would have been denied me, if I’d not taken the plunge.
Like so much in life, the different facets of success are often hidden in the corners of the obvious, tucked away behind so-called measures of popularity, masked by charts, star-ratings, and sales figures… In my opinion, being successful is not, on its own, a viable motivation for writing. Better, surely, to write simply to find out if you can, to stretch your imagination, to see if you can find personal pleasure and enjoyment from the process and, in the end, to discover whether your tales can entertain others?
Perhaps the bottom line becomes: does it matter; tell your stories anyway?
Because an untold story has no chance at all.
That’s where I’ve been for the last few days…
Well, by ‘breach’, I’m referring to the task of re-editing a one hundred and thirteen thousand word document. This was something I genuinely thought I wouldn’t need to do again but a selection of nagging thoughts finally accumulated into sufficiently weighty motivation to convince me otherwise:
- When I’m reading other books – and not just Indie ones – I regularly find myself muttering that they’re missing one final edit: i.e. time for a bit of ‘physician heal thyself’…
- I got mildly panicky when Firebird suddenly shifted a LOT of copies over Christmas: i.e. my self-critical side went into a complete meltdown…
- A couple of people that I really respect separately questioned identical things in the 3rd Edition: i.e. prodded the already open and gently bleeding confidence gash mentioned just a moment ago…
- Lastly, I remembered that there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, providing you do something to correct them for the future.
So, a bit like when you’ve just finished polishing the car and step back only to see you’ve left a sizeable smudge of still-matt beeswax on one of the doors, I rolled up my sleeves, dug deep and dived back in. It took several solid – and I mean solid – days of my very best obsessive compulsion to carefully take a scalpel to a few of the dialogues, a couple of the character introductions and one back story. Note: this was not a hatchet job. Far from it. Around two hundred words have been removed and, mysteriously, another fifteen hundred have appeared from somewhere. The main storyline is completely unchanged and there are no significant new revelations. I was – and remain – happy with the earlier versions but this new one removes a few slips of the pen, more subtly presents the romantic encounters and, fingers-crossed, hopefully means it’s ‘job done’ now, once and for all.
Oh, and I managed to fix at least part of the hyperlinked Table of Contents…!
Multitasking or what!
(p.s. To get an updated version of any Amazon Kindle book requires Amazon to ‘push’ the new version to your kindle library – yes, it seems strange to me too. If anyone visiting here already has a copy of Firebird and would prefer to read the new edition then you’ll need to log into your Amazon Account, look for the ‘Kindle Support’ section and use the ‘Contact Us’ button to send them an email along the lines of “Please can you push me the latest version of Firebird ASIN: B004ZUTNGI”)
(p.p.s. A special thank-you to Alec and Hugh for your invaluable commentaries)
That’s where I am right now… Surrounded by demons.
It’s okay though; I often find myself here and, if I’m honest, sometimes I quite enjoy it.
The tricky thing is finding my way back out again…
It can’t be helped; the twists and turns of life, combined with a cursedly overactive imagination, can at times conjure up bleak and bitter landscapes, in every direction, as far as my mind’s eye can see.
So I need to remember that this is not reality; the pessimism and negativity that I’m weaving around myself is just another fiction. Life is much more balanced and generally very kind. It randomly produce all sorts of unexpectedly pleasant gifts and surprises…
I just have to make sure I look out for these little breadcrumbs.
Recognise them, when they happen.
And follow them out of here…
(Now listen you guys, how am I supposed to write with you lot dementedly chattering at me…? Oh and you, yes you, the one with the eyes like blazing coals and teeth like razored switchblades… mmmm, you…, stop it. That’s no way to behave in public…)