Sunday 12th March 2017
I had originally planned that issue 50 of The Climb would be my manifesto issue, where I would state my objectives and aims as a writer. But then I realised that my blog post on The Year of the Offensive was just that.
And so I was stuck for what to write about on this landmark issue.
In many ways, 50 issues is just the start. At a macro level, publishing moves glacially slow. I suspect I’ll get to issue 500 and not be much further along.
But this is where I see the opportunity for my career. Whilst the macro moves slow, on a micro level I move very fast. Many writers see publishing as a marathon rather than a sprint so as long as they make progress every day, the pace that they go at is largely irrelevant. OK, so if you’re George R R Martin or Pat Rothfuss maybe it is a bit more of an issue. But the problem there is that their writing process is inefficient. I don’t know what their process is or whether it is the most efficient that they can make it and still deliver the quality that the readers require, but I would still argue that it’s inefficient.
Black as Knight was an experiment. It was about changing my writing process to become more efficient. I took 13 years to write my first book and couldn’t take that long on all the books I wanted to write. Instead of looking at writers I looked at business processes. I read everything I could about productivity. And because I wasn’t sure whether the process I came up with would work or not, I decided to test it on a book.
That book was Black as Knight, which if everything else from this point goes wrong, still secured me one of the best (if not the best) literary agents in the world.
I think it’s safe to say my process works. And you know, even a year that has seen me battle a few health worries and an incredibly busy lifestyle and day job has still seen me write 90,000 words so far this year. (And note, I’m pissed with myself because I think I can do way better). Even last year, I still managed to get the novel redrafted.
Going forward my real test is to see just how productive I can be at a micro level and still continue to improve my quality. People who say that if you write faster you will automatically write bad fiction are talking horseshit. There comes a point where it becomes a trade-off but I’m more interested in speed through efficiency rather than just pure speed.
But this is the opportunity. What people don’t understand is that I’m not training to run marathons, I’m training to win Ultra-Marathons. No word of a lie, I was researching James Patterson’s non-ghost-written output and working out if I could beat that. Not because I see it as a competition but because I want the processes that are the core of my writing to be the best they can be.
Why you might ask? Why try to write so many books when publishers work on a yearly schedule?
First, I want to be ahead of myself. I want it that if I have a bad year (such as last year) I’m still way ahead of myself. Secondly I have a lot of books I want to write. Finally, I still have a lot of mistakes to make and want to be able to make them without derailing my career.
I want to shoot for the stars. I have one life and I want to make the most of it, I want to leave my legacy in the form of great books that I hope that people will be reading and enjoying for years after I’m gone. That means a lot of hard work. It means being like a duck. Above the surface (the macro level) I glide across the pond, but underneath (the micro) I’m paddling furiously.
I’d hoped that by issue 50 you’d start to see the publishing glacier start to move, but I need to learn to be more patient, to know that I do not control the glacier and how fast it moves. That’s fine, because I still have plenty to get on with writing and editing drafts, finessing my processes.
There’s going to be challenges ahead I couldn’t even currently imagine. And some of them will really test me, and cause me to fail. That’s why my foundation of writing and editing needs to be so strong so that when things get more difficult (and they will) I can knuckle down and weather the storm.
It’s all pattern recognition. It’s all metaphor. I see the paths of entrepreneurs and sports stars and it’s always the same story. The person who knuckles down and works hard, fails and tries again, wins in the end. There will be those who question their methods, who laugh at the scale of their ambition, mistake confidence for arrogance. That’s fine.
It’s one of the reasons I’m trying to build my swordfighting at the same time as I build my writing career. I need to see the parallels. I need lessons from one to inform the other.
I went swordfighting this morning. My stomach was playing up last night and I was late leaving this morning as a result. But I arrived on time and had a really energetic session. By the end I felt I was fighting well, which I’m especially proud of as I certainly wasn’t in the best physical form.
I received two compliments on my fighting. One was that my counters were working well and that instead of just countering into everything I was actually properly using them. The other was about the quality of my fencing. I also had a comment from a friend about how they’d agreed with the advice I’d given to another fighter. I came away feeling very positive about my fighting when I’d gone in feeling a little under the weather.
I work extremely hard, use quality technique, have a good read on the situation and throw myself against the best out there. See the parallels?
I also get hit a lot (just in case you thought I was getting complacent).
After a pub lunch I stopped off on my journey home and picked up a couple of new baseball caps. I always like to change which hat I wear day to day but I’ve become a little more obsessed about it since starting The Climb, reviewing previous days images to ensure no cap gets repeated too often.
The high energy bouts, plus the rather generous pub lunch meant that I was a bit lethargic when I got home. Wasted time… I hate it! Proof (if I needed it) that I could be above 90,000 words without a dip in quality if I stopped dicking around at times.
I listened to another short story whilst cooking dinner tonight. Today’s story was A Cup of Comfort by Stephanie Burgis but it really wasn’t for me. I felt there was far too much exposition at the front end and whilst it then went into a conversation there was yet more exposition within the dialogue.
I’ve also decided to abandon a novel I’m reading. I’m genuinely gutted about this. I really, really wanted to love this book and if circumstances were different I’d probably be raving about it, but the sword fighting in Traitor’s Blade just felt like nails on a chalkboard. Rapiers unable to fight an axe? At a disadvantage against someone with daggers? To someone who doesn’t competitively swordfight this would not be an issue. But to me? I just want to scream with every action scene.
I’m truly disappointed about this as I’ve met the author and was on a panel with him. He’s a lovely person. I know the problem lies with me rather than him or the book, but it’s just a reminder that the smallest of inaccuracies can be enough to make even the most ardent of fans throw a book across the room.
I’m sympathetic as I’m sure that someone will do the same to one of my books at some point. Maybe I get some detail around the horses or the rifles in the book wrong that provokes a similar reaction from a reader. All I can do is apologise and say I strive to ensure I minimise the likelihood of that happening as much as humanly possible.
I also plotted out the next chapter of the novel. According to the chapter plan I’m about half way through the novel but I reckon some chapters could be tightened up or removed and I now worry that the book will end up 30-40k short of my word count target. I know this won’t be the case and that some characters will need expanding in subsequent drafts.
I dived into the draft a little later getting some 1600 words or so done. It felt a little easier to write with a good plan in front of me but I still have the real meat of the chapter to get to. I also think that the first part might go in circles a little. No problem, that’s something that can be corrected in the next draft.
So 50 issues in, and where are we? Further along. This is a glacial process at a macro level. But at a micro level I hope you can see how busy I am and everything I’m working on. That’s not going to change in another 50 issues or even in another 500. So perhaps the fact it’s business as usual is the most important take-away from this 50th issue.
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels. Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.
Past Issues: 49 | 48 | 47 | 46 | 45 | 44 | 43 | 42 | 41 | 40 | 39 | 38 | 37 | 36 | 35 | 34 | 33 | 32 | 31 | 30 | 29 | 28 | 27 | 26 | 25 | 24 | 23 | 22 | 21 | 20 | 19 | 18 | 17 | 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1