Monday 10th April 2017
Today I learnt that I’ve already won.
Now let me start by saying that we need to be clear about the definition of winning. For you, that might be interpreted as writing a bestseller or an award-winning book, but for me it’s subtly different. Winning is about ensuring that I’ve done everything I possibly can to succeed. It’s a subtle but important distinction.
I cannot control what people think about my books. I can do my best to write the best book I can. I can edit it to the best of my ability but even if I do everything perfectly, that’s no guarantee that a publisher will pick it up or even if they do, that it’ll pop with readers and be a big success.
But what I can do is have the right mindset. I can go in and write the best book I can and then write another one, and another one.
I watched a video today of a conversation between a very successful entrepreneur and a rapper. They were talking about winning and how whether it’s building businesses worth hundreds of millions or being a music artist, the patterns are the same. And the important thing for me was that everything they described sounded just like my last couple of years.
I’m not big on there being a secret to success, but I definitely think there are strategies that are more likely to work than others.
Leggedon was a pivotal moment for me. My health had a serious knock at the same time as I realised that my sequel to The Four Realms had no agency. I felt that this dream I had worked so hard for had come crashing down around my ears. Sat on the floor of my room one day feeling like I had fucked up my dreams I realised I had just two choices: I either gave up, or I fought.
I realised that I needed to change the way that I wrote. I had to go from being a person who took years to write a book to being one that banged out book after book after book. Obviously I wanted the quality to improve rather than worsen and so it meant I needed to work smarter.
I turned to business to help me. I read every business productivity book I could, looked for the patterns and created a new writing process out of it. But having a process on paper was one thing. What I needed to do, was test it.
I was worried that testing such a radical process on a sequel might kill it and so I decided to write a different book. I took an idea I had about a society woman who got mixed up with the wrong man and spent her night having adventures, and I developed it. The woman became a man (for plot and theme reasons), and I decided to forgo a lot of the cross-genre elements of The Four Realms to write something that sat firmly in one sub-genre.
That book became Black As Knight.
Now I’m not saying my process was perfect but I went from writing 100,000 words a year to 600,000. I wrote a further four novels inside a year. I’d heard that Brandon Sanderson had 6 novels of his rejected before he got picked up by his agent, so my plan was to turn out novels fast so I could get to that stage quicker than it would have taken me spending 13 years to write a single novel.
I never got to 6 novels. Black as Knight’s sample chapters got commended by Sanderson’s agent (but he turned me down) and I forgot about it until I bullied a friend at an Eastercon two years ago into submitting his novel. He said he’d only do it if I sent out “that novel that got positive feedback”.
And so I sent it to 3 new UK based agents, 3 agents of writers whose career path I thought I was following, the 3 agents I considered the best in the UK, and just for the sake of completeness, the 3 best agents in the world (based on some deals data a writer friend had sent to me a few years back).
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Yet I listen to others’ success, of how they focused on improving their process flow, of how they decided to focus on turning out content, of trying different things, of how they didn’t care about whether it was successful or not and instead focused on the act of creating, and how everything then started to happen for them without any major struggle… and I see the parallels.
Listening to that interview today, I got actual chills.
“That’s been my exact strategy these last few years,” I yelled to myself. I did actually yell. And I was in the house alone.
And then I see this entrepreneur who now owns one of the hottest companies in America, and this rapper who is the hottest new thing laugh to each other at how, if there’s a winning formula, then that’s it.
As I said, it’s no guarantee that Black as Knight will succeed. I’m sure someone will read this and think I’m just being egotistical about Black as Knight’s chances. I’m not… because here’s the part that everyone is missing.
If it fails to find a publisher, or doesn’t sell through (or even if it does)… I’ll just go back to writing more content.
I have this saying that my entire strategy is to write so many books that if there truly is some entity in the universe hellbent on stopping me succeed, I’m going to so overwhelm them that they’re gonna fuck up and accidently let something through.
On a practical level, what this means is that whether the book is a success or not, I’m going to continue to turn out book after book after book, working on my processes to get faster and produce something of a better quality. And as I need to constantly remind myself, if two of the best agents in the world liked Black as Knight, I must have at least a tiny bit of talent. I might not be the singer who will win American Idol but I’m not the person who auditions and can’t sing a single note in tune. If I can do it once, I can do it again.
And, going metaphor for a second, if the force in the universe – let’s call him Gary – decides to throw a spanner in the works to try and derail me… I’ve already been there with Leggedon. All it did was make me stand up to him and make me grow as an individual.
And so that’s how, whether the book finds a publisher or not, whether it sells at retail or not, whether some event comes along to challenge me, whether the industry changes,… whatever… I’ll overcome.
And that’s why I’ve already won. It’s just a question of when… and I’m getting more patient with every day because I’ve learnt to love the process rather than the result.
This has been such a major revelation to me today, it’s really, really lifted my spirits. The day job is possibly about to get super shitty and I wonder why these things always seem to happen whenever there’s major challenges with the novel. I mean, this is happening now on the eve of edits I need to get done fast, and the issues last year came at the time I was struggling with the rewrites. Either Gary, my universal nemesis, is deliberately fucking things up at the worst possible time, or people within my working environment have issues with my progress so far and want to spoil things for me (laugh all you like, I’ve seen it happen – some people’s happiness is derived from making people feel as shit as them). Or alternatively, it’s most likely due to the fact there’s always a major challenge with the novel.
On the plus side, I made good progress with book 2 today. I wrote over 3000 words over two sessions. I’m now up to what is currently chapter 24, the second of the two chapters I recently planned out. I am still worrying that the novel is going to come in short, despite reasoning with myself that the rewrite needs to add chapters and further develop characters. The knock on effect is that I’m in danger of trying to lengthen chapters and I’m having to catch and stop myself.
It’ll all work out, I tell myself, but I only half believe it.
I suspect it’ll be the same with today’s revelation. Come tomorrow or the next day when I have my nose down in the word trenches and trying to finish off chapters whilst worrying about length, I’ll forget that I’ve already won.
But then, the fact that I ignore it, stay hungry and focused, and don’t rest on my laurels is another reason why it’s only a question of time.
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.
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