Monday 17th April 2017
Producing The Climb is a bit of a challenge. At its most basic it’s about writing a blog post every day. It’s about distilling your day into a theme or a story and then telling it. It’s about creating around 1000 words of content at the very end of the day when you are tired and want to go to bed.
I try and write the first draft of each issue on the actual day. I want it to be raw, I want it to be honest. If I’m in a funny mood on a certain day, I want the edition to capture that.
There’s massive dangers with this. Putting something out in a rush always runs the risk of writing something that might be misconstrued or doesn’t truly represent your view. It’s easy when you are drunk or tired to say something only to wake the next morning and realise that maybe you were arguing the opposite point to the one you meant. It’s why I will always do a quick editing pass the following morning before scheduling the post for its midday launch. With a day job that doesn’t give me a lot of time to get it edited, iron out typos and grammatical errors before scheduling it.
I have a few rules for The Climb. The first is that I have to own what I say. So if I write, for example, that Star Wars is better than Star Trek and readers say I’m wrong I cannot turn around and complain they’ve read it wrong. Instead I have two options. I either learn from the input, admit I was wrong and show some humility in changing my mind, or I stick by what I say.
The second is I have to be honest. It’s no good just saying I like Star Trek if I truly prefer Star Wars just so to avoid criticism.
I do worry that in SFF, because we are all willing to call out bullshit, that writers are afraid of being honest. When I was thinking about starting The Climb I came to a small realisation. I can be as much of a dick at times as the next person but there are no major skeletons in my closet. I don’t have a secret Nazi past, and whilst I can sometimes get things wrong, I generally go around life wanting everyone to be happy.
But on the flip side, I know that when you open yourself up to imperfection, people are more likely to criticise without being willing to accept that perhaps part of any failing might be with them. Often with friends, I’ve found myself question if I was truly at fault when blamed only to conclude that (on that occasion and after a lot of soul searching) I wasn’t. However, each case needs to be considered in isolation, Just because I didn’t feel I was at fault last time doesn’t mean I’m not at fault this time.
I’m not perfect, and I don’t pretend to be. But I try and live my life honestly and own my mistakes.
The Climb is a pretty good vehicle for that.
This past weekend has been interesting as usually it’s just talking about me. My interactions with people have had impact on me, and so for the scope of The Climb they’re important in my quest to document my journey.
The challenge has been how to represent those interactions. For example, on Friday night there was a lot of banter. I chose not to go into detail because I didn’t want private jokes becoming public. I know all too well that some people suffer with confidence and when they are trying to show confidence in a public setting, doing something like that would just be me being a complete dick.
The Climb is about being positive, not negative, and so I came to the conclusion that the most sensible route was to talk within the scope of the writing business. That’s the focus of The Climb after all. So whilst I fully refer to friends as friends, my focus isn’t on those personal, private interactions but those having relevance to my writing career.
Yesterday’s edition of The Climb (or is it today’s? I get confused. It was the last one whichever it was) was very much focused on the business interactions, and questioned whether I will be attending more conventions in the future. As usual it went live at 12:05pm. I was eating Five Guys in central Birmingham at the time.
It got a lot of discussion which was a little surprising, but it also caused a bit of controversy as well.
A friend called me out and it really got me thinking.
My aim isn’t to make anyone unhappy. Neither is it to put words in people’s mouths nor turn anyone taking issue with me into an argument.
So I’m a bit uneasy saying that the issue they had was that they felt that some of my comments came across to them that conventions were purely about business. I may be correct on that, I may have got it wrong.
But assuming the point above is true, my honest reply is: yes, and also no.
My first convention was a Nottingham Fantasycon close to 10 years ago. I was excited to go. I was starting to take my writing seriously after stepping away from Action-Figure. I knew I was at the start of a very long journey and I was keen to learn and connect with people. Was my focus industry? Looking back, I would say it was.
I didn’t have a great Fantasycon. I’m not the type of person who only talks to people based on their status (we’ve all seen them, running around handing out business cards). I was excited to speak to other people just starting out as much as I was industry pros.
The trouble was, that in a community where everyone else knows everyone, it was an incredibly lonely experience. This wasn’t because people were nasty or dicks. It was just they got into their groups of friends and chatted, and socially it wasn’t really possible to inject yourself into the middle of those conversations. As a result, I spent the whole of that Fantasycon without speaking a single word (something friends who knew me thought hilarious).
To be fair, in the post-event forum post, people were genuinely upset that I’d had that experience. They took measures to have a newbies meet in future Fantasycons which I applaud them for.
But until then my early cons were very lonely affairs. And when I did find people, I found myself censoring that element of my personality that can be a bit extroverted for a time. As a result, I did not enjoy my early con experience, but I persevered because I felt as someone who was aspiring to become a professional writer it was a necessary step.
The first friends I made within the SFF community came not from cons, but from Twitter. It was there that I connected to other fans. And when we all decided to meet up at an Eastercon one year, it was such an amazing experience. I turned online acquaintances into firm friends.
And so, since then, cons have been an excuse for me to meet up with friends. The vast majority of them were working towards some professional goal, and so much of the cons were about swapping experiences and advice.
I would always make a point of going to the how to get an agent panel, and would usually turn up to another one or two. But as things moved on, I became less interested in panels and more about catching up.
This year’s Eastercon was the first year where I was not trying to ‘promote’ myself in any way. I wasn’t trying to look for an agent (I have one), I wasn’t trying to promote a book by appearing on a panel (Four Realms is out of print, and Black as Knight isn’t out on submission yet). Instead, it was a chance to catch up with friends in the industry and find out how they were doing.
A lot of friends did not turn up to Eastercon because of various reasons: finance, going to Worldcon, other commitments, etc. It looks for similar reasons (and reasons of logisitics) that even less are looking to go to Fantasycon this year.
Eastercon was expensive for me. That’s not a criticism of the organising committee. Four days of event, food and drink mounts up however cheap everything is (The Street food was a great idea, although the hotel bar was not cheap). The weekend cost me well over £500. At that price I could go visit a few friends and stay in a Premier Lodge.
And so, I have to question the expense. I’m sure that there are some panels I could possibly get value out of, and I’m fully willing to put my hand up and say that saying that cons were surplus to requirement was probably a poor choice of phrase written at 2am and not picked up in editing this morning.
Whilst I’ve met some people through cons, I’ve met the vast majority through social media and then connected further at cons. Cons were always the place I came to learn about the industry and as I progressed, an opportunity to connect with genre / industry friends. I’ve never got a deal from a con, but the advice and discussion I’ve had has always been helpful. And as friends become pros the line between the personal and the professional gets a little blurred.
But, I will quite happily admit that just as everyone was in their little groups at my first Fantasycon, so was I this past weekend. The people I hung out with weren’t decided based on their writing careers but based on people I knew or their friends.
Do I attend cons based on wanting to be someone working in the industry or as a fan? Being totally honest, I’ve always seen them as industry. That doesn’t mean the friendships I’ve solidified are for commercial gain. If that was the case I would have stopped coming a very long time ago. I come because I know my friends will be there.
I didn’t go to a single panel this weekend. Again, that’s not a criticism of the organising committee. There was plenty I could have gone to. It’s just that attending panels personally doesn’t have the appeal to me it once did. Perhaps I’ve outgrown it, and looking at the people who used to attend but now don’t, I don’t think I’m alone in this. Maybe that will change when I have something to promote, but that won’t change the fact that I see cons as an industry meet up.
I was made aware today that others, despite working in the industry, attend as fans. I have no issue with this, and indeed, think that’s very admirable. But I don’t think it makes me a bad person for seeing them the other way. It certainly doesn’t mean I don’t value the jokes and non-industry chat. But that’s something private between myself the individuals concerned (because it’s precious) and the place for it isn’t within The Climb.
So reading back what I read yesterday, do I still stand by it? I’ve tried to give further clarification today but I think it expresses the same view. So in short… Yes, I do (although there are things that could have been phrased better).
But I have questioned myself a lot today. I knew there would come a point where someone disagreed with what I said or I said something stupid. It’s the nature of the beast.
The day itself out of this was pretty uneventful. I got up early and went into Central Bimringham with Rob. I never bought anything other than lunch at 5 Guys.
Rob left to catch his train home just as the discussion was breaking, and I went back to Birmingham International whilst keeping up with Twitter comments.
I also experienced a creeper. As a guy, I think I can be guilty of not seeing harassment but on the train back there was this strange guy who was pestering this woman. At first I thought they were friends, but then he forced her to take a sandwich from him. I think she must have had a kid (I couldn’t see as I was standing near the exit and couldn’t see into the carriage). But he kept waving to the woman and blowing kisses to what I think was a small child.
It made me realise that I had no idea what to do. Interjecting myself as another man didn’t seem like the right thing to do but it was very uncomfortable. Luckily he seemed to be getting off at my stop whereas the woman was staying on. But then just as stepped off and started climbing the stairs up from the platform, I heard him all but snatch a case off another woman getting off the train “trying to help”.
Given that I was already questioning myself given my friend’s comments, I really wasn’t sure what to do. With hindsight I probably should have done something but at the time I felt as he was getting off the train the harassment had come to an end. I think I need to better educate myself on what to do in such circumstances.
I walked back through the NEC to the hotel, somehow managed to pay just £9 instead of £60 for parking and drove home. The drive back seemed pretty quick all things considered but I was mulling a lot of things over in my head the entire journey.
I got back home and then spent the evening catching up on Youtube videos and Doctor Who whilst syncing Scrivener from the Macbook, updating my writing spreadsheet and catching up with Instagram.
So I end the day with the conclusion that I think I was honest about what I said yesterday. I don’t expect people to agree with me, because I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, just personal opinion. I certainly don’t feel I’m devaluing my friends by saying what I said, but I do feel sorry that they feel upset by my comments.
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.
- Twitter: @figures
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