You’ll notice that I’m writing this a year late. . There are many reasons for that, and whilst I regret not writing one at the time so not to have the benefit of hindsight, it is helpful to me from the perspective of someone now looking at the progress made in 2022.
Going into 2021,2021, we were still very much in Lockdown Life, but despite that I felt things were I felt things were making progress. I’d just managed to deal with an issue that was affecting my health and causing me a lot of stress, so I was looking forward.
But that issue had really affected my health, and I can say now, sitting on the eve of 2023, more than I realised. I mean, everyone was down and depressed, but I’d just got rid of a major cause of stress. What I didn’t realise was how slowly my body reacts to change and my health continued to decline to the point where in February I was a lot more ill than I realised at the time. Perhaps I didn’t want to see it. I had spent years getting myself from nearly losing a leg to an athlete competing at the European Games, only for it to be ruined by idiots I would have fired on the spot.
But with that behind me, I had one of those rare times in my life where I had time to consider what to do next for a while. I wanted to write, but if I was to do that, I needed to be super productive. I also had a book under consideration at a publishers. 2021 felt like a new start.
But that deal fell through at the last hurdle, for reasons there were frankly ridiculous and more than one person believed based in everyday bigotry. If they’d hated the novel, I would have been upset, but I would have carried on. Instead, I was left with a lot of questions, answers that I didn’t get until much later on in the year when I spoke to people who were at the company. Should I have made a fuss? Honestly, I don’t want to be an author who succeeds just because I made a platform for myself on being treated unfairly. Whilst I want to market myself to maximise returns, I don’t want to do it by claiming I was treated unfairly. I’d already had one such fight, I had no energy for another.
Instead, I would channel the reasons into an experiment later on in the year, but more on that later.
I’m proud how I kept going after that whammy when I felt so rough. Part of it was pride. I should have taken more time away, rest, but I dove right in, taking that experience and turning it into an invisible chip on my shoulder to drive me on. I started a new novel.
I took a lot of time that summer to study theorycraft. I’ve always felt plotting was my weakness, so I spent ages watching loads of youtube videos on story theory. I looked at screenplays, romance novels, everything. What I didn’t want was to produce something formulaic, but to take these things I’d learnt onboard as tools that I could use them as reviews to see where there could be potential issues.
I learnt a lot, felt I’d developed a lot as a writer because of it. So I started a mini experiment, writing short stories using what I’d learnt. I did this totally anonymously – never told a soul – as I wanted to be free of expectation, even from myself.
Because these stories didn’t matter, I looked at writing faster. I quickly realised that I would get in my own way too often. I’d stop, consider and take a break from the writing while I figured out a particular problem. I was seeking perfection in a first draft, and whilst that’s meant I’ve learnt to write very clean first drafts in the past, it slowed me down. It also screwed up my editing because I always saw other writers doing heavier edits when mine were either full rewrite or nothing. I realised if aimed at a 80% perfect first draft instead of a 100%, I had a much clearer idea of what needed to be edited.
So I changed the way I edited to give myself the confidence to write less perfect first drafts, refused myself any breaks from the work, even if I felt it was all going off the rails and needed a moment to consider. I just wrote.
By the end of the year I was doing 250,000 words a month.
I’d just spent 6 months writing a novel that, from my new found understanding of plot, had some potential issues and needed completely deconstructing. What an inefficient use of time compared to my current method.
And because those million of words I wrote in the fall of 2021 were completely anonymous, I was able to get feedback on them in secret ways that people never knew. And the biggest surprise was how good the feedback was…. I mean… it was stellar!
I think that saved my writing, because after having my confidence crushed earlier in the year, I was able to prove that those feelings I’d felt at the beginning of the year were justified. And I actually had fun writing for the first time in ages.
I effectively, radically changed the way I plotted, wrote and edited, and it was a massive success. But I wanted to scale it in 2022.
All those systems I put into place allowed me to be a writing machine and allow me to be super productive, but I wanted to scale in many ways that I still can’t fully explain without outing myself and my experiment (spoiler, a new day job kinda wrecked the experiment so I pushed it back to 2023)
So if my aim in 2021 was to become super productive, I found a way to do it. But it came with a cost.
I needed all the time. 250k words in a month is no joke, even less of a joke when they are quality words. That would be 2 full novels a month! Hence why The Climb stopped. I needed that time, plus the things I was doing I couldn’t talk about.
However, other things dropped off the radar. I became super focused on one thing and everything else went by the wayside. Hence my goal for 2022 – The Year of Consistency.
I needed a way to ensure that while I was focused on this one thing, the other things were still ticking along. I’d happily drop to 125k words a month if it meant the other stuff got done.
So that’s where I ended in 2021. After a shit start to the year, I picked myself up, and started squirreling away in silence, beholden to no-one, finding myself a safe writing space where I could push myself, happily fail and then be pleasantly surprised when I proved myself unexpectedly right.
I have the systems and processes in place to do what I want to do. I’ve invested in systems and tools to help me (from trackers I’ve built myself in things like Notion to off-the shelf software to help with various tasks). I’ve put time into learning to come out of 2021 much stronger than I entered it.
And whilst 2022 did put a major hiccup in plans for further experimentation, I’m hoping that 2023 can take advantage of the groundwork I laid down in 2021.