Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The things we do for love (of writing)

I'm now into the heaviest writing phase on 'Heaven Can Wait'. I've written 12,000 words in the past three days, and I'm hoping to do something like another 5,000 today. I'm starting to breathe the characters and get twitchy if I'm away from them for too long. I've radically cut down on my videogaming and I'm slowly becoming nocturnal (my preferred time for writing is 10PM-2AM).

All this is starting to have an effect on my social life, and probably my health. It shouldn't go on much longer - I'm aiming to finish the first draft by the end of next week - but while it does, I'm a cranky, introverted, obsessive creature. Friends tell me I'm getting too into it and I need to relax (particularly ironic given that one of the friends in question spent the weekend stressing like mad over getting his final-year project in on time).

I am, I'll happily admit, pushing as hard as I can on this project. I have a huge amount of faith in this book - it just feels like a winner - and I want to see it complete, but there's more to it than that. There's  gold-rush on in ebooks right now. It feels like for a little while longer, it's going to be quite easy to start a career in writing. Things will settle down soon, though, as e-readers start to reach saturation point and there are fewer people just getting their first e-reader and grabbing any cheap book they see in their preferred genres.

The conditions that have created the gold-rush are temporary. They might last another couple of years, or they might not last until Christmas (more likely, there'll be a drop-off later this year and things will pick back up a bit around Christmas before finally settling - lots of people will be getting Kindles in December). I don't know if it will be possible to see the end of the gold-rush coming, but I do know I'm a little late to the party - I wish NaNo 2010 had been in the first half of last year so I was six months ahead now of where I currently am.

I want to make sure I get something on sale while the gold-rush lasts. It's impossible to say whether post-gold-rush conditions will be easier or harder to sell into than the gold-rush (I suspect it will be harder; a large part of the gold-rush is reader optimism about all those $.99 and $2.99 indies), but the only way to make sure is to try under both, and time is running out.

So, I'm racing to get this book ready. Why not use one or both of the other novels I've written? Both are much harder propositions to sell; 'Bad Romance' sits uncomfortably between three very different niches - romance, literature and philosophy - and I'm still not sure what to do with 'The Death of John Collins' (or whatever I'm going to call it). I need to get some genre-knowledgeable people to read each book and help me figure out what to do with them, before I can really even get to editing.

'Heaven Can Wait', by contrast, fits into a natural niche defined by a number of books I respect, admire, and know quite well; in particular, I think it's in the same ballpark as Garth Nix's 'Sabriel' and Jonathan Stroud's 'The Amulet of Samarkand' (and their sequels). I know where those books sit in the genre/shelf-space spectrum and so I know roughly how to market towards the niche. That means less figuring out where I'm going, which means it will be easier to arrange things like beta readers and reviews.

All I have to do is write the thing, which brings me back to being an anti-social shut-in (if I'm completely honest, most things bring me back to being an anti-social shut-in. I am what I am ;D). I think most writers would agree that the actual process of writing is a solitary thing - collaborations notwithstanding.

Writing is solitary not just because it's something that requires concentration. It's solitary because it involves living in another world - even if that world exactly or near-exactly resembles this one. You have to become totally obsessed with your characters, talking to them in your head when you're not actually at your keyboard (or wherever you write). You have to stay immersed in the story or you lose the flow of it.

And, if you're a 'proper' writer, you love it. That's the world you want to live in. If nothing else, in that world, you don't have to pay any bills. But you love it so much that everything that breaks your momentum or demands your attention becomes objectionable. I'm really bad for this - I tend to get quite snippy when friends start demanding I hang out with them while I'm writing (sorry, guys).

My friends sometimes get annoyed (because they're good friends, more often they get worried) when I blow them off to work on a novel. I take my writing a lot more seriously than any of my friends do (though those of my friends who are writers do take writing in general quite seriously), and sometimes people get upset that I'm putting a 'hobby' ahead of spending time with them.

Sorry guys, it's not a hobby. I've made my stance clear; I'm going into self-publishing. That means, as of right now (actually, as of a few months ago), when I'm writing, it's a business activity. Ditto working on covers, editing, blurbing and even networking. That means that when it's convenient for me to work on a novel, it takes priority over hang-outs in the same way that going to work at an office job would. It might look like a hobby while I'm not making any money from it, but if I don't act professional, it's a fair bet I won't ever be a professional.

This is probably coming across quite passive-aggressive. I don't mean it to, but it's a point that needs to be made. It's a compromise all aspiring professional creatives need to find, and it's always been there. The good news is that the self-publishing revolution means this phase of the career should last a lot less time; there's no ten-year querying process any more. You get your book as good as you can get it, grab as much help as you can, and then bung it out there. There's no point where you get a stamp of approval from On High that says you're a Writer.

I guess what I'm saying (not sure to who; most of my offline friends don't read this blog) is bear with me. Yes, I'm going to seem obnoxiously obsessive and insular for the next six to eight months, but at least by the end of that period, I'll be putting the whole 'professionalism' thing to the test. There's nothing speculative or dreamy-eyed about what I'm doing. I'm serious about this.

By the way, since I'm so serious, maybe you can help me? As I mentioned before, I need people to read 'The Death of John Collins' (character-oriented sci-fi action) and 'Bad Romance' (contemporary romance with literary overtones and a Lady Gaga obsession) and help me figure out how to place them relative to the market. Both books are at an early stage re: editing, but I'm not really looking for detailed beta reads; it's more a case of collecting reader reactions to the core ideas and concepts. Neither book is terribly long (61,000 and 67,000 words), so it shouldn't take long. Tweet me (@eatthepen) or leave a comment if you're interested.

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