Monday, October 24, 2011

Back to Work

Yes, it has been three full weeks since I have written anything. Well, anything much.  I put a post up on my main website—a throw-away post which, for some unknown reason, garnered 10 times the usual amount of traffic—and continued my weekly 450 words for Pond Parleys, because that is an obligation I take seriously.  But otherwise, nothing.
Instead I read, surfed writing blogs, visited Kew Gardens, researched, exchanged a few e-mails with my agent, played Pooh Sticks on the actual Pooh Bridge in the Hundred Acre Wood, went to a book festival, toured a bird sanctuary, had a brief but illuminating conversation with Meg Gardiner, bought my wife a Kindle for Christmas (don’t worry, she doesn’t read this blog) and thought a lot about my writing career.
After weighing all the facts at my disposal and checking all the angles available to me, I have decided, once and for all (and for now), that self-publishing is not a path I want to pursue.
I don’t regret my recent detour; the result was a champion book that looks, feels and reads like a “real” book.  And despite my claims about low sales, when compared to the other 99.9% of self-published books out there (the ones not cranked out by the self-pub prophets), my sales were actually above average.  So I have nothing to be ashamed of.  I just don’t want to do it again.
This also does not mean that self-publishing is not what you should do: this is a highly individual decision.  Go make your own.
Having been distracted by the bright and shiny baubles that we writers now have at our disposal, I am back with the basics, back to the only thing that ever did matter and ever will matter to a writer—you and your manuscript in cage, fighting it out to the death.
You can have all the electronic wizardry, spelling and grammar checkers, formatting, PhotoShopping, One-Stop publishing and direct marketing programs you like, but in the end, if you haven’t wrestled you manuscript to the ground and made it submit, you have nothing to work with.
So, having ignored my work in progress for nearly a month, I walked back into the cage with it this morning.  Turning your back on it is never a good thing, as it grows in your mind to something terrible and fearsome, but when I sat down and opened the document, the fear subsided, and the beast rolled onto its back and let me rub its belly.
There is nowhere to go now but forward.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I Quit

Yeah, I quit writing again.  Don’t get too excited; I got better (I’m writing this, aren’t I?)
I quit writing the way a lot of people quit smoking: I argue with myself, dwell on the downsides of continuing, beguile myself with fantasies about all the money and time I will save by quitting, then stop cold turkey, only to find myself, a few nights later, standing in the drizzle in back of the pub sucking on a fag.  (That probably didn’t sound right to my American readers; that’s just British English for smoking a cigarette.)

No Writing
And quitting, from time to time, is a good thing. It allows me time to think, it lets me step back and have a good look at what I’m doing and where I’m going.  And, occasionally, it seems to trigger some amazing events.
During the bulk of my life—while I was raising children, getting divorced and entangling myself in a series of ill-advised relationships—I never quit writing, I simply ignored it for long periods of time.  I always considered myself a writer, however, and always knew I would get back to it.  One day.  But despite sporadic success, I was never really able to totally pull myself together.
Then I became an expat.  And happily married.  This sudden infusion of calm into my life allowed me, for the first time, to really settle down and treat my writing seriously.  So I wrote articles, researched markets, submitted and got rejections.  After a year or so of that, I wrote a novel and got an agent but never a publisher.  Then I lost the agent.
After nearly four years of achieving no concrete success, I read a blog post that laid out some solid guidelines for people thinking of being writers.  Basically, it told you all the things you should do, but ended by saying that, if you haven’t made any money after four years, maybe you should think about going into another line of work.  I thought that was good advice, and determined to follow it.  As the end of my fourth writing year drew to a close, I genuinely committed myself to this.  It was the first time in my life I seriously, calmly and rationally considered just stopping.

No Writing
Then something happened—the type of thing that, if you put it in a novel, no one would believe it.  On the evening of my last day, just before I went to bed, I checked my e-mail and found a letter from the editor of a writing web site.  She wanted to buy one of my articles.  For $5.  It wasn’t much, but it threw my dreams of having excess time out the window.
Some years later, after a stint of selling articles to various websites only to have them all dry up and finding nothing to replace them, and finding myself with another novel no one wanted, I once again took stock of my writing life and decided it was not worth continuing.  This was another rational, well thought out plan that I was honestly committed to.  I remember sitting on the balcony, finishing my cigar and making the final decision; it was over, it was done, and it felt right.  I went back inside, checked my e-mail and had another one of those “this could never happen in real life” things happen: I found a letter from an agent who had read my blog, liked my stuff and wanted to know if I had any novels lying around she might be interested in.
Naturally, I was dubious, but she checked out (very well, I might add) and liked my first novel enough to ask for my second (not enough to represent it, mind).  My second is still with her, on its second viewing.  My fingers and toes are crossed.
And, of course, I’m still writing.  Or I was, until this past weekend.  The impetus for this decision was nothing rational or thought out, however, it was a web site.
Lately, because I am reminded I have two books out there that could do with some readership, I have been spending a staggering amount of time pimping myself on social media.  It then belatedly occurred to me that this was doing little good because my social media footprint is very, very small.  So I began spending even more staggering amounts of time attempting to gain Twit-mates.  And that, incredibly, worked.  I saw my followers rise—albeit very slowly—from two-digit numbers, into three.  I was a long way off of four-digit numbers, but I was at last seeing some progress and felt confident that, as long as I continued to devote a staggering amount of time to it, I would succeed.

No Writing
I wasn’t getting much writing done during this time, and I was falling further and further behind on my deadlines but, hey, I was making progress.  Then I clicked on a link I thought would lead me to an article on how to build Twitter followers.  Instead it brought me to a website where I could buy them.
I stopped and gaped at the page (I admit to being terrible na├»ve here; this is hardly a new phenomenon, but it was new to me) and felt the earth give way beneath me.  As I took in all the pricing bands for purchasing Twitter followers, Facebook friends and even youTube viewers, I felt, not my will to write, but the very will to live, drain from me.  I know this seems an over-reaction but, coupled with everything else that was going on, and all the time and effort I was spending on social networking, finding out I could buy friends made me lose all hope in humanity.
So I walked away.
Over the next few days, I caught up on some reading, which was very enjoyable, told my wife I was quitting writing (she didn’t believe me, either) and not-so-secretly hoped for another “couldn’t happen in real life” happening.  None came.  But last night, as I was having my postprandial cigar, I started thinking about my idle novel, and what I might do with it, and how I could get back on track with my current work in progress, and about some other article ideas I had been kicking around.
So no major event this time, just a quiet reminder that, like it or not, I am a writer, and I cannot quit, and that was enough.  Still, a call from Random House would have been nice.