This time last year, fresh from my first pro-sale, I dove into 2017 with some very optimistic resolutions, once of which was to get three more pro-sales. Well, I got one — and to a very good market, I hasten to add — but not three. Beginner’s error, my bad. As anyone in publishing will tell you, sales are something beyond a writer’s control. Whether someone likes your work is beyond your control. Award nominations and wins are beyond our control too; the only thing we can control are the words.
For me, 2017 is a year of two distinct parts.
From January to June, my diary is packed with notes about my exercise regime, cinema ticket stubs, coffee dates — but no writing. How I expected to get three pro-sales with no new material, I’ll never know, but for some reason the first half of 2017 was a dry season for me. Das Steingeschöpf was getting a better-than-expected reception, and that took me by surprise; writing had always been a hobby for me, now suddenly I was a ‘professional’. It was hard to move past the awesome reviews, my first exhilarating, excruciating awards season. It was hard to figure out what I wanted to write next.
Would it match my success so far? What if it didn’t?
Why was I writing, really?
Before I knew it, six months had passed, never to be lived again. I was failing my resolution. I wasn’t writing, let alone selling. ‘Professional’ started to seem like a stretch.
Around June, I dashed off a pretty horrific novella draft for a Codex contest. The story had been jostling in my head for a while, taking up room, and I figured I needed the motivation of a deadline. Well, I finished it, but I came dead last in my division with no idea how to salvage this awful, messy thing I’d just written. Stuff it into a drawer, move onto the next thing while the creative juices are still flowing, there you go.
In July, I Am Not I came out in F&SF. It is by far my favourite thing I’ve written to date. I can’t tell you how proud I am of that novelette, nor how formative writing it was for me. Influenced by China Miéville and Sarah Waters, it informed my style and tastes like nothing else before or since. Seeing I Am Not I — the product of four years’ work — in print in one of my dream markets, with an introduction by an editor I’d never dared to believe I’d work with, galvanised me to finally write new material, and I drafted three new stories in July. (I have yet to revise two of them, but shh.)
Then the World Fantasy nominations were announced, long after the Nebula and Hugo buzz had died down, and drew a definitive curtain on the year so far. I’d forgotten I’d even sent anything to the jury back in February. Ha ha ha.
The World Fantasy nomination (and win, gulp) has changed me in ways I don’t fully understand yet. I’m undeveloped as a writer, undisciplined and stumbling around in the dark, recovering from the longest writing drought I can remember — I feel like I’ve had a spotlight turned on me while half-dressed, one arm still stuck in my sleeve.
I don’t know when that feeling will go away, honestly. I hope I can beat it down with other, better memories: The outpouring of support for my crowdfund. My first trip abroad with my amazing partner, Ross. Finally meeting my fellow Codexians, and that editor I’d never dared to believe I’d work with (hi, Charlie!); and then new editors, and newer friends.
A year on, and I’ve learned some lessons. I’m diving into 2018 with a different mindset, and a very different set of goals.
This time, I’m only focusing on things I can control.
Here’s my 2018 diary — isn’t it lovely? I’ve already filled the first page of January like so:
- Write 1 novel draft.
I’m pitching it as Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch meets Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. There’s no plan yet, but here’s a poignant pay-off for you: remember the godawful novella I wrote in June? It just so happens that it’s also about a magical underworld filled with bizarre characters. So, it wasn’t for nothing. Hoard your off-cuts, my friends, hoard them! You never know when they might be recycled into something ever better.
- Finish 5 new shorts.
I have two unpolished drafts from July, one novelette in progress, and at least three ideas scrambling for brain-space. Therefore, I think this is doable, especially if I focus on writing what I enjoy, what I would like to read, without letting the idea of sales derail my attention.
- Read 12 books.
I used to be able to devour a book in under a week. Now, I’m lucky if I manage one every few months. I have to change that. After all, there’re back-lists to explore and new novels coming out every day.
A book a month may seem slow to some people, but this is a good goal for me.
- Subscribe to 3 short fiction markets.
Short fiction is so strong right now, and although much of it is freely available online, it’s easy to fall behind. I have a better chance of keeping up to date with Kindle subscriptions, and that way I can also support my favourite markets financially. I hope to blog more regularly about my favourite reads as well, like I did at the beginning of 2017.
Four resolutions, all of which are down to me. That’s it. No sales, no offers from agents, no award nominations; nothing beyond my control. I think that’s a recipe for a great and fulfilling year, don’t you?