What I’m up to - April 2023
A delightful month of writerly community. One day late, but not a dollar short.
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This month was a blinder - edited another 20,000 or so words, made a short story sale, attended my first book launch, tour-guided my writing partners around Scotland and made plans for the rest of the year. Hence why this post is a day late.
This month was extremely back-loaded, in terms of stuff happening, but I managed to keep up a steady drumbeat of editing work across the month (apart from the last week, more of which below).
The first three weeks of the month were spent working on PROJECT SHARD, integrating editing notes from my critique partners. As I’ve noted before, I’m part of a (very) intensive writing group and I’m lucky enough to be able to get detailed notes on 5,000-6,000 words a week if I need it. So over the month, I was able to put about 15,000 to 20,000 words of the novel through the group and get a lot of amazing feedback.
That actually resulted in relatively small word count changes - I added just over a thousand words and then cut about 2,600. However, the raw recorded word counts are relative - it was pretty common for me to be cutting 1,700 words in a day and then adding 1,600 or so, resulting in small aggregate changes.
What I’m doing when I edit like this is stripping out the redundant, repetitive and the just plain wrong stuff that’s still lurking in the draft, then using the word count leeway this provides to layer in the good stuff - characterisation, environmental detail, sharpened dialogue and more. This has become my favourite part of the writing process, because I can actually see the book getting better.
All-in-all, I worked on my writing for about 18 hours this month, which is 10-15 hours less than usual. That’s because I (very deliberately) took a week off from hitting my writing time goals in order to play host to the members of my writing group, who all came over from the US for the launch of Ascension by Nicholas Binge, our friend and critique partner.
Here’s Nick on the day of his launch, signing his first copies in the excellent Transreal Books.
And here he is at a packed launch event at Blackwell’s Bookshop here in Edinburgh, chaired by the awesome Katalina Watt who had some fantastic questions and led a really engaging discussion. Afterwards, friends, family, dozens of members of Edinburgh SFF and some publishing folks decamped to a nearby pub for a wonderful evening of celebration and chatting about books. It was terrific.
After a busy week of tour-guiding most of my crit partners around Edinburgh (and being blessed with mostly-decent weather), we all headed to the Trossachs for a cloudy but extremely welcome rest and recuperation. My average step count for the week was 20,000 per day, so I was very ready for this whole vibe.
I also got some very good news about a short story selling to a pro venue I’ve had my eye on for some time, which I’m really excited about. No contract yet so I have to keep this to myself, but I’m really proud of this story and I’ll write a blog post about it once I’m able to.
The other exciting conversation I had in March is yet to resolve (London Book Fair basically stops everything dead mid-April) but we’ve had some good signs and portents. I’m feeling pretty optimistic. Hopefully I’ll be able to make yet more vague allusions next month.
My reading has been a bit light this month (with all the running around), but I’ve been enjoying Interzone’s Issue 294, the first under the new editor Gareth Jelley. It’s a real mix of stories and vibes. I love the new size, format and quality of production too. Overall I have really been liking the direction that Interzone is taking under Gareth’s stewardship and I’ll be bombarding him with more stories soon.
All of my routines and planning went straight to hell in the last week of the month thanks to the visit by my American critique partners, although I managed to run three times a week for the first three weeks of the month. I’m now just repeating the last run of Couch to 5K and trying to hit that elusive actual five kilometres in 30 minutes. I’m pretty close now.
I don’t feel bad about stopping running for the last week of the month though: my watch tells me I clocked in nearly 163,000 steps in nine days, which is probably an average of 8-10 miles of walking every day.
It’s also Garden Season now. We recently installed a SubPod in our garden, which is a very clever worm-based composting system. We now have about 2,000 composting worms in a raised bed, happily chomping through the food waste that we produce in an average week. It’ll be a few weeks until we can harvest any compost, but it’s very cool to go out and see the little fellas working away.
My planning limbo continues - since I’m waiting on some feedback and I have no idea when that might come back, I’m just continuing to feed PROJECT SHARD through my group, three or four chapters per week. The word count is still slowly decreasing and I’m hoping to finish up with a draft somewhere between 120k and 125k.
It will take some time to get there (because these are now very small, incremental edits where I’m putting in almost as much as I’m taking away) but in the absence of any exciting developments, I’m hoping to have a draft ready for my agent by the end of June or so. If something happens in the interim, I may have to pause this work, but it’s pretty close, so I’m confident I’ll definitely have another completed novel in the next two or three months.
It’s odd how non-chronological my writing has become over the last couple of years. The first draft of PROJECT SHARD pre-dates the book that went out on sub last November, but came after the book that I queried and got representation with the previous year - it was the book I wrote while querying, in fact. Then it had a good long hibernation before I decided to do a serious edit on it. This inter-leaving of books at different stages can be a challenging juggling act, but I kind of enjoy the variety and the opportunity to nudge multiple projects along on parallel tracks. I can’t draft two books at once, but I can definitely write one and edit another if I need to.
Lots of links this month:
- A fascinating article about the many parallel movements within solarpunk, degrowth, and people seeking ‘the good life’ - if you’re passionate about imagining a better world, this is a good place to start.
- This episode of Publishing Rodeo about what Sunyi and Scott’s launch days were like was fascinating.
- I guess this newsletter fully stans Publishing Rodeo (I mean, it’s amazing) because here’s a link to a fantastic AMA they did over on Reddit.
- This thread by Delilah S. Dawson about the challenges of weathering the long-term unpredictability of publishing was a sobering but excellent read.
- Marco and Tariq, the guys behind the Page One podcast, have started a new video podcast called Page One Extra. It’s well worth your time.
- Speaking of the Page One podcast, m’friend and colleague Nick Binge had a great interview on there just before his book came out.
- Nick also ended up on the Tiny Bookcase podcast, reading a story about sinister circuses. Terrifying stuff.
- Loved this thread that reinterprets Dracula as a sinister vampire warlord who was on the cusp of destroying humanity.
Writing this month has been steady-but-not spectacular. But it’s the slow accumulation of many, many days of work that makes the difference, not the outlier days of super-high word counts. That’s always worth remembering, when life gets busy and energy levels drop.
What I did have in April was an intensely affirming and delightful experience finally meeting my critique partners, participating in the launch of a wonderful book and making plans for the rest of the year. I’m entering May ready for a bit of a rest and to settle back into the steady routine that should produce a finished third draft by the end of June. We shall see.
In the meantime, as ever, keep reading, keep writing and keep moving.
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