What I’m up to - December 2022
A year of big numbers, double sub and looking forward.
Happy Hogmanay! That’s what we call New Year’s Eve in Scotland. December was probably the quietest month yet for my writing, but a chance to get a bit of rest, do some reading and start a tiny wee bit of editing.
My year didn’t end with a book offer (we sent The Disaster Club out on submission halfway through November, so it was cutting it fine for anything to happen this year) but it also didn’t end with a bunch of rejections, so I’ve got medium-high hopes for the first quarter of next year.
I started the month by finishing off and sending the two pitches I started at the end of November and I’m really happy with them. The notional sequel was exciting because I got to have a good think about how the characters from The Disaster Club might grow and evolve (and die? who knows?) in a possible sequel. And I got quite into the idea of pulling those characters out of the context they’ve found themselves in at the end of the first book and seeing what happened when they all felt as uncomfortable as the main character, Will.
I also got very excited coming up with a completely different thriller concept. One thing I’ll often do when I’m writing a pitch is to come up with a little ‘flavour quote’ - a little paragraph-long excerpt teaser for my own brain that gives me an idea of the tone. The quote for this new book gave me a real sense of a slightly darker and grittier novel than The Disaster Club, which has a pretty strong undertone of humour to it. I won’t give either of these a project name until they get past the outline stage, but I really enjoyed the exercise of coming up with them.
Once those two things were out of the way I did a few more days work on my Obsidian writing system and now it’s pretty much where I want it to be. I’ll go on tweaking it and fiddling with plugins as I slowly migrate more notes and stuff into the system, but there’s a real benefit, I’ve found, to having a complete picture of all of my creative and research notes in one big, searchable, text-based database. It’s de-riguer among Obsidian users to show off your ‘graph’ view, which shows the connections between all your notes. This is very much a beginner effort, but it is very cool to begin to see those serendipitous connections coming together.
In late November and early December, I was also re-reading my own book, which I’m still calling PROJECT SHARD for now, an epic SF generation ship novel. I was both pleasantly surprised and a little annoyed by the time I got to the end - this would have been an extremely easy project to write off, because the first draft was 186,000 words long, which is a bananas length if you’re not already an established SF author with the track record to justify that kind of page count. But I really enjoyed re-reading even the wobbly first draft. I’m lucky (?) enough to not generally find my early drafts too cringeworthy or hard to read these days, especially if there’s been more than a year since I wrote them, so I can usually trust my gut when deciding whether to go forward with a project. So this one was annoying because it was pretty readable! Even when it was overlength and full of continuity errors and waffly bits.
Because I’m on Double Sub (with two books out with editors), there’s a reasonable chance that I might have to drop this project and start looking at something else in the first half of next year. But I also don’t want to start something brand new immediately, so PROJECT SHARD is a perfect stop-gap editing project. I’ve made myself a Pacemaker editing plan (I need to cut 404 words per day to get to my target by the end of March) but I’m already ahead of the game. It’s going well.
I also did a long post on my writing numbers for 2022. TL;DR - it was a very good year, with over 200k new words written, one whole book drafted from scratch, edited and sent out on sub and a whole slew of other writing and publishing successes to cap off the year. The big difference this year was consistency and pure time - I basically did three months worth of writing work this year, in terms of full working days. If you’re a statistics and spreadsheets type of person, have a read of that post.
I didn’t finish many books this month, because I was both reading my own work on PROJECT SHARD and doing a beta read for a friend from one of my writing groups.
However, as a wee pre-Christmas treat, I did absolutely wolf down a book in the last three days.
Centers of Gravity by Marko Kloos - I’ve been reading the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos for many years (I think basically since he started writing them) and this was a very worthy and enjoyable final book in the current 8-book (!) arc.
There’s a lot of not-that-great military SF out there, but the Frontlines series is a big exception. Kloos is a former soldier from the German Bundeswehr and it really shows - the soldiers and flight crew in these books talk to each other in ways that definitely ring true with my own limited military experience (I was in a reserve unit while at university and have a number of friends who were or are regular soldiers). If you have served in any capacity, a lot of military SF can break suspension of disbelief pretty regularly because these things ring false.
It’s also just a really great action series, with some of the most propulsive and well put together battle scenes I’ve read, leavened with believable, sympathetic characters. I’d put him alongside Dan Abnett in terms of his ability to make me care about people, then also make stuff explode.
December was a very quiet month in many different ways, as I was on holiday for a week of it and didn’t do much aside from prepare for and then enjoy the festive period. I ate a reasonable amount of turkey and roast potatoes and did a lot of walking on the beach and in the woods.
December was also the month that I got back on the exercise wagon, because I was determined not to do the giant cliche thing of (re)starting an exercise program in January. I’m a couple of weeks in and I’m feeling pretty decent about it, because I’m working on both my stamina with some running and my overall strength and flexibility with weight work.
This year was very up-and-down for me when it comes to this stuff. A dose of Covid absolutely knocked me for six in June, when I was already off my game after injuring my ankle in May. The rest of the year was a bit of a write-off as a result. But with the aid of some ankle-strengthening exercises and careful running, I think I’m slowly getting back to where I want to want to be.
I also lost half of my festive holiday to playing Citizen Sleeper which is a phenomenal roleplaying game set on a semi-derelict space station. The writing is gorgeous, many-layered and full of amazing detail and it’s a joy to play and replay. Highly recommended.
I got back into the blogging groove in December and I’m hoping to continue that into the new year, with posts on my author interview with Track of Words as part of their ‘advent calendar’ event and my yearly numbers roundup post (check the links section below). In January I’m going to start working my way through my backlog of post ideas and aim for (AIM FOR) roughly a post a week.
I’m also looking forward to getting into the thick of the edit on PROJECT SHARD, after a promising start earlier this month.
BUT - everything is contingent on what may happen in the first few weeks of the year. The answer might be nothing, so I may just continue chugging through my edits and thinking about what I want to write later in the year. But I may also have a sudden and exciting reason to re-consider all my plans. We’ll see, I guess.
Just a few wee links to see in the New Year:
- I really enjoyed this interview with Megan Bradbury about her writing routine - I will bore you to tears about the power and effectiveness of routine over inspiration or willpower or anything else, so it’s good to see other folk hammering the same message.
- I also really enjoyed Francesca Steele’s Write Off interview with Ian Rankin - This is a great podcast focused on the bumps along the road towards writing success and it’s never less than heartening to listen to, as an early-career writer.
- I did an author spotlight interview with Track of Words - Michael from Track of Words was kind enough to review my short story ‘Carapace’ earlier in the year and then asked me to contribute to his ‘advent calendar’ of December posts, which I was delighted to do.
- My writing numbers for 2022 - Discussed earlier in this newsletter, but here’s all my numbers and stats for the year to date. It’s always such a good exercise for me to do this at the end of the year, because it puts everything in context and gives me a real sense of how I’m doing.
- I recently had cause to search for John Wiswell’s amazing Twitter thread on how to write and submit short SF and I was reminded of how great it is. I’m half-thinking I should make a list of threads like these and archive them in some way. Just, y’know, in case.
- Gen Dimova’s newsletter continues to be a delight - this month’s issue is a cracker and you should really subscribe.
It’s hard to believe that it’s the end of the year. It’s been an incredibly tumultous one globally, but a good one personally, even though it hasn’t felt like it at times. And when things felt really crazy, writing has always been a steady drumbeat of sanity and focus in my life that’s got me through a bunch of things.
Indeed, if there’s one thing that’s really happened for me this year, it’s been shedding the last of my residual angst about my writing practice and beginning to see it as an essential element in my overall happiness and function as a human being, instead of never-ending self-imposed homework. When an hour of writing is an escape and a source of solace, it’s a lot more fun than when you spend all day dreading it or feeling guilty for not doing it.
It took me a long time to get here, but I’m very glad I have. And I hope if you’re a writer too, 2023 will be the year you find a little of the same peace and satisfaction in your work.
As ever, keep reading, keep writing and keep moving. See you in 2023 and a Happy New Year when it comes.