January 31, 2023

What I’m up to - January 2023

Every day I’m editing.

This is a cross-post from my current Now page. You can also get these updates (and other cool stuff) in your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

We’re a full month into 2023, which is kind of wild. I’ve spent the vast majority of it editing.


Being on submission is a strange limbo period for a writer. Things can happen extremely quickly, extremely slowly, or somewhere in the middle. And there’s no way of knowing which it will be. So the best (and indeed only) thing that can really be done is to plough ahead with the work you had planned and try not to refresh your email too much. Finding other writers in the same limbo is also helpful, since you can commiserate and send each other GIFs that reflect the ups and downs of the long, long, tortuous wait. I’ve had a few very kind emails from editors in January. It can be extremely bittersweet sometimes, as you get a shower of heartfelt, genuine compliments about your work, followed by a very gentle no.

The first time I went on submission, I was concerned about starting a novel project until I knew, one way or the other, whether that first book was going to sell. Now, I know that I write fast enough and the industry moves slow enough that it doesn’t really matter. Even if I sold tomorrow, it would still likely be several months at a bare minimum before things changed in a way that affected what I was choosing to write day-to-day. So these days I mostly just chug steadily forward with my planned work.

This month, I’ve almost entirely worked on PROJECT SHARD, my epic SF generation ship novel. I started out with a goal of cutting it from a monstrous 186,000 words to a more comfortable 150k. But I’ve been making some pretty substantial edits, reorganisations and restructurings and I’ve managed to drop the word count quickly, so I’m now aiming for 130k. I wrote this book to a very detailed outline, so there’s a LOT of things I can cut relatively painlessly, since I wrote them to adhere to the outline, not because I actually need them or anything.

I’ve set an arbitrary deadline of the end of March to finish this edit, but at my current pace I will probably hit my word count goal (or the end of the book) in mid-to-late February. Alongside my own edit pass, I’m also bundling up every three or four chapters and sending them through my critique group, where I’m finding even more cuts and edits. As with my last book, the insights and observations that come from my group are utterly invaluable. This is a little different to last time because the whole draft already exists, but even so I’m finding that the feedback I’m getting from my amazing partners is subtly steering my overall editing and shaping of the book.

In total I’ve cut about 22,000 words in January, I think, after 8,000-10,000 in December. The vast majority of that has come from individual, on-the-line edits, rather than the removal of whole scenes. I’ve got 26,000 words left to cut to hit my target.

After that, I’ll probably alternate between working on some short stories and doing more edits based on my workshop’s feedback. I suspect that will be the case until well into March at least. Then I’ll send over this draft to a couple of beta readers, submit whatever short stories I’ve managed in this period and then consider the vexed question of what to write next. At that point, hopefully I’ll have a better idea of what makes sense to tackle next.


I’ve done nothing but beta-reads in January. But what a set of beta reads. That’s included three on-submission novels from my fellow Sub Club’ members, which blew me away. And now I’m right in the middle of beta-reading an in-progress novel that has absolutely hooked me.

This was one of the things I most wanted from finding and joining a writing community - the chance to work with peers writing seriously for publication. I’m lucky enough to be able to do detailed critique partner reading for my regular weekly group (including a new member whose prose is frankly jaw-dropping) and be part of a broader community of pro and semi-pro writers who are all writing astonishing work.

Sorry to be all vague about it, but I guarantee you’ll see some of these books on shelves soon - they’re superb. Believe me, when that happens I’ll be shouting about them.


It’s been a pretty quiet month, mostly filled with writing, day job and a little bit of socialising. I’ve continued to stumble through Couch to 5k (for the second time in a year) and slowly strengthened my duff ankle, although it was a little dicy running on frosty pavements a few times. I’m steering clear of the forest trail where I busted my ankle last year, but I’m usually running in darkness, so I need to be extremely careful. I picked up some sort of horrible cold on my last work trip (not covid, thank goodness) so I’ve been knocked slightly off my rhythm, but I’ll be back into it next week. It’s lovely to see some light still in the sky when I head out for a run at 5pm.

We also had an ESFF in-person meetup for the first time this year. The ESFF community has been a huge part of my writing life for the past couple of years and I’ve taken a minor role in organising these meetups. Looking ahead, I’m hoping to do more of the same around Cymera and, of course, Worldcon in Glasgow next year.


I completely failed to do any blogging in January - too focused on the day-to-day of getting the editing done. But I’ve got a burgeoning list of post ideas and links I want to share, so I’m going to set myself a few rough targets and see how I do. As Twitter continues to slowly burn down, I find myself less and less inclined to share things there and more into the idea of posting on my own website. I think it’s quite common to set the bar for a given post too high and end up psyching yourself out of posting. But I love blogging and I miss doing it, so I’m going to try and make a more sustained effort.

Other than that, more editing.


Just a few wee links to see in the New Year:

  • I went on a podcast backlog binge recently and really enjoyed the Crafting with Ursula series that Between The Covers did last year. Highly recommended.
  • That also sent me on a deep dive into the Between The Covers SFF archive, which is chock full of excellent interviews with speculative authors.
  • This interview with agency compatriot Tom Hindle by the Page One Podcast is worth a listen, as is everything they put out. If you’re a writer or a voracious reader, the Page One archive is worth your time.
  • While I can’t stand the layout and format of The Well, I always find myself meandering over there to read Bruce Sterling’s State of the World Discussion because he’s such an astute observer of the past, present and future of our world.
  • If you love a bit of nitpicking, don’t miss Brett Devereaux’s ongoing series steadily demolishing the worldbuilding of The Rings of Power - here’s a post on armour and another on battle tactics.
  • The case for not going to Mars.
  • A really fascinating series from Track of Words on writing for the Black Library (Games Workshop’s publishing arm), including posts about pitching, writing stories about Space Marines and writing effective samples. My brother was heavily into Warhammer in our teenage years, but I was mostly there for the short fiction in his codexes and White Dwarf magazine, so I’ve had a lurking ambition to write something for the Black Library ever since. Maybe one day.

The first month of the year has been an uneventful one for me, with steady progress and nothing terribly exciting happening. I’m hoping to maintain that steady progress in all aspects of my work, although I wouldn’t say no to something exciting either.

The days are getting longer and the temperatures are going up. If you look hard enough, you can see the end of winter and the greening of spring around the corner. If you’re a writer like me, I hope your projects are bubbling along nicely. If they’re not, look out for some blog posts in February that might help.

In the meantime, as ever, keep reading, keep writing and keep moving.

If you have a question, suggestion or something else you’d like me to write about, please get in touch over on Mastodon or Twitter, or send me a message on my contact form.

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Writing less on your blog I saw a post today from Matt Gemmell, a prolific writer and blogger here in Scotland and it crystallised a couple of things I’ve been half-thinking

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