What I’m up to - November 2022
Submitting, plotting, outlining and winding down.
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.
November was a month of settling in for the winter, making plans and putting stuff out in the world.
It’s also a month for experiments, so this edition is going to forgo the bullet points. It does make things a little more scannable for short entries, but these updates are increasingly not all that short. I’ll still try to keep it readable though.
My second round edits on The Disaster Club went down well and we decided to go on submission in November. So it’s out in the world now and (hopefully) being read by editors. I’m really happy with the draft and pretty hopeful for this book, although as ever being ‘on sub’ is a special kind of inbox-watching limbo.
One thing that I thought I was prepared for as a writer was the reality of being on sub (the industry term for sending your book out to editors). It seemed to me like it would be a repeat of the waiting-and-hoping exercise of querying when you’re trying to find an agent. But it’s both easier (because you have the support and advice of your agent who is advocating for you and your book) and way harder (because there’s nothing you can do to influence the process aside from keep writing). When you’re querying, you can at least send out more queries to feel like you have a little control, or fiddle with your pitch, or do some research and add to your query list. Not when you’re on sub. You just have to wait.
With the book out on sub, I’ve spent most of my writing time in November circulating between three other tasks.
Firstly, I’ve been working on pitches for both the sequel to The Disaster Club and a new, completely standalone thriller. I used to hate writing pitches, but I’ve done it enough now that I quite enjoy it. And it’s actually quite fun to come up with pitches intended for an editorial audience — you have a little more space to explain your idea, plus you’re trying to conjure an impression of a book you haven’t written yet, rather than trying to condense a finished book into a couple of paragraphs. In fact, if you’re a new writer, I think it can be a really useful exercise to write a pitch for any book you’re thinking of before you start writing. It can really help clarify your overall objective with the book and give you a sense of the stakes and the characters.
Secondly, I’ve been building a Writing Management System in Obsidian, which is a free and astonishingly powerful note-taking application. It has plugins for everything and I’ve used it to build a database of my stories and novels, my writing notes and all the stuff I had scattered between Excel, Notion, Apple Notes, Google Docs and a dozen other places. It’s a work in progress, but being able to search a single, text-based database to find ideas, notes, editor details, submission progress and more is pretty amazing. I’ve based a lot of it on Jamie Todd Rubin’s Practically Paperless with Obsidian blog series, particularly the one on how he manages his writing with the software. I’m not going quite as hardcore as he did (my actual writing will still mostly live in Scrivener) but I’m loving being able to link notes together, display tables and kanban boards of my stuff with minimal effort and seeing the serendipitous connections between topics and ideas. I’ll probably keep fiddling with it well into the new year.
Thirdly, I’ve been putting out short stories and, in the process, collecting rejections. I was astonishingly lucky that when I started sending out short stories again (after not doing so since the mid-2000s) I sold my first two stories to Clarkesworld, one after the other. Sadly (but inevitably) that 100% success rate is now at an end and I’ve had my latest stories rejected from a number of places. But rejection is constant and inevitable in writing and publishing. The two stories I have out now are both good ones, I think, so I’ll keep sending them out. I may end up editing both down (they’re both in the 8k-10k word range) as their length severely restricts the number of places I can send them to.
One nice thing that happened this month that made me smile was finding my own writing recommended in a Reddit thread on short SF recommendations. I was scrolling through Reddit and spotted that thread in one of my usual haunts (/r/PrintSF), then thought to myself ‘man, it’d be cool to get recommended in one of those threads some day, that would be amazing’. Then I tapped into the thread and there it was. Sometimes dreams do come true in very specific ways!
The Organised Writer by Antony Johnston - Armed with a few book tokens from my birthday, I picked up this book recently and have been absolutely loving it. Honestly, it’s like catnip for my brain.
I’m already a fairly systematic and structured writer, so I was a little worried that I would spend half the book going ‘yep, already do that’. But a few chapters in, I was repeatedly murmuring ‘Oh. Oh! Oh wow!’ to myself as I worked my way through Antony Johnston’s ideas on how to organise your writing life. It’s a very comprehensive and thoughtful read, with a lot of attention paid to the best way to structure your day and maximise the likelihood of doing the best creative work you can, while also not letting the admin and marketing and ancillary stuff overwhelm you. I’ve already recommended it to both novelists and creative freelancers that I know and now I’m recommending it to you.
My only other reading this month is making my way through the first draft of PROJECT SHARD, which I’m still intending to start rewriting in December (assuming nothing exciting happens submission-wise before Christmas). I’m two-thirds of the way through it now and I’m still enjoying it, even though my usual First Draft Waffle is in full effect.
I became an uncle! My younger sister gave birth to her first child and we welcomed her into the world at the start of the month. I’ve been ‘Uncle Dave’ to many of my friend’s kids over the years, but now it’s official.
I was very pleased to be invited to take part in a December ‘advent calendar’ of posts by Michael at Track of Words which is a terrific SFF review and community news blog you should definitely subscribe to. It was great fun answering Michael’s thoughtful questions about my career so far, my writing process and the inspiration behind my stories. Look out for the link to that next month.
I had a lot of travel for work in November, including two trips to London and Bristol. I’m getting to be an old hand at the sleeper train now though, consistently getting a good six hours sleep and starting my day down south feeling pretty fresh. But with all the travel I was glad I didn’t have any heavy duty editing to do in November.
I’ve started to properly come out of my shell as the Covid case rates start to come down, including seeing friends and getting out in the world. It’s been really nice actually and has definitely helped after our bout of Covid in early summer made us very cautious.
As part of that, this past Saturday my wife and I were at the Humbie Winter Market, which friends of ours help to organise. My wife Valerie has been working on a business selling handmade botanical bath and home products and this was our first cautious steps into selling. Lindenblossom Botanicals had a great first market and I even managed to deploy my own sales patter and shift a few items myself.
I’m still working on finishing a pitch for my agent for a new standalone thriller project. I’ve got the bones of an idea and a decent opening scene outlined, but it needs to stew a little more I think. I’ll hopefully square that away in the first week of December.
I didn’t manage to blog much in November (honestly, this newsletter is a great discipline to have because it gives me a target, so I put something up on the site every month). I’m thinking of setting myself shorter term goals, like a weekly post. I’m usually pretty wary of making rods for my own back (something that seems achievable and fun in the first couple of months can become an annoying self-inflicted chore half a year later) but I also know that consistent output is good for my brain and helps people to find me and my work. No promises for December (the month where plans go to die in my experience) but I may be a horrible cliche and start a Brave New Plan for blogging in January.
For the moment, I’m still on Twitter and will keep my account open for as long as the site still exists (if only to stop the username being squatted or reassigned). I’m still posting, but I’ve definitely noticed a reduction in posting among my cohort of writers. Many of them have switched to Mastodon and I’m over there too now, specifically on the Wandering Shop instance, which is small, friendly and SFF-focused. And, anecdotally, I get a lot more response and interaction on Mastodon than I ever have on Twitter. It feels more like people talking to each other than Twitter, which sometimes feels like shouting into a bad-tempered well. If you’re a writer, I’d recommend getting a profile set up, just in case. The fairly spectacular mismanagement of Twitter is already causing things to break (I’m seeing phantom notifications and timeline loading delays among other things) and these problems tend to accumulate until a breaking point is reached. Check my links below for a great newsletter roundup of alternatives.
I forgot to keep notes on what I liked online this month, so it’s back to me scrolling through my links and Discords to find stuff I half-remember:
- Genoveva Dimova did an excellent newsletter on all the alternatives to Twitter you can try.
- I also really enjoyed Lyndsey Croal’s first newsletter - the call for submissions section is especially handy if you write short fiction.
- This was a great interview with Richard Swan (we share the same agent and his trad debut The Justice of Kings is an absolute banger) over at the Page One podcast, which you really, really need to subscribe to.
- I loooooved Calf Cleaving in the Benthic Black by Isabel J Kim at Clarkesworld this month. That title! Those vibes! And it’s a great generation ship/space salvage story to boot with lots of lovely details. Highly recommended.
- One of my weird hobbies is finding writing podcasts with good backlogs that are on hiatus and bingeing them. This month’s discovery (after I read his book) was Antony Johnston’s Writing and Breathing. I especially enjoyed the episodes with Stephen Graham Jones, James Swallow and Jenni Hill. Antony is a great interviewer and apparently he’s going to bring it back from hiatus at some point, so it’s worth subscribing.
- Enjoyed this interview with SF reviewer Nick Borelli over at Track of Words.
- Did my mention of Obsidian pique your interest above? I’ve watched a lot of tutorials this month and this one by Danny Hatcher is the clearest and most comprehensive I found.
- If you’re thinking of going to Mastodon, this tool is the best one I found for finding and re-following your Twitter contacts, not least because it lets you one-click follow regardless of instance (use the ‘old’ version to do this in the browser, or the new one to export a CSV you can load straight into your Mastodon account).
Here in Scotland it has definitely cooled down after the warmest October I can remember, although the full bite of winter isn’t quite here yet. But I’m looking forward to the end of the year, a week and a bit off and a lot of books, games and family time.
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.