I think it’s important for a writer to always be looking for new challenges. If the thing you’re working on isn’t teaching you something then how are you going to grow?
My current challenge is the Writeathon challenge over on Royal Road. Writeathon has some similarities to NaNoWriMo, which I’ve done every year since 2004. In both cases the challenge is to write a set amount according to a fairly tight deadline. NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words of a first draft in 30 days. Writeathon is 55,555 words in 5 weeks but the words have to be published to a single fiction on the website. The daily writing total is lower for Writeathon but you have to edit as you go, which is very different to the “Writing with abandon” atmosphere of NaNoWriMo.
The thing I love about NaNoWriMo is the permission to suck. Nobody ever has to see the bullshit you come up with at three in the morning when you’re desperate to just keep the story going, and so a bunch of ninjas jump out, and menace your romantic leads who’ve been stubbornly refusing to kiss for three fucking chapters.
Writeathon does not come with permission to suck. It comes with permission to care what other people think about your writing. A lot of writing advice boils down to “Write to please yourself.” This is true and important. If you’re not enjoying the story then writing it just isn’t sustainable in the long term. It is possible to write stuff that you hate but writing it will destroy you eventually. The temptation is to avoid that by forgetting about the audience completely.
However, if you never think about the audience then you end up writing stuff that no audience will be able to enjoy. At some point you need to consider clarity and coherence for readers who don’t live in your head. I think it’s perfectly valid to leave that consideration until it’s time to edit but there’s something to be said for cleaning up your messes as soon as you make them.
Ray Bradbury is often quoted as saying “Throw up in your typewriter every morning… – Clean up every noon.” I’m a night owl, and also incapable of sticking to any routine for long, but throwing up story into my laptop for a bit and then cleaning it up when I run out of steam might be sustainable. I’m going to spend five weeks finding out if it is.
Confidence is a weird thing for us Neurodivergent types. We spend our childhoods being told that we’re doing everything wrong. Then we become either timid, or rebellious teens, and whichever we choose that’s wrong too. Then we’re anxious adults desperately pretending to be whomever it is that everyone is expecting us to be. And then some bastard tells us that the secret to confidence is to “just be yourself.”
A lot of people who know me would tell you that I must have overcome that because I’m very confident now. It’s not true. I haven’t felt genuine confidence since I was three years old. I was a very confident toddler but it was all wasted then. When you’re three it doesn’t really count as confidence, it’s just being bossy.
What I do know is to fake confidence. I worked out a while ago that most people can’t tell the difference between real confidence and fake confidence. Fake confidence is easier than it seems too. At least 80% of fake confidence is deciding not to fear looking like an idiot. A further 10% is knowing how to step back from mistakes that make you look like an idiot in a graceful enough way that people forget what mistake you made. The rest of it is mostly just being simultaneously loud and polite.
Of course there’s the other kind of confidence – the confidence in something. So how would I rate my confidence in, say, my writing? Simultaneously very high and rock bottom. My default belief about my own writing is somehow both that I’m a genius and I should be a millionaire and winner of all the literary prizes, and also that I’m the worst kind of hack and I’m lucky that anyone reads anything I write.
I hate this question so much but I imagine that to many of my readers it seems entirely innocuous. I want to unpack some of the unpleasant baggage this question is carrying around.
What someone means when they ask this question is “What do you do for work?” but that’s not really what they’re asking. This question is an invitation to justify your existence and to reveal your class and status. I think a lot of people don’t really mean it like that. They’re asking it as an icebreaker and they think the worst thing about it is how bland it is. It doesn’t feel bland to someone who’s struggled with unemployment.
Back when I could still work I often didn’t because I couldn’t persuade anyone to employ me. It’s hard not to take unemployment personally. It feels like everyone else can get a job and that you’re stuck at home being a drain on society. Being unemployed can feel like you’re failing at the most basic things about adulthood. And then you’re introduced to a new person and the first thing they do is to ask you what your job is.
“What do you do?”
If you’re choosing not to work because of your mental health then this question feels like an attack. How can your mental health be incompatible with work? How dare you prioritise your wellbeing over your economic value.
If you can’t work outside the home because you’re a carer, either for children or for vulnerable adults, then this question is a chance to be reminded that nobody regards caring as “real work”.
If you’re an artist of any kind then this question is a reminder that not only do people not think art is a “real job” but they also don’t think that artists should get paid.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an artist/writer/actor/film maker.”
“No but what do you really do? What do you do for money?”
If you’re retired, or if you can’t work because you’re disabled, then this question is another reminder that your not a real person in the eyes of a lot of your peers. That’s why people are happy to pretend that the pandemic is over. They’ve convinced themselves that it’s only the old or the sick that have to worry about dying and that’s not a problem because…
A lot of people making this calculation don’t even finish the thought. They don’t really confront what they’re saying by equating someone’s value with their ability to work. They certainly haven’t thought about the fact that many elderly and disabled people do actually work, or contribute to our societies in other ways. It’s a mental dead end that prevents them from absorbing the horror of the idea that almost all of us will become worthless to capitalism eventually and that when that happens we’ll be an abstract on the other side of a string of dots
Excuse me while I get the hollow laughter out of the way.
Of course I don’t believe in fate or destiny. If I did I’d have no option but to lay down and die. That’s the kind of destiny that people like me get. We die tragically in the background, or we endure in suffering in order to serve as a good example.
There’s no place for me in the future unless I chose to make one. I’m old, I’m fat, I’m ugly and I’m disabled. If I’m in a story it’s as a bad guy. In fact I am in a story as a bad guy. I’m on the news as a bad guy quite often. Not me personally but both fat people and disabled people are regular bad guys on various news programs.
Of course when I was a teenager I thought that my weight was standing between me and my destiny. I wanted to do big, important things and I knew that fat people, particularly fat women, didn’t get to do big, important things. I thought that if I lost enough weight then maybe Destiny would come calling.
That did not happen. I did lose weight but nothing changed. My weight was not the fundamental problem of my life that I had been told it was. Destiny wasn’t calling because Destiny doesn’t exist. Destiny is just a scam made up to sell horoscopes and persuade people to stay at home and wait for change rather than going out and making it happen.
Yes, I am also surprised that I’m still going. I’m even more surprised that people are actually reading. Not a huge number of people to be sure but more than just me and my spouse.
I’m publishing two stories via Royal Road. The first is A Kindness of Ravens, a tale of sexy spies and Celtic gods all tangled up with death and murder and a little light isekai. It’s complete already so it’s just a matter of scheduling the chapters to go live on the website. It seems to be going well. Breaking it down into bite-sized chunks has forced me to really look at it and admit to myself that it is actually good. So good that I have trouble believing that I actually wrote it even though I remember doing it.
The second story is The Waters of the Dune Sea, a fantasy LitRPG story of foundlings and sky piracy. There’s quite a lot of world building going on. I’m writing this one as I go, which is making it harder to stick to any kind of upload schedule. I’m loath to try and create one because I worry it will just become an excuse to post the chapters before they’re ready.
TWotDS is an exercise in pushing myself to try new things but it’s also a possible on-ramp for telling stories in a world that I’ve been thinking of for a long time. I can’t work out if my willingness to try this is me being bold and experimental or if it’s me giving up on the idea of success. It doesn’t feel like giving up but maybe that’s just my brain lying to me.
Of course it’s always possible that all this activity is just me procrastinating. Am I filling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of busywork so I don’t feel bad about all the stuff that I’m not doing?
Maybe, but I am genuinely not sure I care. It feels like the world is on fire and either nothing matters or everything does, Either way, I can’t fix any of it
There’s a competition on Royal Road. For shorter fictions from the prompt “Uncharted Waters”. I decided this was a perfect prompt to write a story to introduce the world to my Sky Pirates of the Dune Sea setting. That’s me. You say water and I think of a story set in the heart of a giant desert.
The first part is up already. Most of it’s not written yet so this is kind of like dictating a story while crossing a high wire. Also I’m moving house this week. So it’s like dictating a story while crossing a high wire in a strong wind while people watch and shout “Fall!” at you.
Okay it’s not quite like that. There’s very little risk of death or serious injury. No more than the regular risk of death or serious injury that haunts me as a potter around my house. Anyway, I give you the cover image of my new work. It’s more of a placeholder than the cover image of Kindness of Ravens but I’m still fairly pleased with it.
The Waters of the Dune Sea
If you’ve been enjoying all this free content then you might consider buying me a coffee over on Ko-fi. I’m working on setting up membership tiers there and also setting up a Patreon.
I have started something over on Royal Road. I’m sharing one of my novels. If you’re interested you can read it there. If you enjoy it you could bung me some money via Patreon (once the page is available) or buy me a coffee with Ko-Fi.
This novel is complete so I’m just posting it in installments but I am also working on a new novel which I will start posting there as soon as I have a sufficient buffer of chapters.
I think that I’m finally ready to just start putting my completed novels out into the world. I intend to start posting them, serialised, on Royal Road. I’ll post a link here when the first parts go live.
I’ve put together another Gallery page here. Feel free to bask in the beauty of my work.
Reading back that last sentence I’m wondering if the course of steroids I’ve just finished is doing the talking for me. Will I have to come back and edit out all the confidence when the effects wear off? Only time will tell.
Some of you will already have worked out that if I’m posting here then I must be avoiding some other, more onerous, task. It’s true that we’re moving house and I should probably be packing something or throwing something out but I’m also recovering from a nasty chest infection so actually doing stuff is probably a bad idea.
Before I go please follow this link to an indie film made by a friend of mine. It’s a chill and otherworldly, steampunky kind of a thing. No jump scares or Christmas bullshit. A Clockwork Heart
With one month to go until NaNoWriMo begins it is time for some desperate last minute prep. I have only the vaguest of plans this year. I think I might be a rebel and write non-fiction.
This is clearly a very bad idea. I have very little experience of writing non-fiction and since the thing I’m thinking of writing is not from my own personal experience it will require a lot of research. I also have other things I should definitely be writing. Worst of all I should really be preparing to move house.
However, the big thing about NaNoWriMo is that it’s already a terrible idea. Writing 50,000 words in a month is clearly daft. That’s too much for most people and no challenge at all for the rest. It’s not even a good length for a novel. Somehow, in spite of all that, it works as a way to get creativity unstuck. I have rarely been more in need of getting unstuck than I am this year.
So, while I’m not working on my big secret project (because I can’t at the moment), and I’m not packing things into boxes (because I physically can’t), I shall be wading through the swamps of research and trying not to drown in the depths of the internet. Wish me luck.
As I become more disabled my everyday life becomes more and more like running a small business. These last few weeks I’ve been hiring cleaners, delegating tasks to them, delegating related tasks to my spouse and managing the household budget so that we can afford to pay wages.
I’ve also been writing my podcast, working on paintings and trying to build an online platform. I’ve invested in Ko-fi gold, that’s the paid version that allows the posting of larger images and has more customisation options. I haven’t worked out what to do with it but my most recent post there is HERE. I haven’t blogged much this month but my most recent post was over on the Stick of Doom blog.
Being the manager of my own life works better than trying to live it like an able-bodied person but it’s not without cost, both financial and mental. I don’t know how sustainable it is. I’ve already had to give up on the idea of saving enough money to buy a new rise and recline chair. The money I’ve been saving will have to go to pay for the cleaners. This means that I need to try to find a new way of raising the money for the chair. If I try to do without it I’m going to end up with cellulitis, leg ulcers and maybe septicaemia (I really recommend that you do not do an image search on those things).
And speaking of image searches (worst segue of the year), I’ve already mentioned the digital paintings. This month I’ve done a couple of portraits and I’m working on a painting of Glen Etive. I’ve started to document my process so I can post about it for other people who use Procreate. I don’t really want to start yet another blog but the painting stuff doesn’t really fit in either here or over on the Stick of Doom. Maybe I should post that directly to Ko-fi?
So what is all this adding up to? I honestly don’t know. There are people who can make a good living via Patreon and Ko-fi but I have no idea how they do it. They probably start from a position of feeling like they deserve to be paid for the work they put in. Maybe that’s something I should be working on.