Here we are, at the beginning of another brand new year, and we’re probably all wondering where the time went, right?
2020 is going to be a pretty big year for me, and I’m staring at it with both excitement and abject terror!
For one, I’m having a landmark birthday this year (don’t ask how old I’ll be, it’s obviously 21!) I have definitely been feeling my age recently, even if I still refuse to act it!
September will see my youngest starting school. This will, pretty much, double my current amount of child-free time. While part of me is tempted to use the extra time lazily basking in coffee shops… No… Hold on… ALL of me wants to do this! Sadly, my business sense is telling me to use the time a little more productively. Grudgingly, I’m listening.
This year I will be launching a brand new pen name. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, but stubbornly held off taking the plunge for two reasons: first, I’m a little narcissistic and like seeing my own name on my books. Second, I’m a little narcissistic and like seeing my own name on my books. Oh, hang on. That’s the same reason twice, isn’t it? Maybe I’m more of a narcissist than I thought!
Seriously though, I’m also incredibly lazy. The thought of running two websites, two mailing lists, and two sets of social media accounts has really put me off doing this. But, it’s time, and I really feel that it’s time.
With this pen name, I’ll be writing a new genre, writing specifically to market, and using a completely different publishing and marketing strategy to my current one. Why? Something to do with eggs and baskets or something. Maybe I’m just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. But, this is how business is; trying different strategies, and seeing what works.
Besides, when I make millions from my pen name, it will leave me completely free to write from the soul under my real name. Writing my genre mash-ups that are my heart’s desire, but bloody difficult to market!
A lot of writers stress about ‘finding’ their author voice. They talk about it as if it’s some kind of mystical, illusive, precious treasure that they might, someday, discover under a bush, or down the back of the sofa. If they’re lucky.
Perhaps it’s because author voice is so revered, so admired. We talk about the voice of our favourite authors as if that is the one thing that ties everything together; their books, their personality, their fame. Surely, if we could only find our voice, this magical thing would happen, and riches would flow to us.
We’ve placed the idea of author voice, the ideal of it, on a pedestal. Made it feel unattainable.
And that’s why it’s so difficult to believe that the truth is something far simpler. That your author voice doesn’t need to be found. Because you already have it.
(Just like Bastian in The Never Ending Story: “He simply can’t imagine that one little boy could be that important.”)
Your author voice is the product of everything you have ever written, and everything you have ever read. It’s the product of your dialect, your accent, your upbringing, and education. It’s the Netflix shows you watch, it’s your favourite movies, it’s the people you chat with, and the people you overhear in the street. It’s your culture, your moral code, your ethics.
Your author voice is made up of everything you have been, everything you are, and everything you will be.
And, that blend, just like you, is completely one-of-a-kind.
It’s not something you need to manufacture, or study. It’s not something you need to look for. It’s not a case of fake-it-until-you-make-it. You already have your author voice, and it’s already unique.
You simply need to write. And read. And live. And write some more.
Your author voice will grow with you, and become more defined. You may not even recognise it yourself, because it’s as much a part of you as your thoughts. Your heartbeat. But it’s there.
There’s no treasure map to find it, because it doesn’t need finding. Just defining. So, just write, and write, and do it as only you can.
I’m an ideas person. Which is kind of a good thing when you’re an author. But, I’m also a crazy ideas person. And I tend to get over-excited, and too ambitious, impatient and impulsive. Mixed together with the crazy ideas I have, I can get myself into things that really could have done with a bit more thought.
What I am not is organised. Or considered. Or cautious. Spontaneity is fun, and exciting, and it can take you on some amazing adventures, but it’s more of a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. I’m good at that: having big ideas, starting them, and never seeing them through.
I’m not really selling myself here, am I? So, I’m flawed. Who isn’t? But, I’m also passionate, loyal, and enthusiastic. Once I commit to something, I give it my all. There, you see? I have redeemable qualities after all.
None of us are perfect. None of us know it all. But together, we can truly flourish. Find someone who has the qualities you lack, someone who lacks the qualities you have, who has knowledge where you have naivety, and vice versa. Find someone who is just the right amount of similar to you, and just the right amount of different.
I’ve never collaborated with another author before. I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf. Sure, I have my wonderful tribe of author friends, but we’re mostly there to cheer one another along. We give each other a leg up when it’s needed, but we’re all walking our own path.
I’m still unsure if I could actually write a book with someone else (far too much of a control freak!), but I’d probably be more open to the idea now.
This month, I launched a collaboration project with a good author friend of mine; H.B. Lyne. Together, we have relaunched my worldbuilding podcast: The Great Western Woods.
I’d originally started the project with my usual ardour; big ambitions, little planning. Just winging it as I went along. I keep telling myself that this is how I work best, but I don’t think it’s really true. The regularity of the episodes dwindled, and then stalled altogether. But Holly’s brought a fresh dose of enthusiasm, and a huge amount of organisation.
I have to be honest; I rebelled and fought it at first, this hyper-organisation that I’m just not used to. But she’s won me over, and we have a fantastic, well-planned project that is already outstripping the original podcast on reach and feedback. And I’m super excited about it. I can actually see where this is going.
Not everyone you try to collaborate with is going to be the right person. Not every partnership will work. But I believe that, when you find the right person, you’ll know. Thunderbolts? Is that how it goes?
I can see Holly and myself working together on a lot of things. While we may never actually write a book together, we have so many other things planned. And it’s so much fun having someone to work with. To bounce ideas off. To pick up the slack when you’re unable to, and someone to support when they need you. For fear of drowning in the sentimentality, I’ll sign off here. But, my point is this; be open to collaborating. It opens up things you may never have attempted, or even thought of, by yourself.
If you’d like to listen to The Great Western Woods Worldbuilding Podcast, you can do so here: anchor.fm/greatwesternwoods
We all know that vision of an author, that often romaticised one; alone in a panelled room, nothing but you and your words. The tap-tap-tap of the keyboard, and the thrum of ideas and inspiration. Your muse draped on a chaise longue in the corner, a wide window overlooking a beautiful garden. The place where literary magic happens without interruption.
Of course, we all know it’s not like that in reality. In fact, if it is, I already despise you. Leave us now; this post is not for you. What it is in reality is more ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. I wonder how many of us can, honestly, raise our innocent little hand and claim that writing has never left us with murderous intentions.
Sure, we do have those days of beautious creative bounty. The days when we can’t write fast enough to keep up with the unhindered flow of genius. But, more often than not, it’s more a case of coffee, cake, crying, and the slow, inevitable descent into despair and, eventually, unrelenting madness. And my desk doesn’t have a garden view. It has the view of a dreary terraced street somewhere in central England.
One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is this; whether your view is picturesque or apocalyptic, the emotional journey of a writer is a turbulent one. There is the agony of self-doubt. The elation of shiny new ideas. The joy of good reviews, and the sting of bad ones. In any one moment, we can wildly swing from viewing ourselves as the next Dickens, to viewing ourselves as a toddler with a crayon. And it gets no better with fame, or fortune. Your window view may improve, but your inward one remains stubbornly similar.
It’s all too easy for writing to become a solitary endeavour. We can all too easily disappear into our fictional worlds, seeking companionship from our characters. Raising our heads back to reality only when we’re frightened by a sudden noise, or by our empty coffee cups. That cocoon is a cosy one.
Sometimes it feels like our own journey is unique. Not everyone around us understands the creative temperament. Not everyone around us can support us through it, or even put up with it. I pity my husband. It’s not always easy being married to a writer. I’m lucky that he’s always believed in me (moreso than I do in myself), not everyone is that fortunate.
For all his support, for all of his sympathy, he can’t empathise with my highs and lows. He hasn’t experienced them himself. I need my literary sanctuary with people who know exactly how I feel without any need to vocalise it. I need my tribe.
My tribe is amazing. They’re supportive, encouraging, generous with their advice, their experience, and their opinions. They fight the same demons, wrestle with the same unruly muses, bask in the same glories. Whenever I need it, someone will be there with an appropriate meme, a cat GIF, the right words to pull me out of my comfort zone, or a hand to hold through something that scares me.
We can talk about words, and tenses, and POV, and characterisation, and worldbuilding, and good pens, the smell of books, and cover design. We can use jargon words, laugh at our in-jokes. We can be ourselves without raised eyebrows. We can lift one another up, and we understand that we’re not competing. We can discuss mental health, and the future of our world, and the legacy we’ll leave. We can interrupt a conversation to jot down a story idea. We can get excited over the same nerdy things.
Some of them I have never met, and probably never will. Others, I’ve had coffee with, broken bread with, hugged. We’ve had write-ins, and word sprints, video chats, and email exchanges.
I need my tribe, and I hope that they know that. I also hope that they need me. That I’m not just an annoying leech of a tag-along that they tolerate out of sympathy. (I also know that they’ll understand that little paranoia.) Writing doesn’t need to be solitary. It can be a festival. A crowd. It can be a blanket fort with room for two, or ten, or fifty. I need people around me who understand me. I need my tribe.
November. I bet, if you’re not doing it yourself, you know someone who’s frantically scribbling away for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Have they been hiding? Not answering your calls? Are they looking a little pale from lack of sunshine? Don’t fret. It’s normal. They’ll be back to their usual self by December.
Because, taking on a challenge like writing 50,000 words in a mere 30 days is life-absorbing. Take it from a veteran NaNo-er; you don’t have time for socialising. For friends. For family. You know; frivolous things like eating and sleeping. But, in all seriousness, I’m not even joking. NaNoWriMo consumes your life for one month a year. And, with Christmas on the horizon, it’s not even a quiet month besides the writing.
I’m a great fan of NaNoWriMo. Yes, some people decry it as a pointless exercise that promotes quantity over quality, and produces nothing but bad, unpublishable fiction. True. Absolutely true. But then, how many first drafts are of a publishable standard?
NaNoWriMo also promotes some great habits; writing every day, sticking to a deadline, companionship, turning off the inner-editor, and, at the end of the day, just writing. Just doing it. I love NaNo, I really do. But there is a potentially harmful side to it, too.
I see a lot of people side-lining their health, both physical and mental, to chase that target wordcount. People stressing to the point where it’s really affecting their wellbeing. Putting themselves second to that wordcount goal. Let me say this: you are far more important than your wordcount. Let’s say that again: you are far more important than your wordcount.
If you need a day off, take it. If you want to go for a walk, or watch trashy TV, or read a book, or eat cake, or whatever you need to keep yourself well, do it. Your writing will still be there tomorrow. And don’t feel guilty for it, don’t feel like you’ve failed. Because your writing needs you to be healthy. If you want to write well, you need to look after yourself as well as the words.
At the end of the day, if you end November with 20,000 words, you may not have the big NaNo win, but it is a huge win in itself. A huge win. Which other months have you managed to write 20k? Celebrate what you achieve, don’t focus on what you don’t.
Take care of yourself. You are so much more important than your wordcount.