2013: A Year of Writing

This isn’t a story. Well, it is in the sense that it’s a description of a series of events that happened to a person rendered in a way (slightly) more entertaining than a bulleted list. That person is me. The “story” is what I did in 2013. It’s been a strange sort of year.

Unhelpfully, there doesn’t appear to be a term to describe the universal empty feeling one gets after you’re finished reading a book. At least, if there is it doesn’t show up on the first page of Google, which is always the absolute limit of my research into anything that isn’t pornographic in nature. But you know what I’m talking about: that odd sense of bewildered shellshock you get when you shut that book and the faint feeling of outrage when you look around and see everyone else in the world just going about their business like nothing happened. You were just somewhere else, maybe even someone else, and they don’t even know. It’s something strange and private and oddly invigorating. If you’re a writer, like me, you might also be a familiar with the sister sensation to this one – the feeling you get after you finish writing a story. If anything (and I can only speak of my own experiences here, to be honest) this is an even more powerful version of the unique post-book ennui. Because when you write a story, you inhabit a place and a character (or whole series of the little bastards) far more thoroughly. You know things about them a prospective reader never could. For you, briefly, they exist as real. You were in another world, perhaps one very much like the one around you, perhaps with people very much like you and your friends (you hack), but nonetheless different and uniquely yours.

Most writers might turn out a story in a week if they’re lucky. Longer works – whole novels, say – are, at best, once a year jobs. Anything more than that can seriously screw your head up. Why? Because there’s only so many worlds you can visit, only so many lives you can live, before it drives you totally insane. Go on too many journeys and have too many adventures and you’ll lose all sense of time and place. You’ll forget who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing. Believe me I know for, my friends, I am that writer.

Chances are you know this already. But 2013 was quite the most bizarre year of my life to date. I started this blog in October 2012, but by the start of last year it had already begun to take on a life of its own. I was starting to get pretty confident that maybe I wasn’t just an enthusiastic amateur, but rather I might have something special going on. I knew I could write fast and well: I didn’t know until 2013 that I was a fucking mutant.

I started out 2013 finishing off my second Ragnar Ulrichson novella. This was a silly idea I’d had in a moment of desperation in 2012 whereby I simply shoved two genres – heroic fantasy and pulp detective fiction – together haphazardly and looked for the places where it might be fun to smooth over the joins. It worked, strangely. Ragnar’s second adventure, Dragonfire, pitted him against literally the biggest threat his city had ever faced, with surprising results (even to me). According to The Spreadsheet, I took an eight day break before cracking straight on with my next novella, a near-future sci-fi adventure that followed the crew of a dilapidated ship sent by a resource-starved Earth to the orbit of Saturn to find…something. Yeah, it was a bit 2001, but I think The Long Death holds up pretty well, if you like that kind of thing. Now, I can’t talk about everything I did last year. It’s just not interesting and you can read it all yourself on this very blog anyway. But right after this I got involved with a little contest on Twitter.

Let’s talk about Twitter. Probably you came here from a link on Twitter, so I guess you know all about it. Let me tell you, I’d be nothing without Twitter. What links I’ve forged with fellow writers, what success I’ve had, I owe entirely to that particular social network. Twitter is the lifeblood of artists right now, and especially writers. But anyway, the reason I mention it is because Twitter connected me with other writers around the world, and one of them was planning to do a little word race of sorts in February, sort of like a mini #NaNoWriMo (about which more anon). Just 35,000 words, nothing too stressful, see who finishes first. This was too good an opportunity for me to miss because this blog, from its initial conception, was always intended to take advantage of the viral nature of Twitter. By putting my work online and linking to it, angling for RTs, I could build up a following. Contests like this one were exactly what I was looking for – a hashtag that would bring readers and followers to my links. In this case it was, simply, #35K. It was an informal thing amongst a small group of writers. Reader, I’m not proud of this, but I fucking annihilated them. It was kind of horrible. I thought someone might get the jump on me, see, so I wanted to dive right in on 1st February. I got home from work, starting writing a new Ragnar novella, and I’d managed 9,403 words before bed. It only got worse from there. Part IV of the story brought me to my 35k and I polished that off on 5th February. A final 11,000 word part and I was done with the story on 8th February – Darkness Rising is the third (and best) of Ragnar’s adventures. But by then it wasn’t funny anymore. By then, I knew I wasn’t made as other men and that this was going to be an interesting year.

Over the next couple of months I continued to churn out a few stories a week, and in March I took a break to help a friend with a project to script a manga he was working on. It turned into a novella of which I’m very proud and that I hope will see the light of day in graphic novel form in the future (my script was 34,000 words though, so it’s a big project…). If you’re keeping score (and I was), I’m now on around 140,000 words of prose in 2013.

Onwards and upwards, and now a crack at a crime novella in April – a dark, adult, metafictional tale set in southern California called Red Muse. It was fun. Shortly after that I put the first Rangar novella, written in November 2012 on Kindle. You can buy Written in Blood yourself, like it’s a real book or something. Then I tried another Ragnar story in May, this time with less success than previously. Halfway through doing that I realised I probably had enough sci-fi short stories to make up an anthology – cue Hollow Future, for Kindle. In order to provide some exclusive content for that I decided to write a space opera story (because I happened to be watching a lot of Star Trek at the time I guess…) and I based it on an idea adapted from a Twitter friend and fellow writer Emily Benet. Because of this I named the main character Emily after her and…well, this will be important later on.

Still with me? Okay, so in June I started posting my work on another website, Readwave, which I’d been linked to randomly on Twitter again. It seemed like a good platform so, to celebrate, I wrote five short stories in as many days: Strata, Mosaic, Top to Bottom, A Man Walks Into a Shop and Asks for a Kettle and Grey Haze. It just seemed like the thing to do. On this platform, I got many more views and comments than I had from this little blog and I began to realise that I was maybe as good at this as I thought I might be. People liked my stories. My stories were good. And plentiful. So, so plentiful. I carried on with the short fiction for a little while longer before, in July, deciding to come back to Emily Ajax, the heroine of my space opera story. I wrote a new story about her, The Rings of Babylon, picking up right where the action in Hollow Future had left off. Then I wrote another. And another. And another and…yeah…by mid-August she had six adventures that, together, made up a single episodic novel. It had taken me just under a month.

Throughout the first half of 2013, I’d been occasionally sending the novel I’d completed a year or two earlier to various agents and publishers, with no success. I don’t know when I decided that it was a lost cause, but I suppose it was sometime around this point where I’d managed to turn around in a month what had previously taken me something like two years. I realised that my first novel wasn’t very good and that I had it in me to write another on a whim. From this point on “my novel” was now The Ajax Legacy, and that was what I tried to sell to agents instead of the previous piece of shit.

And on and on we went. In September I stopped cross-posting my stories to Readwave. I’d been quite popular there, having my stories appear on their homepage a few times and even being interviewed for their blog. But they started to change the kinds of stories they favoured, preferring to promote flash fiction of less than 800 words over longer pieces. My stories were no longer eligible for their homepage and since the whole idea was to promote my work, I decided to move on. I still get the odd comment from my stories that are on there though. Undeterred, a handful of sci-fi stories in October led to my second sci-fi anthology for Kindle, Hollow Future II.

You may be familiar with #NaNoWriMo, a sort of group delusion that takes place in November whereby amateur writers attempt to write a 50,000 word draft inside a month. Even reaching the word count is considered an achievement, and most who manage it will try to edit their embryonic creation in the New Year in an attempt to massage it into something suitable for publishing. Obviously that’s not my style, but as I mentioned I love a hashtag I can use for a bit of self-promotion, so along came Flesh of the Martyr, a sequel to April’s Red Muse. It clocks in at almost 54,000 words and I finished it in ten days. Easy. Then, not wishing to rest on my laurels, I wrote Seasons, which made me think I might do an anthology of contemporary fiction. I worked on a few more pieces for the remainder of the month before putting out Other Lives in early December. I believe it represents my best work.

I finished up 2013 by writing a proper fantasy story, something I hadn’t attempted in years, and the result was Age of Wolves, about sexual liberation, societal rot and (weirdly) coping with climate change. I plan to turn it into a recurring series, and eventually will maybe edit it into a novel.

So. Thanks for reading. Why am I telling you about all this? Well, to come back to my original point, despite The Spreadsheet that tells me how much I’ve written and how fast, it’s not until I sit down and write all this out that I see how far I’ve really come. And, having written all these stories, having been to all these places and created all these people and their little lives, I find my mind turned inside out. I have no sense of time at all – it feels like it’s been years. I started writing to fight depression…I don’t know if it’s worked. Sometimes I feel like I couldn’t stop doing this even if I wanted to. Aside from the writing, 2013 was a very rough year for me. I did some things that I’m not proud of, and at least one thing that if I’d been a bit more serious about…well, you wouldn’t be reading this now, let’s put it like that. Like I say, rough. But, although this blog started in 2012, 2013 was the year it came into its own. The year I came into my own. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve emerged confident about my abilities as a writer. In total, I’ve written fifty-four short stories, six novellas and one complete novel, covering over 650,000 words of prose. That, as I’ve said before, is not normal. I think it’s essentially unique. Some writers have managed to turn out as much as this, but they were writing full-time, without a day job, generally working in one formulaic genre. I’ve certainly never encountered anyone working today doing this kind of thing.

That was 2013, the year of writing. What does 2014 hold? I don’t know. I’ve had a tentative offer of being published, but I still don’t know how that’s going to pan out. It feels like I had that conversation a long time ago but, of course, it wasn’t – it was just several stories ago, so my brain can’t make sense of it. So maybe something will come of that. The alternative is following traditional publishing routes and trying to find a literary agent. The Ajax Legacy has been rejected a few times now. I’m getting better at handling that, but what I fear is that selling my work using these methods is kind of a lost cause for me. Because, while the individual stories are good, what I really have here is not one novel, or a collection of short stories or whatever; it’s a concept. It’s me. That’s what I need to try to sell to someone. That’s what I can offer. Someone who can write good, polished stories, extraordinarily fast. Someone who hasn’t run out of ideas in fifteen months of continuous work. Someone who can and will do this forever, if you let him.

I dunno. Sometimes it feels easy, sometimes it seems ridiculous. Either way, I write, and I’ll be a success doing this or I’ll fail altogether. Anything else is, at this stage, inconceivable.

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