A Million Words Later

So I wrote a million words here. Those of you who read my first insufferable landmark post may remember that I started a spreadsheet soon after realising that I was writing quite a lot in a short period of time. Well, for a while now I’ve been homing in on the big seven figures and it seems a good juncture to reflect on a few things.

A million is a lot of words. Even by a conservative estimate, it’s about the equivalent of ten complete novels. Lots of published writers have written that much – I don’t think many (any?) have done it in under two years. But here we are. I started this blog back in October 2012 to serve as a sort of portfolio as I pursued my dream of becoming a professional writer. I remember in that first week imagining what it might be like to look back in a year’s time, and how many stories I might have to share. I thought I might have maybe a couple of dozen, if I worked hard. Honestly, the first (terrible) novel I wrote was such a slog that I assumed, like most people, I probably had only a few decent story ideas in me and that I’d be scraping the barrel within months.

That’s not quite what happened. I never set out to write a novella in ten days. I never planned for the most ridiculous genre mash-up I could imagine to spawn not just one novella, but four – enough to compile into a novel-sized collection. I certainly didn’t think, when I had a hankering to write some swashbuckling space opera, that it would turn into an actual novel, written in less than a month. I didn’t think I’d ever have enough material for not just one, but two sci-fi anthologies. It never even occurred to me I might enjoy writing stories with a contemporary setting enough to likewise release a short story anthology. I definitely had no idea that finally giving in and trying my hand at traditional fantasy would lead to my current project – a complete novel, without even ‘cheating’ by being episodic like The Ajax Legacy – and that it would be so fun and so…easy.

It’s always been easy. This writing, these million words, they’ve been great. I’ve lost all track of time and I feel like I’ve done more in two years than in my whole life before that. I’ve come to know and love hundreds of characters and gone on all kinds of silly adventures with them. And because I’ve written so fast, because of the very disposable nature of what I’ve been doing, constantly moving onto the next story, I’m often surprised when I go back and read this stuff again. I’m surprised that it works, and it’s good. I can say that, right? I can say that I’m good I think. Other people seem to think so. Even if I’m a bit rough around the edges, when you look at the pace I’m going, it shouldn’t even make sense, should it?

But anyway, the crux of the matter: I can write, and I love doing it. When I’m writing, I enter a sort of zen state where ideas flow directly from my brain into my fingertips, and where stories just…come together…without effort. Captain Kirk’s first, best destiny was commanding a starship. Mine, it seems, is doing this daft stuff. The problem I have is that, as much as I love this bit of it, I’m more ambivalent about doing something with it. I hate trawling through literary agents’ websites. See, here’s the thing: as you probably know if you follow me on Twitter or know me in real life, I have some mental health issues. One of the things I’ve struggled with since forever is anxiety, and it’s held me back basically my whole life. Sending something off to an agent is all sorts of triggering for me, because when I write something about what I’ve written it sounds…well…ridiculous. Would you give a pitch that goes like, “okay, so imagine The Maltese Falcon meets The Lord of the Rings…” anything more than a few nanoseconds of consideration? It sounds awful. They all do. But I take a perverse pleasure in making awful premises work: I like making you care about a character who should be a hollow shell of a cliché.

For a little while earlier this year, I was informally negotiating with a new media startup whose CEO was a Twitter friend who’d expressed an interest in my work and had been singing my praises for some time. He offered me the chance to get some of my stories published, and to work on some projects with the company. It was exciting. Unfortunately, nothing came of it. The startup is still going, but its publishing wing has disappeared, and one of my two contacts doesn’t seem to be associated with them now. Again, anxiety rears its head, and I don’t like to push things. I don’t like to ask. So, I’ve come close, but not by selling something I’ve done, but something I am. See, the way I see it, I’m like a one-man franchise. I’ll write you whatever the hell you need, and I’ll do it well in, like, no time at all. I’ll never pitch a single novel successfully, but if there was some way I could pitch the concept of “the serialwritist”, the guy who writes as many novels as you can sell as fast as you can sell them, that would be ideal. Basically I’m a license to print money. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

I’ve come a long way since I started doing this. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and my writing technique (no plans, no drafts, no edits, pretty much – just pure words from my brain). I’ve been through a mental health crisis or two and emerged, if not stronger, at least more heavily medicated. It would be good if, off the back of reading this rambling post, you’d take the time to read some of my rambling stories. There’s loads of them: seventy-one short stories, ten novellas and two novels (well, one and two-thirds, I guess, since I’m still going with the current one). Another thing you can do is help me out if you like me and spread the word. Share this post and share any stories you enjoy. Know an agent or publisher you think might be a good fit for me? Point me in their direction, or even vice versa. If you’re an agent or publisher yourself, hey, look at me! Look what I’m doing! A million fucking words in under two years! If you’re someone with a writing project you need someone for, I can probably help you out with that. To summarise: I’m excellent at writing, catastrophically bad at getting published. But it’s silly now, because a million words is a lot to give away for free and surely this ability is unusual enough that I should be able to monetise it. Or at least use it to fight crime.

Anyway, thanks for reading, if you did! Tell your friends!


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