Monday 2 September 2013

Better than nothing

It's funny how my body knows so much better how much I can cope with. I spent the weekend pretty much just sleeping and reading, and sleeping, and reading, and eating, and then sleeping. Grand total words written: 1,313.

Needless to say, that's not enough to deliver Scorpion 3 by mid-October, and that's what I promised I'll do. Again, people depend on it, money rides on it, people expect it, some readers might want it. To hit 80k (and that number is solely based on the outline, which means it can fall either side by a ten thousand words or more), I have to write 1,700 words per day at least. I'd planned to write 5,000 over the weekend. Normally, that's entirely doable.

I found myself doing everything else.

My partner eventually caught on. For about 2-3 weeks, I've done a pretty good job pretending that everything is fine. While staring at the screen for many hours and getting very little to nothing done. It's hard effort, trying. Harder effort to pretend something's actually happening, and even harder effort to mask it from those nearest and dearest.

I've been feeling miserable and have managed largely to keep it off the internet. But something isn't quite right. I look at, I don't know, 35 outstanding Facebook messages and knot myself into a macramee of anxiety. I look at about 1,500 emails in my inbox and feel nothing but dread. There's almost 300 messages on Goodreads I should respond to, but the thought of actually tackling any of those fills me with utter horror.

Then comes the guilt when I don't.

And when the other person sends a reminder.

I'm petrified. Beat myself up over the fact I don't have the time, that I got so far behind, how important it is for an author to respond to reader email. Or finally do all the beta-reading I've promised, or the pile of books I have to read for the Rainbow Awards, or to maintain my networks and stay in touch with friends and contacts and could-be-friends. I've been unable for a week now to book my flights to Atlanta. I don't seem to have the focus to do it.

When, a few days ago, I received edits on a story of less than 55k words, and there were 1,100 comments on it, I damn near lost my shit and broke into tears.

I'm working on an edit with just 100 comments on 84k words, and it takes every ounce of willpower I have to tackle those - one after the other. I'm convinced the book is shit. I'm terrified to cost my publisher money rather than earn some, because it's one of those books that won't sell in any meaningful quantity. But hat latter part is just normal author anxiety.

The other shit is far more serious.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to call the "age of the micro-celebrity", and in its current form, it's not working for me. So I need to re-think everything, from the ground up.

In the last three years, I've basically never stopped working. In the last roughly 12 months, I've ramped that up - significantly. I've massively increased my wordcount and productivity. What time I didn't spend writing, I spent on putting myself out there. Twitter. Goodreads. Facebook. Hundreds and hundreds of emails.

I've had that shining vision in my head that's at the core of all capitalist systems: "I shall work HARDER."

Yeah, because that's the answer.

I got to the point where even a snide review prefaced with "I didn't actually buy this book, I borrowed it, and, BTW, this really sucks because . . ." stressed me like fuck. So here I am, working HARDER and ...

. . . and nothing.

That's people's right. Go for it. None of my business.

I got to the point where a whole swarm of reviewers descending like the harpies from hell onto a debut author for no other reason than spite, sexism and to pay back on an imagined slight ruined my day. And . . .

and nothing.

That's how the game is played.

Go tough or go home.

With every tiny nuisance ("MOM, SOMEBODY IS BEING AN ASSHOLE ON THE INTERNET! CALL THE WAAAAAAMBULANCE!") penetrating right to the bone - every snide comment, every "counted coup" against an author or a book, I got more stressed. Any time spent on social media turned into exposing myself to more stress. The actual events/words/comments? Totally harmless - that's what I want to believe. I want to think that, as the camel was already so heavily loaded, all I encountered were straws, not the tree trunks they felt like.

I ended up spending a huge amount more time being stressed and freaked out and on social media than writing. I knew it was getting too much. I felt it coming.

But that's how sales happen. Be a brand, be EVERYWHERE, and people will buy your stuff - that's what the marketing people tell authors all day.

Well, I'm not Coca-Cola. Not even Gilette. Really.

I don't have a marketing team. I don't want to be a brand. I'm a writer, and I've almost, 99%, unlocked the burnout achievement.

Go me.

When the nasty voices on Twitter and Goodreads are louder than my inner voices, I know I'm in trouble. When I lie awake at night in my partner's arms, quite literally fighting tears of exhaustion and anxiety, I know my WRITING is in trouble.

So, yeah, it's not worth it. (Which is what my partner said. The Dude Speaks Wisdom.)

I'm scaling back. I've already left pretty much all Goodreads group. Unfollowed just about everybody on Twitter. Facebook is less of a problem, apparently. I'm so, so tempted to just delete those 1,835 messages that all want my attention. It's that or not writing.

I honestly thought I could do it. I've done the numbers, things were moving in the right direction, and they still are. Hell, I have an bestseller as we speak. Best rank, best sales in my English-language writing life.

I'll just work HARDER, I thought. Can be done. You got a talent, this is your one shot to do the one thing you're burning for in life. Your ONE ability. Your ONE talent. You owe it to the world.

Don't waste it.

And . . .


I got nothing left. I just know I don't want to kill myself being "on" 24/7. I can't deal with all the toxic waste. Most days, and definitely recently, I can't deal with humanity. I'm too stressed to even write a fucking birthday greeting to a reviewer I appreciate. I'm too stressed to answer questions for the most basic of interviews.

The financial situation being what it is, I cannot dream to go part-time, let alone full-time.

Royalties will be money to shorten my mortgage term, and buy a suit every couple years. I gave it a shot, and I ended damn near destroying my will to write.

Moving on . . .

I have some joy left for Scorpion3, which won't sell, and I know it, as well as the Market Garden series, because that's just a ball of fun. (And Lori's been a champion throughout.)

My Muse, really, really, desperately, wants to write literary historicals. (Which won't sell, not inside the genre.)

So, to finally accept reality (and I got the numbers to back it up), I'm going to finish the MoS series by year-end, while scaling back all social media interaction. Anybody want to talk to me, find me in my Goodreads group or send me an email.

I accept I cannot write the kind (and number) of books that sell enough to have any hope of going full-time. That's not a guilt-trip - that's how the Muse is structured. My stuff is dark, weird, mostly weird, and doesn't sell. If I write enough of it over the next ten or twenty years or so, maybe something will happen. I might even have paid off my house faster.

I'm no longer trying to force it. I'm no longer killing myself trying.

I'll continue working on Market Garden with Lori, because it's fun and not stressful at all. That'll continue for as long as we're enjoying it. Some books that were written are coming through the pipeline, too.

2014 will be pretty much a total write-off in terms of m/m romance, because that's when I'll be writing my moody gay historicals (which won't sell), and maybe a heterosexual romance, because I have an idea I love (but I don't expect it to sell).

The situation being what it is, I'll be looking at developing an alternative real-life career (I have some ideas, but they are expensive and take 3-4 years of training), which means a LOT less time for writing. I'll have to study for that career, too, and the fail rate is a solid 50% on one of the main exams. I'm not going to be one of the guys who fail.

In the interest of my own sanity, I'll limit the amount of time I'm spending in front of the computer. I plan to sit in the garden more, take my time cooking, take more time for my long-suffering partner, and finally, look after my health, which means more time doing something other than sitting. I'll be going to the gym and try to shed those 40lbs or so I put on over the last three years, because I cut down on everything to be able to work HARDER. (Yeah, screw that.)

I gave this whole thing the best shot I had. I apologise to everybody who feels let down. I'll continue writing stuff, it'll just happen as slowly as a mere hobby-with-benefits allows. Most of my energy, time and attention will be re-directed to the real life. I'm returning to meatspace most of the time. I think that's the sanest thing I can do. I gotta protect what I have left.

And if I don't respond to your email or message, I'm truly, deeply sorry.

Now I'm going down to the kitchen, cook something nice (Thai and noodles), and then I'll spend 90 minutes or so trying to hit my 1,700 wordcount on a book that won't sell in any meaningful quantities.

But that's okay. It's better than