Since Monday I’ve been studiously avoiding my London-based Twitter friends. There’s stacks of unread blog posts in my Google Reader account* including a series from one of my favorite writerly advice sites that under normal circumstances I’d gobble up immediately. And every morning, my ‘Morning Briefing’ e-mail from The Bookseller is getting deleted without being opened.
Why? Because the London Book Fair is on, and I just can’t stand to hear about it.
Not because I don’t like the London Book Fair. On the contrary, I’d love to go. A hall filled with publishers, agents and authors chattering excitedly about books, meeting up with Twitter friends in real life, perhaps even being one of those crazy people who sidle up to agents in the bathrooms and casually slip USB sticks with their manuscript on it into a pocket or a bag… What’s not to like?
The fair itself is not the problem.
Once upon a time I had never even heard of the LBF, but since I entered the publishing world (through a back gate that Amazon took a crowbar to on my behalf, i.e. self-publishing e-books) four of them have gone by. Four of them! And each one is a reminder that I haven’t got published yet. I realize that I’ve achieved lots of other things, and that’s great, but they don’t add up to getting published. If anything, they make me feel worse, because I look around at all the people I know—and there seems to be lots of them—who are signing with top agents and getting amazing deals and just generally having fantastic publishing-themed things happen to them, and I wonder what the hell I’m doing wrong, because finishing a novel is the only thing on their writing CV while mine, between self-publishing and media appearances and speaking engagements and working with publishers, is running to two pages—
And then the penny drops.
They’ve finished a novel.
I have finished writing one novel in my entire life, and that was back in 2010. It actually coincided with the first LBF I paid any attention to.
I don’t generally talk about my non-self-publishing endeavors on this blog, so here’s a recap: since 2010 there’s been stops and starts, feasts and famines, and two entirely different genres. But due mostly to the fact that self-publishing—and talking about self-publishing—has really taken off for me, I haven’t finished a novel. And because my plan is to use this novel to get an agent, I’m stuck. Stuck and succeeding, at the same time. Amazing things are happening to me because of self-publishing, but my ultimate goal, that of getting a novel published, is getting nowhere.
And every time a LBF comes around it’s a reminder that I’ve somehow let another year go by without finding a way to balance the two. It’s just like New Year’s Eve: a reminder that you haven’t done all the things you said you’d do this year. Only this one is especially for writers, and everyone else at this New Year’s Eve party seems to have just signed a six-figure deal, despite the fact that it wasn’t even on their list of goals this day last year. Hell, they didn’t even make goals last year! This just happened! It all came as a complete surprise!
LBFs past serve as markers in my book deal pursuits. In April 2011, I’d decided to to ditch the new novel I’d started following the ‘we don’t love this but can we see something else?’ feedback that first novel had got, and focus on self-publishing for a few months instead, releasing Self-Printed and Backpacked only a summer apart. In April 2012, I was working on a chapter-by-chapter outline for yet another novel following a meeting with an editor who liked the sound of the idea but wanted to see it worked out, but I was only a few months away from ditching that too in favor of writing something completely different, the thing I (I’d just realized) really wanted to write. And today, April 2013, I’m a third of the way into that Something Completely Different, but busier than ever. I just sent 30,000 words of Travelled: Episode 1 to my copyeditor, I’m doing freelance social media work for a major publisher and ’tis the season of speaking engagements—I’m off to ChipLitFest in the morning and still need to finish my presentation.
I’m not complaining. Not at all. What I’m doing is berating myself for not getting a handle on this. I actually have loads of time. I have oodles of it: I don’t do anything else except this. And all those people I know who’ve signed deals? Almost all of them have full-time jobs. In terms of how much time self-publishing, etc. takes, I work maybe 4 full days a week. That leaves the equivalent of 3 just for writing. So why haven’t I finished? It might be fear, or it might just be plain laziness. It might be all those Scandinavian crime drama box sets. All I know for sure is that I haven’t finished writing a novel I really want to write and am really excited about yet.
I have a drastic plan on the horizon though. And the entire month of May is as yet mercifully free of events. And I’ve watched all three seasons of The Killing, two of Borgen and the only existing one of The Bridge, so I’m out of those for now.
I saw a quote on Pinterest last week: do something today your future self would be proud of. I’ve written it on a Post-It and stuck it to my Mac, and when I read future self I think of me a year from now, and how I’ll feel if I still haven’t finished the novel.
Because I just cannot face another LBF.
What do you think? Are there any milestones that send you hiding under the duvet? Or do you think events like the LBF make good goals to work towards, e.g. by the next LBF, I’ll have finished my novel? Let me know in the comments below…
*I know it’ll be gone soon—I’m moving to Feedly in baby steps.