Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals is out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!
So, Monday! The schedule says ‘A very long blog post’. Let’s see how that goes…
This morning – it’s Sunday, I’ve brought the laptop into bed and I am armed with a vat of freshly brewed coffee – I planned on writing a year-in-review style blog post, one that looked back over the year I finally, after years and years and years of dreaming about it, got published. Except it would have a twist: instead of rehashing all the stuff you know about already (my book launch, the Irish Book Awards, etc.), I’d write about the quieter moments, the ones you don’t know about, like the simple tweet from a random reader that reduced me to tears it made me feel so good, or the Book Awards moment that had nothing to do with the ceremony itself where I was… Actually, come to think of it, a lot of these quieter moments involved tears. But anyway.
I’m not writing that post now. I’ll write that one for Wednesday instead. This morning, I want to blog about not blogging. To share some thoughts on not sharing. To wonder whether or not, when it comes to our writing, we should all just shut the f–k up.
Stay with me here.
I started off half an hour ago typing “A Look Back at 2016, The Year I Got Published” into the title box. I thought about how this blog was born at the beginning of 2010, and how many Januarys I sat down to write a New Year blog post, and how this was the first year I was finally able to say that the one thing I’ve wanted to happen in my life, my dream since I was eight years old, actually happened.
And I wondered what I had said all those other years.
So I went and had a quick look.
I could make a big long list of all the things I want to happen in 2011, all my goals and resolutions and dreams and plans and intentions, but really they all rest on just one thing: I want to get a novel published. It may seem naive to think that this will happen to me, what with the awful odds, etc., but what’s the point of even trying if you don’t believe that you can? You have to believe that you can do it. You have to have confidence in yourself, without being a crazy X-Factor auditionee.
from Happy New Year: What Do You Want to Happen in 2011?, January 2011
Forget, for a minute, the submissions and the query letters and the manuscript formatting and the e-books and the author platforms and the workshops and the word counts and the beta readers and the advances and what the Randy Penguin merger will mean for your writing dreams and your favourite authors. FORGET ALL THAT FOR A SECOND. Or try to. And think instead of what this about, what this is really about, why we want to be writers and entertain readers and see our names on the spines of books. It’s because we want to tell stories. And that, more than anything, is what I’m going to try to keep in mind this year.
from Plans and Goals and Stuff, January 2013
I read Commander Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth just after Christmas, and Hadfield’s take on chasing dreams is wonderful: if you take pride in the every day work you do towards them, if you do everything within your control that will get you closer to your goals on a daily basis and you take pleasure and pride in that effort, you will be happy — even if the dream or goal never materializes, or doesn’t for a long time… [Hadfield] did everything he could to prepare for the opportunity to fly in space should it arise, and enjoyed every minute of it. Then, when his dream did come true, it wasn’t a relief but a bonus.
from A New Year, A New Routine (Or, The Problem With Goals), January 2014
Now, at first glance, you might think to yourself, Catherine gives good January. But I’ve pulled the good bits. These posts – and countless other ones in the archives just like them – are filled with me saying I’m going to work harder. I’m going to get up early. I’m going to write every day. I’m going to do x, y and z to finish project a, b and c and I’m going to do it by this date. I go on and on and on about all the things I’m going to write, how I’m going to write them and when I’m going to write them by, and this is a on-going theme all throughout the SEVEN years thus far of this blog.
But I never ended up doing any of things I swore I was going to do.
Yes, I finished a novel, but the time it took me to write it was 5% actual writing time and 95% moaning about how I should be writing. What if I had just stayed quiet? What if I’d just put my head down and got to writing? Did a constant reaffirming of my goals – on this blog, in various diaries, to my writing friends – get me anywhere, or did it just waste more time?
The hardest working writer I know never talks about her plans in advance. She just does it, emerging every few months to have a coffee with me and tell me what project she’s just finished. Another writing friend who is easily producing a book a year is the same. Both of them also have blogs, but their blogs aren’t a wasteland of ‘New Year, New Me, New Goals’ style posts. I, meanwhile, talk all the time about my To Do list, and yet Book 2 took so much longer to get out of my head than I thought it would. Am I talking too much? Talking about writing doesn’t get any writing done, but we do it because it’s so much easier than writing and it feels like it helps. But does it? Should we all just shut the fudge up and get back to writing?
There is another side to this, and it’s that I genuinely feel that when I read about other people’s writing goals/plans/strategies, it actually does help me. I mean, who hasn’t re-read Stephen King’s On Writing every now and then just for a shot of motivation? I find Rachel Aaron’s From 2k to 10k (just 99p on Kindle) to be the ultimate commercial fiction writer’s pep talk. This post by Chuck Wendig, Here’s How To Finish That F**king Book, You Monster grabbed me by the shoulders and shook some much-needed sense into me this past week. (Thanks Hazel!)
I guess the difference is between writing blog posts about writing – after the writing is done – and announcing to the world what word count I hope to be at in six months’ time because I think that will bring some accountability and therefore help me get it done. The first one is good, the second one bad. Because it doesn’t help. And therefore writing that – when you could’ve been adding words to your novel – is a waste of time.
As I read over all my previous New Year posts, what I mostly felt was angry. Angry at Past Catherine – at 2012 Catherine, at 2013 Catherine, etc. – for not doing what she said she was going to do. And I felt like if maybe she had spent a little less time blogging about goals, new routines, To Do lists, etc. she might have achieved a bit more, and achieved it a lot quicker. This isn’t me being hard on myself, by the way, but realistic. I could’ve had three novels written in the last three years if I’d put my mind to it. (I know this because in the summer, I wrote three 2,500-word academic essays in almost exactly 24 hours, stopping only for an hour-long nap, and I got good marks on all of them. I can be a writing machine when I need to be, so long as there’s coffee around and horrible consequences breathing down my neck.)
Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about not blogging. I’ll never stop doing that, because I love it and might go insane without it. I’m talking specifically about not writing posts like this and then going off to watch The OA on Netflix, twice. (Because the truth is, that new routine I implemented? It lasted maybe three weeks.)
I guess what all of this is leading to is some advice from me: log-off, do the work, then come back online and tell us how you did it. NaNaWriMo aside, it’s probably best to write your book in private.
Does that make sense? (I have only had one coffee.) What do you think? How do you treat your writing goals on your blog, if you blog? (Or on Twitter, Facebook, over coffee with writing friends, etc.) Let me know in the comments below…
Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!
Your 732nd reminder: Distress Signals is out in paperback in Ireland and the UK now! If you’ve read it already, hunt down someone you know who likes thrillers and tell them that my rent is very, very high. (Or that you liked it, if you did. You know, whatever works.) If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re not quite done with your procrastination yet today, you can find out more about Distress Signals here.