Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Snake Tails

Warning: this is one of those post where I whinge & moan a bit. It's been helpful for me to write, to get a clear-sighted view of where I am writing-wise, but I am aware that to anyone else reading it I might well come across as a wanker.

A few years back, I was in a pretty good place with my writing. Not well-know, even in the little pool of the small-presses, but at least known. I'd published lots of stories and longer works, some with publishers who I considered to be among the best out there. I'd had some very flattering reviews. I was regularly being asked to contribute stories to anthologies, even having to turn requests down. I knew and was friends with many writers I respected, and had published a number of them in anthologies I'd edited. I'd even met some of my writing heroes in the flesh. Small-scale, but at a level of 'success' that if you'd told me when I'd first started out I'd achieve would have made me very happy.

So, I decided to do what most writers would in this situation: to level up. I set about getting an agent, and focussed on writing my first/second* novel. Even then, I knew the novel wasn't the most natural length of fiction for me, but I had an idea that I'd tried as a short story and novella that hadn't worked, so I began expanding and reshaping that to novel-length. I spent over two years drafting and redrafting it: it contains some pieces of writing I'm very proud of, and it's very me (repeating scenes, a sense of creepy ambiguity, a porous background reality). But it's still not right, and I doubt it's very commercial in terms of attracting wider interest.

For which there's no one to blame but me, obviously. But it feels like during the time I spent writing and rewriting the thing I've slid back from whatever small level of visibility and 'success' I had climbed to before. Never being that well known, it didn't take long for me to become less so again. For the first time in many years, I've no certainty that I'll even have a single story published this year (a few things might happen, but they aren't certain and contracts aren't signed).

Where do I go from here? Rewrite the novel again? The problem is, coupled with the above, my writing routine is not what it was. Life changes, and then Coivd/lockdown/homeschooling on top of them, have meant the daily time I had which was 'mine' to write has gone, replaced with what I can cobble together here and there. I simply haven't the opportunity for the sustained time and momentum rewriting the novel would need, or to write anything of equivalent length. Levelly up isn't an option.

So, back to short stories it is. Which is fine—I still love the short story form. I've little I can immediately submit. I've been lucky enough to publish nearly everything I consider worthwhile which I wrote 'before the novel'; for awhile I was running on the fumes of an earlier, more productive period of writing. 

I'm basically back where I was before I published anything: writing some new, creepy, weird short stories for myself, with no guarantee anyone will ever read them. Only now I'm older, tired, and have less free time. So what, right? I'm not special in that regard. Playing the writing game I was lucky enough to land on a few ladders that helped me upwards; I can hardly complain that now I've landed on some snakes and have slide back down.

Anyway, enough moaning. Let's end with a tune, eh?

* I never quite know whether to think about The Quarantined City as a novel or not, given the circumstances of its composition and its structure (in terms of word-length, it is)

1 comment:

Keith Brooke said...

The Quarantined City meets all the criteria for a novel by my reckoning. And it falls into a much smaller subset of novels, too, formally known as Bloody Good Novels.