Imagine measuring the year in terms of sales. You’d start with your brand-new hardback and its trade paperback editions for export or airside, the retailer specific exclusives, and the high-priced ebook. You’d add on the paperback of last year’s hardback, here and abroad. Then you’d include the relaunched backlist, all with a pound added on the RRP, and their ebooks. Then there are all the foreign editions and sub-licences negotiated. PLR, too …
For most writers, I suspect, it’s safer to count words. And more familiar. Whenever you see an author you know (especially if you’re their editor), it’s pretty usual to ask, ‘How’s the new book coming along?’ And it’s fairly standard to hear in reply: ‘Not bad. I’ve done 8,000 words.’ Or: ‘Going well, I think. I’m 25,000 words in.’ Or: ‘Steaming ahead nicely, thanks. 60,000 words. The end is in sight.’ And it’s a perfectly valid measure of achievement, for how can you call yourself a writer if there aren’t words on a page?
It doesn’t matter that they’re not necessarily the right words, or even the right words in the wrong order. What counts is that you’re committing to a potentially public space what has existed only privately in your head.
As this year draws to a close, I’m in a reflective mood, as a lot of people are. Where are 2016’s words?
This year, I’ve written a lot of words to describe the words I wrote in the preceding year (and the two years before that). I published Ready to Love and introduced it to the world. I haven’t counted up the number of words it took to set the process in motion, then to describe it to other people through interviews and guest blogs – all of which I hugely enjoyed and am grateful for – but it’s in the thousands. Then there’s this blog, which I reckon has racked up at least 30,000 words. That’s been fun, too.
But what about new work? New fiction?
There’s the new novel – about 10,000 words of it – which I’ll go back to, when enough time has passed for me to see it objectively. (And to pull together everything I’ve learned from the novel I’ve already written and written about.)
I experimented with short stories – just a thousand words here, two thousand words there, getting a feel for the shape and form. I spent a lot of time encircling, shark-like, my characters Minna and Jeff in their nascent union, searching for the moment when I knew they’d make progress and I could leave them to their own devices. I think I’ve left them now. And they’ve left me.
Left me … with nothing. Which sums up where I am. I’ve written myself out. I’ve used up all the words I currently have – both creative words and words about creativity.
But writers need to refuel. Sometimes, switching genres helps you to gain perspective but sometimes the only solution is to pause completely, knowing that because you started once you’ll start again. It’s not always possible to reach this moment conveniently at the end of a calendar year, when it’s natural to feel that things are winding down, so I’m appreciating the moment.
I’m wondering what I’ll be writing in 2017. What do I want to write? What do I want to read? Like everyone, I’ve got a huge TBR pile which I’m longing to tackle but there needs to be room to allow unexpected books and voices to steal in. The same applies to ideas. I’d like to be surprised.
What about you? How have you measured your writing year? Where will you be on 1 January? In the middle of a draft? At the beginning?
Whatever your goals and resolutions, have a happy new year.