2010: done and done!

Time to look back at 2010, I guess, although everybody does that and you can soon suffer from retrospective blog overload (hereafter referred to as RBO). However, over at Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig tells us that regret is for asswipes, and gives us a nice, positive look back at his year. Likewise, Jennifer Williams sums up her (rather good) year over at The Liar’s Club, and I’m honoured to be included in her list of people worth a mention!

This year was good for me. I went to my first UK conventions (EasterCon, Alt Fiction, FantasyCon, Write Fantastic) and met some wonderful people, usually via Twitter first, and then in person! This time last year I mentioned Twitter as one of my top “things” for 2009, and this year is no different. Twitter is important and essential. Case closed.

There is one thing that has surprised me about 2010, however, and for a moment I’m going to ignore Chuck’s advice about regret and indulge in a little self-analysis. In 2010, I only wrote one novel − Ludmila, My Love, my supernatural space opera. This disappoints me, even though it shouldn’t, because I certainly was not idle this year. Actually, I wrote about 1.5 novels, more or less, if I include the end of Empire State and the beginning of Hang Wire. Also, alongside the first draft of Ludmila, my major project this year was editing Empire State. This was a fascinating and exhausting experience: the first draft became a second, and then a third, and then a fourth. I then assembled my team of beta-readers and gave them a month, and from their comments the fourth draft became a fifth and then a sixth. Fortunately, there were only two major pieces of re-writing needed. Oddly enough, these were the beginning and the end.

The entire process took about two months − about the same amount of time as writing a first draft from scratch, actually, although a large chunk of that time was waiting for beta-reader returns. Editing an entire novel taught me a lot of things about story and about writing itself, as I purged habitual phrases and ticks and solved some fairly complex continuity and plot − I hesitate to use the terms “problems” or “holes” here, as they weren’t really. It was more working to clarify complicated situations.

It also taught me a lot about editing itself − this may sound obvious, but I was continually surprised by the capacity of the human mind to either ignore or miss mistakes or problems that were right there on the page. Four drafts in and there were still giant mistakes in the text, and on a couple of occasions it wasn’t until the very last beta-reader returned their manuscript that these would be highlighted. In some cases it was hilarious: a meaning-changing typo in a line, right next to two others that had been corrected in previous passes and all but one person spotted the remaining error. This happened more than once.

As well as writing one novel and editing another, I wrote more short fiction than I ever had − some of it very short (The Nightmare of You and Death in the Room, Nine Ladies Dancing), some of it longer (The Walker, a short story which I hope will appear in an anthology next year). There was also a sample chapter for something which I just finished this week, which is another 3500 words to add to the pile.

Another first for 2010 was starting on a collaborative novel with Wyoming-based writer Kate Sherrod. The Gospel of the Godless Stars is a horror Western and is a heck of a lot of fun to write, with Kate and I taking alternate chapters and then swapping our work. While the entire novel is plotted from beginning to end, seeing chapters that you haven’t yourself written is a constant surprise and very enjoyable. On the negative side, its taking a long time to write as we both have to fit it in around other projects, but I’m hoping it will reach completion in 2011.

But back to this one-novel problem. Ludmila, My Love was written from beginning to end, and the first draft is sitting in my virtual drawer. When the stars are right, I’ll take a look at it and start an edit, but not yet. This book, for some reason, feels important to me, and I know it needs at least one fairly large fix. It also needs a lot of tightening up, more pedal to the metal. But hey, that’s what editing is for, right?

However, despite completing that draft, my real aim is to write more than one novel a year, in first draft form at least. At a rate of two thousand words a day, I should in theory be able to dish out 730,000 words a year − that’s seven 100,000 novels and 30k change. Seven novels is just a little OTT, but for 2011 I’d like to get three written. I’ll count Hang Wire in this as that book is only at about 14,000 words. The other two are subject to change, but I think it would be my Edwardian superhero novel The City, Golden (Upstairs, Downstairs meets the Justice League), and a post-apocalyptic story called The Last of the Outlaw Truckers (Ice Road Truckers meets The Stand). They sound like fun, at least as far as I have plotted and made notes. Ask me in a month and I will have changed my mind.

There are a few other things to do in 2011. Starting January 1st I’m going to begin edits on Seven Wonders, my first superhero novel. I’ve also got a commission for a steampunk novella due early February, and there is a superhero anthology I want to submit for by March. Event-wise I’ll be at the SFX Weekender in February, EasterCon in Birmingham, the two-day Alt Fiction event in Derby in June, and maybe, possibly FantasyCon in September, although I wasn’t too enamoured with the event in Nottingham this year. I’ve also got a 3.5-week trip to New Zealand to squeeze in, which will be the first time my wife and I have been back home in four and a half years.

So, to that end: New Year’s resolutions. I have just two. The first is to write 2000 words a day, every day. If I can achieve this, every other writing plan I have for the year ahead will fall into place. Three novels, shorts, ongoing projects and new ones − all can be completed on time if I just stick to this simple rule.

The second resolution is to keep some kind of log of what I do. All of the above came from memory, and its quite likely I’ve forgotten something else that I did or wrote. I don’t need to keep a diary or a journal, just a simple daily list of writing-related tasks.

Here’s to a great 2010 and an even better 2011! It’s an odd-numbered year and I turn an odd-numbered age, so already it’s looking good.