Good grief, how has it got to be December? One minute I’m working on a late summer release, the next we’ve got Christmas looming on the horizon!

So. This year’s been mad, again… good and bad, but another in the line of outrageously busy years careering down the track one after another. I started off reasonably well-organised, got over the usual winter burnout and then March hit us with the unexpected loss of our beloved old lurcher Jack, then a fortnight later the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, then a fortnight later than that the loss of one of the older inlaws, and all the emotional chaos that involved.

After Easter things calmed down a bit, though I was ceaselessly scouring the rescue websites for our next dog. Eventually we found him- he’s an absolute love now but at first he was very hard work, and quite draining to deal with. However, in the quest to work out how best to make a life that would work for him and us, we’ve made some really lovely friends, to the extent that even at half six on a dark and drizzly November night, a walk in the freezing cold isn’t a big imposition because he gets to see his little whippety mate and I get to catch up with my friend too.

So Summer was spent mostly walking the dog, and this was a time of skyhigh productivity; two self-edits and first editor’s edit on the first Wolf book, finishing and first edits on the second Wolf book, another set of edits and chronology fix to Flight, a rejig of the formatting of Song, a tidy up on Sprig and the release of its sequel The Holly & the Ivy, a lot of work on publicity and the mailing list – I was working like a demon! Not that you guys will know as there hasn’t been that much new stuff out, but it was a really productive season.

And then came winter, and with it the traditional burnout. It’s interesting really; it’s taken me this long into what I laughingly call a career to work out just how closely it seems to be related to daylight, but it does seem that as the days get longer I go into hyperdrive and do loads, and then as they grow shorter again the fuel fails. I switch from output to input at some point in November and then it’s low output and general maintenance till spring again. The only exception to this is the annual Christmas Lites anthology, which I have never missed taking part in, though a couple of times it’s been pretty close to the wire!

So once again, here I am, mentally coasting while my subconscious refills with twistiness from reading, talking, watching tv. Trying to catch up on sleep and wishing I could hibernate. Looking at the clock and wondering why 9pm seems late in winter and so much earlier in summer, despite the much-reviled 04:40 alarm call which is constant all year round, worse luck.

On the one hand it can be really frustrating. Some times you feel as if you’re wasting so much time on real life when if you just had a decent run up at writing you could maybe achieve something… But on the other, I have been at this for long enough now to have realised that there’s no point in getting frustrated. Like many things, it is a case of showing up every day, of continuing to put one foot in front of another, even if the steps are so tiny that it doesn’t seem that you are getting anywhere.

You keep showing up. You write it, or edit it, or think about it, or study the industry, or consider the cover art, or schedule the publicity stuff, or just set aside a specific amount of downtime to recharge before the next push; but you always go back to it, and you keep on going. There are no easy wins, and no quick successes and sometimes you wonder why you’re doing it when you’re not even getting anywhere; but the thing is, you are making progress, even when it’s so small that it doesn’t feel like it, and once in a while you get to look back and realise that big things have actually happened.

That happened to me this autumn when I was clearing files and programmes of my beloved old netbook, now too old to be compatible with the software I use. Going through the Uninstall list was like a trip down Memory Lane – the FTP client I installed to put pictures on the website, the MobiCreator software from Amazon with the Spider opensource programme for editing html so I could be sure my TOC.ncx (tabbable table of contents) worked, when the software didn’t put it on automatically… the days that took me, trying to get it right! Thank goodness we don’t have to do that any more! I had forgotten how much everything has changed.

For instance, in 2009 when I started to work on my first book, I had to teach myself hand-encoding and the file was functional but so ugly; now I use Vellum, and I can produce professional-level files (so long as I watch out for spellcheck – never the fantasy writer’s friend!) which are pretty to look at. I love that. In 2009, my typing was much slower and less accurate, so if I had an hour free, I couldn’t use it so well, and my nice little netbook took ten minutes to wake up and another five to log off, which ate into my lunch hour typing slot considerably. And I hadn’t discovered cloud storage, so if your computer died, that was pretty much it – your novel went roaring into the void with anything else on the hard drive.

In 2009, if you didn’t have Photoshop, you were likely to end up with a really horrendous cover. I was lucky enough to find talented friends, and this is still an element I outsource for most of my files: but some of the shorts that don’t need some overtly fantastical cover, I can put together something reasonably respectable myself, using the font I have chosen by way of branding, with a modicum of mucking about with pictures, and it might not be inspired, but I’m not ashamed to use it until such time as I can fund a professional cover. Which is all to say; the world is making more opportunities, and I am learning more with every new publication. In highly convenient manner, the world has even invented my genre, even if “noblebright” is a daft name!

So though I don’t spend a lot of time looking back, once in a while it is salutary to remind yourself that even the the way ahead doesn’t really look much shorter than it ever did, in actual fact you have come on further than you know. Baby steps they might be, but even baby steps will carry you along eventually, and although it isn’t exciting it is sustainable; that’s important.

They always say that this game isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Certainly walking the line between production and burnout can be a bit on the complex side, especially if real life declines to play along. I have found that the trick is to take it one day at a time. If one day the thing you want to do doesn’t work, try something else and something else. If nothing works, leave it be and come back tomorrow. There’s something a bit freeing about that, somehow, because you only ever have today to work with, and every day is a reset.

To go at it full bore is too involved for me: the highs and lows are draining, whereas when it all gets a bit workaday you’re set for the long run. But again, that’s quite freeing. For instance, I rarely check my sales any more, such as they are, because that is out of my hands and so not within my remit. I don’t need the reinforcement of sales numbers to prove my own worth as a writer to myself now (probably just as well!) not because my books are flying off the shelves, but because that is outside of what I wanted to achieve.

And what did I want to achieve? Well, I wanted to write books that people enjoyed reading, and the majority of feedback suggests that people do enjoy them. I wanted to make books that were as professional-looking as possible, and that will always be a work in progress, but tech is on my side there. I’d like to spend a lot more time writing, and eventually I will but I don’t think it will be any time soon; so I keep taking baby steps until I get there too. Every step is a teeny tiny bit nearer, and I’m pretty much okay with that. I believe that opportunities do come sometimes, but only when you’ve earned them. Slow and steady sounds so much more likely than the bolt of lightning/overnight bestseller approach.

So that’s my mission this year and next; work on the backlist, keep an eye out for opportunities and make sure that when the next one comes, I’m in a place to be able to benefit from it. That’s not a small task, either… but it feels achievable, real life permitting, even enjoyable though it will be hard work.

Well. This has turned out to be a rather more introspective blog than intended, but a busy month beckons, so though it’s a bit early for an actual real end of year summary, I guess that’s what must happened… So how has your year gone? Do you feel you have achieved what you wanted to, or has life got in the way? And back in 2009, when I was cursing because the quotation marks were curly and they needed to be straight ones (or vice versa, it’s been a while!) what were you up to, and did you know it would bring you to where you are now? Let’s hear what the rest of you have been up to then!

I’ll probably pop up again in another week or so to talk about this year’s Christmas Lites anthology, but in the meantime, I hope your December is kind and not too stressful, and that the run up to Christmas fills you with anticipation and pleasure rather than dread!

Take care, all:

JAC.

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