Sunday 27 May 2018

All of it is never enough.

This is only my second blog post of May and the month is almost out! And the first was just a call for bloggers.

The truth is that I have been letting the blog slide of late. Part of that is the fact that I have 4 books scheduled to come out next year, and three more on top of those that I am contracted to write for the years after.

2019 will see Holy Sister bring the Book of the Ancestor trilogy to a conclusion, and the release of all three books of my science-fiction / D&D / 80s trilogy (working title Impossible Times), starting with One Word Kill, then (working title) Limited Wish, & (working title) Dispel Illusion.

Since my working life balances on the knife edge of my youngest daughter's health, I like to get out ahead of my commitments, and so I have been working harder than usual. In consequence the Impossible Times trilogy is now complete.

Anyway, I felt my neglected blog needed some love, and so I'm here to pontificate, baby!

 All of it is never enough.

This statement is one of the rather nihilistic Jorgisms I came up with a while back. And it serves as a useful title for a rather more upbeat reflection on the author journey and life as a whole.

In general life many of us look at where we are and how we are doing, then we measure ourselves against the "competition". It's not a laudable or "good" outlook, but it is a deeply ingrained part of human nature. Phrases like 'keeping up with the Joneses' and 'the rat race' exist for a reason. At work and at home many of us are looking to move "up" be it a promotion, a wage rise, a bigger house, whatever.

Those of us blessed with the ability to truly enjoy what we have are very lucky. Those with a restless ambition generally have a rocky road ahead and disappointment in store.

Another fact of life, and the one that delivers the titular Jorgism, is that if we set our sights on some lofty and unattainable ground, should we achieve it we will soon find that it has failed to deliver on its promise and some distant peak now beckons.

The writing world is dangerous territory for those of us cursed with this affliction. In a typical job you might have sight of a small body of your peers. Dave from Accounting should never have been made Grade 6 before you. But it is a small pond and the metrics of success are generally hidden from view.

In the writing world you have a vast legion of peers and a dozen channels along which measures of their success are blasted at you. Channels that you are well advised to be using just to maintain a profile that helps to sell your own work. So turning them off isn't really an option.

And the fact is that there is always another hilltop beckoning. If your book gets a hundred ratings in its first month of release and that was your goal ... you suddenly want a thousand. If you get a thousand ... you want ten thousand. If you set your sights on having a TV series made ... well guess what? Once it's made you are still going to want something new.

This circles round to that old saw of journey vs destination. In books I am all about the journey. Readers often are (or think they are) all about the destination. But in life happiness tends to lie not in the goal but in moving toward the goal. There's no level of writing success that will deliver long term happiness, but continuous progress is pretty good at it.

Very few writing careers are ones that enjoy continuous progress in terms of sales or reception. All of us reach peak-book. All of us must ultimately diminish and go into the West. So the answer it seems lies in simply picking your own journey such that the gradient is ever upwards. That can mean changing your metrics, your genre, medium, or even what you're doing entirely. Find something you consider good and move toward it. If you discover yourself heading downhill or stalling of course you don't abandon all hope immediately but after a while you can ask whether this is really the hill you want to die on. The chances are that it isn't and that there are many other hills to climb instead.

It wasn't so very long ago that my goal in life was to win a multiplayer game of Modern Warfare 2 with 30 kills and zero deaths. Then it was to break into the top hundred players in Command and Conquer 3. 

None of this is to say that I am in any danger of giving up writing in favour of my deeply neglected PS4. It's just pontification and something of an explanation for why the book I've just finished is not Book 12 in the chronicles of Jorg Ancrath ... which is what it would be if I had decided to keep heading up that particular mountain!


  1. ScarletBea / Beatriz28 May 2018 at 01:00

    Thanks for this.
    I am one of the lucky ones that enjoys what she has and takes pleasure in the journey, but even so I need to remember that, once in a while.

    And you don't need to justify yourself about the books you write. Yes, some will like this trilogy better, others that other one, and yet others, who haven't picked up one of your books ever, will be won by the next books. They all sell/will sell, so you'll be fine - just keep yourself happy, challenge yourself as much as you want.
    You deserve it :)

  2. It's true, the grass is always greener is a similar one. I had a phase in life where it was always upwards, until I realised the top of the hill wasn't that great and there were more important things in life. But now I amble erratically up the mountain of writing and can see millions of people further up than me...

  3. Great post.

    'All of it is never enough.' is something I struggle with daily, especially with my writing.

    At the beginning of this year, I thought I wanted to make a career of writing. I went down to two days a week at my programming job and threw myself into writing. I was cranking out 15-20k words a week. All I cared about was the destination. If you can believe it, I was gunning for you, Mark. I wanted to match or surpass your success.

    Turns out, I hated it. I worked non-stop, never taking a day or weekend off. And at the end of all this work, the first draft of my next book was a shell of a thing. It lacked the inspiration and careful attention to detail of my previous efforts. I was pretty devastated. I had to decide if I was going to give up on writing altogether, or accept that I had to adopt a different approach.

    I did the latter, and for the last two months have been writing at my own pace. I enjoy writing again, because I'm focused on the craft and the journey. Financial success or rave reviews are no longer my goal.

    I've re-written my next book three times now, and I desperately hope to have it ready in time for SPFBO, but if I don't, I'll keep on writing.

    Sorry to ramble. I guess what I'm trying to say is that your post was both comforting and encouraging given my struggles of the last six months.

  4. Great article, Mark. Four books in one year though, and then three the next! My goodness! You're down right prolific. I don't remember you being so dang productive!

  5. A Buddhist monk fighting for nothing in your next work?

  6. This is excellent advice. This has been the best year ever for me in terms of writing; but I’m so close to complete burnout, I’ve decided to get away from my desk as soon as I publish the novel I’m currently working on. This past year, I wrote and published two novels and a novella, am almost finished writing another novel, wrote short stories that have been accepted into anthologies, made the USA Today Bestseller List and had my Science Fiction novel added to the Nebula Awards reading list. For the first time ever, I’m seeing daily sales. Before I start writing my fourth novel for the year, however, I’ve decided to take a break to go hiking or something. (I hear the sun is still shining. I haven’t been out there to check lately.) I’ve decided to balance my life before I end up hating writing, something I’ve loved since I was a teenager. I love social media and the writers’ community, but I’ve come to realize that I have to decide what’s right for me as a writer and a person, not force myself to follow someone else’s path. I want to return to seeing life as a journey, rather than a daily struggle to achieve greater word counts in my writing.

  7. Looking forward to the Science Fiction trilogy but I already believe you’d be good at applying your imagination to other genres apart from fantasy. I hope you’re sketching out some ideas in horror or maybe even a dark variant of crime fiction. So I think you’ve plenty of options to avoid peak book in one genre. But what do I know, it’s easy to commentate on the sidelines?!