Body Of Work. Weight Of The Body.

December 31, 2017

If you ask me what I've been up to on the author front as of the last month or so, I'm not sure I could tell you. I'm pretty sure I've been busy though.

 

The 'A Story A Week' challenge from This is Horror is something I knocked out in reasonably good time, so that by the beginning of October 2017, all 52 stories were done. Not necessarily cleaned up in removing basic typos, filling in plot holes and such, but done.

 

I'm aware that for many people, whether they're seasoned authors or not, the writing can be a laborious process. Some will plot their stories out before writing. Some will write without such plotting; by the seat of their pants, as it were. These are 'pantsers.' I'm also aware that regardless of whether an author plots or doesn't plot, some of them may stop every so often while writing to go back and edit their work. Clean up typos. Fill in plot holes. Stuff like that.
 
Not me.
 
My first draft, when I write, is messy as fuck. Typos everywhere. Grammar slips, no doubt. Almost certainly a plothole or two. But those aren't the most important things to me when I'm knocking out the draft. Getting the draft finished is. And to that end, I don't care how sloppy it looks when I get it done, so long as it's done and done quick.
 
The reason why I write quick is 1) so I don't spend long enough on the story I'm writing to get disenchanted with it and 2) I'm writing to catch up with the muse, who continues to outrun me.
 
More recent times convince me that there's a third reason why I write fast and often. And that's to build a body of work.
 
Since the start of my author career, I'm now thinking of certain individuals in the game. The likes of David Riley who, from when I first met him, told me that he'd been writing since around the time I was born. The likes of Rhys Hughes, who I believe is still on course to write his 1000 stories (yes a modern-day Scheherazade). Hell, I thought I was doing well enough when, at the time of that revelation, I had something like twenty stories written.
 
But this is where time in the game comes in handy. Because now, the more I write, the more (I think) I get a handle on what will move a reader. For me as an author and reader, what moves me is the longer fictions: the novels, or at least the novellas. The early stages in my writing career saw me submit to certain open submission calls for magazines and anthologies. Playing the odds - especially as a fledgling writer - means you're more likely to get rejected. That doesn't necessarily mean that your work isn't any good.
 
I've seen lamentations on social media from authors from time to time that a story was rejected. I get it. I understand it. I can sympathise. But that's not the big picture. As an author, your job is to write. But what you write for a reader will be consumed in a fraction of the time.
 
Let me put this in perspective for you. One of the earliest stories I had published was one called, "I Wouldn't Let You Die." I had to do a little research beforehand, in terms of local climate, pest control, crop rotation: elements that would help breathe life into the story. All written to the soundtrack of wind blowing through a wheatfield. I highlight this story, not only for the degree of effort and research that went into it, but also because it's one of those stories that I got down in one take. If memory serves, it took an hour or so. The story is 'only' a little over 1000 words, so not much more than 3 pages if that.

So while a story may have taken an hour or so to write, a reader would finish that in a fraction of the time. With that in mind, think on how long it would take to research, write and craft a novel - a novel that would also be read in a fraction of the time.
 
Personally, I'm a slow reader. I'll read maybe a handful of books a year, I'm sure. I don't count them as such, but I'm pretty sure that it's not more than two a month: that's a generous estimate. There are people I know (authors and not) who are voracious readers. I wonder how the fuck it's possible: partly because I'm too busy just with the writing alone.
 
What it does underscore for me is that an author output needs to deliver for the reader appetite. Something that an author may work months on can be read in a few weeks. Sure, it's (hopefully) an enjoyable experience for the reader, but if anything, it's one the reader will want to repeat with the same author. And that means the author gets to write more work for the likes of that reader; that audience.
 
Not long after I decided to run with this author thing, I took wisdom from the site of the now-defunct DarkFuse Press. They were interested in seeing not only a body of work from an author, but also a site with presentation that was halfway decent that would give a little more insight into the author. With that in mind, I focused more on short stories. Quicker to write, quicker to edit, quicker to shop around. The good thing about writing for so many submission calls was that even if the work was rejected, I still built up a body of work. I then realised that the weight of that body was lacking: because what an author does is write. I also realised that since I only had a few stories to my name, I needed to write more: submission call or not. Similarly for actually submitting work to publishers. The more work you have under submission with publishers, the more likely that your work makes the final cut for publication, the more often your work hits the shelves (so to speak) and the more you build your audience and keep them happy.
 
What I'm mindful of right now is that while I have a fair back catalogue of short stories written, I don't have much in the way of longer fiction. Again, this is partly why my 52 stories for the A Story A Week challenge were written so damned quick. As of this entry, I currently have two novellas finished which I'm shopping, and currently a 3rd of the way through the latest novella. Again, I'm mindful now that what takes me a few months to write may be devoured by a reader in a fraction of the time. Weeks, if that, I guess.

 

 l - r: Phil Sloman, me, Ben Jones and one of the HWA UK chapter heads, Marie O' Regan at the BFS (British Fantasy Society) social in London, early December 2017.


 
I hit the BFS (British Fantasy Society) social here in London at the beginning of December, with the likes of authors Ben Jones, Phil Sloman and HWA power couple (heads) Marie O' Regan and Paul Kane. Among other things, these good people urge me to put consider putting out collections of work, rather than just single pieces of long fiction. And it's a good point: while I might like to do long fiction, my readers may something else, e.g. a collection of shorts. It's not like I don't have enough material for it.
 
So. As 2017 winds to a close, I'll take some downtime, for sure. But I'll also crack on with some writing. Because this body of work will always need some weight to the body.

 

Happy new year, people. Make it a good one.

 

 

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