GDRs 2018

It’s not been the best start to the year, in fact this posting is already around two weeks late, but I’m back up and running and in the midst of kicking off my GDRs (Goals, Dreams & Resolutions) for the new year. I’m not taking things easy and I’m not going hell-for-leather, but I’ve laid out a plan for 2018 that if executed in the correct order, could prove to be fruitful — more-so than 2017.

I remember saying the same last thing last year: “I’ll never get through all of this,” and “there’s no way I’ll find the time to do all of this as well as live a life.” But then I bit off the easy bits first, chewed them up and devoured them, which took care of a large chuck of my plan all before the first quarter of the year was over. Suddenly, by mid-March, everything looked easier and much more do-able. So that’s my plan again this year.

Here’s what I‘ve come up with. Not that two of the Dreams and two of the Resolutions have been redacted — they’re not for public consumption. In fact, this may be the last year I actually publish this on the blog. While I love — daresay need — to tick off lists in order to get things done, the way I approach my work these days is much more relaxed and depended on how I feel at the time. So applying too rigorous a framework around it is not having the desired effect as it once did. Nevertheless, here’s the 2018 GDR list:

GOALS

“Tangible actions with deadlines that get me further down the path.”

  • Complete and Publish Sri Lanka Chapbook
  • Write and Prepare Bob Lennox Prequel Novella
  • Write 1st draft of Bridge of Weir Novel
  • Complete and Publish On the Rocks: Bob Lennox #1
  • Write NaNoWriMo Novel (1st Draft of Bob Lennox #2)
  • Complete and Publish Rhodes Chapbook
  • Complete and Publish London Chapbook
  • A Ditty A Day Project
  • Read 30 Novels

DREAMS

“Fantasies about the future I plan to build, with an action plan to turn them into reality.”

  • XXXX
  • XXXX
  • Be Regularly Selling ‘00s Books Per Month

RESOLUTIONS

“Bigger, more life-changing commitments that build on the goals and work toward the dreams.”

  • XXXX
  • XXXX
  • Learn Basic French (carried over)

All in all, this gives me a total of 15 specific GDRs that I am aiming to hit to some degree. You can begin to see where the demands on my time are going to impact.

Of the Goals listed, there is a lot of interesting work listed here that I am hoping to see through. Namely, three new chapbooks, which are all already in different stages of production already and may see the light of day very soon.

There is also the intended publication of the first full-length Bob Lennox novel, a prequel giveaway, and a second novel in the series.

And the more keen-eyed among you will have spotted the “A Ditty A Day” project, more details for which will come soon.

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Hunting Jack Cover Reveal

Attention! Here’s the new cover of my next novel, HUNTING JACK, out in February next year with the terrific Blue Sea Publishing. It’s a tense crime/thriller/gangster story set in Glasgow and Edinburgh and based on the Ice-Cream Wars of 1984. Right up your street, basically.

Col

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Wrapping Up 2017

2017 Now that the first draft of the novel I began writing during NaNoWriMo is over and done with (out next year hopefully), it’s time for me, as a writer, to take stock of the year that’s drawing to a conclusion.

Did I meet my goals? What were the highlights and lowlights? What went wrong and what went well? And in what direction am I going to take things next year? All of these questions and more are what I ask myself as part of my annual Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions (GDRs) wrap-up for 2017.

These GDRs are nothing new; I’ve been working this process for years now. It helps me focus my mind on what I’ve been doing and where I’m going. They are based on an original idea by Devon Ellington who runs the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions website, and they are all prepared and committed to at the start of each year in order that they act as a guide for the coming year.

So here’s my 2017.

GOALS

  1. Complete and Publish GATECRASH
    • Gatecrash has so far blown all of my expectations out of the water in terms of sales and reader response. It is my biggest success so far.
  2. Re-write and Publish HUNTING JACK as a Novel
    • Marked as complete as it is now pending publication, a decision made late in 2017.
  3. Re-Publish STELLA Through Smashing Press
    • Publishing rights were returned from the previous publisher, allowing it to be re-published with a new cover by Smashing Press.
    • Also re-published as a 2-in-1 combo purchase for e-readers.
  4. Publish One New Chapbook
    • Poolside Poetry 2 made it to publication under my pseudonym, Chas Stramash
  5. Read 40 Books X
    • Made it to 31 books as this blog post is published. It’s a fine balance between reading and writing one’s own novels.

Midway through the year I also decided to partake in NaNoWriMo, which led to the penning of a new novel with DI Lennox as the protagonist. This novel has now gone through its first draft and will hopefully be published next year.

As you can see, meeting almost all of my goals and managing to include a full unforeseen novel writing project into the bargain, means 2017 has been a huge success for me. 2018 will be tough to match.

I don’t publish my Dreams or Resolutions as they are usually too personal, but I’ve summarised them regardless.

DREAMS

There were two.
One is still on target and one has not been achieved down to alterations in personal circumstances. They both still remain valid, and indeed one of them is being carried over to next year. The other may not.

RESOLUTIONS

There were four.
Two were achieved and this indicates a marked success given they have been on the list for a couple of years now! One is still in progress and on target to be met in 2018 so is being carried forward. The final one was nearly complete then turned around and was never achieved. This has been a huge disappointment, and so it is being made a top priority for next year.

2017 REVIEW

MUSIC
Best Album Bought: Mogwai, Every Country’s Sun
Best Live Gig: Porgy & Bess, Sketches of Spain, Usher Hall
Best Musical Discovery: R.L. Burnside

FILM
Best Film (cinema): Star Wars, The Last Jedi
Best Film (TV/DVD): The Lady in the Van, BBC2
Best Series (TV/DVD): Liar, BBC1

LITERATURE
Best Fiction Book Read: The Thread, Victoria Hislop
Best Crime/Thriller Book Read: Tombstoning, Doug Johnstone
Best Author Discovery: Kamel Daoud (The Mersault Investigation)

OTHER
Best Meal: Melenos, Lindos, for my birthday meal
Best Sesh: The Diners in Queensferry & Leith, May
Best Celebrity Encounter: Andy Hamilton, Kings Theatre
Single Most Embarrassing Moment: Going topless on a tram in Edinburgh city centre
Saddest Moment: Death of Lulu
Single Most Memorable Moment: Finally getting to meet Paul Auster at the Edinburgh Book Festival

In the next blog post, I’ll be looking forward to 2018 through a new set of GDRs. These are still being worked on; I keep finding myself getting carried away after the success of this year. It’s a hard task forcing myself not to bite off more than I can chew and to be realistic about the amount of work I think I can actually get through and keep developing in the right direction.

But then, that’s what the GDRs are for.

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NaNoWriMo: Done, Dusted and Over For Another Year

NaNoWriMo

It’s all over!

NaNoWriMo is complete, at an end, finished, over, caput, at an end, over and done with. It is no more. Fin.

And I completed the challenge!

Tired and just a little surprised with the monumental effort it took to get myself over the 50k line, I’ve found that I still have the burning desire to get to the end of the story that often dissipates once the ultimate goal of NaNo disappears. I was worried that without the drive that comes from Nano, I might struggle to get over the end-of-story line but that’s proved not to be the case.

NaNoWriMo can do that to you. You spend so much time and effort working towards to the goal of 50k by Nov 30th it’s easy to lose sight of the real goal which is the end of the actual novel you’re writing — assuming your novel doesn’t end at 50k words. The way I’m going just now, I expect the first draft of ON THE ROCKS to be complete in the next 10 to 14 days.

How did I get there this year given such a terrible first two weeks? It was a basic strategy really. I obviously had to increase my daily minimum target and force a few 5k days into the equation over a couple of weekends. Not easy going, but the closer I got to the end of this story, the easier it seemed to become. Quite often I hit a middle sag or struggle towards the end but in the case of this particular novel, it was a real slow burner that has spread like a bush fire in July.

In the end, the last Sunday of November saw me write almost 7k in a single day, which for me is a big day and pulled me so far up toward the goal line that I actually made the 50k mark two days early. Nov 28th saw me cross the line when all along I thought I’d be struggling to make it at all by the 30th.

It just goes to show what hard work and determination can do.

Did I enjoy it? Aye, without a doubt. This was a real challenge this year and despite the bad start, I came racing through. I’ve found there’s actually been a little bit of regret now it’s all over and that I’m missing it. I guess I’ll just have to keep on churning out the novels then.

But is the story any good? It’s only a first draft but it has real potential. I know where it has to change, which characters need to be moulded further, where the plot needs to be tightened, where the holes are, etc. The bottom line is, look out for DI Lennox’s first full novel with him as the main character later in 2018.

So what next now that December is here?

As I already mentioned, the first half is to be dedicated to actually completing this first draft of ON THE ROCKS. If you’re interested, the wee tracker on the top right of this page will continue to be updated with my progress as I strive for what I’ve estimated to be a first draft target of 80,000 words.

Then it’s into analysis mode as I look back and compare all my 2017 goals with what I ended up achieving. Then I can build a plan for next year, which based on this year’s successes, I already know is going to be busy and very exciting.

Onwards and upwards.

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NaNoWriMo: The Half Way Mark

NaNoWriMo

It’s half way through November and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is at its outward most point. We’ve reached the turn and already I’m heading back to the clubhouse with only one aim in mind: to reach the 50,000 word mark.

By this point I should be on 25k or more, averaging just under 2k per day and be sailing through my manuscript. Not so, for it has not been quite so easy as I’d first hoped. Not yet, anyway.

To date, my stats make for some pretty miserable reading. Although progress has been made, and what is down on paper is not altogether a total pile of shite, as of last night (15th) I have only managed to get down 10,468 words, which is approximately 15k short of where I should be. It also means I’ll only be at around 34k by the time midnight on November 30th arrives if I keep going at this rate. Since the kick-off, there’s only been 3 days that I breached the daily minimum required, 7 days when I fell short, and a full 5 days when absolutely zilch got written.

How has this happened with a plot that was devised well in advance and a healthy pattern of working?

Two things have hampered my progress:

  1. The main reason is that my working pattern was forced into an unforeseen change. I’m a morning writer – always have been, always will be – I’m more creative nearer dawn, clear in my mind, and as a result, the prose I write is concise, natural and offers the story in the right way. Thanks to over-zealous project managers in my day job, however, I suddenly had to start attending regular early meetings. This meant my working day was brought forward an hour and thus encroached on my writing time. I struggle to write at night because I’m tired and nowhere near as motivated to be creative as in those crucial early hours, so it was a real hit to my schedule.
  2. The second reason has had far less a bearing because it only involved having to re-think things in the story. As is normally the case when you set out on a new novel, things happen during the writing that you simply did not plan for. Maybe a character does or says something unexpected; perhaps a new character bursts onto the scene; or maybe holes in the plot are discovered that require a re-think in the direction of the story. It could be anything, and basically, in my case, this is what’s happened. A new character arrived at the front door (literally) that then required a total re-think of most of the story. This knocked me back because it would have been stupid to continue without considering the implications, but as I already mentioned, it wasn’t too big a thing to happen. The net effect was that I lost a couple of days writing entirely due to the mind mess it created, but on the up-side, the book will have ore depth and be more multi-dimentional because of it. If I’d been winging it from the start, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but seeing as I’d decided to plan ahead this year, it was a pain.

So that’s my half-time report. Progress made but the play has gone against me resulting in a couple of dodgy decisions and a change in my game plan. I’m down, but definitely not out. In my opinion, 40k in 15 days is still achievable if I can get some dedicated writing time and stick to it.

That’s why this weekend I intend to take part in a writing sprint. If I can somehow make up the missing 15k between now and the end of the weekend I will be back on track, but if I can do it AND get a few more words down too, then I’ll suddenly be ahead of the game.

This has the potential to be a game of two halves and the whole thing could change with the kick of a ball. Okay, so enough puns, but you get the drift.

Back to the page. See you in two weeks.

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National Novel Writing Month: The Debate

NaNoWriMo

This November will see the 19th annual National Novel Writing Month take place. Otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, the basic idea — if you haven’t heard of it — is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November.

It sounds easier than it is, and in fact, requires a fair amount of commitment to hit the 50k in the space of one month. You need to write a very basic minimum of 1700 words each day, which when you balance everything up against all of life’s other commitments — a day job, kids, family, social time, etc. — you can start to get an idea of the amount of time that’s required.

My good pal Devon Ellington wrote an interesting blog a few days ago called Reasons I Should Not Do Nano, about her internal debate on whether or not to take part in NaNoWriMo this year. In it, she balances up all of her life and work commitments against the pros for taking part, and her article made me think about my own situation.

The pros for taking part are strong. You kick off on day one with an idea for a grand new novel — it may be plotted out or you may decide to wing it — but the goal is to start a fresh and exciting new project, and push through it until you have 50k words down on paper. It’s hard work and it can be a lot of fun.

I first took part in 2006, armed with only a basic idea for a story, a laptop and no planning whatsoever. I started writing at 5am on the 1st November, and by the end of the month, I had 70,000 words and the core of a decent novel. Months later the book was completed, edited and produced, and it hit the shelves known as Slick.

The following year was pretty much the same (basic idea, no planning), except this time I only just crawled across the line. And because I hadn’t planned for it and struggled to make it to the 50k, I let the novel go, only picking it up sporadically in several half-hearted attempts to complete it. That novel never saw the light of day until July this year and it was called Gatecrash.

Back in 2006/07 though, I was working full-time both in my day job and as a freelance writer and website designer. My time was fully occupied and I had begun to lose sight of the writing priorities that meant more to me. Since then, there has been a five-year spell where I never wrote a single word and used much of the time to re-evaluate what I wanted to do. The end result was to focus on thriller fiction as well as punk poetry under a pseudonym; two work-streams instead of the multiples I had running all at once ten years previous.

So this year I approach November in a good place and with a good life balance already in existence, and this includes plenty of time to commit to writing new novels. Moving into late September, my plan had been to take a pause in the novel planning that was already underway for my holiday in Greece, and use that two weeks to work on a new chapbook. This would then give me two weeks to finish up the new novel planning when I returned home in October, and I would use NaNoWriMo as the spur to write it.

What I hadn’t counted on was the sudden flash of inspiration I had for another novel I never saw coming, which has since taken over everything. It’s to be my first novel with Bob Lennox as the protagonist as opposed to the supporting role he played in Slick, and it’s actually pissing me off having to wait until 1st November before starting to write it.

But that’s the whole point. I’m excited about it and itching to get underway. I’ve got a burning idea with some great characters in a great location with some great thrilling twist points. In short, it is perfect for NaNoWriMo and will be the next novel to come after the next one already lined up to be published around the turn of the year. So you can probably expect to see it sometime in 2018.

Some people use NaNoWriMo to finish existing projects, some to continue other forms of manuscript, and others to test out other writing forms as an alternative. But I believe the spirit of the whole thing is what gives it the biggest pull of all, and that is that you start a new novel on day one and see it through to the end. It means all other projects sit aside (possible in my case; not if you’re a working writer for example) leaving you to focus solely on that one story.

For me, NaNoWriMo gives me the chance to fully dedicate to a novel and this year the timing is simply perfect. I’d be writing the new Lennox novel regardless, but with NaNoWriMo being just around the corner, I have the chance to be involved and give it a really good shot at completing it.

Of course, NaNoWriMo isn’t just an online project, it has a physical form too. There’s a community of writers all over the world taking part, and in cafes and bookshops and other spaces, local writers come together and support each other in their individual projects, all in the name of the 50k goal. I’ve met a lot of people through NaNoWriMo, and some I still know to this day, but I’m not sure if I’ll actually be as involved this year as much as I was ten years ago.

If you’re interested in tracking my progress, I’ll likely post a few blog posts as the journey progresses (time allowing). I’ve also added a wee word tracker to the blog (top-right menu) and there’s always Twitter and Facebook too.

So here we go. The novel is plotted (to an extent), the laptop is charged, I’m in first gear and the engine is revving waiting for the green light on 1st November. Bring it on!

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What Makes You Think You’re Any Good at Writing?

There’s a common misconception that if you’re a writer, it logically follows that you must be loaded because you obviously sell a lot of books. It also seems to be the common perception that if you’re a well-known writer you must be a millionaire because all your books are likely being turned into TV or film adaptions. Subsequently, if you’re a lesser-known writer who has a full-time job and writes in his or her spare time, then you’re not a serious writer at all — you’re merely playing at being a writer.

I find this to be of extreme frustration.

Among the first questions people always ask me when they discover I’m a writer is:

  • “how many books have you sold?”
  • “do you make a lot of money?”

They don’t actually get that I don’t write to make serious amounts of money (and by that I mean tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds). Sure, I make money from all my books; I make enough to put back into promoting my work or a damn good meal in a nice restaurant. I don’t make enough to buy Lamborghinis or yachts and nor am I trying to.

The reason I write is simple, unbelievable and unremarkable: I enjoy it. I don’t consider it a hobby. For me, it’s a second career (the one I really enjoy) sustained by the earning of money from another source. Going fishing is a hobby; writing is a serious compulsion.

In an ideal world, yes, I would be a full-time writer. I would be sat by my private pool somewhere sunny, churning out thrillers and travelling the world while raking in royalties and selling my book rights to Hollywood. But that’s not realistic because if I wasn’t enjoying it, it would just become another crappy job and therefore a chore I would rather avoid. The only way, therefore, is to continue writing while I do enjoy it; anything that happens thereafter is merely by chance.

Ian Rankin once told me over coffee that the only difference between me and him was that he’d been writing longer, had gotten good at it, and had sold more books than me. He didn’t set out to be a world-famous writer; he just wrote. And that’s why every book he writes must be better than the last, at least in his eyes, for when that burn to create disappears, so too will the book sales and so too will the royalties.

It’s the same for me. Each novel I put out simply has to be better than the one before. I have a desire to learn from each book and develop as a writer. It’s something I take so seriously, I’m actually prepared to devote months of time and effort into learning my craft and improving how I construct a story, then writing it down.

When people don’t see this because they think it’s a game I play in my spare time and not something to be taken seriously, or assume that I simply fart around with all those words and therefore cannot possibly be any good at writing, the frustration grows further and further.

So I’ll keep writing while that creative fire is there. For it’s not being a good writer that makes you rich it is merely luck. To be truly rich one must be true to oneself, and for that to remain true I must do one thing: write the books I want to write and appreciate those moments when some unknown person approaches me and says: “hey, I really liked your last book…”

It’s not a game, it’s quite serious. And with each book I write, I get better and better which results in more and more enjoyment. Whether I get “lucky” by other peoples’ perceptions is not up to me — in my opinion, I already am.

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