I hadn't planned to blog today. I'm not prepared for Christmas, we've got friends coming to stay tomorrow night and my writing? Well, let's just say that December's been a quiet month on that front. I'm suffering from a NaNoWriMo hangover and a crisis of confidence. And the paperback of The Singalong Society for Singletons is released tomorrow. I should probably be promoting that. There are so many things that I could and should be doing right now that don't involve blogging, but I feel as though I need to write this post.
Last night I went to the cinema to watch Get Better, a documentary about musician Frank Turner. I've been a fan of his for six years or so now after my friend Pip gave me his Love, Ire and Song album. When she handed it to me she described it as 'folky punk'. I didn't think 'folky punk' would be my kind of thing, but Frank's blunt yet poetic lyrics really spoke to me and I've seen him live three times since then. The albums are brilliant, but these songs were written to be played live. If you ever get the chance to see a Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls gig, go.
I always knew Frank's lyrics resonated, but Get Better totally shook me. I should say now, this isn't a review of the film. I'm sure you'll be able to find plenty of those around if that's what you're looking for. This post is about how Get Better has made me consider my writing career, and more than that, my work ethic.
In one scene Frank's talking to Billy Bragg about how much time he spends on the road (Frank is known for his near-constant touring, playing 200+ shows a year). A lot was made early on in the film of how Frank found it difficult to cope with the realities of adulthood and how the constraints of touring are one of the ways he controls his life. But what got to me most was how Frank explained that the incessant touring - this way of life that was impacting on his relationships with friends, family, potential partners - was his choice. No one was telling him he should be touring this much. Frank has made this work load for himself.
This made me think about the pressure I place on myself with regard to my writing career. 2016 has been busy. This year I wrote almost all of The Singalong Society for Singletons (81,000 words, and that's not including the 9,000 or so words that were cut during some pretty brutal structural edits). I wrote the whole of my freebie novella Three Men and a Maybe (17,000 words, again, not including the 1,500 words that were cut during the editing process). I've completed a first draft of next year's summer novel, which is 75,000 words. I'm 35,000 words into what I hope will be 2017's Christmas novel. And I've written around 15,000 words on other projects that might never see the light of day.
That's a lot of words, even without the guest posts I've written as promo for releases for five Meet Cute shorts, One Night in Los Angeles, Singalong and Three Men and a Maybe. It's more than double the amount I wrote in 2015, which in turn was double what I wrote in 2014.
I've felt myself on the brink of burn-out a few times recently. I've cried over things that didn't warrant tears and taken negative comments to heart. I've felt as though I'm a fraud, or a failure, or not worthy of being a published writer. There have also been some moments of immense pride, don't get me wrong, but as with any job there are good days and bad days.
Through watching Get Better I realised that most of the pressure I feel comes from within me. I'm the one who feels I should be producing two full-length novels a year, because some of the most successful authors in my genre are. I'm the one who refuses to send a standard 'press pack' to the bloggers who are kind enough to host me, because I don't subscribe to blitzing readers with the same bog-standard information. I'm the one looking at the reviews my books get on Goodreads. These choices and habits are mine, all mine, and I need to either own them or change them. I don't know if I'll be able to keep up this workload (my gut feeling is that I won't without driving myself completely doolally), but it's what I pride myself on as an author. I didn't work this hard to come this far and then sit back.
Commercialism vs Creativity
In the film Frank spoke about the differences between creating the album he wanted to and an album that is highly commercial, stating how it was important to him not to sell-out just to widen his audience.
I've been fortunate - I've written the stories I've wanted to and they've made their way out into the world. The titles on the covers of my books are those I've suggested myself (other than The Boy under the Mistletoe, which was suggested by Harper Impulse's Charlotte Ledger) and any advice from publishers is taken on board, weighed up, and then either acted on or I offer an alternative that I'm happier with. I suppose, like Frank, I'm very aware of the fact that although there are a team of people working on my books, it's ultimately my name on the masthead. It's incredibly important to me that I write what I want to write. I'm wary of following trends too closely, partly because at some point trends inevitably change, and also because I'm sure that if I lack passion for a project, it'll show in my writing. There are projects I've put on the backburner that I'd love to work on again, but I know they're going to stay in the background for the foreseeable future as they're less marketable than some of my other ideas. I'm not giving up on them, though. Charlie and Ed will be out there one day, I promise you.
There were other things that struck me as I watched Get Better - the dissatisfaction Frank felt over the delayed release of his album, how because art is subjective the artist is expected to have a thick skin for criticism, the danger of living in a bubble surrounded only by those who move in the same circles. The strange concept of time; how something you can put months or years of work into is judged as worthy or not in the time it takes to devour. These are all subjects I've spoken about with fellow authors.
Get Better is a fantastically insightful film into the life of a creative, ambitious man. I'm sure anyone involved in the arts would find it interesting and relatable.
The title of this blog post comes from Frank Turner's If Ever I Stray. But you should also listen to Get Better.
"I got no new tricks, yeah, I'm up on bricks but me I'm a machine and I was built to last."